Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Crazy Busy

Things are proper manic around here. Ever seen a wasp go mad in a jar? That's my life right now. It's often like this in the run-up to the end of the financial year, and I may be working 70-80 hours a week but I'm getting paid for most of them so I'm not complaining. But this blog may be a bit quiet for a while, and I may not be commenting on yours much either. I'll do what I can, when I can, over the next month or so, and 'normal service' *cough* will be resumed in April.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Hen Night

You may remember that, a few weeks ago, I was asking for forfeit ideas for a bride-to-be on her forthcoming hen night. I'd had the idea of getting badges made with (slightly) embarrassing personalised messages, but wondered whether anyone could come up with anything better. Clever Womagwriter did just that, suggesting that I could "get some embarrassing early photos of her (perhaps from her husband or parents if possible) and/or embarrassing anecdotes (from other friends and family). For each wrong answer, an anecdote is read out or a photo handed round or pinned to her outfit." The only trouble was, her fiance had already helped me work out the questions, I've never met her parents, and I only know two of her friends well enough to ring and ask for anecdotes. So, while that was a great idea (which I have filed away in my brain for future reference), it wasn't going to work in this case. I decided to go with the badges, spent a happy hour coming up with slogans that I thought might hit the mark, and - after some research on the web to find a good price - ordered them from Big Dog Badges who provided excellent quality, service and price.

On the day, I met the others in central Birmingham. Most of them had travelled in by train, already wearing their haloes. As a result, the train manager decided to begin his announcements 'Ladies, Gentlemen and Celestials,' which apparently caused much hilarity throughout the train. We met at the Hippodrome for Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake which was an astonishing, beautiful, funny, sad, thought-provoking production that I would highly recommend. The plan was then to go for dinner, but the woman organising the meal had booked the table for 6.30, and the ballet was finished by 5.30, and it was only a ten-minute walk from the theatre to the restaurant. Which, when we got there, wasn't even open yet. Luckily there was a bar next door so we ordered a bottle of wine and settled in to wait.

The hiatus provided me with a perfect opportunity to whip out my quiz. I'd been a little nervous about when (or even if) to do this, as I hadn't told anyone else my plans. Luckily everyone fell in with the idea with great enthusiasm and the questions went down well. I was very strict with the bride-to-be about getting the answers exactly right, or else she had to wear a 'badge of shame'. She managed to get two out of the ten questions right, so only had to wear eight badges in the end, but she liked the badges so much that she demanded the full set! They said silly things like 'Bridezilla', 'Lights On, Nobody Home,' and 'I Like Blokes Dressed As Birds' (given the ballet we'd just seen, that one seemed particularly appropriate), but she loved them, and texted me the next day to say 'I shall wear my badges of shame with pride.'

By the time the quiz was done, the bottle was empty and the restaurant open, so we moved next door and enjoyed a sumptuous meal. I won't bore you with the entire menu, I'll just say 'bitter chocolate torte with Drambuie-soaked strawberries' (and dribble on my keyboard). The bride-to-be was very happy, I had a great time, and I think everyone else did too.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

What's The Difference?

Some people don't want to be self-employed, which seems bizarre to me. I can think of two friends in particular who have both made a success of freelance work in response to unemployment, but at the same time were desperate to get a 'proper job'. They longed for camaraderie, teamwork, and regular hours, while I dread office politics, idiots making stupid decisions that I have to work with, and unbearable constraints on my life and free will.

I love being self-employed, even at times like this when I'm working 70-80 hours a week. I can't imagine ever having a 'proper job' again - in fact, I strongly suspect I'm unemployable. But I know I'm an asset to my clients, because I work responsively and creatively, meet deadlines, stay within budget, and produce good quality outputs. So I doubt I'll ever be out of work.

The funny thing is, the employed people I know also work responsively and creatively, meet deadlines, and so on. So what's the difference? It's tempting to say that those who choose a freelance life are more self-reliant, have more initiative etc etc - yet I know people who choose employment who are more self-reliant than I am, and at least as good at motivation and organisation and decision-making and all those other essential skills. (They are also, before you suggest it, control freaks like me too.)

Is it just a matter of preference, then, in the same way that some people prefer apple juice to orange juice, while for others it's the other way round? Or are there other factors? Sometimes people say to me 'I'd like to be self-employed, but I'm too worried about how I'd pay the mortgage/bring up the kids/manage the transition.' I know a number of people, like me, who started out in employment and then became self-employed almost by accident - and loved it. But then there are others who chose self-employment from the start, or at a later point in their career.

I'm interested in the changing landscape of work in our society. Here in the UK, self-employment is on the increase, as is part-time employment. More people are living patchwork lives, doing bits of this and bits of that, fitting work around caring for dependents, or around other things such as, ooh, to take a random example, writing. So I'd like to conduct a highly scientific survey in my comments box. Do you work? (And yes, as far as I'm concerned, unpaid domestic work counts as work.) Are you employed? Self-employed? Full-time? Part-time? To what extent is your working life a matter of choice or of necessity?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

It's Gone

I pressed 'send' on an email to an agent at 8.35 am today.

She hasn't got back to me yet so she obviously doesn't like it.

I know, I know. Anyway, I've still got stuff to do - polish the remaining chapters, research other agents in case she turns it down, start writing my next book.

Feels weird, though.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Baby Steps

My oh-so-fabulous mentor has given her pronouncements on my latest draft. She used terms like 'paradigm shift', 'honed skills', 'I'm blown away by the improvements', 'tweaks only', 'publishable book', and 'give yourself a huge glass of champers'. And this, from an evil hatchet woman who minces other people's words but not her own, is high praise indeed.

So, next week ish, my book will probably be heading off to an agent. Again. And I think it's that last little five-letter word which is the reason for my lack of excitement, woo-hoo-ing, and champers. You see, I've been here before - albeit not with such classy mentoring (or, in fact, any mentoring) and yes, let's be fair, that does make a sizeable difference. Perhaps there is more chance this time. But perhaps not. I don't know, and I bet you don't either.

What I do know is that agents want to find new authors whose work they believe in. There is a fair chance that I might turn out to be one of those authors. But there are no guarantees, not even after all the years of hard work. The distance between a publishable book and a published book is immense. If I find an agent, I'll be pleased, probably very pleased. I know, though, that even then, there's no guarantee of a publishing deal. And if the book is published, it could disappear without trace.

I've been working on writing a publishable book for a long time, and I'm happy to have reached this point. But it's a very quiet sort of happy, that doesn't come with fizz and whoops and jumping up and down.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Literary Project

Last October, Gemma Noon, interviewer extraordinaire, started a blog called The Literary Project. She has interviewed writers, publishers, writing tutors, and even a literary scout. I didn't know literary scouts existed until I read Gemma's interview with Louise Allen-Jones (which proves that literary scouts do not, as someone suggested recently, get little reading badges and swear to do their duty).

After only a few months, Gemma's blog already provides a fascinating insight into various aspects of the publishing industry. The writers she has interviewed come from a range of genres and, so far, include Bernard Cornwell, Della Galton, Steven Hall, Philippa Gregory, Cally Taylor, Andrew Cowan, Michael Marshall Smith and Sally Quilford, among others. The playwright John Godber is next up; I'm looking forward to reading that interview. Also, if there is anyone you would like Gemma to interview, you can email her to ask - of course, there are no guarantees, but she seems to have a knack for persuading people to say 'yes'.

Given the range, scope, and quality of Gemma's interviews, I'm surprised she hasn't generated a wider following. I've learned a lot from reading her blog, so I thought I'd pimp it here. (And before you ask, Gemma isn't a personal friend; we've never corresponded beyond each others' comments boxes; and I haven't been bribed to write this post.) (Although, if Gemma is reading this, I do accept retrospective bribes, especially in chocolate.)

I know many of you are writers, and those that aren't, are readers. I strongly recommend that you head over to The Literary Project, browse through the archives, and bookmark the blog for future reference.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Shooting Fish In A Barrel

Let's talk about astrology. Wouldn't it be lovely to think the stars can guide us? Doesn't work, though, as far as I can see.

I was born under the sign of Gemini. Yeah, I know, two-faced. Personally I prefer the version that goes: intelligent, quick-thinking, articulate. And that's the thing about astrology: you can take your pick.

Here are some of my daily horoscopes for today, taken from the Internet. I don't wish to dignify the providers with links; these were generated from a Google search on 'free daily horoscope Gemini' plus targeted searching of a couple of the UK's best-known astrologers' sites.

Life is a party today, so make the most of it! Your great energy should put others at ease, and you are definitely taking the situation well in hand. Your actions could make someone very happy.

So far, so pleasant - and so applicable to absolutely anyone. Here's another:

The dance is underway and for the moment, you lead, others follow in pursuit. Strut your stuff and don't stand still, because it's your motion that's getting the attention. You needn't strain yourself - in fact, its your fluidity and grace that makes you a magnet. Just move with the music, swing your partner with abandon.

Hmmm, maybe there is something in this astrology business after all - party, dance, well, they're similar metaphors, aren't they? Let's try a third:

This morning you might be on a state of confusion and have unrealistic ideas. People are likely to misunderstand you. Don't push things, or you may trigger a conflict! You are advised to postpone business activities. You'd better avoid any speculation, no matter how tempting.

Eh? What happened to all the parties and dancing? I don't think I'll believe in this one, plus the grammar is rubbish - whoever heard of someone being 'on a state of confusion'? Let's try another:

The emphasis is now on long-range financial planning, thinking about future security, and formulating strategies to achieve your ambitions. Your ability to study quietly, to concentrate on complex mental work, and to think deeply about serious matters is much better than usual. This is a good time to organize your affairs and also to seek professional advice about your concerns.

Well honestly, how can I be expected to do long-range thinking and formulate strategies when I'm on a state of confusion? Make your minds up, astrologers!

But then those all came via the Google search, so maybe they're from charlatans. Let's try a couple of 'reputable' astrologers whose advice is widely syndicated through the media. Here's the first:

Taking a trip to a beautiful, exotic land will soothe your frayed nerves. Lately, you've been spending a lot of time on relationship matters. It feels as though you've lost your identity along the way. By taking a solitary break, you'll reconnect with your truest self. People may be surprised by your decision to go away by yourself, but it's because they cling to outmoded ideas about love. You can be passionately devoted to someone and still want time alone.

I'm sure a trip to a beautiful exotic land would soothe my nerves, and anyone else's too, but money and time are slight barriers here. And I did the solitary break thing LAST year - yes, it was great, but I don't feel the need to do it again right now. So here's a final prediction:

People say, 'All I want is to be happy'. It sounds very reasonable, until you remember that some folk are only ever happy when they are feeling miserable! Someone in your world is now saying something that seems to make a lot of sense. Are you sure, though, that you are really listening to them? Watch for the tendency, today, to hear what you think you ought to be hearing, rather than what is actually being expressed. Watch too, for the possibility that someone wants the very opposite of what would be good for them.

This is another one that could apply to absolutely anyone. I know the astrologers' answer to that: daily horoscopes based on sun sign alone can only be very general, and for truly accurate forecasts you need a full personalised chart reading. I had one of those once, over half my life ago when I was more credulous than I am now. It was also full of 'advice' that could apply to anyone, e.g. 'your father might have health problems so keep a close eye on him' (he didn't) and 'you may have problems at work if you get on the wrong side of someone' (well, durrrrr).

My question to the astrologers is, even if daily horoscopes based on sun sign alone are very general, why are they so incredibly diverse? This isn't the first time I've done this exercise, and the contradictory messages in the horoscopes above are typical. For one astrologer, I'm putting others at ease; for another, I'm likely to be misunderstood. One says I'll be confused, another that my mental state will be clearer than usual. And I can't see the point of going on a solitary holiday if others are going to follow in pursuit.

I think I'll take the first forecast above as the omen for my day, because I like it best. So do you believe in astrology? Even after reading this post? And, if so, why?

Friday, 5 February 2010

I've Done It

The third draft went off to Debi yesterday. It has been an intensive few weeks of near-total immersion. I've had to do a few other things - paid work, some domestic work (but not much as my Paramour has been a star in that department), a couple of friends' birthday parties. Otherwise I've been a reclusive full-time writer. And when I say 'full time', I mean starting at 6 am, finishing at 9 pm, not taking days off.

I think part of my most recent burst of motivation came from the death of a writer friend one year ago today. She was younger than me, highly talented, and died with most of her words unwritten. When she knew she was dying, she pleaded with other writers not to make the same mistake. I know that only published books are officially dedicated to people, but I hereby dedicate this draft to my friend, who helped me so much along the way, and is still helping me now. Like me, she didn't believe in an afterlife - but if there was one, she'd be pleased with the dedication. And I know that if she was with us, she would be loudly cheering my progress.

Today, I have to find the energy for one last burst of activity. Then, this afternoon, when I've somehow managed to do more jobs than will fit into the intervening hours, I'm off with my Paramour to spend a happy weekend with some dear friends, where there will be much eating, drinking, and merriment, and no writing at all. Or even thinking about writing.