I was really, really sick last night. I projectile vomited a punnet of cherries – just like in that scene from Stand By Me when the fat kid (nicknamed Lardass – co-incidentally that happens to be my brother’s name for me) swallows a litre of cod liver oil and then eats a dozen cherry pies all as part of a revenge plan to projectile vom over his bullies. It was really quite gross. On the upside I gave my stomach muscles a better workout than a thousand sit ups could ever and woke up a few pounds lighter (with my head still spinning).

lardass-051

(This was me, except over a toilet bowl and not Alula).

Luckily Alula was there to play nurse. She brought me water and patted my head and ran me a cool bath, then watched Horrible Histories while I wove in and out of consciousness and contemplated dying. Bless her.

Want to know why I was so sick John almost called an ambulance when he got home from work and found me passed out, naked on the bed with Alula pressing cold cloths to my head? I had heat stroke… yeah. Five years in Bali and never so much as a sun burn. One hot day in the UK and I’m collapsing and projectile vomiting and garbling nonsense.

What is with that? I guess I’m just not used to the sunshine any more. I had been sitting in a car (with the windows and doors open) waiting for Alula’s dance class to finish, listening, get this, to my meditation tape (if you’ve followed me for years you’ll laugh at this because meditation was something I could never manage in Bali but is something I’ve been doing religiously since getting back to the UK – I guess I need it more here), when suddenly I came over all funny and faint, as if I’d just drunk a bottle of meths.

I am possibly the first person to almost die from meditating. Claim to fame. It’s just lucky I was only doing a twenty minute tape and not an hour one (as if).

I knew straight away that I had heat stroke because I am susceptible to it having had it once before when I was 20 when I sunbathed for four hours in Mexico in about 90 degree heat, hydrating myself only with four frozen margaritas. You’d think I’d have learned from that epic mistake. But it’s one thing to almost die after drinking copious amounts of alcohol on a beach in Mexico and quite another to almost die while meditating in a Mini Cooper in a car park outside a sports centre in Marlow.

Though at least I would have died enlightened and not drunk.

 

 

 

 

Very excited to show off the cover for the CAN WE LIVE HERE? book, which is out in August, published by the lovely people at Blink Publishing!

CWLH COVER SMALL

 

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY NOW!

Amazon http://amzn.to/1LGk0h0

Waterstones http://bit.ly/1FOeWa9

WhSmiths http://bit.ly/1HvGQ7V

Also, I’m doing a Q&A and signing at Stanfords in London on August 6th.

BOOK YOUR TICKET HERE. It would be awesome to meet you.

The UK reached a high of 16 degrees today, which necessitated half the population stripping down to shorts and T-shirts in the gloriously mistaken belief that summer had arrived.

I sighed at the way the British* so wholeheartedly leap into action the moment the thermostat edges into double figures but conceded that it was perhaps time finally to remove one of my thermal layers (just one mind).

It’s been three months to the day since we arrived back and I have been wearing a thermal top, beneath a long-sleeved top, beneath a second thermal top, beneath a wool jumper EVERY SINGLE DAY since them (except on Christmas Day when I made an effort and wore a dress – and positioned myself three inches away from a roaring fire and roasted myself like a marshmallow.) I have also been wearing 100 denier thermal tights beneath my jeans EVERY SINGLE DAY, plus a minimum of two pairs of wool socks over the tights. I know this sounds excessive – it’s the UK afterall, not the arctic, but for me it may as well be the arctic.

I am starting to hate my wardrobe. The endless monotony of my long-sleeved black thermal tops. The annoyance of pulling on my jeans only to discover an uncomfortable bulge behind my right knee and then having to stick my hand down and root around for the balled-up pair of tights I forgot to remove the last time I wore that particular pair of jeans.

Pulling them out is like extracting a two-foot long tape worm from an intestinal tract. It feels weird, but also intensely satisfying.

Yes, that’s how exciting my life is right now. Tapeworm tights are the highlight. The other highlight – when the Amazon delivery guy delivers my packages. Which, now I have the Amazon Prime delivery cart app, is a daily, sometimes twice daily, occurrence.

The truth of the matter is this whole transition back to the UK has been a lot harder than I imagined it would be and the Amazon Prime deliveries are my way of staving off the creeping depression I can feel brushing at the edges, stalking closer.

I miss rolling out of bed to the sound of cockerels and crickets (and tile cutters – never thought I’d say that) and strolling in my knickers to my wardrobe to pull on a pair of shorts and a vest. I miss the sunshine, the warm air, the kaleidoscope colours. I miss being barefoot. I miss the feel of the sun on my face (and on every other part of my body). I miss sleeping with the windows wide open. I miss the howling of the monsoon rain at night. I miss the offerings and incense. I miss the sense of magic. I miss my friends.

… And Kue’s chocolate caramel slice.

Here it takes an enormous amount of effort on my part to throw off the duvet in the gloom of the morning, step into the frigid air and pull on my five layers. Most days after dropping Alula at school I climb right back under that duvet (and switch the electric blanket on to the max).

I watch the show Vikings (in my heated bed) and wonder how on earth the Vikings managed to be so productive with their pillaging. How did they ever get out of bed? They didn’t even have central heating. It’s bewildering.

I am far less productive here (which is bad as I also a crazy amount of work on), far more stressed, far more tired. I had to buy some under-eye concealer as I was starting to scare small children with my Zombie impression and the girls at the Bobbi Brown counter were getting tired of me coming in and asking them to help me look alive.

Transitions are hard. Don’t they say that moving home is one of the biggest stressors you can experience – up there with death and divorce? I can’t say I’ve been through death or divorce but these last few months have not been easy and I definitely underestimated the shock of re-entry.

It’s not just the cold. It’s the sense of not fitting in; of belonging yet not really belonging at all.

It’s little things – forgetting that you don’t need to turn your hazard lights on when crossing a junction, not knowing how on earth to use the touch in touch out system on the tube (technology took this huge leap forward while I wasn’t looking. I now know how my granddad feels when faced with a smartphone).

And it’s the big things too.

Like watching your daughter struggle with anxiety because she doesn’t know about the vikings or the Saxons and feels bereft in this new world without friends or knowledge of British history (‘What is a Pict mummy? I don’t get it! Why did they have blue faces?’ – I have no freaking idea) and where her school has walls and signs telling her to keep off the grass (‘Imagine that at Green School mummy’).

Like missing your own friends so much that you burst into tears at random moments, usually when driving but sometimes in coffee shops or while pumping gas (that’s another thing I miss – someone else pumping my gas… see I can’t even say it right any more… filling up the car with petrol) or even when emptying the washing machine.

I guess what I’m saying is that I didn’t think it would be this difficult.

Someone told me this week that sometimes we need to watch our children struggle, and though we’re desperate to help them and make things easier it’s actually better for them to let them struggle because, like a butterfly coming out of the cocoon, that struggle gives them the strength to be able to take flight and survive in the world. If we were to rip the cocoon and help free them they wouldn’t have the strength they needed to go out into the world and they’d be dead little butterflies.

I was thinking about that with regards to Alula (and wondering if I had any butterfly expert friends to verify this story with because the sceptic in me thinks it sounds a little like something from one of those palm-sized self-help books with swirling fonts and pictures of doves on the front). But I was also thinking about it with regards to me. I was thinking that, butterfly analogies aside, the struggle is necessary. It’s a fundamental part of the journey.

And one day, hopefully soon (because frankly I’m so over the struggling part), we’ll be out of this bloody cocoon and I’ll be a bloody great big butterfly with wings the size of an Albatross and a lifespan a bit longer than just a week.

 

*It’s funny how in Bali, surrounded by people from other cultures, I felt really British, but back in the UK I feel really other.

walkgrass                                                                                                      Keep off the grass.

I almost drove over the Lollipop lady at Alula’s school. This is quite a remarkable feat considering she is dressed head to foot in luminous yellow and orange and resembles a giant traffic cone (and is also holding a six foot tall lollipop with the word ‘STOP’ emblazoned on it.)

I screeched to a halt inches from her Lollipop holding hand. She froze like a predator in the middle of the zebra crossing and drilled through my skull with her laser gaze. I shrunk back against my seat. ‘Sorry, sorry, so sorry,’ I mouthed through the window.

‘Shit,’ I hiss to John and Alula. ‘Oh god. I almost ran over the lollipop lady.’

John shakes his head at me and smiles apologetically at the lollipop lady. I’m sure he’s rolling his eyes in my direction at her and shrugging as if to say ‘sorry, what can I do?’ For my own part I want to shout: I’ve lived in Bali for five years. I’m struggling to adapt my driving style. I sort of saw you as a giant chicken and thought you might skedaddle out of the way when I hit the gas.

I tap my foot to the gas and trundle across the zebra crossing once she’s given up glaring and stalked back to the relative safety of the pavement. She narrows her eyes at me as we pass and shoots neon death beams my way. I gulp.

‘I was already in her bad books. What am I going to do now?’

Alula starts laughing in the back. It’s true the other day I stepped onto the zebra crossing with Alula before – wait for it drum roll please – before the lollipop lady was in the middle of the crossing.

There were no cars coming and I’ve been crossing zebra crossings my entire adult life without the help of a lollipop person so I didn’t figure it was too much of a problem that she was only a third of the way across. It was though. Very much a problem.

She pursed her lips angrily. I rolled my eyes at Alula (sorry, it’s a reflex action whenever I’m told off and I have zero control over it…honest) and she caught me doing it. I was then on the receiving end of a very stern lecture about road safety.

I don’t know what it is about me and authority. We don’t get on. Never have. But I apologised profusely and scurried off.

But now I really am screwed. It’s one thing to step out onto a zebra crossing before the lady is in the exact middle of the road with her lollipop and quite another to almost run her over in your car.

This morning I tootled past her, keeping my eyes fixed dead ahead as if she was the medusa or a neon basilisk I daren’t look at for fear of being turned to stone.

‘I can’t do this every day,’ I mused to John. ‘It’s too stressful. I’m going to have to do something.’

‘You could apologise and be nice to her,’ John suggested.

I pulled a face. ‘What? Buy her some Quality Street and say ‘sorry I almost ran you over?’’

‘Yeah,’ John says.

I wrinkle my nose. I tried that last time (well not the Quality Street part) and she pretty much took my apology, chewed it up in front of me and spat it out (all without saying a word – in another life I’m sure we could actually be best friends).

So I go home and open up Google maps instead and discover Yay! There’s a back road I can take that means I can avoid the Lollipop lady for the rest of eternity. Phew.

Clutching my phone and hyperventilating, I call John. ‘Help,’ I whisper under my breath, ‘I need help.’

‘What’s the matter?’

‘There’s too much gravy.’

‘OK. What do you mean?’

I take a step back, banging into a trolley, and take in the full, eye-blistering, mind melting array of gravy options. I’m powerless, my brain pulling a 404 error message.

‘I mean,’ I tell John, ‘there’s too much choice. I don’t know what to do.’

‘OK,’ he says and I think I hear his fingers tapping away on his laptop. Is he fully appreciating the gravity of the gravy situation? I don’t think he is because I know he can’t multi-task so how can he be typing AND helping me figure out gravy at the same time?

‘There are granules and sachets, and tins and cubes,’ I tell him, ‘and there are about a million different flavours. There’s chicken and beef and pork and vegetable and then there’s the red Bisto stuff which I’m not sure has a flavour. It doesn’t say it has a flavour. It just says it’s gravy. What’s it for? Oh god!’

I hear John sigh down the phone.

A small part of my brain has wondered off to the chocolate aisle. I never seem to get stuck there, I just put it all in my trolley. It’s easy to choose wine too – just go for the price deals – but the gravy is different. I swear when we left the UK five years ago there was just Bisto. The red stuff. In granule form. Maybe there was a chicken flavour too. But in the last half-decade clearly the two gravy forms caught each others’ eyes across a lonely shelf and went on to mate and give birth to offspring of many colours. In fact it’s a bit like Gay Pride in the gravy aisle (there is a whole aisle dedicated to gravy… what is this madness?!).

I have spent five years shopping at a supermarket in Bali where the highlight was coffee beans pooped out by an animal a bit like a ferret, where 94% of all produce contained MSG (probably the coffee too) and if you had to do a supermarket sweep the only thing you’d bother to pile in your trolley would be loo roll. Gravy? You’d be lucky to get Tomato Ketchup and only if they had it in stock. The day they rolled out a new crisp brand people were SMS’ing each other in excitement to give a heads’ up.

But at least at that supermarket I would be in and out in about three minutes flat. In the UK there’s too much choice. And I’m totally paralysed by it. I spend the ten minutes in the car home wondering if I should have bought the yellow Bisto or splurged on the really expensive one in the sachet. Or maybe the tin. Oh god! I take a deep breath, thinking again what is this madness?

Why am I giving a crap about gravy?

What is happening to me?

Alula started school last week in the UK.

For the last four years she’s gone to school in the jungle at a school made entirely of bamboo with no walls, a farm, a giant crystal, a mud pit and where the school song is basically a prayer to mother earth. She has also been barefoot most of her life. We had to have a boot camp the day before she started school in the UK to teach her how to tie shoe-laces, put on tights and tie a tie.

When we walked across the concrete playground and into her concrete box of a classroom in her little village school my first and only comment was an astonished: ‘Oh, look! Walls!’

I felt a sob rise up – it was made up of equal parts regret and despair. I’m not sure if Alula was as aware as I was of the difference. She was entirely focussed on holding our hands and freaking out about whether she’d be behind in maths (she isn’t, much to our relief – that jungle education has been just fine).

Almost every day so far in the UK has been a struggle – Alula not wanting to go to school, crying for her friends in Bali (something I’ve joined her in), layering on three thermal tops to stave off the bone-numbing cold, trying in vain to hold back the rising tide of admin and chores.

It’s been a painful week this last week on so many levels, softened only by the fact we have moved into the most perfect house – a 17th century cottage in the most stunning village in the Chilterns, surrounded by fields and woods (OK, also softened by cheese and smoked mackerel pate and the wondrous joy of an electric blanket). It feels like the most homely place we’ve ever lived, something so like a fairy-tale that I almost expect an old crone to knock on the door with a basket of apples, but it’s also bittersweet as we’re only renting it for six months. We can’t put down roots. I like to think there’s a reason for that. That something else beckons us onward and this is a six month gift – an interlude before the next adventure. Besides we’d need close to a million pounds to actually own a house like this.

And it’s teaching us to live in the present and enjoy every second, something I tried so hard to do in Bali and failed at repeatedly.

Half of me wants to put down roots, sink into the ground here, create a space that’s private and all ours and make it permanent (let’s forget the million pounds that would be required for a moment) but… at the same time it doesn’t feel like we could ever do that here in the UK.

I called John from the train back from London. ‘There’s so much unhappiness,’ I told him, almost unable to breathe, struggling to find the words for what I was feeling. I was thinking of the girl who had just served me in Costa fighting back tears as her boss berated her bitchily in front of me. The old lady on the train glaring coldly in the face of my smile. The bank manager whose grief and anger pummelled us across the desk. The acquaintances who spoke ten to the dozen at us about their house renovations and property prices like they were clutching desperately at straws made of joists.

I’ll take conversations about butt lube and raw food and cleanses over this.

‘Everyone’s glum,’ John said to me.

I don’t see joy here. That’s the problem. I see despair. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.

The thing is though, in Bali, I didn’t need to look.

I’m not dead. I haven’t slipped into a debilitating dark depression either, which is what I was sort of expecting to happen upon our return to the UK. I am sleeping a lot though (it’s so bloody dark at 8am it’s boggling my mind) and eating a LOT of chocolate, as in approximately five years’ worth every day. Yesterday I had a Terry’s Chocolate Orange for breakfast, a dozen Ferrero Rocher for lunch and some truffles for my tea. I need to sort that out.

The blow of coming back to the UK has been softened by all sorts of things, beyond chocolate and wine. The day after I left Bali I was offered a cool screenwriting gig. The day after that another screenwriting job. This on top of the two book deadlines I have for the end of January. So it feels as if that old saying ‘when you close one door another one opens’ is indeed correct though in my case several doors are opening all at once and I’m having trouble jumping through them all at the same time. I’ve been so busy with work and the tiny little admin tasks surrounding finding a house, buying a car, opening a bank account, getting Alula into a school, wrapping Christmas presents, breaking my mother-inW-law’s washing machine in my first effort at doing the laundry in five years, watching the Downton Christmas special, that I haven’t really had a chance to lie in bed bemoaning the lack of sunshine, heat and massages. John may refute that last sentence.

We also found the most gorgeous house to rent in a tiny village in the country. It’s hobbit small and three hundred years old and looks like if you leaned on it it might collapse, but it properly fulfils my fantasy of a writerly life fed by oh so many movies. I just need me some Hunter wellies and a Barbour jacket. The lady over the road owns chickens and ducks and geese and horses and there are bunnies in the garden and pheasants in the field beyond the garden, that regularly get shot at by the local Lord. It’s very Danny Champion of the World (in fact Roald Dahl did live just down the road). I can feel a book brewing already.

Weirdly too, as well as there being a Buddha statue in the garden (just like in our house in Bali), the landlord’s dates co-incided almost to the day with ours. John asked what I thought of the energy of the house, it being so old and possibly filled with the ghosts of owners past. I told him that I already had my sage sticks at the ready.

Bali really has affected me.

Yesterday I went to the Curzon Soho, my favourite place in London, probably one of my all time favourite hangouts, though I have to admit that now they’ve got rid of the bakery concession Konditor and Cook, I’m less enamoured. Sitting in the dark, popcorn on my knee, wine in my hand, movie rolling, I leaned over to my friend, gripped his arm and, close to tears, whispered; ‘I’m just so happy.’ (We watched Birdman which was great).

I’ve scoured Time Out and circled all the things I want to do and then some (totally forgetting about all my deadlines). ‘It’s because you’re only here for a finite time,’ my best friend Alby said, ‘so you aren’t putting off doing stuff like everyone else tends to do.’ And I had to agree with him. Concentrated time means you make more effort to soak up places. I’m here for eight months and I intend to make the most of every day.

I’ve booked theatre tickets, gig tickets and movie tickets.

But I’ve also booked a ticket to LA in March.

I am going to die in leopard print shoes.

The rasta on the London-Bristol bus who molested me when I was 21 and then grabbed my palm and told me I was going to die aged 62 in a car crash got his dates confused thanks to all the weed he’d just smoked in the piss pot cubicle that passed for a National Express toilet. He meant 37.

Don’t look, I tell myself. Better to just close your eyes. If you meet your oblivion in the form of a herd of emaciated cows or a Coca-Cola lorry best do it with eyes shut.

But I can’t. My eyes flash open… just in time to see the driver swerving out of the way of a chundering, belching bus.

Dear god, Jesus Christ… I invoke every Christian saint, archangel and then the whole trifecta of God one more time, before starting on the Hindu deities. But hang on, is it wise to call on Shiva. Is he not the god of destruction? And what about Kali? If I call on them won’t they just want to join the fun and throw in some extra carnage?

Vomit calcifies in my throat. It’s like that Universal Studio Mummy ride I took Alula on by mistake that time that left us both mute and whimpering. Foot to the floor rocket-fuelled acceleration is interspersed with whiplash inducing braking when the driver chickens in his game of chicken with the lorry that says ‘Blow Horn OK’ on its rear end.

Oh god. I have a chokehold lash mark across my sternum and a five-pointed bruise on my leg from where my fingers have been trying to twist off my own kneecap.

I’m usually laissez-faire about death. A your time’s up when time’s up kind of attitude. I’ve lived in Bali for five years where you take your life into your hands every time you get behind the wheel, but now, as the driver weaves his way over the central reservation and into oncoming traffic, my laissez-faire attitude wavers and dies. I want to live!

And I’m going to die.

I start crying. I actually start crying. I think of Alula’s perfect cheeks, her adorable double-jointed limbs. I say a prayer of gratitude for being her mother and then another prayer of thanks that I sent Becky the finished manuscript of my next book just before I left. The publishers won’t need to ask for the advance back from John, which is good as I’ve already spent it.

Then the tears dry and I feel an eruption of rage. At myself mainly to be fair. I am going to die because I’m too damn British and too polite to yell ‘stop the fucking car you utter lunatic and let me out!’

As the driver stamps on the gas, then the brakes, and fires his headlight beam into the faces of oncoming cars as though it’s a magic magna-ray that will whisk other cars into another dimension before they smash into us, I start making Faustian pacts with whatever gods are still listening. A person walking the steps to the guillotine or falling on their tortured kneecaps in front of Tony Soprano has never bargained so hard. Please keep me alive. I have so many more books to write… I want to move to California… I promise I’ll never say fuck again…

… Fuck! Please stop driving in the middle of the road! And that’s the fucking brake, not the clutch you moron! And that big metal thing heading straight at us is a fucking BUS!

Weeping, still weeping, still mute. Though in my head I rage and rage against the dying of the light.

And oh shit. An epiphany of just the wrong sort. My travel insurance just ran out. I junked the email not twelve hours ago. I’m an idiot. And now I’m imagining a tear-streaked John on his knees explaining to a bewildered Alula why he’s popping onto a plane to India to see mummy and what life support is and why it’s too expensive to keep it switched on.

And sob. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. Stop focussing on the road I yell silently at myself. Take out your notebook. Write it all down instead. This inner monologue will drive you insane if the driver doesn’t drive you off the road and into an early grave first.

I know, I know, it looks like all I do is swan around Ubud eating and having massages… but like your Facebook feeds from friends, what you see is a curated version of my life… the reality is I’m awake at 4.30/5am most mornings and that I am working pretty much non-stop until Alula gets home from school. At the moment I have three books to write by June, all under contract. That is approximately 250,000 words.

Lots of people ask me where I get my ideas from when it comes to my books. With my last book – Out of Control – I was inspired by the following random things:

– A story my friend Lauren told me about being 18 and on the subway in New York when the lights cut out. It was a really terrifying story and one that stayed with me and made me want to set a story there.

– An acquaintance coming up to me at a party and telling me that I ‘had to write a book about human trafficking.’ I dismissed the idea outright because a) I hate people telling me what I should write about (if you were a dentist I wouldn’t tell you what teeth to drill, if you were a cook I wouldn’t tell you what to bake, if you were a teacher I wouldn’t tell you what to teach…) b) I didn’t think I had the knowledge to write about the subject.

– Ryan Gosling (because he pretty much influences all my book heroes). But really I loved the character he played in Drive and so I decided to make my male character a car thief / getaway driver.

– Terminator – This movie was one of my favourite movies as a teenager. I love it. I had to put a homage to it in my book and the opening scene, set in a police station that gets hit up by two gunmen, is that homage.

The book I wrote, inspired by all these things became Out of Control. Here’s the blurb:

When 17 year old Liva witnesses a brutal murder she’s taken into police custody for her own protection. But when the police station is attacked and bullets start flying it becomes clear that Liva is not just a witness, she’s a target.

Together with a car thief called Jay, Liva manages to escape the massacre but now the two of them are alone in New York, trying to outrun and outwit two killers who will stop at nothing to find them.

When you live on the edge, there’s a long way to fall

Why am I telling you this?

Because it’s the KINDLE DAILY DEAL today and only 99p and you

should totally buy it and tell all your friends (insert smiley face emoticon).

Out of Control cover

I didn’t feel much in the run up to leaving. I think I was in denial. It was easier to just keep moving forward and not think about what we were leaving behind, but then in the last minutes I wobbled. Watching Alula say goodbye to her best friend was one of the most heart-breaking things I’ve ever seen. But it was also a lesson in how to say goodbye. They giggled and laughed for 45 minutes then did a spit swear that they’d see each other again and then made up a special handshake. Surely that’s the way to do it?

In the car on the way to the airport I felt like I was in a particularly vivid dream slash nightmare, my brain struggling to compute, throwing out an increasingly panicked litany of thoughts. This the last time you’ll drive this road. This is the last time you’ll see Mount Agung. This is your last Balinese sunset. This is the last time you’ll play car Kamikaze with Komang.

It won’t be the last time I told myself sternly. I will come back, even if just for a holiday.

I won’t miss the drivers. Or the potholes, Alula announced from the back seat. Ever the pragmatist. She seemed to be dealing with leaving a whole lot better than me.

It won’t be until you’re on the plane that you’ll cry, everyone told me.

I got on the plane. I sat in my seat, heart pounding thanks to the litres of adrenaline that have been flooding my system for the last four days as the future started to collide with increasing velocity into the present.

And the plane took off and I closed my eyes and I expected to cry but I didn’t. Instead the only thought in my head, clear as a clanging bell, was ‘Yes. This is absolutely the right thing to do.’

And in the deepest part of my belly I felt a flutter of excitement because I knew I’d just thrown open the door to the next adventure.