Wednesday, 27 May 2009

My Dear Sister

It's my birthday next month. I will be 45. This seems quite old, but at least there will be presents. I like to make sure of this, so am inclined to drop mentions of my forthcoming birthday into conversation, in the weeks beforehand.

I spent a couple of days with my sister last week. She's younger than me (just turned 42), there are only the two of us, and she's a great mate as well as a sister. Terrible memory, though, so I thought I'd better say casually 'You know, I'll be 45 next month.'

She turned to me, her eyes widening, and said 'Cor, that's halfway to NINETY!'

Gee thanks, sis.

Then later, she added injury to insult. Relevant background: she, her husband, and her son, have a selection of chronic but manageable health problems, so their house is littered with medical paraphernalia. Inhalers and syringes lie around all over the place, and every time you open the fridge, drugs with a street value of thousands fall out of the door. One of the drugs my sister has to take makes her skin dry, and our mother had bought her some posh handcream. She asked if I'd like to try it, warning me I'd only need a tiny bit, so I did and liked it a lot - it smells fabulous.

'Do you want some?' she asked. 'It'll take me ages to get through it, I'll happily give you half.'

'Ooh, yes please,' I said.

So off she went, and I amused myself with a magazine until she came back and held out a container. I could see she was trying not to smile. I put out my hand to take it from her, and then I realised.

'You didn't,' I said.

'At least you know it's sterile,' she said, giggling like a baby hyena.

She had put my handcream in a specimen bottle.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Writing Wail

Good news: I'm making progress with the novel.

Slightly less good news: it's sooooooooooooo hard!

I'm playing with structure, the idea being to strengthen the plot. I can see that in some places it's really working well. Trouble is, in other places I've got holes the size of moon craters. Moving scenes around can have terrific results in some respects, but it also leads to major problems such as a character starting their new job before they've had the interview. It's like doing a Rubik cube in four dimensions, and I can't even do them in three.

Also, one of the things I worked really hard on in the last draft was differentiating characters' speech patterns. This is something I find very difficult - in the first draft every character talked like me. I'd got it almost nailed in the last draft, but now that I'm writing new scenes and changing POV in existing scenes, my characters are reverting to some extent. I guess I can sort it out when I edit, but if anyone has any tips or advice on how to manage this, I'd be really glad to hear them.

I need to reach the point where I can hold the whole thing in my head. I'm not there yet. I'm approaching the halfway mark, and I can't even hold that much in my head. I printed it out last night and read it on paper today, which brought me closer to that point. I was pleased with some parts, although I'm still not at all sure I'm heading in the right direction.

One thing I do know from previous drafts is that I need to keep going, even if it does feel like walking through treacle in a fog while wearing ill-fitting wellies. So keeping going is what I have been doing. And I will be again tomorrow, because now I'm going to cook a sumptuous dinner for my Paramour and one of our dearest friends. I foresee wine and chat to go with it, which will be a blessed relief from all this flipping writing!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Calling My Own Bluff

For a very long time, I have fantasised about a writing desk with a view of the sea. I love being by the sea, it calms and inspires me.

I also love holidays. My Paramour, however, is something of a stay-at-home chap. This causes friction at times. I've been working on finding friends to go away with, and have had some success, but more promises for next year than commitments for this summer.

I need some space to work on my novel. I'm longing for a holiday. I fantasise about a sea view for my writing space. I began to think there might be some synergy here.

So I've decided, for the first time in my life, to go on holiday by myself. For most of the second and third weeks of June, I'll be staying in the second floor flat of a house in a village on the north Devon coast which has a little table in a big window with a good view of the bay. (In fact it's a bay window. Har Har!!) I thought about going abroad, and made some enquiries, but in the end I decided to stick to a familiar country for my first solo holiday. I don't know north Devon at all, and the village where I'll be staying is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so I'm hoping to do some walking and exploring as well as writing. The coast path runs a few metres from the door of the house I'll be staying in, so that should help (weather permitting).

I'm also hoping my Paramour will come and join me for a couple of days at some point - particularly as my birthday falls in those two weeks. He doesn't like committing himself, though, so I'm just dropping heavy and regular hints, and keeping my fingers crossed. In fact, if anyone knows of any tried-and-tested arguments or strategies for persuading men to do things they think they don't want to do but in fact would like when they got there, please pass them on in the comments box!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Neighbour Update

Regular readers will remember we found out in April that our next-door neighbour Bob was dying of cancer. A week or so ago, the comings and goings next door increased dramatically, and my Paramour and I reckoned Bob's end was nigh.

Yesterday afternoon there was a knock on the front door. This is most unusual - all our friends use the back door, so I was expecting a salesperson, local politician or Jehovah's Witness. I found a young man I didn't recognise, with lank black hair and snaggle teeth.

'I'm Simon, from next door,' he said.

Uh-oh, I thought, as I greeted him politely.

'My dad died this afternoon.'

Isn't it odd how, even when it's expected, it's still a shock? Simon was pale and looked as if he needed a hug and a cup of hot sweet tea. We chatted briefly - I expressed condolences and thanked him for letting us know, and we shared our concern about how Pam will manage. Simon told me he now lives in a city 40 miles from here, but his brother and sister still live in our town (I knew Pam and Bob had at least one son, possibly two, but had no idea they had a daughter). I asked Simon to let us know when Bob's funeral will be held.

After Simon left, it occurred to me that they might want family only at the funeral. Pam has some rather famous relatives, who don't seem to have much to do with her. Bob and Pam hardly ever have visitors, and I don't often hear their phone ring. The Famous Relatives don't live round here, but there have been Sightings in the local supermarket in recent days. If the time and date of the funeral is made public, I suspect some people might go along to gawp at Famous Relatives. Which is a bit rubbish, as even famous people have feelings, and are I think entitled to privacy at such times. Although it did make me laugh when Katie 'Jordan' Price and Peter Andre asked for privacy. But Pam's relatives are famous for doing difficult things well, not for surgical enhancements and appearing on 'reality TV' (an oxymoron if ever I heard one). (I'm not giving names of Famous Relatives here, for obvious reasons. If your curiosity gets the better of you, drop me an email.)

Anyway, I've taken a card and a bunch of flowers round to Pam. I didn't see her - all the curtains were closed, but the dog barked when I pushed the card through the letterbox, and the flowers disappeared from the doorstep fairly fast, so I reckon she was in - drowning her sorrows, maybe? I wrote in the card, again, that we're only next door and she's welcome to call on us if she needs company or practical help. I suspect I'd be providing the former, and my Paramour the latter, as those are, essentially, our skillsets. But I doubt Pam will call on us. I may be wrong, but I suspect she will move away fairly soon. I had heard, through a mutual acquaintance, that she was trying to interest Bob in moving to a bungalow last year, because the house had become too big for them to manage. To be honest, I won't be sorry if she goes. But I do wish she could find some happiness.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Tamelife Photography

I know wildlife photography is difficult. I've seen those bits on the ends of the David Attenborough programmes where a denim-clad bloke tells you how he waited six weeks for a sighting of some obsure creature. But I never knew tamelife photography could be so hard, particularly as our feline trio are natural-born posers. Except when I've got my camera out.

Today I managed two out of three. Here is Sock Boy*, the world's most gormless brainless moggie:

And his beloved Tiger Girl:

Not bad, eh? We had Tiger Girl for a year before the other two came as kittens, and she was like their auntie to begin with, worrying about them if they went too far away, cuffing them if they were too rumbunctious, washing their heads and faces. Sock Boy has always loved Tiger Girl, although his is a boisterous kind of love, often involving a spreadeagled jump-and-land-on-beloved demonstrative style, with headbutts another common feature. Sometimes he loves Tiger Girl so much that she runs away.

The third in the trio, a stocky little runt who is Sock Boy's sister, is the most difficult to capture of the three (in all senses of the word). She's affectionate with humans on her own terms, which sometimes involve burrowing under the duvet and curling up by my tummy, which I completely disapprove of and am absolutely unable to resist. She's also a natural-born comedian, with the biggest character of the three. And she's all black, so very hard to photograph effectively. I did catch a really good shot of her, today, on the stairs. But I forgot to use the flash.

I think I have a lot to learn about this photography business. I did best with Tiger Girl because she takes up more of the frame. Must get some software and learn to do cropping and other clever things... when I have time... don't hold your breath! But I did get one ace Sock Boy pose, even if it was a bit too far away:

*NB: pet names changed to protect against identity theft - they really have much nicer and more imaginative names than these

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Aarrgghh!!! Work!!!

I've landed two new contracts in the last week. It was an accident, honest, I didn't mean to! One is for a long-standing and much-loved client, and the other is for a long-standing and much-loved friend, so I didn't feel able to turn either of them down. They're both interesting projects, and of course it's all good for the CV and the bank balance, but I've got a novel to write, dammit!

Lots of people have left lovely encouraging comments on my 'goals for May' post, but I can already feel them slipping from my grasp. I haven't touched the novel since Monday, and although I have a free weekend, I have to do some paid work and also some domestic work. My Paramour does a lot, but I can't expect him to do everything. I've promised to go to Tesco, as our salad drawers currently contain half a punnet of wrinkly cherry tomatoes and half a head of bendy celery, and I don't think we'll manage to make much gourmet veggie nosh with those. He, bless him, is going to make home-made pizzas for tea. He makes the best pizzas in the world, he usually makes the dough by hand but he's going to have a go at doing it in our new breadmaker this time to see how that works. I'll cook a huge vat of chilli tomorrow and we can eat that, in various guises (burritos, yum!), through the week.

Maybe, if I get enough of my paid work done today, I can do some work on the novel tomorrow. I think I've said that to myself every day this week. I'm keeping up with the short stories, but I find them easier to fit into odd nooks and crannies of time. And I want to do some photography... and book a holiday or two... and reduce my TBR pile...

Could somebody please invent an eight-day week?

Monday, 4 May 2009

Writing Progress

So, how did the writing go in April, Queenie?

Not quite as planned, but not too bad. I did write two short stories and resubmit three. I also submitted one new one, two short of my target of three, but I’m not beating myself up about that. And I only got halfway through planning the plot of my novel, but I’m not beating myself up about that, either. Progress is progress, right?

Towards the middle of last week, I was feeling somewhat stuck with the novel plotting, and verging on despair. After five drafts, I know my story and characters really well, but I was finding it really hard to design a novel that will tell that story in the most effective way for readers. I know no novel will please everyone, but I want to provide the best reading experience I can devise.

Plotting and planning is a peculiar part of this strange business we call novel writing. Some writers plan in great detail before they write a single descriptive phrase or line of dialogue. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those writers. I seem to need to write to be able to plan, if that makes any kind of sense. Having not worked on the novel for a year, I’d almost forgotten that, and I’d got stuck with the idea that I had to make a proper plan this time round.

I thought of all sorts of reasons for being stuck, such as: it’s too hard, I can’t do it, I’m not clever enough. It took me ages to think of a more useful reason, such as: now I’m halfway through planning the plot, I need to write some new scenes to find out how the plan is working. Towards the end of last week, this thought began nudging at the back of my mind. I ignored it for a while, but luckily it didn’t go away.

So this morning I wrote a new opening scene for the novel. That’s been a feature of every draft, incidentally – they’ve all finished in the same place, but started in different places. It was a huge relief to be back working with my characters in their updated structure. I feel very positive about the new opening; I think I might have got it right this time. It foreshadows all the central themes in 500 words flat.

I think I have about 20 new scenes to write, and about 10 to rewrite from someone else’s POV. I’m not 100% sure of the numbers yet, as I’m only halfway through the plotting. But I am sure of my writing targets for May. Here goes:

1. Write two short stories
2. Submit three short stories
3. Resubmit three short stories
4. Finish plotting the novel, write all new scenes and rewrite all scenes that need to be in someone else’s POV.

It’s a tall order, but I need to get it done so I can spend June editing and then send it out to readers in July, edit again in August and resubmit to agents in September. I'm quite optimistic because I can feel myself moving up through my writing gears, and again I remember this from previous drafts: slow starts with lots of uncertainty, then acceleration as the process takes hold.

Friday, 1 May 2009


I was worried about swine flu, so I rang NHS Direct, but all I got was crackling. It's a calhamity, I tell you. If it goes to WHO stage 6 it'll be Parmageddon. It'll take more than oinkment to sort this one out. We need a vaccine, quick quick, chop chop!

On another matter, I've decided I'll never have a hangover again. Oh, no. From now on, it'll be wine flu.

Hope I didn't boar you.