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Your parenting legacy

Growing up, on the rare occasions we would go out for dinner, my family and I would invariably encounter a surly waitress. You know the sort: plonks the menu on the table with a sigh, takes your order as if it’s the most boring thing in the world and practically thumps you one when you ask for extra cutlery! I exaggerate but you get the idea. 

When this situation arose, my Dad would say something like: “A prize for the person who can crack a smile from the grumpy waitress!” At which point my sister and I would groan, sinking further into our chairs. 

Next time the waitress would appear at the table, my Dad would make a comment along the lines of: “Bit busy in here tonight.” Often this would be all it took and we’d watch the waitress relax, her face softening with a small smile.

If she was a tough nut to crack he’d try again. Maybe put a fake snake on the table next time she came around. (You need to know that it’s usual for my father to carry props like this around with him – he has been known to put a glass eyeball on his plate in the hopes of successfully rising a squeal or two!) Or maybe he’d balance a fork on his glass, anything out of the ordinary to get a smile.

If all this failed and our waitress was particularly dour, he would say, with a twinkle in his eye and a cheeky grin: “Are you having a horrible day?” I don’t think I’ve ever seen this technique fail! A comment like this would completely disarm our server and from then on she’d be putty in our hands…and full of smiles!

My Mum was the same. She’d often strike up a quick chat with people here and there as we did our shopping along the high-street. An old man waiting to cross the road for example or the woman in front of us in the check-out queue.  She was always, and still is, ready with a smile or a nod. Especially with elderly people. “You should always say hello,” she’d say to me. “You might be the only person they speak to all day.”

As a kid I would find the whole thing hugely embarrassing. I would roll my eyes at both my parents and wish I was invisible.  It was mortifying. I didn’t get the point at all.

But as an adult I do get the point and I find myself doing exactly the same thing as my parents. What’s more I do it in front of my children who find it just as insanely embarrassing as I did. “Why do you always talk to the check-out girl!” My daughter will hiss as we leave the supermarket. “Do you know that man at the gas-station?” My son will ask. “I’m just trying to be friendly!” is my reply. Because what harm is it to smile at someone or pass the time of day? It costs nothing but gives so much more. 

So as I happily watch my children writhe in humiliation (an unexpected joy of parenting I find) I realise that this is part of my parents’ parenting legacy. As a mother of children still pre-teen, I tend to think of parenting as a relatively short period of time, while my children are living at home and need me to wipe their noses or buy their shoes, but it runs much deeper than that. It’s in everything we do, every decision we make and it lasts a lifetime. 

So why not teach them the value of a smile or a friendly hello instead of how to argue over a parking space? Why not teach them the beauty of giving someone the benefit of the doubt instead of rushing to take offence? Why not teach them how to extend a hand to their fellow man rather than how to pick a fight?
What will your parenting legacy be? 🙂

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A Blogtastic New Year!

Oh so good to be back on the blogosphere! My last post was in April 2012 just before a massive relocation took my family and I to New Jersey. Much as I planned to continue writing, tweeting and all that good stuff, I found I just couldn’t do it. I like to think I’m a multi-tasker but the reality was, that settling my family into a new home, new schools and new area was completely all-consuming. In the end I stopped trying to squeeze it all in and put my personal writing goals on hold.

But now we’re at the beginning of a New Year and it’s impossible to resist the lure of New Year’s Resolutions. Not that I’m making any. I mean the last time I made an official New Year’s resolutions list it consisted of something like: 1) Get fit 2) Get good grades and 3) Get a boyfriend.  So yeah it was a long time ago! 

However,now in the lull after Christmas and before the onslaught of Everything Spring, I am catching my breath, taking stock and planning ahead.

2012 whizzed by and shall hearby be known as The Year of Admin; it was all about change of address stickers, making new friends, organising and reorganising cupboards. But 2013 will The Year of Action, The Year of Not-Putting-Things-Off, The Year of Personal Fullfillment! Oh and also the year of watching as many Oscar nominated movies as possible (hmm… must keep looking for a good babysitter!)

What I like about these sorts of resolutions is that they are suitably vague yet vaguely inspiring.  And also sort of fail-proof; after all if I manage to keep the house stocked up on loo roll all year who’s to say that’s not personally fullfilling?  No-one has to know I set a personal goal of completing my second novel by March. (Eek! Did I just say that out loud?)

Or if I take my car for an oil change well before the warning light flashes isn’t that in fact an indication that I am not putting things off? You see where I’m going with this… I think the key is to keep your expectations (and everybody else’s) low.

So come on…what were your New Year’s Resolutions? It’s a safe place and no one will judge you…I promise!

 

 

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Stay-At-Home Mom Confession: I Want A Job!

I’ve been a stay-at-home Mom for twelve years. When I read that sentence back it absolutely shocks me to the core because it was never my plan. Before I had children, before I met my husband, I had always believed that it was important for a woman to keep working alongside starting a family. I had a theory that working part-time was ideal because that way a mother was keeping her own identity while also being there to nurture her children. To add to this the children would benefit from socializing with others. 

So when I became pregnant with my first child, I made plans to redirect my career. I managed to secure a part-time job and began scouting around child-care options in London (pricey but essential). Then everything changed: my husband got a job transfer to Belgium and before I knew it, we were moving house to live in another country and all of a sudden…I no longer had a job.

Six years in Belgium were spent settling in and having another child. We were speaking another language and adapting to a new community. These, I believed, were good reasons not to go back to work and I became a full-time Mom. 

Then we moved to the States. And until recently, when we got the illusive Green Card, I couldn’t work because my visa wouldn’t allow it.  I was officially just “a spouse.” We had another child.

I love my kids. They amaze me, I look at them and am in disbelief that these three wonderful human beings are my children.  I’m not going to admit to your face (obviously that would be rude and tactless) but secretly I think, no I know, my children are the best in the world! 😉

But … I want a job. I still feel the way I did years ago when I was single and childless. In fact I believe it even more strongly. I meet women like me who are happy to be full-time mothers, they thrive on it and they are fullfilled.  And I’m jealous.  Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t make myself feel that way. Somehow it’s not enough. And in the back of my mind I feel that it would be healthier for me and my children if I went back to work.

I don’t want to live through my children, I want to live alongside my children. (Almost thought I’d be struck down by lightening for saying that but no … I’m still here.)

Does that make me selfish? What do you think? Are you a stay-at-home Mom who yearns to go back to work? Or did you give up work so that you could be a full-time Mom?  Maybe you’re a working Mom who has to work and would prefer not to? Or a Mom who never considered giving up her career to have children?  

I would love to hear from you! 🙂

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The Wonder of a Writing Retreat!

I’ve been on a couple of writing retreats and they have been so useful, in fact I would say they were irreplaceable and I would definitely jump at the opportunity to go on another one. 

I’ve got used to writing just about anywhere: I can jot down notes in the doctor’s waiting room, tap away on my laptop in the car while my kids are doing their various after-school activities, I even work on character developments while having my teeth cleaned.  I’m not unique of course, most writers are used to cramming their writing into the most unlikely places.  But the beauty of a retreat is that it provides guaranteed uninterrupted writing time to focus on a manuscript which can be vital in helping develop plot-lines or work through sticky areas.

What makes a writing retreat successful depends on many things and I think that every writer probably has their own personal list of Writing Retreat Must Haves but are a couple of points which for me, contribute to making a writing retreat a wonderful haven where I can truly immerse myself in my writing and let my creative juices flow!

Know your fellow retreaters – I am part of a small but challenging writing group and there are usually just four of us on a retreat.  We’ve been working together as writers for a long time and have a successful working relationship. This is vital during a retreat because we are able to leave each other to work and set our own personal writing rhythms while also arranging group critique times and breaks so that we can pool our thoughts, egg each other on or seek each other’s advice.  If  I was with a group of people I didn’t know, I think I would feel that I’d have to be polite, look presentable and get caught up in small-talk which would take away from necessary writing time.  There is something wonderful about typing away on your laptop all day wearing pyjamas and tatty old slippers!

Choose a dull venue – every time we’ve organized a retreat, we have picked a B&B which is in a relatively uninteresting, isolated area. This is so important because it vastly cuts down on distractions that could take us away from our work, like shops, cinemas or restaurants.  (The only view I need on a writing retreat is the screen of my laptop!)  We usually bring our own snacks, cereals, soups and sandwich stuff so that we always have food on hand (this saves money but also prevents us from having to pop out for supplies all the time).   Sometimes we order take-out but we tend not to shower and we always make sure there is a plentiful supply of coffee!

Set goals – I think this is really important (well for me at least) because it means I’m much more efficient with my special writing retreat time.  For each retreat, I give myself a personal goal and I try to stick to it.  Whether I actually do or not, is not necessarily important, the key is to have something to work towards so that no precious time is wasted.  The retreats I’ve been on have only lasted three days ( we all have young families so it’s hard to justify more time away) so from the time we arrive, to the time we leave, we work non-stop.  We usually write well into the night and get up early to crack on.  It is so wonderfully satisfying to drive home exhausted but knowing that we have achieved so much. 

I consider the writing retreats I’ve attended to be absolute gems in my writing career so far and I hope I continue to be lucky enough to keep going on them!  What about you?  Have you ever been on a writing retreat? Was it successful? Would you do it again? Have you got any writing retreat tips to share?

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The thing about writing…

Life is all about extending your comfort zones right? Well in December I plonked myself bang in the middle of a new comfort zone and it made me edgy and excited all at the same time!  In July I published my debut novel High-Heels And Slippers, first as an ebook and then in paperback too.  That  in itself was a huge learning curve but then in December I took part in a book blog tour during which my book was reviewed by fifteen people.  I had no idea what they would think of my book but whatever they thought was made public in blogosphere for all to see – eek!   I must have been crazy, I mean no one made me do it; I signed up for it voluntarily!

But that’s the thing about writing: it makes me want to push my personal boundaries.

I began to write consistently about five years ago when I had some ideas for children’s books. I joined the SBCWI, attended a regular critique group and went to a children’s writing conference inNew York. 

A couple of members of my writing group were writing YA novels.  They had reams and reams of work and I was completely in awe of their ability to produce such large amounts. How did they do that?  How did they have so much to say?  Their word counts were in the thousands and it was completely daunting to me. 

 I kept on revising my five hundred word picture book manuscripts, trying to perfect each line and all the time wondering what it must be like to write a full length novel.  I was tempted but lacked the confidence to give it a go. 

Then one evening, I decided to try it.  I sat down with a blank Microsoft document and began to type. That’s when Josie Jenkins, the heroine of my novel, first came alive.  For the next few months her story just poured out of me.  I would stay up until three in the morning pounding away on the keys of my laptop.  Before I knew it I had written several chapters. 

I wanted to bring this new work to my critique group, after all I relied on their good sense and perceptive critiques, but I lacked the courage.  Meeting after meeting, I chickened out, and kept the printed sheets hidden in my bag. 

But although it’s tempting to hide away and succumb to one’s hermit tendencies, a writer cannot afford to be reclusive for long, because receiving and being receptive to feedback is essential for a writer’s growth and eventual success.  Or at least that’s what I’ve come to believe. For it seems to me, that all feedback, even the negative, hard-to-take stuff, is valuable.

Most people have a fear of rejection, and I’m certainly no exception, but the thing about writing is that makes me confront my fears.  So I drew a deep breath and finally took the papers out of my bag.  Before I began to read, I apologized: “This is probably going to be useless…” I muttered as I passed out copies to everyone.  “It’s just something I’m working on…so you know…it’s pretty rough…”  The group smiled knowingly back at me.  They knew the feeling of course, the feeling of putting your creative self on the line.

When I began to read my palms went clammy and my voice stuck in my dry mouth.  I was utterly nervous; it felt pretty much as if I had just stripped naked in the middle of Barnes & Noble. 

Yes it was nerve-wracking but it was also exhilarating.  And I have come to the conclusion that it was also addictive.  Because that was over three years ago and I have continued write and to learn so much since then. It has been a series of highs and lows which have been taken me to depths of despair one minute and soaring on a crest of a confidence-wave the next.  And I’m still learning and I’m still trying to navigate through the ups and downs.  The thing about writing is that it’s fluid; I never know where it’s going to take me and let’s face it, that’s part of the buzz!

In the beginning, I have to admit, I rejected the idea of self-publishing.  And when aNew Yorkagent showed an interest in my work I thought I was on the road to finding a publisher (and a guest spot on the Oprah show; well we writers do like to dream!) But after six months I still had no contract and I was struggling with an overwhelming sense of failure.  For a while I couldn’t bear to go near my manuscript, I couldn’t handle the thought of sending out more query letters and waiting again for another six months, time after time, only to find that years may pass and I could still be in the same situation.  Life’s too short to wait around, twiddling your thumbs.

There’s a latin proverb which goes something like this: “If the wind fails, take to the oars.” And that’s exactly what I decided to do.  There had been an explosion in epublishing, more and more authors were choosing to publish their work this way. I decided to have a rethink about self-publishing and give it a try because by doing that I could get Josie’s story out there, I could get the feedback I needed from the people that really mattered: the reading public.  I knew nothing about epublishing world and so I embarked on a massive fact finding mission.  And even though it was perplexing at times, I was happy to do it because the thing about writing is that it makes me want to take on a challenge.

Part of that challenge, for me, is accepting that High-Heels And Slippers isn’t perfect and not berating myself to bits for that.  I have tried and tried to make sure it was typo-free and well-edited but there’s always room for improvement.  And the thing about writing is that I want to get better and better. 

So I will take everything I have learned from this and feed it into my next book.  And while I’m working on that, I’m sure I will learn a whole bunch more because that’s the thing about writing: no matter how much you write and how long you do it for, there’s always more to learn.

I would love to learn from your writing experiences!  What are the things about writing that give you a buzz?  What challenges you?

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Writing Retreats!

Thank you to Tea And Scribbles (FAB name for a blog btw!) for posting my guest post on writing retreats today: http://teaandscribblesbooks.blogspot.com/ 

If you have time please nip over to have a look and check out all the book reviews at the same time! 🙂

Cheers – Ella 🙂

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Book Blog Tour and TOMS GIVEAWAY!!!!

The High-Heels And Slippers blog tour is well underway and I must say it is incredibly exciting (and just a bit nerve wracking) watching the reviews come in.   So far the response has been great – yay!  I thought it might be fun to see Josie’s reaction to the feedback and unsuprisingly she seems to be a little dramatic about the whole thing! 😉 Check it out here: http://highheelsandslippers.wordpress.com/

Thank you to Michelle @ Just Jump for her rave review: http://lovelivejustjump.blogspot.com/2011/12/book-review-high-heels-and-slippers-by.html

And to  Molly for her 5 Book rating and review @ http://lovelivejustjump.blogspot.com/2011/12/book-review-high-heels-and-slippers-by.html 

Thank you both so much – I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book! 🙂

Well that is definitely enough about me! I am VERY excited to say that I am taking part in the TOMS Book Blog Giveaway!!!  I’ve  just finished reading Blake Mycoskie’s book “Start Something That Matters” and loved it! I’ll be posting a review in the next few days and I have one copy of the book to GIVE AWAY!!!!  YAY!   And I will send it anywhere in the world! 🙂 I’ll keep you posted with details of how you can win this FREE copy. 

In the meantime if you have never heard of TOMS shoes please check out their website: http://www.toms.com/  The one for one programme is such a FAB concept and the shoes are super-comfortable – really everybody should have a pair! 😉

Have a FAB day everyone! Ella

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