Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Quick question!

If you are writing a short story for a competition that has no minimum word count, would you stress if your story came in at 989 words instead of 1000?

I am really enjoying writing this story, but try as I might I cannot coax it to 1000 words exactly. There is no reason or rule that says it has to be 1000 words, but I feel just wrong not being able to get it on a nice even number. Is this just stupid? Should I keep trying or if I feel the story is perfect at 989 words, should I leave it?

All advice appreciated as I am currently stuck at work using their lovely internet after hours, and won’t go home until I get this story in the bag! So PLEASE help!

EDIT: Am now home. Thank you for the comments! Decided to leave story as is rather than increase words for no reason apart from feeling even rather than odd! As, after all, am often a little odd, come to think of it. *grins*

Monday, 28 June 2010

Random thoughts on a hot night

How would I address Lady Gaga if I met her? Lady, Gaga, Steph, Stefani? It’s probably not likely that I’ll see her in the local supermarket queuing for courgettes, but, you know, just in case. Would you treat ‘Lady’ as a first name, go straight for ‘Gaga’, or go the whole hog on the grounds it is like a double-barrelled first-name? It is the sort of thing a singer can get away with, giving yourself a title. I don’t think an author could although it would be fun to style author names like singers.

King Stephen
Lil’ JK
Princess Stephenie M
Dan Diddy Brown
Lady Jackie Collins

I miss making my own summer collection of songs on cassette tapes. I used to weigh one song against the other very carefully, make lists in exercise books of songs that I felt worked together, and then record my own collection. This would then be the tape that would be my soundtrack to summer – it would accompany me on beaches, it would be played thin on car journeys, it would be the background to lazing in the garden watching butterflies. My holiday hand luggage would consist of a sandy walkman and piles of cassette tapes, as well as books. The bag straps would leave red grooves on my shoulders, but I would have a song (and a book, and a grain of sand) for every eventuality.

I’ve been writing a short story idea, on top of polishing my query covering letter and my synopsis. I’m a bit in love with it. I absolutely hated it on Saturday morning, though, but I think me and it have come through the hard place and now we are holding hands again. I’m also in the holding hands again phase with my covering letter. Getting there!

What do cats think? Cats can sit in absolute stillness and look totally content with their world. Do they think as we do?

This looks a good spot. I’ll sit here. Grass tickles. Nice and warm. Bit hot, actually. Won’t move though. Watch it, bub. Buzz any closer and you’ll be a snack. Although I am too regal to move. Where’s my minion? Oh there she is, bothering the flowers again. What’s that she is saying? Something about me, looking good. Of course. I’m a cat. Cats always look good (and when we look bad we don’t like to dwell). Oh, here comes her camera again. I won’t pose. Well, perhaps a little bit. There. Perfect. Now if you don’t mind, it’s nap-time. Cats don’t need beauty sleep but we like to sleep beautifully.

Friday, 25 June 2010

What I’ve given up becoming a writer

Alcohol. (On your own, I hear you cry.) Surely writers and wine go hand in hand? Maybe they do for some but I have to plan my indulgence, and, in the genius words of Elmer Fudd, be wery wery careful. You know what it is like, you catch up with friends, get a large glass of wine, get another as you think it saves time going to the bar (oh the hassle), and the next day the only word I can spell is ug. This would be great if I was writing a caveman epic, but I feel more is expected, somehow.

Sanity. Did I just mutter that plot point aloud? Am I in the company of strangers? Uh. Oops.

Socialising. Yes, sadly this also has to be measured. That fantastic story idea won’t write itself. There will be invites to turn down, holidays forfeited, events missed, exhibitions unseen. Friends will wonder where you have gone. Heck – even I wonder where I have gone!

Elegant fingernails. Forgetaboutit!

Sleep. I stay up far too late plotting and get up far too early so I can do some more before real-life job. Mostly I cannot sleep anyway for thinking of stories and words and plot points. I wake up at odd moments in the dark and think ah-ha! I have been known to turn on the light and scrabble for a pen and notebook. I have also been known to resemble the Grinch the next morning.

Pert butt. The odds are sadly not in our favour with this.

Eyesight. (Squints) I am surrounded by computer screens. In-between travelling from one computer screen (home) to another (work) I stare at my phone instead. The very rare occasion when I am not bathed in sickly light from a monitor I find myself eyeballing a television. I think my eyes hate me.

Time. (Glances up) Is it summer?


But this is the life we choose, my friends, and I think we'd all agree - it's worth it!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Writing a synopsis...

Is bloody tricky! I had one already written (which was a redraft of another, which was a condensed version of an alternative, which was laid over the original, which was pants) and now I am rewriting it again anyway.

A lot happens in books, doesn’t it? Pages and pages of derring-do, and marvellous things, and tragic twists, and comedy corners. And all that down to a little bitty thing that says ‘please oh please for the love of God and small kittens request the rest of me!’

If I smoked I’d be outside stalking about like Groucho Marx at this point. As it is I nervously eat Milky Way bars (look – to me they are like diet chocolate) and just know my backside has grown chair-shaped, complete with handles. This is what this synopsis is doing to me. And does it care? Does it ever.

Although it is getting there, slow but sure. I can almost glimpse the synopsis I want it to be. I think the trick is not to explain but to feel the story, the flow of the story. Who are the characters? Where’s the drama? What’s the tension? How does it conclude?

So this is what I am doing tonight. I can stay another hour at work (am using lovely office computer after-hours) without colleagues thinking I am zealously keen to the point of insanity. And then I can ponder my words on the long sweaty jolt home (nice) and restart again that side.

Have you written a synopsis? Any tips to share?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Midsummer Magic

Bring some magic into your life today during the summer solstice. Easy ways of doing this are below:

1. Flowers. Be they fresh, in your garden or a symbol – show them some love! Wear a flower print dress or top, use flower clips in your hair, or wear flower emblems on your jewellery. Today I have a red flower tied around my wrist like a corsage, feeling a bit like Sarah Jessica Parker.

2. Spirals. Spirals represent your spiritual journey. I have arranged last year’s conker collection on my desk in a spiral pattern, and have drawn a spiral on a post-it note. I hope the solstice doesn't mind post-its! And I am sure the office already thinks I am a bit odd (I cite the conker collection as exhibit A.)

3. Candle. Lighting a candle is a nice way to welcome this new turn of the year. This is one for later, as I don’t think I can get away with a candle burning on my desk!

4. Write a poem or a story. The solstice is all about being creative, enhancing your creativity and feeling positive about yourself and your world. So here is my offering:

Summer Solstice

Tall and true, made of stone
Surveying the world from a green-hilled throne
The crest of the sun begins its age-old ascent
The world bathed in yellow; the light heaven-sent

The Green Men awake, stretching their limbs
Beginning their watch over all living things
The birds chatter for berries within the hedgerow
The farmer starts his day with new seeds to sew

By the time I awake the world is in motion
The noise of mankind a grind of commotion
But do take a moment to contemplate the wonder of today
The magic behind each new dawn, and new day.

5. Make a creative wish. Today is the day when you should be true to your creative heart, and confess what you wish most of all. It is also a day to be thankful. For my wish, I don’t like to use the word ‘and’ (e.g. I wish for this and this) as I think that lessens the power. So word it well! The wish in my creative heart is that I will soon sign to a wonderful literary agent who loves my novel-to-be.

Now your turn! Let me know your creative wish in the comments below, and enjoy a bit of midsummer magic. If you leave a comment then tonight when I light a candle to give thanks for today I will read out your wish and give it some positive vibes. I’ll also do this at the end of this week, so don’t worry if you don’t see this until later. Happy solstice everyone!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Happy Father's Day

Here you are, keeping an eye on me. I like to think that you still the do the same from the best and biggest vantage point. x

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Paying for it

I am knee deep in researching literary agents/important real-life work stuff (depending on who is reading), and keep coming across courses about publication. There are day-long courses about the publication process, evening courses about query letters – courses for everything as long as you look hard enough. I like the look of them, but worry about the cost!

At the moment they seem to vary from £60 - £150. I know that isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things (and gawd knows I have spent a priceless amount of time, energy, printing ink, paper, and a lot more besides on this novel idea) but I am rather skint. So what I am wondering is whether I take a chance on myself and my own skills and resources re query letter / synopsis, or whether I take a punt and book myself on a course?

I have never attended such a course / workshop before (not since University, I guess) and am rather shy of these things – but the more you go, the better you get, perhaps. Besides – good practice, right? After all, when the merry day happens, there might be courses and talks and whatnot (lots of whatnot) in the future. If it gets to that point then I may go on another course - self-assertiveness!

So what do you think? Should I put my money where my mouth is (or rather, my fingers) and go for it? After all, if I am serious about this novel why not give it all the help in the world?

Have you ever been on a writing course / conference / seminar? Has it helped you?

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The Mutant Eyebrow

Today I found a mutant eyebrow hair. It was (notice past tense) about an inch long. It was pure white. It lasted about half a second.

However, this unsettling experience has left me with three questions.

  1. How long had I been harbouring a mutant eyebrow, exactly?
  2. Why didn’t I notice it before today?
  3. Why didn’t anyone ask me what was taking over my face?
I can think of three answers to these questions, none of which please me.

Answer one: I need a new pair of glasses.

Answer two: It grew overnight, like a sped up film, which makes me a) weird, b) in dread of what else might speed up, and c) a mutant myself.

Answer three: My friends have been secretly taking bets behind my back as to how long it will get.

The thing is, me and this mutant eyebrow have crossed tweezers before.

The eve of my thirtieth birthday, in fact.

I woke up, yawned, stretched, and the then other half said ‘hold it!’ in fascination. I was unconvinced. A cat hair, I said, until I tugged at it and discovered it was indeed attached. A cat hair that had taken root? On that pleasant thought, out came the tweezers and I stared in wonder. I couldn’t work out how I had gone to sleep with normal eyebrows and woken up with one mutant white hair. Thanks Mother Nature, I thought, for that timely birthday gift. And so it was gone, and never did return… until today.

Cue the Mutant Hair’s cackle of evil (bwhahahahahahaha)

I now feel a bit paranoid. Is anything else turning mutant? Have I missed something else important on my face, like a biker’s moustache? I don’t think so but am off to stare long and hard into the mirror just in case.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Samson and Delilah

I am beginning to fear one of my favourite hobbies is baiting hairdressers. I had a quick lunchtime appointment and, as usual, spent most of it asking their opinion on whether I should cut/style/colour my hair, watching their eyes light up, knowing full well I am not ready yet to do anything!

My hair is the sort that hairdressers itch to style properly. It’s long, thick, and is my mother’s colouring – a browny/reddy/streak-of-copper. At first glance it is the sort of hair people envy – usually for one of the reasons above. But would they envy what my hair signifies to me, I wonder?

  • I’ve worn it long ever since I realised I could hide behind it. That was many years ago now.

  • I’ve worn it long ever since my long term boyfriend told me he wouldn’t fancy me if I cut it as I’d look like a boy. Thanks for that, oh ex of mine.

  • I’ve worn it long as I didn’t care enough about myself to style it.

  • I’ve worn it long as I think if I cut it I’d be invisible.

  • I’ve worn it long as I think nothing else about me is worth a second look.

  • I’ve never dyed it as people tell me I’m lucky to have this colouring.

  • I’ve never dyed it as I’m scared of losing myself. Sometimes I feel so insubstantial that I fear a change would make me shatter.

  • I’ve never dyed it as I think the colour is the only thing that makes me 'me'.

Since when did I turn into Sampson? Is my hair seriously the only strength I think I have? Over the years, sad to say, this is exactly what I did think. It’s not good being that unconfident, and takes a very long while to change, but this year is all about embracing the change, growing as a person. It’s been a long time coming! But the confidence is stirring, very slow but sure, and finally I am starting to believe in myself, that I am a substantial person, that I signify, that I matter.

You’ll know the change is complete when I cut my hair. To everyone else it will just be a new hairstyle. But between you and me, it will mean the world.

Image: Samson and Delilah c. 1615, by Gerrit Van Honthorst

Monday, 14 June 2010

Proof that redrafting has taken over my life

On the way to work today my mind idled upon whether or not to be seduced by the chain-store coffee shop as I changed from Delayed Train One to Stupidly Delayed Tube Two. I had been fooled by the promise of good coffee from this place before, when what I got was a few squirts of brown boiling steam. And you know what I thought to myself? I thought:

Do not be tempted by the offer of ‘good coffee’. Good coffee is a bad literary device...

And then I blinked and wondered what on earth I was thinking! Is this proof that redrafting has finally sent me bonkers?

Good news is that I have finished the edits from the final print out (or rather, draft eight). Since then I have been tackling four pages of ‘anomalies’ (pictured below) – these are general queries and questions about the story for me to answer / sort out / ponder upon.

For example – some of these anomalies were changing character names. A lot of the time I will think a name goes really well together and sounds really good in my head, only to discover that it’s the name of a 1980s TV presenter, or my old junior school teacher, or a friend’s ex-boyfriend. I remember once an old novel idea of mine that had the name ‘Andy McNab’ in it, as I thought the name sounded good, and then I realised I’d obviously seen it in a book shop / newspaper somewhere! (Andy McNab being a best-selling action author.) So I have to doubly check the names I have used. There’ll be more on the topic of anomalies later!

Another thing I have been doing is recording an audio version of my story. Oh my. There are a couple of reasons for this – one being to speak the words aloud and see how true they sound, the other to listen and gauge if it all hangs together and works well on the ear. Sadly I have to also listen to my voice! Who is that girl with the odd accent? I feel I need to do some vocal warm ups, whatever they are. My dodgy voice aside, this was a really excellent idea. I cannot stress it enough. There were a lot of superfluous words creeping in the body of my text – even in the beginning chapters – which I hadn’t spotted before, but after listening I could safely take out them out without compromising the story. Managed to prune 800 words from the first three chapters – and I was thinking those puppies were done and dusted! Just goes to show I must never get that complacent. I have only recorded the beginning chapters for now, but will go over the whole book in time.

You'll be pleased to hear that my furry writing coaches have been hard at work keeping me focused by snoozing on all my important papers. Even better than that, Ginger kindly let himself be an additional work surface when I was running out of room.

I just cannot go wrong with writing coaches like that! Helpful, cuddly, and always sitting on the thing I want to find. Like homing beacons. Although I am starting to get paranoid that my eventual queries will be sent out with bonus cat hair.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Don’t put your daughter on a course, Mrs. Worthington

I don’t think I could
Go back to school.
I can’t sit still,
And concentrate at all!
I can focus for an hour;
Minutes maybe ten.
After that my brain is fuzzy,
And I’m asleep again.
I stare ahead blankly;
Trying to look clever.
While wondering why
This day is taking forever...

Title nicked with thanks to the genius of Noël Coward

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Finishing fears

I am two book reviews short for April and May but if I leave updating the blog until I have scanned the covers and written the reviews, then I fear it will get very dusty around here, and that is no good as I now have 150 lovely folk who have chosen to make my day and click the ‘follow’ button! Woohoo - welcome, friends! The tea is poured and Twirl chocolate bars are on me, in a non-kinky way, you understand. And while there is a happy rustle of wrappers, I shall make a mental note to add the two missing book reviews to June’s book worm post (which will probably make an appearance on this blog in August). Time management, you see. I am having a problem with it of late.

My blog post of a couple of weeks ago was full of joy that I had managed to finish the majority of redrafting and was now on the grand read through, but since then the world has clicked on a few gears and suddenly I have been racing along trying to keep up. Those metaphorical plates have been spinning (and crashing) recently, leaving me feeling rather wrecked. Of course it could have been to do with the free bar at a recent party... All I am saying about that night is being woken by the guard on the last tube home is never a good look. Oh dear. Hic.

It has felt harder recently to click my head into writing mode. I think this is down to the closer I come to the end, the harder I feel it is to let go. This story has been a long term project for me (five years so far) and I guess, silly though it sounds, I am loathe to send it away to seek its fortune. Actually is loathe the right word? Terrified, perhaps? I know potential rejection of the story is not potential rejection of me as a person, but it feels very hard to separate at times.

I have to get my head over this stage and embrace the next – how do you feel towards the end of a project / short story / novel? Are there any techniques you adopt to get over this bit? I do try and focus on the positives and am deep down excited to finish, but also am annoyingly reluctant!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Book reviews: Agatha Christie and H.G. Wells

Continuing (slowly!) my Book Worm reviews for April and May 2010...

The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells
First published by William Heinemann Ltd, 1898
This edition published by Pan Books Ltd, 1975

I’ve always wanted to read this book ever since I saw the original movie as a child and found it terrifying! And I wasn’t the only one to be scared of this tale, accordingly to radio/newspaper/wiki legend, millions of Americans believed the story to be true when Orson Welles adapted the story to a radio broadcast in 1938.

H.G. Wells wields his scientific knowledge with a skilled hand throughout this book. He also can be rather wordy – the first two pages reveal such beauties as ‘infusoria’, ‘nebular hypothesis’, and ‘attenuated’, not to mention the wonderful ‘periodically inundate its temperate zones’. He also has some marvellous descriptions, such as the sea was ‘navy-crowded’. The book is also very much of its time with the descriptions of wagons, pot-men opening public houses, jobbing gardeners, class. England at the turn of the 20th century was such a different world yet already you can see it changing – the mention of cars, of trains, of commuters… it’s all here, slightly hidden, as the story is not about England’s ascent into the world we know now but the descent of aliens from Mars.

The story starts very quickly, and the reader is soon in the thick of the action. The description of how quickly the Martians set about destruction and the means they employ still has the power to shock, in a way. I think it is because that instead of going for the drama of London, or a big city first, H.G. Wells has chosen to make them begin in relatively obscure, smaller towns - Woking, Chobham, Chertsey. Somehow this makes the concept seem more believable. Also the ‘battle’ scenes are very vivid, in particular one in the second half of the book, about a navy ship rushing to certain death to protect the civilians trying to flee. The panic of the escape also makes for compelling reading. Well worth trying if you see this book around!

Cat Among the Pigeons, by Agatha Christie
First published 1959
This edition published by Fontana, 1975

There is such a pleasure to reading Agatha Christie books, no matter if the story is not new to me. I especially like this one, with its tale of beautiful jewels smuggled ingeniously from a foreign land, and how attention falls upon a posh girl’s school in England.

Agatha Christie builds up such an interesting array of characters – no matter how short their appearance is on the page, she gives them depth, a raison d'être – and it is this that makes them so utterly compelling. At the same time there is no real sadness when the murder comes, as it does with swift story-telling. It is definitely a skill to make me care and not care, so to speak. There are also interesting oddities – such as how ‘you can tell a woman’s age from her knees’!

Hercule Poirot is our detective here, and he shines with aplomb, as usual. But he only appears in the latter third, and as we are told in the book his role is of a ‘consultant detective’ he feels very much a consultant overall in this story. However the story does not lack from his late appearance; it is definitely within my top ten of enjoyable books from this author.