Wednesday 23 June 2010

Spin Cycle

Trying to get a book published, I have decided, is like sitting inside a washing machine.  You entrust your pride and joy to the machine and sit tight, the water trickles in, the cavity fills up. 

Then the drum starts to turn and you go with it.  Why not? It’s all you really know what to do – submit, wait, submit, wait.  The repetition is quite soothing, gratifying, submissionville becomes a land you start to know. 
But after a while, the constant slap of your cheek against the window starts to gall.  The drum keeps on turning.  A button inflicts pain from the right, a zip scratches on the left.   You wonder whether you should stop the cycle mid-way through, open the door and climb out.  The world outside of the washing machine looks calmer, less harsh, more certain.

But just when you think nothing ever changes, a black sock in the white washing takes you by surprise. You take a look.  ‘We like it, we want to see your whole manuscript,’ the black sock says.  You sprint to the post box, put the bubbles on ice.  You take a step back, retreat to the gentle cycle for a few weeks, even peep a toe out into that other world you know you should frequent; that of the clean and tidy house. 

Unfortunately when that rejection comes, it slaps you from the side, throws you particularly violently onto the sides of the drum and forces you into a tumble.  You pick yourself up, of course, but wonder if you’ll be loading the machine for ever, never making a dent on the laundry.

Let me tell you about my washing machine week.  I wasn’t successful in getting through to the final of the Brits Unpublished.  I didn’t expect to be but while the shortlist wasn’t available, I could still hope.  I got through to the third round, I should be pleased with that – but still a towel creeps up behind me and wraps it around my neck so that we travel the next cycle uncomfortably together. 

I waited all Sunday to hear that I hadn’t been successful in the Novel Beginnings competition at the Write Helper and then an hour later, an email popped in to tell me that a certain publishers didn’t want Glass Houses.  They liked the idea, they said, but didn’t like my style, my use of short sentences.  I had to smile, oh how one of my English teachers toiled to force me into a grudging respect for punchy sentences. I guess it’s true across the board – you can only please 50% of the people, 50% of the time.   There I was, being buffered from both sides again, the slaps were particularly hard as the submission had been away for such a long time that I thought the editorial team could, perhaps, be seriously considering it.

Then I get the loveliest note from my mum.  She has put a link to my blog with her email signature and received some wonderful feedback for me. 

And those fantastic people at Creative Edge seemed to like my blog, so much so that it’s won their weekly competition and will be featured on their website from 25 June.  This little blog! Who’d have thought? 

So I’ve decided, once again, to open the door and pop back in.  I expect another spin in the washing machine, several in fact, but the hope that I might reach the fabric conditioner at the end of the cycle one day, keeps me turning it back on.  

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Ever wish you could rewind?

I had a funny day yesterday – funny as in ‘fun’ and funny as in excruciatingly embarrassing.  Let me set the scene. 

Children dispatched to friends, water bottle in holder, sat nav installed, engine on and I smile to myself.  It’s 7am and I’m on the road for my 11am meeting in Leamington Spa, 138 miles south of here and, according to Sat Nav and AA route planner, a two hour, thirty minute journey. 

I am not going to be late. 

In my bag I have a list of emails needing a response and my hard backed notebook, which is always to hand,  just in case I should have one hour 35 minutes to spare in which to write while I wait for a meeting for which I’m ridiculously early.  (For the pedants amongst you, I know we should be talking one hour 30 minutes but who doesn’t play beat the Sat Nav and who doesn’t come out on top by a good five minutes?)

I am not very good at ‘on time’.  I can do late (oh yes) and I can do early if it’s as important as this meeting is.  I’m the person who gets to the airport four hours prior to check-in and has to wait with the cleaners for it to open – ‘Why?’ my ever patient husband asks when he spends the rest of his life trying to pretend he doesn’t mind that yet again, he’s missing half an hour of his evening waiting for me.  ‘Because you just never know,’ I answer, visions of the motorway tarmac melting and curling below our wheels as a blatant attempt to sabotage our trip.  Mind you, we did once miss our flight by a whole day when I realised that the ten year passports we had for our six and five year old children were actually five year passports, like all children’s (does everyone except me know this?) and when I cried in the passport office the clerk simply handed me a tissue with a, ‘ hey up, another weeper, wipe your tears up after you go would you love,’ and the instruction to come back in the morning.

Some people will know that I do like to extend a journey by an average of 50% by travelling in completely the wrong direction whilst engrossed in Chris Evans on the radio or someone of that ilk.    I have a turbulent relationship with Sat Nav, granted it would help if I could totally trust it rather than mouthing, ‘oh don’t be so ridiculous’ when it demands I take a right turn. My most famous example of Sat Nav rage was when it took me to an isolated part of the A1, just South of Scotch Corner, equidistant between junctions and told me I’d reached my destination of a race course in Thirsk (in reality twenty miles away) for a race starting in twenty minutes.  ‘Oh no it isn’t my destination,’ I cried, not quite so politely, only narrowly missing throwing the Sat Nav out of the window as I remembered it didn’t actually belong to me. 

So yesterday, I had a thorough print out of directions and a stern resolve to listen to the Irish lilt which gave the Sat Nav commands.  Leaving at 7, I knew I would miss the traffic around Leeds and sail down the motorway, looking forward to my first team meeting in three years, happy to have ventured out of my little office for once.

It’s raining. Proper rain.  The rain that forces you to drive at 50 rather then 70mph down the motorway.  Quick calculation and I reassure myself that even if this continues for the whole trip, I will still arrive with over an hour to spare.  I turn up the radio.

'Severe queues on the M1,' Sally Traffic says, 'between junctions 27 and 28.'  Typical! I think, but oh well, it’s only a couple of junctions and I’ve got at least an hour in the bag.  Oh dear.  The rest of the journey I will let you imagine, but suffice it to say, I arrived half an hour late for the meeting after a couple of frantic messages to Dave who was, as ever, very cool about it but told a colleague that I’d arrive completely flustered and guilt-ridden. 

What he hadn’t reckoned with, was the next bit.

I fly through the door of the health club, past the lady at reception who, with one look at me, clearly needing no introduction, announces that ‘they’re waiting for you’ and its right, first left.  Right first left.  Two bags on one shoulder, wet (frizzy) hair, I  breeze through the first double doors, clock the notice above the meeting room: yep, Leamington Spa it’s called, (clever) and force open the very narrow, left of two doors armed with my apologies for stalling the meeting.  Except I don’t force open the left of the doors because it won’t open, or rather, it won’t open any further than the head’s width I’ve already managed - just enough for me to say, ‘Oh, what’s happened? Why can’t I get in?’ (Or words to that effect, I can’t actually remember in my acute mortification exactly what came out.) 

The door is open enough for me to see Dave, standing there, mid presentation and the other eight people, only two of whom I’ve met before, all in a kind of freeze frame, like those sets you get at the theatre where everyone’s mid pose while the attention is all on one person: me.  I try to force open this exceedingly narrow door, thinking (I can only suppose) that as I’m quite small, I might be able to push myself through the six inch gap.  However, with my diminished height, does not come the force of ten men and consequently the door was not, I repeat, not, going to open any further.  Dave, bless him, after what was probably a few seconds but clearly ten minutes of my life, rushes to the adjacent, normal adult size door and opens it for me.  He bustles me into the room to a round of applause from the awaiting team members, bemused and amused by my attempts to enter the room through what I can only imagine is a fire escape for visiting pets (very strong, visiting pets).

Fiercely sympathising with my chagrin, Carol hands me a strong coffee.  I force myself to focus on the rest of Dave’s presentation, the meeting starts to take on a more normal course.  Mobile switched to mute, I start to take notes.  The meeting’s really informative, I understand my role, am impressed with my new colleagues, the doorway incident has been filed to that part of my brain for later retrieval over a glass of wine.

Somebody’s phone is going off.  Tut tut, I think.  I have varying deafness in both ears.  One of the problems it brings it that I can’t place sound very well.  Tut tut, I think again, why don’t they turn it off?  Apart from the fact I can’t tell whether the sound is close to me, the ring tone is also entirely different to mine.  Still it rings.  The thought did cross my mind that my children may have changed my ring tone without my knowledge, as has been done in the past, much to their great hilarity, but my phone is on mute, isn’t it? 

Well, the phone was indeed on mute but somehow, because the powers that be had picked me out for their day’s entertainment, the timer I never knew existed, had switched itself on, counted down and was now alerting me to the fact that allotted time had been spent.  I still don’t know how that could work if the ringer has been switched to off.   But what does it matter?  All I know is, in the middle of Tom’s presentation, and to everyone’s great relief, I was forced to retrieve my phone, fumble about with a few buttons and somehow silence it - with a silent prayer that I’d done enough to stop it happening again.


Well, that was my funny day.  You may, like me, be concerned to know that I haven’t actually signed the contract for this work yet...