New York Dreams by Helen Phifer

Have you ever wanted to go somewhere so bad, but knew that you never would because you couldn’t afford it or it just wasn’t possible?

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I have since I was a child and learnt about the Statue of Liberty, I longed to go to New York. As I got older it was always in the back of my mind. Thanks to watching Ghostbusters numerous times I felt as if I knew the place pretty well already. I met Steve when I was eighteen and we did go on an amazing holiday to Hawaii, before we settled down. Then we bought a house, got married and our five children came along, so a day out in Blackpool was a luxury that we couldn’t really afford, but we would save up and take them so they never missed out. We did have one holiday abroad when the kids were very small, but it was such hard work that I swore to myself I would never go abroad again. At least not until the kids were old enough that they didn’t need nappies, buggies and more clothes than we could carry. Fast forward to nine years ago and I had five teenagers, we discovered Centreparcs which is perfect for our family, especially my son Jaimea who is severely disabled. We try and go there every year because we love it so much and now I have grandchildren to share it with. Gosh I feel old, however New York it isn’t and I still desperately wanted to go there. Jaimea needs round the clock care and we’ve never left him so before so I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t bitter about it because Jaimea is my world, but it’s hard knowing that you can’t do what everyone else is doing.

This year has been a tough one for my family, my two adorable grandsons decided that being born at 27 weeks was fine and Jaimea became seriously ill. He ended up in intensive care for longer than I care to remember. Thankfully he eventually got better and the twins were well enough after one heck of a fight to come home.

I was looking at my emails and found an invite from my publishers Harlequin to a Black & White Ball, to be held at…..you guessed it The Waldorf Astoria in New York. My heart filled with pride that I had even been sent such an invitation, but seconds later it sunk again. I knew I could never go, but being invited was almost as good I told myself. I printed the invitation out and stuck it to the front of my fridge, hoping it would give me some incentive to stick to a healthy eating plan in case I got another invite next year.

Later that day my daughter brought the twins to see me and read the invitation, she looked at me and said, ‘You have to go.’ I laughed and told her I’d very much love to go, but I didn’t even have a passport. She rang the passport office and made appointments for me and Steve to go to Liverpool the next day. We told ourselves we would get the passports then see about booking, the next day after a four hour wait we had our shiny, brand new passports in our hands. Then fellow write romantic Rachael who was also invited asked if I had my ESTA, my what? We drove home and I applied, within a minute we had our approval. I was terrified to book because as much as I wanted to go I was scared to leave Jaimea. We finally talked ourselves into it with the promise that if all was not well on the day we were supposed to travel then we wouldn’t go.

It was eight days until the ball and it was amazing how things fell into place. I even had a brand, new black dress that I’d never worn hanging in my wardrobe. It was as if it was meant to be, so we packed our bags and said our tearful goodbyes. I was only going for three nights but it seemed like forever, we needn’t have worried. Jaimea had the time of his life without us, my kids who are actually all adults now took care of him brilliantly.

When we arrived in New York I got a text telling me Jaimea was fine and to enjoy myself, which quite frankly I did. We packed everything in those three days that I’d ever dreamt about. The Statue of Liberty, The Top of the Rock, The Empire State Building, The American Natural History Museum, The One World Tower, we paid our respects at the 9/11 memorials. We saw Central Park, shopped on Fifth Avenue, visited Times Square – a lot and we would visit the summer bar outside the Rockerfeller Plaza each night and sip cocktails. We went to Grand Central Station, The New York Public Library and of course Cinderella went to the ball at the Waldorf, which was the hotel we were stopping in anyway. The ball was amazing, it was the kind of party I’ve always dreamt about since I was a teenager and as I sat there sipping my champagne I could not believe I was there, in the city that never sleeps. After dreaming about it for more than thirty five years, let me tell you something, it was even more amazing than I’d ever imagined. By the time we flew home we were exhausted, but I’ve never been so thankful or grateful that I was able to go. We arrived home to find our house was still standing, Jaimea was fabulous and I felt as if my spark for life had been reignited after all these years.

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The moral of this story is never give up on your dreams, even if you think there is no way on this earth you will achieve them because of the obstacles life puts in your way. If you want something bad enough you will find a way and when you do take the opportunity to have the time of your life.

Helen Phifer xx

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A Kentish Accent – aka the Mega Monday Announcement

© Mamz

© Mamz

I’ve never thought of myself as having an accent. Maybe no-one does but, coming from Kent, I certainly don’t have the instantly recognisable nuances in dialect that some of my fellow WRs who hail from Yorkshire do. Similarly, if you hear a Geordie speak, someone from the Valleys or a soft Irish brogue you can immediately hazard a guess as to where the speaker’s roots are. I love accents, although my attempts at impersonating them are worse than the  accent of the policeman in ‘Allo, ‘Allo – Good Moaning! If you come from Kent, depending on how posh you are, your accent is probably going to be almost indistinguishable from your Essex, Sussex, Surrey or London neighbours.

© Michel Paller

© Michel Paller

Nonetheless Kent does have its own distinctions – from our vineyards to our oyster beds, to the best weather that the UK has to offer – it’s a county that’s just as unique as any other. We also like to claim Charles Dickens as our own. Although he was born in Portsea Island (Hampshire) he moved to Kent at the age of four, and towns from Rochester to Broadstairs proudly display plaques which state that “Chas was ‘ere”. Well not quite but, like I say, us Kentish maids and maids of Kent (it matters which side of the River Medway you were born on, by the way), can be mistaken for cockneys in the right light.

© Julie Heslington

© Julie Heslington

But what have a long dead, but brilliant, writer and my lack of a discernible accent got to do with my big announcement? Well Dickens, and Broadstairs itself, were the inspirations for my Christmas novella last year. I self published ‘The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come’, to help raise my writing profile above the white noise, prior to release of my first novel with So Vain Books. The novella is set in a fictional town, St Nicholas Bay, loosely based on Broadstairs, where rumour has it that Dickens penned A Christmas Carol. I’ve had a fantastic experience with So Vain Books, but I knew my next novel wouldn’t fit their glam brief, and so I started to think about which publishers I might try for the next step in my writing career. Since I still had the rights to the novella, there was nothing stopping me from submitting that, as well as the next novel I’d finished in draft and, being too impatient to try for an agent, there was one publisher I really hoped would accept my submission…

I’m delighted to say I’ve now got my longed for accent, a four book deal with Accent Press that is. I’ll be releasing four related stories (two novels and two novellas), all set in St Nicholas Bay – a place I can’t wait to revisit – and all with the theme of motherhood that comes about in an unexpected way. The first book will be released in the summer of 2016 and then at six-monthly intervals. I signed the contract on Friday morning and that’s got to be a good enough end to anyone’s week, hasn’t it?

© Alamar

© Alamar

Only it didn’t quite stop there. Just before three o’clock on Friday, I got a completely unexpected email. I’d entered a writing contest from my holiday balcony back in July, whilst the rest of the family slept in late every morning, but I didn’t think I stood a chance and, since the shortlist was originally due to be announced in August, I pushed my disappointment at not hearing anything to one side; especially since the offer from Accent had arrived in between. I never win anything, so what did I expect? My usual prize winning standard is an out-of-date tin of Smart Price carrots in a Harvest Festival raffle and I kid you not!

I looked at the email, though, and wondered why an editor from one of the ‘big four’ publishing houses, who I’d pitched my first book to at an RNA conference two years earlier, was emailing me. Maybe she wanted to be interviewed on the blog and, thinking what a great idea that would be, I eagerly opened her email. Except she wasn’t writing to ask for a guest spot, she was writing to tell me that I’d made the top ten shortlist of that writing competition, which I’d entered under a new pen name.  Unfortunately, I can’t say anymore than that yet, as the shortlist was due to appear on social media today but, at the time of publishing this post, Couple enjoying Sunsetit hasn’t yet been released.  What I would say is that if you’ve entered competitions before and started to wonder if it’s worthwhile, then keep going.  The old adage is certainly true for me – the more I practice, the luckier I seem to get!

So how does a girl from Kent celebrate such good news? Well I’d like to say that I enjoyed Whitstable oysters and a good vintage from the Chapel Down Winery in Tenterden, but in truth it was a pizza with the kids, and a bottle of champagne, that had been languishing in the back of the cupboard since New Year, with my husband. Not Kentish maybe, and definitely not posh, but it’ll do for me!

Jo xx

Sangria in the park, anyone?

It’s almost the end of February and it’s my son’s birthday on the 28th.  He was very nearly born the following day which, once every four years, is of course a leap year.  Pondering on this, I thought about what happens to that extra day and all the ones in between.  Do any of us really make the most of it and, in the words of the late Lou Reed, ever really get our Perfect Day?  Although, it’s not a leap year this year, it still inspired this week’s Wednesday Wondering, which is to ask you all what you would do if you had a day completely free to decide what to with it, from morning to night?  What would your perfect day look like and have you ever had one?

Jo
This is my final Wednesday Wondering for at least eight months, whilst the rest of The Write Romantics take their turn, so I’m glad to be spending it having my perfect day J.  I think, like a number of others, my perfect day would be spent eating, drinking and laughing with my nearest and dearest.  It would start with me rising early and writing a couple of thousand words, before my husband wakes up and brings me a cup of tea and a crispy bacon sandwich on tiger bread and a steaming hot cup of tea.  Next, I think a morning spent on a beach, rock-pooling with the children and feasting on locally made ice cream would be lovely.  Then hubby could take over with the children, whilst I catch the latest rom–com movie with friends and a late lunch of a clotted-cream afternoon tea.  Then, with the aid of a baby sitter, out with hubby for cocktails and a plate of salt and pepper squid.  A quick check of my emails on arriving home would reveal the offer a three book deal.  So I could finish the day in the hot-tub, looking up at the stars, with a glass of Champagne!

Julie
What a great question. I often think about people born on 29th Feb and whether they feel really special or perhaps struggle with identity issues as their actual birthday date is missing for 3 out of 4 years. Interesting. I think one of the most perfect days that stands out to me from start to finish was my wedding day. I know that may sound corny but everything was perfect; the weather, the food, the outfits, the disco at the reception … It had a couple of mishaps but they made the day funny e.g. I didn’t think about the extra height that the tiara would give to my head and knocked my hair on the door frame when getting into the car to go to the church. This knocked my head forward and I kissed the top of my dress. I was wearing a fairly bright lipstick! I also scraped my dress along the tires and got muck all over it. Then I messed up my vows and got the giggles in the church. But these things made it special.

As for just being handed a day for free and told I could spend it however I wanted, I’m torn between the ‘right’ answer and the selfish one! Selfishly, I’d love nothing more than to spend the whole day lost in the world of creativity that is writing my book. The phone wouldn’t ring, the cats wouldn’t constantly squeak at me to be fed and I’d have absolute peace. I’m lucky to snatch an hour here and there normally which is why this is bliss. The ‘right’ answer would be a day with the family but with nobody being in a grump (hubby) or having a strop (daughter). It would be a day in the great outdoors, location flexible, as long as it included a walk, some photo opportunities, a nice treat like an ice cream or a cake, a mooch round a couple of gift shops and probably a visit to somewhere historical. Given that I live in Scarborough, I have all that on my doorstep and I love it that I’m not actually from here so I don’t take it for granted; instead, I consider myself very lucky to be able to walk along the seafront and visit the castle etc whenever I want.

Alex
I like the idea of a perfect day but it wouldn’t be in February! I’d definitely want to save it until May or June when there’s some hope of a warm and sunny day in Yorkshire.  Then I’d probably go to Whitby.  It’s just over an hour’s drive for me and through some stunning countryside in the North Yorkshire Moors.  When I got there I’d walk down the 199 steps from the Abbey into the town and have lunch in my favourite teashop before walking along the sands and browsing in the lovely shops.  There would then have to be fish and chips for tea before I headed for home.

Jackie
I’ve been thinking about it on and off all week and am really stumped to work out what my perfect day would be- unless it was eating my way through the dessert menu at a really posh hotel- or even better having Simon Baker feed me!

Simon Baker

Helen R
I think I could say that I have had lots of days where I get to the end and just think, “Ah, that was the best day”. Major events are usually overshadowed by adrenaline though so when I think of a “perfect day” it’s more about simplicity…usually the sun would be shining, I would be with family perhaps on a walk followed by relaxing lunch with a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Deirdre
I think for my perfect day I’d have to be in my favourite place, which is anywhere in the Sussex countryside.  Then add to that my favourite people, which would be my close family and some special friends.  It would be sunny all day, warm enough to be wearing a nice (hopefully new) summer dress and sandals, and there would be the most delicious food and drink.  Right then, now I’m in the beautiful cottage garden of an old timbered pub and we’re sitting round a vast wooden table with one of those umbrellas over it.  My food has just arrived – deep fried whitebait, with salad and home-made chunky chips, after which I’ll have chocolate pud, all washed down with champagne, best quality of course.  The conversation is light and funny and everyone’s happy with no worries whatsoever.  The birds are singing and there isn’t a pesky wasp in sight.  In the evening we’d all go back to our house, which would have miraculously trebled in size since we left, and sit about watching a great film on the giant screen TV (OK, another miracle required…) with some delicious nibbles and more champagne.  Mmm, when is this perfect day and can I have it soon please?

Rachael
If I had an extra day, first I’d have to insist it was a lovely summer’s day. I’d get up early and head off to one of the many places in the country I’m always promising myself of going to. I love castles and old houses and enjoy losing myself in the history of the place.

I did do that last year when I travelled to Sheffield for the RNA Conference. I have always wanted to go to Chatsworth, so took an extra day off the farm and visited this marvellous place the day before the conference. The sun shone as I wandered around the grounds and listening to the guide as I went through the house gave a real insight to the history of the place. It’s a place that it now on my revisit list!

Lynne
We had pretty much my perfect day last weekend, we were childless all day and went on a lovely drive round Oxford then stopped at a really lovely garden centre which is so much more than just plants but has lovely things to tempt. Then we stopped at a fab country house hotel on the way home for afternoon tea. I love old houses and this, Bibury Court, is a 17th C building with a huge wood fire and loads of squashy sofas in which to curl up & read the papers. Then, home early, to read one of the fab works by my fellow Write Romantics of course. What could be better!

So, come on then, The Write Romantics are giving you a free day to create your perfect twenty-four hours, so please tell us what you plan to do with it and we can all indulge together!

Jo x