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Gazette column: This summer do something for others #shavemyhead

It’s “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my weekly Gazette newspaper column to my blog so you can have a read…

This week my column for the Gloucestershire Gazette is about doing something for others this summer and how,with 13 year-old Amy Carr about to shun our selfie-obsessed culture shave her long hair off for charity, we should all take a leaf out of her book and get brave for not only ourselves, but for others, too. To read it, simply click to my Column page.

**Amy is raising money for Cancer Research UK after she lost her aunty to the disease. You can support Amy in her brave head shave by tweeting about her using #shavemyhead. You can also donate right now at http://www.mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/amycarr1**


Win a copy of The Boy Who Played Guitar – now out in paperback

It’s Media Monday where I post my views on the latest writing and publishing news: The Boy Who Played Guitar is now out in paperback…

Oh my giddy aunt! I don’t normally pop a post about my own Media Monday news, but I’m off on my holidays so what the heck! My book The Boy Who Played Guitar is now out in paperback and to celebrate – and because you’re all so nice – I  I have a free copy to give away .

To win a copy of the book, simply answer this question:

What was the title of my short story that won the Wotton Arts & literature 2012 Short Story Prize? Was it:

a) The Woman Who Had a Limp

b) The Woman Who Had Piles

c) The Woman Who Walked to School

You can find the answer (if you haven’t guessed already…) by taking a look through my blog posts. To send your answers, just use the ‘contact me’ section to my blog – that way no sneaky answers will appear in the comments section….

The competition closes Monday 6th August when I’ll pull a name from the hat to chose the lucky winner.

If you fancy ordering a copy of The Boy Who Played Guitar, if you know, you feel like it, you can on Amazon. For the UK, click on this link. For the USA, click on this link.

The book’s already received rave reviews, with review site FacE-Bookers saying: ‘It was a flowing story…that had them giggling in some places and crying in others.’

Here’s a bit more about the book…

What do you do when life hits a rut? Stuck in a failing secondary school in Cheltenham, ageing Assistant Principal, Dan McClean, is fed up. His 16-year old pupils won’t learn; the school’s changing to an Academy; his wife can’t have a baby; and his middle is growing faster than Facebook. So when one day the school Principal tells Dan to get his pupils’ grades up or they’re off the higher exam paper, Dan hits on an idea: he’ll start a school choir. But what Dan doesn’t know is that by setting up the choir, he’s starting down a road where life will never quite be the same again.

From columnist and debut novelist, Nikki Owen, a heart-warming, poignant tale of courage, loss and what it really means to find out who your friends are –even if they do like Lady Gaga.

Thanks for tolerating my shameless plug! Have a great week – and thanks so much for following my blog. It’s great us all getting to know everyone.

I’ll be taking a little blog break now, so see you after my holiday. France – here we come!



Diary of a hopeful author: OMG! I’m up for a new writing job…

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

As the kids would say: OMG! This week I had a big meeting, and, much like treating verrucas or the amount I spend on hair care, it is something I’ve accidentally deliberately been avoiding. ‘Are you all set?’ asks my hubbie the night before the meeting. I shove a square of chocolate into my mouth. ‘No,’ I mumble, ‘but I will be. Can we talk it through?’ He nods. ‘Yup, right after Police, Camera, Action.’ I grab another square of chocolate, hesitate and grab the packet. I think I am going to need it.

The truth is this meeting is a really big deal to me. It’s one that’s been on the burner for the past month or so, the date having been moved due to busy diaries and, basically a busy year. But I am really nervous, if I’m honest. I can’t say too much about what the job is yet, but, without getting all CIA on you, it’s safe to say it’s a writing one and if I get it I’ll be chuffed to bits. That night, I go through my blog and, with the help of my hubbie, print off all the relevant writing pieces to show at the, shall we call it, interview. ‘Blimey,’ says hubbie, grabbing a handful of paper as it slips from the printer, ‘I didn’t realise it would be so much.’ I tear out one of my columns from the newspaper I write for. ‘I can waffle. You know that.’ He rolls his eyes and tuts. I smile. ’15 years you have known me. 15 years of my funny little waffles! Luck, lucky you!’ He sighs and squints at the column I have in my hand. ‘Don’t take that one,’ he says. I look at it. It’s the column about the libraries. ‘What? Why?’ He reloads the printer. ‘Just not right. Do you want me to go through them for you?’ I crawl over to him and plop the newspaper pile in his lap. ‘Yes, please!’ And with that – and more chocolate – the preparation for the meeting continues.

The next day, my lovely hubbie gets out the sat nav and prepares to describe to me where it is I need to go. ‘Right,’ he says, setting the thing down on the breakfast table, ‘I’ve loaded Jessica up.’ (Sorry – Jessica is our family pet name for the sat nav. She sounds like Jessica Rabbit when she speaks. It keeps us happy for hours.) I look at Jessica, sorry, the sat nav. ‘Okay, thanks, honey,’ I say. ‘And,’ he continues, ‘I’ve drawn you a map of where you can park and how to walk to the building from there.’ He pushes a well-drawn piece of paper to me. ‘You can’t go wrong. There’s only one way to go. Go to the right, by the café. To your right. It’s fool-proof.’ At this point our two girls laugh into their breakfast bowls. ‘Hey!’ I say, ‘have faith in mum. I can find my way around!’  They nod, solemn. ‘Yes, mum,’ says the eldest, grinning, ‘of course you can.’ ‘Thank you,’ I say, turning to give my hubbie a hug. He checks his watch. ‘What time are you leaving?’ I think. ‘9.30?’ He stretches his arms and yawns. ‘That should give you plenty of time.’ Yes, we all agree, plenty of time for mum.

The A38 is closed for road works. Palms sweating, windows open but no air, I find myself down some country lane, Jessica having re-routed me, cars stuck to the side of the road like moths to light. After a nail biting 25 minutes extra on my journey, I eventually find my way to my destination, my back sticky with sweat, my mouth cursing me for not having air con. Stepping out into the heat, my hair springing to an unwanted frizz, I squint at the map and frown. Huh? It makes no sense. I turn the map. I turn myself. Nothing. I call my hubbie on the mobile. He picks up and laughs immediately. ‘You’re lost, aren’t you.’ I frown. ‘The car park is in front, not behind. I don’t get it.’ I can practically hear his eyes rolling. ‘Find the café. Can you see it? Good. Now, remember I said go to the right?’ The penny drops. ‘Aaaah,’ I say. ‘Good luck!’ he says. I tut at myself. ‘Bye. Thank you, honey.’ ‘You’re welcome, you muppet.’

Once I apply my lippy and find the building, the meeting itself goes really well. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I really enjoy it. We talk through lots of ideas, and once I get going, being a fully paid-up member of the blarney-stone-kissing-club, I am off, chatting, shooting out thoughts, thinking on the spot.  Which is all just as well because while outwardly I am calm, much like a swan, take one peek beneath the water and my legs are kicking like crazy. ‘I think we can get you on board,’ says my jolly nice interviewer (as I shall call him for now!). I try not to grin like the Grinch – not a good look – so instead I opt to squeak, ‘Thank you!’ and with that, I have the job.

Chuffed to bits, when I get outside, after I’ve breathed into a bag (only joking!..It was a cup), I call my hubbie and tell him the good news.  Next, I get on to twitter because there are some lovely folk on there I have to thank, without whom, before the meeting started, I would have got far too panicky. (They the very wise: Beth Williams, PR guru, @bw58; Steve Marchand, writing wonder, @CitiOfVilleJoie; and Sue Ryan, marketing master, @SueKelsoRyan). That night at home, with the kids in bed, me and the hubbie have a cold glass of bubbly to celebrate. Just as we take a sip, my best buddy phones up and I regale to her the events of the day. ‘Oh sweet Jesus!’ is her reaction, followed by, ‘Jesus! JESUS!’ I think she is chuffed for me.  Once we’ve had a good old natter peppered by more expletives, I cuddle up to my hubbie and think about what I have to do the next day. ‘I’ve got to put a couple of short story entries in and edit another one,’ I say, inspecting the bubbles in my glass. ‘I’m on the radio on Wednesday,’ he says. ‘Great! Things are coming together,’ I say. We sit and watch the evening sun, quiet, happy. Then, my husband starts sniffing the air. ‘Is something burning?’ he says. ‘Flip!’ I say, ripping over to the cooker. ‘The dinner!’ OMG! O.M.G.

I’ll be taking a little break shortly (hurrah!), so the next Wednesday Wafflings post will be out the following, you know, Wednesday. Take care.

**Out on Thursday “Thursday Thoughts” where I post my latest newspaper column to my blog. This week it’s all about the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee…**

How a nice cup of tea helped my will to win. Sort of…

Welcome to “Wednesday Wafflings” a bit of a well, waffle, where I post the latest in my Diary of a Hopeful Author…

I need a cup of tea. Last week I was clumsy, this week I’m tired. For the past few months I’ve been getting up at 5 a.m. again to write –  and I think it’s taking its toll. Writing in the morning helps reassure me for the day because if other work takes over later on, at least I know that I’ve put an hour’s worth of writing on to the page. The thing is, I am now absolutely shattered. ‘You look tired,’ says my friend one evening as we go for a fast walk in the late sunshine. ‘I know,’ I yawn, ‘but it will be worth it.’ She narrows her eyes at me and stops walking. ‘Look,’ she says, her serious teacher face on, ‘you don’t need to push yourself quite so hard. Maybe move your deadlines back a bit.’ I rub my eyes and nod before we resume our exercise in the fading light.

When I get home later, I slump on to the sofa and realise that my friend is right. I am pushing myself a little hard. I have given myself a deadline for my second novel to be complete, and it’s quite a tight one. Thing is, I’m over half way through it now and I’m at that stage where I can get an idea of what the finishing line will look like. Trouble is, I am frying myself in the process, but isn’t that what we all do when we work towards something we so badly want and love? There’s a free e-book I downloaded the other day by Karen Brady. If you watch TV, you may know her as the advisor to Lord Alan Sugar on the BBC show The Apprentice; if you’re a footie (aka soccer) fan, you may know her as the Vice-Chairman of West Ham United. The book’s entitled Karen Brady’s 10 Rules for Success, and in it, amongst other things, she cites how hard work is essential if we want to get to where we want to be.  Sat on the sofa one night, iPad on, I quote this to my hubbie. ‘Honey,’ he says, ‘she’s right. You do need to work hard. But right now, if you keep getting hardly any sleep like you are, you’re going to make yourself sick.’ I blow my nose. ‘I’m not sick,’ I croak. He rolls his eyes. ‘Do you want some paracetemol?’ I pull the blanket on to my lap. ‘Mmm, I’d better. Maybe some hot water and lemon, too.’

The next morning, I take a quick look at Karen’s other top ten tips and try to see if I am already achieving some of them. ‘Know how to negotiate.’ Hmmm, I can get the eldest to have only one digestive biscuit instead of two, so, tick! ‘Have the courage to take a risk.’ Okay, so I did contact the Gloucestershire Gazette about writing a column, and I did try a raw scallop once, so yeah, I do risks, so, tick! ‘Plan to win.’ Hmmm…I stand and think. ‘Plan to win,’ I say out loud. My youngest must hear me as she rushes in shouting, ‘Who won? Who won? What did you win mum?’ When I tell her nothing, she drops her shoulders and sulks off. I flop into my seat. Planning to win is not something I normally do. Planning to juggle, yes. Planning to get my roots done one day soon, definitely. But win? It seems almost arrogant – and certainly alien – to think such a thing about myself. But I realise Karen’s advice is right. If I don’t plan to win, how will I ever, you know, win? Feeling a bit tired by all the thinking, I get up, get the kids to school and return to the house to find my mobile buzzing – it’s a direct message for me via Twitter. Clicking it open, I read it to see it’s from a radio presenter at BBC Radio Gloucestershire, Claire Carter – and she wants to do an interview…about my book The Boy Who Played Guitar.  Frozen to the spot, my heart bangs in my chest as Claire and I then proceed to send a string of messages to each other, the upshot of which is that she is coming to our house the next day to interview me. I immediately phone my husband. ‘Wow! Nice one, honey,’ he says. I let out a breath and say, ‘You do radio. Will you give me some pointers?’  He readily agrees and I am very grateful (he, the media tart, loves the radio, and does the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Business Briefing almost every week. He does TV interviews, too. Our kids now think he is famous. I know.) Next, I phone my mum. ‘Proud of you!’ she shouts. Then, finally, I phone my friend. ‘Jesus!’ she shrieks. ‘You’d better wash your hair.’ I nod. ‘And the kitchen sides,’ she says. ‘Wipe down the sides!’  I thank her – she is an oracle of advice.

While I am nervous to start with, the actual interview goes really well. Claire is lovely, so chatty and friendly, and we bond over talk of cuppas and fake tans.  The interview doesn’t just stop at the subject of The Boy Who Played Guitar, either. ‘Do you fancy doing the Thought for the Day slot, as well?’ she asks. I gulp. ‘Sure,’ I croak, but it’s all okay. Claire asks me five Gloucestershire-based questions and I answer them best I can. When we are done, she says each one of my thoughts will air every day on the Breakfast Show for a week. I am beyond chuffed.

‘The Breakfast Show?’ says my hubbie later that evening as we sip some merlot. ‘That gets the highest listening figures.’ I grin. ‘And she was so nice,’ I say. ‘She said she’d let me know when it was all going to be aired and tweet everyone, too.’

It gets to Friday, and as I turn to Twitter, I get a lovely #ff message from Claire Carter, saying kind things about me. It almost makes me cry. Smiling from ear to ear, I tweet back and then stick the kettle on. Switching on my iPad, I click on to Kindle and spot the Karen Brady book. ‘Plan to win,’ I say to myself. The kettle whistles, and I grab the tea bags. Whatever I plan to do, I’ll just make a nice cup of tea first.

Tired from writing or working? What helps you to keep going? Need tea or is coffee your thing? Pop on a comment and let me know. Thanks!

**Out tomorrow: my latest colulmn post for the Gloucestershire Gazette**

How to avoid getting addicted to the Internet

Welcome to  the new Weekend Watch“, my new  Friday morning blog post that looks at weekend events, be it news, books, or a little bit of fun.

As comedian Peter Kay says, the t’internet. This week’s Weekend Watch kicks off with the results of a poll I posted last week. The vote question was ‘Do you switch off from the internet when you go on holiday?’ Hmm, come on, admit it, you know it’s a tricky thing – and turns out you’re not alone, because a whopping 57% said that, if they went on holiday, they couldn’t do without the Internet. Take a ganders at the results….

The results to the poll, “‘Do you switch off from the Internet when you go on holiday:

57% No

27% Yes

14% Other

Thing is, more and more these days, the Internet, along with social media, smart phones and apps, is a growing part of our lives. As a writer, I find the Internet invaluable. Years ago, if I wanted to research something for an article or story, I would have to go to the library or trawl the papers, both of which could take up a good few days of my time. Now, though, things couldn’t be more different. The book I am currently writing is about a category one murder convict, so I need to know about prisons, criminal law, the appeal system.  Within just a couple of hours of web surfing, I can have the beginnings of some solid research, so much so that I now know about different aspects of prison life not just from a warden’s view, but from the viewpoint of  a convict inside – amazing.

And that’s the thing – the web is amazing. But with it, comes a darker side.  Type ‘Internet Disorder’ into Google, and you’ll get an array of websites and articles detailing the increasing rise of apparent dependency on the Internet. Sites such as psychcentral.com posted an interesting article on net addiction, sighting three stages of addiction, namely: enchantment, disillusionment and finally, balance. They do, however, speculate in the article that while the term, “Internet addiction” is spouted widely, the terms “book addiction”, or “TV addiction” are not (although, they haven’t met my kids…)

Further searching throws up more articles on the subject – and ones that are a little more cause for concern. The Telegraph newspaper published an article back in January, 2012, stating that research has identified that Internet users who become dependent on being online have shown signs of changes in the brain similar to alcoholics and cocaine addicts. Oh crikey. Now, while we mustn’t use this as cause for panic, it does throw up some interesting questions. How many of us have ignored our spouses, kids, because we are answering a text or tweet? (Come on, hands up…) Or, how many of you have ended up on Facebook till the wee hours after originally telling yourself that you’d only be on there for half an hour and then you’re off to bed? Hmmm? I know I have. And the rest.

I think, really, that the key is to find a balance. The Internet undoubtedly has enriched our lives. Information is available in a split second, social media can quite literally cause life-changing democratic revolutions and books can be written (hopefully for the better) with the aid of speedy broadband connections. However, with this 24-hour connection comes the constant pressure to never switch off, to always be in touch with others and, sometimes, at the detriment of those who we love around us. For me, personally, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook et al, they are all invaluable. But, there are times when I know it is wise for me to turn my back on it all, just for a while, and take a break. Thing is, can you?

Ooo, look out for my new regular Friday afternoon post, “Weekend Waffling” out later on today…