Sunday, July 31, 2005

Cliches and commonplaces?

Word Count: 135,210

Oh yes, am back on the re-drafting wagon. Currently that involves putting in a few more references to what my characters look like... so maybe if you do buy the book next year, you could try to spot the original descriptions, and the brand new reminders. Then again, you probably have better things to do with your time. Like snipping away at your lawn with nail scissors.

Doing this makes me realise how often, even in a heavily edited manuscript, I rely on phrases like 'unruly hair'. Well, I have spotted it twice twice in the MS. It's hard to know where to stop. Is 'unruly hair' a cliche, or is it perfectly valid description of someone whose barnet (Cockney rhyming slang, Barnet Fair, hair) is on the troublesome side... and is two uses a horrible abuse of the English language, or fair enough? Have compromised on one. But I might have to get rid of that too, now I've made such a big deal of it.

During this process, I ought probably to give up on other people's fiction, in case I accidentally use someone else's phrase or idea, but it's a hard habit to break. Especially when the latest book I've read is Jennifer Weiner's Little Earthquakes. It's the first of her novels I've read, though I really enjoy her blog, and I lapped the book up. Incisive, intelligent writing; warm but reassuringly imperfect characters; and, technique-wise, fantastic structure. And what's not to love about an author who admits to the occasional mistake in her novels like this... (scroll down to the question about eating a crab's leg).

The trouble with this discovery is that of course now I will have to buy her two previous books. And spend a lot of time wondering why I can't write as well. Still... you gotta keep trying...

Lovely Link of the Day:
Another agent spills the beans. Agent 007 has switched from editing to agenting so obviously knows lots about the business... Her latest entry is all about how it feels to be grabbed by the queries, so to speak. Essential reading if you're submitting, even if it isn't to the Mysterious 007.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Happy birthday to my sister and other events


My sister's birthday today and hopefully she's had a lovely day...

I had a call from the estate agent today recommending that I get a move on with selling my flat as people are getting edgy about moving to my part of London because it's where they tried to set off one of the bombs last week....

Hello?

I can sort of understand why people might feel a bit odd about buying in London (though I do think we will adapt, we have to), but somehow thinking that one area is more at risk than another seems utterly bizarre to me. Am trying to keep a 'que sera, sera' attitude. Eat your heart out, Doris Day.

Have finished my first radio script and am looking at it and realising it's cobblers (quaint English phrase for crap).

But my new jacket for Brown Owl went up on amazon today. Would LOVE to know what anyone thinks... so do leave a comment if you can. I love the badges, myself. I never did get the hang of Boycraft...

Lovely link of the day:

I am really enjoy Miss Snark, literary agent. It's a great blog from the other side of the fence. Your chance to understand how agents really think...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Exposing myself...

In the interests of normality, am back to blogging about other things, though I am also finding myself reading as much as I can about the terror attacks, which is a bad habit to get into. None of us has any control over it, after all...

The heat is on, writing wise... more revisions to book 3 are needed. This book has had a difficult birth, I think because I have tried to be very ambitious with it. But the more I tinker, the more I worry about whether it's getting better, or worse... Anyway, once that's done, it's new idea time. I am still doing a lot of mulling over the idea, though I know I will make it simpler this time, focusing much more on one person's story. Well, that's the plan anyhow.

I've ended up all over the web this week, in a small way. So there's an interview I did with Mike Atherton of Great Writing, in which I talk about the chick lit label, about avoiding city girl stereotypes, and about my 'split personality.'

Fellow Romantic Novelists' Association member and author Anne Weale read the interview and has kindly commented on it on her blog today: Anne has been writing novels for decades alongside journalism, specialising in the booktrade. Her blog is always provocative as she's not afraid to say what she thinks!

And I also had an email from Romance Reviews Today, to tell me they'd reviewed The Starter Marriage. I clicked on the link with some trepidation - you never know what people are going to make of your books - but was really pleased with what they said: "Be warned, this is not a humorous or even light-hearted vision of getting past a divorce. The doubts and disappointments that Tess goes through are all too real, and often heartrending to read. A moving tale, THE STARTER MARRIAGE will have readers cheering for Tess as she slowly rebuilds her life." I hope that some of it IS funny in places, but I thought it was a very fair and favourable review. So thank you, Jennifer Bishop!

In other news this week, I went to the truly amazing new Roald Dahl museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire: what a wonderful place! The exhibits are brilliantly laid out and the interactive creativity tasks for kids are inspiring - I hadn't realised how versatile Roald Dahl was, writing screenplays, taking outstanding photographs, presenting TV shows and even inventing a non-stick valve to be used by children with water on the brain (inspired by his own son's health problems). A genius, I'd say. The best part for me was an amazing recreation of his 'writing shed' complete with worn old chair and artefacts gathered all over the world.

I also bought new underwear online, received about 80 copies (more probably) of the American edition of my book, which looks terrific, and went to a great, late-night barbecue where we sat under the huge umbrella while the rain pounded down. I love rain when I don't have to walk in it!

Oh, and I'm worried I might be losing my hair... perhaps I am just moulting because it's summer.

Lovely link of the day:
As I had such a lovely time ordering underwear this week, take a look at www.figleaves.com - I promise I get no cash for recommending them, but it's very good if, like me, you're a strange size. That's all I'm saying. There are limits to how far I will expose myself online...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Evil on the doorstep

Today I was going to post the usual moans about revising book 3 and mulling over book 4 and so on...

And then the nearest tube station to me - in fact, a tube that goes overground, which I have always loved about it, because it feels safer somehow - was evacuated in the latest bomb attack. It's about 10 minutes' walk away, in one of the least wealthy, most multi-culturally rich parts of West London. And someone wanted to bomb it.

It feels pretty unreal tonight. There are live pictures of the little train that I have taken hundreds of times to Baker Street (where Madame Tussauds's is) and to Euston Square (for trains up North) and to so many other places... right next to where I get my car serviced. The little train is sitting in the station while the police send in dogs and robotic bomb dectectors.

I was shocked, horrified, by the killings two weeks ago. My reaction to this is more confused: who was it? Why? I haven't done much work today.

Take care, everybody. Keep safe.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Genesis

Right now, I seem to be doing everything I can not to make a start on my new idea... filling in the endless forms to do with my flat sale, weeding the garden (the weather's been perfect for dandelions and every other form of unwanted plant: sun, showers, sun, showers), emailing friends.

I've been trying to work out why I'm procrastinating even more than usual and it comes down to two things:
  • all the current uncertainty in my life, including the fact that I thought the timing of my next deal meant I'd have it sorted out by now, but everyone's back-tracking, which is really doing my head in;
  • the fact that the book I want to write next is the one that's closest to my heart, the one I have wanted to write for at least five years.

The first factor is annoying and frustrating, but I suppose that's showbiz. All writers' lives are full of these uncertainties: from questions about the MS (will my editor like it? Is this a load of complete tosh?), to worries about the marketing or the cover or what other books are being published in the same month, or whether the buyers from the supermarkets or the chains will like you. I mean, it. Actually, that is a Freudian slip so I will keep it in: the trouble with writing is that it's so hard to separate yourself from your work. If anyone has any hints about how to do this, I'd be very grateful.

The second factor is more interesting, I think. What I now recognise about writing novels is that an idea in my head is ALWAYS going to be a far more magnificent thing than the words on the page will turn out to be. To write, you need an imagination and of course, that imagination is often at its most active when you're picturing the beautiful thing that you're going to produce, the way it will amuse and inspire and move.

Then you sit down at your laptop and what actually hits the screen is garbage: random, not very elegantly composed, collections of words that frustrate or irritate or annoy.

The stage immediately before this is even weirder: I tend to plot with a notebook and pen, as I can draw little squiggles and underline things, it's more tactile and connected somehow. But at the first stage, it's all about cliche because cliches are the things that occur first whether you're working out plot twists, or characters. So at the moment I have a cast of a cautious woman, her bombastic boyfriend, a heroic octogenarian, a scruffy biker, and a collection of ideas that seemed great initially and now feel like they have all the sophistication, plot-wise, of a Janet and John book. Cliche-tastic.

I do know that I will move beyond this... that the characters will go from 2D to 3D, that the story will gain new depth, and will muddle somehow towards what I want to say. But it's rather horrid knowing I have to go through the 'this is tosh' stage.

Lovely Link of the Day:

Agent Irene Goodman tells it as it is. Some brilliant articles and straight-talking on this site... including the rather wonderful Seven Habits of Highly Effective Authors.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Life and times

Everyone I know is trying to live life 'normally' and yet we all feel very unsettled. WHY did those men, born and raised here, feel the need to do this? And there must be more...

Life must go on. The cover of Time Out today - very stark, with the words 'our city' - made me feel quite choked. But it does go on. My house survey, carried out as the bombs were going off, was OK. I have been at work, thinking of light-hearted factual ideas. Met friends. Ate out. And yet...

It's actually made me a lot clearer about the book I want to write next time. I want to write about fear, and getting on with your life. I know that might seem a daftly weighty subject for a 'mere chick lit writer' to address but it's a subject close to my heart and I am excited about it. I hope my editor will be too.

At the weekend, I went to the Romantic Novelists' Association conference and gave a workshop all about creativity techniques. It was really invigorating and I had such a warm reception. I'd love to do more work like that...

Meanwhile, busy filling out forms about selling the flat, and searching for my perfect new property. Yep, life goes on.

Except tomorrow at 12 noon when we will all stop. Only a week ago? It feels like a lifetime.
Take care,
Kate x

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Times like these

I haven't felt much like blogging for the last few days. I do believe we shouldn't let these people win, should carry on as normal, but then again I've been struggling to see the benefit of my largely inane ramblings on life in London. I'll feel differently soon, I'm sure, but for now my main feelings are tremendous admiration for the emergency services, especially those involved in the grim recovery operation under Russell Square; and disgust for people who think this is a legitimate way of trying to change the world...

I believe everyone I know is safe: but that's little consolation when I think about the people who died and were maimed.

I've been reading Londonist this week: it also links to many great bloggers, including this directory of London bloggers, arranged depending on the tube lines that the bloggers are closest to. I have browsed around a bit, in that way you do when you're trying to understand or make sense of events. http://beforebed.blogspot.com/ includes a first hand account; while Going Underground with its 'rolling news' account as the info came through, just hours after the amazing news about the Olympics coming here in 2012.

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, a man I normally have little time for, has summed it up eloquently and passionately. I do feel proud of London. But I will admit I am fearful, too.

Kate

Monday, July 04, 2005

Tired out

Word count: still nothing...

Really busy weekend and I'm still recovering. Early night tonight.

On Saturday I went up to Birmingham for the Unconvention. LOTS of lovely bookcrossers there, and a great venue, but sadly it wasn't all that suitable for giving a talk. I had to give up halfway through because I couldn't make myself heard over the Live Aid big screen speakers. Well, fair enough, I guess I can't compete with U2 but it was a bit annoying as I'd put quite a lot of work into writing the speech. Still, everyone I met was really cool, especially Barbara, who was the person who originally invited me. And then I spoke to a smaller group of people specifically about writing and agents and publishing - I find it fascinating to hear what people really want to know: do you write from the heart or to a specific genre? How much plotting do you do?

It was great being back in Brum as well... I have good memories of the place. Then met friends to watch Live8 which we all enjoyed: I LOVE Robbie Williams; thought Madge was a bit annoying with her 'oh I'm going to swear, aren't I daring?' act; and thought Pink Floyd were a right miserable looking bunch and though I am sure I am just too uncultured to appreciate their music, I found their set rather dull. And will George Michael wear shades for the rest of his life now?

On Sunday, drove back, did some work and then went into Wimbledon to meet some old contemporaries from journalism training, the Highbury College Class of 1988. I'd been a bit unsure about going, as it's weird to see people you haven't met in a decade or more, but it was a really fun night: repeating all the stories that would bore anyone else but were hysterically funny after a Chinese and red wine. Quite a late one, and I am sure I was being quite one-track thanks to the wine, but I hope it's not ten years before we do it again.

Lovely Link of the Day:
If you're an aspiring writer who thinks all your dreams will come true when you find an agent, read this account of Lauren Baratz-Logsted's FIVE different agents. The girl has perseverence I'll say that for her! And it's a very funny read.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The double life of an author

Word count: Book 4: 0

Here's the thing. As an author, you need to be able to work for months in complete isolation, slaving over the laptop, with only your imaginary friends (and possibly a cat) for company.

Yet... in today's literary world, you also need to be perfectly happy standing up in front of an audience of dozens, hundreds or - in the case of TV or radio - maybe thousands of people.

I'm about to do that switch - having been in the scribbling mode for months, this weekend I am at the Bookcrossing Unconvention in Birmingham. I'm going to do a talk about reading/writing/books etc... apart from worrying that they'd rather be watching Live 8 (and I will confess I am not much competition for Madonna), I am looking forward to it. Though I am naturally quite shy, I do enjoy public speaking - when I am properly prepared... But as I don't exactly know what they're expecting, I am nervous too. So wish me luck! And once that's finished, I need to work on my talk on creativity for the following weekend. So my newsletter is going to be rather late, I suspect!

Apart from that, it's been a busy week. Put in an offer on a house I really liked, but it's been turned down. I understand why, but I also don't think the house IS worth the full asking price, so I can't take the risk of going any higher at the moment. And everything's so uncertain in my life for the next few months, that I need to be quite cautious. But it's a shame as I felt good about the house when I walked in. There will always be other houses, though...

Today I went into central London for a chat with my editor, who is soon going off on maternity leave. She looks amazing - less of a tummy than me, even though her baby's due in August - and I'm sure she'll handle it all wonderfully. But it is a slightly anxious time for any author when this happens - and because publishing is a female-dominated industry, it's a very frequent occurrence. I know some writers whose books have run into big trouble when their main ally at a publishing house is away so it can be an issue. The timing is pretty good, though - hopefully not too much work to be done on Brown Owl, and then it'll be a while before I have something to show on Book 4. But it will be strange not to have my biggest 'champion' there. Apart from anything else, she's a wonderful source of gossip...

Lovely Link of the Day:

I meant to link to this the other day but if you want to know the true financial ins-and-outs of publishing a novel, you can't do better than this piece by the Grumpy Old Bookman which explains in forensic detail the sums involved. A really brilliant piece of journalism, apart from anything else. And having been first published under very similar terms to the fictional Miss Smith, I found it a real education.