Three More Days, Three More Days...

The alert reader of these musings may have noticed not much talk about writing lately. Particularly since the summer holidays started. Even as I type this, a child is calling impatiently for me to play Go Fish with her. But frankly, the whole of last year (apart from Swoosie of course!) was a bit of a write off (ho ho) on that front.

But THIS year is going to be different. Oh, yes. Child no 1 and child no 2 will both be at school. A-aaall day. That's right, from 9 till 3.30, my time is my own. Okay, from 9.15 till 3.15, to allow for drop off and pick up travel time. So say, six hours. Subtract 45 minutes for yoga, that leaves 5 and a quarter hours. I guess I will have to do some minimal housework - just the usual bed-making, laundry, shopping, tidying up, washing the dishes, cleaning the toilet - not cooking - I can cook when the kids get home. Let's say half an hour a day?

That leaves 4 and three quarter hours for work. Oh, wait, what about a lunch break, better give myself 45 minutes for a sandwich and a cuppa. Okay, four hours a day for writing.

Oh, hang on, there's all that businessy stuff I usually do while Evie is playing in the background - answering emails, blogging (ahem), googling myself (ahem). Hm, I can fritter away a couple of hours a day on that stuff normally. But the New Me will cut it down to half an hour. So I've got three and a half hours for creativity.

But I will need to feed my brain as well as wringing stuff out of it, won't I. That's the joy of being at home, right, the freedom to read and think, uninterrupted? Is an hour a day reading time too much to ask? But that only leaves two and half hours for writing...

And what if I want to chat to my mum on the phone, or walk down to the shops, or hear the preppies reading, or cover some books for the school library, or go to the library myself? What if my friend makes good his threat to find me a part-time paid job this year? What if I want to go out for coffee with my husband, or join a choir, or a book club? Where's that time going to come from?

Suddenly my long free day doesn't feel so luxurious after all.

(Ha ha. Just kidding. It's going to be great. I have three books to work on this year, and I'm itching to get started. Three days to go, three days to go.)


Through The Wardrobe

I just finished reading this delightful book about C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia, and it reminded me just how much I adored these books as a child (and still do). From the first thrilling, eerie moment that Lucy steps through the wardrobe and finds snow, not mothballs, crunching underfoot, I was enchanted. I didn't own them until later, but I read and re-read the copies from the Mt Hagen library until they became talisman books - to be borrowed and stowed under my pillow at night, without any longer needing to be actually read.

My particular favourite was Voyage of the Dawn Treader, with its sublime ending where Reepicheep the chivalric mouse paddles his coracle toward the green glassy wall of water at the edge of the world. The one book I loathed was The Last Battle, which seemed to strike false notes from the opening scene and ended, unthinkably, with the destruction of Narnia. Tears streamed down my face as I read it and I slammed the book shut, vowing never to reread it, pretending that I'd never read at all. Because as long as that story remained unread, it meant that Narnia still existed... didn't it? It was the equivalent of shoving my fingers in my ears and shouting "La, la, la!"

Many years later, reading about C.S. Lewis's philosophy, his spiritual vision, and his faith in the unique power of the imagination to grasp, and communicate, great truths, I can discern a straight line running from my deep and wordless love of Narnia to what I try, in my own feeble way, to achieve as a children's writer. To write books that aren't just about the surface story; to write books that comfort and inspire, that provide a glimpse of the mysteries of the universe; to write books that have a spiritual dimension, however deeply buried; to write books that might be loved, and stored in the heart forever.


Adventures in Hair

My hair has had many incarnations. It's been white-blond and curly, straight and mousy-brown, pony-tailed, plaited and cropped super-short. It's been orange and frizzy, black and bobbed, and poodle-permed. It's been hidden in turbans a la Simone de Beauvoir, fringed, scraped back with combs, and piled in a messy bun on top of my head and secured with a thousand bobby-pins.

Ultimately, nothing could disguise the disappointing genetic fundamentals of thin, limp texture and boring brown-ness, and I settled for a no-nonsense, no-fuss bob.

Then, a couple of years ago, my hair took control. It decided to turn grey - inexorably, steadily, irrevocably grey. And to my surprise, I'm rather liking it.

My head is turning slowly silver, in slender streaks. It actually looks kind of stylish. I've always loved the look of proud silver-haired women: Helen Mirren, Betty Churcher, Robyn Nevin, Judi Dench, two mothers at our school, one of the yoga teachers at the ashram. They look strong and confident, unapologetic and serene. Unashamed grey hair is becoming rarer. I always notice other women with grey hair; I feel drawn to my silver sisters. I don't mind looking my age, I hope I'm comfortable in my skin. I don't want to rub out the lines I've earned in my forty-something years with Botox, I don't want to pretend I'm still twenty when I'm clearly not. Not that I've transcended all body anxieties, I have plenty of other imperfections to fret about.

I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately, as I'm planning to write part of a book set in the 1970's. That decade might have been the last time in Western culture when women were truly encouraged to celebrate the huge variety of natural beauty we're endowed with - buxom or skinny, hairy, fleshy and glorious, we could let it all hang out, whatever shape we happened to be. "Natural" was gorgeous. (Of course it couldn't last because no one could make any money out of "natural.") How wonderful it would be if we could all feel comfortable and confident with our bodies. How much energy we would free up for creativity and action and enjoying life, if we didn't spend so much time worrying about what we look like. Hardly an original observation, I know, but one that's on my mind.


Our Holiday

All photographs by Alice (except the one of her smiley-sunscreen legs, which was taken by Evie)



A sad thing happened on our holiday: we accidentally left these little guys behind on the front beach at Sorrento. Though Evie has a vast collection of Littlest Pets, these two were special, her "babies." They were called Sugar and Nuttlex.

We were all culpable. It was Alice's fault, because it was her idea to bring them to the beach; Evie's fault, because they belonged to her, and she should have looked after them; Michael's fault, because he arrived with kites at a crucial moment and we think that's when they were dropped in the sand; and my fault, because I'm the mum, and it's my job to keep track of everything, isn't it? Anyway, I feel really bad about it. Ridiculous, I know, but it does feel as if Sugar and Nuttlex were part of our family, and I hate the thought of them, so small and helpless, abandoned on the beach, as we gathered up our towels and strolled away forever.

It's absurd to single out the loss of Sugar and Nuttlex when you think of all the toys that drift out of our lives - left behind, broken, thrown away, lost in the garden, sifted to the bottom of the toy drawer, marooned in the attic. I remember other objects which were once precious and have now disappeared from my life - a ring, a book, a photograph - and I mourn them vaguely, but because I can't pinpoint the exact moment of their loss, the grief is blunted. I can let them go. But I almost felt Sugar and Nuttlex slipping from my grasp, and the pain is small but sharp.

Evie cried. I said, don't be disappointed if Daddy can't find them. She said, are you kidding? I'll disappoint my head off!

Daddy couldn't find them.

So we hope that means that some other child has picked them up and put them in their pocket, that they've been carried away into a new life, with a new family and a whole set of new adventures. They won't be Sugar and Nuttlex any more. But we hope that someone loves them.