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Monday, 30 May 2016

All by myself - socks on my head and an illiterate poltergeist

I've got the house to myself now.  Oh, it probably won't be forever, but certainly for the foreseeable future it's me, three dogs, five cats and enough slugs to make the carpet look as though it has the sort of interesting raised, silver pattern that you would be delighted to see on any book jacket.
This isn't my exact carpet, you can tell from the lack of stains, but this is the approximate effect

And you know what?  It's FANTASTIC!  Being alone, not the slugs.

No more trying to set a good example to the children by putting washing away immediately, clearing bowls and plates, tidying up after myself!  No more watching incredibly rubbish TV because of 'majority decisions'. No more writing with one eye on the clock, waiting to be disturbed.

I can now live like the utter slattern I really am.  My inner slob is running free (and quite often un-underpanted, because the dogs don't care what I'm wearing)!  I can eat nothing but sandwiches and cereal if I want! (I don't, because I don't much like sandwiches, but I can if I want to, and that's what matters).  I can wander around the house in nothing but a dressing gown and a pair of socks on my head....actually, no, I've always done that, it's part of being a writer, sorry.  I can buy a packet of biscuits and they are still in the cupboard when I want one!

More to the point, I can write whenever I want to.  Apart from the necessity of going to work to actually earn money, the rest of my time is completely my own.  Of course, this means that I sit down with the full intention of working (that Christmas novella isn't going to write itself. I know this, because I've tried leaving the laptop switched on when I wasn't around, and the only words that appeared were 'Gnfugggjjjjjjdfjkl;afe  ngerw231123'.  Either a cat on the keyboard or my poltergeist is illiterate) and look up four days later to find that my tea has gone cold and I've read my way through the entire Fortean Times message forum.  And I still don't have any pants on, my socks are still on my head, and the postman is poking me with a stick through an open window because he thinks I might be dead.
The cup of tea in question. Yes, I know it says Coffee on it, but I'm spontaneous like that.
So, if you'll excuse's been nearly thirty years since I last lived on my own, and I've got a backlog of eating rubbish and watching 'Rosemary and Thyme' to catch up with...

Sunday, 22 May 2016

I don't think the SAS are going to be ringing any time soon...

I DID IT!!!!

Swinging over that barrier and leaning back over a 270 foot drop was really scary - the ground seemed to take forever to arrive, and I was terrified that I was going to freeze and just hang there, rotating gently whilst occasionally clonking against a window.

Fortunately none of this happened, although I do remember stepping on the CLV logo as I went past and wondering if it would just pull away from the side of the building...

..and I refused to look down, but, out of the corner of my eye I could see the road, and either someone was shoving Dinky cars down it or it stayed a long way down for a very long time.  I didn't so much 'abseil' as 'do a reverse Spiderman' and sort of scramble down the side of the building.

But I am truly, massively grateful to all those of you who sponsored me, messaged me or just generally encouraged me in this mad event.  If I ever show signs of doing anything like this again, please lock me in the understairs cupboard until I come to my senses, though.

They take a picture of you as you go over the edge.  I think so you can frame it on the living room wall and occasionally point to it in a random manner going 'THIS! THIS!'
And if you've ever wondered what a 'rictus grin of terror' looks like - that one, right there.

I had to run through Leeds to catch my train, and twenty minutes running with a backpack, wearing a coat was a piece of cake compared to dropping 270 feet, but I must apologise to everyone who saw me arrive at Leeds Railway Station, bright red and sweaty but with a post-abseil glow, I think they may have thought I'd just robbed a warm bank...

Sunday, 15 May 2016

A Writing Day (yeah, write...)

The other day I found myself writing an article for a magazine on My Writing Day.  Well, I say I 'found myself', it wasn't like I woke up and there I was at the laptop or anything, I'd been asked to do it...  Anyway, it made me realise just how boring a writer's day actually is...

' My Writing Day'

Wake up at six (eight) and go for two mile run with the dogs. (Run for one mile because it's downhill. Flail the rest of the distance).  Home to nutritious breakfast and see to the other animals. (gasp over doorstep, eat any food lying on work surface.  Let out hens and feed cats). 

Shower and sit down to laptop.  Answer fan mail. (Realise small cat hasn't turned up for food. Spend half an hour banging tin plate with spoon in garden). Write a thousand words of latest manuscript, then spend a strictly rationed thirty minutes on social media. (Stare at blank screen for an hour. Give up and flick through Facebook and Twitter.  Get involved in on line argument about East Enders plotline, even though don't watch it). Build in a twenty minute Pilates session to keep body flexible. (Eat HobNobs). 

After a light, balanced lunch of steamed veg (more HobNobs), walk the dogs again, wandering picturesquely through the local landscape (with lovely picture of North York Moors in sunshine)
Like this..
(After watching three back-to-back episodes of Time Team, drag dogs reluctantly out in the rain. Paddle through thigh deep mud for a while.  Realise never had a shower this morning and now smell). 
..only more like this
  Dedicate the afternoon to ordering notes on the WIP, colour-coded on Post Its and little cards, to ensure chapters are in the right order.  Place highlights on printed out version, where things need work. (Check listings to see if there are any more Time Team episodes on. Drink more tea.  Flick in desultory fashion through latest WIP before being distracted by Mumsnet.  Have shower, catch sight of own face in mirror and spend ten minutes practising having eyebrows). 

Off to bed at ten (eight) with a cup of herbal tea and a 'classic' novel, to read for an hour before lights' out, sleeping with a notebook and pen beside the bed to capture any 'middle of the night' ideas. (Fall asleep face down on the Fortean Times, wake with brilliant idea but no pen. Scribble in what I think is felt tip. Wake in morning to find have written 'AARRRRGGGHHHH...WINDOWS!' in eye pencil on Fortean Times page).

Do it all again the next day.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Writing a book. Don't do what I do...

Normal people (by which I mean people who don't write books or admire Tony Robinson with an almost fanatical devotion which, I now realise, is practically everyone except me) often ask how you go about writing a book.  Where do the ideas come from?  How does an idea go from brain to page?  And, vitally, how many biscuits do you need to eat to make it happen?

Answer:  a very lot.

I don't know if anyone who writes books really knows where the ideas come from.  Suddenly one day something will pop into my head - a line of dialogue, a name, an image, and from there on it's one inevitable HobNob after another until everything slots together into a form that is more or less book-like.  I don't really do 'drafts' either, I just sort of point myself at the page and keep going, if something doesn't work then I go back to the place at which it stopped working and do something else or rework it until it damn well does as it's told.  This means that sometimes I have to go right back to the beginning of the book and change something (the interconnectedness of all things in books means that one small thread that started to go awry in chapter three is wiggling catastrophically around and flailing characters to death by chapter ten, and must be stopped). I know other writers just put a note in the margin at this point, write on, and then go back and change things when they've finished, but this is as alien behaviour to me as ironing tea towels or hoovering behind the fridge. I have to go and put it right before I get to the end.

You know things are going wrong when you have to eat ten HobNobs before you can move on
It's also fairly common for books to sort of peter out towards the end, so I quite often write a quick ending in, just to get it out of the way and be able to say 'I've finished!', and then sneak back some weeks later and write a 'proper' end.  Having written lots of plot-lines and intriguing characters and twists and turns, I sometimes finish on a 'and then something happened and someone died and it was all a dream and the bad guy went away and they all got married and lived happily ever after.  Oh, and the aliens weren't aliens at all, and it wasn't a real ghost, and the dog came back.. oh yes, and the next door neighbour was behind it all. The End'.  Some time later I have to go back and finish it all properly.
But then, sometimes it really *was* the old janitor in a rubber mask... 
If anyone is interested, Rhoda Baxter and I are holding another workshop, courtesy of Write Stars on 22 May in York, should you fancy coming along and hearing a rather more sensible way of going about your writing....

Monday, 2 May 2016

Book feels...

Next Friday, the sixth of May, my current favourite book (of the ones that I wrote, I mean, not all the ones I've read because I don't think I could pick a favourite out of those.  Actually, picking a favourite of the ones I've written is hard too, it's a bit like asking me which of my collection is my favourite pet.  The answer to that is usually 'the one that's lying quietly in the corner and not pestering me for a walk/food', but that doesn't really apply much to books) - what?  Where was I?

Oh yes.  'I Don't Want to Talk About It' is out in paperback on Friday.
This one.

I'm quietly proud of this book.  It's made more people cry than I care to count.  Normally, making people cry isn't something to be proud of, any averagely rude and insensitive person can manage that several times a day, but it's different when it's a book.  It means that I managed to tell a story that readers got involved with, enough that they could identify with the characters and feel for them.

Usually I like my books to make people laugh - there's quite enough stuff in the world to make them cry already and I feel slightly uncomfortable writing things that are sad.  Laughing is more socially acceptable somehow, what's that saying?  Laugh and the world laughs with you.  Cry and you can say goodbye to your friends coming round to watch Game of Thrones ever again.  Something like that.

Anyway.  It's funny and sad, and it's got a hobby horse and a guinea pig in, and those are two groups that are massively under-represented in fiction, and a stone-mason and an author, and graveyards and...well.  If you like any of those things then you should read this book.

Oh, and it also has the worst ever Amazon review that I think I've ever got from any of my books.  All the other reviews are 5* and 4*, this is a 1*...

Oh dear Oh dear Oh dear. You've let yourself down, Choc Lit, with this one. Please be more careful about what you publish or I may not be able to rely on you any more. Appalling writing. Dreadful story. No tension. I didn't care about any of the characters. The conversations were completely unbelievable. Silly, silly, silly...nothing going for it at all. 

So, if you'd like to see who you agree most with, the 6* 'this is beautiful', or the 1* 'silly, silly, silly', then I suggest you hie you hence to a bookshop and purchase the book in question!

Go on.  I'll still be here when you get back.  I haven't finished all the biscuits yet...