Wednesday, 29 August 2012


I typed the final words last night. It was late and I was tired and slightly weirded-out by finishing. I thought perhaps I'd feel more excited today but...naah, not so much. 
I was excited when I finished my first attempt at a novel last year. But I'm older (40!) and wiser this time around. I know that any feelings of pride and achievement are quickly crushed by rejection letters and all the painfully-painful sadness and shattered hopefulness that comes with them. I went to bed feeling queasy at the thought of the submissions process.
"I don't think I can do it," I said to my husband in a voice of panic. " I don't think I'm up to it...what if I get full-blown depression?"
"Don't do it then," he muttered. "No one's making you send it anywhere. Just put it in a drawer instead."
Hmm...tempting idea, hon. But I know I can't really do that - not after a year's work.
When I started it, I tried to protect myself by refusing to invest in it emotionally. I wouldn't allow myself daydreams of publishing deals, lunches with an agent, bidding wars, film rights and possible cover designs. No, this time I was determined to write with a cynical and jaded - slightly world-weary - aloofness. I would submit only by email. I WOULD NOT CARE.
After a month or two, I tested myself - ran a couple of checks on my aloofness and lack of caring. And everything still seemed to be in place, so I allowed myself to write on...
But that was a long time ago now and somehow the caring has sneaked back in. I've written bits that have made me laugh and bits that made me sad and bits that I thought were quite clever. Damn, damn damn! Those rejection letters are going to hurt me again!
I'll spend the next few weeks editing and (hopefully) trimming my wordcount down from 110,588 to something closer to 100,000 - just so that I can care about it a tiny bit more...and ensure the rejection letters sting with a correspondingly increased amount of sharpness. See! There's the jaded cynicism I was telling you about.

This time last year, three of us from our writing group were submitting our attempts at first novels to agents. And being rejected, as first-time novelists will be *sigh*.
And I gave up soonest. I forced myself to send my manuscript out to the obligatory dozen agents, but after the first few rejections my heart wasn't in it - I'd lost faith in my novel almost in an instant.
The agents said I'd written in the wrong genre. I told myself I'd written in the wrong genre. And I believed it for a while...
I don't think it's true anymore though. A novel in any genre will be taken on by an agent if it's good enough. And mine wasn't. I wasn't quite ready to face it then, but I suspect I knew it all the same.
While my two co-writers sought advice from freelance editors, edited, altered their synopsises or covering letters and resubmitted over and over again, I got to work on a second book.
Because they had continuing faith in their work...and I didn't.

So that's my object with the first draft I've just finished. I want to edit it into a book that I can be genuinely proud of...a book I have no qualms about submitting again and again...a book I can defend  truthfully...a book that is honestly the best that I am capable of.
That's not too much to aim for, is it?

Thursday, 23 August 2012

I heart Pip Studio

Lovely Pip Studio things have come to my attention and caught my fancy.
My duvet cover was looking a little worn (once again - on my side only, while husband's side continues pristine) because of all the time I spend lounging about on the bed, sipping coffee and browsing writer's websites - ahem, I mean writing!
That's when this delightfully garish Pip Studio cover took my eye. Although I couldn't afford its official price, I found one on Ebay for only thirty-eight pounds. It was a typical Ebay bargain (by which I mean I had to wash the smell of other people out of it and sew up a rip that wasn't mentioned in the auction, pah!)

My husband took the boys out on yet another day-trip (Bristol Planetarium and Science Museum, I think) so that I could have the whole, entire day to spend writing my final chapter. Only I didn't. Because the Pip Studio gift wrap that I'd ordered from Daisy Park arrived just after they'd left. So I spent the day decoupaging my husband's chest of drawers (my own chest of drawers being too much of a valuable antique, obviously) to match my new duvet cover instead. Impressive, non?

"Oh yes, very manly," he said, upon his return, with what I chose to take as unqualified approval. 

Now that my bedroom is a riot of red and pink, I've noticed that all the pinks and reds in the garden have given way to blues, look...

Last thing at night - or whenever the boys are watching a DVD - I've been making notes about the First World War. My final unwritten chapter (chapter eighteen, I think) is supposed to be written in letter form by a soldier who is injured at the front. I made a casual note of it ages ago...and then left it. Now it's become clear why I left it til last. I don't know all that much about WW1 - and it feels sort of dishonourable to write anything about it from a point of such ignorance. So far I've made more than ten pages of notes, of which I will use next to none, but which will enable me to write the chapter without feeling like a complete fraud. I'm not even sure there is a place in the book for this chapter now that I'm so far over 100,000 - the whole thing needs to be cut rather than added to with letters from the front - says the voice of reason in my head. But I've decided to stick with my original plan and finish the book (then drink champagne). And THEN have a go at editing, as the next stage.

I've been reading about the Battle of the Somme, mostly because my grandad was in it. He was sent home with a shrapnel wound to his leg. 

This is from Wikipedia...
"North of the Albert-Bapaume road, the advance was almost a complete failure.[31] Communications were completely inadequate, as commanders were largely ignorant of the progress of the battle. A mistaken report by General Beauvoir De Lisle of the 29th Division proved to be fatal. By misinterpreting a German flare as success by the 87th Brigade at Beaumont Hamel, it led to the reserves being ordered forward.[32] The eight hundred and one men from the 1st Newfoundland Regiment marched onto the battlefield from the reserves and only 68 made it out unharmed with over 500 of 801 dead. This one day of fighting had snuffed out a major portion of an entire generation of Newfoundlanders.[33] British attacks astride the Albert-Bapaume road also failed, despite the explosion of two mines at La Boisselle. Here another tragic advance was made by the Tyneside Irish Brigade of the 34th Division, which started nearly one mile from the German front line, in full view of German machine-guns. The Irish Brigade was wiped out before it reached the front trench line."

I've been reading most of these facts with my mouth hanging open in horror.

(I've also discovered that both Harold Macmillan and Adolph Hitler received leg wounds at the Somme. What a shame one of those bullets didn't hit a far more vital spot - history would've been very different. JRR Tolkien, Robert Graves and CS Lewis all survived the Somme too.)

Sunday, 19 August 2012


Yes, my sister's birthday meant it was time for more domestic goddess-ery from me.

I made (slightly messy) mini quiches and a tower of carrot cupcakes (again slightly messy - it's a motif dontcha-know!)

One of my sister's friends had organised a surprise garden party for her with the additional surprise element of Venetian masks and elaborate feathered headdresses. So when my sister arrived and stepped out into the garden, she was doubly surprised! We all jumped out and clapped and cheered and shouted "Happy Birthday!" And she had no idea who we were...

This is me in magnificent Vegas Showgirl-type red feathers and some sort of sequinned and feathered owl mask type-thing.
Here are the boys - in their element, of course!

Husband getting into character...

Friday, 17 August 2012

This "free" kindle is ruining me...

Love, love, loved the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I got lost inside it for ages. It was full of magic and mystery and lush, extravagant descriptions - all the sights, sounds and scents of the circus. And just before it ever became too rich or sweet, it turned suddenly - often shockingly - creepy...

"The desserts are always astonishing. Confections deliriously executed in chocolate and butterscotch, berries bursting with creams and liqueurs. Cakes layered to impossible heights, pastries lighter than air. Figs that drip with honey, sugar blown into curls and flowers. Often diners remark that they are too pretty, too impressive to eat, but they always find a way to manage."

"Prospero the Enchanter uses a pocket knife to slit his daughter's fingertips open, one by one, watching wordlessly as she cries until calm enough to heal them, drips of blood slowly creeping backward. The skin melds together, swirls of fingerprint ridges finding one another again, closing solidly once more. Celia's shoulders fall, releasing tension that has knotted in them, her relief palpable as she draws herself safely together. Her father gives her only moments to rest before slicing each of her newly healed fingers again"

I want to be able to write like that! And that's the cause of all the trouble - right there! - that's how it starts. One minute you're lost in dreams of the circus, the next you're surrounded by letters of rejection from agents - damn them!

After the Night Circus, my kindle recommended Daughter of smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, which I also got swept into. I haven't read much YA and I was glad to find that really good writing is apparently appreciated by young adults as much as it is by old, decrepit adults such as myself...

"This, she thought, isn't just for today. It's for everything. For the heartache that still felt like a punch in the gut each time it struck, fresh as new, at unpredictable moments; for the smiling lies and the mental images she couldn't shake; for the shame of having been so naive. For the way loneliness is worse when you return to it after a reprieve - like the soul's version of putting on a wet bathing suit, clammy and miserable."

"And I saw a girl...a girl with black eyes and gemstone hair, and...sadness. She had a sadness that was so deep, but it could still turn to light in a second, and when I saw her smile I wondered what it would be like to make her smile. I thought...I thought it would be like the discovery of smiling."

Both these books have made me want to write more adventurously. Isn't that the point, after all? To - you know - make stuff up? I want to write about magic and mystery and flying girls with blue hair - without being afraid that people will snigger at me. I told myself that my first attempt at a novel was rejected because it was the wrong genre, but I now think it just wasn't brave enough - especially for a debut. I keep on reading that debuts have to be extra "hooky" or "splashy" or shocking in some way. Mine was plain old dull. It was about dull people with dull lives who didn't have any real problems. It felt safer that way. I was too afraid to go out on a limb and sit down, swing my legs and kick my feet about a bit.
I suspect I needed to write the first one just so I knew that I could write over 100,000 words - and I probably learnt a lot. But I'm enjoying writing the second one a whole lot more. I've been brave enough to set bits of it in the past and tried to come up with historical details. I've flirted with the supernatural slightly, there's a ghostly element, an ancient curse, oh - and there are some actual murderers in it! I've let myself go a bit and it's been much more fun!

I doubt I'll ever be able to write with the abandon of Laini Taylor. For every moment that I was gripped and breathless about the war between the angels and the chimaera, there was a line or two which pulled me out of the story for a second and made me think, 'The girl with the cheetah's head did what?'
Although that's probably because I'm too old and cynical for YA fantasy. I still admired the sheer scale of Laini Taylor's imagination - seemingly limitless. 
I was disappointed with the ending. It ends with the heroine starting out on a journey and then the words ' be continued.' (I didn't know there was to be a sequel.)
What a swizz! Oi, come back here and write the end of this story! I was reading faster and faster in the expectation of some sort of resolution and accompanying feeling of achievement. And then I didn't get either of them. A book as well-written as this should not end like an episode of the old TV series of Batman!
But all these things make me think about what I might or might not write next myself.
My wordcount is now well over 106,000 and I have exactly one more chapter to go. I shouldn't think I can fail to finish it before long!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Tripping out...

Spent the day basking in the glorious summer sunshine.
If it's possible to bask whilst repeatedly inflating a gigantic paddling pool with a foot-pump. Which of course it isn't.
In between pumpings I had to lie with my head on the side of the pool - like a paramedic - listening for the telltale hissing of escaping air. By midday I had found two pinprick holes and a centimetre long slit in one of the seams. Since I fixed them with Uhu, plasters and electrical tape, the pool is still deflating - and I suspect that to add water would be naively optimistic.
In any case, both boys refused to leave the house - even as far as the garden. They are suffering from a surfeit of day trips. 

Sir Nine-alot preparing for battle. The rest of us are in hiding for we fear him.

Husband has been feeling guilty about not being able to afford another holiday this year and so has announced that this shall be the Summer of Day Trips!
'But we don't like day trips!' chorused the boys.
'No, we don't like them at all,' I added in support.
But it was to no avail.
So far we have visited Cattle Country, the Cotswold Wildlife Park, Bristol Aquarium, Snowshill Manor, the Roccocco Gardens and the lakes at South Cerney. It feels as if there may have been more, but my head is an exhausted blur of old manor houses, meercat enclosures and zipwires.

Hide and seek in a hayfield
The least enjoyable day out so far was our ill-fated trip to the (unspeakably shite) Snowshill Manor. It was a very long walk from the entrance kiosk (where we paid £35.50) through the grounds (muddy track bordered by nettles) to the manor house itself. The walk was enlivened by strategically placed plastic animal faeces for us to find and identify (in fairness, the nine year old thought this was great, but he's nine - and nine year olds are stupid!) By the time we reached the house it was beginning to rain. We were greeted by a rude old man (at least two hundred years old) who refused to grant us admittance to ye olde manor house because we hadn't been given a ticket at the pay desk (now miles behind us). We showed him our free guide to Snowshill, our Pamphlet of Poos to Spot and our two receipts for £35.50, but no, his job was to stop people trying to get past him without a ticket and he was damned well determined to do it. He made us wait outside in the (now driving) rain, while he went off to grill a woman about whether her handbag was a rucksack (it wasn't) and whether she was happy to leave in in his charge (of course she wasn't, you fucking nitwit).
After a while, a less insane old man turned up and apologised for the rudeness of his colleage. 'He's a volunteer,' he whispered. 'I'm afraid we have to take what we can get.'
'But he's so old his brain has melted into some sort of cheese!' I pointed out. 'I demand my money back this very minute!'
I didn't say that really, but I wanted to quite a lot. We were all pretty wet and grumpy after that. Snowshill Manor was dark and dirty inside and it did not smell good (the five year old dashed out of Charles Wade's bathroom with his hands clapped over his nose!) None of the 'Collection of Curios' was labelled and the guides were all fucking morons. An unbelievably loud alarm sounded intermittently and no one seemed to know how to turn it off. On our way out we got drenched again.
But still the day trips continued...

Brass rubbing at Burford
One good thing was that all the day trips following our Snowshill Manor visit, seemed like lots of fun in comparison. 'At least we're not at Snowshill Manor' the boys cried whenever the rain came pouring down on us, whenever there were no free tables in the cafeteria, whenever the queue for the little train was three miles long or whenever we had to watch one of the larger Siamang gibbons biting the little baby Siamang almost to death!

Running downhill at the Roccoccos

Today, the boys pleaded for a day of lounging and I was more than ready for it.
What they don't know is that their father has made an actual list of Family Days Out and we are but halfway through it. Bristol Planetarium, a day out at Weston-Super-Mare, the Cotswold Farm Park and Coughton Court are all yet to come.
I'm thinking of hiding the list.

Here's the nine year old being taught how to handle a deadly weapon.
 (Obviously the rest of us are hiding again for now we fear him more than ever!)

I've been squeezing some writing into the evenings and weekends and my wordcount is over 102,000 now, which I'm proud of (whoohoo!) but also a little dismayed at because I still have another chapter and a half to go and I wanted to stop short of 100,000 this time. If I'm going to submit it as YA, I think it ought to be somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 - and I'm useless at chopping.
What's more, my friend HH is ready to submit her own YA novel RIGHT NOW - so I'm also feeling a bit frustrated at always rushing to catch up with someone else in my writing group. If I'd managed to stop at 80,000 I'd be ready too, but oh no, I have to go banging on for another 30,000. Why can't I shut the hell up?