Stop right there! It’s the punctuation police – and you’re nicked.

imagePunctuation is powerful stuff.  True, nobody ever died from a misplaced exclamation mark, but let’s not risk it.  I’m a constant corrector and it drives those non grammar, spelling and punctuation Zealots around me crazy – particularly my husband.  Luckily most of my friends and colleagues are of like mind and nothing lights our collective touchpaper like a greengrocers’ apostrophe or a fiery debate about the Oxford comma. In fact, several of my work colleagues and I once demanded to be moved from a restaurant table right next to a sign announcing the toilet’s.  It wasn’t the toilets themselves that were offensive, only the sign  – a sign that someone had gone to the trouble to paint on the wall, error and all.  Only last week I tweeted Good Morning Britain to point out a faux pas in a news banner that appeared on my TV screen as I prepared for another day of vigorous punctuating and grammar correcting in the day job.  (I didn’t get a reply but I felt slightly superior all day)  It’s a legal judgment in case you’re interested – see pic.  And one thing I do know about is a missing E.

But how much does such pedantry still matter in the modern world?  Who really cares if you can’t spell or your grammar is sloppy?  Is knowing that they’re going there in their car important?  (Carrie Bradshaw was gleeful in Sex and the City on discovering that her ex’s new wife didn’t know the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’.)   Wearing my legal proofreader hat, perfect grammar and punctuation is vital.  As a writer, I maintain that it’s all about presentation and polish and attention to detail.   What about everyday life? I really would have to think twice about using a company whose promotional material offered Removal Quote’s or Decorating Service’s: if you’ve put that little thought into the detail of your advert, what is your end product going to be like?   I’m sure that Daves Removal Service’s (No Job To Small) do a sterling job and they are, after all, in the business of hefting about boxes and not proofreading.  But those errors would grate.

Similarly a journalist friend recently confessed that she disregards any reviews of hotels or restaurants containing dreadful spelling and no punctuation.  I’m just the same: if you, the reviewer don’t care about the quality of your writing then surely our views and tastes cannot possibly be similar?  And I’m not talking about dyslexia here or those for whom English is a second language,  just people who don’t care. How can you not care?

Much as I long to prowl the streets with a large permanent marker pen to correct all those signs and A frames I do try very hard to fight such snobbery.   I know lovely people who don’t think being able to use a semi-colon correctly is at all important and even schools don’t place as much emphasis as they used to on getting grammar and spelling right.  What hope is there for future generations?  Or will the need for perfect punctuation soon be as obsolete as the video player?

So as an experiment I tried to relax my punctuation and grammar a little in texts and instant messages. It was tough but guess what? The world kept turning.  I carried on breathing in and out. Nothing major happened.  Nobody even mentioned it. I even bit my lip – hard – when someone said a friend of theirs ‘should of’ done something.  That took some effort.  But stop off at the stall near work selling ‘Tea’s and Coffee’s’? I’m still working on that.  Continue reading

Bullet Point Journals

I am a compulsive list-maker.  Everything in my life needs a list – not just times where a high level of organisation is required – such as Christmas, moving house or getting married – but everyday tasks like ordering the groceries and remembering to renew my travelcard.   For my wedding I had a to-do list of over 150  items which later morphed into a spider diagram covering two A1 sheets of paper.  I was in organisation heaven. (Okay, maybe my inner Bridezilla emerged but at least everyone involved knew what they were supposed to be doing).  In fact only this week, my plumber joked about my prolific list-making.  I bet he was wondering how on earth he would have managed to refurbish our bathroom without my daily lists.  Moving house last year involved what my husband dubbed the ‘nerve centre’: a file containing list upon list upon list which covered every aspect of the move from the paperwork to buying a bottle of champagne to leave in the fridge for our buyers.

Every Sunday night I draw up a list for the coming week. In fact, holidays are the only time I don’t make lists.  (That’s once I am on holiday: the lead-up and preparations involve many a list)  I’m not alone in loving a good list:  if you haven’t read Mike Gayle’s The To-Do List novel, then I suggest you add it your reading list right now.  People who get stuff done make lists. I’m pretty sure world leaders and self-made billionaires are all list-makers.

The internet’s latest obsession with the bullet journal (or #BuJo as the kids say) seemed like the answer to my Type A personality’s prayers. It promised to allow me to micromanage and therefore streamline every area of my life – not just the larger events like getting our new dog or holidays but the everyday minutiae too.   It’s so much more than just a book of lists, it is a whole lifestyle rehaul, apparently.  And it also involves stationery, another of my passions.  Ever since a childhood visit to the new phenomenon that was Paperchase  on Tottenham Court Road in the early 1980s I have been obsessed by beautiful stationery.  I still keep a paper diary and write letters.  In today’s electronic and instant society, going old school soothes the soul.

So for the past month I have been trying out the bullet journal, making lists of every single aspect of my life, from daily to-dos to five year plans and I have been in my element.   I had very high expectations and wanted to become a powerhouse of activity – more so than I already am.  The very act of writing and re-writing lists apparently helps to hone your thinking and focus the brain on what is important and we all know how satisfying it is to tick off items once they’re completed.  For me, the fact all the lists are indexed and contained in a beautiful hard-backed notebook only enhances the experience.

So how can a bullet journal help us writers? Well, list-making is a form of writing in itself.  I have made lists of all the outstanding bits of writing I need to get done as well as what is needed to finish my Work in Progress (first started 2009!).  Another list has been drawn up of possible markets for my writing.  A bullet journal can help with scheduling in writing time, jotting down ideas as they occur and setting goals. But again, you can write all the lists you want but putting bum to seat and fingers to keyboard is what’s it’s all about.

If you’re interested in starting your own bullet journal then there are many tutorials on the internet.  I’ve yet to branch out into colour coding my journal which is a whole new adventure, but right now I am well and truly hooked.  Try it for a few weeks and see if it changes your life.

 

Writing through the pain: a tribute to a special dog

Writing is cathartic.    Just the act of trying to put feelings into words, whether it’s a letter to an absent mother/the lover you did wrong/your sixteen year old self or simply scribbling down your experience of anger or pain, then just the act of putting pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — is allegedly healing.

Grief, as perhaps the ultimate intense human emotion, brings with it a bewildering array of guilt, pain, anger and unbearable sadness. Writing can be a good outlet for these varied emotions as feelings flow from the heart, travel down the arm and flow through the fingers.

On 1 June we lost our beloved dog, Dexter. It was unexpected and took a whole month before the rawness of the grief started to dull a little. I tried many times but didn’t feel like writing: it was just too painful to let my feelings run amok.  It was challenging enough keeping my emotions in check in public.  (Thank God for the excuse of hayfever and for large sunglasses!)   But then I read a wonderful piece on a dog blog written a man who had recently said goodbye to his much loved pooch. It was told from the dog’s viewpoint of the last day of his life.  (I’ve looked everywhere but can’t find it again although I believe it went viral, so apologies for the lack of acknowledgement)

So I decided to tell Dexter’s tale of his final journey.  It has taken three weeks to finish as the tears flowed with every word — and sometimes seemed like they would never stop –but I wanted to write a fitting tribute to a very special family member.  I should issue a warning that if you are an animal lover,  you may find this sad.

My Last Day On Earth

Today feels different. I awake with the same fog of pain that I’ve had lately but the human parents are acting strangely.  Human mum lets me out into the garden but I struggle to get down the steps. Everything hurts and my back leg collapses (I only have three legs, but apparently that’s what makes me special).  Mum has to carry me back into the house.  She looks like she’s been crying again but she does get something called hayfever which makes her cry, even when she’s not sad.  Normally the humans are so busy rushing about with their lives, but not today.  They seem sort of still and sad. They keep looking at me and whispering.

I lay on my favourite chair and mum and dad take it in turns to sit with me and stroke my head just where I like it behind my ears.  Then mum gives me a funny tasting treat.  I spit it out and she takes it away and comes back with a piece of cheese.  Swallowing is agony but cheese is the best thing in the world!   After that I feel a bit fuzzy and the pain gets better. I snooze and am woken up by the sound of my food bowl being put on the floor. It’s steak mince! I’ve had a lot of awesome food in the last few days and lots of treats. I can’t manage all of it but it is so tasty. I see my human dad cover the rest up and put it in the fridge and I worry about what’s  going to happen to it.  Normally I guard the fridge just in case but standing hurts me too much.

Mum has been on the phone a lot lately and she gets upset. She says things like ‘it’s so hard’ and keeps mentioning someone or something called ‘lymphoma’. I’ve also heard everyone talk about the ‘rainbow bridge’.  I’m not sure what it is but we always go under a bridge on the way to visit mum’s mum.  I love it there because there’s always a treat waiting for me and I help her with the gardening too.   Lifting my head is hard and I must have dozed off because when I wake up then mum’s mum is actually here, kissing me on the head and telling me she loves me. She has red eyes too.  I tell her I love her too by licking her face and hope she will give me a treat. She does.

Suddenly I’m being carried to the car by mum and dad. They have a debate about whether to put my harness on and my bed is loaded in too. So it can’t be a walk but maybe I am going to the dogsitter?   Perhaps this place called Lymphoma is where mum and dad are going on holiday, like when they went to somewhere called Sicily last year without me. I sit on dad’s lap while mum drives.  Dad strokes my fur and I spot a dog out of the car window.  I try to woof but a strange sound comes out instead of a bark and my throat is sore.

We are parking at the vets! My favourite receptionist fusses me and she looks sad too.  I lick her hand.  My bed is carried into the vet’s room and I’m allowed to sit in it!  My humans and the vet have a very  serious discussion and dad feeds me some liver treats from the vet’s treat jar.   Everyone keeps saying how sorry they are and then mum and dad are crying hard and mum signs something.  I feel something sharp going into my paw as dad strokes  me. I try to tell him not to cry but I’m feeling sleepy.  A voice is saying I’m a good boy and a cold feeling travels up my leg.

And then suddenly the pain has gone! I leap from my bed  with joy and notice I have all four legs again.  The vet has made me better!  A wonderful bright rainbow light is calling me and I want to run  towards it.  Is this the rainbow bridge?  Why is everyone so sad about it?  I turn to tell mum and dad I am healed now and not to worry but I seem to be floating high above the room.  Four humans are huddling round a small black dog lying in my bed.  The dog is still and mum and dad are weeping. The vet and the nurse are talking about something called a cremation.  Then mum raises her face to the ceiling and through  streaming tears says goodbye and tells me to run free. I try to explain to my humans I am there and I love them but they  ignore me and keep fussing over the black dog in my bed.   That bright light is so enticing  but I feel I need to stay with my humans.

I watch as my humans walk through to the reception area, leaving the little dog curled up sleeping in my bed.  There are more tears.  At least he’s not in pain, says someone. I sit by mum and dad and try to paw at them.  Look,  it doesn’t hurt, I want to say.  I’m free! But there’s still that steak in the fridge.  Who will take my humans on walks and to the vets?  I remember the day I rescued them  and came to live with them. What will they do now?

And then I understand that in order to set me free, they can no longer see me.

I promise my human mum and dad I will always love them and never forget them.   I will wait for them at the rainbow bridge.  And then with my ears flapping joyfully in the warm, sweet breeze I run and run towards the wonderful light.

In memory of Dexter 13 October 2005 – 1 June 2016

Loved by his human pawrents Rebecca and Andy since March 2011

Dexter

The Devil’s In The Detail …

There I was happily immersed in a Lynda La Plante thriller when DCI Jane Tennison drove down Chancery Lane and turned left onto Fleet Street.  I was so distracted I had to stop reading.  What was the problem?  Well, I have worked on Fleet Street for 20 years and Chancery Lane was, and still is, a one-way street, but going the other way.  This minor inaccuracy, which some would say doesn’t matter in the slightest and most of the population wouldn’t even have spotted, grated on me and diverted from the narrative.  It got me thinking about the importance of accuracy and research, even in fiction.

True, the wrong direction one-way street incident was irrelevant to the plot of the novel.  But as readers, the writer asks us to suspend disbelief and buy totally into their characters, plot and narrative.  It needs to be as ‘real’ as possible (unless, of course, it’s sci-fi, a genre which I know next to nothing about as a writer or a reader and which has its own rules).  As a proofreader accuracy and consistency are king and I am obsessive about both.

A recent chick lit novel had a character complaining that her new cottage didn’t have a dishwasher, while two chapters later she was banging crockery into the dishwasher angrily   The same woman left the house at 3am and then, after spending two hours chasing a lost dog, commented that the time was coming up to 3am.  (This was a top ten bestseller from a famous publishing house, by the way!)  Another novel by one of my favourite authors saw a judge in the High Court banging a gavel.  During my 20 years in the legal profession I have never seen a gavel used in the High Court. I think TV judge Robert Rinder might use one for the cameras.

So does carelessness, lazy editing or artistic licence matter in fiction?  Yes, I think so. Careful research adds depth and richness to a story and is never wasted.   Consistency in names and times will be spotted by an eagle-eyed reader.  If your heroine’s mum is called Kathy in chapter two and Karen in chapter ten it will sidetrack from your story as much as a Victorian protagonist named Chardonnay.   Characters should ideally have every detail of their lives and back story plotted in the planning stage, everything from birthday to phobias, to add credibility to them as real people.

TV and movie inaccuracies are often gleefully pounced on by viewers and have had whole programmes devoted to them.  Many production companies hire continuity people to pick up on every last little detail and check it ties in, ie no digital watches in a Regency drama.   Coronation Street gets a tremendous amount of correspondence pointing out that the Rovers Return loos are actually in the Barlow’s house. (Yes, I missed that one but now every time I watch it amuses me – and annoys me a little bit too!)

So what about the equivalent in writing? At worst, inaccuracies could get you sued, particularly in non-fiction.  At best, you might alienate your reader.  So edit, re-edit, check and then check some more.  Then get a second pair of eyes to cross-check.  The devil really is in the detail.  And if anyone does see a judge using a gavel in the High Court, please let me know.

 

 

 

Is giving up good for the soul?

We are nearing the end of Lent and this year I have given up biscuits.  (I fell off the wagon a couple of times at work but I think even Jesus himself, faced with the day I’d had, would have been tempted by an M&S All Butter Shortbread).   I believe self-discipline is good for the soul and so every Lent finds me attempting abstention of some kind.  Diet coke and chocolate were successful; swearing lasted only a morning. Foregoing biscuits has been tougher than I thought: everywhere I go, platefuls of the things are winking at me.    A couple of years ago for a New Year resolution I decided to give up on certain friendships where I just didn’t get back what I was putting in.  Harsh, but wonderfully cathartic.

But what about the things we give up without meaning to?  Last year I joked that I had seemingly given up on my appearance after an unfortunate incident during which a doorstep caller addressed me as ‘Mr Ridgway’.   Often I feel I have given up hope.  I have also unintentionally given up writing .  The excuse that I am in the middle of moving house is now redundant as we have been in our new abode four whole months, but has morphed into every spare moment being spent on house and garden renovation.  Like Carrie Bradshaw cheating on fashion with furniture when she moves into her New York flat with Mr Big, I have been cheating on writing with interior design magazines, colour swatches, mood boards and Pinterest.

This doesn’t sit easy with me because I am of the strong belief that one can always find time for things one really wants to do and it is back to the old problem of self-discipline. Writing is like exercise and the writer needs to keep the creative mind supple with regular use.  At a recent family funeral , my cousin, who read The Ironic Bride with great enthusiasm (and even forced my octogenarian uncle to download it from Amazon) asked what my latest writing project is and I realised that I hadn’t written anything for a long time.  (I could tell you what Dulux’s Colour of the Year is, though,  all about damp and the latest geometric trends in decor).   So whereas a bit of abstention can be good for the soul, drifting into apathy isn’t and I’m keen to get back on track. Now, if I could write about interior design that would be too perfect!

So I am getting back into the saddle and starting to write again.  Just as soon as Easter rolls around and I can eat biscuits again while I write.

Creative hoarding – the cluttered mind of the writer

I have sorely neglected this website since October for several reasons, my primary excuse being that I finally moved house in November.  Not only have I been very pressed for time but my creative juices ran dry and I have felt bereft of inspiration of any kind.  Such is the soul-destroying nature of the English housing market and conveyancing process!

The sheer amount of physical stuff we had to move between old dwelling and new made me think about hoarding.  We’ve all seen the extreme hoarding shows on TV and interestingly I actually know a couple of hoarders who are unable to use whole rooms in their homes due to clutter, one of whom has to walk sideways through the mountains of piled up papers and magazines in his flat’s usable rooms.   Hoarding has deep emotional roots and I can highly recommend the wonderful and insightful book by Lisa Jewell, The House We Grew Up In, which takes a painful look at the effect of hoarding on a whole family.

But as writers, do we emotionally hoard?  Are our minds as cluttered as the hoarder’s home where nothing is thrown away in case it can somehow be used in a future piece or novel?  Although I like my physical house to be organised and ordered and very clean and tidy — and my husband leans towards minimalism — I fear that rather than the tastefully furnished spacious and modern loft apartment, my brain actually resembles a very overstuffed and sprawling ramshackle house where broken items are not discarded in case they can be mended one day and each room is piled from floor to ceiling with possessions the owner couldn’t quite bring herself to throw out.   Snippets of overheard conversations, things I’ve read, characters in films: they are all whirring round my brain ready to be used some time in the future.

Is this the sign of a creative mind: chaotic and bursting full with ideas, some only embryonic, some reasonably well-developed, never resting, always alert?   Is it good for a writer to see the value of something old that can be dusted off and restored for future use?  I have tried mindfulness – see previous blog – but I just cannot get on with it as random thoughts and ideas pop into my brain when I am trying to concentrate on something else.   The same is true for meditation: emptying my mind proves impossible.  Although isn’t writing the ultimate mindfulness activity?

I try to write ideas down in notebooks so they are not lost and in the hope that by transferring them onto physical paper, it will free up brain space to let in other things.  I even tried to have a break from writing while I was moving and couldn’t face the blank page, but the need to force those words out could not be shifted.  I have heard it said that as a writer you write because you simply have to.

So surely emotional  minimalism is  anathema to the writer:  we need our cupboards to be stuffed full of colour and chaos.

 

Writing – the ultimate mindfulness activity?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave with absolutely no internet access, you’ll have noticed that everyone is talking about mindfulness.  Living in and appreciating the moment seems a simple concept but in this busy and technology driven era, multi-tasking is such second nature that it takes real effort to retrain our brains to be in the here and now.  (As I type this I also have one eye on Midsomer Murders, am fussing the dog and trying to drink a smoothie to get up to my five a day).

Adult colouring books, themselves a form of mindfulness –  or ‘art therapy’ as it is also called – have topped the Amazon bestseller list for months now.  I’m a huge fan although I do my colouring while watching the telly so I’m not sure if that counts!

A friend is even taking a degree in mindfulness and she loves it. It’s not just psychobabble: living in the here and now and really appreciating everything we are experiencing with all our five senses has enormous health benefits.  I decided to give it a try a few months ago to counteract all the stress of trying to move house.

As a Type A personality, I find concentrating on one thing impossible.  My mind is forever racing with a never ending to-do list, imaginary scenarios about what might or might not happen and then flashing back to the past  So giving mindfulness a go and trying to lose myself in the moment is proving very challenging.  Like most skills, it takes practice.

It might just be I’ve already found my mindfulness activity.  We all have a ‘flow’activity where time becomes suspended and we are totally lost and absorbed in our own world. For some it is a sport, gardening or baking: for me, it is writing.  Once I stop my displacement/distraction activities and cease making excuses as to why I can’t write, and actually put bum to seat and fingers to keyboard, hours can go by as I become lost in the world of words I have created.  This new world becomes my reality, a reality rich and bright in detail with wonderful three-dimensional characters.  If the real world intrudes (the phone ringing, the dog wanting to be let out) I’m always jolted back to reality with a shock, rather like waking suddenly from a vivid dream.

If your passion is writing then you will know exactly what I mean.   But everyone should have a ‘flow’ activity where they can switch off from the distractions of the life and really appreciate the moment.  And I can highly recommend the colouring books!

Is this the best time of year to write?

I’ve always loved September.  Calm is restored everywhere as the kids go back to school (and I don’t even have them!)  Traditionally we take our summer holiday the first week of September and it’s the perfect time of year: the weather is still hot in Europe, but it’s much quieter. For the punctuation enthusiast that I am, it is the perfect full stop after the summer.

There’s also that ‘back to school’ or new term feeling to September.   I always want a new pencil case and a fresh and stylish working wardrobe.  In the legal profession where my day job is based, the courts creak to life again ready for some serious work before Christmas.  Everyone is back from foreign climes and raring to go.

And what of writing?  When the nights start to draw in in the UK, it is the perfect time to take up writing projects again after all the distractions of the summer.  Cold autumn evenings are made for settling down at my laptop with a hot drink, and the dog by my side for company.

But frustratingly, I had a hopeless case of writers’ block over the summer months.  I was full of plans for the long recess (finish that novel, get that article submitted …) but what with so much else going on in my life (moving, or still trying to, dog needing continuous treatment at the vet …) I found myself less and less motivated and when I did open a blank page ready to start writing, horror of horrors … nothing happened.

So what should we do when we are blocked?  Some say writing is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.  Others find stepping away allows the creativity to flow again.   Not being a fan of the gym, I chose the latter .  I had a small hiatus during which I read a lot instead and did countless craft projects which has long been my displacement activity. Now I’m back with a vengeance – I hope – and looking forward to some good projects in the pipeline, including the annual Festival of Romantic Fiction, run by a writer friend and always attended by some very famous, talented and inspirational novelists.

I also return to my long commute into London which, although one of the worst parts of my life, gives me a couple of uninterrupted hours a day on the train to write and therefore makes use of otherwise wasted time.

Although I know that the best way to write is just to sit down and do it regardless of season, personal life, chores at home et cetera, et cetera, I’m using the change in the season as my own ‘back to school’ for writing motivation.  Here’s hoping it works …

Writerly research: meeting the rich and famous

In my day job in the legal profession, my firm occasionally has the super wealthy and/or celebrities as clients. Observing these mythical creatures up close makes for excellent character study and the writer in me loves it.  To mix with moneyed and larger than life humans is rather like being in a zoo full of beautiful and exotic animals and I have to struggle to ‘act normal’ around them.  Recently in one court case we had an A list celebrity client.  The insight into his world of fame was fascinating – and good research no doubt for a character in a novel somewhere down the line.

Let’s take the super wealthy first.  Oligarchs, captains of industry, royalty, old money and even organised crime figureheads.  Hand stitched suits, bespoke cologne, quiet authority: these people ooze money and confidence from every pore. (I am excluding in this a certain oligarch who looks more like an unshaven tramp than a multi-billionaire!) The women sport gobstopper jewels and expensive suntans that speak of year round access to a yacht – and are usually stick thin.   Such enormous wealth carries with it an air of entitlement and privilege.  The part of me that champions a classless and egalitarian society is secretly thrilled when they have to queue up for the same court loos as the rest of us commoners, or tolerate the bad machine coffee.   Several years ago, a court case in a British overseas territory saw everyone queuing for the one very basic cell toilet which had no lock on the door.  It’s a great leveller to have the Attorney General holding the door for you while you have a wee, while a woman who graces the Sunday Times Rich List waits her turn.

But what are these otherworldly people actually like?  They vary as much as any other human being.   Yes, there are the arrogant and the ignorant who slam doors in your face and treat everyone with contempt. But then there are the wonderful ones: one household name billionaire had boxes of £100 hand crafted Swiss chocolates flown in his private helicopter for everyone in the court after he felt he had caused inconvenience by requesting we worked late.  And he came round and thanked us all personally.  Others remain aloof, conferring only with their large entourage of staff and do not deign to speak to anyone else.  I once had the terrifying task of informing a Greek shipping billionaire that he couldn’t have the password to our wifi for security reasons. This man had never, ever been told the word “no” in his life, by anyone, and he was astounded. Luckily, he was very charming about it.

So what of celebrities? They are frequently in court and along with my colleagues, I have a considerable list of those I have worked with.  Familiar as we are with their larger-than-life presence on screen and in the press, many are diminutive in the flesh. Some are absolutely tiny.  All are surrounded by an extensive and expensively retained entourage of ‘yes’ people, lawyers and general hangers-on.

Once again, their personalities are variable.  Some are charming, modest and always in celebrity mode: happy to oblige with autographs for court staff and make small talk.  Some believe their own hype and are obnoxious and bad tempered. A few remain cloistered within their huddled group of legal advisers and won’t engage with anyone, hiding behind dark glasses and their minders

Again I refer to the court toilets as a good leveller, although I was struck in my recent case with a very famous TV personality how, such is his fame, he was unable to even use the gents without a member of the press sidling up next to him, or a fan wanting an autograph.  He took all of this with good grace and charm and won many new followers.  It’s not always like this.  I’ve gone off certain celebrities instantly having witnessed the ‘real’ them.   You can judge a man by how he treats his dog, so the saying goes, but you can also judge a person by how they treat those working for them.

So what have I learned from these encounters?  You can keep your celebrity and money for a start: the super rich are always suing or being sued.  And fundamentally although united by money, they are as varied in temperament and personality as any other person.  Fascinating as we may find them, they are simply human beings at the end of the day.

Knowing when it’s time to leave the party

Making a dignified exit is such a valuable life lesson and is very important for us writers.   It’s much better to end on a high and bow out gracefully while the going is good than keep flogging that dead horse.  I was recently dismayed on reading the latest book from one of my top five authors: it was hackneyed, samey and the plot was practically identical to her last three novels; reviews showed other readers felt the same.   Surely it’s better to quit while one is ahead before your writing becomes as unappetising as that stale leftover biscuit nobody wants. Keeping writing fresh and original is a vital part of the writer’s job.

This reminds me of the brilliant and peerless Fawlty Towers.  Each of those 12 episodes is a masterpiece and the series is still revered, cited and loved today. Contrast that to ITV’s Benidorm series which, in my opinion, started off fantastically but dragged on years after it stopped being funny.  We should all aim to create a Basil Fawlty rather than a Mateo the barman.

So it is time to resign from my newspaper column.  It has been three and a half years since my first was published and my last is now on the newsstands;  I’m their longest serving columnist .  I’ve loved writing my column and hope my readers have enjoyed it too but I simply feel I’ve said all I can and it is time to move on to other projects.  I’ve discussed subjects as diverse as men in flip-flops and Lycra, adopting a rescue dog, ghosts, tattoos, commuting, homesickness and the high cost of being a wedding guest.  But now I’m leaving without fanfare and just slipping away.

Whether it is a party, relationship or job, there’s an art to knowing when to move on with your head held high.  The worst exit I ever made was on leaving a job after being headhunted.  Resignation tendered to my shocked colleagues, I swept towards the door – and my new, bright future – with all eyes on me, only to realise that as I had handed in my pass, I couldn’t actually get out of the door. The humiliation of having to turn round and ask for someone to let me out still burns to this day!

So watch this space for my new projects.  I’ve been asked to be a guest stylist on an interiors magazine, I’m ghostwriting for a dog website and I WILL stop procrastinating and finally finish that book!