The Berk Is Back

How many relaunches has this blog had now? Three? Four? What if we count all the blogs that came before this one? Heck, that probably brings it up into the dozens.

But here’s another one!

Yes, after yet another hiatus, I am back. It’s been a couple of months. Since the start of May. OK, that’s more than a couple, seeing as it’s now mid-August. Sheesh.

We had a whole summer in those ‘couple’ of months. It was a lovely week. I even wore sunglasses for, like, five minutes.

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Eurovision Weekend 2018: the “Live Blog”

I was planning to do this as an actual live blog – but I am poor, and can’t afford to upgrade my WordPress, which I’d need to do to add live-blogging facilities. I think. I’m not half as techy as I’d like to pretend, and I don’t really have a clue. Oh well. You’ll just have to see my updates as they happened. This is probably for the best anyway… I’m going to try not to edit too much, for the amusement value, but at least this way I can cut out the worst of the drunken rambles!

Saturday 12th May

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I am on a train to London! Sitting in First Class on the marvellous Virgin Trains East Coast, of course. And I’m not just saying they’re marvellous because I work for them and so am travelling for free. It’s a HST, which I’m not a fan of (I’m turning into such a train nerd) but I’ve just had a pain au chocolat, I’ve got unlimited coffee, a raspberry yoghurt, and Harry Potter on their Beam entertainment service. I should be catching up with my Goodreads Challenge, really, but the opportunity for some caffeinated Potter time was too good to miss.

So where am I going, and why?

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A Coffee and a Catch-Up

It’s occurred to me that I haven’t really talked much about me lately, at least not without being in the middle of a review or a more topical ramble. In fact, I probably haven’t really put my life in much context since we left Manchester, or even before. Plus, if I’m writing anything at all I should really be working on my Camp NaNoWriMo, so of course I’m going to find something else to write until inspiration rears its beautiful head.

So while Teddy is happily distracted by Thomas the Tank Engine, let’s sit down and have a coffee and a catch-up!

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A Week In The Life: Part 3

Just a quick little post today: Ted and I are heading up to visit my mum tomorrow and even though I’ve been packing things particularly astutely for the past few days, I still need to spend my last half hour before bed scurrying round and shoving more and more Calpol into the bags, ‘just in case’.

Yes, Teddy is teething.

And we both, potentially, have a cold.

This week may not go quite to plan.

Ted usually sleeps really well, but we’ve had a few broken nights this week. Mostly just the occasional wail, easily settled, but we had a whopper on Friday night. He went to bed absolutely angelically… then woke up for the day at a quarter to midnight. He screamed and cried for the entire time Kev tried to get him to go back to sleep… then when he gave up, was chipper as anything and played merrily until sometime around 3am, when In The Night Garden won out and he dropped off again.

Those two little front teeth are still bravely working their way out, and I think we hit a breakthrough today; there seems to be so much more to the pair of tiny chompers than there was a few days ago. Hopefully it was just a horrible little push they were doing, combined with him learning to high five and do ‘ta’ keeping his synapses working long into the night.

But there’s a lot of sniffling and sneezing going on in this house tonight, and I fear the nights ahead. Note to self: pack Olbas oil. And Snufflebabe. And buy ALL the tissues.

It’s been a nice week, this week, teeth and snuffles aside. We’ve been to a couple of baby groups, me and Ted, plus we’ve had a couple of playdates with Ted’s baby friends. We had a lovely time visiting Ted’s mate Sebastian, who so far is one of the few babies he actually interacts with rather than sodding off into the corner to play by himself.

I say this, but I’m basing this mostly on the fact that Ted decided to pat Sebastian on the head while he was in his highchair the other day. Sadly, Ted was holding a handful of fish pie at the time so poor Sebastian got a bit of a potatoey shampooing, but it’s progress.

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Such pals.

We also had Ted’s nine month check with the health visitor, which was not very exciting as she just went down a big checklist of ‘things babies could possibly do’ and Ted checked off as ‘yes’ to every one of them except being able to suck his own toes. He’s always had a bit too much belly in the way to manage that (just like his mama, some might say). She also informed us that he now weighs just under twenty four pounds, perfectly following his curve on the graph (on the 91st centile, eep). Such a model child.

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I repeat. Model child.

I did a bit of a culinary triumph this week too – I made spaghetti bolognese! I know, I know, that’s probably the number one easy student meal that everyone in the world can cook. Yet somehow I’ve always had other people cook it for me before – I’ve always been the mistress of the roast dinner instead. But for once, I actually cooked it myself… and let Ted have some.

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Teeny tiny bolognese

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SPAGHETTI COMA

I’m going to leave things there before I get into more repetitive rambles about baby groups and bookshops, but I should have more interesting goings on to report after we get back from our adventure at my mum’s. Ted’s so excited to finally meet his Nana Julie and Poppy Andrew!

A Week In The Life: Part 2

Ooh, look at me actually sticking to a blogging-resolution for a second week running!

First of all – massive congratulations to the new Mr and Mrs Buchberger! My dear friend Monica got married this week in a gorgeous fairytale German castle – I wish I could have been there but finances couldn’t stretch to it, sadly. It looks like they had an amazing day and I wish them the greatest of happily ever afters.

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Me and Monica in the German sunshine a year ago

Right, onto my life. Well… not a lot has gone on this week, to be honest.

Teddy and I are turning into a right pair of creatures of habit. Same pattern of baby groups, coffees (for me, not Ted, though he has a good go at getting the cup out of my hand), and tearing round the house on a mission to get every single cupboard bare by the end of the week (Ted, not me).

This past week marked the end of Camp NaNoWriMo for 2017. And, um, I failed.

I know. I failed a NaNoWriMo. First time for everything, I suppose. I’m not counting November 2016 – I never started. Bit busy having a baby on November 1st, you see. I was determined to make up for it by doing Camp, which I very rarely do. I thought “Oh, this’ll be fine. Ted naps. He sleeps through the night. Plenty of time to do some writing.”

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Look at that shameful stats graph.

I could make plenty of excuses. I’m not inspired while Ted’s asleep. I went back to work and that took a lot out of me. I have to use the time while Ted’s sleeping to clean the house and do other things.

All valid-ish, I suppose.

But in reality, I was just too lazy. When Ted’s asleep – like when I do most of my blogging, I wrote most of this post in my local Starbucks – I want to chill out. I started writing a new book; I was too lazy to put the effort into properly establishing the characters. I went back to an old one; I was too lazy to get back into my main character’s head and sort out her problems. I tried another old one; I was too lazy to deal with the two main characters and their romantic entanglements and unrequited love situation.

I only managed 15,494 words in the end. I’ve never dipped below the 50,000 word mark before, even in 2011 when I wrote over 10,000 words in about four hours on the last night.

Maybe by the time proper NaNoWriMo comes around in November I’ll be a bit more disciplined. Though I’m not going to count on it; we’re in Disneyland Paris for the first three days, for Ted’s birthday. Not exactly a NaNoWriMo-friendly environment!

Anyway, in other news, Ted turned nine months old – I’ve done a whole blog post about his various triumphs and increasing big-boy-ness. He really is speeding towards toddlerhood; he even did some standing unsupported the other day. Admittedly, he didn’t know he was doing it – he was very distracted by some singing at the Waterstones baby group. But I was very proud anyway.

He’s been doing a bit more ‘walking’, too. He’s been walking while holding things for ages, pretty much since he started crawling at about six months old. He used to like holding out his hands so I’d grab them, and he’d toddle along towards me. But since he decided he’s a fully independent grown-up baby, he’s refused to do that. If it wasn’t his precious VTech walker, he wouldn’t walk across the floor, only holding onto the sofa or shelves (or the wall, or the door, or a table…) but this week we hit some kind of breakthrough. He’ll walk holding my hands, or Kev’s hands… as long as he’s going away from us. Which leads to a very inelegant shuffle from me as he powers along on his little legs.

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Here’s a picture of my wonderfully daft child playing with a spoon and a candle. Because apparently they make the most beautiful music together. I would like to point out I did not give him either of those objects. Niffler.

Other than that… I shall freely admit that the high point of my week was Game of Thrones. Yes, every week I get up at two o’clock in the morning and watch it ‘live’, as it were – streamed at the same time as in the US at any rate. Don’t worry, I’m not going to start spoiling things all over the place, considering it’s literally just started its normal-time stream here in the UK but… wow. Just wow. It’s not really a Game of Thrones spoiler to say that there’s a battle scene, but it was a bloody immense battle scene. And one of my favourite characters (hint: not Robson) had a major part in it.

Oh, it was glorious.

Usually the big awe-inspiring moments of Game of Thrones tend to come in the penultimate episode of each season, with the last episode reserved for mopping up. I can’t wait to see what those episodes hold this season, if that was only episode four.

Anyway, that was my not-so-exciting week. Hopefully this coming week will be a bit more lively – we’ve got a few things planned, including – drumroll, please – Ted’s nine month check-up with the health visitor! Told you it was going to be thrilling. I bet you’re all on the edge of your seats.

NaNoWriMo 2014

Once again NaNoWriMo is over. November has been my favourite month of the year ever since I found out that National Novel Writing Month exists – 50,000 words (at least) of a new novel, being done in thirty days… 30 days hunched over my laptop, pounding out words while surrounded by buckets and buckets of coffee. Absolute bliss. No matter what else is going on in my life, I always, always make time for NaNoWriMo.

I was a little bit of a rebel this year. I’d already written 10,000 words of this year’s novel, my young adult epistolary story, Étouffé. I ended up reaching 94,581 words, not including those first 10,000 – I’m counting that as a success. Actually, it’s one of my best years ever.

The story is, of course, nowhere near finished. Halfway through at the very most.

The idea for Étouffé came to me years ago. Actually it was… oh, bloody hell, it was six years ago. Now that makes me feel elderly. I was working in France over the summer as an au pair for three tiny children whose parents ran a riding school. It was the furthest I’d ever been into the middle of nowhere, and I quickly came to realise quite how much I hated the countryside, I hated horses, I hated everything about the farming life. Everyone was so wholesome. To my not-quite-nineteen year old mind, it was horrifying.

What’s more, I had no laptop, no internet, and an ancient phone that could just about manage to text, but nothing more. I did think I’d come prepared for the summer, dragging an entire suitcase of books with me on the train through France, but it wasn’t enough.

I started to take out my frustrations in writing, creating a teenage character not unlike myself, thrust into country living. I decided it would be the other way round from me, though – a haughty Parisian beauty dragged to the English countryside to move in with her new step family.

That’s about as far as I got, though, in a bright green exercise book with squared paper, bought from the only supermarket I’d seen in about a fifty mile radius. I scribbled furiously while my charges were asleep, hiding in my bedroom from a giant, slobbery dog called Basil whose one mission in life seemed to be to lick me to death.

Of course, very little of that first few thousand words has survived. The main premise is still there, and the basis of the characters, and my narrator’s somewhat traumatic backstory (of which she is mostly unaware). But over the years I’ve come up with a decent plot and structure, and a cast of characters who have really come to life in my head.

I’ve got to say, this project has had the highest level of planning of anything I’ve ever written before. I had 20,000 words of plotting, characterisation, settings and timelines before I even started. I got so immersed in Tilly, my main character, that I even started to act like her. Not a good thing – she’s a selfish, self-centred bitch for at least a third of the novel. All this crazy planning meant that right from day 1 of NaNoWriMo, I was powering out of the gate; for the first time in years, my stats graph isn’t littered with big blocks of nothingness, followed by the occasional spurt. This time it was steady, but still leading to almost double the 50,000 word target. In fact, I think I would have got to well over 100,000 words if the last few days hadn’t fallen at the start of one of my most stressful weeks of work since I moved to Manchester.

I’m going to credit part of my success this November to having an actual physical writing buddy – my friend Sara happens to be in Manchester for uni for a few months, and we could actually have our own little write-ins in the best Costa in Manchester. It’s awesome to actually have company, to be able to bounce ideas off one another, to laugh about our occasionally dimwitted moments of sentence construction and plot idiocies. So thanks, Sara!

Now might be a good time to actually throw in the typical stats-graph picture…

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Look! A steady incline! Makes a welcome change from years past…

So that’s my NaNoWriMo 2014 story… with so much going on in my life at the moment, I have no idea what my 2015 November will hold. I’ve put aside Étouffé for now, purely because I have other things that should be a priority, writing-wise. But it’s been a lot of fun writing this first half (or third, or whatever) of it, and I feel it’s going to be one of my most entertaining novels.

In case you haven’t heard my spiel yet, I’d recommend NaNoWriMo to anyone who thinks they might have a book in them. With the support from the forums and the healthy competition between friends, it’s the best way to churn out that first draft; maybe it won’t be perfect, but you’ll end the month with 50,000 more words than you started it. The other eleven months of the year can be for the whole perfection part: November is for your brain dump. If I can manage to sit down for an hour or so every day and churn out 3000 words at a time, then anyone with two fingers and a computer is more than capable.