Saturday, 28 April 2012

Rainy daze

What is with all this rain?

Old St Swithin seems to be mightily pissed off about something or other.
As for me, I'm secretly liking it - it's the ideal weather for staying indoors, writing, and eating toast. Outwardly I agree with all those who say that the constant rain is awful and terrible. But I don't really mean it - I'm lying. I go straight home and put on my ceremonial yellow slanket and perform a little rain dance. Before making a fresh round of toast.

Besides, it's good for the garden...


Apart from all the rain dancing, I have also been admiring these beautiful rainy day prints by local artist Ali Corder (also my sister!) The first shows pink blossoms, leaky, blurry, spring colours and birds larking about. The second shows rainy paper planes, which are hand drawn on to newspaper, cut out and added to painted board.

So, what with the wet weather and all, I've been writing steadily this week - and enjoying it too. Wordcount is now almost to 70,000 and I've been mooching about on a couple of agent's websites, reading their submission guidelines, looking at moody, black and white photos of the authors they represent...and feeling unaccountably excited.  I'm really looking forward to sending this book off, which is inexplicable, given that my first one was rejected by thirteen different agents and I found the process agonizing, humiliating and soul-destroying. Hmm...maybe I have a masochistic streak...

Which brings me to...'Fifty Shades'.
This is being reviewed everywhere and I keep hearing people mention it - so I bought a copy. Mostly because I can't stand being out of the loop - especially if the loop is surrounding a first-time writer who has become an internet phenomenon and millionaire.

I was expecting to be amused by it, but "Oh my!" (as the heroine says in every paragraph.)
It's a horribly bad book. And worse - it's all about sado-masochism. At least I think that's worse than barely-readable prose. Isn't it? Ok, maybe not.
I took it with me to read at the hairdressers.
Of course, my new male hairdresser asked me what I was reading.
"Fifty Shades," I said, with reluctant truthfulness.
"Oh? What's it about?"
"Um...sado-masochistic sex mostly."
There was a LONG pause, then he murmured, "My wife's reading 'One Day' by David Nichol.'
"Mm..."I said. "That is nicer."

I couldn't finish Fifty Shades it was too depressing. Instead I put it in the bottom of the airing cupboard with a pile of other books that disappointed me. Immediately beneath it, I noticed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - which everyone also raved about - and which also turned out to be all about women being abused. Why are so many people reading this stuff?

I've had discussions with other aspiring writers about what we would be prepared to put our names to in exchange for overnight fame and giant pots of cash. Pretty much any old thing - is the general consensus of opinion. But I think I've finally discovered where I would draw my own personal line. And it's just this side of Fifty Shades.
As one reviewer remarked, "This book sullies the good name of crap."
I just wish I'd read that before I'd paid for it!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Cocktail time

Husband had a birthday at the weekend.
So the boys made him a ginormous carrot cake.

It took me hours to clean up the mess they made.
But it tasted good!

While we were at Burgh Island, husband was very impressed by the cocktails made by the hotel's legendary barman, Gary MacBar. (In the early afternoon, he made us delicious Henris and Tom Collinses to drink in the sunshine; then at cocktail hour, he made us fabulous Bellinis with champagne.)

So self and the boys bought husband his own book of  cocktail recipes and a selection of alcohol and fruit. He's had a lot of fun with it (I even caught him cooking his own sugar-syrup for the Tom Collinses!) - and we've both been mildly pissed ever since.

On Saturday, I invited friends and family round for acres of chinese food, and husband made a huge jug of peach Bellini with dozens of raspberries in it. It was so pretty - I wish I'd photographed it, but I was a bit too plastered by then!

(Our recycling boxes are groaning with empty bottles.)

The boys went back to school this week and I've been trying to get back to my neglected novel.
Two of the people who read it have told me they don't like the first chapter - which is a bit of a blow since that's the only bit any agents I send it to will look at.
HH called round during her morning dog-walk and explained that the tone was wrong, the pace was wrong and the length wasn't quite right either. (I think it takes a good friend to tell you all this first thing in the morning!)
Thing is, I didn't actually write chapter one as part of the story. I began at chapter 2, then added chapter 1 afterwards in order to please the imaginary agents I might send it to. I made it as fast and dramatic and easy-to-read as I possibly could, but as it turns out, this suits neither my style nor my story. Bloody imaginary agents!

So I've now had to jettison the first chapter before I'm halfway through the book. Humph!
What really worries me is that I'm not at all sure I would've seen just how wrong it was without the HH's intervention.
Freelance editors have been recommended to me by too many people (whose opinions I respect) for me not to wonder about it. But it costs a fortune (£400-£600!) with absolutely no guarantee of a book-deal afterwards.
Two members of my writing group have given it a go. The first paid about £75 to have a short story edited. Although she said the advice she received was invaluable, there's not much of a market for short stories and - therefore - no way of recouping her money. The second paid £60 to have her first three chapters and synopsis edited. Here, the editor has added a great many commas to the work and sent some encouraging compliments. In the editor's defence, I'm not sure it would've been possible to have included sweeping plot changes when she'd only read the first three chapters.
Although both group members said the feedback was worth the money in terms of the confidence and inspiration it gave them, they are still left wondering whether to spend the necessary £400-£600 on getting their full manuscripts edited or not.
(Of course the only other option is to give up on something they've worked long and hard on - and that completely sucks!)
A third (and perhaps bravest) group member has sent off the full amount along with her 80,000 word story, so we're all intensely interested to see what she gets back.
As for me, I don't see any way of raising the money, so I've entered a writing competition in which the prize is some free editorial advice. At least if it's free, they'll be more likely to be honest!

I hate the thought that the people most likely to succeed as published authors are those who can afford to throw most money at it. That would be - well, it would be - um - life, I suppose...

I'm reading a biography of Daphne du Maurier at the moment, and it claims that the first draft of Rebecca was completely different. The housekeeper was only a minor character (who wasn't menacing at all)...the narrator attempts to commit suicide by drinking disinfectant...then she and her husband (who wasn't called Maxim - but Henry) end the book by dying in a car crash - so even the 'Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley line couldn't have been included.
Now Du Maurier must've planned all these things and worked on them and written them all down - and I bet it was still a great story. So what made her change so much? How did she bring herself to cut entire scenes and how did she know with such certainty what would work better?
I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have seen any of it!
Maybe a good freelance editor is the only sensible way to go...
Hopefully my husband will keep me supplied with strong cocktails while I try to figure it all out.

Wordcount is now around 65,500 - I'm just happy it's moving again!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Springtime at the Roccocco Gardens

Yesterday we went to the Roccocco Gardens in Painswick. It's beautiful there whatever the season and we usually visit two or three times a year.
As we drove there yesterday, a hail storm thundered down on our car, but it stopped as we arrived and the sun came out. After a while we even took off our coats. Then, as we drove away, down came the hail again. Our visit was timed perfectly in between the two downpours.

All the photographs are of the Roccocco Gardens. Today was busy, but far less picturesque - so I'm simply going to include descriptions of some of the things I did today...

Today I...

Bumped into a good friend unexpectedly.

Hunted in FIVE different shops for a packet of Mini-eggs to go on the easter nest cakes we were planning to make.

Booked a Magic-Land party for my soon-to-be six year old.

Today I...

Accidently discovered that one of my friends has told a BIG lie to his wife (which made me feel bad).

Hid fifty-four tiny foil-wrapped eggs in the long wet grass and the dripping tree branches.

Switched to a different hairdresser (a man this time!)

Today I...

Ate THREE assorted chocolate easter cakes and drank three cups of coffee.

Bought a card for my husband that was so childishly RUDE it made me and the boys giggle hysterically in the card shop.

Showed a friend a photo of my wedding dress - which I wore almost a decade ago now! (It was cream and gold and embroidered with tiny seed pearls. It was also long and slim and - I hoped - Audrey Hepburnesque.)

Today I...

Bought three packets of seeds for sprinkling haphazardly - Candytuft, Love-in-a-Mist and Cornflowers.

Looked after a three year old for an hour - which made me appreciate just how BIG my boys are now.

Wondered for the twentieth time whether I ought to tell my sister that her new hairdo makes her look quite a lot like Grace Dent.

Today I...

Read my boys some chapters of the Faraway Tree stories - and was amazed how well I remembered it all (especially Dame snap and the Saucepan Man!)

Accidently crossed out almost an entire week of my diary that I havent actually lived yet.

Ate leftover cheese-and-pineapple-on-sticks for tea - Mmm!

Today I...

Danced with my boys to 'Moves like Jagger' which they seem to have on a loop.

Gave myself a tummyache with too much dancing and Easter party food.

Snuck off by myself for a few minutes and listened to 'I've been loving you too long' by Otis Redding - in an attempt to counteract all the Maroon Five.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Happy Chocolate Day!

It's my favourite time of year - a time of chocolate eggs and spring flowers!

 Magnolias, camellias and anenomes...

I seem to have lost my writing mojo and my novel has stalled around 62,000. So I poured all my energy into this year's easter egg hunt instead. The boys had to plot co-ordinates on a graph, decipher codes and solve acrostics, wordsearches and crossword puzzles. Of course they complained bitterly, but I think they enjoyed it really (Ok, maybe not the youngest one so much - he just wanted his goddamn easter egg!)

Last week, I went out for a proper afternoon tea at an olde fashioned tea shoppe that my sister has discovered. There were lots of bone-handled cake knives, many-tiered cake plates and teacups made of china as thin as paper.

Well Walk Tea Rooms

It was a bit like eating scones and drinking home-made lemonade on a stage set. Personally, I was pretending to be Maggie Gyllenhaal in Nanny McPhee 2 - or perhaps Marion Cottillard - since I was wearing a flouncy gypsy skirt that I'd made myself and had very tousled hair. (Shouldn't think I actually looked like either of them, of course - it was more of a mood-thing!)

 And Marion Cotillard also looking a little bit tousled and vintagey...

Friday, 6 April 2012

Feeling blue...

I seem to have lost confidence in the book I'm working on at the moment. And that's making it much harder to write. With every single word, the voice in my head whispers, "Nobody wants to read this. No one will ever want to read this!"

Trouble is, a couple of friends asked to read it. And although I don't much like sending out work-in-progress, they meant it kindly, so I sent them what I'd written and tried not to think about it.  It's impossible though - for me at least - (surely for anyone who's ever written anything?) not to wonder how it's being received. Are they laughing at the funny bits? Do they like the characters? Are they being drawn in by the plot?

In this case, the worse seems to have happened - unbearably - they simply don't seem to be able to read it...

At first, when the days passed and I didn't receive a response, it began to feel as if I was waiting to hear back from the dreaded agents again rather than friends. The voices in my head started to suggest reasons for the delay: "They hate it. They hate it so much they can't think of a single thing to say about it."

That's the trouble with writing - it's just you and your book. There's simply no way of measuring whether it's any good or not. And if you've already been turned down by numerous agents, it's hard to recover enough confidence to keep going. Unless you're an undiscovered genius like Rupert Pupkin, you're constantly braced for an adverse reaction to it.

Of course I should probably consider the fact that I might be just too thin-skinned to be having a go at this - the critics in my head are so fast and so mean!

I seem to be abiding by some sort of unspoken set of rules which dictate that I must not ask my friends if they've read it - or when they'll read it - or what they think of it. Nope - all my energy must go into pretending that I'm not giving the matter a single thought. So they can hardly be blamed for believing that I'm not bothered.

A while ago, my friend HH was asked to send her manuscript to another mutual friend who later admitted she'd had no intention of even looking at it. When I asked her what was taking her so long she gave me a great big rouguish grin and said "I know! I'm really naughty, aren't I?"
"Yes, you fucking are!" I wanted to shout at her, but HH seemed so unfazed by the whole business, that I thought I should follow her lead.
Although now I'm wondering how much she minded really...

I think that anyone who ever asks anyone else if they can read something they've written ought to feel honour-bound to read it (or at least pretend they've read it) and then say something nice!

After three or four weeks, one of my friends sent an email explaining that she hadn't yet had time to read it.
Instead of making me feel better, it made me long to somehow suck my half-written book back up the wires of my friends' computers - so they no longer feel as if I'm forcing them to read the damn thing. Ugh - can't bear the idea that something I've spent so much time and effort (and unspoken hopes) on is inconveniencing people.

I'm being over-sensitive, I know this. It's why I don't like sending my writing out to other people to read.
Besides, I expect she really has been busy. People do get busy...

Eventually, she sent another email admitting that she's unlikely to read it all.

She's unlikely to read it.

And if I ask her why not, I know she'll say (tactfully) that she's busy - and after all this time I won't really believe it.
Meanwhile there is total silence from the other friend I sent it to. Which begins to take on a darkly ominous meaning. Damn, damn, damn!
So I drink pink wine and feel blue.
The bloody thing's unreadable. It must be. It's going to be turned down by every agent I send it to - just like the last time. Damn, damn, damn!

So why am I still trying to do this?

Maybe other people will want to read what I've written, even though there are those that don't. I once lent Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to my next-door neighbour so she could see what all the fuss was about - and she simply couldn't get through it. Imagine that - imagine not being able to read Harry Potter! She had it for about eight months - and it's a children's book!
I expect there's someone somewhere who can't get through any of the best books ever written. 
But today's email has made continuing with my story feel almost impossibly hard work, so I think the lesson is that if you don't like giving your work to friends to read you should probably stick to your guns - at least until you've finished!

(Another lesson is surely that you shouldn't write blog-entries in a fit of pink-wine-induced self-pity...sorry!)