Saturday 30 October 2010

To adverb or not to adverb?

I'm not a no-adverbs-at-any-price writer. I think, like exclamation marks, they have their place (although I believe Graham Greene would have disagreed). But I have just re-read a Dick Francis* (I'd run out of reading material), and he is quite amazing. Almost every piece of dialogue is qualified with an adverb, some of them quite astonishingly clumsy. In a random couple of pages there are the following; pleasantly, faintly, weakly, shamfacedly, suddenly, disbelievingly, thoughtfully, neutrally, passionately, swiiftly, advisedly. And that's just a couple of pages.

I notice these things much more now that I write more. Points of view, too. Some writers seem to get away with jumping from one POV to another, and it can be quite jarring. But would I have noticed before I had to examine my own writing so carefully? I'm not sure.

* I don't wish to be disparaging about DF; I read, and enjoyed, many of his books while feeding my 3rd baby. He's good holiday reading, and tells a pacy story.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Masterchef (cont)

It's getting REALLY exciting now. Only three left, and poor little Alice kicked out (I liked her). But Claire's still in, and I'd love her to win. Poor David got terribly nervous ("stop shaking, stop shaking, STOP SHAKING" the chef yelled at him. That's the spirit), and Len (who's
now out) overcooked and then undercooked the lamb in the posh restaurant, and I worried about what they'd do with all that wasted meat. After all, while shepherd's pie is one of my favourite things, it's not pretty, and it's definitely not "fine dining".

I have dealt with medical emergencies and cardiac arrests, and they don't bother me at all. But cooking for those judges, against the clock and with the cameras filming, just doesn't bear thinking about. But it's wonderful TV. Roll on next week, and the final!

But where was Monica?

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Rant on a wet Tuesday

Two things really annoyed me today.

1. Nick Clegg smokes! Shock, horror. How could he, when we're all looking to him to set a good example? What ridiculous, tabloid bollocks. Of course the poor bloke can smoke if he wants to. Why on earth shouldn't he? It's not illegal, or hurting anyone else (unless he blows smoke in the baby's face). I've never smoked, but I will defend - well not to the death, but I'll defend - anyone else's right to do so.

2. "Five-a-day"*. Why does that annoy me so much? I was reading in the paper something about a fruity drink, and was told that "it also counts as one of your five a day". Do they (whoever they are) really think we all sit around counting up to five, and then breathing a sigh of relief before reaching for the chocolate/cake/pork pie or whatever. It makes me want to eat anything but five a day. Three, eight, seventeen - anything but five. And how many peas (for example) make a helping? How much cabbage? Does half an avocado count? Does anyobody know? Does anybody CARE?

* For anyone who doesn't know (can there be anyone?), the government recommends that we all eat five helpings of fruit and/or veg a day.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Dead Ernest RIP

Late last night, I was browsing Amazon looking for a book, and decided to see how (whether) Dead Ernest was doing. I was shocked to find that, quite suddenly, it's gone. Finished. Sold out. There was the usual "we'll let you know when we have it in stock again" message, but both hardback and trade paperback have gone. So I tried Macmillan's website, and there was no mention of it at all. It might never have existed.

I should have seen this coming, of course. It was never brought out in paperback (Pan Mac) as it "lacked commerciality"(their words). It was just a matter of time before it disappeared altogether. But it was my first; the book that made me feel I might one day be a novelist; the Richard and Judy competiton runner-up (I'll never forget the jubilation); my first full-length literary baby. And now it's gone.

This hit me far harder than I would have thought. I knew I was being stupid; that I've written a second (and I hope, third) better book(s); that poor Ernest would inevitably sooon be out of print. But it felt like a little death in my (very small) literary family. There is still hope, as the screen producer who has bought the rights is still trying to make a screenplay, but while I very much hope this works out (for her even more than me, because she's put so much time and effort into the project), my book is dead, as a book. Unless I become very successful indeed, it won't be brought back to life. And I feel enormously sad.

Friday 22 October 2010

Bad sex and Tony Blair

Apparently Tony Blair has been short-listed for the Bad Sex Award for writing the following in his autobiography (the first non-fiction nomination, apparently):

"That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me," he wrote in A Journey. "On that night of 12 May 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct..."

I wouldn't really call that bad sex; or any sex at all, when you think what does get written. But there's something disatasteful about it, all the same.

To much information, Tony. Too much information.

Tuesday 19 October 2010


Well, here's my nice new award, courtesy of Teresa (thank you, Teresa!). I'm not exactly sure what it means*, but it's very pretty, and brightens up my blog, which needed a picture. And of course it's always good to have an award.

It's a very long time since I had one (an award, that is). In fact the last one was (I think) a medal for nursing, presented by the Queen Mother, a very long time ago. I had to learn to curtsey (harder than it looks). We all had tea with the QM afterwards, and as she only ate a tiny bite of her sandwich, I'm ashamed to say that the rest of us shared it (the sandwich) when she had gone. So eating the royal toothmarks is probably up there with having a novel published.

*Could you tell me a bit more about it please, Teresa?

Monday 18 October 2010

What's in a name?

I've alway thought book titles are incredibly important, and this has been brought home to me in the last few days because I simply cannot remember the name of the book I'm currently reading. It's a good novel, and I'm enjoying it, but the title? I've just had to go and look at it again (it's called East Fortune, by James Runcie), and in five minutes, I shall have forgotten it once more. So I'll never be able to remember it if I want to recommend it to anyone (quite important, that).

Take A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian. A brilliant title, and I can't help wondering whether some of the novel's success is due to that title (I have to confess that while I enjoyed the novel, I enjoyed the title more). I've just read her latest - We Are All Made of Glue - and I think the title is much much better (or more memorable) than the novel itself. Likewise, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, and (dare I say) The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night Time (thought I did love it).

How do people choose the titles for their novels? I can't remember for the life of me how I came to choose Dead Ernest (except that, obvously, it was about Ernest, who was dead). Birds and Bees was a compromise; I wanted something quite different; Macmillan suggested The Facts of Life (!). My WIP - Basic Theology for Fallen Women; not sure how I thought of that title, but I love it. It's probably the only thing I love about the book but it's a start (it's also the main reason I haven't abandoned it in difficult moments). And apparently it (the title - that's all there was of it at the time) went down well at the London Book Fair. Now all I have to do is make the novel as good as the title, which I have a horrible feeling isn't going to happen.

Friday 15 October 2010

What's it about?

Of course, the other question people ask (after - or sometimes before - they've found out what name you use) is what your book is about.

I find this question almost impossible to answer. Synopses are hugely difficult; the kind of mini-synopsis people are asking for is worse. Even trying to give a mini-synopsis of, say, Peter Rabbit would be bad enough ("well, there's this family of rabbits, and the baby rabbits are told not to go into someone's garden. No. Wait a minute. Their mother is going shopping, so they're on their own. She's a widow, because Mr. McGregor - he's the one whose garden they're not supposed to be going into - ate her husband" etc etc). To express the meaning/intent/plot of a WIP (or finished novel) is worse.

How do you sum up the plot of your WIP/finished novel? In a couple of sentences? Is there a knack? I'd love to know.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Masterchef addiction

Recently, I have become totally hooked on Masterchef (BBC 2). Which is odd, because it combines two of my biggest nightmares: posh cooking (as in dinner parties), and deadlines.

Here, you have pale, trembling contestants cooking fiddly, decorative little meals, against the clock, and with the judges literally leaning over their shoulders as they cook, clucking, rolling their eyes, and shrugging with dismay at each misplaced fragment or extra half-squeeze of lemon. Last night, they had to make tiny little souffles, plus a caramel sauce, in just 10 minutes. It was quite terrifying to watch. "Do you think your souffles will be cooked in time"? one of the judges asked gleefully of a miserable contestant, who was watching his pale, liquid efforts not rising through the see-through door of the oven. What was the poor guy supposed to say? Of course the souffles didn't rise; they never stood a chance.

The food in this programme is all fiddly food (I've posted about this before, but I have a bit of a thing about it). It's the kind of food which might do as an appetiser, or a subect for a still life painting, but it isn't a proper meal. I little mouthful of this; a small puddle of that; a garnish of tiny twigs...I simply don't see the point. As my eldest son (a very good cook, with a proper man's appetite) says: "people want pie". Exactly.

But I shall continue to watch this mesmerising programme, and keep everything crossed for the poor wretched cooks, and hope that, notwithstanding the extraordinary food, everyone manages to come out of it alive.

Monday 11 October 2010

An important week

This is global handwashing week. Oh, and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson has written a novel with a heroine called Lyric. She (T P-K, not Lyric) has also eaten two diamonds (all this from the first 5 minutes of Woman's Hour).

Saturday 9 October 2010

Do we write under our own names?

It's a question we all get asked, isn't it: do you write under your own name? I've never understood why anyone wouldn't do so, unless, of course, s/he was ashamed of what s/he was writing, or had a very dull name, or wrote in different genres. A great-aunt of mine - a very black sheep indeed, especially considering the times she lived in - wrote a book about prostitution called "To Beg We Are Ashamed", which I'm sorry to say was almost certainly autobiographical. But otherwise, why would one change one's name? I think all MNWers write under our own own names , don't we?(unless someone's pretending to be someone they're not...)

But if I had to choose a pen name, it would be Matilda Davenport. She was my great-grandmother, and I think hers is a magnificent name. It has a touch of gravitas (which Frances Garrood most certainly does not).

Thursday 7 October 2010

Help, please.

A rather cardboard male character in my WIP needs a job. It (he) must be compassionate, not too well paid, terribly worthwhile, (fairly) interesting, and involve some travelling (so that he can have illicit couplings with one of my heroines. He's married). I've racked my brains, and can only come up with medical things. Has anyone any ideas, please? At the moment, he's an oncologist, but I don't think he's really got what it takes. I've been trying to solve this problem for about three weeks, and am totally stuck.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Full English breakfasts and new knickers

We'vejust been away for the night for John's birthday, and managed to get upgraded to the kind of room you (I) can only dream about. It was all wonderful. But the breakfast...

Why, oh why, do I always have the full English? Because I've paid for it, that's why, and because I think I'm going to enjoy it. But I never do. It's invariably too filling, too fatty and too fattening. So, every time, I swear that next time I'll have a boiled egg. I loved boiled eggs. They're one of my favourite foods. But every time, I succumb to the full English, because I'm greedy and I never learn.

And the knickers. We have no M&S here (or only a food one) so on the way home, we visited Leamington Spa, and I bought 20 pairs of knickers. Which sounds as though I have some sort of medical problem, which I haven't, but I got carried away. I just love new knickers. Sparkling, new, white knickers, £4 for 5 pairs. And there's a wonderful sense of freedom in throwing away all the old ones, which have gone grey in the wash. I'm really looking forward to it.

But just to raise the tone, I bought a shiny new ice cream scoop as well.

Sunday 3 October 2010

The joys of babyhood

Just a quick post to counterbalance the rather sombre one about old age. This (his parents assure me) is a smile. Well, he looks pretty contented. And, of course, he's gorgeous.

Back to the 2nd draft...

Saturday 2 October 2010


I have never done "drafts" before. I've always revised each chapter as I go along, and have never understood what 1st, 2nd, 3rd drafts etc are exactly for. Until now.

When I gaily (well anxiously) sent off the WIP to my agent, I expected her to say a simple yes or no (this is what has always happened before, with MNW). But what she said (after suggesting - no, ordering, though ever so nicely - a great many alterations) was: "this is the first draft". Which came as a bit of a shock.

I was reminded of this because several other MNWs, too, are apparently writing (or have just written) 2nd or 3rd drafts of their novels. Some have said they really enjoy the process. I, however, was not looking forward to it.

But now that I've started, I'm beginning to see the attraction. I have the structure; the beginning, the end and most of the plot have my agent's approval; so I can just work on improving the bits in between. I don't have to worry about what happens next - I know what happens next - I can just go on re-writing and re-writing until I get it right. I haven't got to think up a new plot. Not yet, anyway. And I'm still being creative.

I could get used to this!