Saturday, 31 October 2009

Five Obsessions

Kit over at Kit Courteney Writes has passed me an award that apparently stands for integrity, commitment to excellence and stubborn optimism, and means I get to fill you in on five obsessions of mine. I then get to choose five victims, um, five nice blog folk to ask what makes them tick as well. An opportunity for writing and being curious! Bring it on.

NB: It has actually been harder than I thought to write down true obsessions. I like a lot of things, but I am not obsessed by any of them. So the things below are the closest I have to obsessions and rituals.

One: My novel

I think about it day and night, to be honest, which is a perfect example of an obsession! It will pop into my thoughts in the morning, while on the tube, at work, in meetings, on the tube again, in the evening, before bed. I think about it far more than I seem to do any work on it.

Two: Story ideas

If I am not thinking of the current novel, then I am thinking of other story ideas. I usually have a few going around the merry-go-round that is my mind, and sometimes I stop the ride and examine one idea, play with it awhile, add a few embellishments and then send it off again. After a while of doing this (it could be years) I will pull it off the ride completely and write it down. That is the best example of how I get ideas for stories.

Three: Second-hand book shops

I can’t pass one of these (or an antiques fair) without stepping inside. I simply can’t – what if one of these shops has a Graham Oakley Church Mouse book that isn’t £30? What if they have the 1965 Fontana editions of Agatha Christie books? What if they have the red Tiswas annual? What if, what if… no matter where I am, I will have to have a look. If the shop is closed I will stand mournfully outside, nose pressed against the window, in the manner of a Dickens urchin at a bakery window.

Four: Making a cup of tea as soon as get to a B&B room

I love staying in hotels and B&Bs, and one of the first things I always do is seek out the little kettle, awkwardly fill it with water from the sink, stare in bemusement at the walls until a plug socket reveals itself, and make myself a cup of tea. I then perch on the end of the bed with my cuppa, and eat the little free biscuit, and everything will feel all right with the world.

Five: My Remembrance Day poppy

I buy a red poppy as soon as I see a poppy seller. I carefully attach it to my coat and stride off for the day. When I look down again the poppy will be gone, and I will have been proudly wearing a pin. I will then buy another poppy. And so it will go on. So far I am on poppy number three, and I am not even sure it is still pinned to my jacket. I will have to go and check, and later no doubt I will have to buy another one. I don’t want to buy a poppy badge, as ultimately I think I give more money this way, so really everyone is a winner. Just don’t frown at me when you see me without a poppy, I will have no doubt already donated a tenner.

And so, I nominate A Letter From Abroad, Aspiring Writer, A Rose Beyond the Thames, Music Obsessive (should be easy for you!) and A Cat of Impossible Colour. Please don’t feel you have to by any means, but if you fancy sharing your obsessions please go ahead!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Autumn Stomp

I thought it might be a nice idea to go for a brisk stomp today. So I set off across the dale (alley) by the bubbling stream (brook decorated with shopping trolley), across fields (scrubby park) nodding to neighbours (keeping an eye on scary looking bloke with his three dogs). I then passed the farm (allotments) using a well-trodden track (pavement by motorway), until I ended up in yonder village (the high street). And I thought I'd share some pictures with you...

What gorgeous colours everywhere! But London is such a busy place - if you stop to take a picture someone bumps into you. Everywhere you walk is a person - washing their car, driving, walking dogs, on bicycles, digging in their garden, tidying leaves, fixing telephone wires, delivering pizza leaflets, trimming hedges, playing football, carrying bags of shopping - you cannot be on your own for longer than a minute.

This is the 'bubbling stream' - as a child I played near it, wrote stories about it, and finally fell in it as a curious but overly stupid nine year old. The moral of that tale is never cycle with your eyes shut down a slope towards water 'to see what happens'.

When I got home I played in the garden with my cat Abigail. She is very fascinated with falling leaves, and spends a lot of time pouncing on anything that moves in the breeze, including my shoes. We played catch with the yellowing leaves, and then we both explored what lies beneath the tree. My exploration stopped when I saw a huge spider. Abigail is fearless when it comes to spiders. Besides, she'll eat them if they come too close.

And since she is so pretty...

She is sitting on my lap at the moment purring. I think she knows what I am typing!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

To WildWood Moon

I noticed you removed/deleted your blog a while back, and I hope everything is ok. I’m not sure if you still read this blog, but just in case you do, and since I have no other contact for you, then I just wanted to let you know that I liked your writing and miss reading your posts!

Good luck with your book – if you ever decide to start up a new blog please let me know. Take care!


I am usually the sort of person that is suspicious of everyone. I trust only a few, rarely pause if a stranger stops me in the street, and discourage random conversation. This is probably a general malaise everyone suffers from when living in a big city, but little personal safety checks like these are a wise idea when moving around town on your own and after dark. However I fell for the biggest trick in the book yesterday, and now feel really stupid.

It was dark, and as I got off my train a woman stopped me. She was dressed nicely and didn’t look like a beggar. I thought she wanted to ask directions, so paused. She told me she stopped me ‘because I looked nice’ – this should have sent a warning bell through my mind. She told me that her boyfriend was supposed to pick her up but he had to work and now she was stranded with no money and needed to get a bus.

Even though my warning bell was now clanging loud and clear, I couldn’t help but wonder what if it was true, and how horrible it feels to be stuck far from home. But I am stupid as well, because I asked her how short she was of the bus fare and she said £2.50 – all bus fares are £2. But did I pause? No, I didn’t even think of that anomaly, I just gave her what I had - £2. She thanked me and we parted.

A little way down the road I stopped. How silly! I had a travel card that was about to run out, and wasn’t going to use it that evening. I could give her that and then she could get anywhere she wanted to go. So I turned back.

I found her walking up the road, away from the bus stop she needed. She looked worried that I had caught up with her. I told her about the travel card and she laughed nervously and said no it was fine as her work would give her back the money for the journey… she then quickly ran off up the road as I am sure she realised from my face that what she said was bollocks. I watched her go – she disappeared down a side road, nowhere near the bus station. And then I walked home.

The sad thing is, next time someone asks I will not stop. I will not give them anything as I will not trust they are telling the truth. This is what these people don’t realise – they erode people’s kindness, and that sort of thing is bloody priceless and costs far more than £2.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

I Am A Writer!

I am feeling quite sad about my writing at the moment. It doesn’t feel like I am making time for it, the little I do feels shoddy, and I feel dispirited with how long it is taking me to move ahead and the lack of good progress. I still open the Word document every day, but spend more time staring and sighing than I do actually writing. It needs a big dose of positivity and I don’t feel positive about myself at the moment, let alone for ‘creating magic’ with writing.

I am also thinking of joining the Society of Authors (I think I still just about scrape the criteria) in order to think of myself as someone who writes… For some reason I need justification. I am a bit strange like that. I’d so much rather be a person who writes on a strip of notepaper ‘I am a Writer!’ and sticks it up by their computer, nods head in satisfaction, and gets on with it. For some reason I prefer to pay £90 for an official letter that says I belong. I iz stupid really.

But to be honest I think the person that sticks up ‘I Am A Writer!’ has the best idea. It is the mindset, the belief in yourself, - this is what makes the difference, not an official bit of paper. It falls back to being positive again, of knowing you are on the right track. My track has too many stations that waggle wine glasses and diversions. I think I need to be more single-minded.

I need to be happier with myself as well, I need to find a balance. I don’t like my looks, my hair, my figure, my personality, my clothes, my shoes. I don’t like my frown lines. I fear I am very boring, actually. I feel like a pale little mouse that hides around the edges of life. So when I feel like that it is hard to whoosh in magic!

Although there are plans afoot… it normally takes me a while of feeling like the above before I acknowledge it and decide to do something about it. I have taken a deep breath and booked some time with a counsellor in order to get rid of some of this negativity. The last time I tried this was seven years ago when I was referred by my doctor to a place that had iron bars on the window, and double-locking doors. It looked like the sort of place where the wrong word could get you sectioned – (Tea? We only drink coffee in here! Get the straight-jacket!)

I was in and out in less than five minutes, having swiftly decided that I didn’t have a problem. There were people sitting and dribbling while they were waiting for an appointment – now these are the folk who need help. If you are sitting with a chain of dribble connecting your mouth and your coat and don’t appear to notice, then that is a whole different ballgame from feeling a bit pathetic and miserable every now and again.

Yes, you may have gathered I do suffer a bit from depression – although this is tempered with the other part of me that thinks I should just get on with it and stop bloody whinging. I am as harsh as hell with myself, nicer to others I hope! I also have a whole seven days off work just so I can write, and in that time I will ask a hairdresser to kindly do something with that stuff that lives on my head. So you see – negative and positive together, totally ambiguous. It’s as if I can see a coin flipping in the sky and one side is negative and one side is positive, and my mood swings with every slow-motion turn of the coin.

So say this with me - I Am A Writer! I Will Achieve What I Want To Achieve! Let's land that coin positive side up.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Novel, meet Tangent

I have been zipping around the country for Real Job this week, and chapter seven and the sorry mess that is chapter eight have kept me company on the endless train rides. If you travelled between London and Leeds recently and were intrigued by a girl muttering to herself and stabbing her pen into the air on several excited occasions in-between staring blankly out of the train window then yes, that was me. The staring blankly thing… I know I look like my one brain cell has sloped off somewhere to have a party but really it is hiding my furious intellect at work. Honest! I just hide that sort of thing really well. Ahem.

Moving on. So, these chapters. I am beginning to feel as if I am trying to recreate the perfect ice sculpture of Andie McDowell’s face in Groundhog Day. But somewhere within the sighing and staring, something wonderful happened. My characters decided to lead the way for me.

I was scribbling out a conversation between my main characters, and each sentence seemed to flow ever onward (and outward) quite nicely, and then I had to pause and see where I had landed up and if I could still spy the plot, far away beneath my fingers. Yup, there it was, shyly twinkling, but now what do I do with my beloved tangent? I think it steps a bit too far into the realm of fantasy.

The fun thing for me as a writer is that this book idea neatly encompasses reality and fantasy – I have one character whose traits are recognisable in all of us, and another character who is entirely my own bit of fun – as made up as a Jedi Knight, or a wizard – none of those, but something completely mine. But since the plot mainly concerns the recognisable character whose presence is firmly rooted in reality, I have to keep a balance and not shoot to the moon too far with the fantasy, as otherwise it will turn into a completely different tale. Oh but the temptation to let imagination soar and simply play… I had a merry few hours scribbling out something completely wacky and now I am wondering what I do with it. I think it is something I can alude to but not focus on. Sometimes I feel I have to tie a line to the plot and reel it out behind me as I go, and make sure everything stays within pulling distance.

And on a separate matter – I don’t see how I could ever have children, I can’t even keep control of my scarf. I watched it trail around commuters, train seats, and grub on the floor in merry abandon, despite me berating it and attempting to get it in a strangle hold. And look at the sky – look at it! Do I need a scarf with that blue gorgeousness and sunshine out there? Why wasn’t there a hint of that at 7am, hm?

Monday, 19 October 2009


I have been keeping a little tally of words that I nearly always get wrong when I attempt to spell them. It doesn’t matter how many times I use them, for some reason my fingers go to tap on a completely different key, and my pencil makes the same familiar mistakes.

Just for my own amusement – here is the word correctly spelt, and how I itch to spell it instead. Those marked in the red pen are correct!

Liaison – liason
Disease – desease
Privilege – Privilige
Rhyme - Ryhme
Rhythm - Rythem
Pseudonym - Pseudinum
Relevant – Relevent
Prejudice- Predijuce

What words do you constantly misspell, if any?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

You know the diet is bad when…

  1. You get really excited about finding a small mint sweet left over in your bag from a restaurant meal a few days ago
  2. Cups of tea are no longer just a pleasure, but a vital part of your daily existence
  3. Cuppa soups become a trading commodity
  4. The organic lemon, ginger and ginseng infusion tea bags grow dusty on your desk
  5. As does the large bottle of water
  6. You seriously consider eating a sugar sachet
  7. You would chummy up with anyone who has an open pack of biscuits on their desk

I'm not really on a diet, but today it really feels like it! Oh well, back to it my friends... *plunges back into real life*

Monday, 12 October 2009


Yesterday was mainly spent in one corner of my room by my computer, perched uncomfortably on the bed, typing and puzzling over chapter seven. I am pleased to report that after ten hours, I finally got to the point where I am happy with it… for now (she says ominously). There are still a couple of sticky spots where I think the writing could be better, but the structure is now in place, and I’ll be able to print it out soon and work on it that way. Phew! Onto chapter eight!

I also keep eying up the rest of the story… got a feeling a few chapters will be redundant by the time I get to them. It is actually a nice problem to have – too much writing! Sadly I like all of it (mostly) but it has to go. What I normally do is siphon off those extraneous words and then save them elsewhere, if I really like them they may materialise in another guise somewhere else. The thing I have to keep in mind utmost and foremost is the plot, and make sure that every strand of story enhances the main point of telling it!

I was thinking yesterday what I would do if I wasn’t writing this story. For a wild wonderful moment I thought about how I could go out for a walk without feeling guilty! Watch television! Socialise! Paint a picture! And then I realised that actually I would still be sitting here writing out the next idea. I relax by writing… even though it drives me insane. So how does that work then? I shall be a chilled fruit-loop.

The next idea… oh yes, there are a few brewing. I find myself daydreaming about them on the tube, but it is pointless at the moment as there is only room in my head for a few things. But once the idea is there it doesn’t go away. I embellish it here and there, like telling myself a well-loved bedtime story, until my thoughts run down well-beaten grooves and I can revisit the plot from any point and it still makes sense. Then I usually start writing it down.

But back to chapter eight… It is mostly set in 1939 at a dance, and gives a glimpse of the characters early on in their lives. I am hopeful there is not too much to do… but I said that last time, didn’t I?

Sunday, 4 October 2009

My redrafting process

Chapter seven is still driving me ever so nicely bonkers, even if I did chop it in half the other day. So a nice diversion is sharing with you my redrafting style, to see if some of you writers out there do things similar to me.

Firstly, I create a stats table. It is there to encouarge me to keep at it, remind myself how far I have got to go, and to keep an eye on potential monster chapters so they don't swell too big. My novel as it stands is at 115,000 words. I want to bring this down to 100,000 by the end of my redrafting - tall order, but I want to make my book easy to sell after all. If I can bring it down further than that I will! You can see from my table that chapters nine and ten are going to be a bit of a nightmare, so I have booked seven days off work at the beginning of November to try and sort those two out. This means I must be done with chapters seven and eight by then. In a way my stats table keeps me on the ball.

Although sometimes I wonder whether a stats table is a good idea. The purple area scares me rigid. Still, better than empty white... I chose purple as it's a friendly colour, but it is a bit daunting seeing how much there is to do. At the same time though... there is a feeling of satisfaction at filling those little rectangles with figures. You'll notice at the top I have 'first edit', 'second edit' etc. I do not update this when I just change a word - this is only updated when I have gone through the entire process below with each chapter. Believe me, each chapter goes through the wringer!

How I Redraft

1. Sort out chapter in Word on the computer - making it readable, and as good as I can get it right now. This part of the process is the longest for me.

2. Print out the chapter. Take it to work with me and read at lunchtimes, and most evenings. Lots of pen scribbles and crossing out and writing new scenes in my appalling handwriting.

3. Update the Word doc on the computer when the paper is too full of scribbles. Once these changes are in I usually spot a few more things to change direct on the document.

4. Print out chapter again. This time there might be just a word here or there to change or consider.

5. Update Word doc again with any changes.

6. Read the whole novel again from the beginning to check new redrafted chapter fits with everything preceding. This is the literary equivalent of sieving flour, the first few times you find lumps a-plenty, but as time goes on less will appear on the surface. I might spot a typo or word to change in the earlier chapters, but not so many the further away I get. For example – I am now on chapter 7, and when I do the next full read-through I probably won’t change anything on the prologue or first three chapters, but I may spot something on four, five or six.

7. If happy with the redrafted chapter, I then update my stats table with the word count, and move on. Sometimes I need a few days break to clear my head, especially when working full-time – some evenings I am fit for nothing! But I rarely leave the Word doc longer than a couple of days before I open it again, like a moth to a flame.

How does that tally with any redrafting you do?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The London Morning

Early sunshine is split by the looming tower blocks, twin shafts of light gracing dusty lines of cars and bouncing off the auburn hair of the lady hurrying ahead of me. A man jogs past, white trainers easily visible under his navy suit. I look at my watch and smile at his eagerness; the die-hard commuters travelling towards their Mecca know when to walk and when to run. We do it as one, we cross the busy road as one, and we all file into the train station mute and accepting.

I stride ahead to my staked spot on the platform. My territory is bordered by the see-through bin and the post with the CCTV screens. I share my grey concrete land with a group of ladies who interchange English words with a more musical language, and try to decipher the patterns the words make in my mind. Their laughing chatter sounds friendly. A man flicks my arm with his free newspaper, another generously shares his tinny sounding bass emitting from white earphones that snake down his suit jacket. On the opposite platform a small boy stands alone, away from the shouting school-shirted crowd further down the platform. His uniform is freshly ironed, the cuffs of his blazer are too long, and his shoes are too smart-shiny. He has no friends, and as yet remains too small and new for the pack to notice him. I feel for him, this brand new boy, the solitude he must embrace as a friend.

The train pulls up with an indignant whine. We shift and group around the doors and then squeeze singularly past the two large people who always firmly plant themselves at the entrance. There is no point in seeking a seat; indifferent gazes already in place in each carriage. Instead we all crowd near the doors in our bid to be first off the train when it pulls into a station with an underground connection. Timing is everything. We stand as a human block and listen to half a conversation on a mobile. Did he? Did she? Would he though? Is it? My gaze flickers on various things – the mole on the man’s neck in front of me, the strange hair-piece that woman is wearing, the painted toe-nails peeking out from flip-flops, the square of dirty sun through the windows.

There is an expectant murmur as the train pulls into the important station, the station with the underground. My carriage is perfectly positioned in front of the steps leading down, away from the chill blue sky. Years of commuting gives a secret knowledge that rides over what we once thought important – the best conker tree, the best alleys for short-cuts to school, and the best newsagent for Slush Puppies. Now it is all about where to stand for the doors to open in front of us; the short-cut corridors through the tube stations, how to rush ahead for the empty tube train so you get a seat.

The doors open and we pour forward, suits and scarves, bags and briefcases, earphones and newspapers and books and take-out coffees. We blend into one giant person on the threshold, all hands and arms and legs, and then separate back into ourselves, clattering down the steps. The daylight grows weaker and then disappears, replaced by fake light that takes no prisoners.

When I next see the sky again the blue is replaced by grey.