Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pluses and minuses



Minus - We're snowed in again, just as we were this time last year. It's knee-deep out there, and STILL Molly expects to be walked twice a day.

Plus - Our kitchen is ... drumroll ... finally finished. Only four months late. I hardly know what to do with all that space. Which is why I'm typing this instead of moving everything back in there.

Minus - We intended having a massive celebratory roast today (if I can remember how to cook)but only managed to buy a chicken before vehicles were abandoned to the snow yesterday - so that will be our dinner. Ah well, who needs veggies?

Plus - Am churning out a good amount for words for Novel 2 most days.

Minus - I'm still not going to meet my end-of-December deadline. Succumbed to a cold/cough/flu type virus a couple of weeks ago and, coupled with a last ditch attempt to find an available kitchen-fitter who wouldn't run screaming when he saw what a mess the last guy had left behind, I got sidetracked.

Plus - Finally had a story accepted by People's Friend. It became a personal challenge this year (I need to get out more) as they're quite fussy.

Minus - They can hang on to stories for years, so it may appear posthumously.

Plus - Finally wrestled the Christmas tree up, quite a bit later than usual.

Minus - Still haven't finished shopping. Or started, in some cases. What do you buy a 19-year old male who wants a million pounds and a Porsche?

Plus - I still have a lovely agent - it's been just over a year now - fighting my corner in the publishing world and trying to sell my novel.

Minus - It's been a huge learning curve. I now know that having an agent doesn't guarantee my novel will find a publisher.

Plus - There IS the German deal though. Better than nowt as my mum would say. And has said, several times.

And on that note ... have a wonderful Christmas if I don't see you before, and thank you for reading and commenting and being so supportive this year.

You're all marvellous.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Libraryitis


We're all a bit jittery at work. Meetings abound and it's not good news.

Smaller branches of the library will probably close next year, and even if they do stay open - run by volunteers as proposed - the existing staff will be out of work, at a time when unemployment is already high and rising.

We've tried many strategies to tempt in new users (is that the right word? Sounds a bit addict-y) but the truth is libraries aren't *cool*. Add to that terrible faux-pas the fact that books are cheap and everyone has knowledge at their fingertips in the form of the Internet and you may well ask, "What's the point of libraries?"

In fact somebody did - huddled at the back of the village hall in his puffa jacket. Words like 'community' and 'public service' were bandied about in response, but he didn't look convinced.

In the interests of answering this question I asked around friends and family and discovered that out of everyone, only my Mum uses her local library up in Scarborough. One friend worries about 'germs' so would no more borrow a book than run her hands round the rim of a public loo.

Another belongs to a book-swapping scheme, so doesn't need the library for reading purposes, and pays a small monthly fee to Love Film, which means she gets sent DVDs through the post that she can return at her leisure - "without paying a fine," she added pointedly.

My own children (sob) claim libraries are "a bit smelly and for old people" although I do bring home books and films for them every week whether they like it or not, which they do read and watch. But they no longer venture inside of their own free will.

In fact a lot of people I spoke to said they have fond memories of libraries; that they used to go a lot when they were younger, but don't any more - they just never think about it.

Somebody said they're not "relevant" in the modern world.

One or two said they're good for using the computer and printing stuff out, but they don't bother looking at the books.

Doesn't bode well does it?

What am I going to do with all my cardigans when I no longer work in a library??

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Splashy Web-Thing


I'm happy to do my bit today in helping fellow blogger and writer Talli Roland's debut novel THE HATING GAME hit the Kindle bestseller list at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

If you don't have a Kindle you can download a free app at Amazon for Mac, iPhone, PC, Android and more.

About THE HATING GAME:

When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she's confident she'll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she's perfected from years of her love 'em and leave 'em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £2000,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it's revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?

It's coming soon in paperback and you can keep up with the latest at
http://www.talliroland.com/


I'm looking forward to reading my copy, and if I'm ever lucky enough to be published (*cough* in the UK *cough*) no doubt I'll be splashing about on the web too.

Good luck Talli.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Statistically speaking


I've just discovered Blogger Stats on the design page, and had to stop writing (no really I DID) to have a good rummage around.

Quite illuminating - if you've nothing better to do. It tells you which of your posts has been looked at the most during a day, week, month or of all time and rather surprisingly my most popular post isn't about writing or anything remotely profound - not that I've written anything remotely profound.

It's this one called Turkey Fatigue, which has been viewed 3628 times to date, and is being viewed by 48 people at this very minute.

The magical Blogger Stats informs me that all these visits have been referred by people searching for turkey cartoons. But why? To my knowledge turkey is only ever relevant at Christmas and Thanksgiving - not on the 3rd of June. It makes no sense.

Second most popular post - understandably - is Cally Taylor and her Writing Highlights with 682 page views. Quite a lot less than the turkey I think you'll agree. I have absolutely no idea what this means.

In third place, with a paltry 86 views is Celebrity Morph, in which I turn myself into a male actor by means of some internet jiggery-pokery. I'm not doing a link, because thankfully it doesn't work any more, plus it shows I was clearly bonkers at the time and I'm much better now thanks.

All rather disturbing and proof that, as my dear old gran used to say, there's nowt so queer as folk.

Friday, November 12, 2010

NaNO


This month I decided I'd 'secretly' take part in NaNoWriMo as a way of motivating myself to get the first draft of novel 2 finished. Boy am I glad I didn't make a song and dance about it on the blog, as I've done naff all. Well, a few thousand words, but not the 20,000 or so that would be required by now.

It's weird, because external deadlines I'm brilliant with - I'll stay up all night writing if I have to and get the work finished on time, but when I set my own it hardly ever works. This is when RT (Resistant Teenager) takes over.

The second I woke up on November 1st she said, in sulky tones, "Sorry but I can't, like, do much writing today, like, 'cos I've got, like, other stuff to do and that. Innit."

One of them involved forcing me to bake a cake in the microwave (no, the kitchen still isn't finished). It wasn't a success. Ever tried eating a rubber chicken? My maths isn't good but I know I could have written a lot of words in that time - especially as I forgot to put an egg in the first batch and had to start again.

The next day she insisted I spend an inordinate amount of time turning up a pair of trousers for work, only to discover that one leg was shorter than the other when I'd finished. (Trouser leg that is.) Naturally she made me unpick the hem and start again. I wouldn't care, but they only cost a fiver from Tesco's in the first place - I could have just chucked them away. More writing time down the drain.

Over the past fortnight or so she's had me scouring charity shops for a particular kind of clock, teaching myself how to light the fire properly in our front room, filling in a couple of holes in the wall in the porch, staring at the leaves in the garden with a view to raking them up, and experimenting with my hair-style. When I could have been writing!

Right now she's forcing me to write this when I had every intention of opening up the work-in-progress and adding to the meagre word count, and in a minute I know she's going to insist I put the kettle on again and scour the internet for hot men I can picture as the hero in my novel polish the door knobs.

Ye Gods. I'll be glad when November's over and I can get back to writing normally.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ooh I Say!


I’ve a short story in this week’s Woman’s Weekly called Private Dancer which is, ahem, a little … saucier than my usual fare. I’m not talking full on raunch, because as I’ve mentioned on here before I’m absolutely no good at s-e-x scenes – plus I wouldn’t want the readers to choking on their coffee and going all unnecessary.

I’d challenged myself to rustle up a story that was, shall we say, hot-blooded but subtle, as I’d never tried it before, and I must have done something right as the editor said she liked it - a lot.

It was fun actually, and it felt good to write something outside my comfort zone. I won’t be taking it any further than that though – my blood pressure couldn’t cope.

My daughter steeled herself to read it, saying she hoped it wasn’t ‘pornographic’. I reassured her that I'd never had an impure thought in my life, but even so she could barely look me in the eye afterwards. “It’s good Mum, but it’s weird that you wrote it,” she said sidling past, and went to wash her hands.

I considered taking offence, then imagined how I would have felt if MY mum had written it.*

Eewwwww!!

*Don’t get your hopes up if you’re tempted to read it. I’m not talking Jackie Collins here, and this IS Woman’s Weekly remember.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fact or Fiction?


A friend of a friend happened to mention that she doesn't read books. Not fiction ones anyway. She said that she'd "rather be living life than reading about made-up ones," and anyway "it makes you dissatisfied with everything, especially all that romance stuff." Which rather begged the question, "How do you know if you don't read books?"

I kept schtum because I don't know her that well and didn't want to upset my friend by suggesting her friend is clearly a bit poorly in the coconut.

Okay that's a bit harsh, but I was miffed by the implication that because I've read a love story or forty(thousand) in the past, I'm as bitter as an olive that men in real life tend not to be brooding, chiselled, tousle-haired heros in tight-fitting trousers, waiting to sweep me off my feet and ravish me. Well, not the ones I've met anyway. (All right, so I'm a tiny bit bitter.)

Neither am I limp with disappointment that I don't have a wardrobe full of vintage clothes and can't ride a horse - or run my own PR company, or whatever else friend of friend imagines lies between the pages of the books I read. And they're mostly not romance anyway. (Not that there's anything wrong with romance novels, obviously.)

I think she's missing out. Reading isn't a substitute for real life, it enhances it. Yes it's an indulgence and it's escapism, but so's getting pissed and she does that A LOT (apparently) and it's much worse for your liver.

Fiction increases your knowledge too - I've learnt loads over the years about culture, history, disability, science and, of course, human nature. It's given me a lot of comfort at times - and definitely stopped me from getting under my mum's feet when I was a child. (We didn't have a telly and I never did like Monopoly.)

Oh, and it's taught me how to commit the perfect murder without getting caught. Not that I ever would, you understand.

Unless our kitchen isn't finished by Christmas ...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Keeping up Appearances




In the interests of motivation, I treated myself to a fancy new notebook this week, to jot down notes for my latest - ahem - masterpiece. (Look, if I don't believe in it no one else will.)

Now that I've taken to hunching over tea in our local Costa's every week, slurping from a giant cup and staring into the middle distance, tapping my pen against my chin, I decided I needed something more swanky than the 99p recycled reporter's notebook I was using before. Plus the reporter wanted it back. Ho ho!

Trouble is the new one is far too posh to write in, and I don't want to spill tea on it, so I have to slip an old, tatty one inside for the actual writing.

It's all about appearances dahling. But the words are flowing, which is the main thing. Whether or not they make sense is a different matter.

In case you're wondering, the story of our kitchen still hasn't got its happy ending. In fact it's becoming a misery memoir.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Business as usual


Now, I can't keep saying "no news on the UK-book-deal-front" every time I post.

Well I could, but it would get a bit boring - not to mention embarrassing - so lets just say it's a No until you hear otherwise. And you will hear because I'll be shouting so loudly.

Instead I'll mention that I've just been to Ghent in Belgium with Lovely Husband for a weekend break, which was nice. Sunshine, music, canals and fireworks (and that wasn't a euphemism, I literally mean fireworks) and lots of yummy (fattening) food.

Very relaxing it was and plenty of writing inspiration too, from the woman crying into her mobile phone on the train on the way over, to the pretty American girl who couldn't understand why the elderly couple she was sitting opposite to on the way back were so rude to her, to the group of guys who talked about nothing but beer the whole journey. I guess you had to be there ...

I'm not an experienced traveller as anyone who's stuck with my ramblings over the last couple of years will know (don't like flying or being on water, would prefer to travel via time machine etc) but I couldn't help noticing how much more civilised the attitude to drinking is in Europe.

Considering there were around 7000 people gathered round a canal on Saturday evening - on it, in boats, in some cases - and the festival was around an hour late kicking off, the atmosphere was remarkably relaxed and friendly ...

... and so was I until I came back and realised just how much work still needs doing on the kitchen, but that's a whole different tale. Although I used the chaotic kitchen saga as inspiration for a story for my writing group last week so I suppose something postive has come out of it.

Grrrrr.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How Time Flies

Illustration by Kathy Hare

Is it really September? Tut. I turn my back for five minutes and another month flies by. I must be having masses of fun.

Still no UK book deal. Still no new kitchen either. It's getting there slowly, and am sure will be sparkly and lovely when it's finished. In the meantime I'm getting rather used to cooking spuds in a pan of bubbling water on a camping gas-ring in the living room, with the dog looking on in a rather confused fashion.

I've not given up on the UK book deal dream. I've just shelved it temporarily, otherwise I'd never get anything else done. I suppose my natural state is 'unpublished novelist' so it's relatively easy to slip back into that shiny, well-worn groove. The new novel is growing slowly and I've sold some more short stories, so it's all good.

I drove my Mum back up to Scarborough yesterday and discovered for the first time how brilliant talking books are for long journeys. Not on the way there obviously - I've got a talking Mum for that - but coming back the miles whizzed by without me noticing. In fact I was looking forward to getting stuck in traffic for once, but there wasn't any.

Obviously I was still aware I was driving, but part of my brain was so absorbed by Julie Myerson's The Lost Child that I wouldn't have been surprised if I'd ended up up in Wales.

I swore I'd never read that book after all the controversy about it when it came out, despite having read and enjoyed all her novels, but it was so painfully good that I'm glad I did in the end.

And anyway it wasn't reading it was listening, so it doesn't count.

Right September - bring it on.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Distracted


Well the news is ... no more news. Well nothing good anyway. Lovely Agent is away for a fortnight now and explained before she went that a lot of editors are on holiday during August.

My novel is still out with publishers, but I've been warned it could all take a lot longer than expected due to the current 'difficult climate.' Uh-oh. There have already been some passes, the reasons mostly being of the 'budgets/timing/we-loved-it-but-have-no-available-slots' variety. Oh dear.

All rather disheartening. Lovely Agent did say it took the agency 18 months and 30 rejections to get one of their authors published, and she's doing very nicely indeed now and that I mustn't give up hope, but still ...

All this waiting and hoping and dreaming has rather drained my enthusiasm for further writing, apart from a couple of short stories, so this morning I dragged my carcass to a local coffee shop with a notepad and pen, and managed to scribble a few pages of my new novel away from the distractions of the computer. The tea was surprisingly decent too. (I rarely drink coffee, even in coffee shops.)

Another distraction - not entirely welcome - is having our old kitchen ripped out. Floors, ceiling, wiring the lot. Obviously we're having a new one fitted, we're not having it ripped out for fun or anything. Trouble is, we seem to have uncovered a catalogue of disasters, from an unsupported wall that could crash down at any moment, to an ominous leak under the floor meaning it's got to be dug up and investigated by the water board. AARRGGHH!! I've already put my mum off coming down twice because of the chaos, but it'll be time for her Christmas visit at this rate.

A much nicer distraction is L-Plate author, Mel's, new blog High Heels and Book Deals, which is worth a look if you haven't already been over there. Lots of writerly interviews, features and book reviews to wallow in, and I even won a copy of Lucy Diamond's new novel Sweet Temptation over there.

Which cheered me up no end.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Update



Well...the good news is that I've been offered a two-book deal in Germany.

Apparently my novel went to auction over there and Goldmann's won. That doesn't sound quite right, but I don't know how else to put it!

I'm really thrilled, not least because I'll be sharing a publisher with Sophie Kinsella, Cally Taylor and Stephen King, among others. My husband's particularly thrilled because he lived over there for a while and speaks fluent German. So at least he'll be able to read it.

The not-so-good news is that there's nothing on the UK front - yet. It's still out with publishers though and I'm probably being FAR too impatient. I had no idea that waiting could be so tiring. All that email checking and the effort involved in trying NOT to email-check. It's messing with my chakras.

I urgently need to take up yoga.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Wii not so fit



It's funny how some bits of technology we get along with and some we don't.

For instance I love my PC, netbook and get along ok with my mobile phone, but the e-reader I bought recently I ended up selling because I didn't like it.

The same thing's happened with my Wii console and Wii Fit thingy. I was drawn to the shiny, white set-up, lured by the promise of toned thighs and sculpted thingummies from the comfort of my living room, until I tried it and was told - rather rudely - that my fitness age was 85. Just because I couldn't get the hang of balancing on one leg during the initial assessment.

To be fair, once I'd stopped sulking I did give it a go, but to be honest it made me feel silly. I'd rather be out walking the dog than bobbing up and down on a board in front of a screen wondering if the postman's going to walk past the window and catch me at it. Again. It's now gone to someone - hopefully - more appreciative.

My mum adores her mobile phone, and is far more adept than me at texting, but wouldn't know one end of a computer from the other, while my mother-in-law is in love with her swanky new laptop, emailing long lost rellies in Australia day and night, but her ancient mobile sits unused and unloved at the bottom of her handbag.

My daughter loves her iPod, but has a lukewarm relationship with the computer and is very old-fashioned about networking sites like Facebook, claiming she'd rather talk to friends in person. In person? I have no idea what she means.

Lovely husband is even more prehistoric. He absolutely refuses to trade in his video collection for DVDs and regularly BUYS cassettes off e-bay, insisting they're more hard-wearing than CDs. Bless him. He wouldn't know what to do with an mp3 player.

I'm currently resisting the pull of the i-Pad. I don't need it, I can't afford it, I wouldn't even know what to do with it and would probably sell it within a fortnight.

But it's just so ... shiny. Maybe I was a jackdaw in a previous life?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

(Im) patience



So Lovely Agent has finally submitted my novel to publishers. Excited? Moi? If you looked the word up in the dictionary you'd see my face grinning out at you in a rather alarming fashion. Being patient is the hard bit as she won't hear anything back for roughly 3 weeks. I may have to start biting my nails for the first time ever.

Or I could get on with the next novel. Hard to focus though, somehow.


*************

A timely distraction came in the form of this Honesty award from the lovely Amanda at Writing Allsorts and the equally lovely Kat at Wright Story which requires me to tell you ten things about myself that you don't already know - and probably don't want to know, so here goes ...

1) I love Big Brother and don't care if you all despise me for it.
2) I DO care if you all despise me for it, so I won't mention the BB thing.
3) I like cooking but am actually not very good at it and often burn things.
4) My doctor informed me this week that my cholesterol is too high. Damn.
5) I can eat a whole cheesecake in one sitting. Which is probably why my cholesterol is too high. Damn.
6) Somebody once told me in a restaurant that I look like Julie Walters. I do not.
7) I once bluffed my way into a job by pretending I knew how to use their computer system. I'd never used a computer in my life.
8) I STILL haven't learnt how to play the guitar properly.
9) I can ride a unicycle while balancing a toaster on my head.
10) I've never seen The Wizard of Oz and have no desire to.

(One of the above is a fib.)

I think everyone has had this award now, but if you'd like to help yourself go ahead. I won't mind.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Just a minute



New management at the library has decreed that we start having staff meetings once a month at 8.30am, to stop us looking gormless at the counter. I missed the last one. I forgot about it. I did write it on my calendar then forgot to look at my calendar, which is nothing unusual.

I was so thrilled by the small miracle of not only remembering, but turning up in time to make myself a cup of tea that when we all sat down and our lovely manager said, "Would someone mind taking the minutes?" I accidentally put my hand up. Several pages of A4 were instantly flung down the table.

Panic flared for a couple reasons. a) I've never taken minutes at a meeting before. Hell, I don't think I ever BEEN to a meeting before. b) With all the typing I do I've practically forgotten how to use a pen. What if I couldn't keep up?

"It's just making notes really," said the manager kindly, sensing my bewilderment, so I gamely gave it a go.

I had to resist the temptation to fiction it up ... The mood in the room was tense. Rachel flicked Kathy a dirty look, but nobody noticed except me and stick to Study Centre training will be available for all staff members.

Not exactly Hemingway but I quite enjoyed it once I got into my stride, though I did get carried away and wrote The End at ... well, the end. It even gave me the urge to start writing long-hand again.

It'll probably wear off quite soon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Give us a kiss


Another area I had to address during revisions was "passion." As in, insert some (pardon my French) during a particular scene. Not something I find easy, especially when I imagine people I know having to read it.

I did write a bedroom scene earlier in the book, but the emphasis there was very much on humour. Now it was time to up the ante (why does everything sound like a euphemism?)

I'm not talking full on rumpy-pumpy with heaving, thrusting, panting and glimpses of hairy buttock. God no. My imagination's not THAT good.

It was essentially an important kissing scene, which needed a bit more oomph.

Less, "Ta-ra love, don't forget to put the bin bags out" and more .... oh, it's no good I can't even do it on here. Okay, let's say kissing with intent. You know what I mean.

Naturally I thought about doing some research - picking a snake-hipped, broad-shouldered, taut-muscled, man-totty neighbour to practise on. Except we don't have any.

I did try smouldering at the postman (quite hunky) while I signed for a parcel the other morning, but he looked quite scared and asked if I was contagious. (If my husband's reading this - you know I'm kidding, love.)

Anyway in the end I put on some smoochy music, thought about Sawyer from Lost
and had to be thrown in the garden and doused with cold water an hour later.

Job done.

*****

Talking of fancies, here's a little joke that tickled mine this morning.

"What did Mary Poppins say after dinner?
SUPER cauliflower cheese, the lobster was atrocious."
Ho HO!

Please yourself ...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My name is ...



One of the things I had to do while editing was make one of my male characters more appealing. Trouble was I'd been writing about him for so long I couldn't get my initial image of him out of my head.

It occurred to me it was his name that was the problem. Names are so evocative, tending to conjure a certain type of person, and the name I'd chosen isn't one normally seen in chick-lit.

Okay, he wasn't called Pogo or Woopsie (apologies to any Woopsies reading) but I had invented a type of character to go with the name. In case any of you are ever daft enough the read the book - IF it ever gets published - let's say I called him Maurice.

Leading men are rarely called Maurice in romantic comedies. If they are you know they're going to be losers in love, gay or somebody's granddad. I might as well have written in ginormous letters "BY THE WAY, SHE'S NOT GOING TO END UP WITH HIM!"

I was reminded of a couple of films I've seen - can't remember their names, I think one starred Sandra Bullock - where the leading lady started out happily married or engaged to a rather non-descript actor I didn't recognise (I watch a LOT of films) and I knew immediately he would wind up dead or dumped in a very short space of time, and I was right - she copped off with Antonio Banderas (or whoever) in the end.

A small detail, but one that gave away quite a lot and I think my character's name would have had the same effect.

Just changing him from Maurice to Hunter-Gatherer (I jest but you get my drift) shifted my perception straight away and I was able to 'write' him more appealingly - I hope. No more Brylcreem and ham suppers with mummy for my man - no sireee.

Not that he was having ham suppers with mummy - I'm not THAT obvious.

Tsk.

As an aside, it's quite hard getting away from the usual names for leading men - Matt, Nathan, Jack, Zac etc.

Maybe we should start a campaign to bring Cyril, Bertrand, Norman and Keith back into fashion.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Writing Frenzy



It's been a mad couple of weeks.

I had a mention in The Bookseller which got me in a right old tizz, and put me off my food for an hour I was so excited.

But back in the real world, Lovely Agent wanted me to rewrite some scenes from my novel - make them funnier. At first I thought 'how the bleepin' heck am I meant to do that?' but inevitably the writer's brain cranked into gear and began inventing.

I thought I learnt a lot with the last lot of edits, but by jove I've learnt more.

Looking back at some of my later chapters, I realised how much 'explaining' was going on. Characters telling each other why something had or hadn't happened - yet I thought I'd got a grip on show don't tell.

A better way for me to get my head round it is to think don't explain it, do it! and I believe this has really helped bring the novel alive.

I was advised to 'be brave' and remember that 'a great book is lots of mini-dramas leading to a huge drama' (particularly pertinent for commercial fiction) and hopefully that's what I've now got.

That and gnarled fingers from typing.

They do know their onions these agent/editor types. Now we wait and see ...

****
In my absence the lovely LilyS, Theresa Ashby, Francine and Suzanne Jones have all awarded me the Beautiful Blogger Award, for which I thank you most kindly and pass on to anyone who hasn't already got it.

You're all bee-yoo-tiful in my eyes.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Library lady


At work today I was told that I looked like a proper librarian. And she didn't mean in the saucy sense, like the leggy lovely on the left.

"Look at you!" she chortled (we're friends so it's just about okay.) "Bun, check. Glasses, check. Cardigan, check. Snaggletooth - oh, okay you don't have one of those. If I didn't already know you worked in a library, I'd guess straight away."

How very rude.

I've run out of contact lenses, which accounted for the specs. My daughter says they make me look like the love-child of Austin Powers and Ronnie Corbett. If that were even remotely possible. The bun I like to think was more Penelope-Cruz-at-the-Oscars than Mrs. Pepperpot, and the cardigan was definitely quite stylish. Well, it wasn't baggy at the elbows or hand-knitted or anything.

Maybe we subconsciously dress to suit our environment, and I couldn't help myself. I reached in the wardrobe for a slinky top and my hand just fell on the cardi.

Oh alright, so I don't own any slinky tops.

I do hope the contact lenses turn up tomorrow.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Writing rules


An early criticism of my novel (yes there was one - more than one, but we won't go there) was that there wasn't enough character description - the reader felt like she couldn't 'see' my main character clearly, and that I should include more physical description to bring her to life.

Harrumph, I thought. Sophie Kinsella, author of the popular Shopaholic series, purposely didn't write a description of her central character, Becky Bloomwood.

In a recent interview she said she deliberately never described what Becky looked like, partly because she wanted everyone to relate to her and partly because when she's writing, she's not looking at her, she's looking through her eyes at the world, and didn't think in real-life anyone would ever look look in a mirror and say, "Wow, my shoulder-length, blonde-streaked, shiny hair looks fab today!" though she might say "Wow, my hair looks fab today!"

(As an aside, it's been a long time since I looked in a mirror and said, "Wow, my hair looks fab today!" I'm well overdue for a trim. My daughter tells me it's turned to 'wisp' again. That never happens in novels.)

In another book - the chilling but deeply impressive The Mother's Tale by Camilla Noli - the main character doesn't even have a name, never mind a description. And yet ...

I didn't realise until I read that interview with Sophie Kinsella that Becky Bloomwood didn't have a description, because I'd pictured her so clearly in my mind - I had to go back and check, and it wasn't until I was reading the author notes at the end of The Mother's Tale that the lack of a name even registered. Which taught me something.

I'm thick.

No, it wasn't that.

To break the rules, you have to be experienced enough to carry it off so the reader doesn't notice. My reader noticed.

Sob.

And no, since you ask. I haven't heard from Lovely Agent yet. I'm sticking with the old adage 'no news is good news' until I hear otherwise.

Monday, March 15, 2010

And the winners are ...

Thanks to Elise for a great interview and for all your comments and questions.

The winners of the draw are Fia, Womagwriter, Abbi and Joy

If you'd like to email your address to me, Elise will send you a copy of The Wrong Sort of Wife/Your Roots are Showing.

Well done!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Guest post - Elise Chidley


Today I’m delighted to welcome author, Elise Chidley to my blog. Elise has written two wonderfully warm and witty novels, The Wrong Sort of Wife and Married with Baggage, and I absolutely loved them both. Intelligent and romantic, as well as funny, they’re peopled with characters you can’t help warming to.

Elise is giving away 2 free copies of The Wrong Sort of Wife and 2 copies of the American version, Your Roots are Showing. If you’d like to leave a comment below I’ll pick the winners at random on Sunday!

So, without further ado …


Elise, when did your writing career begin?

I’ve been writing for a living since my first job as features writer with a national women’s magazine in South Africa, but I started writing fiction after my third child was born. At that stage, I was telecommuting as a staff writer for a publisher of health care magazines, writing three feature stories a week. The pressure of these deadlines, coupled with looking after three small children, was just not sustainable. So I became an unsalaried worker, banging away at my keyboard with no guarantee of ever seeing a return on my time and effort. It was scary and liberating!

What inspired The Wrong Sort of Wife, and did you have a clear idea of the market you were aiming for?

I was inspired by the house we were living in, in Kent, at the time. I ended up using it as the model for the very awkward house Lizzie moves into when she separates from James. As I looked out across the weed-ridden garden, I felt overwhelmed, and then—because I’m always writing stories in my head—I started imagining the challenges of moving into that house as a single woman with kids. The story fleshed itself out around that image. I knew I was aiming for the market that used to be called ‘chick lit’, but I wanted a bit of cross-over with the kind of women who enjoy writers like Joanna Trollope.

Are you anything like Lizzie, the central character?

The story isn’t autobiographical, but I think I share many characteristics with Lizzie. I hope I’m a bit more technologically savvy, and not quite as much of a softie as she is. Like me, she’s a writer—but that was only because I had to give her a profession she could pursue from home.

Can you describe your path to publication?

At a stage when my manuscript wasn’t quite ready (but I thought it was) I started sending it out to agents. I had several encouraging responses, and even some requests for ‘partials’. One agent in particular, out of Bath, sent back some really useful criticisms and suggestions. I edited and rewrote, and eventually landed two agents on the same day! The process of finding a publisher was much faster. My agent sold the manuscript to the first editor who looked at it, in a two-book pre-emptive bid.

The Wrong Sort of Wife is set in Gloucestershire in England and your second novel, Married with Baggage, in America – how crucial is setting in your novels?

So far, I have found myself choosing settings that I know very well, that I can picture visually as I write. (I’ve lived in Gloucestershire and in Connecticut.) I think that’s why I’m writing contemporary women’s fiction and not historical or fantasy. I like to see the layout of the house, the street, the town in my mind’s eye. Sometimes setting becomes part of the plot, as in Married With Baggage, where the American context is another factor that causes the (English) main character to feel very much a fish out of water in her new role as stay-at-home mum.

What’s your normal writing routine?

Routine? What’s that? Every day is different for me, but mostly I run around first thing in the morning getting the kids out of the door, then deal with the worst of the mess in the house, then sit down in front of the computer. I do a lot of thinking and plotting while occupied with other tasks, like laundry. As a matter of fact, the best place for plotting, for me, is when I’m having a long soak in the tub.

Do you plan a detailed outline before you start a novel?

With my first novel, I had no outline. With the second, I had one that I ignored. With the third (which I’m just beginning; I was diverted by a sudden urgent need to write a young adult novel—still unfinished!), I’m going to map out the characters and conflicts before I start, but I don’t think I’ll try to hammer out every last detail of the action.

What are you working on next?

I’m just starting a third romantic comedy that I’m really excited about. I won’t talk about the premise because I’m scared of jinxing the whole project with too much discussion. But I will say that it’s going to be set in Gloucestershire again.

Do you still write short stories? I read on your website that you’ve won awards in the past.

Short stories are tough to write, and they’re tough to sell. I haven’t attempted one in years.

What’s the best thing about being a published author?

The best thing is hearing from readers who loved your book. Seeing it on the shelf in a bookstore is also a massive thrill.

Which writers inspire you?

As a teen, I consumed Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer rather indiscriminately. I loved their wit, more than anything. I also love I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith—oh, and Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. I devour anything by Marian Keyes and Catherine Alliott, and I loved Slummy Mummy by Fiona Neill.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Don’t give up. Hard slog and tenacity count for a lot in this profession. And remember that rewriting is key. Also, never forget that ‘write’ is a verb. Don’t dream it, do it.

If you've got any questions for Elise, ask them in the comments box and she’ll pop by to answer them.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Teknology

Technology's a marvellous thing for a writer - endless info at your fingertips, access to lovely blogs and writing forums and groups - it's enhanced my career (if you can call it that) no end, as well as presenting me with online friends and endless ways to procrastinate. But in terms of telling a story, especially one with a hint of mystery, it can be a hindrance.

There were so many times when I was writing the novel that I thought ... hang on. All she has to do is Google him and she'll know everything there is to know. Because that's what people do these days. Or ... wait a minute, why doesn't she just whip out her mobile and phone him? Because EVERYONE has a mobile phone. It wouldn't make much of a story though. Girl meets boy, isn't too sure about him, checks him out on t'Internet and they live happily ever after.

It wasn't realistic to make my main character a techno-phobe, as she runs her own business. And that was another thing - I suddenly thought, shouldn't she have her own website? And wouldn't Whatsisface be on Facebook? (He's not really called Whatsisface by the way. That would be silly.) And wouldn't she have sat-nav in her car if she travels around a fair bit??

What it meant was I had to be extra inventive and come up with ways round these things - and I don't mean changing the setting to the early seventies, although it did cross my mind at one stage.

It made me think how much easier, but less interesting, life would have been for Miss. Marple and Sherlock Holmes if they could have Asked Jeeves whodunnit instead.

Maybe I'll write an historical novel next time.

An historical? A historical? Now I'm confused. Again.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

AND ... relax


Well, that was ... intense.

I've finally emerged from the dark editing cave I've been inhabiting for the past month, peopled with characters from my novel demanding I make them better - more likeable, more believable with better hair. They even wanted their storylines strengthening with more bits added on, and new chapters for them to run about in, the cheeky devils. Anyway I listened carefully, thought hard, realised they had a point and got on with it.

Things I learnt from my time in the cave ...

A lot more about editing, even at this stage.

That when I'm up against it I'm not even tempted to procrastinate.


I CAN write thousands of words a day.


That having a wonderful friend - and husband - who can read your words and scoop up those pesky typos and inconsistencies (not that there were MANY, I hasten to add) and be supportive is a wonderful bonus.


Getting up earlier means there's time to squirt bleach down the loos and aim pots at the dishwasher occasionally.


Strangely, even though I haven't done much cooking - certainly over the past week - I've put weight on. Odd that. Mind you I haven't walked Mollydog as much either, so that can't have helped. I've also been dreaming in text and dialogue, which is a truly bizarre experience.

Anyway, the edits are done and dusted and the manuscript back with Lovely Agent and all I can do is wait, fingers crossed, and hope she doesn't hate it.

In the meantime I shall integrate myself back into society and re-introduce myself to the family. I might read some blogs and watch a bit of telly and stop leaping up at odd moments shouting things like "candles in glass globes!" and "his chain! It should be GOLD!"

I may even bake a giant cake for you all. Any preferences?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The invisible story


I was thrilled to receive my copy of the Swedish magazine containing one of my stories this week.

I flipped through it a couple of times, admiring a recipe for what looked like cream buns on the way, but ... nothing. I expected to recognise my name, at least.

After a bout of prolonged confusion I emailed the editor and it turned out they'd sent me the wrong magazine. Allers, instead of Allas. They're going to send me the right one, which is nice, and I'm looking forward to translating their translation on Google and reading what they've made of it!

Also, the Lovely Agent has been in touch and thankfully 'loved' the rest of my book.

Bearing in mind she'd only read 3 chapters when I signed the contract, this came as a massive relief to say the least. There's editing to be done. It's 80% there, but needs work, so there's still a small mountain to climb.

I'm ready though - with walking boots and rucksack and a thermos of tea, and enough cake to keep me going 'til I make it to the top and ... oh, enough of the mountaineering analogy. You know what I mean.

I may be some time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Still Snowing!



We thought it had gone for good, and then it came back - deeper and whiter than ever. We're snowed in yet again and STILL haven't learnt our lesson and stocked up on essentials.

My daughter and I put on our furriest underwear this afternoon, saddled up Molly and battled our way to the village shop, which is a good two miles away.

Despite advertising itself as The Heart of the Community, it was shut. Shut! You'd have thought they'd have been rubbing their hands at the thought of some local trade for once. The last time I was forced to shop there (when the car was off the road for a couple of days) the bread they gave me came from an enormous chest freezer out the back - I swear there was a dead body inside - the tins of dog food looked pre-war and I was told to "just take" the bag of self-raising flour as it was so far past its sell-by date they'd "only have to chuck it away."

Anyway, unable to accept we'd walked all that way for nothing we lurked outside for a few moments after detecting a light on inside and a small dog wandering around near the counter, and brazenly knocked on the door.

The owner - a grumpy woman who peers over her glasses as if she'd rather not see people clearly - appeared and reluctantly allowed me to scuttle in and make a few purchases - namely a paper, some pre-war dog-food and a loaf of bread from the freezer. It was probably there the last time.

So now we're huddled round the radiators, eating soup and praying the power doesn't go down as it has in some places.

It's a chilly start to the year, but at least I've no excuse for not getting on with Novel two - I can't even get into work.

On the other hand if the power does go off at least it'll stop me checking my emails every three and a half minutes for news from Lovely Agent - the suspense is killing me.

Glad Tidings

So, now the season to be jolly is almost upon us, which means another year is almost over and, as usual, I'm left wondering how o...