Spring is in the air

It’s back to school for us today, but with a definite hint of spring in the air to soften the blow. Actually, I don’t mind too much, and am hoping that this term my offspring might be a bit healthier and we can actually settle into our new routine, which involves me being able to write while Sophia is at pre-school. Watch this space!

daffodils

We had a lovely half term. For the first part of it I took the children up to Liverpool to see my parents. The first morning we were there, they whisked the children off to the Storybarn in Calderstones Park, leaving me curled up in my pyjamas with a good book and a warm pain au chocolat. I then managed to stir myself to have a long, luxurious, uninterrupted shower – even more of a treat because our shower at home has been broken for three weeks and so I’ve been having baths and rinsing my hair under the taps with a tupperware tub!

The children had an amazing time at the Storybarn, and their enthusiasm definitely makes me think it’s something we’ll want to do again on a future visit to Liverpool. Anna especially absolutely loves books, reading, stories and the world of make-believe. She’s currently two and a half chapters into writing her own first novel – an adventure story which shows a strong Blytonesque influence, as well as a vivid imagination of her own, and she is rarely seen without her head in a book. Definitely like mother like daughter! Sophia loves stories too, but she also likes to be on the move, and Storybarn gave her lots of chances for active play as well. She was particularly taken with the giant bubble machine.

We had a lovely family time when my brother and sister-in-law came over for the day. The children had the time of their lives playing with Uncle Matt and Auntie Esther. They went for a walk in the woods and climbed on log bridges (Uncle Matt soaking his feet in a ditch to rescue Anna when she got stuck!), played a long game of Scrabble, which I had been teaching Anna the day before, read endless stories, had cuddles and generally gave them lots of the patient, loving, one-on-one attention which aunties and uncles are really good at.

We also went to the World Museum in Liverpool, where Anna enjoyed the dinosaur trail and Sophia marvelled at the enormous dinosaur skeleton and the tanks of tropical fish. And of course, no trip to Liverpool would be complete for us without a visit to the Waterstones in Liverpool One – one of my favourite bookshops in the country, and with such an incredible children’s area.

flap-reading

Back in London we had some lazy time at home, and I was self-sacrificially devoted enough to let Anna do painting and crafts. I know. It had better be a good Mother’s Day present. In the meantime I have two beaded, sequinned, beribboned octopus/jellyfish type creations to find homes for. We also headed to St Albans for the day to visit the Roman museum and remains because Anna is ‘doing’ Romans at school this term.

And this weekend the slightly lighter nights and warmer weather inspired me to start spring-cleaning. Anna and I cleared out her desk (bio-hazard suits would probably have been a good idea), and her art cupboard, and threw away bags of lidless felt-tips, broken crayons, screwed up coloured tissue paper etc etc. We spring-cleaned her playhouse as well, and then when she started to get bored and her sister woke up from her nap,husband took them both off to the park for a muddy game of football and I blitzed the rest of the house – surfaces dusted, floors hoovered and mopped, bathroom cleaned, beds changed – and then pottered off the the florists to buy a bunch of tulips and one of daffodils to let the spring inside.

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Eighteen Months

Sophia was eighteen months old last week. To celebrate, we went for a blood test. However, once that was out of the way, I decided we should make the most of being out and about in London on a sunny day.

We popped into M&S to buy a picnic lunch, and then hopped on the tube to Green Park. Sophia was thrilled to have the chance to run free and chase pigeons, unrestrained by pesky hand-holding or reins. That’s pretty much all she ever wants to do.Green Park

Then I heard music coming from Buckingham Palace, and headed over to investigate. I’m not sure, but I think we caught the end of the changing of the guard. It was certainly something very ceremonial with a brass band and lots of soldiers in dress uniforms and bearskins. I pointed all this out to Sophia, but she was too transfixed by the bin lorry she’d spotted to take much notice. the guards

We fought our way through the crowds of tourists on the Mall to St James’ Park, and had our lunch on a bench over-looking the lake. This was a huge success because two of Sophia’s favourite things are ducks and dogs, and there were plenty of both to spot. Okay, so sometimes the ducks were actually swans, but there’s a whole fairy story about how that’s an easy mistake to make.cygnets

After lunch we went round to the playground. It’s a really great playground in St James’ Park, and I used to take Anna a lot before she started school, but it does get very busy at the weekend, which is a shame. Last time we were there I was about three months pregnant and feeling very sick and tired, so sat pallidly on a bench whilst husband ran round with Anna. Two years later and I was running round myself with the result of the pregnancy. I can’t quite believe how the time has flown.playground

My littlest girl is so determined and so fearless and so resolutely independent. Qualities which I hope will stand her in very good stead in later life, but make keeping her safe as a toddler (and I imagine, heaven help us when the time comes, as a teenager) quite a challenge. There was a big slide, far too steep for me to let her go down by herself, especially as it was just the two of us so there would be no-one to catch her at the bottom. So I took her down on my knee. She absolutely loved it, laughing and squealing with sheer delighted excitement. Then she saw a little girl of about four going down with her mum, side by side, holding hands. That was it, nothing else would do for Sophia, and for the next approximately forty-two times we went down the slide side-by-side.

By this time she was shattered, so I popped her back in her buggy for a nap, and walked through the park, up the Mall, through Trafalgar Square, up Pall Mall East, and through Piccadilly Circus. I love seeing London through tourist eyes and feeling proud because this is my city. I had a lovely browse in Waterstone’s, and then checked out the Cath Kidston sale in their flagship store on Piccadilly but resisted buying anything. I feel I need some credit for this as both a little red leather handbag and a gorgeous flowery dress, which I spotted back in the new Spring catalogue and have been lusting over ever since, were reduced. Not by enough for my budget though. I’m going to have to play Sale Roulette and see if they come down any further or sell out first.

By a miracle Sophia was still asleep when we got back to Walthamstow, so I bought a drink and a chocolate brownie in a little local cafe which has outdoor tables, and had a peaceful fifteen minutes reading my book in the sunshine before she woke up.

brownie

An absolutely perfect day with my lovely girl. Sophia at eighteen months is feisty, determined, active, adventurous, independent, strong-willed, mischievous, joyful, enthusiastic, loving and absolutely gorgeous. Can’t wait to see how many of these personality traits continue as she grows up.

To Have and to Hold

To Have coverMy second novel, To Have and to Hold, is going to be published as an e-book in less than 2 weeks, on 8 May, and then in paperback on June 19. That’s both incredibly exciting – it feels as though having a second book in print might just give me membership of the elusive Proper Author club, but also rather scary because it means I’m about to embark upon the part of my job I like least – actually trying to persuade people to go out and buy the book!

Of course, that’s not entirely, or even primarily my responsibility (thank goodness). There’s a fantastic team of creative, talented and enthusiastic professionals at Hodder who do all the hard work, but I do have to do my share of sidling into local bookshops and murmuring inaudibly “Hi, my name’s Helen, I’ve umm, written an, erm, book, and it’s erm, well, coming out quite soon. Is there any chance, I mean I know there probably isn’t, and you’re busy and umm well, don’t worry about it…” at which point they probably look slightly bemused and point out that they don’t actually work there, and I go even redder in the face, and turn tail and run. Or something like that.

In all seriousness, I do find the publicity part incredibly shy-making, even though it’s integral to the whole process – after all, there’s not much point me writing if no-one ever reads what I’ve written. Many geniuses are never discovered in their own lifetime, but a) I am not anything remotely approaching a genius, and b) I have very little interest in post-humous success, but a strong desire for people to read and hopefully enjoy what I’ve written right now. And then, you know, tell me. Needy, me?

At one point it seemed as though getting published would be the pinnacle of success and achievement, but, as with many things in life, when you reach what you thought was the pinnacle it turns out to be a mere plateau, and you can see the summit still way, way out of reach above you. This time last year, in my naivety, I had no idea that even getting stocked in a big bookshop like Waterstones, or a supermarket, was so hard. But thinking about it, it makes sense. There are hundreds of books published each year in my genre alone, there is no physical way they could all get shelf space.

Of course, e-books have changed things slightly, but even these sales depend on people knowing about it in the first place. Which is where that much talked about ‘word of mouth’ comes in. So, here’s my plea – if you enjoyed Two for Joy, or like reading my blog, then please, pretty please, do tell people about it, tell them about To Have and to Hold coming out, post a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

And, just to whet your appetite for To Have and to Hold, here is the cover blurb created by my fabulous editor:

From the outside, Ella has the happy marriage, the cute kids and the comfortable home – inside, she craves something more. But giving in to temptation will stir up a whole heap of trouble . . .

Imogen’s relationship with Pete was once fun and carefree but since they’ve become parents, everything is different. Then an accident provides the catalyst for a life-changing decision.

Fifteen-year-old Phoebe is miserable at home and at school. And now her dad, who was always her ally, seems completely distracted by something – or someone. Maybe it’s time Phoebe took a stand, and took control of her own life.

As Ella, Imogen and Phoebe contemplate taking the biggest risk of their lives, marriages, families and friendships hang in the balance. Should they take the leap, or will they risk losing everything?

 

My Walthamstow

Towards the end of last year I posted about Walthamstow and house prices, and my worry that all the things I love about this amazing part of London are going to be eroded by ever increasing house prices meaning that the people who make it amazing will no longer be able to afford to live here. It certainly struck a chord. The link was tweeted and re-tweeted, and I’ve had neighbours or parents at the school gate I know only to say hello to stopping me to talk about the issue.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been filmed by the Buena Vista Book Club out and about in Walthamstow and Central London talking about Two For Joy and my inspiration for writing. Seeing my local area through the eyes of a film crew who don’t know it at all has filled me with renewed appreciation, and  encouraged me to do a bit of codification of some of the things that are particularly special to me about where I live, and so I’ve come up with the top ten things that make my Walthamstow world.

One: Deli Cafedeli cafe

Deli Cafe on Orford Road is my home from home, the closest thing I have to an office. When asked, I say that I work from home – in theory I do – but it is an odd week which doesn’t see me spending at least two days here writing. The hot chocolates and brownies are far too tasty for my own good, the people who work there are friendly and it’s always busy and lively with a huge mixture of different people.

Two: Walthamstow Parents Facebook Group

I’m sure Walthamstow isn’t the only community with a Facebook group like this, but I can’t believe there are many which are so friendly and informative. Do you need to find out how to care for a child with croup, or discover where to get pictures framed or find ideas for a child’s party? Do you have a detailed question about the school admissions process? Perhaps you need a reliable plumber, or joiner or decorator or roofer, or loft conversion company or lawyer? Or maybe you just want to launch an impassioned polemic against Michael Gove’s education policies and the effect they have on your children. Whatever it is, this is the place to go for support, advice and ideas galore.

Three: Vestry House Museumvestry house

This is a beautiful building in the middle of Walthamstow Village which has been, in its time, the local police station and workhouse. Now it is a local history museum with a gorgeous community garden, and will always be very special to me as this is where we had our wedding reception.

Four: William Morris Gallery and Lloyd Parkwilliam morris

Not exactly a hidden gem, as the William Morris Gallery won Museum of the Year award in 2013, but still a lovely place to be. A fascinating museum, a pretty conservatory cafe with nice cakes, a huge park and brand new playground – what’s not to love? Whenever I go I always wonder why I ever spend time anywhere else.

vintage shop wood st

Photo from starsandbuttons.blogspot.co.uk

Five: Wood Street Market

When I first moved to Walthamstow, just a few years ago, the covered market on Wood Street wasn’t somewhere I would ever consider going. In the last couple of years, however, it’s been extensively revamped without losing any of its original charm, and it is home to several vintage fashion shops, the Mother’s Ruin homemade fruit gin company – a slug of which turns any cheap sparkling wine into a delicious cocktail – a cake decorating shop, a beauty parlour and an artisan cake shop amongst many others.

Six: Eat 17

Again, hardly a hidden gem, but still one of my favourite places. The brothers who own the Eat 17 restaurant and the Spar next door have put Walthamstow on the map with their E17 Bacon Jam, and have also provided many hours of pleasure for me and my family in the form of delicious takeaway pizzas, relaxed family brunches and romantic dinners a deux. 

Seven: Ruby Stablesruby stables

Is it a junk yard? Or an antique shop? Or a garden centre? The answer is yes to all of those questions. One of the quirkiest shops in Walthamstow, this old stables mews off busy Hoe Street is a treasure trove you can easily lose a morning, and yourself, in.

Eight: The Farmers Marketfarmers market

Not something which is entirely unique to Walthamstow, but the Sunday morning farmers market is delightful. Along with the Tuesday-Saturday street market, the East London Sausage Company, Davies Fishmongers and the Organiclea food co-op, this is another place we have to access delicious food from independent growers and suppliers. We enjoy playing farmers market ready steady cook – my husband and daughter head off to the market with £5-10 to spend, and come back with a selection of random seasonal ingredients which I do my best to turn into delicious meals.

Nine: Waterstones

Definitely not unique, but I LOVE that Walthamstow has a proper bookshop. One of my very favourite places to while away a morning, there’s a gorgeous children’s section, well-chosen stock and incredibly friendly, helpful knowledgable staff.

Ten: Eat or Heateat or heat

Eat or Heat is Walthamstow’s food bank – taking its name from the dilemma that sadly many families face daily: whether  they go cold or hungry. With various cafes and shops across Walthamstow acting as food drop off points and innovative community fundraisers, this project symbolises Walthamstow’s enthusiasm for a bit of positive action and political activism. William Morris would be proud.

So there you have it. Not an exhaustive list by any means – but a list of some of the places which make up ‘my’ Walthamstow. I’d love to hear your lists – of either your Walthamstow places, or the places which are special to you where you live.

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…