Wednesday, 29 April 2009

I thought of my story

I thought of my story as the pale sun shone brightly in the morning sky. Five minutes to catch the train - make haste, mustn’t be late - and by the time I am secured within a sea of people on my carriage my thoughts have fragmented into the nitty gritty – too crowded, too squashed, too sunlight-right-in-my-eyes, too loud second-hand music, too much.

I thought of my story at lunchtime as I stepped onto rain slick streets on the search for a salad. Only thirty minutes today, there’s a meeting this afternoon - make haste, mustn’t be late – and by the time I am back at my desk my thoughts have fragmented into the nitty gritty – too peppery, too chewy, too meeting-very-soon, too where’s my pen, too let’s-read-through-this-first, too much.

I thought of my story as the tube carriage rattled past stations alive with the evening rush. Ten minutes to catch the connecting train – make haste, mustn’t be late – and by the time I am on the last leg of my journey my thoughts have fragmented into the nitty gritty – too crowded, too hot, too can-I-reach-the-free-paper, too let’s-listen-to-music, too hungry, too much.

I thought of my story before I turned off the light. Best go to sleep now or I’ll never get up at 6.30 – make haste, mustn’t be late – but the story doesn’t go away when I close my eyes. It’s there all the time. Hopefully it will still be there when I have time to pay it full attention again. I don’t want it to ever go silent.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Where is my Reboot button?

When technology acts up, it can nearly always be sorted out by restarting and jiggling the wires. But when I start to act up, where is my reboot button? What wires do I need to wiggle? As I need to get into the swing of editing again and cannot concentrate for more than a millisecond.

I have just opened the novel document and Word tells me the last time I clicked it open was on the 17th April. Ok, so 9 days, not a complete disaster, but still a rather long time in-between visits. I’ve started (again) at chapter 4, as I have had enough good feedback with the beginning chapters to resist touching them again. So, chapter 4. Only 18 chapters left to go. And that new idea to fit in the middle. Right…. Let’s go!

I start re-reading the first paragraph and my mum comes home. She starts talking to me as soon as she enters the house, and is still talking up the stairs, and into my room. Unsurprisingly my attention has gone by the time I get back to my computer. I get the feeling my mum thinks I am bonkers staying inside while the rest of London basks in sunshine. ‘Haven’t you been out, it’s a nice day! Don’t hide away from the world playing on your computer!’

Agh – it is the word ‘playing’ which ties me up in knots. When my brother lived at home, in ancient times long past, he played games on his computer – the sort of games that loaded in a cassette recorder, which you could crash and add extra lives by writing something clever into the script along the lines of: ‘POKE=Extra lives!’ Why it always seemed to be the word ‘poke’ I have no idea, but my mum got the idea from then on in that computers are for games, and it has taken a while for that viewpoint to shift.

I know she fully believes I can write a novel, but sometimes I don’t think she realises how utterly serious I am about it. I have given up practically everything in order to do this over the last two years – financial security, owning property – and as I watch friends marry and follow a natural progression to have children, sometimes I worry about that, too. But I tend to think everyone follows their own path for a reason, and this is mine – good or bad! And so I sit inside when the sun shines, and ‘play’ with words – perhaps there is not much difference after all. Apart from my mum not knowing anyone else with an odd daughter like me, I guess.

And so I re-start again at chapter 4. My goal for today is to get that chapter sorted. In fact, if I can get a chapter a week done then I might be all finished by (runs to the calendar) August 22nd. Oh blimey...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Second-hand books

‘Stop the car!’ I yelled at the weekend. For as we were driving along I had seen the tell-tale signs of a second-hand bookshop – dust smeared glass, rickety outside table, old man with a beard, and a darkened glimpse of ceiling high shelves stacked with glorious books.

To be fair, good friend J was already screeching into a parking space.

I love second-hand bookshops. My footsteps patter towards them full of hope – what shall I find? I even pause at the rickety tables, where the tomes will be so unloved they will be offered for fifty pence. Not even thieves want the books outside on the rickety table – at best they will be manuals for early word-processors. But I still look and linger, delaying the moment of stepping over the threshold, drawing maximum pleasure from my visit.

Inside I will know at a glance whether this is a good second-hand bookshop, or a bad one. Good means wooden shelves stretching to the ceiling that look as if they survived the Second World War – they will not be from Ikea, and they will nearly all be on the wonk. They will meander along around the room and through the middle, and will create tiny passageways and dead ends and will lead ever further into the shop. Good will also mean stairs covered in faded carpet that will lead to yet more books either stacked in the basement or up on the next floor. At best these stairs will be narrow and you will feel as though you risk your life when you step on them. Another good sign will be someone crouched on the floor who is so engrossed in the bottom shelf that you have to step over them to continue. A bookshop dog, or cat, is also a good sign. And nearly all will have an old man with a beard presiding over a wooden table with an ancient till, pricing up the latest batch, oblivious to the world around him.

Bad will have none of the above.

This bookshop fitted the good criteria, and even went beyond the call of duty by selling random pottery. The old man in charge was a frazzle-headed man in shorts, who looked as though he may have been responsible for some of the pottery in question. And the books! Graham Oakley’s The Church Mice! First editions of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers! The Man From Uncle annuals! But, as with all the good second-hand bookshops these days, the only thing not second-hand was the prices. One of The Church Mice books was selling for £30, the Enid Blyton £70. I held them lovingly for a while before putting them back on the shelf. With prices like that, I might have to go back to buying books fresh from Borders.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Catch Up

Time is flying. Suddenly my life is on fast forward, and I am running flat out at the horizon trying to keep up, saddled with wild hair and a misshapen tote bag.

I really have to stop my love affair with my canvas tote bag – the problem is it really does fit everything in. I could take the kitchen sink, the plumbing, and a small bewildered tabby cat to work in it. This knowledge comes at a price – the price being that everywhere I go I look like I am about to buy potatoes. Today it sported a bottle of water, two books, a shawl, a jumper (you never know with the air-con in a new company), a tree’s worth of paper to absorb, a bagel, a banana, and a shiny pen. I no doubt looked like I was transporting my home across town, rather than starting my new job.

Yes – new job started today, and everything about it seems really nice. We shall see as time goes on, but there is plenty for me to get stuck into, and it should (if I squint, and get super organised) give me time enough for the book. Something about new places really foxes me though – put me in front of a computer and I am as happy as Larry, send me to the water cooler and I will act as if I have never seen technology before in my life, let alone a tap. Admittedly this wasn’t an obvious water cooler, but even the coffee machine looked scary. It’s the sort of place where I end up filling a large mug with a squirt of coffee, and then have to act as if I really like espresso’s for the rest of my time there.

Last job is still being wonderful, as one of the people I worked with wanted me to write the copy for her website, and that was a nice assignment. She was really pleased with what I did, so that made me happy – and of course, any chance to do some published writing always goes down a treat.

And now for bed, and early start! Goodnight!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Home again

Three thousand miles later, me and J arrived home from our road trip across Europe. It was so nice to drive and see France and Italy, instead of whizzing above in the clouds. We drove along winding coastal roads hugging the mountains, past the ski resorts in the Alps, across farming country and around tiny villages, and through endless tunnels under imposing rock. Our route to the Amalfi coast stayed on the western side of Italy, so thankfully we missed the terrible earthquake that happened on the eastern side. We watched the news later that day and our thoughts were with those people that lost lives and homes, such a fragile world we live upon.

The roads in France were endless. We left the paying motorways behind, and as soon as we did that was the last time we saw British number plates. I was navigator, J turned into Jenson Button somewhere in the midst of France. We got to Lyon just as darkness fell and lights reflected off the river as we drove up (and down) alongside it to find our hotel. Praise be for sat-nav!

In the morning I practised my French. You wouldn’t think a lot would remain from a few years j’mappelling in a comprehensive school where the language teachers would frequently flee the room in tears, but my gosh, some things remain. Shame about the dodgy north London accent though. I had my first breakfast consisting mainly of Nutella (choc spread for the uninitiated) and smudge of pastry, and reawakened a dormant Nutella habit. Oh lordie – like I need another choc addiction.

Over the border into Italy, and me and J were frantically trying to recall our limited Italian. Pooled together, our sum knowledge was good day, please, thank you and bye. This seemed to work, mixed with French and occasional English. And mime – although trying to gesture that I needed a travel adaptor plug was probably a bad move – it looked more like I was describing some sort of bizarre sexual practice. Still, I got the travel adaptor. And a smile!

The Amalfi coast has curling roads high above the sea, and small towns defying gravity by clinging to the sides. Cars are concealed in the most ingenious garages I have ever seen, and scooters rule the coast. Crumbling stone steps lead to cobbled streets winding high or low to the sea shore. Purple wisteria clings to buildings, whip-thin cats doze on hot stone, and lemon trees grow in tiny orchards in ever increasing tiers up the mountain. Old men proudly promenade the sea front with their hands clasped behind their backs, old ladies negotiate the many steps with walking stick and food basket. Young men stand next to their scooters and smoke as young women walk past, everyone’s eyes hidden behind expensive sunglasses. It was bliss.

Fittingly for a family orientated place such as Italy, we were there for a family wedding, and it was lovely. Sunshine, petal blossom, the radiant bride and groom, frocks and suits, champagne by the pool, laughter and dancing under the stars. Perfect!

Coming home, and it strikes me how small England is. In France there is barely traffic, and the fields stretch for miles in all directions, rarely broken by a house. In England everything is there, but in miniature – and so many cars in all directions. It really is a country swamped with its people, yet the beauty of it is we don’t really feel it, and there are still pockets where you can go to escape. There must be magic in these hills, is all I can say.

I will try and upload a few pictures for you this week – most were snapped holding the camera high out of the car window, so expect road signs, barriers, and blurred mountains! What joy awaits you!

When I left London it was winter, I now have arrived home to a definite spring. The view from my window is lush with green – trees sprouting leaves, blossom heavy in the air. Just eight days have made such a difference! We are just a step away from the promise of summer.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Off on my hols

Off to Italy tomorrow! I am very excited, even if I cannot keep my eyes open a second longer to pack. Half my clothes are still scattered on the floor. I am doing the sort of tired packing which, when my suitcase is opened later in a smart holiday destination, will reveal a snorkel, flourescent cycling shorts, a fleece jumper and a sparkly snood.

And I think I have packed too much - after all, it's only a week, right? J will have one rucksack, and I (so far) have accumulated five bags, including a small suitcase. It's a good thing we are driving, as at least I can stuff bags in around the sides. At least that is my plan. Not sure what J's is, but I doubt it involves driving off into the sunset with a car packed full of shoes.

But I really have to down tools now, and get myself to bed. We're off at six tomorrow morning, so I shall bid you all a fond farewell - have a lovely week, and will report in when I get back!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

A wave from Mystery City

Hello! Gosh this is so weird. I am updating ny blog via the Internet connection on the hotel room's television - which means I have a wireless keyboard on my lap, two buttons that are 'left click' and 'right click', and some sort of whirly button, sort of circa a spectrum joystick, which tells the cursor which direction to go. It is like updating my blog via etch-a-sketch. In a minute not doubt all the words will disappear and all we will see is a shaky flat drawing of a house outline.

Did anyone manage to draw anything else other than a house outline on Etch-A-Sketch? The cover of the box promised so much, almost like a Leonardo Da Vinci technical diagram was within my sweaty eight year old grasp. And what did I get, after ages sat twiddling dials? A wobbly house. And when I ran with it to show ny mum, the whole thing had disappeared anyway as I had accidentally shook the box. See yer, Etch-A-Sketch. Magna Doodle was more my sort of level.

So here I am, in Mystery City, home of the 24 hour party people. Not that I am one of them, as i sit here in hotel room drinking a nice herbal tea. It's all go. I've just watched The Apprentice (poor Rocky!), and am going to do a bit of editing before bed beckons. Apart from missing J, it is a shame in a way that my surjourn in Mystery City is drawing to a close. I have been working with nice people, got to stay in hotels in the centre of town, and had a nice chance to explore in the evenings. I've also been introduced to Bikram Yoga - which is yoga done in a hot room until the sweat pours off you. Am I making that sound good or what? But it really is brilliant - ok, the first session felt like torture, but apart from that I have now been four times and can really feel the benefits. And now I find it, I have to wave it goodbye... the nearest studio in London to where I live is probably Camden... the chances of me slogging my way over there and slogging my way back with a bright red face are slim, to say the least. Darn it.

You'll have to excuse me if this post is typo galore - it is really tricky to manouvre around the screen. I see the typo, and watch as my giant cursor slowly lumbers upwards to correct. I think my time on the Internet would run out before i get there, so tonight we'll let everything hang. Now you see why editing is so important for me - this is the sort of state my first draft would be in!

And thanks Joanne, Bruno and Ben for your comments on my previous post - I did try and get there to answer but this weird set up just wasn't having any of it. Good point about not getting over-zealous with editing - sometimes I wonder if perhaps I am just delaying official response by finding reasons not to send it away. It's scary to leap into the unknown, but I'll get there!
Right, let's see if this will save and publish, or if the screen will shake and it will all disappear...