Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Defining the Genres

I spotted a link to a writing competition yesterday and decided to enter (Undiscovered at Novelicious). They were asking for the first three thousand words of a chicklit novel, so I thought I could email them the start of my current work-in-progress and maybe win some professional editing advice.
But I was dismayed to discover that my planned new novel wasn't eligible on dozens of different counts.

The first story I wrote was roundly rejected because I'd picked the wrong genre. So, before beginning the second, I tried to find out what agents were looking for. Young Adult still seemed to be booming (the Twilight effect maybe?); Historical was popular (the Downton Abbey effect?); and Mysteries or ghost stories appeared to be selling well (Dan-Rad in the Woman in Black?). So I hedged my bets by embarking upon a mystery story about a gang of teenagers who go camping at a haunted castle and begin to unravel the secrets of the past.
(Scooby Doo is on TV a lot in our house - can you tell?)

And by picking as many genres as I could cram into one story, I seem to have narrowed my options (and possibly my target readers as well).

I thought - rather dopily - that chicklit could encompass young protagonists, mysteries and ghosts. Not so, said the people over at Novelicious. Anything with a narrator or main characters in the 18-20 age group is 'Young Adult' and therefore ineligible for their competition. Someone else asked them if she could submit a story set in the 1950s. Nope, they said, contemporary stories only.
Since my story involves a sort of dual time-frame plot - half of which is set in the 1830s (with a chapter from 1916 thrown in for good measure) it's exempt for this reason too.

After that, I browsed around a bit - trying to find exact definitions of genres in fiction - and read somewhere that encompassing more than two genres is a huge mistake.
Before submitting work to an agent, you're supposed to know exactly which shelf in Waterstones would be best for your book. And because I wanted my story to be all things to all people, I seem to have ended up with a very small shelf indeed.

Ah, well. I went for a very nice lunch with my old writing group today (although I think we gossiped about people we knew more than we talked about literary matters.)
One of us, K, has written one and a half books (Historical) and has secured an agent. Although, devastatingly, the agent has failed to sell either book to a publisher. K, now has a new job, new flat and new boyfriend and seems to be too busy living to write much at the moment. Which is a shame because she's naturally - effortlessly - talented and admits that she misses writing. I'm convinced she'll be famous one day. (Perhaps when she gets a better agent!)
Another of us, H, has had interest from an agent who asked to read her entire manuscript (Young Adult) exclusively. Again more devastation was to follow when the agent (a small concern with no in-house editorial department) decided that the manuscript needed to be worked on by a freelance editor. So H is now deep in the throes of editing and re-editing with no guarantee of a contract. As yet.
Then there's A, whose manuscript (Murder Mystery) was rejected as many times as my own. She has now begun to teach her own creative writing classes and is busily helping other would-be writers to progress. Impressively dynamic - but not something I'd be brave enough to attempt!
Lastly there's J, whose unfinished manuscript has almost exactly the same word-count as it did when he first joined our group over a year ago. He talks more enthusiastically than any of us about the submissions process versus self-publishing, but I'm not convinced (whisper it!) that he's ever going to finish his masterpiece.
It's very demoralising to spend a year working on a novel which is utterly unpublishable and I appear to be the only one of the group who has flung herself straight back into the process. Yay - I win the prize for most delusional member of the gang!
If my Mysterious-Historical-Young-Adult manuscript is rejected, I'll pack it in and go and get a proper job, I promise!

My haunted castle by the sea.
 (Hangman's Hill is in the distance - which I think is a brilliantly spooky name!)

My wordcount is somewhere around 53,000. Progress has slowed right down since I began to tackle the historical chapters of the story. I can no longer write down whatever comes into my head. Instead I have to break it up and insert lots of forsooths, I daresays and pray tell me, sirs. (Mayhap it'll turn out to be a comedy after all that!)

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Wish List

Writing in the hope of earning money is supposed to be the cardinal sin, I know that. Even thinking about money between chapters is the sign that you're not really a writer; you're a mercenary scumbag.
You're supposed to write for the sheer, unadulterated love of  the written word!
And I do.
Occasionally though, one or two things that I might buy if I were JK Rowling  flit into my head. Only for a moment - then I mentally push them aside and get back to struggling in my garret.
This is my wish list...

A real silk dressing gown.
(To be pronounced in the tone of the prince in the Princess and the Pea, when he wanted a real princess.)
When I was a teenager I bought a 100% silk dressing gown from a second-hand shop. It was claret coloured paisley silk with black facings (I think they're called facings - collar, cuffs, belt etc.) It was very well-worn - which makes me feel slightly squeamish now. At the back, the seat of the dressing gown had been worn semi-transparent and the sleeves were peppered with cigarette burns (admittedly some of those were probably mine - I was a teenager after all!)
It made me feel slinky, seductive and sophisticated in a way that babydoll nighties from Dorothy Perkins simply didn't. I lounged in it. I was a lounge lizard. I was practically Noel Coward.
Women's silk dressing gowns are not the same at all. They're too shiny and bridal - and only seem to come in shades of oyster or palest pink. How could anyone pretend to be Noel Coward in one of those?

Bertie Wooster - whose every garment is too fabulous for words.

Whatsisname from Downton Abbey. Why do men get all the best dressing gowns?

Tom Ford looking pretty damn pleased with himself. Well, so would I if I had a dressing gown like his!

 Seqinned dresses
I love sequins. But not being Paris Hilton, I never have occasion to wear sequinned dresses. And no, I would not be happy with a seqinned corsage or a pretty cardi with a sequinned hem. I do not yearn for sequins in moderation. If I had pots of money I would buy an entire dress rail of sequinned dresses and skirts. I would have blue ones and mauve ones, white ones and black ones - and lots of other colours in between. I would add one or two touches of chiffon or ostrich feathers for extra beauty, then I would position this clothes rail right by the window so that every time the sun shone in my seqinned dresses would create much the same effect as a multi-coloured mirrorball.

A Treehouse
Officially for my children - but I could sneak in while they're at school!
We have a small plastic house at the end of our garden, but it is dark and dampish and full of snails and spiders. It is far from being the secret den that I hoped it would be. In fact it's an eyesore.
I would like to commission a carpenter to build us a small wooden house with glass windows and a brass knocker on the door. There would be curtains and rugs and comfy cushions. It would have a slide or a fireman's pole or a zip-wire. And the boys could keep their treasured possessions inside it without them going all mouldy and mildewed!

This reminds me of the Berenstain Bears' house!

Children in books - from Horrid Henry to Biff, Chip and Kipper - always have their own den in a  tree house.

Surely this one must be Cath Kidson's own personal tree house!

I wonder if I could persuade a carpenter to also build us the necessary tree...?
 New Glasses
My glasses are pretty much of a non-style because I have to wear them every day. If I could afford to, I would co-ordinate my glasses with my outfits. Somedays I would choose owlish, studenty glasses, other days I would go for shiny silver secretarial specs which I'd wear with a pencil skirt and a pussycat bow. And the same goes for prescription sunglasses - I'd like cool, reflective aviators, retro wayfarers and huge, mysterious Jackie O's.
I went to see one of Pulp's reunion gigs at Brixton Academy in September - and ever since then I've been hankering after a bit more Geek Chic. Fine if it's only a tank top, but Jarvis Cocker glasses are expensive and I might not be in a geeky mood every day from now on!
Especially if I'm already wearing my sequinned skirt and my real silk dressing gown!

Waiting excitedly for the King of the Geeks to appear.

Some Common People...

I was too far away to take this photo. It accompanies a funny interview by Stephen Merchant, in which Jarvis describes the occasion that he danced so wildly on stage that his glasses flew off and landed inside a bass drum. The concert was held up by twelve minutes while the rest of the band helped him to find them. The audience, he says 'pissed themselves'.

No improvement to the word count - half term has well and truly intervened.
I'll get back to it tomorrow xx

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

I Heart Valentines Day!

We've all swapped pink and red cards. We've eaten foil-wrapped chocolate hearts for breakfast. Later, at dinner there will be pink wine (or Ribena for the boys.)
Hurrah! I've finally tracked down Sleeping Murder (for a romantic Valentine read!)

I got some new red shoes - they're the shiniest shoes I've ever seen!

Husband bought me a cute typewriter cushion to match my old typewriter.
(So  I can pretend to be Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote.)

I bought him more traditional gifts. Because he already has everything he wants (I refer to myself there, obviously)

I really do love Valentines Day. In fact the only occasion I enjoy more is Halloween - because it's slightly sillier and there's more dressing up involved. There are no irksome religious connotations to either of them - just the eating of chocolate, telling people you love them or dressing up as skeleton-pirates!

I usually enjoy my birthday too, of course...only this year it involves one of those numbers with a nought on the end - aaargh!

I helped the boys make hand-drawn, sparkly sequinned cards for some of the little girls at their school and we filled the envelopes with chocolate hearts. I'm having far more fun than they are imagining those cards being opened. Every year, when I was at infant school, I made a Valentine card for Andrew Holman (handsome son of the school secretary). He never sent me one back (sigh).
I'm making sure there's no chance of my own boys behaving in such a cavalier way!

(I didn't make this - I just saw it on Facebook and admired it!)

(Think my word count is around 51,000. I was delighted to get past 50,000 - especially during half-term week. 'Spect it's all down to that new cushion!)

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Style Icons

I keep seeing pictures of 'Modern Style Icons' with their classic outfits and feeling not envious or admiring - but bored. Skinny jeans and high heels - yawn. Navy blazers and white linen shirts - double yawn. Giant handbags and outsize scarves - zzzzz!
I'd much rather see pictures of women whose style is interesting - and even fun.

Helena Bonham Carter always looks amazing. I'm amazed. Are you amazed?

I really love Vanessa Paradis' Twenties style - it suits her perfectly and sets her apart from everyone else.

Lisa Bonet has been achingly stylish for as long as I can remember. And I mean that literally...I used to watch the Cosby Show and want to look like Denise so badly I could feel it like a stomach-ache!

And one more of the amazing HBC - simply because she's wearing a dress made out of newspaper!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Things I like...

I never wanted to be one of those women who collect things - especially china dolls in period costume or miniature country cottages.
Turns out I am, though.
There are some things I like so much that one simply isn't enough.

Marble eggs...papier mache eggs...chocolate eggs - any kind of eggs really.

Old jelly (or pate) moulds made of glass, pottery, brass or tin.
I don't use them because they are - frankly - unhygenic-looking, but I'm saving them for the day I own an enormous old-fashioned dresser in an enormous old-fashioned country house kitchen.  At the moment they're just a jumble, so I'll include a picture (below) of the kind of kitchen I mean. It's Audley End House, I think.
Yep - this is the kind of thing I meant.

Glass trinket boxes and scent bottles
 (and anything else that looks as if it might be found in a dusty old attic.)

Pastel tea cups and saucers
 - incase I ever need to host a Mad Hatter's Tea Party (although I do not - as yet - possess a mad hat.)

Soap (Mostly because people give it to me at Christmas...and it does smell nice)

Sea shells
I love anything that reminds me of our family holidays - every summer I decide I want to go and live in a fisherman's hut with sandy floorboards, driftwood on the fire and strings of shells instead of curtains.
(I snap out of it as soon as I'm back home, though.)

 (My Word Count is somewhere between 48,000 and 49,000. I reached a tricky bit on Tuesday and did lots of baking instead (coffee and walnut cake and a sort of casserole with pork medallions). Then I went to see The Artist on Wednesday. I toyed with the idea of including a Peppy Miller-style beauty spot in my make up regime this morning. Then I came to my senses and remembered I am NEARLY forty! There's probably a very fine line between beauty spots and liver spots at my age!)

Friday, 3 February 2012

The frost is back

It's really cold out now.
The park is no longer muddy - it crackles and crunches underfoot on our way to and from school. I had to take my gloves off yesterday to answer a text message; it was only a short message but by the time I was back in my gloves, my fingers were aching with cold.
(I've even resorted to wearing my ridiculous microwaveable slipper-boots!)
My nine year old has been off school all week with tonsilitis. He's been wrapped up in bed with hot-water bottles and fleecy blankets to keep out the cold while he drinks glass after glass of iced water.
Double brrr!
He's missing at least a week of every term with painful tonsils now. Sooner or later I suspect he'll have to have them removed. I had my tonsils taken out when I was his age and it made a huge difference. I wasn't in pain any more, I could sleep properly at night, and I could go to school every day like all the other children. I thought it was amazing!
Trouble is...he's my little boy...and the thought of someone in surgical gloves going into his throat with a scalpel has been keeping me awake for the last few nights. In relation to my own child, I no longer think it's amazing - I think it's horrifying!
Bringing up children is so very different in practice to theory Every Single Day!

I've been indulging in an orgy of baking to warm up the kitchen. Shepherds pies, fish pies, baked potatoes, chicken stews, chocolate brownies and (since raspberries are half-price at the moment) raspberry muffins!

Word count has finally creaked up to 45,000 - how very underwhelming...