Monday, 31 March 2008

I'm a runner up!

In the Fish Short Story comp. I am so, so pleased. I get published in the anthology + 100 euros. I'm especially pleased as I really like the story - The Job of Sex - and I'm thrilled at the thought of other people reading it. Its not quite as risque as it's title sounds, but I was a bit daunted at the thought of reading it out at the launch event in Ireland if I had made it to the final three. Now I just have the dubious honour of my name and the words 'job of sex' being googleable together. Talking of which, somone landed on my blog a couple of weeks ago having googled "karen's dog sex story" - hope they weren't too disappointed.

I had a good two hours writing this morning before the family descended for breakfast. I've been really struggling with one scene that happens quite early on and had left it fairly blank with lots of ???? and ..... Somehow this morning it all just clicked and I thought 'of course that's what she would do'. I think moving on with the rest of the story and developing the characters has really helped. That and the large mug of tea and the peanut butter and jam on toast that fuelled my scribbling.

Today is the deadline for the Fish One-Page Story comp, so I think I might just roll with it and send a story that I've been working on recently - it just happens to be the right size!

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Chocolate and coal

Well that was nice. Two lovely weeks of Easter hols. Not that it was all play. I had to do a bit of work here and there, including two 14 hour days in 'the office'. I didn't mind the long days though. As a freelancer who works on my own I really like the rare opportunities I have to work face to face with people and be part of a team - also there is always great food on offer and lots of choccies and jelly babies, so no complaints at all. Rest of hols was sea, sand, chocolate and a smidging of sunshine in Anglesey, very relaxing.

Back at the desk in earnest now though. I've found the hols really inspiring writing wise. Things are moving on nicely with the novel and I have completed a couple of shorts that have been hanging around looking impatiently at me for a while. I even managed to send off three flashes to the Biscuit competition, with which feat I was mighty pleased.

Also pleased after spending a couple of days of hols with my brother and his wife to discover that they are nothing like the brother and sister-in-law in my novel, phew what a relief, though I was going to have to change my name and deny my authorship to my family.

Talking of changing my name I am planning to make like a womble in the near future and go underground. Various reasons, mainly work related, but I think it will make sense. My name is seriously unique (my great grand-dad's teacher made up the spelling of our surname and everyone with that name is descended from him.) Anyway as soon as I can think up a decent pseudonym I will make the move (Cal has kindly given me the know how).

Got a nice parcel in the post from Leaf Books just before we went away:

Very nicely produced and with my story 'A Strong Hand' in it. There's something very lovely about being in print in a book with a glossy cover.

Still waiting to hear the results of the Fish Short Story competition of which I am on the short list. They have delayed the announcement until 'after Easter' Which I reckon to be about now.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Books etc

Nearly two weeks in and the new getting up early regime is going well. Which is good, as I have so much work on at the moment that I don't see how else I could have got any writing done.

I'm really getting into my characters and I'm loving how the story is flowing from them - I put them in a situation and they react, and they react the way they do because of who they are not because I think that's what they should do. And so new unexpected elements of the story are developing, but it all seems to be making sense, and sometimes there are connections between things that I hadn't intended but which have just happened and again, it seems to be making sense. I dunno maybe one morning I will wake up, read through what I have written and realise that it is all nothing more than the incoherent ramblings of a half-awake tea-sodden wretch - but for now I am happy.

Have you ever read a book, decided you hate it then been shocked and dismayed when all your friends think it's great? I am in a book club, in fact I am in two. Which is odd as I'm not really a book club person - I hate being told what to read and when, and will always leave the book club(s) book(s) at the bottom of my TBR pile and wait til I am good and ready to read it (ie a couple of days before the meet up.) Also I get very protective of books I like and don't like people criticising them. So, not ideal book club material. Anyway last week I finally got round to reading this month's book. It was a novel written by a well known comedian. The person who chose it said it was 'hilarious', 'witty', 'profound'. I was quite looking forward to it.

I hated it. It was one of the most badly written books I have ever read. In fact at one point I thought that he had written it so badly on purpose to annoy wannabe writers like me. Reading it in bed, I kept My Man awake by harrumphing - "but he's changed POV mid-paragraph", "he's just used the same word four times", "nobody speaks like that!" To each of which he sleepily replied "Well I liked it', "That bit made laugh out loud" and "You just don't get it."

The actual story was really strong but I couldn't concentrate on it because I kept getting thrown out of it by a sudden lengthy piece of exposition in the middle of the action or the introduction of a character with their complete backstory, who then disappears and isn't mentioned again.

Everyone at Book Club loved it and was full of the reasons why. The room rang with praise and enthusiasm. It was all very jolly. My Man kept looking over at me as I sheltered behind my wine glass. At last there was a silence and I said "I really didn't like it at all".
Ever popped some one's balloon? Ever took the last piece of cake that everyone was leaving for the hostess? Ever said a rude word in front of a vicar? That was me. I could almost hear the room deflate. As I tried to explain why I didn't like it I realised I was sounding more and more pedantic as if writing was just about rules, rules, rules and if you break them you shouldn't get a book deal - which wasn't my point at all (I like breaking rules, look I'm doing it now!!!!!).

I was outnumbered 7 to 1 (actually at least 17 to 1 as all the reviews I have read of it said it was great too). I gave up. "Maybe," I said at last, "maybe I just didn't get it." The room sighed with relief. There were nods all round, a refilling of glasses, and some agreement that bits of the dialogue were weak and that the ending was disappointing. "It was shit," I bubbled into my wine glass. Like I said book clubs are probably not my thing.

And finally, I read a review of a book the other day which sounded like a good read and one I might get out of the library - Shadowing the Sun by Lily Dunn. It was a generally very positive review but I was really struck by the final paragraph which seemed like a warning about my own writing - so I tore it out of the paper (the Metro of course!) and have copied it here in case it rings any alarm bells with equally guilty fellow writers

"The observations are acute, the characters well-drawn and the story engrossing, but there are times when the language, which at times feels self-consciously writerly, slows down an atmospherically sinister story."

"self-conciously writerly", who me? Yup I've spotted at least a couple of bits in my novel where everything is getting very tense and exciting and then a bit of the old purple comes wafting in all lyrical like and before you know it you've forgotten what everyone was getting so excited about. Well those bits have been struck out now and I promise not to do it again.

Writing this novel is turning out to be an amazing learning process, which I think will have been worth it for itself, no matter what else comes of it.

Friday, 14 March 2008

A new regime

I have decided that it's time to kick ass on my novel. None of this trying to write it after work malarkey (I'm freelance, I work from home - just when exactly is 'after work'). And evenings (which seem to be starting later and later these days) only occasionally work for me as writing slots. I was in despair as obviously what I needed was a time machine - one that could make more of the stuff for me. Then a comment by Jen at Spiral Skies about the loss of her 5am writing slot made me realise that I have been wasting two hours a day - lying in bed, sometimes asleep but mainly thinking about getting up and wondering what the weather's like. So, for the past week I have been getting up at 6 and writing until 8, at which point the family descends the stairs and the rest of my life kicks in.

And you know what? - it's really working. Getting out of bed has been no problem - it's not as if I'm having to don dubiously whiffy running gear and sprint out into the streets (which I have been known to do at that hour) and I'm not having to catch a train, get dressed up smart or apply make-up (especially not in that order). I just sit down at the computer in my dressing gown with a cup of tea and - write!

I've noticed three major advantages of writing at this time of day:

As I have only just stepped out of bed the world has not had time to intrude and my mind is in that blissful optimistic 'new day' state (just before I remember the hundreds of things i have to do before its bedtime again). I am more focussed and less woolly.

I have got up early specifically to write so I don't do any of my usual procrastinating, otherwise I know I could have just as well stayed in bed.

Starting the day with my novel means that it stays with me for the rest of the day - I am becoming more absorbed in it and this has really helped with my characters and the plot development

Result - lots of words, many of which I am very pleased with. Am I tired? No, not really - six isn't that early really. I have been going to bed slightly earlier but not by much. Ok so this is week one and maybe it's like the first week of anything new - you say you can do it for ever but by week three you're wishing you hadn't been so rash, and could everybody please just forget that you ever mentioned it. But we'll see. I know it's worked for lots of other people - one friend wrote her entire novel between 5-7am over eight months - so I'm prepared to give it a try (But if this post does mysteriously disappear in the middle of April you'll know why).

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

A note on notebooks

I have too many of them, its official. I need a new notebook to keep a note on all my notebooks.
I have:

My beautiful cloth bound writing diary which goes every where with me and is a good companion in pubs when I arrive half an hour before anyone else

My everyday diary filled with the minutiae of life - "Dentist 3.30", "Allotment AGM, bring cake", "pay GHB now!!" (still no idea what that one means)

My dream diary, sadly neglected but still technically part of the gang

My novel notebook, with character sketches (and magazine pictures), plot thoughts and plans, explorations of new angles - the 'loss' of which this afternoon prompted this post

My 'overheard snatches of dialogue' book - very small but quite handy. A friend recently advised me that if I was going to write down descriptions of people and their conversations in public places I should always include some sums and mathematical diagrams, then no-one will try to read what I am scribbling

My WEA Writing course notebook, now sadly to be put aside until the course starts up again in September

My ideas for quiz questions notebook (it's what I do for a living and its so infuriating coming up with a potentially great idea for a question and then totally forgetting it by the time I've found some paper )

My work log book - as a freelancer it really helps me focus on who I'm working for, what I am doing for them, what resources I need etc

And a spiral bound jotter for the meetings of various local bodies of which I am a bod.

In addition I have reams and reams (and yes I know what a ream is, its lots) of scrap paper on which I actually do my writing.

I know what I need - a gadget. One that can combine all of the above in a handy portable format, that can be backed up elsewhere, connects to the internet and preferably has a stylus so I can kid myself that I am still writing everything down. I'm sure it exists, in fact I know it does, but the technological options befuddle me everytime I look - do I want a camera with it, er no, though I suppose it would be useful. What about a phone, but I've already got one, in fact I've already got a camera too. And then there's Kindle.

I know what will happen I will go from too many notebooks to too many gadgets and I still won't be able to find the one I want when I need it.

And anyway I like my books and the collection of biros that go with them. And hurrah I've just remembered where I put my novel notebook - it's in the bathroom where I left it last night after I had been doodling in it in the bath.

A catalogue of stories

For some reason I am still on the mailing list for a certain 'out of my league' clothing catalogue. It is one that specialises in 'anonymous chic' ie simple cotton/linen clothes in muted colours that are very expensive.
I once bought an organic cotton t-shirt in the sale and they have been trying to tempt me back ever since. The catalogues however always end up in the recycling bin and I really should do something about getting off their list to spare the tree-worth of paper that they send me each year.

But meanwhile I am fascinated by their catalogue and by the 'life style ' they portray in it. It's all very much 'the simple life' with rough stone, unvarnished wood and unglazed pottery (a bit like my house come to think of it minus the piles of books, bikes, toys, wellies and unfinished art projects). And the pace of life in their little vignettes is so slow, the women are so calm and patient. They are all quietly busy, but most of all they seem to be waiting. They each seem to be at the beginning of a story in which the next thing that happens is a stampede of horses, or a whirlwind, or a bush fire or the sudden appearance of a naked man. Meanwhile they are just - waiting. All very passive and ever so slightly annoying, but I have to confess it has given me some story ideas and some character outlines (once I have de-beautified the models).

The same catalogues also make me Laugh out Loud. The current 'Home' one being a prime example. I mean obviously you would turn to a posh catalogue when you need a new scrubbing brush (£15) , their long handle dust pan and brush (£45) promises to 'facilitate more elegant housework' and how could you dream of living your simple calm muted life without a 'pretty brush in oiled birch with horsehair bristles' (£19). Maybe it's all just a big expensive joke.

They do promote renewable / recycleable resources over plastics and other synthetics, which is great, but there seems to be a lot of cynical marketing there too and I wonder how many of these things will be bought for displaying against a rough plaster wall rather than actually being used. Not to mention the fact that similar items are available much more cheaply elsewhere but without the life style marketing.

Phew enough of ranting (although hope you notice the writing ref which sort of legitimised it). Have to mention the item below though before I go (100% linen, £145).

I want one. On rainy days, when the internet keeps crashing and my keyboard keys get stuck and I've lost my cordless mouse, I will pull the hood low over my face, and drift slowly around the house making a soft moaning noise, refusing to stop until someone brings me a cup of tea.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

To infinity and beyond

I managed to resist this bit of procrastination for 000h a full five minutes. It is after all writing related.

You Should Be a Science Fiction Writer
Your ideas are very strange, and people often wonder what planet you're from.
And while you may have some problems being "normal," you'll have no problems writing sci-fi.
Whether it's epic films, important novels, or vivid comics...
Your own little universe could leave an important mark on the world!

What Type of Writer Should You Be?
Strange ideas? Who me? Husbands made from marzipan, 19th century sex manuals, manifestations of ancient deities and women who gamble away their lovers in card games are all perfectly normal around here.
Can a universe make an impact on a world? Surely that would hurt.

Sunday, 9 March 2008


In the steam room at the leisure centre:

Man to woman reading a book: “Is it a good steamy one?”

She ignored him and turned the page.

He tried again: “Or is it just hot and sticky?”

She put her finger on the page and looked up.

“No,” she said, “Just nice and violent.”

Thursday, 6 March 2008


Ok so I am really excited now. Here I was enjoying, appropriately enough, a nice piece of smoked trout, when I decided to check up on the Fish Short Story comp (yes I do eat while sitting at the computer, and yes I know its not good for my keyboard, but for some reason on Thursdays time seems to run away and I end up having to do several incompatible things at once.)

Anyway where was I? Oh yes, Fish. Well they've only gone and posted up the short list - and one of my stories is on it! I really did think that the long-list would be my limit, but knowing I've made the last 27 (yes I have counted them) is fab. More than anything else it means that David Mitchell author of the amazing Cloud Atlas and the fabuloso Black Swan Green, as one of the judges, will be reading my words. He may hate them, he may mock them, he may cast them to one side (the side where the bin is) but the important thing is - he will read them. Oh dear I really am far too excited and have written this too soon after my discovery (ie immediately). I have given myself the hiccups.

I am going to try to recover by finding out the likelihood of my survival if I crash-landed on the moon.


Apparently this counts as a FAIL, which on the moon probably means a slow lingering death. Ah well so much for my new career as an astronaut - I'd better stick to sitting on my bum at the computer trying not to lose bits of food in the keyboard.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

The film of the book not yet written

Thanks to Writing about Writing for this great idea. I claimed in a comment on WaW's post that all my male characters are based on fanciable actors, which on some fantasy level in my head they possibly are. But in reality I have a little 'characters' notebook filled with pictures of models torn from clothes catalogues and magazines. They are all still 'too beautiful', but they do help me visualise my characters. If I knew how I would scan a pretty collage of them here, with their character names. I have the technology but it continues to bamboozle me.

Meanwhile I have given some serious thought , over my coffee this morning, to who would play who in "The film of the book that hasn't even got a title yet and is still to be written (although I am getting there)". Here are a few of the major characters

Bea - likes running, has big secrets, can't really believe who has just turned up in her life
- Keely Hawes, perfect but without the 80s hairdo she is sporting in 'Ashes to Ashes'

Erica- in there to stir things up, I think 'catalyst' might be the word I'm looking for
- Miranda Raison ('Spooks') - her eyes are just right

Paul - Bea's step-brother who has been away travelling for years, Bea isn't too happy to see him again
- James McAvoy - attractive but edgy, can do a good shifty look then smile and be all innocent and lovely

Robert (Bea's Dad)
-Alan Rickman - I'm not having a film without Alan Rickman in it

Hmmmm, that still leaves Russ and Patrick, sod it they'll have to be Sean Bean (original 'Sharpe' era) and Josh Holloway ('Lost') - a girl can dream can't she?

Monday, 3 March 2008

War Child - 6 days left

There's only one thing I like better than a deadline, and that's an extended deadline. Its like you're getting a second chance, its fate saying, go on you can do it. So, with six days to the new deadline of 9th March to go I have submitted a piece to the War Child 'You're Not the Only One' project.

The big list of submitters on the website lists many of my fellow bloggers but if any of you out there haven't done it yet - go on give it a go, that extended deadline is meant for YOU . It's for a really good cause and I think the book itself will be excellent.

And you get to stick this nice bright button on your blog:

Saturday, 1 March 2008

A shaft driven straight into the heart of experience

Sometimes I really love my job - I spent the back end of this week researching Edith Wharton, Life and Works. She had such an interesting life - born into high class New York society, she had a frustrating marriage to a wealthy philanderer who was eventually diagnosed as psychotic, moved to Paris, had a passionate affair or two, was best mates with Henry James, spent four years helping refugees during the war and produced over twenty novels and eighty-six short stories.

She also designed houses, was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, was very fond of her pekinese dogs and met the young Indiana Jones (OK I know that's not true but I think its cool that she was included in the series!).

I am concentrating on my novel at the moment but I'm still drawn to short stories. I'm always scribbling down ideas and trying to develop them. In her book The Writing of Fiction (worth a borrow from the library) Edith Wharton says that a good short story "must not be a web loosely drawn over many aspects of life but a shaft driven straight into the heart of experience."

I like that and will try to bear it in mind in my scribblings.

She is also the author of Ethan Frome, in my experience the most depressing novel ever. Beyond crying into a hanky and/or wiping your nose on your sleeve, this book just make you feel so, so sad - approach with caution!

I am babysitting for a friend tonight and am planning to use the time to start a new short story - hopefully not deeply depressing, hopefully not 'a loose web' and possibly inspired by the Winter Witch 'Nightmares and Dreams' competition which Sally has just posted about.

I also came across this book during my Wharton researches and thought anyone out there with their own 'Shaggy Muse' might find it appealing.

Shaggy Muses: the dogs who inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton, and Emily Bronte by Maureen Adams

Personally I find Tangerine my shaggy tortoiseshell cat totally un-muselike, but she is good at keeping my toes warm while I write.