Ten things about Martha Ross (Win a signed copy!)

I started this blog as a place to offer advice to parents. The internet is full of judgement and I wanted to create a space to let mothers and fathers know they were doing OK. My motivation was mainly sparing my friends from my unsolicited opinions but also, with over a decade working with families, I knew I had learned a lot. Over the past few years, I’ve ended a marriage, thrown myself into the dating world and learned a lot about love. I have many, many thoughts on love. So many thoughts that I wrote a book about it.

My novel, The Reinvention of Martha Ross, was published by Transworld last month and charts the messy weeks after Martha ends her marriage. Martha decides to look for love and creates a ten-point list of the qualities she wants in her ideal man, so I thought I’d share ten reasons why you might want to read her story.

1. Martha’s list was inspired by my own. Encouraged by my friend and love guru Nina, I put my romance goals on paper before I re-entered the dark waters of the dating pool. A little of my list made its way on to Martha’s but exactly what, I’ll never tell.

2. The story is set in Brighton, a beautiful place to fall in love. Also, a great place to get drunk and make a show of yourself – there’s a lot of that in there too.

3. Martha’s life becomes pretty chaotic and many of the scenes were inspired by true events. One of Martha’s mishaps is borrowed directly from my life and it was as awkward as it reads.

  4. My journey as an author began when I applied for Penguin Random House's WriteNow scheme, a process designed to promote the writing of underrepresented writers. The project created an online fracas when Lionel Shriver implied that diversity could lead to a decrease in quality – I’ll let you be the judge.

5. Martha is a mother but motherhood isn’t as dreamy as she thought it would be. It was scary to write about some of the truths of parenting.

6. The book is dedicated to my ex-husband who was super supportive about the fact that I was writing a novel about a divorce. That being said he has no plans to read it.

 7. The first item on Martha’s list is red hair and blue eyes. After finishing the novel, I met my current boyfriend, a man with red hair and blue eyes. He says he's not concerned about my life imitating art but he’s very keen to know the subject of my next novel.

8. The first version of the book didn’t include the final chapter and it’s totally cool if you want to stop there.

9.  Bestselling author Jane Fallon described the book as one of the best and funniest debuts she’s read in a long time and Sara Lawrence for the Daily Mail described it as beautifully written and emotionally intelligent.

10. The true love story is the one Martha has with her friends. Martha may be focused on finding a man but the story is a celebration of sisterhood.

If you’ve got this far and you think you might like to read Martha’s story, this is your opportunity to win a signed copy; it’s also my opportunity to spout more of my thoughts on love. To enter, leave a question about love or relationships in the comments. Two winners will be chosen in two weeks. Your question can be about breaking up or making up, dating or divorce; make it personal or philosophical – there are no rules when it comes to love.

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What action should I take when a father refuses to attend mediation?

I am exhausted! I am up in the night! I am single mum! Yes, I'm a superhero and my super power is co parenting. My son has two homes but both his parents have one goal - to raise a reasonably healthy, relatively happy human. Not much else matters. We achieve this through trust, respect and a lot of Whatsapp messages. In fact I couldn't be a co parenting hero without my trusty sidekick, so I can't say I have any experience of trying to raise a child with an asswipe (which in my opinion someone who refuses to go to mediation is) but asswipes in general? I've met plenty and I've found they can all be lumped into one airtight box.

At the outset I'd like to state I have absolutely no legal training. I haven't even done jury duty so this post isn't about legalities, it's about emotions, which are much scarier.

Question one: What do you have to gain? Do you really have to do this? If this man doesn't want to come to mediation what makes you think that he will agree to any decisions that come out of the process? If you are in a situation that inconveniences you but works for your child/children, think about sucking it up. Focus your energies on the things in your life that you can change. Can you enlist more help from friends or family? Can you change your working life to include more flexibility? One of the best (and hardest) lessons of single parenting is learning to do it all yourself.

Question two: What are the asswipe's motivations? It's one of three things...
1. He's not ready for it to be over. Mediation can symbolise a pretty hefty nail in the coffin of a relationship. If your ex is still harbouring fantasies of a reconciliation he may be avoiding the shits got realness of the mediation session. Women especially can be so polite in their interactions that they send mixed signals. Make sure you aren't giving him any hope by being too vague in your communications - don't be too supportive, too quick to listen to his problems or ever (ever) indulge in the way too easy sex with the ex. If necessary invent a significant other to bring home the 'I've moved on' message. 
2. He's petty AF. The only way to deal with a petty person is to hit them where it hurts - their wallet. Don't bother explaining the rational, mature reasons for mediation just tell him you're going down the legal route. As soon as he finds out how much a solicitor charges to pick up a phone he'll be begging for mediation. 
3. He's controlling. You'll probably know if this is the case because it will be something you've had to live through. In this case, you'll need to let him think it's his idea. I would never recommend being manipulative but don't do anything that makes his life as a parent easier, if pick up's at six arrive on the dot and not a second before. Communicate important information by email and ask him to refer to your messages if he has questions - control what you can control and if he wants your flexibility he may decide that mediation is the route to use. 

Ultimately you can't make someone do anything they don't want to do. Refusing to attend could have negative consequences for your ex; comfort yourself with the knowledge that you're willing to do the right thing for your child. Soon enough your ex will learn that you're not the bitch, karma is. 

How to Set and Reach Your Savings Goals

Setting specific goals is a great way to make sure that you're more focused on your spending and savings habits. When you have a specific goal in mind, it's easier to stay motivated when times get tough than if you're just distributing money into a bank account.

If you're just throwing your money into a current account and trying your hardest not to spend it, sometimes it can be tempting to simply withdraw that money and tell yourself that you're going to pay it back. On the other hand, if you know that every penny in your account has a purpose, you'll be less likely to use cash for different reasons. Here are a few tips to help you set and reach the right savings goals.

Choose a Reason for Saving Money

The first thing you need to do is figure out what you're saving money for. Though the simple purpose of trying to be more careful with your cash can be motivating enough for some people, others need a more short-term goal, like going on a family holiday, or replacing a kitchen.
If you're planning on saving as a couple or family, make sure that you sit down with the other people involved in your household to discuss the goals that will appeal most to all of you. Everyone needs to be committed to the same targets, otherwise your whole budget can dissolve into chaos. However, it is possible to have more than one goal, particularly if you have both long-term and short-term targets. 

Create Timelines for your Goals

When you've decided what you want to save for, and how much you need to save to reach your goals, it's time to start adding more depth to your saving strategy. Providing yourself with a timeline that tells you when you want to achieve your goals should help to give you additional motivation when you're struggling to accomplish your aims. Some timelines might be short-term, such as when you want to go on holiday next year, whereas others might be more vague. For instance, you might just want to save as much cash as you can before you reach retirement.
Although it might be impossible to give a solid end date to every goal, you should at least try to set benchmarks and milestone dates in place that will help to let you know whether you're moving in the right direction, at the right pace. For instance, you might decide that you want to have about £20,000 in your retirement account by the time you reach 30.

Look for Savings Money in your Monthly Budget

With the details of your savings goals laid out, you'll need to start looking for the money you need in your budget. Sometimes, it can feel practically impossible to find extra money for savings when you're struggling to make ends meet. However, the good news is that there are plenty of ways to cut costs that you may not have thought about yet. For instance, you can look into switching your providers for gas and electricity to a vendor with a better deal.
Alternatively, you can search for places where you can cut down your spending. For instance, you might be able to reduce the amount you spend on restaurant meals if you commit to eating at home more often and cooking your own food. You could also cut costs by getting rid of subscriptions you don't use - like gym memberships that sit in a drawer at home, gathering dust.

Get the Right Savings Tools

Finally, you'll need to make sure that you have the right resources to help with your savings strategy. For instance, you can download budgeting apps onto your phone that help you to track your spending habits and figure out where you're having the most trouble with your money. At the same time, it helps to make sure that you have the right account to make the most out of your money at the bank.
If you're thinking of saving money for a period of longer than 5 years, then you might consider looking at mutual funds, or you can search for a savings account with a high rate of return. Although interest rates on savings accounts aren't great right now, they can give you more than you would get by simply placing your money into a current account.
What's more, using a separate account for your savings means that you'll be less tempted to tap into the money you save, because you won't see it on your statement every month.

This is a collaborative post 

Adventure - Just add child

I was not looking forward to the weekend. And I felt bad about it. Because two days with my child would be joyful, would it not? It was supposed to be joyful. Everyone says it is J.O.Y.F.U.L. I was not full of joy, I was full of dread. The weekend meant two days listening to the Paw Patrol theme tune and rescuing my flat deposit from the the reckless hands of a small child; a weekend meant the same arguments about bedtime and peas, I didn't want the same. I knew I needed something else and so I found it. I scoured Google for last minute breaks. I managed to narrow it down with the logic that when you live by a beach the next best thing is a sandy beach and booked a room at the nearest one - Pontins, Camber Sands. 

Roscoe was so excited. We've recently added the book 'Maisy Goes on Holiday' to our library. Maisy is a mouse of undetermined age, who attends nursery but is also a home owner and in this particularly book she is in need of a minibreak. I told Roscoe we were going to pack a bag and catch a train and go to the beach. 'Just like Maisy!' He cried. Indeed, just like Maisy. 

Except not like Maisy because her train wasn't cancelled but determination and a non refundable room rate had us hopping on and off trains along the coast. We made the last connection, an hourly service to our destination, with seconds to spare. As our train pulled in I clutched Roscoe's hand and said, 'We have to run.' 

'Like the gingerbread man?' He asked. Yes, just like that. And we ran and jumped on and fell about giggling with 'just made the train' exhiliration. 

'We're having an adventure,' said Roscoe and we were, we totally were. Cause an adventure is anything that takes you out of your routine; an adventure is being willing to go with whatever is thrown at you. Anytime you need an adventure - just add child. 

Pontins, Camber Sands is the resort that time forgot. It definitely needed a lick of paint and maybe a bulldozer but to Roscoe it might as well have been a five star hotel - with his own new bed and a teeny fridge for our sausage roll dinner, it was the height of luxury. After we had unpacked he asked for a cake and some sweets; automatically I told him to choose one but then I reconsidered because this was an adventure. Could he have the tacky windmill and cheap bucket and spade? Yes! Could he have ice cream? Yes! Could he watch TV after dinner? Why not?! We spent hours digging holes in the sand and we didn't bathe and we ate chocolate muffins for breakfast and it was wonderful. And what was so wonderful about it was it made me remember that we didn't need to go away to get away from it all - we can turn off Paw Patrol and discover somewhere new in our home town; we can have muffins for breakfast whenever we please. Life can always be an adventure. 

No more pain

I work twenty four hour shifts at my care job. I sleep for a good portion of that but never completely switch off. When you finish an eight hour shift you need a couple of hours to transition into home mode, so when you work for a day it takes three times longer. When I finished my last shift I knew that if I went straight home I would eat carbs, nap and lose a sunny day; so I headed to my local park. It's this tiny little patch tucked away between houses, you'll miss it if you don't know it's there. It's never busy, even on the warmest days. 

I sat in the park and and read my book, Jen Beagin's 'Pretend I'm Dead'. It's astonishing and I had to keep taking little breaks to let it settle. During one of my rest periods I noticed a man watching his son doing laps of a small concrete track on his bike. Each time the boy passed him he would call out a time and an acknowledgement when that time was quicker than the last. The boy peddled more  and more furiously and on the last turn of what would be his personal best, he skidded. There was a thump and then that terrible silence before a child cries and man did he cry. His father leapt to his feet, as any good parent would.

'You're OK. You're not hurt. Lucas stop crying. It's OK,' he said as he ran towards him. The man examined the wailing child. 'It's just a graze. You're OK. Stand up.' Or don't feel what you feel or at least don't express it. I'm sure the man was right, it didn't look that bad. As the boy continued to sob his father showed him how to lean into curves. The boy nodded and sniffed and nodded. He would lean to be better, to be faster, to not let emotions get in the way. Achievements get attention, pain does not.

I know why, when Lucas is fifteen, he won't try out for the school play, afraid he won't get a part.

I know why, when Lucas is twenty-five, he'll say he's fine when the love of his life leaves him. And she'll believe it. 

I know why, when Lucas is thirty-five, he'll tell his kid to stop crying and their hurt. 

And I know why I'm the same. I say, 'You're OK.' When I mean - you're embarrassing me, you're making me feel guilty, I'm too tired. And each time I do I show him that his feelings aren't important, maybe because I believe that mine aren't either. 

I never want my son to feel hurt but I know that's an impossible goal, so next time I witness it I'll say, 'I know it's not OK. I can see you're hurting and I'm hurting too.'

3 Little Buttons

Get on the therapy van

I'd love to start a service to make therapy accessible to all. I'm thinking an ice cream van with comfy chairs inside; that plays REM's 'Everybody Hurts' when it's in the area. When you hear it you can run out and jump in for a quick session (fifty pence extra for a chocolate flake). I want people to say, I went for a therapy session the same way they mention they've had a manicure because I don't know anyone who hasn't at some point made me think, Ooh baby, you need you some therapy. Actually I know one person - an ex colleague; a beautiful, self possessed sister with her shit so together she was damn near constipated and for all I know she had already had a truckload of therapy because that's how it works.

Therapy is good. I'm not even gonna tiptoe round that. It works. I recently finished Dolly Alderton's, Everything I Know About Love and in it she charts a course of psychotherapy. She includes how challenging and fortifying and life changing it is and I was so gutted I didn't have someone to high five as I read it because it was so on point. Of course therapy works, if you've ever broken stuff down with a friend or prayed to God or cried to your mama you can see the reasoning behind it but it gets so much backlash. It's whispered about in corners and declared shamefully only when deemed necessary. I'm not about that life. I'll be honest with you, I need me some therapy. The culmination of a couple of years of major life changes and embarking on a new (exciting but also terrifying) line of work has resulted in a spiritual burn out. And I really don't have time to be burnt out - I have a four year old child and I want to be able to celebrate the good things that are happening in life, so I started to look for someone to talk to. The one downside of therapy it's not a quick fix and although I recognise the benefit of taking your time, time is not a luxury I have right now. So I've opted for therapy's younger, hipper cousin - life coaching. I'm having a few sessions in the run up to my book launch in an effort to embrace change, get organised and learn how to make self care more than a hash tag. Come along if you fancy. 

Being a Black Stay at Home Mum

My mother delivered her best sermons from the helm of her blue Nissan Micra. Her audience, captive physically if not emotionally, was unchallenging. Usually I was weary from a day negotiating playground politics; often I was preoccupied with oddly, philosophical anxieties, such as what if everything in the world were a figment of my imagination? Anyway, I knew the theme and had heard many other arrangements of the song – the vastness of my untapped potential; horror stories of immense failure, starring the tragic offspring of friends of friends and finally, inescapably, her closing line, her catchphrase - ‘You have to work ten times harder than anyone else.’ By harder she meant faster, smarter and with a bigger smile on my face. By ‘anyone else’ she meant white people.

Although I would roll my eyes and dismiss her as old fashioned (at the time something I regarded as a senseless crime) I believed her. I believed her before I even had a chance to understand what I was believing. I imagine it is what it would be like to be born into a religious household, to be told to have faith in something intangible. In some ways it was my mother’s religion – she believed it and she thought that if I believed, it could save me. My father tried to help; he had a sack full of stories that he would recount over lengthy Sunday dinners - the injustices he was subjected to as a young, black man in an unenlightened London. The girlfriend’s father that wouldn’t let him past the threshold and the over-zealous police officer that had taken him in as he made his way home from a party. He told these stories with a chuckle and shake of his head, they were both menacing and comforting - the Grimm’s fairy tales of my childhood.

Of course my life was not like that. I was born into a brand new integrated London, where I was more likely to receive abuse from the black boys on the bus than the sweet, old white man in the corner shop. Despite my mother’s insistence, I did not need to watch my back or bite my tongue. I did not need to work ten times harder, but I did. I did it in the way that children grow into their parents even when, especially when, they are actively trying not to. Even with her wild words, I trusted my mother just a little more than I trusted the sometimes overwhelming world and, seriously, I never went to any parties so what else was I supposed to do after Dawson’s Creek?

I wonder if it was the decision to heed her words that made me start to see evidence that they were warranted. Unprompted, Mr Mason my year ten teacher, pulled me aside to tell me that I had developed a terrible attitude. I was no longer listening; I was rude; I talked back. The tears sprang instantaneously to my eyes, as they did and still do when I am confronted. My behaviour had been no more egregious than any other hormone riddled teenager – did the colour of my skin make it seem amplified? My school careers advisor was dead inside and very possibly outside, I didn’t check for a pulse. She read my forms and listened to my dreams. I told her I wanted to be a psychologist.  I’d found it in a book, ‘1000 Careers and how to get them’. She suggested I look into nursing, a noble profession but not the one that called me. I thought about all the kind brown faces that had supported my father when he fell suddenly ill. Was nurse on the approved list for ‘jobs black people do’? Perhaps if I wanted something different, I’d have to work harder than anyone else.

Going to university wasn’t a decision, it was a fact. I didn’t even feel pressure because pressure would suggest other potential outcomes. A gap year was a near mythical concept entertained only by white children – I was practically kept under house arrest from the moment I left school until the first day of term. I had two years of fun. I drank violently coloured alcopops, made friends for life; met my future husband and a few guys that absolutely weren’t husband material. It wasn’t until my final year that fear gripped me; out from under the examining eye of my mother had I faltered? Had I forgotten the mantra? I spent my final year working and crying and working, determined not to be one of the tragic tales used to scare young, black girls in Nissan Micras. The day I received my scrappy but official degree was a day of singular emotion – relief.

I went on to work in social care. My parents were pleased enough. It was an easy job to explain with reliable hours and an all-important pension. My mother had moved on somewhat, I think she felt that her job was done and she needed more time to indoctrinate my siblings. I loved my job but I wasn’t overly ambitious. In my twenties it wasn’t really noticeable, we were all finding our feet, taking weird chances and drinking a little too heavily but as the years went by and my friends slowly, almost imperceptibly, began to change; to become serious, to embrace adulthood. At house parties people were no longer temping or travelling but senioring and managing and then one day the house parties just stopped. I was never overcome by ambition. The bit of my work that I liked was the care taking. As a child I had enjoyed mimicking a picture perfect home life. It was always mummies and daddies over doctors and nurses. It should not have been a surprise when the desire to have a baby jumped out from behind the shadows and slapped me round the face ten or twenty times.

My husband and I made plans. When the baby came I would stay at home, babies need someone at home we’d heard. After that we’d see what he or she needed and what we needed. It didn’t take me long, perhaps an hour after the drugs wore off, for me to see that what I needed was to be with my son and nowhere else.  The first year was relatively easy, a lot of women take a year. It was as my baby, stretched and morphed into toddlerdom that the discomfort started. It was a growing feeling of being an imposter. This position was for privileged, white woman, not girls with something to prove. We went to visit my grandmother – mother to eight, fools suffered zero. She asked me when I planned to go back to work and I dodged and weaved, implying a not so distant future with me behind a desk in it. She nodded briefly and said, ‘Good.’ Don’t grandmothers have a way of saying so much with so little? To me that good said, don’t disrespect me by sitting on the bum that I gave you, after all the work we’ve done.

At the toddler groups my uniqueness highlighted my betrayal. As mothers admired my son’s bouncing curls I felt like a traitor rather than a pioneer. In the duller moments of stay at home life I imagined an alternative realm where I was beating a path through the corporate jungle, an inspiration to young, black people. Whilst washing plastic cutlery I’d imagine myself recruiting a black girl with a relentless black mother, saying to her fondly, ‘you remind me of myself.’ In reality I was doing nothing to fight back against the beliefs that immigrants are unmotivated. Beliefs that may have been given a fresh coat of political correctness but still shone through in the crime stats and the media or as a hot topic for internet trolls.

My mother just wanted me to be happy but I know she would be happier if what made me happy was smashing through a glass ceiling, a glass ceiling made from reinforced glass. I cannot hide from my truth that I feel I am letting them down. My parents did not tag team shifts so that I can get enchiladas made before five.  My grandparents didn’t migrate from a warm, inviting island to a cold and hostile one so that I could pick up after a man, a white man at that. I choose to make things harder for every young, black girl today being told by an underinvested careers adviser that maybe she can’t. 

Being a black and female in a predominantly white society is a curiously awkward burden. It’s like holding a drink and a canape at a cocktail party. When the host comes to greet you do you take pains to balance both precariously or hold on to them steadfastly and refuse to accept a handshake? I can’t tell you the answer, I’m still working on it because all my life I’ve had to work ten times harder than anyone else.