Friday, August 28, 2015

Say "No!" to Camping!

*This is an article I wrote for the BBC a few years ago. Normal zany service will be resume next week along with an update on my self-publishing journey and some news relating to The Changing Room.*

Say "NO!" to Camping!

With the prospect of long summer evenings and some pleasant weather ahead I won’t be the only housewife fantasizing about lying on a beach, nibbling grapes, sipping Pina Coladas and being waited upon by a handsome young manservant.

Unfortunately, when I’m in the middle of these and other exotic fantasies a whining voice asking an annoying question often brings me back down to reality. A recent example of this was when I had my hands immersed in the washing up bowl whilst dreaming about surfing with Damien Lewis when suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by the question every mother dreads;

“When can we go camping?”

Now imagine the onset of acute postnatal depression combined with the news that Daniel Craig has quit as James Bond and you will have an idea how such a question cuts me to the quick. What I’d really like to do in such circumstances is to stick my head in the oven. However, due to the small personages to whom I gave birth and who regularly attach themselves to my purse at the sweet counter, I have to abandon such thoughts and attempt the “Distraction Technique.” It goes something like this;

“Would you like some sweets?”

“Oh yes please, and when can we go camping?”

“You can have the sweets and I’ll put on that new DVD.”

“Oh great! And can I take my cricket bat with me when we go camping?”

“Why don’t we talk about camping later? These are your favourite sweets.”

“Daddy loves camping.”

“Daddy has been working hard lately. He needs a rest. Here, have a milkshake.”

“Oh goody. Strawberry, my favourite. When we go camping, can we stop at MacDonalds so I can have chocolate flavour?”

Okay, what I’m saying is the “Distraction Technique” which is usually a foolproof method of diverting children’s foolish escapades doesn’t work with camping.

Blast and double blast.

What is it with kids and camping? It’s almost as an attractive proposition to them as Christmas. Thank goodness retailers haven’t reinvented Christmas in July. The thought of having to stick up streamers and Christmas trees in a tent is like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock film. Forget The Birds and Psycho imagine The Campsite…

The night before Christmas, silence reigns over The Campsite. A bedraggled mother is found hanging from an impromptu washing line. Children lie quivering in their sleeping bags. A man dressed in red is seen stalking the nearby flooded toilets. Who is this strange being? Is it Santa or a holiday maker with sunstroke? What dark and deadly secrets lie beneath the fa├žade of The Campsite? Find out the horrifying truth this summer at a cinema near you!

Yes, you might have realised by now that to me camping is the most unappealing “holiday” ever. I use “holiday” very loosely in this context – in my opinion no such thing as a “holiday” exists when camping. Indeed, the thought of using public conveniences or squatting in a field whilst the 7.15 express from Plymouth to Paddington hurtles past is about as seductive as spending the night in a mortuary. And no one mention those portable toilets; last time I went camping I thought it was an ice box and ended up with some funny tasting bacon and eggs.

A sight that strikes fear into the heart of every living woman

As for those so-called “inflatable” beds, have you ever tried sleeping on one with someone substantially heavier than you? Well, it’s like being at sea and being tossed up and down like a dingy. After spending a night on one with my husband once and alternating between bouts of seasickness and nightmares of being trapped inside a whale I was forced to go out and buy my own the very next day or (and this may come as a surprise to you) hang myself from an impromptu washing line. Anyway, those mattresses should be renamed. Something more akin to “The Slowly Deflating Mattress” would be more truthful. Yes, why is it that at 2 am when the water is trickling under the tent and there’s a force 10 gale blowing outside do they require pumping up? I think they should carry a government health warning;


Further, an extra warning could be added for increased awareness. I suggest something like;

“This mattress may cause reduced blood flow, impotence, headaches, sciatica, visual disturbances and near-fatal heart attacks.”

However, camping is a positive for anyone who wants to follow the Atkins diet. Kids and men seem to love no end of sausages, burgers, eggs and beans at 8am in a field in the middle of nowhere. But after 2 weeks of a meat only diet most women would outpace Paula Radcliffe in a sprint to the nearest Thorntons’ outlet. (Although possibly Paula has quite a lot of experience at camping so it could end up being a tight contest.) But if a race to Thorntons is out, you could always join the race to wash your dishes at the nearest available standpipe which makes the chore of stacking the dishwasher seem quite blissful. Yes, it’s remarkable how all those things you took for granted like prepackaged pizzas, loo roll and a shower that doesn’t conk out when you’ve got soap in your eyes, suddenly acquire luxury status.

Sadly, camping seems to appeal to most men. This one is even reading Camping Weekly which may have come in handy since he appears to have forgotten his loo roll.

Now it would be unfair of me to imply all women don’t like camping but I did do a survey amongst my friends and acquaintances and only one lady actively enjoyed camping. After some pertinent questions I deduced this was due to an indecent amount of alcohol and a failing memory. Admittedly, these are probably very useful assets when camping. However, I’m not sure if I like the idea of wandering into a stranger’s tent in a drunken stupor and asking if I can have a ride on their boat.

Anyway, this year I’ve taken the precaution of booking a holiday abroad, so I’m saved from yet another trip to hell and back. Well, not unless you count camping in the back garden. But hey, whilst my boys are frying their bacon and eggs I shall have my feet up and be daydreaming about that tasty young manservant.

I wonder what it would be like to get stuck in the outback with Ray Mears and a Pina Colada?

Hmm… hold that thought Ladies.

Especially if you’re going camping this summer!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Stairways to Heaven: The Lovely Bones meets The Shack

Have you ever wondered how you will die? I suspect the most satisfactory outcome for most of us would be to slip away peacefully in our sleep after a long and fruitful life. However, in my experience, that is unlikely to be the case. In fact, when I look back at the lives of people I’ve loved and lost death has either been a long and painful process or sudden and dramatic. Either way, there was no easy way to come to terms with their loss. It was only the passing of time, the knowledge that natural death comes to us all and my belief in another existence that helped to ease my sorrow.

But what if death is unnatural? What if death is caused by a bizarre misfortune, a car crash or negligence? How does one deal with such a loss? How does one deal with exacerbated feelings of guilt, rage and injustice? Does it make you embrace your beliefs or abandon them? And what if something worse were to happen? What about the ultimate sin?

What happens if your child is murdered?

Imagine all the feelings of loss you’ve ever had, multiply them tenfold, a thousandfold even, and maybe you’d still only be halfway to experiencing the horror of being the parent of a murder victim. Fortunately, child murder is something only very few of us will experience but I’m sure most of us can empathize and understand how it might call into question fundamental beliefs.

So as a parent with a religious upbringing it was with trepidation that I approached two hugely popular books which featured themes of child abduction and murder and visions of heaven; The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and The Shack by W.M Paul Young.

by Alice Sebold Publisher: Picador 2002

"As he kissed his wet lips down my face and neck and then began to shove his hands up my shirt, I wept. I began to leave my body; I began to inhabit the air and the silence."

The Lovely Bones is the story of 14-year-old Susie Salmon who is raped, murdered and dismembered by her neighbour, Mr Harvey, a loner who builds dollhouses. On her death, Susie is transported to heaven where she observes the destruction and unhappiness wrecked upon her family and friends in the wake of their grief and their struggle to rebuild their lives. In The Shack, the story is narrated by Willy who recounts the story of Mack whose youngest daughter, Missy, is snatched and murdered by the notorious “Ladybird” killer. Unlike The Lovely Bones, which attempts to portray the effect of loss on numerous people, The Shack is primarily about Mack and how he confronts the annihilation of his beliefs and his subsequent reconciliation when God requests his return to the shack, the scene of Missy’s brutal murder.

 by W.M Paul Young Windblown Media/Hodder & Stoughton 2008

"I am good, and I desire what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt, condemnation or coercion, only through a relationship of love. And I do love you."

In The Lovely Bones and The Shack Alice Sebold and W.M Paul Young present, in parts, fascinating glimpses into the human psyche. The strengths of both novels lie in the areas where the authors have truly reflected upon their own experiences and beliefs. To this extent, I felt the earlier chapters of The Lovely Bones in which Sebold deals with the murder and the immediate aftermath of Susie’s death were the most successful. Sebold’s own experience as an 18-year-old rape victim, narrowly escaping death, has clearly impacted on the story which is heartfelt and poignant. However, in the latter half of the book, the timescales change, the plot begins to weaken, the events become more fanciful and it is evident that Sebold’s vision of heaven is really only a device used to explore what is happening back on the earth.

In contrast, in The Shack, the murder and the prelude to Mack’s meeting with God have none of Sebold’s finesse and seem almost perfunctory. The language is prosaic and at times grates on the nerves whereas Sebold produces exquisite turns of phrase which draw the reader in. But whereas Sebold uses heaven to explore earth, Young uses earth to explore heaven and as such, I didn’t feel emotionally involved with the characters until Mack finally confronts God in the shack. At this point, the story takes on a new and vibrant form. Young’s beliefs begin to shine through and his joy in heaven and God is uplifting and addictive. Like Sebold, Young’s early experiences have shaped his writing and his life; he was raised by missionary parents and until the age of 6 lived amongst a primitive tribe who assaulted him and practised cannibalism. He freely admits that those early days provided a sense of identity which grew alongside his more Christian upbringing. However, his identity and beliefs were all called into question when family tragedies and personal failings led him to a place of despair, a place he called The Shack. This period of his life, which he attempts to mirror using Missy’s death as a catalyst, is what led to the resurgence of his beliefs and his acceptance of God.

I am always intrigued by other people’s concept of heaven and, like many, I have my own, albeit incomplete, vision of heaven. Sebold’s heaven is also incomplete, in fact so much so, that it felt not so much like heaven but a form of purgatory. Indeed there is no mention of God and his presence is elusive. The heaven Susie inhabits is rather like the parallel universes of Dr Who where you can walk the same streets, live another life but with the addition of being able to watch and sometimes influence the other world. Personally, I’m not sure that when I die I would want that option so I was pleased there was the suggestion that, at some point, Susie could move on to another, perhaps more sympathetic and complete form of heaven. However, when the event that might trigger Susie’s onward journey finally occurs it is only for her to inhabit a friend’s body and make love to a teenage boy she once kissed. Although touchingly written, I was saddened that her reconciliation required her to take on human form again; it felt more of an exercise in sexual maturity rather than in spiritual growth. Disappointingly, Sebold’s heaven seemed to be one where both heaven and earth are inextricably and permanently entwined even after death. Personally, it’s not an image of heaven that appeals; I’d like to believe that heaven is a place of unremitting joy where entry isn’t won, earnt or gained through earthly associations but granted to all out of love and forgiveness.

Conversely, in The Shack, it is Young’s vision of heaven and exploration of his beliefs that bring salvation to a book that struggles at times to portray the heartbreak and grief that Sebold captures so well. However, The Shack does offer a more complex and deeper insight into heaven than The Lovely Bones. Whilst the fundamental principles are Christian in concept, in particular the exposition of the Holy Trinity, The Shack is by no means a simple enforcement of Christian doctrine and there will be many who will take issue with how Young embraces all religions and portrays God as a black African American mama and the Holy Spirit as an ethereal Asian female. There were times when my imagination was stretched, in particular with an episode that was reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind but, nevertheless, it was impossible to read The Shack and not be infused by Mack’s joy in reconciliation and the love of God.

Of course, we won’t find any real answers to what lies in heaven in any work of fiction but both novels do provide interesting sounding boards for thought and discussion. As novels, neither is perfect and both suffer from weak endings. However, a novel doesn’t have to be perfect to be a worthwhile read and it is impossible to walk away from either book without feeling some degree of satisfaction. The Shack is perhaps more memorable because of the infectious happiness that accompanies Mack’s redemption whereas The Lovely Bones leaves a feeling of melancholy as despite Susie’s apparent moment of reconciliation she continues to walk the earth, watching and waiting.

It would not surprise me if The Shack remains Young’s only mainstream novel. The story is really a testimony to Young’s own personal tragedies and his triumphant return to God and thus his deficiencies as a writer are overshadowed in what is a powerful and influential story. His words will, I’m sure, give hope and encouragement to all those who seek comfort, faith and salvation. As for Sebold, there is no doubt she has a greater gift of expression and a genuine talent for telling tales. Hopefully, The Lovely Bones will be the catharsis for the brutal attack that left her so deeply scarred. If The Lovely Bones acts as a means for Sebold’s own reconciliation then, like The Shack did for Young, it will be a means for her to move on with her life in a positive and joyous way.

As for the rest of us we can only be grateful when we read stories like The Shack and The Lovely Bones that portray in greater detail the horror of child murder that we never have to endure such agony. And for those few unfortunate parents who do, we can only pray that when they climb their own stairways to heaven it will bring them the peace that, no doubt, avoids them in this earthly life.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Childhood In Fiction

Books played a vital role in my childhood. Forty years ago, before the advent of computers and game stations my days were spent drawing, making mud pies and, most significantly, reading. My world was one of fairytales and fables, myths and legends, witches and wizards. With no Sonic or Mario to distract me the open pages of a book were the places where my imagination took flight. Like Dorothy, I was swept away to a land of make believe.

My first school memory was being the second child drawn to the front of the class to read aloud from a newspaper, the reward for becoming a competent reader. I recall too that Sarah, my best friend, was first and though pleased for her I jealously noted that she was five months older and so must have received an unfair advantage.

Those early days were filled with Ladybird editions and picture books where simple texts were enhanced by pictures of handsome princes, hideous ogres and rosebud princesses. I remember too sitting in my grandmother’s high bed listening to her read more advanced texts like The Little Princess. I was fascinated by the written word and, more often than not, in my mind I became the central character. Indeed some nights, before I understood religion, I prayed that I would be left a sparkling dress like Cinderella. Of course it never happened but nevertheless the disappointment never stopped me from fantasizing.

But it was in 1973, having just turned eight, when something happened that made me not just an imaginative reader but an avid and inspired one. My grandparents took my sister and I on holiday to Portugal and one day, whilst browsing the gift shops, my grandparents stopped to peruse a rotating bookstand on the sidewalk. Exclamations abounded as on the stand they found a copy of their son-in-law’s first novel, Run Down. They were amazed to find it in such an unexpected place and duly bought the book and a postcard to send him on which they wrote “Run Down to Faro.”

You'd never guess from this cover that my uncle's book
was published in the 1970s would you? (cough, cough)

Of course, for a young girl interested in books, it was exciting enough to discover my uncle was an author but whilst my grandparents enthused something even more important was about to happen. As I too spun the bookstand I found a book that would set me on course for a lifetime of reading. For there, amongst the holiday reads, I discovered The Famous Five.

I can't remember which adventure it was now, although my favourite has always been Five on a Hike Together, but Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy awoke in me a new love of fiction. Their wonderful adventures seemed almost real and tangible; I didn't need golden tresses or magic tinder boxes, all that was required of me were potted shrimp sandwiches and lashings of ginger beer. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that on returning to England, I made fast tracks to our mobile library and within a very short time I'd read the entire collection.

I say, what a super, corking read! Hoorah!

The library was my salvation. My childhood was relatively frugal and books were purchased sparingly but in the library I found an endless supply. Having quickly devoured the likes of Enid Blyton, Ruth M Arthur, C S Lewis, and Tolkien I moved into the adult section. No one ever queried my reading choices and nothing was off-limits. It was a less politically correct world back then and thank goodness for that.

At about nine years old I was moved into the notorious Miss Walsh’s class. Although past her prime, freckled and with slightly hunched shoulders Miss Walsh was still sharp in intelligence and tongue. Miss Jean Brodie was, alas, but a poor imitation. Miss Walsh frequently interspersed her teaching with tales of The Blitz, London’s theatres and other curious events but when it came to education she meant business and her speed reading challenge was one of her favoured tools. It was glorious to win but then there was always the catch - recounting the story in minute detail to the entire class. No doubt Miss Walsh was an oddity but if ever I thought her tales were untrue my thoughts were banished when in the course of time I inherited from her a 1935 copy of Theatre World, autographed by Laurence Olivier.

It was with Miss Walsh’s expert training I sped through the shelves of the mobile library and by my early teens my first port of call was the returns section which I would scan for interesting unread novels before heading to look for my preferred authors. With a taste for adventures with the human touch, I became particularly fond of wartime tales, both fictional and autobiographical. Nevil Shute, Douglas Reeman and Alistair Maclean were firm favourites. But by then, I'd also discovered Ian Fleming and it was with Bond that my destiny as a thrill-seeking, adventure-loving, gun-toting groupie was finally set.

Today, now I'm past my prime too and heading for Sunset Avenue my reading has diversified. In recent years, as a member of a book club, I’ve read novels that previously I would never have even contemplated. It’s been, I guess, a “novel” experience. And now, with or without my Book Club Ladies, I’ll read just about any genre and attempt any book. It’s been rejuvenating. However, without a doubt, my first true fictional love will always be the wonderful world of adventures that began on a bookstand back in 1973.

You know, over the years there’s been as much criticism as there has been praise for Enid Blyton but I, for one, will always be grateful to her for setting me on the path to a lifetime of thrills, spills and spiffing good yarns.

Not as gruesome as my uncle's book but that witch in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
was pretty beastly I can tell you.

And now I write my own novels too for entertainment. What could be better? Both reader and writer. It's a good life.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What are the Secrets to Happiness?

A couple of my new blogging friends, Wendy and Paula have been participating in a weekly meme called Wednesday Hodgepodge run by Joyce Daley over at From This Side of the PondIt looks kinda fun so I thought I'd join in once in a while. Today I am going to do last week's meme otherwise I'll miss out on all the great questions from last Wednesday and, conveniently, there's no meme this week as Joyce is on hols. Now I think the idea is that Joyce posts random questions (hence use of the word "hodgepodge") which then everyone answers. Easy peasey!

1. Four (supposed) secrets to happiness from around the world are:

a) overcome your fears by facing them head on

b) allow yourself to relax and reset

c) work to live versus living to work

d) find the good in life.

Which of the four do you struggle with most? Which one comes most easily to you?

I think I am pretty good at A and D. In fact, sometimes I probably take A to the extreme to the extent that not being cautious about challenges becomes a hindrance rather than a help. I definitely get a big of kick out of facing challenges head on, especially in my car. (Have also faced some of these "challenges" from the rear end - cough, cough.) However, I also don't waste my time challenging myself to do things I know I won't enjoy in any way ( like going on a big rollercoaster for example) or ones where I don't have any chance of succeeding ( i.e passing the MENSA test.) However, when I was younger, I would often face irrational and rational fears head on irrespective of the consequences far too frequently which could have ended disastrously - for example I would challenge myself to walk down an unlit alleyway because it was a short-cut and because statistically the chances of being attacked were pretty low. What a complete twit. Nowadays, I would think that behaviour foolish and would encourage all women to take their personal safety seriously.

I probably struggle most with C. But unlike most people I probably spend too much time "living" and not working hard enough. Partially, that's because I am heavily involved in my children's sporting endeavours but also because my lack of organisational skills is diabolical. I also waste far too much time reading The Guardian and various other news sites for pleasure/amusement. If I had more self-discipline I could have written several more books by now. GRR.

2. How would you spend a found $20 bill today?

dream about finding a stack of cash! But I'd be happy with $20. Unfortunately, the most I've ever found was a singular pound note. That was in about 1970. I was with my nan at the time and she made me give it to the local village bobby (policeman). Pah. How unfair is that. I could have bought 100 half-penny chews at the local sweet shop!

So $20? That's about £12.80. Now much to my displeasure, that's not enough to afford the airfare to the USA when I would stick a giant marrow (connected to some electrodes) up the ass of that dentist who shot Cecil the Lion. So instead I could go for either of two ebooks which I would like to own but are currently way too expensive so I am waiting for the prices to go down. The first is The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey which is currently £9.48 (around $14.80) for a 304 page ebook or RIP by Nigel Williams which was given such a dreadful review by The New Statesman that I'd like to read it just to form my own opinion. I have the feeling that as Nigel Williams is a comedy writer the reviewer may simply not have "got" Mr William's sense of humour - on the other hand it could be a pile of pants. Hmm. However, at a staggering £12.99 ($20.28) for a 336 page ebook I am happy to wait it out until it becomes a more acceptable price.

Hmm - I still I haven't spent the $20.00. Okay, for £12.80 I'll either go the cinema and watch the latest Tiny Tom Cruise "saving the world whilst diving out of a multistorey/plane/car" film and have a (very) small pot of popcorn or if I am in a philanthropic mood I'd give it to WWF in honour of Cecil the Lion.

3. Ego trip, power trip, guilt trip, round trip, trip the light fantastic, or trip over your own two feet...which 'trip' have you experienced or dealt with most recently? Explain.

I had a bit of a "trip" last night. I got "high" on chocolate which I am not supposed to be eating because of my hiatus hernia. However, I'd had a stressful day and needed to wind down (read "comfort eat"). Unfortunately my " high" soon turned into despair when I discovered my chocolate bar had melted (I'd left the uneaten portion on the sofa next to my leg) and Mr Bond, my cat, was licking it. I had to chuck it in the bin as shortly before licking my chocolate Mr Bond had also been licking his private places. Or what's left them after the op. I suppose he was taking his revenge on me. Which just goes to prove you should never, ever, trust a cat.

4. If you could master any physical skill in the world what would it be, and how would you use that skill?

Hmm tricky. I rather fancy being a skillful mountaineer. Imagine all the places you could gain access to and all the opportunities that would arise. I could even becomes a stunt woman on a Mission Impossible film! They'd probably use me to stand in for Tom Cruise. We're probably about the same size without heels. (His heels that is.)

5. As July draws to a close, let's take inventory of our summer fun. Since the official first day of (North American) summer (June 20th) have you...been swimming? enjoyed an ice cream cone? seen a summer blockbuster? camped? eaten corn on the cob? gardened? deliberately unplugged? watched a ballgame? picked fruit off the vine? taken a road trip? read a book? Are any of these activities on your must-do-before-summer-ends list?

Swimming?  Yes. I swim all year around in my endless campaign to keep my derriere from looking like a baboon's arse.

Ice cream cone? Yes. I ate a Magnum a few weeks ago. It was very hot. And I was comfort eating. (Again.)

Film? Yes. I went to see Terminator 4 with Arnie last week. It was great. I am a big Arnie fan. Sad I know, but that butt of his still has a nice shape to it and that's all the justification I need.

Camped? No. I last went camping about ten years ago. I hope it will be another ten before I go again and preferably never. In fact, there is not the remotest chance of me going camping unless for some obscure reason I have to share a tent with Gerard Butler.

Gardened? Yes. I was forced to help Mr T erect a new fence. Under pain of death.

Corn on the cob? No. Not one of my favourites. It doesn't come out of a packet.

Deliberately unplugged? No. I love films, music and communicating. Unplugging would give me a panic attack (unless I was in the wilderness sharing a tent with Gerard Butler.)

Watched a ballgame? Yes. I watch sport all the time, especially cricket and tennis. I was watching tennis most of the day yesterday. But, believe me, when your kids are playing it ain't always relaxing. (Hence the chocolate bar.)

Picked fruit of the vine? No. But Mr T picked the blackcurrants in our garden. Does that count?

Any of the activities above on your to-do list?

Sharing the tent with Gerard Butler is definitely on my to-do list now I've got over the fear of camping and accepted it as a necessary no-fear challenge. I am still going to pass on the corn-on- the cob though.

6The Republican Presidential candidates will debate on August 6th. What's your question?

Imagine you are in England and have a meeting with the British PM and you want to dress to impress. Do you wear pants or briefs?

7What's your most listened to song so far this summer?

This one. It's an old one but I am addicted to it.

8Insert your own random thought here:

I think I would be really cool in a film with Tom Cruise or Arnie or even Gerard Butler. Happiness comes in many forms. This could be one of them.

Oh I forgot the book question. I just read The Principles of Fasting by Leon Chatow, I am currently reading Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut and Still Alice by Lisa Genova and the next book I am going to read is 10% Human by Alanna Collen.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Why not? An interview with me by me!

I have been trying to organise my files on my PC this morning and came across this draft interview that I submitted to an ebook site ages ago which never got published. So I thought - why not stick it on your blog Mrs T and let your readers tell you what you did wrong!

Let me know what you think, folks. I have my own ideas where I went wrong but you can sock it to me any way you want. Answers in the comments please or you can mail me at

When did you first discover a love of writing? Is there a particular book that made you want to become a writer?

I first discovered I loved writing stories when I was at school and realised I could write stuff in them that I wouldn't be able to say aloud without being rebuked by teachers. You can get away with a lot when you write fiction; I'm currently planning a novel about a woman murdering her husband. Don't tell my husband.

No, there’s no particular book that made me want to become a writer. I do, however, suffer from the “I could do better than that syndrome.” Enid Blyton has a lot to answer for.

What is your favourite book?

My favourite book is the children’s story “The Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business” by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch. Its brilliant toilet-humour comedy for children and adults and educational as well – especially for kids who live in built-up areas and are unfamiliar with the sight of what nature can attach to your boot. When my kids were small it was my first choice to read to them at night; mainly because I'm a ham actress at heart and like to indulge myself in all sorts of silly voices and sound effects. The Little Mole was also my “babysitting book” so I inflicted it on all my friend’s kids too. There’s a lot of kids out there who are probably permanently scarred from my readings. The Little Mole does, however, prove my point above that you can say stuff in fiction that you wouldn't dare say aloud. Imagine Holzwarth at school:

 “Stand-up, Holzwarth, and talk for three minutes on your favourite subject.”

 “Yes, Frau Snitzel, I first discovered faeces were interesting when I trod on….”

“Sit down, Holzwarth.”

 I suspect the scenario would be pretty much the same for all writers:

“Stand up, Cornwell, and tell us about what you did last night.”

“Well, Miss, last night I saw a blowfly on a decaying mouse. It had a gross black body…”

“Make sure your father comes to parents’ evening, Cornwell.”

“How about you, Clancy?”

“I tested out some fireworks, Miss. The dark red one had a very interesting trajectory. In fact when it veered off at an angle of ninety degrees…”

“Go to the corner and put a paper bag on your head, Clancy.”

See what I mean? If most writers said aloud what they're thinking they'd all be banged up.

What was your favourite book as a child?

My favourite book as a child was Five on a Hike Together by Enid Blyton. As I said, she has a lot to answer for.

Where do you get your story ideas from?

Some of them are from my life which, on a day-to day basis, I usually manage to screw up even if it’s only in a small way. But mainly I just sit down and the stuff flows out of my fingers. Principally, I like to write fun, entertaining stuff which also has a social conscience. I don't plan my stories so whatever is on my mind or in the news tends to work its way into it.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever received as a writer?

It’s my own advice I’m afraid. It goes like this: “Remember when your English teacher raised her eyebrows and ridiculed your story and typos in front of the whole class? Well forget it – you’ve got an editor and a proof reader now. Let them take the flak.”

Where do you usually write?

Anywhere but my desk which is an abomination upon mankind. It a huge beast of a desk that once belonged to my grandfather so I can fill it (untidily) with stuff that for most writers would constitute the contents of an entire room. The sad fact is I am probably the untidiest person ever to have lived and can extend my mess far and wide across every surface. I suspect that if I die before my husband he will put on my gravestone “Thank God she’s dead. Now I can see the kitchen worktops.”

Do you believe in Writer’s Block?

I believe other writers suffer from Writers' Block. I'm just lazy.

If there was one writer (alive or deceased) that you would love to meet, who would it be?

Seth McFarlane. Family Guy consistently makes me laugh and I don't mean just giggles. I could barely breath I laughed so hard the first time I saw the bank vault episode where Brian eats the contents of Stewie’s nappy. It was probably the most simultaneously revolting and yet funny sketch I've ever seen.

What's your favourite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?

Oh I say!  Are you trying to get me to admit to reading erotica? Well I am not going to. I'm an upstanding pillar of the community and couldn't possible reveal my fondness for whips and chains in public.

What made you decide to self-publish?

Lots of things. The whole face of publishing is changing and the door is wide open for authors like me whose writing doesn’t fit comfortably into those genres we hear so much about. Also, when people tell me I can't do something or try to enforce their ideas on me I have an innate desire to prove them wrong. Luckily, no one’s dared me to abseil down the White House stark naked whilst singing “My Way.”

Are there any self-publishing tricks of the trade you'd like to share? What rules of craft or promotion do you live by?

I’m not good at giving writer’s tips. In fact I abhor them. I like learning from my mistakes; it’s more fun and doesn't require the reading of boring academic books that tell you to look out your window and write a passage about the first object you lay eyes on which is usually hideously dull – like a small potted plant or a Toyota Prius.  So I say, if you're stuck, join the Alliance of Independent Authors or hop onto one of the big sites like The Creative Penn for some professional advice.  Other than that, I think I've found my way around most problems by closing my laptop and opening a bottle of red and tackling it the next day. Sex is good for down-time too. Hmm…that’s probably not the advice you're looking for, is it?

How much money have you made from self-publishing?

A big fat zero. I’m in the red. Take pity on me and buy my books. If I cover my costs I can publish another. If I promise to put whips and chains in it will that help?

My Nominees for the US and UK Elections and Other Waffle

It's the early hours of the morning, and I have had a large gin... Late-night alcohol is always a good recipe for writing gibberish. And...