Saturday, 18 December 2010

Curious incidents with mirrors

How often do you look in the mirror and think: my long blond hair flows over my shoulders, a little straggly at the ends but nothing a good brushing won't sort out. My eyes are wide and bright and eager, the colour of the sea on a summer's day. My skin is porcelain, beautifully clear on account of the full skin regime my mother insisted on since I was fifteen; my neck is long and elegant... etc etc

My guess is that it's not often - if ever. So why do authors invent such peculiar ways to describe their characters?

As a writer, I rarely describe what my character looks like unless it is vital to the plot. It doesn't seem relevant to me, because as a reader it jars. I've been reading Light on Snow by Anita Shreve, which has inspired these thoughts. On the whole the book was enjoyable and seemed only to have the degree of description needed to convey the plot... until she had her twelve year old narrator look at herself in a mirror in a police station staff room and describe what she saw, in much the same awkward way I did at the start of this post. It was unnecessary to the plot at that point and totally jarred with the rest of the scene, which was quite tense and serious.

I much prefer to visualise for myself what the characters look like; I think that the character of the person is more important. If, for example, my character was very vain, yes I would definitely have her look in every single mirror and describe what she saw. If a character was obsessed by another, I was probably use that as the need to describe every tiny insignificant detail because that's what the obsessed person would be seeing.

Perhaps I should try it though: I could have people checking out their features in their turned off mobile phone, the concave of a desert spoon, the highly polished surface of a High Def flat screen TV.... oh, the possibilities :-)

Until my next rant, enjoy the snow!!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Books I wish I'd written

Inspiration seems to have frozen as deeply as the weather outside, so I thought I would share a few of the books I wish I'd written (which are also some of my favourite books, so also take this list as books I recommend).

Fight Club by Chuck Palanhuick - Obviously this book was made into that film with the gorgeous Brad Pitt and incredibly talented Ed Norton. I first read the book after I watched the film, and I believe it's better. The ending makes so much more sense in the book! The prose is highly stylized and rhythmic, with the kind of repetition of words and ideas that I sometimes employ myself. It's a joy to read and very satisfying when you reach the end.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom - I've mentioned this book in other posts and also, I think, on Facebook. It's a very happy and uplifting book, which gives a new take on Heaven. The main character is a lovely old man who doesn't feel he's achieved his life's ambitions due to outisde influences such as WWII.  I'm not sure I can say much more about this book, but I highly recommend this book. I should also mention that I bought this book entirely based on the title, which makes me realise how important titles really are.

Quite Contrary by Suzannah Dunn - I found this book in a discount book shop just after I'd read an article about it where the author mentioned it was only 56,000 words long. I bought it because of its length basically, but the writing is so rounded and believable, and the dialogue rings very true.

Snake by Kate Jennings - Set in the Australian outback it charts the life of a dissatisfied couple. Again, I picked this book up because it's very short, some of the chapters are barely two or three paragraphs long, and it's good for me to know that there are some publishers who are willing to take risks with prose. Kate Jennings is a poet, first and foremost, and you can definitely tell by reading this novel. The writing flows so well and so powerfully, so many emotions are shaped with so few words.

I need something by Margaret Atwood on this list, so I'm going to chose The Robber Bride. I think this was the first Margaret Atwood book I read, then I worked backwards. Whenever I read her, I mimic her style, which is long and descriptive and flowing and veers off in so many tangents. My style mimicking her style works very badly, but it's a lesson for me in how to write more expansively. In The Robber Bride, for example, she has a character who likes to reverse her words and sentences (if I remember correctly, it's been a while since I read it) - which is a perfect devise for writing everything out twice and doubling the word count!!!!

And lastly, Paradise by Toni Morrison - I was surprised to enjoy this book, because at school I read Beloved, and found it very difficult to get past the first page without being totally confused; there was just something very peculiar about the prose that didn't agree with me. Paradise, on the other hand, did everything I love about reading about foreign countries - it toally immersed me and made even the most mundane things about daily Deep South life seem exotic. Whenever I read it I always embark on an exercise to make South East Cornwall seem exotic - I haven't achieved it yet.

That's my list. I hope you search out a couple of these, or perhaps share your favourite books with me.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The story of Omelette

As most of you will already know - because most of you find yourself here from my Facebook page - I won 3rd Prize in the Words With Jam short story competition. It was a big surprise as I researched the magazine after I sent my entry and decided it wasn't the sort of thing they would publish. So a big thank you to Words With Jam and here's another link, in case you missed it on Facebook ---> Omelette. I am on page 47.

I thought I would share how warped my writing process is, as this story perfectly illustrates it. This was actually a very recently written story, and yes, if you haven't read it, it is about omelette. I like omelette and eat an awful lot of it, basically because I can't cook very much else, and due to my working patterns, I need a filling meal at lunchtime. So I eat omelette, and I always make it the same way. My way to vary it is to add chives instead of basil, or to add spring onion to the baked beans I always have too.

So, one day, as I was eating, I thought... 'Ooh, maybe I could write about omelette!'  See, I told you it was warped.

And now, because I'm aware that this isn't the most exciting post I've ever written, here is my perfect, tried and tested recipe for the best omelette and baked bean meal ever:

3 egg omelette, made with just eggs (no milk!), and a teaspoon of basil.
On top of this, add slices of tomato and spinach leaves
On top of that, add half a tin of baked beans, with added sweatcorn, mushrooms and spring onion
On top of that, add grated carrot and cheese.

Perfect! Enjoy your omelette!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

National Short Story Week

I, perhaps, should have written about this last week in preparation - after all, you don't tell people it's Christmas at half past two on 25th December!

National Short Story Week celebrates this underrated form of fiction - underrated purely because people still see it as less good, less literary, less important than a novel. I, of course, don't think short stories are any of those less things - I think they are wonderful. I love to be immersed in the bizarre, extraordinary snippets of life that short fiction allows. I love the fact they fit so snugly into a bus/tube commute, and the fact that you can be thrown into different worlds with the turn of a page.

I am a reasonably busy person, in as much as I am a mother, have a job, try to keep on top of the hoovering and like to write a bit... but when I read a novel, I cannot put it down until either my eyes are shutting of their own accord, or the book is finished. Short stories, therefore, fit so much more conveniently into my life.

And I also love to write short stories. They are my thing. I have never mastered the art of taking a theme/plot/idea and making it last 90,000 words. I'm only just starting to experiment with 20,000 word fiction, which is impossible to publish. When I write short stories, I don't have to explain anything; I can have a woman wake up in a deserted town without wondering why, I can have a man simply walking through a revolving door, and I can get inside the head of a nuisance phone caller. Longer fiction, to me, seems to require an explanation, and when I attempt that my words become mundane and dull.

People - by which I mean people who have the power - are starting to recognise the importance of short stories. The BBC National Short Story Award has a prize of £15,000; other more accessible awards have prizes of £5000 or so. This is good; this puts the short story higher up in the general consciousness and will hopefully mean that one day it'll be easier for short story writers to publish collections without feeling obliged/required to publish a novel first.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A general chat

I haven't written here for a while - a) because I wanted as many people as possible to see the last post :-) and b) because I have nothing to say. I haven't even written any fiction recently either...

Although, that's not quite true. Actually, I'm in the middle of the thinking part of the writing process, which is where as I'm doing the washing up or hoovering a thought pops into my head and I write it down. I think some more, and the original thought mutates and gathers momentum until it becomes a fully functional idea. Currently, I have the setting (a modern building with a large garden), a first line and a feeling.

The feeling is not to be dismissed lightly, however - I had the same experience last year. Every time I heard a certain song - False Alarm by Cherry Ghost - I had the image of a woman floating in water, drowning. I don't think the song is about drowning people, in fact I'm not even sure I know the words. It was all about the haunting tune and the singer's voice. But - actually, that should be BUT - it unleashed a ghost story that I'm quite proud of. So I am happy with my feeling, and I am happy that I've completed another post. I will endeavour to have something to actually say next time!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A small request

I have currently suspended my Facebook account, for a multitude of reasons, but I have discovered a problem... Traffic from my facebook page accounted for quite a lot of people looking at my blog... and now there's none!!!!

My small, rather cheeky, request is: please would you share this blog, using the Share It thingy on the right-hand side of this page, over there look ----->?

I am curious to see how my blog would be received by people who are not my friends. My original aim in starting this blog was to get my name out into the ether, to push my writing into a more professional place. It may or may not work, but I'd like - with your help - to give it a go!!!

And finally, for today, a big thank you to everyone who is continuing to read, and for saying such nice things about my ramblings and musings. And another big thank you to everyone who shares!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

My book report

It is with some embarrassment that I confess that, at the age of 30-something, I have read my first foreign book - a translation (obviously, as I can't read or speak Japanese!) of After Dark by Haruki Murakami. And I enjoyed it very much - in fact, it makes an appearance on my list of Books I Wish I'd Written. It is very surreal, with a wonderfully rich language that just makes you want to keep on reading.

It takes place during a single night, starting at midnight and ending at dawn. The central character meets several people that she would not have otherwise met, sharing her story and hearing theirs in return. The language, the lush description, the sheer strangeness of the overall narrative meant I compulsively read through until the end... which is not so much an ending - the way an English teacher would advise an ending to be - more that, as dawn arrives, the spell is broken. Which is the kind of ending that I understand and respect - you close the book and really need to think about what you have just read.

The author isn't someone who's registered in my consciousness, although a glance at his list of novels reveals a couple that I recognise and am now interested to read - notably Kafka on the Shore, which I think I must have read a review of at some point.

I don't know how I've got to this point in my life without reading foreign authors. I feel as though I am lacking something fundamental, and I have the need to rectify this lapse immediately... Well, not immediately... it's half past nine on a Saturday evening...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

TV Adaptations

One of the books that I have always enjoyed is The Little House by Philippa Gregory, written before she went off on her historical bent. It's a psychological drama about a new mum and the relationship she has with her mother-in-law. Some of the scenes have stayed with me - hauntingly so - even though I haven't read it for a few years.

So, it was with some reservation that I discovered that ITV were dramatising it, and I have just watched the first part.

I have mixed views on adaptations. The BBC version of Pride and Prejudice is wonderful, mostly because they took the trouble to create it over five hours and the casting director did the most amazing job on each and every character. The Keira Knightly version is rubbish, misses out half the story and has appalling casting (including Keira Knightly as Lizzie - what were they thinking, apart from she'll sell??)

Mostly, I think there's a reason why a story is told in novel form - the author has chosen it as the best way to deliver their story, otherwise it would have been a screenplay, or stage play, from the start - each of these formats is a wildly different device. Adapting a book for TV or film means removing from the original idea. Although, I do admit that it means many people will become aware of a story they might otherwise never known about; not everyone enjoys reading.

Back to The Little House: it was not as bad as I imagined, although because it was written for ITV with advert breaks, there was an obvious need to have a mini cliff-hanger every 15 minutes or so; and it was difficult to get into the head of the main character Ruth, the poor new mum. Her husband was just as wimpy as in the book, however, so that was perfect. And Francesca Annis was very subtle and menacing as the mother-in-law. The book, as it has more time to tell the story, is much slower and has more layers; the build up is much more tense because of that.

I am looking forward to the second part, simply because I know how it ends, and I am curious to see if they will keep to the book or go off on some bizarre tangent the way some adaptations have done in the past.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

There's always something new to learn

Even after writing for so many, many years I am still learning what does and does not work for me.

Waking up in the middle of the night with an idea so powerful it's transcended my subconscious mind and I have to scribble it down somewhere, for example, works very well. An idea that starts slowly but keeps creeping back into my head every time I hear the same song also works well.

What did not work well recently was starting with a theme for a short story collection and writing towards it. I was writing profusely - story after story was flowing through my fountain pen. But then... I stopped to read them, and I realised - totally aghast - that they were the most mundane and insipid stories I've written for a long time.... if ever!

So, lesson learnt: write with passion, write a story that can't not be told, write every sentence as though it is the only sentence that matters.... and if after that the stories feel like they belong together, put them together. Ah, that's better.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

A better way to procrastinate

Today was a good day, because I used writing as a means to escape any of the decorating and household tasks I had been planning. How perfect was that! So determined not to even venture near a paintbrush was I, that I closed my study door and wrote a completely new story from scratch, 1500 words of it. I'm going to use my self-imposed Saturday evening lock-down to read the story over a glass of wine and deliver my verdict to myself.

All I need to do now, is be able to write like that for several hours every day, without the inevitable pull of checking my email and Facebook... Unfortunately, I have quite a lot of literary contacts as 'likes' and friends on FB, so after I check those - you never know when a new competition or market will open - I tend to check out what my real friends are doing, and therein lies my downfall. I did decide that I would use my desktop computer to write and only go online on my laptop, which was working well for about... oh, let's say, an hour, before I had a really urgent fact that needed to be verified. So I logged on, and an hour later I realised it was time for lunch.

This writing thing works really well when I'm in the zone, but as soon as I have even the slightest of distractions I'm off... Maybe the answer is to have a never-ending list of decorating to do?

Friday, 15 October 2010

A comment on the Booker Prize 2010

[Edited to include the year in the title, to avoid confusion with any other years.]

I probably should have commented on the Booker Prize before now. I suppose it's a given that a writer will have an opinion about this prize. But I'm not sure I do; it usually passes me by. I did comment when the longlist was announced, but since then.... meh!

Some of the problem is that I am predominently a short story writer, so I am therefore more interested in prizes for short stories, and there are some very big prizes that are starting to come to the fore. I like to read these stories worth £5000, £10,000 and £35,000 to see where I'm lacking. Mostly, I have figured out - and this applies to any novel I might write - my stories are not big enough, they do not encompass the large political issues of the day. A lot of the time, they are very small, personal stories. Although I have many opinions, I don't think I'd be able to express them in fiction form.

Another problem is the way I chose to read novels - usually by the look of the cover, the title or, as with one book I bought recently, something striking in the blurb. The blurb of the book I bought, The Other Hand by Chris Cleave, stated that they didn't want to ruin the story so I'd have to buy the book and please could I not tell my friends the ending so they'd have to read it for themselves. So I did buy it. Admittedly, the novel didn't warrant such extraordinary claims - it was a good story, and a good ending, but nothing of the magical element I'd expected. Although, I bet the marketing team were damn pleased with themselves for coming up with that angle!!

Anyway, back to my point on the way I chose to read novels - I do not buy books that have large prizes bestowed upon them; I am more likely to avoid them. Not consciously, not seeing the Booker display in a bookshop and running screaming in the opposite direction. I like to browse and look for something a little out of the ordinary. Big books with big prizes seem sometimes out of my league, I suppose. And mostly, when I feel a book is out of my league - if I do persuade myself to read it - I want it to be mindblowing, absolutely so astounding that the story haunts me for the rest of my life.

Not a lot of books do that though...

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Today I am in a 'what shall I do next?' mood

I'm 3000 words into my latest short story - already it's a little longer than I imagined; in fact, there was a time I couldn't write anything longer than 2000, no matter how hard I tried, so I suppose I should be glad by this new-found verboseness. I've got to that nitty-gritty point of the book where I can either steer it into deep and dark territory, or make it a happy ending (and therefore, based on previous experience, much more publishable).

I'm torn. At the moment the characters are taking me to the happy ending, and the longhand first draft I wrote took me in the same direction. But reading that again made me want to veer off course slighty.

Usually, I have the ending in mind before I start writing. In some cases, after the title, which always comes first, I have the last line or two jotted down on the page, just so that I can see where I'm going. I also read novels and short stories in this way. I don't like to be surprised - I even read the last few pages of each of the Harry Potters before I started.

So, as I mull over this eternal question of happy v dark and deep, I shall have a couple of games of Sudoku and hopefully the answer will pop into my head.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Print v E-stuff

Okay, I'll admit from the start that when I first heard about e-publishing (all those years ago, now, it seems) I was one of those people who shouted a big Nooooooooooo (and probably sank to my knees in the middle of a rain storm, while I was at it).

It all seemed wrong - I love the smell and feel of a new book, indeed the smell and feel of an old book. I get excited when I find an old book, published at the start of the last century in a charity shop; I've bought books before based solely on their age. And it all seemed a little Star Trek-y - I remember an episode of Deep Space Nine where a teenage character wanted to be a writer and, basically, was using an iPad!!

I've never read an e-book, so I still cannot form a balanced and researched argument (although I'm still veering towards Noooooooo), but I did recently subscribe to an e-magazine about writing. And I fear my first doubts were reasonably accurate.

The link fell into my Hotmail account a couple of days ago, and I opened it at my desktop computer. It flipped like a magazine, I zoomed in to read the articles... so far, so good. But then I realised I was flicking past articles I would normally have read, if for example I'd been curled up on the sofa, cup of tea in hand, pages folded back on themselves. I also realised that my very preferred method of reading a magazine - backwards - seemed counter-intuitive with an electronic version.

My desktop computer was not the place to load it up, too officey. So next I used the laptop, which was a little better, I managed to sit on the sofa! But I could only read in small chunks due to a disposition towards vertigo/dizziness. And I still found that I was skipping articles that I would have read with a hard copy version.

I'm not going to name the magazine - it's actually very good, it's not the content I'm commenting (I originally used complaining here, but I'm not really doing that) about, and it would probably welcome some praise and extra readership, so I may well do at a later date. It's merely the format I'm talking about here.

So, in conclusion, my original reactions still hold true, and I think I may start to fear a future where e-publishing becomes the norm.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Time to hibernate yet?

After an outpouring of five stories in five days, I'm totally drained. The first drafts are all hand-written and I am currently typing the last of them up as well as doing the first revision. This is the longest of the stories, too, so that makes the task daunting, even though I am eager to see where the characters are going to take me.

Plus, I am tired; I feel as though I'll never have another original thought ever again. In fact, I'm starting to wonder whether these are original stories, or I've nicked them from somewhere.

I enjoyed doing the first, hand-written drafts because I was sat in the living room, watching some telly, as the sun shone into the room. To type them up, on the other hand, I have to sit upstairs in my draughty, freezing cold study. The curtains are closed because the light reflects onto the screen, and it's altogether a less than delightful experience; especially now that rain has replaced sunshine.

So, I'm going to do some housework, and hope that I get back in the writing mood later.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The link now works

As you might have gathered from the title of this post, the link to my story, Irish Green, on the Writers Bureau site now works. All the winning stories are on the same page, so you need to scroll down to about half-way to read mine, but obviously take a look at the others as well!

I've been incredibly productive over the past week or so, ideas for a short story collection I'm thinking of putting together are just flowing off the page. I woke up this morning and wrote the bones of a new story before my first cuppa! This has happened to me before, this constant flow of new ideas, but because I've been focusing all my attention on longer, novella-length stories, I've been ignoring the shorter work. Now I've given myself permission, I've gone into overdrive.

I hope you enjoy all the stories on the competition page.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Good news!

After yesterday's slight rant, I have to back track a little bit.

I've just found out that I've won third prize in the Writers Bureau competition (although the 2010 winners aren't on the site yet, so don't go looking for a couple of days). It was a competition that I'd written off, actually; I thought the date for letting writers know was in the middle of August, so I'm quite glad I hadn't sent it off again.

So, after feeling so despondent about my writing yesterday, I have come to the conclusion that I have a writing style that I cannot avoid. Some people will get it, some people will hate it, and some people will think it good enough to commend. I can't, and shouldn't, change what and how I write - I should just hope that one day the right people will read the right story at the right time, and I will get my lucky break.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Rejection and submission - in that order

Yesterday I was rejected. I'm not too upset about it - over the past 15 years I've had many, many rejections. Some have been standard 'thanks, but no thanks', as was the one yesterday; others have been much nicer, some have been helpful and reassuring and positive.

No, what I do get upset about is researching the next publisher. Because so much can be found online - including exerpts of the books said publisher is currently producing - there is much more opportunity to compare my writing to others, and compare I do, usually unfavourably.

Part of the problem is that I am never writing what is popular. A few years ago you couldn't look at the blurb of - it seemed - any book without it being described as humorous, the most depressing, complex novels were all saved by humour. Today, this very hour, everything has been original. Now I know I am original, but when I'm forced to defend my originality against other works, I suddenly feel very ordinary.

I sent off the next submission package, but I am not feeling my optimistic best...

Tuesday, 14 September 2010


Okay, ages ago - for some reason I can't remember now - I wanted to link to my story Beth, which won first prize in the Mary Gornall Competition, but it wouldn't work. Also, I didn't know how to link properly.

Anyway, I think I've sussed it now - I never said I was any good at this internet malarky - so as a trial here it is (fingers crossed)

PS. I feel like I can conquer anything now I've conquered that - bring on the WIP (work in progress, for the non-writers)

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Past or Present?

I've just read this article,

I don't know where to begin... yes, I do - I write in present tense.

I don't do it because it's fashionable, I don't do it because other people are doing it. My first published story in 1994 was in present tense and it's how I feel most comfortable writing; it's not a conscious decision, anymore than the voice that emerges. I haven't eshued past tense - although I can't think of an example right now, I'm sure I have used it in the past (excuse the pun) and I'm sure for those stories it felt entirely natural.

I find the present tense adds urgency, a sense of foreboding (which creeps into my writing quite a lot) and draws the reader in.

When I am reading, I certainly don't notice the use of present tense as a device; I don't notice it at all. I am usually captured by the story. The style adds to the whole experience, indeed; but if it jars as much as Philip Pullman suggests, he's obviously not reading a novel that is truly engaging him.

(Apologies for still not knowing how to do the linky thing properly)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Too much to do

So, I've noticed that there's a lot of time between posts at the moment, which I've put down to having too much that I want to do. Note: want to do, not have to do - which is a nice position to be in, but means it's much harder to prioritise.

1) I am writing two stories at the moment. One is being typed up after a long-hand first draft, the other is at first draft stage. In fact, it's at first page stage, which is daunting and exciting at the same time. The 'voice' is that of a teenage boy, but he's coming through so clearly at the moment, I'll see where it takes me.

2) Reading my new copy of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook - yes, reading it practically from cover to cover, but missing out the bits about artists and writing for children. I love flicking through the pages of this book, pencil at the ready to mark the publishers, magazines and agents that seem ripe for a follow-up. And following up is so easy these days, since most have web sites so it's much easier to get a feel. And this leads me to...

3) Following up all the marks I made above. Except even this isn't as quick as it should be, because all the sites have links to follow, which I do, which means even more publishers, magazines and agents to consider. Although, there are a lot that get crossed off the list when their web site clearly states that they are not considering fiction at this time, or they only consider submissions from agents.

4) Considering self-publishing. I do this occasionally, mostly whenever I get a new copy of W&A because the articles they publish make it sound so simple and easy... and yet I know it wouldn't be. So I stop considering and start writing again.

Phew - no wonder I don't seem to get anything done!!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Brand new story

I started writing a new story by accident the other day, and it's going quite well. There I was home alone with a glass of wine, flicking through the TV channels, when I suddenly found myself chanting several phrases to myself over and over. I wrote them down, then found I couldn't stop writing. A whole story poured out of my fingers. There are gaps - one section starts A month ago and nothing else follows - but I'm sure it will when I start typing it up... which is what I am going to do right now.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010


I'm going to totally ignore that I planned to share the link to my winning short story, on account of the fact that technology hates me. I cannot work out how to get the link into my post, let alone make it a pretty imbeded link that merely says here in a colourful font. (Well, that explains why this post is entitled Hmph!)

Instead, I turned to sending out new competition entries. Last week I sent an entry via email; this week I needed to send one via snail mail, and I admit I prefer doing it this way. Although the web is quicker, cheaper and allows you to submit a story the day before the closing deadline (so perfect for my unorganised self), I do like to hold the envelope in my hand, kiss it quickly (and very suureptiously) and hear that plop into the postbox.

I love entering competitions. Years ago, I'd trawl Writers News for magazines and send unsoliticted stories. This worked, somewhat. But there were always the return of post rejections which had obviously not even been opened. By entering competitions, you guarantee that someone will read your story. And, after all, that's the reason I write. I can't ever imagine not writing, but writing knowing it would never get read would rob me of some of the pleasure. Like an artist who never showed her painting, or a musician who only ever played in a sound-proof room.

So, this is a big thank you to whoever is going to read the short story that I've just kissed!!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Journalism Question

I remember my careers advice at school very clearly. I was asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, and the answer was to be a writer. I could see no other choice. Out came all the leaflets about journalism; writing apparently meant journalism.

"No!" I said loudly. "I want to be a writer. I want to write fiction... stories... novels."

I had to qualify what writing meant to me because the poor adviser looked lost, and together we agreed that I should do my work experience in a library. "Well," came her reasoning, "there are novels there."

I see writing as a cosy, warm occupation - waking without an alarm, padding around the kitchen making endless cups of tea, writing curled up on the sofa on a wet and wild winter's day. Journalism, by comparison, has hard edges, stress, deadlines. That doesn't seem like writing at all, to me.

Looking at my last post, I was right to eshue journalism: there are two ideas, in the last post, of being rubbish at updating my blog and writing a diary - and I've managed to collide them together in a way that even I don't understand.

At this point I was going to post a link to prove that I am actually quite good at writing, but my computer is dying, so it'll have to wait until next time. So you'll have to come back - it's like a cliffhanger, isn't it...???

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

View From a Tor

At the top of a tor on Dartmoor this afternoon, I realised that I hadn't been near my computer for several days - which, when I started this blog, was never the intention. I had hoped that I would regularly have thoughts to share; in fact, an abundance of thoughts was my expectation. But then, between the ages of about 15 and 23 I kept a diary, and it was always interspersed with gaps lasting weeks, sometimes months. I revived it when I was about 32 when I realised that a lot had changed in my life, but it didn't last.

Because I am currently aware of only 2 people reading this blog (hello Amy and Helen, hopefully you're both still there!!) I decided to treat it as I did my diary. But then I realised that I have never - original diary included - committed anything to paper without running it through my head first, working out the shape and sound of the paragraph. So in fact, I could have been writing this for several days, sub-consciously. Not sure it was worth it, now....

Still, sat at the top of my tor, I did start to feel inspired, so I'm glad I went, and I'm glad I got torrentionally rained upon!!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Summer Slowdown

It had to happen eventually; in fact, I've been expecting it. The kids being off school has finally interfered with my writing habits. Of course it has! I can easily squirrel myself away from 9 until 3 and do nothing but write and eat... (and surf the net when the words aren't flowing... sshh) but it's not so easy when the kids are looking up expectantly waiting to go out for the day.

Ideally, I'd be the type of writer who could write anywhere - I'd take the kids on a wet day out to a play centre, sit and write over a hot chocolate in a small notebook, watching the world pass by and grabbing inspiration. But my inspiration usually appears suddenly and dramatically. I can easily be sat watching old epsiodes of Location, Location, Location when I suddenly jump to my feet and scramble for my latest WIP. Then I write until the idea is exhausted and return to what I was doing previously.

So, I think it's time to just enjoy the summer, and equally enjoy the opportunities to write when they present themselves.

In the meantime, I'm still waiting for a response from a publisher. I hate waiting so very much. In these days of email, I tend to expect instant replies, and obviously that is never going to happen. I'm taking the time to research other markets and maybe send out a few queries, but the novella/short fiction market is difficult to get in to and there aren't too many publishers out there for that length. I'm thinking of taking a leaf out of Fay Weldon's book (literally, hahaha) and putting spaces between every paragraph just to make the whole thing longer...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


Hmm, America?

At the end of my last post, I mentioned the Americanisation of our spellings. This annoys me greatly, but worse - much, much worse - is the Americanisation of our words!

My 6 year old watches TV... a lot. Not so much during the day when I can limit him, but he wakes up very early, as far as I can see especially to watch the channels he wants to. Unfortunately, these are American channels - and American TV for kids is rubbish. There will be the odd cartoon that is very good, but the live action programmes seem to be written and produced in the coffee breaks of the adult programmes.

But worse - much, much worse - is the fact that my English child refers to elevators, stores, trucks etc. No!! Lifts, shops, vans and lorries!!

I admit, I've become a little obsessive about this, maybe in 50 years' time we'll all be using these words, but it jars, it sounds wrong. I've gone so far as to occasionally ban American programmes until he uses the correct words, but I have a feeling he's tutting at me behind my back, and probably doing it on purpose.

Maybe it's my lesson in parenting in general - I have to learn to chose my battles wisely.

(PS. Americanisation or -ization? I've got myself confused now!!!)

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Spellings and misspellings

There are many things that I cannot do: I am very bad at any game which involves hitting a ball with another object, I cannot draw, I cannot (comfortably) walk any cliff path that involves a sheer drop on one side.

But I can spell. It's always come reasonably naturally, and when I was at school I wondered why other kids had trouble. Of course, then I'd wander off to Maths and have trouble multiplying a double figure with any other double figure. We all, I discovered, have our strong and weak points. My strength with spelling is becoming more and more useless now that Word will correct me without even being asked.

This train of thought was set off by reading this article:

It also made me wonder whether I judge people by their spelling - as the 46% of people who were questioned do. I don't think I do; I hope I don't. Because it would be as terrible as someone judging me because I can't multiply (or, as in one horrendous interview test for the Post Office once upon a time, subtract!!)

Some words are more difficult to spell; it comes from having a rich and varied history of invasion. But I like the fact we have random letters - apart from when I'm trying to teach my 6 year old how to read - that are either superfluous to the pronunication or can have several different sounds depending on what comes before or after. We should strive to preserve the language we have, to enjoy it even. (Is that going a little bit too far? Am I now just a language geek? - Don't answer that!)

My horror is that one day - and it may not be too far away - we will use American spellings instead.

And now that I've mentioned my real bugbear, there will be more on that next time!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Time away from the computer

I've been searching for inspiration recently, and not found any... at all. So, I started tinkering with a six-month old story that still needs a final polish and managed to add around 1000 words - not bad, I thought, but even then, that is starting to get a little more difficult. I have one more incident that needs putting in, a paragraph, not much, but I can't find the right words at the moment.

Then, I had an enforced two day break from the computer - one day for errands, and the next to take the family out for the day. Both very enjoyable days, the kind where you feel totally zonked by the end and want to go to bed at eight o'clock.

However, half way through today I had an idea! The title came first. Titles usually come first for me; I feel lost without them, directionless. It may change, that has happened in the past, but normally the title remains the same. They are the easy part for me - they shape the route of the narrative, the voice, everything.

Next came one of the characters, a cute little blonde haired girl with a splinter in her finger, and from there came the vague plot.

All this happened in the course of about 25 minutes, after trying for days to come up with something to write. I always panic when I've finished one project but the next is yet to start - I think that maybe this is IT, the end of my writing career before it's truly begun. But, each time, there's always an idea waiting for that moment of despair... "Oh, yes, what about this...? Any good, do you think...?"

Of course, in a couple of weeks' time, I'll have that same panic all over again, I don't think that will ever change.

Monday, 2 August 2010

"So, what do you write?"

I hate that question.

Don't get me wrong - I don't wander up to random people in the street and say, "I'm a writer, don't you know?", but sometimes it comes up in conversation that I like to write. Usually it's because the question has already been, "What do you do?", and when I tell people that I work part-time (14 hours per week), they wonder - aloud and incredulous - what I do with the rest of my time. And I feel compelled to tell them that I write.

So, then the question is, "So, what do you write?"

They ask probably because it's expected, to show an interest, and that's great. I'm not knocking the question. I'm knocking my reply... which is always, "Er... stories, modern stuff, um... just stuff.... er, I like to have a few murders."

"So, you write crime?"

"Er, no... it's..."

I admit that I'm not very articulate for a writer. These poor people turn away at this point, mentally patting my head and saying, "Well, good for you."

The reason I'm thining about this question this morning - and I do realise it's a strange thought for a Monday morning, but it's my day off - is that last week I wrote the word surreal on this blog and the more I've thought about it, the more that seems to sum up my work. It's also a word that defies further explanation, so from now on that will be my answer!

(Due to the way the universe conspires for its own amusement, the stories that I've had published over the years are not surreal - they are incredibly rooted in real life... So perhaps the surreal stuff is rubbish...)

Friday, 30 July 2010

My writing day

Years ago I used to subscribe to Writers Magazine and my favourite feature was My Writing Day where authors would write about... er... their day. I loved the tales of writing in pyjamas, walks in the country to alleviate writers' block and afternoon glasses of wine. At the time, my writing day consisted of rushing home from school and writing as much as I could sat cross-legged on my bed before my mum realised I wasn't helping with the chores.

It's all changed now, though. I wake up, get the kids to school and head for the gym. I find the exercise in the morning gets my brain in gear for the rest of the day. Back at home, I switch on the computer, make a cuppa and sit down waiting for inspiration to strike. On good days, it does, it strikes endlessly as I scrawl down pages and pages of text with my beautiful fountain pen. My writing flows as well as the ink; because I love to watch the letters forming on the page so I rarely actually think about what I am writing.

Then those words get typed up, printed out, scrawled over again, printed out again. Sometimes, this only happens a couple of times; other times, it happens 5 or 6, or even more. I love the sound of typing as much as I like to see the ink appear on the page. There's always music, usually an album becomes intrinsically linked to the project I'm working on, so that album is on endless loop until I'm finished.

I never set myself a target. I write until I have nothing left, or until the light is so bad in my study that I have to give it up for the night. I have to write with the curtains closed - I live on quite a busy road and I get distracted watching people and cars going past the window. One day, I'm hoping for a study with a view of the sea, a river, a lake... though any old puddle will do.

I am still not quite used to having a writing day - I've only been in this situation for 10 months, and I'm a slow adapter. I still sometimes wake up and think I've got the whole day free. I would love to be - feel - more professional, to know that I will be productive during specific times and have other times free (like some of the authors in the magazine article - writing 9 til 5, or 10 til 2). But actually, I think writing shouldn't be a 9 til 5 job. It should be spontaneous and random, and you should be free to go for a coffee with a friend at 11 o'clock in the morning, or write until half past 2 in the morning. I never want to feel chained to my desk, I want to always feel that I am having fun!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Helen Dunmore on the Booker long list

I am really excited to see Helen Dunmore on the Man Booker long list. I enjoyed her short short collection Love of Fat Men, published many years ago. I first read her years ago when I was browsing the library where I worked and found Zennor in Darkness - I picked it up because it was a short book. As I write short things myself, I often buy short books - I am drawn to them to confirm that what I am writing may still be publishable in this era of sequels, film tie-ins and series.

It was only after I read both of these titles that I started to see her name coming first, second and third in competitions I was entering. So, perhaps, we are on the same trajectory - although I am obviously a gazillion words behind her. This is reassuring, as I have already penciled in winning the Booker Prize myself the year I turn 56 (although I'm not saying which year that is, you'll have to wait and see!!)

I do wonder, though, whether writing short stories has to be a precursor to writing novels. I much prefer to write short stories and novella length stories - my plot dictates the length, rather than the length dictating the plot.

Monday, 26 July 2010

It started... here

Ooh, my new blog.... I'll just take a moment to sit down and get comfy... Ah, that's better.

I have been putting off starting a blog because I am scared of the committment. I am scared that I'll be overly enthusiastic for a few weeks then disappear. I hope I won't. I have mastered the art of procrastination with excessive use of online Sudoku, so instead of clinking that link, I'll click this one instead!

I started the blog today because I have waiting block. I have a couple of projects I'm waiting for feedback on and I can't get my head around starting something new. It's been a couple of months since I started a new piece of writing, and once I get past that 'new blank page' excitement, I get a bit stuck. I had a power nap, but all that came out of that was 'red shoes' and 'the beach' - perhaps that will spark something in due course.

So, as you may have gathered I'm a writer. The title of this blog pretty much sums up how my ideal day would be, given the choice. But real life gets in the way.

I've been writing since A-levels and I've had a few things published, at a rate of about one short story every two to three years, which from a career point of view isn't so successful.

But this is it! Today - once I've sorted out my waiting block - is start of the rest of my writing life (and other such cliches). I hope to keep this blog up and running for a very long time.