Monday, 31 January 2011

Hidden Places

So many times in London you hurry by grand residences with large silent doors - Georgian windows cloaked by secrecy and heavy curtains, and in the velvet dark outside you wonder what life is like for people who live in such places. On Friday night we knew the secret handshake; the ‘open sesame’ to unlock the door. In London speak; this translates to knowing a friend of a friend of a friend.

We were ushered inside to an echoing stairwell where the ghost of 1920s piano music trembled in the air. High ceilings stretched for eternity; stone flag steps were lit with hesitant candles. The mask of elegance slipped and faltered in the flickering shadows – gone were the days of decadent luxury for this building. What was left was a Grimmauld Place – the shabby heart concealed inside a grand facade. We drank champagne, pondered mysteries, and danced a tango as candelabras burnt low. When the hour struck three we scurried out; well-wrapped mice streaming from a once-proud ship. In the few minutes it took to cross the road and duck into a taxi the house had already turned to stone. The party continued behind its doors undetected and invisible; in London the party always continues somewhere.

It was a bit of an odd night, but fun and unexpected. Cities steeped in history and intrigue are made for such nights, I think.

By contrast, Sunday was spent enclosed in a women-only retreat hidden behind the bustle of Covent Garden. You enter via a shop, shed your clothes, don a robe, and wander around determined to relax. One therapy room was across a bridge over a koi carp pond and up some stairs, and there was a slight Logan’s Run feel as we ascended. I checked my hand for a red flashing life-clock, but all was well.

We relaxed, swam, gossiped, and let our worries dissipate like the steam that rose from the spa pool. Time sped up, slowed down, extended, decreased. We were in a little time warp, and if Doctor Who had stepped from behind a pillar and said we were in fact part of the woman-only world of Zog then I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.

Sometimes you live in the city; sometimes it lives in you. But either way, and even better, moments like this create stories!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Author Interview: Andrea Eames

Andrea Eames is the lovely lady behind the blog A Cat of Impossible Colour. Her debut novel, The Cry of the Go-Away Bird, is out in February, published by Harvill Secker. Andrea is always inspiring; her evocative writing is a pleasure to read and her love of vintage style is infectious! I’m delighted to welcome her to my blog, and to ask her some questions...

How entwined are your own personal memories with Elise’s story in The Cry of the Go-Away Bird?

Hmm, this is always a tricky one to answer – the book is fiction, but I have drawn extensively on my own memories and experiences, and those of my friends and family, to create Elise’s story. This makes the narrative and my life a little like a set of Christmas tree lights that have been sitting in a closet for a year – knotted and twisted and fiendishly difficult to disentangle.

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I have wanted to be a writer ever since I knew what a story was. In that way, I think I am very lucky – I never wondered what I wanted to do with my life (although I did sometimes wonder if I would be able to do it!).

Can you pinpoint a turning point for your writing career when it all started coming together?

I think it was the moment when I realised that I had to rewrite The Cry of the Go-Away Bird before it would be good enough to submit. It was heartbreaking but also invigorating to slice and hack into the words I had laboured over, and to restructure and re-imagine the whole thing. I knew it was the right decision, and it was an important lesson for me to learn as a writer. And I signed with an agent only days after submitting the rewrite.

How long did it take to write The Cry of the Go-Away Bird?

It took me about nine months to write the first draft, three months to write the second and then another three months to rewrite it pretty much from scratch! Once you factor in all the editing time (my own edits and my publisher’s) and the copy-editing, the entire process took almost two years. The publishing industry is a slow-moving land mammal, and you have to be patient.

What was the hardest thing about writing The Cry of the Go-Away Bird?

  1. Reliving some of the more difficult events that inspired the book.

  2. Just learning how to write a novel! I had written ‘novels’ before – several – but The Cry of the Go-Away Bird really taught me how to construct a story brick by brick (or Bird by Bird, if you read Anne Lamott!) in a way I had never before truly understood.

  3. Pushing through the times when I thought that it was the worst book in the world and I was a terrible person for writing it. These feelings are pretty universal among writers, thankfully, and never really go away (not-so-thankfully).

  4. Querying! Anyone who has gone through the process knows how devilishly difficult and discouraging it can be.

Having said all that, I LOVED writing the book just as much as I struggled with it.

How long did it take you to get an agent / publishing deal?

I started querying for this book in September 2008, signed with my agent in the following April and signed with my publisher (Harvill Secker, a division of Random House) in June. I rewrote the book during this process, though, based on agent feedback and my own improved perspective, and it was a very different book in June than it had been in September.

The Cry of the Go-Away Bird hits the bookshops in February 2011. How will you celebrate the occasion?

I have a tradition of always buying a new vintage dress to celebrate momentous occasions in my life, so I will have to ferret about London for my Book Launch Dress! My editors are also taking me and my agent out for drinks a few days after the launch, which will be so much fun. I can’t wait. (Although I am sure that, as well as celebrating its release, I will also be hiding under a duvet cover cowering in terror for some of the day, as well!)

What can we look forward to with your next book?

Well, I started out intending to write a historical novel about the Second Chimurenga (also known as the Bush War or the Liberation War) in 1970s Zimbabwe, but I ended up writing a book about witchcraft, black magic, family and reincarnation. My books never listen to me!

You have a flair for vintage clothes – what era most captures your imagination?

Thank you! That’s very kind. I particularly love the 1950s for its feminine glamour and the fun prints and colours that were popular at the time. I like nothing better than a really, really full skirt, perfect for twirling! It makes me feel like a character in a Technicolour musical.

What is your favourite item and why?

There are several that hold special sentimental value, and every vintage item I own has a story – which is why I love vintage so much! My husband bought me a beautiful white pencil dress for our anniversary that I wore when I first met with my publishers – that is a precious one. I also have a red polka-dot dress (pictured above) that has been with me on many adventures, and a gorgeous orange one that I found for a few pounds in Oxfam; these two never fail to lift my spirits and make me feel optimistic and energetic.

Picture the scene. You are curled up with your favourite comfort read, favourite drink, and favourite snack to hand. What are they?

Ooh! Lovely. In the morning it would be coffee, toast-and-Marmite and a Terry Pratchett book. In the evening it would be white wine, chocolate and some kind of fat, engrossing historical saga.

What advice would you give aspiring authors?

The book is the hardest part. Work really, really hard to make the book the best it can be before you even start worrying about publication. Be ruthless! And, when you are confident in your work, be persistent. And patient. And drink lots and lots of coffee.

Thank you, Andrea!

The Cry of the Go-Away Bird is out on February 10th. To read more about it, please visit Andrea’s blog A Cat of Impossible Colour; the blurb has definitely pinged my intrigue.

Also, if you have time, pour yourself a coffee and read Andrea’s short story How to Kill a Dead Man. You know that pleasure you get when settling down with a story and realising you are in an author’s very capable hands? Read it and you'll know exactly what I mean. It’s a fantastic feeling and ever since I have been anticipating her first novel – not long to wait now! Good luck with it all, Andrea!

Photographer credit for the top picture: Mark Guerra

Saturday, 22 January 2011

An Apology

This automated service is brought you on behalf of Jayne’s blog. Jayne would like to apologise for her continuing absence, and blames a peculiarly long depressing January. In fact, she claims extra days are being sneaked into January each year and the Powers That Be choose to keep it quiet in order to avoid countless contests to ‘name the new days’. (Jayne’s vote would be for Holiday.)

While we are here, Jayne would like to confess a few things, such as her addiction to Haribo Tangfastics. She thinks these are the only things getting her through grey week days filled with Systems, Thingys and Whatsits. She also has discovered a dry shampoo you spray on and brush out, and the grub in her is wondering whether she has to wash her hair ever again. You will be immensely relieved to know that the grub is nearly always over-ruled.

Jayne would also like to share she is writing another short story (mostly in her head, although has put aside all weekend to Really Concentrate). She has also decided that Hoovers have really pointless settings, such as ‘short carpet’, ‘long carpet’ and ‘luxury carpet’. Where is the setting for ‘flat carpet’? Hoover manufacturers - the only settings needed are the following:

  • Brand New Carpet
  • Carpet Owners with Long Hair
  • Carpet Owners with Fluffy Pets
  • Carpet Owners with Long Hair and Fluffy Pets (sub-title Kiss Your Carpet Goodbye)
  • Old Flat Carpet
  • Older Than Me Carpet (Heritage Unknown)

Where was I? Even automated services can digress. Ah yes, the apology. Jayne is happy to say she is working to find a balance between blogging, writing, and system thingys, and hopes normal service will resume soon, as she misses you all!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Sleepy Hollow

Not the film – me! I feel all sleepy hollow at the moment. The system, thingy and whatsit from last week are still causing mayhem and mischief. Do you ever picture yourself running flat out at days and yet still you never catch them? That’s exactly how I feel – so much to do both at work and at home – and everything else seems to suffer a bit in-between. January has hit me like a ton of bricks, one way or another. It doesn’t help that this month hides the slow sideways shuffle towards pay-day, either.

But all is well as today I bought three shiny ring binders – one bright red, which is to house the newest print out of the novel; one bright purple, which is to be home to short stories; and one dark and full of secrets, which is to hide What Hasn’t Been Told Yet. I can get very happy with new stationery. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, come to think about it.

I’m sorry if I haven’t got around to your blogs as much as I would like. My computer at home is on its last legs and is butt-achingly slow at doing anything. Even Word seems to give it gyp. I’ve backed up everything, so that is all okay, but it worries me that it will give one last groan and then refuse to start. I can’t really afford a new one so I am hoping something amazing will happen. I’m not sure quite what I expect – computer fairy to give me pressie? Lottery win when forgotten to buy ticket? I guess I shall just have to see.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Make it happen

I’ve had a short story idea poking me with a stick for months and yet it ran away every time I tried to pin it to paper. After repeated efforts involving a lasso, bear traps, and strategically placed chocolate, I finally had a paragraph. I didn’t even like it very much. It seemed the little story wasn’t meant to be.

Today didn’t feel like an auspicious writing day. For a start I’m at work, puzzling over a system and a thingy and a whatsit. Systems, thingys and whatsits do not make me feel very creative. I also feel a bit poorly; a bit flu-ish and sickly and pathetic-cough. The stars weren’t aligned; the magic writing fairy was snoring in a corner. The last thing I wanted to do during lunch was take myself to a coffee shop and try and write. So where did I end up?

That’s right; I did it anyway.

And you know what? The little story idea let me catch it for a short while. I managed to scribble nearly two pages, all the while frowning horribly, biting my pen, chuckling to myself and displaying all known signs of Mad Woman Writing in Public. All too soon the imaginary timer pinged and I had to come back to the office, but this time I have two pages of story, and despite the system, thingy and whatsit; despite the flu-ish, sickly, and pathetic-cough; I feel rather happy.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Holiday Haircuts

One amusing thing about going back to work after the festive season is the amount of holiday haircuts you see on the train. Newly-washed, straightened, dyed, glossy, held in place by new shiny clips – these are haircuts that mean business, that swish in the face of New Year and say to the world ‘I am Groomed – Bring It On!’.

Sadly after a few days detangling the horrors of the Christmas Email Inbox they will have disintegrated into the Need-a-wash, frizzed, odd-grey-bits, dank, held in place by clip-regurgitated-by-cat. But while they are here let’s celebrate them!

You may have guessed, but as I was doing my best sardine in a scarf impression on the train this morning, I was thinking of ways to be positive. Look at the haircuts, I thought to myself. My, isn’t that man’s beard clipped nicely. I also played ‘Spot the Christmas Present’ with handbags, scarves, gloves, and, in a shock new entry for this year, Kindles and e-readers. Yes, a few were showing their shiny selves on the train, with their owners tapping them and then looking suspiciously over their shoulders in case of lurking Kindle Kidnappers.

I don’t really make resolutions. I like to make Vague Thoughts instead. So far the vague thoughts have swirled around big things such as ‘find place to live’ and ‘find home for book’ to ‘a bit of fitness’ and ‘must eat lettuce’. But I feel sort of sparky about 2011, and not just because I realised that if I turn my silver scarf around then it looks like a super hero cape.

Folk in my office LOVE me. You can tell.


Ps: Thank you so much for your kind words on my last post, about my Aunt Shirley. I was so touched by your comments - they all mean a lot to me. x