Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Saving it for later

As I've mentioned before, I'm currently unemployed. I also don't have much of a social life. The second is a direct result of the first, I think. (Don't feel sad for me by the way, the world is a scary place and I like it at home!) The up side of this of course is that I have plenty of free time. You would think that means I'm on top of everything, right? You would think.

Phil, at A Time to Phil, had a great post today about my problem. He calls it SIFS, save it for Sundays. Being at home all day I don't have to wait until Sunday, I just SIFL (which sounds even more like a slang name for a nasty disease than Phil's does, but never mind). I save it for later.

The girls come home with a letter from school that needs to be signed and returned. I read the letter. Then instead of signing it with the pen that's RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, I put it on the table to deal with later. I read junk mail, and instead of dropping it straight into the recycling box in the hallway, I put it on the table to deal with later. Nothing ever gets done now. I need a check up at the dentist? Instead of calling them when I think of it, I make a note to ring them later.

Everything gets done, eventually, but why do I do this? Why do I wait until I have five different phone calls to make? Or until there's a pile of paper on the table that's starting to resemble that famous Italian edifice? I even, sort of, do it with my writing. When I started MYWYN I was determined to write 1k words a day. It didn't happen. Sure, there were other reasons, but if I'd managed my time properly I could have done it. I don't beat myself up about it because I can write 4 or 5k at a time in a decent session, which is usually every couple of days. I tell myself that's my preferred working method but I can't help thinking about how much more I could do if I could just make myself sit down and do that every day.

None of this is a problem at the moment, but sooner or later (I hope) someone will actually employ me, and maybe one day someone will even be interested in one of my books. If either – or both – of those things happen, I'd better get myself organised. I use google calendar and I make lists, but there's no cure for procrastination – except getting my ass into gear!

Thanks Phil, for giving me the idea for this post

Friday, June 24, 2011

Memories are made of this

You know how when you smell a certain aroma or fragrance it can take you instantly back to a place, a time or person? Well, music is like that too, at least for me. If Techno wants to torment me, he plays 'Charlie's death theme' from 'Lost'. Even before I recognise what's playing, I feel the tears start to form. Happens every time. If you never watched 'Lost' that will mean nothing, but if you did I'm sure you know where I'm coming from.

I thought I'd share some songs that instantly transport me to another time and place, and ask you what songs bring back a specific memory every time you hear them?

1983, school trip to France and my happiest memory of my school days. There was a jukebox on the ferry on the way home and we played this song, (which had been THE song of the holiday), over and over again all the way home.

1988, My best friend was engaged to a soldier. She lived with his mother who didn't think she should go out while he was away. We used to listen to this song every weekend whilst getting ready, and as soon as Lisa's future mother-in-law went to bed we used to sneak out of the window (I swear, we really did!), and go clubbing.

1990 - My first serious heartbreak. I'd been with the same boy, on and off, for four years. We both knew it wasn't going to work - we'd been engaged three times - but I was the one who ended it by moving across the country. He sent me this single in the post.

1999 - I worked the night shift in a petrol station. Worse job EVER but every night around 2am I would lock the doors so I could mop the floor. This song would come on and I would sing it at the top of my voice whilst cleaning.

It was so hard to choose just four. I might have to do this again :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Guess what I did?

Guess what you guys, I did it! Yesterday I finished my first ever first draft of a full length novel, (66,000 words counts as full length for YA, right?). The only thing I've managed before this was something that was supposed to be a novel but is complete at 36,000 words so I'm very happy.

I know the more experienced among you are probably grinning to yourselves and thinking, 'yeah, that was the easy part kid'. (I'm not sure why I imagine any of you would call me 'kid' but let's go with it). I expect that revising this novel will be tough, not just because of all the things I'll discover when I read it through, but because of the things I already know need fixing, due to me changing my mind as I was writing it and not going back to edit it. I have nine pages of notes that say things like 'Sam's broken leg in ch 11 is now a sprained ankle' and 'Glenda isn't needed, take her out and turn her son into one of Lola's mates'. My MC's Mother died and came back to life on four separate occasions (and no, this isn't supernatural!).

My favourite change will be the title. I gave this book a working title of 'Joe and the Angels'. Yes, I know it's rubbish but I had to call the files something. The only thing is there are no longer any Angels in it and he isn't called Joe. Other than that, the title rocks :)

I had to change my MC's name because I imagined Joe as a particular boy who had some very specific experiences and talents. He's changed beyond all recognition but I know that one day I'll want to go back and try again to write the story of my 'ordinary Joe'. I can't imagine him being called anything else, so this Joe is now Jamie.

Do I think this story is good? Yes I do. Do I think it will be the one that makes me a published author? Probably not, but that won't stop me doing my very best with it, and making it the best YA thriller that I can.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, writing a first draft (especially for the first time) isn't that big a deal, but to me personally it is. It's a sign that I believe in myself, that I think I'm worth taking seriously enough to actually make the time to sit and do this every day. Whether I still think that after a few weeks of revisions is another story, but for now it's a good feeling.

I'm going to take a few days off and read a book called Radix by A.A. Attanasio. It's something that Techno has been urging me to read since I first met him, and promises to be a very strange experience! After that, I'll start writing something else and in a few weeks time I'll start revisions on my first ever novel. I love saying that :)

P.S I forgot to add that I had to write quite an emotional part in the last chapter, and I made myself cry! How weird is that?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Advice to my selves

We've had some heavy discussions here lately so, in the interests of lightening the mood a little, I thought I'd give you a little giggle at some of the not-so-smart things I've done in my life!

A long time ago I had another blog. It didn't last very long as a few weeks after starting it I lost computer access for a long time. By the time I got it back, other things had taken over. There were a few entries in it that I quite liked, and I thought I'd share this one from August 2008. I've only added one piece of advice since then. So tell me, what advice would you give to your younger selves?

Age seven – Do not carry on a shouted conversation from the toilet in your classroom to the kid in the toilet in the adjoining classroom, especially when you tell a pack of lies about how you are the new girl from America when A. you have been at the school for a year, and B. you have a totally English accent. When you exit the toilet you will discover that the entire class, including the teacher, has been listening to every word. They will all laugh, and you will cry.

Age ten – When you are asked if you have any doubts about the family that are going to foster you, be honest. If you lie to avoid hurting anyone's feelings then both you and the family are going to be stuck with each other for seven long years.

Age twelve – When you are told that there is a place at Grammar school for you so you will be able to get higher qualifications and go to university at eighteen, but you will have to start working to your potential, do not tell the headmaster that 'what you see is what you get'. You will stay in a school that is due to close the year after you leave which means everyone, including the teachers, stops trying and you will leave at sixteen having never worked to that potential.

Age seventeen – When you go to college to get the qualifications that you should have got at school, so you can still go to university, do not spend the first year of the two year course in the pub. This will lead you to fail your end of year exams and you will not be allowed to return. You will then end up in a 'safe' utterly dull job instead of doing what you really want to do.

Age nineteen – Learn to control your eating habits. When you stuff all that crap into your mouth and people ask how you manage to stay so slim, do not reply casually 'yeah I know, one day I'm gonna wake up fat'. Because one day you will.

Age twenty – When your parents tell you they are emigrating and taking your eighteen year old brother with them, don't let pride stand in the way of telling them you want to come too. They only didn't ask because they didn't think you'd be interested.

Age twenty-two – When your friend tries to set you up on a date and you tell her you can't possibly go out with someone named N****, listen to your instincts. Run fast and far from this man.*

Age twenty-six – When you are 32 weeks pregnant with twins, do not wish you were no longer the size of a small block of flats. Because when the babies are born 8 weeks early you will spend 3 weeks watching them in hospital thinking it was your fault.

Age thirty – When you move to the other side of the country and you are secretly relieved when your husband tells you at the last minute that he's not coming, so you'll only see him for four days out of every fourteen, listen to the warning bells. Something is wrong here.

Age thirty-two – When you decide after a year at university that actually social work isn't for you, try to pick a more useful degree course to transfer to than sociology/applied psychology. Sure, it's fun, but it won't get you a job.

Age thirty-five – When you lose lots of weight and look great after becoming a single mum, check your graduation outfit before the day itself. That way your Mother won't have to pin your shirt to your trousers so they don't fall down.

Age thirty-six – When you meet the man you want to spend the rest of your life with, talk more about whether you should live with him or he should live with you. They have good schools there too.

Age Forty – When you spend 9 months losing five stone in weight (again), don't stop going to the slimming club. It will all go back on in less time than it took you to lose it.

Present day – accept that all the things that have happened in the past have happened for a reason, and have led you to this point. Sure you could be financially better off, slimmer and have a tidier house; but you aren't and you don't. What you do have is pretty damned good so hold on to it, appreciate it and be happy.

*Name redacted so I don't offend anyone. (Also, this guy wasn't my husband!)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Trust and the Internet

My last post got me thinking about trust. Generally, except for the very cynical among us, we assume that people are who they say they are, even on the internet. I don't mean 'Hotlips27' or variations thereof, who seem to spend their time spreading vitriol and bile on random internet forums, but people like you and me, people with blogs, who are part of a community.

You know I'm a middle-aged Mother of two, with two daughters. You know my name and what I look like. Or do you? Well, yes actually, because I'm not a liar. There are things you don't know about me and that's fine, but I don't make up other things to take their place. To twist something I wrote in this post, everything you read about me is true, but you can't read everything true about me.

Suppose though, that I was actually a seventeen year old boy? Would you still take the same meaning from the words I've written? Of course you wouldn't because you wouldn't know which were true and which were lies. It's easy to tell you to focus on the words and not the writer but I truly believe the two are linked. I know Talli Roland is a sassy blonde author because that's what her picture, and her words, tell me. If she was really a fifty year old bloke I'd feel cheated. There's nothing wrong with fifty year old blokes. I read blogs written by men, I'm sure some of them are somewhere near that age, but none of them are pretending to be a cute blonde female. (Sorry Talli, you happened to be the first name I thought of, I hope you don't mind).

My default setting is basically optimistic. I will always believe people are good and honest until they prove otherwise. (Sometimes they get several goes at proving it, too). I believe all the blogs I read are by people who are who they say they are. If I found out differently, I suspect that any pleasure I'd gained from their writing would be lost, and yes, in some small way, I'd feel betrayed. If people want to be anonymous, awesome, go for it; If they want to give themselves a different name then that's great too, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people who tell lies – not comedic exaggeration, not faulty memory, but lies. It's one of the reasons I get upset when I find out memoirs are not true. I won't rehash old stories but there's a huge difference between 'I may not remember the exact order of events, who said what or even who was there', and 'this is completely untrue, it never happened, but it will spice my story up'. There's a word for those stories, they're called fiction.

I'm not sure if I've explained this as well as I might, and maybe I'm over-sensitive in this day and age, but If we don't trust the writer, how can we trust the words?

For the record, I believe in every single person whose blog I read, otherwise I wouldn't be reading their blog :)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Honesty and the Internet

Amina Arraf was a gay girl in Syria. Her blog about life in Damascus, and her part in the anti-government protests was followed by journalists and activists worldwide. When it was posted last Monday that she had been seized by armed men, the news was reported around the world and an online campaign began to secure her release.

Except, as some of you may have read, Amina Arraf does not exist. She comes from the imagination of Tom MacMaster, a forty year old American student currently studying at Edinburgh University. Quite apart from the very real damage that Mr MacMaster has probably done to the people of Syria who are genuinely trying to get their message across (which is described here), what of the people that he has unwittingly involved? Jelena Lecic had her photographs used both in news reports and on Facebook under Amina's name. Sandra Bagaria, a woman living in Canada appeared distraught that the woman she had built a close online friendship with, and one whose release she was campaigning for, might not be real.

I cannot pretend to know how difficult it is for the people of Syria, I take my freedom to write pretty much what I want for granted, From what I have read, Mr MacMaster gave a very accurate portrayal of happenings at the moment. What a pity that all that good has been undone in an instant.

He said “people should stop focusing on the hoaxer and really be focusing on the most important people, the real people who are suffering in Syria.”

They should, but they won't. I suspect they won't focus as sympathetically on the blogs coming from Syria in the future either. I accept that he didn't think his views would be taken seriously if he blogged as himself but there had to be another way, surely? I don't know if having 'Amina' seized was his way of trying to end the charade when he appeared to be in danger of being 'outed', but I bet this has done every bit as much harm to the cause of the truth tellers of Syria as it would have done to the fictional Amina.

P.S. If you read no other links on this post, I urge you to click this one and read the first comment after the article, from a guy known as AllTheMuppetsAreDead. The last three lines are priceless.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

I know I said I wouldn't but I did

Yes, I entered another short story competition. This one was different though. Run by Lesley Galston at Sloanwriter, it was a nice friendly competition. Maximum 500 words on the theme of 'fifty'. My entry placed fifth, and I promise you I have stuck to the theme, although you might not think so at first! If you go to Lesley's blog you can read the eight placed stories.

Just one more thing before you read my story. That other competition I entered? I have another reason, as if I needed one, for being annoyed with myself about my poor entry. The top eight entries have been invited to Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate where the winner will be announced. I found out today that Rebecca Bradley from Life in Clarity is going. I really like Rebecca's writing and it would have been awesome to be able to meet her. Ah well, maybe next year!

Anyway, here's my story. Feel free to tell me how I could have improved it but don't mention that flowers bud and THEN bloom. I spotted that stupid mistake as soon as I saw it on Lesley's blog. D'oh!

The Last Snows of Spring

Although it was almost the end of March there was yet no hint of Spring. Roger leaned forward and tried to catch a glimpse of the passing scenery from the car window, but in the pre-dawn dark there was nothing to see but his own eerie reflection. The man on his right pushed him roughly in the chest.

“Sit back,” the man shouted.

It was not his native tongue, but Roger understood the man well enough. After all, he'd had a long time to learn. He sat back.

“I wonder where we'll end up this time.” He turned to his left and spoke quietly to his friend Bernard.

“Who knows?” The other man gave a shrug that indicated he wasn't really interested in such matters.

Slowly, lazily the first hint of dawn tapped the sky with frost-dazzled fingernails. The snow outside became visible, and the road ahead was deserted. In another time this journey could almost have been pleasant. He wondered where he would be when the first green shoots of Spring deigned to make an appearance. What flowers would he watch bloom, bud and ultimately die? How long would it be before he could observe nature's annual miracle at work in his own garden? Not too much longer now, surely?

Roger felt the full throated roar of the car slow to a gentle purr and realised they were stopping. He turned again to Bernard. The Frenchman indicated with the merest lift of one eyebrow that he didn't know why. All became clear when the other two passengers alighted and fumbled with cold hands for cigarette packets. Moving a few feet away from the car, their chatter drifted idly towards the two men left in the back seat.

“Damn, I could do with one of those.” Roger muttered.

Bernard just laughed. “Soon enough my friend, soon enough.”

There was a shout from one of the men outside and the driver climbed out and joined them. After a brief conversation he returned to the car.

“Out.” He said, as he pulled the back door open. “You can relieve yourselves over there, ” he jerked his head towards a clump of snow-kissed bushes, “but don't go too far.”

As the two men hesitated he continued. “I suggest you do so. We have a long way to go.”

Roger felt it prudent to do as he was told and headed toward the bushes, Bernard following.

For a fraction of a second Roger didn't recognise the sound, so familiar yet so alien in this tranquil landscape. Then, as he felt the pain and saw Bernard collapse next to him, he understood.

Roger Bushell had no way of knowing that he was one of fifty men who were to become famous for being illegally executed for what they had done. He would also never know that he would live on in history as the mastermind behind what would forever be known simply as 'the great escape'.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I've been tagged

I had a post written about the WSJ piece on YA literature but over the past couple of days I've read so many excellent pieces on the same subject that said what I wanted to say, only better, that I pulled it. So I had this post shaped hole on my blog. Luckily the lovely Rebecca at Life in Clarity saved me by tagging me for my first meme. Yay I got tagged!
So, here are my totally honest answers, much as I wanted to change a couple :)
Do you think you're hot?
Not since about 1992. I'll settle for being warm instead.
Upload a picture or wallpaper that you are using at the moment
(Picture removed).

This is today's. I have about six that automatically change on a daily basis (my screen-saver is the same as my wallpaper right?) If I had done this yesterday you would have got a picture of Daniel Craig emerging from the sea.
When was the last time you ate chicken?
Last Friday, home-made curry. The last one I'll have for a while as I started a diet on Monday so no more creamy sauces.
The songs you listened to recently
Eliza Doolittle – Back to front.
I heard a snippet of this on Doctor Who Confidential on Saturday and just remembered to look it up and find out what it was about an hour ago. I've read about Eliza Doolittle but it's the first time I've actually heard one of her songs. I like it very much.
What were you thinking of as you were doing this?
Umm, my answers..and also whether a new player, Jordan Henderson, that Liverpool FC are supposed to be signing is going to be a good buy or not. (It's the last thing I was reading about before I started this).
Do you have nicknames? What are they?
Only from Techno. He never uses my name. That's as honest as that answer gets.

Tag 8 people
Okay, from what I can tell, 8 out of the 15 people who follow this blog haven't done this yet and they are:
I know one of you is on holiday in New York (Lucky lucky Ellen) and one of you is a brand new blogger (Hi phil!) but feel free to play if you'd like to :)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

MYWYN Update 3

So, we're at the end of day 32 on the MYWYN challenge. When I last posted about this, on day 18, I was over 5,000 words behind. My total word count so far is 32,280. Yay, I caught up!

I had a major crisis of confidence this week. I wrote a long post detailing all the ins and outs but, as the post involves someone else and I haven't spoken to them about mentioning it on this blog, I've decided not to post it. I will say this though. The kind words and actions this week of one of our own have reminded me, as if I ever needed reminding, that the community I'm now part of, is a generous, supportive one that I'm proud to belong to. I also realised that, in spite of not being published, in spite of having a blog that's only two months old, in spite of not even finishing a novel (except one, but it's only 36,000 words long so it doesn't count) I am part of it and that rocks!

I don't know if there's any connection, but in the last couple of days my WiP, which I thought was going to idea heaven along with the last one, suddenly sprang to life again. I had been going to abandon it, but decided to trudge through, just for the experience of actually finishing something, when I realised what was wrong with it. It isn't an urban fantasy, it's an urban mystery. This was a bit of a shock, since the fantasy part was the kernel I started with, but suddenly it made perfect sense without it. Sometimes humans are just good or bad without supernatural interference. I know this means I'll have to do a major rewrite in the first five chapters, (well, four as I can drop chapter one completely), but that's okay. I'm back on the right path and I'm so happy!

On that chirpy note, I'll point you in the direction of Sally Jenkins, who's rounded up a couple of interesting looking competitions if you've got something that might be suitable. I actually thought about adding a bit to my finished short novel and entering it for the second one. Yeah, no. Good luck if you do though!