Thursday, June 29, 2006

Where do I start?

Word count: not quite sure
Number of boxes unpacked: several dozen
Fantasies about office air conditioning: 23

Phew...sorry for my prolonged absence, blog-friends. It's been a roller coaster of a fortnight, what with moving house, leaving my job for full-time freelancing, celebrating momentous birthday with the boyf, and getting lots of useful feedback on Book 4 from my agent.

Last week fell into the 'holiday' category though it involved lots of unpacking and administration, trips around the shops to choose new sofas, working out how our pond filter system works (Jeez, I love that pond, it is great to dip feet in when the weather's like this) and planting tubs of herbs and tomatoes in the garden.

The new house is great, and worth the wait. My office room is coming together though it is sweltering. Today I settled down to work proper for the first time but I am sweating like a pig in the heat and have ordered a fan from an office supplies shop. My ankles are all puffy which makes me feel rather middle-aged - not yet, surely?

Oh and when we went for a walk by the Thames the other day there was a boat called Brown Owl which might have been an omen. On the other hand...

So now have my work cut out with novel revisions AND the small matter of some brand new poetry assignments sent in by my Open University students AND unpacking AND trying to drink my bodyweight in water to avoid drying to husk (a husk with swollen ankles. That might be worth seeing).

Lovely Link of the Day:
In view of my new status, have joined Money Saving Expert. Great site. Am plotting to change gas supplier and mobile provider and credit card as we speak. Of course, this MIGHT simply be procrastination.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Bicycle Thieves

No, not the Italian neo-realist classic. This is the London version. I bought boyf lovely shiny new bike as early birthday pressie. Along with shiny new lock. Both got nicked from the bike rack at flats overnight on Saturday. He'd ridden it ONCE.

Now, compared to the cost of the house, it's trivial. But pretty infuriating even so...

But the best way to forget such things is to unpack around 30 boxes of books. Actually, that might be an underestimate. Ditto boxes of files, letters, old bus tickets from the trip to Berlin I took fifteen years ago, etc etc. I am a hoarder, I'll admit it, and moving into a bigger place is probably the last thing I need to do.

However, the house is LOVELY, and the garden even better. We have our own frog (as yet unnamed), a very muscly fella indeed. The house and garden merge into one so completely that we're going to have to get an industrial fly zapper. But there are also lots of fun things to do, like choosing paint and new furniture, filling the garage with books, setting up broadband (oh gawd...) and enjoying the summer.

No lovely link today and no word frequency index, sorry, normal service resumed soon...

Friday, June 16, 2006

Moving Stories Mark II (and why we read)

Word count: as my count will stay the same while I work on paper edit, I am going to list more of my unusual words (see the previous Lovely Link with the frequency index)

Weird Word Count:

And so, the day has arrived. If you're wondering why I am blogging when we're about to move,well, this is the calm before the storm...No keys till lunchtime, then removal men, relatives, friends and cleaners descend. Will the house be a horrible mess (complete with herrings hidden under the floorboards?) - or will the people going have made an effort?

Watch this space...

Meanwhile I have been pondering deeper questions as one of the e-groups I subscribe to has been talking about self-indulgent bloggers who are daft to believe readers care about our pets (she had an anal gland infection by the way!) or our neuroses (mine are very well today, thanks).

So my big question today is, Why do you read? I suppose I'm mainly talking about fiction because newspapers and DIY manuals are more obvious. In my case, it’s such a lifelong habit (well, since I was three or four: what did I do before then?) that I haven’t ever asked myself that question before. On a basic level, I read fiction for entertainment: although I’ve worked in TV for 15 years, I find novels more of an ‘immersive’ experience. In TV circles these days, people often talk about the difference between ‘sit back’ and ‘lean forward’ experiences – the former is more like traditional TV which doesn’t engage you on a deep level, while the latter is typical of interactive experiences like the web, for example.

Now, you may not see books as ‘interactive’ in the traditional sense – with the except of those fun ‘multiple choice’ novels, they have broadly linear stories that we, as readers, can only change by skipping bits, for example. But we can’t help but interact at the most fundamental level as we imagine what the characters look like, how they sound, what they feel…

I tend towards novels that are contemporary or at least based in recent history (from, say, the Second World War); that have a distinct voice (often, but not always, humorous) and that feature at least some female characters…I don’t know why I make those choices, but they’re pretty consistent.

At a deeper level, Robert McKee has some interesting (if slightly overblown) things to say about the universal appeal of ‘story’ in all its forms – books, movies, oral story-telling – to human beings. I also liked this page of quotations about the nature of story… If you’re a writer, this isn’t a fanciful question because it’s a natural progression from thinking about why you read, to asking why someone might read your fiction. Not one to get hung up about, but interesting…especially once you’ve been ‘bloodied’ by a few rejections.

I’d love to know why you read…the comments function is at your service…

Lovely Link of the Day:
Via the e-group, I found the website of literary agent Andrew Lownie – a real added-value site, with some excellent features, including this article on a week in the life of a literary agent (recommended if you’re waiting to hear back on a submission!)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Word count:114,002

I finished the first draft at 8.45 this morning...Hoorah!

I know from experience that this is only the beginning, but this is in better shape than previous books, certainly the first half is anyhow, and I wanted to get it 'down' so I could begin to rewrite.

Now I can turn my attention to:
  • Dealing with cat who went all sickly last night (I think - hope, really - that it's just feline cystitis. Poor thing seems very out of sorts, she's going to be utterly freaked by going to the vet just days before we move but you can't waste time with sickly. My efforts to make her drink cranberry juice have not been appreciated);
  • Looking up safety statistics online for my chapter headings while I still have my work library archive log-in;
  • Packing;
  • Moving;
  • Settling in;
  • Taking Redundancy;
  • Celebrating boyf's BIG birthday;
  • Beginning new life.

Oh and tonight I have a swanky (but conveniently local) launch party to attend. It will feel so much better now this is under my belt!

Lovely Link of the Day:

One of my biggest bugbears editing my own work is repeated words so it's fun to use this tool and check your own word frequency. It just handled my entire MS which is amazing, I used 13824 unique words and the top words are:

5372 THE
3476 I
2952 TO
2827 A
2611 AND
2162 OF
1440 IN
1372 MY
1180 HE
1149 IT
1072 YOU
1064 THAT

It only gets interesting in the lower reaches, with 64 'feeling's and 47 'bloody's.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Hot Typing

Word count: 106,795

It is harder to write when it's hot outside - having a laptop on the lap is not exactly a cooling experience, plus there's the mild mental torment of knowing that in theory I am 'on holiday' AND in an unheard of coincidence, that 'holiday' time has the sunniest weather in years...but I still want to meet my own deadline.

Today I've spent a lot of time watching videos of programmes made during the Cold War era, about the effects of nuclear blasts. Even now, when (arguably) the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction has passed, the footage is chilling, and I remember how terrifying it was when I was a child: well, that's the whole theme of the book, fear, but watching this has helped me reconnect with those days.

I'm more or less on target to finish the first draft by Thursday (although I know the boyf is going to be unhappy if I am not fully in packing mode on that day) and then I will print it out and begin to rewrite digest. Well, in between moving house, leaving work, celebrating boyf's 40th, and generally beginning Whole New Life.

Lovely Link of the Day:
Via Keris, I clicked on Cynthea Liu's site, which offers a good, no-nonsense crash course in writing children's fiction.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Word count: 99,493

The weather gets better and better – and this afternoon we’ve won the first match against Paraguay. Of course, Paraguay actually won it for us, with an own goal (boyf reckons it was definitely going to go in there anyway but who knows?).

Drinking some beer has made me feel all woolly and the rest of the day will be a bit of a write-off, I fear. Well, it can’t be, actually, because I have to finish some Open University work and also get to grips with some packing.

Lovely Link of the Day:
Via Amanda Mann's Confessions of an Author, I found this rather cool website by writer Julia Buckley. She has a sharp style in her blog and the synopsis of her novel is intriguing. I will be watching her progress with interest (oh no, another procrastination tool!).

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Home Page

Word Count:93,707

Hoorah! We have exchanged contracts, at last. In just under two weeks, we should be standing surrounded by boxes, people and furniture, trying to stay calm...Now, having been in this situation about six months ago, I know that exchange doesn't ABSOLUTELY guarantee the house is yours, but if something goes wrong, we have a nice little bonus deposit with which to drown our sorrows.

The last year has been pretty stressful, largely down to the moving (or non-moving) process. I keep reading complaints in the papers about the Home Information Packs which the government plans to bring in next summer. Guess what? All the complaints are from estate agents and solicitors. I am sure there are delightful people in both 'professions' but certainly, many of the former are unprofessional and use approaches and tactics most businesses would see as unethical. In the last twelve months, almost all the agents I actually liked and trusted have left to pursue other careers. Funny that. So I would take all the moans about the HIPS with a huge pinch of salt. In my case, these Packs would have saved me thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours of stress and worry, by showing immediately that vendors are being economical with the truth. Not so sure about the 'survey' side, but forcing vendors to have their paperwork available upfront would make a tremendous difference.

Right, whinge over. Time to requaint myself with the relative merits of different washing machine cycles and makes, and to work through my change of address list. Time to arrange parties and buy these gorgeous deckchairs. Time, I hope, for a relaxing summer...

Except....oh, that's right. Doh! I have a book to finish. Keep the Pimms on ice.

Lovely Link of the Day:
I'm dreaming of a home office...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Taxing times

Word count: 90,582

I've had two days 'off' so far this week and keep getting emails from people saying how lucky I am to be on holiday in such lovely weather.

I am not moaning, honest, but so far I have spent:
  • 14 hours writing;
  • 2 hours researching cold war nuclear bunkers (this guide to civil defence history in the UK is an absolute gem and the kind of thing the web is so brilliant for);
  • 1 hour sorting my tax for last year;
  • 1 hour at solicitors;
  • 1 hour max sitting on the balcony reading the enthralling Gideon the Cutpurse (Sunday Times children's book of the week).

I am not on holiday, OK. I am trying to get as many words under my belt before we *touches wood before writing next two words* move house. I know that after that my yin and yang will be out of kilter and with a July deadline, I need to get cracking.

So am trying to write one long chapter per day. Am also on the glucosamine as it makes my hands go a bit funny.

In other news, all my author friends have been getting themselves worked up over this article in the Sunday Times which says that our agents' fees will no longer be tax deductible AND, what's more, the taxman may try to reclaim tax we should have paid as a result for the last SIX years.

Let me begin say I don't suppose I'm going to get your sympathy for this one. You probably think that all authors are a) terribly lucky; b) annoyingly well-connected and c) stinking rich.

I'll admit to a) (though there has been a fair bit of work involved, too. Alas, b) isn't true, I have no royal cousins or publishing guru godmother. As for c) well, I am not in the JK category. And there's a reason why I've been working AND writing for the last three years.

I could recite the arguments but this piece by Libby Purves and this blog entry by Kate Hardy explain it very well indeed. If you have any hope of writing for a living, it's worth reading. Bottom line is, almost all authors NEED agents. They are not a luxury - especially as most publishers won't accept unagented submissions. They keep up sane.

Lovely Link of the Day:
I love the BBC series, Life on Mars - boyf got the DVD at the weekend and it's fab. So fab that I can forgive them for also featuring a central character who experiences flashbacks after a coma (the same story device I am using in The Scaredycat's Handbook - everyone's bound to think I copied it, but I didn't, honest!). Anyway on that site you can take a quiz to see if you'd fit into the 1970s AND download a screensaver.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Sunny summer's here

Word count:85,730

It was officially sunny today. And yesterday. That constitutes a British summer. Obviously it doesn't please the water boards but it makes everyone else happy.

I've been juggling the sunbathing with the writing - and am making good progress on both. In other news:
  • There have been house developments but I won't be posting these until they are set in stone (if you've read my other entries, you'll know why);
  • I have had emails from Brown Owls around the UK saying they're enjoying Brown Owl's Guide to Life - and you can't say fairer than that;
  • I'm at number 10 in the Heat chart and number 6 in Sainsbury's so get down there now - my book plus the best Sag Paneer in the world - you know it makes sense!

I'm also on the final countdown before leaving the Beeb - more on that in the next week. In the meantime, I am trying to get the word count up so will try to blog little but often!

Lovely Link of the Day:

Jacqui Lofthouse, author and The Writing Coach, is posting every day on her excellent 'Write 30,000 words in 30 days' online course. And it's free. What could be better? Perfect if you're lacking motivation.