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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