About six years ago I was sitting on the 7.38 train to London Bridge and I turned to John and said:

‘I’m going to write a blog. What do you think about the title ‘Can we live here?’

He nodded. And so this blog was born.

Back then I think I possibly harboured a tiny hope that maybe one day I might turn it into a book or find a way to monetise it somehow. I mean, people did that back then. Remember Belle du Jour? I wasn’t a call girl but I thought maybe there was some potential, not to become a call girl, but to write a blog.

I was clutching at straws you’ll remember back then, desperate to find a way to make money to help pay for our trip. Still, those straws ended up being life lines. And funnily enough I did follow in Belle du Jour’s footsteps. I do sell sex. Though only on the page. In fact, much to my parents’ embarrassment, I’m rather good at it (I even knocked E L James off the top spot for a time).

PROOF! (Mila Gray is my pen name).

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I guess one thing you can say about me is that I never let that small thing called probability bother me. I never weigh odds (probably because I’m not very good at maths) or think: ‘well, the chances of that happening are zero so why bother?’

I always think ‘why not? If it can happen to other people, why not me?’ (eg. if E L James can become a billionaire after writing that misogynistic pile of rubbish then why the hell can’t I?) and that attitude is the same attitude that saw us quit our jobs, book tickets around the world and the same attitude that saw me write a novel, write nine more and then pen a couple of movies just because it looked like something fun and WAY more lucrative than books.

Why not? is such a great thing to ask. What is the worst that could happen after all? Generally speaking we’re talking two things: You could be rejected or you could die. Now let’s think about those two things.

I’ve been rejected plenty in my life. Firstly by a boy I really liked when I was 14. Then there was the time I was fired from my customer service job at Accenture for telling a secretary who was above me in the pecking order to unjam the printer her own damn self. I was also rejected by nine agents and eleven publishing houses -all of whom turned down Hunting Lila before it was picked up by Simon & Schuster. I don’t like to smile smugly and say ‘hah, betcha regret that one’ but… no, I am smiling smugly).

Rejection makes you stronger. It can also help steer you down a more helpful path. I met a much nicer boy in the end. Me in customer service… ahahahahahaha. Being fired from Accenture made me realise I never wanted to work for a bunch of wanker bankers or management consultants ever again and gave me the push I needed to start working in the voluntary sector.

I’ve come close to death too – thank you dengue mosquito and tuktuk drivers all over India. But look at all that has happened! It’s nothing short of miraculous. I have to pinch myself most days that it’s all real.

Today marks my tenth book birthday. Ten books in five years! Not only is Can We Live Here published today (you can buy your copy HERE!) but so is my second Mila Gray book ‘This Is One Moment’.

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For a chance to WIN signed copies of both head over to my author website.

I’m on BBC Breakfast tomorrow so look out for me swearing on that (or rather, don’t), and will also be on Claudia Winkleman’s BBC Radio 2 Arts Show this coming week talking all about the book and our travels.

And if you’ve been with me since the beginning – those panicked, early days when I still worked in the voluntary sector and had no clue how I was going to make a living – then thank you for still being here, reading my story.

Oh, and if you are in London, I’m doing a signing and Q&A at Stanfords next Thursday, August 13th. Do come along and heckle or… just say hi. You can book tickets here.

 

I’m going to be on BBC Breakfast on Friday morning. I have spent the last three weeks on a crash diet because I don’t want to find out that the adage about the camera adding ten pounds is true after the event, when I walk off set and switch on my phone to find a dozen messages from friends telling me how well I looked or asking how far along I am.

Also I’m on a ‘how not to swear on live TV’ crash course. This basically involves me whacking myself in the head every time I swear, which means I now have concussion.

I’m worried I’m going to drop an F bomb on prime time TV and am panicking so much I’m now also worrying that I’ll be so scared of opening my mouth and a fuck coming out that instead I’ll just freeze and stare into the camera like it’s Donald Trump, with a mixture of mute terror and nose-wrinkling loathing.

John and Alula have been trying for years to get me to clean up my act when it comes to my potty mouth, especially in the car. I just can’t help myself though. They once introduced fines. It didn’t work. I ended up hundreds of pounds worse off and swearing even more in annoyance at this fact. Perhaps I need to rig myself up to an electric shocker, like the one they use to train rats, and it can fire ten thousand volts through me every time a swear word passes my lips.

I’m also worried about what to wear and the following questions rattle around my head in an endless loop:

– what if my skirt rides up on national TV?

– what if I flash my knickers?

– what if I forget to wear knickers and unwittingly pull a Sharon Stone (actually that might be quite good for publicity and book sales…or perhaps not…)

– maybe I should wear trousers? (If I do end up wearing trousers you can smile at the screen and nod to yourself because you know this fear has won out).

– where do I look? Into the camera or at the interviewer?

– what are the chances my mum will phone up straight after and tell me I need a hair cut?

– should I get a hair cut?

– what if I forget to turn off my phone?

– Venus is retrograde I shouldn’t get a haircut.

– what if I trip over the camera cable on the way into the studio and stagger, arms pedalling madly in the air like a drowning person, before falling over face first like I did when I was 9 in a stage adaptation of The Hobbit, only this time not in front of an audience of 300 but ON LIVE TV in front of an audience of MILLIONS?

– what if people from my past, like ex-boyfriends, see me?

– what if ex-boyfriends see me and think ‘god, what happened to her? What is she wearing?’

– what if I swear?

Honestly, it’s so stressful. How do celebrities do it every day? And then I realise I haven’t even started worrying about what I’m actually going to say. Oh god.

I feel as if I’m paralytically drunk and standing on the deck of a storm-tossed boat while someone stabs an acid-tipped skewer into my ear. I have a sinus infection which has spread to my inner ear and I want to place my head in the freezer, curl in a ball and try not to puke while waiting for the antibiotics I’ve been given (thank you NHS) to work their magic.

But I can’t because I have to go to Alula’s ‘Recorder Assembly.’

One of my most vivid memories is from when I was about 8. I was sitting cross-legged in the assembly hall at my primary school, wearing my lovely Brown & Gold uniform, listening to the year below give their recorder recital. I stuck my fingers in my ears for respite from the screeching and a teacher came barrelling along the row and dragged my fingers out of my ears, scolding me for being rude. The mortification has stayed with me these thirty years past, as has my hatred of recorders.

Bravely I manage to drive to school where I meet Alula outside the gates. She’s stayed the night at her granny’s and she now glares death rays at me. I forgot to pack her white socks in her overnight bag. So sue me, I think to myself wearily.

‘I searched your drawers and couldn’t find any of the white ones,’ I tell her, holding up another pair. ‘I’ve got these ones instead.’

‘They’re black,’ she says. ‘I have to wear white socks.’

‘They’ll have to do,’ I say wanly, the world starting to spin.

‘I can’t wear those,’ Alula says, tears welling.

Just then a girl from her class walks past. ‘You know, you have to wear white socks with summer uniform,’ she informs us with a smart-ass smile.

‘Oh, really? Thanks for that. We didn’t know. That’s really helpful,’ I hiss in her direction.

The girl blinks at me, clearly suspicious that I’m not in earnest but also clearly not quite up to speed with that little thing called sarcasm. She backs away frowning and I turn to Alula. ‘Go sockless then,’ I say. I have no fight in me. I’m about to fall over.

Granny saves the day by running into the school office and snagging some white socks out of lost property. Sighing with relief as Alula heads to class I hobble into the hall and take a seat, wishing I could rest my head between my legs for a while to stop the world from crashing off its axis.

The children file into the hall. I glance up and see half a dozen children entering behind with violins. Oh dear god no.

What follows is like a torture scene from a CIA black prison. The violinists perform solos one after the other. And let me just say not one of them is Vanessa Mae. Not even close.

It feels that with each scrape across strings the bow is being violently shoved through my pus-filled ear drum, is spearing through my brain and is being forced out the other ear. Repeatedly. When will it be over? Seemingly never. Child after child takes the stage and the screeching crescendos, almost bringing me to tears.

Why do they let children learn this instrument of torture? Why not the piano? Or the Triangle? I day dream about that room I heard mention of that some scientists have created where no sound can penetrate. Apparently any longer than a few minutes inside and you’re driven to madness. Well, I’d take that over this any day of the week.

I think back to being eight and wonder if I can stick my fingers in my (pus-filled) ears. But I can’t. I’m among other parents. These are their little darlings murdering these tunes, trying to wrestle music from these instruments in attempts as futile as trying to milk a chicken. I can’t stick my fingers in my ears. I must smile and clap and try not to vomit over them, though I kind of feel like a bit of vomit might be justifiable.

At Green School during ‘shows’ all the other parents would turn up to watch with their bottles of green juice and I’d bring my water bottle filled with wine, which would invariably get passed up and down my line of friends as the evening progressed. I have to wipe away a tear at the memory. Those were the days. Also at Green School it was really easy to sneak out the back when no one was looking (except Alula was ALWAYS looking and I got rumbled every time).

I lean over to Granny. ‘When will this be over?’ I manage to ask, a little bit of sick hiccupping into my mouth.

She shakes her head. Her smile seems almost as frozen as mine.

After ten minutes waiting for the CD Rom to load (a CD Rom? – Isn’t that something from the 1800s?) the recorders stand to perform, Alula among them.

After four false starts I get the giggles and have to cover my face while other parents scowl at me. The recorders start up a fifth time, though at different times and playing different tunes. The music teacher seems too harassed to care any more and just lets them massacre their way through it, all of them ignoring her attempts to keep time. The kids seem to find it as funny as I do.

It is finally over. But no, it isn’t. The recorders are asked to play while everyone leaves the hall. It could have been worse, I suppose. It could have been the violins.

‘Well done,’ I say to Alula after, ‘you were marvellous.’

‘How was it?’ the head teacher asks my mother-in-law, as we hurry out the hall.

‘A for effort,’ she calls over her shoulder.

 

 

 

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).

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(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!

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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.