Monday, 30 August 2010

Preconception vs Reality

Today I lugged the latest print out of the novel to the nearest coffee pouring establishment to sit and read it in peace and quiet. Sadly the only place open was Sainsbury’s, so I sat in their franchise of Starbucks reading amongst screaming cupcake fuelled children. It wasn’t quite the scenario I had pictured when doing the final read-through, but that has been the way ever since I decided to write this book. Everything I thought I would do – write with a smile on my face every single day, actually have a desk, open champagne on finishing – hasn’t actually happened yet. Okay, let’s list it.

Preconception: All authors write from a book-lined room in peace and quiet.
Reality: I write between bursts of my mum telling me the plot of Midsummer Murders, including the repeats.

Preconception: All authors write every day.
Reality: Try it after a three hour commute sandwiching an eight hour day in the office. Some evenings I can only write the word ‘ug’.

Preconception: All authors have their own desk.
Reality: I think I told you before I use the ‘Twisted Author’ pose in which to sit on my bed and tap on the computer which rests upon a chest of drawers. This is as comfy as indigestion.

Preconception: All authors have a local homely café in which to edit their novels and think Great Thoughts.
Reality: The local cafés around my gaff smell of fried egg sarnies and attract people of a certain disposition, i.e. mad.

Preconception: All authors will write with an occasional wine glass close to hand, if they fancy it.
Reality: Vodka. Lots of. If I fancy it.

Preconception: All authors will own a printer that works.
Reality: My printer only works if I stare at it.

Preconception: It won’t take that long to write a novel.
Reality: Har har har har.

Preconception: Every day authors are really happy and eager to start writing.
Reality: Some days I cry.

Preconception: All authors are brilliant at Scrabble.
Reality: Faced with the board, the only word I can ever spell is ‘suds’.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Pocket Money

A letter came from the bank the other week addressed to my dad, which was a bit odd considering he died over twenty years ago. It is such a weird feeling to see his name on an envelope – even the pattern his name made on a page – official proof that he was a person, that he mattered enough in this life to have correspondence, that he was once here on this planet. When a person dies, after the dust settles and the years creep on, these small things become so big because it feels that the person only lived in family folklore.

The letter was because the bank had found another account belonging to my dad, so they wanted my mum to mosey along and officially close it. We were all a bit flummoxed – how come now, so long afterwards, had this account come to light? I was torn between being cross at the bank for not being thorough at the time and pleased at seeing my dad’s name. Perhaps my dad had kept secret savings for a rainy day – perhaps it would be a little windfall for all of us. We had to find the certificates that sum up a person’s life – two small squares of paper – birth and death. No clue as to what the years in-between had covered apart from here stand I. Do I answer the sum? Does my brother? It’s hard to know, isn’t it?

It turns out the grand total was £6. We laughed and shook our heads, but later I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It seems a very long time ago now that people would think of starting a bank account with five pounds. It made me think just how long he has been gone.

My mum shared the money between me and my brother. I took the coins and felt like I could never spend them. It might not quite be pennies from heaven but I do feel like dad has given me the last of my pocket money. I promise not to spend it all on sweets.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Book worm reviews: July 2010

Oh life, you busy thing you. Awfully sorry for the prolonged absence – the longest time I have been away from my blog in three years. I was starting to dream of topics for posts and getting awfully sad on waking that there was no time to fling them into the world. Yup, am desperately searching for that mythical work/life balance again! One day, one day *she vows, misty-eyed*

But until that day – book reviews! I have been clocking up books at an alarming rate – it seems the less writing I do the more voraciously I read. So coming up over the remains of August are the following:

The Long Walk, by Richard Bachman (also known as Stephen King)
Absent in the Spring, by Mary Westmacott (also known as Agatha Christie)
Inside the Whale, by Jennie Rooney
The Borrowers Afield, by Mary Norton
The Inimitable Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
The Bottle Factory Outing, by Beryl Bainbridge
Break in the Sun, by Bernard Ashley
Appointment with Death, by Agatha Christie
The Children of Dynmouth, by William Trevor
The Running Man, by Richard Bachman (also known as Stephen King)
More of Milly-Molly-Mandy, by Joyce Lancaster Brisley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon
Blaze, by Richard Bachman (also known as Stephen King)

Onto the Reviews!

Inside the Whale, by Jennie Rooney
Published by Chatto & Windus 2008

The title of this book neatly sets up the idea that this might be a story told in retrospect – as once you are inside the whale, then the worst has happened already and you are just waiting to see how you will be spat out the other end. At least that was how I matched the title to the book, and it did seem to suit the plot. Michael is an old man in hospital, and Stevie is an elderly lady living with her daughter. They are at the end of their life and yet the beginning won’t leave them alone, echoing in their thoughts and regrets, about how once they were almost together and then were spun off in different directions during the Second World War.

This is Jennie Rooney’s debut novel, and there are no huge dramatics in this gentle tale; it is a believable story of ordinary lives touched by coincidence. Her tone of voice throughout speaks with an understated humour, and her descriptions are very vivid. She writes short tight chapters taking turns with each character’s point of view, and in a way this is a love story, but not quite the love you may imagine. Poignant and bittersweet – this is a very well written debut, and I would be very interested to read what this author comes up with next.

The Long Walk, by Richard Bachman (also known as Stephen King)
First published by Signet, 1979
This edition published by Penguin, 1999

The books written under Stephen King’s nom-de-plume have a harder edge than his usual style. They are bitter about society, and often envision a totalitarian future run on extreme parallels in a brutal setting. Their endings generally have no comfort or feel slightly under-done. Having said that, I still love them, of course – as they have all of Stephen King’s brilliance and ability to make you see things you’d rather not – his writing turns over the rocks and reveal the heebie jeebies that lurk in the mud.

In this book The Long Walk is an annual walking contest for teenage boys. Feted by TV cameras and followed by huge crowds, everyone manages to skirt the reality of the walk which is that anyone who falls below a certain speed gets executed. As the walk continues and the numbers of participants fall, the psychological challenges supersede the physical, and the sense of futility grows for a society that accepts such a contest as ‘sport’.

Absent in the Spring, by Mary Westmacott (also known as Agatha Christie)
First published by Wm Collins Sons & Co, 1944
This edition published by Fontana Books, 1974

The Mary Westmacott novels are usually passed off lightly as Agatha Christie’s foray into romance, although affairs of the heart can be just as twisted and tangled as her who-dunnits, just as laden with all the heavy emotion love can bring. In a way these stories are Agatha Christie’s ‘chick-lit’ novels - more introspective, less of a cast of players, but yet still with that same economy of writing, those brilliant descriptions, and believable characters.

Absent in the Spring looks at the life of self-satisfied Joan Scudamore, so smug with her marriage and her children, her home and her friends. She is travelling back to Britain from staying with her daughter and the journey is derailed on the borders of Arabia. Stranded in the dessert, Joan has all the time in the world to contemplate her life, and the bright light of the sun slowly dissipates the shadows until all is revealed.

I really enjoyed this, much more than I thought I would. Afterwards I wonder why I didn’t seek these books out before – possibly the front cover of this one put me off – no disrespect to the actors, but this book would work better with an illustrated cover, and more to do with the emotional whirl in the dessert. But if you like Agatha Christie books anyway then these are a real find – such a treat to find an author you like stretching her writing wings in a different genre.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Contest Winners!

Ginger has chosen the winners, folks!

Actually, although I did try to coax Ginger to pop his paw on a winning name, he tended to sit on them all instead, and then decisions got too much for him, and nap-time called.

Obviously Ginger thinks you are all winners, as you all care about his meal times (a subject very close to his heart, and belly). So I decided to step in - watch the below video for the results, and to hear me wittering!

Hooray the winners! And here are the names if you don't have time to watch the draw above...





First place goes to Music Obsessive. Congratulations! You will be getting the prizes below.

Second prize goes to VR Barkowski. Hooray! You will be getting this lovely bundle below.

Third prize goes to Karen G. Congratulations! The prizes below are yours.

Fourth prize goes to Pen and Paints. Hooray! You will get the goodies below.

Hopefully all the winners have an email address on their blogs as I will be in touch very shortly to tell you the good news. Thank you to everyone who took part - who tweeted, blogged, or put the contest picture of Ginger in your sidebar. It was actually Ginger and Abigail's 11th birthday the other day as well, so this is all good timing! I had a blast doing this contest, and maybe won't wait so long to do another - who knows!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

What’s in a Name?

Have you ever looked to see where your surname fits on the shelves in your local book-store? Which other authors surround you? Whether your surname will be a help or a hindrance?

I had a very interesting conversation with a member of staff in my local book-shop today about surnames. (Actually I hate the term ‘member of staff’. My thoughts fly to ‘member’ – phallic object, and ‘staff’ - long wooden stick for aging Druids. They do not fly to nicely helpful shop worker. This could be because I am blessed with a mucky mind though.)

My question to the nicely helpful shop worker was which letter of the alphabet works best as a surname for authors amongst the shelves. He didn’t even bat an eyelid (which is why I love and adore the folk who work in book shops). Without hesitation he told me that surnames beginning with ‘A’ do well, as do ‘M’ and ‘S’ – however he said this was because there are a lot of authors with surnames already beginning with those letters so people often head to that part to look for a specific author, and maybe pick up other books while they are there.

The reason for the question is that I was musing on which name I would publish under when the great day arrives (sings as in Gospel choir – Great Day). Now a few of you already know that I actually write this blog under a pseudonym.

Don’t be dismayed that my name is not Jayne
I did not mean to be a pain
Or to confuse, or to lie
You see the reason is I’m really quite shy

But the name ‘Jayne Ferst’ is dear to me, not just chosen at random. That will be a post for another day. But I didn’t think about whether or not it would be good on the shelves - damn, missed a trick! Had I but thought about it I could have been Jayne McFerst. Or Jayne Serst (which sounds like Jayne’s Erst – erstwhile life, maybe?)

Nicely helpful shop worker said he thought ‘F’ wasn’t a bad letter for an author’s surname; he reeled off a list of literary dignitaries that jostle around that area. If I keep with ‘F’ I would be in good company. No one else has the same surname, unlike the real one, which is already glorified by three other authors already, and whose web-domains went with the beginning of the Internet.

Where do you sit on the shelves? Do you think your surname will be a help or a hindrance?

I will draw the results of my contest this weekend - either Friday or Saturday. Sorry - week has been hectic!

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Some days

Some days I sit here at the computer for ages and I am in such a quandary about what to write first that I end up writing nothing at all. I keep glancing at the clock and think, ‘gosh 7pm already, three hours until annoyingly early bedtime’, and then I glance up again and think ‘oh no 8pm, two hours to go’, and so on. It is really counter-productive!

I’m in a bit of an odd mood at the moment. I keep mooning around my room and picking things up and putting them down again. I then sit here and click on increasingly random websites. I just woke up from replaying the theme tune from Tales of the Unexpected for the umpteenth time and thought what on earth am I doing?

Sometimes I feel like Sundays are nothing but a precursor to Mondays and I hate that feeling but it is really hard to shake. I’m sort of in the mood to do a Mournful Collage to my Lost Youth (ever get the feeling a birthday is looming on the horizon?) and fear overblown poetry lurks around the corner. Luckily the dryer has buzzed saving you from that fate (oh Sunday, day of washing fun).

But there are also good things! My contest ends tonight at midnight, and I am looking forward to collating all the entries and picking out four winners at some point this week. Thank you to everyone who tweeted or blogged about the comp, it has been so lovely to see Ginger’s face on your blogs! Also another good thing (and this is unashamedly girlie) is I have a new bag to replace Jaws (the old one). It is green and looks like it could easily hold a Harry Potter (my rule when buying bags – if they can carry one of those literary breezeblocks then they can handle any book in the entire world).

Glances at clock, realises there are fifty minutes until bed. AGH!

Can I please just win the lottery? I know money doesn't buy happiness but I'd give it my best shot.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Shiny New Books

It was lunch-time and I was on a mission. The doors whooshed back revealing the cool, literary interior and I have to admit, I clasped my hands in joy (then got entangled in my shawl and dropped my bag, but let’s not dwell). There is nothing nicer in all the world than the prospect of buying shiny new books. Okay, I adore the thrill of the hunt with certain second-hand books, but generally those are by authors who are sadly deceased and who I am not depriving of cash exactly (only their estate, which conjures up already rich images of stately homes and butlers). But I do love buying new books. After all, we have a vested interest, don’t we?

I employ three methods when buying new books from a shop (different rules apply for online book buying), and I usually buy new fiction as part of a ‘three for two’ deal, although there can be exceptions – presents, and when I simply-cannot-wait to read a novel.

Method one is I buy three debut books by new authors. I like to support new authors (but of course!) and it is very exciting to discover someone right at the beginning of their career. Over recent years new delights have been Jennie Rooney, Kate Morton, and Charles Eton. I am now looking forward to the 2011 debuts of S.J. Watson (Before I Go To Sleep), Andrea Eames (The Cry of the Go-Away Bird), and Talli Roland (The Hating Game).

Method two is I buy three novels whose reviews have sunk into my subconscious. I will have read about them in newspapers; they will have been mentioned by blog readers; my gaze will have idled over advertisements on the underground, and I will have spotted other people reading them. This year Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall), Stephen King (Under the Dome), and Mark Haddon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) joined my overflowing book family.

Method three is a complete mish-mash of book covers and serendipity. Sometimes the books I pick up, although not related, will have a curious similarity – all the titles will start with same letter, or they will all share the same word. If this happens then it is fate and I have to buy. I also like to buy books purely based on their jacket illustration – the covers are so important, they really give that silent flavour of the book. A recent jacket illustration buy was William Trevor’s The Children of Dynmouth (cover art by Zandra Rhodes), which totally bought into my serendipity buying as I was also holding A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book. Ker-ching went the till as I bought both.

There are two other factors I take into account with new book buying, and they are Time and Money.

I am still very careful with money from the Almost Bankrupt Debacle (moral of the tale folks, never chuck in job to write novel before a recession), and it can be tricky simply finding time in the day to read. I can handle a few books in my To-Be-Read pile; too many and I tend to have a freak-out and retreat to comics for a while. It's a fine balance to tread! The last time it happened I ran back to Calvin and Hobbes. Before that I may have lurked for a while with Mandy annuals.

August is usually ‘Children’s Book Month’ for me, in which I review nostalgic and contemporary book pleasures. However, I now have a list of ‘book worm’ reviews as long as my arm to get through, so will probably chug through those instead as they are a right mixture!

Finally - count-down to contest! Three days left to enter for fab vintage prizes...

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Didn't she have a lovely time...

...The weekend she went to Swanage.
It started to rain; we had lunch on the train
And our B&B was very nice, you know.
We walked for miles over hills and oh what a chill;
To paddle and splash in the sea.
Eating fish and chips with an aching hip,
As the fireworks went bang!

Song reference: Day Trip to Bangor by Fiddler's Dram

Four days left to enter Ginger's contest to get fab prizes! Go on - feed the well-rounded ginger kitty!