Thursday, July 31, 2008

Timewasting - part 58

Found some "fun" writing tips in an old magazine yesterday. One was to pick some books off your shelves at random and copy out a sentence from each one, until you have an "amusing" passage to play with (matron.) Like that party game where everyone adds a sentence to a story until it all goes pear-shaped and someone starts crying.

Ooh, I thought. I've got nothing to do today apart from working, shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing, dog-walking, lawn-mowing, preparing the house for a family visit this weekend (including the redecoration of an entire bedroom ), shave my legs, wax my 'tache, lose ten pounds, negotiate the lowering of fuel prices with the Prime Minister before supper and - oh some writing - so I think I'll give it a go. Never let it be said I haven't got my priorities in order. Not within earshot, at least.

Anyway, this was the result:-

"It seemed to have completely escaped Mick Farley's notice that it was Harold Farley, his father, who had died.
'Who is that gentleman on horseback?' said she as they proceeded - speaking more to assist Mr Weston in keeping his secret, than with any other view.
He thought of the big man he and Stonewall had found, hung like a donkey, skin so white, dead like his attributes.
'Nicking some kindling,' he called. 'Don't want to freeze tonight, do we?'
When I think about it now, I think that our eagerness to assimilate the horrors and our desire to make everyone else aware of them was in fact repulsive.
In the hallway, someone's being sick and Dorothy, also ravaged by drink by now but still immensely practical, gets the vacuum cleaner out and starts hoovering up the vomit.
'I'd like one of those,' I told him."

Hmmm. So was it a useful exercise? Well, seeing me frowning busily surrounded by books the Teens have mowed the lawn and done some housework for me, so in a word, yes!

I was going to turn this into a Meme, but came to my senses in the nick of time. I am offering a million pounds though, to anyone who can tell me which books those lines came from...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The 'B' word

At work a colleague approached me in a manner normally reserved for bad news to ask in hushed tones about the book. She hoped I didn't mind her asking because she knows it must be annoying and put pressure on me, but she was just...well - wondering how it was know - going?

Blimey, I thought, watching her wring her hands and wince apologetically, she's had to pluck up courage to ask me. My writing has become a topic Best Avoided. It took me back a few years to Mum telling people not to mention Wayne while rolling her eyes at me quivering brokenheartedly on the sofa.

Okay, so I was a tad overenthusiastic back in the day, when I told anyone who'd listen I'd written a novel and was waiting to hear back from a couple of agents. We were all overexcited and naturally everyone kept asking about it. That's when I was in Blabbergob mode.

When rejections and reality flooded in I soon became Evasive. I stopped mentioning the book, and mumbled things in a tiny voice if it couldn't be avoided until one member of staff actually shouted, "I bet she's got a publishing deal and isn't allowed to say anything!!" Oh dear God. I put her right on that score and things became Awkward.

There followed a reverential Silence on the subject.

Luckily since then, I've Wised Up. After realising, in a nutshell, it's going to be a whole lot harder to get published than I first thought, I was able to say to my colleague, "oh I'm still writing, still enjoying it although whether I'll ever be published's a different matter, but no there'll be no giving up, ha ha ha!" without sounding either demented or defensive. (amazingly.) Cue relief all round. "That's the main thing," she said gaily, shoulders dropping. "Don't all writers say they'd still do it anyway?" she added giddily. "I read an interview about it." I get the feeling she may even ask again one day.

And I probably won't mind.

Elsewhere, I'm embarrassed to say that lovely Lily Sheehan and fab menopausaloldbag (mob) have both given me awards recently for Excellentosity (it IS a word - in my head) while Milla at the marvellous Country Lite has tagged me as one of her favourite reads...too, too kind - I'm not worthy etc - well, only a bit. You should check out their blogs if you haven't already - they're much better than mine. I think I'm meant to tag my favourite reads, but instead I'll direct you to my Blogroll - honestly they're all great - with a special mention to spiralskies who has just been told off by non other than cuddly Keith Chegwin himself. How many of you can say that? Hilarious.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Wheels on the Bus have fallen off...

Horror of horrors, I was asked to assist with the aforementioned Bounce & Rhyme session at t'other library this morning. Unable to fake my own death - or even feign deafness - at such short notice, I had no choice but to help.

Don't get me wrong, I like children ( I used to be one) but I prefer them in small doses. Children en-masse scare the M&S support pants off me and, like animals, they can sense it. As soon as their beady little eyes settled on me knowingly, I guessed there'd be trouble.

Sure enough, as soon as the Big Story Book came out they started swarming all over it, snatching and pawing while I peeled them off one by one, horribly aware of the Mums weighing me up. Also, I had no idea how hard it would be to keep a smile pinned on with a Full Nappy under my nostrils.

Luckily, there was no sign of Experimental Mum today so there was no bashing, but Chav Mum was in full flow, charming her neighbour with tales of her 'arsehole' boyfriend, which were actually quite interesting (he's a 'waste 'o space, but a kid needs a farver). Her son, meanwhile, was being a bear - clawing the air with his hands and making horrid growling noises throughout Old MacDonald Had a Farm (ee-i-ee-i-oh-my-god-make-it-stop.)

The manager signalled something to me with her eyes, which I hoped meant 'Let's get outta this joint,' but actually meant Time to Open the Fun Box (matron). Out came the cuddly toys and rattles, followed by a fracas over who should have what and why and plenty of 'ooh be careful, you could have someone's eye out with that loves.' Songs n' Actions was rounded off with a fist fight as we wrestled the toys back into the Not-so-Fun-Anymore Box, because they're Not Allowed to take them home.

In the middle of all this merriment - somewhere between belting out Ten Green Bottles and longing for a trapdoor to open - someone wanted a poo, someone needed a nappy change, someone screamed blue murder, someone tried to poke my eye out, someone thwanged DVD's all over the floor, someone made a break for the door, someone asked me for my watch and someone had a nervous breakdown.

Thank God it's all over 'til after the summer holidays.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Something missing

I'm staying at someone else's house this weekend, looking after their children while they take a much needed break.

After unexpectedly finishing the book I brought with me soon after the littlies fell asleep, I started casting around for something to read when I go to bed. (I said "casting around." That's NOT the same thing as snooping at all.) Then it hit me. The thing that's niggled at me before when I've visited.

There's not a SINGLE book in this house. Not ONE.

Is it me, or does a house feel it's missing something without a well-thumbed paperback or two lying around?

It's not all bad news though. I brought my notebook with me, so I'm going to work on the Novel instead.

Don't all faint at once.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The name of the game

I've noticed recently how many of you lovely bloggers have appropriately 'writerish' names. Names I can totally visualise gracing the front cover of a novel I'd want to read.

'Karen Clarke' just doesn't cut it, somehow. Where's the glamour, the integrity, the...the interview potential I implore thee? It's - well let's face it, it's plain.

Don't get me wrong I'm proud of my moniker, but I can't help thinking that if I were called Tiggy Bubblewrap or Felicity Sidecar, or Jemima Von Pantyhose, my name alone might attract that weary agent stepping over the slush pile - sod the quality of the writing.

According to the name generator I could become "Cassandra Eastwood" which has a rather nice ring donchya think? On the other hand, what's the point in writing a novel if you can't have your real name plastered all over the damn thing? On the plus side I can't think of any other Karens writing commercial fiction off the top of m'head, so that could be a bonus. Unless publishers hate the name, in which case I could always fall back on those daft pseudonyms my gran was forever firing out, usually after one too many cups of tea -

Paige Turner, anyone?
Marian Forlove sounds suitably 'romantic comedy'
Joanna Dance? (you have to say it quickly)
Kay Serrar is horribly appropriate... is Penny Less

I suppose I should stay Phyllis Sophical about the whole thing and...

okay, okay I've finished now. I'll get m'coat.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Best Book in the World

I came across this on emerging writer's excellent blog and it made me smile - ironically. Let's just say it's a bit close to home!

I think I'll try and stick to writing a 'reasonably enjoyable book' instead. Or even 'a book'.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Noise pollution

Talking of not shushing people in the library (I was! See earlier post...) I had to laugh today at just how far the other way things have gone.

For instance, our branch has just undergone a long-overdue facelift (wanted one myself, but they'd run out of emulsion) which has entailed weeks of sawing, drilling, sandpapering, swearing, painting, cups of tea, whistling and hammering. Cheeky Chappies have been looming at windows left, right and centre, scaring the (incontinence) pants off the pensioners and causing Tutting to treble. Many a Catherine Cookson has been sent clattering to the floor in alarm. 'Can't they do it at night?' someone grumbled. Probably not a good idea. Due to the darkness, Madam.

It does look a lot better though.

Then we've had norty children charging in, shouting "BOGIES!!" and charging out again, unaware that this Dick and Dom inspired lunacy is sooooo last year, dahling. Adult murmurings were overheard.
'In my day...'
'...smacked arse...'
'...why aren't the buggers at school?..'
' discipline...'

And that was just me. Boom boom.

In a different branch, the Bounce & Rhyme session (stories and sing-a-longs for mums and toddlers, in case you're wondering, NOT something Iffy) got COMPLETELY out of control. A mother I privately call Experimental Mum lost control of her daughter who bashed Chav Mum's son over the head, activating one of those screams that begins with a breath held for sooo long you start dialling 999 until the noise kicks in, whereupon you drop the phone and run for cover. Several toddlers made a dash for freedom, running lopsidedly round and round the library while their mums thundered after them, red-faced and furious. Experimental Mum tried to reason with her 2-year old (which we all know is completely pointless) forcing her to apologise to the boy she'd hit in a grating 'I'm Super-Mum, watch and learn' voice, prompting Chav Mum to say 'I don't care abart 'er saying sorry, just keep 'er away from my kid, yeah?' from which there is no dignified comeback. EM left in a flurry of cheesecloth and Umbrage and everyone sighed with relief. Throughout it all the library manager just kept on singing, "The Wheels on the Bus" bless her. She looked like she needed a stiff one after she'd finished. Not to mention a drink.

I tell you, sometimes it's nice to get home for a bit of peace and quiet.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You're too kind

I've been given a rather lovely award by that creative gnome-loving genius, Tomfoolery, and the delightfully informative Debs, who both deserve it far more than I do. It's called Arte y pico, which roughly translates as 'ooh you are awful, but I like you!' I think.

In a similar vein I was tagged by lovely Ernest, who kindly described me as his 'favourite librarian.' What? I thought. I'm a librarian? It's funny how the word still conjures up lumpen spinsters in hairy tweed, sporting furry shins and carefully controlled hair, shushing the general public. I'm sooooo not like that. No REALLY, I'm not. Okay so I favour the occasional cardigan, but cardis are a long way from the uneven fairisle numbers, knitted by glaucoma-riddled grannies of yesteryear.

I've never shushed a member of the public (out loud) and while I don't fetch up at work in denim hotpants with my hair in bunches, I haven't settled for elasticated waists (they're scheduled for early 2009, depending on future cake consumption) and a blue-rinse either.

On that note, it's odd to think that old-lady hairstyles and coats are probably going to (literally) die out over the next generation, isn't it? My mum's hairstyle is still trendy, for instance, and I'm quite determined not to go down the 'nice little perm' route myself, so there really won't be any sights like this in the not too distant future...

Which is quite sad, in a way.

Anyway, I appear to have travelled a long way from the point of this post, which unpermed head)...

Terrible weather we're having, for the time of year.

Monday, July 7, 2008


I'm Very Bad at motivating myself to write.

External deadlines work a treat. My book review and Story a Fortnight are in on time regardless, but setting deadlines for myself just doesn't work.

I've tried the write-a-1,000 words a day, which was gradually whittled down to write-any-bloodything-a day to no avail. I've tried 'an hour's writing before you do anything else - even have a wee,' but that didn't get off the ground. In a houseful of people it's impossible to not do something on the way to the PC, laptop or notebook, and something has a horrid habit of leading to something else unrelated to writing.

I thought about getting up an hour earlier to squeeze in some writing, but I need my sleep, dammit, or I'm good for nothing.

I've even bribed myself - i.e. If you write 500 words
you can have a slab of cake or some crumble with custard, or a family sized bar of fruit n' nut (note how bribes are all food-related?) but the very thought makes me so hungry I can't concentrate on writing 'til I've eaten.

I've tried shaming myself by pointing out that I could be writing instead of watching Heroes or The Apprentice, but immediately excuse myself by calling it Research. I've gotten Ideas off the telly before now, I'll have you know.

What about that period between evening dog-walk and watching telly? Well, actually I'm working on that one.

I can see now why people employ Personal Trainers to help them get fit. They probably wouldn't get out of bed otherwise. What I need is a Writing Trainer. A scary woman in army fatigues who'll stand over me and holler, "DROP AND GIVE ME 2000 (words) CLARKEY! NOOOWW!!"

Failing that, I think I need a proper, external deadline. One I can't wriggle out of or put off or ignore. Like the time I stupidly submitted three chapters and got a request for the whole manuscript before I'd even written it. Not that I want to go down that route again! The worst part is knowing I CAN do it.

So why aren't I?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Everyone's a critic

I write a weekly book review for my local paper and occasionally a customer will fetch up at the library and tell me they read it and liked it. I'll refrain from cuddling them and saying 'thank you so much. I love you,' while turning Menopausal Red, and say instead, 'Oh! Er, thanks, um, I mean...yes. Ahem. Good. Marvellous.' Or something equally cutting-edge.

There was just such a customer today, but before I could ransack my brain for a response, a man behind him said crossly, 'oh I'm sorry, but I never read it. Half the time you people haven't even read the books you're criticising. Can't stand 'em m'self.'

'Neither can I,' I said, which threw him. I longed to point out the irony of him criticising my book review column without having read it, but he was in possession of a pair of eyebrows that could only be described as "beetling" and brought to mind the sort of man who might harbour a grudge against women who looked like his mother.

The thing is, I don't criticise books I big 'em up, which is hardly the same thing. I'm not in a position to slag off someone's writing, even if it's not my cup of tea. If I don't get on with a book, I don't review it - it's as simple as that. I much prefer to recommend something I've loved, like you would to a friend, bearing in mind that they might not like it anyway as it's all sooooo subjective.

Maybe it's the name of the column that should change. REVIEW does imply possible bitching. 'Book of the Week' or 'Recommended Read' have more positive overtones. 'Local Lady Says Nice things about a Book she read at the Weekend.' Bit long-winded. 'Yo, This Book's a MoFo!' might attract a younger audience. Would befuddle the oldies though.

On balance, I think it'll stay as it is. People know where they are with a Book Review.

As long as they read it first.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Unchartered territory

Completely off-topic, but how in the name of J-Lo does one go about navigating the troubled waters of Teenagerdom? Specifically Phase II - School-Leaver to Grown-up?

All three of mine are in a state of Flux at the moment and it's most unsettling. You get the sense things could go Either Way.

Gone are the days of dimpled smiles and colouring books, with me at the centre of their squinty little universe. Mooching, glowering and slamming doors is the norm. 'Love you Mummy,' has been replaced with 'God's sake, Mum,' and muttered 'hate you's' with occasional f-words thrown in for good measure. 'I can hear you!' I shrill, like my own mother did. Don't they know Mums have Bionic hearing as well as eyes in the back of their heads?

I was asked recently, if a nipple could be pierced. And I thought cutting off their curls was radical.

Structured days, where I knew where they were and what they were doing are a thing of the past, and I mourn them. It's all lie-ins and mysterious phone calls and unspecified meetings with previously unheard of friends. Communication is a tenuous thing, easily derailed by a refusal to ferry a car full of boys half-way round the country for no apparent reason other than 'it was Wacker's idea.'

They want money, but don't want to work for it. The possibilty of looking for a job 'when I'm ready' has been mooted. 'I deserve some time off.' Don't we all, love? Are the principles I tried to instill waiting to be called upon when they realise that cupboards don't replenish themselves by magic? I hope so.

I remember the angst of my own teenage years, so that's no comfort.

I found myself in the bathroom this morning, longing for chubby thighs (no comment please) trips to the park and bedtime stories, having a little cry.

This is unconditional love I reminded myself, as I have done so many times before, and sometimes it blimmin' well hurts.