Thursday, 31 December 2009

That was the decade that was

And so goodbye to the noughties… when this decade started I was 23 years-old, with a newly acquired illustration degree six months behind me. I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, what was possible, what I wanted. I had moved back home (a common theme to be repeated throughout the decade) and my teenage ‘Saturday’ job had engulfed my week. Life seemed a little dull. Little did I know what was in store!

For a start I would live in five different places – all in north London. Two of these would be with friends – one known since we shared the same class in senior school, the other yet to be made in those early months of 2000. Both of which I was a proud bridesmaid for later in the decade. Three places would be with J – quirky flats that we made our own, one that came complete with pet ladybirds.

I would hold five jobs – two of which would not so sadly end in redundancy. One I would take to court for unfair dismissal and age discrimination, and win damages higher than £30,000, although the money was never forthcoming. Darn villains! The other was a daily newspaper hit by the credit crunch, and I was happy to leave. I would also work as a freelance writer, with long contracts up and down the country, and regular articles published in magazines and my local newspaper. I would interview people such as Bananarama, Ryan Reynolds, Josh Hartnett, Will Smith. I would wade through a lost river under London, work as an extra on a film, and attend the BAFTA awards as a guest. I would convince the priest of a church in Belgium that I needed his church for a commercial; I would fly to Sweden to attend a meeting. Twice I would turn my back on conventional employment to work for myself. The first time I would have a stall on a farmer’s market and sell handmade cards and paintings; I would also hold my first (and only!) art exhibition in a pub. The second time I would write a novel.

I would visit several countries for work (Belgium, France, Malta, Sweden, Switzerland) and several countries/cities for pleasure (New York, France, Canada, Croatia, Rhodes, Italy, Portugal, Cape Town, Poland). Some of them I would even visit three times (New York and Canada). I would also learn to appreciate the British Isles, and take long weekends in Cornwall, Swanage, the Lake District, Norfolk, Windsor, Glasgow, and visit Wales. I would go camping – twice at festivals, and twice with friends. In the early part of the decade I thought I would go on a snowboarding holiday every year – I was right until 2003. Instead my longest 'sport' became yoga – at some point every year I have attended a class, although I will rarely attend for more than three months in a row.

This is the decade in which I said a sad goodbye to my Nan, and to my first cat Timmy.

This is also the decade where I met S’s cats Abigail and Ginger, and they made their home with me.

Music festivals were an event on the calendar when I started the decade – Ozfest, Reading, Download, Hard Rock Calling, Lovebox, V Festival… dancing was important to me. Stand-alone gigs (not necessarily my choice!) would be Kylie, Robbie Williams, U2, Scissor Sisters, Disturbed, The Who, Aerosmith, The Answer, The Wonderstuff, Madness, and The Pet Shop Boys. I would also lean more towards classical music at the end of the decade – attending the Proms three years in a row, and various classical concerts around London.

My best, and most solid, friendships are still with the people who entered the decade with me, including J. I add to that list a few new names from this decade, but the noughties to me has been more of a time for fun acquaintances, a whirlwind of faces that come and go, and an appreciation of older friends. Three of my close friends now have children, four are married. Whereas once we all lived so close, some of my friends now live further afield - Acton, Borehamwood, Cheshunt, Harlow, Welwyn Garden City, Cambridge, to name but a few. One lives a whole plane ride away!

I started this decade with an illustrated cat book. I sent it away; it was too short. I packed it under the bed. I then went hell for leather on a book idea in 2002 and fifty pages in I decided it was terrible. I started another straightaway, and got eighty pages in before sending it off. I probably made every mistake possible, and yet still received kindly rejections. I then started another that was progressively more dark and gloomy, and changed tack yet again halfway through with another illustrated book idea for children. Another kind rejection (or three) later, I concentrated on earning money instead. Until in 2006 I had this book idea... and it hummed and poked at my subconscious for a year until I decided to give it a proper go. I have since gathered three more novel ideas that are sitting patiently in my brain. I now realise just how much work there is to getting an idea ready for others to see, which makes me feel even worse about the early submitted material!

And so I end the year with a non-published illustrated cat book, J, nice job, good friends, and a novel. I feel rather happy about that. Happy New Year's Eve to you all, however you spend it!


Sad edit, 5th January 2010: And so I end the year with a non-published illustrated cat book, nice job, good friends, and a novel.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A London Christmas

I am loving my little book ‘A London Christmas’ – so much fun to read how Londoners used to celebrate. Here are some of my observations from the book so far:

Forget turkey, give me beef!

Christmas dinner once upon a time was beef – there is no mention of turkey in this collection of memories and extracts, not until an article published by George Orwell in 1947. Since this book spans centuries of memories (oldest relevant extract is from 1443), it seems beef was the special treat of the year. Also featured were sage and onion stuffing, mince pies, plum pudding with brandy, and the meat dish ‘plum porridge’, which sounds a bit ominous. I am really tempted to try and follow an old recipe to see if it is edible! There is a lot of boiling and straining to do when cooking these old dishes, by the sound of it. The only thing that puts me off is that these recipes sound so fatty! It would have been ideal back then, but not for now when we are surrounded by so many fatty choices, and do little physical exercise, as a nation at least. But to be honest I am not a huge fan of turkey, so perhaps beef would be a traditional alternative.

Nb: Goose was also a traditional choice for this time of year - and I much prefer goose to turkey, so might reinstate that one!

Legalised begging

Boxing Day up and down the land was the time for everyone in service to demand payment. The doorbell would ring day and night as butchers, paperboys, the turn-cock (water), road-sweepers, coach-men, musicians, general errand-boys, post-boys, the sweep, dust-men, and lamp-lighters all come knocking for money. In 1852 it was so bad that the advice given in Chamber’s Journal was ‘tie up the knocker – say you’re sick, or you’re dead’. Doesn’t this remind you of how Halloween has morphed into the begging custom trick or treat? Yet in some ways this Boxing Day tradition continues – my mum always mentions giving the dust-men something ‘for their Christmas box’, but it is never on Boxing Day – usually the week before.

Christmas Day post

You could post your Christmas cards on December 24th and receive them Christmas Day. In fact, it was considered normal to post your cards on Christmas Eve, although it later years (by 1901 at least) the general consensus was to ‘post early’ to save the post office from being swamped with cards and parcels at the last minute. In 1890 a shop-bought card price was 8d, which works out to be £3.15 in today’s money. It doesn’t sound much of a difference, except the annual salaries back then worked out approx £12 for a nursemaid, £30 for a groom, £50 for a butler. I don’t think many would have splashed out the equivalent of £3.15 for a single card! No wonder folk made their own cards, if giving any at all.

Christmas Day travel

Trains, trams, buses – all these would be running on Christmas Day, making it easy for people to visit relatives in the country. There may be a brief hiatus on local trains until ‘after the Divine church service’, but the transport service didn’t close down for the day, as it does now. However, this means that now everyone has the right to a day off to celebrate how they choose, an option that just wasn’t considered back in the day.

The Holly and the Ivy

Decorations in olden times brought the country inside. Sprigs of dark green holly with cheerful red berries, clumps of trailing ivy to dress the mantle, boughs of mistletoe for the rich to giggle under. I really like this way of decorating a home - it smells fresh, and candles glimmer in a unique way off the waxed appearance of holly leaves. I would also add decorations of dried orange, and a cinnamon stick here and there for that warm smell of spice.

Can't wait to bring some of these traditions back!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Huge Thinking

I know I am thinking big, and thinking ahead, and thinking of amazing possibilities that may never happen – but if my story ever made it and was turned into a film, and if then the second novel made it and was also turned into a film – then I surely cannot have a big scene around the landing at Dunkirk in the Second World War, can I? The reason for this is I don’t think the Dunkirk depiction from the Tom Hanks film Saving Private Ryan can be bettered, and I would hate a poor comparison.

Am I being wildly optimistic here? Do I see wry grins from behind computer screens?

This imagined scene does not even happen until the second book, so I would have to assume the first all went swimmingly before this ever happens. But I do mention it in passing during the book I am writing now, which means I have to be doubly sure of my facts.

So now my main problem is as follows. Arthur, Florence’s intended, is in the East Surrey Regiment along with Florence’s brother Edward. The first battalion of East Surrey’s went to France in 1940 and were evacuated via Dunkirk. They then went to Africa, Sicily, etc. The brave souls of the second battalion were pitched into battle in Malaya against the Japanese, and most didn’t make it back alive. So being with the first battalion fits what I want, and what I have already written. But if the second book concentrates on Edward, which is the story I am thinking of writing, then the events at Dunkirk would play a big part in it. And then it gets totally like the introductory scene of Saving Private Ryan, or that scene in the film Atonement. Has that been done too much now?

However, Saving Private Ryan was in 1998, and Atonement was released in 2007 – and both got critical appraisal about how they filmed the Dunkirk sequence. Since I am daydreaming and thinking big, then the sort of timetable I am thinking is first book published (2012), second book (2013), film (2015), second film (2016). So if something to do with Dunkirk works every ten years, my book would be perfect.

Phew! I shall leave things exactly the way they are. And I must say I love thinking big! Oh the things that can happen… so much fun to dream.

I have also reached chapter twelve of the grand redraft!

Monday, 28 December 2009

Book haul

Here are the books I received for Christmas:

The Arrival, by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan has been one of my favourite illustrator / story-tellers since I bought his book The Rabbits a few years ago. What can I say about his work? Well, he likes pipes. He draws an industrial world made of pipes, funnels and tunnels, populated by strange creatures trying to make sense of where they are and if they fit. A second glance however conveys a deeper meaning – his stories reflect political and historical change, dark glimpses into the human psyche, and reveal a reflection we can either improve or strive towards.

The Arrival is a story without words, and tells the story of immigration. A man leaves his family to sail far away to earn money to send back to them, and yet the world he arrives in is alien and strange.

The Red Tree, by Shaun Tan

Depression, oppression – this story uses fantastic imagery to reflect how hopeless and lost people can feel, and yet even then there can be hope. The only thing I would say about this book is that the pictures about depression are many, and the pictures about hope are few – I would have liked to see more of a balance.

A London Christmas, by Marina Cantacuzino

This is an anthology of seasonal memories compiled from various sources. A small extract below, taken from A London Family by M. Vivian Hughes, memories from 1870.

Christmas Eve was the day we liked best. The morning was a frenzied rush for last rehearsals for our family play, last posting of cards, last buying of presents. My father came home early, laden with parcels. The tea-table was resplendent with bon-bons (crackers), sweets, and surprise cakes with icing on the top and threepenny–bits inside. The usual ‘bread and butter first’ rule was set aside, and we all ate and talked and laughed to our heart’s content.

It is a really sweet compilation of memories – I can see myself referring to it when am grown up with my own little place, trying to make traditions of my own.

Dewey, by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

My mum thought I might like this story about a library cat in small-town America, as the cat on the cover looks like my Ginger Boy. I haven’t read it yet, and know nothing about the author, but it already has two things I like – cats and books - so it could be a winner. I’m always up for reading new authors – especially as one day I hope they will be up for reading mine!

John Lennon: The Life, by Phillip Norman

A lovely present from my brother, I am looking forward to settling down with this hefty book and seeing what it reveals. I have read a few books on John over the years, but this certainly looks like it will be the most in-depth – mainly as it is massive!

So I am pretty pleased with what I received (you can tell all is well when I chime in with a rhyme). Oh dear, sorry to go all Dr Seuss on you! I got some book vouchers as well, so these are the next books on my list.

Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making

Did I tell you I collect Agatha Christie books? I like the old Fontana publications, but over the years I have got a sizable collection of each imprint. Hence why moving house for me is so tricky – I usually have at least four boxes filled to the top with Christie’s. But it’s not just about the old illustrated covers; it is of course the stories. I think they are wonderful. And so I have to get this book! I can tell I would be completely absorbed by it.

Decades of Beauty: The Changing Image of Women, 1890s to 1990s

I saw this book around my friend’s house and thought it looked fantastic. It documents the social events and history behind the fashions, and has great portraits of the stylish ladies from each decade, and how the idea of beauty has changed over the years.

Under the Dome, by Stephen King

I cannot resist a new book by Stephen King for too long. This was published in November 2009, which means it has been out there for over a whole month and I have not yet read it. The world stops when I read Stephen King, which is why I have avoided buying it as yet, but I doubt very much I will get to February without acquiring this one.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Lovely Christmas

Despite all my fears, Christmas was wonderful! Joy to the world! Here are my highlights from the last few days:

  • Seeing good friend A dash up the icy road (and keep her balance) on Christmas Eve so we could scurry into a church and sing carols. We sang very joyfully indeed, and being good, I did not sing the words ‘appeared a shining thong’ in 'While shepherd’s watched their flocks by night'.
  • Snuggling with J while watching Gremlins. Still pulling a face at the Gremlin exploding in the microwave.
  • Opening stocking presents with mum and a cup of tea, cats trying to get in on the action until I waved a satsuma in their direction.
  • More presents! Love presents.
  • Niece telling me The Beatles is now her favourite band while wearing Beatle t-shirt. Felt all proud.
  • Mum’s dinner, and her gorgeous sherry trifle.
  • Watching Doctor Who eye candy – David Tennant and John Simm.
  • Playing The Logo Board Game with family – brother picked a winner with the game to play this year (and brother won!).
  • Good friend I swooping down complete with cute reindeer hat and home-made flapjacks.
  • Going over to good friend C’s house, and a mad ten-minute present exchange.
  • Cracking open the bubbly. And the second bottle of bubbly.
  • Good friend C interpreting ‘we’re not that hungry’ to ‘bring us the sandwiches made of goose!’ – wonderful.
  • Boxing Day presents!
  • Sherry with lovely dinner. More sherry in trifle. Small glass of sherry just in case sherry top-up is needed.
  • Snoozing through the film taped from Christmas day, High Society.
  • House to myself, turkey sandwiches, new Christmas PJ’s and snuggy slippers, cats on lap, Morecambe and Wise Christmas special from 1973 on the telly. Bliss. Bring me sunshine…

*skips off doing the dance*

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Conversational Minefields

There is an invisible conversational minefield that is planted where I live every Christmas day when certain relatives come around. Negotiating it can be very tricky indeed, as you can see. Typical exchanges (and explosions) go as follows.

Me: How are you?
Miserable, actually. (BOOM!)

Me: Happy Christmas!
Is it? Considering all my troubles how dare you say that to me. (BANG!)

Me: Your hair looks nice!
Yours doesn’t, in fact you look really old. You are so ancient. Not sure why you are still wearing young things like jeans, anyone over thirty should be in a granny nighty. (BAM!)

Me: What presents did you get?
A small candle to light in my darkened room. (POW!)

Me: What are your plans for the New Year?
I don’t have any friends. You should include me in all your plans or I might kill myself and then that will be your fault. (BOOM!)

Me: What have you been up to?
Nothing . But don’t you worry about me; you have to live your own life. I’ll just sit here, casting a lonely shadow. (BANG!)

Me: How has work/school been?
Boring. (POW!)

Me: Here’s your present!
Oh. I don’t like that book/clothes/toy. I might cry and say I hate it and only wanted money. (BOOM!)

Me: But you have been given money.
Doh, only £70 so far. She/he got £75. It’s not fair. (BANG!)

Me: Christmas dinner is served!
I’ve decided I don’t eat turkey /it’s yucky and cold as we are so late anyway (SHAZAM!)

Me: Let’s play a game!
Only one I have practised so I can win. We will play by the rules and if you win I will say you have cheated. Just so you know. (KA-BAM!)

Me: Let’s watch TV!
Only what I want to watch, actually, as things you like are deadly dull like yourself. And I will have it at super-volume to ignore the rest of you in the same room. (BOOM!)

Nearly every time I open my mouth I hear a distant explosion. It gets to the point where I’d rather stay silent. One day I will like to enjoy Christmas, and each year I hope things will be different with certain folk, but it never gets any better, or easier. I do deep down love them and want them to be happy, but I am so weary. I fear that my patience has snapped and worn thin, and now I cannot help any further, but instead wish for the day to be over. Tricky stuff.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The second-hand book hunt

I am always on the look-out for a good second-hand bookshop. Sometimes this search takes me far and wide. Yesterday it almost took me to a basement.

I’d set off with a friend in search of a second-hand bookshop I'd heard about in south-west London. This isn’t an area I tend to visit, considering that it takes nearly two hours to get to it from where I live. I am always amazed that areas can have the same ending address, such as ‘London’, but be hours away from each-other. It’s a big place.

By the time we popped up in that quarter of the city the snow was falling – freezing cold blobs soaking into scarves, shiny wet pavements, and puddles reflecting the white-grey sky. It was a chilly day for book-hunting, but we found the bookshop I wanted to see, and it was small but worth the effort. The fun started when I was asked whether I would like to visit their warehouse to see more books.

I replied in the happy affirmative, and was given a map, and told the warehouse was actually a basement in an unmarked building, and I had to ring an unlabelled buzzer and ask for the bloke in the basement. Oh, and there would be no mobile reception ‘down below’. At this point, perhaps understandably, my enthusiasm started waning.

So, with my imagination hovering between the sort of warehouse last seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark but packed to the rafters with books, and being the main item on News at Ten, we decided to leave it for another day. Curse you active imagination! I didn't fancy being in the film 'Jayne Ferst and the Basement of Doom'. I’m sure all would have been more than well, but perhaps next time I will take J along with me!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Divine Award!

I have been given this rather enigmatic looking award from Rose, owner of the inspirational blog A Rose Beyond The Thames. Thank you!

I would like to pass this award onto the following folk – Kit Courteney Writes (when her laptop works), Just Twaddle, Wannabe A Writer, A Letter from Abroad (when her laptop works!) and In the Playground of Imagination.

Now, to each of the award winners: Pick up your award (save the picture above) and pass it along to 5 blogs of your choosing- but you can skip that bit if you like. Then answer the following questions with one word & post on your blog:

1. Where is your phone? Desk
2. Your hair? Flat
3. Your Mother? Tricky
4. Your Father? Photograph
5. Your favourite food? Chocolate
6. Your dream last night? Weird
7. Your favourite drink? Disaronno
8. Your dream/goal? Author
9. What room are you in? Office
10. Your hobby? Writing
11. Your fear? Mediocrity
12. Where do you want to be in six years? Happy
13. Where were you last night? Counselling
14. Something that you’re not? Assertive
15. Muffins? Martha
16. Wishlist item? Books
17. Where did you grow up? London
18. Last thing you did? Email
19. What are you wearing? Trousers
20. Your TV? Storage
21. Your pets? Cats
22. Friends? Lovely
23. Your life? Complicated
24. Your mood? Complex
25. Missing someone? Always
26. Vehicle? Tube
27. Something you’re not wearing? Socks
28. Your favourite store? Secondhand
29. Your Favourite colour? Green
30. When was the last time you laughed? Days
31. The last time you cried? Days
32. Your best friend? Happy
33. One place that I go to over and over? Work
34. Facebook? No
35. Favourite place to eat? Picnic

It is surprisingly tricky with one word! More words would reveal number 15 to be Martha and the Muffins, of course, who sang the marvellous Echo Beach. Although I was tempted to leave it with no explanation... but then you might think that I know a girl called Martha who only eats muffins, or I like to insult a girl called Martha by equating her to a muffin, or... well, perhaps I will stop there!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Go go gadget redraft!

I pinned myself to the computer for as much of the weekend as I could spare, and the result was I made it to chapter 11. Halfway! Although my mum kept interrupting me so much that I feared turning into the scary old-lady librarian from Ghostbusters. It was touch and go at one point, but I must have looked slightly wild around the eyes the last time she came into my room as I was then left alone for the rest of the evening. Gosh I am a grumpy bugger at times.

Chapter ten ended up half its original size. There was a lot of useless dialogue and explanations going on there, and deleting almost a chapter worth of words didn’t detract from the story one bit. Editing really is a rather amazing process; in fact I could hug it when it all seems to be going well. I can’t wait to get stuck in to the later chapters – especially as now I am fired up to finish. The aim now is to send away three chapters / treatment in January, and then the story to be finished by March. Thank you so much for all the encouragement with this – last week was a bit of a wake-up call to be honest. I think it can be so easy in life to imagine what can be, rather than trying for anything and perhaps failing. I think this has been my major problem, but I cannot live in dreams, so it is high-time to turn this into reality and see what happens. It is actually really exciting, as I cannot wait to say it is finished, and move on to the next story idea.

I have worked out that I can usually squeeze nine hours from the evenings after work, and at least fourteen from the weekend, which is surely enough time to redraft each chapter. So if I keep that up and finish a chapter every week, then I am on schedule to finish on Monday 8th March. And I actually think I might be able to go faster than that, to be honest. We'll see!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Quick! Panic! Write!

I just read today’s blog post by Help! I Need a Publisher! and it has been enough to scare me rigid. Apparently, while books on vampires are the current trend, books on angels will be the next big thing. This means anyone writing books with vampires in it now, as a debut, might just miss their boat, whereas anyone writing books with angels, as a debut, might find their way if they get them out there pronto.

Hence me sitting here with a bellyful of fright and fear in my eyes!

My book is about an angel that makes a mistake. That is all I am saying at the moment, as I am too scared to say anymore in case my idea drips like a leaky kettle into a talented and fast writer’s lap. I know… paranoia! But when you’ve worked and lived with an idea for four years, it does get to that stage, especially when it is not quite finished.

And there - I have said what is scaring me so badly.

The story is done, the redrafting isn’t. I am giving this story a thorough redraft – it goes out as perfect as I can get it, or it goes out not at all. So far it has taken me a year – a whole year – to redraft ten chapters. I have twelve left to go. I know it has been tough for me this year – financially and emotionally - but still… I’m definitely not being Madam Speedy with this. Yet I can’t miss the boat again! I did it with an earlier book idea (an agent told me if I had submitted my idea sooner then he would have definitely been interested – I didn’t know whether to be gutted, exhilarated, encouraged or flattened!).

I have just worked out that if I redraft a chapter every two weeks, mindful of busy full-time work and commuting, then I will be finished by June 2010. June! I absolutely cannot leave it until June! The boat will have gone, all onboard having a party, and I’ll be left waving my manuscript on the cold dock. Oh please God, not June. It’s March, or I give up.

There’s nothing else for it. I am going to have to get amazingly organised with my life and no longer give in to feeling crap and tired of an evening. I have no idea how I am going to do this – I often feel crap and tired! I sadly suspect I am actually a crap and tired sort of person. But maybe this is what separates the real writers from the wannabe’s – those that get amazingly organised and treat it seriously, and those that don’t. Most people do not have the luxury of sitting at home solely writing – they have to start somewhere, and are usually working elsewhere while they do. And some have children to factor in as well. Children! I bow down to these people and bring them virtual gifts of chocolate. How do they cope?

But despite the panic… there is a part of me that is hugely excited and spurred on with this news. For once I just might be bang on-trend. I know it is all based on one lady’s opinion but she has had tons of books published and gives excellent editorial advice. I think I can trust her words. I need to step up a gear, put ‘I’m A Believer’ on the ipod, and shift my butt!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Bob-bob-bobbing along

I’ve made it to chapter ten of the redraft, which feels a major achievement. Chapter ten! The air feels different at chapter ten. Getting to chapter ten sounds more serious than wafting around on chapter nine – I’ve made it to double figures. The teens are in sight.

This was my monster chapter, and I have managed to shave 4000 words off it already. I love this sort of editing – putting sentences through a vigorous exercise routine so they reveal themselves as lean toned things of beauty, rather than forcing the poor things to drink Pad-Em-Up steroid drinks. The overall word count now stands at 110,000, but my goal is to get this to 100,000 (or less) to give this novel a better chance of being taken on by an astute and charming agent (just in case any are secretly reading). So more chopping yet to come, but there will be plenty of opportunity – there are still twelve chapters left to redraft.

I do wonder with a sinking heart whether it will take me another year to finish this novel. It can’t, can it? Real life work gets slowly but steadily busier with each week that passes, and it seems to take longer and more effort for me to disappear into my story the way I need to when redrafting. Maybe that will all shake itself out though.

And thinking of editing, I keep glancing sideways at chapter nine. It struck me at the weekend that I am saying something very similar with chapter nine and chapter ten, and perhaps I use both chapters to make the same point. There are differences… but still, I can’t help giving chapter nine a hard stare when I think it’s not looking. I am not sure whether it will come to deleting the entire chapter… but… it’s a thought. Not a pleasant thought granted! But if I do delete the current chapter nine then it means I’d have to delete a later chapter as well… which brings my word count down where it should be, and my chapter count down to twenty. But there’s a lot of good stuff in both, so that will be a rather painful decision. At the moment I will leave it where it is, keep calm and carry on. But I'll keep poking at the idea, like a child with a loose tooth, until something resolves itself. Eek!

Edit: I have just realised I wrote chapter ten over two years ago, in 2007. Two years? What on earth have I been doing? You can read all about it here. Weird to think I have now reached the 'later date' written about on that post... bet I didn't think then how much later!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

DVD or Ditch: Weird Science

Today we are going back to the exciting series DVD or Ditch, in which I return to old films taped on VHS and wonder whether to upgrade them to DVD. So let’s see how the film Weird Science holds up.

Weird Science starred Anthony Michael Hall from Breakfast Club fame; Ilan Mitchell-Smith as his mate, and model Kelly LeBrock as every schoolboy’s fantasy. It also had Robert Downey Jr sporting some really shocking hair, although singling just him out is truly unfair. 1985 will never be a year that screams style.

The premise of the film is two nerdy fifteen year-old boys hook up a Barbie doll to their 45k Amstrad/Spectrum/Atari/lump of plastic, and amazingly bring their fantasy woman to life. She then sees that all they really want to do is snog girls, drink beer and have a party – and so makes it all come true. It is no surprise to find out that it didn’t take long for director John Hughes to come up with some of his classic films…

Weird Science didn’t really make much of an impact on me as a teenager. I think I found it funny… more than likely it didn’t appeal as I didn’t fancy the two lead actors enough (shallow, moi? Splash.)

Returning to the film as an adult, and yes, it is still funny in places. However I cannot help but think that the idea of a 23 year-old woman having sex with a 15 year-old boy is the sort of thing that carries a prison term these days. I know the film is a teenage boy fantasy thing, but still… icky…

Anthony Michael Hall does the same high-pitched ‘stoner’ type voice he did in The Breakfast Club. I haven’t seen his other John Hughes film, Sixteen Candles, but I just bet there is a scene where his character will get drunk/stoned and out will come the voice… because everyone who is drunk and stoned does a stupid voice! It’s how we spot who is high of course, derr. Like how weed (The Breakfast Club) gives the user an amazing amount of energy and causes people to run and do cartwheels. But it is this sort of innocence in the films that I find really sweet…

I think films like this made me imagine that every American teenager was hugely rich, lived in a mansion, and drove their own car. I was so utterly impressed by American teenagers when I was thirteen, especially when everyone I knew looked like they had just crawled out of Grange Hill. Yet despite the obvious differences, there are some parts of the dialogue that are bang on for a teenager, for any teenager. I think John Hughes was brilliant at holding up a mirror to how introspective that time can be for everyone, and so he created films that ended up being quite universal, although 'ended up' sounds like it may have took him by surprise. I think he knew what he was doing.

But the funniest thing with re-watching this film is I remember when I originally first saw it I thought Kelly LeBrock’s character Lisa was such a grownup. I could never imagine, as a dorky thirteen year-old, that I would ever look as grownup as Lisa. And I was right – here I am at thirty-four, and I still do not look anything like as adult as Lisa. I doubt I will ever be that grownup, even when I am fifty.

So… upgrade this to DVD? It feels very dated. There were only six months between Weird Science and The Breakfast Club, but the latter still feels relevant to this day, whereas Weird Science creates a woman from a machine with less power than my mobile. So unless this film comes as part of a John Hughes DVD pack special, I won’t be upgrading this film anytime soon.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Friday Thoughts

When I left you I was splashing around in November. Now I am back with the dark chill of December evenings. Winter weather always seems to arrive slap-bang on December 1st, and this year was no exception. I smelt it as soon as I left my front door in the early hours, that special crisp coldness that crystallises your thoughts and makes you glad to be alive. As long as I have many knitted layers I am invincible.

The Cup-a-Soup compulsion has reached new heights at work. I have decided that Ainsley’s Sweet and Sour and Waitrose’s Chicken Noodle in a Cup are the best, the rest are pale imitators. I have also failed to resist the temptation of the giant chocolate buttons in WH Smiths. Two packets have disappeared in two weeks. But I don’t think Hercule Poirot’s little grey cells would be too taxed. The culprit is obviously the girl busting out of her jeans.

I spend most of my time at work ducking underneath my desk to turn on or turn off my little heater. Am freezing – on! Am boiling – off! And so it goes on all day, duck up, duck down. I must look as though I have ants in my pants.

I made it to chapter ten of the redrafting. I was ever so pleased. But then I started picking at the ends of chapter nine, and the last few pages unravelled faster than you can say ‘plot’. It is set in 1954, and the song I wove into it was not released in the UK until 1956. That was a little annoying (and how did I miss that the first time around, huh?). So I unpicked the song, and then unpicked some more, and now I have to knit the darn thing (hee!) back together again, sans song. Sometimes I think I am writing this too much as if it were a movie, already thinking of my soundtrack. I like to think big.

Little Christmas trees have started appearing in odd places. The grumpy man at the train station has one in his kiosk. I wonder if very early in the morning he had a moment of happiness setting it up, and then quickly rearranged his features to scowl at the first commuter. Or maybe a higher-ranking colleague plonked it in front of him and now he has to frown over tinsel all day.

Some girls have set up little trees at work by their desk. One asked me if I was going to get one, and instead I replied that I wasn’t into Christmas this year. It was like Ebenezer Scrooge had materialised in front of her wearing a pinafore dress. I felt like the poop in the party. I usually like Christmas I wanted to say, ask me next year! Next year I am bound to feel festive. This year I just want to eat humbugs.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Dusty blog

Sometimes it is hard to post anything of interest. I am still in the doldrums really, and have managed no writing at all recently, so I am beginning to feel a rather dull person indeed. I also started the counselling thing… and while I can see it has potential, and is the way forward, it also seems to leave me feeling a bit low and cross about everything. But the first session felt like a heavy weight had unshackled itself for a few hours, so I have to hold onto that feeling, and know that the lightness will come back. I think the miserable part has to be got through in order to come out the other side smiling or something equally mushy. So I shall just carry on being low and cross. Gosh I sound delightful company!

I rather wish there was an injection you could take (not heroin, obviously) that would sort it all out for you. Maybe something free on the NHS. It would be much easier than killing tissues while talking to someone. Much less painful, and it could even come with a free chocolate bar for afterwards, and perhaps a badge – ‘I’m Not Sad!’ - with a slider so you can change sad for ‘mad!’ or ‘bad!’ depending on your problem.

I tried to give myself a stirring pep talk the other day. I told myself that there was no point moping around and that things will get better and I should just knuckle down to writing and get on with it. I did this in a series of Stern Thoughts as I crossed underneath London on a busy tube train. I no doubt looked rather cheesed off, although that could be my habitual expression while commuting, of course.

I am reading ‘Testament of Youth’ by Vera Brittain at the moment. My counsellor leant it to me (why? What does that mean? Does it mean anything?!), and it works well as a distraction, although I find myself at times wanting to step through the pages and give some of those people the benefit of my Stern Thoughts as well. But it is interesting to see that teenagers and young people of 1913 were really no different to teenagers and young people today, in that they all at some time write god-awful poetry.

There may be more on ‘Testament of Youth’ when I finish it (661 pages! Didn’t she have an editor?) as I haven’t read an awful lot on the First World War, but it seems that most of the officers were impressionable dramatic young boys that hadn’t a clue what they were about to be launched into, and it makes me… um… cross. Perhaps I need to read something like ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ instead!

So… my last blog entry looks rather jaunty compared to this! I still haven’t written the vague chapter plan, or found the children’s book. I fear The Stuff Under The Bed may have eaten it. But all this will happen; it’s on the plan of things to do, as soon as I muster some energy for it. I shall try another stirring pep-talk (eek!) and see what I get done this weekend.

Monday, 16 November 2009

So how goes it?

My week off real-life work gradually filled up with non-writing chores and appointments. I spent a whole day wrestling with The Stuff That Lurks under the Bed, which was a bad move, as once The Stuff is out, it rarely wants to go back quietly. I also spent a disproportionate amount of time playing with the cats, watching history documentaries in the name of research, and going for long walks. In fact, it was perfect time to recharge the flagging batteries, and when I did begin redrafting again, I managed to sort out two whole chapters, leaving me on chapter nine. Happy days!

I redraft in blocks of three, so once I finish with chapter nine I will do the usual - print out chapters 7 – 9, read them over and over, prune a little, and then send them off to lovely folk T and M for a read-through. Chapter nine is a little sticky in places, and needs a desperate chop, but I am hopeful to get it done by the end of November.

I am still feeling a bit down with myself, but have begun two hopefully very positive things in order to help me through – counselling, and sorting out a Big Thing that I had been putting off as too big to contemplate. Both make me feel like things are slowly progressing… and this helps me with my writing, although I must admit I spent the past weekend just staring at chapter nine without actually doing anything. But you know, I think this just happens occasionally. It won’t send me to The Pit of Despair (oh that evil pit!).

Another good thing is that I have decided on the next novel idea. I am very excited about this! There are a few ideas I have been gradually expanding on in daydreams over the last few years, and one was starting to stand out as a fully fledged story with a beginning, middle and end. I tried out the synopsis on J last night, in amongst a few other ideas. J is the best person to try ideas on as he will see immediately if there are plot-holes, or if something doesn’t sound right, or interesting. And he liked it, so in my mind it has now been given the Green Light of Glory. What I will do now is write a vague chapter-plan, get everything out of my head onto a page, and then leave it alone until I finish the current redrafting. But I am very happy with the idea, and think it definitely has potential. The only slight problem is it is very different to my current idea, so I might be genre-skipping, not sure if that is a bit problematic, but hey-ho.

And a final good thing, although this will be a little way off yet, is that I have a little children’s book I wrote and illustrated nearly ten years ago. It has mainly been sat under the bed gathering dust, but I have decided to find it, spruce it up and then send it out. I am also going to look into self-publishing, maybe just for my friends with small children, as I think kiddies and their parents would really enjoy it, and as such it shouldn’t just be part of the Stuff under the Bed. This is something for the New Year, but I will research into it for the rest of 2009, and make sure it is all ready to go for January.

Gosh, this all makes me sound like I actually have a clue of what I am doing! I like it!

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Scrabble of Doom Strikes Again

As a writer, you’d think I’d be a shoo-in for winning at Scrabble. You’d imagine I’d be able to think up all sorts of clever winning words, and walk off smugly with triple word scores dripping from every tile. I’d throw words such as ‘quixotry’ into the mix with ease. I’d even know what they’d mean, being the visionary that I am.

So why when playing a game, can I only spell the word ‘suds’? I am hopeless at scrabble. Hopeless. The game generally goes like this…

Pause as me and J pick tiles. Silence as we think.
Me: Ooo. If I had an ‘E’ I could have spelt ‘exit’.
J: Do you have an ‘E’?
Me: No…
J: Do you have an ‘X’?
Me: No…
More pause for thinking. J meanwhile has laid down ‘qualm’ and won himself 40 points.
I lean over to look at his word. Look back at my letters.

Me: Is MIT a word?
I show my tiles to J. He considers for two seconds, and reconstructs my tiles into a word.
Me: Ooo ‘acquit’! Funny, I was just thinking of that.
I lay down word, win 60 points.

Somehow I always win the game between me and J…

More scrabble woes here

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Fireworks at Ally Pally

Fifty-five thousand people made their way up to the top of the hill, to where Alexandra Palace looks regally over north London.






And then fifty-five thousand people marched their way back down again.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Que Sera, Sera

I sometimes wonder whether I have chosen the best occupation for myself, and whether writing ‘a book’ is the way forward for me. This is mere speculation, as the path I have chosen is the path I will follow for a time at least, but sometimes I do wonder if perhaps something else would be more suitable.

When I was just a little girl and if anyone asked me what I would be, I never replied that I’d be famous or rich, I replied instead that I would be a cat. (You can see where it all went wrong, can’t you?) Later, this became an author. I have been pretty much single-minded about that ever since (while losing a fair few years to socialising, working frantically, and being just generally scatty). Becoming an author would still make me very happy indeed. (As would becoming a cat, if only it didn’t involve scary surgery, mental health issues, or my sad demise to allow reincarnation). But what else, what if?

I can quite easily see myself looking after an archive. Something small and specialised, rather geeky – something connected to TV or film history, or nostalgic pleasures. I can see myself carefully writing up notations and leading guided tours of equally geeky people around my small musty space, and all of us being thrilled with seeing a piece of the yellow brick road used in the original Wizard of Oz film, or a crumpled prop cardboard box as bashed into when filming The Sweeney. Or maybe not even as glamorous (she says, wondering if the above mentioned things are glamour), but more social history – how ordinary people got on with living in 1940, in 1910, and so on and so back. So maybe this puts me in the realm of a museum curator – but then I’d like to be the person that decides the exhibition, the person who rummages around to find the old stuff. So basically I want to be someone who gets to poke around in the secret stash of stuff museums and archives have out the back. Is there even a name for that job role besides Bloody Nosy?

Leading on from above, I quite like preservation work. I’d like to keep history alive. Time team, archaeology, digging around in the mud wearing wellies – this all appeals. Re-enactment also appeals. Travelling around the country being the world’s foremost expert (and no doubt complete bore) on Agatha Christie appeals, as does being the person television people contact when they want to make a scene authentic for 1970, or 1950. Continuity appeals. Buying ‘antiques’ for pubs to look rustic, reorganising books in some gorgeous old library, and traipsing around car boot fairs with more knowledge then ‘ooo that looks pretty’ also appeals.

So it seems there is a theme. Old tat, mainly. I want to collect it, display it, wear it, and possibly roll around in it given half the chance. Not quite sure what that says about my psyche, but it is rather funny.

What would you be?

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Five Obsessions

Kit over at Kit Courteney Writes has passed me an award that apparently stands for integrity, commitment to excellence and stubborn optimism, and means I get to fill you in on five obsessions of mine. I then get to choose five victims, um, five nice blog folk to ask what makes them tick as well. An opportunity for writing and being curious! Bring it on.

NB: It has actually been harder than I thought to write down true obsessions. I like a lot of things, but I am not obsessed by any of them. So the things below are the closest I have to obsessions and rituals.

One: My novel

I think about it day and night, to be honest, which is a perfect example of an obsession! It will pop into my thoughts in the morning, while on the tube, at work, in meetings, on the tube again, in the evening, before bed. I think about it far more than I seem to do any work on it.

Two: Story ideas

If I am not thinking of the current novel, then I am thinking of other story ideas. I usually have a few going around the merry-go-round that is my mind, and sometimes I stop the ride and examine one idea, play with it awhile, add a few embellishments and then send it off again. After a while of doing this (it could be years) I will pull it off the ride completely and write it down. That is the best example of how I get ideas for stories.

Three: Second-hand book shops

I can’t pass one of these (or an antiques fair) without stepping inside. I simply can’t – what if one of these shops has a Graham Oakley Church Mouse book that isn’t £30? What if they have the 1965 Fontana editions of Agatha Christie books? What if they have the red Tiswas annual? What if, what if… no matter where I am, I will have to have a look. If the shop is closed I will stand mournfully outside, nose pressed against the window, in the manner of a Dickens urchin at a bakery window.

Four: Making a cup of tea as soon as get to a B&B room

I love staying in hotels and B&Bs, and one of the first things I always do is seek out the little kettle, awkwardly fill it with water from the sink, stare in bemusement at the walls until a plug socket reveals itself, and make myself a cup of tea. I then perch on the end of the bed with my cuppa, and eat the little free biscuit, and everything will feel all right with the world.

Five: My Remembrance Day poppy

I buy a red poppy as soon as I see a poppy seller. I carefully attach it to my coat and stride off for the day. When I look down again the poppy will be gone, and I will have been proudly wearing a pin. I will then buy another poppy. And so it will go on. So far I am on poppy number three, and I am not even sure it is still pinned to my jacket. I will have to go and check, and later no doubt I will have to buy another one. I don’t want to buy a poppy badge, as ultimately I think I give more money this way, so really everyone is a winner. Just don’t frown at me when you see me without a poppy, I will have no doubt already donated a tenner.

And so, I nominate A Letter From Abroad, Aspiring Writer, A Rose Beyond the Thames, Music Obsessive (should be easy for you!) and A Cat of Impossible Colour. Please don’t feel you have to by any means, but if you fancy sharing your obsessions please go ahead!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Autumn Stomp

I thought it might be a nice idea to go for a brisk stomp today. So I set off across the dale (alley) by the bubbling stream (brook decorated with shopping trolley), across fields (scrubby park) nodding to neighbours (keeping an eye on scary looking bloke with his three dogs). I then passed the farm (allotments) using a well-trodden track (pavement by motorway), until I ended up in yonder village (the high street). And I thought I'd share some pictures with you...

What gorgeous colours everywhere! But London is such a busy place - if you stop to take a picture someone bumps into you. Everywhere you walk is a person - washing their car, driving, walking dogs, on bicycles, digging in their garden, tidying leaves, fixing telephone wires, delivering pizza leaflets, trimming hedges, playing football, carrying bags of shopping - you cannot be on your own for longer than a minute.

This is the 'bubbling stream' - as a child I played near it, wrote stories about it, and finally fell in it as a curious but overly stupid nine year old. The moral of that tale is never cycle with your eyes shut down a slope towards water 'to see what happens'.

When I got home I played in the garden with my cat Abigail. She is very fascinated with falling leaves, and spends a lot of time pouncing on anything that moves in the breeze, including my shoes. We played catch with the yellowing leaves, and then we both explored what lies beneath the tree. My exploration stopped when I saw a huge spider. Abigail is fearless when it comes to spiders. Besides, she'll eat them if they come too close.

And since she is so pretty...

She is sitting on my lap at the moment purring. I think she knows what I am typing!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

To WildWood Moon

I noticed you removed/deleted your blog a while back, and I hope everything is ok. I’m not sure if you still read this blog, but just in case you do, and since I have no other contact for you, then I just wanted to let you know that I liked your writing and miss reading your posts!

Good luck with your book – if you ever decide to start up a new blog please let me know. Take care!


I am usually the sort of person that is suspicious of everyone. I trust only a few, rarely pause if a stranger stops me in the street, and discourage random conversation. This is probably a general malaise everyone suffers from when living in a big city, but little personal safety checks like these are a wise idea when moving around town on your own and after dark. However I fell for the biggest trick in the book yesterday, and now feel really stupid.

It was dark, and as I got off my train a woman stopped me. She was dressed nicely and didn’t look like a beggar. I thought she wanted to ask directions, so paused. She told me she stopped me ‘because I looked nice’ – this should have sent a warning bell through my mind. She told me that her boyfriend was supposed to pick her up but he had to work and now she was stranded with no money and needed to get a bus.

Even though my warning bell was now clanging loud and clear, I couldn’t help but wonder what if it was true, and how horrible it feels to be stuck far from home. But I am stupid as well, because I asked her how short she was of the bus fare and she said £2.50 – all bus fares are £2. But did I pause? No, I didn’t even think of that anomaly, I just gave her what I had - £2. She thanked me and we parted.

A little way down the road I stopped. How silly! I had a travel card that was about to run out, and wasn’t going to use it that evening. I could give her that and then she could get anywhere she wanted to go. So I turned back.

I found her walking up the road, away from the bus stop she needed. She looked worried that I had caught up with her. I told her about the travel card and she laughed nervously and said no it was fine as her work would give her back the money for the journey… she then quickly ran off up the road as I am sure she realised from my face that what she said was bollocks. I watched her go – she disappeared down a side road, nowhere near the bus station. And then I walked home.

The sad thing is, next time someone asks I will not stop. I will not give them anything as I will not trust they are telling the truth. This is what these people don’t realise – they erode people’s kindness, and that sort of thing is bloody priceless and costs far more than £2.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

I Am A Writer!

I am feeling quite sad about my writing at the moment. It doesn’t feel like I am making time for it, the little I do feels shoddy, and I feel dispirited with how long it is taking me to move ahead and the lack of good progress. I still open the Word document every day, but spend more time staring and sighing than I do actually writing. It needs a big dose of positivity and I don’t feel positive about myself at the moment, let alone for ‘creating magic’ with writing.

I am also thinking of joining the Society of Authors (I think I still just about scrape the criteria) in order to think of myself as someone who writes… For some reason I need justification. I am a bit strange like that. I’d so much rather be a person who writes on a strip of notepaper ‘I am a Writer!’ and sticks it up by their computer, nods head in satisfaction, and gets on with it. For some reason I prefer to pay £90 for an official letter that says I belong. I iz stupid really.

But to be honest I think the person that sticks up ‘I Am A Writer!’ has the best idea. It is the mindset, the belief in yourself, - this is what makes the difference, not an official bit of paper. It falls back to being positive again, of knowing you are on the right track. My track has too many stations that waggle wine glasses and diversions. I think I need to be more single-minded.

I need to be happier with myself as well, I need to find a balance. I don’t like my looks, my hair, my figure, my personality, my clothes, my shoes. I don’t like my frown lines. I fear I am very boring, actually. I feel like a pale little mouse that hides around the edges of life. So when I feel like that it is hard to whoosh in magic!

Although there are plans afoot… it normally takes me a while of feeling like the above before I acknowledge it and decide to do something about it. I have taken a deep breath and booked some time with a counsellor in order to get rid of some of this negativity. The last time I tried this was seven years ago when I was referred by my doctor to a place that had iron bars on the window, and double-locking doors. It looked like the sort of place where the wrong word could get you sectioned – (Tea? We only drink coffee in here! Get the straight-jacket!)

I was in and out in less than five minutes, having swiftly decided that I didn’t have a problem. There were people sitting and dribbling while they were waiting for an appointment – now these are the folk who need help. If you are sitting with a chain of dribble connecting your mouth and your coat and don’t appear to notice, then that is a whole different ballgame from feeling a bit pathetic and miserable every now and again.

Yes, you may have gathered I do suffer a bit from depression – although this is tempered with the other part of me that thinks I should just get on with it and stop bloody whinging. I am as harsh as hell with myself, nicer to others I hope! I also have a whole seven days off work just so I can write, and in that time I will ask a hairdresser to kindly do something with that stuff that lives on my head. So you see – negative and positive together, totally ambiguous. It’s as if I can see a coin flipping in the sky and one side is negative and one side is positive, and my mood swings with every slow-motion turn of the coin.

So say this with me - I Am A Writer! I Will Achieve What I Want To Achieve! Let's land that coin positive side up.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Novel, meet Tangent

I have been zipping around the country for Real Job this week, and chapter seven and the sorry mess that is chapter eight have kept me company on the endless train rides. If you travelled between London and Leeds recently and were intrigued by a girl muttering to herself and stabbing her pen into the air on several excited occasions in-between staring blankly out of the train window then yes, that was me. The staring blankly thing… I know I look like my one brain cell has sloped off somewhere to have a party but really it is hiding my furious intellect at work. Honest! I just hide that sort of thing really well. Ahem.

Moving on. So, these chapters. I am beginning to feel as if I am trying to recreate the perfect ice sculpture of Andie McDowell’s face in Groundhog Day. But somewhere within the sighing and staring, something wonderful happened. My characters decided to lead the way for me.

I was scribbling out a conversation between my main characters, and each sentence seemed to flow ever onward (and outward) quite nicely, and then I had to pause and see where I had landed up and if I could still spy the plot, far away beneath my fingers. Yup, there it was, shyly twinkling, but now what do I do with my beloved tangent? I think it steps a bit too far into the realm of fantasy.

The fun thing for me as a writer is that this book idea neatly encompasses reality and fantasy – I have one character whose traits are recognisable in all of us, and another character who is entirely my own bit of fun – as made up as a Jedi Knight, or a wizard – none of those, but something completely mine. But since the plot mainly concerns the recognisable character whose presence is firmly rooted in reality, I have to keep a balance and not shoot to the moon too far with the fantasy, as otherwise it will turn into a completely different tale. Oh but the temptation to let imagination soar and simply play… I had a merry few hours scribbling out something completely wacky and now I am wondering what I do with it. I think it is something I can alude to but not focus on. Sometimes I feel I have to tie a line to the plot and reel it out behind me as I go, and make sure everything stays within pulling distance.

And on a separate matter – I don’t see how I could ever have children, I can’t even keep control of my scarf. I watched it trail around commuters, train seats, and grub on the floor in merry abandon, despite me berating it and attempting to get it in a strangle hold. And look at the sky – look at it! Do I need a scarf with that blue gorgeousness and sunshine out there? Why wasn’t there a hint of that at 7am, hm?

Monday, 19 October 2009


I have been keeping a little tally of words that I nearly always get wrong when I attempt to spell them. It doesn’t matter how many times I use them, for some reason my fingers go to tap on a completely different key, and my pencil makes the same familiar mistakes.

Just for my own amusement – here is the word correctly spelt, and how I itch to spell it instead. Those marked in the red pen are correct!

Liaison – liason
Disease – desease
Privilege – Privilige
Rhyme - Ryhme
Rhythm - Rythem
Pseudonym - Pseudinum
Relevant – Relevent
Prejudice- Predijuce

What words do you constantly misspell, if any?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

You know the diet is bad when…

  1. You get really excited about finding a small mint sweet left over in your bag from a restaurant meal a few days ago
  2. Cups of tea are no longer just a pleasure, but a vital part of your daily existence
  3. Cuppa soups become a trading commodity
  4. The organic lemon, ginger and ginseng infusion tea bags grow dusty on your desk
  5. As does the large bottle of water
  6. You seriously consider eating a sugar sachet
  7. You would chummy up with anyone who has an open pack of biscuits on their desk

I'm not really on a diet, but today it really feels like it! Oh well, back to it my friends... *plunges back into real life*

Monday, 12 October 2009


Yesterday was mainly spent in one corner of my room by my computer, perched uncomfortably on the bed, typing and puzzling over chapter seven. I am pleased to report that after ten hours, I finally got to the point where I am happy with it… for now (she says ominously). There are still a couple of sticky spots where I think the writing could be better, but the structure is now in place, and I’ll be able to print it out soon and work on it that way. Phew! Onto chapter eight!

I also keep eying up the rest of the story… got a feeling a few chapters will be redundant by the time I get to them. It is actually a nice problem to have – too much writing! Sadly I like all of it (mostly) but it has to go. What I normally do is siphon off those extraneous words and then save them elsewhere, if I really like them they may materialise in another guise somewhere else. The thing I have to keep in mind utmost and foremost is the plot, and make sure that every strand of story enhances the main point of telling it!

I was thinking yesterday what I would do if I wasn’t writing this story. For a wild wonderful moment I thought about how I could go out for a walk without feeling guilty! Watch television! Socialise! Paint a picture! And then I realised that actually I would still be sitting here writing out the next idea. I relax by writing… even though it drives me insane. So how does that work then? I shall be a chilled fruit-loop.

The next idea… oh yes, there are a few brewing. I find myself daydreaming about them on the tube, but it is pointless at the moment as there is only room in my head for a few things. But once the idea is there it doesn’t go away. I embellish it here and there, like telling myself a well-loved bedtime story, until my thoughts run down well-beaten grooves and I can revisit the plot from any point and it still makes sense. Then I usually start writing it down.

But back to chapter eight… It is mostly set in 1939 at a dance, and gives a glimpse of the characters early on in their lives. I am hopeful there is not too much to do… but I said that last time, didn’t I?

Sunday, 4 October 2009

My redrafting process

Chapter seven is still driving me ever so nicely bonkers, even if I did chop it in half the other day. So a nice diversion is sharing with you my redrafting style, to see if some of you writers out there do things similar to me.

Firstly, I create a stats table. It is there to encouarge me to keep at it, remind myself how far I have got to go, and to keep an eye on potential monster chapters so they don't swell too big. My novel as it stands is at 115,000 words. I want to bring this down to 100,000 by the end of my redrafting - tall order, but I want to make my book easy to sell after all. If I can bring it down further than that I will! You can see from my table that chapters nine and ten are going to be a bit of a nightmare, so I have booked seven days off work at the beginning of November to try and sort those two out. This means I must be done with chapters seven and eight by then. In a way my stats table keeps me on the ball.

Although sometimes I wonder whether a stats table is a good idea. The purple area scares me rigid. Still, better than empty white... I chose purple as it's a friendly colour, but it is a bit daunting seeing how much there is to do. At the same time though... there is a feeling of satisfaction at filling those little rectangles with figures. You'll notice at the top I have 'first edit', 'second edit' etc. I do not update this when I just change a word - this is only updated when I have gone through the entire process below with each chapter. Believe me, each chapter goes through the wringer!

How I Redraft

1. Sort out chapter in Word on the computer - making it readable, and as good as I can get it right now. This part of the process is the longest for me.

2. Print out the chapter. Take it to work with me and read at lunchtimes, and most evenings. Lots of pen scribbles and crossing out and writing new scenes in my appalling handwriting.

3. Update the Word doc on the computer when the paper is too full of scribbles. Once these changes are in I usually spot a few more things to change direct on the document.

4. Print out chapter again. This time there might be just a word here or there to change or consider.

5. Update Word doc again with any changes.

6. Read the whole novel again from the beginning to check new redrafted chapter fits with everything preceding. This is the literary equivalent of sieving flour, the first few times you find lumps a-plenty, but as time goes on less will appear on the surface. I might spot a typo or word to change in the earlier chapters, but not so many the further away I get. For example – I am now on chapter 7, and when I do the next full read-through I probably won’t change anything on the prologue or first three chapters, but I may spot something on four, five or six.

7. If happy with the redrafted chapter, I then update my stats table with the word count, and move on. Sometimes I need a few days break to clear my head, especially when working full-time – some evenings I am fit for nothing! But I rarely leave the Word doc longer than a couple of days before I open it again, like a moth to a flame.

How does that tally with any redrafting you do?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The London Morning

Early sunshine is split by the looming tower blocks, twin shafts of light gracing dusty lines of cars and bouncing off the auburn hair of the lady hurrying ahead of me. A man jogs past, white trainers easily visible under his navy suit. I look at my watch and smile at his eagerness; the die-hard commuters travelling towards their Mecca know when to walk and when to run. We do it as one, we cross the busy road as one, and we all file into the train station mute and accepting.

I stride ahead to my staked spot on the platform. My territory is bordered by the see-through bin and the post with the CCTV screens. I share my grey concrete land with a group of ladies who interchange English words with a more musical language, and try to decipher the patterns the words make in my mind. Their laughing chatter sounds friendly. A man flicks my arm with his free newspaper, another generously shares his tinny sounding bass emitting from white earphones that snake down his suit jacket. On the opposite platform a small boy stands alone, away from the shouting school-shirted crowd further down the platform. His uniform is freshly ironed, the cuffs of his blazer are too long, and his shoes are too smart-shiny. He has no friends, and as yet remains too small and new for the pack to notice him. I feel for him, this brand new boy, the solitude he must embrace as a friend.

The train pulls up with an indignant whine. We shift and group around the doors and then squeeze singularly past the two large people who always firmly plant themselves at the entrance. There is no point in seeking a seat; indifferent gazes already in place in each carriage. Instead we all crowd near the doors in our bid to be first off the train when it pulls into a station with an underground connection. Timing is everything. We stand as a human block and listen to half a conversation on a mobile. Did he? Did she? Would he though? Is it? My gaze flickers on various things – the mole on the man’s neck in front of me, the strange hair-piece that woman is wearing, the painted toe-nails peeking out from flip-flops, the square of dirty sun through the windows.

There is an expectant murmur as the train pulls into the important station, the station with the underground. My carriage is perfectly positioned in front of the steps leading down, away from the chill blue sky. Years of commuting gives a secret knowledge that rides over what we once thought important – the best conker tree, the best alleys for short-cuts to school, and the best newsagent for Slush Puppies. Now it is all about where to stand for the doors to open in front of us; the short-cut corridors through the tube stations, how to rush ahead for the empty tube train so you get a seat.

The doors open and we pour forward, suits and scarves, bags and briefcases, earphones and newspapers and books and take-out coffees. We blend into one giant person on the threshold, all hands and arms and legs, and then separate back into ourselves, clattering down the steps. The daylight grows weaker and then disappears, replaced by fake light that takes no prisoners.

When I next see the sky again the blue is replaced by grey.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Perfume Paparazzi

Whiling away some time before meeting a friend, I ended up browsing in an upmarket department store. I admired the socks (how much?), drooled over the handbags, and then found myself on the brink of an area I usually avoid. Yes, it was the perfume section, a place where sprayed scent forms a dewy mist in the air and staff eye shoppers with the keen intent of hungry lions spotting antelopes. I hesitated on the threshold, uncomfortably aware that hesitation attracts lions quicker than anything else, and then took a deep breath, choked, and breathed again. I was going in!

The reason I avoid this section comes from a fear of being shown up for being clueless, and a shyness of being pursued by staff dogging my faltering footsteps. I want to be left alone to get to know perfume, not randomly sprayed by every scent under the sun and then glared at for not parting with my hard-earned cash. But I have been gradually getting more interested in pleasing scents by reading the delightful evocative perfume descriptions by Rose in her lovely blog A Rose Beyond The Thames. Rose has a special flair for matching perfumes with their real life or literary figure equivalent – see her blog post here about Eowyn in the Lord of the Rings. Gorgeous.

And so, into the perfume den I slunk. I stopped at the first counter, and looked with interest at the little cards laid out. Were they pre-sprayed, or there for me to spray what I please and then wander around flapping it by nose? Were they free? (I sadly have to think of things like that). Will someone pounce if I…

‘Can I help you Madam?’

Damn. I shake my head and put down the little card, that clueless feeling starting to waft up from nowhere (or perhaps from a cunningly disguised bottle). I back away smiling, and scurry around the next counter. Phew. Coast clear, I then examine the collection of gleaming potions. I hold one to my nose, but am too scared to spray it on my wrist, into the air or onto the shelf like I may sneakily do in Boots with Impulse deodorant. Somehow I suspect different rules apply over here, so I just sniff at the bottles, hoping to get an idea of what lurks inside. Water, I decide, as I smell nothing. Potpourri, I cough, backing away from others. I clearly have so much to learn. My nose is uncultured, I decide sadly. (The rest of me is fine of course.)

‘Are you interested in (insert name of famous expensive perfume)?’

Darn, another one popped up from below the counter. Alarmingly, the smart-suited man leaves his side of the fence and walks quickly around to mine. I smile and demur, hoping to put him off as I again back away.

‘Can I ask what perfumes you usually are interested in?’

Agh! Another one has trapped me in a pincer movement. The strong aroma of Eau-De-No-Clue is making me panic – what perfumes do I wear? I wear whatever anyone buys me, which is probably why I don’t particularly invest my attention in any as none are quite ‘me’. But now there has been a question asked, and annoyingly the only perfume I can remember is when I begged my mum for ‘Exclamation!’ when I was fourteen.

‘Just browsing!’ I cheerfully say, and then do a feint to the left that would leave footballers proud. I quickly scurry onwards, but am now aware that more and more sales staff seem to have clocked my existence, their gaze following mine with a slight condescending expression. ‘Look at ze poor uncultured one go,’ that expression says to me, somewhat surprisingly in heavily accented French. ‘She cannot afford ze prices, she should ‘ave stuck to ze tat zey sell in Boots.’

I pick up another bottle out of sheer desperation by now, happy to give anything a try if it smells nice – perhaps like lemon, or apples, or light and fresh and appealing – but instead choke on a scent that is so heavy it robs my breath. I concede that perhaps it is time to call it a day, before the lurking perfume paparazzi hunt me down any further to get their sale. Next time if I am brave!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

London Open House

September is always a favourite with me, as it hides my birthday (been and gone, spent gorgeous weekend in Cornwall) and I absolutely adore autumn with its beauty in decay, encroaching darkness, and the scent of change in the air. It also helps that one weekend in September is given over to London’s Open House, where normally private buildings open their doors, and public buildings let exploring visitors in for free. This year me and good friend R donned our walking boots and got to see five buildings – rather more than the two managed last year (The Linnian Society and Marlborough House). And in 2007 I went to see Churchill's secret underground bunker, so this year it was time for something different.

We started out with the Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret in Southwark. This 18th century oddity was set up in the attic of St Thomas’ Church, which served as a chapel to St Thomas’ Hospital. The hospital wanted a place to dry and cure medicinal herbs – including foxglove, myrrh, and willow bark (early answer to aspirin). The operating theatre was created in 1822, up until then ‘operations’ (and I use that word very loosely indeed – more like ‘cutting experiments’) were done on the ward itself.

After looking at some of the early implements and potions used on patients I am amazed that anyone ever lived through this pioneering time of medicine. You really wouldn’t want anything more serious than a headache back in those times – little wonder they tried every cure in the garden if the alternative was being admitted to hospital. I just love their attitude to medicine back then...

Picture a moustached doctor giving medicine to forlorn patients standing in a line.
“Willow – yes that works, nettles - yes, nightshade…”
Sound of patient hitting the floor.
"Hm, let’s rename that one deadly nightshade shall we? Right moving on…”

It is amazing that any of us are here today seeing what mothers-to-be had to go through – some of the items used to induce birth look more like giant whisks. And men don’t get off scot-free either. The wooden operating table itself had saw marks grooved into either side – and this with no anaesthetic, no antiseptic – and operations were done by men in frock coats. On the back of the wall there is a Latin inscription that says ‘Miseratione Non Mercede’ – ‘For Compassion, not for Gain’. It should have said ‘Omnem dimittite spem, o vos intrantes’ – ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’. Most of the patients wouldn’t have understood Latin anyway; it would have been a nice little private chuckle between the surgeons.

Emerging feeling blessedly lucky to live in this day and age, we went to Borough Market for some food and ate our organic salads overlooking the Thames. After marvelling at how high the Thames is considering three weeks ago we could walk on the uncovered stones that form Bankside ‘beach’, we pressed on to the second visit of the day – The Rose, the first Elizabethan Theatre established in 1587. This is an archaeological site, and the remains of the theatre were discovered in 1989 when an office building above was demolished.

There is precious little to see. The remains were preserved mainly thanks to the marshy ground that was reclaimed from the Thames, hence uncovering it leads to problems, as the wood cracks and it would only take a little while for it to return to dust. So the site has been carefully flooded, although red lighting shows where the stage and the audience area would have been. There was an interesting talk about Elizabethan theatre, interspersed with clips from the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’, and appeals to give money to save the remains from sinking back into the past.

I cannot help but feel some things were never meant to be preserved, and yet this contradicts with how much I love the past. When things are living history (like hedgerows) and sturdy history (like Stonehenge) – then these things I feel were meant to stay the course of time. But when places need so much life support to even vaguely be seen, then I do wonder. But without the Rose, they wouldn’t have known the detail on which to base the Globe, so everything does have its role. I’m just not sure where I sit sometimes on preservation like this.

From the Rose, we crossed the Thames and paused in the shadow of St Paul’s cathedral having a chocolate break. Here and there we saw people on their own Open House trail, green booklets in hand as they scurried on to their next discovery. But we were bound for something that had eluded us last year because of the hefty queue – 120 Fleet Street, once the gorgeous Art-deco home to The Daily Express.
To my amazement there were only five people in the queue, so within minutes we were in and gawping at the shiny interior. It was as if the team from Blue Peter had carefully brushed bacofoil over the entire surface, and it was absolutely spectacular. The obvious influence was the Hollywood of the MGM Musical era, with the same style of grace as the Oscar statuette design. The building was completed in 1932 – described at its opening as ‘Britain’s most modern building for Britain’s most modern newspaper’.

The Daily Express left the building back in 1989, and how sorry they must have been to leave their flagship behind. But Fleet Street had declined, and it was time for the journalists to head for pastures new, leaving the new conglomerates of anonymous industry to take their place. It was also time for us to head to pasture new, feeling relieved we had beaten the large queue that had built up behind us.

Next on the list was Dr Johnson’s house, but the queue for this snaked all around the courtyard. Considering it costs less than a fiver to visit normally, we decided to give the hour long wait a miss and instead admired a gardening feat of a ‘living wall’ in a nearby courtyard. We then decided to head back to the river, and on the way passed the Royal Courts of Justice. The green Open House sign beckoned, and there wasn’t a queue! In we scurried.

Since this is a Royal Court after all, there was security to pass through at the door, and a ton more organisation and thought had been put into receiving the visitors of Open House. There were talks in court rooms, stalls explaining legal procedures, costume galleries, and an area about probate that displayed the last will and testament of famous folk – Princess Diana, Rudyard Kipling, Roald Dahl, John Thaw, George Harrison… I found that a bit ghoulish, but it was still rather fascinating.

We poked our heads in a packed court to hear a snippet of a talk. The court room was rather small, relied heavily on wood-panelling and red velvet, and heavy books lined the walls. Iron bars caged the area where the accused stands, and the witness box is a small raised box on the opposite side. Apparently all the books in a court room, no matter how ancient-appearing, are in use, and at any time can be requested by a judge. The atmosphere was musty and dry, and I can imagine how oppressive it must feel to the accused and to witnesses.

We left the courts behind, and continued on our walk to the river. We were stopped by race marshals, who told us we couldn’t cross the road as there was a cycle race on. It was actually the Tour of Britain, on their eighth and final stage (won by Michele Merlo of Italy). Although our cycling knowledge was nil, we whooped and cheered like we knew what we were doing when the racers whizzed past us, and then crossed the road as something had caught our eye. Yes, it was a green flapping Open House banner!

We couldn’t believe our luck! It was HQS Wellington, home of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. Last year the queue for this stretched down the Embankment, but this year barely ten people were waiting for the next tour. So in line we scrambled, and only had a few minutes to wait before we were walking up the gangplank.

Formed in 1926, this is a fairly young Livery Company (the Bakers Guild, for example, is over 800 years old) and it had problems finding a Livery Hall. The solution was to have a floating Livery Hall – most appropriate for a Company of seamen – and so the HMS Wellington was converted, and moored on the Victoria Embankment as HQS Wellington (HQS meaning Headquarters Ship).

On entrance, the ship has a narrow corridor lined with portaits of past Master Mariners. It is funny how the older black and white photographs have a sense of gravitas that colour simply cannot imitate, even if the subject is suitably stern. We were soon led down into the ship, and I was amazed at the size of the interior. Three carpeted floors of intricate model ships and shipping artefacts, and various areas set aside – such as the Committee room, and the Court room. When it became clear each model ship would be lovingly explained, we decided to make our excuses and slip away. After our long day of discovery, I had no room left for anything else but dinner, and possibly a large pint of shandy.

It strikes me writing this that I should always be thankful to have this time in London, no matter if one day I settle somewhere greener. All the things we can do and see in one day – London really can be a beautiful place to wander around. I never cease to be fascinated and grateful that there is so much history within our grasp.