Friday, 31 December 2010

Hogmanay - Old Year Thoughts

Funny how this day brings out the nostalgia. It's been an eventful year for me, and not always on the good side. I started the year full of hope that my revised novel would snag a certain agent who'd shown some interest. By the end of January my optimism had evaporated. Disheartened, I fought through the miserable winter weather uncertain about the future. Did I really want to keep going with this business which had brought nothing but disappointment?

Then in March my sister died. She was only 3 years older than me and although not in the best of health was hardly at death's door. The event was sudden and shocking, leaving all her family in a turmoil of grief and self-recrimination. I too felt a weight of guilt. I'd spoken on the phone to her a fortnight previously and she'd told me her symptoms. Concerned, I'd urged her to get to the doctor. "Maybe I will," she'd said breezily, before hanging up. It was the last conversation we had. I wish I'd pestered her about it now. How wise we are after the event. But one thing her death did was show me in technicolor clarity how short our time is and if there's something you want to do you better get on and do it now, while you can.

A few weeks after the funeral I fell down some stairs and sprained my ankle. Sitting in out-patients that evening - a first for me - I saw a big slice of life up close, many poor souls a lot worse off than me. Again, life's fragility on display.

An internet friend contacted me around this time to ask how things were going submission-wise. She urged me to keep sending the novel out and not give up. Talking to her made me realise I couldn't give up, I'd come this far and I had to see it through. So I jumped back on the submissions wagon again.

I had a perfectly nice week at Loch Ness in June. Time to get away from writing and take stock. By this point I'd more or less decided to forget about the novel and concentrate on other projects I'd had ideas for. When I got home I got right back to work and started writing Redemption, another ghost story. By October I was well into it and took the plunge to participate in Nanowrimo to get it finished.

The first week of Nano I was stricken with a nasty bout of what I suspect was swine flu. Dragging myself to the computer with blankets and hot water bottles to keep warm, coughing up my lungs and snuffling into boxes of tissues, was hardly propitious for a creative pursuit. But somehow I managed to do it. And at the end of the first week I received the email from my agent offering representation.

It's funny how life gives and takes simultaneously. Just when you think you can't feel any worse something marvellous happens. It's happened to me time and again throughout my life, but it still never fails to amaze me.

So that's where I am now. I've no idea what 2011 will bring, but I hope it brings success and happiness for all of us in whatever way we desire. Here's to a bumper writing year!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Goodbye snow!

The temperature got up to 4 degrees today! After the last month of icy winter weather when we've either been chilled to the marrow by arctic winds or skidding around on inches of frozen snow it's felt positively balmy. Walking out with Theo this afternoon I was amazed to see golfers on the still flooded golf course, no doubt desperate for a game after weeks without. The beach was surprisingly busy - people flocking once again to the great outdoors after so long huddled in the warmth of their houses.

It struck me how pleasant it is just being able to walk normally along a pavement without measuring every step. The world looks so colourful again now its white blanket has melted away. And it reminds me of how wonderful the world is, when we bother to look at it. I felt like running up the ninth fairway a la Julie Andrews and singing The Hills Are Alive.

Monday, 27 December 2010

New Year, New Me...

So another Christmas bites the dust. As usual after all that eating I'm left feeling fatter and totally unfit, and there's a reason for that. Last Spring I sprained my ankle and lost the momentum of regular exercise. Somehow the months rattled by too fast for me to catch up, but all that is about to change. I took a trip up to Waterstones today and splashed out on the new Beverly Callard DVD and a couple of diet related books, one by the guru herself, Rosemary Conley. So with those two formidable ladies to inspire me I haven't a chance of failing in my efforts to shape up.

Does getting fit matter? Well it does for me. I hate feeling flabby; that lethargy affects everything, and worse of all I lose my drive. And I've been plagued by colds and flu this year which I'm sure is connected. The benefits of being fit are having more energy so everything is easier, clothes fit better, I feel more confident. Getting fit is top of my New Year Resolution list. And you never know, in a few months I might look like this...

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Merry Christmas

I hate to panic you but there's only TWO DAYS TO GO!!

I probably won't see you again before the Big Day arrives, so I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all of my followers a very happy Christmas. Hope Santa brings you lots of scrummy pressies.

Here's one for you now. Some delicious clips from one of my favourite films:

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Happy Yuletide

Well it's the Winter Solstice or Yule, if you want to go all pagan. Anyway it's the shortest day of the year.

This winter is proving a particularly severe one; we've got huge piles of snow in the drive and the news programmes are full of 'travel chaos' stories. Walking out with Theo I can't help reflecting on how pagan peoples viewed this time of year. Their lives were so much more basic than ours, the prospect of a major freeze must have been both catastrophic and terrifying. When I look at the louring sky full of snow, blotting out the light, I wonder what they made of it, sitting in their ramshackle shelters around a log fire for warmth. The sun was so important to them, its absence and the death of nature all around must have filled them with the most primeval fear.

And even today with the benefits of heating and artificial light we get a sense of that gloom. But on the plus side, once this day is passed the days will gradually get longer again and before we know it Spring will be here. Although it's hard to imagine at the moment...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A Christmas Carol

There's a rumour going around that it's going to be Christmas soon...

Here's a clip from one of my favourite Christmas films, Scrooge, starring the wonderful Alistair Sim as the eponymous miser. Enjoy!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

On Silly Rules

I don't mind a lot of the silliness I see posted on writers' forums, but one thing that really annoys me are those blanket "Never do this" or "Always do that" type. You know the kind of thing. Apparently Mark Twain once famously said "If you see an adverb, kill it". Well good for him, but does every writer on the internet have to quote that in their signature? Okay, maybe not every writer, but I've seen it enough times to set my teeth on edge. For one not insignificant thing, it's a crock of shit.

Then there's the ubiquitous lists. Ten things Agents hate, or variations on the theme. We all have pet hates, agents included. But why poke them up everyone's nose on blogs and forums? To me it's an attempt to create a formula that will guarantee acceptance: Avoid these pitfalls and you too can write like (insert great novelist here). But here's the uncomfortable truth: there is no formula. For everyone who hates adverbs there are just as many who love them. For every editor who tosses a manuscript that opens with a prologue, there is bound to be at least one who finds it intriguing and wants to read more. There Are No Rules. That, my writer friends, is the only rule.

That's what makes literature an art rather than simply a craft. It might be inadvisable to start a novel with It (yes, I've seen that silly rule a few times) but there have been great writers who've managed to pull it off. It's your job as a writer to test the boundaries, to push the limits and see what you can get away with. Tastes change. So experiment. It's your right as an artist. And you duty. If there was a coverall formula for writing good fiction how boring the world would be.

So for your sake as well as your readers, do it your way, and ignore silly rules.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Another Brand New Thingy

I've been at it again. Yesterday, prompted by discontent with my last effort to make a reasonable stab at a free website, I blew my Christmas money on buying my own domain and now have a brand new website.

Of course I then spent the rest of the day trying to knock it into shape. It's not finished yet, but I'd really appreciate feedback - this website malarkey is new to me - if you can spare a minute to pop across. You can leave a message on the contact page, or email me directly at

I have the option to have a blog on the website too, but I'm not sure what to do about that. I like this blog and I'd hate to lose all my posts and my followers if I moved. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Creating tension

Well the snow has gone - mostly - and I never thought I'd be so glad to see pavements and grass again. Funny how something as romantic and harmless as snow can cause so much trouble when it goes on for too long and freezes to treacherous ice.
I've watched and read a few scary stories lately and that is the secret of creating a sense of menace and therefore tension, taking the innocuous and making it threatening. Like the little girls in The Shining - why are they so scary? Yet the image makes such an impression it is much copied and parodied. Daphne du Maurier created another unexpected threat in The Birds, a story prompted by seeing gulls follow a tractor in a field. Who would have thought something as harmless as a bird could be scary?

But anything can be scary, in the wrong circumstances. (Which is why I'm now terrified of snow.)

And here's an article from Mslexia featuring advice from several agents about how to land an agent.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Brand New Thingy

Well, I've relaunched my website. It took me all morning to do it, but I think it's a much better showcase than the old one.

In my defence I must say my first stab at it wasn't bad for a complete novice, but that was TWO WHOLE YEARS AGO! Yes, I know, where has the time gone? But I've been knocking around the internet for long enough that the newbie excuse just don't hold water any more. So I've slimmed it down, cut out a lot of nonsense and focussed on the work, which is after all the point of the exercise. Now, if I can only do the same thing here...

Please take a look and see what you think. I'd really welcome any comments - you don't need to be a member to leave a message in the visitor book, or you can post your thoughts here. All feedback appreciated.

Friday, 10 December 2010

On Leading Ladies

Yikes! Time getting away from me again.

I have been busy this week. After a long while outlining my rom-com I've finally started to write it. About 4k in so far and it's going pretty well, although it always is in the beginning. The hardest thing with comedy is getting the tone right. That's what's been holding me up, I think. But I've plumped for first person just for the purpose of getting the story down.

My heroine is Lindsay. She's young and ambitious, clever but insecure. I think I like her. Do you have to like your protagonist? I think it probably helps, if only because you have to live with them for so long. Hating your main character might be a bit like sharing a flat with someone you detested. You'd spend all your time skulking in your bedroom to avoid them.

In other news:

Heard from Sophie Playle that my article has been accepted for the next issue of Inkspill Magazine, which is very thrilling. I have never been published for non-fiction (unless you count angry letters to the local paper) so it's a first for me.

I've been freezing in the snow and ice and trying to keep spirits up despite food shortages, petrol increases and the boiler refusing to come on this morning. This winter is a real humdinger and no mistake.

And I really must update my website which is looking sadly dated. Perhaps I'd be better starting a new one at Clicky. Any thoughts?

Monday, 6 December 2010

An Award

An Award Winner

Thanks to K R Weinert for this award :). What an honour. I'd like to thank my family and ...sorry, wrong speech.

There are a few things that the new recipients must do should they decide to accept this award. They are:

1. Thank and link back to the person that gave this award.
2. Answer the 10 survey questions.
3. Pass the award along to other bloggers who you think are fantastic.
4. Contact the bloggers you’ve picked to let them know about the award.

Now for the questions:

1. If you blog anonymously, are you happy doing this; if you are not anonymous, do you wish that you had started out anonymously so that you could be anonymous now?

* I didn't even know you could blog anonymously! What's the point of that??

2. Describe an incident that shows your inner stubborn side.

* When I was four I wanted to go to the park with my older sisters but they didn't want to take me. They sent me inside to get something and when I came out they had gone! I remember the pain of the betrayal to this day, but I wasn't going to be defeated. I took off on my own - crossing a main road to get to the park. Next thing I remember was my dad arriving, breathless with panic and incredulous that I'd managed the journey alone.

3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the mirror?

* Ugh! Trust me, you don't want to know.

4. What is your favourite summer cold drink?

* Carbonated water. No, really...

5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do?

* Listen to music.

6. Is there something that you still want to accomplish in your life? What is it?

* To be published.

7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the shy person, or always ditching?

* Mixture, but I've always liked making people laugh.

8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment in your life, what would you see?

* The day my dad died.

9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events?

* It's easy enough, whatever my "true self" is!

10. If you had the choice to sit down and read a book or talk on the phone, which would you do and why?

* Read a book. Talking is hard work these days.

Now go and visit the bloggers I nominate for this award. Off you go...

Steven Chapman

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Christmas is coming...

Sssh! Don't tell anyone but it's very nearly Christmas.

Oh, Joy! I hear you all cry. Or is that weary sigh only my own jaded response? Try as I might I can't seem to get in the spirit this year. But I did force myself to buy some pressies today so that's some kind of start.

I remember Christmas as a child - squeezing into a packed Woolworths, the smell of hot roasted peanuts in my nostrils, the jingle of carols piping through the public address, to spend my Christmas money on the usual gifts; stockings for Mum, Old Spice for Dad and who-knows-what for my sisters. Most of all I remember that giddy thrill of excitement - the eager anticipation that made time slow to a standstill as the day approached. Christmas eve I'd be too excited to sleep, even though I desperately wanted to so Christmas morning would come quicker. I'd lie awake in the dark, listening to the sounds downstairs and trying to work out what those odd noises might be - could that repetitious tapping be my longed for typewriter? For years I'd jammed a pencil into the side of metal paint box to get that sound, but could I at last be about to get a real one?

As a matter of fact I did. It was very cheap and ropy, and the square plastic keys always stuck, but it thrilled me anyway. Kids are like that - or at least back in the pre-PS and Wii Sixties they were. We were glad to get anything.

I don't remember what happened to that typewriter, but it's odd the memory has stayed with me. Maybe that's what Christmas is meant to be about - a moment to remember. Actually, thinking about it is getting me in the mood...

Thursday, 2 December 2010

How Well Read Are You?

Following on from L'Aussie Writing, I am duplicating the list of books of which the BBC reckons most people have only read 6 out of the hundred. If you want to accept the challenge, copy and paste this list into your blog and link back to here.


• Copy this list.
• Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety.
• Italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish or read only an excerpt.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The King James Bible - (yes, really!)
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Nineteen Eighty Four (1984) – George Orwell
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Little Women – Louisa M Alcott
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
Complete Works of Shakespeare
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Middlemarch – George Eliot
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
Emma - Jane Austen
Persuasion – Jane Austen
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
Animal Farm – George Orwell
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Lord of the Flies – William Golding
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Dune – Frank Herbert
Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick – Herman Melville
Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
Dracula – Bram Stoker
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
Ulysses – James Joyce
The Inferno – Dante
Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
Germinal – Emile Zola
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
Possession – AS Byatt
Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
Watership Down – Richard Adams
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
Hamlet – William Shakespeare
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

*Last book is missing. My suggestion for book #100: Rape, A Love Story - Joyce Carol Oates
What book would you suggest?

So that gives me a total of 22. Hmm...not bad. Better than 6 anyway!

How did you score?

Farewell, Frank Drebin

I was very sad this week to learn of the death of Leslie Nielsen, one of my all time favourite comic actors. I vividly remember going to see Airplane! when it came out in 1980. I was staying at my sister's in London and the film was getting such rave reviews the cinema was packed out - not typical of the time, I think it was the first time I'd been in a full house. Well, from start to finish the audience were roaring with laughter so much you missed half the jokes, but we couldn't wait to go and see it again. Since then I must have watched it a hundred times and it still cheers me up when I'm down.

We put the DVD on the other night and watched the director's commentary with David & Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and producer Jon Davison. One great feature of DVD releases is the director's commentary - I find them very instructive about what changes were made and why, a great help with editing any story. This particular one was no less instructive. Firstly it was obvious what a fun group of people they were and what a joy it would have been to work with them; they laughed constantly through the film, recounting funny episodes and making fun of themselves in the process. The film took years to write and get made. It's a long slow process to get a film into production, and it could easily have worn them down, but there was no sign of it in their version of events. And I think it's their abundant joy that is the secret of Airplane!'s success. It's playful and silly, and we all need more of that in our lives.

And that is why I'll miss Leslie Nielson, who went on to make the Naked Gun films with the Zucker/Abrahams team, not to mention a long list of other spoofs. His bumbling hero always raised a smile. Wherever he is now, I bet he's making people laugh.