Tuesday, 16 October 2012

'There's nothing sadder than a neglected blog...'

So, the summer is over. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and, you know, harvests and first frosts and new stationery and Michaelmas Term is upon us... which means I need to Get Down To Work. I don't know about you, but I think of autumn as the beginning of the year (for which I blame eighteen years of formal education) and October as the beginning of autumn (for which I blame 8-week university terms). So in my book (no, not an actual book, although more of actual books later) it is perfectly fine to take two and a half months off over the summer. No, really.

Rationalisation? What do you mean, rationalisation?

No, but seriously... Then again, I realise it does get monotonous when I start every post with apologies for not blogging enough, so I will stop. Suffice it to say that someone - in a completely different context - did say, 'Ah yes, there's nothing sadder than a neglected blog, is there?' to which I could only shake my head dumbly and inwardly wince.*

The other thing is, I had so much to blog about! All of which has been either forgotten or gently overlaid with other concerns. Here, for your interest, is a quick (and non-exhaustive) list:

- Fifty Shades of Grey. Notably the underlying assumptions of same, i.e. that consensual sex-play with a riding-crop is Terrible and Shocking, whereas a controlling partner who won't let you drive your own car or meet male friends and who calls a doctor to give you a hormone injection because you've forgotten your pill is absolutely fine because he loves you. I am sure other people have pointed this out already, and more lucidly, which is partly why the blog never got written. Plus, a friend of mine insisted that the third book was really feminist (no, really!) and redeemed the gender politics of the first two, and that if I wanted to blog about it, it was only fair to read all three. Which I couldn't bring myself to, so that scuppered that.

- Rereading things from your childhood, especially things that scared the shit out of you. A few months ago I was suddenly reminded of a story I'd read when I was about eight, about which I could remember nothing except that it was bloody terrifying and about a Christmas pudding. So I googled 'children's story christmas pudding' and found it - result! - and it was quite a weird experience, because of course when I reread the story it turned out to be quite creepy, but with nowhere near the haunting, nebulously horrible quality I remembered. It's funny how revisiting somewhere in your mental landscape can be like going back to a place - it felt so much smaller this time round...**

- The brilliance of google. Same story as previous one...

- She Stoops To Conquer, which was the most recent play I did. There was no intellectual content to this post but I did have a wig and a costume with paniers, and being the sort of person who gets excited about that I was going to share it. (Ah, actors. It's basically all about dressing up. And being loved.***)

- The Giant Rat of Sumatra. Well, someone should.

- Progress on my adult book. Basically I finished the edits and my agent has started sending it out. As blogs go, this one would have been quite brief, because until you hear back from publishers there is really nothing to say. Although I can tell you that the rejections from the first round of submissions (apparently in adult publishing you can have lots of rounds because there are more publishing houses than in children's publishing, which is great because it means that, figuratively speaking, I haven't been knocked out yet. Although I might be at the bottom of my group. It all depends on Wales and Outer Mongo-- oh. No, wait. Sorry, I'm getting confused with the World Cup) were pleasantly contradictory. ("I wasn't entirely convinced by the Edwardian voice." "It's just too authentically Edwardian." Etc., etc.)

- Basic writing angst. Don't know why I'd bother, really, it's not as if you haven't heard it before. :)

- An update on my New Year's Resolutions. The fun ones are going well. The other ones are... well, still in the realms of possibility. Most of them.

Anyway. There might have been more potential posts, but they obviously got sucked under by the bog of daily life, to the extent that I have no idea what they were. I just didn't want you to feel that I wasn't thinking about blogging, because I was. Really. So there.

And in other news, I have just started a new book. (I am excited. It is going well.) When it's a bit more established, I shall tell you more about it. Promise. :)

Watch this space...

* Obviously there are in fact lots of things sadder than neglected blogs, like forgotten cups of tea and snails that get trodden on and people dismantling the NHS... But it was meant as a rhetorical flourish. Presumably.

** The story was 'A Christmas Pudding Improves With Keeping', by Philippa Pearce.

*** As is the rest of life, really.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Oh, and another thing...

Honestly. You wait months for a blog post and then two come along at once.

I discovered this song a few days ago (it's the hidden track on Rose, by Rose) and have been listening to it continuously. Or, as I suppose I should say, en boucle.

It's got a lovely obsessive walls-closing-in-on-you feeling - next time I'm heartbroken I will no doubt appreciate it even more, but right now I really love it despite being quite happy, thank you.

So anyway. Enjoy.

A quick update.

This may not mean anything to anyone who didn't follow the original soul-searching about Come The Revolution a while ago, but to anyone who did and remembers vaguely what I was on about - I seem to have won the fight. Give or take a few explicit details in the sex-scenes, which I can live with. I love my editor.

I thought about making this post less mysterious, but if I did that I would have to kill you. And the Internet is a very populous place...

In other news, I am in She Stoops To Conquer at my local theatre next week (wigs, corsets, West Country accents, lots and lots of knob gags), am recovering (I hope) from a cold, doing well on my New Year's Resolutions (except for the one about punctuation), and haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey yet. (One of my friends is going to lend it to me. I suspect that as a big fan of The Story of O I will be disappointed. But watch this space. It strikes me as the sort of thing I might want to blog about.)

Anyway. Right now, my main feeling is: hurrah!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Climbing and the power of negative thinking

I went climbing on Saturday. It wasn't the first time I've ever been climbing, as I used to go bouldering in Mile End when I lived in London, but it's the first time I've done proper roped, outdoor climbing on Actual Rocks (at least since I was a kid, which was only once and too long ago to count). So it was quite exciting and actually quite scary, as obviously when you're roped you go higher and do harder pitches than when you're not. And I'm a little bit afraid of heights.

It's always good to do things you're scared of, though. You discover things about yourself. Like your maximum heart-rate. And your default swearwords.

But the best thing I discovered was the liberating power of low expectations.

Now I realise this goes against a lot of what we get told. The general philosophy seems to be that in order to achieve something you have to tell yourself incessantly that you can do it. Be determined. Tell yourself you won't be beaten. Insist on the possibility of your chosen task. Insist on your own brilliance. Sooner or later all that positive thinking will convince everyone who needs to be convinced, and all will be well. And often it works, and you can see why. No one ever got anywhere by deciding it was useless to try.

But on Saturday... It was funny. I struggled not to give up because I didn't want everyone to think I was pathetic. I was determined. I was positive. And I clung helplessly to various rockfaces, occasionally bobbing up and down on my toes and reaching limply for bits of rock that were just too far away to touch, telling myself I was Not Going To Be Beaten. Until finally I thought, bugger this for a game of soldiers, waved down at my climbing partner and said, 'I'm stuck.'

Whereupon I could move. And did. Upwards. In a beautiful fluid leap, right to the top.*

As soon as it was OK to fail, it was easy to climb.

I suppose the logical extension of this is to accompany every demanding task with a little pep-talk about how no one could reasonably expect me to attempt this, let alone achieve it, and failure is absolutely fine and indeed to be expected, and - well, getting stuck and having to be lowered down is TOTALLY OK.

The implications for writing are too obvious to be pointed out. (And they don't come as a surprise. Although it was a salutary reminder for me, right now.)

I will simply say that, as with writing, you know you've made a decent stab at it when you end up with bruises.

Bruises... everywhere.

* Yeah, so this is a bit of an exaggeration. (*Cough*hugeexaggeration*cough*.)

Thursday, 31 May 2012

It's summer. Which means you must BUY...

 Hurrah! It's summer!

But when summer arrives, we all have responsibilities. Especially if we are planning to wear summer clothes. I love it that Boots is supporting us through this difficult time, and is giving us so much generous help. God forbid that we should embarrass ourselves by not living up to society's high standards.

We all know that if you are a woman, you have a duty to be:

- entirely hairless (except for head-hair, see below).
- bronzed.
- sweet-smelling (ideally of something edible, because that means the Men In Our Lives will find us mouth-wateringly attractive).
- smooth-skinned.
- smooth-footed (those pesky rough bits on our feet can really rub against his virilely hairy legs in bed).
- bright-eyed (those vitamins are really important for our appearance).
- glossy-haired (except for body hair, see above).
- beautifully made-up (but take it off at night, girls, otherwise you might get spots).
- young (the rest of us will have to fake it).
- wearing something strapless, backless and skimpy (ideally, of course, naked).
- dazzling (or as Boots puts it, "outshining the sun". Let's gloss over the slight logical problem there, and just take note that, as we're doing the dazzling, sunglasses aren't included. Those are for the men).

So go out, girls, and BUY BUY BUY! "Say 'YES'." How life-affirming. God forbid you should say 'NO'. Then you might end up ugly and no one will like you. Let alone fancy you, which is (after all) the Purpose Of Our Lives. Not fancying, being fancied.

If you're a man, you have a duty to be:

Oh, no. Wait.

Thanks, Boots. And FUCK OFF.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Stories, truth and ourselves.

I've been thinking a lot recently about truth, and honesty, and reality, and the relationships between them. I like to think of it as a Truth Detox. Not that I want to be honest all the time, you understand (I'm not quite ready for that yet, and I'm not sure if I ever will be) - it's more about being aware of the ways I lie and elude and fudge things to myself. One of the things that has dawned on me over the last few months is that lying to other people is morally grey, in the sense that you can judge each lie on a case-by-case basis, dependent on context: but lying to yourself is always, always wrong, because it means you automatically pass that on to other people. Once you stop being honest with yourself, there's no choice involved.

That is one of those things that when you write it down looks about a hundred times less profound than when you thought of it. Phooey.

But aaaaanyway. Thinking about truth is particularly interesting if the way you earn your living is all about fiction. Because, at its best, fiction is truthful. It's the big Defense of Poesie, isn't it, that by creating something that isn't real you can find a space to say something that is enlightening and recognisable and, well, you know... spot on. We've all had those moments, when you read a novel and think: yes. Yes, absolutely yes. The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you'd thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it's as if a hand has come out and taken yours. Yes, the past does come back and haunt us exactly the way it does in The Ghost of Thomas Kempe. Yes, misery does make me lean against walls for no apparent reason, like in I Capture The Castle; yes, memory does run the risk of driving us mad, like in Funes, His Memory. And yes, the important thing in this life is not aunts but the courage with which you face them.*

But it's not that simple. The big problem a lot of people have with trashy writing (mentioning no naTwilightmes, of course) is that it just doesn't ring true. Or worse, it provides people with a narrative that is simultaneously dishonest and seductive - which means that not only is it not edifying (and I use that in the deepest, most liberal sense, which is nothing to do with "improving" literature) it is actually really problematic. Like it or not, books rehearse the world for us: they teach us how to think about ourselves, our relationships, our bodies. They work in the same way that advertising does. We need to think carefully about the narratives we give people, because narratives are powerful.

Which is not to say that there isn't a place for trashy books, in the same way that there is sometimes a place for conscious lying - or self-indulgent dreaming, or any kind of activity which takes us out of ourselves. Actually - yes, that's a good phrase. Things that take us out of ourselves are fine - good, in fact - as long as we can put ourselves back afterwards. Lying - or buying into someone else's lie - is defensible as long as you know it's a lie.

What makes this more interesting is that it's not only bad writing that helps us lie to ourselves. I originally started thinking about this post because of something I remembered from a long time ago, when I was in a messy love-triangle-relationship-thingy, and happened to go and see the film of The End of the Affair. I still remember, very clearly, walking out of the cinema, feeling suddenly very passionate about my lover. Not because of anything about him, you understand, but because the story had resonated with me, because the tragedy and romance of it made me think of my own situation - in the same way that seeing an advert for a perfume you already wear can, briefly, make you feel more glamorous than just wearing the perfume does. This, I said to myself, is my story. Like those characters, I am having an affair. Therefore, like those characters, I am tragic and lovable and romantic... It's dangerous. And yet, the ability of narratives to validate our own experience is part of its wonder. It just has to be confronted honestly.

Not sure what point, if any, I am trying to make here. Maybe that, when it comes down to it, real people are more important than fictional characters. Life is more important than art. Lying can be good as long as it's done knowingly, in the context of the truth.

Not, perhaps, terribly profound. (OK, that "perhaps" is there to salve my pride. But I'm going to leave it there anyway.) But - I like to think - for a writer, it's a good thing to get clear in my head.

* Jokes, of course, have to pinpoint something that's simultaneously an exaggeration and absolutely true, otherwise they're not funny.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

I'm back!

So, it turns out that the slightly valedictory tone of my previous post might have been a little bit histrionic, as I did, in fact, survive the flights to and from Qatar. (Without getting too nervous, as well, which was nice.) Not to mention the conference itself.

Me (in blue) in a workshop led by the wonderful Zeinab Mobarak 
But "survive" isn't quite the word. The conference was brilliant. I loved it. It's been a long time since I've spent three days with such interesting, intelligent, amusing, warm people - even if the conversation was so unrelenting well-informed and incisive that I had to resist an urge to lower the tone. ("Revolution in Egypt?! Has there been a revolution in Egypt? Why wasn't it in Hello! magazine?") As a translation conference, it was probably always going to attract clever, open-minded people with a heightened awareness of international affairs - but honestly, it was so high-powered it was verging on the ridiculous... And yet no one made me feel like an impostor, despite my lack of any relevant expertise (when people asked me whether I was a delegate I always said, 'Who, me? No, no, I'm only an author.'). The speeches and workshops were stimulating, everyone seemed to talk to everyone - and immediately cut to the chase about things that mattered, rather than, you know, accommodation or the weather or how long our flights were - and, to cap it all, with careful planning you could eat five meals a day. I felt exhilarated and privileged to be part of it.*

And the place was pretty amazing too. The photo on the left is of the Doha skyline, taken from a courtyard at the Museum of Islamic Art, which is itself an astonishing building (think halfway between a modern mosque and the National Theatre, but with an incredible austerity and grace). There's not much that's old in Doha, as far as I could tell, but the architecture is varied and energetic and really exciting. (On the whole. Our bus did drive past a derelict-ish apartment block, half boarded up and half just falling down, with a helpful facade claiming that it was "VERSAILLES". But I didn't have my camera that day.)  

I would also add a photo of my hotel room, because it was far too good for the likes of me, but there are levels of smugness to which even I will not sink.

I got back yesterday and am still recovering after not going to bed for 32 hours, so I'm not going to go on raving about what a lovely time I had. (Also I am running out of adjectives, and Roget's is in the other room.) I will just leave you with my favourite photo of all. Yes. It's a watermelon. But not any old watermelon. This is a Faberge watermelon. There were others, actually. But this one was the best.

Strangely enough, one of the keynote speeches was the great Daniel Hahn talking about his translation (or was it? well, it's funny you should ask that - what is a translation, anyway?) of a picture book called Happiness Is A Watermelon On Your Head*** (or as the Amazon web address puts it, with a certain threatening terseness: "happiness - watermelon - your head"). Which made me feel that this picture was particularly appropriate.

And now back to real life. And rain. And work.****

But any more invitations are welcome...

* Note to any British Council readers: is this enough, or should I lay it on a bit thicker? I do want those "expenses"... **

** This is a joke. I am actually deadly serious about all of the paragraph above.

*** It is an odd and wonderful book. Buy it. In English.

**** Or should I say, back to good intentions scuppered by the World Snooker Championships? Somehow I know today, at least, is going to be a dead loss. But that's OK. Maybe one day I'll write a book about daytime television, and it will all have been worthwhile.)

Friday, 27 April 2012

Taking stock...

I'm off to Qatar tomorrow for a three-day translation conference. This is about as glamorous as my life gets - even more glamorous, and this is saying something, than medieval-lynch-mob-decorated CAKE - but this post is not simply boasting. Obviously it is mainly boasting, and I'm sure I'll do more boasting when I get back, hopefully with pictures (I'm hoping for a sunlit portrait of me against a wonderful panorama of Doha - think blazing blond hair, white shirt, English-Patient chic - although judging by previous experience all my photos will almost certainly involve lots of squinting, a sunburn line across my nose from my sunglasses, and a ridiculous hat). But... well, maybe it's just me, but I find there's something about flying halfway across the world that focuses the mind on mortality.

I am not a nervous flier. Well, no, I am a bit of a nervous flier (I don't fly very much, and it scares me for much the same reasons that I play Euromillions, i.e. the triumph of imagination over statistics), but I think this particular phenomenon is more to do with the way journeys mark milestones - the way I was strangely thoughtful before I set out for Santiago de Compostela, for example, which didn't involve any flying. Medieval pilgrims always used to write their wills before they left home, and while that was quite sensible, really, because in those days it really was hazardous, I think it's a good tradition. Then again, I have no money, so writing my will isn't really worth the time.*

But instead I have been Taking Stock of my life. And I thought I would share my thoughts with you. Just in case. (NB: this is, as you might expect given the above, a singularly self-absorbed blog-post. Please stop reading now if that's going to irritate you.)

I am thirty.** I have published five books, had seven accepted, written ten. I have had emails from people I don't know and probably won't ever know, telling me that my books have made a difference to them. I have played Juliet, Antigone, the Duchess of Malfi, Cordelia and Margaret Thatcher. I was once accosted in the street after a show by a member of the audience who wanted to shake my hand. (It was in Elephant and Castle and for a second I thought she was going to mug me.) I have walked from Le Puy to Santiago with only a few bus journeys in the middle. I can make vinaigrette, harissa and roast chicken without a recipe. I can throw a pot, replace a zip, speak French - all after a fashion - and I can ride a bike, run a mile, keep honest counsel and mar a curious tale in the telling of it. I have a scar on my forehead that I got in a dagger fight. At drama school I was given a chocolate bar by a teacher because I was the only person to walk past when he was teaching a class and considerately not let the door slam. I once sent a clipping to the News Quiz and they read it out***, which is something I am genuinely proud of.

So much for achievements. It seems quite a short list.

I have written some quite bad plays, some quite bad essays, and some quite cringe-worthy poetry. I can't hold a harmony or whistle a tune or touch the floor with my hands while keeping my legs straight. At drama school I was held up as an example to the others of how a backbone should not behave. I was a terrible Kvashnya in The Lower Depths. I have done some truly awful auditions, most of which I can now laugh at. I don't know how to change a fuse or make a Word document into a pdf file. I once made garlic soup which stayed in the plate when I turned it upside down over my head. I have never earned more than £10,000 in a year. At infants' school I dropped a guinea pig, and it still haunts me.

What else?

I have 230 facebook friends. Some of those are really friends - including, I think, some of the ones I've never met. That's nice. Five people have declared love to me, a couple more have asked me out, no one has asked me to marry them. (Or not seriously, anyway.) I have been gloriously, blazingly in love once, and less euphorically and intensely in love six-ish times, of which at least two were unrequited. I have never slept with anyone and regretted it. I have regretted not sleeping with people. (You know who you are. Probably.) I have only ever deliberately put one ex-boyfriend into a book, and it ended up being a far more flattering - and much less exact - portrait than I originally had in mind.

I've never stolen an idea for a novel. Yet.

I have never broken a bone or spent the night in hospital (except when I was born). I have never been pregnant or taken any Class A drugs. Two of my teeth are fake. I had my first filling a few weeks ago. All my vaccinations are up to date. I've tried to give blood three times, and the last time I was so much trouble they had to drive me home in the blood van and took me off the donor register.

I have written some letters for Amnesty International, given a few quid here and there to the Red Cross, signed endless petitions for Avaaz and 38 Degrees, written to my MP more times than I remember, and helped wash up coffee cups after Quaker Meeting; I delete emails from Amnesty when they've been sitting in my inbox for longer than a few days, I buy cheap clothes even though I know they're probably made in sweatshops, I'd rather get a laugh than be universally kind, I can't always be bothered to rip the plastic windows out of envelopes so I can put them in the paper recycling, I once held up a love-letter someone sent me to invite ridicule from our mutual friends, and I've done a few other things which I'm not prepared to admit to on the Internet. Morally speaking I'm probably in the red, like most of us. (Then again, they say that when old or ill people are asked what they regret, the two commonest answers are, 'I wish I'd worked less' and 'I wish I'd been less virtuous'. So, given the above, and that I have never had a proper job, I guess I'm doing fairly well.)

So... I can't think of anything else. That's it. My life in a nutshell.

OK, so this has been a really self-indulgent post. But strangely enough, it's made me feel better.

* Although, now I come to think of it, I did do my tax return this week. But that was mainly so I could spend the money I'd put aside for my tax bill. (One of the few advantages of being totally poverty-stricken is that I can proudly say I am not funding David Cameron at all. Take that, Tory bastards!)

** I was going to work in a Tom-Lehrer style gag: 'It's people like that [Alma Mahler] who make you realise just how little you've achieved. For example, when Mozart was my age he had been dead for two years.' Then I looked it up and found, to my disappointment, that I am still too young for that joke...

*** It was the label off a jar of sweet peppers in oil, which said, 'Why not toss into a bowl of fresh green salad?'

Thursday, 29 March 2012

A glimpse into the glamorous life of an author...

...i.e, me.

On Tuesday I had a launch party for The Broken Road (I know, I know, only two months late) at my local Waterstone's. It was a fantastic evening - I saw so many of my friends there that I started to feel like I was at my own wake (in a good way) - but the best thing about it was: the CAKE.

As an incentive, I had promised everyone in the publicity that there would be CAKE. (Yes, in capitals. It's just not the same when it's in lower case. Believe me. I am now stuck in an eternal caps lock that is specific to the word CAKE. I am going to have to avoid the topic entirely in my next novel or face major problems with my copy-editor.) And that the aforesaid CAKE would have a sugarcraft lynch-mob on it.

The CAKE was not a lie.

And... for those of a squeamish disposition, look away now. (Or rather - sorry, you should have looked away a few seconds ago. Oops.)

Yes. A sugarcraft medieval lynch-mob. Don't you wish you'd been there? Made, I hasten to add, not by me but by a great artist of CAKES called Jackie Grover.

And here, if that photo wasn't enough, is a close-up - just in case you didn't catch their expressions...

I could add more pictures. There are a few of me cutting it, and probably a few blurred ones of me reading, or brandishing a glass of wine and grinning like an idiot. (Or maybe, on second thoughts, after all that wine it wasn't the world that was blurred...)

Anyway. I had a fantastic evening. I read and talked about myself and signed copies of my book and generally had a lovely time.

But really, I just wanted to show you the CAKE...

Sunday, 25 March 2012

On a lighter note...

The last couple of times I blogged, it was a bit angsty. The problem hasn't gone away, but I'm determined not to worry about it until it raises its ugly head again, so for the moment all is relatively serene in the Collins household. (Unless someone asks me how the writing is going, in which case they are almost literally knocked backwards by a gale of ranting. But people are rapidly learning not to ask...)

And yesterday I spoke to my lovely hopefully-soon-to-be-agent (don't worry if you're getting confused about how many agents/editors I have - it doesn't really make any difference to this story) and she really made me laugh. Partly because of what she was telling me about my book - I was making notes, and one of them says, and I am not making this up, 'try to write good prose' - and partly because she said, 'You know that Mitchell and Webb sketch, where one of them is an editor and keeps saying, "How about doing like this? Well, not like this, obviously, but maybe a bit like this - well, not really like this, but..."?' 

But mainly because she said that when her assistant put Edward Leigh onto her Kindle to read it, she accidentally loaded the Word document with tracked changes.

Now. I didn't know this. But apparently when that happens the Kindle isn't equipped to deal with it. So it loads everything, original and final versions combined - so all the deleted bits, all the new bits, all the comments - without any kind of formatting or signposting... I.e., in this case, all the cut 10,000 words and the new 15,000 words. Not to mention the occasional moment where I'd lost my temper and put in a note-to-self like (and I quote) 'Yes, but where the hell is the PLOT?!'. 

Apparently, the assistant, when asked her opinion, said, 'I'm enjoying it, but the narrator does seem to do a lot of things... well, twice.'

It reminded me of the time I listened to Mozart's Requiem for the first time*. It was on vinyl, and I put the turntable on the wrong speed. I told my parents I thought it was brilliant but... maybe a bit high-pitched. 

* I am not going to tell you how old I was. Suffice it to say that I was at secondary school - old enough, you might think, to realise that the music was over in roughly 3/4 of the time one might have anticipated.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Thank you.

Thanks to everyone who commented on my previous post - I really appreciate your responses. And let me say that I am a) not surprised by the overwhelming consensus from you all, and b) utterly in agreement.

As I said - I have no idea how much power I have in this situation, and as soon as negotiations start it may be indiscreet to blog about them... but for what it's worth - I will do my absolute best to stick to my guns.

I really only wanted to garner your responses, so I've taken the post down now. Given the situation, I thought it was more politic not to leave it there for ever, especially since it's now served its purpose. I hope that doesn't seem cowardly.

And again - thank you all.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Done. Almost.

I thought about just leaving this blog post as the title on its own, because it just about sums up everything I have to say. But that seemed a bit... stingy. Oh, by the way, I haven't had much sleep. So don't expect the right words in the right places or anything. (Or rather, as I typed that originally, "don't expect the right words inntb eh righy placex". Which, coincidentally, is one of my favourite Basque proverbs.)

I don't know if you've seen the film 28 Days Later. It's not one of my top ten... but there's a moment when the hero's making his way through the apocalypse-torn, disease-ridden world and he goes into a church and up some stairs, and the camera focuses on some graffiti: NIGH, it says, in huge spray-painted letters. And then the shot pans up, and it says above that, FUCKING. And then EXTREMELY. It takes longer than you think to get to THE END IS...

So my edits were - OK, are, so much for having finished, I've got to start again at the beginning now - a bit like that. Last week I worked really bloody hard (up at six, worked till four, started again after dinner, till midnight) thinking that that day I would get there. It wasn't till yesterday this morning, at ten past three, that I finally wrote the last sentence. I was too tired even to feel particularly triumphant. But now I have a new draft. Not the final draft. Probably not even close. But those problems, which seemed like a brick wall, did have handholds, after all. I'm not sure that, having climbed up, I won't have to inch my way painstakingly back down again and find another route - but right now I can take a breather, hoping I'm on the right track.

Sleep. Read. Do some laundry.

I did tell my agent that she'd have the MS by the end of the week, though. So tomorrow I will be back to work. No doubt, this time tomorrow, I will be staring helplessly at my computer screen and wondering if I could just cut straight to the middle of the book. Actually - there's a thought...

That last sentence probably won't be the real, final, actual last sentence. But the end is extremely fucking nigh.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Editing. Still.

I refuse to get into the habit of starting every blog post with an apology for not blogging more, because that way madness lies... but, er, well. Sorry. I should blog more. I suck.

Basically, this is because I'm still editing. And the editing is weighing so heavily on me that if I do anything else I feel guilty. Including blogging. Right now, though, I'm on my lunch hour (ha! who'm I trying to kid? my lunch hours) and facebook was looking boring and googling myself wasn't fruitful and the BBC iPlayer wasn't showing anyth-- wait, I'm giving away far too much, here. I am a hard-working writer, honest.

Anyway, here we go. Hello. Long time no see... :)

I was hoping to get a new draft of Edward Leigh to my agent last week, for the 1st of February. I did actually think I could do that, right up until the 30th or so of January, when it dawned on me that I'd only got halfway through and most of the work is in the second half. I've never missed a writing deadline before, and it came as a bit of a shock. The thing is, I thought I had it sorted. In January I'd sat down and more or less told myself what I needed to do, scenes I needed to add or delete and so on. Then all I had to do was just implement my notes and All Would Be Well.

Did you spot the deliberate mistake? Yes, it was the "more or less".

So there are a few problems with that rosy idea of editing. Firstly, edits, like a novel, are only meaningful once you've written them. They will always work in theory. It's only when you're writing them that you realise that there's a glitch or a bug or whatever. (In my case, MAJOR PLOT POINTS which have been ENTIRELY FORGOTTEN. Oops.) And secondly, "just adding or deleting scenes" is like saying "just writing a novel". Today I've written more than a thousand words from scratch, which in a first draft situation would be a good day's work. But according to my (and I do not want to admit that it's even slightly optimistic) schedule, I have another fifty pages to get through this afternoon. And another hundred tomorrow. Wish me luck.

It's like toothpaste. You look at the nearly empty tube and think, oh, not much there, better buy some more. But then, as you squeeze, the toothpaste builds up until by the time you've rolled the tube up halfway you realise there's a bloody sight more toothpaste than you'd bargained for. (OK, so that metaphor would work better if toothpaste was more of a burdensome, negative thing. Probably not many people find out they've got more toothpaste than they realised and feel utterly daunted and overwhelmed. Although if you do, let me say that I know exactly how you feel, because toothpaste - well, it can be so like editing...)  

Or rather it's like a machine. You think it's just a question of changing a few cogs and then you realise that a) now the whole balance of the thing has gone and there's a lot more recalibration to do and b) it's still not going to work after that and you don't know why.


Actually, I think it is advancing. I might get it done by next week. I really hope so, because I'm dying to do some reading and writing and fiddling and thinking and you know, writerly stuff*, without feeling guilty. Then again - anyone else find themselves editing and gradually starting to think, hang on, I think I'm making this worse? Those moments when there wasn't enough of a particular character, so you take them out entirely, or you suddenly realise you've cut the very part your agent liked so much, or... wait, this is getting too depressing. Enough - if you know what I mean you know what I mean.

On the plus side, it will be finished one day. I hope. And then we will look back and laugh. Ho ho.

And The Broken Road came out this week - hurrah! - and has already had a lovely review on bookbag.

And the salt and pepper pots are safely back at King's College.** (I assume. I didn't phone to ask.)

You lose some, you win some.

* AKA sleeping.
** Although sorry, Elin, those Maltesers may never return to their rightful home...

Friday, 20 January 2012

Of deadlines, editing, wading through treacle, and the relative easiness of the latter.

So. It's just as well "write more blog posts" wasn't one of my New Year's resolutions. It's better not to fail spectacularly at too many things at once...*

At the moment I am editing.

More precisely, I am trying to edit. This week I have actually done some work, i.e. cutting and rewriting, which is an improvement on last week, but that putative deadline of 1st of February - oh, I was so pleased to have an actual deadline like a real writer! - is looking less and less achievable. Especially since the Australian Open is NOT BEING SHOWN ON THE BBC, which means I have no reason to stay at my computer, idly editing in the changes of ends... (If you think that's a joke, by the way, sorry, it isn't. I was genuinely relying on the motivational power of watching BBC Sport, with Word open in a different window. Please don't laugh.)

I don't know why it's so hard, but it really is. Maybe because I've just got another idea for a novel, or rather an idea for another novel, and all I want is to start writing that... or because I'm trying to do something new every week, which is quite exciting but rather distracting, or because I'm feeling strangely domesticated and would happily spend a lot of time cooking. As I say, I don't know. It's not even that I think the book is bad. I think it's fine. Maybe it's just that it's not the sort of book I feel like reading right now.

It doesn't matter. The crucial thing is that it's difficult, but it's advancing. I think I have tentatively decided how to solve my problems - ha! note the "tentative" - and now all I have to do is Just Do It. (To coin a phrase. Thank you, Nike.) As someone rather vulgarly and brilliantly says in this relevant blog post, "That story isn't going to unfuck itself." Well, quite.

So I suppose I should be optimistic. I might hit the deadline. You never know.

Then again, I should be working on it now. Right now.

* If you're interested: out of my 12 New Year's resolutions, I have so far kept 6 (more or less); 3 of them are unkept as yet, but since I regard myself as having until the end of next December to keep them I'm not being too hard on myself; and I have failed miserably so far at the remaining 3 of them. I'm not going to specify which are which. :)