Now, I’m a writer who likes to use their personal experiences, as well as nabbing those from some of my nearest and dearest, to influence their writing.  And seeing as it’s been a ridiculously hot week, I thought I’d reminisce about my family holidays to Spain.  We weren’t the sort of family to frequent the cinema, go bowling, spend the day at a theme park, and other such places I purposely try to avoid now that I’m an adult, those family-friendly past-times just weren’t something the Scotts engaged in.  When deciding to have my own little bundles of joy, I didn’t consider that I’d have to visit such torturous places and do so with a big fake grin on my face.  Put it this way, I feel sick pushing my four-year-old on the swing, let alone going on some mountainous roller coaster that decides to take you backwards halfway through.  Suffice to say, I forget the no-cursing rule on these particular trips and just pray to God I don’t run into any of the kiddywinks from my class.

Anyway, we didn’t go on such family outings when I was younger because my dad felt the exact same way about them as I do now, and, unlike me, didn’t feel it necessary to indulge in our childhood wants.  Excitement was a trip down the pub or to the local swimming pool.  Not that I’m complaining about my childhood, for in all fairness, it was pretty awesome.  With the New Forest on our doorstep and an annual trip to Spain, I couldn’t complain.  Not only that, but I also went to primary school in the eighties, when children were supposed to learn through a magical osmosis of knowledge; that is we were surrounded by books, told to write a story about what we liked, and followed a maths book scheme that had a nice answer booklet for the teacher.  What need did I have for grammar when we had good ol’ Biff, Chip, and Kipper to keep me going?  Those bad boys are still knocking about in case you wanted to know.  Given the fact my daughter is expected to know what a subordinate clause is, as well as be able to tell you what a frontal adverbial is, I would say we got off lightly.

So, Spain!  Every year, about one week before the summer holidays were due to commence, my sister and I were taken out of school so the parentals could save on cheaper flights, and we could avoid the torture of ‘Sport’s Day’.  Back then, it wasn’t all about ‘taking part’, it was a chance for the cool kids to show off their athletic talents and the rest of us to sit in a makeshift holding-pen in the peak-day sun, where we would die a slow death of heatstroke and boredom.  The bastard of an event seemed to take all afternoon and I swear I only participated in one race.  Not one for competitive sports, I would more than likely linger at the back where I would be called a whole host of unscrupulous names that were meant to cause me to question my very existence. To which the teachers would give a half-hearted ‘shush’ because they were too busy chatting. I can’t blame them; at this point of the year, they were officially on count-down.  Fortunately, I only ever took part in one or two of these ‘sporting’ events because the parentals usually did me a solid and pulled me out to go on holiday.

The package holiday hadn’t yet conquered the market at this point, so we were considered even smugger because we would rent a private villa every year.  Most of the time, they came with a private pool and a secluded spot to avoid the crowds along the Playa.  Car hire came in the form of a Mini Moke, the only one the company owned, and which must have been decades years old.  It had no roof, sides, or much of a boot, and the leather seats practically ripped your skin off in the Mediterranean sun, but hell if it didn’t make our year to have it for two whole weeks.  Driving from the airport was an extreme sport given that Liz and I would be piled high with suitcases, and the wind along the motorway gave everyone an instant face-lift.  But let me tell you, it was the!

Practically every year we’d holiday with another family with whom we had been friends for years.  My father knew their dad through a diving club they belonged to, and their children were of a similar age to Liz and me. Joe and Martin were the same age as us, and Mia was in the middle.  They were sports’ nuts, extremely athletic, and always appeared to be infinitely cooler than us, but somehow it worked.  We were pretty much left to explore the terrain of our locality and, as such, got up to plenty of mischief.  A few examples included playing epic games of ‘Sardines’, body-boarding in waves that bordered on suicidal, releasing stink bombs on crowded beaches to clear a space, and playing British Bulldog with the local Spanish kids.  Times were good.  Liz and I may have come close to drowning once or twice, but all in all, we were rarely in any danger.

Now, being that we visited this seaside town nearly every year for near on a decade or so, we got to know some places.  Here are a few still in memory:

1.Nudey beach

Yes, you read right; the local naturist beach where the majority of sunbathers were often out in the peak-day sun, roasting their unmentionables for all to see.  I can clearly recall traipsing along the shoreline (because my family always had to find a good hideaway spot that is miles away), carrying towels, mats, and iceboxes, with an interesting view of dongs, ball-sacks, boobs, and hairy moos in the background.  As a kid, I found it odd, but invariably shrugged my shoulders and took it in my stride.  Each to their own; even the guy who was lying on his side with his nuts squished between his legs.  That’s an image I’ve never been able to shake.

The other bonus of this beach was the fact that you had to drive around a single-track cliff-top road to get to it.  It was nothing more than dirt and sand, and if an oncoming vehicle came your way you basically had to hold your breath and make the sign of the cross in front of your chest. I’ll admit, you invariably had to check your knickers when this happened, especially in a Mini Moke that had no doors and was about half the size of any other vehicle on the road.

2.Old town Mojacar

In contrast to Nudey beach, I cannot jest about this place because it is a truly beautiful location.  Sitting on top of a hill behind the Playa, this is where the main village was originally situated and where the traditional side of the fishing village still exists.  It contains a mixture of quaint shops, restaurants, cafes, and markets, as well as an amazing view over the Spanish landscape below.  Many tourists gather to take photographs of the setting sun that sinks beneath the mountainous horizon.  Tapas is served in the local bars and Spanish Flamenco dolls are sold in tourist shops.  You will need to be able to exercise your holiday Spanish, for English is rarely spoken.  I remember buying many an unusual trinket in this quaint Spanish village but would recommend it purely for the experience and beauty alone.

3.El Cids beach bar

The Playa consisted of one long strip of beach bars, with a few restaurants and nightclubs interspersed between them.  Some were more popular than others, but there was little doubt as to which one was considered the best amongst both the tourists and the locals.  It was a bar that managed to attract the young and trendy but also families and old guys who sat on their personal stools with a pint of Cerveza and a plate of tapas.  Entertainment consisted of a football table, a dartboard, and a hook and a hoop between two of the posts holding the whole place up. Oh, and there was also the whole stretch of beach leading up to the water, that somehow managed to be the best stretch of sand along the playa.  This was where Martin had decided to release his French stink bombs, just after lunch when the place was full of topless women sun-bathing and hairy dudes showing off their tats.  This was the eighties; it was hairiness and handlebar moustaches galore!

4.Poo Beach

Again, yes, you have read correctly. ‘Poo’ beach was not as gross as its name suggests.  In fact, it was only one particularly unfortunate event that led to this poor beach acquiring its nickname. On one of our hikes down to the shoreline, one of our crew happened to step in a steaming pile of human faeces.  That’s right, ladies and gents, someone squatted down on a public beach and pushed out a log for all to step in – charming.  However, this was one of my favourite places as a kid because you literally had to hike down a small mountain to get to the water’s edge.  It was an adventure for us kiddies, like something out of an Enid Blyton book.  However, with parasols, towels, and bottles of beer and Fanta underarm, the adults had a somewhat more treacherous journey, and all in a pair of flip-flops and a string bikini.  That’s dedication for you.

The water flowed in through a narrow channel of cliff faces which meant the waves were fun without having the danger of drowning because you had got yourself trapped in a washing machine of water.  That delight had once happened at El Cids, whereby we ignored the red flag and got caught in a series of tsunami-like waves that dragged you to the bottom, threw you back up, only to drag you down again.  My mother terrified the local children with her cacophony of effs and jeffs after she managed to escape this ordeal and vowed never to set foot in the ocean again. The only unfortunate side to ‘Poo Beach’, apart from being called ‘Poo Beach’, was it was full of brown seaweed, whose aim in life was to try and get lodged inside any orifice it could find. To be fair, we only went to the beach once or twice a holiday, and I completely understand if I haven’t managed to sell it to you.

5.The Shack

On the way to Nudey beach, there was literally a shack of a restaurant that consisted of a mobile bar, a structure made from driftwood, and an old white sheet that had seen better days perched over the top of it.  It’s not the type of place you would think of frequenting, yet for some reason we did.  This place made the best paella in all of Mojacar, hands down!  And for the grown-ups amongst us, the owner always rewarded them with a free shot (which was actually quite a lot more than a shot’s worth) of liquor.  If you had attempted to speak Spanish, you’d be rewarded with one or two extra shots on top of that.  It just goes to show you, never judge a book by its cover.

The journey home would normally consist of my dad panicking about making the flight (we are invariably late for everything). I remember being sat at the side of the Departure’s Lounge with some Spaniards, feeling hot and bothered while the mad Englishman marched up and down the airport, turning the air blue with his potty mouth. My sister and mother walked casually behind him, rolling their eyes as they followed his theatrical rendition of a nutjob. He came up to me and started barking instructions with his face covered in sweat and his language still being ‘colourful’ to say the least. The people around me watched on in fascination and when he finally left to go and give some poor security guard hell for whatever reason, they turned and looked for what appeared to be some sort of further explanation. Being only ten years old, I merely shrugged my shoulders with a look of complete bewilderment and muttered, ‘no se’ (I don’t know). I was given a sympathetic nod of my head and left to try and remain hidden behind our luggage. God, I miss those days!

And the good news, it’s all still there!  My family returned there a few years ago, before Covid invaded, to visit my parents who now own a villa out there.  Even though it’s not the same as when you are a child, like Christmas, it is still one of the best holiday destinations to visit.

Happy summer holidays, everyone!

Let’s talk heroes and heroines, from a reader’s perspective.  After all, this is where I started: reading and lots of it! I learnt a long time ago that literature is subjective and not everyone is going to think the same as you. It’s both a little frustrating but also pretty fantastic. I would love to have people arguing over my work, it would make me feel like I’ve made it – ha! Writing essays at school, college and university could literally make me tear my hair out with irritation because if your tutor didn’t agree with you, those bastards had the power to mark you harshly.  Not to mention you had to study what they liked so you were already at a disadvantage if you didn’t feel the same passion that they did. My apologies to all you budding poets out there, but I’m not an overly big fan. I enjoy a bit of Ogden Nash, some Lewis Carroll and Shakespeare, but I’m otherwise indifferent to it.

Let me go off a tangent for a moment, Lewis Carroll will forever bring up bitter memories of being sat in a Year 9 English lesson that was reserved for reading a book from home for the full hour (code for, ‘what an easy lesson without the need for planning!’) Anyway, bitchiness aside (for now), I was reading Lewis Caroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, a text my mother had to study for her English degree because of its use of similes, metaphors, old-English language and the fact that its nonsensical and fanciful style has been influential to many writers for decades. I was most definitely the odd one out when I looked all around me to see teeny-bopper books designed to entice adolescents of my age, but no one seemed to take much notice.  That is until Miss Whatever-Her-Name-Was came up and announced to the entire class that my book was far too young for me, and should I not be reading something a little more advanced?! Now, I remained quiet during this humiliating showdown from a woman who had obviously never read anything beyond a Mills and Boon, but inside I was calling her a whole host of names.  Ladies and gents, I still think about all the witty things I should have said to her, but I won’t bore you or wind myself up by listing them out. However, it’s fairly safe to say I am still bitter about it.

And breathe…

Back to the subject at hand, my stance on heroes and heroines.  To put it bluntly, my main characters need to be flawed. Otherwise, what’s the bloody point?  I’ve read books whereby the protagonist acts the way we would all like to think we would when faced with angst, drama, stupid English teachers who have never read Lewis Caroll before, and if that’s what people like, then good for them.  I probably like things many people hate.  However, I’m not someone who likes to read about perfect people. Probably because I am flawed, the people I know and love are flawed, and, to me, that’s what makes them interesting. The term, ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ can sometimes be misleading as it implies they are perfect. I don’t try to make my main characters perfect; I use experience and influences from other pieces of fiction to help develop their stories.  Again, some people enjoy this about my writing, others are frustrated by it, but it is how I work and what I enjoy writing about.

Let’s think about the hero for a moment or two. My first two releases included the enemies-to-lovers trope, which means the guy had the potential to behave like a bit of a douche. He had his reasons, his influences, but ultimately, he begins with a less than loveable personality towards the heroine.  So many people have said they didn’t know how I was going to turn Bowie’s character around because he was a complete arse to Amelia.  Guess what? He was based on a real-life person from my school days.  Again, he had his reasons, and at fifteen most teenagers act like a bit of twit, blowing rationality and all of their previously learnt social skills to shit, but in the end, they need to grow out of it or face a lifetime of people calling them a *!£$ behind their back.  I’ve since seen the boy who made me feel inadequate for a good year or two and he’s now a really nice bloke.  You live, you dick about, you grow, you learn.  What I don’t agree with, personally, is glamorising semi-abusive characters, whether it be mentally or physically, sometimes both.  I’ve seen this and the results are not pretty. Not to mention that if this is the new ideal for poor boys, they are not going to know what the hell to do when it comes to seduction because they’re either being told to respect women and not use sexist comments (a big issue in UK education at the moment) or being given the dangerous idea that being abusive is attractive.  And you best not be anything other than confident, alpha, or self-assured, otherwise, you are deemed as weak.

Heroines are also under huge pressure to conform to multiple ideals.  You must be strong, be able to follow the best course of action, not be bitchy or slutty, but also not in any way prudish.  Virgins are considered weak and if you don’t come out fighting after something traumatic has happened, then you are deemed as ‘stupid’, ‘unlovable’, and a poor character.  You should also have some ninja skills wrapped under your belt so you can beat the crap out of some beefy dude who most likely weighs three times as much as you.  And maybe some women would be ‘stronger’ in the face of danger, but from my experience, not many would slip on a boob tube and begin ‘hi-yahing’ all and sundry.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and such, I’m just pointing out the fact that it’s not very realistic. After something traumatic, you are more likely to be stuck in a state of irrational, clouded thoughts, just desperately trying to make sense of everything.

However, strength also comes in many guises. That woman who is shy, quiet, and always so affable, might well be living with domestic abuse, coercive abuse, or trying to get over some trauma you have absolutely no idea about because she keeps it so well hidden.  The girl with the nervous laugh who avoids confrontation might be living with a parent who frequently forces her into confrontation whether she wants to avoid it or not.  The girl who says nothing when someone is a douche to her might be living with depression and anxiety and just wants to avoid any more stress by keeping quiet. She might have been up all night worrying about things out of her control, performing rituals because she believes it will keep her family safe. So, yes, my heroines aren’t often on attack mode and sometimes they do not react the way you think they should, but there will be valid reasons for their behaviour. In the end, they show their true strength, just not in an action movie way.

The miscommunication between heroes and heroines, the back and forth, and general bickering between couples is also a source of frustration for some readers.  Sometimes it can go on for a little too long in works of fiction or can be the only plot in a book, and this can detract from the overall story if not handled properly.  However, if you look at a lot of influential pieces of fiction, Jane Austen for example, some of these issues are very prevalent. Look at Romeo and Juliet, one of the world’s greatest love stories in history, this is very much an example of miscommunication.  If the priest had made a point of going to tell Romeo, ‘Oh, by the by, Jules is going to take a little something to knock her out for a bit, but don’t worry, she’ll still be alive.  Don’t do anything stupid like try and top yourself until you’ve spoken to me about it,’ things would probably have turned out a little differently.  But would it still be worth telling the story? Perhaps.

Also, let’s not brush over the fact that ninety-nine percent of real-life couples suffer from what I like to call, ‘dickish behaviour’. When the husband and I were ‘courting’ back in secondary school, I think our friends wanted to kill us at least once a week.  We were often referred to as the ‘Ross and Rachel’ of the group.  There was no cheating, but we were both ridiculous and running on hormones.  We still bicker and argue about who said what (code for he says something stupid, I remind him, he feigns ignorance over it).  Some of my favourite authors show this aspect of romance to perfection.  Whenever I read a TL Swan book, especially the Stanton series, I’m always up stupidly late so I can get to a point where I know they’ll be ok.  At the end of the day, we all love a bit of drama.  We’ve outgrown the Cinderella ideals whereby the girl meets a handsome-but-with-no-personality prince, with whom she instantly falls in love with and lives happily ever after with.  I’d go so far as to say modern day children’s films now include more conflict between couples – Shrek, Trolls, Frozen.  Top selling franchises, by the way.

So, in conclusion, I wrote this post for several reasons:

  1. A warning that I like to write about flawed characters and try to represent them from real-life experience –I am not a fantasy writer.
  2. I am a review junky – I love to hear people’s differing opinions, even if it’s to moan about one of my characters.  As a reader, I will read reviews and make my own conclusions but find it immensely interesting to see how people react differently to the same novel.
  3. I’m crap at poetry!
  4. I’m not into glamorising abusive behaviour. I’ve seen too much of it to think it is anything other than destructive.
  5. But above all, I was wronged in Year 9 and will forever kick myself for not coming up with some witty retort to my uneducated English teacher!!!  Breathe…

Thanks for reading my waffle everyone!  Do an author a favour and leave an honest review, however brief, or if nothing else, leave a rating.  Cheers!

You can access my current releases using the links below (free on kindle unlimited):

Learning Italian:

Learning Italian eBook: Scott, Taylor K.: Kindle Store

The Darkness Within:

The Darkness Within eBook: Scott, Taylor K.: Kindle Store

One of the reasons I love romance so much is because it can encompass a range of relationships, not just the one between the heroine and hero, hero and hero or heroine and heroine (or multiple if that’s your thing).  I enjoy reading about the connections between parents and children, friends, enemies, siblings, cousins, the list goes on.  Yes, I include a little bit of naughtiness and I enjoy the affection between lovers, but for me, it has to have more than this. And one of the relationships I like to explore is the one between siblings.  Some are close, some are estranged, some are bitter rivals, but, ultimately, when you’ve grown up with someone, particularly if, like me, it was in the middle of nowhere, the relationship you have with that person is bound to affect what type of person you are.  Fortunately for me, I have a good relationship with my sister and bar the odd sibling squabble when we were younger, we have always got on.  So, seeing as it was her birthday recently, I’ve decided to dedicate this blog to my sister, slash chum, slash comrade-in-arms, Liz.

Now, if you’re reading this and you personally know the Scott clan, you’ll agree with me when I say we are a strange tribe of people who have more in common with the Adam’s Family than the Disney type.  We enjoy our personal space, have fiery tempers and think way too deeply about everything.  We enjoy poking fun at ourselves and take rejection to heart, if only to then stubbornly rise out of it and flip the bird to whatever is keeping us down, telling ourselves we’ll show them if it’s the very last thing we do.  We’re also very adept at getting ourselves into whacky situations, including hiding up in our spare bedroom because I had seen a man walking up the lane with a machine gun in his hand.  It was broad daylight, and the guy turned out to be going to a fancy dress party, but I was only seven years old and it looked perfectly authentic to me.  Liz, Jo, me, and even the dog stood on standby with various make-shift weapons from around the house (a pair of nail scissors, a feck off massive roll of paper and a bottle of shampoo).  Mum and Dad were at the pub, completely oblivious to the potential nightmare scene from a thriller movie. 

Anyway, here goes a trip down memory lane:

  1. The horror!

Being children of the eighties, Liz and I weren’t restricted by ‘nanny-state’ restrictions, so it was not unusual for my parent to leave us alone from a young age (for hours, not days).  We could also stay up as late as we liked, so long as we didn’t moan about being tired the next day.  Liz is five years older than me and liked a good horror film when she was entering adolescence.  I was introduced to the world of Stephen King at the tender age of six and, as such, I am now immune to all things horror. I’m more likely to laugh than scream when watching one nowadays, unlike my husband who was literally crawling onto my lap during a showing of ‘IT’.  He was so vocal, I think he was providing more entertainment than the actual film was. 

Back then, however, I would frequently scare the living bejesus out of my mother when I wandered into her room in the middle of the night, having had a nightmare about cannibal clowns, white nightie blowing in the wind and a pasty face coming at her, at the same time as I whimpered, Mummm!’ She would scream, dad would leap out of bed with nothing on, the dog would start barking, all the while the instigator of my nightmares, aka my sister, remained sleeping peacefully in her bed.  However, if nothing else, my early education of all things horror meant I learnt fairly quickly to run the other way in the face of something likely to give me the willies for the foreseeable.  For example, when I drove home from Exeter in the middle of the night and saw a wellington boot and what looked like entrails coming out the top of it.  A normal person might have stopped to investigate, but not me!  I knew that if I got out to be met by some bloody zombie-like creature, one which most likely wanted to eat my brain, they’d still outrun me on only one leg.  So, I’ll give you this one, Liz, your obsession with horror films was marginally useful.

2. Keep your emotions in check!

To demonstrate this particular point, I’m going to give you a little anecdote about my wedding dress shopping experience with Liz, aka, my matron of honour.  Liz, mum and I walked into the bridal boutique with our hands tucked inside our pockets, looking all around in bewilderment and feeling like we were intruders for marching into such a shop.  As we sorted through a multitude of dresses, most of which I could reject based on the size of my chest alone, a woman of the tall, skinny and stunningly beautiful variety wandered out to an audience of what looked like every female she had ever met in her life.  She was wearing what was essentially a giant doily of a dress, but still managed to make it look attractive given that she was tanned and gorgeous.  The chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ from her fanfare immediately grabbed our attention.  She gushed and floated further in front of them before bursting into tears, fanning her face and hugging each and every one of her crew.  Meanwhile, her matron of honour and bridesmaids began crying and calling out, “That’s the one, that’s the one!”  It was quite the show, which left us Scotts looking on with wrinkled foreheads and deep Vs between our brows.

Cue my turn to come out in the dress, which actually turned out to be the ‘one’.  A nice corset back to flatten up the boozwhams and have me looking a lot thinner than I actually was.  Our reaction was somewhat different, but believe me when I say, that for the Scotts, this was a highly emotional scene:

Mum: Ahh, it’s lovely! (Complete with a smile made up of teeth and bunched up shoulders.  This is more Banfield than Scott, but they’re a whole other clan to discuss at a later date.)

Me:  Are you sure?  It’s not too big? (Puts hands over bobs and starts to bounce up and down on the spot, test driving it for all eventualities, such as earthquakes and the aforementioned hobbledy man running after me.)

Liz: (Walks up to the mirror I am standing in front of, arms folded, looks up and down at my reflection, then nods the once).  Yeah, it’s alright.

Me: Job done!

Dad, on the day of the wedding, seeing me for the first time in all my get up: Yer taking up the whole room!

3. Test Driver

Now, I don’t think this one is exclusive to me and Liz.  Being the younger sister, I had to go along with a lot of her ‘brilliant’ ideas, including trying to run away from home with two cartons of orange juice, only to get as far as the back gate and decide it was too much effort, melting the garden furniture with a kid’s chemistry set which clearly stated there was positively no way the contents could cause any damage, and taking part in one of her homemade films.  Over the years I played a cockney wolf, an old lady news presenter with a piercingly high voice, a tribesman, as well as a mad scientist from an animal testing laboratory.  I guess she was going through her political phase back then.  She was a frickin’ evil genius, however, because no matter how crazy the idea, we all did it, including my parents, who, at some point, had to pretend to be part of the Japanese mafia. The best was when she convinced her best friend, Jo, and I to dress up in black bin liners, pretending to be ninja warriors in her own version of an Indiana Jones movie.  We went to a country club dressed up in this plastic finery, where one of the most popular girls in school happened to be there, looking at us as though we were one picnic short of a sandwich. 

But lest we forget the many inventions she came up with, including a go-cart made from a sheet of mdf, an old pram axis and a cardboard box.  As test driver, I had to get inside the cardboard box with a border collie and a golden retriever, while she pulled me along on her bike.  Funnily enough, it didn’t work.  My mother had to put her foot down when, in the face of adversity, she suggested we try it out on the hill on the main road with a 60mph speed limit.  But you know what they say, what doesn’t kill you, makes you crave for those care-free days of the late 1980s.

4. The many ways of saying, ‘You mean something to me,’ without having to actually verbalise it:

This is true of not only me and Liz but also my dad and the Scott extended family.  To be honest, my mother is probably the most emotionally stable one amongst us. Now, I can cuddle and lay affection on my daughters without fear, but the thought of hugging my father or sister is almost paralysing.  It’s not that we don’t care about one another, it’s just weird.  In fact, whenever we have had to do such a thing, there is an unspoken rule that we must make a joke about it and awkwardly pat the other person’s back.  It’s like a man hug – both fascinating and painful to watch.  If we want to offer each other praise by saying, ‘Well done’, and ‘Congratulations’, it has to be said in a weird voice, often with over-exaggerated pronunciation.  Don’t ask me why, it’s just the way it is.  During my father’s wedding speech, he described me as being ‘goodo’, which was high praise indeed.  My husband was told he was, ‘alright, which for most people would sound insulting, but for Dad, this was a positively glowing assessment. 

So, Liz, if you’re reading, I think you’re ‘alright’!  Happy Birthday!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am a master at tearing myself to pieces. Some days I achieve my self-annihilation quicker than others, but all in all, I can guarantee I will have made a mental list of all my failings, flaws and bad choices at least half a dozen times within any twenty-four-hour period.  I don’t need to have beautifully flawless women without an inch of cellulite, wrinkles or excess fat shoved onto my retinas, and yet, images of such are forced on me whenever I put on the TV, look on my phone, go on social media, glance at a magazine or anything else with a hint of a screen having been behind it.  Even beautiful men with bulging muscles and a wicked, shiny smile make me feel truly dire about myself. Such Greek-looking Gods run through my mind pointing at my five-foot something lumpy frame, telling me that not only am I past being desirable, forever changed through doing something so primitive as to have children, but I’m also physically flawed beyond all attraction. 

Fortunately, I have reached an age whereby I am beginning to not give a shit.  I’ve reverted back to feeling like a kid who cares more about comfort than whether or not my derriere looks big in an ugly pair of trousers that are deemed fashionable by some all-encompassing, faceless style guru.  If what I’m wearing gives me the stretch to make chase after my four-year-old with selective hearing and a penchant for flying down skate ramps on her balance bike with no fecks given for all the professional show-offs in her way, then I count it as a win.

However, and here’s the terrifying thing for anyone with young daughters, I can still remember how socially anxious I felt when I was in my teens going all the way through into my early thirties.  I would turn up at parties and feel instantly sick, desperately wanting to run home where I could hide my body because I wasn’t thin enough, pretty enough, made up enough and definitely not fashionable enough.  Sadly, from what I hear, it’s only getting worse for girls. 

Natural instincts have always had men and women wanting to be at their best to attract a mate and to strut their stuff like a peacock.  But what if your best isn’t good enough for society to deem you even remotely attractive?  And what if what is deemed as attractive is constantly changing?  What if being attractive has you injecting yourself with Botox, cutting up your body, or in tragic circumstances, have you developing mental illnesses that you might never be able to shake?

As before, when I blogged about ‘Boys’, I’m going to put a comical spin on this, otherwise, I might end up turning to wine on a school night.  However, let me be absolutely clear when I tell you, I am more than aware of how ‘unfunny’ this subject is.  I’ve lived it, breathed it and turned to the dark side because of it (which mainly consisted of listening to Radiohead on a Saturday night).  If you are currently going through this, feeling like you may as well give up now and get a posse of feline companions, please let me assure you that ninety percent of the images and messages about how to be beautiful are complete and utter dog turd. 

And as for what the opposite sex thinks, I’ve had many a conversation with guys of different ages and I can almost guarantee that a decent one won’t know if you’ve had your jawline injected to look more defined, nor will they know if you’re wearing a particular brand of clothing and are more likely to embrace your curves rather than judge them.  I can also tell you that most people aren’t looking at you to pick out your flaws, for they’ll be too busy feeling shit about their own.  I can look at my face and notice the fine laughter lines forming around my eyes, my hair which resembles a lion’s mane on a good day, and the rollops of excess bulge, but I never, ever look at my friends and spot their flaws. To me, they look just like they always have.  But that’s how marketing works. It targets what you’ve been looking at on search engines, then bombards you with images designed to make you want to pay and do whatever it takes to make yourself feel that little bit better. Mainly, buy a load of crap they’re trying to spin as the next beauty essential.

Anyway, here goes my version of someone trying to teach young, impressionable, girls how to be considered ‘beautiful’:

Ms Influencer: Good morning, ladies, welcome to Ms Influencer’s guide to being desirable in today’s society, including to other women, as well as men.  Men who you will no doubt conjure up inside your head as being just as immaculate as the women you see everyday images.  That’s right, ladies, every other person out there is flawless apart from you.  Nobody else has doubts, lines, weight issues, fears or social anxieties, just you.

Alice: Wait, my friends all moan about what they look like, so it’s not just me.

Ms Influencer: Ah, but they’re just telling you fibs to try and make you feel better, dear. Behind closed doors, they’re all secretly judging you. Now, moving on, let’s talk about weight.  I don’t think I need to tell any of you that you’re all overweight.  Might I suggest getting some good old heartbreak? Nothing quells your hunger like stress and feelings of worthlessness!

Alice: I’ve got a healthy BMI, surely that’s ok?

Ms Influencer: Maybe for your GP, but if you’re not smaller than all the other girls, including those models in the magazines, you’re not skinny enough.

Alice: Yeah, but aren’t they all airbrushed?

Ms Influencer: You still want to look like them though, ay?

(Alice slumps onto her desk because she has to admit she does.  Unbeknownst to her but the actual model who posed for those photographs wishes she looked like that in real life too.)

Ms Influencer: Right, well, the face!  Fashion is forever changing in this area but we’re wanting to go for a natural look that takes hours of makeup application but must appear to be like you’ve just woken up like that-

(Ms Influencer is interrupted by a message beeping through on her phone. She takes a moment to read it and puts up her hand in a stop sign.)

No, sorry, scrap what I just said.  The new look is ‘fake, fake, fake’, the more obvious the better.  Hair extensions, lip plumpers, lashes, boobs, the lot!

Staci:  Eyebrows?

Ms Influencer: Oh, yes, excellent point, Staci. Get them plucked off, then buy a shed load of product to pencil them all in again.  Remember, cosmetic companies want your money and are coming up with new ways to sell you shit no one really needs!  Course, you could always go down the route of microblading whereby they literally cut into your skin and use a needle to add a semi-permanent ink.  Very painful, very expensive and will also need replacing a few months down the line. I give it a big thumbs up!

Alice: What about boobs?

Ms Influencer: Another good point!  Bigger boobs have always been preferable but only if they’re fake so clothes can remain upright without the need for underwire.  And I’ve also heard the latest trend is to have a huge, but fat-free arse.  Be warned though, you are not allowed a hint of cellulite. This means unless you get surgical implants to achieve such a mountainous booty, you need to get to those surgeons and give them your money!

Alice: My boyfriend says he likes natural tits, an average-sized bottom and normal-sized lips.

Ms Influencer: Your boyfriend’s opinion should be no higher than third on your list, well below how many likes are given on your social media account and how society compares you to other women on reality TV shows.

Staci:  Speaking of, I’m set to ace my GCSEs. Should I make this known or act stupid?

Ms Influencer: Well, that all depends.  If you want to aspire to be a reality TV star, you should really be concentrating on what you look like and definitely act stupid.  No one wants to listen to you talking about scientific theories or the literary devices of famous poets.  All they really want to know is who you’re sleeping with, how many people you’ve slept with and who you’re cheating with.  Those people on TV are the ones making millions while you’re overworked doctor and dejected teacher are barely making enough to get onto the property ladder.  If you’re really lucky you can go on one of those shows where you run around naked and sleep with copious amounts of men who only see you as a pair of tits and a vagina, then talk crap about you behind your back to the entire nation.  Or you can go on a show where you bare your uglies and wait in the hopes that some other weirdo picks you out based on your nether regions.

Alice: Sounds appealing!

Ms Influencer: I know, right?

Staci:  While we’re on the topic of sex, should I be considered promiscuous or virginal?

Ms Influencer:  This is a hard question, girls, one which has been around since the beginning of time.  Even poor old Eve got judged for being naked in the garden of Eden.  You should appear to be sexy, throw your body about like you’re imitating the act, wear next to nothing, but also appear modest.  You must give the impression you are sexually open but maintain your virginity until you meet that one special boy (who, by the way, must have slept with at least a dozen girls before meeting you).  When you finally gift him with your virtue you must enjoy every second of it, moan and sigh like you’re eating forbidden chocolate for the very first time and ignore the inevitable pain and awkwardness of what is essentially an alien invasion inside of your nether regions.

Alice: But I’ve already slept with a few boys and I kind of liked it.  It was liberating and I don’t see why I should have to hold back if boys are expected to put ‘it’ about.

Ms Influencer: Slut!

Staci: I’m not sure I even want to do it yet, boyfriend or not!

Ms Influencer: Frigid!

Alice: So, you’re saying we should focus on our looks, which will never be good enough, lose weight, even though we should be embracing our curves, be seen to be sexually enlightened but not in practice, use corrective surgery to try and perfect ourselves according to today’s fashion, even though it could well change overnight, and aspire to be a reality TV star?

Ms Influencer: Precisely!  And don’t forget to head on over to the nearest cosmetic counter and spend, spend, spend!  Debt is something to worry about when you’re older.

Staci: But what about when we’re considered too old for such things?  Won’t we need something to fall back on? And won’t surgical procedures eventually cause irreversible changes to our bodies?

Ms Influencer: Oh, dear, you don’t need to worry about that.  By the time you’re thirty, you’ll be past it, so you won’t care. Neither will society!

Staci: Wait, aren’t you over thirty?  You don’t look like you’ve had a lick of surgery and from your suit and bags of money hanging from your armpits, I would say you’ve had to use your brain to get to where you are today.

Ms Influencer: Don’t do as I do, ladies, do as I say! 

(Ms Influencer takes to her leave to return to her multi-million pound company, selling crap no one really needs by convincing people they are ugly and worthless without it.)

I get I’ve been on my soapbox for this post but as a mum of two girls, one who is only nine and already worrying about the fact she doesn’t look good enough, it truly terrifies me that they’re going to be entering this superficial, ‘you will never be enough’, society.  Schools are constantly being told to educate children to accept who they are and to rate themselves higher than a stagnant turd, however, with everything else, which is deemed as being ‘cool’, telling you otherwise, it’s a hard task.  I won’t stop trying, though.  Just know that one day, when you’re past the peacock stage, you can hopefully give toxic advertising and marketing the finger.

‘The Darkness Within’ is due out soon! Find out more by following me on:

This week coming I’m due to post my ‘Thoughtful Thursday’ question asking whether you would give someone a second chance after a bad first date.  Like I’ve said before I don’t have a whole lot of experience in the area of dating, but I can think of at least one occasion where I wanted to hightail it out of there, but to make this more enjoyable for your reading pleasure I’ve also borrowed a few.  Before I share them with you, I want to stress that I have not exaggerated any of these anecdotes.  Unfortunately, they are very much what happened to the poor individuals involved.  Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and gives you good tales to tell down the pub over a packet of Walkers and a glass of something alcoholic!

Freak number one – “I have no personality!”

I feel I have to make a few admissions before I begin this tale for one might question as to why I agreed to go on such a date in the first place.  Firstly, I had been on Sambucca when I met this tall, older Canadian guy, and as we all know this is a drunken mistake kind of a drink.  Secondly, I was with a couple of ridiculous university friends who were always up for a good giggle.  And finally, I was down Exeter way, where the marine naval base in Exmouth was but a hop, skip and jump away, so most of the gentlemen folk out this evening were, in fact, marines.  And who doesn’t like a hunky, chunky almond in uniform? Alas, I must have had some serious Sambucca goggles on, which I’ll have you know are somewhat different to the more commonly known ‘beer goggles’.  Unlike ‘beer goggles’ which has you seeing Mr Rich Tea as Mr Belgium chocolate cheesecake, ‘Sambucca goggles’ has you imagining Mr Bean is someone with the charm and personality of Chris Hemsworth.  Personally, I feel they are much more dangerous.  I’ll tell you why through my recount of the coffee date I had with him the very next day.

It was a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon when I drove my little, grey Renault 5 (still the best car-albeit unreliable-I’ve ever owned) into the city.  I parked up and nervously ambled up to the pre-arranged café, counted to ten, and walked inside.  Things were looking good for not only had he a) shown up, but b) he looked pretty much how I remembered him (I don’t drink beer).  We waved, exchanged awkward smiles, then sat down.  He ordered coffee, I had tea, and that’s about as interesting as this date got.  An example of our conversation:

“So, you’re from Canada,” I smiled with too many teeth and an aching mouth because I had already worked out this was going to be hard work, “what’s it like there?”

“Er…pretty much how it is here,” he laughed breathily, then sipped on his coffee. I waited for him to elaborate, to perhaps continue talking after he had drunk his coffee, but no.  That was the extent to which he was going to talk to me about his home country.  And did he ask me something in return?  Again, no, he did not.  It’s fine Taylor, you’re a waffler, you can bullshit your way through this.

“And the marines?  What’s that like?  Do you enjoy it?” I asked with lots of enthusiasm and hope in my voice.

“Er…yeah,” he replied, by which point my enthusiasm was fast depleting.

“Ok, then.  What do you like to do when you’re not ‘marining’, you know, in your spare time?”  I was now eyeing up a fork in the cutlery pot and beginning to contemplate if I would feel any pain if I stabbed it in my eye repeatedly, or if GI Bean here might react with something other than saying, “Er…”

“Er…swimming?” That was it!  I shit you not!  Somehow this most boring man had found a way to answer an open-ended question with just one word.  I wasn’t even sure if I was supposed to confirm he liked swimming but by this point, I was now grabbing hold of my bag and making an excuse to use the ladies.

“Great! I just need to go and use the toilet.  Be right back!”


Oh, feck me!  I have never wanted to escape mid-date more than I did during this train wreck.

Once inside the Safe Haven of the ladies’ loos, I reached inside my bag for my phone and subsequently began dialling my hilarious friend, Lizzie.  While waiting for her to pick up and give me answers as to how to get out of this, I began wondering how the hell I did not manage to pick up on the fact that this man had no personality the night before?  Seriously, it was like pulling teeth but less interesting.  It was left to me to ask him questions, the totally mind-numbing shit you fall back on when on a date, and even then, I got nothing but a guttural moan from the back of his throat.

“So, how’s it going?” I heard her giggle, no doubt realising that my calling after only ten minutes of meeting him, was not going to be in any way positive.

“Lizzie, oh my God, what do I do?  This man is so boring I’ve almost fallen asleep twice!”  I was met with hysterical laughter, which went on continuously for no less than two minutes.  After which, she asked if there was a window I could escape through. And yes, I did look around for one because I was that desperate.  Alas, there was only a small postage sized affair on the back wall, one which wouldn’t even fit my hand through let alone my considerable boobage.  So, taking in three, deep, Christ-do-I-really-need-to-go-out-there-again breaths, I dived back in for yet more “Er…” responses.

In the end, it got so bad I made up some excuse about going to see a farmer, being hung over and needing to buy some cabbage, before hightailing it out of there.  As you can tell, my lying skills leave a lot to be desired.  That evening, I considered the fact that maybe he just wasn’t interested and had made the date as awful as possible just to put me off. But imagine my surprise when I got a text the following day asking me for another one.  Hmmmm, no.

Freak number 2 – “I’m in way over my head!”

So, this story isn’t actually mine, though was rather hilarious. When I was eleven, living in our family home in the middle of the woods, my sixteen-year-old sister, Liz, was asked out by a guy from…well, actually I can’t recall where they met but they did, and she reluctantly agreed to go on a date with him.  I say reluctantly because she was much too mature for him and wasn’t overly keen.  Still, she went for the experience. 

Now Liz was used to hanging out with a crowd of older people down our local boozer, those who also socialised with my parents.  All in all, this poor nineteen-year-old boy, let’s call him Steve, had no chance and probably should have given her a wide birth.  My parents were liberal enough, but she was still going through a rather rebellious stage. She wore make-up which made her look like a twenty-year-old, pelmets, and low-cut tops with a set of boobs which rivalled those of page three model.  He must have thought his luck was in.  Alas, it was more like his doom!

Anyway, the night went on, I went to bed, my parents stayed up watching TV and all was well.  When I woke, there was the sound of someone knocking on our front door, to which my parents got up to answer. They put on their dressing gowns, all the while looking quite concerned over this late-night caller.  Now, my father is not at all thuggish looking, you wouldn’t call him intimidating, but his ability to curse you into submission was enough to make poor Steve quake in his boots.

“What’s going on? where the hell is my daughter?!” Or something to that effect, though probably with a lot more effing and jeffing thrown in for good measure.

“I d-don’t know,” he stuttered while the angry rottweiler before him growled through our front door. “Sh-she left and I c-couldn’t find her!”

Now, I don’t know what was said or how the next ten minutes came about, but I do remember standing at the dining room window, peeking through the curtains, watching with confusion as my father (still only wearing a dressing gown) chased this poor man child up and down our country lane, with the latter yelping out in a girlish cry.  My mother walked calmly behind him, trying to talk him down from committing some heinous crime on dear old Steve.

Eventually, Dad returned inside, leaving my mum having to talk poor Steve out from behind the bushes.

“He’s not going to get me, is he?” the boy flustered whilst Gus, the old, fat horse across the way watched on with obvious amusement. You could tell he was enjoying himself by the frequent nickering coming from his direction.

“No,” Mum said in soothing tones, “I’ll walk you to your car.”

Bless him, I don’t think he quite deserved what he got, and neither did my parents when they had time to think about it.  Liz, who had left him to go to a party with the aforementioned, older friends, was made to apologise, even though she tried to explain it away by arguing, “I warned him not to let me drink! I said I would become a complete bitch!”

Poor Steve! Well, he was poor until the silly bugger asked her out again.  Glutton for punishment Steve! “Oops, I did it again!” will forever be my sister’s anthem during those teenage years.

Freak number 3 – “The Cyndi Lauper fan”

This is quite possibly the most hilarious, real-life, ‘date’ story I have ever heard.  I’ve borrowed this one from my honorary sister, Jo, who took a chance and got a real corker of a story out of it. This is how she explained it:

“I was working for ‘company A’ and my job was to welcome people into the store.  A few employees were coming down from the head office, which was situated a few hours away.  I greeted the man in question pretty much in the same way I had done with everyone else, but apparently, I had caught his eye.  The following day he turned up again, as in he had driven over two hours to come and see me to ask me out on a date. ‘Ahhh,’ I hear you say? Not in real life ladies.  A guy that eager, based on a smile, is someone to be a little cautious of. In fact, the word ‘stalker’ springs to mind.  However, I was young and naïve and couldn’t bring myself to say no, so we went out that evening.  To my surprise, the guy was a perfect gent.

The following week we went out on our second date.  Again, he was the perfect gentleman all through dinner, kept me entertained and didn’t smell (always a deal-breaker, ladies).  Anyway, he drove me back home and we continued chatting in the car for a bit with the radio playing. It was only our second date, and I wasn’t ready for him to come into my home yet, so the time was coming for when I would bid him goodbye and make my way upstairs alone.  That’s when Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Boys Just Want to Have Fun’ came blaring through the speakers.  What a fun tune!  Not anymore, my friends, not anymore!

“I love this song,” he said seductively, “maybe next time we could listen to it up in your flat?”

“Yeah, maybe,” she responded with a soft, nervous laugh, “maybe next time.”

“This could be our song,” he whispered, leaning in closer, “and maybe we could give each other lap dances…wearing your underwear!”

“Wait, what?!” she gasped with a look of utter shock and confusion. He continued staring with a creepy grin before she thrust a finger between him and her, convinced she must have heard him wrong, “As in you and I wearing my underwear?”

“Yeah, why not?” he continued to smile, still thinking this was somehow seductive for my poor friend.

“Because it’s fecking weird!” she spat before exiting the car altogether.

She never saw him again and took about a month to stop having sporadic shudders over the memory of it.  She also can’t listen to Cyndi Lauper without grimacing.  Each to their own but I think some warning might have been appreciated before dropping that suggestion.

Thanks to my sister and my honorary sister for your stories and I sincerely hope our ‘dates’ eventually found their rightful matches. 

Thanks for reading!

When I was young, romantic, and dreaming about Leonardo Di Caprio or Antonio Banderas coming to sweep me off my feet, I would watch gushy films and make-believe I was the main character, only to feel horribly depressed and disappointed with life when it finished. Regardless of what they try to sell you in hearts and rainbows land, attractive, emotionally available men didn’t fop at my feet and casually ring me up to ask me out on a date.  True, I didn’t possess a mobile phone till the old age of eighteen, and I made it a personal law to avoid eye contact with someone I found even remotely attractive. However, the bitter realisation of the fact a tall, handsome, indifferent, but totally in love with me guy wasn’t going to swing by and declare his affections for me was hard to swallow.

I eventually found my happy-ever-after with the hyperactive kid I had met in Year 7.  We’ve been married for over a decade and only want to murder each other perhaps three or four times a week, which I count as a win.  But seriously, for all those young, impressionable girls out there who are fantasising about Thor or maybe Cillian Murphy (whoever floats your boat), this blog is for you. I call it “Romance Novel verses Real Life”.  I feel for you ladies. I’ve lived and breathed those romcoms, which are most likely written by women, and I’m here to tell you it can happen…ish!

Now, being that this is a public blog, I’m going to change the f-word into a more palatable ‘feck’ but know that in both cases, the naughty version is more commonly used. 

Romance Novel (Including films and TV programs)Reality  
“Morning baby,” Jack mumbles softly as he rolls over to wrap his strong, muscled arm around Laura’s waist, laying little kisses over her exposed skin before finally reaching her soft, pouty lips.  They share a rather intimate kiss before he offers her a warm smile. “You look beautiful this morning!” “Thank you, baby,” she giggles, “I think someone’s happy to see me.” “Always with you babe,” he grins wickedly, waggling those sexy brows in a playful dance for her.“Errr,” Jack groans before throwing his gigantic arm over Laura’s body, thus crushing the very air out of her lungs.
“Get your bloody great big arm off of me, I literally cannot breathe!” she grumbles while trying to shove him far away from her. “Plus, your breath is hanging!” “Oh, I thought we could you know…” he mumbles into her neck, all the while trying to hump her leg like an adolescent dog. 
“No!” she laughs hysterically before finally managing to shove his builder body off from hers.
“You’re bloody horrible, you are!” he mutters before sulking off to his side of the bed. “I know, sucks to be married to me doesn’t it!” she grins widely now that she has her side of the bed all to herself.
“You’re so hot right now!” Jack grabs Laura from behind and begins running his hands all over her, inhaling her scent and hissing appreciatively through his teeth. “Baby, I’m trying to cook the dinner,” she giggles as he thrusts his hardness against her back, “you’re distracting me!” “Leave the dinner and let me have you!” She’s spun around to face him where he kisses her so roughly, she can’t even possibly try and stop him.  Dinner is left to burn on the stove while Jack throws her over his shoulder and takes her straight to bed.“You’re so hot right now!” Jack grabs Laura from behind and begins pawing at her IBS inflamed stomach and aching hips from being stood on her feet all day.
“I’m trying to cook the damn dinner here Jack!” she growls at him. “Why the feck is it always when I’m trying to do something you decide to get all handsy?”
“I can’t help it; it must be your pheromones!”
“Yeah, well, those bastards are just trying to trick you into procreating and that is damn well not happening again!”
“Oh, come on! Just a quick…”
“Finish that sentence and I will spit in your food Jack, I mean it, feck off before I lose my shit!”
“Bloody hell! Talk about hormonal!” he mumbles to himself, walking away in a sulk.
“What?!” she growls towards his retreating back. “Nothing!” he sing-songs and proceeds to ignore her all night.  To be fair, it’s probably a good call for him to make given the mood he’s now left her in.
“You, Laura, are it for me! I love you more than anything I’ve ever given a damn about before. I would walk through fire for you, give my life for you. Shit, if you’re not in it, I don’t wanna be breathing anyway. You blow me away with your beauty every single day and when you’re not literally by my side, I physically ache for you.  It will always be you!”“Jack,” Laura appeared before him with her face screwed up in anguish, “I feel fat and ugly today!”
“Girl,” Jack lazily looked up at his wife, just about managing to take his eyes away from whatever crap he was watching on the TV, probably something about mining for gold or some dictator’s left nut, “you’re allllright!”
“Is that it?!  Christ, I’ve given you the best years of my life, children, and look after this place like a maid and all you can give me is, ‘You’re alright’?!”
“What do you want me to say?” Jack asks with a dopey-looking expression and a casual shrug of his shoulders.  “You make me hard?  Cos I can show you if you like?”
“Any hope you had of that has well and truly gone out the window! No wonder you forgot to say how beautiful the bride was on our wedding day!”
“Oh Christ, here we go!” Jack rolls his eyes over the fact he will never be able to live down the moment he forgot to praise his new wife during his wedding speech. Jack was skilled with a lot of things in life but his use of words wasn’t one of them.
“Hey sweetheart,” Jack walked through the front door with a beaming smile on his face, looking for his wife as though they’d been forced apart for months on end and hadn’t known if he’d ever be able to feel the warmth of her touch ever again. He quickly closes the gap between them, takes her in his arms, and delivers the most scorching hot kiss to ever be received outside of the bedroom. “I missed you.  How was your day? Did you miss me?”“Girl,” Jack muttered across the room, only after he had checked out what Laura was watching on the TV.
“Jack,” she replied in greeting.
“Did you miss me today?” he asks half-jokingly.
“I saw you this morning!” Laura replies as though the very idea is ridiculous.  “You know we need time apart otherwise I’d end up ripping off your genitals.”
“Love you too baby!” he calls out sarcastically.
“I know, I’m a real sweetheart.  You’re lucky to have me!” Laura replies as she returns her gaze to the TV.
It had been a long day for Laura, and she was exhausted. She curled up in bed with the toasty warm duvet wrapped around her, but the chill from the winter’s night still had her shivering. She soon felt the warmth of Jack’s firm, muscular body wrapping around her, with his leg resting on top of hers as though possessing every part of her being for his own. She grinned widely in his embrace.  Oh, this man knew exactly how to warm her up from the inside out.
“Don’t worry babe, I’m gonna keep you toasty all night!” “Mmm,” she moaned in delight and pulled his arm more tightly around her.
It had been a long day for Laura, and she was exhausted. She curled up in bed with the toasty warm duvet wrapped around her, but the chill from the winter’s night still had her shivering. She soon felt the warmth of Jack’s firm, muscular body wrapping around her, with his leg resting on top of hers as though possessing every part of her being for his own. Two minutes passed by with Jack now beginning to emit soft snores against the back of her head.  The bastard wasn’t even snoring to a set pattern, which soon had Laura growing more and more irritated by the second.
“Ok, that’s it!” Laura huffed before turning over and pushing Jack away from her, consequently waking him up with a start.
“What’s going on?” he asked in a muffled tone of voice.
“Your furnace of a body and your damn heavy leg is crushing me and I want my own space back!”
“Oh, but I wanted to cuddle you all night!” he replied sulkily.
“Not happening! You have space for a whole other family back there,” Laura gestured towards the empty mattress beside him. “Go on, bugger off!” Reluctantly, Jack rolled over to his side of the bed, mumbling incoherently with a pissed-off tone of voice.  Not that Laura cared for she had her side of the bed back and was now indulging in the ‘moomptiness’ of it.
Jack walked into the bedroom to find Laura wearing something flimsy and deeply erotic looking. With a wicked smile and hooded eyes cased in long, flirtatious lashes, she crooked her finger and gestured for him to come hither.  Jack took a moment to take in the delicious scene before him, already hard as nails and beaming over the anticipation of a hot night with the vixen now warming his bed.“I thought we were going to…you know, last night,” Laura said to Jack the following morning, “but you just went to sleep!”
“Well, you should have made your intentions known,” he mumbled back.
“I did!” Laura gasped, clearly shocked how he had missed all of her attempts.
“Oh yeah, how?  Cos I sure as shit didn’t notice them.” Jack chuckles to himself.
“Well, I put my kindle away and lay down facing you, and as you are very much aware, I always lie looking away from you.”
“Oh,” he shakes his head over her ridiculousness, “see I just thought it was highly annoying because I was trying to get to sleep only to have you breathing all over me.”
“Well, you crapped out didn’t you!” she says on a heavy sigh before getting up to go and clean her teeth.
“Babe, just so you know, Aunt flow comes to town in a day or two, so it’s best to take advantage of me whilst you still can!” Laura fluttered her eyelashes at Jack before reaching up to deliver a lingering kiss onto his stubbly cheek. “Upstairs, now!” he growled before whisking her away towards the bedroom where he was sure to keep her busy for the next few hours.“Jesus Jack! You scared the crap out of me” Laura snapped when Jack suddenly appeared from behind the shower curtain.
“Just coming in for a feel,” he grinned, then tried reaching out to pinch her for his own amusement.
“Jack, this is my one damn time to relax and not worry about kids, work, or the house. Please leave me alone for five minutes!” she warned him with that tone of voice which should be enough to tell him it’s time to go. Jack, being the idiot that he is, decides to hang about and continue winding up Laura to the point whereby she’ll lose her temper. He’ll then sulk because for some reason, after ten years of marriage, it still surprises him when she follows through with her threat to lose her shit with him.
“Jack,” she says, now trying a different tact, “my period is due in the next day or two, so if you want any hope of getting some before next Friday, I would feck off now!” Jack ran away so fast he left cartoon clouds and the flap of the shower curtain behind in his wake.
“Feck me!” She whispered on a hot breath that skated over his bare chest. Her eyes had turned dark, and she was almost trembling with lust, just waiting for her man to take her.“Feck me!” Jack tried to say in a sexy tone of voice but was immediately left to feel flat after Laura laughed hysterically over his attempts to be the alpha-potty-mouth male.
“What?” he whined whilst she tried to find the breath to speak through her laughter. “I was trying to be sexy!”
“First off, don’t ever do that again,” she giggled, now wiping away at her tears of mirth, “secondly, it’s Tuesday and we certainly don’t ‘feck’ midweek, on a school night!  At best we have sex, that’s it. Jesus!”
Jack didn’t even get sex that night, just momentary vibrations from Laura still laughing to herself over the memory of his words.

Dedicated to ‘Jack’, who inspires me every day!

Now that some people might have taken the time to read some of my ridiculous stories from my past, or even my first novel, Learning Italian, I thought I might attempt to answer some typical questions one might ask an author.  So, in the absence of having any questions myself, I took to the good old internet to find some.  Of course, I’ve cherry picked the ones I can actually give some sort of meaningful response to because some of them were quite honestly weird.  Here goes!

What is the first book that made you cry?

During my teenage years, when I was wallowing in hormones and attempting to grow up into some sort of functioning adult, I used to love a good cry.  I purposely chose weep worthy films and felt cheated if they didn’t induce a session whereby, I leaked from my eyes and questioned the meaning of life.  However, now that I am a semi-responsible adult, I’ve done a 180 and tend to avoid such misery. I can write about it, put my characters through hell if I want to, but I can’t cope with watching it anymore.  13 Reasons Why literally had me bawling like a baby!  To answer the question, however, the first book to make me cry was Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, which I don’t think I even need to explain why.  I ate that book up and it made me throw up tears and sobs.  To be fair, most of Picoult’s books do, with my favourite being Leaving Time.

Have you ever had reader’s block?

It took me a long time to get into reading, to find my genre of interest, but when I did, I became a little obsessed.  When I was in Year 3, and my attention span was at best, sporadic, I went onto free readers fairly quickly.  However, the teacher (poor Mrs Brown in her hand made cardies, short, back and sides haircut and plasters on nearly all of her fingers) noticed I would frequently start books but rarely ever finished them.  She asked one of the brightest girls in Year 6 to come and show me some of her favourites, which she did. She showed me ‘Tumbleweed’ by Dick King-Smith and I instantly fell in love with his writing, then moved onto Enid Blyton and Shakespeare (randomly).  When I find an author I like, I tend to binge read all their work, hit a bit of a slump for a while, then force myself to find someone new.  I now read so much I hardly watch TV anymore.  I guess no one can create the pictures I can inside of my own head.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

I write what I write because that’s what comes to me.  I chose romance because it’s what I read but also because it can encompass more than a ‘romantic’ relationship. I like to explore the connections between more than just the romantic plot of the two main characters. For example, those between the hero and his parents, or the bond between siblings and their friends.  I also like to write stories that happen over time, which is why I often include flashbacks. I personally feel you need to have some history to a character if you want to give them and their story a little more depth.  Some authors achieve this through dialogue, flashbacks or a character’s private thoughts.  I use a variety of devices.  Which one all depends on the story and how well it fits in.  I also write different subgenres of romances, including comedies and suspense.  I’ve even had a go at a historical romance because this is what inspired me at the time.  I have the benefit of writing as well as having a teaching career, which means I can write what I like and not have to worry too much about it being widely accepted. I want people to enjoy my work, of course I do, but I won’t let it rule what I put out there. To be fair, I don’t think I could. 

 What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you    become a better writer?

I’ve discovered that self-publishing is a very sociable process.  I’ve had to come out of my comfort zone to reach out to people on Instagram, Facebook, Goodreads, as well as putting myself out there on this website.  A few other, well-established authors have reached out to new writers, which I think is awesome.  TL Swan (The Stanton Trilogy, The Stopover, The Takeover, Our Way and many more) has particularly gone out of her way to help aspiring authors and has given so many of us brilliant advice and insights, to which I am extremely grateful for.  I’ve connected with an American author, Nikki Paris (Sure Pal, Ok Cutie, Fine Dork) and we’ve begun Beta reading for one another, which is extremely helpful seeing as I’ve set some of my stories in the States.  Cactus Buzz, a company which specialises in marketing and editing for Indie Authors, came into contact with me through a Facebook group, as well as Liz Wilde and Tanya Caruso who offered to Beta read for me too.  At first it was daunting but now it feels pretty amazing to be talking to people around the globe.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I started writing a few years ago so have already got quite a number of works written as a first draft.  It took me at least a year to let anyone read my work, and that person was my mum.  She, as well as my friends were asked not to judge me for the naughty scenes, to which I was laughed and informed I was totally going to be judged for it.  Once I got past this horrifying notion, I eventually felt able to share it with not only the people I know and love, but also other book thirsty people like me. I have this year’s books virtually ready to go, next year’s books written and ready to be sent to my editor, and the following year’s work written as a first draft. All being well, I plan to release three to four books a year. However, if they’re not up to scratch I won’t hold myself to that.  It doesn’t serve anyone well to release a half-arsed attempt:

2021Learning Italian –Available now on Amazon KU (Romantic Comedy) The Darkness Within – Early Summer 2021 (Romantic Suspense) Unnamed Romantic Comedy– Autumn 2021 Unnamed Romantic Comedy Novella Giveaway
2022Unnamed Trilogy – A dark romance/romantic suspense (all written and edited so no need to worry about it not being completed!) Unnamed Romantic Comedy-This is a secondary character’s story from my upcoming release, The Darkness within.

These are works I have planned to release because they are written, edited and ready to go.  I have others but wouldn’t want to promise something which isn’t ready yet. 

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

Oh my goodness, yes!  This whole process has taught me to always review people’s work and to leave feedback, even if it’s only a few words.  Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but if it’s constructive then I’m all for it.  Having taught for over ten years, I’m more than used to getting feedback from people like head teachers, colleagues and (dum dum dum!) the dreaded Ofsted!  Every artist wants to hear if people have enjoyed their work and will appreciate it if they have any pointers. Sometimes I can’t change things people don’t like because that’s their personal preference (e.g. one beta reader found the sex scenes too graphic, while another one loved them).  The only reviews I tend to ignore when picking a book for myself to read, are those that slate a book for no real reason, it just wasn’t their cup of tea.  Learning Italian has received some great reviews so far, to which I’m very grateful for. Some people have made comments I can take away with me, which will hopefully make me a better writer in the future.  Please, please, leave reviews for any artist because it helps not only the author but those looking for their next read too.  Much love to those who already have!

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

I use lots of anecdotes from my own life, and those of people who are close to me.  Elise’s house in Twickenham, from Learning Italian, is based on my grandparent’s old home.  There was a cherry tree, a couple of old sheds full of junk and a rotary phone attached to the wall in the hallway.  The bathroom was downstairs, which frequently led to a battle of wills against my bladder in the middle of the night.  These little details make the stories all the more special for me and I love including them when and where I can.

Does your family support your career as a writer?

Absolutely.  I am very fortunate. And my friends, those guys are awesome too!  Sometimes my four- year-old will literally lie across my lap when I’m tapping away on my laptop, and my husband does moan about me ‘being on my machine’, but he offers his full support when it counts.  We’re definitely one of those couples who like to bicker…frequently!

Anyhew, that’s me. Thanks for reading.  My next blog will be all about romance novels verses real life!

If you’ve read any of my past blogs, you’ll know that I usually try to put a comedic quirk to my memories of falling for my husband.  However, today I have to warn you, I’ve gone a little heavy with the emotions.  You see, the other day, week, month, (who knows when you’re stuck in the middle of a lock-down with an emotional nine-year-old and a pre-schooler who has a fiery split personality) my eldest asked me when I knew I was going to marry her daddy.  You must understand this girl is beyond romantic and strives for love above all else. She cries over adverts, had an emotional breakdown during one particularly tense episode of Ben and Holly, and loses her ever-loving shit if someone threatens to come in between the heroine and her romantic interest.  God help me when she finally crosses paths with ‘Romeo and Juliet’. 

However, back to her little, confused face, wanting me to impart some sort of wisdom about relationships to her.  By the by, when she asked us what ‘sex’ is, the husband’s answer was to pull his t-shirt over his head and play the role of an ostrich.  I, on the other hand, managed to bullshit over it, thus putting that cringe worthy conversation off for another day, when future me will have to fumble her way through it.  Who knows? Perhaps, like me, she’ll have the most popular girl in school tell her how babies are made.  It truly was a shocking day, one that had me looking at my parents with a little horror over the week following this revelation.

Point, Taylor!  Keep to the point. 

So, yes, when I hit the delightful period of one’s life known as ‘puberty’, or what I like to call, ‘hormonal bitch of a time’, I have to admit my body didn’t handle it so well. You see, I suffer with anxiety, always have done, but when I turned eleven, I started exhibiting strange behaviours.  Some of these delights included frequently washing my hands, repeating mantras inside of my head and generally associating everything I did with intrusive thoughts, all of which I believed could be prevented if I carried out certain rituals (don’t panic, I’m not talking sacrificing wild animals before dancing around a bonfire naked. Just a repetitive course of actions which were often irrational and very time consuming).  At the time, I had absolutely no idea what was going on with me, just that I was weird and slowly suffocating with it.  It literally took me hours to allow myself to go to bed, with the whole process bringing me to what felt like the brink of insanity each and every night.

I now know I suffer with OCD, a condition which is flippantly thrown about. I guess everyone does have it to a certain extent, but when you truly believe that the act of washing your hands will somehow stop you from losing someone you love, it becomes a bit of a problem.  And when I say ‘problem’, I mean it can be completely debilitating, not to mention misunderstood.  Like most people suffering with mental health issues, particularly during this stage of my life, I tried to hide it as much as I could.  It was hard. It was lonely. It caused bouts of depression.  No one noticed at school, no one seemed concerned by my looking under the tables or ever questioned why I frequently had cracked, bloody hands.  When my dad began to see some of my ‘quirks’, I was simply told to ‘just stop’ doing them, and all with a stern frown upon his face.  The trouble is, all this did was make me try to hide it and to feel even more awful over the fact that I was different, unusual, something to be questioned.  I was envious of my friends who could simply eat their lunch or go to bed without having to do a whole load of handwashing, checking, and mentally praying for everything to be ok.

Now, you’re probably wondering what the hell this has to do with me deciding that my husband was the man I was going to marry.  I am getting there, I promise.  You see, I did have someone to comfort me, to look at me without judgement, to let me do what I needed to do without trying to cover it up.  Her name was Bronwyn, and she was the most placid, beautiful dog in the whole world to me.  We went through a lot together, me and Bronnie, and I never felt alone when I was with her.  Just her presence made me feel safe and more ‘normal’.  She was with me when things went wrong at school, when I had to prepare for that first date, when I was drowning in my dark space of depression because life simply felt like it was getting too much.  When I couldn’t tell anyone my secrets, I told her, and she listened.

The trouble is, dogs don’t live as long as people do, and when I was twenty-two, having just secured my first teaching job, Bronwyn began to have frequent spells of fitting.  I remember we were on a run the first time I saw it. I can recall how scared I felt, instinctively knowing something was about to take her from me and how I couldn’t do anything but watch her go through it.  She went downhill rapidly, had surgery on her spleen, only to succumb to her cancer about a week later.

After a particularly bad fit, which had left her paralysed on the floor for most of the night, I took her to the vets with a sense of dread. I knew, deep down, she wasn’t going to be coming back with me.  An old neighbour, called Irene, came with me for support and to also criticise my driving the whole way there. I didn’t mind for this was just her way of trying to keep me calm.  Plus, the woman had no filter and if she thought you needed telling something, she damn well told you.  Bless her, she was one of those people who seemed to get away with it as well as befriending everyone in the process.

Once at the vets, they confirmed my fears, then asked me if I wanted her to be put to sleep. It wasn’t a real choice but one I still felt horrified to be making seeing as she was technically my parents’ dog.  They were in South Africa for my sister’s wedding and had no idea this was happening. It felt like Bronnie had saved her end for me and now I had to be the one to effectively give her the death sentence.  The vet, a young guy who can’t have been long out of training, was now having to deal with a hysterical me, while trying his hardest to reassure both Irene and I that poor Bronnie would just feel like she was going to sleep.

When I had enough breath to speak, I finally gave my permission for them to do it. After making some sort of peace with that decision, I was then asked if I wanted to stay with her during the procedure.  Well, let me tell you, if you have never had to live through an ordeal like this, it is bloody awful.  I refused to leave her alone, even though the very thought of staying was making me feel like I could redecorate the clinical little room with vomit, so cuddled her head and closed my eyes to it all.  It felt like an infinite amount of time passed by, being that they were trying to find a vein, which they couldn’t because all of them were now collapsing.  When they finally gave the word, I broke down into floods of tears, squeezed her one last time, only to then see her glassy eyes staring into nothing.  My neighbour, being a bolshie kind of sort who no one would dare argue with, declared we were taking the dog with us, so she could be buried in the back garden where she had loved living. 

The first person I called was my future husband. We weren’t together, but he was all I wanted at the time. For the last seven years or so, he had been the one person I could depend upon to be there for me no matter what.  This time was no different. He phoned his boss from onsite, told him he was leaving and arrived at Irene’s house only minutes after we had.  I broke in his arms while Irene filled him in on everything.  At the time I felt numb, but thinking back on it now, I realise this was one of those moments they try to create in romantic films.  The ones when you know they’ll end up together but you want to keep watching anyway.

Once I had calmed down into a more rational state, the husband grabbed a spade to begin digging a grave for my best friend. Irene dragged me inside to make a cup of tea, like any true Brit would in times such as this one.  If you read any of my books, you’ll understand how much tea is important to me.  But this tea tasted bitter.  It felt like acceptance of the fact that the dog who had lived with me through a tumultuous period of my life was now gone.  After I had forced the beverage down my throat, I went outside to check on my future husband, only to find him crying as he hacked his way through the ground below. I tried to find words to offer comfort and thanks but could only stare into the hole in front of him. It had been dug with care, with perfect sides and was in the shape of a flawless square.  The depth was enough to have him covered in sweat from having to dig so far down, where it looked cold.  This must have been what I eventually said because I remember him putting his arm around my shoulders and giving me reassurances that he would wrap Bronnie inside of a blanket before burying her.

If the fact he had dropped everything hadn’t been enough to convince me he was the man I was meant to be with, then watching him cry until the sad task at hand was finally complete, certainly set any doubts to rest.

I cut some curls of fur from her neck, kissed her goodbye, then watched as he wrapped her in a blanket to put inside of the ground.  I couldn’t stay for this part, but I knew he was still fighting back sobs.  Being a Virgo, he has always been very ‘black and white’, stoic one might say.  Over the years, I have accused him of being unromantic and lacking in any kind of sentimentality, but there are times when he does let slip just how caring he is.  That day, it was like watching one of your parents cry, being that it was is both heart-breaking and unsettling to see him let go of his emotions too. But he kept going, all for me.

After the deed was done, I ended up staying with him that night, in his bed, which was devoid of any sheets because he was sharing a Batchelor pad with Pete, (they would literally save the week’s washing up for Sunday, when every surface was covered in gross cutlery, and asking for a drink meant you would need to find an empty vase or saucepan to drink out of). We weren’t there as a couple yet, but he was my friend, my best friend.  The boy still is, even if I do hate him sometimes.  I will never forget what he did for me, or how he had given me the comfort I needed, even though we weren’t anything beyond exes.  He had my back and I hope he knows I will always have his too.

We didn’t get back together until a few months later, just before New Year’s Eve, over the phone, just on the brink of him giving up on the idea of ‘us’ forever more.  When I saw him the following day, we finally had that kiss, the one you might have been expecting when I was hiding under the table in Year 9.  We’ve been together, without breaks, ever since. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I frequently have to remind myself of this story when he’s fogging the room up with his flatulence, leaving his dirty washing on the floor, directly in front of the washing basket, and when he calls me ‘old girl’.  But husband, if you’re reading this, know that you sometimes pull it out of the bag.  Thank you for being there for me when it counts.

To Bronwyn, you were my best friend who looked out for me till the very end.  Rest in Peace ‘Rubblers’!

I promise my next blog won’t be as heavy as this, but sometimes it’s good to get it all out there.  My husband will tell you the same, especially when you go the cinema to watch a film like ‘Marley and Me’, filled with teenage girls who all dart their heads around to hear the roughy, toughy, slightly-too-hairy builder, taking a large inhale of breath to make it through his sobs. Wouldn’t have you any other way hubby!

My next blog will be about me (even though I hate talking about me) but will hopefully explain more about me as an author. Thanks for reading!

I’m going to try something different this week, so bear with me.  My third book is currently with my editor, one which I’m hoping to release later in the year.  It’s another romantic comedy but deals with a number of serious themes, a few of them being social anxiety, low self-esteem and generally feeling inadequate.  I think a lot of people can relate to this.  Kudos to you if you have never felt any of these things, though I think you’re in the minority. 

It got me thinking about young people today, which in turn had me questioning when I stopped being a ‘young person’ myself, then mentally slapped myself for going off on one of my many tangents.  Anyway, young people today must have it bloody hard.  It was bad enough when I was at school but now? Now you cannot escape anything because certain areas of the media seem to have taken over like a plague infecting your confidence, giving rise to your anxieties and has you believing you will never be worthy enough.  I could go into mental health issues and talk about an amazing course I went on for school training, but instead I’ve gone in a sillier direction, though hopefully one that still puts the point across.

Initially I thought about starting with the girls, but quickly decided against it.  I think boys have it just as hard yet don’t get the same recognition for it.  Now, I’m not a boy and haven’t had boys.  In fact, most of the boys I come across are seven years old or younger.  However, I’m going to have a go at it anyway.  Below I’ve imagined what it would be like for a teenage boy interviewing for the role of the ‘popular boy’ at sixth form/high/senior school. Please let me make it abundantly clear I do not think teenage boys are like this at all, but it is what seems to be being thrown at them through some  areas of programming, advertising and social pressure.  It’s also just for fun!

Interviewer: Welcome, do come in and have a seat.

Teenage boy, we’ll call him Zak: Hi, yeah, thanks.

Interviewer: So, you are here to interview for the role of ‘popular boy in a high school setting’, correct?

Zak, who laughs nervously: Er, yeah.

Interviewer: Before we begin, you need to sound more cocky.  You know, sure of yourself.

Zak: ‘Cocky’?

Interviewer: Yes. All of those lessons in which politeness is encouraged and where being mild-mannered rewarded you with friends and a great reputation amongst your teachers and peers?  Scrap ‘em.  Don’t worry though, there are a number of routes you can take to achieve this.

Zak: Such as?

Interviewer: Well, you have the cocky, clownish, pretty boy who everyone laughs with, particularly when he’s being an arsehole to the teacher or a fellow student.  You have to be able to smirk, bite your bottom lip and expertly cock your head to the side at precisely the right moment.

Zak: Like this?  (Zak attempts to tip his head to the side but looks more like he’s been in an accident.)

Interviewer: Not quite, but don’t worry, there’s always the silent, brooding type.  He speaks sparingly, drops in quotes from classic novels and theorists, perhaps even the odd poet.  He looks down his nose at everyone and is also an arsehole but without the humour.  Borderline psychotic too.

Zak: Right. I don’t read classics.  Can’t say I’m interested in theorists or poets either.

Interviewer: Hmmm, oh dear.  Mind you, your name is not quite right for the moody arsehole anyway.  How about the beefy, jock, sportsman extraordinaire?

Zak: I play football at the weekends?  (Zak gestures with hope in his voice.)

Interviewer: Perfect!  Take off your shirt and let’s have a look see, shall we?  What are you, seventeen?

Zak: Yeah…why have I got to take off my shirt?

Interviewer: You have to have the right physique to pull this one off.  Oh, and you’ll have to wear a few more labels.

Zak: Oh (looks a little uncomfortable).  See, dad works two jobs already and I have to help mum look after the twins.  She was recently diagnosed with MS so it’s tough, you know?

Interviewer: Inconsequential, now remove the shirt.

(Zak removes his shirt, turns and looks a little awkward.  Interviewer silently assesses him with a frown on his face.)

Useful fact: about one in three people struggling with an eating disorder is male, and subclinical eating disordered behaviors (including binge eating, purging, laxative abuse, and fasting for weight loss) are nearly as common among men as they are among women. (1)

Interviewer: No, that’s not going to work. Where’s the muscle?  You should be looking as twice as big as you are.  How tall are you?

Zak: About 5’9”.

Useful fact: 5’9” is the average height of a 17 year old male in the UK. (2)

Interviewer: Oh dear.  Tell you what, let’s come back to this later shall we? You can put your shirt back on, though might I suggest you do a bit of tanning.  You’re far too pasty to pass for the sun-kissed variety and there are very few who can pull off the vampire aesthetic.

(Zak puts his shirt back on and takes a seat.)

Interviewer: Now, girls.  Are you a virgin?

Zak: Wait what?!  That’s a little personal isn’t it?

Interviewer: Not for boys. They need to have that information widely available to everyone.  And you need to have the sexual prowess of a porn star.

Useful Fact: A BBC study found that most young adults had had sex by the time they were eighteen, half by seventeen and a third before they had reached the legal age of sixteen in the UK. (3)

Zak, who is by now blushing like a tomato: Er, well, I…

Interviewer: Thank you, I shall mark that down.  Now, how would you go about pursuing a girl you like?

Zak: Gee, I don’t know (rubs back of neck awkwardly, still with a radioactive blush).  Make friends with her, maybe buy her flowers, take her for coffee or to the cinema?

Interviewer: No, no, no! (Laughs) Initially, you blank the poor girl, then you build this up into being a complete bastard to her.  Bully her to the point whereby she questions her very existence and self-worth, then you corner her, aggressively kiss her, pin her to a wall and make it known you could violate her if you so choose to.

Zak, who looks horrified: Jesus!

Interviewer: Don’t worry, she’ll love it.  You want to aim for borderline abusive.  In fact, if you can add a little abduction in there, all the better.

Zak: Isn’t that illegal and totally immoral?!

Interviewer: Well, yes, but so long as you are attractive it’s also considered sexy.  If you’re wealthy too, even better!

Zak: Gee, I don’t know…

Interviewer: That won’t do either, you need to be sure of everything and be able to make a decision with unfaltering conviction. Oh, one more thing (leans in closer) you need to add in a lot more f-bombs to your everyday speech.

Zak: My parents hate swearing.  They would literally stick me in my room for the next month if they caught me swearing.

Interviewer: Well, you shouldn’t be bothered by what your parents think either.  It’s all about what your peers think.  If they say jump, you jump. If they say cheat on your girlfriend, then you cheat.  If they say shave your head and dye your wing wang purple, then you bloody well do it. Now smoking.  Do you smoke?

Zak: Er, no, my grandparents both died of lung cancer through smoking.  That and it’s pretty costly.

Interviewer: Yes, yes, it kills people, but it also makes you look dangerous.  You want to smoke enough to give you an edge, though not enough to smell or have you looking too thuggish.  Throw in a bit of weed, maybe something stronger too.  If your friends are doing it, so should you!

Useful fact: according to a report from Truth Initiative, “While You Were Streaming”79 percent of the shows most popular with young people ages 15 to 24 depict smoking prominently. (4)

Zak: Oh, ok.

Interviewer:  So to sum up Zak, more muscle, more height, learn to cock your head, bite your lip, be funny, be brooding, be intelligent but don’t let anyone know about it (just drop the odd quote or multisyllabic word every now and then), wear branded clothing, be disrespectful, treat girls like shit, be a little psychotic, borderline abusive, smoke, don’t smoke too much, take stimulants, sleep around, be a hero, be a villain, lower your voice, get a tan, be confident, be cocky, be the bully, be the nice guy, swear, speak eloquently, don’t try too hard, be pretty, be thuggish, only listen to your friends, and…maybe change your name?

Zak: I’m out!

Now, there are a few Zaks out there, who would thankfully stick two fingers up to this, however, due to outside influences, it wouldn’t surprise me to hear a lot of boys will feel the pressure to conform.  I can’t blame them for when you have TV, films, magazines, adverts, social media and peers all telling you to be a certain way, it’s bound to have an effect. I don’t have answers to this problem, neither do I fully know where it all originated from.

What I will say is this, like many mental health problems, it’s not as simple as telling someone not to do something.  So many people will tell their children to just not go on social media, to not listen to what their peers or society have to say, however it is age appropriate to care about what other people think of them.  There is a science to anxiety and the way we react to it, including blood flow through the brain and how this effects our thinking. I have suffered with OCD since I was eleven and I can assure you being told to not worry about my fears, or to stop washing my hands because they were cracked and bleeding, did not help. If anything, it only made me try to hide it more.

If you want to find out more about anxiety and the way people behave and think, particularly young adults who are desperately trying to find out who they are in the world, I recommend seeking advice from a professional.  There are also lots of books out there on the way the brain thinks, including ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Professor Steve Peters.

Next blog: “Mummy, how did you know you were going to marry daddy?”

  1. Eating Disorders in Men & Boys | National Eating Disorders Association


The following is taken from Eating Disorders in Men: Symptoms, Risk Factors & Treatment (

‘Body image pressure is one of the strongest predictors of an eating disorder in men. The media and society portray the ideal male body as being muscular and toned, and many advertisers for weight-loss and fitness products and programs focus on this ideal. One study found that roughly 90% of teenage boys exercise with the purpose of bulking up.’ Kathleen Smith, PhD, LPC

2.Source: Average Child Height |

3.Source: What is the right age to lose your virginity? – BBC News

4.Source: Why smoking is still glamorized in media and pop culture in 2018 (

First dates.  In all honesty I am not a font of knowledge when it comes to this area of romance.  You may well have guessed as much seeing as I met my husband in Year 7 at secondary school.  However, we did go through a long winded on/off stage whereby I went to university in Exeter and he shared a house with one of our long-suffering friends, Pete (hi Pete).  I ended up with my teaching qualification whilst my husband had a good time getting into debt.  Debt which was the result of a heap of junk car that literally sucked the pennies from his pockets and a book he had bought at the airport. 

‘Book?’ I hear you say?  Well, yes.  My husband, in his financial wisdom, managed to go into his unplanned overdraft by little over a pound for said book, which he then left to mount up into a ridiculous sum of money.  Being more stubborn than my four-year-old who is repeatedly asked to eat some form of nutrition which isn’t beige, he still claims it was worth it because the book was just that good.  Kudos to Chris Ryan. Anyhow, the result of these rock star living habits ended up leaving him with a black mark against his name.  I tell you it was fun times to discover this little gem when we applied for our first mortgage.  I was so angry at the time, I think I really did ask him to ‘kindly remove his genitals’ with a pair of scissors. *

Anyway, it was during this time I went on a few ‘first dates’ which turned into nothing more than weird anecdotes to share with the internet…just like I’m doing now.  However, even though the hubby has committed some sinfully stupid monetary decisions, I feel it only right to start with our first date at the local recreation centre, which took place the weekend after we had agreed to ‘go out’.

Pre-date preparation involved shaving one’s hairy bits, checking that my swimming costume fit, only to then yelp at one’s reflection in said swimming costume. This was all closely followed by hyperventilating at my mother who found this more than a little amusing.  You must understand, my parents were fairly liberal and didn’t view me dating a boy at fourteen as a cause for concern, more an opportunity to make fun of me.  My father wasn’t waiting by the front door with his shot gun, ready to lay down the law.  He was more likely to be there to shake future hubby’s hand and offer him a glass of wine over some rustic French bread and cheese.

Now, as previously mentioned, I lived miles away from civilisation so needed to have a lift to get anywhere within reach of another human being.  It was therefore down to my mother to taxi me over to our date in the family car, a Renault 25 which frequently scared the living beejesus out of everyone. Her less than five-foot height had you believing the monstrosity was driving all by itself. Upon arrival, I instantly saw the husband nervously waiting outside of the front doors, looking just as petrified as I was.

“Why mother?! Why the hell do boys and girls insist on doing this to one another?!” I gulped whilst I momentarily considered telling her to drive on and avoid the whole situation altogether.  She merely cackled with glee, told me she would see me in a couple of hours, before zooming off, looking like a real-life version of Edna Mould.

“Alright?” My date asked, then smiled nervously whilst I muttered obscenities under my breath. I love my mother but there are times when she causes my eyes to roll so far back, I’m in danger of blacking out altogether. For example, when we go shopping and I realise far too late that she’s wondered off without telling me.  In such situations, I’ve usually been walking around talking to myself for an embarrassing length of time, consequently making me look like a crazy person.

“Yep,” fourteen-year-old me eventually replied, sounding just as anxious as him and with far too many teeth on show. “You?”

“Yeah,” he responded before gesturing for me to lead the way.  As you can tell, the conversation was already off to a good start.

Now, give the boy his due, he paid for my entry, was beyond polite and behaved in such a way his mother would no doubt be very proud of him.  However, this did not set my nerves to rest in the slightest, in fact it only made me feel more nauseous.  I wasn’t used to him being polite with me. I was used to him pinching my backside up and down the stairs of the Nichol’s building, throwing himself on top of me in front of an entire classroom of people and gifting me with a twig on Valentine’s Day because I said cards were a waste of paper. And now, dressed in nothing but my swimming costume, one made for functionality rather than fashion, I was about to face the boy who was trying his level best to be charming and…’nice’.

Once in the vicinity of the pool, with an atmospheric temperature which rivalled the surface of the sun, we both tried our very best to avoid looking at one another’s unmentionables.  Board shorts hadn’t quite caught on in the fashion stakes, so he was wearing nothing more than a pair of nut huggers, whilst I was wearing fitted Lycra over a pair of breasts which easily rivalled those of both my best friends’ combined.  What can I say?  I come from a family of naturally busty females. Perhaps they were meant to be an evolutionary physical advancement, to have my very own set of airbags and flotation devices. From personal experience, I can tell you they are far from accommodating. Especially when trying on zipless dresses, which become firmly stuck and have you gasping for air because you are seriously considering having to go out onto the shop floor to ask the assistant to cut you out. 

Now the hubby was quite a physically fit boy back then, being that he went to army cadets, swam twice a week and cycled everywhere.  That bod is still there, somewhere, but like me, who used to be a size 8 and a nice C-cup, it’s hiding under a little comfort spread.  However, whereas I was the same colour as Edward Cullen from Twilight and literally glow in the dark, he had been gifted with a naturally Mediterranean complexion.  I am still cursed with such skin, almost to the point whereby I should come with a health warning during summer months when I venture to bare my legs. It would read something along the lines of ‘people with sensitive vision may wish to avert their eyes or wear a pair of sunglasses.’

The next hour was spent on opposite sides of the pool, wondering what the hell to do or say next, only to then talk about mindless crap when we finally managed to have enough courage to be within a one metre distance of one another. After which, we went to the overpriced café of tasteless tea, stale flapjacks and confectionary that had such a mark-up, you would need to sell off body parts to actually afford them.  My husband, being the gentleman that he is, bought me a packet of cheesy crisps which tasted how vomits smells, then waited beside me until Mum came to pick me up.  Not that he could see my mother for she was still hidden behind the dashboard.  She was one inch away from needing a periscope to see out of the windscreen.

It wasn’t a bad date. It was a typical fourteen-year-old date, full of awkwardness and too much skin on show. In fact, intimacy didn’t really hit us until Valentine’s Day when he bought me Romeo and Juliet. Arguably, this was the film responsible for practically every teenage girl beginning an imaginary affair with Leonardo Di Caprio.  Not the actor himself, but his character, Romeo, or maybe both.  Truth be told, I was never that enamoured with Romeo when reading Shakespeare’s play, he clearly lacked common sense and was somewhat fickle.  I’m more of a Benedict kind of a gal, hence why I married my husband, aka, my sparring partner.

Back to Valentine’s Day when my husband finally made his move in the form of an awkward arm around my shoulders, to which I reciprocated by curling up towards his lap.  We lay like a couple of puppies until it was time for him to cycle home on his trusty steed.  We even ventured to kiss one another before he disappeared into the darkness.  There was no tongue though.  That train wreck didn’t occur until a good few months later.  I would go into it in more detail, for it was truly hilarious. However, I have saved that debacle for a pair of unsuspecting characters in one of my upcoming releases.  I’ve planned for their story to hit Amazon towards the end of this year.  (That was a good, shameless plug, was it not?!)

I have more tales of first dates to share with you, not all of them mine, but I fear I have waffled on for much too long already.  My next blog will come at the end of the month when I am dangerously close to turning thirty plus a few years extra.

*Just so you know, I did read this to my poor hubby and asked for his permission to publish this blog.  I’m not that bad a wife!

Thanks for reading and remember to check out my new release, Learning Italian, on Amazon Unlimited.