Friday, March 30, 2007

Coffee Break 11

Word count: 85,656

"The end of a novel, like the end of a children's dinner party, must be made up of sweetmeats and sugar-plums."
(Anthony Trollope in Barchester Towers, 1857)

Yesterday's charity shop find - the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Quotations, a treasure chest of pithy pronouncements on everything from Admiration and Praise, to Writers' Block. I shall be choosing inspirational or funny quotes from it as it's tremendous fun.

I am approaching the sweetmeat and sugar-plum stage, with sore eyes and sore hands (I get that discomfort in the heel of my hand when I've been writing at the pace I've been maintaining for the last fortnight). I know I ought to rest the hand but I have four chapters to go before The End (oh, I was so wrong about the 90,000 words, it's going to end up being 95,000, what a disappointment) and I want to try to meet my self-imposed March 31 deadline so I have a whole week to edit the worst can take the girl out of journalism, but you can't take the journalism out of the girl.

How is everyone? And will your novel end sweetly? Welcome to Jacqui, who has joined us. If you're a little earlier in the process, do you know exactly how it will end, or are you waiting for the story to reveal itself as your mind digests the story fully? And if you are approaching the end of the first draft, do you have a reward in store for yourself? I don't, yet, but might have to think of one...But I do have a squillion things to do - people to see or call, emails and features to write, bills to pay - as I have been neglecting real life terribly over the last ten days or so. Another quotation springs to mind here: "I've always thought people write because they are not living properly." (Beryl Bainbridge)

Sad but true for me this month, Beryl. Sad but true...

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bircher Muesli Joy

Word Count: 85,068

Much chirpier as we head towards the end of the week, though I still know that the WIP is in need of serious editing. I am also failing to email anyone until the end of the week so apologies if you're waiting to hear from me. It'll get better as soon as I have typed The End. Still hoping I may do this by midnight on March 31st, but my stories have a habit of going on a bit longer than expected, especially in the first draft.

I am also currently fuelled by Bircher Muesli. This has always been a favourite breakfast of mine when staying at nice hotels but I had assumed it involved some kind of fearfully tricky cookery techniques. But it doesn't: it's just oats soaked overnight in about half the amount of apple juice, plus some dried fruit (I have been snipping dried figs in there), a few seeds or, I guess, anything else you want to add (choc chips? M&Ms?). Serve with yogurt and maybe grated apple or a few raspberries.


Back tomorrow for coffee break.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Neurotic of Greater London

Word count: 76,917

Spent most of my weekend working time sorting out a lecture on short story writing I'm giving this week - interesting, but frustrating when I wanted to crack on with Book 5. And as a result I was struggling a bit today.

Went to the critique group this evening and am feeling a bit flat about the book. I am definitely going for a more upbeat, light approach to the current project as it marks a departure for me, but the bit I read tonight felt very thin and obvious and not all that funny. I know it's a first draft, but in my head this part was much better than the reality. Which depresses me. I have set myself daft deadlines and now I am worrying that the writing is suffering as a result: will I have time to put it right? Does it even matter that it's frothy? I also got rather paranoid that no-one ever really says anything after I read, yet we can find plenty of interesting stuff to discuss about other people's work. Is it just because I am a dopey lightweight airhead?


Anyhow, just to cheer you up, here's a feature about how hard it is to get a first novel published. It then goes on to profile five novelists. I don't doubt that they're all talented, with great ideas, but the people chosen do rather reinforce the stereotype that one has to have been to Oxbridge, have famous or publishing-related relatives, or both, to get a publishing deal.*

*It's not true, btw. I had neither connections nor an Oxbridge degree. But then again I am never likely to be featured in the Observer... it's a cross I have to bear.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Coffee Break 10

Word count: 74,414

OK, so I have been COOKING this week. I mean that metaphorically, as I haven’t had time for any real cooking, it’s been sandwiches and takeaways all the way as I haven’t done much except write. Not a bad plan due to the horrible chilly spell that has descended on Britain.

I now feel that I might even finish the book by the end of the month (a week today!), although I have a lecture to plan, features to write, and a whole variety of other work getting in the way. If I can finish by then it will JUST beat my previous record, with my first book, of three months to do a first draft.

However…this doesn’t of course mean it will be FINISHED, finished. It will really be only the beginning. The mid-April deadline we worked out this week means that once I’ve written THE END I will only perhaps have two or three days – rather than the usual few weeks – to let the book marinate in time, before I have to go back and edit. I worry a little that although this is a very straightforward book, I may fail to take advantage of nuances or opportunities to make it funnier/better. But then again my editor’s comments will then give me a new opportunity to revise and change and improve…

So, how are we all getting on? And my question this week is about how you edit…how long do you leave the book? do you do structural change first and then work at sentence level, or are you a multi-tasker who can manage it all simultaneously (in which case, you have my profound admiration)? All tips and tricks welcome!

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

On Target!

Word count: 70,309

Haven’t been blogging much outside the Friday coffee break, because I’ve been writing instead, and actually I’ve hit my March target this morning, so am pretty chuffed. Can’t allow myself much time for celebrations however, as I have told my editor that I will send the first draft to her by mid-April. It WILL be very first-drafty, of course, but it seems possible.

I’ve also revised the word count down a bit as I think this book won’t exceed 90,000 words and may even come down to 85,000, which will be nice for me as I usually write at about 120,000 words. It’s really because the plot of this one is much simpler – though it still involves three love affairs, deception, intrigue and lots about the psychology of why we fall for people.

I also spent a fantastically inspirational afternoon at the National Portrait Gallery, which I find much more exciting than the National Gallery – more into people than landscapes, I guess. I fell in love with this guy here (scroll down for his portrait), even though he’s been dead for over 250 years. rather cute, though, eh? I also bought TWO books which was very self-indulgent. One was Trafalgar Square through the Camera, which does what it says on the tin and has incredibly evocative wartime pictures, and the other was We Are the People, an amazing collection of postcards of people between about 1900 and 1950. The people are all anonymous, and you can’t help but wonder what on earth happened to the man who won a prize for his pickles, or the child dressed as a bunny rabbit.

And now it’s snowing outside.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Coffee Break 9

Word count: 57,050

Can you believe it’s now nine weeks since we started this quest? Now the bulbs are out, the birds are hanging out by my window, and I think we've all added some words. It's excellent to see so many positive comments on how we’re helping each other – and also that we might be making it into Writers’ News.

I’ve had a better week for words, and intend to try for even more in the coming week to meet my target of reaching 70,000 by the end of the month! I’m also entering the pre-publicity phase for my new book, so that’s going to reduce writing time if I get some commissions for features. I am also pondering setting up a mini blog where people fess up to their fears and phobias because that’s the subject of the book – what do you think? Waste of time, or potentially fun?

I’ve also been reading a couple of terrific pieces online – the first is about the reality of writing, and writers’ earnings, and should be compulsory reading for all would-be authors. Amongst the facts in the piece, it reveals:

The average author earns about £16,000, a third less than the national average
wage. But hidden behind that figure released by the Authors' Licensing and
Collecting Society (ALCS) is a grimmer truth: when you take away the superstars
who are earning shedloads, the actual figure for the rest is closer to £4,000

Not to say you can’t make a living from this business, but this accurately depicts the likely financial pickings.

The second one really made me laugh because this sums up how I feel sometimes about the insecurities and neuroses of being a writer, especially the feeling of sibling rivalry. Alain de Botton describes a visit to his publisher…

Then there is the neediness. Whatever the reason for the Penguin visit, the
author really wants to know one thing: do you still love me? It’s an irrational
feeling of course, but – isolated, self-doubting, self-hating, on the brink of
disaster at all times – the author needs dramatic doses of reassurance in order
to make it to the desk every morning.

Anyone else recognise those feelings? And how was your week?

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My kinda research

Word count: 52,905

Yesterday I went to research chocolate shops. Oh yes. The halfway point of a novel is always a tough time, so in need of pepping up, I went with my friend J to investigate the sweet stuff. I discovered that:

  • The Prestat shop is like a little girls’ dressing up box, all gold and pink and pretty, down the prettiest arcade. But the flavours I wanted – oh, I so wanted to try a banoffee truffle – were all in pre-packed boxes so I wasn’t so keen.
  • Fortnum and Mason’s chocolate department is bigger, but the chocs looked a bit more regular, and I like my chocs to look slightly homespun. But J and I were very taken with the hand-decorated Easter Eggs, serious works of art they were, and with the glace fruit including whole oranges which looked like beef tomatoes. But in a good way.
  • Fortnum’s Fountain Restaurant is AWFUL. Sorry, but it’s true. They are doing refurbishment work, which may explain things, but there’s no excuse for damp stains on the ceiling, coffee served in battered metal pots that a greasy spoon would be ashamed of, and waitresses who look as if they’d rather be ANYWHERE but there, inspecting their nails, texting people. Shame, as the sacher torte was delish. But it seems awful that visitors might be going there and thinking, is this the best London has to offer? By contrast the food hall downstairs is a thing of beauty. Maybe it’ll be better when it’s made over.
  • La Maison du Chocolat on Piccadilly is like Tiffany’s for chocolate. Takes itself VERY seriously but what’s wrong with that? I think this one is the most likely to feature in the book.

Actually, I am not sure I have researched it thoroughly enough yet. Perhaps I need to go on the Chocolate Ecstasy Tour, just to make sure. I mean, OK, the scene is only a couple of pages long but I owe it to my readers to get it spot on, wouldn't you agree? Anyone fancy coming along?

And, as if by magic, my word count is going up again.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Coffee Break 8

Word Count: the same...but will update later!

MUCH chirpier this end of the week, so thank you so much for your suggestions. They really helped – and the sun coming out has also perked me up no end…some great movie suggestions I haven't seen before - actually, musicals do it for me, when I remember, especially The Commitments. And, of course, Upstairs, Downstairs.

This positive mood is despite having added no words this week, frustratingly. I’ve been working my way through the proofs for The Self-Preservation Society – this is the last chance to make changes or spot any typographical errors. It’s been a slightly frustrating process as I had left a lot of rewrites to the copy edit stage (i.e. the same point that an editor, usually freelance and an expert at this kind of thing, goes through the manuscript looking for grammatical errors, factual howlers, inconsistencies and, in my case, Random Uses of Capital Letters). Alas, some of the changes I scribbled on paper hadn’t worked their way through to this version – so it’s meant I have had to get the hang of merging two documents in Word and then going through it page by page, comparing it to what’s on the paper. Merging is one of those very complicated technical things that only advanced Microsoft sorts should get involved with, I think, but I was very brave...

Next time I don’t think I will leave so many changes to copy edit stage…

That, plus various tedious admin tasks (like saving £110 on my car insurance using good old Moneysupermarket’s tips) have swallowed the week up whole, and my progress towards 70,000 words by the end of the month is disappointing. But I do intend to write today so will update later. And when I think how far I've come this year - nearly half a book since January 2 - I feel much better. It's brilliant to see from the comments how much the Race seems to be helping us all...

How is everyone else doing? If you’re a new Novel Racer, do introduce yourself? I've updated the links, so welcome to Saoirse, Isabella and Jay. If I've accidentally missed anyone, please let me know. And if you are joining up, do double check I've got the RIGHT blog for you as several of you prolific peeps have more than one!

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Down and out

Word count: 48,238

I don't know why I feel down today but I do. Sometimes you just have to accept it, don't you? No good reason, no great troubles, just a kind of gloom. It doesn't help that we got away for a few days, for various personal reasons, and coming back all looks rather grim and grey outside. And I am really tired, travelling back was quite a trial.

What do you do to cheer yourself up when the glooms strike?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Coffee Break 7

Word Count: 45,644

A very brief hello as I am away and various things are getting in the way of both writing and posting. But how are we all?

February was a poor month for word count for me, but a good one for plotting I think, so that ought to help the word count flow. My ambitious aim for the end of the month (well, it is a long one!) is to reach 70,000 words!

Aim high, I say. So what´s your goal?

PS promise to add new novel racers on Monday but do feel free to introduce yourself in the meantime!