Saturday, January 30, 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
Photo of the Day 29: spring feeling
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Photos of the Day 26, 27, 28
Monday, January 25, 2010
Birthday Treat - Reduction on my Writing Women's Fiction course
Photo of the Day 25: bad taste
Photo of the Day 24: clumsy but cute
Coming up tomorrow - a special birthday promotion for anyone who wants to sign up for my next creative writing course!
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Photo of the Day 23: horses for courses
Friday, January 22, 2010
Photo of the Day 22: best place to run
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Photos of the Day 19, 20, 21: climate change
Monday, January 18, 2010
TV Book Club & other Herculean tasks
Like many other members of the Twittering classes, I took time out to watch the first episode of the TV Book Club on More 4 last night. There seems to be a consensus among authors and publishers (i.e. not exactly the most representative of audiences) that the balance felt wrong – too much time on Chris Evans’ autobiography, too little on the book of the week, The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters. Plus the fact that gorgeous Laila Rouass barely got a word in, while Gok Wan’s joke about the fact he was still learning to read seemed to undermine the purpose of the show. Oh, and then there were Jo Brand’s distracting two-tone spectacles. I don’t have much to add to the reviews (though, glasses aside, I think Jo is a good choice of host – not only is she an author in her own right, she’s also been a judge for numerous literary prizes). But I do have a slightly different perspective in that as well as being an author, I worked for three years as a TV Development Producer – and, because I adore books, I spent a fair amount of my time trying to develop shows that would celebrate or capitalise on the popularity of book clubs, not to mention the widespread ambition to ‘do a JK Rowling.’
I remember a fairly thankless time pitching a host of ideas, including:
- A competition for new children’s authors, in a programme that also celebrated the history of children's fiction, and profiled possible candidates as the next ‘JK’
- A boot camp style write-a-thon where celebrities and members of the public would be kept prisoner over a fortnight to try to write the best book/story
- A romance writing show, to tie in with Valentine’s Day, where famous writing mentors/famous lovers would help new writers produce the most romantic story – and in the process, discover more about how we love in the 21st century/what men and women really want.
- A show that contrasted the real lives of authors – their dalliances, problems, crises – with those in their books.
Hmm. OK, so none of them are exactly threats to Big Brother... I left the BBC in 2006 – since then, similar shows to these have cropped up across the networks –not because they were copied but because, as in fiction, certain ideas are out there in the ether. Have any of them become big hits? I haven’t studied the figures, but I don’t think any of them have been outstanding successes.
Well, duh. Forgive me if I am stating the bloody obvious, but the problems with featuring books and writers on TV is that a) writing is excruciatingly dull to watch and therefore film and b) reading is a solitary experience, and one where taste is incredibly individual. In contrast, telly relies on engaging mass audiences by giving them a shared experience or appealing to a shared interest.
The Richard and Judy Book Club worked because we already had a relationship with our hosts – we felt we knew them and their quirks, that made us prepared to listen to their views on books and subjects we hadn’t heard of. And, most important of all, we knew that the book club spot didn’t last forever and if we never read anything apart from Take a Break, we could put the dinner on while we waited for the next item on Stephen Fry or Posh and Becks or on a woman who had survived four months in the Gobi desert on only a can of Diet Coke and a slab of Kendal Mint Cake.
Of course, the publishing industry loved the R&J Book Club because it made it easy to sell books – the adoration wasn’t unconditional, because if you were publishing a R&J style book at the same time that the club aired, it risked sinking without trace. But broadly the book trade liked it, the viewers enjoyed it, and everyone was happy-ish.
But basing an entire show on books is a much bigger challenge. There are three options: the talent show/competition route, the profile/genre route and the magazine/celeb route. Unlike some of the commentators within publishing, I don’t think that last route is wrong in itself. After all, whatever publishers think, More4 and its advertisers care about bums on seats, which means putting the audience before vested interests. OK, some of the book choices seemed a little obvious – by no stretch of the imagination are Nick Hornby or Sarah Waters ‘new talent’ – but perhaps if the show delivers an audience, the choices will become more diverse.
I honestly hope the show develops and succeeds, perhaps with more coherent discussion of the book, and some clearer format moments - an ‘if you like this, try these books’ slot might be fun, or a ‘what are they reading on the Number 7 bus vox pop,’ for example. And I think there’s scope to develop what seemed to me the best part of the show, when Sarah Waters discussing her novel and her work.
Maybe there’s something to be learned from what, for my money, were the two best shows on books and writing in the last decade or so. For mainstream appeal, The Big Read is the clear winner. It worked because even if you hadn’t read a book, most of the titles were famous enough that you might have seen the adaptation or at least known a little of the story, and so you were interested invest time in finding out more. It used celebrities who did genuinely seem passionate about the books, and the voting element gave it momentum, too.
The other success for me was the brilliant Scribbling, a documentary series which profiled interesting, eccentric authors (the episode on Rob Newman was fascinating because he was struggling, while those on Geoff Ryman and Minette Walters were also compelling).
Personally, I think there could be mileage in newer versions of both of those – the Big Gory Crime Read or the Big Love Story or Big Smart Read to Help You Pull the Opposite Sex, maybe.
And who knows? Maybe now that we’re so weary of 'reality', we might enjoy documentaries featuring talented, peculiar writers with fat bottoms and silicon-free cleavages who can’t afford to give up the day job, but still write into the night, or between shifts or nappy-changes, because it’s what they were born to do...
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Photo of the Day 17 - Say cheese!
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Photo of the Day 16: Ganchillo Day
Friday, January 15, 2010
Photo of the Day 15: Mutton, lamb, sequins
But my favourite is definitely the bag. Rarely do you find an evening bag large enough to take more than a lipstick and a teeny tiny phone. Which, as a clutterbug, I find impossible. This one could almost hold my netbook! Hoorah for rebajas!
Info for Writers: Short Story Competition and Women's Fiction Course
Second, I'm leading another course at Kingston University (half an hour from Waterloo) from March 15-18. It's based on the successful course I ran last year with Louise Voss, but this year's course will be much more workshop based, with more practical exercises and time for critiques. I'm running it each evening between 6-9pm - so if one of your resolutions is to start or finish your novel, then it's an intense but fun week which will fit in around other commitments and will help you stay motivated and clarify what makes your work special.
What's the course about?
From Marian Keyes to Jodi Picoult and Victoria Hislop, the women's fiction genre is wide-ranging and vibrant - and publishers are always looking for new voices to entertain, amuse and move readers.
This course offers four days of practical workshops and lectures on the essentials of writing for this genre. We'll cover generating original ideas, developing compelling characters, key elements of structure and story-telling; and, finally, approaching publishers and agents with your work. It builds on last year's successful Head over Heels course, with more time for feedback and workshopping.
What topics will we cover?
This course will combine workshops/exercises with short lectures on key practical techniques and tools. The sessions are:
Session 1: That's the Idea:
In this session, we'll use tried and tested brainstorming and outlining techniques to develop your novel idea, whether it's a still only a one line long, or is a completed first draft. Using The Grid, Kate's own novel-planning tool, we will look at the ‘hooks' of best-sellers in the genre, and apply those techniques to our own ideas.
Session 2: Heroes and heroines
In women's fiction, characters are paramount: the reader must empathise with your hero or heroine's struggles or journeys, even if they don't always like them. In this session, we use a variety of character building tools to develop rounded, believable characters. We also take a look at dialogue, and at choosing the best viewpoint for your story.
Session 3: Are you sitting comfortably? The art of story-telling
A story without struggle isn't a story - so we use the work we've done on character, and techniques taken from successful novels and from movies, to work out how to keep the story progressing, and the reader hooked. We'll also analyse works-in-progress to spot potential areas for improvement.
Session 4: Agents, advances and literary fame: the lowdown on getting published
In this session, we focus on marketing your novel to agents and publishers. We explore why titles can mean the difference between success and failure, at approaching agents and publishers, and at the best ways of maximising your chances of standing out from the crowd.
Who is it for?
This course is suitable for writers who enjoy women's fiction and are interested in breaking into the genre. It's suitable for students who are currently working on a novel, or those who may be new to writing but have an initial idea for the book they want to write. It's also suitable for students who attended Head over Heels, as the exercises and workshops are new.
At the end of the course, you will have:
- Had feedback on your idea and writing from workshops and the tutor;
- Written an enticing treatment or ‘blurb' for your idea, with a clear sense of where your novel might fit within the genre;
- Developed your heroine/hero and written at least two key scenes/pieces of dialogue;
- Outlined the structure of your novel and the key dramatic conflicts. If your novel is a work-in-progress, you will have identified issues around pace/tension;
- Researched agents/publishers and drafted a query letter to send with your completed novel;
- Worked out a plan of action to help you complete and market your novel.
Will there be any work outside of class/before the course begins?
Yes, an exercise will be set each evening, to maximise your progress. Before the course begins you will receive a brief reading list (optional) to help prepare for the course, and there will also be the opportunity to submit work to Kate beforehand. In addition, Kate will offer detailed critiques and help with work-in-progress after the course is completed, for an additional fee.
Photo of the Day 14 - window shopping
PS: in answer to the messages about my non-picture, yes, actually, the men weren't in bad shape... But still!
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Photo of the Day 13 - er, you'll have to use your imagination
Of course, this being Barcelona, no one looked twice.
Are you glad I didn't take my camera now?
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Photos of the day 11 & 12: ladders & languages
Monday, January 11, 2010
Photos of the day 9 & 10: sun and shopping
From Saturday - I loved the way the tower at Santa Maria del Mar was swathed in net, like a bride, and you can just see the memorial flame too on the left.
- Marmite (which, to be fair, we can buy in a few places here but we thought we'd snaffle some anyway)
- LEMON Golden Shred (boyf's breakfasting choice)
- Two jars of different chutneys (I love chutney)
- A brick of Cheddar
- Golden Syrup (more for the tin than the contents: a) it's not very low-carb and b) to bake anything here I'd need to go back and buy British flour and sugar etc as the Spanish brands are completely different and friends have had VERY mixed results when baking)
- and finally...Chocolate Angel Delight (not my idea. I adored the ads when I was a kid but whenever we had some, I thought it was icky)
Friday, January 08, 2010
Photo of the Day 8: Crochet or spaghetti?
Labels: Photo of the day 8
Thursday, January 07, 2010
Photo of the Day 7: Essential Winter Kit
Photo of the Day 6 - and Marian Keyes
But I was also distracted by Marian Keyes’ newsletter, in which she explains that she is currently suffering very badly from depression. There’s been a lot of news coverage about it, which I won’t link to, as some of the comments have been negative and ignorant. I think her openness does her tremendous credit, and may help to increase understanding about mental illness – and what few of the newspaper articles have mentioned is that at the bottom she has added some quotations she’s found helpful (though reading them also gives an insight into how bleak she must be feeling).
I’ve only met her once and she was so charming and lovely that my boyfriend always smiles when he sees me reading one of her books, and he talks about that party and that short conversation. She’s a person who makes a difference to people.
She’s also a very gifted writer, and I wonder if that gift comes, in part, from her sensitivity to the people around her, and to emotions. That hyper-sensitivity brings both pleasure and extreme pain, and I feel for her so much right now. It’s profoundly unhelpful to say to someone who is clinically depressed that you ‘know how they feel’ (and don’t even get me started on ‘buck up’ or ‘pull yourself together’) because the experience is unique to the sufferer. But I do think that many creative people will identify with her experience. I’ve had bouts of depression through my life, sometimes when everything seems – from the outside – to be going swimmingly. What I do know is that depression is terrifying and, as Marian says in her newsletter, the worst part is that you don’t know when, or if, it’s going to end.
I’ve come to realise that I will use any weapon in the armoury to try to stop the Black Dog in its tracks. Exercise helps, but if you’re already falling down the pit, then donning the trainers or doing a hideous step aerobics feels as unattainable as jumping to the moon from a trampette. Eating well is good, too, but if you have no appetite for life, then food seems unimportant. Pills sometimes help bring a little colour back. Talking can be good, up to a point, although you bore yourself (and those around you) very quickly. Counting your blessings - writing them down, for example - can be useful, though again it can also feel a bit like your mum telling you to swallow the one vegetable that makes you gag, because of the starving children in Africa. You know you ought to grateful, you know billions are suffering ‘properly,’ and yet you’re lost in this world of blackness and the guilt makes you feel even worse.
All you can do is to try a bit of everything, whenever you have the energy, and try to remind yourself that you’ve come out of it before, so you will again.
I’ve also accepted that being a sensitive plant is in my nature – and that it’s probably what made me want to be a writer, to observe and process the people and events around me. I feel things at a ridiculously personal level – news items, movies, books, songs – but maybe that has its bonuses too. When I am low, it’s hard to see that. But when I’m more balanced, I can persuade myself that seeing the world as I do is what makes me who I am, for all my strengths and weaknesses.
I don’t know if it’s the same for Marian Keyes, but my hunch says it might be.
I hope that Marian is able to see her own many, many strengths again before too long. And that there’ll come a day soon when she’ll be able to read the many thousands of messages of support and realise that to touch so many people is a gift that comes, in part, from being someone who feels things so deeply.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Photo of the Day 5: Three Kings
Labels: Photo of the day 5
Monday, January 04, 2010
Photo of the Day 4: Back to Work
Labels: Photo of the day 4
Sunday, January 03, 2010
Photo of the Day 3
Labels: Photo of the day 3
Saturday, January 02, 2010
Photo of the Day 2
But over the last year or so, I've become a bit of a convert to the old jogging. It's mainly thanks to Robert Ullrey's fabulous podcasts, which I've blogged about before. They take you from sitting on the couch to running 5K in nine weeks. It's not entirely effortless, but it is very motivating to listen to the tapes. I did it last year, but mainly in the gym. This time round, I'm running out of doors, as the weather is better here in Spain. It's MUCH harder than on a treadmill, but more satisfying.
So, this morning I reached the week 6, run 3 stage, which involved running for 25 minutes without stopping. This, I'm pretty sure, is the furthest I have ever run out of doors and I'm pretty chuffed. So I thought I'd photograph my battered Asics trainers, as I couldn't have done it without 'em.
PS: I know it's time for new ones. I have bought a lovely shiny pair but it's still muddy in the park so they'll have to wait for sunnier weather.
Labels: Photo of the day 2