Saturday, 31 January 2009

I Sold Another Story!

I had an email yesterday from Yours, who want to buy a short story I wrote last July. I started writing short stories in early 2008 and this is my second sale, the first was a story I wrote last April which I sold to The Weekly News last October. Both sales have been thrilling and cause for much jumping up and down and whooping and phoning/texting/emailing friends and family. But the feeling has also been qualitatively different. The first time it felt a bit like a fluke or beginner's luck. This time I found myself wide awake at 3 am, thinking 'blimey, maybe I CAN do this writing thing.'

Two notches on my womag bedpost is twice as good as one. I'd like at least one more by summer, so that when I submit my novel to agents again, my writing CV will look much more impressive than it did last time round. Here's hoping.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Public Service Blogging

The Paramour has been nagging me for ages about my password. Yep, singular - I've been using the same obscure minor deity from ancient history for everything since the Internet was invented. He regularly told me that this was a bad idea, that I should have different passwords for different websites, especially now I do my banking online. But I can't remember lots of different passwords, I wailed, especially if they have to combine words and numbers, and you say I'm not allowed to write them down. Correct, he would say, with an unattractive hint of smugness.

Last week, infuriated, I challenged him. 'How,' I said, 'do you manage your passwords, then, Mr Clever Clogs?'

'Car registration numbers,' he said, with a perceptible smirk of smugness.

Apparently he can remember the registration number of every car his family ever owned when he was a child, and every car he's owned since. (What is it about men's brains?) And he keeps written records saying things like 'red Audi' or 'green Saab'. Or 'first half red Audi, second half green Saab'. Which I think he is right in assuming nobody would guess stands for TLP 987G.

This in itself isn't much use to me, as I can't even remember the registration number of our current car. But it got me thinking, and I've come up with a suitable substitute. House addresses. Let me give you an example. Say my long-deceased granny lived at 27 Watery Lane, my best schoolfriend's mum lived at 96 Church Street, and the house where my family lived for a time in Sussex was 42 Middleton Road. That gives me three passwords: 27Watery, 96Church, and 42Middle. I can write them down as 'Granny's, Claire's mum, and Sussex'. Or even 'first half Granny's second half Sussex' - which would be 27waddle.

There are other options, too. Sports players, e.g. footballers, and their numbers, with a zero added if necessary - 'Ronaldo07'. People and part of their telephone numbers, e.g. area codes - 'Bob01892'. People and their birthdays, e.g. 'Sara1208'. I'm sure you can think of others.

'You've been nagging me about passwords for so long, why didn't you tell me this before?' I demanded, of the Paramour.

'You didn't ask,' he said, with the most insufferably huge dollop of smugness you have ever seen.


Sunday, 25 January 2009

Of Men And Shoes

In some respects the Paramour and I buck the gender trends. In others, we're right on target. Take footwear. He has four pairs: trainers (summer wear), sandals (hot weather wear), boots (winter wear), and some black shoes for those occasional occasions. When one pair of any of those wears out, he scours the Internet for the same make and model, or as near as he can get, and buys them online.

I, however, have, er, not quite sure how many pairs, um, it's not like I have a separate wardrobe for them or anything but, well, I do have quite a few pairs of different types of footwear. Not as many as I would have if I didn't have size 9 feet - but several high street stores are now stocking shoes for Bigfoot Woman, so it's getting easier to find them. As a result, when one pair of mine wears out, what do I do? I go shopping. And you know what else? Sometimes I go shopping even when I haven't had a pair of shoes wear out recently.

Like the time I found myself in a factory surplus outlet type shop with an astonishing variety of good quality shoes at ridiculously cheap prices. I had a lovely time trying on all sorts of different ones, and ended up with three pairs of sandals and one pair of trainers for just £47. Not bad, eh?

I came home and proudly told the Paramour about my terrific haul.

'Four pairs of shoes!' I crowed. 'For £47! That's, er, not much per pair!'

He gave me the most withering look you can imagine and said, in utterly scathing tones,

'Have you counted your feet lately?'

Oh dear. He really doesn't get it, does he?

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Pet Hates

There are a few things that make me wince when I find them in people's writing. Overuse of adverbs in speech tags is one. For myself, in dialogue, I'm happiest with the almost invisible 'said'. I can accept that sometimes a judicious adverb is useful for emphasis or characterisation, but I prefer them kept to a minimum.

I'm reading a thriller whose author can't write a line of dialogue without an adverb, and it makes me want to scream. Nobody ever simply says anything. They interrupt disdainfully, ask drowsily, interpose haughtily (yes, honestly, I'm not making this up), and murmur uneasily, but they rarely just talk to each other. So there are passages like this (characters' names changed to protect the innocent author):

'Filth,' said Liz blankly.
'Muck,' elaborated Beauchamp helpfully. 'Dirt. Sewage. You know.'
'I know,' replied Liz distantly.

I think it's lazy writing, because - used in this quantity - adverbs don't really enable us to see, feel or understand the characters. I find actions are often more helpful here. Try this:

'Filth.' Liz looked blank.
'Muck.' Beauchamp touched Liz's elbow to try to gain her attention. 'Dirt. Sewage. You know.'
'I know.' Liz gazed into the middle distance, her eyes unfocused.

I'm not trying to pass that off as Grate Litrachur (after all, it was written by Moi) but I think characters develop more depth and are more engaging if we 'see' what they're doing, rather than being fed shorthand adverb codes. It's harder to write but more rewarding (for me at least) to read.

(Another one from this thriller (and I haven't changed the character's name in this one; you'll see why) was: 'Thank you very much,' said Michael flatly. That made me giggle. The thriller was published in 2004, by which time Mr F had been well known for at least 10 years. Even if the author hadn't thought of it - and I know how easy it is to miss such things - surely her agent, or her publisher, or her editor, or her mum or someone could have spotted it?)

So that's one of my betes noire. Another is the use of the word 'indescribable,' as in 'her expression was indescribable.' Nooooooo, you're a writer, for goodness' sake, it's your job to describe her expression, or his injuries, or the view! And, in fiction, 'it was impossible to imagine...', or its equivalent(s), also has me gnashing my teeth. There can be a place for this one in non-fiction, mostly in direct reporting of experience, as in 'It was impossible for me to imagine the tribespeople's lives before I visited their island.' It would also work in fiction if applied to a character who has a lack of imagination. But, generally, published writers of fiction hope or expect to earn their living by describing things they imagine. So it seems to me that they should be able to imagine and describe those things. For sure it's difficult - but simply saying something can't be described, or imagined, is a monumental cop-out.

Your turn - what enrages you when you see it on a page? (Answers such as 'squashed fly', 'dried bogey' etc will not be accepted.)

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The Weakly Herald

We have a local newspaper which affords me a great deal of amusement. It's full of headlines like "Wing Mirror Knocked Off Vauxhall In Market Street" (no explanation needed, I think) and "Staff Dressed To Impress" (waitresses in local cafe get new tabards). I find the WI reports endearing: "Mr Robson came to talk to us about the birds he spotted in his garden last year. His slides were very interesting and we all enjoyed hearing about his feathered friends. A vote of thanks was given by Mrs Audrey Brown, and then we had a nice cup of tea and some sugar buns which Mrs Doris Barnett had kindly brought for us."

Townsfolk are often asked for their views on matters of local importance. For example, this week one of the town's central car parks was partly closed for refurbishment. A local chap was quoted as saying "If we can't park there we might have to go somewhere else." Incisive analysis, I think you'll agree.

The real news is the farming news. The journalists get fully engaged with questions like whether to sell lambs now or wait to see whether prices will rise over the next couple of weeks. These pages contain impassioned, well-researched arguments, and I'm sure many readers turn to them first. (The sport pages are quite well written, too, but I'm not interested in those.)

However, it often seems that the journalists have little energy or creativity left over for the rest of the paper. This can lead to unintentional funnies, even in a very unfunny story. For example, a local timber merchant has recently gone bust due to the credit crunch. This is very sad, there have been a couple of dozen job losses, and local people will have to travel much further for their wood. The story is accompanied by a large photo of the business owner, looking utterly dejected, leaning on a pile of planks, with lots more planks stacked up in the background.

So why, oh why, did the paper quote him as saying "At the moment I can't really see the wood for the trees"?

Saturday, 17 January 2009

MeMe My Favourite Subject

I've noticed a meme going round where bloggers have to say ten honest things about themselves. This strikes me as a good way to introduce myself, so here goes.

1. My Paramour and I have been together for 13 years and are happily child-free. Also, we live in the arse end of nowhere: a small town that hardly anyone has ever heard of, which has very little to recommend it.

2. As a result of having no children to spend our money on and living somewhere unpopular, we were able to buy a big ramshackle Palace a few years ago. It's rather less ramshackle now. We sometimes have a friend living here, if someone we know needs space, but at the moment it's just the two of us.

3. Oh yes, and the three cats.

4. I'm a professional researcher. I've been self-employed for 15 years. I don't want to have a proper job ever again.

5. I'm also a doctor, but only the academic kind. I dread being approached on a plane by a steward/ess asking me to help with someone who has been taken ill. I wouldn't know where to start.

6. I make part of my living by writing. Mostly non-fiction: research reports, occasional articles, a co-authored book back in 2003 (very nerdy research reference book, not an exciting read, trust me on this). And a little fiction: I sold my first short story to The Weekly News in autumn 2008, and hope to sell more this year.

7. I'd like to make more of my living by writing. I write a short story for a women's mag every week or two; I enter travel writing competitions; I'm working on a travel book proposal; and I'm also working on a novel.

8. I also write and deliver scripts for humanist funerals. I love doing this, but I don't do many, because (a) it's seriously demanding work and I couldn't do it well if I did it a lot, and (b) the pay isn't great. I don't do it for the money, but I do need to earn a living, so the research work takes priority and I fit in funerals where I can.

9. I think fast, read fast, talk fast, and touch-type accurately at 80-90 wpm - but I usually keep to the speed limit when I'm driving.

10. I'm tall and confident. I suspect the two are connected: I know not all tall people are confident and not all small people are shrinking violets, but I think the connection is true for me. Despite my confidence, I'm primarily motivated by fear. I need to challenge myself to do things that scare me emotionally. However, I have no interest in challenging myself to do things that scare me physically. I have no idea why.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask. And I would like to offer public thanks to two bloggers who have been instrumental in encouraging me to start this blog (although if you feel the last thing the Internet needs is another flippin' blog, you may wish to go and hurl rotten tomatoes in their comments boxes). I've been reading blogs for years, but I wouldn't have started this one without the wonderful Zinnia, best humanist celebrant blogger on the planet, and the lovely Leigh, who could not have been more helpful, even if she was competing in the Helpfulness World Championships.