Sunday 27 December 2009

Christmas books

One of the great joys of Christmas is all those new books, and while I was disappointed not to be given The Road (the only one I'd asked for), the rest look promising. I'd already read The Book Thief (which I found rather disappointing), but the others all look interesting. They include A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole),Brooklyn (Colm Toibin), Mudbound (Hillary Jordan), Burial (Neil Cross) and Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout). I've started the Strout, and am enjoying it. I was relieved that eldest son has stopped giving me Magnus Mills's offerings. I've read all he's given me, but you (or rather I) can have too much of Magnus Mills's surrealism. Son, on the other hand, only has to hear the writer's name to be rendered helpless with laughter. I must be missing something.

Which books did anyone else receive? And were they what you wanted?

Monday 21 December 2009


Christmas is not going according to plan, and the latest and biggest blip is that the nice small bushy Christmas tree (which in my memory is becoming nicer and bushier and more desirable by the minute) that I chose and PAID FOR and was going to collect, has, in the meantime, been sold to someone else. The people in the shop have been very apologetic, and they have found another tree which they are bringing round for my inspection, but it will not be the same. It will be a sad, end-of-line, unwanted, wallflower of a Christmas tree, and I have a feeling that I won't want it, either. We shan't be here for Christmas, so do we need one at all? Husband (practical, unsentimental) says no; I wail that I've always had a Christmas tree, this will be my very first Christmas ever without a Christmas tree, I WANT a Christmas tree.

So while I wait for the Christmas tree I'm not going to like to be brought to the door, I thought I'd take this opportunity to wish any passing MNWers a very happy Christmas (with or without trees), and special luck in the new year for those who have not had such a good year writing-wise. Here's to lots of positive emails and phone calls from Will in 2010. Cheers!

Saturday 12 December 2009

Advice, please

Aliya recently posted about the use of first v third person, and tenses, and I now have a similar problem. My WIP has three main characters, and each chapter is written from a particular person's POV. But - the three have regular get-togethers, and here I am floundering as to POV and tense. The separate chapters are in the past tense, but I'm thinking of having the all-together chapters in the present tense, partly to differentiate them. So far so good. What I am finding really difficult is that having, as it were, got inside each character's head for the separate chapters, what do I do when they're all together? Get inside all their heads one at a time? Or just do an overview? In my previous novels, I've always written from a particular POV or in the first person (which does away with the problem altogether). Does anyone have any advice, please?

Thursday 10 December 2009

Free to good home

Free to good (or any reasonable) home: 'The Crime Writer's Guide to Police Practice and Procedure', hardly used. I'll even pay the postage.

And I promise no more posts on crime writing.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

The relief of not being a crime writer.

Having spent the last few months trying to fit myself into crime writing mode, returning to my old non-genre-but-character/relationship-based style of writing is such a massive RELIEF! No more research (except that I need to speak to a prostitute), no more I-wonder-how-A-would-address-B or how-long-does-it-take-for-the trachea-to-disntegrate moments. I feel that I've returned home after a rather painful journey. My respect and admiration for the likes of Brian and Len is greatly increased, but I no longer want to be them.

Monday 16 November 2009

Back to square one. Again.

After corresponding with WNA, and submitting some ideas, I think we have agreed on a plot (working title 'Basic Theology for Fallen Women'). I can use some of my old (rejected)characters (or at least allow them to fall and learn theology) which is nice, and for the first time for ages, I feel really positive. Which is dangerous, I know - hubris and nemesis and all that - but November is my least favourite month, and I need to cheer myself up. I even hate fireworks.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

I am not a crime writer. Definitely.

I've just had an hour's chat with WNA (see below), and the crime idea has gone out of the window. For good. Lovely Graham at the police station will be terribly disappointed, as he was coming to see it as a joint venture, but I'll give him a signed copy of something (Graham collects signed copies) and hope he understands.

But - having an agent is WONDERFUL! A whole hour just to talk about my ideas, my book, and (even better) her ideas, without feeling I was taking up too much of her time; a whole new experience. (Which is not to say that Will isn't hugely helpful - he is - but this is different).

So it's back to square one, although I may recycle some of my characters. Square one and I are getting rather used to each other, although we have an uneasy relationship, but that can't be helped. Please wish me luck!

Monday 2 November 2009

I am not a crime writer. Probably.

I saw it coming, but ignored it, and now I have irrefutable evidence that I am almost certainly not a crime writer. I sent the WIP (about half a novel) to Wonderful New Agent, and she sees in it all the flaws I'd hoped she wouldn't notice. Too many characters, not enough tension, much too much personal stuff about the characters etc etc. She liked lots of it, but. Oh, that word 'but'! We are speaking about it tomorrow ("lots to talk about" says WNA) but I think the writing's on the wall. Or my crime writing's on the wall. Which is not to say that I can't still use the characters and the setting. I suppose all I have to do is not kill them off, and keep them alive to do something else. Pole dancing, German classes, extreme ironing or whatever.

WNA hasn't exactly said I'm not a crime writer. Not yet. But I think she's going to. In a way it will be a relief (I'm getting rather good at being relieved at bad writing news), but I am also fed up. THIS HAS NOT BEEN MY YEAR!

Sunday 25 October 2009

Ghosts and celebrities

I read today that ghostwritten books by 'celebrities' are on the increase. Apparently, all of last Christmas's top ten bestsellers were ghostwritten celebrity autobiographies, and it is likely that the top ten fiction list this Christmas will be ghostwritten novels, again by celebrity 'authors'. This is depressing for people like us: serious writers, published on our own merits, and seeking to find a wider readership. And yet perhaps we should be grateful, for these books bring in hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue for the publishers, and therefore presumably there is more money available for those publishers to take a risk with previously unknown writers.

If this is the case, why does the whole things make me so cross? After all, I would hate someone else to write my books for me, and I have no desire to be a celebrity. Surely it can't be the money? Or the whirlwind book-signing tours? Or the interviews in that posh suite at the top of the Dorchester with the lovely views? Perish the thought.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Sex again

I don't think this deserves to appear in the MNW blog, but I simply had to report this as a follow-up to my post on writing about sex. How about this (from the same writer as the one I quoted before?): "he nibbled his way up her torso, until he reached her mouth." Don't you just love it?

Thursday 15 October 2009

Dead Ernest not so dead?

There's a glimmer of hope on the Dead Ernest screenplay front. The project has been dogged by recession-related problems (very few new programmes or films are being made at the moment, apparently), but a well-known actress (all I'm allowed to say, but she'd be ideal) has been shown the book, "adores" it and would like to see a script. This has led to a new independent film company showing interest. All very early days, and it may come to nothing, but it would be lovely if it worked out.

Saturday 10 October 2009

Great v good books

it is the season of literary prizes; more specifically, the Nobel and the Booker. The Times has also published this week the titles of the first batch of its ' 60 best books of the past 60 years' survey. Among the top 20 are Harry Potter, Doctor Zhivago and The Time Traveller's Wife, and this set me thinking: what is the difference between a great book and a good book? There are books which have kept me riveted (Sandra Brown's thrillers spring to mind) but which I know are not great, and books which I recognise as being great literature (eg some Trollope (Anthony), much of Iris Murdoch), but which may not have been quite so un-put-downable. There is certainly room for both - in fact, both kinds are essential - and yet I find it hard to explain what it is that makes me feel that a book is great rather than just good. What does anyone else think? And what are, say, your top five books (published in the last 60 years) for whatever reason? Mine, for what it's worth, would be Brothers (Bernice Rubens), A Fine Balance (Rohanton Mistry), The Secret history (Donna Tartt), The Diary of Jane Somers (Doris Lessing) and The Tin Can Tree (Anne Tyler). The Tin Can Tree is a compromise as I couldn't quite make up my mind, but the delicacy of the writing in this quite slight novel, which describes beautifully a family's reactions to the death of a little girl, and takes place over just a few days, shows a mastery which I find quite breathtaking.

Monday 5 October 2009

Crime and P D James

There was an interesting interview with P D James on the radio this morning, in the course of which she said that she created her setting and characters some time before deciding on her plot. I found this very heartening, as while I shall never be a P D James (shame, that) I have done the same in my current (crime) novel, even to the point of not deciding 'who dunnit' until a third of the way through. Hitherto, I thought that maybe this wasn't the way to go about things - ie that crime novels should be plot rather than character-driven - but maybe I haven't got it all wrong after all. A nice beginning to the week.

Monday 28 September 2009

Better to travel than to arrive?

Several Macmillan New Writers - myself included - have had disappointing news this year in that our second or third novels have been rejected for publication. Most of us will have spent at least a year on each of these novels; a year of writing, of thinking, of planning, of ups and downs, and of hope. But thinking back over my own year, I have to conlude that it's the journey that really counts, not the arriving. Yes, it's wonderful to be accepted and published; great to hold in my hand the first copy of a new novel; fun to attend a book launch and book signings, and to see my book in a shop window. The money's nice, too. But nothing quite compares with the exhilaration I feel when a piece of writing is going well; when the story take over, and flows as though coming from a source of its own; the moment when another (brilliant, of course) idea strikes, and I can't wait to get it down on paper. So, yes. It's deeply disappointing to be rejected and to have to put the novel and all its well-loved characters away in their virtual drawer, and turn to something else. But regrets? None. A waste of time? Absolutely not. Speaking for myself, it was worth every minute. And that, presumably, is why we keep on writing.

Monday 14 September 2009

Police checks and paedophiles. A rant

Have you had a police check? Because if you haven't you're pretty sure to need one sooner or later. I had to have one for teaching adults in an evening class. Big strong adults. There were twelve of them and one of me. But never mind. If police checks protect children, they're worth it, aren't they?

Well, maybe not. I have a friend who's a single mother. She's a brilliant mother and adores her five-year-old son. A year ago, she discovered that her estranged partner - her sons's father - had been systematically sexually abusing their child for a year, threatening him with his mother's death if he were to tell anyone. Eventually, the child spoke out. His account was detailed and graphic, and included details that no 4-year-old could possibly know, and although he convinced his mother, his GP, his teachers and his extended family, my friend was told that his evidence didn't count because he was so young.

A year on, after striving tirelessly and heroically for justice, my friend has managed to ensure that this man is on a sex register, and will never be allowed near her son again. But that is all. He is already involved in a club for young sportsmen and has formed a relationship with a woman with two small children. Meanwhile, her little boy is still trying to come to terms with his appalling ordeal, and she is still angry, frustrated and appalled that she should have entrusted her child to someone who would perpetrate such terrible acts against him.

Scary? You bet it is. Police checks? Forget them. They're not worth the paper they're written on.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Returning to the WIP

I've always thought that writing is a bit like, say, trying to draw a horse. You know what a horse looks like, you can see it in your mind's eye. But get a pencil and try to draw it, and unless you're a consummate artist, the drawing is nothing like what's in your head. So it is with the WIP. I see what I want to create, I have the shape and the characters and much of the plot in my head, and it's all oh-so beautiful. But get down to it, and the reality is a far cry from what I planned.

So - I've given myself a few weeks to recuperate (after all, the muse isn't going to work after major surgery, is it? Of course it isn't), but now it's time to face the novel again, especially now I have an almost-agent. Displacement activity abounds, including, as now, blogging. Meanwhile, I can feel myself circling the WIP warily, like a bird of prey which isn't quite sure whether or not the prey might bite back; wondering whether to take the plunge, or wait a little longer; until tomorrow, or next week, or next year...

Friday 21 August 2009

A question of genre

Earlier this week, I had a long chat on the phone with my (possible) agent. She was very nice, very encouraging, very approachable. Exactly the sort of person I was looking for. But it seems I have a problem. Hitherto, my books have been genre-free. They don't really belong in a particular pigeonhole, and I wasn't thinking genre when I wrote them. They were the novels I wanted to write. Period. But the agent sees a problem, because the WIP is a murder story, and I am not a crime writer. Well, not yet, anyway. And so there is a problem with labelling and marketing the novel when (or if) it comes to publication. I had no idea that this mattered so much, but apparently it does. Crossing genres is, aparently, a risky thing to do. She mentioned a very well-known novelist who did just this, with disastrous results.

So what do I do? Do I persevere with my crime, or do I go back to the type of novel I've written before (more relationship-orientated), although the murder is really crying out to be written? Our conversation has dented my confidence, not least because my editor feels much the same. Advice, please.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Of hips and ops

I contemplated (breifly) writing a horribly introspective diary of the hip operation, but decided it would be even more boring to read than to write. But since receiving my new hip (16 days ago), I have learnt several things.
1. I am a much worse patient than I had hoped to be.
2. Never, never, never let your nearest and dearest help you on with your elastic stockings.
3. Your bones do not belong to you. No, really, I asked to be able to keep my old hip (feeling suddenly and nostalgically fond or it) and was told firmly no. Why? Health and safety. Health and bloody safety. What harm can I possibly do with a small severed hip joint? I feel ridiculously angry about this.
4. It is impossible to write anything useful while trying to convalesce. Will I ever write again?
5. Blogging is a good solution to 4, even if it does nothing to further the progress of the WIP.

Monday 20 July 2009

What's in a name?

I've been musing on the subject of book titles, and how much they contribute to a novel's success. Some titles seem to be very important. 'A Brief History of Tractors in Ukranian', and 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen', for a start. I have read both these books, and quite - only quite - enjoyed them, but it was the titles which attracted me almost as much as the hype. Would they have done as well as they have done if they'd had less interesting titles? It's hard to know. Some books have done very well with uninspiring titles - 'War and Peace' isn't exactly attention-grabbing; neither, come to think of it, is 'Emma'. But obviously publishers do give a lot of attention to titles. I wasn't allowed to have my chosen title for my second novel, and I gather David Isaak wasn't allowed his, either (what was that title, David?). I suppose if you're very well-known, it doesn't much matter what your book is called ('Saturday'? 'The Sea'?). Having said all that, I love fun titles (The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency is another), but maybe there isn't room for too many quirky titles. If quirky became commonplace, it wouldn't be quirky any more, and then I suppose titles like 'The Outcast' (a book which, incidentally, I loved) would be the new exciting.

Monday 13 July 2009

The agent-hunt looks up

My (very desultory) search for an agent, which had petered out altogether following the rejection of book no. 3, has had a bit of a boost, as I've just sent the opening chapters of my new WIP to an agent someone recommended, and she likes it very much. As the said WIP is in its early stages, and I've no idea how it's going to end/turn out, I'm not getting too excited, but it's good to know that someone likes it. Now maybe I'll stop wasting time on my own and other people's blogs and try to get down to some serious writing...

Saturday 11 July 2009


The hardback of The Birds, the Bees and Other Secrets came out last August, and the paperback was due to be published this November. A bit of a wait, but never mind. It would be worth waiting for. But guess what? W H Smiths and another major outlet don't like the proposed cover for the paperback, so it's going to have to be re-designed, and won't now come out until April 2010. That's 20 months after the initial publication date. This has not been a good year for me novel-wise, and November was going to be the high point. Now there isn't one. I'm trying very hard not to be disappointed. After all, what's another 5 months? Well, it's a lot, that's what. A smaller second print run of the hardback is being produced, which is nice, but it ISN'T THE SAME! (I contemplated posting this on the MNW blog, since it's book-related news, but decided that since self-pity is such an unattractive quality, I'd hide it away here).

Friday 10 July 2009

A Shakespeare experience

We went to an outdoor production of a Shakespeare play last night (it was meant to be a birthday treat for our neighbour). All very posh. Country house, wonderful gardens, picnics with champagne and everyone being very English and pretending that it was warm when it was absolutely freeeeezing. So far so (fairly) good. But the play (better not say which, in case) was appalling. The actors couldn't act, couldn't speak up, couldn't put any expression into what they said, and we were bored stiff (and still freezing). Half time came. We looked at one another. Shall we go home? we whispered. YES! We gathered up our picnic things and escaped, feeling triumphant and guilty in equal measure, and tore home for a warming cup of tea (we'd run out of whisky). The whole episode leaves me with two unanswered queistons. (1) Was everyone else really enjoying themselves, or was it an emperor's new clothes kind of thing (which I suppose makes us little boys)? And (2) Should amateurs do Shakespeare at all? I think that with Shakespeare plays the plot is a vehicle for the wonderful words, rather than the other way round, and last night the words just weren't wonderful (or audible).

Monday 6 July 2009

The curious incident of the fish in the chimney

A post of David's (David Isaak's blog - Tomorrowville)in May concerning the problem of birds in the chimney reminded me of something that happened to us. We were in our living room one evening, when there was suddenly a strong smell of fish coming from the chimney. This was uncharted territory, but since chimneys mean fire, and fire means danger, we phoned the fire brigade. Just for advice. To be on the safe side. We didn't want to be a nuisance. After all, fish in the chimney is hardly an emergency. But the fire brigade are very consciencious, and they said they'd send someone round. Well, just one man then, I suggested. On a bicycle, perhaps, to save petrol? But they were having none of it. This was obviously an all or nothing situation, and so we got a fire engine complete with four burly firemen. All with colds. So they coudldn't smell anything. Not fish, not anything at all. Never mind. They took my word for it, and tested the chinmey for gas leaks (not fish) and there weren't any, and kindly fitted us with free fire alarms, which was nice, and had a cup of tea, and left us to it. But the question remains. What happened to the fish?

Friday 26 June 2009

Crop circles

I live in the land of crop circles. They appear about now, and proliferate towards harvest, and drive the farmers mad (canny ones put collecting boxes in the middle of each circle to capitalise on the situation or, as they put it, to help recoup their losses). For some time I believed in the little green men theory, but the talk down at The Barge - the pub where the circle-makers gather - has put paid to that. Nonetheless, people collect in the middle of crop circles to bond or pray or hug or whatever crop circle worshippers do, and I met some of them today. Had I seen flashing lights and UFOs? they asked eagerly, and I said no, and told them about the people down at The Barge. But afterwards, I felt ashamed, as if I'd just told someone there wasn't a Father Christmas or a tooth fairy, because believing in little green men is fun, and believing in the people down at The Barge isn't.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Of Dental Hygiene

I try very hard to like dental hygienists, because on the whole they are nice people, but I do have one problem with them. I come in all cheery with my nice clean teeth and healthy (I think) gums, and the hygienist picks up a sharp instrument and digs away with it until my gums bleed. Then the following conversation takes place. Always.
DH "Ha! Gum disease!"
Me "That's because you poked them!"
DH "Nope. Gum disease."
Me "But they're fine. They don't hurt and they don't bleed, or only when you poke them."
DH (changing tack) "You can't see what I see."
Me "Possibly not. But I know what they feel like."
DH (dreamily) "Some surgeries have little cameras, and you can show the patients what their gums look like."
Me "Uuuuuuungh..." because by now she's back in there and I'm lying with my mouth wide open, thinking how much I don't want to see what my gums look like, and what will they think of next?
She then (today) told me about her 40th birthday treat (a trip to the foothills of Everest) and her (nice) stepson and why she was wearing a flower in her hair, and when I'd got my mouth back, we exchanged gory stories about the smelliest jobs we'd ever had to do (this was with my nursing cap on). If anyone reads this, and they would really like to know what my smelliest job was, I'll email it to you, but actually you don't want to know.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Of healing builders

Last week I went to see a healer. He's a little builder with a strange nickname beginning with P (best not say what for reasons of confidentiality) who has only recently discovered that he has powers of healing, and he came highly recommended. So there we were, P and I, in the middle of this building site, surrounded by burly men with wheelbarrows, with P's hand on my bottom (or thereabouts) and P telling me how he goes to Heaven on Saturday afternoons, and yes, there is a Hell, he's seen it too ("you don't want to go there," says P. Too right I don't), and in about a week I'll be healed. Afterwards, he gave me a hug and sent me on my way. A week later, I'm not healed. Not at all. And have been gullible enough to be a bit disappointed. My daughter, who is even more gullible, is even more disappointed (although P appears to have been able to heal her), and my scientific sons, one of whom is a doctor, who were very cynical about the whole thing, have been kind enough not to enquire. So I shall have to resort to normal medicine and have an operation, which is a nuisance. But I am bemused by P and his tales of Heaven and Hell and his assurances that everything will be All Right In The End (unless you're a paedophile, says P, although I think this bit may just be wishful thinking on the part of P). A bit of me believes in P, and quite a lot of me doesn't. But all these builders, busy building things while P heals people, seem to believe in him, because he appears to have healed most of them in some way or another. So why not me? It's all very odd.

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Cyber party

I suppose I have to be first, as it's my party. So I shall have a pint of bitter and a bag of pork scratchings, and I shall invite Desmond Tutu, because of his wonderful smile.