Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What would Richard Curtis do?

Word count: 29,169

Found it really tricky to get back into my stride yesterday - it's lovely to go away for the weekend, but settling down afterwards can be tricky. Not sure how come a trip always seems to generate approximately three times as much washing as being at home, too.

So, anyhow, it's back to the drawing board. I am guessing that I may be a shade under 1/3rd of the way through the first draft right now. That's a little shorter than my previous books, but the story I am writing is frothier, in the best possible way, ideally like a good cappuccino (with a double-espresso-shot kick).

I'm having fun with it, though this is usually when 'saggy middle' syndrome kicks in. That's one of my reasons for trying to write a first draft as fast as possible, because the momentum propels me along.

I was also having a chat with my agent the other day about advance planning, and how far to go. In some of my books, I haven't quite known what action my heroine would end up taking: which of two men she might choose, for example (or even whether she might choose neither). Agent was of the firm belief that you ought to know in advance. I do see her point with the one I am writing at the moment: the chapters are currently bursting with rather lovely chaps, all of whom could be good potential matches for my character (though she doesn't acknowledge that for a second). But I know which one I want...

Having said that, I don't totally know HOW it'll happen. But because this is much more of a rom com than my previous ones (my current catchphrase: 'what would Richard Curtis do?'), I am embracing my inner fluffiness, and daydreaming about how they might finally get together.

It's FUN! And a great antidote to the winter blues.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Prague photos I hope!

Snowy birthday

Just back from Prague, which was amazing, like being in a Bohemian fairy-tale populated by Japanese people with cameras. I am trying desperately to post some pictures but blogger is not playing ball. Will try later. Obvious, superficial things I learned:

  • It is impossible not to look extremely overweight when wearing 5 layers to keep out the sub-zero temperatures.

  • Even when you think you've warmed up and got used to it, you haven't (c.f. having a shower in hotel room and realising your legs are the temperature of blocks of ice).

  • I wish I'd gone there in 1989 (I did go to Berlin just after the wall came down and my main memories are of people trying to flog bits of concrete as genuine wall, of scary-looking punks, and of a very grim ex-Communist Youth Tourist Hotel where they served cold spaghetti for breakfast).

  • It is one of the prettiest places I've ever visited.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Early Coffee Break

Make mine a hot chocolate as I'm posting this early because I'm off somewhere very cold for my birthday!

How have we got on this week? I did all right in the beginning of the week, but have tailed off now.

Am planning to be multi-layered as it's Minus 11 in my destination, so I need to wrap up warm.

On second thoughts, I'll have a hot chocolate AND a pastry!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The F Factor

Word: 26,094

I couldn't seem to get going this morning - there was the excitement of the snow outside, and then I went through the words I wrote yesterday and didn't like many of them, so spent ages tweaking, and then I had a call from my agent about the two ideas I've been working on.

She was really keen, with some fantastic feedback, and it made me feel excited about the projects again. Not that I wasn't before, but it makes such a huge difference when people believe in what you're doing. I'd also had some more excellent feedback the other day from another writer, which helped pinpoint a few little niggly issues, but said the same thing, that Option A in particular seems to be working well...

I think I'm currently benefiting from the F-Factor - standing for Fun. I'm having lots of fun with my writing at the moment. A lot of it is to do with the 'place' you're in as a person, I think. Not in an obvious way, it's not the case for example that happy author = happy book, automatically. But I do believe that we evolve both as people and as writers. I know I've changed since I wrote my first book: becoming a published writer has helped my confidence, the writing itself is now my job and that gives me a freedom that employment didn't. Plus things have changed in my personal life!

My earlier books were very preoccupied with how our childhoods influence the people we become: and though that still fascinates me, the older I get, the more focused I am on the NOW. I don't regret writing those books at all - they're still funny, I hope, and I love my characters, and their lives reflected the things I believe about relationships and finding fulfilment.

But with four novels under my belt, I seem to be having more fun with the present, with pushing the boundaries on the situations I create, and with the pleasures of combining story and character. It's what I've always done, but I feel a lightness there, a freedom to play.

This has become rather blathery so I will stop here. Anyway, it's a good day. We should celebrate them.

If you've been writing for some time, how do you feel your writing has changed?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Googling symptoms and coffee shops for writers

Word count: 25,261 (but they're not good at all)

Have had weird, tingly neck and earache since yesterday which has been making me feel worried. It's a very short trip from googling one's name to googling one's obscure medical symptoms, and neither are healthy.

Am now convinced I have the early stages of Bell's Palsy. This is a paralysis of the facial muscles, so I keep pulling faces at myself in mirrors to check whether it's kicked in. So far so good. I've never thought of myself as a hypochondriac but perhaps this is only because my adult life has been, very luckily, free of anything serious yet (my childhood was different, a long list of nasties). I know I run the risk of looking a total lemon by posting this but heck, I am in honest mode.

Chances are that all these symptoms are caused by the flesh-numbing cold.

Anyway, to get away from this stupid googling, I took myself to coffee shops today, first to meet a friend, and then for serious wordage. The ideal coffee shop for a writer should have: good coffee obviously; a few customers, but not too many; a quiet corner, preferably with a plug to charge your laptop if that's what you're using; big cups of coffee; brain-boosting sugary snacks (in a perfect world these would be somehow calorie-free); mind-stimulating music (jazz is good); natural light.

Ideally it shouldn't have: too many screaming babies in pushchairs with loud, braying, posh mothers (quiet, cute babies with non-braying mums are fine); too much smoke (a teeny bit is atmospheric and keeps braying mums away); a twat who thinks he is a photographer showing off, wandering round with his mobile shouting 'oh shit', and then spending three hours taking pictures of some rather ordinary looking girls.

Having said that, despite twat with a flash, I did get lots of words down, though they're a bit rubbish. Still, am 1/4 of the way there, calls for a minor celebration I think!

PS: If you've emailed wanting to join the Race, I promise to contact you soon!

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Procrastination - or Method?

Word Count: 21,686

It's been a weekend of domesticity and fixing things, thanks to boyf's very handy friend: new shelves, un-wonked table, no-longer-wobbly footstool, that kind of thing. When they're in full-on DIY mode I have to escape, which I did by going back to the WIP.

I am trying to establish my self-employed working routine at the moment. Even though I've been fully freelance for nearly six months now (is that possible? Bloody hell), those months were dominated by a novel I'd started while I was still a full-timer and as a result I never quite felt in control of the timings and the writing and so on.

That's why the novel race is proving good, because it's forcing me to get stuck in. But I could still achieve SO much more if I wasn't constantly flicking over to my email or checking the entirely meaningless amazon rating or, worst of all, self-googling. This has to be the digital age's equivalent to masturbation (hang on, though, the digital age is the biggest enabler of masturbation, hmmm), except it NEVER satisfies.

I am trying to make a pact with myself to stop self-googling, because I never believe the nice stuff, and the bad stuff interferes with my productivity. I can edit like crazy, but I will never change my world-view or my fundamental writing style, so what possible benefit could there be to discovering someone on a website somewhere I've never been thinks I am too long-winded or boring?

So far, so obvious. But the other stuff I waste time on- the messageboards, the blogs, Gofugyourself - is less clear cut. Isn't this just my watercooler time, the freelancer's safety valve against such crazed overwork that you lose all touch with the outside world?

I can't see myself entirely breaking the habit, but I have taken some baby steps. One involved buying a cheap, tiny 2nd hand laptop from eBay which just about fits in my handbag but will never be attached to the internet. I'm trying to do my 1,000 plus words on that and though it's irritating spending ages using memory sticks to transfer the MS all the time, it DOES seem quite effective and allows me to focus on the book rather than checking my email all the time.

I'm also going to set some targets. So this week they are:
  • Get to 25,000 words (should be easy enough as I got some done at the weekend)
  • Try working from bed with new computer (should be fun!)
  • Stop self-googling (should have done it years ago)
  • Operate a working hours/tea break system whereby I work on mini-computer in blocks, and then nip up to main computer for web-surf burst.

Now, this last one might be going too far: after all, surely the niggly negatives of freelance life (doing your own tax, paying for your own heating and bog roll, no-one will pay you if you're ill) are only outweighed by the utter freedom to do precisely what you choose.

But the trouble with utter freedom is that it totally screws your work/life balance: I can no longer tell work and life apart.

So it's time to pull myself back from the slippery slope and make a distinction. Time to GO TO WORK. See you later!

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Friday, January 19, 2007

All Day Coffee Break 2: Friday feeling

Word Count: 18,788

So how are we all doing? In the UK at least, it's getting lighter in the afternoon, though mornings are still depressingly dark. But I think this is a good writing time of year (unlike Louise Doughty in her latest Telegraph column). After all, if you've resolved not to drink or to tighten the purse strings, what else are you going to do for entertainment.

Well, apart from gawping in horror at Big Brother, that is. My first novel was about bullying - based partly on personal experience - and what strikes me watching those three witches is how their behaviour is IDENTICAL to what I witnessed (and was sometimes on the receiving end of) twenty years ago. Girls are so much more cruel than boys.

Anyway, shan't get distracted. It's been a reasonable writing week - have made progress, but perhaps not as much as I might have done due to the play. I kept wondering whether to give up on the play, because it has no potential to earn me money, and although I have enjoyed writing it, I am not sure I'd pursue play-writing any further. But thinking about how I develop the story has been great, and I do have a ready made short story out of it. Nothing's wasted in writing.

Book 5 Option A is coming along well. Haven't done much to Book 5 Option B but my friend read it on a 'plane journey and says she really enjoyed it, so that's cool. I haven't quite worked out how I plan to juggle the two projects, but I suspect I shall rattle to the end of Option A, then set it aside (or send to agent/editor) and have a ready-made project to occupy my mind instead of cowering by the phone/email waiting for the verdict.

Current Estimated Time of Finishing: well, things get busier as of next week as I will be doing some teaching again, so if I can manage 6,000 words per week, that's about 14 weeks to The End. Which is the last week in April.

That sounds doable, if nothing more urgent intervenes. And that is finishing in a VERY raw state, mind you, literally writing The End without revisions.

So when do you think you'll finish? And what have you been up to this week, fellow racers?

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My 250th post to date!

Word Count:15,295

Wish me a happy blog day as this is my 250th contribution to the blogsphere. Today I have:
  • completed the first draft of my play for the Start Writing course;
  • been for a walk along the Thames and ended up with such cold hands that it took 25 mins for my fingers to thaw enough to type this;
  • tried hard to avoid checking my email or surfing the web (only partly successful, but am trying to email in BURSTS and then shutting it down);
  • taken photographs of our dodgy guttering to send to boyfriend's dad to diagnose which part we might need;
  • written and sent a pitch for a newspaper feature;
  • not done much novel. But I am about to fix that. Just because it's gone dark does not mean I am allowed to down tools. Oh no.

PS: we have another new racer, China Blue. I am sure she will introduce herself on Friday if not before...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Confessions of a Spa-a-holic

Word count: 14,103

Well, the threat that somebody would come to my blog and tell me off if I didn't do my 3,000 words worked...I've always been a goody-two-shoes! The chapter is a whole 3,000 words long, which seems excessive, but all the words I need are probably there, just in the wrong order.

While I was writing today's chapter, I noticed a very shallow theme in my books: they almost always feature spas or gyms. Old School Ties - check, yes, they get a girly treat day in a spa. The Starter Marriage: the main character is a teacher who takes her primary school class to an Outward Bound centre. Brown Owl's Guide to Life: they go to an adult activity centre, circuit training etc. The Self-Preservation Society: yep, you guessed it, spa day in rather po-faced and ridiculous holistic retreat...

I do like spas, and I would willingly spend my life in one (which one, though? OOoooh, I could daydream fro hours). But that is a bit excessive, I must admit. The one in Book 5 Option A features only a glass atrium, a sauna and a smoothie bar, and is more a city banker kind of hangout, but even so. A cynic might suggest all this writing about physical activity is probably a substitute for doing anything more energetic than going to the biscuit barrel, but I couldn't possibly comment. Others might say this is a ploy by me to be able to set weekend breaks against tax as a business expense. And the truly cruel might see each novel as an application for a job on Spas Monthly or for the Mr and Mrs Smith guides (please...if anyone's reading, I'm definitely in the running for that...).

My name is Kate Harrison and I am a spa-a-holic.

I'd be interested to know how other racers choose their locations. I definitely like to feature unusual places, including Brownie camps (another outdoor setting!), luxury hotels (two of them so far, a real one, The Lowry in Manchester, plus one which very, very vaguely resembles the Covent Garden Hotel), nuclear fall-out shelters, karaoke bars, floating restaurants and funfairs. I also like different locations in books: I can't bear novels set solely in a single dreary house, where the central character's inner turmoil is reflected in endless tragic silent meals with a surly spouse.

In other news, a further reprint of Brown Owl has gladdened my heart. There are squillions of copies in print, and I wouldn't want trees to have died in vain, so might have to go and buy them myself. Actually, had a rather sad parcel from the American publisher of The Starter Marriage yesterday: a jiffy bag containing three copies, with a tiny note saying 'Enjoy!' I know they meant well, but given that I already had two boxfuls in the garage, this didn't gladden my heart so much. It reminds me of a story I heard from another (well known) writer who received a similar transatlantic delivery: hundreds of publicity photographs of himself, 'because we don't have any use for them any more.'

You see, it's non-stop glamour and adoration being an author.

Lovely Link of the Day:
As a bit of a foodie, I'm enjoying all the quizzes and info on the BBC's Truth About Food website. Now where did I put those choc-covered almonds? They're health food!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Another week...

Word Count: 11,020

Poor show, eh? But I've been editing Book 5 Option A, putting in some of the pop psychology facts I've been researching. Quite a fiddly job, but I'd like to send some to my agent and editor, and want it to be as enchanting as possible!

I also had my hair cut this afternoon, as a 'model' (i.e. haircut on the cheap, courtesy of a trainee who was being roundly told off by her mentor for cutting at the wrong angle. As I have lots of hair - down to my shoulder blades - I thought there was room for error).

We have two new racers: there's Jessica, who has set up a new blog to record her progress (see comments in the coffee break area for more info from her). And Lesley Cookman has a novel to finish by April, so she's joining too.

Plus, Dave has posted a picture of his desk. He assures me that a copy of Brown Owl's Guide to Life is in the pic somewhere. Hmmm....Bit like an authorly game of Where's Wally, eh?

Now, I must get on. My plan of writing 2 books per year won't happen unless I get some words down, will it? If I don't do 3,000 words by this time tomorrow, feel free to come and tell me off!

Lovely Link of the Day:
This guide to writing chick lit is a bit on the basic side, but then again, it has all the essentials. All you need now is the imagination. There's also a book by the same authors, called See Jane Write (disappointed that I can't find a dedicated website, though). Plus don't forget you can listen to the new Writing Lab from Radio 3 (about life-writing) only until the end of this week.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Welcome to the Friday Coffee Break

So...nearly two weeks into the Novel Race, and time for a cuppa and a gossip. I've decided to make the coffee break an all day event, because I know we're around at different times, so feel free to chip into the 'chat' in the comments at any point today.

Coffee Break Topics:
I appreciate Blogger isn't the friendliest interface for chatting but here are some things it might be fun to discuss:
  • How's it going? I think we should all post our current word count, and how that compares to our overall plan: are you at the beginning, middle or end? Juggling more than one project?
  • If you're a new racer, tell us a bit about yourself and your writing. Why did you want to race?
  • Tricks and Trips: what's working for you, and what isn't? Do you need any advice on how to get the word count up? Is one of your characters giving you a headache?
  • Real Life: is it getting in the way? Husbands, wives, offspring or four-legged-friends proving too distracting? Name and shame them here.
New Racers:
We have two new racers joining us: Sheepish and Sarah.
Sheepish lives in France and has a particularly fetching picture of a...sheep (what else) in the profile section of her blog. Actually, I am assuming Sheepish is female but not sure that's true. Sheepish, care to enlighten us on this and on your plans?
Sarah found this blog when searching for 'chick lit word counts' and is 70,000 into her book. She's even set up a blog to enable her to join in the Race, though the blog is blank so far.

Finally, can I apologise if I've missed anyone out or messed up. Please either message me here or email me via my website if I am being dense. I am not a natural at web administration...


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Pause for thought

Word Count: 10,601

So I've passed the 10,000 mark with Book5 Version A, and have decided it might be time to take stock (before my fingers fall off). This feels a bit wimpy, as if I keep this work-rate up I could finish the novel by April, but I do feel I need to do more to develop my central character, her 'world-view' if you like. As with my previous books, my central character narrates in the first person and in this idea, I want to make her a psychology graduate, whose quirky observations about her friends and family are informed by psychological theory. Don't worry, she's not going to go off on a limb about Piaget for pages and pages, but as her job involves understanding people very well, I thought it would be fun to have her try to second-guess the reasons why people act as they do: sometimes, of course, she will get it spectacularly wrong.

Trouble is, I am NOT a psychology graduate, so I need to do some research. I have a strange attitude towards research: I spent two years of my life as a TV researcher, and another decade researching stories I was producing or reporting on, but funnily enough with fiction I don't like researching much at all. Perhaps this is because I know how I can get fixated on tiny details (inner workings of a jet engine, the techniques of sushi making etc) which could get in the way of a story.

Then again, maybe I am just too lazy to be *rsed to do research now I don't have to...

I am getting round this by reading lots of pop psychology books. I've also signed up to do an OU Psychology module, but actually I can't see myself having time to do it this year, so may have to postpone.

I also met my lovely editor for a great lunch at Neal Street Restaurant on Tuesday (the gnocchi are to die for) and raised the idea of writing more than one book a year. I know that the Orion list is very packed, and as with all publishers, they plan years in advance, but we had a few ideas about how it could work, so watch this space.

Oh, and Brown Owl is number 40 in The Bookseller's Top 50. Number 40 feels jolly thrilling, like being in the Top 40 on Top of the Pops or something. I can imagine Peter Powell announcing the title. Sorry. I've been going through lots of my old teenage letters and diaries so am in an adolescent frame of mind. The best thing was finding a list of albums that my friend owned, with a view to asking her to tape them for me, and in return I had to tape Heart by Heart for her. Wasn't life simpler then? (I am an old Fogey, official!)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Novel Race update: The Friday Coffee Break

Right, have been walking round the park in the rain and giving some thought to how we racers can keep each other 'on track' - and I thought a way of doing it might be to host a Friday 'coffee break' where we all check in and say how we've done this week, celebrate triumphs, ask for help with problems we might be having with block etc, and so on. It also allows people who aren't regular bloggers to participate online without having to faff with HTML.

Initially I will 'host' this, starting this Friday, but I am very happy to hand over the baton on a weekly basis. I'd suggest that we do it through the comments OR you can email me direct and I will post this by 4pm on Fridays. I will also use this slot to introduce new racers.

So, for this Friday, it'd be great if the current racers can either email me a brief summary of their work-in-progress, overall objectives etc OR can simply add it to the comments when the Coffee Break appears in the afternoon.

All suggestions for improving this idea are very welcome!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Fellow writers and the joys of shared neuroses

Word count: 9,168

Lots of chatting last night on publishing matters at my writing group - and a wishlist encompassing new publishing deals for three of us, more time and flexibility for a long-term project for another, and me...well, I'm not sure I have a wishlist as such, apart from the words flowing, and of course people buying more of my books! I guess I'd also like to find a way to get both of my current ideas into print, as I like them both and don't want to have to choose. I read from Option A last night and it does feel younger and lighter to me...

I do love getting together with other writers: it makes you feel less bonkers. The stuff we fixate/dwell on is usually dull as hell for anyone else, so meeting people who share your neuroses is a) highly therapeutic and b) reassuring. You DO have to be a little bit crazy to do this work. No doubt. But swapping stories and worries makes you feel good crazy, if you get my drift.

Caroline has put me to shame with her fascinatingly detailed post about her desk, with great photos, which you must look at immediately: I have acute stationery envy. And Dave Hill has explained his multi-stranded approach to the Novel Race which proves that we have an extremely flexible approach to taking part, and you can mould this challenge to your own writing requirements (by the way, I have had a few emails about this but am horribly behind on organisational matters so promise to come back to you very soon if you're waiting...).

Monday, January 08, 2007


Word Count: 7,965

Rather too much backstory in this morning's bit of Chapter Four, but that's inevitable at this stage. I am enjoying the process of getting to know my characters, and having fun with my London setting. It's the first time I've used London as the main location for a book, as for the previous four I was rather hung up on the 'don't go for any of the chick lit cliches like featuring a single woman, lots of vignettes about city life, or any stories about dating.'

And guess what, with Book 5 (or should I say Book 5 Option A? Option B is London-based but far less-romantic) I am breaking all my self-imposed rules, but keeping my fingers crossed that I have enough quirkiness in my 'voice' to make this stand out.

Meanwhile, in Novel Race News, we have more racers joining in the fun: one is the highly esteemed blogger Mr Dave Hill, who is going to be going a slightly non-linear route with his race to 100,000 as he has a variety of projects on the go.

We also have Hera, who says she hasn't felt this motivated since searching for the last fudge Quality Street on Christmas Eve...sounds like my kinda writer.

Moon Topples has shared his desk with his readers and jolly nice it is too. Very masculine, I think, with all that dark wood/leather. Like the Kermit pic, too.

Soon, I'm thinking we'll have a week where we post profiles of all our racers. So do join in if you fancy it!

Lovely Links of the Day:
Paperbackwriter has a fantastic Devil's Publishing Dictionary, which is very funny but also informative, good combination, folks!

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Voucher rich, cash poor time of year

Word count: 6,459

So I just opened my purse and out fluttered multiple receipts, gift vouchers for 5 different shops...and £1.58. Yes, it's that time of year. I do like gift vouchers, but the temptation to use M&S ones for salad and milk, for example, or the John Lewis ones on a nice big post-Xmas delivery from Ocado (who have even set up a virtual 'healthy aisle'), makes me feel I am looking a gift voucher horse in the mouth or something. Seems ungrateful, eh? I also have £12 from Unilever after their Persil capsules kept clinging to washed clothes, resembling nothing so much as pieces of shredded condom. Not a good look.

Have put vouchers away again and indulged in free things: another long walk along the Thames (after a delicious one in Bushy Park in the pouring rain yesterday); reading other people's papers in cafes at lunchtime (let's forget about the £9.20 on late breakfast for 2) and window-shopping in lovely Heal's before deciding we didn't actually need a gumball dispensing fruit machine, even if it was reduced from £25 to £17.50.

No words done this weekend though on Friday I also did some edits to what I shall call Book 5 Option B. I have written 10,000 words of that one (before Xmas) and once I also reach that point with Book 5 Option A I shall compare and contrast and try to work out which of the two has bestseller written all over it. Of course, Book 5 might turn into Book 6 (assuming there will be a Book 6) but then again, I have another, better idea for Book 6. Sometimes I wish the ideas would stop. But then they are the BEST bit.

Oh and Public Lending Right - which the fessingauthor very aptly describes as the nearest a writer gets to a city bonus - arrived yesterday and showed that around 23,000 people borrowed my books last year. Another reason to LOVE libraries. This equates to a very nice bonus sum but alas it doesn't arrive in my bank account for another month.

Now...is there anything edible I can buy with Unilever vouchers?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Early morning surprise...

The boyf gets up stupidly early for work every day and this morning I couldn't get back to sleep, so I got up at 6.45am and decided to get some words in early. Of course, I wrote about a sentence and then decided to reward myself with some surfing. Checked out the new Richard and Judy Book Club list (which looks fantastic - last year, I only really fancied The Island, but this year there are so many titles I would love to read, especially Half a Yellow Sun).

Fridays are The Independent's book review days - they have a little supplement. They very rarely review chick lit (well, very few national newspapers do - and frequently only feature the stuff to have a go at falling moral standards, appalling writing, the depraved nature of modern publishing etc.), but they have good profiles which I like reading. So imagine my surprise - and, my anticipated horror - when I saw Brown Owl's Guide to Life listed under the Paperback section.

I was sure I knew what was coming. It was BOUND to be evil: an excuse to lay into vapid female writers etc etc. But, like picking a scab, I had to have a peep. And this is what it said:

Brown Owl's Guide to Life, by Kate Harrison (ORION £6.99 (408pp)
The 35-year-old heroine of Kate Harrison's spirited third novel is used to being bossed around. For the first 18 years of her life it was her mother, a Brown Owl, who ruled the roost, and now her husband Andrew ("the civil service equivalent of Mr Universe") dictates the pattern of her life. Following her mother's death, Lucy reconvenes the Pixie troop of her childhood, and finds that the Brownie Handbook is the self-help manual she's always been searching for. A larky and undemanding tale of mid-life redemption that leaves even the most organised Girl Guide unprepared. (Emma Hagestadt)

Now, OK, maybe 'undemanding' is not a word to have me singing in the rain, but the rest of it is a good summary of the book and I very much like 'spirited' and 'larky' - and the tiny quotation gives a good flavour of my style. And I can't even quibble with undemanding, as when I checked my 'Fog Index' statistics on amazon.com (can't find them now, they've disappeared), it made it crystal clear that my vocab and sentence structure wouldn't tax a bright nine-year-old. But I don't think you need complex language to say what you want to say.

Anyhow, it's just nice to have a review, and one by someone who seems to have found the book entertaining - which is precisely what I'm aiming for. So thank you, Emma (never met her, by the way).

Back to the words...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

More words...and my desk

Word Count: 4660

Finished Chapter Two this morning, using the 'late in, early out' technique - basically, coming into a scene as late as you can, and cutting out of it before the action wanes.

I also thought I'd show you my desk, as I am fascinated by other people's workspaces (go on, post yours on your blog and link to it, especially my fellow racers).

I know I am really lucky that I now have a dedicated office - I wrote the first three books on my kitchen table/sitting on the sofa in front of the telly. I fondly imagined that having my own office would make me 10x more efficient, but I failed last year, hence the race really...
So, left to right, a stack of notebooks and notes on current novel; a stripy pen pot (including the letter knife that I now use to stab holes in the Persil washing capsules which are rubbish and stick to our washed clothes like used condoms if I don't stab them: the washing machine is right outside my office door); a lovely set of Laura Ashley glass jewellery drawers that I use for staples, stamps etc; rack with storage for all the back-up CDs I forget to use; drinking glass with Toord Boontje design; my reference library of baby name book, London A-Z, Dictionary, Book of Love quotations (which I fondly imagined would provide inspiration for romantic scenes); boxes with various bits in them; a funny little bird that I attach receipts to; a scented candle (a recent innovation - I am lighting it to show I am WRITING THE NOVEL in the hope it stops me getting diverted by blogs etc.); my laptop; a gorgeous bunch of flowers my friend brought over on New Year; my Mr Benn mousemat. Far right you can make out my printer, plus a noticeboard with a print out of the new jacket for The Self Preservation Society, and various money-off vouchers I forget to use. The view outside is lots of houses - mildly interesting, but not too distracting.
Missing from this pic: the cat. She has become DESPERATELY clingy since we got back from holiday, and sits on my lap as I type, making odd 'chatty' noises. Am getting worried she's suffering from feline dementia. Is there a word for hypochondria on behalf of your cat? But she's probably just missed us!

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

And managed a few more....

A fab rainy walk by the Thames got me up to 3,431, and I enjoyed it more this afternoon.

Have also managed to get through an entire day without spending a penny. No, not like that. My spending diary for the day is sterling-neutral: actually, better than that because after the long, dull Hillary's Blinds saga, I have finally had my money refunded. It took 7 emails, 2 recorded delivery letters, endless phone calls AND I still don't know whether it was them or my credit card company that capitulated, but the dosh has popped up on my statement. Hooray.

Yesterday I managed: £1.60 on a coffee, 50p on a book about the history of British holidays that was being chucked out by the library, and £0.00 on tweezers and moisturiser from Boots (I wasn't shop-lifting, I used my Advantage card points).

Lovely Links of the Day:
Sorry, can't remember whose blog this came from, but it looks super-cool, a year-long writing workshop from Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer. I've also spotted Ian MacMillan's Writing Lab, a new series of programmes on BBC Radio 3, beginning this Friday at 10pm. Hmmm. Not a great time for the average dissolute would-be writer, but hey. Hopefully you'll be able to listen again on realplayer, plus there's a good basic guide to his approach and some tips here.

Anyone else watch This Life last night, by the way? Tolerably good for 40 minutes I thought, if only for the close-ups of wrinkles and dodgy haircuts (they're getting old too. Not just me!), then it turned plain daft. Bit of a missed opportunity...


Chapter Two

Word Count:2,916

It's not flowing so well this morning, not sure why. I am getting hung up on good writing, finely turned sentences and so on, whereas I should really be ploughing ahead. There's also the whole question of backstory: how much do I need to intrigue and make readers empathise, without overloading them?

I know what I've written this morning is Clunk Central, but my new strategy is to edit the next morning, before beginning my new words. This seems to be a technique many authors use, and I guess it does give you a head start in the morning, especially if you've left lots of glitches the previous night - so you get the satisfaction of putting things right, followed by some free flowing words.

We shall see. Off to do some of my play-writing course now.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What I read on my holiday…

I love holidays because a) I get proper uninterrupted reading time and b) I love hotel book swap libraries as they force me to read stuff I would never have otherwise picked up! So I thought I'd share my list...

So, in order of enjoyment:

These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach: I really enjoy her books, and the concept – of shipping Brit pensioners to India to enjoy a warmer retirement – was such a good one. I’d been meaning to read this for ages. It didn’t disappoint: I loved the characters and descriptions, though occasionally I got fed up at the ruthless way she despatched some of my favourites.

An Eligible Bachelor by Veronica Henry: I have tried to get into this one before, but I had to be in the right mood for a fun romp and the holiday was the perfect opportunity. It is a proper page-turner, with a great line up of warm characters. It also has some lovely observations –fantastically unpretentious sunlounger reading.

The Adoption by Dave Hill: this is Dave’s new novel. I haven’t read his other ones, but this is cracking. Very touching, very ‘real’ – he really gets into the heads of multiple characters. I thought what was particularly strong was the detail of family life, the nitty-gritty incidents that are instantly recognisable, alongside the more emotional drama of the adoption of a troubled child. The family itself acts as a character, and I loved the way each person’s backstory was carefully woven in (e.g. the reason for the adoptive daughter’s phobia).
It would have been even higher, except that I found the central character, Jane, a little unsympathetic (there's a scene where some non-parents question her desire for more kids, and I did side a bit with them, which probably just proves how shallow I am!). Jane’s a devoted mum who craves another child, and I am a lazy author who struggles with the responsibilities of cat ownership, so maybe it’s not surprising. And not all fiction has to have 100 per cent lovable protagonists (something I have debated a lot myself, as a lot of the more formulaic chick lit is full of 'endearing' heroines who are scatty but cute, ugh!). Jane was still an intriguing character, and I couldn’t put the book down!

The Job by Douglas Kennedy: I usually love a bit of Douglas Kennedy, but this is one of his earlier ones, a John Grisham style thriller. He switched to writing more literary romantic/relationship novels which have made his name, and I felt he’s definitely found his niche with those as I couldn’t rave about The Job. Personally I didn’t find the setting of the advertising world all that interesting, and though I sympathised with the protagonist’s dilemma, this kind of plot-driven thriller isn’t for me and I skipped quite a bit of the middle. Still undoubtedly well written and I found it interesting to compare with the fab novels he’s done since.

Life Swap by Jane Green: I haven’t read a Jane Green in years though I enjoyed her early ones. This had some lively writing and an interesting Wife Swap style scenario. What it lacked for me was any real conflict – not giving the plot away but both of the central protagonists had nice enough lives and thought the grass might be a bit greener and…well, to me, there has to be a bit more to make a book memorable. Of course, what do I know? She sells squillions and good for her! (Also, those amazon reviews are vitriolic in the extreme, who rattled their cages I wonder?)

Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich: Haven’t read any Evanovich before as it’s not really my thang, but this was feisty and fun, with a great heroine. But the fact is this kind of adventure isn’t my natural choice of reading: I’m not overly keen on stuff that I can’t relate to my own life. That doesn’t mean I only want to read books about thirtysomething novelists (thank God) but though I love humour, I have to believe in the essential truth of the people whose lives are making me laugh and this was too far from my own interests and experience.

To prove my plebitude beyond doubt, I really couldn’t get into Don’t Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford. I haven’t read any of her books before, so perhaps this was the wrong one to choose as a first one, but though I liked the beginning, I soon got bored and it went back in my suitcase unfinished.

I worked my way through a couple of non-fictions, too:

Smart Dating by Mary Balfour: no, I’m not planning to ditch the boyf, but this was a library book I took out as part of my research for Book 5. It has lots of checklists to fill in and exercises to do, which I do like in a self-help book. Having said that, it got a bit repetitive, especially the hint for girls who wear glasses to take their specs off a lot during the first date.

Tales from the Country Matchmaker by Patricia Warren was also part of my research. This woman has had a fascinating life, with some moments of real tragedy as well as joy at bringing people together. But the prose was very dry and ploddy, which was a missed opportunity as her life offers fab material. I still think biography needs good writing and a sense of dramatic structure, and this lacked both.

Finally, on the plane home I was reading Queen Camilla by Sue Townsend, which was engaging enough to take my mind of my fear of flying, but since getting back I’ve felt no inclination to go back to it. It’s funny but a bit silly and January doesn’t feel quite right for ‘daft.’ For me, it almost falls into the same category as the Evanovich in that I can’t relate to that world, and of course I know that Camilla et al aren’t in fact living in a dodgy estate under an extended ASBO type scheme. I could suspend my disbelief but somehow other stuff’s more pressing. Plus it’s also a fact that I’m not mad keen on fiction while I’m writing my own…

So, what did YOU read over the break?

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Chapter One (well, that's two words taken care of)

Word Count: 1953 of 100,000

Currently reading: Emotional Rollercoaster by Claudia Hammond

Actually, by the time I've written the three-word title (still top secret), and the words 'By Kate Harrison, first draft, January 2007), that's 12 words taken care of. I like this bit - the shimmering possibility of the next book, the journey of discovery I am embarking on with my new, mysterious characters.

Usually it takes about 3 days for this to wear off, but thanks to the Race, I hope to sustain this a little longer. Wish me luck.

Lovely Link of the Day:
It was Anne Lamott (check out that hair) who first coined the term 'shitty first draft' in her seminal Bird by Bird, and that, ladies and gents, is what we're aiming at here: she explains it very well in this PDF.

The Racers Line Up

This is my current list - if you want to take part, add your name to the comments and I will add you, in order of signing up!

Lucy Diamond
Jen at Spiral Skies
Caroline Smailes
Bernardine Kennedy
Jessica (is this Jessica from the Book Bar? Let me know and I shall add your link in)
Jane Henry
Rachel Green
Liz Fenwick
Maht at Moon Topples

Oh and Cathy, go on! We're a mixture in terms of previous writing experience and check out what I say in the rules about getting slower the more books I write...

If I've left anyone out, or you want to ask any questions, add a comment to the blog or contact me via my website.

Good luck, all!

The Great Novel Race: Rules of the Game: Update

The rules below still stand BUT the Novel Race now has its own site so go over there and post a message to join:


(Info below is slightly out of date now but I will keep it for posterity!!! Kate, July 07)

Well, things are shaping up rather nicely on the Great Novel Race. This is about the only race many of us writers have ever stood a chance of doing OK in. I was the world's worst at PE at school. Truly terrible. I can't run for toffee and have no co-ordination so eggs and spoons would part company without milli-seconds.

Consquently I am very excited about this. We are a laid back bunch but we have decided there must be rules of the game, so here goes:

  • The race is mainly for motivational purposes, but Lucy and I will be working out a prize for the winners...(updated June 07: our prize has been awarded to Liz but we're carrying on the race anyway!)
  • If you’re going to take part, then leave a message in my comments.
  • Ideally you need to have a blog, however embryonic, to take part. It's easy to set one up with Blogger and can take as much or as little time as you like, but it's here that people can visit you.
  • Updated June 07: the Race is a flexible beast, and it's up to you how often you come to the Friday Coffee Break or visit the other blogs (though obviously, like your head teacher always told you, the more you put in, the more you get out). BUT as we'll all be linking to YOUR blog, please do link to the other Novel Racers from yours.
  • Most of us are aiming for 100,000 words or so. Of course, we’ll all have different word targets, but a typical full-length novel is between 80,000-100,000 words. If you’re writing for a market or publisher with lower word count requirements (e.g. Harlequin Mills & Boon) then you might like to commit to writing two!
  • If we use word counters like the Zokutou word meter or the Evolution Progress Meter, then we'll be able to see at a glance how we're doing.
  • You don’t have to be published or contracted to take part – in fact, the more experienced I’ve become, the slower I’ve got at writing books, so newcomers may be at an advantage – but you do need to be pretty serious to come and play…
  • Finally, do share tips or good links on the subject of productivity and feel free to cheerlead or shout from the sidelines if you’re not doing the Race yourself.

On your marks...get set...GO!


Monday, January 01, 2007

The Grand Word Count Challenge!

Right, so...Lucy Diamond has challenged me to the novelist's ultimate test - which of us can finish our new books faster?

By coincidence, we both start writing our next novels tomorrow - my fifth, her third (though Lucy has also written squillions of great kids' books). And so we're going to use the spirit of healthy rivalry to see how quickly we can get the first drafts together. Obviously, we're hoping not to sacrifice Quality for Quantity but then again first drafts are notoriously rough so it's the word count that...um...counts.

But I reckon this could be a bigger thing than a daggers-at-dawn-duel. Are you on the cusp of a new book? Or even your first? Join us! And if you have a blog, it'd be cool if you could link to me and Lucy, and invite others to get counting. Kind of like National Novel Writing Month, except a month has always seemed a bit insane to me - and actually Nanowrimo stipulates 50,000 words, which is more of a novella. I'm aiming at between 4 and 6 months for the first draft of around 100,000 words, but will be doing sums this week to set definite targets.

Go on. Take a leap. Join us! Not all resolutions have to be horrid. This could be fun...Or terrifying. Or both.

2007 Heaven

Hope you had a good night last night! I have decided to keep a numerical record of the year (according to the Times, people born on Merseyside are more creative and better at Maths – so that includes me! And it's true, I got a B at O Level).

Number of glasses of champagne drunk to see in New Year: 4
Number of enormous cheeses in the fridge left over from celebrations: 6
Number of unopened boxes of chocolates also threatening healthy eating resolutions: 5
Number of Milk Thistle pills taken to help liver recover: 2
Number of miles walked in Bushy Park this morning: approx 2
Number of book ideas I am desperate to write this year: 3 (yeah, that’s crazy, I know)
Number of resolutions I have: 4 (I plan to expand on these this week)

I was chatting to my mate G this morning and we both think that actually the beginning of the financial year is a much better day for resolutions, in that spring has sprung by then and it’s a less miserable time all round. But I can’t see it catching on.

As well as a word count, I am planning to keep a spending diary for the first couple of weeks of the year, to try to budget a bit better. I will post it here. Eeek.

January 1:
2 x Veggie breakfasts, 2 coffees, plus good tip to thank café owners for getting up on New Year’s Day: £12
Stationery (files, business card holder, my favourite v-grip pens): £61 (ouch)