Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


When I Was 35

In 2007, I wrote a blog post called When I Was 25. I had forgotten all about it, until the lovely Amanda visited and left this comment:

I’m so happy I came across this, now several years after you wrote it. I turned 25 eight days ago and I’m kind of doing research on the disenchantment and restlessness one feels around this age. I’ve certainly gained some insight in a different way than I expected from your post as well as all the comments.

I reread the post and realised that making an effort to remember a time long ago brings its own lessons, ones that are worth contemplating. It is now seven years since I turned 35 and since I believe in the seven-year cycle and the spirit of learning more, I give you When I was 35:

When I was 35, I thought my family was complete with two darling little girls. Then I fell pregnant again and our son was born. I learnt that being a parent of three children is significantly different from being the parent of two. A wise friend said, ‘Embrace the chaos,’ and once I did, life became much easier. But much more than that, my heart just expanded to include him and what a feeling that is.

When I was 35, I had never heard of blogging. Now I have a whole alternative, Internet-fuelled life and I love it. I have even met some people off the Internet and came home intact.

When I was 35, the idea of writing a book, finishing it, rewriting it multiple times, joining an online writing community, getting beta readers,  submitting to and signing with a literary agent was only a dream. I made it reality.

When I was 35, I grew tired of buying expensive (though delicious) cakes at the  bakery and taught myself to bake. This happened.

When I was 35, I thought that donning sports shoes and propelling my body in a forward motion was closer to hell than I thought it was ever necessary to go. As an asthmatic kid and an adult with couch-potato tendencies, jogging never entered my personal vocabulary. This year, I’m running in the MLP Marathon relay event.

When I was 35, I was still buried deep in the intense phase of parenting: nappies, bad nights, tantrums. Now that my three spend large chunks of the day in other places being taken care of and taught by others, I have had the luxury to do things like write, run and earn money.

When I was 35, I had never had a migraine. Now, I have worked out my cure: no alcohol for two weeks of the month. It’s radical, but it works.

When I was 35, I had just moved to the Burg from Surrey, England, and was suffering culture shock. I settled down, made lovely friends and a home for my family. The Burg grew too small, so for a while, I considered Berlin, the German city that holds my heart and where I still hope to live one day. Now I live in Heidelberg and love my new life.

When I was 35, I still highlighted my hair blonde. Then I went grey for Obama and it turns out I was leading a major trend. Just call me a rock ‘n roll fairy princess.

When I was 35, I had been married for 10 years and believed that I was in it for the duration. I still do *waves to darling*.

When I was 35, I had no idea what my future held. I trusted that things would work out, that I would be gainfully employed, that my family would be happy and well. Since then I have read hundreds of books, held dozens of dinner-parties, cooked hundreds of meals, written hundreds of thousands of words, written dozens of articles, run a few dozen kilometres, met my girlfriends for book club dozens of times. On the bad days, I have sighed and taken stock and picked myself up and carried on. While I now have an inkling of what my future may hold, I still cannot say for sure that it will turn out the way I have it in my mind. But I won’t stop hoping. Or cooking, baking, reading, wiping faces, loving, writing words, occasionally running, dreaming, sighing and imagining a world where my family is happy and well.

What was life like for you when you were 35?



Being back in the riches of my family life has meant my writing output has slowed down again. Having a monster migraine didn’t help either (have scheduled visit to Frauenarzt to talk about the headaches because, frankly, they are getting old). This week has not been so successful in terms of writing, but what I have managed is this:

1. I plugged the gap in Chapter 8, using some material I wrote three years ago. This new scene contains a character who might not make the second draft, because she’s kind of light and funny, but I like how her lightness contrasts with all the Sturm und Drang that the other characters are suffering. This character makes me think I should be writing chick lit, or farces, because her throwaway lines came easily to me.

2. I have acted on my idea for my second novel, which is going to be a historical novel set in Kimberley, South Africa, during the diamond rush, and wrote to some people about how to go about researching it. Both my contacts came back with brilliant ideas and I am suffused with energy for this second project. One of them suggested rereading The Story of An African Farm by Olive Schreiner, just to get a feel for the period, and this weekend I am going to brave the Keller (which is undergoing a renovation project, turning two storage rooms into two offices, one for me and one for my husband) and seek it out.

So my writing goals for this week are:

a. Get seriously stuck into Chapter 9.

b. Source and read the Olive Schreiner.

c. Do more sport! Sport = energy = creativity = words on the page. This week I ran 8kms for the first time. It took 65 minutes. As a non-sporty person who had asthma as a child and couldn’t run 300 metres without wheezing, this was a huge achievement for me. Any accolades you feel like sharing will be warmly welcomed, since my husband is getting tired of telling me how wonderful I am. My goal is to run 10kms in an hour so that I can participate in a local fun-run in October.

What are your writing goals for the week? (Feel free to share any exercise goals you may have too – I’m keen on those!)


From the Frontline

… of suburbia, here is my life today:

Having a slight hangover, after cooking dinner for five girlfriends last night. We ate guacamole, a butternut and feta gratin, green salad with asparagus, carrot and walnut muffins with marscapone orange cream. We drank some bottles of rose, my favourite summer drink.

Sniffling somewhat, from the hayfever that prevents me from enjoying early summer with my whole heart.

Worrying about how Chapter Six has gone all spongy in the middle and how I am going to give it its edge back.

Reading other writer’s blogs for tips and finding this from Scott of Poetic Chaos:

When I get stuck while I’m writing, it’s usually because I realize there’s a problem with one of the characters. I’m not ‘getting it’ where they’re concerned. One of the ways I try to work around that is free writing. I’ll just open a new window and start writing for ten or fifteen minutes. Sometimes, it turns into a two way conversation between the character and I. Other times, it’ll be a journal entry, or just free association.

If I really get stuck, I play around with scenes that I’ve already written, and try writing them from the ‘stuck’ character’s perspective. It lets me into their head a little more, and gets me in tune with the character.

And I think a lot of voice is like that. It’s about tuning in. Sometimes, you’ve just got the frequency off a little bit – if you jiggle the knob, you’re going to get that clear crystal picture.

Enjoying the sensation of worked-out muscles in the gluteus maximus from my run yesterday and aerobics class with the Tommy the Teletubby on Monday.

Wondering if I will ever lose the five kilograms I joined the gym five months ago to lose, and considering my friend G’s tip to go and have my thyroid tested, but fearing that my thyroid will be fine and that the way forward will be a sparrow’s diet.

Puzzling about how I have got myself into hosting a sleepover for four girls between the ages of six and eight this weekend, and steeling myself to be firm with the one invitee who knows no boundaries. The solution may be to tranquilise with DVDs and popcorn.

Dreaming of leaving for Berlin next Thursday for six whole days of aloneness and writing.

Missing my husband.

Feeling inspired by this piece of wisdom, collected at Pippa’s Porch this morning:

The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position.

What’s happening in your world today?


Project FGN

Before I give you a brief update, let me just note that after a talking-to from my husband, the project will no longer be known as Thin, Grey Novelist but Fit, Grey Novelist. Being thin is not a good goal, but being fit is.

Being Fit

I ran five kilometres for the first time last week. I liked it so much I ran the distance three more times during the course of the week. The key to my running success: an iPod! Having pooh-poohed them, I was surprised at what a huge difference music of my own choice made to my stamina and enjoyment. Thanks to the above-mentioned husband for a wonderful present and my fabulous gym playlist. You are a superstar. I also attended a yoga class and a fitness class with Tommy “Teletubby” Fitness Instructor. Today, I have a sick child and a nauseous headache so no gym attendance happening.

Being Grey

I went for my annual haircut on Saturday and refused highlights. Very empowering.

Being a Novelist

I’m stuck on Chapter Five. There’s not much more I can say about that, except that this novel is exactly at the point where it died three years (the 30 000 word point) and I’m having a mini-crisis. However, my lovely writing cheerleaders stepped in and said inspiring words to me about Chapter Four, so as soon as I post this, I’m heading off to face the unlovely protagonist of Five.

I’m having some very entertaining email contact from the 70-year-old father of a friend of mine. He (the father, not the friend) lives on a yacht in Malaysia and is a writer. We are sharing information about agents and publishers, but he is much further down the line than me, having had a novel published in the Seventies and with a completed manuscript now. He asked me if Commonwealth writers can approach US literary agents and while I saw no reason why not, I mailed an agent in San Francisco just to check. His response was:

You’re not under obligation to query British agents
exclusively.  I would take a close work at your work to see where you
think its natural home market lies, since each market has different
tastes, and then query based on that.

So watch out, all you US agents. You’re going to be hearing from me and my yacht-living writer friend! I may be grey, but I’m getting fit and I’m coming at you, unpleasant protagonist and all. Now I really must go and drown her, or something.


Project: Thin, Grey Novelist

So my goal for this year, my 39th as it coincidentally happens to be, no smack of a midlife crisis in this corner, is to get fit, learn to accept my grey hair and finish my novel. I thought you might like an update.

Getting Fit

I am attending the gym regularly (three to four times a week), despite having been called a Teletubby by a fitness instructor. I’ve attended two more of his classes since then and he tore a strip off someone for being five minutes late, and the next time gave someone else a lecture for chewing gum in class (admittedly a dumb thing to do in an aerobics class). I clearly got him on a good day. I also do my circuit and am getting stronger, and can go for longer and faster on the treadmill and cross-trainer. I have only attended one spinning-class and I loved it, but have not gone back. I must because it’s a brilliant fat-burner, but I do get sore nethers.

Writing a Novel

I have just submitted my difficult and by no means perfect Chapter Four to my writing cheerleaders. Their job at the moment is to say “Yay! You did it! I love this bit.” Later on, when there is a full novel to read, they will be allowed to provide critique. I am now starting Chapter Five, which in theory should be a breeze because it’s a part I wrote three years ago, but we no longer have the computer it was on and I’ve lost the print-out, so there’s a chance I’ll be reimagining it from scratch. Also, I am planning a writing retreat on my own, probably in the Black Forest, sometime in June and I am very excited about that.

Going Grey

This part is going well. My hair is doing the job all by itself with no input from me. I had a moment in a department store in Karlsruhe when I saw a lady with multi-coloured hair like mine fixed into a rigid helmet with a pouffe-like thing going on front, and my mother-in-law had to forcibly restrain me from running into the nearest hair salon and shrieking for highlights. A couple of days ago I heard an insert on my favourite source of information, Woman’s Hour, that as more and more women of a certain age are refusing to go grey and are dyeing or highlighting their hair blonde, that blonde is becoming seen by the young (see how that ages me) an older woman’s colour. Young women now favour chocolate brown red and black as their hair colours of choice.

Well, mine is neither blonde, brown, red or black. It is, as you see below, stripey:

But, because I am growing up, I am happy about that:


Not Sure How to Take This

I went to a fitness class today and the instructor … called me something. He was smiling as he said it, and after I said “Danke schön” in a slightly offended tone, he quickly said he really, really likes the thing he called me. In my time, I have liked them too, but I grew tired of them because they are:

  • Bouncy (excessively)
  • Cute (tiresomely)
  • Colourful (eye-achingly)
  • Round (disconcertingly)
  • Entertaining (but only if you are under three)

Now if I were thinner-skinned than I am, this statement would be the death-knell on my gym attendance. I would imagine that everyone was looking at me, thinking, or worse still (and since this is Germany, Land of the Frank Statement), SAYING ALOUD, “There goes the …”. I would not be able to put my round, bouncy, cute and colourful foot back inside the place.

Instead, I am going back. Damn, I am. I’m going right back there, possibly even tomorrow. I’m not letting a Germanic mind-burp stop me.

Do want to know what my fitness instructor called me? My buff, handsome, and usually very kind fitness instructor said to me in the middle of class while I was bouncing away happily doing “step, together, Arme hoch”?

You do, don’t you?

You want me to say it, even though it hurts me and strips away my dignity?

I thought so.

He called me … deep breath … A TELETUBBY!

All I can say is thank God he was not using a microphone.


Missives from my Mid-Life Crisis

In case I’ve not mentioned it before, I turn 40 at the end of this year. I think I’m suffering more angst about this than I let myself believe, because I talk about it to everyone. In the course of all this talking, I’ve heard a brilliant description of a mid-life crisis, which I’m going to share with you. My friend said, “It’s a period of mourning, in which you have to grieve the dreams you are never going to achieve, and set out to achieve the ones that are still possible.”

To me, that makes a spectacular amount of sense. And just in case you’re worried about me, let me assure you that these are some of things I’m not grieving:

1. My chance to be a supermodel

2. My Formula One career

3. My bestselling album

However, I am focusing intensely on the dreams that are still achievable:

1. Completing my novel and submitting it to a literary agent or two

2. Getting fit

I am writing industriously and have the strong bones of Chapter Three, which is now 5,000 words long. This week I plan to go back and add the meat.

I have also been a gym member for a month, and am going religiously in the mornings and sometimes at the weekend. I do the circuit and some cardio, or the circuit and a class. I’ve tried spinning, Pilates and a German speciality called Bauch, Beine, Po which targets tummy, legs and bum. It hurts. After the gym, I cross the road to a fabulous cafe, order myself a huge steaming Milchkaffee and write, write, write in my notebook.

Then there is a third, smaller, thing about which I feel just as intense: my hair. I have, ahem, natural highlights, folks. About a year ago, I wrote about my dilemma about whether to continue colouring my hair and since then I have not returned to the salon. Instead, I am in the middle of a real-life attempt to live with the grey. And the grey is winning.

By the end of this year, I hope to be a thin, grey novelist.

I’m workin’ that midlife crisis, baby!


(Does that sound a bit young?)


Skiing By Numbers

25 – Blue runs skiied

24 – Public usages of bad language

23 – Age of my skiing instructor

21 – Age of the other person on my ski course

18 – Age difference between her and me

17 – Times I kept the youngsters waiting

15 – Minutes Daisy waited at the bottom of the slope on the day we “skiied down the mountain together”

10 – Red runs skiied

8 – Humiliating fear-related tumbles

7 – Times my children flew over my head in a lift screaming “Look, everyone, there’s our Mummy!” as I tried to lever myself out of the snow on the edge of a cliff

5 – Hot chocolates consumed on slopes

4 – Times I nearly fell off the lift

6 – Days in which I skiied

6 – Nights in which I went to bed early

1 – Night in which I partied

4 – Glasses of red wine I drank that night

6 – Jaegermeisters I drank that night

3 – Songs I sang loudly into the microphone – with dancing – for the listening pleasure of my audience (Sweet Caroline, Mustang Sally and can’t remember the other one)

1 – Time I cried at breakfast

1 – Wonderful new friend made on skiing holiday

1 – Full-body massage enjoyed

1 – Cheese fondue relished

1 – Black run skiied

0 – Disfiguring accidents

Clearly I have this skiing lark taped.


Feeling a Bit Piste

I’m off skiing on Saturday. Not my greatest talent, skiing. However, having stunned both Austria and Italy in years previous with my abilities on the piste, I have decided to share the love with the inhabitants of Switzerland. The good burghers are already preparing the essential cheese fondues and hot chocolates that are necessary to keep a skier of my remarkable and note-worthy skills upright on the piste. In other words, reward! The only reason I ski is so that I can enjoy numerous, sumptuous, guilt-free hot chocolates afterwards. Oh, and to keep an eye on my children whose skills are far superior to mine. Not only do they gloat over their pristine German, but they gloat over their pristine parallel turns while laughing mockingly at my inelegant snow-plough and tendency to spend a lot of time sitting down.

Little buggers. They are so lucky to be learning to ski as kids, while I have to do the same as a not particularly fit nor agile adult who grew up having beach holidays. In Africa, there was not a lot of snow happening. Give me a beach and I fit in nicely: I do the book, sunglasses and towel thing spectacularly well. I even get in the sea and shriek, and have been known to toss a frisbee. But snow is foreign matter, and strapping myself to some planks in order to get down a mountain at high speed with only my muscles between me and disfiguring accidents, even more so.

As a last-ditch attempt to prepare myself, I joined a gym a week ago, and have been there every day, trying to build leg and stomach muscles. I have generated a lot of sweat, but can’t see any new muscles. It may have been too late, but I am hoping they are there, subtly lying in wait under my skin ready to transport me towards the next hot chocolate.

As another form of comfort, I am taking a large pile of books, including Jane Smiley’s wondrous A Thousand Acres, which I have just started and am loving. I will be leaving my laptop behind, but taking my notebook and pens in order to work on Chapter Three of my novel, which is 22,000 words long and showing no sign of stopping. I have started dreaming about one of my characters, which is convenient since the next chapter is about him. In the last dream, he was baton-twirling in a newly-threshed field of corn, which is not entirely relevant to the action, but never mind.

So wish me luck, dear blogging friends. I hope to return intact, having mastered the parallel turn and rewarded myself accordingly. Also if I could be spared jeers and mocking laughter, that would be good too.


Do I Need the Gym?

This is the workout that my daily life provides:

1) Wrestling a toddler into a snowsuit in the morning. Wrestling him into it when I fetch him from kindergarten. Wrestling him out of it at home. Wrestling him back into it when it’s time to take a sister to ballet. Wrestling him out of it when we get home again. Wrestling him into it when it’s time to fetch the other sister from her playdate. Wrestling him out of it at home. (By this time I’m ready to slash the snowsuit. But I don’t.) Good for overall fitness.

2) Scraping ice off the Familiewagon with a credit card while the family shiver inside. Good for biceps.

3) Carrying the groceries the 200-odd metres from where we park the car to the kitchen. Excellent weight-bearing exercise.

4) Running up and down two flights of stairs all day long. Tones legs; cardiovascular.

5) Walking to and from kindergarten, walking to and from extramural activities. Overall fitness.

6) Pram-pushing. Tones arms.

7) Carrying loads of laundry up two flights of stairs. Tones arms; cardiovascular.

(8) Bending to sweep food crumbs into dust-pan. Tones backs of legs.

(9) Carrying toddler. Weight-bearing exercise.

(10) Surfing blogs. Finger agility. Overall toning of funny bone.

Do I really need the gym?