To Have and to Hold Book Launch!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Generally I hope this isn’t true because, firstly, I am a writer so words are very much my business, and secondly, as regular readers of this blog will have spotted, I’m not great with pictures. I haven’t quite adjusted to the 21st century – my phone does take photos, but I’ve not yet worked them out how to get them off my phone, and I haven’t remembered to take my camera to a social occasion since about 2008. Plus I’d need to reload the software that lets me transfer photos from camera to computer onto my new laptop, and that just seems frankly unmanageable. So, as I say, in general I really hope words are worth more than images.

Today, though, I am having a volte face. Yesterday was the publication of my second novel, To Have and to Hold, and last night I held a launch party for it, at the local cafe where much of it was written. I could try to write a lengthy blog post about how lovely it was, how kind and supportive my friends and neighbours were, what a great atmosphere it was. However, so far today I have had to take the cat to the vets, make fairy cakes for the school summer fete tomorrow, sort out books and bric a brac to donate for the fete, go shopping as we’d run entirely our of milk (Anna’s breakfast was a banana and a chocolate muffin), and I still have to sort out children’s books Anna does and doesn’t like for the Family Literacy class at school this afternoon, write the blog, eat my lunch and get to school for said Literacy class all in the next hour! So I’m hoping that these lovely photos (taken by people other than me!) will convey something of last night’s atmosphere.

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Come and join in!

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Lovely flowers from my lovely editor, Francesca

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Child’s blackboard purloined for self-advertisement

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The awkward bit where I have to speak instead of write.

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Signing

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More gorgeous flowers – these from my agent.

Ready to be bought!

Ready to be bought!

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It’s not accidental that the fizz matches the book cover!

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Beautiful congratulations flowers from my parents

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It’s happening here!

 

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When we were thirty-two

Today is my birthday eve. I write this whilst consuming the last brownie I will ever eat as a 32 year old. Well, unless I go and order another one, they’re very good.

Thirty-two was a pretty significant age for me, in both positive and negative ways. And while I believe that New Year’s Resolutions are for September, I think that your birthday should be the opportunity to review and reflect on the year just gone. And now that I’m a blogger well, hey, why not inflict these musings on the world at large. It’s my birthday and I’ll indulge in self-absorbed naval gazing if I want to.

So, here’s my list, in chronological order, of Significant Things that happened to me while I was thirty-two:

1) I co-hosted my first children’s birthday party. Somehow, without my really being aware of it, the decision was taken that for a 4th birthday party, two children, some cocktail sausages and a cake wouldn’t really cut the mustard, and we were looking at something on a different scale altogether. Thankfully it was also decided that Anna would share her party with her best friend, and so there were two sets of parents to share the pain.

2) I discovered, to my delight, that I was pregnant. I had a scan, saw my baby complete with heartbeat, and everything seemed to be going well until…

3)…I had a miscarriage. Except I didn’t properly. A scan showed that that miraculous little heartbeat had stopped, but the pregnancy hadn’t ended naturally so I needed an operation charmingly known as Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception (ERPC). This was undoubtedly the worst day of being thirty-two, quite possibly my worst day ever. Yet I still think back almost fondly and nostalgically to it because, despite the pain, every day which has passed since that cruellest April has taken me further away from having my baby growing inside me.

4) I learnt, or re-learnt, just how lucky I am in my friends and family. While I felt like my world was crumbling, they stepped in and picked up the pieces for me and, most importantly, continued to provide Anna with the love and stability she needed.

5) I should have gone to Copenhagen, but was otherwise engaged (see above), and ended up going to Amsterdam instead for a bank holiday weekend. It’s a beautiful city, and we had a lovely weekend, but I suspect it will be a long time before I can think of it and not feel sad.

6) We successfully negotiated the school admissions system, and my daughter was offered a place at our first choice school. I have never known relief like it.

7) I had my first book, Two for Joy published. The launch was so special and memorable, it kind of felt like getting married all over again. And once more I realised how blessed I am with my family, friends and community.

8) We went to Nantes for a wonderful holiday with Anna’s best friend and his parents, and made the discovery that 4:2 adults to children is a very pleasing ratio, and one which allowed for a far more relaxed holiday than we’ve experienced of recent years.

9) We went to Corsica, just the three of us, and had a perfect, golden time. We ate lots of seafood, spaghetti and ice cream, went for gentle walks, swam in the sea and read lots of books. It was total bliss.

10) I waved my daughter goodbye on her first day of school. I’m still finding it hard to make the adjustment to the fact that this little scrap of a person who, surely, was a baby just yesterday, now has an independent life of her own. But she does, and I’m so proud of her for how well she has adjusted to it. And that her teacher described her as one of the most imaginative children she has ever met.

11) We adopted two kittens. It’s hard to believe that they’re only seven months old tomorrow, because it feels like they’ve always been part of our family. We’ve adjusted to eye-watering vet bills, ruined furniture, muddy paw prints on kitchen floor and the changing of litter trays. They’ve adjusted to our unreasonable refusal to let them eat our dinners off our plates (fish pie is their favourite) and to my daughter’s (and mother-in-law’s!) insatiable and determined desire to cuddle them whether they want to be cuddled or not. Like all the best relationships, compromise and understanding is always the key to success. Which leads me on to…

12) I celebrated my 3rd wedding anniversary, which was also the 14th anniversary of getting together with my husband. Mathematically able readers will spot that we’ve been together since we were eighteen, and, cliche though it undoubtedly is, I love him more and more each year. Becoming parents added a new and hugely positive dimension to our relationship as loving our daughter so much made us love each other all the more. And his extraordinary tenderness and caring has enabled me to cope, just about, with the loss of three pregnancies. I try not to plan for my daughter’s future too much because I don’t want to fall into the trap of living out my ambitions through her, but I do very much hope that she ends up in a relationship as happy as mine.

13) Concerned that even my ‘fat’ clothes were feeling tight, I decided to buy the first set of scales I have ever owned (well, first set for weighing me as opposed to ingredients for cakes for me to eat) and confront the horrible truth. It was pretty horrible. I have very mixed feelings about weight and dieting, and I deeply resent the idea that women’s worth is somehow linked to their dress size. However. I don’t want to put myself at increased risk of cancer, heart disease or diabetes through insensate greed, and my BMI and waist measurement were warning me that I was in danger of doing just that. So I joined WeightWatchers and have lost 18lbs. I’m now the same size as I was before having Anna (hello lovely leather pencil skirt I could never bring myself to throw away), and, although far from skinny, my BMI is now a healthy 23 and I feel absolutely great.

14) I signed a publishing contract for my second novel, To Have and to Hold, which will be published in June, and I wrote the first few chapters of my third book.

15) I hosted Christmas, and discovered that it’s all a lot easier when you’re not ill. I baked, cooked, cleaned, shopped, cleaned, tidied and even wrapped a little, and it was all very lovely.

16) I joined with the rest of the family to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday. We had a great time, ate a lot of cake and, hopefully, made my dad feel a little bit spoiled as 99.9% of the time he is the one looking after the rest of us. My dad is a long-term and passionate supporter of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and, incredibly, the weekend he celebrated his 60th birthday they won their match 6-o. That really was the icing on his cake.

So there we go. My year in a nutshell. I was going to come up with 32 things about being thirty-two, but, re-reading this list, I now feel that 16 is more than enough. The other things which have made up my year are the day to day activities, shopping, cleaning, cooking, reading, playing with my daughter, baking, curling up with my husband, a dvd and a takeaway, chatting with friends, writing, walking, gardening, tidying, days out in London and further afield, visiting my parents, eating cake…and if I have a wish for my 34th year, it is that none of those things change.

Cushion the blow

In one of my very earliest blog posts I wrote about sewing – how I wish I’d learnt more from my grandmother while she was alive, and how I’d recently read a novel by Amanda Addison and been inspired to try some simple sewing projects.

Well, fast forward nearly a year, and not much sewing had happened. Somehow there always seemed to be something else to do – gardening, writing, launching a book, looking after my daughter, and sewing never got a look in.

However, I recently bought three old wooden chairs from a local furniture recycling project, and was inordinately proud of successfully sanding and painting them, and re-covering the fabric seat of one. I now have the eclectic, mismatched dining furniture I wanted, for  a bargain price. I also had some blue spotty Cath Kidston fabric left over from the seat re-covering, and when I found some spare cushion pads in the loft, I had a lightbulb moment and decided that the two could be combined to give me both a nicely manageable sewing project and some extra cushions for the dining room sofa.

chairs

I haven’t got a sewing machine – I did contemplate buying one last year when I started thinking about sewing, largely because John Lewis had such pretty ones in gorgeous shades of duck egg and scarlet, but common sense intervened and I realised that given my level of skill and time commitment it wasn’t going to be even remotely good value. Sewing two small cushions by hand seemed manageable, but I didn’t feel very confident about zips, so decided to look online for a pattern which didn’t require them. And I found one.

My husband was away for work on Monday night, so instead of watching something rubbish on telly I decided to employ my time in a creative and fulfilling way by getting cushion number one underway. I am not a particularly patient person (I hope if my parents and husband are reading this they aren’t eating anything at the time, I don’t want them to choke), and I do slightly tend to take the view that instructions are for wimps and just getting on and doing something is the best way to get it done. Can you see where this is going?

The thing is, although this approach serves me pretty well with a lot if things, cooking for example, I did have a feeling that I needed to be a bit more precise with sewing, so I really, really tried to measure carefully and think before I cut anything. And it seemed to work. I had three carefully hemmed and pinned pieces of fabric, which did combine to look something like a cushion cover. So I started stitching them together. Yesterday afternoon I only had one seam to go, and, being as I mentioned naturally impatient, I decided to turn it right side out to see what it was like. Oh dear. I’m still not totally sure what I’ve done wrong, but it certainly doesn’t look quite like a cushion cover. I think that I’ve sewn the little flappy bit on the wrong end. cushion coverBut it doesn’t look big enough for the cushion either. I can’t really see a way around it other than unpicking everything and starting again (which doesn’t hugely appeal, to be honest), but if you’re reading this and you can sew, do let me know if you can suggest a solution! Otherwise, I’m thinking that I could just do a rough hem and then give it to my daughter as a doll’s sleeping bag.

Onwards and upwards as they say. A positive is that in my garden, which is my other new project, the runner beans, strawberries and herbs are thriving, the tomatoes and sweet peas are at least still alive and we perhaps don’t need to discuss the courgettes or the marigolds in any detail.strawberries

Book Launch

Helen Chandler Two for JoyWell, it’s happened! I am now officially a published author. Two for Joy came out last Thursday, and I had the most amazing publication day.

My husband had taken the day off work, so he took Anna to nursery (lovely for both of them), while I went to get my hair washed and blow-dried. I always say that if I won the lottery one of the luxuries I would definitely treat myself to would be very frequent professional blow-dries. My hair somehow manages to be both thick – there’s a lot of it, and it’s heavy – but also fine. Left to its own devices it tends to look limp and nondescript, it takes a proper blow-dry to inject some much-needed volume.

After the hairdressers, we had coffee in the Deli Cafe; our very local cafe which just happened to be where I wrote quite a lot of my book. The staff in there were excited about the book and the launch, and I got my first ‘author’ moment of the day when I signed a copy for the cafe. Then down to Waterstones Walthamstow to chat to the manager there about Two for Joy, where it would be placed in store, and about the signing I will be doing, after their re-furb, in the early autumn.

We treated ourselves to lunch out (agent/mother-in-law had collected Anna from nursery), and I had the most amazing crab and avocado salad at Eat 17 in Walthamstow Village. With chips, of course. During lunch I got a text message from my dad, on his way down for the launch, showing rows of Two for Joy displayed in WHSmiths in Liverpool Lime Street station. Cue much excitement. I was particularly impressed at my dad successfully sending a picture message as mobile technology is not normally his strong point – it seemed rather like those cases you read about where a child becomes trapped under a car and the mother suddenly develops the super-human strength to lift it clear. Under the impetus of seeing his daughter’s first novel on sale for the first time, my dad developed hitherto unknown capabilities.

I became increasingly nervous as the afternoon passed on, but my mood was lifted by the arrival of a gorgeous bouquet from my publishers, and another from a friend who couldn’t be there for the launch.

We’d chosen Penny Fielding Gallery and Interiors for the launch – a very local shop and gallery selling modern collectables and showcasing local artists. One of the huge advantages of this venue was the gorgeous back garden, and, amazingly, the weather obliged and we were blessed with a warm, sunny evening. Soon everything was set up – cupcakes displayed on stands and plates, books arranged in the shop, wine ready to pour, and an author’s signing station under the fig tree. The only thing that remained was to wait for the guests.

And they came! The nicest thing about the whole launch period was the enormous amount of support and enthusiasm I received from friends and family, and from my community more generally. My aunt and uncle, both teachers in the middle of the exam season, made the four-hour round trip to be there. My mum’s cousin, who I’ve met only a handful of times, not only came to the launch, but is recommending Two for Joy to her book group. A large group of my husband’s colleagues, who all work on the other side of London, were there. We’d put invitations through the doors of all the houses on my road, and I was incredibly touched by the number of my neighbours, many of whom I was meeting for the first time, who came along to support me and (crucially!) to buy the book.

The party was a happy blur for me. I meeted and greeted and signed. My editor made a short (and sweet) speech, I mumbled some heartfelt but slightly inarticulate thank-yous (I’m better with the written word, really), and my husband launched into full marketing director mode and urged everyone to go forth and tweet. After the main event we then adjourned to the pub,  I got to chat to people in a bit more depth, and we sat happily around in the beer garden until well after my usual bedtime.

The whole thing felt incredibly reminiscent of my wedding day (right down the making the cupcakes beforehand!), and I was left with the same feeling of being so incredibly lucky to have such amazing family and friends, and, particularly such a loving and supportive husband. Now I just need the books to sell…

The icing on the cake

As promised (threatened) last week, the subject of this week’s post is the production of a very large number of cupcakes for my book launch tomorrow night. Did I mention, by the way, that my first novel IS PUBLISHED TOMOROW!

It is Anna’s full day at nursery on a Wednesday (9am-3pm) and so when it became clear that my original carefully considered plan of making the cakes a few at a time and freezing them hadn’t worked out, then I decided to just blitz it today in the six hours I had to myself. When I woke up at 2am this morning I realised that I actually had no idea at all how long it would take to make, ice and decorate 12 batches of cupcakes. A long time, I can now confirm is the answer.Just looking at the pile of ingredients was a little daunting.ingredients

However, I set to work. I discovered with the first batch that my top oven emphatically does not work for sponge cakes. OK, fair enough, I would just have to stick to doing them two trays at a time. It was fine. Unfortunately I burnt the last twelve – rookie mistake of checking, deciding they needed a couple of minutes longer, not setting the timer and then…twenty minutes later, hmmm, what’s that funny smell?photo-3

I’d had a lot of fun deciding how to decorate the cakes. The convention with cupcakes at the moment seems to be for swirls of buttercream, which looks amazing, but I’m pretty terrified by piping bags, and decided icing 12o cupcakes like this would be several steps too far. I therefore got inspired by Nigella – in How to be a Domestic Goddess her fairy cakes are iced with fondant style icing, and they look fabulous. I also decided to follow Nigella’s advice on aesthetics; she suggests pale pistachio green with a pink rose, and as that chimes with the colours of my book cover, it seemed an obvious choice. I wanted two different styles for contrast, though, so eventually I decided on pale blush pink with white daisies.

pretty cakes

I got the last tray iced with just minutes to spare before going to pick Anna up, and when we got home we road-tested a couple as a post-nursery snack – funnily enough my daughter was far more willing to help mummy out with this than with tidy-up time -and feedback was extremely positive. lots of cakes