Monday, August 4, 2014

Speeding: California vs England

I passed my driving test first time at 17 and, in a slightly cocky manner, have always considered myself a damn good driver. I am probably delusional, but back up this assumption with the fact that I have never had an accident that has been directly my fault and, until I arrived in California, had a clean license. I adore driving and drive pretty fast, particularly navigating the narrow, windy country roads in the beautiful south of England where I grew up. Thinking back, I suspect I often used to leave home late so I would need to drive extra fast to make it to where I was going on time (I like to be punctual). It would get my adrenalin pumping and I would arrive feeling more alive, having successfully mastered hairpin bends at 70mph and overtaken every pork-pie-hat-wearing old dear driving at a snail’s pace on the way!

That was all well and good in England where the local police have better things to do than lie in wait, hiding on street corners ready to jump out and attack like angry Cobras at any moment. In California, it didn’t work so well. In the first three years of living in the sleepy northern Californian town of Novato I managed to rack up four tickets! Yes, FOUR! Even my husband was shocked.

My first ticket I hold my hands up and say I deserved it. I was driving our two daughters to school and, surprisingly, we were running a bit late. All their fault, of course. Speeding down a residential road near to their school I was shocked to see the blue and red flashing lights in my rear view mirror and mortified to be on full view of all the other parents as they passed by at exactly the speed limit looking jolly smug. A big burly police officer wearing a gun forbade me from leaving my vehicle while he officially wrote me up for a ticket, leaving me thinking I had committed a crime more akin to child abuse. I had to pay $250 for the pleasure. My husband suggesting I take traffic school to avoid high insurance penalties, so I chose Comedy Driving School, thinking it might be fun. Thus followed eight excruciatingly boring hours, where the instructor told one pathetic joke at the beginning and that was it. I should have sued.

My second ticket was for not coming to a complete stop when turning right on a red light. Jeez, no-one does. I didn’t even know that was a rule. It was St Patrick’s Day and I had been out to lunch with a friend. We tried everything to stop the cute motorcycle cop writing that damn ticket. We flirted outrageously, offered him our bodies and even discussed the colour of his underwear - green, apparently! The cop told us that we were the funniest people he had stopped in a long time, mentioned I was not driving dangerously, but STILL handed me the bloody ticket. Because it was immediately following my previous ticket, that one cost me a wopping $450! I did community service at $10/hour this time and the humane society were sad to see me go. I wasn’t. There is only so much folding laundry and cleaning floors you can take and 45 hours was long enough, thank you.

My next ticket was for speeding again, not a lot and nothing dangerous, but I still hadn’t learned my lesson. It was not until the fourth ticket, awarded for going down a hill too fast into San Francisco, that I finally gave in. When in Rome and all that. No more speeding. I now drive like a law-abiding grandmother. I practice invisible driving, making sure I tuck myself between two other cars on the freeway and not accelerating obviously. Much as I hate to admit it, driving more slowly has probably made me a better and more considerate driver. I no longer drive like a bat of hell. I am calmer and actually allow more time for my journeys.I am sure my stress levels have dropped as a result and I notice that my passengers no longer grip their seat like their life depended upon it.

The other day I even caught myself looking longingly at a pork pie hat.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Author to Author: Paying It Forward

My friend and fellow author Bridget Straub tagged me in a post with the understanding that I would pay it forward as is indicated in the above title. The idea is that as authors, we all introduce our readers to other authors they might not have discovered up until now. We also get to answer four questions that go with being tagged in this blog hop.

1) What are you working on?

I am about to completely rewrite my humourous memoir that I thought I had nearly finished! My lovely hubby just paid for the fabulous Kate Hopper to edit my manuscript and she came back with lots of really great compliments but also a TON of suggestions on how to improve it, which basically mean that I need to restructure the whole thing. It is daunting in the extreme, let me tell you, but I know she is right. It will be a way better book if I do what she says. Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

2) How does your work differ from others in the genre?

It is about me and my very strange family so it will be completely mad!

3) Why do you write what you write?

Because that is what the spirits told me to write! If you want to know what that means, then you will have to buy the Write On Mamas anthology Mamas Write and read my essay "The Reluctant Author".

4) How does your writing process work?

I sit down at my computer and open up Scrivener, which is the software where I write my memoir. Then I pop over to Facebook and waste an hour of my precious writing time liking various meaningless posts. I give myself a smack and go back to Scrivener and bring up the last chapter I was working on. Because it has probably been about a week since I last wrote anything, I have to go back and re-read the last chapter to 'get myself back in the zone'. As I do this, I realise how crap my last chapter was and decide it needs serious editing, which I have to do immediately. Just as I am starting to get into the flow, my daughter pops her head round the door and says Hi and then starts chatting about what she's been up to. I try not to look at her but it's impossible. I am so easily distracted. I engage. We have a lovely mother-daughter bonding time until I look at my watch and notice ANOTHER hour has slipped past. I pull a fake surprised face and hustle her out, telling her she is a terrible influence and how dare she disturb my very important writing time. I sit back down and pull up my emails. I spend another 20 minutes or so answering non-urgent nonsense. Another smack and I get back to my editing. I force myself to write for another 30 minutes or so and then my husband creeps in and pretends not to disturb me. I try as hard as I can not to look at him, but it's impossible. I am so easily distracted. I ask when we are going to walk the dog. We spend half an hour talking about where to walk Stubby, what to include on the shopping list, plans for the weekend, etc etc etc. I look at the time and do a double-take with a fake shocked look on my face. My entire writing time has been used up and I still haven't finished editing the chapter I wrote last week! I blame my husband, my daughter, my son (who is still in school) and the dog! Why can't they just all leave me alone??!!

OK - Now to the good bit. Here are some authors you may not have previously known about and where to buy their books:

1. Barbara Alfaro - Mirror Talk

A Catholic girlhood, New York theatre, marriage, and the healing power of humor are interwoven in Mirror Talk's lyrical and often witty reflections.

Winner of best memoir in the nonfiction category of the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Awards.

I loved this book - it is funny, witty, clever, moving and really interesting. I wanted to be Barbara's friend afterwards and I am so glad I am! I highly recommend it - you can buy it on Amazon here and it is only $1.99 on Kindle currently. 

2. Jessica O'Dwyer - Mamalita

Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir is the true story of an ordinary American woman’s quest to adopt a baby girl against almost insurmountable odds in Guatemala.

Jessica is one of the Write On Mamas and I bought and read this book because of that, not expecting it to be the thrilling, seat-of-yer-pants page-turner it is! I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I was excited and ultimately, I was inspired. Fabulous book and a fabulous person. Buy it here.

3. Ingrid Ricks - Hippie Boy

Discover the unforgettable New York Times bestselling memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional Mormon family--and finding escape, adventure, and hard-earned wisdom on the road...

What would you do if your stepfather pinned you down and tried to cast Satan out of you? For thirteen-year-old Ingrid, the answer is simple: RUN.

Such a compelling book. I couldn't put it down. As a result of the huge success of Hippie boy, Ingrid now helps high school students publish their own story collections about the struggles they've endured. All this and she is battling with a blinding eye disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa. She is an amazing person and this is an incredible book. Buy it here.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Birthday Photo Surprise

In my previous post, I said I was more upset to leave behind my extensive record collection than I was to leave my family. Obviously, I was exaggerating. I adore my family. Mostly because they make me laugh. 

For my Mum’s birthday, my 2 sisters and I usually take her out for a girlies day, often to the seaside town of Brighton because we love it there. Sadly, it is a bit too far for me for a day trip these days so I have to live vicariously through their stories now. This year, my younger sister, Lisette, bought a professional family photography session as we don’t have many great photos of us all together.

Unfortunately she didn’t research the photographer beforehand. His studio was miles away from where they live, in a seedy, rundown part of a small town. When he finally showed up late, he shuffled in looking like he needed a good bath and new clothes. They were not encouraged when he opened up and let them in to his creative lair. The place was not particularly clean, he didn't offer them anything to drink (although they were thankful for this omission), the photos on the walls were not particularly inspiring and the only ‘prop’ he produced was an ugly plastic stool.

But worst of all, he didn’t appear to have a sense of humour - sacrilege in our family - which didn’t help when my older sister, Sue, produced her surprise. Not wanting to be left out of the ‘family’ photo, I had sent Sue a head shot pic of me and she had printed it out life-size and stuck it to a piece of card on a stick. Just as he was about to take his first shot, up I popped at the back in a kind of long distance photo bomb! Sue said I looked a bit like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Just a weird bodyless head floating at the back. He looked at my family in silence as they all fell about laughing.

They continued with the photo shoot, any confidence they might have had in his artistic ability slowly draining away as he got them doing ridiculous poses then looking at his shots and saying "Oh" in a disappointed voice.  One of the shots he got them doing was to put their hands on their hips in a kind of sexy, fashion model pose. Sue couldn't keep a straight face as she said our Mum looked like the Queen and Lisette, a Buddhist nun you might remember, could not have looked more uncomfortable. He then got my sisters lying down on the floor with Mum standing over them, to all intends like the Queen with her corgies!

They went back this weekend to view the masterpieces. This time the place was much cleaner and he produced tea and macaroons, so perhaps he had been having an off day the previous weekend. Or maybe he realised he was in the presence of royalty! From the 40 minute shoot, however, he could only produce 23 pics that he felt were worth projecting onto the enormous screen, accompanied by cheesy love-story music blaring from speakers. They could only find one photo in which they all looked nice and it obviously was not the one with me included.

To make me feel better, they went to an old fashioned photo booth and took a pic with me.

God, I miss them.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

I've got the music in me

As some of you may know, I love music. But what you may not know is that I was more upset to leave behind my extensive record collection than I was to leave my family.

Well, not really, but almost!

Moving from England to California, I was only able to bring 2 suitcases with me, and then I shipped 7 boxes later. Two of those boxes contained my 400+ CDs. My precious collection of vinyl records I had to leave behind. I couldn’t bear to part with them so I snuck them into my brother-in-law’s storage container in England, along with rather too much of my other belongings that I also found too hard to give up.

For 2 years they collected dust and then, when we went over to visit, he gently requested I clear him some space.

My mum, a friend, Bug and I emptied the entire container (because, of course, all my stuff was neatly stacked at the very back) and then, while the rain gently splattered us, Mum and I delved through all my stuff, ruthlessly put 90% if it in the back of her car and drove, many times, to the local charity shop.

Why did I think I would want those chipped, Spanish pottery bowls brought back from many holidays? How on earth would I ever be able to ship my favourite oak dining table and chairs, around which we had had so many wonderful, funny meals? When would I ever have time to go through all 20 boxes of photographs (and I mean, big packing boxes, each containing hundreds of photos)?

Finally, I came across the box containing all my old vinyl records. The iconic albums of my schoolgirl era, such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Rod Stewart’s Atlantic Crossing (I am embarrassed to admit there was a Bay City Rollers LP lurking in there too). The 12” single collection of funk and soul that I was really into during my late teens at college, such as Lonnie Liston Smith, Grover Washington Jr and The Commodores. The disco years of my early twenties: Chic, Earth Wind & Fire and Rose Royce. I could go on. There were so many, and they all meant so much to me, each reminding me of a different time in my life. I really, really did not want to give them up.

But I knew I had to. It was time.

In my vanity I thought, because I have such fabulous taste in music, they would be worth a bit of money so at least if I had to get rid of them, there would be some payback.

I was sorely mistaken.

The very nice man in second hand record shop flipped through them and then handed them back, saying he wouldn’t be able to get anything for most of them as they weren’t currently in demand.

Weren’t in demand? How could he say that? Did he realise what he was looking at? These were iconic artists! They were my childhood, my puberty and my party years, all in one box. He must be mad!

Sadly, he turned me away and I walked next door to the charity shop and lovingly laid the box at their back door.

I am not sure my Mum understood the tear trickling down my cheek. “They’re only old records, Claire,” she said soothingly. “You don’t even have anything to play them on and you can’t very well take them back on the plane with you.”

She was right but that didn’t make it any easier. Just like how distressing it was to give up my beloved two cats, even though I knew they were going to a wonderful new life with one of my best friends.

Some of those records were like my best friends. In fact, I’d probably known some of them longer than most of my friends!

They’d seen me through good times, bad times, sad times and happy times.
I was going to miss them.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What I've learned about writing and publishing

WOMs at Lit Crawl 2012
It has been so exciting to work with my fellow Write On Mamas to publish our first book. What a fantastic bunch of intelligent, talented and funny women. I had no idea when we started our group two years ago that it would be so much fun, so supportive and that we would actually publish a book. And a good book at that, even if we do say so ourselves.

I have learned so much over the last two years. How to start something from nothing, apart from a common passion and purpose. 

How the same people tend to do all the work. How rewarding it is to give, but it can be tiring too. How to say No sometimes or to ask for help. 

How one person’s vision can drive an entire group forward (not mentioning any names, Janine). 

That working with a professional editor is a very good thing. How even though I wrote a shitty first draft, as Anne Lamott would say, it is amazing how it can be improved with constructive criticism, support and encouragement. 

WOMs at Lit Crawl 2013
How much useful information can be gleaned when you self-publish. That self-publishing is not a dirty word anymore. You don’t necessarily need agents and publishers, but that it helps to have a pool of 25 authors to call on. 

That I can actually be quite techie when I have to be, providing I have my exceptionally clever husband at my elbow at all times. 

That signing books is quite fun, even though no-one can read my writing apparently. Hurrumph. 

How working with a team of powerful women is inspiring, motivating and rewarding. That it is possible to work with women without being bitchy.  Laughing always make everything better.

I am totally, over-the-top excited that we have 5 (maybe 6) amazing bookstores lined up to host us on a mini book tour of the Bay area, with more coming on board every week. 

For more information about the book, Mamas Write, our writing group, Write On Mamas, or the dates and locations of the book tour, please visit our website (ahem … run by yours truly) at or on Facebook.

If you wish to buy a copy, please find us on Amazon here.

I thank you.

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for Flippin' 'eck, I'm a published author!

Can you believe it? I am finally a published author! Yay! My writing group, the Write On Mamas, has published our first anthology: Mamas Write. Here is the official description:

Twenty-nine poignant, gritty, and funny essays by 24 moms (and one dad) on how parenting shaped them as writers, how they make time to write, memorable parenting moments and more. 

Founded out of a desire to connect, the Write On Mamas is a rapidly growing group of more than 50 writing moms (and one dad) who meet online and in person to read, write, revise, and share. Members are published authors, journalists, bloggers, and poets, as well as those beginning their writing journey. Based primarily in Northern California, Write On Mamas also hail from Oregon, Minnesota, Maryland, and Calgary. 

I have written two essays for this book. The Reluctant Author about why I started writing in the first place (freaky and a bit weird) and Writer's Block Retreat, about how I went on this wonderful 3 day writing retreat and got completely blocked creatively.

If you would like to buy a copy, and I know you do, (it's fabulous even if I do say so myself) it will be available on Amazon in the next few days or you can buy copies at our Create Space store here:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Litquake video - Oral Sex!

Well it's been ages since I have been able to put up a blog. Sorry. Life is just life sometimes. I have been busy, busy, busy enjoying myself. I have also been writing for two anthologies that are being published in December.

Last week, I was honoured to be invited to read at Litquake (an amazing San Francisco literary festival) as part of fantastic social network A Band of Women's anthology series, Nothing But the Truth ..." about Transitions. For some unaccountable reason, I decided to write about sex, not knowing at the time I would then have to read an extract from it in front of 150 + complete strangers in a posh art gallery in the heart of San Francisco! That'll teach me. My wonderful husband videoed me and, due to popular demand, I am publishing it below.

After my reading, which was wedged in between heart-rending readings from a variety of very accomplished writers about women refugees in Afghanistan, children with autism, gender transition and infertility, and made me feel like I was a bit of light, fluffy relief in the interval, I was hugely relieved when some people came up to me afterwards and asked if I had a book for sale because they had enjoyed my reading so much. I am now feeling very motivated to finish my memoir.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Wishing I was young again

When I turned 50, some very kind American friends (now ex-friends!) reminded me that I would now belong to AARP. Being British I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about and thought they were just making seal noises. After enlightening me to what this was, American Association of Retired Persons, I was horrified. How awful. Was 50 that old? I didn't feel old. Surely I didn't look that old and anyway, I wasn't retired! In the UK we have a similar thing, called OAP - Old Age Pensioner - but it doesn't come into effect until you are 60 years old (65 for men) which seems much more reasonable. It is commonly referred to by people asking if you have a Bus Pass (as in "Oi Mate, got yer Bus Pass?"), which is given to you so you can get cheaper fares on public transport and to get into the movies and such. 

My friends kept teasing me , shouting "AAARRRRPPP!" loudly every time they saw me and sure enough, a couple of weeks after my 50th birthday, an envelope arrived with AARP's distinctive red logo on the front. I immediately threw it in the recycling. How dare they!

In the year since I have successfully deluded myself into feeling much younger, helped by all the young people around me at work. I always feel that I am the same age as everyone and then get shocked to the core when I realise I am old enough to be their mother.

A couple of months ago, my husband and I bought a new car - a Mini Cooper convertible - which is such fun and makes me feel like I am young again as my 2nd car was a Mini, but one of the originals with no acceleration and useless heating. I can't tell you how fantastic it is to whizz around with the roof down in the gorgeous Californian sunshine, driving through the beautiful vineyards, the wind ruffling my hair and feeling like I'm 20 again. 

My enjoyment came to an abrupt end the other day, however, when we received the licence plate in the mail. Sigh.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Writing Exercise: From Tomboy to Prom Queen

Well, after the exhausting hard work of not-writing the A-Z Blog Challenge but hassling everyone else to get posts, pics and links to me on time (why on earth did I ever think that would be easy?), I felt the need to post something written by me again.

I am currently on a 10 week online writing course with 9 other members of my writing group, the Write On, Mamas, with Kate Hopper of Use Your Words. I wrote the following as an exercise in Humor (that's Humour for you Brits). It was inspired from reading Catherine Newman's "Pretty Baby" piece". Here it is:

“Why on earth haven’t you bought Emma a doll?” My friend asked indignantly. “Honestly, Claire, she ought to have at least one doll.”

She then proceeded to give my 5 year old daughter, dressed in a bright red t-shirt, blue trousers and a baseball hat, the most hideous-looking doll I had ever seen. Was she serious? It was the stuff of nightmares. Horror film’s Chucky in a pastel dress. It was bald and chubby, with horrible staring eyes and a mouth that was molded open, like a fish frozen in its last agonizing death cry.

In disgust, I watched my daughter latch onto the doll with glee and cuddle it up to her. Did I imagine the glassy eyes glint at me in triumph? If I lifted its frilly undergarment would I see 666 scratched on its butt cheek? Emma innocently placed it into her mini stroller, after unceremoniously dumping the previous occupant (her beloved fluorescent pink elephant) on the ground, and walked off importantly round and round the garden, bending over and muttering Mumsy-type nothings to the devil toy every so often.

“There, you see, Claire!” my friend announced triumphantly, with a smug look on her face. “She loves it. You mustn’t stop her being a girl just because you aren’t girlie.”

Despite wanting to poke my friend’s eyes out with a sharp stick after this slur on my parenting ability, I could see her point - Emma did seem to be enjoying herself.

I felt betrayed somehow. I have always hated dolls and never played with them myself when I was a child. My favorite outfit was a cowboy and Indian set that my sister and I would share, complete with toy gun and holster, and a bow and arrow. I loved nothing better than running around the garden whooping and hollering and shooting my sister dead. (Perhaps anger management would have been a good after-school activity choice if it had been around back then.)

Now, I wanted to jump up, rip the Antichrist out of the stroller, stomp on it like an Indian doing a war dance, set it on fire and send it back to the hell and damnation from which it undoubtedly came, along with all the other glass-eyed scary demon-dolls. Particularly the frighteningly tasteless ones in ugly Victorian clothing that my Grandmother used to insist I play with as a 'special treat' when we went to visit, when all I wanted to do was ride the old-fashioned rocking horse and pretend I was Jesse James.

I restrained myself.

Despite my penchant for dressing my daughter as a tom-boy and giving her cars and action toys to play with, she has grown up to be the most girlie of all girls. She adores dresses and skirts in pretty feminine colours, could apply make-up better than me at the age of 11, spends hours teasing her hair into gorgeous little ringlets or works it cleverly into a French plait or straightens it better than any hairdresser. Thankfully, otherwise I would probably have had to disown her, she is also very adventurous, likes massive four-wheel drive trucks and off-road dirt biking.

When I had got over what I considered to be an implied insult and, instead, recognized it for what it was, a dear friend giving a sweet little girl something that was missing from her life, I was able to thank her and allow Emma to have other more feminine and girlie possessions. I really don't want to pass on any more of my hang-ups - after all, she already has my exagerated hand movements when speaking and horrible feet.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Zinnia (by Laurel Hilton)

And here we are at Z. I have been delighted to host the Write On, Mamas! for this year's A-Z Blog Challenge: 25 of our wonderful Mamas and one fabulous honorary Mama - Steven Friedman, our lone, brave and talented Papa. I hope you have enjoyed the diversity and talent of our group and thought I would leave you with this:
Alphabetical blogs can delight everyone, frequently giving helpful inspirational kindness. Literary memoirs, novels, occasional poems, quite randomly shared teach us vivid writing; x-rated yield zilch.

Thanks for joining us.
Photography by Mary Allison Tierney

I never paid much attention to Z before I named my second child Zinnia. I have a funny thing about letters, kind of an obsession. I’ve spent most of my life pretty comfortably occupying the two middle letters of the alphabet – L and M as the first letters of my name and surname (maiden name). 

L is for love, lemons, lions, licorice. M is for monkeys, magic, marshmallows and mystery. In classrooms, when they lined you up alphabetically for a game, to take class photos, or to go out to recess, I was sure to be right in the middle of things. I was a shy child and wanted the least amount of attention paid to me as possible. Being neither first, nor last, suited me perfectly.

But then I allowed Z into our little family of letters. At the farthest reaches of the alphabet it seemed so exotic, alien and maybe a little lonely. Poor little Z, only one playmate, Y, on one side of you and even then, how charismatic is Y anyway? I practically smothered my daughter with my anxious feelings. 

What had I done? 

She would always be last picked in alpha order. 

Would other kids alienate her because Z was so unusual? 

What cool things start with a Z anyway?

It turns out that Z is so much cooler than I could have imagined. Z is for words that just zing off your tongue like zipper, zap, zippadeedooda, and zany. It is the height of intellectual style like zeitgeist, and a Jazz Age icon, Zelda Fitzgerald. It is for a wonderful Zen state of mind, and for zydeco music, a fusion of Creole and Cajun influences using washboards, fiddles and accordions.

It brings me back full circle to my little Zinnia. She is the essence of what it means to be Z― imaginative, colorful, full of wonder, spontaneity and utterly original. 

Laurel Hilton is an essayist and journalist whose work has appeared on KQED’s Perspectives, Mama Monologues,, and, to name a few. She’d like to spend more time stringing words together than consumed with the hierarchy of letters.