Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Too Hot For Pants

I think that says it all, really.

(For any Americans passing through, 'pants' here means 'underwear' not the leg-covering garment we call 'trousers'.)

Monday, 29 June 2009

What I Did On My Holidays

I've always had a theory that if I had a writing desk with a sea view, it would help my writing. There's something about being by the sea which makes the inside of my head expand. I've never lived anywhere with a sea view and wasn't sure whether the whole thing was just a fantasy. So over the last couple of weeks I've called my own bluff. And, blow me down, it worked like a charm.

Here's my view, at medium tide:

I didn't know, before I went to north Devon, that the Bristol Channel has the second highest tidal range in the world (and now I know so much about it that I've become a Severn bore). At low tide the water was right out by the end of the little headland you can see on the right, and at high tide it was so far in that I couldn't see the beach at all. I sat at the table, with my laptop and my notes and my tea, for around six hours most days, and wrote, and edited, and planned, and restructured, and watched the tide come in and go out, and thought, and imagined, and dreamed.

I'd done most of the new writing and substantial rewriting before I went, so I started with an edit. During the edit, I realised that because I'd put it back into multiple POV the timeline needed urgent attention, so I made a spreadsheet and entered all the scenes with their dates/times. The first 20 or so scenes were fine, then the next 60-odd were most emphatically not fine at all, they were all over the place. So I sorted out the order, but then all the links were messed up, and now some stuff was happening in the wrong order, e.g. someone having their first day at a new job before they had the interview for the post, or in the wrong kind of timescale, e.g. someone's first month of pregnancy happening over the same time period as someone else's first week at work. Aarrgghh!!!

Luckily I enjoy this kind of mental jigsaw puzzle work, although it was much MUCH easier because I had the time and the headspace. On the very last day of my holiday I nailed the draft, woo hoo for me! It's gone to readers now, and I feel more confident about it than I have done for ages, although that may change when I get their feedback.

I did some fun stuff too, including meeting a couple of lovely bloggers, so I'll tell you about that in my next post.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

I'm Off

For the first time in my life, at the age of 44 and 360/365ths, I'm going on holiday on my own.

It feels weird and a bit scary. Unusual. Nobody wrote a song called 'I'm all going on a summer holiday.' (In fact, has anybody written a song about going on holiday alone?) My Paramour asked me how I was feeling about it, a couple of days ago, and I said that doing some parts of the preparation on my own made me feel really lonely. 'Still, it's good practice for when you're dead,' I told him. The look on his face was priceless.

It also feels exciting. Isn't it odd how excitement and apprehension are such similar feelings? I was lying in the bath this morning reading Jonny Bealby's Running Down The Moon (fabulous book, no idea why I haven't come across it before) and feeling silly for feeling scared. He travelled the length of Africa on a motorbike by himself. I'm only going to Devon, for heaven's sake - if I don't like it, I can be home in a few hours.

But in fact, I think I'll have a good time. I've packed the shorts of optimism as well as the mackintosh of prudence (she said I could borrow it) and the underwear of necessity, and about 10 pairs of shoes and boots, my laptop, a carrier bag full of books, my camera, I could go on and on, the car boot is full, the only thing I left out was the kitchen sink. And the cats, boo hoo snivel, I'm going to miss the cats. And my Paramour...

I don't know whether I'll be able to blog. There's no Internet access in the flat where I'm staying, I may be able to hop on a public computer somewhere but there are no guarantees. I'll be home in a couple of weeks so normal service, or at least what passes for normal around here, will be resumed around then. Have fun, y'all!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Lucky, Lucky Me

My work situation is better than it's ever been.

You'll need some history to rejoice with me on this. I accidentally became a self-employed social researcher in January 1999 (a different story for another blog post). At the time I was employed one day a week running the local volunteer bureau, and self-employed as a freelance copy-editor and proof-reader. At first I thought the research project I'd landed would be a one-off - but it went well, and was publicised, and other people started asking me to do research for them.

So I thought I'd better brush up on my skills. My first degree was research-based, but it was also back in the early 1980s, so I enrolled in an MSc in Social Research Methods in autumn 1999. By 2001 I had a masters' degree and a love of studying I'd never developed in school or during my first degree (too busy having fun, ahem). Also, I'd learned how to work from 7 am to 10 pm, 7 days a week. I wanted to go on and do a PhD, but had some difficulty finding the right topic, university and supervisor, so didn't manage to enrol until July 2003.

I was awarded the PhD in December 2006. It's certainly helped me professionally; people take me more seriously. When I announce it in meetings, there's an almost tangible sense of relief - 'oh so she does know what she's doing, then.' (And I do - sometimes!!) Also, it's meant I mostly don't have to work such long hours, which has been a great relief.

Nevertheless, throughout the last ten years, work has been patchy. Sometimes there's been lots; I have had 'fat' years with good profits to show at the end. Other times I've gone for months with no work and no income, and barely broken even. Luckily I'm fairly prudent with my cash, and keep a hefty cushion in the bank agin the lean times. Even so, I nearly went under once, when a big project that was supposed to take nine months ended up taking 18 months (entirely due to the client's vacillations) so I didn't get paid for ages.

I don't mind having months with no work, because that provides me with writing time. I've learned to ride the ebbs and flows of an unpredictable workload, and to use my time constructively when I'm not earning. But now, for the first time, I have some job security.

At the end of April, I landed a two-year contract for a really interesting piece of research. The longest contract I'd ever worked on before was one year. The two-year contract, in itself, is only bread-and-butter money - but it means that, both this year and next, I'm not starting from a baseline of zero work and zero money.

Since then, I've landed five other contracts for work in this financial year: one for May (now finished), one for the summer (starting next month), and three for September-March, with some preparatory work to be done over the summer. I still have some capacity, but I don't actually need any more work until April 2010 - and I already have my bread-and-butter money for 2010-2011.

I have never been in such a strong position. The three Sep-Mar contracts were confirmed on Tuesday afternoon, and since then I've been feeling very strange. Peaceful, contented... I think it's called 'secure'. Of course I can't rest on my laurels; every project still has to be absolutely as good as I can make it. But I've never had it so good. And in the middle of a recession, too!

Friday, 5 June 2009

What A Piece Of Work Is A Writer...

...how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!

Good thing Shakespeare's out of copyright. I might have changed a word there, but I'm sure he meant 'writer', not 'man'. You see, I've been thinking a lot, lately, about the different kinds of work a writer has to do. It's easy to say 'I'm a writer' or 'I want to be a writer,' as if writing is just one thing, something easy, putting words together on a page, stringing words into sentences, building sentences into paragraphs. It's not that simple, though, is it? Let's take a look at some of the roles that make up the writer's portfolio of jobs.

Organiser. This is external and internal. Externally, we have to be well enough organised to make time to write - and then use that time to write. Internally, we have to be able to organise our stories or articles or books or blogposts, to give them a structure which will, in turn, give our readers a useful or powerful experience.

Researcher. So much easier now we have the Internet - I found the quote that started this blogpost in seconds - but still not always easy, and sometimes time-consuming, not to mention distracting. (I was looking up Motown song titles and lyrics yesterday, to make sure I was citing suitable ones for the nightclub scene I was writing, and accidentally spent half an hour listening to samples, reading Motown history and doing other fascinating but unnecessary things.) We also need to research markets for our work, agents and publishers who might help us, ways to publicise what we do.

Imaginer. We need to build and maintain powerful imagining muscles, especially if we are writing fiction, but also if we are writing non-fiction as we need to imagine who will read what we are writing, why will they read it, what are they likely to want from it, and so on.

Juggler. Again, this is external and internal. Externally we need to juggle writing and all the other things in our lives, and internally we need to juggle plots and sub-plots; themes and rhemes; nouns, adjectives and verbs; many things of different shapes and sizes, so it's not easy.

Salesperson. We have to sell our work (or try to), which means presenting it well, writing appropriate covering letters, sending it out and enduring the inevitable rejections, and keeping going even when that seems pointless.

Publicist. Successful writers need to publicise their work, and this can be very difficult, when a writer who may have worked in isolation for years suddenly has to be impressive in all sorts of unfamiliar settings from business meetings to book launches.

So there's six jobs which are part of any writer's work. I'm sure there are more than six, though - any suggestions?

This post is brought to you by the cleverness of Blogger scheduling. I'm away for a mystery long weekend with my Paramour - details next week!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Bob's Funeral

Bob's funeral was held at the end of last week, over two weeks after his death. Was this to fit in with the diaries of the Famous Relatives, we wondered? The funeral was announced in the local paper, and there was a feature article about Bob, too. I've only known him for seven years, and I had no idea quite how well-known he'd been, locally, before his health problems restricted his lifestyle. He'd worked as a paramedic for 20 years, then he ran one of the town's off-licences for another 15 years, and he had been a keen cricketer and footballer, playing for several local teams.

My Paramour couldn't make it to the funeral because of work commitments, so I went alone. As I left the house, I saw a dozen smartly-dressed people in huddles on the pavement outside Bob and Pam's house next door, and a paramedic's car. Judging from the hushed and urgent discussions, it wasn't a former colleague paying their respects. What now, I wondered? I hoped Pam was okay. But I didn't want to stare (well, I did, I really did want to stare, but I didn't think it was a good idea) so I crossed the road and walked down to the parish church.

It's a big church, nice, Victorian Gothic. I've only been in once before, for another funeral. There were around 100 people already seated when I got there. The organist was playing Beethoven's Pathetique. I could see a number of people I knew by sight, but nobody I knew well enough to sit with, so I chose an aisle seat with a good view.

I arrived at 11.50 and the service was due to start at 12. I'd switched off my mobile phone, so I had no way to tell the time, but the wait seemed longer than that. People around me were checking their watches and muttering. I wondered what they would do if Pam, or someone in her house, had been taken ill. Then we heard the vicar's voice and there was a palpable sense of relief as everyone stood while the procession entered. I looked for Pam but wasn't sure whether she was there or not, as several of the women were wearing big black hats.

The vicar had a small microphone attached to his head, which would have been almost imperceptible except that it wasn't a very good one and crackled every time he uttered a plosive, which is really bad news when you're sending off someone called Bob. He did a good service, though, with a nice tribute to Bob, interspersed with readings from Bob's daughter and eldest grandson. I was relieved when he spoke directly to Pam in the front row. One of the Famous Relatives did a reading on behalf of his sister Pam; I wouldn't have recognised him if he hadn't told us he was her brother. Afterwards, the family went off to the crematorium for the committal, and the rest of us dispersed; I picked up my dry-cleaning, bought a card for a friend, met another friend in the High Street and had a quick chat, went home, changed, had lunch, and went back to work.

My Paramour bumped into Bob's son Simon in the pub the next evening. The paramedic had been for Pam's father, who had collapsed shortly before the funeral, but was apparently making a good recovery in hospital.

We haven't heard from Pam. She left a message on the answerphone a couple of days after Bob died, thanking us for the flowers and the card and saying she didn't feel like talking to people. I doubt she will make contact, and I don't think we can go knocking on her door. We'll send her a card at Christmas, as we have always done. I wish we could do more, but we've made it clear that we're willing to offer help and support; we can't force her to accept it. I do feel for her, though; it must be terrible to go to your husband's funeral while worrying about your father who is heading for hospital in an ambulance. The saddest part, for me, was watching Pam walk out of the church behind Bob's coffin, on the arm of the funeral director. How awful to follow your husband's coffin with no friend or family member to hold your hand.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Singing A Happy Song

So far, the month of June has been a good one. The sun is shining, the (paid) workload has diminished, and life is thoroughly congenial.

I met most of my writing goals in May: all the short story ones (yay!) and three-quarters of the novel ones (not bad). I was well on track to meet all the novel goals, then work went ballistic last week, with a deadline on Friday that turned into a monster, and an out-of-the-office working day on Saturday. Which involved playing with lots of children, chatting with lots of adults, sampling mocktails and making friends with a barn owl, so it was a good day (I love my job!) but still a long and knackering one.

When my alarm went off on Saturday morning, I was not impressed. It was lovely and comfy in my bed snuggled up with my Paramour - who opened his eyes briefly, grinned a wicked grin and said 'oh do you have to get up now? how sad for you', closed his eyes again and made contented sleepy noises. I resisted the temptation to thwack him over the head with my pillow and stomped off for a shower instead. Then I came to my computer, thinking about the eight scenes and one short story I had to write over the weekend, wrote half a scene, and went on strike. I've only had one real day off in May, and I was reeeeeeeeally tired.

So I decided to take the pressure off. I've given myself a month's break from short story writing, and I gave myself a proper day off yesterday. It was so lovely! In fact it started when I got home on Saturday afternoon, the sun was still hot at 4ish so I had a blissful hour flopped out in the garden with the cats while my Paramour atoned for his sins by doing my business accounts and making pizzas. Then yesterday I did some lazy emailing, a bit of holiday research, got my new garden furniture set up (which I love - there will be photos in due course - and I was very pleased to get it sorted as it's been languishing in the shed for the last two months), did some tidying and cleaning and recycling and weeding, and made a yummy dinner which we ate while sitting on new garden chairs at the new garden table in the shade of the new garden parasol.

Now it's June, the month of my birth, my favourite month of the year. I still have 7.5 scenes to write, and my aim is to get those done this week, then spend the following four weeks (to Friday 3rd July) doing the sorting, tidying, polishing etc to pull the whole story together. I have very little paid work to do this month, so I'll have plenty of time to write. At least, I will if I don't spend too long blogging!