Tuesday 20 December 2011

Present Peekers

My daughter asked if she could open the Christmas present just given to her by her piano teacher. No, I said, Of course not. Why? she asked. Because it isn’t Christmas yet! (It wasn’t our most profound conversation.) I looked at her with a certain amount of incredulity. Why on earth would you want to open your present in advance? She returned the look with a, Why wouldn’t you?

I like surprises so have absolutely no desire to know what’s under wraps until the special day. I’ve always been like this. I never wanted to be hoisted onto a sister’s shoulders to peep over the top shelf in the kitchen cupboard to uncover next month’s stash of Christmas presents, unlike the other three – eh girls? If I do ever stumble across an unwrapped present, the disappointment can hang around for days. So, unless under extreme pressure to do so –a hand-made present from Auntie Ethel, donated with great excitement only moments before emigrating to The Bermuda Triangle, for example- I never open presents in advance.

There’s a superstitious side of me, too, which ensures the Sellotape remains firmly fixed. It’s like turning the page to the next month on the calendar before you’re actually there. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I understand the logic of turning the page; it’s the night before and it would be much more useful to see what was planned next week rather than what we’ve already done. But this tiny part of me just doesn’t want to tempt fate, to be presumptuous that the powers-that-be will decree that we should reach the next day. And it’s the same for me with presents.

I know people who offer a very polite, yet unprompted, request for their inevitable gift. I’m happy to oblige but it is, nonetheless, a slightly alien concept for me, somehow detracting from the joy of giving and receiving, even though I know it stems from not wanting to waste money which is only to be commended.

So, I’ve decided there are peekers and non-peekers, surprise and non-surprise junkies. Just like there are those who’ll read the final page of a book to decide whether it’s going to be worth reading and those who grimace at the thought of even catching the blurb. I think you can guess where I stand on that one. Are you a present-peeker?Were you a present-peeker? And if you read the last page of a novel before the first, do you also sneak to the tree when nobody’s looking to have a peep through a loosely wrapped corner? Come on, you can tell us!

To all my lovely readers, I haven't written my Christmas cards yet so please feel very honoured to receive my first official Christmas wish. Thanks so much for sharing this blog with me this year, it makes me very happy to know people are reading my scribbles. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a 2012 full of happy times and publishing deals for those who’d like them.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

My Word Sins

I noticed a 'word cloud', a graphic illustration of your most frequently used words, on my very talented writer friend’s blog, thanks Sandie, http://sandiezand.blogspot.com  and couldn’t resist having a play around myself. First, I looked at my blog and the result was interesting. I loved the layout and was pleased that writing related words achieved greatest prominence - or should I say, I was relieved that writing achieved any prominence at all; I do aim to talk about writing related subjects here, even if I have been known to get a little distracted. 

But I winced when I saw an entry which would have had my English teacher racing for her red pen. ‘Get,’ had crept in at the sidelines. I quickly deleted it but then decided that this wasn’t really in the spirit of things so put my scissors away before I got to ‘however’.

This took me to my ‘completed’ novel, Glass Houses. Did I dare to do the word cloud for that? I have already edited it so many times and checked for recurrences of the words on Jackie’s Danger List, pinned to my pc. These are words I know would offend the eye in their quantity if left unchecked, such as, ‘just’, ‘finally’, ‘now’ and ‘look’, plus my very worst offender,  ‘really’. But I wondered if the word cloud would suggest some others, such as ‘but’ (already causing me a little uneasiness in this post.) From a twenty page snapshot, the result was that, ‘get’ was a little too large for comfort, ‘really’ was still hanging around and I couldn’t understand why ‘back’ was as frequently used as some character names. ‘Like’ also still taunted me, even though I’ve spent hours analysing each and every occurrence of ‘like’ in the book and feel I’ve deleted or changed them wherever humanly possible.

I wasn’t surprised that the main characters were large but it took me to a question I ask myself constantly: do I use the character names too often when they could be substituted for a pronoun? Getting the balance right on this is tricky, particularly with two characters of the same sex in one scene – too many ‘she’ and you’re left with a character with four hands able to perform fascinating contortion, together with instant variations in hair length with two interchanging colours. You see my difficulty?

I looked at my current work-in-process, Misguidance. Would the characters’ names be as large and would there be a higher incidence of ‘bad’ words as I haven’t even thought about editing this yet?

Again, the main characters are unsurprisingly large but ‘Sarah’ is huge so I need to keep a check on my over-naming tendencies. ‘like’ has slipped itself in again and we have ‘back’ rearing its ugly head. ‘Back’ troubles me the most, it wasn’t a word I was aware I used plentifully at all.

So, thanks to Sandie, and a five minute diversion, I’m trawling through Glass Houses again and writing a check-list for Misguidance. Thankfully, I enjoy editing and love finding something new to look at because that nugget might just be the element which changes a potential publisher’s ‘no’ to a ‘yes’.

What are your most oft used words and phrases? If you write, have a go yourself at: http://www.wordle.net Just copy and paste your text and then share the results with us, simple. Thanks for reading!

Friday 18 November 2011

Touching with my Fingertips

T’is a cruel world, sometimes. This dropped into my in-box yesterday.

Dear Ms Buxton

Thank you for the opportunity to read 'Glass Houses'. It is a beautifully written novel and an absolute pleasure to read. Your characters are alive - exquisitely so - and the story driving the novel pulses. Tori's situation is touching and current; it evokes empathy and concern in the reader yet somehow shies away from dominating the emotional appeal of other characters.

I have discussed this work at length with my colleagues and although we are undisputedly impressed with the strength of the writing, and though we do believe there is a market for the work, we do not feel it will sit comfortably on our lists going forward. In recent years we have been forced to reduce our lists and as a result we are becoming increasingly selective – and sometimes harsh – about the acquisition of new titles. 

I’m sorry this isn’t the response you were hoping for, but thank you for thinking of [Publisher].  We wish you luck in finding a home for your work elsewhere and may I offer my congratulations for your literary successes thus far.

Kind regards,[Publisher]

Generally, I’d sooner eat strawberry jelly with pips in than post my failings but I do realise that when my first submission passed over the post office counter, with its heavy dose of longing and anticipation and a sprinkling of fairy dust, I’d have been ecstatic to have got this response. I am buoyed by the fact that a publisher sees a market for it and that the characters had the desired effect. I've had some great feedback in response to a reading of the full manuscript before but none where I was quite so close to touching a 'yes' with my fingertips.  I will submit Glass Houses again today. I have the small matter of approximately 30,000 words of the first draft of my second novel to write before my self-imposed deadline of February 2012 so have absolutely no time for wallowing. This publishing lark may oscillate between cruel and uplifting but at least it’s never, ever dull. 

Tuesday 8 November 2011

That Synopsis Thing

I’m a bit of a fan of the decidedly non-crabby Crabbit Old Bat, AKA, Nicola Morgan, and her brilliant blog full of tips for wannabe writers. http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com I first came across Nicola’s writing when I read, ‘Blame My Brain,’ a book about that fascinating, sometimes unfathomable phenomenon that is a teenager’s mind. If you have anything like a, ‘normal’ adolescent in your house and ever feel that you should scrap everything you learnt in the first twelve years of parenting, I urge you to take a read – then hand it to your child.

Nicola has written over 90 other fiction and non-fiction books and her next is to be on the dreaded art of synopsis writing. When I saw that she was looking for guinea pigs to offer up their fledgling synopsis for the scrutiny of her and fellow blog readers, I was tempted. Why would I wish to expose the inadequacies of my synopsis to the red pen of an expert and hundreds of eagle-eyed writers? Because of its importance. Get the synopsis wrong and agents and publishers don’t read your manuscript. That’s it.

And so for that reason, wincing, my finger hovering, I eventually pressed ‘send’.

The fairy story writer inside me would love to say that Nicola responded with an apology that she would not be able to use my synopsis as an example as it was far too perfect already. Unsurprisingly, this was not the case but no matter, the feedback opened my eyes to the fact that my synopsis committed an obvious sin: it did not tell the story of my book. Simple.

I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to redress this issue and have just sent it back to Nicola for ‘marking’. Of course my fear is that she reads the new version with her head in her hands, swaying from side to side, pausing only to sigh with disappointment. But in my more rational moments, I will admit to this version being better. I shall wait to hear back from Nicola before deciding if I’ve achieved my objective of writing a synopsis which reflects the plot and style of Glass Houses as I’d like it to read - but I already feel confident that I know what I need to do, even if it takes a few more attempts.

I won’t include either version here, you’ll have to buy Nicola’s book, Write a Great Synopsis (working title) for yourself, but I thought it might be useful to share with you what I’ve learnt:

1.      Tell the story
This is at the crux of the mission. By all means write your synopsis well, showing that you have the tools for the job, but make sure your story joins up.  It doesn’t matter how nicely the synopsis is written, your submission will be rejected if your novel doesn’t sound like it would sell. Fact first, then style.

2.      Be accurate; don’t be ambiguous
I realised that my previous synopsis had lead readers to believe that x, y and z would happen when really it was a, b and c. This was quite terrifying! I needed to go right back to the beginning and think about everything along the route to the end of the novel, choosing more carefully what events I included and more crucially, what I chose to leave out.

3.      Cut to the chase
When I took out the superfluous words and detail as suggested, I realised how short on content the synopsis really was and exactly why the plot would come across as ‘thin’ for a 100,000 word novel. I’d included too many examples to show the same point and needed to show more events, writing less detail about each one.

4.      Show a stranger
I’ve asked long-suffering friends and fellow writers to look over my synopsis in the past but these people have all read some, or all, of Glass Houses. They would be able to fill in the blanks as I can, meaning that they, too, wouldn’t be in a position to fairly judge how accurately the synopsis tells the story.  Next time I will show my synopsis to a total stranger (of course hoping that they are compelled to jot down the title for future purchase, so intrigued are they by the plot).

I’m indebted to Nicola and all the fellow writers who took the time to feedback their thoughts and suggestions. I’m not claiming my synopsis is perfect but it’s certainly closer to selling my book than it was. Thank you.

Happy scribbling!


BTW…not wishing to depress anyone with my list, I should add that I have submitted Glass Houses to 18 agents and publishers and been asked to send the full manuscript to five of them. (It’s currently with a publisher, donations of fairy dust very gratefully received.) So, I don’t think an inadequate synopsis is an absolute show stopper. But it could be so why take that chance?

Monday 24 October 2011

Bloghop: Dodging Detention

Today, I’m taking part in Haley Whitehall’s blog hop. Officially it took place on Saturday but I thought I’d give everyone else a chance to hop and then keep it going into the week. In truth, I’m afraid my weekend took over and now I feel like I forgot to hand in my homework so am doing my best to dodge a detention. How am I doing so far? You can help by popping over to the participants’ blogs and having a read, they’re all worth it.  If you like what you read, please do comment.

You can read more about the blog hop here. http://haleywhitehall.com/2011/10/blog-hopping/
Here are the participants:

Amber West http://wosushi.wordpress.com/

And I need to nominate three further blogs which I’d particularly recommend. Three! I’ve done this in the past, generally with numbers of ten so some of you will know how much I squirm, even when choosing larger numbers. I’m going to list the first three which spring to mind but with a promise to try to work out how to list all those I’d recommend in a nifty little link on the edge of my blog. I’ve been meaning to do it for ages and it might help assuage some of the guilt of those missing from my list here. I would never make a judge, if this is anything to go by, would be more emotional than Kitty Brucknell - OK, a close call perhaps.

My three, in no particular order, are…

http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/ Nicola Morgan’s witty and hugely helpful site on all things to do with writing and getting published.
http://exmoorjane.blogspot.com/ Sometimes serious, often witty, brilliantly observed and never, ever disappoints.
http://sandiezand.blogspot.com/ One word: dry. Ok, ok, I don’t do succinct even though I try – and it’s beautifully written, always.
Thanks Hayley. And I’m very sorry for handing this in late…

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Horses for Courses

As part of the annual Literature Festival, a couple of friends and I went to Ilkley to hear authors, Isabel Ashdown and Marika Cobbold speak.

When I posted our plans with great excitement on Facebook, a respected friend left a flip comment stating in no uncertain terms that he’d like to leave the house on a drizzly Sunday evening to hear two people talk about writing, as much as I’d like to mistakenly find myself in the opposition stand at a football match. I admit to being a little offended on the authors’ behalf and deleted the comment. However I rallied myself with a sharp attempt at rationality and the voice I’d use with the children to remind them about horses for courses.

However, it did get me thinking, why DO we like to hear writers talk about their work?

The three of us make a motley crew. One friend is very well read and always has something intelligent to say without a hint at any pretention. With the pick of all the classics at her fingertips, I remember her choosing Dancing In My Nuddy-pants for a since disbanded book group as she wanted to see if we could see what her daughter saw in the humour – like all the books we ever chose, it received a mixed and lively response.  

Her reason for attending the authors’evening was simple. She was exhausted and stressed and needed an early night with a hot water bottle but as there was a dearth of culture in her life of late, it was important she came.

Our second member is more of a non-fiction reader, finding herself all too often frustrated by ‘contrived’ novel plot and subplots, but she is also open to persuasion. It would be fair to say that she was keen to be somewhere other than her own home, having spent as long as she could bear in recuperation after her death-defying 53mph fall from her bike down an otherwise spectacular mountain in the Pyrenees.

Then there’s me, also a book junkie but generally incapable of remembering an author’s name, or indeed the title of their novel. However, I can be relied upon to describe the cover and central plot line in detail, enforcing an impromptu quiz-cum-charades game for anyone daring to ask what I’m currently reading.

I’m always keen for ideas for new reads, although I like surprises so a teaser will suffice and anything more makes me jumpy.  Hearing about the gem from which the book was born and how the characters become who they are, always interests me. Book signings are a bonus and impress my children but I wouldn’t say I was a groupie - just who would get the washing on, help with homework, scrub the toilet, write a novel while I wasted such great chunks of quality time flying around the country? - however, that isn’t to say that I didn’t stutter and fluster and leave her looking a little perplexed when I first met the wonderful Maggie O’ Farrell. So bad was the spectacle I made of myself, I didn’t join the end of the very long line for her book signing at a second meeting, for fear she’d recognise me.

But more important than all of that, I enjoy the company of fellow writing hermits who spend more time than can possibly be good for them, on their own at their keyboard for precious little pay and months, nay, years of little feedback. Hearing writers speak is like attending my own group therapy session; an evening with a motivational guru doubling as mediator between the frustrations of breaking into this hugely competitive and ever-changing market and the reminder that there are few better places to share your days than in your imagination with your characters. It’s comforting to know that in my insanity, I share wholesome company.

Many thanks to Isabel Ashdown and Marika Cobbold for a truly inspiring, supportive and entertaining evening in Ilkley.  I’d already cried for Jake and reminisced with a wince reading Ashdown’s Glass Hopper and Hurry Up and Wait (I spared you the charades) and recommend both for a smile and a cry. After laughing out loud at Cobbold’s uplifting take on life and writing, I was compelled to let Guppies For Tea leapfrog my To Be Read pile. I'm currently engulfed with anger for Gerald, frustration for Amelia and great sympathy for Selma whilst recognising that she would, truly, be a difficult house guest.  It’s an amusing but soul searching read which I’m in no hurry to finish - although, happily, Cobbold has six other novels to her name.

And the other two of our motley crew, did they enjoy the evening? Yes! We bought four books between us. “Fascinating,” my death-defying friend said,“put me off wanting to be a writer though.”  

Back to those horses for courses. 

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Run that by me again.

Today I became the proud owner of my first ever hearing aids. I know, I know, I’m doing well for 80, I hope I hear you cry. Actually, I am a mere 43 years of age, simply have the hearing of a pensioner. ‘Wouldn’t it be great to hear your grandchildren tell you about their holidays,’ the literature asks, I’d settle for hearing my own children offering to do the dishes when we’re on holiday, I’d suggest.

I had great expectations for my aids, as did my family and friends. In fact, I’m not sure who was more excited. It’s hard living with someone whose favourite phrase is, ‘Run that by me again’. I thought they might change my life, hand me a seat back in the world of school halls, pubs, children’s concerts, in fact, in anywhere that has a ceiling over six feet high. Don’t get me wrong, I can function in such places but I often use up my ‘pardon lives’. I read once that social settings will allow you two chances at a ‘pardon’ and by the third you have to try something different. What it meant was that by the third, your interlocutor will decide that you are a: an idiot, b: not concentrating, c: not giving their company the attention it deserves – or a combination of all three. It’s quite easy to gauge what should be an appropriate response (that isn’t to say that I haven’t, famously, got it wrong sometimes) if you don’t mind simply nodding or shaking your head at opportune moments in an effort to keep the conversation moving. But this base level of chat doesn’t really lead to a riveting evening for either party.

And then there’s the TV. With all my training into following plots through settings, actions and two out of every three words on a good day, make that one if strong accents are involved, I could be a veritable Inspector Clouseau with 100% of the dialogue available to me. It would be nice not to have to read subtitles which are half a sentence behind the words I can half hear, too, grateful as I am to them for transforming my viewing experience over the past few years. Whispering, I wonder. Are the hearing aids that good? It’s only when you’re hard of hearing that you realise quite how much people whisper on TV and in films. I’m all for authenticity but what directors fail to grasp is that people whisper so that others can’t hear.

Excitement? Definitely. Anticipation? Certainly. But trepidation was uppermost as I entered the room to take ownership of my aids. What if they didn’t work? What if the reality was that I just don’t concentrate? After all, I spend a fair amount of time away from this world in the company of fairies or what’s politely called, my imagination. Granted, my audiogram would attest otherwise, pronouncing me profoundly deaf in certain frequencies, but perhaps the recording equipment has been faulty every time I’ve been tested, that I happen to turn up every year precisely when the machine has mysteriously malfunctioned, leaving no evidence in its wake, nor needing an engineer to fix it for the next guest? The aids are very expensive, you see. I do feel guilty about spending our savings on my hearing when I can still, almost, function without. So what if the benefit doesn’t justify the spend? When I discussed this with the audiologist, he chuckled a little, offered a shake of his head, 30 years of experience in his smile and said, ‘Just you wait.’

So, off I trot with tiny cones pushed into my ears, a wire hooked around the back connected to an inch long receptor and my remote control to turn my hearing up and down, with its potential for hours of amusement should it fall into the eagerly-awaiting hands of my children. In truth, I didn’t trot. I walked, very gingerly, out of the hospital doors, eyes darting in every direction. There was just so much going on - a lady’s crutches tip tapping across the linoleum to the right, a man coughing in A&E, a siren which wasn’t  from the hospital car park but an ambulance was clearly on its way. The traffic was so loud, so close, I hardly dare cross the road. I made it to my car feeling like I was in a Bond movie. I didn’t even need to look to know that there was a man approaching who had bought a newspaper which he didn’t intend to read until later because he was forcing it into a loudly scrunching bag. I’d already learnt that you can tell the speed people are walking just by the sound of their feet tapping on the pavement. I never realised that my seatbelt makes a noise when you pull it across. I know I can't hear crickets, I wonder if I will.

I had a few minutes for my favourite past-time: a coffee and a scribble in a well-known coffee outlet. My friend called en route. ‘I can’t talk,’ I whispered, ‘you’re too loud.’ We persevered, the phone held six inches away from my ear but when I entered the coffee shop mid-conversation, I had to walk straight out. Everyone was so noisy! How could I possibly carry on my own conversation? 

I’ve learnt that the hearing aids ‘wake up’ messages to the brain which have been redundant whilst hearing has been disintegrating and that this heightened sensitivity calms down once the brain has regrouped and worked out which sounds it really needs to focus on. Clever, isn’t it! Much as I enjoyed the new sensation and hearing sounds I never knew existed, amusing as it was to hear every word of the news set at 36 instead of 60 or, rather, maximum volume, I admit it was quite tiring and a little unsettling. My first impression is that, yes, in a fairly significant way, these aids will change my life but, for now, it was quite a relief to unplug my ears, tuck the aids back into their nifty little box for the night and snuggle down with just me, my tinnitus and a little normality for company.

Saturday 17 September 2011

Dusting the Piano

As I was flicking off a faint sprinkling of dust from my piano today, whilst studiously avoiding the burgeoning forest of cobwebs hanging from the lights above my head, I had to laugh at my priorities.

Whilst not claiming to be in the same stratosphere as a concert pianist, I am in love with my piano. I’ve pretty much always had one around, but none so fine as this. It was last November when I became the excited owner of my Yamaha Y3; a proper piano, loud, crisp and with notes that play however many times you touch them. Of all the inanimate objects in my house, the piano is my favourite which is why it receives most of my limited cleaning concentration span.

I’m going away tomorrow, to cycle the Pyrenees across France with nineteen others (hence the, admittedly, limited pre-‘holiday’ cleaning) and the fast approaching prospect has me lurching from great waves of excitement to petrified nausea. It isn’t so much the cycling uphill which worries me, I either will or will not get up, it’s the losing the pack, losing my way and ending up in Spain (sense of direction is not a phenomenon known to me), or my brakes failing downhill. At this late stage there is nothing I can do about this so I have to practice a little distraction.

From thinking how nice it would be able to sit down at the piano instead of on my bicycle seat on my return, I started thinking about which of the two pursuits I prefer. Cycling is much more sociable but for total relaxation, the piano wins every time.  And then there’s running. That’s my favourite sport, not least because I write my best ideas in my head while I run, but because it’s the ultimate drug - I know because I’m addicted. 

If I was on a desert island, which would I have, piano, bike or trainers? Of course I’d also have to have a notepad and pen. And books; a mobile library which turned up on Thursdays. I cleaned (sketchily) the entire house to the choosing between the aforementioned items and aside from dismissing the bike on the technicality that the wheels would get stuck in the sand, I couldn’t choose between them. However I did conclude that there wasn’t anything else I couldn’t do without (other than a special request for my favourite people to join me, of course). As my chosen items would all fit inside the mobile library van, I decided my demands weren’t excessive.

So while I’m away, I thought I’d leave you pondering the same question: you have a day to pack, which activities would you take with you and why?

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Larkism – the sequel

Three months ago, I began an experiment into Larkism. The question was whether I could turn this hardened night owl into a lark.

It was a tough call. There’s nothing I like better than tapping the keys after midnight in an otherwise silent house with no untimely interruptions and no nagging to-do lists – none that can’t be hushed until morning for fear of waking the family, at least.  And there are few things I like less than getting up on the command of the alarm clock when it’s still dark, to take that long, lonely walk downstairs to the kettle, knowing I could just turn over and have-a-few-more-minutes.

Or so I thought.

Since that life-changing day in June, I have been jumping out of bed at 5am like the archetypal lark and have discovered that my love for that chunk of day rarely previously experienced  (following sleep, anyway) knows no boundaries. These days, if I wake after 5am, I’m cross. This is why:

- Having a set two hours of time at the start of the day has made me more focused and thus more productive. Whatever happens, by 7am I have two hours of writing behind me and I feel more fulfilled than I often used to feel all day.

- I’ve discovered that the hours between 10pm and 2am weren’t four but two and a bit. Midnight was the beginning of ‘faffing’ time. I was slower at every task than I’d realised, easily distracted and much as I think there’s a place for Facebook, Twitter, emailing and home shopping, I don’t think it’s worth a lethargic two hour chunk of my life every day.

- I’m tired at night and I like it. I can’t pretend to be exhausted like my they-broke-the-mould-when-they-made-this-particular-lark husband but I’m happy to wind down. The day has more structure and it feels more natural.

- I like the fact that by 4pm and home from school time, I can have double digit hours of constructive work behind me. The pressure of always trying to figure out just when I could fit in another hour of writing is no longer there. I still write in the evenings but now it’s a bonus.

- Before my foray into Larkism I was not firing on all cylinders. People used to marvel at how I could survive on four hours sleep a night, comparing me to Margaret Thatcher (DON’T even go there) but I’ve realised that survival was exactly what I was doing. I had a diet of tea (I still do tea) and lists. In my owl days, notes scribbled in the small hours were the only way I could possibly get my children to school with the correct allocation of sandwiches, clothing, homework and plaits. It took me until around 10am to manage anything near lucid thought without my array of prompts.

So, after my three month experiment into changing body clocks, it’s a definitive yes to Larkism for me. I think underneath I’ll always be a natural owl – I can’t imagine ever leaving a party early because my bed is calling – but for an easier, more fulfilling way of living, this lark is setting her alarm for 5am for the foreseeable future. In the words of the wonderful, Jimmy Cliff, I can see clearly now the rain has gone.

How about you?

Friday 9 September 2011

My Name in the Credits

I have just peeled myself away from cloud nine to share my excitement at clicking on Christine Tyler’s wonderful blog, only to see my name in the list of credits J
I really enjoyed being part of the Sparkfest and am very happy that one of my posts hit enough of a chord to earn an honorary mention. Thanks Christine! Well done to all, I’ve copied over the list as I’m sure the blogs must be worth a look. I’m going there now…

Christine says: Sparkfest Interviewees!
Ready to find out who our future interviewees are? Interested in some of the entries that caught my eye? Here are some more of my favorite reads.
If you haven't read them already, you really should!

Shelly Brown--saw an author go through the throes of "phase one," and then witnessed their immense success. You'll never guess who it is...

Jackie Buxton--gained inspiration from real events and compassionate people...and some hypocritical ones

Ru--talks about Stephen King and some awesome philosophy on Amidala

Bess Weatherby--makes me wish I wrote about Tolkien.

Lisa Vooght--gives us the best story I've ever read about a book signing, and a sense of what we can achieve as authors and mentors.

Pocketful of Playdough--made me cry.

Bonnie Borrow--shares a story about her crush that I more-than-kind-of wish had happened to me.

Interview winners are:

1) Tyrean--makes me want to know more about "The Horse in the Well"

2) Mel Fowler--shows us the games we play with our sisters in the yard can grow up with us.
(Mel, you must be having a good week. That's 2/2.)

3) SB Stewart Laing--reads a book that makes his blood boil, so he writes a better one.

4) Dawn Hamsher--makes a Spark a prompt in itself. She also changes her life when a person helps her draw near to God in her writing.  

5) Emily Seuss--answers an ad for "someone kind of like Queen Latifah from that movie," and ends up in the middle of Nerdfighteria. If you know what that is, you are awesome. 

Friday 26 August 2011

Thanks to The Press…

This is the final day of the Sparkfest tour so I thought I’d just sneak in a short(er) answer to another of the questions which has been motivating fellow scribblers around the world this week: which author set off the spark of inspiration for your current work in progress?
There was no particular author who inspired my completed manuscript, rather two very different people in the news. One was a lady who spoke evocatively about why we should forgive the London Bombers of 7/7 even though she was the mother of one of their victims. I was in awe of her amazing strength of character, thought how much more powerful this emotion was than the, nonetheless, entirely understandable anger of other relatives and friends. She was crying, I was crying and I thought that if we could just harness what this lady had and spread it around, the world might just rub along a little bit better. 
The second person was the driver who allegedly fell asleep at the wheel causing the Selby Rail Crash. I remember seeing his face splashed across all the newspapers and thinking how complex it was. His actions were avoidable and people died as a result. And yet I knew his life would be affected for ever, that this wasn’t the face of a cold-blooded killer we were seeing, rather someone who made a stupid mistake. I wasn’t sure that this man really needed our vitriol; he’d never forgive himself anyway. Some of the people who were chastising him, had perhaps made stupid mistakes themselves but hadn’t been in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you know my novel is called Glass Houses, you’ll see where I went with this…!
My current effort is a re-write of a novel which I first drafted thirteen years ago.  I vividly remember scribbling down the idea on the back of three airline serviettes (I had to beg for the second two) on the flight back from my honeymoon when everybody, absolutely everybody else, was asleep. It’s funny to think that in those days I didn’t carry a pad of paper and pen with me everywhere I went! The idea came from an article in The Guardian on ‘Paupers’ Graves’. I can’t remember anything about the piece itself but I can absolutely picture it, full page as it was with its dishevelled oval shaped tombstone falling away from the tufts of grass at its base and do recall the reaction that inspired the book: how could anybody die without a single person to say farewell? What could be so bad as to lose somebody every friend and relative they ever had? That tombstone isn’t in the book but the concept certainly is.

So there you have it; I have the press to thank for hours and hours and hours spent alone in my study, just me and my keyboard.  How nice to be able to thank The Press for a change J

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Sparkfest! Jane Austen? It's complicated.

When asked the question, which book inspired me to write, I could only initially think of great works of literature which contrived to put me off reading for ever and threaten to turn me down the almost scientific path of linguistics which was my other great love.
At the risk of provoking a deluge of contradictory evidence, I have to admit that, ahem, Jane Austen just doesn’t do it for me. It may have been the way A-level English was taught by this one particular teacher who did, through our eighteen-year-old eyes, have a slightly obsessive passion for Jane Austen’s writing and everything else that went with it. However, I watch the odd period drama now with all its flouncing and pontificating self-doubt, its innocence with just a hint of naughtiness and yes, I appreciate the history but no, I still can’t get excited about a Jane Austen story.
I can picture my teacher back then in 1987 launching into another attempt to light our Austen fuses.
‘What do you hear behind the words? What is Austen doing so cleverly here?’ she’d ask, enthusiasm screaming out of every muscle in her face.
‘I-r-o-n-y?’ we’d offer. There was generally a good chance.
‘Yes! That’s it, so clever isn’t it?’ she’d say, adding, ‘for the times,’ as our cue to nod.
I know her writing is clever. I do appreciate her literary skill and, even back then, wished I could share our teacher’s exuberance for Jane Austen, but I just find the plots and characters too similar within and across the novels (granted I was only forced to read three), differing largely only in clothing or background. Perhaps I might have appreciated one Jane Austen novel in different circumstances, but six?
So, Jane Austen remains squarely in my brain as the author who put me off reading and started a literary drought which lasted into university where I read only compulsory French and German works which doesn’t count. It’s staggering really that reading for pleasure just didn’t enter my psyche during this period, having never been without a piece of fiction in my pocket up until my A-level years.
However, a chance conversation with my first employer changed all that. Astounded that I hadn’t picked up a novel of my own volition since my teens, she bought me a copy of the Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.
‘Read that,’ she said, ‘you’ll be back.’
Spare cash was an enigma to me back then. I was still paying back student debts (no student loans though, little did we know where student funding was headed) so I was extremely touched that somebody I didn’t know particularly well, would spend money on a book for me. It would be churlish not to read it.
Suffice it to say, I did read the whole of The Power of One. It’s quite lengthy, 629 pages to be precise and around three-quarters of the way through, I scraped together enough pennies and went to my local bookstore to buy the sequel, Tandia, all 900 pages! I had to order it, making a special trip into town a week later to pick up my copy, in its own, perfectly-fitting, crisp, white paper bag.
I’m sure Tandia is part of the reason why I’m still resisting a Kindle. I know it makes sense, particularly having recently flown with a certain cheap airline where half of my meagre luggage allowance was taken up with books. But the excitement of feeling that new novel pressed into my hand by the enthusiast assistant in the book shop, who assured me that the sequel was equally as good as the brilliant Power of One, is a feeling I don’t want to say goodbye to just yet.
In answer to the original question, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is the novel which re-inspired me to become a writer. On and off throughout my childhood I’d imagined penning stories and wrote many a plot line in my head when my family thought I was simply away with the fairies (where, granted, I was, the rest of the time). During my reading drought, I forgot that dream. I pursued a career in Charity PR and Fundraising of which I enjoyed every minute but the writing dream came back once I started reading again.  And it just won’t leave me now.

Saturday 20 August 2011

365 More Sleeps

About six weeks before we go on holiday, my husband starts counting down. If he could recall his 7 x table, he’d probably tell me how many sleeps it was. I’m ashamed to say, however, that his enthusiasm is generally met with a  grunted, ‘Nooaw, don’t tell me that,’ unless I can catch it in time, remind myself not to be quite so bah humbug and mutter, ‘yes, it’s great, isn’t it?’

Until a chance chat with a friend recently, my lack of frenzied excitement for holiday remained my guilty secret.  My friend, it happily appears, has the same view of Christmas. Is it really worth it? she asks herself, as she takes the forgotten Christmas Cake out of the oven after the date’s changed one cold December night or secretly repairs her daughter’s hand-made Christmas cards where glitter festooned fairies have become rather sparkle-less as all were too busy to remind her to smear glue before the glitter. And then there are the adults’ cards - although I think I am on my own when it comes to sealing the last envelope on the eve of Christmas Eve.  But, my friend adds, once, and only once the event is in full flow, she has to begrudgingly admit that it is, indeed, worth the sleep deprivation.

My friend’s Christmas is my Holiday Preparation where I am on my own - literally, at 2am, the first suitcase teetering on the tiny metal clip above the cheap-flight-must-have-handy-weighing-scale, my quivering bicep curl bringing the scale to nose height to reveal another case a nudge heavier than 15 kilos. Then I play the in-out game again, the game which quite amused me the first time, the, ‘pick the item least needed and looking most like it weighs ¾ of a kilo’ game. Without wishing to spoil the fun, a couple of bottles of toiletries generally do it – who needs their hair de-frizzing on holiday anyway?

So I decided that this irksome, lonesome business of packing had to be done together. Many hands make light work, I told my non-plussed children and husband, the latter telling me not worry about him, he only needed a couple of pairs of pants.

Still, my dutiful children set about tackling their lists. Under stopwatch management they raced each other to grab their clothing and belongings, pausing only to ask me to iron faster, they’d lose if they couldn’t get their jeans into their pile quicker than their sister could.

When I was called to inspect, I was flabbergasted – not by the speed with which they’d accomplished the task or that each had managed everything on the list (give them a competitive angle, dangle the promise of a larger sweet for the winner and they’ll rise to any challenge) but by the difference in the size of the piles they’d created.

Both had exactly the same lists. But my youngest, seemingly the most extrovert but actually, the most cautious, had twice the pile her laid-back sister had. In front of me lay two piles of personality; my daughters there in the form of light hand-luggage and excess baggage smiling up at me, eldest with her, ‘that will do, can I go back on the trampoline now?’ attitude and youngest just wanting to be absolutely sure, so let’s pack a couple of alternatives.

I had to smile, for I, too, perform to type when I prepare for holiday and so can only admit that it’s my personality which ruins the build-up for me. Why does the fridge have to be cleaned out if I haven’t managed it before 11pm and the alarm is set to go off five hours later in order to get us to our early flight? Why do I need to sweep the floor, too late to hoover, before we leave – frightened the local mouse contingent will choose our house for their annual vacation and party while we’re away? And the towels. They don’t really need to be clean and dry. I could wash them after holiday, yes, even with all that extra post-holiday laundry.

After all, what did my children wear on holiday? A third of what we packed. Will I learn for next time? Goodness, what kind of a mother do you take me for?

Friday 29 July 2011

Sparkfest! Something a bit different

People write for many reasons and I definitely write to be read. Even though there is nothing better in life for me than those heady days when the words are appearing on the page as fast as I can type and the characters are writing their own story, I don’t think I’d be able to justify the time spent on it if I didn’t have the dream that one day somebody other than me, and my trusted critiquing readers, would be entertained by it.  I really enjoy researching, editing, re-writing even proofing but this first draft stage is my ultimate love. Put me in a cafĂ© with a notepad, pen, a cappuccino and an hour and I defy you to find anybody happier with their lot than me.

That’s probably why I like blogging. I get to scribble down my thoughts in a disjointed fashion and, unlike submitting a novel for potential publication (which is nonetheless exciting in its own way), receive instant feedback. So, please excuse what my 11 year old would describe as ‘random cheesiness’ and let me thank you for reading, it makes me very happy to think somebody is interested enough to click and often, gets to the end of my ramblings.

I also enjoy reading other people’s blogs. I like the quick insight into other people’s thinking, subscribe generally to those that read a little like a monthly magazine feature. I like the wry take on life, the ones where you smile and think, ‘yep, I’ve been there,’ or ‘help! I’m still there, are they watching me?’

Blogfests are a way of finding new blogs and introducing new readers to yours and so the Sparkfest (great title!), hosted by Christine at The Writer Coaster caught my eye. I appear to have signed up. Unless something untoward happens between now and then – I should be wary of making such statements as three days off a big deadline I once returned from holiday with a fixator holding my wrist onto my arm after throwing it around the drum of a spin drier at full pelt, the night before supposedly driving home (domesticity, I find, is very overrated) I didn’t hit the deadline but I did type one handed to deliver the piece a couple of weeks late - I’ll post again between the 22 and 26 August with my answers to one or more of the questions below.

The criteria below are copied over from Christine’s blog, please click the image to go straight there. Please sign up too, keep me company J


As writers, we're always striving to get out a message of inspiration to others. This blogfest is a celebration for those who have done this for us. Join the Spark Blogfest, aka Sparkfest, by posting your answer to any of the three prompts above (or make one up as long as it fits the theme).

What book made you realize you were doomed to be a writer? 
What author set off that spark of inspiration for your current Work in Progress?
Or, Is there a book or author that changed your world view?

Wednesday 20 July 2011

I’ve been thinking about tears

This week is my youngest daughter’s last week at primary school. The Headteacher is also retiring so the week is passing with great aplomb. It culminates in the Year Six Leavers’ Assembly; always a tear jerker. I know because I went to my eldest daughter’s last year and managed not to cry, oh, at least until I sat down. My equally stoic friend and I rallied ourselves and stemmed the sobs until the sight of one of the leavers at the edge of the stage bawling her eyes out. Sadly, it transpired that she wasn’t looking forward to secondary school one iota but, you’ll be relieved to know, is absolutely fine now having raced to the end of her first year.

I don’t have a good record of coping like a brick. I remember when my eldest daughter was finishing her first year in reception and word came out of the Leavers’ Assembly. Said daughter knew nothing of it but she was only five. Off I duly trotted, hand in hand with my youngest, taking our seats in church only to realise we’d mingled with a different set of parents to whom I usually attached myself: this special assembly wasn’t really aimed at everyone, more the parents of enormous children, six years older than mine.

I stayed, it would have been rude to leave, and this time lasted a minute or so longer before reaching for the tissues to dry the tears shed at children, and their memories, whom I’d never met before.

I was thinking about crying, how these kind of tears are more about happiness than sadness and that nature has missed a trick. Yes, it’s the end of an era and that’s always a moment to ponder. Yes, every milestone is a more tangible reminder of the fact that the day will come quicker than we ever imagined that our babies will leave home for ever. But mostly, these are exciting times. This transition to secondary school has enjoyed much frenzied anticipation and it’s hard not to be swept along  - separate classes for every lesson, just imagine! Bunsen burners, tri-pods, language labs, computers in every classroom, not just the ICT room, or rather, suite; not just one but four netball courts, more people in their form than there were in their whole year group at primary school, more than double the amount of students in the year as there were in their whole school. It’s a world of newness and a slurry of peers and opportunities which we know, as adults, have the potential to make these next years the best of their young lives.

So nature, why the tears?

I see how love and hate can be closely aligned. I see how disappointment and anger that something so powerful didn’t work, could take energy from the original intensity of love and tragically transfer itself to bitterness. I understand how great despair and sadness can literally lead to an outpouring, a very basic way of showing our dislike for the situation in a way we did as babies. 

But happy and sad? They’re poles apart aren’t they?

I think that human nature is wanting and as we evolve further as a species, a new emotion, a new sound, a new method should form to show we are feeling great pride and enjoyment, no longer to be confused with pain and despair.  Children would understand this reaction to their performances; adults would no longer feel physically drained at the end of the show.

My daughter and her friends have been rehearsing for weeks for their end of year play to be performed twice today - don’t get me started on how I’ll react to that one - and, I wondered to myself, could be perhaps a little performance-d out.  I asked my daughter if she was looking forward to the Leavers’ Assembly which follows on Friday.

Oh yes, she said. It’s funny watching the parents cry.