Tuesday, May 29, 2007

CONF 451: PITCH AND PITCH AGAIN


'Oh, we've been booked up for months and months,' says Mr Tom, 'we've been in The Observer and The Guardian you know.' And so, and so, camping is no longer turn up and pitch. Now it's tee pees and joss sticks, can crushing, newspaper deliveries and lobster on the barbie. I mean, I loved it (partner was beside himself with glee at the Sunday Times to Tent Flap luxe). I am all for the soft camping options, the softer the better, and this one had lawn-like grass and bunny rabbits hopping about and served hot chocolate and croissants and it was all super doouper morning chorus glory. I would go there again. If I could get in without booking months ahead. It's all gone like blinking country cottages hasn't it. So, we could only stay one night and then had to pack it all up again and move on to a less furry option, down a long bumpy track which scratched our exhaust, an uneven, sloping field facing out to the sea and the wind and the on-coming storm. But in many ways it was better. You just plonk your tent anywhere and a little man comes around and collects a few quid in the morning. The sound of the Swanage steam railway chugging and whistling its way through the hills was a good effect. This is somewhere you can come to at any time and select your pitch, and choosing your own spot is an important part of it all, I reckon. Then there was the weather. Call me a perv, but I like being in tents when it rains, Swallows and Amazons snuggling down inside with all that elemental stuff going out out there. It was a pretty fierce wind, though, and taking tents down in rain and wind wasn't the best bit.|Anyhow I really did enjoy getting away, and I really did enjoy getting back again and we're all still aghast at having proper beds and heating. Zorbing was a big success, and then it was off to Studland Bay which is just about the best beach in the south of England. I used to go ride there a lot. Now that's changed as well, the little stables I used to go to has a big sign outside with The Beach Riding Experience written on it which you can probably book in Argos. London prices needless to say. Fantastic though, I will do it again one day. I will. When I get my book deal I'll go for a gallop in the waves. I will.

A bit of news on that front. E mail in from an agent on Friday soon before we left. She likes the characters and the writing, thinks its a good novel in the making and knows an editor who might be interested. I'm not jumping up and down, I have to be cautious, but it's the best news in yet.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

CONF 450: TO PITCH OR NOT TO PITCH

Surprising e-mail from Favourite Agent, rejecting recently-revived novel 3. Novels set mostly abroad are difficult to sell for some reason. I've heard this before. Perhaps writing is more like telly than I realised. I used to do World About Us type foreign docs which are barely in the schedules any more. They're virtually all celeb-fronted now, giving the audience something to hook onto. Or newsy ones, which can of course be excellent. Not saying the others are all bad, sadly missed the Paul Merton in China last week which has to be good. But it is all Englishperson Abroad viewpoint rather than the place itself talking. I did love the recent Papua New Guinea tribespeople coming to UK series, though. Anyhow, Favourite Agent says she's still not forgotten novel 4 and if inspiration strikes she'll get in touch, which is nice hmm?

Meantime still no news from agent who loved the opening chapters of Novel 4 who has the whole ms. Plus Agent of Year colleague e-mailed to say she's going to read my openers for novels 3 and 4 as soon as she's done with her urgent client work, so hope flying fair. Writing friend asks why I don't pitch Novel 5 as well. It's a different genre and I think that just might be one confusion too many. I haven't got the storyline down to a crisp yet either. I might ask her what she thinks is selling at the moment, though.

Have just finished big bout of work-work which will pay for our camping trip to Dorset this weekend. Am now off to old computer to dig out ancient camping holiday masterlist. I am excited about this. So is daughter. She is going Zorbing!

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

CONF 449: NEW OBSESSION

We've done it! We're up and running on eBay and I've chosen my silly name and people are bidding and and watching and sending e-mail queries. This has been a culmination of months of fussing and worrying about pixels and postage, cutting out newspaper articles detailing the pitfalls, buying 'How To' books which led to only more worrying about dodgy traders called RisibleRob998 and all the PayPal business.

It is exciting and has completely cured my Amazon tic and even Sitemeter (which has mysteriously disappeared from this blog, along with several favourite links). I am a crashing dinner party bore, but it is a rich, rich subject. Almost as good as, no, better than the boot sale a few weekends ago. Boot sale has produced a short story though, or perhaps something even longer (triggers: something TURNING UP on my stall, a little wooden bulldog who now sits next to me willing my luck to turn; our clothes rail crashing down onto woman next door's car; the loud old man in old man jeans pretending he was moving from an enormous house & wasn't simply broke like the rest of us; the soft toy perv; the woman with parrot on shoulder; the famous artist wandering around (Peter Blake - again) ). But anyway back to the business of the day... Best e-bay story so far was a friend at Sunday lunch who told us about this journalist who, to see what would happen, put up some old rope. And all these people start bidding for it. And the journalist then decided to go and see the man who'd bought it to see what kind of person gives money for etc... And the guy was a normal bloke with a garage of cars who just happened to want some old rope.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Monday, May 21, 2007

CONF 448: SHIT HAPPENS

What else can go wrong? Not a good thing to say I know. Count the rights. Yes. But, even so, am starting to wonder if the exploding brown stuff which was our New Year's Eve symbolised the beginning of a bad year rather than the end.

Last weekend was my mini-breakdown, this weekend sees the drain in our back garden overspilling and gradually seeping the sewage from 6 or 7 houses up our street onto the grass.

Emergency calls are made, always a panic when you're a tenant because landlords have to be involved and approve, and our caretaker was nowhere to be found, so we had to get in touch with owners in USA and all of that.... They e mail to say we're covered by the British Gas Homeplan insurance set-up (why didn't we know British Gas did drains?). So we cancel Thames Water and get their Dynorod Roddy down on the insurance tick who arrives at 10pm and discovers the problem but says he can't help us because the blockage is further up the system & only can be reached from neighbour's drain, and they aren't covered by British Gas insurance. SO unless we'd pay him £130 plus VAT he wouldn't be helping us. So he leaves leaving the garden filling with - I won't give you a picture this time. Anyhow that night we called Thames Water and they said they'd send someone in the morning. Partner's on steroids so he's wound up to manic proportions. But at least he has sleeping pills. Cue one sleepless night for me, pondering the new addition of neighbours to deal with, do they have to pay a share? it's their shit after all, or do we have to wait until it starts overflowing into their space? All the time the muck builds outside. The Thames Water guy came and looked at the problem, poked a stick down and cleared it in about 30 seconds. Then a neighbour from over the road came across and said he had a problem with his drains, off this guy goes and helps him. All no charge. Thames Water are sending someone back today to clean up our garden and disinfect it. So ten out of ten to them. Zero for Dynorod. Zero for British Gas.

I decide to complain (oop, an e-mail just blipped in, a rejection for the novel, ho ho. It's not the important one though who's already loving it, just one of the peripherals so no big tears there.) There's something so depressing about someone coming out to rescue you, for them to turn up and then decide they're not going to help you after all. Technically maybe he couldn't do it, but - you know - poking a stick. So I call British Gas to have my little rant, and I'm given the official line by some robotwoman. And so I say OK it's not policy I'd therefore like to complain about your policy. Then she says she can't register my complaint because I'm only the tenant. British Gas - the pits.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

CONF 447: SPINES & COVERS

David McKie has been talking about his obsession with other peoples' bookshelves (isn't the image of David Cameron reading the new Ian McEwen cringe-making?). I can't help looking for my own books. Any photograph with a bookshelf in the background, any scene on the telly and my head's tipped sideways and I'm checking the colours and fonts. Even movies made before I was published, even old black and white photos of Sir Winston Churchill.

This is embarrassingly laughable for many, oh so many reasons. Apart from, as you may have gathered by now, the obscurity of these books, they are commerical fiction with commercial covers of the brightest, gawdiest kind. When I was shown the cover for novel 1 I was very happy. There it was - proof - I was going to be a published author. One male friend from my writing group did take me to one side and had a quiet word about how inappropriate it was for the writing inside; how instantly alienating it would be to so many people, especially men, but I didn't hear any of it. It was me! In print! Now I'm embarassed to say I find it embarassing. And the title, which wasn't mine either. It flags up something that the main character is against. I did point that out but.... There I go again moan moan, but no. I'm saying this is because Danuta Kean has just brought this New York Times piece to our attention:

Simon & Schuster Set a Worrying Precedent:

...Until now, Simon & Schuster, like all other major trade publishers, has followed the traditional practice in which rights to a work revert to the author if the book falls out of print or if its sales are low....

I didn't know that.
I thought it belonged to the publisher for 80 years or whatever it is. And if it were ever to be revived that would be a publisher to publisher deal thingy. So I'm quite pleased. I worried for a moment for my S&S author friend, but she's been done proud by them already. Going out of print isn't going to be her problem. So I am pleased about that. It's out of date now, of course, novel 1, & the politicings in it have been overtaken by time, but it's not out of the realms of possibility that one day it'll see daylight under its original title (At The End Of the Summer) with a decent cover.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

TAG

Fiction Bitch says I don't have to do it if I don't want to but I love reading about how other writers do it and, of course, blabbering on myself.

Copy the questions into your blog and answer them. Then tag five other writers to do the same!


1. Do you outline? Increasingly so, but not until I've written a few chapters on the hoof using lots of dialogue to get my characters up and running first.

2. Do you write straight through a book, or do you sometimes tackle the scenes out of order? Straight through. The latest novel is a departure, though, featuring the coming together of 2 different worlds. I'm writing a completely separate document for the parallel world so that I can work out how, when and where I reveal the depths of this world inside the main text.

3. Do you prefer writing with a pen or using a computer? Computer. Dialogue, especially, comes out at speed. I'm not such a believer in characters taking on a life of their own, though. For me it's always been the story (or the film in film-making) that's done that - one of the most addicting experiences.

4. Do you prefer writing in first person or third? Mostly third person but some first.

5. Do you listen to music while you write? If so, do you create a playlist, listen randomly, or pick a single song that fits the book? No. But as we're open plan here I did put headphones on for some rewriting recently, with music relevant to the story, & that was OK.

6. How do you come up with the perfect names for your characters? Various methods. Latest lead character is named after a Californian sea crab I read about in The Log from the Sea of Cortez. She was already called Sally, which was right for her age & character, but her first surname was something boring like O'Sullivan or somesuch until I read about the crab. Now she's got some of the crab's colourings, movements and elusiveness as well. The love interest name I nicked from my friend's parrot. I use surnames from people in my old school classes and look at journalists' surnames in the newspaper.

7. When you're writing, do you ever imagine your book as a television show or movie? All the time. I made films before I wrote novels. Two incredibly hard-won BBC director attachments. I found it impossible to progress in that, I had none of the up-front confidence you need to get backing for your projects. I wrote the first novel like a film, with a roughcut, first assembly, second assembly, answerprint, showprint.

8. Have you ever had a character insist on doing something you really didn't want him/her to do? No, but I've recently had one turning up when I wasn't expecting it, completely changing the storyline.

9. Do you know how a book is going to end when you start it? No.

10. Where do you write? Downstairs in our one open-plan living-room, dining-room, kitchen, everything room.

11. What do you do when you get writer's block? I don't believe in it. I know there's something called writer's stall and there's no mystery to it. It simply what happens when you have to break from the writing routine due to real life stuff, like earning a living and looking after children and things. If you write every day the story gets embedded in your subconscious and you'll find yourself coming up with ideas out of the blue, especially when you wake up in the morning, until it starts trucking along almost under its own steam. This is another addicting part of the process. But if the flow is interrupted you have to spend a few days of tortured bashing out of rubbish until you're back in the flow again. The hardest thing about starting to write is finding this flow. When you do it's like a tap has been turned. It may spout a lot of rubbish as well, but you can't turn it off.

12. What size increments do you write in (either in terms of wordcount, or as a percentage of the book as a whole)? It varies, 1,000 words a day is a good balance. My highest has been 5,000 in a day. Am trying to keep new one down to 500 crafted words a day as I am fed up with reading back such terrible first drafts. However there's a lot to be said for the momentum zapping through the first draft approach, especially for a first novel.

13. How many different drafts did you write for your last project? The first half of the novel, about 15 drafts. The second half of the novel about 4 drafts. It needs more but I'm stopping there for now.


14. Have you ever changed a character's name midway through a draft? Lots of times.

15. Do you let anyone read your book while you're working on it, or do you wait until you've completed a draft before letting someone else see it? Nobody read the first one except my agent, who helped with the construction a lot and read through 4 or 5 drafts before she was happy with it. With the rest I've read extracts at my writing critique group.

16. What do you do to celebrate when you finish a draft? Nothing.

17. One project at a time, or multiple projects at once? One main novel in theory, but at the moment I've got 3 on the go, plus I want to put an entry into a radio drama competition, the deadline's about a week away.

18. Do your books grow or shrink in revision? Line editing shrinks it, but I might add extra chapters. Or delete a chapter and then add it back later, as has just happened.

19. Do you have any writing or critique partners? My writing critique group is very important to me. There are 6 of us and we've been together for quite a few years now. Five of us have been published, several with big deals; one's just won a place at the Royal Holloway studying with Andrew Motion; one's just been shortlisted for an important award & has to buy a frock for the dinner and all; another's breaking into movie scriptwriting. It's all very motivating.

20. Do you prefer drafting or revising? The momentum of adding to the wordcount is very satisfying as is moving on with the story. Revising of first drafts can be very depressing but rewriting's where the most satisfaction lies at the end of the day. Proof reading is hell.

I'm supposed to tag five other novelists now, and they can take it up or not as they wish:

Kate Harrison
Caroline Smailes
Anne Brooke
Granny P
Jasfoup's Tongue

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.


Monday, May 14, 2007

The Zimmers

This on breakfast TV this morning buoyed me up.

I was going to write about depression, you see, because I don't think I can carry on writing this stuff here without putting in a little bit about the disastrous life behind the disastrous writing non-career here. It's not me that's officially depressed, but, after another difficult weekend, I think I could be heading that way. Not that I'll give into it - a bit like writer's block and death I'm one of those deluded idiots who thinks if I don't let it in it'll never happen.

Part of the misery top-up this weekend was visiting my mother to celebrate her 95th birthday. This consisted of motorway for 2 hours in driving rain, wading through air thick with chemical air-freshener up 3 flights of stairs, punching codes into each door to gain access and so to mother's triple-locked ward at the top of the building. After I present and open the white towelling robe (What do you give a person who has no life? It was either that or a dancing penguin, I wish I'd bought that now) we sit and talk with my sister, every now and then trying to engage mother, who sits in her wheelchair, more frail than ever, looking downcast and miserable. She only perks up up when we're leaving. Which is the pattern. She used to growl 'go away' as a welcome but hasn't got the energy to do that any more. If you go to kiss her she'll lash out. We don't try any more. We weren't a kissing family anyhow and it's always felt a bit awkward, coming in, as it did, around the air-kissing phase of the 90s. Anyhow, that was that. There are good things about the place, namely the people who work there, who are great, but there's no access to the outside and they're not allowed to have flowers or plants in case they eat them. Now the scary aggression has gone, she could live with us, if we had anywhere to live that was - another major contribution to the glooms of the moment.

It's my father's birthday today, born in 1899, he would have been 108!!

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

CONF 445: THE EARLY BIRD

Up at 6.30am this morning. It's Sunday but I can't get out of the habit. Instead of running, instead of taking cup of tea and biccie back to bed with my Jonathan Franzen, I wrote. I have to get back into Novel 5 (rechristened since Novel 4 back in the picture) as work work interruptions have meant the momentum's slipped again. It wasn't an inspiring session but then I've learnt not to expect too much when I'm trying to find the pattern again.

New hope for Novel 3 as great lead article by Christa D'Suza in today's Observer chews at length on my main theme. She's christened fear of 50 as age-orexia. Fingers crossed it'll make the publishers sit up and start wanting comedy novels on the subject. A new lead on Friday, e-mail in from Agent of the Year, no less, suggesting I send samples of both novels in to her colleague if I'd be interested in talking. They're parcelled up and ready to go & that now gives me two positive leads in the fire. I wondered if I should mention that there's an interested agent reading the full ms at the moment, but to me it sounds like a goading, like, read this now or you'll miss out mate. Everybody knows you query more than one agent at a time these days. I keep it at four queries in the air at a time. Out of those I'd say 30 - 40% are no responders.

Now it's 8.30. I'm going to make another cup of tea and take it back to bed.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Friday, May 11, 2007

CONF $$$

I meant to write 444.

It's been one of those weeks.

No specifically bad writing news, still waiting for agent's opinion, but just about everything else continues on downward spiral.

You know when things get so grim you think well, this is it, it has to be bottoming out. Then it gets a little worse. Like I got credit card frauded this week, two grand gone from my account. Only a small glitch in the scheme of things, it'll be refunded and all & I've done the forms, but you do really think - hang on a minute!

Count blessings, I know, I do, constantly, and they're big ones too. Like I'm discovering the delights of the May dawn chorus every morning. Since doing car boot sale last Sunday I'm programmed in for early rising and have been out running before 7 & the woods still animal territory & the light doing amazing things.

Daughter asked me if she could watch an 18 certificate horror movie at a sleepover tonight, no way I said. Why? Because they'll leave horrific images in your mind, you'll start waking in the night etc. She said, yeah but they're not as horrific as the news.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Monday, May 07, 2007

CONF 443: REVIEWS


New review for Novel 2 on Amazon. A surprise, because latest royalty statement says only 15 or so copies were shifted in six months. One of those 15 has taken time out to give it 3 stars and call it OK, not wonderful, not terrible. I mean, if you're not moved one way or the other why bother? Better news over on Bookcrossing where another rare recent reader has also taken time out to comment. They give it maximum stars and say: "Really loved this one. It's all about marriage in modern times. Very funny and close to home in parts." So even Stevens for now then.

Successful author has new book out and so is everywhere in the mags and newspapers at the moment. Good article on reviewing and why she dishes out bad reviews sometimes. Then gets it in the neck herself the very next day.

I confess I've been tempted to take the Amazon one-star slag-off route sometimes. I'd never, ever do it. It would leave a very nasty taste in my mouth, just as confessing here that I've been tempted does. I know you have to get used to taking it, because that's part of the deal. But I can't see how anybody who's been on the receiving end could inflict it on anybody else. As A A Gill says, he can do it precisely because that's his job and he doesn't own a restaurant or make his own TV programmes.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

CONF 442: FINISHED!

Appropriately Leonard Cohen's Suzanne was on the iTunes as the bottom of page 316 reached. I don't normally listen to music when I'm writing, but is latest idea in open plan-ness to stop people talking to me, and kind of pleased at the synchronicity of that as it's relative to the story. Songs of Leonard Cohen has just been reissued . All I need now is for Suzanne to be the song of the summer.

I've e-mailed a copy to myself. Tomorrow morning I'll put the text through Wordcounter to see which words I've used over and over again. More could be done, and will be done, especially if I can factor in a weekend on Hydra at some stage, but for now that is as good as it's going to get.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

CONF 441: CHAPTER 30


Have finally reached the nitty gritty bit of revisioning I was dreading. I printed out the final 80 or so pages yesterday afternoon and took them to a sunbed in the sun.

We are having big debates here about whether to sit in our front garden or not. It gets the full sun and looks down over a lovely vista of trees, whereas the back gets spots of light in the shade and you have to keep dragging your chair around all day. It also gets the noisy Rugrats next door of an afternoon (twice as loud as last year I'm sure). But the front is exposed, the wall is low & there's no front gate. I've thought about getting a beach wind-shield, putting up trellising all round (a variation of which I'd definitely do if the house were mine), a friend suggested bamboo (again too much to invest on a rental). The best solution so far is to just do it. And yesterday afternoon I have to admit, lying on the sunbed with editing pencil in hand I did have one of those good author moment feelings.

And I got a lot done. The problem is I've put a piece into the synopsis which isn't in the text yet. Has anybody else ever found that? You get so carried away writing up the story that new bits occur that aren't even in there? So I was going to insert those, but actually realised that it would involve introducing a new minor character who'd be better left right on the peripherals and I've given her gossipy girly text to the gay bar owner. Which means much less rewriting. There's another scene too, but I can always readjust later. Interrupting the story flow and all is one job too many to be done in a hurry. And I've virtually done all the corrections, in pencil. The final couple chapters still need to be read but they have had more of a going-over already so am hopeful they'll be a cruise.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

CONF 440: HALF WAY

Happy May Day. It is amazing out there today, the lilac is out and all the trees at their best. Stuff it I am going for another run later. When this novel is finally wrapped I'll be so happy but meantime I must turn my back on the sun and get back to it. On page 184 of 318.

From today's writer's almanac:

It's the birthday of novelist and screenwriter Terry Southern, born in Alvarado, Texas (1924). He co-wrote the screenplays for the films Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Easy Rider (1969), but he started out as a novelist. His first novel was Candy (1958), an erotic retelling of Voltaire's Candide.

Terry Southern said, "The important thing in writing is the capacity to astonish. Not shock—shock is a worn-out word—but astonish."

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