What Shakespeare Would Say About My Son’s Sushi

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

This famous quote is from Voltaire’s Questions sur l’Encyclopédie, but in another of his works around the same time, he alluded to the Italian proverb he’d probably had in mind: “The best is the enemy of the good.”

Naturally, years before, Shakespeare had put in his pennyworth: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well,” says Albany in King Lear.

And way before Shakespeare was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, Confucius had expressed a similar sentiment: “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”

I was unaware of any of these quotes when, over 20 years ago, I was wondering what I’d got myself into. I had two young children, a newly-started degree, a newly-started teaching assistant qualification, a demanding part-time job in the NHS, and another part-time role about to start.

I looked at my essay deadline calendar from the Open University. I looked at the overflowing laundry pile. I looked at my children (aged one and five at the time, so a year or so younger than they are here). And it occurred to me that I might have Taken On Too Much.

Luckily for me, OU chat groups were full of other people with the same doubts—frantically discussing time-management techniques and tips on how to handle a degree when you had a house, family and job. A ringing endorsement from a fellow student led me to the website of that doyenne of domestic management, Flylady (aka Marla Cilley).

That foray into her world was interesting, but after some time, I decided that ‘Flying’ –her system of managing yourself, your house, your clutter, and to some extent, your family—wasn’t for me.

But I hung on to the principles I found useful.

  • “You can’t organize clutter; you can only get rid of it.” True.
  • “You can do anything for 15 minutes.” This doesn’t mean you can always spend 15 minutes being a lion tamer or bungee-jumping, obviously. The quote underlines two of her principles:
    • You can make progress on most things, even in just 15 minutes—you shouldn’t put that task off because ‘you only have 15 minutes, so it’s not worth starting’ (spoiler alert: it’s usually very much worth starting. You just don’t want to, or you feel overwhelmed by the task).
    • You can cope with doing anything for 15 minutes—worth reminding yourself of if it’s something you’re dreading or procrastinating about starting. Whether the task before you seems overwhelming, uncomfortable, or just deadass boring, you only have to do it for 15 minutes. Then you’re allowed to skive off.
  • And yes, she had her own version of the perfection principle expressed by Voltaire/an Italian proverb writer/Shakespeare/Confucius too: “Done is better than perfect.” She was mainly talking about housework here. Better for you to quickly take a mop over the floor than not clean it at all because you had no time to get down on your knees and scrub it thoroughly. And better for a family member to make the effort with a household task, even if it wasn’t done the way you like it.

Fast forward around 20 years or so to last year, and I started to read Gretchen Rubin’s excellent The Happiness Project. One of her Secrets of Adulthood, which might sound more than a little familiar, is:

“Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good.”

Wise words indeed. And maybe I’ve passed this wisdom on to my son (or perhaps he had it all along). He was visiting recently, and mentioned he’d bought the ingredients to make his own sushi. This was something his older sister had done a few years ago on a passing whim, so I asked him if he’d bought a rolling board like she had. Did he want me to see if I could find it for him? He shook his head, put on one of his comedy voices, and muttered something meme-esque along the lines of, “Ain’t nobody got time for dat.

Last week, he sent pictures of the sushi he’d made.

His sister instantly teased him about its appearance with this gif.

But, as he said in reply, that’s what not having a rolling board does; it was still delicious. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? He was only making it for himself, and it didn’t need to be perfect. Just tasty. If he had “strived to better” it, he might have “marred what was well,” to paraphrase the bard. I’m sure William S would have had good things to say about my son’s sushi efforts.

Of course, my reply was:



Because I am merciless and my son’s typo made me giggle. I foresee ‘delicious ong’ becoming a family joke.

In response, I just got a gif of a dog giving me the side-eye in response. Fair enough. I may not be the perfect mother, but in my defence, it’s because I’m trying so hard not to let the quest to be a perfect one get in the way of me being a good one. Right?


Book Review: The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain


silent sisterA library borrow. 🙂

About the Author (abridged version of her official bio):

Diane Chamberlain is the  bestselling author of 24 novels including Necessary Lies, The Silent Sister, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, and TheKeeper of the Light Trilogy. Diane likes to write complex stories about relationships of all kinds with strong elements of mystery and intrigue. Her background in psychology has given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create her realistic characters.

Diane was born and raised in New Jersey and also lived for many years in San Diego, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in clinical social work from San Diego State University and northern Virginia, where she also ran a private psychotherapy practice specialising in adolescents. While she worked in hospitals in San Diego and Washington, D.C. she began writing on the side. Her first book, Private Relations, was published in 1989 and earned the RITA award for Best Single Title Contemporary Novel.

Diane now lives in North Carolina with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her sheltie, Cole. She has three stepdaughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren. 

About the Book:

Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa, a brilliant violinist, committed suicide as a teenager.  Now, over twenty years later, her father has passed away and she’s back in New Bern, North Carolina to clear out his house, reforge a bond with her brother – and to discover that nothing from that last twenty years is quite what it seems…

As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family. What will she do with her newfound reality?

What I liked:

Everything. I was only sorry I hadn’t come across her before! The characterisation is excellent – to the extent that, a little unusually for a book that definitely borders on a thriller, I wanted to stay with these characters and find out what happened to them next. The backstory is handled really well, as much of it is revealed to the main character, Riley, as the plot twists and turns; and any other necessary exposition is well-woven into the narrative. The settings are atmospheric and used to enhance the story, with descriptions never lasting so long that you find yourself skipping down the page. The ongoing tension and mystery are well-maintained and just when you think you’ve hit the twist too early, another comes along.

Gripping, believable, well-written and impossible to put down.

What I wasn’t so keen on:

Absolutely nothing.


#Writer Beware: Not All Fame Is Good Fame

From time to time, people contact me to say how much they’ve appreciated one of my health columns. It’s nice to get those emails, social media messages or comments via the website; I like to feel the articles are being read and that they’re helping people. If one of my columns has been published in a local magazine, I sometimes get some rather lovely pleasant face-to-face feedback, too.

However, I was reminded recently that my control over how my humble Word documents are transformed into printed articles in magazines is limited – and that not all fame is good fame…

“They’re talking about your article!!” chirruped a Facebook message from a friend last month. I frowned at her link, which was to a post on the FB page of a local village. What was that image? Why were they laughing about my article? I squinted. Wasn’t that a picture of the short version of my article, printed in a local magazine?

I leaned closer. Why had somebody drawn a circle around th-


World Blood Donor Day Blooper

No. I don’t know how that made it to print, either.

I went straight on the internet to see if I could find digital versions of other print magazines in which it might have appeared.

Phew! Luckily, the article has appeared in other publications with a less embarrassing graphic. People in Birmingham and various parts of Yorkshire have been spared potential blushes, as have many others across the country.world blood donor day 3

Unfortunately, people in Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire weren’t so lucky. I would apologise, but honestly, that side of it is nothing to do with me!

The moral of this story? Never write an article with a title that could be turned into something dubious by a graphic designer’s one-letter typo. It’s certainly made me give my titles a second look…


Book Review: Doubting Abbey by Samantha Tonge

Dounting AbbeyAbout the Author:

Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire and writes rom-com novels and short fiction. Doubting Abbey was her debut novel, published in 2014 by Carina. She has since written From Paris With Love (‘the fun, standalone sequel to Doubting Abbey’), Mistletoe Mansion, Game of Scones, My Big Fat Christmas Wedding (a Game of Scones sequel) and How To Get Hitched in Ten Days, her recently published novella.

About The Book:

I was very lucky to win a signed copy of this book on Twitter. The premise of the book is that aristocratic Abbey, torn between helping boyfriend Zak on a mercy mission abroad and helping her estranged family win the reality show Million Dollar Mansion, asks her decidedly unaristocratic friend Gemma to pretend to be her – and rush off to help save the ancestral pile (Applebridge Hall).

How can Gemma pretend to be her? Well Gemma, her flatmate and pizza parlour colleague, conveniently looks so much like Abbey – despite the fact that she acts and presents herself completely differently – that Abbey believes her relatives won’t be able to tell the difference, as she hasn’t seen them for years. And it seems to work at first, with even young Lord Edward, Abbey’s dishy cousin, not suspecting a thing…

What I liked:

I thought the title was clever (I love Samatha’s pun titles!). I liked the portrayal of the reality show and what went on behind the scenes. I found this ‘carefully constructed’ reality that contestants are asked to ‘act’ in very believable. The rivalry with the other semi-finalists was amusing too, with its side-swipe at their pseudo-historical artefacts and dodgy hen weekends. Oh, and I loved the twist (which I didn’t see coming!). I wasn’t expecting there to be a twist, either, as the ‘will she be discovered or won’t she’ and ‘will they win or won’t they’ plot strands seemed sufficient to maintain the tension, so it was a pleasant surprise.

I giggled at Gemma’s cooking dilemmas and interactions with the aristocratic people around her, and thought the minor characters were portrayed well, particularly Kathleen, the stern but warm-hearted housekeeper.

I also liked the lighthearted but topical look at the value of older buildings and estates, and how the families that own them have had to repurpose them to keep them viable and continue to employ local people.

What I wasn’t so keen on:

The stereotypical nature of the two main characters. Gemma is sketched as a stereotypical ‘chav’ (if you’ll excuse the expression) and almost presented as someone for us to laugh at rather than with. She’s addicted to bronzer, too much make-up, false eyelashes and revealing tops (and I would like to have seen the incident where a male character suggests that by wearing them, she’s leading him on, dealt with differently – and to have seen him get more comeuppance). Gemma sometimes appears to laugh at herself, while at other times she seems convinced her look is attractive and symbolic of making an effort. Confusing.

Also, if something is not ‘mega’ (a word she uses as an adjective, adverb and superlative), then it’s amaaazin’. The editor is at fault here for failing to curb the constant repetition of these words in Gemma’s dialogue and thoughts, and the constant ‘megas’ nearly made me give up, a few chapters in. It’s this aspect of the book that’s persistently criticised by other reviewers, so I’m not alone. Chavs don’t talk like that; I’m originally from the Medway Towns, so I know.

And does Lord Edward need to be stuck in the Victorian era just because he’s an aristocrat? He is only aware of classical music, has never eaten a burger and shares his thoughts, including every ‘um’, ‘ah’ and half-finished sentence, on his new blog in a way that no intelligent, self-respecting person ever would – yet he’s portrayed as intelligent and self-respecting…

It’s also difficult for the blossoming romance between Edward and Gemma to be believable when it seems mainly based on her thinking he’s fit and him being won over by the hedonistic pleasures of eating a burger in a car for the first time.

Will I read another?

Probably, yes – despite what I’ve said about the main characters in this novel. That’s because many of the reviewers who have read Samantha Tonge’s later works were surprised by these flaws in her debut novel, commenting that her later books are far better. So I’ll be giving her the benefit of the doubt. I love Greece, so Game of Scones may soon be on my TBR pile.

This Writer’s Resolve: No More Resolutions!

Reading a post by Valerie-Anne Baglietto on the Novelistas Ink site the other day reminded me of something I’d forgotten: the original meaning of resolution. It’s all to do with breaking things down into their constituent parts, basically, similar to its meanings in the fields of chemistry and physics. And because I’m a sad muppet, this led me to write a business article based around the chemical and physical meanings of ‘resolution’. (Honestly, it was a cracker. But it’s not out yet, so I can’t link to it and show you).
In case you’re interested, here are those chemical and physical definitions.

CHEMISTRY resolution: the process of reducing or separating something into constituent parts or components.

PHYSICS resolution: the replacing of a single force or other vector quantity by two or more jointly equivalent to it.

My article for business owners and freelancers encouraged them to study their existing work patterns, projects, clients, products and services, and assess them as separate entities, considering their value and time/stress to income/satisfaction ratio, possibly with a view to outsourcing tasks that didn’t make the best use of their time or talent – such as bookkeeping or web design.

After writing it, I realised that using these meanings of resolution for reflection and change could be just as valuable to my life in general as it was to my freelance writing career.  And as last year’s resolutions were never revisited in this blog (despite my stated ‘resolution’ they would be!), and were mostly unsuccessful, I decided not to make any New Year’s resolutions. Not of the typical, modern, ‘eat lettuce every day, give up donuts, write 3 squillion words a week, walk to work’ variety, anyway.

I would be different! I would make scientific resolutions, breaking down what already exists and examining the separate parts to see what needs eliminating, replacing or pursuing.Having let this thought swim about my head today, so far these magical insights into general home life have occurred:

  • the whole sharing-the-emptying-of-the-dishwasher does not work
  • the allocation of cooking duties doesn’t fit new circumstances (Arty Daughter starting work and now usually being the last one home Monday to Thursday).

Nothing profound, but I’d already made plans for managing our weekend commitments better as a family, so there’s a whole swathe of changes involved there. More thoughts might occur later.

As for work – well, to quote my own article:

“It’s time to identify the parts of your working life that don’t work and either eradicate or change them, rather than cling to them out of habit.”

She who advises it and writes it should, er, follow it. So I did, any conclusions were:

  • I need to stop feeling guilty about not pitching for new editing/proofreading work (although I may do so towards the end of each week, if I want to). I have enough regular writing work and semi-regular clients not to stress about it. In any free time, I should be writing stuff I want to write, even if it does mean I get disowned by a certain freelance marketplace site. I’m not too keen on its increasingly heavy-handed blackmail tactics that force you to do all your work through it anyway, or how it penalises you for being busy with independent projects. The t&cs for new starters are lousy, I’ve discovered, and if they’d been in place when I first looked at the site I’d never have joined. Their customer support is pants too.
  • Before I was a writer, I was a reader. Two of those ‘constituent parts’ of my life that aren’t working too well are reading and blogging, and I’ve been intending to get seriously stuck into book reviewing for ages. So that’s the nearest I’m getting a standard New Year’s resolution; more blogging, and more of it about books.

Again, I’d already designed a weekly timetable to schedule in sessions in school, doing school prep at home, regular writing commitments, household chores, blogging and writing whatever takes my fancy (because I’d realised scheduling designated time for these was important – and the only way they’d get done). It was all getting quite resolved, in a chemical and physical sense, before I even stumbled on the idea.

So that’s the plan. Or more accurately, those are the changes to the separate bits that were already there.

Have you made any resolutions? Did you stick to the ones you made last year? Perhaps you should try ‘loosening, undoing and dissolving’ the big sticky knot of your life into its separate parts to take a good look at it.

Good luck!

#NaNoWriMo – With Slightly Less No

If the title of this post confuses you, it’s probably because you’re familiar with the word ‘NaNoWriMo’ but not what the word actually stands for. If this is the case, I’ll put you out of your misery. No, not like that. I’ll just explain that NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, so my ‘slightly less no’ reference is to the ‘Novel’ bit of the equation.

I wasn’t going to do NaNoWriMo at all this year. Why put myself through the unnecessary stress during one of my busiest months of the year, I asked myself? What did I have to prove?

Well, nothing. But since my current quest is to prove that the first published novel wasn’t just an anomaly, and that I’m not a one-trick wonder, it seemed that a target to get on with fiction and not leave it languishing behind the non-fiction Might Be No Bad Thing. So, abracadabra… word meters have once again invaded the right-hand sidebar.

Nano 2015

However, you’ll notice that my goal isn’t to write 50,000 words of a novel, but to write 50,000 in total in November. I’m only aiming for 40,000 of them to be on the novel (although more would be great). The other 10,000 words will be offered at the shrine of non-fiction. I know they’ll get written because frankly, they have to be. It’s what I’m paid for.

Writing this had made me realise that not having a separate word meter for non-fiction is irritating me.

nano 2015 2

There. That’s better!

As of this afternoon, I’m a day behind on my total word count. That’s fine. I can live with that. Unexpectedly, tomorrow is going to be an all-day writing day, so let’s see if I can push that blue line eastwards!