A writing blog tour

It’s been a while since I blogged. I’ve got out of the habit, really. The Easter holidays and the two-kids-at-home chaos that that entails meant it was hard to find time to concentrate on writing for fun, what with actual paid work and housework and stuff to get on with. Prior to that, I was immersed in a big writing project that took every ounce of my time and energy. So, I’m grateful to Jacq at mymumdom.com for passing me the baton in the Writing Blog Tour and encouraging me to give my poor, neglected blog a bit of TLC.

What am I working on?

As most freelance writers will probably tell you, this varies enormously from month to month and even day to day. The life of a freelance journo means that there is often little pattern or consistency to the flow of work.

At the moment, I write the Real Life Weddings section for Wedding Ideas magazine, and a monthly feature for Prima Baby, where each issue, I help a frazzled mum to tackle a child-related dilemma with the help of parenting experts. (On that note: if you are desperate for someone to help you get your toddler to stay in his own bed, or eat more than just nuggets and chips, I’m your woman). A new venture for me is handling the social media for The School Run - oh yes, I’m paid to muck about on Facebook and Twitter.

What else is going on alongside that is in a constant state of flux. Just now, it’s a big fat NOTHING, which is actually quite a relief after a few full-on months. But I also do health writing, medical writing and editing, the odd bit of PR… After 12 years in the industry, eight of those freelance, I’m quite happy to turn my hand to anything, really.

How does my work differ from that of others?

This is an interesting question for a journo, as what I write is dictated by my brief, my readership, the tone of the publication in question… Often, it’s not a matter of being different from other writers, but being able to write in the style of whatever magazine or website I’m working on, so my work feels part of a cohesive whole.

So what does mark me out as a ‘good’ writer? Well, I think I have a certain way with words. I enjoy the English language and how it works, whether I’m writing patient support materials aimed at people with an average reading age of 12, or relating the story of someone’s wedding day. I’m an absolute stickler for spelling and grammatical accuracy, and pride myself on delivering top-notch copy, on time and to length. But like I say, being a professional writer means producing what I am told to rather than trying to be too ‘out there’ – at least as far as my line of work is concerned.

Why do I write what I do?

Err… Because I’m paid to? No, seriously, my vague specialisms of health and parenting journalism came about through chance. My first proper job in journalism was as editorial assistant at Pregnancy & birth magazine (now sadly defunct). I had no kids at the time, but obviously seemed sufficiently organised to look after the office mailbox and deal with phone calls from mad readers. Having proved my ability to string a sentence together, I then moved to Mother & Baby, first as staff writer and then features editor.

I left to go freelance when my son was born, and since then, my work has evolved as my contacts have drifted in different directions. It really is true that it’s not what you know in journalism but who you know, and the vast majority of my work these days is a reflection of that.

As for blogging, well, that started because I felt my professional work was becoming increasingly corporate. I was finding myself doing less and less of the real life stuff that I have always loved above all else, and more advertorials, medical writing and editing and PR. I really missed that creative outlet, so I started blogging about family life. Yes, I am yet another mummy blogger, but writing about life as a work-at-home mum of two was a nice, light-hearted contrast to the serious nature of my day job.

Recently, I’ve lost my way with blogging a bit. I’m aware that my words have offended in the past, and I’ve also begun to feel a bit egotistical in assuming that anyone actually wants to read about my little life. That’s why I’ve taken a step back from this blog, although I do keep dipping my toes back into the water. Nowadays, I do most of my ‘for me’ writing privately. I have another blog that I don’t really publicise at all, and that is a real outlet for me, personally and creatively. I think people – especially bloggers – underestimate the value of writing for oneself and become hung up on statistics. It’s quite refreshing to distance myself from that.

How does my writing process work?

When it comes to paid work, I’m pretty methodical – and disciplined. Currently, I only have 12 hours a week in which both of my children are out of the house, so I’ve trained myself to really focus in those periods (unless, you know, there’s something far more important to do – like cleaning out the understairs cupboard, or finishing a good book…). And because the subjects I write about can be so obscure – I’ve recently been writing an extensive project on a rare inherited childhood disease – my first port of call is to find the information I need, whether that’s from suitably qualified experts or decent websites.

As an aside, I trained as a journalist just as the internet was blossoming, but during my post-grad year, we were banned from doing any sort of online research – it was still considered lazy. I remember days in the media lab trawling through local papers and the Yellow Pages trying to find contacts and leads. I am very thankful for the way in which the internet has changed my writing process!

Blogging is a different process altogether. It’s a brain-dump, really, and a welcome contrast to the precise nature of my paid work. That doesn’t mean that it’s (all) nonsense; I still care about producing well-written copy, even if it’s only for my eyes. But it’s here that I let myself go, choosing my own subject matter and the words I feel will best convey it. That, above all else, is what I love about writing.

I’m now passing the blog tour baton to some other bloggers whose work I enjoy reading: Lulastic and Mother’s Always Right. I’m looking forward to reading about what gets their creative juices flowing.

 

The Boy’s stage debut

I remember these moments from my own childhood so clearly.

My first ballet show, age four or five, on stage at Trowbridge Civic Hall. Collecting ‘autographs’ from the older dancers, who were actually only a couple of years ahead of me.

Performing in concerts with, first of all, West Wiltshire Junior Strings, and then West Wiltshire Youth Orchestra. The excitement of putting on my black skirt and white blouse (we wore blouses back in those days). Of hearing the instruments tuning up backstage. Of taking our places and raising my violin to play.

Last night, I was on the other side.

Born to be on stage

 

My boy was part of a joint school choir that performed on stage in the Primary Schools’ Music Festival in a city centre theatre. The last time I was there, it was to watch one of my all-time favourite bands: The Levellers. I will admit that I was WELL excited to see The Boy on the same stage.

I was anxious, too. The Boy has form for messing around in choir and drama practices. He has the attention span of a neon tetra. When he came home from school bouncing off the walls, I feared the worst, and gave him a BIG lecture about not letting me down. Apparently, this venue holds 1200 people – and while the audience was made up of parents, they were paying (and public) punters, nonetheless.

I needn’t have worried. It was amazing. The Boy behaved and performed impeccably (the only downside being that, with the stage lights shining on his glasses, he couldn’t see me in the upper circle, and so spent the whole show peering around trying to spot me, until he finally settled on me in the penultimate song). The singing was absolutely beautiful – a credit to my dear friend, the choir mistress. And the final song had me weeping. I have never been able to stand R Kelly or his infamous I Believe I Can Fly, but sung by 100-odd KS2 pupils, the words had so much resonance.

Afterwards, The Boy was on a total adrenaline high. ‘I can’t believe I did it!’ he squealed. ‘I can’t believe I performed at the Alban Arena! I feel like I was made to be on the stage!’

Maybe he was. Certainly, he has more talent for the performing arts than he has for sports – or his school work.

But as I drove him home, effervescent in the passenger seat of my car, through the dark city centre, I suddenly felt – like a mother. In a way that I never have before. A mother who has just seen her child through an enormous and exciting milestone. A mother of a child who is old enough to perform on a (city centre) theatre stage. A mother of a boy who, despite all that, is still little enough to leap up in a koala bear hug in celebration of his performance.

They did so well. They all did so well. And now I enter a whole new phase of my life: in which I become my mother.

 

Mid-life birthdays

Do you ever stop to wonder how a newspaper report would describe you if you were killed in some horrific accident? No? Just me, then… Anyway, as of this morning, I would be described as a ’35-year-old mother of two.’ Possibly ‘writer and 35-year-old mother of two’ if the reporter was feeling generous, but the emphasis would definitely be on my age and parental status.

That doesn’t sound like me. I may be just as close to 50 as I am to 20 (noooooo!) but in my head, I’m still not grown up yet. I bought myself a pair of bright blue DMs the other week, don’tcha know.

Birthdays are a bit of an anti-climax when you get to a certain age (I presume I am a woman of ‘certain age’ now). This was the scene all set for my daughter’s third birthday last week; by contrast, I’ve spent my morning doing housework, stripping the beds and booking a Tesco delivery.

Princess party

Until a couple of years ago, I was never that bothered about ageing – mainly because I felt that I hadn’t started to yet. I remember being most indignant when I went for a facial while pregnant with The Girl, and the therapist recommended I start using anti-ageing cream. Now, though, I can see that she was right. I have wrinkles and grey hair aplenty (and a big zit today – how unfair is that?) and although I can still fit into kids’ shoes – the joys of a size three foot – I can’t remember the last time I got asked for ID. I’m more likely to get asked if I’m interested in life insurance, to be honest. Continue reading

The first swimming lesson

It felt like the end of an era when, last week, The Girl and I had our last parent and child swimming session together. Both of my children have been to swimming lessons with me since they were a few months old – and with the same lovely teacher. For all the moaning I’ve done over the two separate blocks of almost three years about the temperature of the water, the tedious drag of getting changed afterwards (especially in winter) and the amount of washing each weekly session generates, I loved swimming with my babies, and was slightly choked up as The Girl and I headed back to the changing rooms after our final session.

The Girl wasn’t remotely upset, though. She was just excited – jumping up and down excited – that she was now old enough to go to proper lessons with a proper swimming hat, just like her brother. In fact, she was just as excited – if not more so – about that red latex cap as any of her other birthday presents, bike included.

Pre-school stage 1 swimming lesson

Pre-school stage 1 swimming lesson

I had reservations, though. The Boy was (and still is) a very good swimmer at this age; he actually started swimming lessons independently a month or so early, and progressed quickly through the first few levels. He spent as much time underwater as on the surface, and was already able to swim a few metres without aids. On the other hand, The Girl, although water-confident, has certain things that she really does not like doing, including putting her face in the water. Add to this her stubborn streak, and I was suspecting that her first swimming lesson might be a 30-minute tantrumfest. Continue reading

On being three

Time seems to pass very quickly for second-born children. It seems no time at all since my daughter made her grand (speedy, surprising) entrance to the world, and yet she is now a week into being three. I still think of her as my little baby – a sentiment that she vehemently opposes – but it’s becoming harder and harder to deny that she is not just not a baby, but not a toddler either. She’s a pre-schooler, a little girl, a girl who’s getting bigger by the day.

Katie3

The Girl at three is scarily grown-up and opinionated. Whereas The Boy was a quiet and mild-mannered pre-schooler, The Girl has attitude in spades. This swings from being absolutely infuriating (when she’s screaming at her brother because he dared to look at her) to totally hilarious. It’s very hard not to laugh when she indignantly puts her hands on her hips and announces, ‘Daddy, you are annoying me!’ Continue reading

So, it’s been a while

I messed up. I messed up big time. I posted a thoughtless rant, and, understandably, half of our village took against me. I don’t blame them. I was stupid and superior and insensitive.

But I miss my blog. More to the point, I feel sorry every day – almost 18 months on – for the upset I caused.

This half-term, I have felt so wonderfully at home in our village. I’ve had great times with friends, celebrating my daughter’s third birthday, and life in general.

I am fed up of spending my life walking around the village, feeling scared of who I might meet. I want to put my stupid error of judgement behind me. I am posting this, and laying myself bare, in the hope that the people I know and love will share it with the people who hate me, and that those people will accept that I know I was stupid and bigoted and self-important, and that I respect each and every one of them  - far more than I do myself. I don’t want to duck and dive and feel scared of bumping into certain people – even via Facebook. Maybe I’ve taken things too much to heart, but I was torn apart – deservedly – by being at the heart of a whispering campaign.

I want to be able to live here comfortably again. I want to be able to write. I am open to messages if people feel I shouldn’t. But I love my local friends, and I miss my blog, I hope that my apology is well received and I can get back to the present I know and love.

A day of two halves

Sometimes (often) I fall so far short of being the mother I want to be.

This morning was one of those occasions. It was Wacky Hair Day at The Boy’s school. It started off okay – I’d bought red hairspray, and managed to use it to mould his hair into a suitable crazy style. But within minutes of me saying, ‘Whatever you do, DON’T TOUCH IT,’ he came downstairs telling me he had a ‘little bit’ of red dye on his sleeve.

Crazy hair day red hairspray

A little bit turned out to be a lot. All the way from cuff to shoulder of his shirt, to be precise. And, of course, he was wearing a proper (expensive) crested polo shirt, rather than a cheapo Tesco version. Continue reading

Stealing the limelight

There’s a bit of upstaging going on in our house at the moment. The Boy is busy rehearsing for his first ever drama exam, which he’ll be taking in just under three weeks’ time. He’s totally unsporty and hasn’t a musical bone in his body, but acting has always been his ‘thing.’ He just does it well: he’s natural and confident with a great sense of comic timing, and not at all show-offy about it. Music lessons would be a monumental waste of money for my tone-deaf son, but with acting, he has the potential to do quite well.

LAMDA exam preparation

Of course, private lessons of any sort don’t come cheap, so when we agreed to let The Boy take them, we extracted a promise that he would work hard and take it seriously. He was quite happy with his side of the bargain, keen as he is to learn the skills he needs to be ‘a proper actor.’  Continue reading

In which I cut my own hair

I am so stupid sometimes. So stupid and easily led.

Take Friday night, for example. One of my Facebook friends mentioned that her teenage daughter was hankering after a second set of ear piercings. ‘I can’t very well refuse, as I have five visible holes in one ear,’ she said.

Me too, me too! My first set of ear piercings was sanctioned by my mum, but I also have another four holes in my left ear and three in my right that most definitely weren’t. These days, I only wear my cartilage piercing, but my friend’s post prompted me to see how many of my old holes were still functioning. The answer: all but the fifth in my left ear. Ouch.

Then, yesterday, I washed and dried my hair and thought how awful it looked. My roots needed doing, and my ends were dry, frazzled and split. I spent the whole day fiddling with it, brushing it, trying to make it look okay, and failed. It looked awful.

Then my mind lit upon something I’d seen online a while ago: the so-called Mumsnet ponytail haircut. You pull your hair into a ponytail on top of your head, chop the ends off, take the hair band out, and hey presto, you have a beautiful layered haircut for free. Continue reading

The tooth fairy’s first visit

Life has been very hard on The Boy lately. He has been waiting, and waiting, and waiting and waiting and waiting to lose his first tooth.

With a November 2nd birthday, he’s one of the eldest in his class (the third eldest, in fact, as he often tells me). So by rights, he should have been one of the first to lose a tooth. But his gums weren’t listening.

The Boy is approaching the end of Year 2. A couple of his classmates lost their first tooth in Reception, and by Year 1, more than half had bade farewell to a milk tooth or two. Over the past nine months, just about all – in fact, quite possibly every single one – of his friends have been visited by the tooth fairy; even the ones who are still a month or so away from their seventh birthday. But not The Boy. And he was not happy.

When his classmates started losing teeth, he was sure he would be next in line. ‘I am the third oldest in the class, after all,’ he told me. But the months passed, and the teeth stayed firm. Continue reading