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Sunday, 22 January 2017


Hello, Dear Readers!

Apologies for the long delayed nature of this long promised post. I don't have the spoons to spin it into any kind of coherent (let alone amusing) narrative right now, but suffice it to say that the arrival of the puppy heralded a great deal of anxiety, stress, sleep-loss and drama, and I've been lucky if I've managed to scrape together even an hour on my computer on any day for nearly a fortnight. Attempting a blogpost probably would have finished me off.

Much of this stress and drama is connected to the puppy's health. He managed to eat half a puppy collar - complete with spiky plastic clasp - while at the breeders and didn't vomit it out until he'd been with me, and miserably ill, for three days. It was nearly four times the size of his tiny stomach, and as a result it did a lot of damage inside him. Getting it out in one piece was kind of a miracle. It could have been much worse. But it was still pretty bad. He's been in and out of the vets for x-rays and other treatment and had to be admitted for nearly 48 hours due to dangerous levels of dehydration.

But he's on the mend now, and since he's actually dozed off in daylight hours (for more than five minutes!) I thought I'd better hurriedly put this together while I had the chance - or else you might not get it at all. Like any new parent, I'm currently getting up around every two hours in the night (toilet training: it is Hell) and I might doze off at any second.

So, let me introduce you to Ruskin:

I went with Ruskin because I thought it looked like it fitted him, and I'd just re-read Diana Wynne Jones' The Year of the Griffin (thanks for reminding me, Phoenix!) which features a small, gingery character of that name. I've actually been *calling* him Finn about half of the time, but he doesn't seem to mind too much.

Now that he's doing better I'm hoping to start work on my WIP again, which I'm excited about - although I'm trying not to be too excited, since puppies laugh at the best laid plans of men, and often piddle on them for good measure. Wish me good luck with that, muffins! I'm pretty sure I won't be posting again for a while - unless something really interesting happens, of course, and I just HAVE to post - but I promise I will be back with you as soon as I can.

Pray for toilet training success, everyone!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017


Hello, delightful readers! I know I said I'd be absent for a bit - and I'm going to be, never fear - but I just had to come back and let you know this wonderful piece of news that I've been sitting on for ages. And I mean aaaaages.

You may recall that in 2011 the wonderful Royal Literary Fund - an institution dating from 1790 and supported throughout the centuries by such luminaries as Dickens, Thackeray, Kipling and A. A. Milne - made me an incredibly generous grant when I had just lost my job. This enabled me to continue to care for my father full-time during the slow and painful decline of his last years, and also to write and publish THREE books during that period, which kept me relatively sane. Those books, most probably, would never have been written without the Royal Literary Fund's support.

But the Royal Literary Fund doesn't just help to support writers who are in difficult financial situations. They also run a very successful and prestigious scheme called the Royal Literary Fund Fellowship, whereby:

"Writers work one-to-one with students in universities, using their expertise in language and communication to help them develop their essay writing. Writing Fellows are appointed based on their literary merit and aptitude for the role..." 

Basically the RLF matches really good writers up with really good universities, and the university gives the writer an office of their own and access to a computer and the internet, and (usually two days a week) the writer has appointments with students to just help them get it. Help to pass on all that extremely hard-earned knowledge of how language actually works and how to use it effectively to convey your ideas, to students of all ages, races, interests and abilities.

As someone who has written literally hundreds of thousands of words right here on this blog (and thousands more on other blogs) trying to understand and explain All About Writing, the RLF Fellowship is something I really approve of and believe to be not only worthwhile but probably *vital* for students to reach their full potential. In 2016, ninety-one Fellows worked in fifty-six universities across the nations of the UK.

And in 2017, I will be joining them!

I've emailed the RLF to ask for application forms for a Fellowship on two previous occasions and, both times, I chickened out. It felt a bit cheeky to be putting myself forward when the Fund had already done so much for me, and, what was more, I have no teaching experience or qualifications and didn't even go to university (as I talk about here). How in the world could I imagine that I was good enough for this sort of 'Fellowship'? It even sounds important!

But back at the beginning of 2016 something snapped, or maybe clicked for me. Instead of timidly requesting the forms for a third time and chickening out and sadly tucking them away uncompleted, I applied my own writer's skills and did some research. I spoke to some current and past Fellows that I was lucky enough to know. I watched the videos on the RLF website, and I read every single bit of information on offer there (which is a staggering amount, actually). Then I talked to some people who weren't Fellows, but did run writing courses or had been to uni - and this might have been the most useful bit of all, because those people assured me that, based on the way I wrote about the technical aspects of writing on my blog, they were sure I had what it took to do such a job.

So I started to fill in the forms. And as I did, I suddenly remembered that during the nearly ten years I worked as a civil servant I had been *constantly* mentoring and teaching people. I was always the first to volunteer to help train the new staff, and I always loved doing it. Often mentoring people wasn't even any kind of an official role - I just went ahead and did it because I could see that they needed help and I knew I could explain what they needed to know in a way that would really make sense. Sometimes my managers would appreciate this, and at other times they told me off for taking time out of my 'official job role' to teach people to do things in all these new-fangled ways that weren't on the official training hand outs. Sometimes the official trainers would come to me on the sly and ask me to help them write new official hand outs because 'Everyone knows you're really good at this...'

I did it because it's a part of me: I can't stand to watch anyone fumble about in the dark if I can shed a bit of light. And the best part for me was always watching that moment when someone who'd been confused or worried or upset suddenly just got it, when they lit up that darkness themselves with new understanding... man, that gives me shivers just talking about it. It's the best.

So I filled everything in, wrote all this down, and sent it off and waited really, really nervously. I could not BELIEVE it when I got an interview in August, or when the very nice man who interviewed me basically said right then and there that he thought I'd make an excellent Fellow. I needed to keep it under my hat until it was officially confirmed, but unofficially: I'd made the grade.

Well, it's now been confirmed that I should get a posting in a university this Autumn (although I don't know which one yet) and so it felt about time to share the news with you. I'm excited and apprehensive and expecting to learn just as much as I teach, which is how I know I was really right to apply. And oddly enough, I'm actually looking forward - among other things - to being a part-time writer again for a bit. To not only having a steady income (yes, definitely looking forward to that) for at least a year (and maybe more if I'm lucky) but also to being able to see my writing less as a routine day-in-day-out job that I must do six days a week, and more as the joyful part-time activity that I fit in around other things. Like it used to be. I think it'll be fun.

That's it for this week, Dear Readers! The WIP is going well, and you'll hear from me next week on Puppy Day, but after that it'll probably be a while - so take care! xx

Wednesday, 28 December 2016


Hello, Dear Readers! I hope you've been having a lovely winter solstice season (or summer solstice, if you're on that side of the world). A quick update for you on the future Zoë-Trope mascot. Here are some pictures and a video that the breeder sent on Christmas Eve:

 (Scroll up and down to see all the puppies)
You can see how much he's changed, just in the past couple of weeks - not only in the way he looks but in his confidence. He's already got so much personality for such a tiny puppy. I'm really excited (and scared, as well, just slightly) to finally get to meet him. A couple of weeks ago I felt a bit panicked and unprepared, but at this point I'm incredibly eager and just want January to come.

Thanks to everyone who commented on the last post, voting for favourite names or offering new suggestions. At the moment I've definitely got one particular favourite among all the potential names I listed and that's what I'm mentally calling Puppy Marriott. However I don't want to commit to it here yet, since - as I said in the last post - sometimes you meet a dog (or a baby! This happened with my middle niece) and the nice shiny new name you had picked out all ready for them simply doesn't fit.

This is probably the last update I'll post for a while (unless the cute overwhelms me again). I'll let you know when the puppy arrives and post some new pictures then, but I expect to be pretty sleep deprived for a few weeks after that until house-training is mostly in place - you can't really expect a new puppy to hold it for more hours than months they've been alive at first, so I'll probably be getting up every two hours or so to avoid accidents and ingrain the message that he goes to the toilet OUTSIDE.

And since I'm typing, a work update too - Codename: DtH is currently going really well. I had a startling brainwave about a particular character and plotline a week ago - it seems much longer! - which has already yielded all kinds of interesting stuff for the story. This is making me keen to get as many words down as I can before the blog mascot arrives and my writing time takes a temporary nosedive, which is the main reason the blog will be quiet *before* Puppy Day.

Read you later, muffins!

Friday, 16 December 2016


(Yes, there are three exclamation marks in the title - that's how excited I am. Deal with it).

Hello and happy Friday Dear Readers. This'll be my last post for a little while - as usual I'm taking some time off from blogging over Christmas. I'm hoping to get a chunk of work done on the WIP, which is actually going really well right now, for a wonder...

*Pauses, waits to be struck my lightning...*


Anyway, Christmas and the WIP are one reason I'm taking a little time out of the blog, but the reason I probably won't be back until mid-January (and possibly rather inconstantly after that) is given away in the post title:


Or rather, puppy, singular.

After losing Finn I felt convinced for a couple of weeks that I could never have another dog again. Then I started to think I would have another dog, but that it would have to be at least a year. But by a few days later I was missing having a dog in the house so acutely that I was making and deleting emo Tweets and FB statuses in the early hours of the morning. Messing around with my new hair didn't help. Writing didn't even help. My house felt empty and, despite my cats, I felt lonely.

And right around then, as sometimes can happen when the universe is feeling benevolent, the right opportunity fell into my lap. A spaniel breeder whom I followed on Facebook had one last litter to a dog whom she praises all the time as a perfect friend and companion (I've got both this breeder's books about spaniels and have read them cover to cover) and it was bigger than expected, leaving two spare puppies. One was snapped up, but the other was rejected at the last moment because the potential adopter decided it was too close to Christmas. And so, in the second week of January, one of these puppies will be coming to live with me!


Guess which one? Oh, all right - I'll put you out of your misery! It's the orange and white little pup in the centre of the frame. The one who snoozes through the entire video and only stretches when another puppy lands on them. He's a little boy, and he's a working type cocker spaniel.

More cute stuff! This is him at three weeks (a little bit older than in the video):

And this is him now, at around four weeks - he's the second orange and white puppy out of the kennel, and the one who figures out that he doesn't need to crowd into the second bowl along with all the others:

I'm debating over names at the moment. At first I thought Cazaril, after the protagonist of my favourite book, The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. But no one I met got that, and after having to explain it and the pronunciation to everyone (well, except one person - hi Liz!) I imagined myself having to do the same on every excursion and dog walk for the rest of forever and gave up on it. My current shortlist is:
  • Rufus
  • Leo
  • Bryn
  • Rowan
  • Emrys
  • Ruskin
You can vote in the comments if you like, or make other suggestions. I don't promise to pay attention though. Finn was supposed to be called Bramble, but then he turned up and just wasn't - sometimes the dog picks the name for you, so we'll see.

Merry holiday season to you, my lovelies, and a happy New Year. See you on the flipside.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016


Hello, Dear Readers! Remember last week's post about my hair?

Well, I did it!

Yep, this is me. I went out and got it done the day after I posted; I had reached the point where if I didn't get it cut professionally, I might have been tempted to have a go with the kitchen scissors (or snap and just rip it out with my bare hands). This is option two, basically, with some added layers in the front. A few pictures of me throughout the week - apologies for the terrible photo quality and lack of make-up in most of these:

Agent Carter-style 1940's retro curls

Blow-dried straight and pinned on one side

Modern, messy waves

I am looooving how washing and conditioning and combing out my hair takes about five minutes now. I used to actual-facts *dread* it because just making sure I had all the stuff out of my hair at the end used to take about fifteen minutes, and that was if I didn't accidentally dip it into any sudsy bits in the bath. Combing it through after washing? Another fifteen minutes, plus a detangling spray and leave-in conditioner. I don't think I really understood how much hassle it all was until I didn't have to do it anymore. At this length it takes about five minutes to rough-dry it with a blow-dryer, and perhaps three hours to completely air dry. At the previous length blow-drying (not anything fancy, just getting it dry-ish) took around 30mins. Air-drying was an all-night process - I'd sometimes wake up to find it was still damp.

I'm also having fun discovering all the new hair things which have been invented since the last time I dared to do anything interesting with mine. When your hair is really long you worship the fickle god of No Damage. You're terrified it'll all go horribly wrong if you so much as look at it funny. I blow-dried my hair less than once a month and probably used any kind of heated tool on it about three times a year. Having found a few products that worked on my hair half a decade ago, I stuck to them religiously and never wavered, just in case. My hairdryer was brought for me as a Christmas present about fifteen years ago and I kept on using it because it said 'Ionic' and 'Protect' on the box.

But apparently loads of fun stuff has been happening while I was playing Sleeping Hair Beauty (or would that be Rapunzel? Answers on a postcard). Like amazing products for your hair that don't make it feel sticky or crunchy yet hold your style in place! And cool appliances that you can use to make your hair do all these new things but somehow don't fry it! And looks that are less about being perfect and more about being a bit quirky and messy!

Quelle Surprise!

So anyway, it's been fun playing around with it. I might keep it at this length for a while, maybe experiment some more - just so long as I can keep the option of throwing it back into a ponytail, because that's a lifesaver some days.

Mainly what I wanted to say was: getting your very long hair cut doesn't have to be a big deal, so if you, too, are hesitating? I recommend you go for it. Your hair is not you. It's not even the best part of you. Take a risk. But make sure you have a great stylist! Good luck, cuties.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016


Hi guys, I hope you're all having a good week so far. I'm feeling a little miserable - missing Finn a lot, to the point where I nearly burst into tears over a friendly dog in the street this weekend - so I'm going to make a change. Specifically, a hair change.

This is me now (apologies for resting angry face):

And this is basically how my hair has been for the last five years. I have been super lazy. For at least a couple of years I didn't even get it trimmed. At the beginning of 2016 my hair was long enough to sit on (and let me tell you, that's not as much fun as it sounds) so I cut a foot off to send to the Little Princess Trust, but that's the most dramatic change I've made in years. It's really been annoying me lately, though, and I'm hoping that a proper restyle might make my life a bit easier and cheer me up at the same time.

Here are some ideas as to what I could do with my hair.


The least extreme option - keep it long but cut another foot off the bottom, and go for a few subtle layers. This is the sort of thing I'll end up with if I chicken out on the day, basically. Pros: I'll still be able to braid my hair, put it in a bun, and can probably continue to use all my existing hair tools and products, which are geared for use with long hair. Cons: it's not a big enough difference to really excite me, and will still get caught in car doors and under my bag strap, not to mention tangling up with every gust of wind.


The Lob - or long bob. This is a blunt cut, one length version, which is the kind I like - I would hate to have one of the heavily graduated A-line ones because they prevent you from being able to so much as put your hair in a ponytail without those super-annoying snags of short hair falling down at the nape of your neck. Pros: Hopefully long enough for various updoes still, and long enough that I could still hide behind it, maybe play around with it a bit in terms of styling, and it probably wouldn't get caught in any doors. Cons: Would probably still be a bit tangly and would still catch under my bag strap. Without graduation, might end up looking like a weird square shape (my face is already square enough)?


The classic bob, sometimes now referred to as a clavicut because it's long enough to graze the collarbone. I like this version because you can see that it has subtle layering which would make it easier to manage, while still giving the impression of lots of hair. Pros: I think it would be a real, proper change for me and would hopefully be versitile and give me an excuse to play around with new straight and wavy looks. Would be unlikely to catch in or under anything, but ought to be long enough for that vital ponytail, if I made sure it was a low one. Cons: Updoes would be out. I'd definitely be unable to use any of my current styling tools - even my hair ties and bobby pins (all heavy duty ones designed for super long hair) would be useless.


The most extreme of them all - the chin-length bob! I've rocked this look before and I liked it, but at this length my hair can become super unruly and start to take on bizarre, physics defying cowlicks during the night. I had to use my GHDs literally every day (sometimes twice a day) just in order to get it to hang downwards instead of sticking out horizontally from the sides of my head. On the other hand, bendy, messy hair is in right now, so maybe I could make it work for me? Pros: Would take, like, five minutes to wash, condition and dry, would never get tangly and would not get in my way.... except... Cons: too short to tie back into even the most stubby of ponytails in order to put on/take off make-up and wash face/brush teeth, and would therefore be in my face pretty much all the time, even with a hairband. Would need to reinvest in all the specialist bits and pieces that girls with short hair must have, and would take at least two years to grow back to anything approaching long. Would probably, no matter how much I'd like to pretend otherwise, require some form of styling everyday if I was to avoid looking like a deeply eccentric person.

What do you think, Dear Readers? Any foolproof ideas for girls with unruly hair and square faces? Any stunning pictures of amazing hairstyles that I've failed to consider? Let me know! I will look at any suggestions and report back with pics when the deed is finally done.

Read you later, cupcakes.

Friday, 11 November 2016


Very quickly nipping in today because it feels right to let everyone who's sent good wishes and kind thoughts know: Finn died yesterday. He was at home, with me, and it was as peaceful as I could possibly have hoped. Now I have to somehow get used to life without my precious boy, which is already harder than I could possibly have imagined. I miss him so, so much. I can't imagine writing, or doing much or anything at all, for the next little while.

I'm pretty firmly agnostic, but for right now I'm trying to believe that he's out there somewhere, and that he and my dad are together.

Hug your dogs, Dear Readers, or whatever animals you might hold dear. Give them a kiss on the nose for me, and take a moment remember how lucky you are to have them.

Goodbye, darling.

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