Wednesday, 24 September 2008

I’m So Tired…

What happened to the joie de vivre from yesterday? This morning felt like surfacing from hibernation, regardless of the early night last night. What’s going on, body clock? I think it’s SAD. The winter months will see me gradually become more mole-like. God forbid I end up living in a country that only sees a smidgeon of daylight, like Iceland. I’d be barely awake – and as productive as ant in a swimming pool.

Talking of ants… I used to give ants swimming lessons when I was a nipper. There was a pond in my friend’s garden and I was worried the ants nearby might drown, so I filled a bucket with water and put little floating things on it like leaves and twigs, and then dropped ants in and tried to get them to swim to the floating things. Unfortunately they just sank…so far from helping the ants, I just drowned a few instead. I do feel guilty about that, but I was only little and full of the joys of swimming lessons…

Talking of swimming lessons, do they still make you dress up in naff pajama’s to jump in the local pool and rescue a brick? How to embarrass a range of children all at once – everyone shivering in nasty flannelette, sniggers of laughter at the ones still dressed in Winnie-The-Pooh print… and all in aid of a poor brick. I’ve never yet had to use my skills to jump into a canal and rescue someone from drowning (or indeed, a brick) , but it’s nice to think that I can be a heroine when dressed in flannelette.

Talking of flannelette, does this material still exist? And what did it mean – ‘like’ flannel? So flannel, but not quite?

Sigh… get the feeling this is a long day?

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Searching for ‘the hook’

Just as songs need that all important hook to reel in listeners, writers also search for that all important tag line to attract your attention. It will be on the dust jacket, in the review, in the PR sent out, and more importantly – it needs to be in the initial letter you send out to agents. With that in mind, I have been doing some heady research…

Every enquiry letter needs that all important shiny silver dangly bit, so I have been writing and rewriting ‘hooks’ for what feels like days now. The only problem is that I have started reading them back to myself in the manner of Don Lafontaine, the deep-voiced man who brought so many film trailers to life.

This does not make for a serious ‘hook’. Consider the following (in a deep voice)…

“In a world brought to its knees, Florence Delaney stands alone and unchallenged by the dark forces of the night, until a long-held family secret unites her with the very forces she has grown to despise.”

Ok, that actually isn’t a description of my novel, which is a darn shame as I rather like it! But why is it so much easier to make up these film-style voice-overs than seriously sum up the contents of my masterpiece?

“In a world dominated by Potters, Jayne stands alone and rather lonely with her pages covered in point size 12 Times New Roman font, until an agent peers down from their lofty cloud and extends the rope-ladder of representation.”

Hmm. A little work is needed, I feel.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

London Open House

It’s that time of year again when posh buildings, societies and normal folk with unusual houses throw open their doors for free to the delight of curious souls like me. Sadly this year I was very disorganised – what with all the recent months fun and games I completely forgot to book anywhere - so all my favourite buildings on the ‘to see for free’ list were out of the running. That said though, it is perfectly possible to just wing it, and roam around seeing what you can find – as long as you are prepared to find huge queues.

We started our day yesterday with a visit to the Linnean Society, which is part of Burlington House, the same place that houses the Royal Academy of Arts. The Linnean Society is the world's oldest extant biological society (I had to run to the dictionary for the meaning of ‘extant’ – although I guessed it must mean the opposite of extinct – nice to be confirmed) and has a most gorgeous library, with a first edition of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’ – presented by the author himself! I stared at it hoping to feel wonder but nothing happened, even though I gave it a reverent 20 seconds. I shuffled off, letting the next person gaze in awe at the closed book in a glass cabinet. ‘Look – the wax seal of Darwin’s beagle!’ came the excited hushed murmur (or something rather like it) – inexplicable words to my ears. It was like listening to a different type of English – absolutely made no sense to me, but everyone else there seemed well versed in it and happy so I just eavesdropped here and there, nodding sagely and hoping not to get engaged in conversation.

The library was rather magnificient – carved wood that stretched ever up to a beautiful ceiling, a balcony running around with yet more books, statues and paintings of famous old biologist folk pictured frowning at foliage forever more. It smelt like heaven – if you like books you’ll know what I mean – a musty frusty smell of old paper, sunlight and study – I could bottle that smell and carry it about in a bottle in the manner of an old alcoholic, to be sniffed when needing a boost. You often get actors that mention the smell of greasepaint and theatres – creative professions seem so sensual. I never hear of accountants thrilled by the smell of old calculators, dentists happy with the smell of that foul pink drink, doctors in love with antiseptic.

I got a book to read at one of the long tables, mainly for the thrill of pretending I was a learned member of the society. It was a study on the genetic make up of African Violets – pages of detailed illustrations with notes and diagrams. It makes you wonder how people get the sponsorship – study something obscure, want to take it further, propose book on obscure thing, get money behind you and off you go. Maybe your only audience is fellow professors – but at least you then become the Grande Dame of Violets and get to go to Africa and sit and draw in the sun.

I left the Linnean Society and really wished I was a member – that I had studied biology and could go there and get really excited about Darwin’s beagle, or be the famed earwig illustrator of old London town. There is a niche for everything, as I am slowly beginning to discover.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Scrabbling in the loft

Me and J, relegated to being 16, sat in my mum’s living room last night watching television. There were only 25 or so channels to flick through, being freeview, and we couldn’t find QI, so we were soon casting around for a distraction.

“Let’s play Scrabble!” I said brightly. I was sure I could find it somewhere under this roof, and I was right – it was in the loft. I stood under the trapdoor and eyed it thoughtfully.

Now, the loft at my mum’s is a perilous place that only I can access. My mum is too scared of the ladder, and everyone else in my family is too old, too young, or too fat to clamber above – hence it is the one safe place I can store things to rescue them from the fate of being carted off to the local car boot sale if ever I turn my back. The only downside is that things that go in the loft invariably get covered in loft dust – records cannot go above as they will get warped, and unless you wrap it very well, it all becomes a bit of a dirty old mess.

There is another problem with the loft.

The trapdoor hatch barely laces shut – it appears to hold on by a thread of metal. Once opened it is very tricky to close, you have to keep pushing it up hoping the lock catches, and I always worry that it will swing down unawares one day and smack me on the head.

Hence eyeing the trapdoor thoughtfully - was it worth opening it to win a game of Scrabble against J, or should I leave sleeping trapdoors lie?

A minute later I was climbing up the step-ladder to open the hatch. As ever, it swings open easily, releasing a small puff of dust as a greeting. I balance on top of the step ladder and wave the pokey stick up at the loft ladder, trying to get it to drag down. As ever, it falls fast and heavy, and I catch it and steady it, coughing slightly in yet more dust. The odour of faded paper drifts downs from above – ah, the loft. A dark yawn above has appeared in the ceiling, and up I climb into it, bravely sticking my hand into the small pit between floorboards to turn on the switch. Light illuminates – well - a pile of dusty pap, to be honest. Bin bags full of things that should have been thrown years ago, boxes ditto, furniture we have hidden over the years – and my board games. Juinor Scrabble is within sight - sadly never progressed to adult.

I grab at it, not wanting to actually climb into the loft, and soon am climbing back down with my dusty prize. But that was the easy bit – the hard bit is trying to close the damn thing again.

Several minutes go by as I try to bully the hatch into closing. All it does is fall down on me again – I’m not closing this time, it seems to say. I push, it falls – this repeats for a long while, until I call the ultimate weapon upstairs. J takes one look at the hatch – he and it are old enemies. Two tries later it shuts in defeat.

Twenty minutes later I also shut in defeat – how come the only word I can think to spell in Scrabble is ‘trots’?

Not-Open House

All this week I have wanted to work on the novel, and so far each night I have done nothing more taxing than dinner and a light snooze in front of the television. I turn on the computer, load up Word, look at it for a second and wander off. The only time I seem to be all keen and raring to go is when I know I should be hitting the sack instead (around 10pm).

I always get more inspired creatively at night, I have no idea why – it must be that feeling of encroaching darkness, of nestling in. Maybe I need a sense of security to leave me free to use my imagination and fly away… or maybe I just like the idea that it’s late and although I could, I can’t. Hmm… need to work on that I think. Still all is preceding semi on track, I just need to crack on with it!

This weekend is London’s Open House, and like a berk I haven’t booked anywhere this year – which is so silly as everywhere gets rammed solid unless you book. So on Saturday me and good friend R are going to take our chances and see where we get – I fancy nosing around the old Daily Express office in Fleet Street, or perhaps somewhere around Westminster like the Foreign Office. I really wanted to get into one of the Gentlemen’s Clubs (I’m nosy, alright?) but all fully booked, sadly. Such a shame, I wanted to waltz around and see what life is like in one of these 'men only' clubs! Such an imagination I have!

I also want to get one of those pay-as-you-go ‘access to the Internet’ card dongly things. It’s horrible being off-line at home! I need to be able to update this from there – not here where I am always conscious of someone spotting me, even though I leave time at lunch for this sort of thing. Still… *quick look around, presses publish*

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Little Boxes, in the Hallway

Once again I am back at my mum’s surrounded by boxes full of books, or full of cats, so it seems. I spent all weekend pushing and pulling them (the boxes, not the cats) around like some weird Krypton Factor game – and succeeded in shoving them all into the spare room and shutting the door on them. Be gone boxes!

Little boxes in the spare room
Little boxes held with sticky-tacky
Parcel tape, sticking to everything
Little boxes, all the same.
There's a brown one and a brown one
And a brown one and a bro-wwn one
And they're all made out of sticky-tacky
Parcel tape just the same.

Being back at home has its plus sides (mum’s lovely, hard to get her to take money for rent, save lots), and its down sides (being the oldest teenager in town, not so convenient for work, being one of those sad adult children that return to the nest type statistics). But it’s only for a short pause, and a bit of breathing space, and then onwards and upwards! I am ever optimistic...

... which is more than I can say about the title of the novel. I finally set up my computer again (no Internet, but one shall suffer through) and looked at the title, and was suddenly struck by the age-old question - 'is it any good?' Agh - the indecision... can I see it on the shelves? (Yes). Does it sum up the novel? (Yes). Is it too girlie? (Sigh, maybe). Is it 'too' clever? (No). Is it clever at all? (A little, ish.) Will it make you choose it from a shelf? (I don't know!) Will it make an agent like it? (I don't know!) Will it make a publisher go for it? (Agh!)

So I spent all night worrying at it and trying to come up with another title, but everything I was thinking of didn't quite match the story. So maybe I had a night of unnecessary panic. It's staying as is now, unless the tube ride home reveals something magical (an 'on-time' train the other end would be a start).

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Death by Crystallised Ginger

There are certain indicators in place to warn you when you are getting old – that sigh that accompanies sitting down (or standing up), slippers – last worn aged 7 – become a rather sensible idea, and snacks like crystallised ginger suddenly seem strangely palatable.

Anyone get the feeling this is birthday week?

I was passed a small piece of sugary ginger the other week and, since it was 4pm - the time I am usually bug-eyed from lack of sugar - I took the bait, and was soon bug eyed for another reason. Ooo the sugary sharpness – yes, I had found a new obsession. Be gone Twirl bars.

The next day saw me with my own tub of crystallised ginger. This is going to be fantastic, I thought – semi (cough) healthy, and sweet – how can you go wrong? Oh the naivety. I soon realized my error 4 ginger bits in – my tongue was practically melting. I have discovered the sweet that is impossible to binge on – any more than 6 in a row and I fear I am breaking out in a red gingery sweat.

And so my little tub of crystallised ginger sits by the keyboard and haunts me. I like it, I want it, and every time I go for it I have to judder back, whimpering, until the ginger taste dies down. I am like a stupid puppy when it comes to sugar. So will I learn? Or will I keep getting my nose rapped by ginger? Only time will tell.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Blue Plaques

Bob Smith, 1711 – 1752, Plumber, lived here (but died around the corner)

Nearly every time I look up in London and see a blue plaque the name being commemorated is completely unknown to me. I’m not sure if this is a woeful ignorance on my part of 18th century philosophers or a woeful misguidance of the authorities on who to bestow a plaque.

How do they choose – is it perhaps done by sticking a pin in the Victorian equivalent of the Yellow Pages (the Distemper Pages, perhaps) and seeing who they get? What elevates a person to be selected for a blue plaque – what criteria do they use to be nominated? From the English Heritage website it appears to be:

That he or she has been dead for at least 20 years, or has passed the centenary of his or her birth. It is also vital that at least one London building associated with the nominated figure survives unaltered.

It just goes to show how much history we have in this city for there to be buildings that stand ‘unaltered’ for such a long time! The person also has to have done something noteworthy – nominating my great-grandmother for her (rumoured) delicious roast potatoes probably wouldn’t quite cut the mustard in Blue Plaque world.

The strange but marvelous thing about blue plaques is that you think you have no idea who that person is, as the description will just say ‘composer’, ‘industrialist’ etc, but when you google them you realise they wrote ‘Rule Britannia’. However, since you’d have to make a note of their name, and then hurry yourself to a computer to do your research it almost negates the point of identifying where they used to live.

The latest blue plaques to be screwed to a wall were for actor Alastair Sim, and the ‘Pioneer of the Screw-Propeller’, Sir Francis Pettit Smith. Even though the latter surely invented something of note, I would still walk past his house slightly confused.

Let’s look at notable deaths in 1978 to see if we can pinpoint any likely upcoming candidates… How about Ronald George Wreyford Norrish, a Nobel Peace Prize winning chemist? He sounds like a typically obscure choice. Or Nicolas Bentley, author and illustrator – heard of him? Perfect.

I think I’ll have a word…

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Books are too heavy, man

Sony’s electronic book reader was launched last week – a rather smart looking thing that is capable of storing 160 books whilst weighing the same as a small pea. Okay, I might be exaggerating about the weight, having no scales, or, perhaps more importantly, no electronic book reader to compare said pea to, but the weight issue of books really hit home when attempting to move over 300 of the buggers out of the old flat this weekend.

No matter how carefully you pack them, no matter if you invest in the right ‘book boxes’ to help store them, they still feel like you are picking up a box full of bricks. Even worse for poor J who does the main bulk of the carrying - I do feel guilty as he lugs yet another box from my ‘library’ down the stairs while I hover behind with a few paperbacks.

It has made me rethink (slightly) my opinion of electronic reading gadgets.

I was definitely opposed – it was like pushing CDs to a vinyl lover. I love the whole package of being a book-reader – the design on the book cover, the feel of the book in my hands, even the smell of the pages in some cases. I like to carry one about with me at all time (at the moment I am reading ‘Kes’), and didn’t see the appeal of carrying 160 in electronic format – I certainly wouldn’t wish to flick between books like I do my ipod. And as for holidays and travelling – the former I would be worried whether I dropped it into the swimming pool, the latter it would surely be nicked before you put on your second flip-flop. So what was the point, I thought?

Yet after gazing at the stack of boxes in the removal van, yes I can see the point. Only half of them do I keep and collect as I like the whole package – the hardbacks of Tom Sawyer, the delightful old illustrations of Agatha Christie’s books, the pulp fiction books, the TV / film tie-ins of the 70’s, the classics – these are the ones I am proud to display on my shelves. The Harry Potters, Bill Brysons, Dan Browns, Stephen Lawhead – I may love the stories inside but I don’t fall in love with the package. So these could, almost, go on an electronic reader and then I save myself the hassle of lugging them around… but… at the end of the day, I prefer to read the book rather than look at yet another screen. So it looks like me and my mini library will be coexisting together for a good while longer yet.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Too early

The alarm emits a rasping buzzzz, a sound just designed to seep under my eyelids and hammer my brain until I wake and growl. I like the idea of waking to melodic fm, but fear my brain will simply sing along as I slumber, and so I break the day with a face like a bull dog chewing a nettle.


I am now practised enough to complete the complex 'dip and swoop' manoeuvre when grabbing my free newspaper from its stand. The trick is not to stop moving but to do everything seamlessly - walk, dip, grab, swoop - and you're off, but with a printed collection of murder, mayhem and some cute story about a kitten to absorb en route.

Still early

I am trying to stay true to 'the one' - ie the one sachet of sugar that I put in my coffee, but no matter how much I try to stay faithful I am soon slinking in a second sachet. Fidelity is doomed. I love them both.


Some bugger always nicks the nice bits out of the salad bars in the canteen, don't they? If its pasta and olives, all the olives will be gone. Why - why?

Getting later

Every so often for amusement I stare straight ahead and touch-type for a bit. I then read back what I have wirtnn and it will look a bit like this.


I have a seat on the tube - yeay! Every time the tube doors open at a new station I peer surreptitiously for pregnant women and old folk. I hope against hope none of them choose my carriage as I don't want to stand up. I will if I see you, honest. I just hope you choose the carriage next door.

Later still

I join the long queue of commuters at the check out as we all stop at the same shop after getting off the homeward bound station. We all have things like milk, bread and wine in our hands. I assume there is a nation of 30 somethings that only eat milky bread and swig wine until the cows come home. And provide more milk, obviously.


I am in bed and still the day runs through my mind like an eternal slide show without an off switch. It wasn't that interesting to warrant this private show, but the projectionist seems to have wandered off somewhere. Time for me to join him - goodnight!