Saturday, 28 February 2015

*To war or not to war - that is not the question.*

One of the hardest things I ever did as a mother was put my son on that bus down to Waiouru Army base. He was only just 17, still my little boy but he’d made his decision and it was time to let him go. It wasn’t what we wanted. I argued bitterly that he should finish Year 13, get some qualifications behind him and then make different decisions about his very precious life. He’d made his choice and the bus left at 9am one very frosty Monday, leaving behind a silent, confused family, not quite sure how to feel, but showing support the best way we knew, shaking hands waving long after the bus left the Hamilton street.

I shaved his head the Sunday night before he left. I used to shave his head when he was small because it was the easiest way to control his curly mop. As the hair fell over the side of the bath and my 17 year old exhibited the same kind of trust he had when he was 6, I remembered all the times I’d added tramlines, or a mohawk - yeah, thanks for that David Beckham.

We did a 6 hour round trip to visit him twice at Waiouru. The first time the whole family went, but the second time it was just me and my husband. Obviously he changed. He wasn’t just my wee boy anymore. He was a soldier in the New Zealand Army and proud of it. The army had the power to tell us we couldn’t take him for a coffee off the base so we crouched on wet grass along with the other subdued families and ate the food we brought with us. We were on a time limit. He belonged to them now, not us. They controlled what we were allowed to give him, post to him, say to him.

I grew up in the British Air Force. My life was always linked to the great institution of war in one way or another. It was in my blood. Both grandfathers served in the British Army and my grandmother was a drill sergeant during the war. Both my parents served and it was just the way things were. One minute we could be a happy family of 4, minding our own business and living our lives and the next, my father could be  on the next bus or train to wherever. At the age of 4 I told my teacher my father had gone to Northern Ireland to be killed. At the age of 16 when he shipped out to the Falklands, I was old enough not to say it, but still thought it.

My son did his time and somewhere along the line he stopped being my wee boy and grew up. He wasn’t just the fun loving soccer kid, he was a killing machine who knew things before the age of 20 that I’d rather he didn’t. He’s at university now, working part-time as a barista to fund himself but sometimes I see that look in his eye and know he misses it, the camaraderie, the belonging, the common purpose.

I just watched the Q+A debate on TV about whether or not NZ should get embroiled in the war unfolding in the rest of the world. I don’t know the answer. I think it’s really easy to sit in an armchair and make huge declarations about what’s going on overseas and wax lyrical about whether we should or should not commit to a costly involvement. I don’t pretend to be any kind of political commentator. I’m just someone’s mum. And I know the private cost for a woman somewhere will not just be financial.

I don’t know the answer. I do know however that my son is still within his recall period and one day, I may be a victim of a political decision. There are many people with opinions about what should and could happen, just like there’s been for every war over the last millennia. We’ve all seen the romanticised movies, but we’ve also watched the horrific documentaries. When politicians comment, I want to hear them do it with an understanding of a mother’s perspective, not just run into something blindly, like the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ fiasco undertaken by the British a decade ago. Good men gave their lives to find weapons that never existed, embroiled in something far deeper than they ever expected.

There needs to be a goal and a resolution, an outcome that is more than just blindly following America and Europe.

There has to be good reason to take these women’s sons and throw their lives away with a nod or handshake. 

Wilfred Owen said it before his death on November 4th 1918, 7 days before armistice. But it was dramatic irony, aimed at the cigar smoking officers who sent him to die in the trenches. 'Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.' 

#war #mothers #mothersofsoldiers

Saturday, 21 February 2015

*Last One Out's a Cissy - releasing your children into the wild.*

So, despite having got out of hospital exactly a week ago after gallbladder surgery, I still made the 5 hour journey to Palmerston North, to take my last child of 4 to university there. I had to. That’s what mummies do!

She was ready to go, there’s no doubt about that. She made free with my car and my house and definitely started to win the unwinnable arguments. It was time.

The journey was painful and long. I couldn’t lay my seat down because my husband’s enormous car wasn’t quite big enough to fit in a year’s worth of crap and my daughter’s worldly belongings jammed my seat in an upright position. It also spilled over into her sister’s car, some kilometres behind us on the Desert Road as the two of them bopped and swayed to something jaunty on the stereo, which thank goodness I was spared. I could see their heads bobbing in the side mirrors.

A running race in Taupo delayed us by enough that we couldn’t quite make it to Taihape before my bladder exploded so Waiouru it was. I spent some time in the toilet at the garage mending one of my sutured wounds with a Band Aid, as you do. Mummy power and all that. But all too soon it was Palmerston North and the Massey University Campus. Daughter number 2, as she’s loving called, met us there with her boyfriend as she’s in her 3rd year at Massey and went through this a few years ago. We unloaded my husband’s car and Daughter number 1’s car, while Daughter number 3 ran around like a headless chicken, eyeing the other newbie students like a rabbit in the headlights. “I’ll never make any friends,” she repeated on a loop, as the rest of us fended off the terrified teens who lurched for human contact, abandoned by their parents only hours before.

"Say 'hi' to everyone," they were probably told, "and you'll make friends." Walls, doors, other people's parents, siblings, their car, their luggage. All with that crazed look in their eyes. They'll all be fine once they stop trying so hard.

We got home a couple of hours ago. I adore my husband and we will be celebrating our 24th wedding anniversary tomorrow. So why then does my house feel so empty and soulless? Her room is stripped bare as she’s taken everything with her. I really thought I’d be fine. My son was barely 17 when he left for the army and I cried for a full day and scrubbed his room until it shone, like a psychotic disinfectant queen. Since then I’ve had my older 3 coming and going like Zebedee on steroids, Canada, England, home, flatting, going, going, gone...

When I look back, producing 4 bouncing babies in 4 years flat was a miracle feat, even if I did chuck twins in there just to show off. There were times when I thought I wouldn't make it out the other end alive. There's a pitiful video of me sat drowned in babies on my eldest daughter's 4th birthday and I say very sorrowfully, "I think you lot will have me dead by the time I'm 30!" And there were times when I believed it and probably welcomed the idea of a permanent nap amidst all the crazy.

But my youngest feels so final. She drove me to work so I could check emails on my phone and we swapped at her school. I’ve stupidly left the alarm on my phone to remind me to collect her from the bus in Ngaruawahia at 3.20pm on weekdays. Now I can’t delete it because I’ll still look at the clock and probably cry anyway. I thought it was funny all through the summer holidays when it pinged and we both laughed. Not so jolly now, is it?

She vacuumed for me on Friday. Yeah, I paid her but hey, she knew I wasn’t up to it. There are stripes on the rug in the family room where she went forward and back with the vacuum. I don’t want to be the one to walk across them and spoil her pattern. She spent 3 weeks away leading on a horse camp over the summer. “I can do this. It’ll be fun to eat cornflakes naked in the dining room just because I can,” I valiantly told my husband. I know I won’t. I’ll be looking for my daughter to stroll in, set fire to her gluten free bread in the toaster and make free with my husband’s coveted jar of Nutella that he keeps hidden behind the boring tins of beans and sweetcorn, thinking that’s the last place she’d look. He's spent the last 9 years in NZ thinking it evaporates in the heat. Now he's gonna know.

The paddock looks empty of some horse waiting to be broken in by her, or taught some manners. Her tack shed is even swept clean with my broom that she left out in the rain. The sky looks grey tonight, like the Waikato is grieving.

Last one out is a cissy. But I find after all, the cissy is me. 

#parenting #parents #familytime 

Friday, 20 February 2015

*The Special Snowflake type of writer*

It’s hard to accept as a writer that the product of my imagination is not near perfect. It comes as a bitter blow when I actually bother to stop and listen to what my critics say.

When I first published, I was of that special breed which author Amber Dalcourt would term, ‘a special snowflake.’ I still love that expression and only wish my unique perfection was still embodied within that blissful state of oh-I’m-too-damn-wonderful-for-this-world. The first person who dared to criticise my small and flailing brainchild was spawn of the antichrist and online-shunned in all forms of social media. If only life could have stayed that simple.

Now if you’re in the game of spilling your guts onto paper or laptop for the heck of it, then scribble or type away. If all you ever expect is five star reviews and fan mail, then enjoy the adulation of family and friends and when you run out of those, let your book slide quietly to the bottom of the Amazon pond, to be given away as tombola prizes and the $5 Secret Santa every December. You go for it. And all the very best of luck to you.

I stayed within my cone of wonderfulness for a short time, until joining Book Review Depot not long after my first novel went live on Amazon. They were a game bunch, reviewing honestly and sharing criticism in genuine banter and positivity. Then came the first private message. ‘Your covers aren’t that great, love. Maybe pay someone.’

Gulp. Time stopped and I stared at the lovely photograph of my reluctant daughter standing at the fence in our paddock, surrounded by a bottle green Publisher margin my husband slapped on and a curly font you had to turn sideways to read. What was wrong with it? My chin wobbled and the bottom lip shot out.

You can stop laughing now...
I think I sulked for a day and then looked at the cover again. Yeah, fair do’s. It was a bit crap. I started experimenting and probably made it worse for a while. I remember the cover of The New Du Rose Matriarch even made me cringe for a bit there. Thank goodness I didn’t know anything about hashtags or SEO. Believe me, I couldn’t cope if I did a Google search of my author name and that popped up. It was the stuff of nightmares.

Then we got into plague words. Yep, I used them all. Then grammar, then adverbs, then overuse of the word -suddenly...ok, ok, I’m ashamed! I got PhotoShop. I started buying stock images. I listened to people. I asked their advice and yeah, I did sometimes cringe when they told me stuff I didn’t want to hear.

I’ve spent the last year writing at the same time as editing all my previous works. Being very obsessive compulsive, what gets changed in one, happens in every single one. With twelve novels to my name, I’m concerned about what will happen when I have fifty out but I’ll worry when I get there. Having got to the end of them all, someone mentioned an online writing tool. I put a single chapter of my work in progress through it and the alarm bells went off at the overuse of ‘had’ and ‘that’ so back I went again on the editing rampage.

When I wondered why my third teen book wasn’t doing so well when all the others were jumping out of the gate at an incredible rate, I asked an author friend. Demelza Carlton’s novels are international bestsellers and her pedigree is sound. So when she suggested my title of ‘Blaming the Child’, probably wasn’t relating well to teens who firstly, don’t like to be thought of as children and secondly hate the idea of blame, I had to give it some serious thought. The irony was that my husband, who doesn’t usually comment, said the same thing just a matter of hours before. So I wheeled in my teenage daughter. She postured and thought for a moment. “Yeah,” she concluded, “I wouldn’t go for that.”

At first it was painful. That darn book is listed in every single one of the other eleven. That’s a lot of changes over quite a few sales platforms. I slept on the idea overnight. When I woke, I brainstormed a bit. I chatted to other people and tossed a few suggestions around. I asked my teenager again and started changing the cover. “Na,” she said. “That’s not right. I like this better.”

It’s taken me all day to make and upload the changes. It involves so many areas I’ve had to fiddle with. But it occurred to me as I finished that instead of feeling depressed, I should feel proud. The special snowflake has melted. I’m not quite sure what that makes me; a transparent drip maybe? But it sure blesses my work, accepting the input of other people.

Not everyone is out to get me, I had to learn that early on. When more than one person tells me something, then the old adage applies; they can’t all be wrong. There are always trolls around, dishing out one star reviews like confetti, it’s an inevitable occurrence, like nits in schoolchildren. But when a few people point out something irritating or distracting in a review or forum, for goodness sake get rid of the cause. Don’t leave it to fester there and collect more negativity. Deal with it!

So after much fluffing and primping, my re-released teen book, the third in the Troubled Series.

‘A Trail of Lies.’ Buy it and enjoy!

#amwriting #amediting #writetips