Tag Archive | The White Cuckoo

Garden Gnomes and Elephants

Hello! (waves).

Before you start reading this post, please be assured that (a) this is not me in this photo and (b) the comment does not refer to you!

Anyone who knows me in person will know that above all else in life I treasure my family and good old-fashioned values.  I have always believed in the old adage that blood is thicker than water. Our family is growing all the time, with each new marriage or birth bringing with it new family members into the fold. I passionately believe that children thrive on the security a sprawling family structure brings with it. Grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins and brothers and sisters all have a role to play in supporting parents to bring up their children.

My parents were also very family-orientated, and both my brother and myself were brought up properly. We had a fabulous childhood and always knew our mum and dad loved us very much. We had rows – of course we did – but they always ended up with someone saying sorry and usually a hug or two. We rarely went to bed on an argument. Looking back, the longest-running conflict, I’m ashamed to say, was between myself and Mum. I think it lasted about three years. We clashed spectacularly when I was aged between 13 and 16. I did eventually come to my senses and realised that Mum had actually done me a massive favour by being hard on me.  The same thing happened with my own daughter when she was the same age, so I suppose it was ‘Karma’ coming back to bite me on the bum! A good mum will instinctively be hard on her daughter because it will ultimately ensure she becomes a strong-minded woman.  Women need to be strong to protect their children. It is only human nature. Mothers and teenage daughters fight all the time.

Now what I am saying here, is that, up until relatively recently, family ding-dongs were always conducted face-to-face. Angry words were shouted out, emotions vented in yells of frustration and tears were shed – mostly on poor Dad’s shirt.  We argued, we made up, we hugged, we laughed at some of the stupid things we said and above all, we said ‘sorry’ and the other person could see that we meant it. Hurtful words disappeared and eventually were forgotten.

I remember arguing with friends, too. We pouted our lips, flounced off in a huff,  slagged each other off and then, when confronted with a common enemy (usually in the form of a teacher or a boy) we regrouped and closed ranks, crying into each other’s hair and vowing eternal and everlasting friendship. The lads, we observed, were more physical and arguments sometimes ended in black eyes and broken limbs. Even lads, forced by a hated teacher or a parent to apologise to each other, usually patched up their differences and were soon best buddies again.

Remember? I’m sure you do.

I worry about the changing world and the subliminal but potentially deadly influence of modern communication instead of face-to-face human interaction, but at the same time appreciate and embrace technological advances.

All this technology needs to be handled with care. It can cheapen and denigrate the written word all too easily, but it can also magnify it and turn it into a monster, sometimes spectacularly with terrible consequences.  Just this week a young woman has lost her job, made the national news and has probably been scarred for life by tweeting that she knocked a cyclist off his bike. It was just a few words, communicated in a moment of irritation, but look what has happened now?  Click on this link for the full story.

Used with care and good judgement, social networking and text messaging enriches and brings embellishment and colour to the modern world. People can connect with each other so easily nowadays and I am a big advocate of children using technology to learn. We can’t get left behind. Things change and we can never go back.

BUT ….

The power of the written word can destroy relationships with just a split second’s tap on the return key. The written word is permanent. It can be stored on a phone or sit forever in a mailbox. It can be summoned up and read again, and again, and again …

The words simmer, bubbling just beneath the surface of a spoken apology. The lines of communication become fragmented and disappear into a cauldron full of recriminations, suppressed anger and resentment. When, once, people would knock on each other’s doors or pick up a telephone to clear the air, Facebook sits like an elephant in everyone’s home – just a click away. Before long, a wandering finger will click on the ‘unfriend’ button. Someone will pick up their phone and tap out a text and press ‘send’ when, in the olden days, they would pick up a piece of paper and write a letter, pouring out all their resentment and anger, only to tear it up and chuck it in the bin the next morning, having realised the consequences of posting it. All that has been lost is a night’s sleep, tossing and turning, worrying about the argument or difference of opinion.

The outcome of sending the text or posting that tweet or facebook status is a lost relationship. Gone. Forever with just a twitch of a muscle in a rash moment. It might even be a lifelong friendship or a relative that is sacrificed, all because of modern technology taking the place of human interaction.

Our children, and future children, are much too precious for the technology of the modern world to destroy their basic humanity. Let’s all work together and teach them an old mantra with a modern twist –

“If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say it at all (especially in a text, email or on Facebook)”

As children grow up, we can help them to respect technology and use it with care. As a writer, I am perhaps more aware of the power of the written word than many people.

I really hope this post makes a difference – and more importantly, no one is offended by it.  If you are, then just pick up the phone and ring me so that we can talk about it face to face!

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Journey to Infinity and Beyond

Buzz lightyearWay back in September 2012, I was like Andy in Toy Story, standing on the edge of the windowsill arguing with Buzz Lightyear, who really believed he could fly to infinity and beyond.

Now, having taken the leap of faith with The White Cuckoo tucked under my wing I have launched myself off the edge, just like Buzz.

Having been invited over to Morgen Bailey’s blog to talk about my experiences (click here to read the post) I am about to embark on Phase Two of my marketing plan.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me: either through social networking, by downloading The White Cuckoo, purchasing a paperback, posting a review on Amazon or even just wishing me ‘good luck’. I can honestly say the experience has been uplifting and, at the moment, I am flying.

To download The White Cuckoo from Amazon just click on the book cover image on the sidebar. So far, eleven lovely people have left reviews on Amazon.co.uk and one on Amazon.com.

Wednesday, 24th October

Wednesday, 24th October

Keyword for the Day: Old School

The cover is silky smooth beneath my fingers. The sight of my name as an author gives me a thrill, akin to that of a small child about to to on holiday, or running down the stairs on Christmas morning to find a huge sack-load of presents. My heart is thumping in my throat at the culmination of thousands of hours of night-time writing, endless rewriting and editing. I open up the cover and test the thickness of the loose pages – brand new beneath my fingers. I suddenly feel very scared – as if I am about to run naked down the A14. Every single word is so precious to me, and now they are about to be committed to history forever, a permanent marker across my life, like a grading on a exam paper.

Yep – that was me yesterday. I just didn’t have the time to write in my diary just how I felt when the proof of the paperback arrived. I didn’t want to put it down. I even took it to the Planning Policy meeting with me!

Anyway, enough of book talk.

On my drive to work at least four days in the week, I pass by my old secondary school, which is incrementally disappearing into a huge pile of rubble that looks like the Twin Towers after 9/11.  I have been wondering for days how they will shift all the debris. A road sign appeared today: Road Closed for 3 days 29th October. It conjured up images in my imagination that are not pretty!  There is only one arterial road to the massive Ise/Lodge estate, and guess where the school is located? Yes, on Deeble Road, right at the top of one of the busiest junctions in the town.

I posted on FB that I was sad to see the old school go, because I loved Henry Gotch school and have some very happy memories of the good times I shared with with classmates in 1A, 2A, 3A and 4AD before I left at fifteen to start a two-year course of ‘O’ Levels with Secretarial Studies at Kettering Technical College.

At my junior school, Park Road School in Kettering, I suffered terribly because we had moved to the very remote Lodge Farm Estate at the beginning of my final year. We were still in Kettering, but on the very outskirts of the town and a long way from my school. At the age of ten, I had never before experienced bullying, but the few girls I had thought were my friends turned against me when we moved and made my final year at junior school absolute hell, which was made worse by the gasps of adult shock and recriminations that I hadn’t made it through the eleven-plus. I was very miserable and unhappy when I was ten.  It was no wonder I didn’t want to go to any of the secondary schools the bullies were attending. I wanted to go to Henry Gotch, despite its terrible reputation as the worst school in the town. Luckily, my parents let me have my own way and I was the only child from my junior school to go there!

I wasn’t so brave come the first day, though. I was absolutely terrified because I didn’t know anyone. I needn’t have worried. At the end of the first week I had made loads of new friends and the days of junior school bullying were just a distant nasty memory.

So it was quite a shock to me to find that one of my closest friends in 3A and 4AD was still suffering the after-effects of the bullying she had suffered in 1B= and 2B=. Each year two pupils moved up to the ‘A’ stream and two from the ‘A’ stream were put down to the ‘B’ stream. There was a ‘C’ stream, but I didn’t know anyone from that class. We did have some limited contact with the ‘B’ stream but not much. My English teacher, Mary Kelly, once told me as an adult that they tried to keep the ‘A’ stream isolated from the rest of the school, because we followed the same syllabus as the High School and Grammar Schools. Unlike the other secondary schools in the town, where you were pretty much assigned to the scrapheap after failing your eleven-plus, at Henry Gotch they were very proactive with their ‘A’ stream and had high hopes for us. It wasn’t until I was an adult I realised that was probably pretty much why lots of my classmates at Henry Gotch had achieved more as adults than many of our counterparts who went to the High School and Grammar School. I am now actually glad I failed my eleven-plus and not just scraped through. I know I wouldn’t have survived at the all-girls High School. In my final year, Henry Gotch became a ‘Comprehensive’ and the politically incorrect streaming was abolished – but we still weren’t allowed to take ‘O’ levels unless our parents paid for them.

I remember hugging my friend Karen Slough, who got moved down from 2A at the end of the school year. I used to sit with Karen and she was inconsolable and in floods of tears at having to leave our lovely class. I had tried to tell her that the end-of-year exams were important, but she had got in with the wrong crowd out of school and hadn’t done a single minute of revision. Actually, Karen is another tragic story altogether. She died when we were in our twenties, but I won’t go into all that today.

Eileen, who moved up in Karen’s place, was very nervous on her first day in the A Stream Our form tutor in the third year was the music teacher, Harry Briggs, AKA ‘Baldy’. Someone had told us girls in 3A she had been bullied in her old class, so we all made a point of making a fuss of her and tried to make her welcome. I can remember her lovely smile and bubbly personality (and also how clever she was and how hard she worked!) and from that day we have been friends, not seeing as much of each other as adults as we would like, because life and working full-time gets in the way, but I have no doubt that all us Henry Gotch girls will reconnect where we left off all those years ago when we retire.

I can remember there was lots of teasing and laughter in our class, but it was laughing ‘with’, rather than ‘at’. When I posted on my FB page today that I was sad the old school was being knocked down, Eileen commented that she still suffers from the after effects of the bullying she endured at school and it still affects her confidence 40 years later. Not only that, but my own daughter, Emily, commiserated with Eileen (who incidentally is Emily’s Godmother) because she feels the same. Emily went to Henry Gotch too.

At the time, Emily suffered mostly in silence. I knew there were pupils at Henry Gotch who were nasty about her Coeliac Disease and terrible acne, and some of the girls were very bitchy, but she did have some good friends there – one of whom was her eventual husband. Did I do enough? Did I fail her because I didn’t intervene when I should have done? Should I have let her transfer to Latimer School when she had pestered me instead of telling her to just get on with it and ignore the bullies?

Probably because I had been encased in the ‘A’ Stream bubble at Henry Gotch, I think I might have been blinkered to what was going on outside the bubble. I hadn’t realised just how badly affected by bullying Eileen had been at the time. I hope I didn’t add to her pain unwittingly by an insensitive comment or laughing at something that caused her discomfort. Next time I see her I am going to ask her.

I am also going to apologise to Emily for not being sympathetic enough when she was bullied as a teenager. I should have at least have gone into the school and talked to someone.

But the comment that shocked me most today was my son-in-law’s comment on my FB post that I was sad to see the old school being knocked down. He simply said: ”No, I enjoyed signing the demolition notice’.

Who would have thought that it would be an ex-pupil who got to sign such a notice – and one who had hated the school, too! How satisfying would that be?

Thursday, 18th October

Thursday, 18th October

Keyword for the Day: Emotional

So many people have messaged me, come up to me at work and put comments on both my author page on FB and my personal page to say they have downloaded The White Cuckoo. I was trying to keep track in my head of how many copies I had sold.  By the end of today, I think it was about 28.  Last night, I had reached No. 5,839 in the charts and No. 88 in the top 100 ghost stories!  I was well chuffed about that.

The best thing was the review though.  FIVE STARS!Thank you ‘ornithologist’, whoever you are.  You said you ‘couldn’t find any more books by Annie Ireson, but would certainly look out for them in the future’. I wonder who you are?  Are you someone I know? Hmmm ….

Anyway, I now await the next exciting moment in the publication of The White Cuckoo the arrival of the bound proof copy of the paperback version either today, tomorrow or Monday. I have already approved the electronic version, after staying up nearly all night last night to give it the once over.

I spent a very pleasant hour at lunchtime with my friend, Andy. He is mentioned in the acknowledgements because he has always believed in my writing and has helped me through writers’ block, picked me up off the floor when I was in the depths of despair and celebrated with me when I have had success. We had tea, sandwiches and chocolate cake, so the non-diet suffered a bit of a blow!  He read The White Cuckoo three years ago, but says he is still going to buy TEN copies of the paperback at my book launch!

Today is also a sad day as well as a very happy one.  It is the last day my youngest son, Nicky, is at home before he moves out tomorrow. Of course, I wish Nicky and Christie all the best for their future, but I shall miss them so much, and I know Christie’s mum, Carol, is feeling the same way.  Rob is cheering with delight, though, because:-

  • his sock drawer will be his own
  • he won’t have to hide his aftershave
  • he won’t shake his tin of anti-perspirant and find it empty
  • we can listen to the television downstairs without the sound being drowned out by boom boom boom of loud music, or the sound of FIFA on the PlayStation upstairs
  • his beer fridge might miraculously stay full (no hope of that Rob – he’ll be back, raiding it, just like the others do)
  • the electricity and water bills will reduce considerably

Residents of Walsingham Avenue, prepare yourselves – your peace is about to be shattered!

Tuesday, 16th October

Tuesday, 16th October

Keyword for the Day: No Turning Back

This is my baby – I hope you will love her as much as I do. Her parenting skills are at times dubious, her behaviour isn’t perfect as birds go and she is different to other cuckoos because her genes have made her that way. (A bit like me, really!)

Today, I have been trying to put into words how I feel now that all the hard work has been done – and it has been hard work, to make sure The White Cuckoo was published, as planned, on 31st October. It has been a struggle, but on the whole, not difficult to do when compared to something like quantum physics or rocket science!

I have had to sit up all night, formatting one version of the book for the printers and another for the e-book.  I have learned how easy it is to break a computer file, and how hard it is to mend it again. I have grappled with rogue characters and HTML, tore my hair out by the roots with frustration and shouted loudly at the Kindle Previewer – an absolute must for anyone uploading files to Amazon. I counted up the uploads in the previewer file this evening and I uploaded the book no less than 23 times – and for 22 of them something was wrong, like the Table of Contents didn’t work, or the cover wouldn’t load, or the paragraphs had gaps between them (this was the worst problem.)  I have, actually, been doing two full-time jobs with bells on for the last three weeks.  Despite my assurances to my boss about getting enough sleep, I have been surviving on three hours a night. (Sorry Sue – I lied!) The p-book was no better.  I have had peculiar dreams about fonts and how they are so important for the type of book; eaten my tea at the dining table, with spine widths for dessert. I have spread paper samples on my breakfast toast and then sat in my pyjamas for most of the day whilst proof-reading to within an inch of my sanity.

Today, I have been thinking about the ‘what ifs’.  What if I had uncoupled The White Cuckoo from my vehicle of ambition three weeks ago? What if I had trundled off down the familiar, well-worn track of ‘I will never self-publish?’  I have said this so many times to so many people it has become my mantra. There is a far greater strength of character in changing track, reviewing your ideals and keeping an open mind than worshipping at the altar of dogma and principles. Yes, I did change my mind, and yes, I was largely forced into it, but no, I won’t look back. I am not ‘vanity’ publishing because vanity is not a word that I associate myself with.

It is only by turning your back on materialism to stand squarely and solidly to look ambition straight in the eye that you can achieve your full potential in life. I don’t care about driving a posh car, wearing expensive clothes and living in a show home. These things are not important to me at all. I do not write books to make money – I have a day job which pays the bills. The things I care about most in life are things money can’t buy and one of them is ‘ambition’.  Another thing I firmly believe is that you never get anywhere in life unless you are prepared to work hard for it. It’s no good going around bleating that ‘it’s not fair’. Life is never fair, and it is less fair to some people than to others, but there is nothing you can do about ‘life not being fair’ so it’s not even worth a nano-second of thinking time.

Yes, I am disappointed the trilogy is still gathering dust on the shelf, and I am worried that by self-publishing The White Cuckoo I have actually sacrificed it on the altar of ambition. I am also worried about the money I have staked on it. It costs a lot of money to get 200 books printed, and I need to sell at least 100 at my book launch to break even.

Only time will tell, but I know one thing – if you don’t at least try, there is no chance of success because success, like the Emperor, is naked and worthless without the cloak of ambition. (There is a dubious connection with ‘vanity’ here, but I’m not going to go there!)

Anyway – for those of you who read this blog – the Kindle version has been uploaded and accepted and will be available for £2.99 on Amazon from tomorrow – two weeks’ early, but I won’t be shouting it from the rooftops, I’ll let my daughter do that because she arguably has a much bigger mouth than I do!

The official publication date is still 31st October.

Chapter 1: Conception

About as old as you can get

THE WHITE CUCKOO – THE BIRTH OF A NOVEL

Chapter 1: Conception

 

When I took this photograph of my husband at the Natural History Museum little did I know that just half an hour later I would have conceived a cuckoo. (Oh dear, I appear to have uploaded the wrong image.)

A week earlier, an inconspicuous-looking email had nestled itself comfortably in my unread work emails. “Day Trip to London – Book your Tickets Now”. it said seductively.  I clicked on it first, before all the other unread messages You know how absolutely essential it is to get these type of emails out of the way before knuckling down to a hard day’s work, so a cup of coffee, a biscuit and couple of phone calls later, it was all arranged. We were going to London on Saturday. Yipee!

My then three year old grandson could hardly sleep the night before (and nor could his mum and dad).  Inspired by his grandad, Tyler was fascinated by dinosaurs and all things ancient, so the Natural History Museum was probably the most exciting place in the world.

The coach trip was largely uneventful, except for Tyler who, indignant at being made to wear a nappy was determined he wasn’t going to wee in it. Not only that, he made sure everyone else on the coach knew that he was far too grown up to do such a thing.

‘I’ve done it,’ he announced eventually. Everyone on the coach turned round and smiled as his mum searched for something that wasn’t there on the floor.

Grandad was a bit of a fidget on the coach, and his constant whining “are we nearly there yet” was most annoying to the poor people who had to sit in front of him.  More than once, Tyler had to tell him to stop kicking the seat in front and to sit still.

Finally, we arrived in London. Very helpfully, my son-in-law pointed out to me that I was holding the tube map upside down as the coach party said their goodbyes to each other and set off in opposite directions to spend their days in various parts of the city.

It was a long walk to the Natural History Museum, even after taking the tube.

‘Are you puffed out, Granny?’ said Tyler.

‘No.’ I said.

‘You liar,’ said Tyler’s dad, turning around to grin at me. ‘You sound like an old horse.’

‘She’s getting old – can’t hack it,’ added Grandad.

‘Speak for yourself,’ I retorted, sticking my tongue out at Grandad.

My daughter rolled her eyes in a look that told me she was expecting it to be a very long day.

We arrived – eventually, and having wandered around for an hour or so amongst the impressive exhibits, clutching his grandad’s hand, Tyler made an announcement:

‘I’m hungry,’ he said. ‘Can I have some chicken nuggets?’

Tyler’s dad looked at his watch. ‘Okay, we’ll check out the restaurant.’ he replied, and we all trooped off to the Natural History Museum restaurant.

I would have been glad of a bit of a sit down. My legs were killing me. We found a table and Grandad collapsed into his seat, completely overcome with shock as he studied the basic menu and not-so-basic prices on the wall. Tyler’s dad trooped off to join the long queue and I shuffled along behind him, as Grandad grinned at me in a macabre, mocking kind of way and I received the telepathic message that there was no way in the world he was going to stand in a queue for hours when his feet were killing him.

The queue was horrendous and my son-in-law and I chatted about nothing very much at all while we waited, our conversation silenced now and then as we both eavesdropped the two women who stood behind us.

‘She’s completely gone off her rocker, you know,’ said one woman. ‘Just look at her – she’s got that bloody notebook out again. She just can’t leave it alone.’

I turned around, curious. Once millisecond-long glance told me that the woman who was talking was about my age, the woman she was talking to was her elderly mother, and the person sitting at a table a few yards away, scribbling furiously in a tatty notebook was probably her sister. The two teenaged girls who sat beside her, silently texting on their mobile phones were most likely the old lady’s grandchildren.

‘You know how she gets obsessed with things,’ replied the old lady. She’s always been the same. Anyway, researching family trees is quite popular nowadays – everyone’s doing it.’

‘I wouldn’t mind if it was our family tree,’ the younger woman moaned. ‘But don’t you think it’s a bit weird to be researching the family tree of a complete stranger instead of your own family?’

‘I suppose so,’ the old lady sighed. ‘But what can we do? It’s completely taken over her life – she spends all her time sifting through old records and on her computer. She’s spent an absolute fortune on the internet …’

It was a conversation that lasted, probably, less than two minutes. As I stood in the queue, I desperately wanted to jot it down because that conversation was like a precious jewel that needed to be kept securely and safely in my handbag.  I felt a little flip of excitement in my tummy and a tingle down my spine.

Little did I know, on that grey November Saturday morning in 2008, that this conversation was going to change my life.

Next Chapter: Friday, 18th May.  This story of the conception, gestation and birth of a novel will be published in instalments in the form of weekly posts over the next six months, culminating in one final post on PUBLICATION DAY, which is 31st October 2012. It might even contain a sneak preview in the form of tiny excerpts from the novel, but you will need to buy the book to read all about the characters, places and mysteries of ‘The White Cuckoo’.  All the posts are collected together on ‘The White Cuckoo’ tab at the top of the website.