Wednesday 11 December 2013

Blasting Stories for Homes

Today is Book Blast day for Stories for Homes, an anthology of short stories by published and aspiring writers, loosely based around the theme of 'home'. As the days and nights get colder and the world a little more sparkly in the fortnight running up to Christmas - for some - there will be 80,000 children homeless in this country. And that's not to mention their parents. All profits from the sale of Stories for Homes go directly to the housing charity, Shelter. All monies will help support their Christmas campaign to help find accommodation for some of these homeless people. We're hoping for record sales today.

My copies: arrived this morning!
The paperback (just launched) and eBook are both available here -Click to buy Stories for Homes. The paperback, a whopping 600 pages, retails at £14.99 but is £12.44 while it's so high up the charts (did I mention it has five stars...??) Maybe you need a couple? They're a great Christmas present for the book worms in your family. Or a guilt-free present to yourself, perhaps? A word of warning: a kettle and box of tissues are a pre-requisite to reading but don't worry, you'll be tittering away as well.

For the beady eyed amongst you, I have posted on Stories for Homes before. Please click here to see how I came to be involved.

And finally, for my London friends, Stories for Homes is being launched at The Bookseller, Crow on the Hill, SE London from 6pm this Friday 13th December. Drinks and giggles will be a-plenty if I know the wonderful driving force behind the book of Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood. For my northern friends, watch this space as we're hoping to organise similar up here :) 

Friday 6 December 2013

Conditional Love

I first met Cathy Bramley on the Writers' Workshop Self Editing Course run by the wonderful Debi Alper and Emma Darwin. Over the six week course we students and tutors chortled our way through snippets of Tell Me What You Want, Cathy's second novel, a comedy about three women who meet at a funeral. It's a setting for a comedy which had me tittering from the off but I liked its more serious undercurrent, too.

Cathy and a telephone box of Conditional Love
So when I heard that Cathy had published her first novel, Conditional Love, as an eBook, well, what could I do? I had to crack open the iPad and launch myself into my first ever electronic read of a novel. Remember that bit about me not being at the front of the queue with technology? Suffice it to say, Conditional Love which I read on my (stationary) bike in the kitchen instead of the bath, has inspired me to download further fiction. But it's in addition to 
tradition books – don't tell my bank account – she adds quickly.
I thought I'd catch up with Cathy to ask here about Conditional Love and being published.

And where did she get those cakes?

1.      Conditional Love feels to me like a Bridget Jones sprinkled with Marian Keyes overtones. Is this how you see it?

A herd of butterflies went on the rampage in my intestines when I read this question, I can’t tell you! Bridget Jones’ Diary is such a clever book and I love the humour in it. I adore the films even more. And as for Marian Keyes, well, you couldn’t have paid me a bigger compliment if you’d tried. I read Mystery at Mercy Close shortly before writing the final draft of Conditional Love and Sophie Stone, who’s a Nottingham lass, kept lapsing into a Dublin accent in my head as I was writing her.

2.      Conditional Love is self-published. What made you decide to self-publish?

I’m incredibly impatient. I wanted to start my writing career THIS year, not wait for a year to get picked up by an agent, then wait another year for a publishing deal, then another to see my book in print. Also I was a teeny bit scared that despite the feedback I had had on the book, everyone would point their fingers and laugh and no agent would show any interest in me.

I’m severely lacking in experience in the publishing world, however, I DO believe that if your book is good enough, there is no right or wrong way to do it.

I do want to be traditionally published. I have chosen to go about my quest for publication this way, aiming to build a profile, get good reviews and prove to prospective agents and publishers that I can write and I will work hard to promote my books.

3.      Would you recommend self-publishing?

It seems to be working for me. So far my efforts are meeting the aims that I set out to do. I’m sure it’s not for everyone. I hadn’t really appreciated how much work it would entail. I’m re-writing my second novel and would ideally like to be able to devote more time to it. But being publisher, marketer and editor can be very time-consuming!

4.      Conditional Love had a wonderful launch with a Conditional Love cake, a telephone box full of your books and a visit from the local mayor. You've also had BBC interviews and were recently signing books in Waterstones – how have you managed to set all this up on your own?

I’ve worked in marketing all my working life and I have my own small marketing and PR agency. That said, I’ve never promoted a book, or myself before. But it was easy for me to get hold of the right contacts in the media, to write my own press releases and call up the Mayor (who incidentally I met on Twitter!)

In my head, I knew what I wanted my book launch to look like. I wanted a community event, a tongue-in-cheek poke at the champagne-fuelled, stuffy literary affairs that you see in the press. Conditional Love is a comedy set in a Nottinghamshire village; the Lambley phone box was the perfect venue for my party. I did everything on a shoe string – we borrowed the tables form the church hall and got the cake from Asda. I even used our blunt kitchen scissors for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. It took the poor Mayor ages to saw through that ribbon!

The book signing event was surprisingly easy to organise. I emailed the store, they checked the book out and gave it the thumbs up, nine days later I was in!

5.      Do you enjoy the promotion?

Yes. I love it.

6.      Your male characters are either despicable (I so wanted to punch Marc) or a little wet (if quite appealing) around the ears. Did you enjoy writing them? Are they based on truth (she asks mischievously)?

Marc was initially based on a blend of Jason Statham and Jamie Oliver! I intended him to be a bit more cheeky chappie than he turned out, but he seemed to insist on it. Nick was totally fictional. That’s a complete lie, but it’s all I’m going to say.

7.      Bridget Jones-esque Sophie is frustratingly naïve and gullible for the first half of the novel -albeit very amusing – was she difficult to write?

If I was Sophie’s friend I’d have sat her down and given her a damn good talking to. For Heaven’s sake, she’s thirty two! But I did really like her, all the same. Sometimes people get in a rut and it takes something major to shake them out of it… Sometimes I have to remind myself that she was a figment of my imagination and I really should stop worrying about her. To answer your question, no she wasn’t difficult, just a bit frustrating to work with at times.

8.      There's lots of interesting detail about design and architecture, did you know much about this or have you been doing your research?

Property is one of my passions. I could waste hours on Right Move (in fact I have) Tony, my husband and I built our own house and much of my knowledge comes from that.

9.      The title is perfect! Was it difficult to come up with?

That book had more titles than I’ve had black boots, nearly. Home is where the heart is, No place like home, Hard hat and heels… Then one day Conditional Love popped into my head and I breathed a sigh of relief. The sequel is called Your Place or Mine. No, I haven’t started it yet, before you ask.

10.   You're currently writing Tell Me What You Want, a book about three women who meet at a funeral and the spontaneous pact they make there, can you tell us a bit more about this?

Well, I say it’s called Tell Me What You Want, of course, that might change…

It’s a comedy (I hope) about three very different women who meet at a funeral and in a Carpe Diem moment decide to help each other’s wishes come true within six months. Sarah is a new mum with an antic-bacterial gel habit, struggling to combine motherhood with her wish to become the firms youngest partner, Carrie has a past she would rather forget and a burning desire to wear a bikini and Jo is a commitment-phobic workaholic with a hidden romantic side and a failing shoe business. The clock is ticking for them to achieve their dreams, but first they must be brave enough to admit what it is they really really want…

Find out more about Cathy's writing over here. here

Monday 25 November 2013

A Nod to Technology

A few months ago I was asked if I'd be interested in trialling Journl (free trial), the on-line organiser. The prospect tickled me. As a technology Luddite, I assumed I'd be organising my life with a pen and paper for at least the next three score years and ten so if Journl could turn me, I thought, then their product deserved to go viral. I'm a list maker. I write things down so I can tick them off – the pen on paper makes me remember and the ticks are bundled with a whole little reward system of their own. Could an on-line tool possibly be as clear and reliable as my cumbersome desk planner-plus handbag diary-plus an array of to-do lists (some illustrated), I wondered, and would it be as practical and rewarding?

I flew around the Help Pages with great gusto but, I'm sorry to admit, my enthusiasm quickly evaporated when I lost my family set of to-do lists in a fiction folder and some birthdays found their way into teaching.

Feeling guilty for not giving my all to the trial, however, I decided to have another go. It coincided with the launch of Journl's extra Christmas Planner which was very timely considering we were well into November and I, unusually for me, had little more organised than a date to go shopping with my mum. 

No sooner was my planner installed, and my Journl diary was spotted with cute little Christmas trees reminding me to buy my Christmas cards, book Father Christmas, order the turkey etc. Hmm, I thought, how nice that I don't have to work these things out for myself, nor remember where I've put the particular to-do list with my workings.

It took me a few attempts to get all my separate folders set up and to stop putting my children's sports fixtures in with the shopping list but slowly I started to love Journl because it does what I want it to do. Whatever I want to plan, I can. I have a cluster of small jobs and they're all up there, with their own separate to-do list, diary and notebook. And my children have their section, as does our social life. As do the bills.

Starting to smell a lot like Christmas
But the beauty of Journl over my lists on scraps of paper is that when I look at the front page, all the day's to-dos are merged. It doesn't really matter whether I have to remember to scoop up my children from various places in North Yorkshire, bake a Christmas cake or hit a deadline, these things must be done so having a list with my to-do's all together is both practical and calming.

My Journl is also installed on my phone so I can tick off lists wherever I am. But it does have its limitations in that it is reliant on Wi-Fi so you could be left high and dry in an area without a signal. I did pause when I came to buy my 2014 diary last week but for this reason, went ahead. It's a purple Moleskine® so, to be honest, I was quite glad of the excuse.

Journl isn't free either, and there are plenty of free organisers on-line but, of course, their scope is limited. Journl will cost me the same as my annual desk planner inserts so that's OK with me.

So, it looks like I'm headed into 2014 with a small diary and Journl instead of a small home diary, large work diary and an army of notes stashed in any room of the house, or deep inside any bag, other than the one I need.

I'll keep you posted but for now, it looks like this particular technology Luddite is finally enjoying a dip into a non-paper age. Worry not though, I shall still keep stationary shops everywhere in business feeding my fiction writing notebook habit.

Monday 18 November 2013

Perfect, yes, absolutely

One of the books I chose to review for the Christmas issue of Chase Magazine was Perfect by Rachel Joyce. This is one of those stories which followed me around when I wasn't reading, nagging me until I picked it up again - and yet was almost too painful to read in parts. 

But Perfect is also funny and satirical and it made me sigh with relief sometimes too - a five star read for me all the way. 
Click Chase (pgs 52&53) to see the rest of the article including my views on the life-affirming, Humans by Matt Haig, as well as my stocking of must-have reads to end the year. 
Your turn! If I could ask for only one book for Christmas this year, what would you recommend?

Wednesday 23 October 2013

I Pressed Send

I almost cried last night. I have a broken foot and an infected ear - of which I shall spare you the details - but it wasn't that. The washing is piling up, the bedding's unchanged and the bathrooms could do with a 'bit of attention'. But it wasn't even that.

It was because yesterday, at 8.40pm I finally pressed 'send' on Glass Houses.

Its re-write has been nine months in the making. Following one agent's disappointing rejection but generous and astute feedback on the full manuscript at the end of last year, I embarked on a re-write in January. Then came dissection during the wonderful Writers' Workshop Self-edit Course at Easter, which inevitably led to a second re-write. Incidentally, I call it a 're-write' if it loses and gains more than 10,000 words - a bit like a crash diet but infinitely more healthy. 

Some of the fab self-editing crowd (and Gayle!)
A heap of hasty amendments followed on the back of workshops and talks, not to mention the general writer-ly buzz, at the York Festival of Writing, as well as from my new term of teaching. Is there a better way to say that, we wonder, it's bordering on cliché, I suggest, and off I trot home to *practise what I preach*. A final burst of tweaks after meeting with my new reader (she's so clever) and there I was, Sunday night, just in time for tea before Homeland, and it had gone, my baby, flown the nest again.

And like every baby resistant to change, after months of cajoling, tweaking, listening - albeit distractedly - and the odd torrent of abuse and self-loathing, I have sent off a better book than the one I submitted last year.

That isn't to say I will emerge with a contract. All I can do now is hope. And wait.

Well actually, now I clean and file and hoover and 'sort out' the wardrobes. I think about Christmas and cleaning the skirting boards, sort out the leak through the downstairs window, call the electrician to fix the kitchen lights, book tickets for the local village play, rearrange the short break I booked somehow forgetting I was working, earn some money and do my physio for my foot. And I sleep. I'm going to sleep at both ends of the day and for a period of time in the middle. 

And then I shall get back to work on book two… 

So, lovely readers, how are you?

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Smelly Memories

I’ve been thinking about smells today. My main character in Glass Houses spends time coming out of a coma and is tickled when the whiff of her mother’s stale coffee breath is the first sign that her sense of smell is returning. All she wants to do then is smell and takes a good drag on a host of items from her mother’s handbag. But it’s an old book which she stays with for the longest. The pages squeezed against her nose remind her of childhood memories – good and bad.

When I was growing up my father often had a book pressed to his nose. First-hand, and he wanted to imbibe the book’s newness, the printing process, the excitement of the story to come. If it was old, a good inhalation took him back to night time reading under the covers with a torch. That’s what he told me anyway.

I am not as cultured as my main character or my dad. If I’m asked what smells conjure up my early years then I am compelled to mention Shock Waves hairspray. My friends and I used to buy huge bottles of it from the ‘cheap shop’ (we didn’t have pound shops then) and I don’t particularly remember noticing the smell at the time. I was far too busy back-combing and choosing the most appropriate ribbon or netted scarf to lose in the tangled pile of hair to notice.

But when my children happened upon a bottle a few years ago, I couldn’t get enough of it. You’d think it was Chanel no. 5 – which takes me back to my twenties but that’s another story. One puff of the horribly environmentally unfriendly aerosol and I was back with Madonna and the school disco on Wednesday nights, even though I wasn’t allowed to go until I was in the third year - year nine to the uninitiated – much to the outrage of my friends. I’m not sure I was that bothered, more worried I wouldn’t know how to dance when I got there. It took me back to boyfriends and Adam Ant and make-overs with Rachel which would take us all day just for the before-and-after photos. Where did we get the time? 

It took me back to my yellow bedroom, to tennis in the garden which was way too small and to the breeze block garage we painted white one year much to the total humiliation of me and my three sisters, broadcasting to all our friends our parents’ embarrassing flirtation with the Mediterranean. Oh the shame of the white garage!

But most of all the smell took me back to the holiday in Majorca when my five foot four grandpa with size three feet drove us to the airport and had to take my hairspray home again because they wouldn’t let it on the plane. He hadn’t got a bag with him and we were amused at the prospect of him walking through the airport back to the tiny car (in which we’d crammed six of us including the driver) with an excessively large tin of pink hair spray; particularly as he only had one of those white rings of hair which orbited a bald head. He died soon after the airport lift. This tiny man with a huge bottle of hairspray is one of my last memories of him and it does make me smile.
My bottle was definitely pink!
Thanks to Helen nee Dion for
remembering the name :)

So, what I want to know is, what is it that takes you back? What’s that smell which propels you into your past? Is it a book or is it something less cerebral? Please share! 

Tuesday 10 September 2013

A Walk down the Aisle

My short story, A Walk down the Aisle started life as a play on the Grease idea; Danny and Sandy having a bit of a make-over when it finally dawned upon them that they were meant to be together, whatever it took. Somehow, the plot ended up more Green Card then Grease albeit with my main character, Isaac, more of a Lancashire, Colin Farrell (swoon) in my eyes than a Gerard Depardieu (great accent though, G).

That’s story writing for you, when those keys start tapping, there’s no knowing what will appear on the page.
I wrote the story for a competition, pressed send, had a moment of euphoria that I’d hit the deadline, a couple of hours of doing some ‘proper’ work (ie slightly less enjoyable but slightly more profitable) and then the inevitable panic that the story was muddled and dull and how on earth did I have the audacity to send it?
It didn’t win the competition.

But, the words of the everso lovely and extremely amusing Katie Fjorde at the first York Festival of Writing forever ringing in my ears - you’d take your baby to hospital when it was sick but you’d give up on a story when you could make it better? - I did some more work on it and submitted it instead to Chase magazine.

And, I’m very happy to say, that’s where it appears this month. I’d love you to take a look, Click Chase – pages 92/3 (tip! Click 'last' and then flick back three pages) to read the whole story.

I hope it makes you smile :)

Thursday 15 August 2013

Stories for Homes

Today I’m Celebrating Small, as in briefly, if that’s a concept within my capabilities, because really, this is much more of the celebrating medium variety, if not, the humongously large.

How happy was I to see that my short story, A Life with Additives had been chosen for inclusion in the Stories for Homes anthology from which all proceeds go to the homeless, charity, Shelter? The eBook is now out and the soft back is following hot on its heels. My story is, embarrassingly, a little light and fluffy but there are some much more cerebral, poignant beauties for your delectation. My advice would be to grab yourself a coffee (or a gin), a packet of hobnobs and a comfy chair - with a box of tissues placed firmly at your side. If you feel compelled to make a purchase either for the stories, the charity or to keep me happy - or a combination of all three - thank you so much. Click to buy Stories for Homes  

Charlie Wade, my blogging friend who loves a good rant now and again and boy, does he rant brilliantly, kindly asked me to guest blog on his site this week so I’m over there talking about Stories for Homes, mushy peas and dubious acting skills. Please pop over if you have a minute Charlie's Blog - Batteries Aren't Included.

And finally, I’m celebrating a birthday, my blog’s birthday, because this is my 100th post. Frankly, when I wrote my first and checked hourly (ok, it was every few minutes) to see if my page views would reach double figures, I don’t think I ever dared to dream I’d still be here over two years later. I only started a blog because my very wise and very lovely writer friend, Jane Alexander, told me to. I thought it would be just another Facebook-esque distraction. But, right from the start, I realised how much I loved writing it. In this world of novel writing where the stories take months to hit the paper, years to edit and back to months again to hear back from potential agents and publishers, the positively rocket speed process of posting my missives and reading your comments which always make me smile, is joyfully refreshing and rewarding.

Thank you so much for reading.Please enjoy a piece of virtual birthday cake, you deserve it - take care with the golden hearts, they aren't edible.

Wednesday 31 July 2013

The Things We Never Said

Last month in Chase I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Susan Elliot Wright, author of The Things We Never Said – a tale of strength in the face of adversity which wouldn’t let me go to bed. This is Susan’s first novel and I was delighted to learn that her second is due out next summer. Susan was hardly sitting around waiting for her fiction deal and when the phone call came, it wasn't in the most salubrious of surroundings - but it didn't make the moment any less sweet. 

The Things We Never Said…
It’s 1964 and Maggie has woken up in a mental asylum. One distracted look, she’s advised by a sympathetic inmate, one choice word to a nurse and she’ll be whisked off for seizure inducing ECT with as little fuss as if she were going to the dentist. When Maggie realises that she’s had this treatment before, that the one thing she needs to get her out of this place is her memory but that’s being destroyed with every dose, she forces herself to remember what the combination of the ECT and a specific trauma have made her forget.

Meanwhile, Jonathan, a good-hearted but frustrated teacher, is struggling to maintain focus in a modern day secondary school where a teenage pupil is bullying him through a provocative show of her breasts and an infamous pupil is whipping his classmates into a frenzy at Jonathan’s expense. He doesn’t yet know that his response to this intolerable behaviour will spiral his life out of control. As Jonathan surmises later, the laws of teaching seem to be contrary to the rest of society and he’s guilty until proven innocent. Throw into the mix his angst about impending fatherhood and his regrets about his less than perfect relationship with his recently deceased father and you see why Jonathan’s finding life pretty tough at the moment. Perhaps this isn’t the best time to have the link between him and Maggie revealed but the connection is to prove valuable to both.

Un-put-down-able is easily used when describing great books but this is absolutely true of my response to The Things We Never Said. I read it in three sittings, emerging from each emotionally battered and sleep deprived. The circumstances bestowed upon Maggie and Jonathan are not for the faint-hearted and I found the dual narrative and inter-weaving of the plots very well-crafted. I was keen to learn about its author’s motivation and inspiration for the story so was delighted when I had the opportunity to chat with this Sheffield-based writer, Susan Elliot Wright.

Susan explains that she has always been fascinated by the question of nature versus nurture and how people behave when the control over their life it taken away from them. Although Susan only had the bare bones of the plot before she started writing, she always knew that these themes would be at the centre of her story. 

Susan is also fascinated by the environment and its effect on our actions. It’s no accident that weather plays such a strong role in the novel, indeed, one of its pivotal moments takes place during the famous Sheffield Storm of 1962.

“I heard fantastic stories about the storm,” Susan says. “I describe Maggie seeing a garage flying through the streets of Sheffield in the novel and this is something which actually happened in Sheffield that night.”

Susan really enjoys research and as well as the weather and local history, studied the story of mental asylums. Attitudes and treatments were becoming more humane in the early sixties but nonetheless, people could still find themselves in a mental asylum for situations where today they’d receive sympathy and therapy. Electro-convulsive Therapy (ECT) was being carried out all too regularly to ‘calm’ depressed women but it often suppressed their memory, a truth which Susan uses to good effect in the novel.

For Jonathan’s story, Susan’s many teaching friends gave her such a great insight into the education system that readers have assumed she was a teacher herself, “That’s a huge compliment,” says Susan.

When I ask Susan if she’s always written, she smiles. Her CV is certainly eclectic. She’s enjoyed being a civil servant, cleaner, bar maid and washer-up before working as a chef’s assistant - something she adored until RSI recently forced her to give it up. Susan currently tutors creative writing but has also worked as a journalist and features editor and, most tantalisingly, a cake decorator.

With several promising ‘near misses’ and re-writes along the way, Susan’s route to publication of The Things We Never Said, took her from the gem of an idea in 2005 to her launch date in May this year. Even though she can put her name to hundreds of articles and a non-fiction book, fiction has always been her ambition.

“I’m loving it,” Susan says when I ask if she’s enjoying being a first time novelist. Her novel’s launch day was one of torrential rain which seems quite fitting for an author with a passionate interest in the weather, even if Susan was convinced everybody other than her family, her agent and the loyal friend from Waterstones would stay at home that evening.  She didn’t need to worry, extra chairs had to be put out for all the guests and the 50 books allocated to the launch weren’t enough. Even the pen used for her book signings ran out.

The day Susan found out she was going to be published was not quite so grand, she recalls.

There was a missed call from her agent. ‘I have news,’ a message said, ‘good news.’ Later, as Susan was leaning over to scoop up her dog’s deposits into a poop bag, she chuckled to herself, wouldn’t this be the worst time for her agent to call back? The phone rang. It was her agent. As she tied together the ends of the poop bag, Susan learnt that Simon & Schuster UK were to publish The Things We Never Said.

Susan has already submitted the first draft of her second novel to her publishers who’d like to launch it next summer. The book is loosely based around motherhood, guilt and adoration and again takes place across two eras – the present day and that very hot summer of 1976. Personally, I can’t wait. 

Susan has two signed copies of The Things We Never Said to give away. Click Chase Magazine, page 73 to enter the competition. Hurry! The closing date is 15th August.

Monday 22 July 2013

Return to Dragons' Den

I’ve reached a milestone today. My blog counter flipped over to a magical round figure: 35,000 which was my target for page views in 2013. So I’d like to say a huge thank you to my lovely readers, you got me to my goal five months early!

It seems apt that I should think about a very early blog post, one which ratcheted up a whopping, wait for it, 35 page views. As I believe I’ve spouted here before, if you’re new to blogging, hang on in there. It takes a while for people to find you in the blogosphere but seeing the number of readers wandering over to your little blog increase in volume, is one of life’s more than simple pleasures.

The post in question is this one: Dragons’ Den for Wannabe Authors and pretty much describes the week I’ve just had, but from three years earlier. The difference is that after three years of editing and re-writing Glass Houses (I have written 70,000 words of another book in-between, honest), I’m happy to say that this time, it didn’t take me to chapter twenty to find a 500 word section of text I liked enough to read out to a room full of writers - published and not-quite published - as well as the truly wonderful cluster of agents musing over whether they should sign me now or wait until the fuss had died down. (Did I mention they’ll be looking particularly beautiful that night?)

But the detail of the abject terror which would ensue should my passage be picked as one of this year’s seven to be read out on stage at the York Festival of Writing’s version of Dragons’ Den, is every bit as real as back then. The difference is that this year, I have absolutely no doubt that this is an opportunity to be grasped with fingers spread wide and pulled into your chest so tight it can’t possibly be snatched away. I remember thinking, ‘there’s your winner,’ when I heard the lovely Shelley Harris read her 500 words on stage during the first York Festival of Writing. Her book, Jubilee, was subsequently published and, gasp, selected (amongst other accolades) for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club in 2012. Can you imagine! 

So please, wish me luck, I’m about to submit my 500 word section from my novel for potential inclusion in the York Festival of Writing 2013, Friday Night Live.

Be on hand to hose me down if it gets picked, won’t you?

Saturday 29 June 2013

Working With Other People

Today, I’m Celebrating The Small Things, very softly and quietly in fact, creeping in the side door, hoping if I can just sneak onto a pew at the back with the merest of small waves only to interested parties, the rest of the congregation won’t notice that it’s Saturday and I’m a day late.

But I just had to share the love, the love of working with other people. This is not an everyday occurrence when you’ve made the dubious career choice of writing cocooned in the empty study of an even emptier house while the rest of the world is either out playing or thinks you’re actually out playing.

Ok, I realise that the rest of the world isn’t playing, rather working, albeit in grinning teams of people all patting each other on the back – oh, there I go again – but it was better for my story to paint a desolate picture.

I love to write slightly more than I dislike not being with other people so any chance to work with others I snatch up. That’s probably why I love teaching and my editing work so much.

Recently I found out that I’d had my short story, A Life with Additives accepted for publication in the anthology, Stories for Homes which intends to raise money for Shelter, the charity for the homeless. This is a charity which is close to my heart as my parents worked tirelessly for Shelter when I was growing up. So I was double delighted.

The anthology is the brain child of Sally Swingewood and Debi Alper who also came up with the inspired strategy of pairing short story contributors together to help edit each other’s stories. It was a pleasure working with my writing team mate. Thus far, he's managed to stay away from all forms of social media (what IS his secret?) so to protect his privacy, we’ll call him Bob. His story is hysterical. I can’t divulge more at the moment but suffice it to say, after stifling giggles in my favourite writing place, a well-known coffee shop in Harrogate with my extra hot cappuccino on hand, one paragraph had me laughing out loud (my children would tell me I can’t use LOL and I tend to agree) like the archetypal deranged writer in the corner.

Aside from the joys of working in a team, the process reminded me how much I relish feedback. No, really, I do. Of course it would be wonderful if your partner came back with a gasp and a scratch of their head as to how they could possibly help you to make this ground-breaking story of exquisite excellent-ness any better and by the way, had you thought of entering it for the Bridport Prize? But that isn’t going to happen. No two people will ever see the same in a piece of writing. No two people would ever write a story in exactly the same way. And that’s a good thing. That fresh eye showing exactly how the words have bounced off the page on first viewing - let’s not forget that readers of books don’t actually have the time nor inclination to pore over our missives in the same way we do - always throws up howlers and confusions. I’m so happy that I’ve received feedback on my personal howlers and confusions, if a little embarrassed on occasion.

So, I’m celebrating lots of things this *Friday*:
- that my story is to be published
- that the anthology will raise money for a vital charity
- that I was assigned to Bob and his brilliant story and for him pointing out before any readers got to it that the repetition of the musical flute and the fluted of the bowl looked like the main character had a mixing bowl hanging from her lips
- that I’ve had the joy of working with real people this week
- that, although I must work this weekend, the sun is shining so I'm off to do some in the garden.

I hope you're celebrating large and small - please, come share the love...

Friday 21 June 2013

The Staples in Life

The first known stapler was
handmade for King Louis XV
I’m worried about the future of staplers. I admit, I haven’t given mine a great deal of attention over the past few years and should have shown greater appreciation for its capability and reliability. Quietly it binds clumps of unruly papers together with little complaint and, despite a bent staple in need of extraction with the help of some long scissors occasionally or the odd stapled finger through particularly ambitious attempts at multi-tasking – but we can hardly blame the machine for that - it never goes wrong.

I fear the humble piece of paper will disappear from our lives and what then the use for a stapler? I’m typing this on my pc. I could have done it on an iPad, a tablet or even a phone. What I haven’t done is written it out on a piece of paper first and this from someone who likes nothing more than the feeling of pen making marks on a blank page. If even notebook hoarders like me are using paper less, surely its days are numbered?

And then there’s the pen. Unsurprisingly, as the owner of multiple parker pens, (each refill capable of writing 600 metres of characters, apparently, or 500 of mine, my writing being particularly large and ever more illegible) I don’t want to see them go. Where are they currently made? I have visions of a hive of industry of Charlie and his Chocolate Factory proportions bubbling and fizzing away to bring us this simple contraption. And I wonder if these factories will be turned into flats.

Will print presses go the same way? Will the printed book cave under electronic pressure and the paper versions be confined to the shelves of nostalgic old relics like me, secretly leafing through the remains of the towering To Be Read pile under the dead of night, the guilt of the trees slain for their production weighing heavy?

If the printed book goes? What then of book shelves? Granted they take up a huge amount of space, particularly for those of us who feel the need to keep a book which will never be revisited, just-in-case-someone-wants-to-borrow-it (I never read a book twice, I have too many in my TBR pile for that), but used books to me are another person’s ornaments. They’re not entirely necessary but the sight of them all lined up, the colour they add to the room, the enjoyment I associate with reading, makes me smile. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes a house a home but without the spines of books representing the worlds I’ve frequented and those where I’ve yet to go, mine would feel like something was missing.

If I took the stapler, paper, notebooks, pens and books from my study, it would look like this: 

Yes, I know it wouldn’t need dusting but I don’t do too much of that anyway. Yes I know other things would replace the missing items and I dare say I’d become ridiculously attached to those, too.

But I don’t want to.

I want a world which doesn’t need to be re-charged, which can’t be accessed with such ease that it becomes acceptable to make notes whilst supposedly also in conversation. I want a world where my children talk to their friends on the bus rather than watch YouTube clips on their iPads, where they listen to the teacher in a lesson rather than message their friends in another class. I want a world where you can eat supper and have a drink with friends and nobody feels the need to check that somebody more interesting isn’t texting them or worse, that they’re missing something at work. I want a world where people go on holiday rather than, ‘will be contactable via email’ so that they and their family life returns fully refreshed.

I’m still clinging on to most of that so, for now, I’m Celebrating the Small Things. I’m celebrating the fact that the stapler is still regularly brought out of my drawer.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Clumsy Oaf Award ... would be more apt

Three cups of tea, a handful of mixed almonds, a banana and a 5am start and I *think* I may have my grateful response to the lovely, Amanda Saint’s Liebster Award. It’s taken me a short while to ponder the important things in life – milk, white or dark chocolate, she asks, is it acceptable to answer, ‘all’? - and wince at old memories but I’ve had fun. Thanks so much Amanda!

Amanda isn’t just a great fiction and copywriter but she also runs writers’ retreats, principally in the South of England. And… I think we’ve managed to persuade her to venture up to the Yorkshire Dales in 2014 – I’ll keep you posted. You can find out more about Amanda and her work here Amanda Saint  

The Liebster award asks for the answer to eleven questions, a list of eleven random facts and eleven bloggers whom I’d fervently recommend.
So, let’s go:

What do you do to relax when you suffer from insomnia?
Well, insomnia isn’t really something I know. Give me a flat surface and permission to shut my eyes and sleep will generally follow within a nanosecond or two. However, if it takes any longer than that, I deduce that I’m simply not tired enough, get up, run a bath and read a book. It’s as if someone’s given me a spare hour in the day so I have no problem with it. I do realise that this might be a bit galling for the insomniacs I know and love out there and you have my utter sympathy. Falling asleep is one of life’s simple pleasures and I cannot begin to imagine how awful it must be not to be able to sleep on demand.

What’s the worst holiday you ever had?
Hmm, I’ve had a few which could have been better in parts – usually weather and canvas related - but none that I’d like to erase from memory. The worst couple of days on holiday, however? That’s simple.  May I refer you to Plant Pots and Holiday Nightmares and the screaming two year old on a campsite with an undiagnosed dislocated elbow. Can you imagine? Not a soul got any sleep that night.

Oh, and that screaming toddler was ours.

I spent the night worrying about the reason for the screaming and worrying about being lynched by sleep-deprived holiday-makers and the next day worrying about unhappy campers realising that we were the parents of the child at the root of the sleep carnage induced the night before.

Where’s your favourite place to write?
This is simple. It’s ‘in my feet’ and I’d like to refer you to A writing Place  where I, hopefully, explain it better.

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
Tofino in Canada. But I’d pick up the whole of Canada, and its wonderful people, and plop it right next to Britain because leaving friends and family is the only thing which stops me moving there tomorrow. That and a visa.

White , dark or milk chocolate?

What’s your favourite thing to have on toast?
Bananas and honey.

Which book do you wish you’d written and why?
Brave New World because the world and its obsession with technology with total disregard for human jobs (personal impact on a family aside for a moment, does anyone every think about the fact that machines can’t pay taxes?) upsets me on a daily basis. But whenever I think I should write a book about where we’re headed, I remember Mr Huxley’s beaten me to it. Meanwhile, I’m fighting my own crusade: I will not use automatic tills in shops. Nobody’s noticed, of course, but it makes me feel better.

Film adaptations of novels – love them or hate them?
Good question! I don’t rush to see a film of a book I’ve loved. In fact, I’m more likely to want to watch the adaptation of a book I haven’t enjoyed too much to see if I can find in the film version, what I missed in print. If the film is based on a favourite book of mine, I can watch but it’s with a bit of a squinty eye. Sebastian Faulks’ Bird Song is right up there in my top 10 reads, for example, but, and massive apologies to Eddie Redmayne whom I adore in other films, particularly Les Mis, was one TV adaptation I couldn’t bear. I found it turgid and one dimensional. However, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is my favourite book of all time and also one of my favourite films.

Do you think Al Pacino is overrated as an actor?
Overrated? Give the man a knighthood!

Coffee or tea?
Tea. Unless I’m out with friends and then it’s an extra-hot cappuccino, please.

Would you ever do a sky dive?
No! I like sport where either one foot or a wheel is touching the ground at any time. I think I’m far too accident prone to consider anything else.

11 random facts? Some you may already know…
  1. I have an inability to watch TV, drink wine or eat chocolate on my own.
  2. I like rain (sorry!) - you can get all your jobs done and write a novel, without distraction.
  3. I was reprimanded for dropping a burger from the grill in a well-known fast food eatery where I was working because I went to put it in the bin.
  4. My hair only went curly when I was 14.
  5. My Eustachian tubes are too narrow.
  6. I have three sisters, a half-sister, half-brother, three step-sisters, six nephews, five nieces and one step-niece and two daughters who yes, get a lot of birthday presents.
  7. When I was ten I broke my arm twice in five minutes.
  8. I had the most horrendous hallucinations waking up from a general anaesthetic that had me clinging on to the arm of the anaesthetist until the poor man could finally convince me that they weren’t real.
  9. I told him (the anaesthetist) I loved him but then I always fall in love with the anaesthetist when I have a GA – with varying degrees of embarrassment.
  10. I have a massive phobia of swimming in the sea. The trouble is, I only tend to remember this when I’ve already swum out a little way…
  11. Utter Clumsy Carnage
  12. I am a clumsy oaf. This month I have managed to prang my car (for which I am deeply embarrassed), drop a weight on the glass hob and smash it (for which I am deeply sorry) and spill an entire cup of tea on our beige carpet (for which I am cross as I’m sick of scrubbing at it with ‘spot’ cleaner – try ‘flood’ cleaner and I might have more success). Even chanting the no crying over spilt milk mantra does wear a little thin when the amount of milk you’ve spilt could fill a small tanker.

If you look closely, you can see two people. Neither of these is me.

Now to find 11 original questions of my own. I apologise, this is more difficult than it looks…
  1. Cheese or chocolate?
  2. If you had to go on Britain’s Got Talent, what would you do? (Apart from run away …)
  3. What’s your best childhood memory?
  4. Favourite song lyric?
  5. If you could ask one question of your great-grandmother, what would it be?
  6. Have you ever lived abroad?
  7. What’s your dream job?
  8. What job couldn’t they pay you enough money to do?
  9. If you were prime minster, what would be your first priority?
  10. Twitter or Facebook?
  11. What would your perfect day look like?

My list of eleven. Difficult as ever but I’ve decided to go for five blogs I’ve discovered over the past few months and some old favourites. Please do go and take a look, they’re worth it!

Liebster Award Rules:
  • Thank the blogger who presented you with the Liebster Award, and link back to his or her blog. 
  • Answer the 11 questions from the nominator; list 11 random facts about yourself, and create 11 questions for your nominees. 
  • Present the Liebster Award to 11 bloggers, who have blogs with 200 followers or less, whom you feel deserve to be noticed.
  • Leave a comment on the blogs letting the owners know they have been chosen. (No tag backs.)
  • Upload the Liebster Award image to your blog.