29 April, 2018 / General
I’m not quite sure why I signed up for the Edinburgh Marathon. But as my husband Jimmy had run no less than three (Inverness, Stirling and Amsterdam), I had a notion that I should give it a go too. After all, he had survived them and kept on wanting to do more. What sort of crazy behaviour was that?
‘Maybe I could do that,’ I thought, as I run too – ie, our local Parkrun pretty much every Saturday morning. That’s 5k – and a full marathon is only, er, 37k further. Hang on… THIRTY-SEVEN KILOMETRES FURTHER? Christ, was I thinking? I seriously needed to get my ass into gear.
As the weeks rolled on, Jimmy and I started going on 10k runs fairly regularly – then gradually upping to 20k. If I’m making this sound easy, it really wasn’t – setting off is always pretty torturous, and I got very grumpy and needed a lot of cajoling. I gulped down those energy gels that taste like pulped Jelly Babies, determined not to lose face. Still I couldn’t figure out how the heck a normal person – who spent pretty much her entire 20s and early 30s in the pub, and had gin stashed in her office desk drawer – could ever hope to run 26 blinking miles. I pictured myself being bundled up in a foil blanket, like a turkey, and carted away sobbing on marathon day. Running can make you feel great – but there are risks, obviously. At Parkrun last weekend, I heard a fellow runner announce to her friend, ‘And then he had to have his spleen removed!’
It’ll be okay, everyone kept telling me. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Jimmy kept urging me to run at a slow, steady pace, instead of scampering ahead and trying to show off – and a friend advised, ‘Treat it like lots of 5ks all joined up together’. I read numerous accounts from ‘normal’ women who’d done it; they reported blackened toenails, and their nails actually falling off, plus copious crying/vomiting. Weirdly, nothing terrible has happened to me yet. I managed what was (to me at least) a mammoth run of 30k, through the streets and parks of Glasgow. As our own street came into view I experienced a wave of euphoria. Bloody hell, I’d just run 30 kilometres!
Something strange seemed to be happening. While I have never considered myself a ‘natural’ runner I seemed to be able to just plod on and on, albeit slowly – without any bits falling off, or anything terrible happening to my inner workings.
Last weekend I met a friend, Heather, who ran her first marathon (London) last year and convinced me I’d ‘smash it’, as she put it. She impressed on me that it wasn’t about ‘time’ but about finishing and enjoying the experience. It started to feel very real, and even… exciting. Weirdly, I’m not scared anymore. I’m still not entirely sure why I’m doing it, but I do know that running balances out the fact that I spend hours at the laptop every day, writing books.
To run, all you really need is a pair of decent running shoes, a sports bra (unless you’re a bloke, obv) and the will to stagger through those first few runs when you feel like puking and detest every moment.
After that, it does get better. I still resent it sometimes – ‘Bugger, I really should go out for a run’ – when I’d far rather curl up at home and stuff my face with Kettle Chips. But running is part of my life now, and hopefully on that last Sunday in May I’ll stagger over the finishing line and stuff a banana in my mouth, and perhaps vow to never do it again, as running that far is an utterly mad thing to do.
I shall report back.
27 October, 2017 / Writing
Are you burning to write a novel but just can’t get the words on the screen? There’s no miracle trick, unfortunately – but here are some things I’ve learned along the way…
The hardest thing is getting started. There are always a million things you can do instead. It’s usually more down to fear – ‘What if it’s rubbish?’ – than being stuck for ideas of what to write. Bear in mind that, when you’re starting out, it’s just a draft – and no one needs to see it but you.
In fact your first draft will probably be a real pig’s ear. Don’t worry – you can go back and wrestle it into shape later. I normally edit my own books around four times before they’re in any fit and publishable form! My first drafts are mortifying.
You don’t need a fancy writing room or a silent house. If you have a fierce desire to write, you’ll find the time and space. I wrote my first book at night when my kids were in bed. A friend used to set his alarm for 5 am and write before his children woke up. If your home is too hectic, find a cafe, or go to the library instead.
Choose subject matter that interests and excites you. There’s no point in trying to identify supposed ‘gaps in the market’ – if your heart’s not in it, it will show. Be true to yourself.
You don’t have to try to be super-literary or overly clever. If you love pacy thrillers, write one of those. Ditto rom-coms or racy pot-boilers. Write the kind of book you love to read.
Experiment until you find the most conducive environment for you. For instance, I always have music playing when I write. I can now tell when I’m running out of energy and ideas, and when that happens I walk the dog, or go for a run – for me, it’s best to get out of the house. I also find cooking a great de-stresser. I’ll make dinner and then feel revved up to do more writing later.
Don’t keep twiddling with that first paragraph. You’ll drive yourself crazy. Get it down, then press on. You can come back and fix it later.
If you’re stale, take a trip. Trains are my favourite place to write. There is literally nothing else to do but sip coffee, glance out of the window occasionally and get on with the work.
Writing is hard. It’s bloody hard! You might feel as if you’re going a bit mad. Do other things – get out, see people, talk to humans, move your body about. Then get back to it. A lot of novel writing is sheer graft, but when it’s going well, and you think, ‘Actually, this is not bad at all!’, then it’s a joyous thing to do.
Loosen up, and don’t take yourself too seriously. In other words, have fun and let yourself go a bit with your writing. When I’m stuck, or tearing my hair out over a tricky chapter, I try to remind myself: It’s only a book!
27 August, 2017 / General
My make-up bag is a precious thing…
Whenever I lose it – which is often – the accompanying panic is of a similar level to when I’ve misplaced my purse or flat keys – or am having one of those horrific dreams when I’m, say, naked in Sainsbury’s baked goods aisle.
Most women I know are the same. It’s taken us years to find our favourites, and to replace it all would be nightmare in terms of time, effort and cash. When I was younger, I hopped from brand to brand, whereas now – although I’m not averse to trying something new – I’m somewhat more faithful to my favourites. Here are the beauties currently seeing me through the day. The pic, incidentally, is my daughter’s kit. I’m on a mad book deadline at the mo and my favourites are scattered all over in various bags. Note to self: organise make-up!
Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue BB cream – recommended by Misha McCullagh, a BM consultant who gave me lots of helpful advice when I was writing The Woman Who Met Her Match (my main character, Lorrie, works on a beauty counter in a posh department store and I needed the inside info on what that’s like). I can’t bear a caked, claggy feeling on my skin, and haven’t worn actual foundation for years. This BB cream is sheer and light and gives just enough coverage to smooth out any wear and tear.
Bare Minerals Smoothing Face foundation brush. Brush application, as demonstrated to me by Misha, was a revelation. Before that, I’d just smeared on my base with my fingers. But brushing gives more even coverage and a really brilliant, professional result. I’m a total covert.
Benefit ‘That Gal’ Brightening Face Primer. Another counter recommendation (I really am a beauty salesperson’s dream. ‘Here I am! Have ALL of my money, people!’). If I’ve been working long hours and lack sleep and fresh air, my skin starts to look ashen. This magical stuff perks it up. Often, I put a blob on my hand, with a blob of the aforementioned BB cream too, blend them with a brush and then apply – so it’s a primer and BB in one. The effect is really light and brightening.
Clinique Stay-Matte Sheer Pressed Powder. Powder can be viewed as a bit ‘nana’ but I’ve worn this for decades (not the same one, obv) and always have that trusty green compact in my bag.
Chanel Hydrating Lip Color in Rouge Coco. I’m having a ‘red revival’ after two decades of more subtle lip shades. Weirdly, I assumed I’d passed the cut-off age for a true red, but a counter lady persuaded me otherwise. This formulation glides on, is neither too matte nor too glossy, and lasts for hours as long as it’s applied with a liner. It’s amazingly easy to wear and it cheers me hugely.
Diorshow Proliner – a twist-up liner which is far easier to apply, in my opinion, than the liquid type that comes with a brush. It’s like drawing with a pen and gives deep, rich colour that lasts for hours. While I feel slightly too old for the liquid flick, this little beauty works for me.
Other bits and bobs…
As for blusher, at the moment I’m using a swanky Chanel one – but only because I had a treaty gift voucher. I could just as happily use a bargainacious brand like Barry M or Boots No. 7. Ditto for pencil lip liners and eye liners – I don’t believe you need to spend a lot. And mascara-wise, I’m currently using Soap & Glory but I’m equally keen on Clinique and Benefit. I’m a bit of a brand-hopper, lash-wise.
And underneath it all? When it comes to skincare I’m currently wedded to Liz Earle’s Hot Cloth Cleanser (easily the best cleanser IMO), plus her Superskin Moisturiser and serum (called Concentrate for Night). The ladies at the John Lewis concession in Glasgow are super-helpful and I often come away with a few enticing freebies when I’ve made a purchase. Yes, it’s all a bit spendy, but these products last and last and are a joy to use every day.
Isn’t it brilliant to be a woman sometimes?
‘Your kids are out of control,’ the man barked. ‘It’s a disgrace!’
I’d taken my twin sons to an aquarium. A star attraction was the moving pavement, which took you along a tunnel through a giant tank of sharks. Actually, no – the real star attraction was the big red button that stopped the pavement moving. Of course my sons pressed it. What else would they do? They were seven years old. The button was irresistible.
An angry man marched towards us and threatened to report us to the staff. My cheeks burned and I sensed tears welling up behind my eyes. Naturally, angry man’s children were behaving beautifully, filling in the worksheets he’d probably printed out for them – they didn’t seem to have even noticed the big button.
It’s normal for kids to get up to hi-jinx in public places – and, fortunately, most people are understanding. However, we all encounter the odd individual – a member of the ‘your kids are out of control!’ brigade – who seem to believe that a child’s every move can be controlled by a parent, as if they were mini robots instead of unpredictable human beings.
How often have you heard a disapproving adult muttering, ‘Well, I blame the parents?’ Give us a break, people! We are trying our best, usually on a pitiful amount of sleep.
It’s amazing how intolerant strangers can be when they witness a child being mischievous. Recently, I was asked to take part in a radio talk show, on which the subject was a certain cafe in Essex, whose owner had decided to ban children – ‘so they can’t spoil the experience for everyone else.’
How terribly life-sapping, I thought, to be denied the chance to just sit and have a coffee that you hadn’t made yourself – and which, crucially, hadn’t been re-heated in the microwave five times. Some callers agreed that the no-kids ruling was rather ungenerous, and I remembered how grateful I’d be whenever I found a welcoming coffee shop, where I could sit with my young children and enjoy a hot drink and a slice of cake. Simple pleasures indeed!
However, according to the vast majority of listeners who phoned into that show, that cafe owner was quite right. ‘I don’t want to be surrounded by screaming kids!’ thundered one man. Perhaps he was the same man who barked at me for ‘letting’ my sons press the red button? As a home-based writer, I regularly take my laptop to cafes to get out of the house. In the twenty-one years I have been freelance, I have never once had my ‘experience’ ruined by rowdy children.
Oh, I know kids can be noisy and sometimes you just want a proper adult night out – but we were talking about a cafe, not a Michelin-starred restaurant. ‘The trouble is,’ the man wittered on, ‘kids are allowed to run amok these days. Mine never did that.’
Yes they did, Mister Perfect. You’ve just blotted it out.
29 December, 2016 / Drawing, everydaydrawing2017
Will my friends join me for a year of drawing?
Resolutions! I make them every year and they’re always along the same lines – run more, be more organised with work/deadlines, drink less wine, treat my body well, all that stuff… and it’s starting to feel a bit joyless and monotonous. I mean, take my iron pills. Is that the best I can do?
So I’ve been thinking about what I’d really like to achieve in 2017 – and most of it is the usual obvious stuff: work productively without tumbling into blind panic. I have two books to write: the 2nd in my Ellen Berry series as soon as humanly possible (it IS started!) and my next standalone novel by the summer. I’ll still run and do yoga, as without those things I get a bit ratty and cabin feverish. So all that’s fine. But it doesn’t feel terrible new and different. So I thought.. what would I really like to do? And the one thing is DRAW EVERY DAY.
I just love it
It makes me notice ordinary things around me
It forces me to sit down and be still for a bit
I write all the time and drawing ISN’T writing (although it helps with writing!)
The only way to get better at something is to do it every day, right?
And I’d like to get MUCH better
I pondered and pondered (I’m a terrible ponderer) about what a ‘draw every day’ project might entail, and how best to go about it.
What should I draw?
Should I use a big posh sketchbook or a smaller one for carrying around?
Should I share my stuff on Instagram and FB and, if so, how often to avoid friends getting sick of it?
What is the POINT of it?
What about all the other things I should be doing?
Should I have rules – ie, draw only from ‘real’ (ie, not imaginary and not from photos) or just do whatever?
What if I can’t keep it up?
What if it’s all crap?
I decided to just get on with it – no one’s going to complain or criticise and the only thing that matters really is doing it. Even if I don’t manage every single day, there’ll still be tons of drawings I wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Anyway, I will NOT FAIL!
Children are great at this sort of thing. Give them pens and paper and they’ll just make a picture and not care. They know there is no such thing as a bad drawing. I was like that as a kid, prolific and unselfconscious – all I really did was ride my bike, collect nerdy things like stamps, coins, fossils, gemstones and old bottles I’d dug up from the tip – and draw. At Christmas, nothing was more exciting than receiving a massive tin of coloured pencils, all razor-sharp and arranged in perfect rainbow order. And then I grew up and lost all confidence in drawing, painting, making things. Or maybe motivation. So many other things clamoured for attention – like the thrill of moving away from home and living in Dundee, then London, and working on magazines and having a family of my own. I got stuck into raising three children and writing novels, and forgot about how lovely it feels to just sit down and draw something.
Then a couple of years ago I was inspired by friends’ drawings on Facebook and tentatively shared a few things from a long-ago holiday sketchbook. Friends were amazingly kind about them which spurred me on. I started drawing again and it felt great.
So that’s that – my resolution for 2017: DRAW EVERY DAY. These are a few things I’ve drawn this week in the big run-up to 2017:
Leftover Christmas condiments
Let’s do this!
No rules. No worrying about the fanciness of the sketchbook or what the heck to draw – if there’s nothing but a banana sitting in front of us then let’s draw that. If there isn’t even a banana, then nip out and get some.
And let’s share and not be shy!
Fiona x #everydaydrawing2017.