Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Happy New Reading Year (another bunch o' five)






5 YA books I can't wait to read in 2010





















Swapped By A Kiss
/ Luisa Plaja
This much-awaited sequel to the fabulous, warm-hearted and funny Split By A Kiss features feisty Rachel who, suspicious of her boyfriend David's commitment to her and feeling sick to death of being in her own skin, suddenly finds herself swapping bodies with Jo (the main character of the first book). I love Luisa's writing, I love her concepts, I love how good she is at snogging scenes, and I love how unschmaltzy her themes are underneath the generous and funny storylines.

Della Says: OMG! / Keris Stainton
Della kisses her long-term crush at a party...and then her diary disappears! Enough said, right? I've been reading Keris' blog for years and know her teen writing well; I'm sure this is going to be a huge hit. I'd read Keris' shopping list though, she's that entertaining.

My So-Called Afterlife / Tamsyn Murray
Exciting year for this author, with a teen book out as well as the first of her new series, "Stunt Bunny". Here's the blurb for My So-Called Afterlife: "I knew it was time to move on when a tramp peed on my Uggs..." Meet Lucy Shaw. She's not your average fifteen year old - for a start, she's dead. And as if being a ghost wasn't bad enough, she's also trapped haunting the men's toilets on Carnaby Street. So when a lighting engineer called Jeremy walks in and she realises he can see and hear her, she isn't about to let him walk out of her afterlife. Not least until he's updated her on what's happening in her beloved soaps. With Jeremy's help, Lucy escapes the toilet and is soon meeting up with other ghosts, including the perpetually enraged Hep and the snogtastic Ryan. But when Jeremy suggests Lucy track down the man who murdered her, things go down hill. Can Lucy face up to the events of that terrible night? And what will it cost her if she does? A wonderful debut novel which, as well as being laugh-out-loud funny, is full of insights, compassion, and love.

When I Was Joe / Keren David
I have it on very good authority that this is smashing. Here's the blurb:
When Ty witnesses a stabbing, his own life is in danger from the criminals he s named, and he and his mum have to go into police protection. Ty has a new name, a new look and a cool new image life as Joe is good, especially when he gets talent spotted as a potential athletics star, special training from an attractive local celebrity and a lot of female attention. But his mum can t cope with her new life, and the gangsters will stop at nothing to flush them from hiding. Joe s cracking under extreme pressure, and then he meets a girl with dark secrets of her own. This wonderfully gripping and intelligent novel depicts Ty/Joe's confused sense of identity in a moving and funny story that teenage boys and girls will identify with - a remarkable debut from a great new writing talent.

My fifth choice is the as-yet untitled debut novel by Steph Bowe, the fifteen-year-old author of popular blog Hey! Teenager of the Year. Steph sounds so smart and witty on her blog and tweets that I feel sure her book is going to be fabulous. She once had me in fits just by writing out a few tiny extracts from her 12-year-old diary. Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Bunch o' Fives

Over at the impressive Persnickety Snark (reviewer of YA books with a special interest in Aussie authors), Adele has been putting together the FIVE CHALLENGE, featuring lists of 5 bookish things in various categories (great covers, great debuts, best YA bloggers, etc). Inspired by that - and fuelled by a very great need to Get Over Myself (heady combination of vile PMT and homesickness) - I'm putting together some lists of my own. These are really just a Pollyanna-esque attempt to cheer myself up, but if any of my readers happen to find something of interest, all the better. So, here goes with today's list...


5 books I discovered and adored in 2009:


The Slap / Christos Tsiolkas "a forensic examination of the Australian suburban family and contemporary debates about morality and raising children" It's told from the point-of-view of eight people who were present at a bbq when one man smacks another man's child (won the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009 for best novel in SE Asia and South Pacific): utterly gripping, clever, sad, hard-hitting.

A Kind of Intimacy / Jenn Ashworth - a daring black comedy, compulsive, hilarious and macabre, told by unreliable narrator Annie, who is morbidly obese, lonely and hopeful, and in love with the boy next door.

Everything Beautiful / Simmone Howell - witty, edgy, saccharine-free YA about a girl sent away to a Christian "holiday" camp to reform her character. Fat chance; but the angry, intriguing, wheelchair-bound Dylan provides a reason to stay.

Girl, 15, Charming But Insane / Sue Limb - I don't know where Sue Limb has been all my life, but I'm glad she's in it now. Funny, funny, funny stuff - and then I cried on the last page. Super teen lit, guaranteed to cheer you up.

Butterfly / Sonya Hartnett - grab-you-by-the-throat prose, this is a masterful story with a teen protagonist who thinks she's found love and acceptance with the older woman next door when she stuffs up her friendships with her peers. This is not YA-lit specifically.





Typically, the 5 came to me quickly and then another 5 and then another (this was a great reading year, that makes me happy). But first come first served n all.

Tomorrow: 5 books I can't wait to read in 2010.

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Thursday, 26 November 2009

Free Book!



Please help free a copy of my book from the confines of a cardboard box. Go here for details.

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Sunday, 15 November 2009

Circle of Life

One of the (many) ways I reveal myself to be a Proper Pom is the way I squeal at native wildlife - though I have improved slightly since last year when I got very excited about possums (the equivalent of tourists in the UK taking squillions of photos of grey squirrels), mainly because the buggers have eaten the strawberry plant and keep pooing on the garden furniture. I'm all outta love for them but when The Australian's dad (aka The Really Really Australian Australian) rescued a cicada from the jaws of my cat the other day, I went into full Squealing Pom mode. "Look at it!" I breathed. "It's...amazing." It was a green grocer cicada. The reason I was so impressed is because all last summer I heard these big boys making their incredibly loud "song" underground (their noisemakers are called "timbals" and it's like their ribs contracting...I think...I'm not very good at science.) I'd get down on the grass and put my ear low and my word it was loud - but I never caught a single glimpse of one...until dear old Shadow brought one home to play with. 'Course we let Bert the Green Grocer go and kept the cat in to give the little guy a chance...whereupon it was seized by a bird. Oops. Sorry, Bert, but it's the Circle of Life n' all...




I realise I can't compete with Mufasa, but if you're stuck for something to do you could do worse than watch me do a Virtual Reading over here.

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Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Patience

We've done "books are like babies" to death, now let's try "books are like carrots". This is what happens when you want to see the results of your efforts so badly that you harvest prematurely... Cute effort, but basically no good to anyone in the long-run (after we'd killed ourselves laughing and taken a photo, we left it to wither on the kitchen bench). So next time you think your manuscript is ready...think of my carrot!


Now you can see why I dedicated my book to my children "who are much better at waiting than I am" - it wasn't them who pulled up the carrot.

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Monday, 9 November 2009

Threads

I don't write book reviews these days, but I wanted to mention Threads by Sophia Bennett because it's the first book I've read in ages, which makes me want to shout from the rooftops: I'M ME AGAIN!

I think I'm just recovering from the author's version of cold feet before a wedding. The build-up towards my own book being released reached silly proportions (in my head, I mean) and I found I could neither concentrate on my work-in-progress nor delve into any of the many books that have piled up recently. It seemed like the best dream in the world - becoming a published author - was being blighted by my worst nightmare - not being able to READ!

But Threads has cured me. Captivated, inspired and cured me. I won't go on too much because, as I say, I don't do reviews, but suffice to say that if you know a girl aged between 10 and 14 who likes books and / or fashion, get them this for Christmas. I feel like that's a more English version of telling you to buy my book for Christmas (um, please do that, too, um, if you like).

Not only does Sophia Bennett have a style and wit that would please any reader, she also has an uncanny ability to make you want to update your wardrobe. Reading about her characters' quirky dress designs reminded me of Molly Ringwald in Pretty In Pink, cutting stuff up and sewing it back together all funny-like. To someone who has virtually no original sense of style, Sophia's teenage characters had me wide-eyed and willing to be influenced...of course they didn't actually come shopping with me today, so they can't be held responsible for the maxi-dress in Aegean blue, that makes me look like an entire Greek Island, or the tunic dress that anyone going to a 60s night is more than welcome to borrow. But it felt good to be bold - a girl can only wear so much black.

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Thursday, 5 November 2009

One For The NaNoNaySayers

A good-writer-friend of mine (she's a good writer and a good friend) recently asked me if talking about my novel as a NaNoWriMo project worried me at all. I said "no", with the gusto of a writer who discovered the benefits of NaNo a little way along the line, as if I have to make up for the times I've privately thought that NaNoWriMo was a bit like "rushing your homework". Because, I have to admit, when I first joined a writers' forum and the subject of "writing 50k words in a month" came up, I dismissed it. I'll go further than that - I thought it sounded a bit naff. It didn't go along with the romantic vision I was still clinging onto, of brilliant wordsmiths squeezing out word by painful word.

Of course, by that point, I'd written four first chapters. I'd written slightly fewer second chapters, and still fewer thirds. I was very very good at starting things and very very bad at keeping them going. I was, let's face it, a bit pretentious and fairly naive.

About a year on I received a massive slap in the face (metaphorical) about a book I'd sweated blood over. I was pregnant at the time and resolved not to let it get me down - I make that sound a little easier than it was. It was then that I thought: right, I've got a month until this baby comes - I'm going to let my hair down. I meant as far as writing goes, so I signed up for NaNoWriMo, and resolved to write a first draft in triple-quick time - something funny-but-dark, because that's the sort of thing I love. My main aim was to please myself.

In one way I failed - I didn't make it to 50k and I didn't get my NaNo winners badge. But I made it to 35k, with a few days to spare before the baby arrived. And boy I'd had fun. I loved my characters. I hadn't a clue where it had all come from, but it was there - November 2006, the story unfolded before my very eyes / very fast-typing fingers. I was a complete convert. Kind of like an ex-smoker. NaNo was The Best. How had I lived without NaNo before? What was wrong with all those people who didn't understand what a great thing NaNo was?

But herein lies the truth of the matter: the 35k words I wrote during that November 2006 are not the same words as the ones now in a real-life printed book in-all-good-bookshops-blahblahblah. The book is about 65k words and I couldn't possibly say how many of the original 35k survived. The point is that NaNo gave me the freedom to indulge - to believe that for One Month Only, writing was my priority. That really can't be the case for most part-time writers - it's very difficult to fit writing in around full-time jobs (I'm including full-time parenting there, obviously) - but many of us can throw caution to the wind and devote 30 days per year to it. Really go for it. It's only writing the same number of words as many professional writers would do, only we're not quite there yet, so we have to squeeze the hours, instead of the words.

What all long-toothed writers know is that writing a book is not about the first words that come to mind, but what we do after those first words have come to us, been put down on paper, rested a bit, and then undergone one of the most painful tortures known to WriterKind: rewrites. That's where you'll find the blood, sweat and tears.

So if you still think NaNo is a bit like rushing your homework, think again. There's nothing tacky about devoting a month to a first draft. It's what you do with it afterwards that counts.

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Friday, 23 October 2009

My Number One Fan

I get different reactions when I say I write for teenagers. Some people are very excited, because they know what a lively and varied genre it is, and they don't care who sees them reading a book that's marketed to folk much younger than they are. Sometimes people are not really sure what to say - maybe they would never consider reading teenage fiction, or they don't know any teenagers, and it's just a bit so what? to them. That's fine, too. Others look at me as if I've done something a bit selfless - as if writing for teenagers is doing said teenagers a big favour. As if I could have been writing for adults, but instead I went out of my way to do something for the kids. Just because I'm nice.

I'm not nice. Well, not like that. I didn't write my book as a favour to anyone, or to teach anyone anything. I wrote Girl, Aloud to please myself. It was the most fun I've ever had writing. I love writing about teenagers - if we all have an inner child then mine is 15, and she's very pissed off that I grew up and had children and started baking and joining school committees (she's glad I have stuck to my no-ironing policy, and that I still let her eat cola bottles and listen to 80s music). Maybe I wrote it for her.

Recently, the very impressive Steph Bowe of Hey Teenager of the Year tweeted some of her old diary entries from when she was 12 (she's now 15). I laughed out loud at them - they could have been straight out of a Louise Rennison book. I thought: 'Hey, I should dig out my old diary and revisit the Old Me.' And when I did, it gave me a bit more insight into why I love writing from the point-of-view of teenage girls - I was dull. Really, really dull. No juicy extracts here. My inner teenager needs me to write her some better stories because she spent a lot of time sitting at home worrying and stewing and imagining what life was like instead of actually living it.

It's possible I'm being unfair to my old self. I wasn't very good at keeping a diary - maybe on the days that I didn't write in it I was kicking up my heels...but that's not how I remember it. I'll quote one line that sums it all up:

29th November 1990
"...my social life has been soooo full this month (ha) I just haven't had time to write. I went to one party. Yes! Me! I actually went! It's true! IT WAS CRAP."

So, when I write for teenagers, it's not in an "I'd like to teach the world to sing" kind of way. At 34, I'm simply not over being a teen, so I go back there again and again (in between baking and being on committees). I do it for me.

That said, when I ask myself what the best outcome of having my book published would be, it's simply this: that a teenager other than my inner one has enjoyed it.

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Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Holy Marigold(s)

It's 7pm on the day I gave up housework to see how that might affect my writing life...and it's a monumental disaster, people. I thought that if I stopped mopping the floor or hanging up the washing I'd maybe free up the odd minute for my book - okay, that was a bit optimistic considering the fact that I have a 2 year old at home full-time and that any time he sees I'm not occupied (and, no, typing on my laptop does not count as 'occupied' in his eyes) he says all too sweetly: "Would you like to meet my game?" but I had this fantasy that giving up housework would leave me feeling lively and refreshed at the end of each day and ready to devote my evenings to the novel without feeling as lacking in inspiration as a wrung out J-cloth.

I am exhausted.

The day started well - instead of coming back after the nursery-school-run to get on with chores, I took The Boy out for a babyccino. That was nice. Not exactly 'relaxing' (the babyccino came with a tiny teddy biscuit that was missing an ear...The Boy went nuts about the asymmetry, even when I suggested that we call the bear Van Gogh) but definitely more fun than stacking the dishwasher.

We did the shopping. I was still feeling kinda reckless - the breakfast things were still out for god's sake! - and felt sure I'd be raring to go on the novel by the time I'd put the children to bed.

But it was just after I'd made lunch for three children and sat down for a sarnie myself when the itch started...no, not the lice again, I wanted to DO something. I knew the children wouldn't let me write (noise I can deal with but hanging off my arms is a struggle) so I decided to...make 24 savoury muffins and some puff pastry pizzas. Oh my GOD! What was I thinking?? It was 28 degrees today and there I was sweating away in the kitchen, pouring hot butter all over my right boob (not for fun, I might add) and creating an almighty mess. I told myself I was just testing my anti-housework-powers to the max - ha, I'm not gonna clean you up! I sneered at the kitchen, now sticky with muffin dough.

Then the goods were baked and I knew I had to get out of there before I started cleaning. "Come on! We're going swimming!" I announced. And then I pushed the children and the towels in the misshapen Phil n Teds about 3km uphill to the pool. Did I mention it was 28 degrees? Right, so by the time we had our swim, walked 3km home, and gorged on savoury muffins and puff pastry pizzas, I felt WORSE than I feel after a bog-standard day of housework and childcare. Disaster!

I looked around at the house - bits of paper everywhere, toys-toys-toys, a swarm of ants on a stray bit of muffin crumb, clothes, dishes, aarghhhhh! I couldn't bear it! And yet I had The Experiment to consider, so I casually picked up a couple of things, hoping I wouldn't notice, hoping it wouldn't count. I tried to rope the children in; they tried, they really did (especially when I paid them in gingerbread) but it was no good, I HAD TO GET IN THERE! Before I knew it, the floor was completely clear and I had to admit to myself that I had failed. FAILED not to do HOUSEWORK!

Am I sick?

All I know is that I'm completely knackered and that The Australian is about to walk in from work expecting an almighty mess...and I've got nothing to show for my efforts but a fairly large quantity of savoury picnic treats.

Reader, somehow, without my noticing it, I have become a bit more Van Der Kamp than I intended. I thought I was Scavo! Or, at the very least, Mayer. Tell me there's a cure.

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Monday, 19 October 2009

Before


Housework Ban to commence at 00.00 hours.
Ben linen: clean
Hair: de-liced (nb. no actual lice located...may have been hoax)
Floor: toy-free, raisin-free, Playdoh-free
Dinner tonight: crackers, and some salami we'd forgotten about from...a while ago
The Australian: tetchy
The children: oblivious
Me: ripping off my marigolds with my teeth

Brace yourself, Household, for what happens when: Mummy Goes Experimenting!
...mwah-hahahahaaaa.

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Sunday, 18 October 2009

Nobody Does It Better

I've tried to embrace Australian Idol, really I have, but gawd-blimey-guvnor it's dull as ditchwater compared to the brilliant/awful/brilliantly awful British X-Factor. Thank you, YouTube (nasty ITV.com won't let me watch the show from Oz). And I can only agree with Simon Cowell when he says, at the end, that it's a bit like watching The Exorcist for the first time: you know you shouldn't put yourself through it but do you want to watch it again? Of course you do.

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Pre-Publication Infestation!

Egads! A spanner in the works only hours before The Experiment II is due to begin. Or rather, not a spanner but a nit. A nit with no wit, crawling in The Girl's golden locks...and so I must avail myself of one of those blasted combs and wash all linen. And try to find the Czech word for 'nit' so I can explain to our houseguest why we suddenly smell like a laboratory. For logistical reasons all this will take place tomorrow, and so I officially declare that the Housework Ban will commence on Tuesday.

Gawd, just when my life was starting to look a bit more glamorous.

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Thursday, 15 October 2009

Two Things I Thought I'd Mention

1. Girl, Aloud will now be available from November... What's that you say? The November that's in just two weeks? Why, yes indeed, that's the November I mean.

2. Inspired by the talented and successful writers I know who claim they don't do any housework, I'm giving it up as an experiment for one week, starting on Monday. I will post before and after photos for your viewing pleasure. When I informed The Australian of my plans, he ran out of the room, yelling "No no no, I don't wanna hear it!" Which seemed to me to provide even more motivation than the thought of a possibly elevated word count. I've a feeling he's going to regret giving the children ALL of his old Lego in one go.

Fun times ahead.

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Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Experiment

It was gratifying to discover that I have the ability to stay away from the internet for a whole week. (There's a point to this; I'll stop bigging-myself-up in a sec.) I'll be honest: it was really really really really hard. I gave up meat for 10 years but a week without Facebook was tougher.

The soaring word count helped (10k in total), as did the fact that I used my friend Sam as a replacement for Wikipedia. Of course the downside is that I now know precisely how much time I waste each week on the Net, and should probably give it up for good. Or maybe Monday - Friday, like my wheat ban. God, what is it with me and bans? Could be a throwback to my Catholic upbringing: confession, mini-Lent, absolution.

But it's over. If I do it again it won't be for a little while. Think how many wedding photos of people I don't really know I'd miss! And all the blank spaces in my manuscript where I had to write "Google this". Giving up for good is not an option. So I've started to make a list of other things I could give up in order to create more time for writing.

1. Housework. Obviously. Maybe houses eventually become self-cleaning, like hair. Has anyone tried?
2. Showering...not only would this give me approx. an hour a week, it would also act as a social barrier, giving me more time to myself.
3. Cooking. We could live on KFC "mashies". I bet the Great Writers of Yore would have made such a sacrifice for their Art.
4. Social Life. I've put this at the bottom because in reality this would only free up an average of five minutes per week.

Don't even think about suggesting "the telly" - there's a new series of House for pity's sake! My writing isn't that important...

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Saturday, 26 September 2009

Yo-yo. Bye-bye.

I am a yo-yo.

I can't tell you how that compares to being, say, the walrus, or a rock, or an island, but there's something about about my wiring that makes any promise I make to myself or any mood I manage to get myself into become very intense but inevitably short-lived. Up, down, up, down, happy, sad, happy, sad, industrious, workshy, healthy-eating, binger, chilled-out, laid-back...unlike my long-(well not that long)suffering partner, I don't do consistent.

If that sounds like I'm having a go at myself, I'm not - one thing I've learned in my thirties is that Work With What You've Got is a very liberating thing indeed. I work well when I set myself small but intense challenges. This is as true for writing as for anything else. Recently I've been hating the amount of aimless web surfing I've been doing while I'm in this tricky, halfway part of my novel. A bit of Facebooking and Twittering and Blogging is a great way to unwind before a big writing session, but when the number of words I write on either one exceeds what I've racked up on the book, and when I know I'm only looking for excuses, I need to get unstuck from the rut.

So for one week, starting this evening, I'm going to pretend I don't even have an internet connection. No looking through the wedding photos of people I don't really know on Facebook (come on, you've done this, right?), no staring at Twitter trying to think of something pithy to say and kicking myself every time a tweet from Grace Dent or Caitlin Moran pops up because I would need to spend a lifetime at Funny School to get anywhere near their 140-character stand-up routines, no thinking out loud on Blogger, no Googling my novel, no Googling people I haven't seen in years. Complete ban.

Binge dieting isn't such a good idea, but binge writing can be a very fine thing indeed. See you in a week.

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Saturday, 19 September 2009

Choose Writing. Choose Life.

Go to Help! I Need A Publisher! and read a better version of what I've been trying to say recently, by Nicola Morgan.

I don't know about you, but I need to examine my work- (or lack of work-) habits and make resolutions several times a year...okay, several times a week...just to get the books written. That's not a sign that my passion for writing is deficient but just an indication that like so many I have numerous commitments, and I have to keep giving myself permission to make writing a priority - for an hour or two, as often as I can. Those commitments include some things I *think* I should be doing but which probably don't matter very much in the scheme of things (see Nicola Morgan's vacuuming behind the fridge example). But they also include things that must come before writing - give yourself permission to write but remember to give yourself proper, guilt-free permission to not write. Tonight I will be doing just that - watching a film with the man who has put up with my shit for exactly seven years today. Not writing a single word.

Happy Anniversary to The Australian.

And happy writing - or happy not writing - to all of you.

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Friday, 18 September 2009

Weirdest Place You've Done It

Like a lot of...er, people...I used to think there was only one place I could do it: in my bedroom with the curtains drawn, completely alone, with a cigarette on stand-by for afterwards.

But now I can do it almost anywhere.

I am of course talking about writing. Back in the days when I thought it was the surroundings and props (kind of wish I hadn't started this now) that would help The Muse to appear, I had the time and space to believe that was true. I needed total quiet. I needed black coffee and cigarettes. I needed a computer.

Now I think that those requirements were like an extra army of excuses for why I hadn't written that day. I didn't want to write badly enough.

Never was this more obvious to me than this Thursday, a non-stop rainy day during which I took my son to an indoor playcentre. I also took a notebook. The place was absolute bloody mayhem - kids screaming, mothers desperately trying to have an adult conversation while their little ones howled about being hit in the face by a plastic ball, and a very worrying smell drifting down the stairs from the loo. In three hours I wrote more than I'd have managed in three weeks with my former dark-silent-room scenario. When you want to write badly enough, you can do it anywhere.

Here are some poets who do it in strange places - including Benjamin Zephaniah who did it while stuck in a lift with a drag queen.

Please share your weirdest case scenarios.

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Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Planning Permission

I plan my novels much like I plan my outfits. Here's roughly how I plan an outfit:

Decide outfit absolutely must consist of these particular earrings or this particular bag. Sigh with relief that I'm off the starting block. Reward self by doing something completely different, carrying around in the back of my mind a fuzzy image of the final outfit with that one clear detail. Realise it's the night before the outfit is needed. Panic. Moan to fellow outfit-planners. Berate self for not planning a shopping trip, or for starting with such a small detail and expecting the entire outfit to effortlessly make sense around it. Panic more. Try on lots of things - take them off and throw them to the ground, wailing that they'd look perfect on someone else but not on me. Sit and sulk. Put on earrings, decide everything is hopeless. Pouting, open wardrobe door one last time - realise outfit has been sitting there all along. Pat self on back for being so clever. Tell self again that planning is for wimps.

And so it was going for my current work-in-progress, because part of the thrill of writing - for me at any rate - is watching the story unfold from my own fingers. Having that element of surprise when you sit down for a writing session - you might know roughly where you are headed, but your own characters can surprise you - is the bit I love. I suppose that's writing like a reader...wanting the thrill of creation without giving up all those things you love about reading a book for the first time. I know I'm not alone in handling my first drafts this way. Sometimes I might buy myself a packet of post-it notes with the intention of creating a wonderfully handy planning wall (I've heard other authors rave about such things). I never open the packet. That's just not me - but you know what? That's okay! It's allowed. Hooray.

On the other hand...ugh, damn that other hand...when you're writing a mystery (a funny kind of teen girl lit mystery with a bit of romance and some issues...mental note: might need to work on that) writing like a reader has to stop suddenly. You can't close your eyes and feel your way through the first draft - you might step on something squishy, or worse still get to the end and find there's No Way Back.

So I had to get strict with myself this weekend and work out exactly who or what is at the centre of this mystery. I was determined to write like a writer; I was also petrified that I wouldn't be able to do it. Took myself out of the house so I could concentrate; ordered a strong coffee and rolled up my sleeves, expecting to wrestle with the mystery all day.

And then I opened my notebook. I flicked back to the original notes I'd made about the book, stunned at how different some of the details are now that I've reached the third-of-the-way mark. And of course there it was: the answer to the mystery. I'd scrawled it down months ago on a page that also says Eggs, Babywipes, Marscapone. I'm pretty sure I forgot the marscapone, too.

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Monday, 7 September 2009

New Blood

It's fair to say that about 95% of the really cool stuff (and 100% of the truly disturbing stuff, but don't let that put you off) I read on the internet comes from This Man, who has started blogging. Go there. Enjoy.

For example:

39 Truths About All Of Us

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Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Excuses

There are some really good excuses for Not Writing. Even if the novel is going well, even if it's already taking up half the space in your head and writing those characters feels like coming home, sometimes Life decides the novelist is having it a bit too easy (thanks, Life). Moving house was my latest good excuse. I knew that if I said it out loud: 'I'm so annoyed with myself for not writing today', anyone who has ever packed up a family's belongings would hand me a Get Out Of Writing Jail Free card.

The trouble with good excuses is that they have a habit of morphing into crappy ones. They creep slowly... The day after we moved house, I was physically shattered and had some RSI in my arm. Hmm, I should probably leave it for today, I reckoned. The next day I was less tired and the arm was feeling better BUT the house was chaotic and there was a sense of unease in every room. Hmm, I should probably leave it for today, I reckoned again. The next day and the next and the next, as the house was put together and the RSI became just a niggle, I found myself - in that familiar way - stretching out the excuses.

I had a novel to finish reading (admittedly a very good one: Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell; do try it if you like original, edgy fiction in the older YA bracket)...I had a documentary to watch (on the Ten-Pound Poms of the 1950s)...I had dinner to cook...emails to write...I'd accidentally had one too many...I'd accidentally had one too many the day before and needed an early night...the cat was sitting on my feet and I didn't want to disturb him by getting up to reach my laptop. That last one was the final straw. I missed my book; I'm a nightmare when I'm not writing; why was I delaying something I love doing?

Of course, it's all so simple when you look back. I was shit-scared that it wouldn't feel like home any more - I wanted to remember the good old days rather than step into the future. And the solution is simple, too. Just start. Fifty words. That's all. Scroll through the chapters - it's like running your hands over an old dress you haven't worn in years. Write something. Anything. Take baby steps. Let the characters back in; let it all seep into the front of your mind.

Kick the cat off your feet and begin.

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Friday, 28 August 2009

Me, Myself and This Barmy Boot-Wearing Witch I've Become

News in brief:
We moved.
Six doors down the road.
Using trolleys, friends, neighbours and small children.
I am a tad too weary to go into it.
So I shall end this, frankly trying, week with a Meme, courtesy of the always fabulous Keris Stainton.

Theme: Call Yourself A Writer?

1. Which words do you use too much in your writing?
Probably and maybe creep into first drafts a lot - I take great pleasure in extracting them. Makes me feel all tough and sure of myself. Raaar! *shakes fist at no one in particular*
2. Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?
Totally, definitely, absolutely and completely. And I'm as guilty as the next. I blame Lola.
3. What's your favourite piece of writing by you?
I haven't written my favourite yet. I quite liked my very early blog post called Tuppunawareness. And I still suffer from the condition. I'm not being coy by not answering this question properly - don't get me wrong, I like my writing, otherwise I wouldn't bother. I also hate my writing, and prefer yours, yours and also hers.
4. What blog post do you wish you'd written?
Can't single out a post, but will single out Slightly South of Sanity for laughs and general bonkersness, and My Shitty Twenties for eloquence, intelligence and heart.
5. Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn't written?
Oh, gosh, hundreds. I'm riddled with regrets. Crawling with them. Itching all over with the buggers. I would love to be one of those people who say they don't have regrets and actually mean it. But as far as writing goes, I only wish I'd written things better. Especially that sentence.
6. Name three favourite words.
Canopy, Incorrigible, Lemony, and a million more.
7. And three words you're not so keen on.
Let's Touch Base.
8. Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?
My inspiration for writing YA fiction was Jaclyn Moriarty. My mentor, though he may not know it, is my mate Dan, because he once very firmly told me to quit whining and get on with it. Very effective.
9. What's your writing ambition?
To keep going. To feel that I'm getting better and better. To receive a letter from a teen reader (preferably one that doesn't say You Suck). To be able to answer question 3.

And now for some tagging:
Being Lucy Diamond
Sophia Bennett
BookChildWorld

And, finally, a link to a fascinating set of responses to a controversial article by Katie Roiphe entitled My Newborn Is Like A Narcotic.

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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Some Days

There is a mystical force that makes some days go swimmingly and others sink, even if all the circumstances are the same. Why is it that some days I have agreeable children who eat the nutritious food I lovingly prepare from scratch, while I manage to whip around the house making it shiny, achieve a dozen other miscellaneous things and then write a decent 1000 words on my novel before falling into a peaceful sleep? Admittedly that doesn't happen VERY often (no sniggering, you people who know that my house rarely shines and my son regurgitates most of my cooking, for fun) but I can't figure out what I'm doing different on those days. I mean, I've been looking after my own children for over five years now, you'd think I'd have grasped the basic rules. But no, not if today is anything to go by.

It started with a knock at the door.

Nope, hang on, let's go further back. It started when I said: "I know, let's paint your little table and chairs, children - won't that be fun?"

(Mistake Number 1: use of "let's", implying that they are invited to "help".)

So we bought the paint (undercoat + cherry red gloss) and I laid out some old reams of computer paper on the lawn and we got stuck in. An hour later and my nerves were in shreds - it was the cat trying to get involved or The Boy having a very poor understanding of the command LESS PAINT or The Girl trying to be artistic with undercoat. Mainly on her clothes. Job done (ish) we downed tools and headed out for a Mexican for dinner - and two Sols later I had almost recovered from the ordeal.

(Mistake Number 2: at this point I should have made up an intricate yet believable excuse for why I had to do the cherry red alone. I could have been creative here - or just plain mean, eg. cherry red paint is full of POISONS that will MELT children's skin, while remaining completely safe for old haggard skin like Mummy's...they'd have bought that.)

Meantime, I'd left the huge reams of computer paper outside and when Melbourne was hit with high winds a few nights ago...we woke up to quite a sight, as if a cack-handed giant had tried to gift-wrap our garden overnight.

Fortunately, it rained all week so I had the perfect excuse to put off the job. But today the sun shone - damn you, Australia, with all your damn sun all over the place! I took a deep breath and crept outside with the paint, brushes and more paper to protect the grass...

Wait, I forgot - "It started with a knock at the door" - so this guy knocks at the door and says he's selling cleaning products for a company that employs intellectually disabled people. We buy some purple disinfectant. We look at the disinfectant and say "Hm, I wonder what we'll use this for" and then we think no more of it, not really being disinfectant types.

Back to the garden. The children have by now seen that painting is About To Commence. As has the cat. I have a buzzing in my ears from the stress of seeing them brandishing cherry red brushes but I try to focus... Course that would be easier if the cat didn't keep trying to escape, meaning I had to grab him with my good arm (I have RSI in the other) about once every five minutes - return to the painting - give stern instructions to the children - grab the cat (who by now has a cherry red tum) - return to the painting - give stern instructions..and so on.

And then the doorbell rang. It's The Girl's partner in crime from next door. Next thing I know, we've got an extra "helper". The cat's escaped. I go off to look for it. When I return, the children have covered the wet paint in GRASS. Sprinkle sprinkle sprinkle, they went. Doesn't that look pretty?

OHMYGODGETOUTOFMYGARDENGETOUTGETOUT!!!

So I ban them. I pick off the bits of grass. I wipe my brow. I now have a cherry red brow. The cat continues to try to escape, I continue to retrieve him and finish off the paint job... It's okay, I'm breathing normally again, the children are playing happily somewhere else and - Oh, oh no, oh no oh no oh no...There in front of me stands The Boy. He is holding out his hands and in his eyes is something like Evil mixed with Joy mixed with My-Mother-Is-Going-To-Have-My-Guts-For-Garters. For ladies and gentlemen, while I'm out there covered in cherry red gloss, with the runaway cat and three chair-legs away from finishing, all over The Boy's hands, hair, and in many, many other places around my house, is a substance for which that bottle of purple disinfectant ended up coming in handy...

And if you got to the end of that, do join me in a very stiff gin and tonic. Cheers.

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Tuesday, 11 August 2009

For Geri

I was a Parent On Duty at the Girl's kinder/nursery (take your pick) last week. This usually involves twenty-six children climbing on me while the teachers look on with a 'you're more trouble that you're worth' look - I just don't seem to have any authority. Children see me as a climbing frame / clown / object of derision.

Now that the Ugg boots are a little too disgusting to wear outside, I have switched to a pair of desert boots I've had since the mid-90s. They were supposed to be for hiking...so they look practically brand new and I thought, why not? Since then three children have asked me WHY ON EARTH I'm wearing boots that their builder-dads wear. They have not been impressed, on the whole. So picky! It's not as if I'm wearing a red nose.

There happened to be a fire drill while I was on duty. I had to channel every ounce of my Responsible Adult energy in the space of thirty seconds. All I hoped was that I'd do a better job than Mr G...

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Saturday, 8 August 2009

Touching Cloth

I have finally grown up, and it's all thanks to that crafty lot over at Berrylicious Buttons for running a competition I couldn't resist entering (describe in 50 words or less why cloth napkins are better than paper napkins). I have never owned cloth napkins before! It's a whole new world of sophistication. Those of you who remember The Australian's big issue with wiping his hands will be thrilled to know that he'll no longer have to use a common old tea towel.

I just hope they're self-ironing.

The new mature me would like to apologise for the coarse humour at work in the title of this post. The old me would like you to watch this Mitchell & Webb clip:

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Sunday, 2 August 2009

Mother's Ruin

Since our cat arrived on the scene, both of our fish have died (RIP Sam and Jam), but unless the autopsy reveals Death By Intimidation, the cat's in the clear.

The Australian and I have a good history of keeping fish (we even accidentally bred them once, leading me to run around the flat screaming FISH BABIES FISH BABIES!) but these two have only lasted since March (The Girl's birthday present). When we noticed Jam fading, I googled Fish Euthanasia and discovered that for coldwater fish, clear alcohol is the kindest way. We had a sniff of Tanqueray left, and Jam went out in style (no ice or lemon but a swift end at least). His brother had no such luck - there was no gin left and he snuffed it while I was digging around for an alternative (Pinot Noir? Too light. Pedro Ximenez? Too sweet.)

I broke the news to The Girl. She thought about it for a while, and I stood by squirming. But then: "Oh well! At least I've got a cat!" You sure have, Pollyanna dear. There is absolutely no doubt that we Have A Cat. We have him while we're trying to work, while we're trying to sweep the floor, and while we're trying to sleep... We hear his little bell just as we're about to drift off at night and then DOOF, he leaps onto me, sets his head on the pillow - approximately 2mm from my face - and gives me a look that says: "You have allowed your children into your bed since birth, why not me?" Yes, he's got my number.

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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

I Wasn't Kidding...

Apparently we are moving house with one of these. Yep, I mean the trolley, not the van behind it. To complement this plan I shall be handing boxes to passers-by: "Just pop that seven doors down, would you? Ta."

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Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Flexible, Perplexible Me

Oh, Life, you surprising thing you. Just when I thought we'd decided on the next step:
Move bayside

Get dog...
...You pull one of your famous stunts and we find ourselves with a rather different outcome:
Moving 7 doors down the road

Got cat


Moving down the road seems horribly unadventurous; just a bit too easy. Maybe emigrating took it all out of us and we'll have to move seven doors at a time from now on. But I find myself wondering how on earth we're going to do it - practically, I mean. We can't really load it all into a removals van, drive for approximately four seconds, and then unload it all. Surely.

I could nick a trolley from Coles and move us bit by bit. Reckon I'd have us out of here and into there in roughly 97 round trips.

There's no one more surprised that we're sticking in this area than me. Except maybe The Australian, who said this morning that he never would have imagined in a million years - judging by my determination a few weeks ago to try somewhere new - that we'd stay. "Yeah, well, like I keep telling you, I'm very flexible." He laughed, long and loud. I can't think why.

He's only getting away with the derisive laughter because of the surprise he brought home yesterday. I received a text while he was at a meeting: Do you want a cat? I replied: What?? He texted: He's so nice. I replied: Call me. Half an hour later, no phone call, and he's on the doorstep with a sheepish grin and "Shadow", a 10-month old Tonkinese whose favourite position is to lie between me and my laptop, demanding attention. 'The dog ate my homework' should now be altered thus: 'the cat fell asleep on the delete button'.

I leave you with the wonderfully talented Tim Minchin, whose song Inflatable You inspired today's blog post title.

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Wednesday, 15 July 2009

There's No Place Like...


I've come to the conclusion that I'm more of a homebody than I ever imagined. When I went away to university, when I officially moved out of the family home for good, and again when I emigrated, I allowed myself to believe that I was slightly more exciting - that I wasn't bound by piffling concepts like "feeling settled". But the gig's up. I don't need to know where I'm going to be in five years but I need to know where I'm going to be living in August - right now I don't, and suspect that's why I can't write. And when I'm not writing, I'm hideous.

On the same theme but slightly bigger picture, the trouble is I'm not convinced I can ever truly feel 'at home' in Australia. As much as I love it, as much as Melbourne itself feels like somewhere I could be really happy, being here feels like being away. Even after more than a year, it doesn't even feel real. It's got the allure of adventure, and of learning new things, and of being an alien (for all I moan about that side of things, and for all the other Poms in this place). But it's not home.

We've been given the heave-ho on the lovely house we've been renting since we emigrated (and not because The Australian has singed one wall with the bbq - they don't know about that yet - but because they're selling it). This house is in a very nice neighbourhood, with very nice schools and very nice neighbours. It's... very nice. And what have I decided? We should leave the area completely. Jack this place in. Start again somewhere else in the city. Meet new mums. Make the children say goodbye to the friends they love. Wipe out all of my useful local knowledge (fortunately that's not much, as happens when you walk around with your head in the clouds).

It sounds selfish when I put it like that. Maybe it is. Maybe the children will hate me for a little while. Maybe the neighbours won't be as nice elsewhere. Maybe the new place (mythical right now - we might be on a park bench if we don't find somewhere soon) won't be a better fit.

Maybe you simply have to stay still a bit longer for a place to feel like home.

Gawd, it's all a bit sombre in here. Let me lighten the mood with a writers' joke:

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.

She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."

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Monday, 6 July 2009

Pinky, Perky and Parky have left the building


I'm pleased to announce that the Meg Ryan Talisman did the trick - the big red cross has been wiped from my front door. Judging by the number of neighbourhood folk who've inquired after my health since my self-imposed quarantine was lifted, I must have briefly been part of Local Gossip - how thrilling.

Funny how life can give a writer unexpected gifts of insight - being cooped up all that time (okay, it was 5 days but I have 2 small children so triple that) and then getting back into the swing of things again was a really useful exercise seeing as the new YA novel I've begun is about a teenager suffering from agoraphobia...I got a small but useful whiff of what being safe and sound at home feels like and how much of a mental leap it is to go back outside again. Just a hint of the mindset I'll need to get myself into - maybe it wasn't Michael Parkinson's fault that I got ill after all, but my own mind playing Method Writer.

Speaking of mental leaps, it has taken me a long time to be able to write "funny" again. When I wrote Girl, Aloud (Jan 2010 - don't all rush out, it's aaaages away) I had no agent, and no expectations other than to please myself. And I did. I made myself laugh something rotten (terrible thing to admit but if you can't laugh at your own jokes...) Since then I've completed a more serious book. At first it was a struggle not to stick silly jokes in, but after a while the voice became second nature. Now I've had to go back to funny, only it's not just myself I've got to please...I worry that if I can't recreate the scenario in which I wrote the first book, I'll never make a success of this one. Barmy? Yes, especially considering the fact that I was 8 months pregnant when I wrote Girl, Aloud.

The Australian had better RUN.

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Monday, 29 June 2009

Bringing Out The Big Guns


OK, I upset Parky - that much is obvious, because just two days after I damned him in the post below he arranged for a very grave punishment.

Pig Flu!

Of all the inelegant-sounding, media-hyped, but still fairly-unpleasant-when-experienced-first-hand diseases to inflict upon a poor struggling author.

Michael, you have made it clear you are not to be messed with, so I shall be keeping this MEG RYAN TALISMAN on my blog to ward your evil spirit away.

Begone, Parkinson! Begone!

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Tuesday, 23 June 2009

I Blame Parkinson


What do you call the force that makes everything happen at once as soon as a writer sits down to begin a new novel?

I wish that was the start of a joke but it's an actual question. It seems a bit obvious to blame Sod or Murphy...maybe it's Parkinson I should point the finger at. Parkinson said:

"Work expands so as to fill the time
available for its completion."


What's that you say? It's not Michael Parkinson but some naval historian who penned sixty books and therefore might have known what he was talking about in this context? Yeah yeah, well I couldn't find a photo of him, and just look at the joy on Michael's face up there, it's as if he's enjoying the force of evil he's created against struggling novelists (okay, I know the photo is very small but that just proves my point - I wasted a whole five minutes trying in vain to resize it when I could have been WRITING MY NOVEL!).

Ever since I tweeted something incredibly banal like "Just about to start new novel" (you can follow my banality by clicking on the Twittery-icon to your right, if you like), the Evil Force has come up with the following philosophical challenges:

- TIME... The tragic end to The Boy's daytime naps, zapping that blissful hour and a half I had every weekday to...check Facebook, check Twitter, check all writer forums, rinse and repeat, and then do some actual real-life writing.

- SPACE... Eviction! Okay, maybe not quite that dramatic, but we do have 60 days to find a new home, in a brand new area, that fulfills all of our many and varied expectations.

- CONFLICT... A picture book that has bounced back and forth between an editor and I so many times I fear it's going to run off to a shelter for battered books.

- EVEN MORE CONFLICT... The War Against Fairy Bread. This might not sound serious, but when I read this article sent to me by "a friend" who is possibly hinting that I fall under the "creative gymkhana classes" and Nutrition Nazi category of mums, it was all I could think about. The line has been drawn in the 100s and 1000s and I need to decide where I stand. For or against fairy bread? How can I possibly start my new novel when all this is going on?

Michael Parkinson, damn you for making my Tweet a lie. Well, I'm not falling for your games any more - you've had your fun. My main character is threatening to change her entire fictional raison d'ĂȘtre if I haven't given her a voice, a screwed-up family and a love interest by the weekend. With jokes.

Official deadlines. I love 'em.

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Friday, 19 June 2009

Fairy Nuff


For the most part, The Australian leaves me to my whitterings about the defining quirks of his people - he knows it's just my funny little way of dealing with being a fish out of water - and retaliates with just the occasional "That's soooo English" whenever I say something unfriendly.

But yesterday he came downstairs after putting The Girl to bed with such a look of triumph on his face that I knew I was in trouble for something. He was wielding a copy of Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lancaster Brisley - a "terribly English" book that was a favourite of mine and that I now enjoy reading to my daughter (with certain twenty-first century footnotes I feel moved to add on).

He opened it and pointed to a line: "There," he said, beaming. "Look there. It says they are having bread with hundreds and thousands sprinkled on. Fairy bread. In England. A long, long time ago. Ha! What do you say to that?"

I snatched the book and read it over... hundreds and thousands... Blast and bother, he was right. It's not just a strange Aussie treat that sends children "feral"... it's our fault. But maybe we can blame the Scots - for here is Robert Louise Stevenson with a poem from A Child's Garden Of Verses (1885):

Fairy Bread
Come up here, O dusty feet!
Here is fairy bread to eat.
Here in my retiring room,
Children, you may dine
On the golden smell of broom
And the shade of pine;
And when you have eaten well,
Fairy stories hear and tell.

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Monday, 15 June 2009

Things I Have Learned From My Children, part 1 of A Lot

People keep telling me that my daughter is extremely small, and yet I look up to her in lots of ways. She's full of surprises, and has embraced the move to Australia in a way that makes me wonder if we are actually related. Yesterday she got ready for (yet another) party - she knew exactly what she wanted to wear... pink and purple striped tights, white gypsy skirt, mauve top, pink beads and bunches. Done. Then she skipped around the house until it was time to go. This was in stark contrast to the way I'd got ready for a nursery school fundraiser event the day before, held at a local tennis club...

We hadn't bought tickets till the last minute, mainly because I was doing my usual pre-party panic routine - should we go? we should go, shouldn't we? but who will we talk to? what if I make a fool of myself? let's not go. but we should go . . . etc - and had given minimal serious thought to the fancy dress theme - A Touch Of Sport. (We'd had several non-serious thoughts about it, mainly involving whether or not I had the guts to go as a sweaty, belching, beer-swilling darts player...if you could see the dust on my Wii Fit board you'd know I definitely had the guts in one sense of the word.)

So the day of the party, I mentioned to The Australian that we should pop into a sports shop after breakfast and gather some tennis gear - sweatbands and so on. I was proud of the way I was playing it down at this point, but the jiggle in my leg as we became stuck in traffic - a mere 9 hours before the party - was a tell-tale sign.

I don't know what we were looking for, but the first sports shop didn't have it...nor did the second, or the third, or the fourth...or the tennis warehouse. By this time my blood pressure was on the dangerous side. What do you think? I kept saying to The Australian. What will other people be wearing? Do you think they'll all be in full sporting gear? We don't own any! Why aren't we more sporting? Then we wouldn't have to worry! Do you think sweatbands are a bit minimal? I know, let's not go! etc... But finally he grabbed some sweatbands and, with the children about to get restrung on the restringing machine, we abandoned shopping and headed for home.

My big mistake was googling "homemade tennis costume". Now I had a whole interweb-full of ideas, and visions of turning up in a pink and white sweatband (um, and some clothes) while everyone else had gone to great effort (see human-sized tennis ball above, from Coolest Homemade Costumes.com). The Australian found some tennis balls in the shed so I set about making a tennis ball necklace. It took me about half an hour to cut into the ball, and another half hour to feed a piece of thread through it (which I'd stolen from the girl and de-beaded...said beads still rolling around bedroom floor two days later) and another half an hour trying to adjust the length of the thread so that the ball didn't look like a third breast.

I decided on a new tactic - find every single piece of sporting apparel in the house and put it all on at once to create slightly bonkers but very much in-the-spirit-of-fundraiser-fun outfit... We had swimming goggles, ski goggles, running shorts, running vest, wet suit, flippers, and of course the third-breast necklace - I spread it all out on the bed and told The Australian my new plan: wear everything. From a man who usually gives me a simple "You look fine" when I fret about my outfit, the look on his face was telling. He was clearly getting to the end of his tether about my pre-party panic. "So, just the sweatbands?" I said. He nodded, sternly.

Thank GOD. When we walked in, I thought we'd got the wrong party - the other guests had taken 'a touch' very literally - one guest had a pair of ski goggles shoved in her coat pocket, another had a golf tee pinned into her hair...can you imagine the cries of Crazy Pom had I gone with my 'wear everything' idea? I shudder to think. As it was, my outfit managed to look more tragic eighties than sporting, and several people asked if I was trying to evoke Olivia Newton John in her Physical video (nb. they were laughing as they said this).

It was a fun night in the end, but next time I'll be consulting my daughter - tiny she is in stature, but a giant in my eyes for her ability to embrace everything life has in store and get it so beautifully right.

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Friday, 5 June 2009

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

What's The Magic Word?

To a writer, there can be no more satisfying words to type than The End. Except, maybe, "Yes, I'd be delighted to accept your seven-figure offer, and cheers very much for the Nobel." But The End comes a close second.

There must have been something in the air yesterday, because not long after I'd typed those magic words I discovered that two writers whose blogs I follow had done the same: hurrah for Being Lucy Diamond and Fionnuala Kearney.

Recently this blog has been pretty low on the topic of writing - I tend to think that if you want writing advice or clever ways of thinking about process or advice on getting published, there are a million better places to look, but just for the record, here are some things I'll never forget about writing this book:

1. It is possible to pick yourself up after someone trashes your WIP, but it may take time, unless you've got one of those rhino hides - mine looks rhino-esque but bruises like a peach. I wrote the first draft in 2006. Someone trashed it. Then a someone else told me it had potential and gave me a list of things that needed doing. The list made my head hurt and I wrote a completely new book instead. I kept the insulted, rejected manuscript in a shoebox / coffin and kept meaning to have another go, but it wasn't until this year that I could face it. I'm glad I waited.
2. Letting a manuscript rest is like having laser surgery on your eyes. I CAN SEE!! To an impatient person like myself this is a hard one to swallow but it's so true. The second draft is bigger, better and bolder. I changed nearly every sentence - that surprised me, as I thought the one thing it had going for it was good prose, but evidently my opinion had changed in those three years. (I think 6 weeks will do, by the way...but three years is okay, too.)
3. After getting a publishing deal, it might be easier to write a whole book just for yourself. I say this in light of a very interesting post over on Strictly Writing by Samantha Tonge, called Don't Tell Me To Write For Fun. I like Sam's post because of it's honesty and passion. I don't think it's necessarily in line with how I feel about writing, but I admire it anyway. However, I'm feeling like the book I've just finished will probably never see the light of day and I'm okay with that. I knew way before I finished, too. This book is just too different to be my Book 2. I wanted to finish it because having it in a shoe-box, not in a state I was proud of, was bugging me. I wanted to give it my best. I just did it for me. Could I have spent all that time on it if I didn't have another book coming out next year? Maybe not. I was like a dog with a bone pre-deal. That's not to say that my want or need to be published has disappeared - far from it.
4. I respond very well to targets. I need shiny gold stars (metaphorical or real will do) and goals and promises of reward. My daily target of 1500 words per day worked because it was a rewrite rather than a fresh new book. I made better use of The Boy's nap times (taking myself to the library while he slept in the pushchair so I couldn't procrastinate on the internet worked well), and early evenings (one good thing about there being not much I want to watch on Aussie telly), and I rewarded myself with the odd glass of wine (or an even two) or an hour with a good book, and promised myself a splurge in the new Red Cross shop when I'd finished the thing. OK, it's not a very glamorous reward but as I said, this book isn't under contract... This kind of way of working might not be for you - you might think it cheap, even. But if you find you're dragging your heels and feel frustrated with your pace - get together with a few online writer friends and set yourselves a target. It might be your style.

If you got to the end of this - thanks. Normal service (feeble jokes / whingeing pominess etc) will resume shortly.

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Sunday, 31 May 2009

Whingeing Possie





My friend sent me an sms: 'Just seen a magazine called Whingeing Pom!' I don't know why on earth he thought that might be of interest to me... But out of general interest in others who might possibly be considered to be both whingers and Poms, I had a look.

Turns out I'm not a Pom at all, I'm a Possie - well, a low-grade one, since apparently a true Possie has dual nationality; us mere permanent residents are beneath them. Pfft, sounds like these dual nationality folk have already sold out, not like us proper fence-dwellers.

But it got me thinking - what will that make our children? I got a fright the other day when I discovered that The Boy, aged 2, doesn't know what a squirrel is. Back in London, The Girl and I used to go to the same park nearly every day, where the squirrels would dance about autumnally and eat the leftovers from the park café. She knows what a squirrel is; she has lots of European-based memories, and coupled with my special instructions ("It's yoghurt with a short o, not yo-ghurt with a long o! Repeat after me!") is bound to retain some Pominess (glossing over the fact that she wants to spend her life playing Aussie Rules, "fudie" as she calls it, and eat "pardy pies"). The Boy, on the other hand, pointed to the squirrel (picture of) and said: "A possum!" I let it slide, just that one time, but if he starts pointing to pictures of Bambi and shouting "Kangaroo!", or badgers ("Wombat!") I shall have to take serious steps. Maybe I will buy him a subscription to Whingeing Pom for his 3rd birthday.

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Pom in Oz, Part 2

[cont'd from Part 1]

7. Trust... Maybe it's just the folk in my local area, but to me, a hardened Londoner (well, not really, I was from West Hampstead) the sight of people leaving $1000 prams and a collection of children's bikes on their porches overnight makes me feel like we're on Walton's Mountain. Where are all the thieves? People leave prams outside coffee shops, too - I mean, how long do you think a Bugaboo parked outside Starbucks in North London would last? Lovely, crazy, trusting Melbournians, I hope you don't think me rude for leaving nothing on my porch, but I come from a land where people would steal the milk from your doorstep.
8. Speaking of the porch, it's very common to find porch furniture here - wicker chairs and tables, maybe a quirky hatstand or a wooden bench. It's so wonderfully foreign to me. The most you'd get in a London front garden would be an empty can of Special Brew someone had tossed over on their way back from the party outside the public urinal. The only thing I can't understand is why I've never, ever seen someone sitting out on their porch on their beautifully arranged porch furniture, having a gas and singing some blues (oh no, that's more Kentucky...).
9. Meat... Australians think we can't afford to eat meat in the UK. Several people over here have said: "Oh it must be nice to afford meat again, I've heard about how pricey it is where you come from." I just shrug and say that everything's expensive, but you can tell by the sympathetic looks on their faces that they think I've raised my children up till now on gruel. Ha, little do they know we eat fois gras for breakfast.

More random, useless thoughts when I've written 'The End' on my novel...believe me, you'll know when that happens.

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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

A Piece Wot I Wrote


If you're a fan of YA fiction...

If you've got two minutes to spare tomorrow (or one if you speed-read)...

If you think you might enjoy the sad sight of me trying to talk like a grown-up...

Check out my offering on The Sarah Dessen Diarist tomorrow, part of a celebration of this highly successful YA author.

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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

You Must Remember This, A Pash Is Just A Kiss

Everyone says, when you're emigrating to Australia: "Oh well, at least you won't have to learn a whole new language."

Are they kidding?

Here are a just a few of the words and phrases you'll be forced to absorb unless you want to be ridiculed at every turn (actually, you'll still attract derision if, like me, you tend to say Aussie words with a kind of Hugh Grant awkward coyness, but at least if you commit them to memory you'll be able to de-code when necessary).

USEFUL WORDS:

Dooner: duvet
Sauce: ketchup
Pants: trousers
Undies: pants (I'm having trouble with this at the moment, as I'm potty-training The Boy and keep referring to his 'brand new knickers...I mean pants...I mean UNDIES! He's confused to say the least.)
Rashy: long-sleeved top you wear to the beach / swimming to give 100% sun protection (It took me five goes of saying "A what?" before I understood what my neighbour was saying when she suggested I get one.)
Kinder / Kindy: nursery school
Capsicum: pepper (sounds hilarious when the police say "I had to use my capsicum spray to get the crazy witch off me." Not that I've ever heard the police say that. Honest. But you have to admit that capsicum spray sounds a bit weak. PEPPER spray, now there's a deterrent.)
Milk bar: small store, kinda like a newsagent that sells a few groceries. I assumed it was a bar that served milkshakes. No.
Sook: a crybaby.

When in doubt, put 'ies' or 'y' or 'o' at the end of a word: sunnies, tinny, billy, dunny, daggy, mozzie, footy, arvo, possie, aggro, barby, rellies.

eg. I went to the dunny this arvo then I put on my sunnies to go to the footy cos my mate was saving me a possie and a tinnie but the footy was daggy and there were too many mozzies and we got aggro so I went back for a barby with my rellies.

TRY REALLY HARD NOT TO SAY:

Root.

Especially don't say that you're rooting for a football team. Icky. You are barracking for a team. Never rooting. No no no. Unless you're a WAG.


USEFUL PHRASES:

Good on ya!: seriously, this can be used anytime, anywhere.
eg.1:"What have you been up to today?" "Shopping." "Good on ya!"
eg.2: "What have you been up to today?" "Made a million." "Good on ya!"

Standard greeting to an acquaintance (say at great speed):
"How you going?"
"Good, how you going?"
"Good."

No worries (I admit, I have started to say this. It's hard not to adopt an Aussie accent when I say it...I hope no one thinks I'm taking the wotsit . . . WHO ME??)

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Sunday, 24 May 2009

Thrills and Spills

It's been a busy time, in a good way.

Last week I decided I'd had enough of the pace at which my 2nd draft was going (as if the pace was somehow not of my making, but an Evil Force I had to battle with). I decided it was target time. I respond very well to targets - it goes back to my days as a convent girl, yearning for that gold star, or yearning for Sister to stop pinching my earlobes with her razor-sharp holier-than-thou fingernails when I wasn't working fast enough... OK, no nun-bashing (that's what the WIP is for!). My target is 1500 words per day, in order to finish the draft by the beginning of June. I call it, in the manner of a person who has used the crutch of NaNoWriMo before: FiYoNoByJu. I'm sure you can work it out. A few authors I admire decided to join me for the ride. Comrades! Lovely. The Australian has noticed how my mood has picked up this week. "You seem to thrive on this sort of thing," he observed. I told him to get a packet of gold stars and see what else he could make me do. (Keep it clean, people, I told you I'm an ex-convent girl! Oh...yeah, right).

The Boy has a few new tricks. One is that he is pretending to be a dog for about 70% of each day. He wants to play fetch, he has a very realistic Woof!, and last night he bit his sister on the bum. But it's all her fault anyway - last weekend she made him a very elaborate kennel and lavished him with far more attention as a dog than he ever gets as her annoying little brother...so now we're stuck with it.

He's also learned how extremely funny it is to shut the front door when Mum and Dad are on the wrong side of it. We'd gone outside to say goodbye to some friends when we heard the door slam. "You got keys?" we said in unison. "I can't believe you don't have keys!!" I yelled, while The Australian ambled back up the pebbled path in his socks to assess the situation.

The situation was this - the front door was shut, the back door was locked, and the only window that would open has a gap of about 10cm. Now, we all know The Australian has shed his Heathrow Kilos, but he's still 6ft1 of pure man. The only option was to get The Boy to fetch my keys.

"They're in my bag, darling. Fetch Mummy's bag!" I shouted through the letter box. He toddled away...

...and came back wearing a brightly coloured Wiggles hat.

"No, not the hat, sweetheart, the keys. In Mummy's bag." Off he went again...

...and came back with his sister's pink sequined party bag.

"MUMMY'S BAG, DARLING. PLEASE." I tried to ignore the fact that he was really enjoying this. We both knew he knew what a key is - he can say the whole damn alphabet (apart from the elomeno-p bit) and has a genius line in sweet manipulation; the boy ain't dumb! In fact I probably shold have asked him to sweetly manipulate the door open.

The Australian decided to hitch a ride, in his socks, to the estate agent's office and get the spare key. It was as if he'd thrown down the gauntlet - could I make The Boy retrieve my key in the time it took him to fetch the spare? I was dead excited - a challenge! I thrive on them, right?

In the next 10 minutes I resorted to some parenting basics.

"Mummy has CHOCOLATE in her bag. If you bring Mummy's bag, I will GIVE YOU some of it."

"Ooh, chocolate!" he said. Seconds later he came towards the letter box with the bag. Yes! Yes! Nooooo! He'd dropped the bag in favour of his new plastic-lion-head-on-a-long-handle-thing! DAMN those gift shops at the zoo!!

As the car drew up, I realised I'd fai...fai...tried my best. Pfft. Still, at least the writing challenge is paying off - I'm over the hump and at that part where you've picked up a cracking pace and are having such fun you almost don't want it to end. Almost. That's the thrill.

As for the spill, we went out for pizza tonight and The Girl managed to throw an entire glass of lager over my lap. I smelled like a very wet dog who had just eaten a lot of hops. The Boy responded accordingly: Woof!

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Thursday, 14 May 2009

Pieces of 8

I've been tagged by chick-lit author Claire Allan over at Diary of a Mad Mammy, so here goes:


8 Things I Like:
- I like that feeling I get when I've read the first page of a new book and I know, I just know, that I'm going to love it (recently: A Kind Of Intimacy, Jenn Ashworth). I usually pause at that point and take the time for an excited sort of sigh. I nudge The Australian and tell him. He grunts.
- I like creeping into my children's bedroom at night, tucking them in again and remembering that not so long ago I was lucky to get two consecutive hours of sleep during the night. That is never going to get old.
- I like cheddar that takes the roof of your mouth off.
- I like getting ready for a night out.
- I like imagining conversations that will probably never take place.
- I like not being the last person in the house to fall asleep.
- I like baba ghanoush.
- I like cutting my children's toenails.

8 Things I Did Yesterday
- Took Bush Flower Essences
- Swore
- Watched Desperate Housewives
- Contemplated chucking the WIP and starting something new
- Decided not to
- Cooked fish
- Avoided wheat
- Agreed to go to a party I don't want to go to

8 Things I Wish I Could Do
- Drive
- Ski
- Think rationally at stressful times
- Backflips
- Fly
- Come across as warm and friendly
- Write the best book in the world
- um...that just leaves World Peace

8 Things I Don't Like
- The suburbs
- Porridge (the breakfast not the tv show)
- Small talk
- Forgetting the one thing I went to the supermarket for
- Waiting
- try-hard Alpha Males, in baseball caps
- Pigeons
- Advert breaks

And now I tag: anyone who should be doing something else but wants to avoid it.


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Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Pom In Oz, Part 1

This list will come in handy if the following apply to you:
1. You are emigrating to Australia, esp. Melbourne.
2. You are the sort of person who quite often leaves the house and then panics that you've forgotten to put your trousers on.

OK, so here's Part 1 of the things I've learned (the hard way) in the year we've been living here.

1. When you ask for a loaf of bread in the bakery and they say "Sandwich or toast?", say "toast" - this is not because "toast" is necessarily better, it is just better than standing there muttering, "Err, not sure, hmm, err, is there a difference? You decide!" A firm and confident "TOAST" will see you through. Don't let them see your weakness - if you hesitate, before you know it you'll have bought 6 berry scones and an apple turnover just to prove you know what you're doing.
2. Ugg boots = slippers. I know, I know, they are seriously outdoor-looking slippers and it's perfectly acceptable to wear them in the UK (it's even acceptable to wear fake ones in Kilburn) but over here people will either assume: (a) you are middle-aged mutton trying to emulate teenage lamb, (b) you are crazy. For me, it's ok - they already think I'm crazy.
3. People are friendly. Just like in Ramsey Street. Be prepared. They will invite you over, they will ask questions about you, they will share information about themselves - it's what they do. Try not to be alarmed. Rest assured that it is fine to carry on as your normal curmudgeonly self - they expect it, you're a Pom.
4. Books are frighteningly dear. At first you may think this will curb your spending, but it will not (esp not if you live near a Readings). It would therefore come in very handy if you could buy fewer shoes - you could always use this as the excuse for why you're wearing your Uggs outside again.
5. Essential items for children's parties (there WILL be complaints if you don't serve these): fairy bread (white bread, buttered and sprinkled with 100s and 1000s); party pies (hot little pies with meat inside) SERVE WITH KETCHUP, but don't call it ketchup, call it SAUCE; sausage rolls (serve with sauce); bright orange frankfurter things that burst out of their skin (serve with sauce); neon drinks.
6. Everyone here thinks everyone there is fat. There will be plenty of comments about 'The Heathrow Kilos' etc, ie. anyone who goes to the UK comes back a lard-arse. It is VERY hard to argue with this when you are known for staying inside a lot writing, while they are all out kicking a "footie" or doing some completely normal-to-them weekend activity like water-skiing or plain old jumping for joy (but don't be fooled, they are only doing this because there is nothing good on telly...surely - more of which will be discussed in Part 2).

Watch out for Part 2!

Disclaimer: I love Melbourne. Honest.

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