Wednesday, 26 November 2008

On the Job Hunt

Early: Hm. ‘Must be fluent in Dutch’. I click on the link anyway, just to see if the job advert is just teasing about the language skills involved. Ah. Dutch embassy – probably not. I slink out of the link hopefully un-noticed.

Mid-morning: Hm. This looks promising, mainly because it pays a stonking fortune. I click on the link anyway wondering what the catch is – usually something that involves java and multi-platform and programming, in which case I shall yet again slink away. My job searches so far seem to involve a lot of enthusiastic but random clicking and then a slight pause for reading job spec before backing away feeling a bit thick.

Lunch: What is one good at, anyway? Oven bleeps madly from downstairs. Oops, I appear to be over-cooking the fish. Will scrub ‘chef’ from job applications.

After lunch: ‘Please state why you are applying for this post’. Ah, if only I could, dear application. It would go something like this:

I am applying for this post as I am skint and want your money. I think I more than likely can do your job, at least it all sounds fairly ok apart from that programming bit but I am sure someone can just show me the html thingie and all will be well. I also have never worked in that part of London before and wonder what the shops will be like. Pip, pip!

But instead I have to cover such realities with words like experience and competent and deliverables and website infrastructure. Sigh…

Snack-time: I think I will gnaw off my own fingers if I have to write my specialist skills essay one more time. Why can’t there be one form to rule them all, in the style of Lord of the Rings?

After-school: I have totally lost the willpower to do these forms. The job description is interesting, it’s just every time I try to start a new section on essential or desirable skills my brain opens the sneaky hatch behind my left ear and slopes off to watch children’s TV downstairs. I might as well fill the form out in crayons and seal it with chocolate for all the good I feel it will do me.

Before dinner: Suddenly gone all efficient. Why now? Six sections yet to complete, but the fact I have filled in three means that I am amazingly pleased with myself. I may celebrate by watching something mindless. Or I shall continue with form as on a role (and it has to be sent away tomorrow, on pain of death). Hm, best carry on then.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Coffee in Cafes

I found an independent café last week (more tea shop than anything else) and I am in love with it already. It is tucked between a jewellers and a restaurant facing a village green, it has proper table-cloths and lady-like chairs, and even better you can get 2 coffees and a cupcake for £3. This will not break the bank at all (since it was broken a while ago) so I think I can definitely afford to go there once a week and indulge my writer fantasies.

It is a bit of a stomp to get there, mind you – fifty minutes when wearing trainers, no doubt six hours if wearing heels. This is why I don’t usually wear heels – I walk so much that there’s no point to them (ahem) - I’d be so slow I may as well go backwards. Besides, something strange happens to the world if I even elevate myself by a mere inch, the gravity is definitely different at those lofty heights.

So a trainer’d stroll in the November sunshine was just the ticket for today, and was a nice reward for yesterday, when I spent all day on job websites. I have two more Applications of Joy to knuckle down to, but that is for tomorrow. Today was for me.

I like observing how the world behaves in cafes. Last week there was a mum and her young daughter, and I couldn’t help get interested in them, as the mother had said ‘no cakes’ as they walked in. Bearing in mind that this is possibly the goo-iest, chocolate-ist, and Famous Five-ish like tea shop in the world, why on earth would you bring your child to it and then say they couldn’t have any cakes? The reason apparently was because ‘they were having dinner later’ – a poor excuse if you ask me. Tea shops are for eating gooey things and for feeling sick and spoiling appetites, not for boring old thoughts of the pork chop to come.

Today a man had come in purely to speak on his mobile phone, loudly and at length about his late invoice. Don’t panic world, he arranged to speak to HSBC in the morning about his mortgage, so all is well – phew! I was so relieved for him. Except apparently he was meeting Ian at the A10 roundabout, as they are all going up west later to get hammered, only if Dave is up for it, of course. The problem was it was Dave’s daughter’s birthday, so maybe not… oh how I worried. I debated for ages whether I should turn around and join in, as clearly he was including me in his conversation, but thankfully Mr Irritating left to the icy chill of my glare.

Editing is going well – I am still revising chapter three, and it really does work better in a café. Me and the novel are going through a love-hate relationship at the moment – sometimes I like it and want to dance nose-to-the-sky in the manner of Snoopy as I love it so much. Sometimes I hate it and think it sounds like something Adrian Mole would have sent post-haste to the BBC (Adrian Mole being Sue Townsend’s fictional pretentious wannabe writer). In-between these two moods is a sort of stubborn perseverance, and a cat. Cats can be found in the middle of everything in life, so it seems.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Sunday thoughts

Titling a post ‘Sunday thoughts’ sounds like it should be an introduction to Songs of Praise, and that you will find me poised with a benevolent expression in a book-lined study ready to impart my goodly wisdom. Instead you find me wearing really old green cords dug from the bedroom time forgot, paired with an equally striking green jumper. Think, if you will, of a 5ft5 runner bean, but with red socks, and you pretty much have my ensemble for the day.

The bedroom time forgot is the spare room, the room I grew up in from the age of months to 15 years until I graduated to my elder brother’s room when he moved out. Over time, it has been turned into the ‘I’ll-just-put-that-in-there’ room, and soon enough it was piled from floor to ceiling with stuff. Everything I have ever thought I had thrown away has reappeared in that room when I least expect it. My mum simply hates getting rid of anything, and all has sentimental value attached to it – eg, your dad once sat on that cushion. Even if my dear dad did once sit on it when he was alive, there are other things to keep for that sort of reason, and not blooming cushions. You get the idea.

The worst is when I contribute to the bedroom time forgot with my own piles of junk, i.e. the boxes of books from the flat. I have to rearrange everything to fit them in, which takes a day of Krypton Factor style sliding and slotting. And that’s when the fun begins – my mum suddenly becomes convinced that all the items she ever needs or desires are to be found within that room. Recently, and fair enough, it was the Christmas decorations. I growl and plan a day of rearranging in order to find them, and then spend hours lugging things around, having to stop constantly to find cats and lift them out of trouble as they cause yet another small avalanche of old clothes. I find all sorts of things I last threw away in 1993, rescued and hidden in the spare room. I get rid of two black bin bags of nasty out-of-shape moth-eaten clothes and tell mum on no account is she to go through them and get anything out. I expect I shall see that misshapen woollen black skirt yet again one of these days.

Finally I find the Christmas decorations and emerge victorious. I pack everything away and close the door – success! Except now mum thinks I haven’t found them all. ‘Where’s that gold garland? It must be still in there’. This is the sort of thing I shall hear from now until Christmas Eve, when she finds everything else she needs in the cupboard under the stairs. I am starting to think my whole house is held up on old fluorescent T Shirts, broken wicker baskets and various knitting magazines.

My other Sunday thought is why is it easier to type (or at least think of what I want to write) when I have the Word doc page size set to 75% or 100%, but when I have it at 150% and therefore easier on my eyes, can I not type at all?

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Accident waiting to happen

There has been an accident waiting to happen for the last three years in the room I am currently occupying. The problem is, no one expects the mishap, and so it waits, like the rickety shelf over-stacked with books, like the trembling clothes rail in the wardrobe, for a prime opportunity.

Today was such an opportunity.

Redundancy brings with it several forms to fill in that need a legal mind to ponder over before you can wave off the whole sorry business. So today I was running around getting everything done and dusted, and between runs I came home to get spruced up (as one has to look ones best, appearances are everything) before going to my office for the last time for a final sign off. Everything I needed to take with me was in my bedroom, being stepped upon by an adventurous cat, and I had just left the room for a minute.

That was all it took.

To explain the scene – my bedroom door opens into the room, beside a wall. There is enough space for the door to open, and then straight in front is the side view of a heavy wooden dresser. Leaning on that side, facing the door, is a folding wooden chair. This was the accident waiting to happen. I always walked past it and thought, hm, better move that chair, but of course never did. So my adventurous cat moved it for me, by jumping up on the dresser, knocking the chair over onto the door, which then crashed shut.

I spun around on the landing and stared at my closed door. Oh no, I thought, as I pushed against it and realised it was jammed by the chair, which was now wedged between the door and the dresser. No! It would only open a crack, and so I had to wiggle my hand through the gap, at the cost of my wrist, to see if I could feel where the chair had fallen. There was one moment when I thought my hand had got stuck, and I had visions of me, and the cat, sitting forlornly either side of the door for the foreseeable future, but thankfully, after much wiggling, I was free. I then got a bathrrom mirror to see if I could angle it around the wedge and find out where the chair was, and this revealed the chair was practically flat to the ground. This set back turned me temporarily into a fishwife, but I wasn’t brought up on Blue Peter for nothing.

I knew I needed something strong, that could bend around a 90 degree angle and yet lift up the chair. As luck would have it, I’d bought a roll of Christmas wrapping paper, and it was still on the landing. So I jammed that around the gap, and waggled everything ferociously for a few minutes, and to my great relief and supreme thankfulness the chair moved, and the door opened. It was a happy moment, for both me, and my inquisitive little tabby cat, who just gave me an enquiring ‘meow?’ as she walked regally out of the room.

The chair is now firmly out of harm’s way, but have I learnt my lesson? The clothes rail creaks ominously as I hang away my coat. After all, what is the worst that could happen?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

If in doubt, head to a café

JK Rowling famously wrote the first Harry Potter book in a café near her flat. Below, if my wibbly wobbly boing-there-it-goes mobile internet connection lets me, should be a picture of the very café.

Now, I’m not sure where she used to live exactly (Scotland being a big place), but that is a rather nice upmarket looking local café. It even has a hanging basket, which is a sign of high society indeed. Now if I wanted to write in my local café, I would be sitting at a chipped Formica table on a screwed down plastic chair, while people around me stare into the distance and dribble. Anyone actually wanting to linger beyond finishing their cup of muddy tea would be viewed with deep suspicion, or indeed would also be dribbling. It further doesn't help that every café around here smells of fried egg sandwiches, in fact the local shopping establishment in general smells of one giant fry up. They are not exactly the most inspiring of venues, so I’ll give the local ones a miss.

But I do like the idea of uncurling from of this awkward spot I have to sit in using my computer, and going for a stroll in the November sunshine. This settled, I decide to print out Chapter Three and take it with me in search of a nice café that doesn’t smell of fried egg. Forty minutes of striding gets me to a brave new world. I’ve yet to uncover an independent café (and when I do it shall get my patronage) but in the meantime there is always the ubiquitous Starbucks.

Getting a sofa in one of these places requires a lot more dedication than I can usually be bothered to muster, so I take my tall soya café latte (coffee, just say coffee) over to a table, and start reading through Chapter Three. It really does work wonders, within minutes I am in my own little world, writing and crossing out and editing and twiddling my pen deep in thought. I end up staying there nearly two hours, and could have definitely bedded down for the day (except I would have emerged a caffeine and sugar fuelled wreck by closing time). As it was, I did 6 pages longhand and am completely overhauling Chapter Three with enthusiasm. This is great news, as I really need to pep up my motivation these days, and not only with coffee (although that was rather nice too). Depending on the weather tomorrow, I might just well stride out again.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Progress at last!

Even though it has not seemed an outwardly successful week (no job news as of yet), enough progress has been made to make me feel brighter.

When I was at University I interviewed two marvellous people who were, and still are, a successful author / illustrator team. We stayed in touch over the years, even though I am the sort of person that leaves address books in a mucky state, and so, having yet another abode to share, I wrote a letter of news and stuff to send their way. I also asked if they would mind reading through the first chapters of my book (i.e. what I will send out to agents) and share their opinion. Being thoroughly nice, they said they are happy to do that, so I shall send it their way after Christmas. This has given me a new lease of life with the editing and redrafting, as in my mind I am treating them as important agent types, so it has got to be, well, better than it was. And this sort of mild pressure is helping enormously.

The chat I had with good friend I confirmed that I need to bring one character forward and play to my writing strengths. I feel at my strongest when using subtle humour within writing, which probably mirrors the way I tell a story or relate a tale to friends. I do love a good yarn (and incidentally J is the king of a good story – beautiful build ups and killer punch lines that make me laugh and laugh), and so it leaks through into my writing.

I now have added a prologue to the novel as it really seemed to need it, and it has had such an impact. I think the beginning sentence captures attention, and this lasts through the short ride to the last sentence of the prologue, which turns everything on its head. This feels (to me) like the best way in to Chapter One, and I am so happy, as it has set the scene beautifully – not only for this book, but for the other story idea I have in mind which is connected with this, although not a sequel.

So this led me to Chapter One, and it became clear I needed to completely change the first five pages as it seemed to leap all over the place. This was a hard one, as the beginning was the original idea I had for this story, way back in 2004, and I was reluctant to change it. But I had to, and really all I did was whip out those pages so the beginning now makes sense, and then I found I could include the best of those scenes in Chapter Two, where they fitted perfectly.

I have also been editing and taking out various crap I left behind from the first redraft. Sentences like this: ‘She tried to close her eyes again…’ She tried? Were they stuck open with super-glue? Were they stitched to her eyebrows? It is amazingly hard to see such stupid errors sometimes. I think my thought process is a bit dyslexic, as I know what I mean in these instances, but it does come out in a bit of a jumble at times. I am now on Chapter Three, I am happy to report, and I am going through it with new eyes.

Today was also rather good as a magazine feature I wrote earlier this year got published, which means I can finally invoice for it! I was commissioned and submitted it back in July but for various magazine reasons it has only now seen the light of day. Luckily I subscribe to this magazine or I might have missed it! As it is the invoice is winging its way electronically towards west London even now. Handy timing methinks!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

How goes the edit?


3pm: I am finally happy with the first 141 words of the story. I shall not change them again! (At least, until someone with more knowledge than me says get thee to an edit pronto). Now let’s see how I do with the next 106,000 words…

3.20pm: Already changed what I said I wouldn’t. Now I am finally, finally happy. Or at least I think so. *peers at the first bit again* Drat.

3.40pm: The cat has come to sit on me for a cuddle as I type, purring away, and he has just farted. Ye Gods… a cat fart is bad. I haven’t the heart to push him off, and so I sit, pulling a face that would curdle butter, breathing in cat fart, typing grimly away. Thanks little ginger cat buddy.

6pm: “She’s found room for the lamb!” is the joyful shout from below. This is in reference to the freezer packing up this morning, and the fact our neighbour can squish in mum’s frozen leg. Of lamb, that is, not her own as that would be wrong. I make a noise that hopefully interprets as 'well, what a relief, we do have a lovely neighbour, best news I've heard all day' but actually sounds more like 'hm'.

7pm: Dinner with Mum and J (after explaining about the lack of two key ingredients for the mushroom pasta I was going to cook), is courtesy of the Chinese restaurant up the road. We order far too much rice, as per usual, and ignore the free prawn crackers. The cats pose around the chair legs in various contortions hoping for food, until I shut them in the kitchen. The glares through the glass door directed to the dinner table have to be seen to be believed.

10.30pm: I am back tapping at the computer, and in a giddy moment of editing I slice off five entire pages from the start of the book. I have now got a prologue you see, and the first bit of chapter one doesn’t quite fit anymore. Snip! I sit back all happy about being ruthless, and then prudently save the chopped pages elsewhere.


9am: Oh My God what have I done?! I scan the beginning of the first chapter. I know eventually the read will be better for it, but oh my giddy aunt. I've given myself a headache, that's what I have done. Eek!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Staying Cheerful

It’s a tricky thing, staying positive at the moment. I’ve started calling jobs Applications of Joy instead of Doom, giving the whole process a more upbeat feel, but it still doesn’t change the fact the future is as murky as paint water.

The main problem for me is being back at home in my childhood bedroom. It hasn’t changed since I was a teenager. I left the majority of stuff in it when I moved out (Stuff R Us should be the family motto, apart from it sounds less toy shop and more taxidermy than I’d like), and so here I sit, in a room that by and large hasn’t changed since I was 15. It feels, well, sort of odd. It has an air of melancholy, like the young me was pickled in a jar ages ago and is still here somewhere, starry-eyed about the future. Yet here I am, and here I sit, and nothing feels right, not one bit.

You know it is bad when I start rhyming.

But then I try to stay positive, as the good thing is no bills m’lord, and that is exactly what I need right now, at this moment in time. I say ‘no bills’ – well I do pay my mum a bit each month, and then there is the cats insurance, and a myriad of other strange small amounts – but nothing like the big hitters – flat rent, mortgage, electricity - those are the hard ones. So – all good, right? If only moods were so easy!

I can sense my cheerfulness is slipping of late; I get uptight easier, over-react to silly things, more cynical with bigger things. Nothing sits easy with me – I’m constantly thinking about what the hell am I doing? Am I doing enough? Am I letting life slide? Am I opting out? I worry I’m not being a good enough friend, girlfriend, or daughter as I feel so overly occupied with my internal analysing. I find myself doing more childish things – reaching for books I last read while in school uniform, running through old shows and theme tunes on youtube – I’m probably just riding a wave of nostalgia being back here, so maybe I should enjoy it! Or I’m taking comfort in these memories… or of course it could be I am regressing into a small childish blob. *lobs analysis out of the window*

Still – more Applications of Joy coming up, and I promised I’d cook mum and J dinner tonight. This may have been a trifle foolhardy, since I basically agreed I’d make the equivalent of mushroom pasta and know full well there are no mushrooms, and possibly no pasta. So this means a stomp to the corner shop to pick over whichever road-side vegetables look still vaguely edible, or I ask J to buy his dinner in its natural raw state and bring it to me, where I can boil it to within an inch of its life. If you get the impression I'm not a natural born chef I'd say you were very astute.