Monday, March 31, 2008

Grime time

When quizzed about weight-loss issues, Courtney Cox has oft-been quoted as saying that when a woman reaches a certain age, she has to make a choice - face or butt?

I had to apply a similar analogy at home today. Writing or a nice, clean house? Ok, it doesn't quite work, but I've OD'd on Cillit Bang. My brain's messed up.

The down-side of the lovely sunshine we're having is the sudden - not to mention unwelcome - highlighting of hitherto unnoticed cobwebs, grime and dust, previously hidden by winter gloom. I thought about putting my shades on and ignoring it, but that would have looked silly.

I tried sitting down and grimly typing, but it was too late. I Couldn't Relax. Instead, I donned my rubber gloves and, on the premise that I would continue to think about my story/chapter as I worked, I set-to with plenty of vim and vigour.

I'm sure somebody famous once said that "much of writing is thinking...staring into space." If they didn't they should have. It's true. The trouble is, I think they meant fixing your gaze on a distant horizon, not scowling like a demon whilst scrubbing dementedly at stubborn jam stains with a brillo pad. I don't need to tell you that coaxing grease off the hob didn't inspire me in quite the same way that a sun-drenched landscape might have.

Ah well. Four hours later, my cupboards were clean and I'd had an idea for a short story. A crime story. Involving a murder. And a feather-duster.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Might come in handy

How come I've never seen one of these bath book-holders before??

Looks rather useful. I don't like champagne so would have to replace it with tea, possibly. Maybe soup. I don't think I'd be reading a book about monsters, either. On the plus side, it makes your legs look ten years younger and there's no sign of a jelly-belly.

This could be the solution to those soggy book moments. Although knowing me, I'd upset the damn thing climbing out, send the candle flying and end up with a fire on my hands - not to mention a soggy book and a bath full of carrot soup.

Actually, sod the fit legs - it's a death-trap.

Friday, March 28, 2008

End of an Era

"Personally, I think they've taken this electronic thing too far ..."

I'm sure I've mentioned before that the library I work in is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. (Stop yawning, I can see you). Anyway, I've gone on record as saying lots of these changes are Positive Steps.

Major market research has shown that the public wants better locations, 7 day opening, better books and more access to the Internet and who are we to argue with The Public? I'm not sure who did the research. I've an image of a helmet-haired woman in navy, wielding a clipboard, but that might be the soup. I've just drunk two mugs full and it's gone to my head. (Broccoli and spinach in case you're interested - I'm trying to offset my recent chocolate frenzy).

Apparently, bookshops have taken the lead in marketing and how to present their wares and libraries can learn a lot from them, which makes sense. The library is a business, at the end of the day, blah, blah blah. That's not a technical phrase, but trying to work out the mechanics makes my brain hurt.

ANYWAY, that's all well and good. Better books, nice displays, Internet access, faxing your granny in Australia, downloading CDs onto your MP3 player. Fine. No problemo. (Don't tell anyone about the downloading though.)

But, here's the crunch. The ONE THING I thought libraries could never replace - and would be brought to their knees without - was the humble date-stamp. They've been around forever (probably) and, to be honest, when I started working at the library the thing I was looking forward to most was making that satisfying 'thunking' noise. Or was it more of a 'ker-chink'? I was even looking forward to using a date-stamp.....(ooh you're such a joker - Ed.)

Well, it turns out, they can. Function without them. And very soon, they will be doing. When a customer takes out a book, using our New Fangled system, they'll be given a receipt from one of these babies instead -
Very Tesco's non?

All well and good in theory, but - I don't know about you - I'm rubbish with receipts. They pile up in my purse 'til it won't shut, then I have a chucking out ceremony, with tea and cakes, and realise two days later that I've thrown out the one I needed for that thing that's gone wrong/gone off/or didn't fit.

I can't imagine the state the customers are going to be in. I'm actually considering date-stamping their arms as a reminder, but that'll mean they won't be able to wash properly and we don't want (any more) smelly customers coming in. I don't know what it all means, or what the world's coming to quite frankly.

I think I need a sit-down and some more (or should it be less?) soup.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Oh dear

Despite a belly full of Easter chocolate, I've managed to post a book review on the lovely Bookersatz, blog, if you'd like to check it out.
That was the productive part of my day. The rest was spent gnashing my teeth after an infuriating conversation with a person-who-shall-remain-nameless (she doesn't read this blog, but I'm paranoid) who, after having a shufty at my First Chapter - which I'd let her read in good faith while at the same time knowing I was making a mistake - said to me, with a faux-friendly grin, "and I thought you were an intelligent woman!" It was all downhill from there, really.

Hating the fact that I still go red at my age, I asked her what she meant. The gist of her concern was that I was writing for silly, young women. Because I write book reviews and have a wide reading range, she'd assumed I'd be doing something more "grown-up." But I am, I said. What is your story about then? she asked. The usual stuff, I said. Love, friendship, family and, in this case, community spirit. Why then, she wondered, was I presenting it as a silly love story? Was I dumbing down?

I didn't know what to say, to be honest. I always think of clever put-downs later. I mumbled something about being more comfortable writing commercial fiction, but it sounded horribly like making excuses. She said she wasn't being rude (!), and there was "nothing wrong" with what I'd written, but she was just "surprised." That's all. It fair took the wind out of my sails, I can tell you.

I have written in a more literary style before, in short story form (she says, defensively) and I've got a psycho-thriller all plotted out and everyfink, but somehow I'm drawn to writing romantic-comedy-drama...oh ok, I suppose it's chicklit, but that doesn't mean I'm Stupid..
Does it??

Saturday, March 22, 2008

It's snow-time

Molly's always intrigued by snow, bless her. Aren't we all? Especially at this time of year. Mind you Easter is very early - the earliest since 1913, apparently. I can never understand why that happens, but I'm sure there's a Very Good reason.
You can't really see from the picture, but big, fat snow-flakes are a-falling, and I seem to be finding them oddly inspiring. I've already read half a book, rattled off a short story and a chapter of my novel-in-progress, and found some lovely writing quotes this morning, which is highly unusual for me.

What, no procrastinating?? No weaving about in jim-jams, looking for stodgy food products? Actually, I normally work on Saturdays, but the library is closed for Easter. Maybe I'm 'programmed' to work no matter what, like a rather wishy-washy robot.

Anyway, a couple of things I read earlier really struck a chord with me. "Think about your backstory, because that's where the theme lies," by Margaret Graham, was a light-bulb moment, and the other was a passage from The Writer's Voice, by Al Alvarez, who says, "writers don't just hold, as t'were, a mirror up to nature, by creating an imitation of life; they create a moment of life itself," which I thought was rather lovely. He goes on to say that "the writer works to find or create a voice that will stretch out to the reader, make him prick his ears and attend." Wise words, indeed.

"Have a lovely Easter" are also wise words, but probably won't inspire anyone. Except to stuff their faces.

Now where did I hide those eggs? (In your tummy - Ed)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

All in the mind

When he was writing The Innocent, Ian McEwan was offered the opportunity to watch a man having his arm sawn off. By a surgeon, I hasten to add. Not randomly, in someone's back garden. It was for research purposes - surprisingly enough - but he was quick to turn down the invitation. He claimed that once he set foot in the operating theatre he would start seeing things as a journalist, and he preferred to describe what took place in his imagination, rather than what happened in front of him.

Could this be right? I thought. On the recent BBC2 programme Murder Most Famous the contestants were set tasks and challenges every day - car chases and police interrogations and the like - in order to give their writing greater authenticity. Both they and their mentor, Minette Walters, agreed that it worked.

On that principle, if I were to have experienced everything I've written about over the past few years, I would have ...

  • leapt off a tall building
  • been re-born
  • lived in New York
  • had an affair with a pastry chef
  • hidden a cat
  • given away a baby
  • had my nose pierced
  • taken up birdwatching
  • killed a cheating boyfriend

Needless to say, I've done none of the above. I may be a better writer if I had (I'd be in prison, actually but we won't go into that) but I don't think I need to sway across the desert on a camel, or kick-box a kangaroo, to imagine what those experiences might feel like. That's the beauty of writing fiction, as opposed to acting it and having to bulk up to accurately portray a boxer, or pile on four ounces to play Bridget Jones (Renee Zellwegger shot up to a gargantuan SIZE 10!!!!!! Shocking, or what??) Conveying the emotion surrounding the experience is surely what it's all about?

Obviously, research is vital for facts, procedures, dates, terminology etc - and I love that, because it allows me to fart around on the computer for weeks - but I can see where Ian McEwan was coming from.

If you're writing articles or features experience is essential, but in the world of fiction, imagination is King (or Queen, if you prefer).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Don't ask me how (no, really don't) but I stumbled across a strangely fascinating website yesterday, called Fridgewatch

Procrastinating wildly, I decided to photograph the contents of our fridge (see above) and analyse the results. They say you are what you eat, which is rather worrying. Notice the retro tin of sliced peaches? How the hell did they get in there? That's Lovely Husband for you. He'll be cracking open the evaporated milk to go with them later. He recently came home with a tin of squid chunks, which I think speaks for itself. That little jar top right, is bloater paste. That's his as well. I could never eat something with such an unappealing name. The red cabbage isn't mine either.

I clearly need to go shopping. If you check out the fridges on the site, you'll see how healthy their owners are. Either that, or they've filled them up first, specially. There's nothing green in ours at all. It really doesn't reflect our diet. Honest. It's normally stuffed to the rafters with watercress, broccoli and tofu. We definitely don't live on pickled onions, sweetcorn and cheese.

Not all the time, anyway.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A nice MEME

This is a rather fun book meme that I pinched from HERE and I'm tagging each and everyone one of you because

a) I'm interested in your answers and
b) I don't see why I should be the only one slacking.

1. Hardcover or paperback, and why?

Hardback. They smell nicer and last longer.

2. If I were to own a book shop I would call it…

Buy the Book (by the book, geddit?) or Between the Sheets. It would only sell copies of my novel, and yours. Customers wouldn't be allowed to leave unless they bought at least one of each.

3. My favourite quote from a book (mention the title) is…

Two stick in my mind (not much to stop them) - "There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast it is all a shame." Black Beauty, Anna Sewell

and - "Marilla, isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?" Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery (sorry Mike, if you're looking!)

4. The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be ….

Enid Blyton - I adored her books growing up, but by all accounts she was a right bitch. I'd like to know if that was true.

5. If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except the SAS survival guide, it would be…

Robinson Crusoe, for tips.

6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that….

would hold my book for me in bed.

7. The smell of an old book reminds me of….

reading Anne of Green Gables in bed (without a gadget, obviously) at my grandma's.

8. If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be….

Just kidding. Jayne Eyre - she was feisty.

9. The most overestimated book of all time is….

The Da Vinci Code.

10. I hate it when a book…

falls in the bath and swells up.

Your turn. I'm waiting...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Library fatigue

At work today, an elderly customer looked across the library at a small child running amok with a full nappy (judging by the smell), while his mum cackled with her friends in a corner and took no notice. 'Haven't libraries changed?' she said wistfully.

They have. And that's a Good Thing mostly. They're less stuffy - more user-friendly - than they were in the Olden Days, but people still expect a certain code of conduct in a library.

What they do expect to see are -

a) Smiling, friendly and helpful staff. I think we've shaken off our image of fusty, bun-haired fogies in hairy cardigans (and that's just the men) who crochet furiously and shush people for breathing. We're even allowed to wear denim. Though that's a Bad Thing in my opinion (see earlier post).

b) Rows and rows of nicely jacketed, up-to-date books in a variety of genres. Yes, we do occasionally come across a Terry Prachett with the pages missing or worse, stuck together or worse still, harbouring what might once have been a scab (and still is, frankly) but we're very quick to banish these offending items from our premises - with tongs.

c) A varied selection of films and CDs, featuring everyone from Doris Day to The Rock/ Elvis Presley to Dizzee Rascal. Some of the staff have never heard of Dizzee Rascal, but I have coz I is down wiv da yoof, innit? D'ya'll get me? Etc.

d) Interesting displays featuring World War 2, knitting or cuddly animals a la Beatrix Potter. (We did a Halloween display last year, comprising a skeletal head rising out of a shroud, which scared the bejaysus out of the little 'uns so we probably won't do that again.)

What they don't expect to see are -

a) A scruffy man lurching drunkenly round the aisles. When approached, he said he was partially paralysed. This might have been feasible had he not smelt of alcohol and wee. (I suppose he could have been incontinent and drinking brandy for medicinal purposes but my gut - and nose - said otherwise.)

b) Children knocking over displays or thwanging DVDs around like frisbees. We're not allowed to tell them off unless there's a danger of throttlement. Sometimes it's tempting to initiate the throttling.

c) A man playing the guitar loudly, while thirty children and their mums/nannies sing along to Wheels on the Bus. (To be fair it was World Book Day although I still don't get the "Book" connection. Probably because there wasn't one).

d) A member of staff surreptitiously wiping her nose on her sleeve after sneezing. (I was out on the "shop floor" okay, and couldn't find a tissue. It only happened once. God, you're so judgemental).

Overall though, I think libraries are less intimidating than they were. The study centre upstairs is still a haven of peace and quiet (mostly) if that's what customers want.

I did feel sorry for the poor customer though. It's much harder to choose a book when the air smells like poo.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Better late than never

This article made me feel rather ashamed of myself. Author Phyllis Whitney, who died last month, didn't start writing until she was 40, but sold more than 50 million copies of her romance and mystery novels, and wrote 76 books in her lifetime. I've read some of them and they're rather good. She did live to be 104 though. Apparently, she didn't eat sugar and took 86 vitamins and minerals a day, so maybe that's something I should look into.

Before she succeeded as a novelist, she wrote articles, short stories, textbooks, worked in a children's library, and as an editor and taught junior fiction writing at New York University. There was a woman who Got On With It, I thought. I felt guilty just reading about her. No procrastainating for Phyllis. I bet she never found herself with a nice swathe of writing time on her hands and decided to re-grout the tiles in the bathroom instead. The figures speak for themselves, methinks.

It proves the point, though, that's it's never too late. Well, clearly it is at some point, but you get my drift. Mary Wesley didn't take up writing until she was 70, and was incredibly successful. Catherine Cookson started writing aged 11 but was 44 before she got her big break. Mind you, I think if I started training as a plumber (I'm obsessed with plumbers, I'm sure I've mentioned them on here before) aged 11, and didn't quality until my mid-forties I'd be pretty peeved. Not to mention broke.

That's the bugger (and beauty) of writing, I suppose. It's not a trade that can be taught over a two-year period. Or can it? Maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree here, but it seems to me it's mostly the Other Thing. The Thing that simmers away for years, putting down roots and taking shape and disguising itself as a desire to work in an office, or to pull pints or clean houses, and takes second place to everything else, until it can no longer Be Denied. Then, to be annoying, you realise it's harder than you thought, and wish you'd knuckled down properly years ago, instead of fannying around with Other Stuff. Maybe that was the apprenticeship, though. Ooh, I'm getting all existential now.

I think I'll pop down to Boots and see if they do a vitamin that will unleash my genius in the next two weeks. 70 is still a long way off, believe it or not, and I don't think I can wait that long.

Monday, March 10, 2008

What kind of writer should you be?

You Should Be a Joke Writer

You're totally hilarious, and you can find the humour in any situation.

Whether you're spouting off zingers, comebacks, or jokes about life...

You usually can keep a crowd laughing, and you have plenty of material.

You have the makings of a great comedian - or comedic writer.

How annoying would I be if I was really like this?? I'm clearly going wrong somewhere!

Friday, March 7, 2008


It's probably not de-rigeur, but I've decided to post the first chapter of my novel-in-progress (see link to the left, under my profile) for you to cast your beady eyes over. I know you've all got quite enough on your plates as it is, but if you feel up to passing comment (or wind, if you prefer, I don't mind) I'd appreciate it.

I value your opinions as sensible, straight-talking women who know a good tale when they read one, and if you think it's a big pile of trite, seen-it-all-before doggy-doo, or a total yawn-fest, or even badly-written tripe, then give it to me straight. I can take it. Honest.

I'll go and lie in a darkened room and wait for the axe to fall...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

World Book Day

To celebrate World Book Day, I've decided to read a novel by a writer whose popularity I've never understood. Despite never having read any of that person's books, I might add. I've assumed they're simply 'not my cup of tea.' I may be right. But I might not be. I might have to eat my words (see what I did there?).

So, for the purpose of this exercise, I'm going to read a novel by Nora Roberts - one of the most borrowed/requested/eagerly awaited authors at our library. I know that life is too short, and there's a stack of books staggering drunkenly round my bed as it is, waiting to be read, but I'm going to do this, dammit. I'll let you know how it goes.

Is there a ridiculously popular author you just don't 'get?' Or have never read, but feel you should?

Do tell.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Murder Most Famous

Did anyone else, apart from Maddie, catch Murder Most Famous yesterday? Why would you? It's on BBC2 at 1.30pm weekday afternoons for a week. Why?? As reality shows go it's a good one, and deserves a better time-slot.

Anyway, I heard about it a while ago, so made a point of watching it yesterday, and will remember to record it for the rest of the week. It's rather good. Minette Walters is in charge of five celebrities, who are given tasks and challenges to help them write a crime novel. The celebrity with the least potential each day, will be kicked off. There are some good writing tips - on the website as well as the programme and you can keep track of the celebrities writing progress online.

Of course being a 'reality' show it's a bit dramatic and over-the-top, but on the whole it's good fun and I'm hooked, even though 'crime' isn't really my forte, writing-wise. I'm so glad one particular celebrity went yesterday though - right at the beginning he said...'oh I don't read books.' WHAT??? That's like a top chef saying he doesn't like to eat. Crazy.

Anyway, catch it if you can. Never mind about work...

Monday, March 3, 2008

Oops, I did it again!

A pretty picture, as an attempt to distract you from the fact that I've changed my template AGAIN. (Blushes)

I've decided I prefer a white background, after all.

That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. I'm sticking to this look, as well. Promise!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Concept Album MeMe

This is fun - completely pointless, and nothing to do with writing, but fun. What would your concept album be?

01. Click

The first article title on the page is the name of your band.

02. Click

The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album.

03. Click

The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

Here's mine...


Because I Might Be Wrong

Almost makes me want to go out and clinch a record deal. If only I could play the guitar properly...


Air kisses to Tomfoolery for this rather smashing Busy Bee Award, which I definitely don't deserve, but will accept anyway because I'm greedy like that. I'm going to pass it on to Cally, A.Writer and SallyQ for the guilt-inducing amount of writing, editing and subbing they seem to be cramming into every day, while I waft about eating flapjacks. I'm in awe.