Monday, 23 December 2013

Bad guys

God, I love holidays!
We've hardly been out of our PJs since I collected the boys from school on Friday. I don't even feel guilty about it, since the rain's been battering against the window the whole time.
Meals have mostly been made up of chocolates, nuts and fancy cheeses. I have books and DVDs and plenty of wine. Feel as if I could go on like this indefinitely...

I've just started reading the Lies of Locke Lamora - mostly because of the title, but after that because I couldn't stop reading when I'd raced through the Kindle free sample. Locke Lamora is a master of disguise and the leader of a tight-knit band of thieves called the Gentleman Bastards. The opening chapters are full of brilliantly vivid descriptions and characters who are both hilarious and horrifying. And so far, Locke Lamora himself seems to be the most unashamedly dishonest hero I've ever encountered. I love bad guy heroes.
In fiction - obviously.
Real life bad guys are infinitely resistible - and I only ever want to smack them. In their faces.

Yesterday, we went to see Frozen, which my seven-year-old assured me I'd like even more than Tangled...

And while, I did enjoy it. Tangled remains my favourite Disney film because of Flynn Rider.
Best bad guy hero ever! The bad guy in Frozen is only an average bad guy - and never heroic. He duly ends up on the floor with his head in a bucket. And the good guy hero fails to save the day or rescue the princess. If anything Frozen is a cautionary tale about all men. What the critics say is true, though - the snowman really is awesome!

Still haven't seen Hunger Games II yet - we're saving it for ten-year-old's birthday at the start of 2014...but it's good to have something left to look forward to on the other side of Christmas.

Now that I've started thinking about bad guy heroes, I'm  realising that all my favourite films have one... 
Pirates of the Caribbean with Captain Jack Sparrow. Ultimate bad guy hero.

The Princess Bride. In which Westley becomes a pirate in order to marry his true love.

The Mask of Zorro. Featuring Alejandro - thief, adventurer and bandit.

Dangerous Liasons with the Vicomte de Valmont - bad, bad, bad.
The Italian Job. Film about a lovable bank robber.

And True Romance.
When Clarence falls in love with Alabama, does he settle down...
Or does he shoot her pimp, steal a load of cocaine and try to sell it?
Hmm...judging by the photos, it also seems as if my taste in films is guided largely by fabulous costumes. How very shallow I am. I feel as if I ought to add that my all time favourite film is La Haine - the gritty, black and white, French film about social problems*. There, my credibility is restored. 
(*It isn't my favourite film really. I fell asleep after ten minutes, pirates.)
Other things I've been enjoying over the last few days include...
Silver balls and edible glitter...
Here's ten-year-old decorating festive biscuits. And the table.
And - eventually - most of the kitchen. Sparkletastic!

And here's a card that arrived from my agent which includes the line - 'Here's to 2014 - the year of the book deal I hope!'
Which made me go all emotional. Not least, because I still can't believe I've got an actual agent. When I hear from her out of the blue like this, it feels like landing an agent all over again. Every time! 
And then there's this penguin.
Of course Husband could have gone to his 'movie star' office party as someone charming and suave.
Like Jack Sparrow...Zorro...or the Vicomte de Valmont...or even Charlie Croker.
But who did he choose?
That penguin from Happy Feet, that's who.

Monday, 16 December 2013

In which I am Deeply Disturbing!

I've been blogging for two years today!
And I'm far from convinced it'll ever become a useful-social-media-tool or whatever blogs are supposed to be. Mine is a diary really. A diary with photographs. Or maybe a photograph album with added thoughts. 
I have a bad habit of attempting to live in the future - 'When I'm a proper writer'...'When we have more money'...'When the boys are a bit older...'  So it's useful for me to have a record of real time - Halloween costumes, day trips, changing seasons, birthdays and biscuit baking - and writing progress, of course. My blog makes me stop and register the good stuff - even if it seems kind of small at the time.
The only problem with having a blog as a personal diary is that I can't keep it under my pillow - real people can look at it!
I mean, they don't - not generally. Not if the Blogger stats are any indication. But they can.  
Like the publisher I met on Friday, who - with a very twinkly smile - mentioned my shiny silly plastic ring...and finally my fondness for Peter Lorre. I was babbling away madly like some sort of jackass - (an inevitable reaction whenever I meet someone with quiet eloquence, poise and thoughtfulness. Seriously - it's unnerving!) but the Peter Lorre reference shut me up...and gave Rachel Leyshon the chance to tell me she'd looked at my blog.
Yeep! Simultaneous horror and pride that I had created a useful-social-media-tool after all.
Look, there's the Chicken House door. I was standing right outside it on Friday with sweaty palms, trembly knees and many other clichés. And I can tell you - from personal experience - that the bell needs to be pressed firmly - or you will remain standing there in the drizzle, while your assortment of clichés gets steadily worse.
I said in my last post that I had resigned myself to a Christmas without any writerly developments, but that was before my agent suddenly called and asked if I'd like to meet the Chicken House team and maybe pick up a little feedback on my manuscript. (Oh Lord, has my agent been reading the blog too? This is going to give me total-blog-freeze!)
Already, I can't remember much about it. I was too weirded-out on excitement and nerves. My impression of the Chicken House offices is that they were bright and homely and mis-matched and arty - with piles of books and box-files everywhere.
And everyone was so nice.
They talked about books and writing (and buttons!) and said so many lovely things about my own writing that I pretty much fell in love with all of them.
Several times, Rachel Leyshon gestured at me with the words '...writers like you...' - which made me go very misty-eyed. And Barry Cunningham - yes - Barry Cunningham - said my descriptions were very visual. I think he said there was a real immediacy to my writing too. God, I wish I'd had the foresight to wear a hidden tape-recorder. (Not that I've actually got a tape-recorder. Can you still get tape-recorders?)
I definitely remember him praising the scary bits in my story, because he said that some parts of my writing were 'deeply disturbing.' And I remember thinking that if I can't have that quote on a book cover one day, I'll have it on my gravestone instead.
It was around this point in the meeting that Barry Cunningham took my incoherent tearfulness as an indication that they simply hadn't praised my writing enough. He darted out onto the landing and returned with an actual YA writer in tow - so that she could tell me that she liked my book too.
This is how I met CJ Skuse, author of Dead Romantic, Pretty Bad Things and Rockoholic - and who told me I write very realistic teenagers. I nodded and smiled - and in my head I was thinking that if I ever get to be a YA author I will be exactly like CJ Skuse. I will be down-to-earth and funny and friendly and kind to wannabes.*
*Obviously I won't really. I'll be a monster.
I can only conclude that Chicken House keep a stock of YA authors in a large cupboard on their upstairs landing in readiness for these sorts of moments. I'd quite like to go and live in that cupboard myself. Maybe one day.
Barry Cunningham is one of only three people who can legally sign things with Harry potter's signature (the other two being JK Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe). As I was leaving, he gave me a copy of Chamber of Secrets made out to my ten-year-old from the boy wizard himself. Do you see what I mean about the niceness?
Anyway, very broadly, the advice I was given is that my two different timelines are pulling away from each other and I need to link them together more closely.  It's great to have something positive to work on over Christmas. (As long as I don't miss my children opening their presents because I'm sitting at my desk muttering to myself about legacies, family curses and bequests).
Husband has just recorded Cloud Atlas for me. He's claiming it has five or six different timelines and they're all cleverly linked. Vaguely remember this is what put me off reading the book when it came out, but it could be a good place to start.
The tree is up, the presents wrapped and another dozen simpering Victorian children have been revealed on the advent calendar. Happy, happy, happy!

Monday, 2 December 2013


December already and I've bought this sparkly carousel calendar covered in simpering Victorian children. Because...traditional values or something.
Last year, the boys had a calendar filled with Lego Star Wars toys - which they fought over, then promptly lost interest in. Someone gave them a chocolate filled calendar too - and they'd accidentally opened all the boxes and eaten the contents by day two or three, as I recall. (Seven-year-old can be remarkably accident prone when there's chocolate involved.)
Hence the cheesy Victorian scene above.
I've tried to ignite their interest by making them guess what'll be behind each door. Crackers? Bells? A bulging stocking?  A smiley snowman?

Well, so far they've found two sleeping Victorian children and tomorrow's guesses are...
"I dunno, a sleeping kid probably." (Ten-year-old)
"Yeah, I guess another sleeping kid too." (Seven-year-old)
If the printer wasn't (always!) out of ink, I'd be spending this afternoon printing some truly horrifying photos off the internet and inserting them behind the remaining doors! Ho ho ho.

I haven't felt much like blogging lately. This was always supposed to be a Writer's Progress Blog, so whenever it goes a bit quiet, the reason is a lack of writerly progress. I'm still writing and still hoping, but sometimes the hopefulness flags a bit and I go to ground for a while. It's probably an end-of-year-thing. The arrival of December is making me face the fact that this is going to be another year of not being a published writer...and that I'd be able to afford better Christmas presents if I gave up and got a job in a shoe shop.

But...I came across a Twitter conversation between writers last night that suggested it's all just a matter of time and perseverance...

Elizabeth Chadwick posted the picture above, with the words 'The novels I wrote before I was published.'

Lesley Pearse said 'I threw mine away because they were so embarrassing, but the pile was bigger than yours, Elizabeth.'

'Crikey, Lesley! Not all mine are there. I think I wrote eight in total. How many did you write?'

'Four. But huge tomes. I was afraid to keep them in case someone got hold of them after my death.'

Jill Mansell *joining in* 'I think I wrote eight books before I was published.'

Charlotte Betts added 'Eight for me too! So many of my author friends say you need to write eight first!'

Proof that the important thing is to have faith and keep going.

I'm almost up to 60,000 words of book number three now, which means I'll probably have something new to submit early in the new year. And I still feel a tiny fizz of excitement at the thought.
I have writer friends who've lost heart and given up writing for a year or longer. They've found it correspondingly harder to begin again, the longer they've left it. I'm certain this would be true for me too.
I also have writer friends who've become obsessed with getting a single book published - editing, re-drafting and submitting it endlessly - because it's hard to give up on something you're proud of. But Elizabeth Chadwick added these tweets about letting go... 'I regard most of those unpublished novels as apprenticeship pieces now, but at the time I thought they were the best thing since sliced bread...Thing is, they weren't ready for publication. If it was today and I'd published as an e-book, I'd have embarrassed myself.' new aim is to keep going for eight books, whilst not giving up or getting too attached.
Eight, though - yikes!


I went for a wander around the local shops this morning and picked up a couple of Christmas presents. Fancy chocolates, antique jewellery and ahem - a bottle of gin. But I couldn't help wondering what had happened to all the shops that used to sell bread and milk? The barbers? The butchers? The chippy and the off license?
All my local shops are now offering chipped teacups, cushions and commodes...

Do you see what I mean?
Has this happened everywhere - or just where I live?
I'm thinking of bucking the trend and buying everyone gifts that haven't already been used/worn/meddled with by generations of strangers this year. Brand new gifts - still in the factory wrapping and everything. Soulless they'll be, without character or quirks or that strange vintage smell.
I don't care - I am a badass.
Ooh - sofa!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Favourite things this week...

1... Lovely new slipper-boots for self and husband


2... Writers tweeting WRITER'S BRAIN tweets on Twitter

Writer's Brain
 Matt Haig
THE WRITER'S BRAIN: I'm a genius. I'm useless. I'm a genius. I'm useless. I'm a genius. I'm useless. I'm a genius. I'm useless. I want bread...
Nikesh Shukla
THE WRITER'S BRAIN: love me love me love me love me love me ooooooh a free book love me love me love me love me...
Mark Haddon
THE WRITER'S BRAIN: death, death, blank page, failure, death, Booker fantasy, death, blank page, What's in the fridge?

3... Trick or Treating with the Super Scario Bros

4... Discovering the magical Diana Wynne Jones books - and working my way through them ALL

5... Awesome local firework display - (watched for free from Grandad's attic window!)


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Big ring update

I've mentioned my fondness for big plastic rings before. The kitschier the better, as far as I'm concerned. They catch my eye while I'm typing. And I like to imagine them at author signings one day...
I've come across a few in the charity shops lately and added them to my collection. Of course, when I'm a published author, I'll spend more than a pound. Maybe as much as three or four pounds...


Sunday, 13 October 2013


Everyone knows about the Hunt Festival, but we have a really good Literature Festival in Cheltenham too. And far fewer horses have to be shot because of it.

There's a city of tents, talks, pop-up restaurants, workshops for children, TV cameras, stilt-walkers and balloons everywhere. And although it's slap on my doorstep, I never get around to seeing as much of it as I mean to.
This year's excuse is that the boys went down with a horrible sick bug (because it's autumn *sigh*) which has now morphed into  hacking coughs and snotty noses. Even stilt-walkers and balloon animals lose their appeal when you're green-faced and hacking.

However, we did manage to see Chris Riddell last Saturday AND Neil Gaiman this Saturday. Both of whom were likeable, inspiring and funny. Ten-year-old loved how delighted Chris Riddell seemed with the metallic purple sides his publishers had given his new book. He kept on caressing them and showing them off - he said they made his book look like a box of chocolates. Ten-year-old was further amused when Neil Gaiman showed off his new book and exclaimed over the shiny metallicness of its cover. He held it up to the spotlight and attempted to signal Morse code at the audience with it.
Seven-year-old's favourite story was of the time Chris Riddell had found himself on a long plane flight with a pen but no paper. He ended up drawing a small goblin upon the bald head of the passenger who was asleep next to him.
After Chris Riddell's talk, both boys got out their sketchpads (as per Chris Riddell's advice) and settled down to draw all day. The peace and quiet was blissful.
Ten-year-old's least favourite part of Neil Gaiman's talk was the way it prompted his mother to keep whispering remarks like...
"Oh my God - look - it's actually Neil Gaiman!"
"Oh my God - that's his real actual hair - look!"
"Oh my God - he's talking with his real actual voice - I can't believe it!"
Ooh, look - it's real Neil Gaiman and actual Chris Riddell!

After annoying my son throughout Neil Gaiman's talk, I persuaded  him that we should go to the Waterstones tent to have our books signed by Neil Gaiman. He agreed - in spite of the knowledge that this would mean further whispered remarks about how Neil Gaiman was using his real actual fountain pen and so on.
Long before we got anywhere near the Waterstones tent, we came upon the end of Neil Gaiman's signing queue. It was three or four abreast and it wound through the Waterstones tent, round and round the tented city and beyond - into the dark night and the rain.
"Forget about it," said the ten-year-old sternly.
So we went home and read the books again.