Monday, 30 November 2009

That Was A Week, That Was

Last week was all go, and it all went rather well, thank goodness. After the visitors left yesterday afternoon I was shattered, and spent the rest of the day sitting around reading (short stories, Guardian Weekend magazine, local paper), chatting (an hour on the phone with a much-loved old friend), eating dinner (lovely spicy tangy gnocchi with red onions, olives, capers and chillies, cooked by my aforementioned Paramour, bless him), and then watching two whole hours of TV with him (Hugh F-W and Top Gear - that's how tired I was) and doing a bit of crochet.

This morning I feel rested, rejuvenated and cheerful. A bit fizzy, in fact; as if something lovely is going to happen. Which it almost certainly isn't - but it's nice feeling this way, anyway, so I don't care. What is going to happen, at least according to my diary, is a fairly tranquil week, with enough work but not too much, a few short trips here and there, and a lovely meeting with lots of blogfriends at the week's end. Also, I should have time to fit in an hour's work on my book every morning. I managed two one-hour sessions of editing last week, and got a surprisingly large amount done in that time, which was very pleasing indeed.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

All Change

Next week looks manic. All of a sudden I have paid work commitments (hurrah!) and then my family are descending at the weekend for our annual pre-festive-season get-together. Which is all very well, but I was just getting going on the editing, and now it looks as if I'll have to put it down for a week, and yes I know the value of mulling periods but right now I don't want one, dammit!

The good news is that I've almost finished writing short stories for this year. I have two to edit and a few to sub, which will all be done in odd moments this week (mostly this afternoon, by the look of things) and then I can concentrate on the book whenever I have time to write for the next few weeks.

I find it quite hard working on the book and writing short stories at the same time. I'm learning a lot from the short story writing, so I reckon it's worth it, but I do resent the time I have to spend creating new characters and situations when I could be fiddling with something or other on the book. And there is so much to fiddle with, from the overall structure, through characterisation, to the scrutinisation of every word and image to decide whether it's optimal in context.

At present, it looks as if I'll be able to get back to the book next week, if all goes according to plan. And then I have, ssh don't tell anyone, two whole free weekends in a row, which is very rare in my life. So even if the weeks become busy, I should be able to treat myself to writing weekends.

I doubt I'll be blogging much, if at all, next week. I'll be running around the country - out of town every day, and two nights away - so forgive me if I don't appear in your comments boxes. Back in a week or so, and I'll do my best to catch up with your news then.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Grumpy Old Writer

I have declared today to be Word Usage Rant Day (WURD for short, am I good or what?). I'll start, then anyone who feels like it can have a go in the comments box.

There are three forms of word usage that have been annoying me lately. The first is 'on a regular basis', 'on a daily basis', 'on a weekly basis'. Why all those unnecessary extra syllables? What's wrong with 'regularly', 'daily' and 'weekly'? Or, in the last two cases, if the word doesn't seem right in context, 'each day' or 'each week' will do fine. I'm bored with 'basis', it's boring, y'hear?

Then there's the use of the word 'genuinely' for emphasis when it adds nothing. 'This movie genuinely scared me.' 'Here is a genuinely helpful warning about spam.' 'She is a genuinely honest competition judge.' The word 'genuinely' contributes no value to such sentences, as far as I can see. All it does is leave me wondering about the non-scary movies, the unhelpful warnings, and the dishonest competition judges.

And finally, my pettest of pet hates: 'nothing worse'. And here *rubs hands in glee* I can name names. For example, singer/songwriter VV Brown recently went on record as saying 'There's nothing worse than feeling podgy and you have to wear "that dress" and not feeling hot in it.' The actor Rupert Grint said 'There's nothing worse than a critic being bitchy.' And just to prove this isn't solely a meedja phenomenon, some entrepreneur called Michelle Mone is quite sure that 'There is nothing worse than interviewing someone who is lacking confidence and positivity.'

Malnutrition, anyone? War? Double amputation? Sheesh!

Now I know language is a living thing, that it changes continually. I'm fine with that, in principle - and I wholeheartedly embrace many of the changes in practice - but I don't have to like, or even approve of, every single change.

So what gets your back up about current language use?

Friday, 13 November 2009

Free Books!

Does everyone except me know about Scribd? And, if so, why didn't anyone tell me?

According to themselves, Scribd is 'the world's largest social publishing company with the goal to collect all the world's written works and make them available for people to read and interact with in any way they want. Scribd is changing the way people discover, share and sell original writings and documents on the Web. Its innovative document reader technology enables anyone to easily upload any files, including PDF, Word, PowerPoint and other document types and share on or embed on thousands of other websites.'

According to me, Scribd = free books! (And recipes, and presentations, and games, and lots else besides.)

I came across Scribd the other day when I was searching for help with short story writing. Google suggested I look at a book on Scribd, by Michael Allen, called 'How To Write A Short Story That Works'. To my surprise, after a quick registration procedure, I was able to download the entire book for free. And it had some useful stuff in, too. Not everything was relevant for me - I'm OK with spelling and grammar, thanks - and some parts felt slightly long-winded and/or repetitive, although this could be because I've read 57283 how-to books already. But there were some sizeable nuggets of information and guidance that I found very useful indeed.

So, if you want free books - and who doesn't? - I'd recommend heading over to Scribd. But be warned, there's loads of content to browse through. You may be away for some time!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


I started work on the second draft of my book yesterday. I've pulled together all my mentor's comments. Her global comments are in a 'to do' list, and I'm in the process of importing her detailed comments into my manuscript. Most of her suggestions for specific deletions or amendments go straight in, apart from the ones where I think I might know better - oh the hubris!! Then there are places where I write shouty little notes to myself in capitals, such as INTERNAL RESPONSE NEEDED HERE or TOO SUBTLE (thinks: blimey, that's a first!), NEEDS MORE TO HELP THE READER GET TO KNOW THIS CHARACTER.

I'm also going through an archive of my relevant writing, again on my mentor's advice, to identify pieces that I might be able to adapt and include. Both of these tasks are laborious but not difficult. And it is such a joy to have writing tasks that don't make me feel as if I'm fighting invincible monsters while wearing lead boots and a blindfold.

I know from experience, and can see from my mentor's global comments, that there is more hard work ahead. As I've said before, I'm not afraid of hard work; often, I enjoy it. But the last month or two, I have found writing to be difficult in a new way. I wish I could work out why, because I have a theory that if I knew the reasons, I'd be able to overcome the difficulty. (Which may be a completely stupid theory.) But I don't mind not knowing why if I can overcome it anyway. I'm optimistic that this more enjoyable patch is a good omen for the future, and I'm hopeful that I can move forward to a place where writing is mostly fun again.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Old Friends And New

Last weekend was such a perfect social mixture that I feel as if I've had a holiday. It began on Friday night with dinner at our place for three couples, people I met through work about eight years ago. We know each other fairly well, now; they no longer feel like new friends, and they're good relaxing company, although they don't yet feel quite like old friends. The evening was great fun: all the food was well received (hardly any leftovers!!) and the conversation flowed as readily as the wine.

On Saturday my Paramour and I went to stay with my old friend Amy and her children aged 10 and 11. She and I have been friends for more than half our lives, so she is definitely in the 'old friend' category. My Paramour and I have spent so much time at her house that we know where everything is, and she and her children treat us as part of the family. Again, we ate, drank and talked non-stop. Amy has recently split from an unsuitable bloke - a perfectly nice man, but one who turned out to be rather possessive and controlling, and was therefore a slightly inhibiting influence on her friendships over the last couple of years. There were some positive aspects to this, too - he encouraged and supported her to get more qualifications, which has helped her professionally - but my Paramour and I are not sorry he's off the scene. We all relaxed into each other's company in a way we haven't been able to do for a while, and it was a real joy.

Then last night we had our new neighbours round for wine and pizzas. And they're lovely! The children - Jack (six, nearly seven) and Anna (four and a half) - were good company: well behaved, chatty and confident. Mark is a self-employed builder and Carrie is a teacher, and it didn't take us long to discover that we all share a very similar world view. I think they will be good neighbours. It's too early to know whether they will also be good friends, but all the signs are positive.

It didn't occur to me, until I sat down to write this post, that we'd had such a perfect mix of old friends, new friends, and those inbetween. Friendships do develop, shift and change, and sometimes end. I have felt sad, recently, about a couple of long-standing friendships that seem to be on the way out, so I find it helpful to remember that it's also possible to make new friends. A wise friend said to me recently that friendships ebb and flow like the tide. I value my friends enormously - and that includes my blogfriends *waves to you*. So much so that, if I had to choose between my writing and my friends, my friends would win hands down.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Does It Feel Good?

So I finished the first draft, and posted to let people know, and several of you bounced up and down in my comments box and my email inbox, whooping and congratulating me.

'Does it feel good?' asked lovely blogfriend JJ.

I remember the first time I finished the first draft of a book. That felt amazing. This time, I just felt flat.

I think there are a number of reasons for this. Having taken the previous version through six drafts, I'm well aware of the amount of work that is still to be done (although this time, I think largely due to my wonderful mentor's input, I reckon I can finish it in four). I am pleased to have reached this milestone, and I think the next draft will be more fun, because I much prefer editing - crafting the story to make it as good as I can - to churning out the words in the first place. But I'm still struggling with my writing. Writing is often difficult, but I don't mind difficult; often I enjoy it. I'm not sure why I'm struggling at the moment. Yesterday, I took several hours to come up with the bones of a short story, and that's unusual.

It could be that I'm struggling because my skills are improving and I'm in a period of adjustment. That would be good. Or it could be because I'm a little weighed down with other things - my Paramour's ongoingly high stress levels; insufficient paid work; being a bit under the weather myself just now. That wouldn't be surprising. Either way, I know I have to write on through this.

And, although I am a little weighed down, I'm not hugely miserable or depressed or anything. My problems are temporary; generally, life is fine; and there are some really good bits. In fact I'm going to have a lovely weekend: I'm doing dinner for eight of us tonight, then tomorrow my Paramour and I are going to stay overnight with dear friends, and on Sunday the new neighbours are coming round to see our house and drink wine and eat pizza. And I'm not going to do any writing at all!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Finished... For Now

It seems I have finished the first draft of my memoir. That happened rather fast, and mostly by cheating. Well, sort of cheating. I imported several thousand words from the sixth draft of my novel, and re-edited them into memoir style, which helped. The other thing that helped was redefining the target word count.

I was originally aiming for 80,000 words. Then my lovely mentor, aka evil hatchet woman, used her red machete on the first few chunks - nothing so common as a pen for her, oh no! So I thought OK, better increase the word target to 90,000 to allow for all that deletion. But in later chunks, she's been saying things like 'do more of X here' or 'give us more of Y there', so I decided that would balance out her machete-wielding antics, and went back to my original aim of 80,000 words.

Trouble was, the story finished when I'd only written 76,500 words. I could have gone back and shoe-horned in extra bits of dialogue and description, perhaps a whole new scene or two. But I didn't think there was any point. I know I've got a shedload of work to do on the second draft. Surely I can sort out the word count then.

So I've finished! For now.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Heaven Can Wait

Cally Taylor, on the longest blog tour in history, has reached Qwerty Queen's domain. I will avoid the temptation to make comparisons between Ms Taylor and that other longest-tour-in-history record-holder, Iron Maiden. (They had very different riders, too - Iron Maiden didn't ask for lots of Hotel Chocolat products.) Nor will I review Cally's debut novel, Heaven Can Wait; that's been done, very competently, elsewhere.

I will say that I enjoyed reading Cally's book very much. It has made some people cry; it didn't have that effect on me, although parts of it were moving, but it did make me laugh. It's lovely to be able to praise this book because I've met Cally a few times and she has been enormously supportive of my writing. I think it's highly unlikely that I would have sold any short stories without her support.

Also, as a researcher, I can't pass up an opportunity to ask nosy questions, so when she invited me to interview her, I seized the opportunity to ask about some of her influences.

How have your real-life friends influenced your writing? "My real-life friends have been hugely supportive of my writing. For a long time I think they viewed it as a hobby I dabbled with when I wasn't socialising with them, but they were all as delighted as I was the first time I had something published in print (a piece of Flash Fiction in a competition anthology by Leaf Books in December 2005). In fact, half a dozen of them came round to my flat to celebrate with champagne!

In the summer of 2006, when my short story “Wish You Were Here” was awarded the runner-up prize in Woman’s Own magazine, lots of my friends rushed out to buy a copy and I was really touched by the phone calls that followed – particularly the ones that said it had made them cry!

I can't even begin to describe the reaction of friends and family to the news I was getting a novel published. I felt really quite over-whelmed by all the love and warmth that greeted the news. So many people told me they were proud of me it was astonishing.

None of the characters in my novels are directly influenced by any of my friends or family but I think it's inevitable that every person you meet has an impact on you in some way. I think my subconscious stores up all my experiences and the traits of the people I've met and mixes them all up to create characters."

How have your blog friends influenced your writing? "My blog friends have been so supportive it's incredible. Joining the Novel Racers was the best decision I ever made. I lurked on Kate Harrison's blog for ages, looking longingly at the group she'd started up with Lucy Diamond and thinking there was no way they'd ever accept a novice writer like me into the fold, before I finally plucked up the courage to ask if I could join. Everything changed for me after that. From being the only writer I knew I was suddenly surrounded by other people who were writing novels, dreaming of publication and struggling with this or that. It was wonderful to be able to talk about the craft of fiction without eyes glazing over or the subject being changed (no offence to my real life friends but if you're not passionate about writing discussing it for hours on end probably isn't that interesting!).

When I was writing ‘Heaven Can Wait’ I knew that the other writers in the Novel Racers group were beavering away on their own novel and that really helped to motivate me to get mine finished.

In April 2008 I started up my own group – a short story group called ‘A Story A Fortnight’ – and that’s also been a fantastic experience. Everyone is so generous with their knowledge and critiques and I’m inordinately proud of all our achievements, not least the fact that the group has now sold over 50 stories to various women’s magazine. I’ve met lots of the Novel Racers and SAF girls in person now and they’re as lovely and fun in real life as they are online.

Finally I need to mention the blog friends who visit my blog, some of whom have been there right from the beginning - when I first started blogging in 2006 about my attempts to get published. Writing can be quite a lonely world to live in sometimes and supportive and encouraging comments from my blog visitors continue to remind me that I'm not the only one who lives there!"

How have your own religious or spiritual beliefs, or the lack of them, influenced your writing? "Ooh, tricky question. I got confirmed when I was a teenager but would probably describe myself as an agnostic now. One of my favourite quotes is from Gabriel Garcia Marquez "I don't believe in God but I'm afraid of him" and that pretty much summarises my attitude to religion. I don't really believe in anything but there's a part of me that's a bit worried about what'll happen when I die if I don't (probably a hangover from being religious when I was younger).

I don’t like thinking about death – it scares me – and a psychologist would probably say that, by writing about death and the afterlife in a light-hearted way, I’m masking that fear. I’d say to that psychologist “It’s just a story. Tsk!” ;)"

How has your short story writing influenced your novel writing? "Writing short stories helped me find my voice as a writer. When I first started writing them I wrote what I thought were literary stories but I felt like I was forcing them out instead of writing what came to me more naturally. And that was light-hearted romantic comedies!"

How do your tastes in food and drink influence your writing? "Drinking wine helps when I'm blocked! When you're three sheets to the wind you think every word you're writing is great (even if you can't understand a word of it the next day). Seriously though, I don't think what I eat or drink influences what I'm writing although I definitely can't write if I'm hungry. If I'm hungry I can't do anything!"

Thanks, Cally, for those interesting and entertaining answers. If you'd like to know more, Cally's blog is here and her website is here. And finally, I'd like to alert you all to two competitions being run in conjunction with the publication of Heaven Can Wait. The first is a short story competition that Cally has set up in the hope that another writer can get a lucky break on the back of her own success. This is typical of Cally's supportive approach, and you can find details here. Then, whether you're a writer or not, you can enter the competition run by her publishers to win a load of high street shopping vouchers: details here.

And finally, many apologies for the weird fonts and formatting. I've tried everything, including retyping the whole post, and I can't make them behave :-(