How Facebook Became the Surrogate Parent.

Who wants to know how much I earn? How much my house is worth? My car? Annual holiday? Who wants to see a doctored photo of my sun-kissed ripply abs? My pouty lips? My breakfast, lunch and dinner? Interested in my hourly comings and goings? Need to know how bad my period pains are this month? Photo of my morning poo perhaps?

No, you say? No one’s interested? Ah, yes, I suspected as much. Which does rather beg the sodding question, why the hell is EVERYONE sharing such attention-seeking bollocks on Facebook EVERY day?

Each one of these truly enlightening and life-enriching status updates reduces the poster to needy self-indulgent toddlerhood. A time when every minor and largely insignificant achievement was heralded with congratulatory applause and wonderment. The grown-up poster of: ‘I have a tummy ache’ has made little progress in their personal growth and development. They’re still entirely dependent on others’ continuous support and meaningless validation.

Facebook brings out the worst in us all. The absolute worst; a broken mirror reflecting the ugliest of our social media obsessed society. A forum in which vanity is given the thumbs-up; in which humility is non-existent and superficial Instagram lifestyles are showcased to a captive gullible audience.

How and when did we all become so insecure and self-doubting that posting a picture of a recently purchased iPad would be enough to console us? When did Facebook become our surrogate parent?

If your self-worth is entirely dependent on external factors, on others’ slapping you on the back each time you buy something, you will never actually truly enjoy anything; never experience the pure joy in any given situation as you’re too busy presenting the moment to the rest of the world. How do you really enjoy a romantic dinner with your husband, when you’re more focused on updating your Facebook status? It renders every magical moment in your life as superficial. You’ve missed their wonder and significance as your priority was telling others about it.

“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”
Thich Nhat Hanh

My best friend recently honeymooned in Barbados. I know this because she told me. In person. I did not find this out by reading through her hourly status updates, nor from her photos. There weren’t any. She went away with her new husband and did not feel the need to invite her Facebook friends along. Why would she? She has no need to show-off. She’s a successful, self-assured and confident woman. She doesn’t need our ‘likes’ to make her feel better.

I found out during her wedding that she’s also ‘quite a big deal’ in her company. I never knew that. I knew she’d had many promotions but she failed to mention exactly how far up the managerial chain she was. She’s never posted up her latest job title or unsubtly hinted at her huge salary; she’s quietly and humbly climbed the ladder of life and kept it to herself. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? Aren’t you more impressed by someone when you accidentally discover their greatness? Rarely happens. Within minutes of meeting most people, they waste no time in filling you in on their usually-lame junior management job title.

“The less you speak of your greatness, the more shall I think of it.”
Yeah, right on Shakespeare!

I’m genuinely intrigued by the psychology of the Facebook boaster. Any perpetual bragger actually. Sometimes, I think I should have been a psychologist, but I lack patience so am more likely to tell the insecure show-off to ‘stop being a dick’ rather than help him overcome his issues.

In my experience, Billy Boaster is usually the underachiever. His life hasn’t quite turned out how he’d planned and his left shoulder is burdened by an enormous chip. He was probably bullied in school and/or shown little attention by his parents. Thus rendering the need to post up hourly selfies entirely understandable. So, no one liked you in school? Ten minutes on Instagram spent touching-up a photo of your beautiful doe eyes will solicit all the ‘likes’ you’ve been missing.

Put this way, excessive boasting is terribly sad. Desperate and genuinely sad.

I’m quitting Facebook…soon. Being the addictive fiend he is, it may take a while to become completely clean. But, but, but, how am I now to promote my blog? I want people to read my blog, to follow it, and to ‘like’ it. But what does that say about me? As driven by ego as the next person. Ah, to be a Buddhist monk, it’s the only way.

How’s this for a fab closing quote. Lord Chesterfield (who?) says in one sentence what I’ve tried to in 800 words:

Modesty is the only sure bait when you angle for praise.”

Now please like my blog ;)

How Can I Write Children’s Books When I Don’t Like Children?!

Dear Marjorie,

I’m an aspiring picture-book writer with a medium-strong distaste for children. Could this be an issue? Could this prevent Waterstones from booking an ‘afternoon with the nation’s favourite picture-book writer, Victoria Twigg’? Can I still sell books to children when I can never foresee a time I’d like to discuss my stories with any one of the irritating stinkies?

Do you think there are other children’s writers out there who share my loathing? Is it inconceivable that just because I wish to create whimsical, imaginary worlds with wise-cracking cod and philanthropic head-lice, that I might not want to share my alternate worlds with the kids?

I’d be happy enough if they enjoyed my stories, but don’t ask me to read them aloud with insincere gusto to a class of fidgety, bum-scratching, bogey-eating kids.

You’re probably thinking I sound like one of Roald Dahl’s crotchety Witches, but you’d be mistaken. I don’t hate children nor want to turn them into mice. I just don’t relish their company as much my own. They steal my sweets, push in on the demon drop slide and get in the way of my more pressing priorities, such as watching Ratatouille and making Loom Band bracelets.

You may be surprised to hear that I have two of my own children. I tolerate them well, enjoying their excitable company most days, but given the choice between, ‘can we get the paints out?’ and Come Dine With Me, the bickering cooks have it.

I once thought I wanted to be a primary school teacher. But one year in the company of the sour-smelling little people, changed by mind. Kids really do smell. The little’uns smell of stale wee and Lenor; the older ones, BO and Lynx.

I quickly realised that I didn’t care for nurturing their creativity, I was too busy developing my own. But I loved the playful environment; a milieux of colourful and textured wall displays, dress-up boxes, role-play corners, powder paints and sponge and custard puddings. It was a comforting yet inspiring environment in which creativity could bloom without the boundaries and restrictions of the boring, grown-up world outside.

For the record Marjorie, because I know you’re bound to be wondering, my childhood wasn’t lacking in mischief and merriment. I’m not some Michael Jackson character determined to recreate a lost childhood with clowns, affable monkeys and merry-go-rounds. I just love the realm of the child: a world of promise and possibility, a bit like the sweetie room in Willy Wonka’s factory, where the fat kid gets stuck up a pipe; the one with the chocolate river and strawberry and cream spotty toadstools. That’s my world, Marjorie; a world of pure imagination. Sweetie Room

I wonder if Richard Adams wrote his books for children. Or Jonathan Swift or Lewis Carroll. Doubtful, Watership Down’s no Max and Ruby is it? I watched the horrific adapted animation when I was five and I can still picture the blood dribbling down the fangs of General Woundwort. And the little shadowy soul of Fiver zig-zagging up to heaven. Gulp.

I’m digressing. To be honest, I think I have answered my own question. Can I write a children’s book when I’d rather spend an evening painfully waxing my chin than be in a room with two or more incessantly chattering children? Probably not. But then again, maybe it’s still worth me querying Penguin with my Simon the Suicidal Snake story. What do you think?

Yours sincerely,

Victoria Twigg.

Whatever happened to the humble birthday party?

The first thing I thought upon hearing of one angry mother’s decision to invoice (fine) another parent for their child’s ‘non attendance of a birthday party’ was not, ‘wow – how mean spirited, unforgiving and downright petty’, but rather, ‘Jeez, who the hell books a dry ski-slope for their son’s 5th birthday party?!’ What’s he doing for his 18th? Disco at Everest base-camp? 20150120-204344.jpg

Children’s birthday parties are now similar in grandeur to weddings; and they seem to have grown in pretentious magnitude also.

Long gone are the days of a simple birthday tea at home, or even the hiring of the local village hall. Today, if you’re not booking out the Odeon in Leicester Square or Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disney World, you really are the Victorian tight-arse.

Why are so many parents hell-bent on lavishing their pups with parties to rival the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics? Is it because they are so extraordinarily minted, nothing is too big for their spoiled darlings? Or is it simply an exercise in upstaging the other mums; a case of ‘my party is better than yours-itis’?

Your party takes place in the kitchen with a few half blown up balloons, some paper hats and a Victoria sponge from Tesco, MY party will take place in a specially commissioned Frozen themed ice-palace complete with 100 tonnes of Siberian snow, ice-crystals from the glaciers of Norway and 1D’s rendition of Let it Go.

Gone are the days of the cocktail sausage, party ring and Monster Munch (beef & onion); or pass the parcel and musical bumps. Clearly, today’s younglings celebrate the day of their birth atop a dry ski-slope. (Are they practising for their ski-jumping debut in the 2026 Winter Olympics?)

The only ‘big deal’ birthdays when I was a kid were the 18th and 21st. All the others were marked with the typical birthday tea at home with a few school friends. And I loved them. Although I was rather envious of friends who were lucky enough to celebrate their special day with Ronald McDonald and a cardboard crown.

I hope Mrs Lawrence realises she is being totally unreasonable and lets go of the £15 she feel she is owed for a child’s no-show on the slopes. It’s £15! An amount she is happy to dispute with the parents in a small claims court. £15! Perhaps the five year old absentee in question felt a bit intimidated by the thought of spending an afternoon uncontrollably sliding down a dry ski-slope without his parents.

If Mrs Lawrence is happy to fight to the death to claim the self-imposed £15 no-show fee, she might consider a cheaper party alternative next year. Nice birthday tea perhaps? Tesco does a great sponge.

I am still writing!

Hello there,

Just a quickie today to say, yes, I am still writing. I haven’t blogged for a while as I am focused on writing my book….my play….my film-script and my day-to-day bread and butter copywriting.

My agent tells me my work is too dark for little people, so I’m keeping the darkness but changing the audience. I’ll see how that goes and report back with any news.

Over and out wordlings……

The Danger of Peaking Too Soon!

Do you ever ask people to look at your work when it’s not yet finished? Or query an agent/publisher with an ‘almost there’ manuscript? A manuscript you’re so excited about, you just can’t wait to share it with everyone. I do this; in all aspects of my life.

Two weeks ago, I asked my local friends to take a look at my new website and let me know their thoughts. It wasn’t complete but I was so pleased with it, I wanted to share my excitement as quickly as possible. Bit shortsighted really. The site is still not finished as there are several pages of content to write and upload.

However, I’ve never been very good at waiting. I usually open my birthday cards two weeks before the day (to check for spends) and I always knew what Christmas presents were hiding beneath their wrapping. It troubles my husband that I refuse to save Christmas themed films until December and that I empty my advent calendar on 2nd December; 23 indecipherable chocolate shapes taste much better when devoured in one sitting, especially whilst simultaneously enjoying one of the previously wrapped Christmas DVDs.

But peaking too soon inevitably leads to disappointment and exposes you as an impatient and incompetent fool. No one will reward your enthusiasm; there are no marks for earnestness.

Fortunately, I am now working with an agent who is acting as my story funnel. I can send him my ideas, along with their synopses and he will tell me they’re either worth developing or worth dumping. So far, he has probably saved me at least 12 months of work.

Without his help, I would surely still be querying agents and publishers with my Spider Gobbler picture book. A story he told me is far too hideous and sinister to ever be granted an audience with the under 8s. Although the macabre side of me still hopes that one day the story of an unpopular girl who pretends to gobble up all the unwanted spiders in her school just to be cool, will find its space on a bookshelf (probably alongside Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery).

Luckily, I value greatly his feedback. At least, I’m putting my faith in his expertise as I really haven’t a clue. I’m still writing books that I find funny even though their contents may disturb small children irreparably. How I wish I could find a home for the Sausage Children – a story about the misfortunate outcome for a class of naughty children. Yes, they are turned into herby sausages! Not really. Although it would be funny, don’t you think?

Who to ask for feedback should be a considered decision and not one influenced by ego. Whilst your nan may adore your latest story idea, she may not be your target market for your new S&M novel. Unless you’re writing about whip wielding OAPs.

And it should go without saying, but whether your kids love your work or not is totally irrelevant. I’m certain I could make my two smile by reading the Yellow Pages enthusiastically. It’s not the best story though is it?

To further complicate things for us fledging writers, is how to receive feedback, especially as we need to decipher what the feedback really means. Yesterday, I had an rejection email from an agent I queried months ago which read, ‘…although there is much to admire in your work….blah blah…not quite right for me blah blah.’ My husband thought it was a lovely positive rejection; I knew it was standard reply sent to prevent any highly sensitive author from feeling too despondent.

Feedback will always be subjective. I hate jazz. Really, really hate jazz. It’s trumpety farty jazz-flute sounds go right through me and bizarrely remind me of Rumpelstiltskin. Yet I’m sure Miles Davies and Charlie Parker knew they could bang out a good tune.

And isn’t that the whole point? If you’re producing authentic work that you’ve polished and perfected (and not shown the world before it’s ready), you should be confident in its worth. Not everyone is going to love your work and that’s ok.

I’ve Found an Agent…Ish!

How I’ve dreamed of writing that first sentence (without the ‘ish’)! And now I can finally type the words and share my exciting news…ish.

Last week, a literary agent contacted me to ask if I could get in touch re my ‘funny’ and ‘witty’ head lice story. Jubilations! A real agent from a real literary agency wanted me to give him a call. Cripes!

Once the appointment was made, I spent the weekend fretting over what he might say. I feared he’d made an embarrassing mistake and had contacted the wrong Victoria Twigg. I expected an apologetic email to say, ‘Terribly sorry, Victoria. Hope I haven’t built your hopes up monumentally; as high as the moon and as deep as your soul. I meant to contact Victoria Twig, with the one ‘g’. The woman with the really funny and witty head lice story. No hard feelings…’

I then wondered whether he was a rogue agent (not in a Russian spy way); a charlatan praying on gullible clueless picture book writers who may be tempted to part with £10,000 in exchange for representation.

What I found hard to believe was that he was genuinely interested in my work. I had made the sift and had roused someone’s interest enough to be contacted at 11.30pm on a Friday night. Underneath the predictable and tiresome self-doubt, lies a twinkle of something; a microscope sparkle atop a minute particle of dust which had been spotted by someone wearing just the right spectacles. Actually, it was the agent’s reader who first saw my sparkle, so a big thank you to him for shoving my manuscript under the agent’s nose.

About that manuscript. It’s not a picture book. It’s not even a story. It’s a comedy sketch apparently. And a comedy sketch that won’t translate into foreign markets and deals with a subject that some countries, particularly America, prefer not to discuss. Sssshh, American kids don’t have lice, just our dirty European ones.

Therefore, whilst the writing was promising, the story needs to be ripped up and popped in my blue recycling bag. Well, that’s a huge blow. I’ve been tinkering with my lice for about a year. Now I’ve been advised to let them go; move on; no one cares for my nits.

Joining the ripped up pages, will be the majority of my other stories, for they don’t make the grade either. Some are too moral and finger-pointy, some will not translate internationally and the rest are just disgusting and/or creepy. I must remember I am writing for young children and not simply for my own amusement.

Having an agent who vets your ideas is a wonderful privilege, and comes with plenty of chances to add another layer of skin to your bones. I’m a bit thin-skinned, so I’m appreciating the ‘this idea is rubbish’ working relationship.

And I mean that. I have found someone who wants to hear my ideas and will tell me when they’re rotten, which most have been so far.

So, I’ve gone from relentless agent hunting to catching a good’un, but with that victory comes a new bag of problems. I now have to live up to another person’s expectations. I need to deliver the cakes; super-fantastical cakes; with original ingredients or at least a new topping. That adds pressure to a person.

This is just the next stage of my writing voyage though. I’ve finally left the harbour behind and now I need to drop anchor for a good think. I can’t afford to mess up such an opportunity with mediocre stories. My ideas must compete with every picture book writer topping up the shelves in Waterstones.

Can I do it? Yeeees? Yes, I can. And I will. Which means I best stop blogging and get on with my day-dreaming/meditation. I’m off to catch some big story fish. Adieu, adieu!

Goodbye Afternoon Naps, Hello Primary School.

Dear Max,

4th September 2014 will mark the closing of the most spectacularly rewarding and contented chapter in my life. It signifies the end of our sacrosanct ‘Maxa-Mumma’ days; dozy, snuggly afternoons on the sofa, and rain-dodging, ‘weeeeeeeee‘ inducing bus journeys. No more, ‘What shall we do today?’ Or, ‘Can we go to the train cafe, Mumma?’

The high-speed 0-5 train is about to make its final stop. The station: Padstow Primary School. And whilst I’d willingly sit with you on this train for ever, you are ready to disembark and start the next stage of your journey without me by your side.

Will you boldly walk into class in your over-sized grey shorts and too-long school shirt, or will you cling to my leg in terror? Will you manage to carry your dinner tray without losing your peas? Will you make friends? And will you manage to do a poo without shouting, ‘I’M FIIIINIIIISHED!’?

I don’t know, Max. I have no idea what school has in store for you. I tell you that you’ve nothing to fear when you say you’re ‘fwightened‘. I reassure you that you’re going to have a fantastic time and you’ll make the bestest ever friends. But I can’t guarantee a smooth passage for you; I won’t be there to protect you. I’m handing over my most precious being and simply hoping that all will be ok.

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Of course, don’t get the wrong impression, Max. I haven’t spent the past few weeks sobbing in distress, nor having nightmares about letting go, nope, that’s only happened once or twice. Actually, I did have a horrifying dream last night. Your sister shot you dead! Make of that what you will. It could be a ‘closing of a chapter’ thing, or it might be because I watched The Godfather before bed.

Anyway, back to your mother’s open letter, which you’re probably finding a touch theatrical. After all, you’re going to a very good primary school, with a class of just fifteen; where Rick Stein’s fish pie is served, and where your sister has been incredibly happy this last year.

But, and I have lots of these, what if you don’t make any friends? What if no one lets you join in? What if they laugh at your hummus sandwiches? And worst of all, what if you’re BULLIED? Argh! What if! What if!

For five years, we’ve been inseparable; literally, during the first few months. You stuck to me like a, well, like a baby stuck to his mother’s breast. We spent every night together on the sofa, you suckling like a starved piglet (sorry, I’m sure that’s a hideous thing to picture), and me, eating digestives whilst watching Michael Portillo travel the length and breadth of Europe via train. You too, must have been listening to Michael’s informative words, as your love of trains remains unchallenged.

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My greatest hope for you is that you’re happy. Above all else, I want you to have a happy time at school. Unfortunately for you, you’re yet to realise that a fair amount of school life sucks. There will be the annoying kid, the stinky kid, the nasty shit, the bogey eater, the best looking kid, the bore, the gyp, the incessant liar, the perpetual show-off, and the kid who steals your girlfriend. I wish I could assure you that such kids only exist in childhood but you will meet them all again, even the bogey eater, and especially the show-off.

My greatest piece of advice for you is to be nice. Yes, I realise that’s an incredibly bland thing to say, but the world has a dearth of nice people. And whilst I’d be delighted if you passed your GCSEs (ridiculously outdated means of academic assessment) at age seven, your A levels at age ten, and your PhD in your early teens, I really won’t give a toss if you’re not a nice lad. For being nice, kind, tolerant and moral is worth a million A star star double triple stars. Although this doesn’t mean you can bum. Even if you’re as nice as Jesus, you’ll still need a job. And judging by how long I’ve had to wait to get a quote for a building a garden wall, I’d suggest a career in the trades.

I’m probably getting ahead of myself. I don’t need to worry about career choices just yet. Unless you fall into a bad crowd by Christmas and I catch you on the roof of the social club shouting, ‘We don’t need no eduction!’ Perhaps I need to consider home-schooling.

So, farewell my little Maxa. You won’t remember our special days together, but I will remember them for ever. In no time at all, you’ll stop holding my hand, deny my very existence and start smelling of BO. Nevertheless, thank you, my beautiful boy. It’s been a blast.

And remember, just say NO!

Your ever-loving, slightly embarrassing,

Mumma. Xx

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