Archive for the ‘anxiety’ Category

To Cap it All

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Irritated out of my blog silence by this article, in yesterday’s Guardian. I’ve heard it said that all British fiction engages with ideas and conflicts that spring from class – and that US fiction is similarly fascinated by race. Not irritated by the article, actually, but by this quotation within it. From Ian Haywood.

“…the term working-class writer has always been something of an oxymoron because at the point at which this writer gets published, they must have moved away from their original circumstances.”

Which suggests what? Class is something you can publish or buy your way out of? You get an advance, move house and you are suddenly not interested in the things you used to be interested in? They must have moved away? Really? Must have? Didn’t work that way for me, and my experience isn’t unusual at all.

Mobility is a difficult thing, isn’t it? As if it’s bad to be working class, whatever that means, and as soon as possible you must ‘move away’ from it? It’s important to progress, to be aspirational, to get a semi detached house and send your children to piano lessons (or insert other silly stereotype of your choice here).

I like to write about ordinary people. Ordinary is a relative term, based on my own experience of ordinary, with loads of imagined stuff chucked in. Perhaps some of my readers find my characters exotic.Should I write a country house novel? I could, if I wanted to. And country-house man could write a council estate novel, if he wanted to. And people will buy and read what they find interesting, and its to do with stories and characters and not how much money those characters make, or where about in the country they live. Or at least I hope it is. I think it is.

I’m actually getting a bit bored by my own interest in all things class. Seems very old fashioned of me.

Rabbit Hole

Monday, June 27th, 2011

I think a summer blog silence is becoming a bit of a habit. Last summer, I had a newborn and was busily finishing the edits and copy edits of Cold Light. The summer before I was writing Cold Light. And the summer before (I think) I was ‘on the road’ with a shed load of events for A Kind of Intimacy that didn’t leave much time or space for updating everyone on what I was up to.

A bit of deja-vu then.That’s all right. Except I’ve been teaching a few blogging workshops recently and keep guiltily overhearing my own voice talking about regularity of posting. As I say and not as I do.

I have finished a first draft of the Book In Progress and took June ‘off’ to do some more research, visit Utah (more about this some other time, I’m sure) and generally have a bit of a rest. The remainder of the summer will be spent on events, rewriting, planning my courses for the autumn teaching, working with my select and beloved set of Writing Smithy clients and waving at my offspring every now and again. Cold Light has been doing just fine without my interference, and is on its second printing already.

As I don’t have a lot of words for you today, here are some from others:

There’s a review of Cold Light from Book Munch by Amy Pointon and another at Jamie Fewey’s blog. A very recent one at The View From Here from the wonderfully named Grace Read (bet you a Polo she’s never heard that one before…). One more by Ben Myers at 3am Magazine and finally some nice words from For Books’ Sake.

And while I was away in Utah, a few appeared  in the print press too, which you can read here.

I also have some events booked. So if you wanted to see me reading from and talking about Cold Light or ask questions about writing, publishing, blogging or any of the other things that I do, then you could turn up at:

Hale Library at 7pm on Wednesday 29th June

or St Anne’s Library at 7pm on Wednesday 13th July

or Lancaster Oxfam Bookshop (Penney Street) at 3pm on Friday 15th July

or  at Bury Library at 7.30pm on the 18th July for the Bury Library Literary Salon

or Bolton Waterstone’s at 5pm on Thursday 28th July

Bye for now. I am booked for a very important engagement with a cup of tea and a piece of shortbread. Can’t be late for that.

Tug O War

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Bad blogger again.

I am very deep into my first draft of the third book. As yet mainly un-named. Just over 50k words in. I want to get it written as fast as possible because I can already guess the sort of editing that it is going to need and I want to give myself plenty of time to do it.

I didn’t think writing to a deadline would suit me but imagining my editor drumming her fingers on her desk waiting for me to type a bit quicker is actually very helpful. Vanishing into the spaces between the words and the noise the keyboard makes is wonderful. I reckon if I could fully explain how happy it makes me I wouldn’t need to do it.

But there are other demands on my time. I am pulled out of my head and into the world and then the book makes me irritable and hauls me back again. I can only imagine how fun this, along with the anxiety about Cold Light’s imminent arrival, is making me to live with.

Tugs in the other direction include two recent interviews – journalists coming inside the house, which was new and strange. Both very nice and polite and complimentary about my domestic offerings (tea, fig rolls, a token amount of pre-visit hoovering up) but Strangers all the same, inside My House and with Tape Recorders.

I was naively unprepared and expected to be asked only about the books, but that wasn’t how it panned out. I’d really like to have a body double Jenn for interviews. Someone bubbly and cheery with thoughts like lasers instead of grumpy, inarticulate woolly me.

Something I have learned this week about being interviewed: the only way to deal with the thoughts about what an idiot you were, and what stupid things you said, is to refuse to think them at all. Type, instead. Drink tea. Get over yourself.

Teaching – busy at this time of year as I have one set hurtling towards the end of their first year, and the handing in of portfolios. I suspect they are still disbelieving when I tell them one of the most useful things they can train themselves to do for their writing is to read it out loud to themselves, look up words they’re not sure of and be consistent about italicising the names of books and computer games. It is true. Little things count. And the other lot, slowly losing themselves in longer short story collections and novels and forgetting that they’re going to get marked on this sort of thing, because merits and passes and distinctions are not that important when it comes to writing good books. It’s a tiring time, working with them, but the best time so far.

On the way home from Manchester there’s a man who has sat next to me twice now who does that legs wide apart thing. He opens a textbook to learn Chinese and then puts his head back against the seat and closes his eyes. I coughed a little and touched his arm (I thought he was sleeping) and I told him he was squashing me a little bit. He said, ‘I know love,’ and I laughed, feeling envious of that amount of confidence, and leg room.

More things tugging me away from the first draft, and the pleasure of becoming invisible:

My first event in a long time as part of my fellowship at Manchester University. I read a bit from Cold Light AND a very early drafted part of something from book three. Which I worry might have been a mistake. It’s like a new love right now. I want to talk about how brilliant it is all the time, but I’m experienced enough to know we’re heading for a fall out sometime soon and those sort of spats are better fought and won behind closed doors. I read it anyway, never heard it out loud before (that’s right, I don’t take my own advice you clever, close reading devil, you!) but I think it worked okay.

I don’t think I would do it again. It felt like taking off my clothes and pointing out my problem areas to a gathering composed of all the people who have ever dumped me. But it only seemed fair – the audience was stuffed with students who have been trusting and brave enough to show me their drafts and speak to me about their ideas. It felt right to return the favour.

I ate frogs legs, that was new. And was very sad to wave goodbye to my fellow fellow, the poet Paul Batchelor who moves onto new things this month, and whose poems have restored me on more than one occasion, especially in the past few weeks when all my typing has left me emptied out and tearful by the end of the day.

This week there is lots of writing to look forward to and on Friday I am helping to make a book trailer for Cold Light.

(the picture is of Florence La Due who was a cowgirl and ‘champion roper’ and, I imagine, able to handle herself very well in a tug o war, thank you very much)

Fright + Heads + PSA

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

I’ve blogged before, with varying quantities of tantrum and self pity, about the aspects of the writing life that I feel less comfy with, less equipped to handle, less likely to pull off with success. Somehow in that post I got onto talking about gin and Worzel Gummidge. Getting pissed. Putting a pretend head on. Coping strategies.

This past couple of weeks have been tough ones for doing things that I don’t particularly like doing. It seems relevant here to mention that one of several recurring dreams I have (the ones that are not about seagulls or monkey puzzle trees or balls of unravelling yellow wool) involves my mind replaying the most terrifying parts of The Return To Oz over and over again. All  night. Heads. Shouting heads. I have been having dreams like this, this month. A ton of them.

Mr. is brilliant, largely ignoring me, or muttering with unconcealed scorn: ‘You were like this the last time you had a book out, you know,’ as if writing a book were no more important than any of the other hundreds of tasks we do every day. Which is isn’t. It does make it easier. As does the fact that this urge to get drunk and decapitate myself might be a pattern, even if it is one I am not yet aware of.

I like to think some of you find this blog useful – writers and writers in the making. So it is almost a public service announcement for me to say yes, I am lucky and this is a good life. We are together and healthy and I get to do the job I always wanted to do. But. But. It is also contains bits of work that aren’t exactly my cup of tea. That leave me frazzled and anxious and teary. And I don’t yet have any advice for myself or for other people on how to deal with that.

Which is lucky, because I am friends with lots of writers and when I don’t have Tips, they often do. If you are, like me an incurable attention seeker who is horrified at the thought of being Looked At, see Emma Darwin’s blog for lists and suggestions on coping with the horror of publicity.

Unaverage week

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Most of the time being a writer involves hunching over a rickety desk, sending the odd invoice, worrying about receipts and lots of reading. Then there’s the teaching, which involves all that, and then some marking and some talking and lots of replying to emails. None of this is very exciting to anyone other than me, I am sure.

This week has been different, obviously. There was the telly thing, which I still haven’t seen yet, but which evidently one or two of you liked. And the telly thing temporarily put A Kind of Intimacy into the Amazon Bestseller Charts, which was unexpected and very nice. And on top of that I have heard that French rights to A Kind of Intimacy have just been sold. Which is also very nice.

Other new things about this week include some changes round here. First – a new page about Cold Light on this website. I get asked a fair bit about my writing process, how I do drafts, whether I type or handwrite and so on. I thought a sneak into my dark box of drafts might be interesting to some of you. The front page has had a bit of a spit and polish too, but isn’t quite finished yet.

I’ve been overwhelmed by all the messages you have been sending me and all the new visitors to my blog. Hello and thank you. I’ve been a bit crap about doing phone and emails but will be catching up soon. Promise.

P.S The picture is the actual cheese and pickled hedgehog that the kind people at the Culture Show made and brought in a cool box to UCLAN all the way from London. I was allowed to take it home and I kept it on my desk until it went all manky.


Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Sadly for you I am appearing on the telly this Saturday night – thus ruining yet another weekend for you all with my relentless attention-seeking.

John Mullan along with a panel of judges read 57 novels published in the last two years, and between them they chose what they thought were the twelve most interesting. A Kind of Intimacy was one of the twelve.

You’ll disagree and come up with your own best and worst lists, of course – and I think that’s a good thing. I’m interested in what conclusions the panel of judges drew about where contemporary British literature is headed. Down the pan, according to some, I am sure.

Just in case you can bring yourself, the Guardian ran a piece about the Culture Show Special here. The show itself will be running on BBC 2 at 9pm this Saturday night.

Station Stories + A Plea

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

I’ve not participated in a project since, I think, Bugged. Which was back at the start of the summer. Ages and ages ago, although – so I hear – the book is still selling very briskly thanks to Jo’s efforts in planning and performing in events up and down the country.

Still, for me it is time to take on something new to run alongside the endless typing of The First Draft and the terrifying approach to Cold Light’s arrival in the world.

The something new is Station Stories – a writing project run by David Gaffney and The Hamilton Project. The other writers involved, me, Tom Fletcher, Peter Wild, Nicholas Royle and Tom Jenks will all be writing stories set in and around Manchester Picadilly train station. Once we’ve written, edited and practiced our stories we will be performing them in the station across three days in late May. And the performace will be something very special.

We’ve already met up to be given a tour of all the station’s nooks and crannies in the hope that it would get our juices flowing. Brain storming has been happening via email. This isn’t a writing collaboration – we’re all responsible for our own words, but the performance needs to work as a whole and that means working together during the planning stages to ensure there isn’t too much overlap of story or tone, that we manage to cover, somehow, the life of the train station. 

Sadly, I am stumped. I normally like a commission and don’t have any problem with coming up with new ideas. But this week and the one before – nothing. I will pull it out of the bag in the end, promise. Most of my commissions are written in a bolt of white hot panic, against a deadline.

But in the mean time. tell me your train station stories and I may steal them and recycle them. Don’t worry if your train station isn’t Picadilly. Alk donations are welcome. Sorry for the imposition but it’s hard times for all of us.

Think of it as your donation to the Big Society.

New Blog Rules

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

From now on I am only going to blog about the nightmares I am having about the publication of Cold Light. I’m having really, really detailed nightmares right now.

A special hard-backed novel-length bad review of Cold Light free to every reader of *insert your favourite broadsheet here*

For the tabloid reader, a full colour supplement, eight page spread of bad reviews..

Oh God. What have I done?

I think I might write the reviews myself, and pitch them to all the papers and blogs and amazon reviewers and good reads raters and book clubs and crazy people who like to send me facebook messages / email me in the middle of the night. It will save them time and at least then there’ll be no nasty surprises for me.

I am sure if I did this I would stop having the nightmares. Whenever I stand on a bridge I worry about falling off it. That feeling makes me want to jump down, just to get the anxiety over and done with.

Jackets for the hardback arrived yesterday for me to look at. They are perfect and brilliant. I got a hardbacked book of around the same size (it was The Tiger by John Valiant) and tried them on. Felt a bit daft. Took the dust jacket off and got John’s book dressed again. Sorry John.

Picture stolen from here.

Mental Image

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Insert glib quote about life imitating art, or something, here.

It has been a week of not much writing and lots of looking. I haven’t planned it this way, but a batch of similar tasks have all cropped up together over the past week or so.

I have been looking at logos and mock up web pages for a new project (you will hear about this soon, and first, o reader  – I promise) and wrestling with the problem of getting the ideas about images out of my head and into an email so that my partner in this project and our designer can see them too.

I’ve also been making lists of locations in Cold Light and discussing the pros and cons of each of them with the digital marketing person at Sceptre. She’s taking my ideas and her own and working them into a brief for a film production company. They’ll use the brief to make a trailer for the book. The idea, I think, is to have me in some of the settings reading bits of the book to bring the locations to life.

When I was writing Cold Light I imagined the river freezing over in icy chunks that were inches thick. It suited me to believe it could happen though in my heart of hearts I doubted it. The cold weather we’ve had over the past couple of weeks has pleased me because the river really did freeze over. Kim took he picture of the Ribble opposite and also recently disproved my theory that fish can live in frozen ponds as long as there’s an air hole in the ice.

So all this thinking about setting, and location reminded me of a conversation I had with a member of the audience during an MLF / Rainy City Stories event about Writing and Place late last year. The three of us (me, Claire Dudman, Nicholas Royle) were talking about using real places in fiction. I said I’d used Preston for Cold Light, but taken some liberties, changed a few things around – for my own convenience and because I didn’t want to depict the place exactly, but write more or less how I felt about it (hence the river freezing over  – which at the time I didn’t think was possible.)

I made a hash of explaining it, but I think I meant that the atmosphere and emotions of a place were more true and real and interesting for me than street names, real bus routes, distance between parks and shopping centres, Debenhams’ policy on shoplifters. There are Facts and ‘facts’ about a place. And the audience member said, ‘well why call it Preston at all then?’ which was a good question, and stumped me, until I realised on the way home (spirit of the staircase) that I hadn’t actually mentioned Preston by name at all in the book – just other things that made it obvious, like the name of the motorway and the river and the shape and size of our very special multi storey car-park.

Us Prestonians have got some fantastically grotty places – I’ve been revisting my memories of them to find pictures to show to the people in charge of making a film that will sum up Cold Light in four minutes or less. The only problem is that, especially in the not-grotty park, the locations of 1997 are not the same now. So not only could I never find pictures of the fictional Preston I’ve bludgeoned into existence with my keyboard, but the pictures that will appear on the film trailer will be more than a decade out of date.

I know that’s okay. I know that the trailer, the same as the book, is interested in evoking rather than describing a place. In this case, a pretend one.

But all the same, here I am making lists of  locations to film in, finding photographs on flickr and fretting because the old bandstand isn’t there any more and things in the trailer aren’t exactly going to look the way they do in the book. The only place it is real is in my head. The film trailer and the map I am making and the other bits and pieces that make use of real places and pictures to describe what it might look like are just approximations of it.

With A Kind of Intimacy, when people have mental pictures of Annie or her house that don’t quite match up to mine, I can shrug – the book is as much yours as it is mine now. She can be six foot tall for you and around my significantly-below-average height to me – it doesn’t matter too much, and the fact that the reader is the co-creator of the novel – bringing the pictures to life and using the words as their jumping off place – well, that’s what books are for, isn’t it?

Perhaps all this anxiety I’ve found in rooting about for images and trying to find the exact right picture to show the film production company what the park where Emma and Lola do their drinking should really, really look like, is just a way of not letting go, not giving the reader room to make her own pictures. And I think it’s because now it’s 2011 and the book will be published This Year and I’m getting nervous about having to let go of it whether I want to or not, and a little bit because over the past month I’ve seen parts of Cold Light become real before my eyes.

Which is unsettling.

Win a copy of Cold Light

Monday, December 20th, 2010

If you want to be the very first amongst your friends and relatives to own a (proof) copy of Cold Light, thus making them all jealous and casting the rest of your Christmas presents into the shade, you should make your way over to Bookhugger, who are running a give-away.

It’s a bit scary to think of the first copies of Cold Light making their way into the world. I’m uncomfortably aware that out there, somewhere, people are reading it.

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