When things change

It’s a telephone call or an e mail – something tiny, even intangible – that changes the world. Suddenly everything that looked like one thing looks like something else. The drawing you always thought was a rabbit suddenly becomes a duck; a young woman peers out from an elderly face. You’re baking gingerbread ninjas for a birthday party and working out whether you’ve got time to pipe the names of the children who are coming onto each little gingerbread stomach when the telephone rings.

There’s an offer. A real offer from a real publisher. One who publishes books made of paper with the author’s name printed on them, and sells them to people who don’t know you. The second before, you were wondering why on earth you’d agreed to a Ninja party and wishing everyone had seen fit to give their children three-letter names. And the second after, the party’s the best idea in the world, and Sebastian and Zachariah will have their ginger ninjas if it takes all night.

The Ship. Brought to you by ten years of trying, a great agent, the right editor – and Dr. Oetker’s designer icing.

The land where dreams come true

I’m simultaneously living in two countries at the moment. They’re very close to one another, so close that the merest shiver of the air would turn one into the other. This one, where I’m standing now, is the land where dreams very nearly come true. All the doors are open. I can see through them, and there are gardens and blue skies and chirruping birds. There’s a feast spread out, and I can smell the food, even have a tiny taste. But only a tiny one, just enough to show me that the food really is as delicious as it looks. When I decide, simply in the interests of sanity preservation, that the roses might be fake, there’s a little breath of wind, just to carry their scent to where I’m standing and prove that they’re real.

Oh I want to be there. To gather the roses, to plant my own. To say, yes, I walked here on these tired feet because I want to work, and I want to work here. I’ve brought my spade. I’ve moved in, and yet I’m not there. I’m standing in the middle of it, reaching out my arms, longing for that shimmer of air that will made the land where dreams almost come true into the land where they do.

There’s another land, of course. The land of school runs and homework and cooking meals and ironing and cheering at Sports Days and picking up prescriptions and chasing up the guarantee on the broken boiler and organising birthday parties and clearing up and tidying and nursing sick little ones and organising car insurance… We’re all there, and it never stops. But somehow, right now, that land seems the most unreal of all.

Wish me luck.

This Post is Dedicated to Tanya Gold

So today I read in the Guardian that Tanya Gold is expecting a baby, and that she’s scared. I love her columns. I even agree with most of her opinions, and when I don’t, I find her interesting, informative and well written. So, Tanya Gold, as I do know something about childbirth, having gone through it four times (not counting the miscarriage – why does no one talk about miscarriage? but that’s another post for another time), I humbly offer the following five-point plan for the birth and the six weeks afterwards:

1: The aim of birth is to end up with as healthy a mother and as healthy a baby as possible. The rest is just noise. Make as much of it as you want. Yes, I had four natural births – worked for me – but my children are totally indistinguishable from those who were born by C-section, conceived in labs, born under epidural, any or all of the above. I didn’t do anything clever. I just got through it. You will too.

2: The aim of feeding a baby is to give it the nourishment it needs to grow. Formula has all the nutrients required. So does breast milk. Doing what works for you will work for the baby. Breast feeding and a good breast pump worked for me – again, I didn’t do anything clever, and my children are indistinguishable from formula-fed ones.

3. Sleep is not for wimps. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture recognised by the UN. Sleep whenever you can. I had my babies in bed with me. I slept when they slept; I plugged them in when they wanted feeding in the night. They remain unsuffocated and unsquashed to this day. Worked for me – but see point 2.

4: The only book worth reading on the subject of rearing small children is Christopher Green’s Toddler Taming. You don’t even have to read it – I’ll give you the essential breakdown, which is this: It’s only a problem if it’s a problem for you.

4: No baby, by whatever means nourished, ever suffered when its mother had a glass of wine (or existed in proximity to paint, new furniture and non-stick pans during the pregnancy).

5. Let all and sundry cuddle the baby. No baby ever suffered from having too many people love it. Take all the help you can get.

And finally (bonus tip) – register for online supermarket shopping.

I may even follow this up with a survival plan for the post-six week stage. Who knows? But  don’t lose the joy. Yes, it’s terrifying. You have to accept that. But give yourself, and this experience, time and space. You don’t have to enjoy it right now. But be sure that what you’re terrified of is the here and now, not next year or the year after. Be kind, let others be kind to you, and your professional life will reform itself accordingly. You are too much a writer not to write. Ignore those who would judge you; seek your support elsewhere.

I want to write, too. I do write. My youngest child is now three, and after ten years of writing and submitting and writing more, I have finally got agent representation for my latest novel. I know what I want to happen now; I don’t know if it will. I just have to do the best with what lies within my power, and go with the rest.

That’s all you can do, too, Tanya Gold. You are a brave, intelligent, skilled and committed journalist. Aint no baby not gonna be enriched by that. Way to go, baby. And good luck to both of you.