Monday, June 30, 2008

Highlights


I got to thinking when I woke up, about the highlights of my writing - can't call it a career, so let's say journey - to date.
First off was the poem I had published in Judy comic aged 11. I was thrilled and stunned in equal measure, as were my family. I'm sure Mum started thinking thank God, one of them can keep me in my dotage. WRONG!! I can't even remember what it was about. The poem. Ballerinas probably. I was desperate to be one at the time, despite having no discernible talent. Hell, I'd never even had a lesson. I performed an arabesque in my bedroom once and toppled into the wardrobe. Mum bawled, 'what the hell's going on up there?' and that was that.

Next highlight was meeting author Valerie Blumenthal. For a small fee you could book a one-to-one writing workshop at her gorgeous farmhouse in Oxfordshire, with lunch and chit-chat thrown in. Off I trotted, a few years ago, clutching a short story for her to critique, as nervous as anything. She greeted me on horseback in her driveway- an impossibly glamorous creature, with flowing dark hair. Valerie was quite impressive too (ker-ching). "Ooh I love horses!" I simpered. They terrify me really (bad experience as a teenager) and I immediately thought, oh bugger, what if she invites me to go riding or something ridiculous? "Maybe we could go for a ride after our session?" she breathed (she was quite actressy) and I was forced to say, "actually, I only like looking at them," like a complete mentalist. Luckily she didn't hold it against me, and was Kind about my writing, reading it aloud like somebody on Radio 4 so it sounded good instead of inane, and a year or so later let me interview her for an article which ended up in Writers' Forum - another highlight.

Signing up to The Writer's Bureau home course was another positive move. They advertise in the back of supplements and I thought they might be dodgy, but they weren't. I'd never considered writing non-fiction before, but they figured you were far more likely to succeed in this market. Therefore, the first part of the course was devoted to features and articles and, to my amazement, my first two attempts sold. The first was an interview with a lovely lady called Patzi Gooch, God love her, who I read about in the newspaper. She'd given up needlework to be a singer and had auditioned for the X-Factor and I thought it would make a nice piece for CHOICE magazine's Change of Direction series. All our correspondence took place via email - the wonders of modern technology - and it sold straight away, as did a completely random feature about the meaning of April Fool's Day for The Lady magazine. Cripes, I thought. This is a chuffing doddle. Mum started planning a world cruise. Needless to say, it wasn't. I've not matched that early success. Mostly because I wanted to focus on fiction writing and, as predicted, it's a MUCH harder market to crack. That's my excuse anyway.

Another highlight was a lovely lady phoning from the Frome writing festival a couple of years back, to tell me a story I'd entered into their competition had come sixth out of 400 entries. So what? was my immediate thought. Fancy phoning to tell me that. More like rubbing salt in the wound. 'I'm ringing everyone in the top ten,' she said, 'because you deserve to know how well you did,' which on the whole I thought was rather nice. Afterwards. When I'd hung up on her. (I didn't really.)

Another highlight is this whole blogging malarkey, which I've already 'bigged up' in a previous post, but of course the biggest, shiniest, most perfectly sun-kissed highlight is still to come.
Published Author
.

All I can say is, Mum - don't hold your breath.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I love a good MEME

I've been tagged by lovely Leigh, which is just as well as I haven't done one for a while. I like a good meme.

What were you doing 10 years ago?

Being a divorced, single mum living on a council estate wondering how the hell I got there. I was writing (tentatively) and juggling a part-time job with a college course and doing occasional Internet Dating. Ooh, the tales I could tell!

Five things on your to-do list for today:

1) Go to work and Be Nice In Face of Continuing Complaints
2) Buy something designed to remove tango-tan from knees
3) Put the ruddy mirror back on the wall in the front room
4) Try new flapjack recipe
5) Take son to his Prom-night and refrain from kissing his cheeks in front of his friends.


What are three of your bad habits?
Bad habits? What bad habits? Tut.

1) Tutting
2) Forgetting what I’m doing half-way upstairs
3) Hanging the washing out when I should be setting off to work

What would you do if you were a billionaire?

The usual.
Invent a time machine so I could visit other countries without travelling.
Pay a man to do odd jobs round the house.
Fund research into a cure for Grey Hair.
Self-publish my book and pay Prestigious Writers to gush about it in the press.
Oh and sort out family and friends, donate to autism charities and bring about world peace.

What are some snacks you enjoy?

1) Flapjacks
2) Victoria sponge cake with butter-cream
3) Chocolate buttons
4) Toast and strawberry jam
(I have the palate of a pasty-faced infant)

What were the last five books you read?

1) Mummy said the F-Word – Fiona Gibson (hi-larious)
2) Love Falls – Esther Freud
3) This Charming Man – Marian Keyes
4) What Was Lost – Catherine O’Flynn
5) Eye Contact – Cammie McGovern

What are five jobs you have had?

1. Potato picker
2. Book-keeper/typist
3. Pub manager
4. Newsagents assistant
5. Librarian

How incredibly dull that sounds. Let’s try again

1) Neurosurgeon
2) Horse Whisperer
3) P. Diddy’s stylist 2000-2002
4) Principal dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet
5) Binman

That’s better

Five places you’ve lived
1) North Yorkshire
2) Oxfordshire
3) Buckinghamshire
4) Cloud Cuckoo Land
5) Er…

God, I'm a lot more boring than I gave myself credit for. I do apologise.

Because I’m incredibly nosy I challenge Lane, Sprialskies, Tommo and Jumbly Girl to come up with something more interesting.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Discombobulated

Cor, what with ferrying Teenagers to and from A levels and GCSEs and work, and tearing around hiring prom suits and helping choose a dress for a leaving ball and extravagantly high wedges for a music festival, plus working overtime at t'library and occasionally flinging bleach down the loo, I haven't written more than my piece for the Story a Fortnight blog, and m' book review (Love Falls, by Esther Freud...vair good. Made me want to visit Italy and I don't even like travelling.)

As if to reproach me, I came home to find Molly-dog protecting a copy of Writers' Forum. She even growled when I approached. Either she's taken up reading it on the sly, or she's writing a novel of her own and is looking for tips. (Ask me love. Talk about knowing everything there is to know. In theory.)
Perhaps she's looking to give her own spin on an old classic.

A Tail of Two Cities, anyone? Pride & Pedigree Chum? Moby Stick? Molly Flanders?

Is that a Tumbleweed I see before me?

I need to Make Time To Write. Surely the height of embarrassment would be the dog getting a publishing deal before I do?
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By the way, I only have three children despite making it sound like I have 17, and it's Teen Daughter going to the music festival, not me. I'm Too Old for camping. Actually, there isn't an optimum age for camping. Camping sucks.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tomorrow's World

Any idea what this bad boy is?


Could it be a cloning machine? That would be handy. I could send one of me out to work while the other gets on with the novel. Maybe a third me could do a spot of dusting. It's dog-hair hell over here.

Maybe it's a Star Trek/Dr Who style transporter? I could go back in time and tell my younger self to stop watching Dallas and start blithering well writing of an evening. At this rate, by the time I get published I'll be too decrepit to read what I've written.

Is it an Innovative laundry device? One that presses sheets, sorts socks into matching pairs and spits anything unfashionable into the bin. I hope not. We've no room for it.

An orthopaedic bed, with Futuristic side-table and, um, massaging device thingy?

Okay, I'm being silly. If you read the papers yesterday you'll know it's Blackwell's new Book Espresso, due to be launched this autumn. They'll be the first UK retailer to install the machine, which prints books on demand. It can access around one million titles, print, bind and trim paperback books with four-colour covers. In minutes.

I'm not sure what any of that means, but it sounds damn clever. Rather like Judith Hann years ago, on Tomorrow's World, smearing jam all over a compact disc to show how resistant new-fangled technology was.

Now I'm giving my age away.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Too silly for words



Things that happened today that I couldn't put in my novel because they'd sound Far-Fetched.

1) Misunderstood cockney customer, who said he'd reserved a book in the name of "Takka." Spent minutes flipping through the shelf thinking, that's funny he doesn't look Japanese (it sounded Japanese to me, okay?) what with the tufty white nostril hair and shovel-like hands. 'What was the name again?'

'TAKKA' he said slowly, as if dealing with a simpleton. 'Can you spell it?' I asked desperately. Imagine the humiliation when he roared, 'T-U-C-K-E-R,' rolling his eyes in a what's-the-world-coming-to-when-even-librarians-can't-spell manner.

2) Held a conversation behind the counter with a colleague who was down on her knees rummaging through a box, prompting a child to say to his mum 'why's that lady talking to herself?'

3) Went to the local supermarket where a checkout assistant made me hold out my hand so he could balance a pile of loose change on my wrist and titter girlishly. (They have a policy of employing Those Less Fortunate, which is to be applauded but can backfire. The woman behind me put her basket down and walked out.)

4) Went to the garage to fill up a petrol can for the lawnmower (if that makes any sense) but didn't realise you need to be gentle with the nozzle (as it were.) The petrol hit the can with all the subtlety of a cannon ball and backwashed me head to toe. Had to pay holding arms out like a demented sleepwalker, squinting through burning eyes, terrified I might catch fire, and drive home at high speed whimpering with fear to hurl myself into the shower.

I'm hoping for an uneventful evening in front of the telly. I wouldn't put that in my novel either. Too boring.

I can't win. (I still smell a bit funny though.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Classic

Ooh, look at this little beauty. I feel a notebook buying spree coming on. They're available at Bloomsbury and come in different classic titles. They also have the advantage of looking like a real book, so I can whip it out in public public and feel Worthy.

Although that reminds me of the time I stupidly pretended I'd read Moby Dick, because I happened to know the first line was "Call me Ishmael." I soon fell apart under close interrogation and confessed it was actually the film I'd seen. Which wasn't true either.

On second thoughts, maybe I'll save my money.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Outr-Age-ous


There's an interesting post on lovely literascribe's blog about the decision by some publishers to provide an age rating guidance system for children's books this autumn. Book covers will have a sign stating that they are intended for readers aged 5+, 7+, 9+, 11+ and 13+/teen.

This is considered a Bad Thing for all the reason's Lorna has eloquently stated and I tend to agree. In the Telegraph, Phillip Pullman said "... I don't want to see my book declaring officially, as if with my approval, that it is for readers of 11 and upwards or whatever. I write books for whoever is interested. When I write a book I don't have an age group in mind."

However, being a librarian and busybody, I decided (all by myself - you probably heard my brain whirring into action) to conduct a discreet study at work today, and asked some mums what they thought about the proposal while pretending to shelve the children's books. (I did do SOME shelving, in case The Boss is reading. She won't be. Not that I MIND if she is. But she won't be.) To my surprise most of them thought it was a brilliant idea. Why? I wondered, having already signed the petition at http://www.notoagebanding.org/

"because sometimes it's hard to tell a book by it's cover"

"films have a rating, why not books?"

"it would be useful to have a guideline"

"my kids aren't very good at picking books, they get confused"

"I wouldn't mind if it was on the back of the book. Or on a removable sticker"

Hmmm. Pauses for thought.

Maybe it's about parents wanting control. On the other hand one of my favourite writers, Meg Rosoff , makes a fair point. She says, "Age-ranging is not about restricting the liberty of motivated middle-class children. It's aimed at parents and other book purchasers who want to match a book with a child who isn't the world's most inquisitive reader. Which (and I speak from experience on the front lines here) is about 90% of all children. Maybe more. "

Which I hadn't considered.

Either way if age-banding had been around when I were a lass, I doubt it would have stopped me and my friend creeping into her parents bedroom to hunt down an elusive copy of "The Joy of Sex," rumoured to be hidden under a loose floorboard. It was. I've never been the same since.

Case closed.

Monday, June 9, 2008

100th Post!


100 posts! This time last year I was a Blogging Virgin. Now I’m a bit of a slag. It’s become the highlight of my week, both reading yours and writing mine. Which means either:

a) I don’t get out much
b) I don’t get out much, or
c) I don’t get out much

(I think it's C)

This was my first ever post. Not a single comment did it receive. I dry-heaved into my hanky for an hour and considered leaving the country. Then I cottoned on to leaving comments in order to entice readers over.

Anticipating disappointment, outrage or (worse) apathy, I was pleasantly surprised to trap some lovely Readers in my cage of blathery nonsense. I nearly threw a Comments Party, but daren't push my luck.

It’s been a real journey, as they say on bad reality TV (is there any other sort?) On the way, I’ve been given some fantastic advice from you lot, as well as from a Real Published Author and more importantly I've learned that…

Mugs CAN live without kettles
The price of gravy changes with the wind
You can live in a cul-de-sac and still be inspired
Fact IS stranger than fiction.

The only downside of all this blogging, as someone annoyingly pointed out, is that I could have written a whole novel what with all the words I've bashed out. I chose to ignore that foolish person. He has Blogging Blindness.

My daughter calls you my 'imaginary' friends, but all I can say is I must have a bloody vivid imagination if that's the case. In fact, if I don't get published after all your help, encouragement and words of wisdom over the last 100 posts, I'll have no-one to blame but myself. Which won't do at all.

Here's to the next 100, and don't you dare desert me. I can't do without you now.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Anger management

I’ve worked in three different branches now, and it’s official. The library staff hate the New System nearly as much as the customers do. The trouble is, we’re fed-up now of fielding the same complaints day after day. Minute after minute, actually. To the point where I’ve developed an Inner Dialogue that goes something like this…

Customer 1: I couldn’t find my receipt, so I couldn’t remember when my DVDs were due back. I’m not paying the fine, it wasn’t my fault.
Me : Don’t worry, Madam. It’s a common problem at the moment. You won’t be charged this time.
Thinks…Tell you what, love. Why don’t you take all the bloody DVDs out and just don’t bother bringing them back ever, and we’ll give you a medal. Does that sound fair?

Customer 2 : I’ve written the date inside my library books even though we’re not supposed to, because I wouldn’t have remembered when to bring them back otherwise.
Me: That’s okay. It’ll be a bit confusing for the next customer though. Maybe you could write the date on your calendar in future?
Thinks… To be honest, spud-face, I couldn’t give a flying crab-cake. Do what you want with your chuffing books. Tear the pages out and make them into doilies for all I care. Just don’t speak to me ever again.

Customer 3 : I absolutely hate your new system.
Me : Well! You’re not the only one! Would you like to fill in a complaint form?
Thinks…Morning to you too, Mrs Blobby. You obviously met misery a long time ago and let it move in. And it’s not MY ruddy system…

Customer 4: What’s the point of spending money on a new system, when you haven’t got any new books in?
Me: Well, there’s a bit of a backlog at the moment, but new stock is starting to filter through!
Thinks…What’s the point of you bringing your child in here to writhe on the floor screaming until you leave? Madam. Or trying to look cross when you’ve had Botox?

Manager : So! Have you got used to the New System then?
Me : Oh! Er, yes, yes..getting there. (Smiles weakly)
Thinks... I got used to it two weeks ago. It’s still s***.

It’s only a matter of time before something Slips Out…

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Odd language

It's been brought to my attention what a strange critter the English Language is.
This week I've been asked what the difference is between inflammable and flammable and valuable and invaluable. Ummm. (Strums lips thoughtfully). Call me daft - I've been called worse - but don't they mean the same thing? Like slim chance and fat chance?

It got me wondering. I mean, what are the opposites of ruthless and gormless, for instance? Ruth? Gorm? I don't think so.

My grandma used to ask tricky questions like that when we were youngsters. (She knew how to show us a good time.) Why do we chop trees DOWN, but chop UP wood? We never could give her a satisfactory answer. Probably because there isn't one. Why do we get IN a car, but ON a bus, train, plane or ferry?

I had a look online, but even Google couldn't help. I did discover that “The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick” is the toughest tongue twister in English, though, and that Donald Duck's middle name was Fauntleroy. How weird is that? I mean who even invented words, anyway??

Luckily, I've pulled myself together. I shan't be doing any more Wondering. It hurts my brain.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Granny complex - the sequel



I've got Carrie Bradshaw Envy. After swooning over the Sex and the City film yesterday afternoon, it hit home that there's a world of difference between Carrie's writing style and mine.

For instance :-

CB - Slips between expensive looking sheets wearing tiny knickers and a silk camisole, and cuddles up to Big with a weighty looking book about famous poets, as research for her next book.

Me - Slithers under grubby duvet wearing faded jim-jams and a frown and tries to think about Chapter Seven, before getting distracted by the growing certainty that I've forgotten to buy dog food. Again.

CB - Sits at a pristine desk under glowing lamplight, lightly fingering her expensive keyboard and Musing.

Me - Stands at a crowded desk in the half-light, rummaging around in overflowing drawers for a memory stick and Swearing.

CB - Narrows her steely-gray eyes and stares out at snowy, New York skyline while she thinks about Love.

Me - Squints through sleep-sticky eyelids at the garden thinking, how can I ruddy well write when the grass has grown ten foot overnight?

CB - Reads a meaningful excerpt from her latest book to hangers-on at a lovely bookshop.

Me - Re-reads what I've just written out loud, to myself, and considers buying a shotgun.

So. Not ONLY do I have to live with my Inner Granny I have to live with the knowledge that I'm never, EVER going to be Carrie flamin' Bradshaw.

It's SO not fair
.
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Update: There's a silver lining. I think I may have nicer hands than Carrie Bradshaw.

Change of address...

To coincide with my 10th year of blogging (TEN YEARS??!!!) I've decided to move my blog over to my website, where I hope to update...