Child's Play Extract

Chapters 1 and 2 of my amazing*, wonderful*, fantastic* and sexy psychological crime thriller Child's Play are now available below so if you haven't got a copy yet (grr), have a read and see if it helps convince you to buy the book.

In the mean time, I hope you have a fantastic New Year. I'll be blogging more frequently in the coming months so please don't give up on me (if you haven't already).


* Slightly biased opinion.



“I wish I was as strong as you,” my friend laments, stirring her coffee wistfully. “Look at me – mine did it twice and still I stayed but you– you were straight out.”

She is, of course, talking about her husband who was unfaithful. Twice. Unlike mine. Who was unfaithful once (or not depending on who you believe*).

But she’s right – I was straight out. I wasn’t interested in recriminations or mediation or denials and accusations. I was straight out. Because when someone as neurotic, distant and emotionally claustrophobic as me lets you in, you damn well better not expect forgiveness when you screw up. We don’t do forgiveness. We do bitterness, resentment, anger and a whole host of other less-than-charming things. But we don’t do forgiveness.

And so to a late afternoon gathering with a close friend in Costa Coffee, where she continually expresses amazement at how strong I am; a sentiment echoed by all the friends that have learnt of this latest unravelling in my life.

And it’s strange because, even though I like to think that I am indeed a strong person, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to think what strength actually is. Is it being able to exist without financial and emotional dependence? Is it as facile as ‘not crying’? Is it not feeling the need to weep to the friends you confide in?

One says it’s “not giving up”, but what does that mean? Not giving up what? Your job? Your social life? Your will to live? I mean, people go through all sorts – bereavement, abuse, crime – and they experience all sorts of consequences – depression, apathy, fear, loneliness, sadness – and they survive. So are they strong only once they have stopped feeling those emotions or are they deemed to be so regardless of how they react simply because of what happened in the first place?

What I mean is, if I was crying every day and weeping and feeling lonely and depressed, would I still be strong? Is the mere fact that I’m still here enough to warrant that label or do I have to be as focused, determined and normal as I ever was to earn it?

* Yes, I can hear Ross Geller whispering “Whom, whom”.


Five by Five

We all have problems, right? Some of us are riddled with neuroses, others with egotism. Some of us feel a need to be needed; others feel suffocated by the very same thing. Some hunger love and intimacy while others are ensconced in so many layers of protection, that no-one can ever really touch us again. Most of us recognise our problems. We may even know the reasons behind our various maladies, but how many of us have contemplated them to any meaningful degree?

No, I haven’t been reading bad philosophy – just bear with me. Basically, having pretty much finished my book (due for release in December), I realised that I had had enough of my main character. I cared for her (in the pretentious way writers care about their characters) but I didn’t want to think about her problems anymore (of which she has many). When thinking about this, I realised that it’s a good way to build characters for my next novel; writing down, say, five things that shaped that particular character. They could be bad things or good things; they could be things that equipped the character with strength and ability, or that crippled them with fears and insecurities. They can be random or subtle or violent and tragic or epic or sweet or all of those things. I just have to know what they are and use them to build my characters’ personalities.

This, of course, got me thinking about the five things that shaped me the most. Some are random, some are nice, some are awful, some are ordinary – all are a part of the strange, sprawling mess that life can sometimes feel like. Maybe I’ll list my five in the next entry, but for now, I’d like to hear about you. Can you think of five things that have shaped you as a person? Are they good or bad? How have they affected you? Would you change any of them? Does thinking about them help or hurt, or a bit of both? Would writing about them and sharing them be terrifying or cathartic? If the latter, would you be willing to do so here, even if it’s under ‘Anonymous’? What about if you can’t or couldn’t think of five things? Would you count yourself lucky or just inexperienced? In short, what five things have made you, you?


Scales of Indifference

There is a wide and varied range of things that piss me off. I hate it when people walk slowly in front of me or blow smoke in my face or when friends are late more than five minutes or when they steal chips off my plate. I hate it when the heel of a shoe wears out while the rest is still brand new. I hate it when publications pay me late and expect me to accept it as par for the course. I hate it when I hear stories about 53-year-old film stars in steamy clinches with women who are not their wife of 28 years (*cough* Mel Gibson *cough*). But more than all of that, I hate it when skinny girls moan about being fat.

It’s exasperating when a size six nothing pinches her almost non-existent waist and gasps in horror at the amount of fat she’s managed to amass between her emaciated fingers (I used to work for a fashion mag – believe me, it happens). I know how stupid and superficial it is so please, please bear with me while I, er, moan about getting fat.

Before I start, I’ll just say that if you’re a new reader who’s landed on this blog and is reading this post, I totally forgive you for casting me aside as a vacuous airhead.

Right, now that all the disclaimers are out of the way, I can start.

As I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts, I’ve always been able to eat like a pig and not put on an ounce of weight. And I do. I mean, I eat chips and crisps and chocolate and cakes and pastries and burgers and fritters and waffles and pancakes and popcorn and nachos and pizza and ice cream and... well, the list goes on. I have always loved food and, proportionately for my body size (and usually even in absolute terms), can out-eat most of my friends (male and female). So, no, food and weight have never been issues, but as I said in one of my previously linked posts, I’ve always suspected that my metabolism will catch up with me (or, er, the opposite so to speak) when I’m 26.

Now, for the first half year of being 26, I was all good but then, in December of last year, I went on the pill (after marriage, mind) and oh, how it’s gone downhill from there. I’ve put on about 5-7 pounds (making that 7 stones and 5 pounds on a 5'2" frame) and, no, it doesn’t exactly make me clinically obese but I can really feel it. I now understand that all my sneering and smirking at the salad-munchers and gymrats was completely misplaced. Yes, some women are delusional when they think they’re putting on weight, but I now realise that even a few pounds worth of weight gain can have an effect on a person. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly hiding behind the duvet, wrapped up in shame and embarrassment but I can feel the extra weight and it’s not pleasant.

It’s great to be carefree about food – it can even give you an attractive edge – but when that translates into superiority over those who have to watch their weight, it turns a natural advantage into something quite nasty. So next time a friend passes up on that decadent dessert, please don’t roll your eyes like I used to you – have a bit of understanding.

I’m determined to lose the extra weight but I won’t find it easy to change my eating habits. I’ve been told that weight gain due to the pill peters out but, after four months, it still hasn’t. I may actually have to start exercising (gasp!). In the mean time, just to prove that I’m not delusional, I've linked to some pictures below. I’m doing this despite extreme reservations. After all, if people disagree, they’re clearly being patronising and if they agree, well, that just means I really am getting fat. Hmph.

*EDIT*: A friend has very helpfully sent me this.


The Small Things

I watched ‘Crash’ (Matt Dillon, not James Spader) for the first time the other day. It’s a film about racial tensions in LA, and was touching, poignant, subtle and sweet; one of the best films I’ve seen in a while. It made me think of the small things that affect foreigners and immigrants. You see, people don’t need the word ‘Paki’ blared at them to make them feel bad; it’s the smaller, subtler things that can make them feel like crap.

I remember being on the DLR a few years ago and this Bengali man was asking the DLR officer for some help with directions. The DLR guy couldn’t understand the man’s accent. After a few seconds, he huffed and said impatiently, “I don’t understand what you’re saying – sorry,” and just turned away. The Bengali man, chastened, simply stood there with downcast eyes, saying nothing further. I couldn’t quite believe it. I stood and, in Bengali, asked him where he wanted to go. Now, I admit that even I had trouble understanding him but the point is, I persevered. I figured out that he wanted to go to Morden. As we were on the DLR headed from Bank towards Limehouse (lovely Limehouse where I used to live... sob), I told him he needed to get off now (at Shadwell) and take the train in the opposite direction. I told him the train goes no further than the next stop where he needs to get off and catch the Northern Line. I was worried that he wouldn’t be able to find his way to the right platform so I told him to ask another person to point him in the right direction when he got to Bank.

After he left, I realised that I should have written down ‘Morden’ for him on a piece of paper because, most likely, the person he asks at the other end would just shrug and say, “I don’t understand what you’re saying – sorry”. It mays sound strange, but over the past few years, I’ve often thought about that man and felt really sad.

There are people who struggle with language and life every single day. Yes, people should make an effort to learn the language of their land (that should apply as much to British ex-pats in, say, Dubai as to Bengali immigrants in the UK) but in the interim, imagine the sense of disorientation, embarrassment and even fear they feel on a daily basis. When they can’t get from A to B without having to ask for assistance, and consequently feeling ridiculed for the way they speak, well, that's pretty sad, right?

Anyway, sorry – that’s enough melancholy for one day. I don’t know why I’m thinking sad thoughts when the sun is so bright outside. ‘Til next time.


Playing Favourite

Despite reading some pretty bad reviews, I went to see
He’s Just Not That Into You today. I actually thought it was really funny and laughed out loud quite a few times. There were also some sad bits.

There’s one scene where Kris Kristofferson’s character tells Beth (Jennifer Aniston) that she’s his favourite daughter (even though he isn't meant to have one). It made me smile because I’ve always maintained that I was my father’s favourite daughter (even though he wasn't meant to have one). I remembered one occasion where my youngest sister, probably about 14 or 15 at the time, text herself from my dad’s phone with simply “To my favourite daughter” and then presented it to me as irrefutable evidence that it was actually her (and not me) that was his favourite. It made me laugh at the time and I laughed again as I remembered it. I wanted to text her to remind her of it but I figured it would only bring back memories and upset her. It kinda upset me.

Later on in the film (and this isn’t a spoiler), Beth’s father has a heart attack. It made me dissolve into tears which was a little bit pathetic. A couple of hours later, as I brushed my teeth in the bathroom, I was still biting back tears.

I just wanted to send that into the ether so it wouldn’t keep me up tonight.

Goodnight x


BBC Gaza Appeal

Up until Monday evening, I was comfortable in the assumption that the BBC’s decision not to air the DEC’s Gaza appeal was being sufficiently fought by various journalists, politicians, pundits and the public. I figured that every intelligent, non-partisan person could see that the BBC were being completely idiotic in their decision, and hence felt no need to actually do anything about it myself.

On Monday evening, however, one of my (intelligent, non-partisan) friends vehemently defended the BBC’s decision. This completely bowled me for six – as said above, I figured that any reasonable person could see that the BBC were wrong. My friend said that the Gaza crisis was “man made”; a result of a conflict rather than a natural disaster and therefore the BBC would be compromising its impartiality.

I kept crying Vietnam at him (the BBC aired the DEC’s Vietnam appeal, which read: “No politics. No boundaries. Send us money now. We'll rush your aid to the people of Vietnam”) but he maintained that the BBC’s decision was right. In addition to Vietnam, I believe the BBC has aired appeals for Darfur, Burma and Congo – all results of “man made” conflict. With that in mind, is it not hypocritical to veto the Israel/Palestine conflict?

Yes, this conflict is particularly complex but the point is, the politics shouldn’t matter in this case. The DEC appeal is purely humanitarian with no political overtones. It aims to take food, water, shelter and medical aid to children who are dying in Gaza. Humanitarian aid is inherently impartial. If anything, the BBC is compromising their impartiality anyway in wishing not to offend Israel.

A number of journalists and public figures have spoken out against the decision including Jon Snow (a personal hero) and Rageh Omar. I also give kudos to actress Samantha Morton who said she will refuse to work for the BBC again if it does not reverse its decision. Unfortunately, most BBC workers don’t have the same luxury. Many of them are reportedly furious about the decision but cannot speak out about it. I do bits and pieces of work for the BBC (e.g. I’m scheduled to guest on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine shower later today) and as a freelancer, I’m grateful for the income they provide, but I feel kind of dirty now.

At least I, unlike in-house journalists, can speak out about the decision. I truly believe that the BBC bottled it. They got it severely wrong and are stubbornly refusing to back down. I just wish I had the courage, like Tony Benn, to read out the appeal address while on air later today. In lieu, I will add my complaint to the thousands already received by the BBC. I won’t rely on other journalists and members of the public to fight the decision. I will add my voice to the dissent and I urge you to do the same:

WATCH THE APPEAL: www.guardian.co.uk/media/video/2009/jan/26/dec-gaza-appeal

DONATE TO DEC: www.dec.org.uk or call 0370 60 60 900

COMPLAIN TO THE BBC: www.bbc.co.uk/complaints


Look at me – I’m sooo clever

I’ve always lived by the ‘No regrets’ dictum. I believe that things happen for a reason and that even the bad things in our lives make us stronger. One thing I have questioned a few times, however, is my choice of degree at university. I studied Computer Science at university and while it introduced me to some of my friends for life, I have wondered if I would have been better off studying something that made more sense to what I actually wanted to do, perhaps an English or Journalism degree.

Today, while cleaning up my hard drive, I stumbled across my Final Report. Fellow CS graduates will know just how much headache and stress was induced by the dreaded Final Report (the words ‘Final Report’ should actually be boomed by one of those deep, film-trailer voices instead of rendered harmlessly on your screen). Basically, we had to plan and develop an innovative piece of software during our final year at university, accompanied by (cue booming voice) the Final Report. This report had to take examiners through the planning, development and testing phases of the software. It, along with writing the software, was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in an educational or professional setting. It sapped my spare time and squeezed every grey cell in my body. Since then, nothing has challenged my intelligence, ability, discipline or tenacity in quite the same way.

For that reason alone, I don’t regret my degree choice. While I’m sure an English or Journalism degree would have been difficult, I doubt it would have challenged me in quite the same way.

Plus, this way, I can say: Behold my Final Report! Come and witness my superior intellectual capacity! I write not just measly words but transcendent code!

In short, look at me – I’m sooo clever.

(BOOMING VOICE): The Final Report


PS. For those of you who actually click on the link, I'm PROUD of my geek roots, okay?


Imperfect Love

Today I cancelled two meetings and one talk, refused a commission and fell behind on several others. This stuff is pretty important to me – not least because it pays my bills – so I’m pretty pissed off that the flu is KICKING MY ASS.

But anyway, this isn’t meant to be a moan about being ill (though I am really ill so any sympathy is very welcome) or an exercise in self-importance (though the flu could have chosen a less important week to kick my ass)... in classic tangent fashion, it’s actually about marriage, or, at least, about relationships.

Last Thursday, a friend commented that he had never been envious of anyone’s relationship, bar one couple – a couple whose marriage fell apart after the woman was unfaithful. I didn’t really give it much thought – people cheat, marriages end.

Today, I read a piece in the Guardian, in which Charlie Brooker is talking about kinda-maybe-sorta wanting a wife and very astutely makes the following observation:

“In the face of love's potential destructive fury, you're left with three options:
1) Pull down the emotional shutters and try to avoid it.
2) Find someone you admire or like, rather than love, and try to make do, rendering both of you miserable in the process.
3) Throw caution to the wind and gingerly place your fragile, beating heart in the hands of another human being and hope they don't crush it in their fist for giggles.”


While reading it, I realised that I, like my friend, don’t know one couple whose relationship/marriage I envy. I don’t know one couple that makes me think, “That is what love is meant to look/feel/be like”.

Maybe that’s ok. Real relationships are messy and imperfect – my one certainly is – but I’m still surprised and perhaps saddened by the fact that I don’t know a single couple whose relationship is wonderful and amazing. Is this because I fraternise with pessimists and misanthropes? Is it because I’ve been brought up in a culture of arranged marriage? Is it because I’ve been fed impossible ideals by a diet of unrealistic romcoms? I don't think so.

I have happy, optimistic, laidback friends; I know people who have had non-arranged marriages and who are miserable (as well as people in arranged ones who are relatively happy); and as for the impossible ideal, I know there’s enduring, all-encompassing love – I just don’t know anyone who has that in their relationship. That been-together-fifty-years-and-still-haven’t-run-out-things-to-say type of love seems to have died in modern times. Do you agree? If not, please convince me. If so, it’s kinda sad, don’t you think?


Free (free) Palestine

Right, this’ll be a quick one because The Untouchables is on Film4 in seven minutes.

Exactly one week ago, I added ‘Attend a protest’ to my to-do list for 2009. I didn’t know what protest I would be attending or when (I gave myself a deadline of 31 Dec 2009) but I knew I wanted to go to one. It may be a weird thing to have on a to-do list but I had never been to a protest before and wanted to experience the energy and excitement felt by a collective who was making a stand for something it believed in.

A few days after the post, I learnt about the Gaza demonstration in London and decided to attend. I have to say, even this cynical young Londoner was amazed. The turnout was brilliant and the passion and intensity among the crowd was electric. I went there naively expecting a majority of brown faces but there was such a wide mixture of people. The Israel-Palestine conflict is seen by many as a Jews vs. Muslims issue but, even though there were a few people shouting “Allahu Akbar”, religion didn’t become the issue as Muslims, Christians, Atheists and even Jews marched side by side to protest the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

A number of people threw shoes at the gates of Downing Street in tribute to Muntadar al-Zaidi* and there was a scary moment when a bunch of protesters set fire to a banner a few feet away but things calmed down pretty quickly. All in all, it was a very worthwhile way to spend an afternoon. In fact, I may have to stop myself from attending more in case it becomes a sort of Tyler-Durden-group-therapy** kind of addiction.


* If you haven’t already, do upload a picture to
www.thankyouforthrowingyourshoe.com. It’s a collection of images of people all across the world (including yours truly) holding up their shoe in tribute to Muntadar al-Zaidi.

** Technically a Jack-group-therapy kind of addiction if you’re the type that does technical.