Friday, 25 July 2014

Raising Children Without Creating Your Personal Hell

Blaming the Child seemed like an apt title for a novel in which the child was held responsible for the actions of adults, who should have known better. The storyline is complex, involving a teenager who unknowingly shoulders that responsibility and tries to make a decent life beneath its suffocating burden. When Callister Rhodes really can’t take anymore, she uses the only exit she can see and runs away, ending up in foster care and fractured from her family completely. The irony is that she should never have carried that weight. The responsibility for her parents’ failings was not hers. She did nothing wrong.

Calli’s circumstances are extreme, but I got to thinking this week about how many of us force responsibility on our own children for things they should never carry. We bring all this baggage into our relationships and parenting that really have no right to be there. We carry forward the mistakes of our parents, our own inadequacies and the burdens placed on us. And we make them responsible.

I knew a woman whose children did every club under the sun. If they weren’t swimming they were playing soccer, tennis, rugby, dancing and piano, singing or performing in a gymnastics competition. They were bright, clever children, but they groaned under the weight of activity and busyness. From the outside, they looked ‘favoured’ and fortunate. My children would have loved to do half those things and looked enviously at them as they were slung into the car after school, half dressed for the next activity. My children were allowed to pick one activity each, for as long as it lasted. It was this or that. We had no money so they could do school soccer because it was free and the uniform came with team membership and then learn to play guitar at a reduced rate with a neighbour down the road, in exchange for childcare.

Playing with bubbles in Grandma's garden in England

I remember my daughter inviting one of the children-who-did-everything round for a play-date once. They did homework at the dining table for half an hour, ran round the garden in the snow, had tea and then flopped in front of the fire and made things with salt dough until it was home time.

I felt inadequate, as though my entertainment was pretty dire compared to what the five-year-old usually did after school and I worried terribly about it. I hovered like a nervous blowfly, watching for signs of boredom. After the frantic mother had yanked the child from my threshold and rushed off to the next activity, I asked my daughter if her friend had enjoyed herself. I got the usual shrug and noncommittal ‘yep’ which told me nothing. But every day for the next two weeks that little girl ran up to me and asked if she could come back to mine and sit by the fire. Sadly we never managed to fit it in again.

In our own way, as mothers, possibly both of us were punishing ourselves and our children, but in different ways. I made my children count the cost of everything and she was probably the opposite. Maybe she had grown up poor with nothing and wanted to give her children everything. I grew up poor but had what my family could provide and if I’m honest, I remember tantrums and arguments because I wanted more.

Dingley Woods, Northamptonshire.We spent hours here.
Photo courtesy of Tracey Rawlins, my friend in England whom I miss very much.

With my own children, I did free stuff; bike rides and bus rides and trips to the park. But I placed a massive burden on myself without meaning to. I had four children. I loved and wanted them all. But it made playdates where the whole family was invited highly unlikely. One or two extras, maybe - but four, no thanks. My burden was not to let my children ever miss out because there were more of them than in other families. My theory was that they didn’t ask to be born and so shouldn’t be made to suffer for mine and my husband’s choices. So we did stuff. 

I put pressure on myself to fill at least three days a week in every summer holiday. With no money. My children were grateful, walking around the reservoir and not going into a cafe for ice-cream after. When I look back, I am amazingly gratified to them for not asking for things. But I always worried that I didn’t quite do enough and so I punished myself and inadvertently, them.

In order to fund our growing family, my husband worked long hours away from home, weeks and months at a time, maybe popping home late to sleep. Effectively I single-parented for a number of years, plugging into things to stop the children feeling the absence of a male role model. They didn’t need it. They knew dad loved them and worked hard for them. They didn’t need my futile overcompensation on their behalf. It was my problem, not theirs.

I made my own nightmare, second guessing and spinning on my head to make this complicated image of the perfect family work, whilst knowing deep down that it was never going to.

And who did I get cross at when I was tired?  When I had cycled miles with four wobbly little people on stabilisers, shoved my fat backside down the slide at the play-park for hours and couldn’t get the play dough out of my hair?

I was cross with them, the children

The same children who would probably have been just as happy at home in front of the fire watching cartoons, playing with toys or digging a random hole in the garden with the dog.

A friend's birthday party. One of our few NZ family photographs.

The grass is always greener on the other side.

Whether we have everything or nothing, we need to learn to make do and smile through it. Ultimately, that’s what our children are looking for; for us to be content with what we have. That’s their benchmark. In our more affluent times as the better jobs came and the bigger houses, surprisingly it’s not what my semi-adult children remember. They don’t remember dinners out or fancy toys or trips. They remember me reading Harry Potter for a solid week on a wet week in Mid-Wales with the gas fire pumping out dry heat, me losing my voice and the rain smashing into the side of the caravan. They talk with fondness and excitement about coming to New Zealand with just a suitcase each and travelling the North Island in a campervan with no home, no jobs and no idea of what was coming next.

They don’t think like we imagine they do and - we get it wrong continually.

I was fortunate. I had good parents. My mother cycled miles every Saturday to take my sister and I horse riding and then cycled home because there was nowhere to wait in the biting cold. Then she cycled back again. I appreciate it now, but at the time it was my birthright. I look back and feel like a brat. She worked two part-time jobs to fund that hobby and all me and my sister did was bitch and argue all the whole way home about who got to ride out front. My mum grew up with nothing and wanted us to have the world and on and on it goes.

My wonderful parents arriving in NZ after 3 years apart.

In Blaming the Child, Calli’s home circumstances are different. Both her parents work full-time and she is the unpaid child-minder, housekeeper and problem solver. They don’t need two full-time incomes, but it's the adult's way of avoiding home. It dawns on Calli at the tender age of sixteen that her mum and dad don’t seem to love her like they do her younger siblings. She tries to find out why and her life blows up in her face. Her parents have carried their burden forward and laid it firmly on her shoulders and it is truly horrific. The great irony is that for sixteen years she has been aware of a weight that she didn’t even need to know about, let alone carry. It’s theirs, not hers.

We all do it. We don’t mean to, we didn’t intend to, but we do.

Parents, take a good hard look at your parenting.

- Why do your children do more activities than days of the week? Is it because they want to be accomplished, or because you want them to?
- Don’t tell your children that you can’t afford things. If you or your partner are working to provide for them, then don’t demean your stellar efforts. You are doing the best you can. Tell them that you have considered their request and decided that it is not a priority at the moment within the other demands on your time or money. They won’t die.
- Most of our parents did the best they could with what they had in their hand at that moment. Some did great and some did appallingly. We cannot redress the balance of their mistakes in us by overcompensating in our own children. Wipe the slate clean and start again. We always declare boldly that we are going to do it differently, but few of us manage to strike a healthy balance between extremes, on our selfish mission to be better.

- Much like beauty, success is measured by results and usually by the beholder - who is your child. They never like their lives. So don’t ask. They always have some major and life-changing complaint so don’t listen to them in order to form an accurate assessment of how you’re doing. Look at the world around you. If your children are fed, clothed, taken care of and told they are loved, then you are doing ok.

My husband and son, soccer referees together a few years ago.

At the end of the day, you are family. The Maori word is whanau. Some days we do our best and other days our worst. Life is hard enough out there. Don't bring it home.

I painted this. It hangs in our family room as a reminder of who we are.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

My Crazy Journey with Createspace

For goodness sake! Whose stupid idea was it to put a novel into print? Yeah, that’d be mine then. I had never really felt the need before and was perfectly happy with all my books on Kindle and Smashwords. They’re doing fine there. Occasionally I would get asked if someone could buy a physical copy and I would shrug and suggest that they downloaded it onto their phone or something. Admittedly that wasn’t awfully helpful for those who pulled out a brick-sized, battered Nokia, but hey, they probably wouldn’t really have bought my book anyway. Would they? And then I saw it. It was a photo of Jalpa Williby holding her latest novel. Outside her front door.

I was jealous, I admit it. I yearned to post photos of my novel and all these random images went strolling through my head.

My cat holding my novel in her little ginger paws.

My novel by the toilet - what? We all do that, just admit it.

My novel on the edge of the bath.

My novel driving the car (that one might be harder to fake, but not as hard as keeping the cat still.)

My novel watching TV with me, knitting, having dinner, watching a soccer game under an umbrella.

The possibilities are endless.

My unborn novel took on a personality of its own and I wanted it so bad. I wanted to touch its glossy cover and in the tradition of all proper readers, I wanted to thoroughly sniff it.

So I did it.

I logged onto Createspace and I did it.

I would love to end there so that you all thought I was amazing and clever and produced a print book just like that. But I would be lying and I only do that on very special occasions.

Actually I did an awful lot of screaming, some swearing and a fair bit of threatening over a terrible four day period, in which lots of awful things happened in the world and I saw none of it.

For those of you who understand that you type in A4 on your laptop, well that’s awesome, but I didn’t. You cannot load an A4 size manuscript into a 6 x 9 inch book and expect Createspace not to bark at you. I wasted a whole weekend trying to eliminate inexplicable gaps from the proof that just appeared without warning and I Googled solutions until I was mystified. Lots of posts about gaps and the frustration of gaps. 

No solutions.

My private technical specialist, who also foolishly married me was away for a few days, luckily for him. He looked at me strangely on his return, probably because I was still sitting in the exact same spot as when he left, wearing my pyjamas, only now I looked oddly crazed and demented through sleep deprivation. He had driven for 12 hours through hail, sleet and snow, toured a university and slept in a noisy motel and my first words to him were,

“I can’t make this stupid thing work!”

Seriously, if it hadn’t been for Demelza Carlton, author of the Ocean’s Gift Series, there would be no print copy! My stroke and sniff urge would have died a tragic, painful death by technomoron. She took me, a blithering stranger under her wing and put up with my dumb questions and nursed me through a process that I’m not sure I ever want to go through again. So, thank you Demelza Carlton for your tireless patience from across the ditch and international generosity for a fellow Oceanian. (And please can my moronic agonies with the cover remain a well-kept secret? Other people don't need to know all my mistakes, this is humiliating enough!)

I got an email this morning.

Your interior and cover files for Blaming the Child meet our technical requirements for printing.
The next step in the publishing process is to proof your book.”

Oh, the excitement!

Until I saw the damn postage price.

$7 if I don’t mind not seeing it until late September.
$17 if I can wait until the end of August.
$33 and I have no idea what for because I couldn’t bear to look anymore. I figure for that price, a Createspace representative will be knocking on my door having read and reviewed it on the plane over.


I wanted to pay the $7 and sulk and complain for 2 months, but my financial advisor and credit card controller (who also doubles as my technical specialist in case you thought I was a bigamist) took pity on himself and paid the $17 so now he only has to put up with me sulking for one month.

When it finally arrives I will be temporarily elated and promise that I will take lots of wonderful pictures. Then I will pick holes in it, find mistakes and decide that I don’t like the cover. Because unfortunately things don’t stay shiny for as long as we want them to.

Blaming the Child, my teen mystery will be out in print...soon.

You will be the first to see it, warts and all. Unless there’s something wrong with the cover and then you’ll never even know it arrived...

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Helicopter Mothers - Please Just Fly Away

I’ve worked in education for almost two decades. I remember as a youthful looking 30-year-old, sitting in a staffroom observing the nearly-retired-brigade and thinking, ‘nope, that will never be me.’ I still think that, but some of us are very good at self-delusion and for the record, I am still 30 in my head.

As the mother of four very-close-together children, as in, I managed to pop out four in under four years with the aid of twins thrown into the middle of the mix, I made some terrible mistakes. I have no idea how I raised four independent, globe-trotting, heads-screwed-firmly-on children of my own.

The credit should probably really go to my husband, who is all of those things, if I’m honest.

I had a great mum, I didn’t realise it at the time, but I certainly do now. She was always there for my sister and me, offering support, encouragement and boundaries, good advice and on occasion, threats of revenge on our behalf whenever the situation warranted it. She told us that she loved us lots and still does, even now that I have my own wrinkly bits and she also told us off. Regularly. She was scary!

But what she didn’t do was fight all our battles for us, unless the giants were incredibly disproportionate, which in my fearless sister’s case was infrequently. We scrapped with the neighbourhood kids on a regular basis to the point where we were banned from leaving the garden despite the damage we did to the flowerbeds with our bicycles (pretend horses) and there were always consequences. I don’t ever remember my mother sending me into school with a note that said,

‘My sweet little darling couldn’t do her homework last night and is late to school because I let her sleep in.’


We were up and out the door despite the fact that my father was serving with the British Airforce in the Falklands and we probably could have bunked off in tears most days with a valid excuse. What’s more, we walked the five miles to school in the rain because Mum didn’t learn to drive until very late. Mum did two jobs and cycled between both in the English winter to put food on the table and we appreciated her.

The term, ‘Helicopter Mum’ wasn’t even invented.

They didn’t have time to hover over us, watching our every move.

Imagine that.
No mobile phones, no Facebook, no email.
When you went to school, they expected you to turn up and usually you did, more or less on time.

...apart from a few occasions which are perhaps best not remembered and I was still getting whacked on the backside with the slipper when I was 15, I’ll have you know!

And what’s more - I deserved it!

If you’ve ever stood underneath a helicopter while it’s hovering overhead, then you’ll know what kind of crap gets whipped up around you. You get whacked with leaves and bits of rubbish that you wouldn’t ordinarily have known were there. Because of the sharp, rotating blades kicking it up.

That’s what you do when you hover over your kids. You stir up crap you didn’t know was there.

If they forget their homework, tough. Let them take the punishment.

If they forget their lunch, oh dear. Nobody except someone with a severe medical issue ever died from missing one meal. But they won’t forget it tomorrow, will they?

Why does the SUV need to be pulled up on the kerb right outside school? Will they die if they have to walk a few hundred metres? Do their legs fall off after they’ve done their quota for the week?

Stop picking up after them and giving them the impression that they’re owed.

The examination board won’t owe them and their employer definitely won’t.

And you know what’s worse? 

When they turn into somebody nauseatingly awful who whinges at the slightest thing, guess who gets to carry on putting it all right in their little insular world?

That’s right.

Lose the chopper mum. And quickly!

Authors’ Cave Grand Launch Festival Blog Train - the K T Bowes Carriage

Authors’ Cave Grand Launch Festival Blog Train

Welcome to the Authors' Cave Blog Train!

You are cordially invited to attend the 

Grand Launch Festival Day!

Join us for what is sure to be a blast with the Most Enticing Book Trailer Contest winner announcement, scavenger hunts, giveaways, Google social hangouts, and our kick off for the 1st Annual Authors' Cave Book Awards where you can win $500 cash, a Kindle Fire or Nook, and free promotion of your book for a year at Authors' Cave!

July 22, 2014
(8am to 11pm EST)

Back to the train...Get to know the blogger - that's me!
3 sentences about myself:

I write as K T Bowes, although my real identity is a well-kept secret and trusted only to a few. I write The Hana Mysteries based in Hamilton, New Zealand, the Teen Mayhem Series and have published two British based novels, Demons on Her Shoulder and Artifact. Writing keeps me sane in a busy, frenetic life and publishing and actually selling books, justifies my passion for it.

Elevator Speech: 2 sentences to 'sell' my books:


Blaming the Child

When teenager, Callister Rhodes discovers an unimaginable secret hidden within the folds of her struggling, dysfunctional family, she becomes a runaway, spending a torturous week in the intimidating New Zealand bush with a chance companion. What happens in the bush should stay in the bush but it doesn’t, following her into the welcome fresh start and tainting everything it touches - because when you can’t blame yourself, you end up blaming the child.

About Hana

It seemed like a random mugging but when Hana is repeatedly followed by two men with sinister intent, it is obvious that something else is going on in the New Zealand city’s dark underworld and it alarmingly involves her. She’s given up on love in middle age having been widowed young, but isn’t prepared for her unexpected attraction to the new Maori head of the English department, whose unusual grey eyes spark a peculiar feeling of deja vu.

The first three words I would use to describe myself are: 

Compulsive, Over-thinker, Dreamer.

I am currently working on this project:

I am writing the seventh in the popular Hana Mysteries, continuing the saga of the complicated Du Rose family. I am really excited about The Secret Du Rose Son, which is fast paced and full of mystery and intrigue.

My favorite thing about Book Review Depot / Authors' Cave...

When I got my first novel onto the Active Review List, I begged the administrator not to tell anyone but to let people find it by accident. I felt self-conscious and sensitive about my writing and was terrified of negative reviews. It felt like standing in a shopping mall completely naked in the fruit section and waiting for people to start pointing, laughing and criticising your stretchmarks. I can honestly say that being sent by another author in the direction of the Book Review Depot was the single most positive factor in my publishing experience and the support, camaraderie and constructive criticism has been essential in developing my skill as a writer. There is a core of solid, accomplished authors on BRD but it’s not enough just to click the ‘join’ button, you certainly get out what you put in. Ask questions, join the discussions and offer your own experience or even referee when it gets passionate. I think I hold pole position for asking the stupid questions so don’t worry about looking an idiot. That spot is already taken!

Enough about are 3 more books from Authors' Cave you might enjoy!

Stay on the train and follow these authors next! See how they responded to the same questions!

The Riddle of Prague by LauraDeBruce

Running by Barbara Spencer

Pawn of Innocence by Chameleon Author

Answer to Grand Launch Festival Day Scavenger Hunt Question #3: Train

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair

When I started publishing my work over a year ago now, I fumbled my way through the first Amazon experience over the best part of an evening, pouring over the instructions, or ‘destructions’ as they are called in our house, without the slightest idea of what I would potentially unleash.

I kidded myself that if my mother bought my novel, which she dutifully did, lavished me with a bit of praise, also done; that my publishing experience would be complete and I could go back to my paid job happy. My mother’s pride in me was precious, because who doesn’t want their folks to have something smiley to say about their offspring, but what I didn’t expect was to also get bitten by the publishing bug, the marketing monster and the social-media fiend. What I didn’t think a techno-moron like me could achieve, was friendship with all three.

A year on and eleven published books later, some of them in the top 100 within their categories and I have just made my first book trailer for the latest offering, Blaming the Child for a competition on Authors Cave.

If I have learned anything during this haphazard experience, it’s that you can teach an old dog new tricks. And it’s probably that which has been equally edifying and challenging over the last year, in addition to working outside the home for proper money and expertly neglecting a husband and children in it.

I have gone from being an occasional Facebook participant who could just about upload a photograph for family and friends on the other side of the earth-ball and let me tell you, I resisted that for long enough, to a reasonably competent computer and internet user. Yes, some of my photos are still showing sideways on Facebook but now you're being picky.

I’m not joking when I admit to being a techno-moron. They made that phrase up just for me. I have been called a PEBKAC behind some poor IT guy’s hand on many occasions in my place of work (Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair) and I met my husband when I spectacularly pulled the network down at the local County Council offices, not once but twice. He was the gorgeous young-gun in IT who spent two weekends fixing up my mess. And he still married me five months later! You think he would have known better but he’s still here after two decades, responding to my cries of rage when I accidentally go into Chrome instead of Internet Explorer and can’t find any of my favourites.

When we agonise about sales figures (I only check once a week because I am too compulsive and know it) and marketing miseries and the drain of social media on our precious time, do we ever stop and think about how far we, as authors have come? 

I have an author Facebook page, 
and a Twitter account with real followers @hanadurose 
and my very own blog, of which I am particularly proud. The Library Corner  is my personal counselling session. I can rant my head off there and then delete the angry comments afterwards. See, total control.

So, my piece de resistance is a book trailer.

It was not pretty, I won’t pretend that it was. There was lots of sighing and huffing when things didn’t go right. I did have help (thanks youngest daughter and husband - again) but I did put it together myself. I fully appreciate that when it is uploaded onto the world stage, there may well be hearty sniggers and comments of, ‘Look what some five-year old has done,’ but I will forever be proud of it. I feel like an elated child, running home with their best drawing only to have mother turn the scribble the wrong way up, only now, I don’t have to wait to be given the ice-cream reward. I can open my own freezer and eat the whole damn carton!

For today at least, I will celebrate my success instead of eyeballing my potential failure and after he has uploaded my extremely professional and entirely original book trailer to the ether, I will gaze fondly on my poor technical specialist and make him a cup of coffee before the men in the white coats arrive to cart him off to the funny farm. I think he is probably overdue a rest from my technical hysterics.

My grateful thanks also go to NZ band, The Heart of Katherine, who let me use their track, My Salvation as the backing music for my offering. They will be incredibly famous one day, far more so than me and I will always be able to look back on my book trailer fondly, knowing that somebody great gave me permission to use their stuff.

I might even screenshot the lovely message they sent me, because yeah, I can do that too now!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Ocean's Infiltrator Review - The Addictive Ocean's Gift Series

Ocean's Infiltrator - a review

This novel, the second in the Ocean’s Gift series is yet another page turner. It demands to be read in one sitting, to the exclusion of all other calls on the reader’s life including eating or sleeping.

I still love Joe. I love his bumbling humanness and his worship of Sirena and I spent the entire book in as much agony as Joe, believing that she would leave him high and dry and return to her people. The ending is incredible and I should have seen it coming, but didn’t. I won’t spoil it, even though I badly want to tell. 

Demelza Carlton spins an incredible yarn, which wraps around the reader and pulls tight, too tight to escape from easily. She is obviously an immense researcher, who understands the oceans and their peculiarities in depth. Her books have made me wonder about many recent nautical disasters and their perilous origins and if the stories of old, about fantastical sirens who sang from rocks and lured ships to their deaths may in fact be true.

This novel is awesome and I devoured it. It is as much a study of behaviour and relationships as a book about mermaids.

Demelza Carlton has always loved the ocean, but on her first snorkelling trip she found she was afraid of fish.

She has since swum with sea lions, sharks and sea cucumbers and stood on spray-drenched cliffs over a seething sea as a seven-metre cyclonic swell surged in, shattering a shipwreck below.

Sensationalist spin? No - Demelza tends to take a camera with her so she can capture and share the moment later; shipwrecks, sharks and all.
Demelza now lives in Perth, Western Australia, the shark attack capital of the world.

The Ocean's Gift series was her first foray into fiction, followed by the Nightmares trilogy. She swears the Mel Goes to Hell series ambushed her on a crowded train and wouldn't leave her alone.

The suggested reading order for each series is as follows:

Ocean's Gift series:
Ocean's Gift
Ocean's Infiltrator
Water and Fire
Turbulence and Triumph (to be released in 2014)
Ocean's Depths (to be released in late 2014)