As the clock ticks

Fifty minutes to go and it will be 2013. Another New Year’s Eve and as I look back on 2012 I can’t help but wonder. What a year it’s been! My book is picked up by a major US publisher, one of the ‘big six’ no less, the dream of a lifetime….and Mum has a major stroke and ends up living in a resthome.

It has been a year of challenges and lessons and I haven’t finished learning yet. At least I can’t say life is boring.

Last night Mum had a drink from a glass and this morning she had a cup of tea in a mug. She held it, sipped it and swallowed it. Progress. All the time, steps towards normality, tiny improvements and pieces in the jigsaw that is our reality.

And the day before Christmas I got a box of advanced copies of The Keeper of Secrets. It is a galley proof, not proof-read and not final production standard, but it is the story and it has a great cover and lovely letter inside by my editor and it is MY book. Some people have read it already and said lovely things about it. I have set up a fan page for me and the book, as requested by my publisher, and so far 26 people have ‘liked’ it. If you haven’t yet, may I invite you to pop over and have a look and a ‘like’? It will grow as June 1st 2013 approaches and it will be a marketing tool.

So a glorious and frustrating and overwhelming and strengthening year comes to a close, in twenty minutes now. Here’s to 2013, may she bring more laughter than tears and more promise than disappointment.

Whatever happens I can always practice my speeches and read my work-in-progress to the cat:

My biggest fan

My biggest fan



A catch up List

Forgive me father for it has been nearly two months since my last blog post. I could say I’ve been busy, and I have, but the truth lies somewhere between busy and distracted and lazy. Life has changed so much since May when Mum had her stroke and the household became one instead of two. I’m still finding my own rhythm and my own discipline, some days I get so much done and some days I get nothing done.

What have I to report?:

(1) I’ve had some renovations done, in fact I’m still having renovations done as the handyman is still here as I write. I put calico curtains up in the conservatory so they can be drawn at night to keep the room dark. I had a new shower put into one bathroom and wallpaper to cover where the old shower had been and left a gap..and I am having new tiles put on the bathroom floor. I’ve worked out a plan to do bits of the house at a time and eventually have it just the way I want it.

(2) I hired a skip (or two) and blitzed the garden and the garden shed. The shed is very tidy and looks at me with a critical eye every time I go near it. It also has a new inhabitant, ‘hedgerow’ the hedgehog. He sleeps in there during the day and comes out at night and likes raw eggs. So far the cat has let him be.

(3) I have about 20 stumps in the garden and will get them removed and topsoil added and then flowering plants will be planted. The vege garden is full, and I mean FULL, of potato plants and they are growing like topsy. I have too many plants for the space of the garden and the result will be either a million potatoes or none at all.

(4) I have done a copy-edit of the novel. It has changed title to ‘The Keeper of Secrets’ because a prominent Australian author, Kate Morton, published a novel called ‘The Secret Keeper.’ And it has the most gorgeous cover. I wasn’t sure at first glance but I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with the cover and apparently the HarperCollins sales team love it too. I got the galley proof the other day by courier and have checked that off too. So production is nearly here…

(5) I’ve done a 15 page treatment for the next novel and will get feedback from my editors in about a week or so. Fascinating subject, emotional and funny and poignant.

(6) Mum is doing well. She is sleeping more than she was and that means the brain is healing so her language is coming along. She doesn’t yet really want to talk of her own volition and so I prompt her and she really doesn’t like talking for anyone else but me. That will come as the brain heals further. She’s very mobile and steady on her feet and enjoys going for a walk and sitting in the sunshine. She has a much clearer idea of what’s happened now but seems to be OK with it most of the time. Stroke recovery is a very long-term thing and the steps forward are measured in inches.

(7) Yesterday was US election day. I sat and watched it on TV and then went in and watched some of it with Mum in the resthome and then came home to watch the President’s speech. He has one hell of a speech writer and he is a great orator. He understands timing and the power of response. The last couple of minutes were some of the best speech writing I’ve ever heard and exactly what the American people needed to hear. It won’t be an easy thing, bringing together all those deeply divided people.

(8) Several of my friends and acquaintances are battling cancer at present and I watch their progress from afar and marvel at their courage. I do understand that there is no other choice, you just get on with it, but to remain positive and strong takes courage and I send my love to you all.

(9) By the way, there is a new addition to my ‘family’. I have a four-year old (Tear Fund) sponsored child in Haiti. His name is Lunel and he lives in northern Haiti on a beach called Petite-Anse. It looks a really lovely place on the internet. His father is a church worker and his mother is a teacher and he’s gorgeous. God Bless you little one, may you learn and grow and prosper. He follows in the footsteps of World Vision children in Honduras and Nicaragua who have done very well over the years and I have been a very proud sponsor. Lunel is already doing ‘above average’ in pre-school and I’m sure he will thrive.

Well that’s about it for now. I will not leave it so long again, I promise.



Royal Highjinks

I heard someone say on the radio this morning that you have to feel sorry for Harry being born into a family like that. I don’t think I agree with that statement.

When you look at them individually, they’re not that bonkers, with the exception of a couple. Princess Anne seems like a normal kind of woman, hard-working and with perfectly reasonable hobbies and she seems to have raised two very normal and talented kids. My bother played polo for a living in the 1980s and I remember seeing Prince Charles at Guards Polo Club and he gave the impression of being just another member of the team. I thoroughly approved of his nickname for Mark Phillips, “fog”, because he was wet and thick. William appears to be a fine young man, lovely wife, good job, sincere heart and a love for rugby….when you compare them to some of the ‘celebrity’ families, famous for nothing more than be being famous and putting their lives in front of the camera, the British Royal family are really remarkably sane. If Harry wants to enjoy himself in Las Vegas in private he should be allowed to, whoever took those pictures should be ashamed. If he’d got drunk and behaved offensively in public, that’s another matter, but everyone is entitled to a little harmless fun in private.

It’s Friday and I only go in to see Mum once on Friday’s, in the evening. It gives me the morning for writing, housework, thinking about gardening and listening to music. So how has the week been?

(1) Sad. Three more soldiers killed in Afghanistan serving our country overseas. If the area really is getting more dangerous and the insurgents are targeting our troops, we should bring them home when we can. In all cases their families said they loved being in the Army and they loved doing a good job.

(3) Happy. Mum is doing really well, her language is increasing and she can walk without the walker and keep her balance. By the end of next week she should be on bolus feeding instead of a drip feed, so will have liquid meals through her PEG feeder and maybe enjoying some solid food by mouth in small amounts. She has a beautiful, brand-new room and a much more comfortable bed. We’ve enjoyed some great day trips, a market, Hamilton gardens, home to watch the rugby and the sunshine has been lovely.

(4)  Productive. I have finished the rewrite of The Secret Keeper with new opening lines and a new epilogue. Now it goes to the copyeditor. I’ve written an essay for book club readers, to go in the back of the book, on the research and inspiration and the characters. Now I’m working on some ideas for the next book.

(5) Exciting. I got my first royalty cheque and banked it. A year’s worth of royalties from Amazon. A PAID WRITER.

So, another week and progress made on many fronts…didn’t play nude pool, but there’s always next week.




The Olympics of the Digital Age

I love watching the Olympic Games. It’s the one time when I find myself glued to snatches of handball, shooting, trampolining, gymnastics, and people swimming, running, throwing, rowing…and other people telling me what the people I’m watching are doing.

In the men’s individual trampolining final I got to hear, “Now, what can Dong Dong do?’ And when the Englishman won the 10,000 metres, the commentators said the African stranglehold on long distance running had been broken, except for the fact that Mo is a Somalian refugee. I’ve been told the Queen would want Zara to win gold, no, really? And that the women triathletes would be getting tired by the finish line. I’ve been told that someone has ‘medalled’ although if they’ve really interfered with the process, should they have won a medal? I’ve even been told that a country has ‘podiumed’ which is a new and unusual verb.

Anyway, we’ve won gold medals and bronze medals and hopefully before it is all over we will win some more. Good on all of them, just reward for years of work.

Mum is ten and a half weeks post stroke and doing well. During the last four weeks she has had a range of infections, including MRSA, which is a ‘super’ bug resilient to some antibiotics. She’s had a PEG feeding tube put in her stomach and that seems to be working well (apart from the MRSA in the tube site) and her speech has come on with some vigorous use of ‘yes’, sometimes in a fashion reminiscent of the man in Vicar of Dibbly, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, no.” A nod can mean ‘yes’, a shake of the head can mean ‘yes’ and when she throws the bell at me, it means she’s unhappy.  She’s been on some outings, to home, to the hairdresser in Cambridge, to her old family farm, to my brother’s racing stable and home and a few to Waikato hospital.

I finished the rewrite of The Secret Keeper and it was declared “good” by my editor. So no more rewriting. And I finished a very long questionnaire about me and the book. I am playing with ideas for the next book, a sequel to TSK or something completely new. Sales of the other books continue and have topped a total of 45,000 before the first year is up on September 9th.

I won a competition last week on Mike Hosking’s breakfast show on  newstalkzb! It was for two tickets to a thing called Project Revolution, a two-day conference on the digital age, in Auckland at the end of this month. Speakers about making the most of social networking, websites etc. I had to tweet what the digital age had meant to me and I said “45,000 books sold in 11 months on Amazon. Novel picked up by Harper Collins worldwide” and that won me the prize….the tickets are the kind you wear around your neck, so I stuck the national anthem on the stereo, climbed up on a chair and waved at the cat.






A Growing Day

It’s not even 3pm and I’ve achieved my day’s work. It’s been one of those days when you see the fruit of ‘growth’. The last six weeks have been hard, at times really, really hard, but I have also been aware that I was learning, growing, achieving..

Well today I decided that if another person told me that if I don’t look after myself, I can’t look after Mum, I’ll swing for them. It’s a very logical thing to say but it doesn’t address the basic issue. How exactly DO you look after yourself? I’m very good at looking after Mum, but I don’t look after me, she does that.

I’ve had a really bad head cold this week and things look bleak when you see them through a veil of industrial strength phlegm. I also haven’t been able to visit her as much as I’d like and when I do, it’s a bit of a covert mission. In, done, out, before the dragon-woman on reception can run after me yelling about ‘bugs’.

So I took my eyes off her and focused on me. What do I need to do to maintain the energy I need over the coming months. I made a list….I LOVE lists. First you have nothing but chaos and the fleeting thought that you must remember to do this and that…when you write them down and prioritize, you have ORDER and a plan.

Yesterday I made a list and wrote “Things to Do: July” on the top of it. Second to the bottom is ‘finish MS and send it to Carolyn’, a position which in no way reflects the importance of finishing the rewrite of ‘The Secret Keeper’ and sending it to my editor at Harper Collins.

Since yesterday I’ve cleaned my bathroom, vacuumed the house, rung and organised a gardener to do a winter makeover of my dying and neglected garden, and several other things on my glorious list. And I have started a plan to look after myself…

How did I look after Mum? I kept her warm. I keep warm, not hot, don’t like the hot, and it is cold enough in the mornings here. Check

I cooked for her, delicious and nutritious food that was good for her. Am I doing that for myself? No, not at all. I am eating what I like and what is fast. I happen to like pasta and Thai much more than I like vegetables. But it is time I started cooking…so I am going to thaw out the meat in the deep freeze and cook it with veges into one person servings and refreeze it. Then I can take it out in the morning and it will be ready to heat by night time! Brilliant. And I am going to start to thaw out the ten tonne of frozen fruit, container by container, so I can have porridge and fruit for breakfast.

I entertained her. Hhmmm. TV is good entertainment and writing is necessary and I do love it. What I’d really like to do is join Toastmasters. I love making speeches and there is a chapter right here in Cambridge…perhaps I need to get out more.

So it’s been a day of moving on, moving up to taking care of myself, using my time to make myself stronger. Who knows, I might even treat myself to a massage one of these days. You’ll know I’m serious about that when it appears on my list.


A tad busy

A progress report:

Mum is doing very well, five weeks after her left side stroke. She is speaking a little, reading, writing on a white board, knitting and walking freely on the walker. She is undoubtedly the fastest mover in the rest home and we joke that if we opened the doors, she’d be halfway home before we could catch her. Actually, she seems to be okay in Resthaven and wrote the name of the place on her whiteboard and gave it a big tick.

I am combining two visits a day with rewriting ‘The Secret Keeper’ and it is hard work. I usually wake around 4 to 4.30 in the morning, write until about 8, then have breakfast and do chores (cuddle the cat) and go to see Mum from 10 till about 1pm. Then I come home, have lunch and write. From 4 till 6 I go back and see Mum.

I don’t admit to many, only you and I, that I often fall asleep at the computer during the afternoon. I’m hoping it’s more to do with my routine than with the quality of the book.

As far as Harper Collins goes, all is well and fascinating. I had to write an author bio the other day and supply some photos. And I have a questionnaire to fill out for the publicity department, 105 questions! Feels like I have to remember what I had for lunch on June 21st 1975. And the contract has been signed and sent back.

The rewriting is brilliant fun. I finished this book six years ago and I’ve changed and grown as a writer since then. I’m finding new things to say about these characters and deepening their emotions, their joy and their despair. In the back of my mind I am mulling over the sequel and where I will take them.

I am the subject of Graham Beattie’s blog this morning.

Goodness me, I guess the news will travel now. Such is life. It is 8.07 and I must go and have some breakfast and let the cat outside. Yesterday my mother beat me at cards, twice. When she cheats she gives me that “I’m confused” look and expects me to believe her, not for a moment.




A stroke of publishing fortune

Errr, hello? Remember me? Taps on glass. Perhaps I should introduce myself, it’s been so long. Hello, my name is Julie and I used to live here. I used to write a blog about every other day. Then four weeks ago my world was turned upside down.  Well, it is now coming back to right-side-up, so I am back!!!!!!!!!

I have news. Two things to tell you about. Firstly, Mother. She had a stroke four weeks ago yesterday and is now in the hospital wing of a local rest home. It has been a rollercoaster ride and I’ve learned many new skills that I might use one day.

She’s making good progress. She is more mentally alert and she’s walking really well, she can write on a whiteboard and that skill is improving every day, she is starting to speak and says “yes” and “no.” The feeding tube makes it hard to speak and her throat gets sore. She tires easily and still needs to sleep a lot, but is far more advanced than the hospital led us to believe she would ever achieve and that is after only four weeks.

I visit twice a day and we look at photos, practice tongue exercises and listen to music, go for a walk around the home (which is vast) and I change her sometimes and get her snuggled into bed for sleep. She is warm and comfortable and the staff are amazing, really wonderful.

Second piece of news is HarperCollins USA. Meet Julie, who will be a  published HarperCollins author. Some time ago I got an email from a HarperCollins editor, Carolyn Marino, who wanted to talk to me about my novel, “The Secret Keeper.”

She’d read it and loved it and wanted to publish. There has been some going backwards and forwards and phone conversations and emails…and I signed the contract this morning. It will be a trade paperback for the William Morris imprint and will be published about this time next year, 2013. It will be for sale in all the major chains and all the independents across the USA and in many markets across the English-speaking world, and translated into (at least) Russian and German.

In about 24 hours I will take down ‘The Secret Keeper’ from all ebook retailers. So if you haven’t read it and want to now, get in quick!!

I received the line edited manuscript and editing letters by courier last Friday and have been busy ever since. It’s a fascinating exercise and everything she suggests makes it stronger. When I’ve finished this draft I shall do another, focusing on a couple of characters. They have optioned the next book too. It may well be a sequel.

So what a funny month! Up and down and good and bad and exhausting and exhilarating and demanding and fulfilling all at once. I have learned many lessons and experienced many emotions. Life! What a bag of tricks!!



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