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Niamh Meister-Leifburger

Before we married, Andrew and I agreed he would wear his wedding ring for a minimum of 6 months.

In return, I would take his surname.

Well, it wasn’t written into the marriage vows – and anyway, Andrew only wore his wedding ring for 3 months. ALSO, my ulterior motive for the request was the expectation that the band would become an extension of his finger. In the event he was involved in a terrible accident resulting in severe arm trauma and his left hand swelling alarmingly, he’d fight off the doctor advancing with motorised cutters, deliriously screaming, “Get away from my ring! You’re not having it!”

Since that situation never came to pass, it seems pretty clear to me it constitutes a breach of said agreement rendering it null and void.

However, over eight years after the happy day when we yoked ourselves to each other till death or a misunderstanding involving a transsexual called Clarabelle and secret offshore bank account do us part, I applied for a new passport.

In fairness, I always intended to change my name. One reason I didn’t was because Andrew and I thought we might be able to engage in dodgy tax fraud that somehow turns out to be legal if I were still Shaw (in retrospect, I’m not sure how we envisioned that working). Another is I never got around to it. And finally, I wasn’t gestating a crotchfruit. If The Asset weren’t imminent early in the New Year, I would have waited until my passport expired in August 2012 before I became Niamh Meister-Leifburger or whatever Andrew’s surname is. I suppose I should really look that up.

Last time I renewed my passport, all that was required was a call to the Irish Consulate asking them to make out a passport in the name of Niamh Shaw, thanks a million.

THINGS HAVE INDEED CHANGED.

Three months ago, upon my request, the Consulate General of Ireland sent me a passport application form. I knew it was for an Irish passport because, hilariously, it included an information pamphlet on how NOT to take a passport photo, with pictures of random people wearing clown noses and sticking their faces up against windows etc.

To issue a passport in my married name, I had to submit our original marriage certificate (The Consulate General of Ireland evidently doesn’t trust Notary Publics) – and my original birth certificate to verify my maiden name. If I wanted my original documents returned – along with the new passport – I had to include a self-addressed sign-on-delivery courier bag. Rather makes you wonder what the $160 fee was for – for which the only accepted payment was a bankers’ cheque.

The passport photos – four according to the application form, although the supplementary documentation stated two – had to be confirmed as a true likeness of the applicant by an authority figure, e.g. a policeman or, you know, librarian.

I have no idea what the big deal is about getting a passport. I mean, they’re not exactly rare. Pretty much everybody has one.

Anyhoo. It took a while to put the application together. Andrew took some photos and I selected the image which looked least like I was contemplating assassinating John Key. After spending an hour on MS Paint arranging it in a collage, I took it to the pharmacy to get it printed.

Then I went to the police station.

“I’m looking for someone with the appropriate authority,” I announced at reception, spreading the forms across the counter.

“Well,” said the personable Jason, “you’ve come to the right place, ma’am.”

He was required to write the application form’s unique reference number on the back of two of the passport photos, and sign them.

“Do you have a black pen?” I asked. “Because it says on the form you need to use a black pen. Oh, and if you can find a pair of scissors- no, wait. I have some here in my bag.”

“What else do you have in the bag?” he asked, suspiciously eyeing me snipping up photos.

“Nothing I wish to disclose, thanks.”

Jason got so carried away by the power vested in him that he signed all nine of my passport photos.

“Don’t want you coming back,” he said.

“Oh, come on. Are you trying to tell me I’m the dodgiest character you’ve seen all week?”

“Don’t know. You might have a bomb strapped to your waist.”

“No, no; it’s a foetus I swear.”

Policemen are MUCH more fun than Customs Officials. Except, I suppose, when they’re trying to get you to breathe into the nozzle.

Off I went to NZ Post to mail the application – which was where/when I found I’d forgotten my original passport.

Back at home, Andrew pointed out another problem.

I’m not even sure how to coherently relate this. Ok, so. Look. *sigh!* You see. On the form was a box for my signature. And I kind of panicked and put the wrong one. Well obviously it was my signature – I mean, I wrote it – only it didn’t look like it usually does. It’s like I had a fleeting personality change halfway through signing, resulting in a squirmy bit in the middle. I think I was intimidated by the stringent instruction to keep within the lines of the box, which was WAY too small to adequately express my personality.

In any case, after I had written my signature – outside the box, with a wobble in the middle – I realized it was supposed to have been witnessed by an authority figure.

So before going to the police station, I Tippexed it out.

It almost looked like I hadn’t touched it at all.

Jason hadn’t noticed anyway.

But THEN I got home and made the mistake of saying to Andrew, “Do you think it matters my signature’s blue?”

And he said, “No, but the TIPPEX MIGHT BE A PROBLEM.”

Seriously, I don’t know why I bother talking to him. It always ends in tears.

Since you can’t download the application form off the Internet, I sent off to the Consulate General of Ireland for another. Then I printed more passport photos and returned to the police.

I wasn’t looking forward to explaining The Tippex Affair to Jason – or persuading him I wasn’t stalking him. Apart from exceptional circumstances I’m not really into that and anyway, to be honest, I prefer firemen.

Thankfully Jason was off giving out speeding tickets, so I got Angela. She was evidently more clued in than Jason since she actually asked to see my ID. Although I’m glad I didn’t get her the first time around, because no doubt Angela would have detected Tippex.

However, when she went to stamp the back of my passport photo it rolled up into the stamp and, when she finally prised it out, my face was covered in blue ink.

The information pamphlet on how not to take a passport photo hadn’t mentioned anything about not having a blue face, so I licked it a bit and scrubbed it with a tissue from up Angela’s sleeve. I sent it off, even though I still looked like one of my recent ancestors was a full-blooded Smurf.

Two days later, the Consulate General of Ireland called to say our marriage certificate isn’t valid.

Public Service Announcement

For some time I’ve been struggling with existential questions. What is Deadlyjelly? Why? Is it really deadly? I mean, has anyone ACTUALLY died from reading my blog? – because if so, I’ve certainly never heard of it. And whither jelly? Why doesn’t it come in black and white? Should the definition be expanded to include other substances?

As you can see: so many unanswered questions.

Before I set up Deadlyjelly, I regularly – or at least frequently occasionally – personalised and mass-mailed up to 40 emails to friends and family. The administrative overhead was considerable. The coffee consumption was excessive. The arse spread was cheekily encroaching.

Consequently I conceived Deadlyjelly as a means of streamlining my correspondence.

To that purpose, it has failed. Of the relationships that previously existed when I set up Deadlyjelly, the only one that’s improved has been with my computer. As a communication tool, blogging is passive and largely one-way. People are more inclined to respond to an email that’s clogging up their Inbox like a gently steaming turd. I don’t have the bandwidth – either figuratively or literally – to blog and email (which kind of defeats the purpose anyway); and I’ve never embraced the concept of announcing a new blog post, which feels like advertising.

The result is that I’ve lost touch with many of my old friends – and I miss them*.

But that’s not all. Due to its public nature, I don’t blog about what’s really going on in our lives: the family feuds, the scandals, the disease and accidental murders. My blog sucks up a lot of creative energy that should be directed elsewhere. And Deadlyjelly has had little to no impact on arse spread**.

And so Deadlyjelly is going to change. Only in the regularity of posting, although I suppose that’s fairly fundamental. From now on, I will limit my posts to every Sunday, unless our week has been particularly action-packed, or Jed’s feeling photogenic.
* While being amazed and grateful for the new friends Deadlyjelly has introduced over the years.

** Still haven’t resigned myself to the inevitability of arse spread.

Renowned in Bulgary

When I was interviewed by Bulgarian Cosmopolitan in May, I asked if they could send me one of the magazines with the free copy of Smart Casual. When I had no response, I presumed my request had drowned in the editor’s slushpile.

Then, about a month ago, I received a bulky parcel from Headline Publishing. This was extremely exciting, since I rarely get anything in the mail except second hand books from Trademe or letters from the Vinegrowers Association of Marlborough, (the snailmail version of remedies to enlarge my penis).

The parcel contained two virgin, cellophaned magazine/book packs, along with five copies of what I presume is Smart Casual. Because the cover of the book was different; and both the magazines and books were in Bulgarian. That’s one of those acrylic languages.

Bulgarian Cosmopolitan

I flicked through the magazine and couldn’t understand anything, although the article on ten ways to pleasure your man in bed was fairly clear even in acrylic. I’d sent the editor of Bulgarian Cosmo a photo of myself, but I couldn’t find it or anything that resembled my interview; she must have decided to go with Eva Longoria Parker. Hey – I’m sure I could look twice that good with some extreme photoshop.

I wasn’t even sure whether the book IS Smart Casual, but it has 63 chapters, which is consistent. Also, there were the same number of sentences per paragraph on the first page.

This is what Smart Casual looks like in Bulgarian. That might be a generic cover, but I love it; I would give a lesser limb for a set of pins like that, and I covet those shoes.

Now, when I talk about Smart Casual, I can say:

SMART CASUAL!
THE INTERNATIONAL BOOK!
TRANSLATED INTO ONE LANGUAGE!

Although that really deserves to be exclaimed.

Two weeks later, I got another parcel from Headline . . . with more packs and copies of the magazine/book.

I’d noticed there is a section in Marlborough Library which contains foreign language books. Since I don’t have many Bulgarian friends, and was now in possession of about fifteen more copies of the book than I knew what to do with, I decided to give some to the library.

I thought any more than three copies was a touch over-fervid. There was mass confusion amongst the librarians when I presented the books at the counter. It took significant time and gesticulative overhead to establish that I wasn’t either a) checking out or b) returning the books.

Then the librarian was suspicious about my handing over new books, and tried to torture me into confessing that I expected renumeration. Once she established that I was donating the books to the library’s collection – and determined the translation was Bulgarian – she became positively frisky.

“Aw, wow,” she said, “I’ll have to set up a whole new section! We don’t have a Bulgarian section,” she confided.

I successfully mastered the urge to correct ‘Bulgarian’ to ‘Bulgary’ – yes, yes, I know my geography is pure shocking.

The librarian looked as if she wanted to high-five me, but honestly, I just couldn’t get that enthused about a whole new section.

Late breaking pics

Sitting here in Port Underwood on a sullen day, with mist shrouding the peninsula and the sea a chilly slate-grey, it is hard to believe that these photos were taken just over a month ago, in Ireland coming into summer.

All pictures are courtesy of the Wednesday Walking Group’s photographer, El Bruno.

I would like to point out that I did not buy the t-shirt, and only wear it for its sentimental value because a dear friend gave it to me. Also because I don't have any more. MarkJ, can you get me another? Preferably one that doesn't inspire strangers to approach me in the street and whisper, "I'm totally with you, that Angerlina Jolly is a slut." In fact, a t-shirt that would compel strangers to buy me coffee would be ideal. Thanks.

In addition to being a photographer, El Bruno is also a Frustrated Rock God - but then aren't we all?

 

Waterfall off the Old Kenmare Road: This is me contemplating the beauty of nature, whether my t-shirt covers my arse, and whether it matters since I'm sitting down.

  

The Wednesday Walkers (subset) L-R: Ann, Claudia, Niamh, Eileen.

I'm not sure I was on this walk, but I like this picture because you see the dude on the rock? The one with the ski-pole and two false hips? That's my dad; and I love the way he's perched up there, because that is so completely HIM.

 

L-R: Eileen, Claudia and Dad

The PR juggernaut rumbles into town

I was recently asked to do an interview for Bulgarian Cosmopolitan. I KNOW! When I was little, I thought my only chance of featuring in Cosmopolitan Magazine would be because my husband ran away with my mother, or for owning the world’s largest chihuahua. I’ve come a long way from The Limerick Leader.

And here it is pre-edit, in case anyone’s interested:-

I loved “Smart Casual”. What made you decide to write that book?
Why, thank you!

Look, to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing when I started Smart/Casual. How difficult could it be? – I could spell!

I had always been told ‘write what you know’, which is why I decided to set the story in a large corporation. I’ve always been intrigued by the workplace: every one is its own little microcosm with a unique set of politics, intrigue, villains and heroes. Office relationships are so tricky: even if you loathe them, you have to get along with your colleagues – a bit like your family, or the police.

Originally I conceived Smart/Casual as a satire of the Mills & Boon ‘she gasped as he pressed her to his glistening chest’ genre, but about five chapters in I feared that was a bit cheeky. Also, I was concerned the market for romance spoofs might be somewhat limited.

The book segued into a standard romance, until I got bored about halfway through and it turned into a kind of thriller romance supernatural murder-mystery, without the ghosts or corpses. Chick-lit if you prefer.

Don’t worry: it was edited a lot.

Has writing always been a passion of yours?
Not at all, I’d much prefer to be having sex.

I always liken writing to going to the gym: I put it off and put it off – I will vacuum rather than write. Then, when I get there, I am pleasantly surprised: hey! This isn’t so bad! And afterwards I feel all noble and worthy. In short: it’s a love/hate relationship.

However, I am passionate about making people laugh. I don’t have many talents (unless I count being able to play ‘chopsticks’ with my toes, which is difficult to work into a resume), but being able to write humour is one of them. I love having an outlet for that.

In the scheme of it, my grand passion – what makes my world go round – the one great love of my life – would have to be: coffee.

If it weren’t for caffeine, I would not be able to write and would probably have maimed and/or divorced my husband.

Do you find writing comedy difficult?
I think difficulty is relative to the type of writing you enjoy. For me, writing comedy is easier than ‘the moon rose like a silvery planet’ style of litter-chewer.

Jokes sometimes visit me at unexpected moments: driving, weeding, washing my hair. I always think I’ll remember them later, but never do. I’m convinced The World’s Best Joke Ever is one of those I thought of and forgot over the years.

I try to carry a notebook around to jot down creative brain burps. In desperate circumstances, I have pressed my hand into service, but then you have to find a pen . . . I find it easiest to record ideas on my phone, despite feeling like an arse talking to myself.

Otherwise, I write pretty much as I speak, although slightly more articulately (unbelievable as that may be). My friends who read Smart/Casual said they could hear my voice in their heads, complete with Irish pronunciation.

I can only imagine what a terrifying experience that must have been.

What is your writing process like? Do you have any special rituals or anything?
First I like to slaughter a chicken . . . oh wait, did you say special rituals for writing?

Apart from stapling myself to my desk, I don’t have a process as such. I wish I did, because it sounds much more effective than my random scattergun approach wherein I am often distracted by dolphins.

I can’t even open my laptop without a cup of coffee on emergency standby.

I like to write with my headphones on channelling Bruce Springsteen.

I prefer writing in the mornings, or just whenever I can pin myself down.

I beat myself with the guilty stick if I don’t write at least five hours a day.

I don’t believe in writers’ block. The most important thing is writing, preferably words. If stuck, I like the words ‘ficus’, ‘shinsplints’ and pretty much any swear word.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you so much for taking time to read Smart/Casual and I hope you enjoy it. My second book, About Time, was published at the end of April this year. I would be delighted if you bought it, so that no more chickens must die.

Overachiever

I admit it: I have an automatic Google search that informs me when Smart/Casual or About Time is mentioned on a website.

Mostly the alerts are about second-hand copies of my books for sale, but occasionally it is something else: The Ampersand Agency’s blog, the debut album from Kids in Glass Houses, or the Smart Casual Raiding Co. of Earthen Ring (“Someone talked to Tirion and decided we don’t need the strength of Wrynn buff – and we do not!” Don’t ask. Here. See for yourself and let me know if you have any idea what brand of mushroom they’re smoking.)

A couple of weeks ago, Google Alerts emailed me the link to this review of Smart/Casual, by Read in a Single Sitting. My critic was kind enough to award it 4 stars out of 5. That’s an A-, right? Well, it is in The University of Western Ontario, which doesn’t sound like the type of college where you can buy your degree at all.

So that would be the highest score I ever got for English Composition and, you know, I can only consider it a failing on my former English teacher’s part that she never likened my writing to:

a Jack Russell: small and with a lot of character, but once you get past the fact that it jumps all over you and tries to do the dirty with your leg, you can’t help but love it

Long melancholy tragi-horror

When Little Black Dress offered me a two book deal, the contract specified only that the second book should be a ‘short, funny romance’.

At the time, I had already started another novel. However, since Revenge of the Cow is a long, melancholy tragi-horror, I postponed it and started a book that featured more boners.

That covered the romance.

‘About Time’ is a sequence of snapshots over an extended period, narrated by both the male and female protagonists.

“Oh my goodness,” said my agent, when I told him I was writing half the book from a male perspective. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. Maybe you could write his sections in omniscient pluperfect. Or . . . something..”

Indeed, for a long time I wondered whether I could pull it off. I’ve always considered my humour fundamentally female, deriving as it does from exaggeration and dramatic over-statement; and Conn’s personality was the precise opposite. Although I had a clear idea of Conn’s character (highly intelligent but pathologically incapable of normal social interaction), getting his ‘voice’ right – the clipped sentences and formal structure – was an arduous process that felt entirely unnatural at the outset.

At least my sense of humour was ideally suited to Lara’s free-spirited character with an uncanny ability to pick emotional wankers.

The story is about the concept of fate or destiny as opposed to free will/choice.

Also, of course, boners.

I’m not going to get a chance to post over the next couple of days, but in the meantime here’s an excerpt from About Time. I hope you enjoy it.

x

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