Saturday, 26 July 2008

This is Edit-day, Wear a Smile

Not quite Tiswas, but if you count the shower as a bucket of water than I’ve had more than my share – blooming hot in this flat today! And I never thought the day would come when I said that…

I’ve been pretty tired this week – I am on early shifts, which mean getting up at 6 to get my train, and it is a huge culture shock from working at home and rolling out of bed to switch on the computer. I actually like the shift times, but have been very tired – yesterday I was in bed by 9.30pm! But today has been all about editing and cracking on with the novel.

It’s moving at a rate of knots, I have to say. At the moment I am on chapter 7, and I hope that means I’m not missing a ton of things… There is also this ‘prequel’ business… I think I mentioned before that I had a glimmer of another idea for a book that ties in with this one. If so, then I should allude to it during a few key moments through this novel, but I haven’t worked them in yet, I need to think more about it. It’s times like this I wonder just how long it took JK Rowling to plan her Harry Potter books – it must have been years! As if you are doing sequels then they have to make sense from the very beginning, so she’d have had to have known how they ended before she wrote her first sentence. Respect…

Oh well, onwards and upwards!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Labelled with Love – Squeeze

Like Up the Junction, this is a song with a narrative heart tinged with a downbeat sentiment, but enhanced with a plaintive delivery.

This song is like listening to a story book, but with the bonus of a nice repetitive chorus. The lyrics on the whole are very simple, but every so often there will be a lyrical loop or alliteration that will just sound genius on the ears. It is a real pleasure to listen to songs that have been written with a eye and ear for poetry, it makes such a difference. And it’s sung with a nice swooping tone on certain words – perfect to try and emulate - try it!

She moved home alon-e without friends or rel-a-tions
Lived in a wo-rld full of age reserv-a-tion


Labelled with Love tells us the story of an older lady – the sort of lady people grimace at and quickly walk past in the supermarket before they get a whiff of Eau De Pee. But then we see into where she lives and what an empty struggle it is – there’s nothing left for her in life apart from her memories, unlocked with whisky. Further to that we hear what she was like as a younger lady – adventurous to marry an American pilot during the Second World War, and go off to Texas with him. Yet he was an alcoholic, and the sentence ‘he became drinker and she became mother’ leads me to believe not that she had children, but that she forego motherhood in that sense to look after her husband instead. The next part ‘she knew that one day she’d be one or the other’ was her insightfulness that one day she’d too turn the same way, but with no inclination to prevent it, even though he died from alcoholism. After that she came back to the UK only to find there was nothing left for her here, except for the old age she once predicted – bottles labelled with love.

Oh how depressing and sad, yet strangely this is a beautiful song, although something does jar with me, in both this and with Up the Junction. Both songs have a sentence within them that, to my ears, sounds lazy – as if the songwriter couldn’t find anything else suitable to rhyme so he stuck in a sentence thinking ‘it’ll do’, and the problem is the rest is so nice that it just doesn’t ‘do’ – if you see my meaning. For me with this song it is the lyrics in bold:

She crossed the ocean back home to her family
But they had retired to roads that were sandy

I get what he means – they’ve gone to Bournemouth, or similar, but I can’t help wishing he’d strived for higher there. To me that is the sort of poetry I'd write when I'm stuck. And with Up the Junction it is the lyrics in bold:

No more nights by the telly
No more nights nappies smelling

In that song he’d already used the word ‘telly’ to rhyme with ‘smelly’ – and this repeat just feels like it doesn't enhance the song - it's not a chorus, it doesn't tell us anything new about the character's predicament - it's just... well, filler - and I hate thinking there is filler on songs I love, as the rest is just so good!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Are you ready?

Today I have been researching agents thanks to the help of such mighty books as The Writers’ And Artists’ Handbook 2008. I also have in my collection The Writers’ And Artists’ Handbook 2006, the same again for 2005, and possibly even the 2002 vintage edition tucked under my old bed at my mum’s. Please let this be the last year I buy this book – lovely though it is, if I stored them all in one place my shelves would fall over.

It seems the big question every agent hints at is ‘are you really sure your novel is ready to show me?’ The tone implies that unless you are on draft twenty of the entire thing then you really shouldn’t send it anywhere near people who know what they are doing. This makes total sense – sometimes you don’t see mistakes straight away, and if people are sending submissions stuffed full of typos, errors and plot-holes I can see it doesn’t give an agent the best impression. The novel could be brilliant, but the agent would have to expend a lot of energy to get it up to selling standard, whereas they could simply go for somebody else’s polished novel instead.

Do I think my novel is ready to send to agents? I really don’t know now… I have been rinsing and scrubbing the first three chapters for the past month on and off, but the rest of it needs a dip in bleach. So do I continue re-drafting the whole thing, or send off the first three anyway, as there may be a wait (of up to two months, potentially, so says the Great Book), and that should give some good scrubbing time, in-between long hours commuting and working like a demon. Sigh…

I also have an eager reader… good friend A’s mum saw the first three chapters at her house and asked to read it, and now she wants the next lot! This is great, as it means I’m getting a nice range of ages to read this for me, and it also spurs me on editing chapters four & five. So maybe I should just keep going… it’s a bit hard to work out how many drafts I am on though. As when I was writing it I kept going back to edit… I think I will count the real first draft as the first edit of the whole finished thing, in which case I am only on (first draft) chapter 4 out of 22. And then when I reach the end I’ll repeat the process - maybe after that I can answer the question ‘are you ready’ with confidence, as I queue up for the latest blue rinse and a pension.

Hmm, so it seems I need a plan. I’m just going to have to utilise lunch breaks for editing, and be especially strict some evenings and at weekends. I can do this, I know I can, and I’m not going to spoil it now. Also it means I can dream on a little longer and not send it anywhere just yet – did you notice that? I did.

Friday, 18 July 2008

A Year Old!

I distinctly remember telling myself earlier this week that I absolutely had to make a post Thursday… hence here we are, rather late on a Friday. But the wine has been poured – for my blog is a whole year (and a day) old! Cheers!

And here is the very first post, if anyone needs a refresher. Ah, back in the days when the flat was ‘our new flat’, and not the ‘very draughty, swallows electricity and burps out bills’ flat. Still it has been inspirational – and I have done what I set out to do a year ago, the novel is finished. I haven’t sent it anywhere yet, still polishing the synopsis and doing my agent research, but it’s almost ready to go. It’s like the pause for the final cigarette break before going over the top… that is what it feels like! But no matter what, I have a story I am very happy with, and that is the main thing.

It really does feel like this bit has come to an end now, as I start working full time at a lovely company on Monday. It is Job B, folks – and I have to say they romped home to a diamond finish this week – you couldn’t have wished for better pre-employee care, put it that way. It certainly put all my fears to bed – and perhaps the majority of those were really fuelled by the thought of leaving my little room to go into the big wide world again, to be honest. I think it’s quite easy to become a little agoraphobic working by yourself at home, and I do tend to get a bit like that. But I think (with me) a big amplifier of these feelings was the doubt about what I was doing… giving up work to write a novel? Literally spending all my life savings supporting myself? Was I insane? It’s hard to justify yourself when part of you wonders at the logic… still, I’d do it again.

Stages to writing a novel

Preparation!
I had been saving money to buy a flat, so did a year of living back with my mum in order to save as much as I could. I also worked full time (plus odd weekends), hardly bought anything, told everyone my clothes were ‘retro’ and ‘vintage’ when in fact they were just ‘old’. Then as it turned out I didn't buy a flat, but rented somewhere, and started this crazy notion instead.

Budget!
Work out a budget from your savings, and then spend time blowing it on Argos home delivery, and blackberries.

Faff!
Spend a while wondering what on earth you are doing, and where to start.

Research!
As no matter how much you do, you could always do more...

Get cracking!
Sooner or later you have to start writing, and after a while you discover that your muse is a contrary beast that only stirs late at night , or for chocolate.

Get stuck!
Writer's block? Stalled? Oh dearie me...

Inherit odd pets!
I mean, who ends up with a nest of ladybirds?

Go stir-crazy!
Sings: I like the printer, it prints for me - God made the printer and God made me...

The end is nigh!
Budget or novel, budget or novel ...

Finit!
Can it be true? My word, I think it is!

Quick - get a job!
And sing that song by the Silhouettes: Get a job, sha-na-na-na...

And there you have it folks - what to do in one year! Shall we do it again?

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles

If someone held a match to my bookshelf and said I absolutely had to choose just one song from The Beatles otherwise the Agatha Christie’s get it, the song I’d choose would always be Eleanor Rigby.

What an outstanding song this is – from composition to subject matter to final delivery. It was one of the first songs from a hugely popular band to seriously consider the effects of loneliness, although I’m not altogether convinced that Paul McCartney set out to write it as such, I think he just knew (and knows) when words sound good together. All the best songwriters are poets and storytellers at heart, and this song combines both abilities in a compelling and haunting tale that ends up being beautiful, despite the sombre images the words conjure in mind.

It brings a faded world into reality for me, those years left bleak after the Second World War, with widows and graves growing old. The name ‘Eleanor Rigby’ sounds like an older lady, and ‘picking up rice’ after a wedding, living in a dream. Already she is rather mysterious – is she thinking of her own wedding or a lost love? Does she work in the church? Either way it’s not a very cheerful hobby - and ‘rice’ now sounds rather exotic to people brought up with Clinton Cards paper confetti (if you are allowed to throw it, that is). Yet she goes home, does her make up, and sits and waits – now she sounds like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, and the inference with the chorus is that no-one cares if Eleanor Rigby makes up her face or not, as she gets no visitors. ‘All the lonely people’ – such a sad refrain.

And then we have the good padre, Father McKenzie, still hoping to touch people with his words although no-one bothers to listen. He may be all alone but he still ‘darns his socks’ – again a hint of something now exotic – is he poor? Still cares about appearances even if no one sees his socks? Almost army-like, in a way… And there you have it, these two lonely people within a whisker of each other, she in the church yard, he in the church, but no happy ending in the third verse. Eleanor has died a lonely death, with only Father McKenzie attending (as his job) to help bury her (along with her name – oh that is so poignant). No one is saved, well; no one is safe from loneliness. It can creep up unbidden.

And that’s my take on the lyrics… which for me is also reinforced by how this song is used in the animated film Yellow Submarine, as that was almost certainly my first introduction to it. The style of the animation is odd and dark, strange snapshots of Liverpool with repeated moving images that look taken from a Pathe news reel, touched with an Andy Warhol screen-print of colour. Industrial chimneys, old architectural shapes made by the buildings and cobbles. And then there are the lonely people, all men in their suits, going off to work in the city, standing there with their symbols of old city life, the briefcase and the umbrella. It makes my heart sad, as their time has past and gone. On a more personal level, my dad used to go to work in the city with his briefcase and umbrella, and his time too is past and gone… so you can see how this tugs at my heartstrings. Ah well…

The melody – well – spot a Beatle playing on this! They didn’t, although George and John did sing harmony and backing to Paul’s lovely lead vocal. However I love the contributions alluded to on the wiki page for Eleanor Rigby, that all The Beatles (and their pal Pete Shotton) helped finish the song at John’s home, with Ringo coming up with the line ‘writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear’ and George with the brilliance of the refrain ‘Ah, look at all the lonely people’. It’s nice to think of them all there, and Paul playing his song for them, and them all suggesting ideas over a nice cup of tea and a biscuit. At least, that is how I imagine it!

So there we have it, the lovely Eleanor Rigby. We all know her name today… and it was the main inspiration when naming my main character in the novel, although that is not immediately apparent – you won’t find any Eleanor’s or any Rigby’s! But it’s rather obvious to me… I guess you’ll have to wait and see!

Friday, 11 July 2008

Jayne (potentially) Two-Jobs

This is going to be a post filled with woe and fret, I’m afraid. You’ll have to either fortify yourself with a nice cup of tea before continuing or choose to duck out altogether and come back tomorrow when there will hopefully be a nice non-fret post up instead.

How can I have ended up in this pickle? Desperation, that is what happened, yer Honour. It was painfully obvious that I needed a job, so I chose two – one (Job A) that appealed, and another (Job B) that I knew would be easy for me. Job B has all the advantage of a mighty corporate machine, and first interview, second interview went bam bam – in just one week all was done, and I had a job offer. Job A, bless their cottons, are not a giant corporate machine, and are taking ages to make up their minds, as in a way it’s a much more important decision for them, being a smaller company. And so here I sit and wait their final decision… yet all the while aware that Job B expects me to start in their employ rather soon. Ye Gods.

I haven’t actually signed a contract with Job B, or agreed that I was starting... yet there is this wave of assumption that reaches me even in my little town. But why would they doubt? Oh this is so stupid. What if I cannot do Job A? Should I just accept Job B? What if this is all academic and Job A doesn’t want me anyway? Job A said they’d let me know yesterday or today… and so surely before six they will end this torture?

And incidentally, Job B was the one that I thought could potentially help the novel perhaps in the long run… but thinking about it seriously, it really is a punt on a punt, and not totally convinced that it is only by working there could I get their interest… If it was all about the novel then I should get a job in a PR/ Marketing firm, or in a literacy agency, or work for a publisher’s, and even then does that guarantee an ‘in’? More than likely the last thing a busy person will want is someone they have brought in to do a job and solve a problem sidling up with ‘The Novel’ in their should-be-busy hands.

*pause for more fretting and checking mobile signal.*

I can't concentrate on anything else, so it's youtube for me until 6pm. And then I think I will cry! (Am crossing fingers for tears of happiness).

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The Diary of Horace Wimp – E.L.O

I started getting into ELO when I was in my late teens – not quite sure how I stumbled upon them – definitely not through the formal routes of being made a cassette tape by an earnest boyfriend, or sneaking into my older brother’s room to rummage through his record collection. Perhaps it was the radio…

This song was my introduction to ELO, and it was so weird and fabulous that it caught my imagination straight away. The lyrics seemed to spin off the children’s nursery rhyme ‘Monday’s Child’, and tell the story of an unfortunately-named man called Horace Wimp, whose fate is revealed over the course of seven days. See – already it is genius.

The song makes good use of the vocoder, which is the thing responsible for the electronic bedeebe wowowow sort of sound, and this sound really reminds me of that period of late 70’s/early 80’s when music videos would chuck every FX they possibly could at the viewer, just because they now had things to play with. (The worst culprits for this was Blondie, bless them). In fact, that really seems to sum up the 70’s to me, and perhaps prog rock in general, as it was the decade to indulge in musical experiments, and audiences let the bands do just that, and loved them for it.

My favourite part of the lyrics is the switch between the beginning chorus:

Horace wimp, this is your life,
Go out and find yourself a wife.

And the end chorus:

Horace Wimp, this is your wife,
Go out and find yourself a life.

I just think that is brilliant, so simple, yet encapsulates the whole song. I love playing with words… in fact, if this novel goes the distance you will realise that just from the title! But I digress… Telephone Line and Livin’ Thing were my next loves from the ELO back catalogue, and that was that, until many years later I bumped into the greatness of what is Mr Blue Sky – a song that permanently stays in the top ten on my iPod. But still I have a fondness for Horace…

Monday, 7 July 2008

Angie Baby – Helen Reddy

Forget Jamie and his Magic Torch, this is all about Angie and her Magic Radio…

This song was released in 1974, and to me it really sums up that sort of childhood period of listening to the radio late at night under the covers. I used to have a Pepsi can portable radio, and although I didn’t keep boys inside it (nice trick, Angie) I did like to listen to it when the room was lit only by moonlight.

Angie Baby is a narrative about a girl that is ‘touched’ – and that is the crucial point of this song, that the girl in question is perhaps a bit magical, a bit gifted in the strange sense of the word. Originally the song-writer, Alan O’Day, used the word ‘slow', which would have given the song a completely different feel. Making the girl in question a bit otherworldly adds an extra layer of interest and complexity to the lyrics.

This song caused a lot of speculation about the meaning when it first came out – everyone apparently wanted a detailed explanation of what happened to the boy in the song. Surely it was obvious – Angie put him in her special radio and brought him out to play on occasions – who needs Ann Summers? So then of course Women’s Lib loved it, although that could have been more because of the nature of some of Helen Reddy’s other songs.

Helen’s vocals suit this song perfectly; she has a lovely twang to her voice that softens the delivery, yet pronunciation is crystal clear. And the melody – there is a lounge-band atmosphere with this song that I really like; I can almost imagine the instrumental version being softly played in an expensive 1970s cocktail lounge, full of women in sequin dresses and men in wide-lapel suits, clinking glasses amidst a riot of orange / brown dĂ©cor.

And to think this could have been recorded by Cher…

More info here, and a rather delightful video set to this song below.



Postscript

I was very sad to hear that Alan O'Day died in May 2013, and feel very blessed that he took time to comment on this blog post. I especially love how he says below that 'Angie' would have approved of my interpretation - that is such a special gift and one I will always treasure. Thank you, Alan. x

I was recently (October 2013) emailed by James Collins, one half of the band Wahl Collins, who, with Alan's blessing, recorded a cover version of Angie Baby. It's really good - go check out their YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyrrOuBnFc4.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

On the Up

Some good things… I went for two jobs, and to my surprise find myself in the happy situation of being in demand! That is rather nice and somewhat unexpected, and leaves me with the decision about which to pursue. Both have pros, both have cons… one is more money (which should be the clincher) but the other… I have a feeling that if all goes well with the book, then the other will be a real help. And my instinct, bless it, does seem to sometimes run the show without me, so perhaps I should let it be. Either way, perhaps I am not doomed to live by the bins in a cardboard box, although for a while there it was tough going.

It’s still not going to be a picnic, as whichever I choose, the first wage will not be in until end of August, so still there are a few hurdles to fly over – paying for travel, rent, bills, food – all this is still a source of worry. But I can probably extend my overdraft if I can show the bank evidence of a job offer, so this might get me through the summer. Cross fingers!

As for the novel – it is shaping up quite nicely, if I say so myself. I took myself to Borders and spent nearly a full day researching current book titles, and making note of the stories that are similar to mine, seeing who publishes such titles. It is a tricky thing as of course I think my book is completely unique and there is nothing else like it, but I need to work out where I think my novel fits into the grand scheme of published work, so people cleverer than I can work out how to sell it. At least, I think that is the idea.

I have also started my agent research – I made a list of what I want from an agent, and then have been looking through books such as Writer’s Market UK to find out what agents might be suitable. There are so many things to think about – (and this is all from the ‘ideal world’ perspective, i.e. they all like me) do I want a large agency that might have a huge list of clients and therefore not much time for me? Do I want a smaller agency that might have time for me but perhaps not the same pulling power? I can’t go for any that charge a ‘reading fee’, and I think I would like an agent based in London. I am also thinking that it might be useful in future to have an agent that represents children’s as well as adult’s fiction – so pipes up my intuition again – I hope it’s not just indigestion. But the good thing is I have at least two full weeks to really consider all of this, as it would be madness to have gone through this ‘sink or swim’ year with the novel and not carefully plan to get this bit as right as I can!

And you know what… researching for agents is fun. This is probably because none have had the chance to reject me yet, so all have potential to be fabulous. Yee-hah!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Super Trouper – Abba

The beauty of many of Abba’s songs is that they set jaunty melodies to somewhat melancholic lyrics – the result is this odd juxtaposition of emotions, yet when it works, it really works – something I am sure they all realised early on.

Super Trouper demonstrates this odd pull of emotions – the lyrics (we are led to believe) are biographical – about a band that hate touring, can’t wait to finish, are lonely and depressed, the lights blind them onstage, victims of their own success – the litany goes forever on. Yet they are not just ‘troupers’ - which, incidentally, means ‘a person who deals with and persists through difficulty or hardship without complaint’ (although we are given a list of them) – they are ‘super troupers’ – which means the poor things must really be suffering through their smiles. But the song does give us hope that the band aren’t sobbing into their shiny satin hankies each night before going on stage – they have friends in the audience, and their faces will get them through the hardship of being isolated on stage.

Gosh. Poor Abba. I am sure they had plenty of high moments as well, but I can’t help thinking how hard it must have been to be two married couples in the same band – no escape at all, and then when everything crumbled under pressure they still had to carry on (for a bit). I find ‘The Winner Takes It All’ such a hard song to listen to, even though they have stressed it wasn’t about divorce (as I think it was Benny that said ‘there are no winners in divorce’) but how painful that must have been to sing for others. Sometimes Abba’s music is pretty raw, emotions laid bare, something that can be forgotten under the layers of spandex and the happy shiny disco of ‘Dancing Queen’.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd

This song has a quiet build up, and when the guitar comes in so loud over the main melody it's startling yet perfectly accompanies the sound. Imagine hearing the beginning tune over the radio and someone sitting alongside you picking the notes out casually but effortlessly with their guitar – and that is exactly the effect Roger Waters wanted, and achieved.

The lyrics – so sad is the first thing I think... like what depression would sound like if it could sing. The words send goose bumps up my arms as the fairly short lyrics are so layered with meaning. It depends if you concentrate on the musicianship or the lyrical vision - one or the other you might get clarity, but together it is a brilliant song, and the irony of 'wish you were here' - oh this last is a cutting swipe. No I don't wish I was there, or anywhere near there, although at times in everyone’s life I think they will stop to visit.

The song to me conjures up images of the tide, a relentless ebb and flow that will continue undisturbed by the mishaps of mice and men. Apparently this song was written around feelings of alienation, and refers to former Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett (see more about the song here). I can sense the depression, the feeling of being unconnected to everything around you, and time can march on relentlessly no matter what small brakes you put in its path to stop the progress. It’s hard to pick a favourite part of the lyrics – I usually fall for the hook with the line and sinker, so it’s probably not a surprise for me to pick:

And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?

I can see this so clearly - all the bitter disillusioned old soldiers coming back home after the Second World War to find there was nothing left for them, and no matter what horror they had seen they had to try and fit back in to society the way they did before, no matter how damaged. And the earlier line:

And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts

Again - as a child watching these tall men go off to fight for their country, and the space you see in the eyes when they return, if they return...

It’s such a perfectly crafted song, an ‘everyman’ song, and it might be sad but there is beauty in sadness that is too rich to ignore. So here it is...

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs – Brian and Michael

I’ve decided to kick off music month with this delightfully gentle song from Manchester duo Brian and Michael.

This is one of the earliest songs that ever caught my attention, and held it as I grew older. It was released in 1978, which would have made me rather small, but still I remember being quiet when I heard this song on the radio. The big attraction for me probably would have been because it mentions cats, and at the time that was exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, having not yet discovered humans cannot grow up and be furry, unless they have some sort of problem. I think the other draw to the song was because the lyrics are quite visual, and they read very much like a picture book story with a beginning and an ending, and even the title sounds like something that could be found amongst the children’s corner in bookshops.

Another draw for me was it had other children singing it, and other children were absolutely fascinating to me when I was little, especially bigger children. And here they were, singing from the radio! They must be well grand – I wanted to be one of those kids singing la-le-la-li-lo in the background. The other appeal was the sort of finality of the end verse – I’m not sure at that age I would have grasped what that meant, but the melancholy tone, even though it was sung in a jaunty voice, made the song very memorable and very haunting, in a way.

Now fully grown (and not a cat, damn), I appreciate this song even more for the same reasons, expect now there’s a few added extras. After studying art for so many years, I have a good appreciation for Lowry and enjoy his work. It always feels like Lowry was an artist that died in the 19th century, so it is still quite a surprise that he died in 1976. I read a great story recently about when Lowry was invited to the BBC to do an interview during the 1960’s and his main concern was that no one in the green room could do a proper cup of tea. I like that, and it fits in nicely with these lyrics:


Now canvas and brushes were wearing thin
When London started calling him
To come on down and wear the old flat cap
They said tell us all about your ways
And all about them Salford days
Is it true you're just an ordinary chap

So this song, celebrating his life, seems to me to be a very fitting tribute and it’s nice to think he would have been very pleased about it. I also love hearing about modern social history, and I think this song really helps paint a picture, of both the time they are singing about, and the 1970’s in a way – the latter with a nice nostalgic rosy glow for me.

And as for the duo themselves, they appear very Internet savvy, with their own youtube webpage here, and their myspace here, and a good sense of humour about things. Even though they are known for 'Matchstalk Men', they are very accomplished musicans and obviously still get enjoyment from their music, and I hope especially for this song that brought so much happiness to others. Cheers guys!