Dexter: Arch, Mum’s excited and she’s asking people on Facebook what she should wear. What’s happening?
Archie: It’s the RNA Awards today, Pipsqueak. Mum’s been shortlisted for the Liberta Book Shorter Romantic Fiction Award. It’s quite a big deal – it’s for her 90th book for Mills & Boon, and they first published her 20 years ago, when Chloe was the same age as you’ll be at the end of the month.
Dexter: So what’s that weird noise?
Archie: The hairdryer. She only uses it when she has to make her hair look really nice. Not like normal, when she just washes it and lets it dry while we’re out for a walk.
Dexter: And what’s that red stuff?
Archie: Lipstick. Oh, yeah, she hasn’t worn make-up since you were born and it’s all dried up so she had to go out and get more. That’s why we had scampi for lunch.
Dexter: Is lipstick as nice as biscuits?
Archie, laughing: Well, you can try licking it off her face. But not until after the awards do.
Dexter: It’s weird, seeing Mum dressed up. She’s normally as scruffy as you are.
Dexter: Why do we have to sit quietly on the sofa with Dad?
Archie: Because it’s a Lockdown Awards Do – that means it’s on zoom, instead of her abandoning us to go to London.
Dexter: So we could go and leap on her and say hello to loads of people all over the world. After all, we are her Edit-paw-ial Assistants. She can’t write books without us at her feet.
Archie: No. Apparently there are technical problems. Let’s have a nap.
Dexter: Mum’s crying! Noooo! We need to be there and make her better!
Archie: She’s not crying because she’s upset. She’s happy! She won!
Dexter: And you were lying about lipstick tasting nice… Pah!
Dexter: It’s all very nice, this rose Prosecco and that, but where are the biscuits?
Archie: All the excitement’s tired me out. Let’s go to sleep and dream of the biscuits I just know she’ll buy us tomorrow…
I’m absolutely thrilled that A Will, A Wish and a Wedding (aka my 90th M&B) has been shortlisted for the RNA Awards 2021. I will be running a giveaway to win a signed copy (and a handmade bookmark) this week – check out my Facebook page for more! Congratulations to everyone on the shortlists.
Dexter: Arch, Arch, what’s this white stuff?
Archie: It’s snow, Pipsqueak.
Dexter: It doesn’t smell. It doesn’t taste. But my paws are cold – and it’s skiddy!
Archie: The first time I saw snow, I was five months younger than you are now. And we had a trampoline. Snow’s fun.
Dexter: I’m cold. I’m going in for a biscuit and a cuddle.
Dexter: I hate the Halti, Arch.
Archie: So do I, Pipsqueak. But it’s your fault. You will *pull* on the lead. (And you’re the one who lived with huskies when you were super-tiny. They clearly taught you something before you joined us.)
Dexter: You pull as well. Especially when there’s someone you want to say hello to.
Archie: Mum isn’t going to budge on this. When we pulled her so she skidded on that patch of mud, she told Dad she thought we’d pull her over — especially now it’s icy — and she’s worried she’d hurt her wrist again. So we’re on Haltis for ever.
Dexter: We could promise not to pull.
Archie: We could — but the first interesting smell, or another dog to greet, and you know we’ll forget.
Dexter: At least we’re together. Side by side.
Archie: Even if your ears are inside out. Hey. Got a song for ya.
Oh, we don’t like porridge with honey
We’re very waggy and funny
And we’ll wa-alk along
Singing a song
Side by side.
Mum, she is mean with the Halti
Because our walking is faulty
But we’ll wag our tails
Cos she’s our fav’rite female (Dexter, scandalised: Arch, don’t sing that in front of Chloe!)
Side by side.
Archie: We didn’t get our New Year walkies by the sea, Pipsqueak – thanks to lockdown and the weather. So let’s look back at last summer in our favourite place. We can sing about it…
Every dog delights to have a doggy holiday
Down beside the side of the silvery sea.
We’re no exception to the rule, in fact, if we’d our way,
We’d reside by the side of the silvery sea.
But when you’re just a spaniel you can’t drive out to the sea
You have to wait and plead
Until the parents agree
You save up all your biscuits so you can have a packed tea (Archie: Unless the cafe’s open and you can beg a sausage roll)
Then away they take you to Wells-next-the-Sea…
Oh! We do like to be beside the seaside!
We do like to be beside the sea!
Oh we do like to stroll along the Prom, Prom, Prom! (Dexter: Arch, there isn’t a prom, just endless sand and dunes! Archie: Shh, Pipsqueak, it’s the chorus!)
Where the brass bands play, “Tiddely-om-pom-pom!”
(Dexter: Arch, there aren’t any brass bands, either! Just dogs. Archie: All right, Pipsqueak…)
Where the other doggies say, “Woofity-wuff-wuff-wuff!”
So just let us be beside the seaside!
We’ll be beside ourselves with glee,
And there’s lots of dogs beside,
I should like to be beside,
Beside the seaside,
Beside the sea!
Dexter: Arch, Arch, what’s New Year?
Archie: It’s the first day of the year, Pipsqueak. Your first new year (just as this was your first Christmas).
Archie: Usually we go to the beach.
Dexter: Running around, playing with lots of dogs, jumping in the waves, then going to the cafe so the parents can get coffee and we get a hot sausage roll.
Archie: Yes. But not this year. We’re back in lockdown. So we’re home. Naps on the sofa. Oh, and we’re supposed to make resolutions.
Dexter: What are resolutions?
Archie: They’re things you try to do in future so you’re healthier and happier.
Dexter: That’s easy. More walkies — and more snacks.
Archie: I think Mum would prefer you only to eat food in future. Not the tea towels, not the corner of her favourite tablecloth you chewed this morning, and definitely no more scourers.
Dexter: You have to admit, it was great having chicken and mash three times a day.
Archie: Yeah, but Mum in worry mode is like the worst thing ever. We need to give her more cuddles to make up for it.
Dexter: Then that’s my resolution. More walkies, more snacks and more cuddles.
Archie: That’s a good one. I think humans ought to do that, too — well, when they’re allowed to hug again. Happy New Year!
As a student, I used to do tapestry and cross-stitch. Then I was busy with work and professional exams, and it kind of fell into the background. Until a couple of months ago, when I decided to pick up a needle again. I started off with bookmarks (I particularly like the Textile Heritage kits – beautifully designed and relatively quick makes), and now I’ve got the confidence to move on to tweaking patterns to suit a project, and to do bigger things.
Sometimes, when I’m stuck on a book, I need something that will occupy the front of my mind, and let things brew in the back. I’ve used online word games a lot, but it means I spend too much time on my phone and makes me feel unproductive. Counting things always helps (hence reps in the gym, or steps in ballet where I have to think about what I’m doing).
And then it occurred to me at the beginning of the second lockdown.
Counted cross stitch.
So I get to occupy the front of my mind (counting), I’m doing something where I can see the result, and it’s also good for stress. (Hmm – why didn’t I think of that in the first lockdown??)
I bought the first kit – a rose – and remembered how much I enjoyed sewing. So people close to me are getting bits of handmade needlework! Sometimes they get to choose; sometimes it’s a guess by me based on what I know of their tastes.
This was my first batch of makes:
The mini sampler is for my best friend Fi (in Suffragette colours), who sent me a gorgeous cross-stitch book. Bookmarks, left to right:
the rose for me (my first bit for years, really to get me back up to speed)
bluebells for my best friend (learned to mix strands to change colours)
cows for my daughter (chosen by her – and they were SO cute to stitch; the outlining made a huge difference)
a Celtic knot for my son (chosen by him – that taught me a lot about geometrics)
tulips for my favourite cousin (again, geometrics – her fave flower)
a dinosaur for one of my best writer friends, Scarlet Wilson (first time I’d tried using a pattern from the internet – also, using colours close together in shade, in preparation for a very ambitious project next year)
carnation for my dear friend Debbie – her favourite flower and I got to mess about with borders (and kind of designed this from a mix of patterns)
Dachshund and daffodils for one of my best writer pals, Liz Fielding (Dora the Dachshund from one of her books, and daffodils because she’s Welsh – the dog was tricky and also taught me that I need to check shades, as I like using DMC and the colour conversion from Anchor doesn’t always quite work)
Scotties and Westies for my friend Sarah, who has a Westie and introduced me to Radley handbags (Scottie dogs!)
Puffins for one of my best writer pals, Michelle Styles (my first bird – and I loved doing the feather on this because it’s in preparation for another of my ambitious projects, this year)
Coaster for my friend Jo, who tends to read ebooks rather than paper so I thought something for her mug of tea would be better than a bookmark
A second dinosaur, for my favourite cousin’s daughter
Lily of the valley for my sister-in-law (her favourite flowers) – very dense stitching, plus some shading, which will again be helpful for the big projects
Turkey coaster for my husband, who’s a turkey farmer
Daffodils for my stepmum (her favourite flower)
Guitar for my husband (tweaked this slightly as the pattern used black for the outer line of shading but in real life it’s chocolate – and I had chocolate thread!)
Sunflowers for one of my best writer pals, Annie O’Neil (her favourite flower – the original pattern had 5 flowers, but I wanted 7, so I tweaked it a bit; also outlining was done in a lighter shade because I thought black was too harsh)
I’m currently doing a sampler on evenweave (given to me by my RNA pal Anne Styles, who’s an amazing seamstress and has been very kind and supportive to me). It’s an easy pattern, but evenweave is very tricky! It has, however, made me think that I’d like to design my own sampler, with motifs of my favourite things, so I’ve been having fun putting ideas together.
On the advice of my lovely neighbour and friend Vicki (also an excellent seamstress – the socially distanced tutorial on French knots was fun, though anyone seeing us would probably have been convinced we were doing charades!), I’m going to keep doing little projects at the same time as bigger ones, so I get the fun of finishing things to motivate me to continue (haha – this is SO like writing!). I bought a couple of projects and have been given some more, so as well as my personal sampler I have a wonderful peacock, a spaniel who’s the spitting image of Archie (that’s going to be HARD as there are lots of similar colours), a smaller spaniel which will be a quicker make, a bee flying across tulips, a Shakespeare sampler and a family tree sampler. And then there’s a stash with Noah’s ark.
I do plan to do some for reader giveaways; and I have a list of things I want to do for friends – the fun bit is sending them out as surprises 🙂 I might casually ask about favourite flowers or birds (I like stitching flowers in particular), and the answer is being carefully stored away on my list. I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, but I can follow a pattern and tweak things. And stitching is much better for me than endless word games on my phone – but I’ve learned that I need a timer to limit myself on Pinterest…
Archie: Pipsqueak, it’s when Santa Paws brings us new toys and yummy things. The parents eat too much and play board games with the kids and there’s cheese – and we get Christmas Dinner. Like Sunday roast but better.
Dexter: Is that why that tree is on top of all the music?
Archie: It’s there so you don’t pull the reindeer off and chew the tinsel. But, yes, it’s a Christmas tree and if it’s like last year that means some of the parcels underneath it are ours.
Dexter: Arch, Arch, is Santa Paws here yet?
Archie: No, but we’ll keep watch…
(Christmas Day, morning)
Dexter: Arch, Arch, Santa Paws has been! That thing I sniffed under the tree when I stood on the arm of the chair – it’s ours!
Archie: Calm down. You’re moving so fast Mum can’t take good pictures. We’re blurs! Calm down. We have all day. And you’re licking the wrapper, Pipsqueak. The good stuff is actually INSIDE the stocking…
(Christmas Day, evening)
Dexter: Mmm. Turkey. Walkies. Sausages wrapped in bacon. More turkey. A roast potato. Walkies AGAIN, yippee! Though the parents got a bit excited about the light in the sky.
Archie: Dad says it was a UFO. Mum says it was probably a bolide.
Dexter: What’s a bolide?
Archie: I don’t know, either.
Dexter: I don’t understand half of what Mum says. But never mind. My tummy’s full. And did you see how well I’ve trained Chloe? I lay on my back and lifted my paws, and she came and sat next to me and rubbed my tummy.
Archie: Yeah, but Chris gave me extra bacon.
Dexter: Because you’re bigger than me. I’m exhausted. What a day! I’m going to have a nap on Mum’s lap.
Archie: So am I. Though I really think you shouldn’t have scoffed those Brussels sprouts. They’ve made you a bit gassy.
Dexter: The turkey made YOU gassy. Haha. Can we do it all over again tomorrow? Christmas EVERY DAY?