2018 Dates for the book-lover’s diary.

A list of some of the brilliant books that are being released in the first quarter of this year.

Welcome to February! That bittersweet moment when work and school resume and life kicks off in earnest for another year.  I have always liked returning to the gentle rhythms of routine come February, a more predictable week means more a predictable word count. Also it’s nice to sleep again once the tennis is done (Go Fed!).

But – if you find it hard to get enthused about the prospect of returning to work and the end of summer (although I’m pretty sure all the writers out there are rubbing their hands in glee as Autumn approaches) then I have an antidote for you. If you have used up all your leave over the summer and now face eleven long months of nose-to-grindstone then I have the solution for you. Or, if you just love books, then this is the post for you. Read on, dear reader.

Here is a list of some of the brilliant books that are being released in the first quarter of this year. A couple are already out, and I can personally vouch for the lyrical beauty of The Sisters’ Song by Louise Allan since I am part way through it. (Actually I am sacrificing reading time to revive my blog right now. A moment’s appreciation for my resolution, please.)

The rest are books that I have been (im)patiently waiting for (Natasha Lester, A.L. Tait, Kirsty Manning, I’m looking at you) or that have caught my eye with their fabulous covers or intriguing blurbs.

There are also some books that don’t feature because I couldn’t find any concrete release details, but Wendy Orr, author of Nim’s Island and Dragonflysong has another Minoan tale coming later this year and I’m pretty sure Kate Morton must be publishing this year based on the amount of editing I’ve seen going on on her Instagram. That may just be wishful thinking.

 

sisters song

January  2018 : The Sisters’ Song by Louise Allan

Set in rural Tasmania from the 1920s to the 1990s, The Sisters’ Song traces the lives of two very different sisters. One for whom giving and loving are her most natural qualities and the other who cannot forgive and forget.

As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1926, everything changes. The two young girls move in with their grandmother who is particularly encouraging of Nora’s musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.

The two sisters are reunited when Nora’s life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.

Ida longs passionately for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida’s eyes, it seems that Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.

Set in rural Tasmania over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters. The Sisters’ Song speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.

the secret at oceans edge

January 30 2018: The Secret at Ocean’s Edge by Kali Napier

1932. Ernie and Lily Hass, and their daughter, Girlie, have lost almost everything in the Depression; all they have keeping their small family together are their secrets. Abandoning their failing wheat farm and small-town gossip, they make a new start on the west coast of Australia where they begin to build a summer guesthouse. But forming new alliances with the locals isn’t easy.

Into the Hasses’ new life wanders Lily’s shell-shocked brother, Tommy, after three harrowing years on the road following his incarceration. Tommy is seeking answers that will cut to the heart of who Ernie, Lily and Girlie really are.

Inspired by the author’s own family history, The Secrets at Ocean’s Edge is a haunting, memorable and moving tale of one family’s search for belonging. Kali Napier breathes a fever-pitch intensity into the story of these emotionally fragile characters as their secrets are revealed with tragic consequences. If you loved The Light Between Oceans and The Woolgrower’s Companion you will love this story.

this is a tale of secrets, and one of the great achievements of the novel is that the author knows how to keep a secret, how to betray a secret, how to pass on a secret and how – and when – to divulge a secret.

— Cass Moriarty, author of The Promise Seed and Parting Words

water under the bridge

February 2018: Water Under the Bridge by Lily Malone

Ella Davenport hasn’t been in a swimming pool since a bad decision ruined her chance of Olympic gold. So when Ella decides on a new career selling property, she chooses Chalk Hill. The country town is a long way from the water, with no pool in sight. Perfect!

Jake Honeychurch doesn’t want to sell his nanna’s house, but circumstances force his hand. Listing the property with the rookie real estate agent in town and asking a hefty price means it shouldn’t find a buyer. Perfect!

But determination and persistence are traits Jake admires, and Ella has them in spades. After all, no one ever made an Olympic team by being a quitter.

When news breaks of a proposed waterski park, a local developer starts sniffing around Honeychurch House. Ella’s first sale is so close she can taste it, until a sharp-eyed local recognises her. Between sale negotiations with Jake that keep getting sidetracked, and a swimming pool committee hellbent on making a splash, Ella has more to contend with than kisses and chlorine.

Can she throw off the failures of the past and take the chance of a new start? Or will her dreams of a new life be washed away?

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March 27 2018: The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

How much will a young Parisian seamstress sacrifice to make her mark in the male-dominated world of 1940s New York fashion? From the bestselling author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD and HER MOTHER’S SECRET.

1940. Parisian seamstress Estella Bissette is forced to flee France as the Germans advance. She is bound for Manhattan with a few francs, one suitcase, her sewing machine and a dream: to have her own atelier.

2015. Australian curator Fabienne Bissette journeys to the annual Met Gala for an exhibition of her beloved grandmother’s work – one of the world’s leading designers of ready-to-wear clothing. But as Fabienne learns more about her grandmother’s past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and secrets – and the sacrifices made for love.

Crossing generations, society’s boundaries and international turmoil, THE PARIS SEAMSTRESS is the beguiling, transporting story of the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they attempt to heal the heartache of the past.

ateban

Also March 27: The Ateban Cipher by A.L. Tait.

An orphan in exile. A band of rebel girls. And a prince whose throne has been stolen. Come on a journey full of danger, intrigue, adventure and incredible secrets.

‘The Ateban Cipher,’ Lucien continued, ‘is also known as the Book of Answers.’
‘Answers to what?’ Eddie asked.
Lucien sighed. ‘Everything.

In the second gripping Ateban Cipher novel, Gabe and his companions journey to a remote mountain citadel where they learn the secret of the mysterious, encrypted book that Gabe has been tasked with protecting. But their enemies are close behind them, and new dangers lie ahead.

As Eddie seeks to regain his crown, and Merry and Gwyn race to free their father, Gabe will discover the answer to his own great mystery – his true identity.

jade lily

April 24 2018: The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

‘…compelling, passionate and admirable.’
Australian Women’s Weekly

In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century.

In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the ‘Paris of the East’: beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced separate ways as Romy doubts Li’s loyalties.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family – and herself.

A compelling and gorgeously told tale of female friendship, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage to shape us all.

you wish

Also April: You Wish by Lia Weston

Sometimes imagination is not enough.

Thomas Lash grants secret wishes . . . on-screen, that is.White wedding gone horribly wrong and need to swap the groom?
Never went to university but must have a graduation photo?
Need to create a fake family for that job interview?

Problem solved with expert Photoshopping and Tom’s peculiar ability to know exactly what you desire. Tom never says no, even when giving grieving parents the chance to see what the lives of their lost children may have looked like.But where do you draw the line . . .
and what happens when the fantasy Tom sees on-screen
starts to bleed into his real life?

I hope you found something to keep you company and warm your cockles during the long working year ahead.  I have every intention of keeping this blog a little more active this year. And to that end I have already been given a helping hand (or pen) by my sister (also a writer – a secret one, so shhhh) who was horrified to find that this blog was not celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein. She has rectified that oversight by writing a guest post for me (actually she wrote two) about Mary Shelly, her scientist and his monster. The quality of my sister’s writing is much higher than that usually found on this blog, so be sure to look for that post next month. I got a lot of joy from reading it.
Until then, happy reading, happy writing, happy life.
Sarah x

 

Celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen: An interview with Susannah Fullerton

July 18 marks the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death. Two years (and two children) ago I went to listen to Susannah Fullerton speak in the Blue Mountains. Susannah is a literary lecturer, author, and President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia.  Her wealth of knowledge about all things Jane and the regency period is incredible and it is an absolute joy to hear her speak.

‘There certainly are not so many men of large fortune in the world as there are pretty women to deserve them’

Mansfield Park

If you’ve spent more than five minutes on this blog you’ll know that I love Jane Austen. Her novels are like old friends, we know each other, and yet they are constantly surprising me. The subtlety of her wit, so gentle and yet so sharp is, as a reader delightful, and as a fellow writer, quite depressing, frankly.

Pride and Prejudice has always been my favourite, the comedy, the romance and, as I get older, the social commentary,  make this a story that never bores or disappoints.  And the characters! I have met them all in my own life, as one of five siblings I’m convinced I’ve lived with most of them. We all have a Mr Collins in our life, a Charlotte Lucas and a Mrs Bennet.

‘There are few people whom I really love, and still fewer of whom I think well.’

Pride and Prejudice

I have always loved the elegance of Elizabeth Bennet’s manners. Even though her family quite often drive her mad and her neighbours make her laugh, her criticism of the other characters in the book is never displayed by bad manners or rash words. Her patience in refusing Mr Collins and foiling Lady Catherine is praiseworthy, and I remember, even as a young reader, being impressed by her forbearance when speaking about her parents. She can love her mother, even without thinking well of her, and her sense of filial duty, as well as her sister Jane’s, is something that has always made an impression on me.

‘I cannot make speeches, Emma…If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it’

Emma

July 18 marks the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death. Two years (and two children) ago I went to listen to Susannah Fullerton speak in the Blue Mountains. Susannah is a literary lecturer, author, and President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia.  Her wealth of knowledge about all things Jane and the regency period is incredible and it is an absolute joy to hear her speak. Susannah is speaking at many events over the month of July as part of the bicentenary celebrations. If you have the chance to go and hear her speak, make sure you take it!

janeaustin
Jane Austen is to replace Charles Darwin on the £10 note 200 years after her death.

 

I emailed Susannah recently and asked her some questions about Jane Austen, Australian literary history, and research. I hope you enjoy reading her responses as much as I did.

To begin with, an easy question, although perhaps not an easy answer; who is your favourite Jane Austen character?

My favourite Jane Austen character is Emma Woodhouse. She has faults and virtues and is so wonderfully human. I have learned so much from Emma, I admire and love her, and feel, just like Mr Knightley, that she is “faultless in spite of all her faults”.

What do you think is Jane Austen’s most important legacy?

Jane Austen hugely developed the progress of the novel. She was the first writer in English to use the technique of free indirect discourse, something soon taken for granted in fiction, and she made other writers realise that the domestic scene could be a good subject for fiction. She also set a standard for the novel which, in my view, no other author has ever matched. She balanced humour and seriousness, gave us characters to love or to hate, and she made every single sentence work – Jane Austen never wasted a word!

What has been the most astonishing fact you have come across in your research? 

When I wrote my book ‘Jane Austen and Crime’ I came across many things that astonished me about crime in the Georgian era, and the ways Jane Austen used crimes in her writing. It is amazing to note that some of her characters commit hanging offences in the novels and juvenilia. I began that book as the subject for a short talk, but found so many crimes in her fiction and such interesting ways of using them, that the talk turned into a book that took me 7 years to write. I felt very proud that I was showing modern readers things Jane Austen’s contemporaries would all have taken for granted when they read her novels. 
 in vain notebook

In your book Brief Encounters: Literary Travellers in Australia 1836-1936 you delve into the visits of a diverse array of writers to Australia. Who do you think is Australia’s biggest literary legend? 

I had a wonderful time following 11 different authors in their travels around Australia – Darwin, Trollope, Conrad, Kipling, RL Stevenson, Twain, London, Conan Doyle, DH Lawrence, Agatha Christie and HG Wells – and writing ‘Brief Encounters’. It was fascinating to view this country through their eyes and to see how the visits they made here influenced their future writings. When it comes to Australia’s own literary legends, I guess it has to be Patrick White who is the only Australian Nobel Prize winner, but I am not a Patrick White fan, nor do I know many people who really love his novels and return to them again and again. I think ‘Seven Little Australians’ is a wonderful Aussie classic.

And finally, for all of us writing historical fiction, what are your top three research tips? 

I adore historical fiction, but lack of research can so easily cause some awful blunder which immediately collapses any conviction on the part of the reader. I think the most important advice is READ, READ, READ – books about the era, other novels set in that era, biographies of people who lived then. And a good dictionary is an essential tool, so you can make sure that words you use are not anachronistic. 

 

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Who is your favourite Austen Character?

Thank you Susannah, I tried out one of my many dictionaries on anachronistic, and I’m pleased to report that it is up to the job. Readers, tell me, who is your favourite Jane Austen character? What is your favourite quote? Do you agonise over the language in your historical writing?  What is the most interesting thing you have read in the name of research?

And just like that, my blog and I are back from maternity leave. It’s nice to be back. Next month I have another interview, this time with Kirsty Manning, author of The Midsummer Garden. Until then, make sure you keep in touch and come say hi to me over on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Stay warm everyone, I’ll see you all in a month.

 

Image credits for header illustration AG Doyle.

The Letter Allure

What do you talk about in letters that your correspondent hasn’t already seen on your Facebook page or on that of your mutual friends? You can’t actually share news via letter anymore, and because of that, that the letter loses something of its magic.

‘Sarah, my love for you is deathless… the memories of the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you that I have enjoyed them so long. And how hard is it for me to give them up; and burn to ashes the hopes of future years when God willing we might have still loved and loved together and see our boys grow up to honourable manhood around us.’

So goes one of my all-time favourite letters. I first heard it read aloud on the ABC radio as I was driving to work one morning. It was written by a man called Sullivan Ballou to his wife, Sarah, in July of 1861, as his company prepared for the first major battle of the American Civil War. Sullivan wrote this letter because he was ‘suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart’. As I listened to the presenter read the letter with all its haunting tenderness, I was desperate to hear that the story had a happy ending. Sullivan, however, was right in his premonition; he was killed two weeks later, his 24-year-old widow never re-married and I arrived at work a blubbering mess.

I have always loved letters. I love their ability to capture the essence of a writer unlike any other medium. There is something about having an expanse of paper laid out before you that invites a plumbing of your thoughts, bringing to light confidences you might not otherwise have thought to share. Often times, passion is more easily expressed via a letter, which is why letters are the favourite weapon of lovers and haters alike.

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Letters: the weapon of choice of lovers and haters alike.

 

The Age of Letters is Over

Even though I write and receive more letters than most (and yes, I hear you languishing epistolarians — the writing of the letters has been in sad proportion to the receiving of late, but I’m writing a novel for crying out loud. I’ll get on it, I promise) I see that the need for letters is shrinking with the advent of each new social media platform and the ever-increasing ease of information sharing. What do you talk about in letters that your correspondent hasn’t already seen on your Facebook page or on that of your mutual friends? You can’t actually share news via letter anymore, and because of that, that the letter loses something of its magic.

This fact was born home to me recently as I was — get this — writing a letter. I have a friend whose circumstances have recently changed dramatically. She has left her highly connected, social media saturated world and joined a convent. In another country. There is no social media allowed. No mobiles and only a few phone calls a week that naturally go to her family.

I have to be honest, at first I was (rather selfishly) depressed by the reduction in communication. Obviously this change was much harder for my friend than it was for me, but I still got a pang of sadness every time I had to skip over her name in my Snapchat kid-spam list, or refrain from sharing a post I knew she would like on Facebook, or sending her yet another Trump meme.

But then I got her first letter.

I was not prepared for the utter joy and anticipation receiving that missive brought me. Finally, I could hear her thoughts, find out what the convent was like, the other sisters, the food, the accommodation, the rules. How she was enjoying it, her studies — what were they like? And I could share again, pour onto paper all the things I’d been holding back for her because I could no longer send aimless thoughts her way with a half-conscious click of a button.

I was so excited to ‘talk’ to her again that (please glance aside neglected correspondents) I immediately pulled out my writing set and spent the next week replying to her, filling her in on all the little dramas that had unfolded during my domestic week, savouring particularly entertaining news items, and anything about our common friends that I did not think she would have heard through her family. It was such a joy to be able to disseminate information that one knew would be novel to the reader, rather than just stating yet another opinion on a topic already well canvassed online. A nice, comfortable, newsy (read gossipy) letter.

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A whole pile of gossip.

 

Two of my sisters, my mother, my grandmother and an aunt of mine all keep up a semi-regular correspondence.

I am sadly in debt, having received mail from all of them which has gone unanswered since as far back as September, but we’ve texted, talked, and caught up in the mean-time, so it is easy to forget the urgency. The letter from my friend in the convent has made me realise what a pale excuse of a letter they have all been receiving from me to date. I have spent some time thinking over this during the preparation for this blog post and I see now that I need to formulate a better plan for our correspondence, that my letters to them need to include unique pieces of information and request the same in return.

I need to raise the stakes.

Think of Pride and Prejudice’s Lizzy Bennet’s impatience in waiting for her Aunt Gardener’s response to her request for information regarding Mr Darcy’s presence at Lydia’s wedding. That’s the sort of anticipation I want for my future letter-writing efforts.

How to achieve this? What should I put in my letters to increase the drama and expectation? Do you have any suggestions? What news would you like to receive in your letterbox?

Next week, to celebrate Australia Day, I’ll be sharing a list of my top five most surprising discoveries about colonial Australia. To make sure you don’t miss it, or any of my posts, be sure to subscribe to my blog using the box at the bottom of the home page. If you’d like to get in touch between posts, or take a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, then you can find me most days on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Have a great weekend everyone, I’ll see you next week!

Literary Survival List

There were some dark days at the end as November was disappearing but my word count remained unchanged. I was feeling frustrated and slightly desperate, and very, very tired.

It can be hard to find the balance between keeping on top of your writing and giving your family the attention they need. I had a very real struggle with this at the end of November this year.

 

I had given myself a deadline. Novel finished by the end of November. Which seemed so easy at the beginning of November because we were away staying with family, and it was easy to ignore the girls for a couple of hours a day because they were quite happy to ignore me back and hang out with their more entertaining (and much more permissive) grandparents. But then we came home and my husband was away a lot, and everyone decided that sleeping during the day or night was overrated and suddenly it was Advent and there was a lot of Christmas baking to do, and still so many words to write.

 

There were some dark days at the end as November was disappearing but my word count remained unchanged. I was feeling frustrated and slightly desperate, and very, very tired. And guilty. I don’t want my writing to be something that happens at the expense of my family, and yet I do want it. I think I may be able to make a go of it, and even if I can’t, I want the chance to try. My writing might be terrible, but then again, what if I’m actually quite good at it? It’s a question I need to find the answer to.

 

So, as the days were slipping by and the computer stayed off and the girls stayed awake, I busied myself keeping in touch with my writerly self in other ways. I call it the Literary Survival Guide and here it is; a quick list of survival techniques for the literarily deprived.

 

Podcasts

A great way to keep in touch with the literary world whilst doing the dishes, driving to work, walking to the park, or tackling the mountain of ironing. Writing and history podcasts are my favourites. Anything with and Author interview is always good, sometimes it’s nice to hear the ones who made it had no idea what they were doing to begin with either. I also get a lot of joy out of listening to shows about random topics or shows that express very different opinions or beliefs to the ones I hold; it’s interesting to learn how people come to their conclusions, and it’s great for potential character development. It’s also good for research if you need information on a particular topic and the hallowed halls of the library don’t encourage you and your menagerie to visit that often.

My favourites:   So you want to be a writer by the Australian Writers’ Centre (my number one go-`to pick-me-up, get in the zone, light the fire podcast)

History Extra by the BBC History Magazine (for when I’m in the mood for some light entertainment and easy learning)

The History of English by Kevin Stroud (basically a history of Europe- incredibly well researched)

Reith Lectures by BBC Radio 4 (I spent hours listening to V.S. Ramachandran talk about   Neurology. Not only is his topic fascinating, but he has the most wonderful thick, Liam Neeson-esque accent that is just heavenly to listen to. Highly recommend.)

LSE Public Lectures and Events by the London School of Economics (because I like to keep abreast of random topics and different thought patterns)

 

 Short stories

A well written short story can be just the thing you need to get you through the afternoon haze. I started reading a collection by Georgette Heyer during NaNoWriMo to keep me sane and it was wonderful. Everything I love about Georgette Heyer delivered in twenty minutes or so. A delicious way to end the day.

 

Read quality children’s books

If you’re reading them, chances are you are reading them a lot. And with little variety. We have a lot of children’s books, but usually only two or three on rotation at a time. If the kids like a book, they will listen to it to death. I’ve always heard that kids’ books are hard to write, and now I know why. If you are writing for children, you are also writing for parents, and your words must stand the test of being read upwards of five times a day. Which is why Alison Lester and Mem Fox and Janet and Allan Ahlberg are so treasured in our house, because my husband and I are so happy to oblige when sticky little fingers present their works to us. The less enjoyable works are very quickly phased out of circulation. 

As a writer, there is a lot to be learnt from the well-written children’s book. It’s a little like poetry in that it must say a lot with very little, and that is an art-form well worth studying. Australian author and illustrator Kate Knapp from Twigseeds studio does this in the most divine way with her Ruby Red Shoes books, and yes, we’ve been reading them a lot lately!

 

Take your kids to the book shop

I must admit, when my children started to walk, I thought my bookshop browsing days were about to take a serious hiatus (which would have possibly devastated the national economy), but our local bookshop is magnificent. They are so welcoming to me and my girls. They have a toy basket set up in the middle of the kids’ book section, little chairs to entice them into with their captured books or toys and are very encouraging when the girls want to be read to. If none of the staff are available to read to her, and I am taking too long browsing, my eldest is quite happy to prowl the aisles and unleash her big, green eyes and messy curls on unsuspecting patrons until someone is secured to her service. But it means I get a break. Five minutes to cast my eye over new works on the shelves, or to touch base with old favourites. A dip into a work of literary advice or a peek behind an unfamiliar cover. And is there anything better than carrying away a paper bag containing a new book promising information and adventures untold? The anticipation of settling down to that story is almost as good as reading the first page and feeling that sense of delighted immersion as you retreat into another world.

 

Word on your phone

I have Valerie Khoo from the Australian Writers’ Centre to thank for this tip. I am not very good with technology, and I didn’t even know it was possible to have Word on your phone. And while not overly useful for anything that takes a considerable amount of time, it is perfect for those stolen moments of creativity that Elizabeth Gilbert talks about. The moments when you are at the park, and no-one is requiring your attention or adoration right now, for the waiting room when the children are occupied with the toys and the receptionist. Instead of checking Facebook, I can re-read the writing I wrote the day before to get me in the zone for later in the day. I can add a few lines to a chapter or a blog post, I can do a spot of editing. I can be writing, and that is always a good thing.

 

 

With this handy arsenal of sanity-savers, we struggled on through to the end of November. My book was not finished by November thirty, but it was finished two days later on December second, and you can bet you that I had one heck of an iced orange juice to celebrate. What does it mean to have finished the book? Well, I’ve spent the last two weeks working that out, and I’ll tell you all about it in the next blog post. Until then, if you’d like a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, you can find me most days on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Merry Christmas everyone, I’ll see you next week!