Tag Archives: The Guardian

Diary of a hopeful author: The day I accidentally got into the wrong car

It’s “Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…Photo of a Diary

This week I’ve been impatient and I thought, hey, this sounds familiar. Turns out, it is, familiar, I mean, to me, this impatience thing, the jitteriness that makes me forge an inability to wait for the good stuff like a toddler struggles to wait to for the loo.

Rubbish analogies aside, while I now approach the end of edit number 3 of my second novel, I looked to my blog to trawl for posts on impatience and happened upon this one. The reason I like it isn’t just because it’s a memory road trip for me on self-publishing my first book, but it contains a very funny, real anecdote about me, basically, getting into the wrong car.

So, if you’re getting fed up with the pace of how your work is going, my message is this: hold  on. Get stuck in and keep going. Just don’t get into the wrong car.

Being impatient gets me into the wrong car

Last  week I had a cold, this week I have the sulks. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking toddler tantrums here, we’re talking a mild, lingering bottom lip, and like a case of bad flatulence, it won’t shift.

The reason for my dedums is simple: I am impatient. ‘You’re not checking your book sales again, are you?’ my husband asks as he sticks his head around the study door. I attempt to cover the screen with my palm, but, like a News of the Word Editor in a court room, it is useless.

‘I just wanted to see how it was doing,’ I say, knowing how whiny my voice sounds. ‘And,’ I continue, rising an octave to rival Mariah Carey, ‘things have gone quiet!’ My husband sighs. He is used to me and so deploys the only weapon he knows will work. ‘Do you want me to pick you up some chocolate for tonight?’ ‘Yes, please,’ I choke, and shuffle downstairs behind him to put the kettle on. ‘You know,’ my husband says, grabbing a mug and chucking in a tea-bag (actually, he doesn’t really make tea, but hey! I’m a fiction writer! I ‘m gonna run with it!) ‘you just need to be patient. You’re working really hard. It’ll all come together. You just have to wait.’

At this juncture, I must tell you a little story. As I said, I am an impatient sort. I want things to happen pretty much immediately, not only in work, but in almost all aspects of my life. Learning patience – after cooking for kids and understanding what’s happening in The West Wing – is the singularly most difficult thing I have learned to do.

So, to the story. One day, let us say three years ago, we were returning from a family trip to Wales to visit my husband’s grandmother. At the time our girls were aged 7 and 5 and at an age when we needed to stop at the delightful motorway services for a nature break or three. My bladder never quite being the same after two babies (sorry, men folk), I also needed to stop. The girls having now falling asleep, we agreed that I would nip out to use the facilities and run back.

Now, it is important to point out here that I was , even then, in the iron-grip of writing and had a deadline to meet for a Guardian travel writing competition. Needless to say, I was keen to get out and get in with maximum speed and with my skirt not in my knickers. All goes well. I run in, do what I need to do, and then, my mind on the Guardian job, I sprint out of the automatic doors and into the car park. Scanning the cars, my impatient autopilot kicks in, and, spotting our red Freelander, I peg it over and, hauling the door open, throw my self on to the passenger seat panting, ‘Come on! Let’s get a move on!’

Now, I don’t know about you, but do you know that dream when you are walking somewhere and then you look down and you are completely naked, in the nuddy, and you feel a wave of mortification wash over you? Can you recall that feeling? Well, this feeling is what came over me when, glancing from the corner of my eye I notice that the car seats in the back are different to my girls’ seats. Strange. And then my eyes fall to the seat covers – leather. What the? Ours are fabric. And then it hits me. I am in the wrong car. The wrong car.

I look up to see a man, mid-forties, balding, frowning, staring at me, mouth agape, finger, probably, hovering over 999. ‘OhmigodI’msorry!’ I blurt, and, faster than you can say, ‘naked dream’, I am out of that car and breathing like a phantom caller in a film sketch scanning the parking lot like a crazy woman. When I eventually locate our family car, my husband and girls are in fits of laughter, the whole sorry episode not having missed their unforgiving eyes, and it has made their day. ‘Mum got into a strange man’s car!’ they yelp. ‘Just drive,’ I mutter. But it is a good five minutes before we can leave because my husband is laughing too much for his eyes to focus.

Back in the study and my mind in a work muddle, I break up the fugg by going for a run to clear my head. Showered and back at my desk, I decide to look through my marketing notes for my book The Boy Who Played Guitar. On it there is a post-it note with my writing scrawled on it. I squint (even I can’t read my own writing it seems). The note says: ‘Re-edit book. Get friend to help.’ And it comes back to me. A friend of mine read The Boy Who Played Guitar and loved it – even said she prefered it to David Nicholl’s One Day, to which I choked on my Mars Bar. Crucially, she said that she would be happy to re-edit because my proof reading skills are almost as bad as my patience skills (Oh keep up alredy! See?). Not that there is much wrong with the first version – just the odd mistype here and there (it’s only 99p…)

But, if we re-edited, it would mean that I could begin to submit The Boy Who Played Guitar to book review blogs, just like the amazing Amanda Hocking did to publicise her book. At least then I would be actively doing something to promote it and then perhaps I could calm down.

That night, me and the hubbie catch up. ‘How was your day?’ he asks. ‘Oh, I got another chapter of my next novel written. I’ve only got five chapters to go now.’ ‘Wow,’ he says, ‘how many words have you written now?’ I think. ‘67,000, roughly.’ We sit and stare out the window as the number count lingers in the air. ‘Oh,’ I say, ‘and I’m re-proof reading The Boy Who Played Guitar so I can get it back out there.’

He smiles at me. ‘So you’re feeling a bit better then, a bit happier?’ I consider this. I am lucky to do what I do, I tell myself. It could be worse – at least I am not a Chilean coal miner or the Greek Government, say. ‘Yep. Happier. I know I just have to wait a little longer for it all to work out.’ He jumps up. ‘That’s great,’ he says, ‘I’ll check on dinner.’ ‘What?’ I say, ‘you mean it’s not ready yet? How long does that oven take? Come on!’ My husband sighs and reaching down, hands me some chocolate.

**Out on Thursday “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest newspaper column to my blog…**

Friday fact or fiction: How to wear shoes in Paris…

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fact’, with another of my travel articles for The Guardian newspaper.

Paris – the city of love and sore feet…

‘Shoes?’ says hubbie. ‘But we’re off to Paris. The city of love,’ he cried. ‘Look, Mister,’ I say.’ If we’re going to wander around Paris, love or not, I’m going to require suitable footwear.’

And with that, grateful that we weren’t flying pay-as-you-carry, we set off on our 4-day, 10th anniversary break to Paris. With the weather predicted 24-7 sunshine, we decided to see the city by foot. Having done the tourist sights 5 years before, this time we wanted to potter through the side streets of Paris thankful that: a) we had no kids to entertain; and b) we had no bunions (yet).

Arriving at 4-star Les Jardins du Marais, we high-fived each other when we saw our room (i.e. large – Parisian hotel rooms are notoriously petite). Having jumped on the huge bed and checked out the marbled bathroom, I took one whiff of the heat from the window, opted for Birkenstocks (comfort!) and off we set. Walking around the district of Marais was bliss. A warren of cafes, high-end shops and museums, it was once the place of the Royal residence and is now, as we discovered while on our third cafe noir of the day, the centre of the Parisian gay scene. Oh yes, for the first time since parenthood, we felt hip. Donning our shades, we crossed the Seine into the Latin Quarter, bustling with Sorbonne students and tortured artist types, where we stopped for a petite bierre followed by some second-hand French book purchasing. ‘But you can’t speak French,’ I said to hubbie. Handing the man the Euros, he said, ‘They’ll look good on the coffee table.’ Hmmm, good point. We ended the day with swollen ankles and tapas at a Spanish restaurant, Caves Saint Gilles, frequented by locals where the chef was grumpy, the food cheap but good, and not a Laboutin in sight.

The next three days were a sun-soaked meander of walking and Metro rides. We ambled through the expensive streets of St.Germain (think Gucci, Armani), had our breath taken away in the Opera district (by two things: one, the view of the Opera National as you come out of the metro station – wow; and two, coffees at 9 Euros a pop in the Cafe de la Paix.), wandered the Champs Elysees by night (busy but exhilarating), gawped at the Pompidou centre, and relaxed in the enchanting Jardin de Luxembourg. Our anniversary meal (pre-booked on-line) was at Le Petit Bordelais, a restaurant run by Michelin-starred, and jolly friendly, Phillipe Penecote (choose the ‘Degustation’ menu with wine – yum). My pearl shoe clips fell off on the walk back, but with the Eiffel tower lit up behind us, the last scent of summer in the night air – and French wine in my system – it didn’t matter. I turned and gave hubbie a kiss. ‘What was that for?’ he asked. I linked his arm. ‘The city of love, right?’ He grinned. ‘Shall we head back?’ I nodded. ‘Please. My feet are killing me.’

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

It’s Media Monday: What would your top 100 books be?

It’s Media Monday where I post my latest views on writing & publishing news…  Writing news

How do you know which books you should read? This is the question that I pondered the other day as I searched for some new summer reads for my holiday. In this search I stumbled across an article in The Guardian entitled “The 100 greatest novels of all time”. (You can read the list here) Great! I thought, there must be some I’ve read on here. On the list, the novels range from Clarissa by Samuel Richardson to Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. Hmmm. I’ve never heard of the first one and the only Tom Jones I know is the Welsh hairy bloke that women throw knickers at when he sings on stage – but somehow, I don’t think this list quite refers to this version.

Anyway, as my heart sank, it got me to thinking about these 100 greatest novels. I mean, what really does make a novel great? Does the fact that we can’t quite understand it make it great? Should it be a high-brow classic to be great or will a fast beach read count? Is it the theme it tackles? The way it is written? It’s complex characters or plot? I think different novels mean different things to different people – what works for one doesn’t always work for another (step forward Fifty Shades of Grey…)

So, in this quest for greatness I’ve decided to compile my own short list of best books, a top ten, if you will. Take a look and see what you think. For me, the books below are ones that I haven’t been able to put down and that have stayed in my head long after I’ve finished them – and that, to me, makes a novel great. Are these the kind of books you view as great? Or are the novels in the top 100 article more your thing? And what makes a novel great for you? Let the count down begin…

My top ten books (in no real order, sort of):

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee – An all-time classic whose themes are still so relevant today.
  2. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen – Beautiful story and insightful account of old age
  3. My Father’s Glory and My Mother’s Castle, Marcel Pagnol – not strictly a novel, but an all time favourite of mine. It’s an account of Pagnol’s childhood in Provence, France – atmospheric, magical. You can almost hear the cicadas.
  4. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt – so well written, it was a book that stayed with me for a long time afterwards.
  5. Notes on a Scandal, Zoe Heller – sharp, dark, cracking plot, amazing characterisation.
  6. 1984, George Orwell – has to be on the list. ingenious, a book way, way ahead of it’s time and one that still influences society today. Big Brother and Room 101, anyone..?
  7. Keeping up with Magda, Isla Dewer – on the list because it’s a book I re-read  when I need some calm and imagine I am by the sea. Cracking characters, great writer.
  8. Tell no one, Harlan Coben – The master of a thriller, this is his best book, bar none. Fast, intelligent – and the film’s just as good (french with subtitles)
  9. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte – ahead of it’s time, Bronte devised a novel full of humour, sharp cultural observation and poignancy. It surprised me how much I loved this book.
  10. The History Boys, Alan Bennett – alright, so it’s a play, but I have the book of it. The script of the play reads so, so well in book format – I couldn’t put it down. Relevant themes, rounded characters, lashings of wit – highly recommend.

 What makes a book great for you? Do you have your own top ten? Or do you prefer to let your preferences change as you go along?

Link: The Guardian 100 greatest novels: a list

 **Look out for Wednesday Wafflings where I post my latest entry of my Diary of a Hopeful Author**

Friday fact or fiction: A travel article for The Guardian on a spot of French cricket…

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fact’, with my travel article for The Guardian newspaper competition. *I accidentally posted this on Monday. Don’t quite know how. Either way, hope you still enjoy. I am going to check my fingers for butter right now…*

French cricket, but not in the USA…

Boyhood’s a funny thing. When my husband was a boy, he used to play French Cricket. If you’re saying, ‘French what now?’ – a quick synopsis. Player one stands still with a tennis racket by their legs while the fielding team chuck a tennis ball at them with the aim of trying hit the racket-holder’s legs. You hit the target, you’re up next to hold the racket, and so on. Not a cricket bat in sight, but you get the idea. Well, with school out for another summer, it was French cricket and other assorted childhood memories that were on our minds as we arrived tired but buoyant at our gite in the Brittany village of Lintivic.

Cottage
Our gite in France – we hid round the back…

Magically named “Little Orchard”, we smiled as we parked under a plum tree to see grape vines draping the windows and a farmer puffing on a Gauloise, batting away flies in the adjoining field. This was France circa 1950. At the sight of all the grapes, our 8-year old shrieked, ‘Ooo, can we eat them?’ While the 6-year old took one look at the apple trees, and piped up, ‘Cool! Grenades.’ Oh to be a tomboy. As I cracked open a bottle Brittany cider left as a welcoming present by the gite-owners, and checked out the 18th century fire hearth and open-plan living area (so clean!), hubbie sighed as he gazed through the window. I took a swig and narrowed my eyes. ‘Pelted with a plum already?’  He shook his head as he took his glass. ‘No,’ he said, his arm levitating forward. ‘Look.’

 I followed his eye line and stopped. The garden, all ours, was almost as big as a football pitch, with a pool, also ours, tucked in its sidelines, blue water winking in the sun. ‘Wow’, I said, wondering where the inflatables were. ‘The girls will love that.’ But, as I began the search for swimming cossies, my husband simply grinned and said, ‘French cricket.’

 Games with tennis rackets were just the start of our two-week trip back to childhood. The gite garden was stocked full of delights such as petanque (tricky), football (mum as goalie – ouch), badminton (monopolised by us grown-ups) and hoops (a kid winner), to name a few. Five minutes drive away was the zip-wire Adventure Forest in Camors, suitable for even the 6-year old, who promptly declared it ‘awesome’. And it was. We hit the 3km beaches in Carnac,  ideal for rock pooling, and the town of Auray, with its hilled streets and sweeping river that caused our 8-year old to declare –whilst scoffing Moules Frites, a Brittany classic- France to be her favourite because, and I quote, ‘it’s looks nice, has good music and good food.’ Well said. Perhaps apart from the music.

Such a blast to our childhood past did we have, that we’re now planning a road trip up the Californian coast, to which the girls asked, ‘Do they play French Cricket there?’ Hmmm. French cricket in the USA? Pass me the racket.

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  Next Friday I’ll be posting another Guardian travel-writing piece of mine. Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

Friday Fiction post: Our family holiday to France

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fact’, with my article written for The Guardian Travel writing competion… 

Boyhood’s a funny thing. When my husband was a boy, he used to play French Cricket. If you’re saying, ‘French what now?’ – a quick synopsis. Player one stands still with a tennis racket by their legs while the fielding team chuck a tennis ball at them with the aim of trying hit the racket-holder’s legs. You hit the target, you’re up next to hold the racket, and so on. Not a cricket bat in sight, but you get the idea. Well, with school out for another summer, it was French cricket and other assorted childhood memories that were on our minds as we arrived tired but buoyant at our gite in the Brittany village of Lintivic.

Magically named “Little Orchard”, we smiled as we parked under a plum tree to see grape vines draping the windows and a farmer puffing on a Gauloise, batting away flies in the adjoining field. This was France circa 1950. At the sight of all the grapes, our 8-year old shrieked, ‘Ooo, can we eat them?’ While the 6-year old took one look at the apple trees, and piped up, ‘Cool! Grenades.’ Oh to be a tomboy. As I cracked open a bottle Brittany cider left as a welcoming present by the gite-owners, and checked out the 18th century fire hearth and open-plan living area (so clean!), hubbie sighed as he gazed through the window. I took a swig and narrowed my eyes. ‘Pelted with a plum already?’  He shook his head as he took his glass. ‘No,’ he said, his arm levitating forward. ‘Look.’

            I followed his eye line and stopped. The garden, all ours, was almost as big as a football pitch, with a pool, also ours, tucked in its sidelines, blue water winking in the sun. ‘Wow’, I said, wondering where the inflatables were. ‘The girls will love that.’ But, as I began the search for swimming cossies, my husband simply grinned and said, ‘French cricket.’

            Games with tennis rackets were just the start of our two-week trip back to childhood. The gite garden was stocked full of delights such as petanque (tricky), football (mum as goalie – ouch), badminton (monopolised by us grown-ups) and hoops (a kid winner), to name a few. Five minutes drive away was the zip-wire Adventure Forest in Camors, suitable for even the 6-year old, who promptly declared it ‘awesome’. And it was. We hit the 3km beaches in Carnac,  ideal for rock pooling, and the town of Auray, with its hilled streets and sweeping river that caused our 8-year old to declare –whilst scoffing Moules Frites, a Brittany classic- France to be her favourite because, and I quote, ‘it’s looks nice, has good music and good food.’ Well said. Perhaps apart from the music.

            Such a blast to our childhood past did we have, that we’re now planning a road trip up the Californian coast, to which the girls asked, ‘Do they play French Cricket there?’ Hmmm. French cricket in the USA? Pass me the racket.

 © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading! I’ll be posting another travel writing article next week.   Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**

Media Monday: If you’re a self-published author look away now…

Writing news

It’s “Media Monday” where I bring you my views on the latest writing and publishing news…

You might want to look away now. Or, go get yourself a drink. Especially if you’re an author looking to self-publish. Go on, well done…What’s that?A Pina Colada?  I roll my eyes. Right, now down it in one because the latest news for all you aspiring writers out there is that authors publishing their work DIY style online earn an average of $10,000 (£6,375) – and, wait for it, less than half make $500. I know. What? Another Pina Colada? Oh, go on then.

Yep, the latest news published in an article by The Guardian last week revealed that a survey of writers concluded that only the smallest percentage of authors were raking in more that $100,000 in 2011. In this less than 10% were earning approximately 75% of this revenue and, that’s right the rest – that’s more than half of all those exhausted writers surveyed – scraped in just enough to cover the service of their car. If they have one.

Once I pick myself up from the floor, along with my broken laptop and spilled pens, I have to admit that this news comes as no surprise. Like with any industry that has headline success stories, such as music, art, banking – oh wait, no, the lasts one’s a disaster story, sorry – for every high-fiving, cash-generating sensation, you’ll find thousands of bleary-eyed, overdraft-inducing wannabees. And, as I peer at my sorry bank balance and peel open my eyes, I speak from experience here. But hey! We are writers! We are a hardy bunch, single-minded in the pursuit of our craft, nothing but nothing can stop us from plowing forth! So, I shall whisper then that the survey found that  yes, you’d do well if you were female, with a college degree and in your early 40s. Never, ever so much before have I wanted to be older than right now. On top of this, it turns out our paper-published cousins are muscling in on the act, with big names such as Jackie Collins announcing that she is to bypass the traditional paperback route and put her novel The Bitch (sorry, bad language…) as a self-published piece. Have we nothing left for ourselves, I hear you cry? Even if it does earn us peanuts?

Well now look, let’s not get hysterical. No one said this was going to be easy. We must wish good luck to everyone! And the good news is that there is something we can do. The survey also revealed that the high-earners it identified dedicated more of their time to writing, banging out an average of 2,047 words a day compared to 1,557 from those lower down the pay scale. So come on! Write! Also, making your book sound professional is another earmarked area by the survey, with it highlighting the need for writers to perhaps get their work professionally edited and proofread – this alone can help you earn 13% more than average (and, I for one shall be doing this…). Yes, that’s right, readers have been waiting our new writing voices, but, understandably, not one full of spelling errors.

Of course, as the Jessie J song goes, it’s not all about the money. What counts for success in one writer’s eyes, may not in another’s. For some, simply finishing the first draft of a novel is achievement enough, for others, the stars, my dear, the stars! Whether you pick yourself up from the floor or the ceiling, the trick is knowing what your goal is and then doing everything you can to get there. And in that, I wish you all the luck in the world. But perhaps first, just step away from the Pina Coladas, hmmm?

What are your experiences as a self-published author? Do you want to make money from your writing? Or are you content with the art of writing itself? Let me know.

 **Look out on  for Wednesday: Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry from my Diary of a Hopeful Author…**

Media Monday: Has Waterstones sold its soul to Amazon?

Writing news

It’s “Media Monday” where I bring you my views on the latest writing and publishing news…

Isn’t it funny how things change? This morning, I was all set to write this post about the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron’s new biography reveals how he likes to ‘chillax’ (his words, not mine) by singing some karaoke, calling his tennis machine the “Clegger” (I kid you not) and kicking back to watch a DVD box set. After I’d sewed my sides back up from laughing, making yet another mental note to ALWAYS WORK HARDER, I was greeted with the bizarre news via The Guardian that the UK bookstore chain, Waterstones, is hooking up with its arch nemesis Amazon to sell Kindles in all its Waterstones stores.

Now, look, call me a fool here, but isn’t Waterstones flogging Amazon gear a bit like Tesco selling Sainsbury’s own brand? Or, to put it in book terms, like Harry Potter asking Voldemort to give him a foot rub whilst reading a copy of The Worst Witch? Either way, aside from looking strange, it’s just not going to work. At this juncture, I have to point out that I am not normally one for the negative,Waterstones Logo and like Obama himself, I like to think, ‘Yes we can! ‘when approaching most issues (for example, ‘Can we eat this chocolate? Yes we can!’ ‘Can we finish this novel? Yes we can!’ ‘Can we ignore the icky feeling we get when David Cameron says Chillax? Yes we…Actually, no, we can’t.’)  I can see what Waterstones are trying to do by linking with Amazon, hoping, as I am sure they are, that it will help sales and drive footfall. But the thing is, climb into bed with a lion and, sooner or later, you’re going to get bitten.

If Waterstones was looking at this with more rational, unfettered minds (have you seen the slump in paper book sales lately?) they would admit that they were late  to react to the emergence of the e-reader and were similarly uninspired to proactively adapt and develop as the market rapidly changed. But wait, I hear some say. The Kindle is popular, speedy! Won’t that help poor old Waterstones? Well, to be honest, I don’t think it will. You see, one of the great advantages about a Kindle is that you can have instant access to books, where ever you are, what ever the time and what ever your attire (shops don’t like you turning up in your PJs. So I hear.) And so, if you do chose to make a specific trip to Waterstones, surely that negates the need for a Kindle, because you are in a shop! Ready to buy! Wearing clothes! A book, you think, I just want a paper book! I want to browse, feel the page, soak up the atmosphere. That’s what you are there for. If you wanted an e-book, you’d get one from your sofa with your feet up and the TV on.

To be honest, I think what Waterstones have done here is fail to recognise that consumers – us readers out here – like paper and digital book formats, but, just as you might like your boss and your betrothed, say,  that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to hang out with both of them at the same time. Yes, book stores need to adapt. Yes, it means the likes of Waterstones having to change their business models to survive. But that’s just the thing: we want them to survive and be themselves. By letting Amazon in through the front door and selling Amazon’s merchandise for them, haven’t Waterstones just banged the first nail in their own coffin? I hope not.  Or perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of Amazon’s entrance into their own-brand high street bricks and mortar store? Who knows what’s going to happen next. But either way, I’m just going to have to make like David Cameron and jolly well chillax about it…

 **Look out on  for Wednesday: Wednesday Wafflings” when I post the latest entry from my Diary of a Hopeful Author…**

Friday Fact or Fiction: My short-listed Guardian travel article

It’s “Friday Fact or Fiction”,  where I write a little something for the weekend for you to read, be it fact or, um, fiction. This week, it’s ‘fact’, with an article I wrote for The Guardian newspaper which was short-listed for their travel writing competition…

 

It’s all sick bags and champagne on the road to Disneyland, Paris…

Holiday checklist: 4-year old throwing up in a plastic bag whilst sat-navigating the M25? Yup.  4am start? Check. High School Musical soundtrack on loop? Affirmative.  We were off – two shattered parents, two non-shattered 6 and 4 year olds- to France chez Eurocamp and a static caravan, a fortnight’s hols stretching ahead of us like a string of garlic. Our destination: 90km from Paris; close enough to Disneyland for the kids, and to the Champagne houses for the grown-ups; far enough away from work (no Blackberry), bad weather (please, no) and, hold your breath, the telly.

There is something quite alien about living in what is essentially an oversized tin can for two weeks. Dishwasher? Nope. Microwave? Ditto. Luxurious bath? Dream on. But with 4 pools to hand, pedalos, lake, kids crèche and, hurrah, babysitting, things began to feel more familiar. Relaxing though was another matter. ‘Are you chilled out yet?’ my husband would ask on our morning meander to the on-site bakery (oh the smell!) for our ‘see-how-much-we-can-eat-this-time’ run to pick up croissants, fresh baguettes, pain au chocolats. ‘I feel sick now.’ Me. ‘Mum’s letting us have chocolate for breakfast!’ Kids. ‘I just can’t relax.’ Husband. And so that night, using the girls’ felt tips, we drew up a timetable – chilling out time included.

After a day’s blissful me-time at the onsite spa (a massage, heaven!), first up on the chart was Paris. We booked a round-trip coach, thus avoiding hubbie driving around the Arc du Triumph swearing at French car-owners. Perfect. Actually, not quite. Because, Paris is, well, quite grown up. ‘It’s all very fancy,’ declared our six-year old, ‘but it’s boring for kids.’ Cue deep breaths. We thought trips on undergrounds would bag it for them, counting steps up the Eifel Tower ditto, but no.  Hallelujah that Disneyland Paris was a better hit, the plan to stick to one park and get there early meaning minimum queuing. Phew. The eldest cried on the Small World boats: ‘I’m so happy,’ she sighed, and the Buzz Light Year ride was a family favourite. ‘Shoot Zurg!’ yelled husband. The night parade was stunning, fireworks too. The verdict? Worth it.  But, the surprise holiday hit was a tour of the Champagne region. Mummy, as the non-driver, was happy. ‘Moi? Five glasses?’ I protested. ‘You had mine,’ came the reply.  Ah. Good point. The kids were wowed by the panoramic grapevine fields; the electric train ride in the Mercier cellars was fun;  and – as we’d arrived lunch hour (oops)-  in the time we had to wait we found a good, full-of-locals restaurant that served food other than ‘frites’. The only problem? My husband selecting calf’s tongue thinking it might be veal. ‘Oh my god,’ he said half retching. ‘It feels rough!’ I glanced up. He’d gone white.

Mercifully, despite nightmares of bloated tongue, we came back relaxed, void of sickness or M25 traffic jams.  Would we go back? Yup. Already booked.  Now, where are those felt tips?

Copyright © Nikki Owen 2012

Thanks for reading!  In next Friday’s ‘Fact or Fiction’ it’s the first part of my new short-story ‘The Quiet Life of Megan Quinn.’  Have a lovely weekend.

**Look out for  my “Media Monday” post on, um, Monday. A short, sharp snippet on the latest writing & publishing news…**