Monday, 30 January 2012

First lines

Yesterday I was reading an article about the best opening lines of novels. All the usual suspects were there - "It is a truth universally acknowledged...", "Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again..." and that one from the Great Gatsby about not judging people who haven't had the same advantages as you.
It made me wonder what my favourite opening to a novel was...and I decided on one that wasn't there.

                                    How Nobody Came to the Graveyard

"There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet."

It's The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - and it's one of my favourite books. The entire first chapter always makes me shiver. I'm going to have to include the bit when the man Jack meets Silas in the graveyard...
"The man Jack was tall. This man was taller. The man Jack wore dark clothes. This man's clothes were darker. People who noticed the man Jack when he went about his business - and he did not like to be noticed - were troubled, or made uncomfortable, or found themselves unaccountably scared. The man Jack looked up at the stranger, and it was the man Jack who was troubled."

It's almost February now - only a single tiny month stands between me and my fortieth year. So I've been thinking hard about people who make the forties look less daunting. Neil Gaiman is one such person. He's in his forties. He's a brilliant writer, he looks pretty cool (scruffy - but cool) And - did I mention - he's in his forties!

Tania Kindersley is another one. She's written some of my favourite books ever - and a blog that often makes me cry. I'm afraid I'm going to have to include another opening here...
"I met Jack at the start of my first summer in London. It was May, it was hot, I remember it."
(Goodbye, Johnny Thunders)
I can't help feeling that I wouldn't mind being forty if I could also be Neil Gaiman or Tania Kindersley.
Whenever I write something that I'm particularly pleased with, I compare it to something of Neil Gaiman's or Tania Kindersley's to see how it measures up.
And that's when I realise how rubbish it is, obviously!

Why not try the Neil Gaiman/Tania Kindersley test at home?
I'm not prepared to mention my word count today - it's too shaming!

Monday, 23 January 2012

In bed

Urgh - I've caught the dreaded man-flu from my husband!
I feel dizzy and my thoughts are scattered all over the place.
So my word count isn't moving. (I'm reading a battered Edith Wharton in bed.)
The weather has ceased to be remotely interesting and gone back to being grey and rainy.
This is the view from my sick-bed...
And also this...
Yes, I am also suffering from hypochondria.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Winter sunshine

We've been having cold frosty mornings with bright sunshine and arctic blue skies.
Hats, gloves and scarves are being worn. People are even murmuring about the possibility of snow this weekend.
So I've spent the week looking at pictures of beaches and trying to find us a holiday to look forward to. Finally, I booked us an apartment halfway up this hillside in Carbis Bay...

Everything they say about the light and colour on this part of the coast is true. The sea is particularly blue; the beaches particularly white and the boys in their multi-coloured swimming trunks suddenly appear to be playing in High Definition!
Anyway, we've been here before and liked it.
And we can always try somewhere new later on in the year.

Snow or not - I found one or two signs that spring (and some sunshine) will be here eventually...

There are hundreds of these furry buds on the little Magnolia Stellata - they'll look like torn ribbons when they're out!

New shoots peeping under the fence - hyacinths and white daffodils I think!

An azalea that's still going - in the wintery sunshine.

Winter viburnum in the kitchen - there's always something that can  be picked!
 The frosty mornings have made it a real pleasure to be inside with a cup of coffee, a heap of hot buttered toast and my laptop on my knee. But somehow not much writing has been accomplished. (I think the perfect writing weather is hard drumming-down rain.)
My wordcount is hovering around 40,000.
Doesn't seem to matter whether I'm at the beginning, the middle or the end of a story - I continue to plod onwards at a paltry rate of around 1,000 words a day.
Oh well...

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Dealing with Rejection

Yesterday I received the final rejection from all the copies of my first novel that I sent out last year.
The first one really stung (although it was a very kind letter) and made me pretty miserable.
The second one hurt a little less.
By the time I'd been rejected half a dozen times, I was pleased just to receive personal advice.
Yesterday's rejection was number 13 and I didn't mind one bit.
So, it's been um - character-building!

As I began to amass rejection letters, it became clear that I'd picked the wrong genre to write in. "The romantic comedy market is saturated"..."Given how tricky and overcrowded the current market is"..."It's tremendously difficult to sell genre womens' fiction at present" ...were just a few of the comments I collected.

But there were a few compliments on my writing too. In fact, I received enough positive advice to encourage me to try again this year. Only I'm going to attempt a mystery story with supernatural and historical elements this time. I've enjoyed it too much to stop now.

*The kindest comments and most constructive criticism came from Lizzy Kremer at David Higham.
*Further encouragement came from Dorothy Lumley at Dorian Literary Agency and Ger Nichol at the Book Bureau.
*Most impersonal rejections came from PFD and Marjacq Scripts.
* Lizzy Kremer sent the quickest response (about 2days!) whilst yesterday's rejection from Gunn Global Media took around 19 weeks to arrive!
*Average response times were about 5/6 weeks.

I had a three week break from writing over Christmas and became slightly detached from the new story I'd started to write in the autumn, so it's been fairly slow going over the last week and a half. But I've been plodding on with it - inbetween playing Spider Solitaire and Chicken Invaders!
My wordcount is just over 37,000.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Scary book covers

Well, my theory that the more murder mysteries you read, the easier they are to solve didn't stand up against The Moving Finger - I had no idea whodunnit. So my guessing the murderer of Roger Ackroyd was obviously just a fluke!
After that I started Murder at the Vicarage which seemed to be about a woman struggling with repressed memories of a house she'd lived in as a child and where she'd witnessed a murder. It was brilliantly creepy as the woman began to wonder if she was going mad. When Miss Marple asked her who had been murdered, she replied reflexively... "Helen."
Since this is my name, I was agog!
Then there was a sudden blank page in the book and the second half of an entirely different story began. I half-wondered whether I was going mad too!
I had been reading the first half of Sleeping Murder inside the cover of Murder at the Vicarage - which meant that neither of them actually worked as a story!
I asked Waterstones for another copy, but they said they didn't have one. I even emailed HarperCollins and asked for another copy, but they didn't answer me. So I'll never know who the other Helen was - or why she was murdered!
When I was showing my mum the book containing two halves of two different stories, she remarked that the modern Agatha Christie covers were now far too stylish for her taste and we reminisced about the garishness and utter lack of subtlety of the seventies editions.
I had a look in the charity shop and unearthed some examples...

Look - a dead bird! Who wouldn't be tempted to buy this?

This story features the death of a bluff Colonel with a glass eye - so that is exactly what the cover artist has drawn. Then he's added an agonized expression and a putrid green hue to the cadaver's skin. Thus making it even more tempting than the dead bird!

This one is about a woman with a very seventies-style hand being strangled on a train. Can she reach the alarm in time? No, it doesn't look like she can.

Not Agatha Christie, but easily my favourite. It shows a grumpy, sheepish-looking man dressed in Regency costume with added Andy Warhol-type paint effects. No doubt exactly what  Georgette Heyer had in mind for her romantic hero!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Big rings...

My new favourite things are big rings.
Now that I'm trying to write more, I want to see bright nails and a really chunky ring flying over the keys of my laptop (OK, they don't actually fly - it's more of a hop). Obviously this'll be even more important when I'm rich and famous - and required to autograph copies of my books. Like Jacqueline Wilson - she wears gigantic rings.

Or Kirstie Allsop - although I bet her rings are ultra-expensive!
Mine only cost a couple of pounds each. (They're from Primark, Accessorize and Hawkins Bazaar.)

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Sky lanterns

Last night we attempted to launch nine coloured sky lanterns to mark the nine year old's real actual birthday. We'd all seen the wonderful lantern scene in Tangled and been inspired. I had a vivid picture in my head of all nine brightly coloured lanterns drifting up into the twilight in unison while we gazed up at them in wonder. Possibly holding each other's hands.
We went to the park near to our house around six o'clock. It was already pitch black, bone cold and muddy as a swamp on the football pitch. After a couple of vain attempts to light our first lantern, the disposable lighter ran out of fuel and we all had to go to my dad's house to borrow some matches. Then we returned and began the process again.
Match after match was blown out while my husband swore and grew steadily more bad tempered. My hand-holding vision had evaporated by this time and my own mood was um...snappish.
We persisted though and eventually my husband had our first (pale blue) lantern ablaze. He lifted it up towards the night sky and let go.
It rolled across the park at top speed, illuminating the black football pitch like a huge pale blue fireball,
My husband, my mother and both boys gave chase - yelling, shrieking and screaming with fear and laughter. It was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.
After about fifty metres, it rose into the air and (narrowly missing the trees) jerkily disappeared over a clump of houses.
It was nice to have launched one but it wasn't really my vision.
We went to a more sheltered spot in the park and tried to light a second lantern. That was when my husband opened the matchbox upside down and all the matches disappeared into the long black grass.

So we returned to my dad's house for more matches. As we were completely numb with cold by this time, we decided to launch the next one from his back garden.
It was a bright yellow one. And it had a hole in it. Instead of going upwards, it lurched between my dad and my husband in turn - almost setting them both on fire. Then it zoomed towards me and the boys and we all ran indoors screaming. So we didn't see where that one went.
The third lantern was purple. My husband and my dad had honed their technique by now and launched it swiftly. For just a second it seemed as if it would go upwards, but instead it took an enormous bound over the fence and straight into nextdoor's garden. Once more we all darted indoors with gasps of horror.
"What should we do?"
"I don't know!"
"We'll have to go round and tell them we've set light to their garden."
"No way! Let's hide the other lanterns and pretend we don't know anything about it."
And so on.
By the time we'd come out of hiding, the purple lantern had risen up into the topmost branches of a tall tree at the bottom of my dad's neighbour's garden. We watched it blaze and burn and fight to get free from the branches - which was quite a spectacle. I put my arm around my nine year old's shoulders and said, "Listen son, I want you to know we set this tree alight for you."
It was now almost eight o'clock. It had taken us two hours to launch three lanterns. My husband and my dad had one more go. They launched a bright red lantern straight up towards the stars and we all watched it in awe and wonder. It was perfect.
We trooped home in the freezing cold, listening to my son muttering, "But that was only four lanterns...I'm not four years old...I'm nine...I want five more!"
Yeah, well - maybe next year.

Sunday, 1 January 2012


Humph! Just finished reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - and didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped (apart from a mad description of a game of Mah Jong - which made me laugh!) A similar twist in The Man in the Brown Suit helped me to guess who the murderer was before I was even half way through. So all the ensuing twists and turns and red herrings only served to annoy me. I love that feeling of  "It's sooo obvious now - why didn't I see it coming?" But only when it comes at the end.
I suspect that murder mysteries are like cryptic crossword puzzles - the more you do the easier they are to solve. I've still got two stories left so I can put that theory to the test.
Anyhow, I'm going to continue to read lots of different genres - thrillers or sci fi for example - especially if they sell well. Hopefully it'll rub off on my own writing.
My main resolution for 2012 is to have something published and to write a book that's exciting!

Other things I am slightly less resolute about - but which I would like for the new year include...
More hair feathers!
To be bolder.
To go up in a hot air balloon!

Perhaps I also could get a cool tattoo? (I saw some lines of poetry in bold black courier type on a woman's left shoulder blade - and was childishly impressed. But I don't have any outfits which reveal my own left shoulder blade.) 
I would like to stop stressing over stupid things that do not matter. (When one of the cats jumps up onto the kitchen worktop I will not shriek at it in fury - I will simply sigh and think calm thoughts. And disinfect the worktop for the twentieth time of the day!)
I would like to make it to the end of 2012 without turning forty - but I fear this one will be impossible!

New year's eve was grey and rainy, so we all had a pyjama day. The boys played on the Wii and trashed the house. I watched my Christmas DVDs of Downton Abbey and drank pink wine. Outside I could hear fireworks going off all through the day as hardier types than us celebrated the new year.  I fell asleep about half past midnight still listening to the explosions from outside - and with Murder at the Vicarage in my hand. Not the most adventurous way to begin 2012 - but I liked it!
Happy New Year.