Thursday 29 April 2010

Two pieces of advice

1. Most writers probably already know this, but I didn't, so I thought I'd pass it on:

Never write in any tense other than the one you're going to be happy with. I've just had to change thousands of words from the present tense into the past tense(s) . I'd forgotten how many irregular verbs there are in English, and in any case, it's an extremely tedious task.

2. For a sprained ankle or swollen foot, nothing beats one of those cold wine cuffs. Not even frozen peas. I won't bore anyone with the horrible accident which necessitated the use of said cuff, but I thought I'd pass on the tip.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Taking sides

Listening to a very dull serial on the radio, I realised that I was taking the side of the protagonist, although I didn't particularly like him. Which led me to think about the whole businesss of taking sides. It seems we are - or at least, I am - programmed to take sides. Whether it's a novel or a film, a goody or a baddy, I look for someone to side with. And if the book/film has no-one I can sympathise with, then I lose interest (unless the plot itself is exceptionally exciting). I hated The Talented Mr. Ripley for this reason; I didn't like the hero (I'm sure I wasn't supposed to) and I didn't really like anyone else in the novel, either. Similarly, in the Booker prizewinning A Line of Beauty, I thoroughly disliked the main character, and hence the book. It may have been well-written, but there was no-one it in with whom I could identify. I still don't know why I bothered to finish it.

And I suppose much of life is about taking sides, from gangs in the school playground - even friendly ones - to belonging to clubs, supporting football teams or whatever. Wars are about taking sides. The bloody election is about taking sides.

The election... And I'm still floating. Because I don't like any of the party leaders, so I'm not really on their side (but I shall vote when the time comes, because voting gives me licence to grumble).

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Paperback baby

Nothing quite beats the thrill of receiving the first of a new edition (or better, the very first edition) of one's own book. The paperbacks of Birds and Bees arrived today - ten of them (Macmillan are becoming very generous) - and they do look great. I carried one around with me when I went out, just in case I bumped into anyone who might be interested ( it was a wheeling- your-new-baby-out-in-the-pram-for-the-first-time thing), but I chickened out. So I'm telling my blog, instead.

Monday 19 April 2010

The writing process

I have just found this excellent description of how it feels to start writing a book:

"A book unwritten is a delightful universe of infinite possibilities. Set down one word, however, and immediately it becomes earthbound. Set down one sentence and it's halfway to being just like every other bloody book." (The Ghost, by Robert Harris.)

This rang so many bells with me, and more or less sums up the huge dificulty I at least have in getting going. Because once the book has been started, it can never really come up to that perfect dream in the writer's head.

Or can it?

Saturday 10 April 2010

Pedant's revolt

Where language is concerned, we (husband John and I) are pedants. This is not always a good thing, because we are often too easily irritated. After all, language changes and develops, and that's the way it's always been. But there are things that really get to us, and last night we heard one that made us both leap from our chairs to yell at the screen. It was this:

"Everything comes to he who waits," said the speaker, a supposedly educated character in the film The Young Victoria.

Now, that might be forgiven in everyday speech. Just. But this film was (presumably) scripted and edited; the lines were learnt and rehearsed; and then the actor was filmed speaking them. How on earth did such a blunder manage to slip through the net?


Monday 5 April 2010

Everyone has a book in them...?

People often say to me either: "I've always thought I'd like to write a novel", or "everyone says I ought to write a book about my life/experiences/brilliant idea"(or whatever).

Why do so many people think they can write? And if they really believe they can, why don't they just sit down and do it? It's because that's the really hard part; that's why. The sitting down and doing it. That's what so many people don't seem to get. Ideas are easy. Everyone has ideas. Nearly everyone can string words together. Telling stories is relatively easy. But sitting in front of that blank sheet of paper (or worse, that blank screen) is the really hard part. How many potentially brilliant writers have never written a book because they never sat on that chair and got stuck in?

And yet...another part of me thinks, what makes you think this is so easy? What makes you think that anyone can write a book? A friend of mine, a successful actress, is infuriated because the cast of her present production includes a "celebrity" who has never acted in her life before. 'I think I'll go and spend a day as a brain surgeon' fumes my friend. 'If X thinks she can act, why shouldn't I have a go at digging away at somenone's grey cells? Do years of training and experience count for so little?'

To get back to writing, a great many people think they can write. But can they? Those of us who have been published are fortunate; I know this, and I'm very grateful. I could well have spent all my writing life keeping the slush piles of agents and/or publishers in business. But like most writers, I have served my apprenticeship. I have worked hard. Writing may be compulsive, but it's not easy. It's lonely, frustrating, and often heartbreaking, and unless you are very successful, it doesn't pay particularly well. As an occupation, it is not to be taken lightly.

There seem to be two reactions to people who write. One is: "Gosh! You write books! How wonderful!" The other is: "I could do that. I think one day I'll have a go."

Well, make up your minds, all you would-be writers. Either those of us who write are all geniuses, or writing is something you can do, too. So for goodness' sake, get on and just do it.