Archive for the ‘the end’ Category

Enough Is As Good As A Feast

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

I’ve decided to pack it in.

I’ve been blogging for four years (ish) now. I started because I wanted to have a place to link to the short stories I was beginning to publish in various web magazines and never expected that I would find such a welcoming community. Through this special kind of writing I’ve made friends, found work, been able to talk to my readers, hear what you think about my writing (Cheesy Peeps!) and I’ve been able, I hope, to let lots of people know about my writing who might not have heard about it otherwise.

While I’m NOT FROM MANCHESTER, the Manchester blogging and literary community in particular welcomed me with open arms, and long before A Kind of Intimacy was published I was attending reading nights, vomiting with fear, and testing out some of my earliest attempts at flash fiction and unreliable memoir. That wouldn’t have happened without blogging friends – there’s not a chance in cheese I would have plucked up the courage otherwise. There are too many of you to name, and this isn’t an Oscars speech – but you know who you are. Ta. (Not you.)

Despite my incurably sloppy spelling, tendency to post when tipsy even when I promised myself I wouldn’t, my ignorance of arcane blog etiquette and the occasional (pfft!) indiscretion, I have enjoyed blogging, and enjoyed reading other people’s blogs. A friend, Max, argued that blogging is an exhausted form and has been replaced by newer, briefer, more immediate forms of on-line communication. That newspapers have gobbled us all up. Maybe that’s not true for all of us bloggers, but I think it is for me and for Every Day I Lie A Little. The blog form might not be exhausted, but I am.

It’s always been a struggle for me, like all bloggers, to draw a line around my private and family life. I know you know my children aren’t really called Small Fry and McTiny, and my house isn’t really called Ashworth Towers. For those of you who are close to me in my real life as well as my online life, thank you, thank you so much, for indulging me and collaborating with me on keeping them apart from this world for all this time. For the persistent (two years, you weirdo) person who has been reaching this blog by trying to find out the real names of my children: I am not packing this in because of you.

I want to be more private, and the more private I am, the more insipid my blog posts become. I toyed with the idea of starting again  – anonymously, and saying what I really wanted to say. To write like I used to – without worrying about making a Career Limiting Move. But then I realised, I am saying what I really want to say. In the novel I am writing now, and in the writing projects I’m planning for the future, I am still communicating. My best writing is elsewhere. My blog writing was becoming something much less than second best. So in novels and stories and whatever else I get up to – that’s where you’ll find me from now on. Lying my head off, and letting more of the truth slip through than I’d probably like.

I’m also tired of the energy it can take to be a part of this community. To join in with the exuberant pissing contest that Manufacturing An Online Buzz about your work can be. No-one asked me to do it, and I’m sure many of you would rather that I didn’t. But I did, and now I’m finding that the energy needed to turn myself outwards, to sell and advertise and display, isn’t working well when I need to be quiet, and think, and type and delete and type some more.

And lets be honest, I can’t be the only one to notice that I’m fast running out of ways to make the writing life sound interesting. I get up, do a school run, type, do another school run, cook, eat, drink, type, read, sleep. Every Day. Sometimes it’s really hard, but you’re not allowed to say that because it’s not a proper job, and there’s lots of other people who could do it better than you, or would give their arms and legs to be in your shoes. And sometimes it’s brilliant. And you can’t say that either, because it sounds like bragging. So what is left? I type a lot. There it is.

Let’s not be melodramatic about this though.

I’m converting this part of my website to ‘News’ and will be updating, now and again, with details about events, readings, and gigs. If you want to carry on getting that sort of information, you can subscribe here. I’m hoping to move into book reviewing, and other kinds of online and print journalism. I’ll be reading and commenting on blogs, and writing posts for the Writing Smithy. If you’re wondering how you’ll get by without my ill-punctuated domestic ranting, refusal to be drawn on matters of national import, and puns about sandwiches, I’ll be on twitter and would love to carry on the conversation there.

But for Every Day I Lie A Little, it’s curtains.

Bye!

Crikey

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

So. The Launch has come and gone.

Because Waterstone’s wanted Cold Light to be in their May promotion, the publication date was pushed forward a little from mid May to the end of April. Sceptre were fearsomely and efficiently ready, but I wasn’t, and refused (other than to get rid of a couple of bottles of fizz on the 28th) to feel like the novel was really ‘out’ until the original publication date.

Last Friday, Tom Fletcher launched his new and brilliant novel The Thing on the Shore and I tagged along with the launch for Cold Light. It was everything a launch party should be and our friends from the Northern Lines Fiction Workshop – the moral-supporters, pointing-out-when-you’re-being-lazy, noticing-crap-grammar-and-lazy-characterisation, buying-you-a-pint-when-you’re-feeling-crap amazing set of friends that they are, read with us. And we got quite a bit drunk.

It was a celebration, after all.

I have been so nervous about publicity. Since January I have been shrinking (literally) and wanting to find a very small place to hide inside. A mouldy stone to slither beneath.

Which is actually a fairly good state of mind to be in when it comes to writing another novel.

I don’t know why, it just is.

Anyway.

The launch night was stuffed full (a hundred people or more, apparently, and people sitting in the fridge…) of friends, not journalists or book buyers or customers. Just friends there for Tom and me. I know that launch parties are only for the author’s ego, and do nothing for sales or reviews or anything else. But my ego has been through the wringer, and it needed it.

If you were there and you haven’t had a message from me yet – thank you. My giant, pathetic, enormous and disgusting ego thanks you.

My ego is a giant, sweaty, moist thing. Its sort of pink and glandular looking – like the inside parts from CSI-New York.

Don’t worry, haters. Tomorrow it will be shrinking back to its papery, crinkly, skeletal nettle-leaf self.

And since then there has been the first nice print review and interview / feature in The Times (behind a pay-wall so I don’t think it would be nice to quote from it here) and a kind blog review and interview from The Book Bag and something amazing about the cover and an interview at 3am and so many emails and messages.

I have been overwhelmed with terror for three months and now I am overwhelmed with whatever the opposite of that is.

I think what I am trying to say is that writing can be fairly hard work and lonely. And of course I know I am lucky to be doing it. But it takes a long time, and the chance for celebration comes along only once every two years or so – if you are slow, like me.

And I have learned this week that it is good to celebrate and feel very loved and happy that you managed to do something that didn’t seem possible. Because there will always be work and doubt and trembling and it’s nice to have a day (well, an evening) where things like that don’t matter.

Thank you, friends.

Hooray!

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

The final and proof-read-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life version of Cold Light is away to Sceptre and until the copy edits and proofs come back for me to check it is temporarily Not My Problem and that feels great. No cigars or champagne, but an almost teary sense of relief and immediately planning what I’m going to use the scant work time I have over the next couple of weeks for.

Until you see me next, feel free to join in with the discussion about the downsides of blogging that continues here, or read The Wrong Shoes – the story I wrote for Bugged. Those of you who have loads of time on your hands and money to burn might want to pop on over to Amazon, where Cold Light in all its manifestations is now available for pre-order. I’m off to do an interview with Grazia (I kid you not…)

Problematic

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

I’ve been working, as I might have mentioned once or twice (cough), on a final list of tweaks and edits to Cold Light – the last hurrah before it is off to Sceptre for them to work their magic and turn my story into a book.

The work hasn’t been extensive but it has been slow and painstaking – mainly because I want to check time-lines and continuities, (I have a chart and everything) and because it has helped me to look at the novel in an entirely different way which has involved lots more tweaking. And the fellow writers amongst you will know, once a novel is nearly finished altering one sentence in an early chapter has knock on effects and often means you need to rewrite a paragraph in a late chapter. Which is as it should be – it shows the whole thing is knitted together, is all of a piece.

I’ve already blogged a little bit about the way the first glimmers of the story for Cold Light came to me. It was similar for A Kind of Intimacy – where I had the idea of neighbours and envy and tea parties right from the very start. I like this part of writing – the inventing part seems easier. I always have lots of tall tales up my sleeve. I can create a mess of a first draft in a couple of months.

Editing is very different though. By editing I mean anything from a second draft to a seventh, and the final tweaking which I am doing now. A Kind of Intimacy was seven drafts – Cold Light has been about the same although because I don’t tend to start at Chapter One and end at the Epilogue the lines between what counts as one draft and the next are always very blurred. Editing means turning the shapeless mass of the first draft into something that runs from page one to page – let me check… 337 at last count – with some kind of drive forwards and coherence.

What has helped me this time is to think of the novel as an attempt to solve problems that were thrown up by my original idea. In my mind, it works a bit like this:

What happens if you’re always the one left out and all the interesting things are taking place when you’re at home or distracted by other, more mundane events? What happens if you desperately want to be included, but almost never are?

This translates into a problem – of telling a story where the narrator didn’t witness any of the dramatic, plotty-type things that happened. Hmmm.

What happens if the effect of one winter in your teens totally derails the course of your life? And what if that life is stunted – if you grow into an adult who still acts like a fourteen year old? What if I want to write a story about people who get stuck, who don’t change?

One of the members of my fiction group translated this into a problem perfectly – the characterisation is static, the action in this part of the book is static (to be specific, adult Lola spends a LOT of her time alone in her flat watching television) and this works against narrative, which has forward motion, is about change and development.

Hmm.

So my editing this time around has been structured by me knowing I wanted to tell a gripping story about a crime with a few spanners thrown in the works (the narrator leads a life that would be boring to read too much about and is remembering a time and a series of events that she doesn’t funny understand and didn’t fully experience).

It isn’t up to me to judge how well Cold Light has solved those problems, but it has turned into the sort of book I’d like to read. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think. (Actually, that is an out and out lie. I’ve been composing scathing reviews for myself in my head for weeks).

I know this is itself a very partial, over simplified, craft-oriented way of thinking about writing and editing and checking if a novel ‘works’ or not. It is not dissimilar to the idea of ‘plot’ being nothing more than characters overcoming obstacles to get at something they want or get away from something they don’t want. ‘Story’ as problem solving for characters and structuring a ‘plot’ as problem solving for writers. Which works as a way of thinking about stories a lot of the time, but not always. And I don’t know if it would work like this for poets. It seems to be more of a way to think about how to do a plot than how to do language.

I’m looking forward to the next novel too (no working title yet. Just Number Three). I am wondering how my very specific requirements about structure: five first person narrators all narrating, partially and unreliably, the events of one twelve hour stretch of time are going to throw up problems for me, and what tricks I need to learn to solve those problems and tell the story. I’m excited to find out. I like the realist novel. I don’t think it is dead.

Pop!

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Pop is the noise of the champagne corks popping, for yes, I have finished.

For the time being. I’m sure there’ll be edits and proof-reads and the checking of galleys somewhere along the line, and like poems, novels are probably only abandoned and never really finished. But I can’t see anywhere to make Cold Light better for the time being, which means it is time for me to stop. And be finished.

It’s a peculiar, deflating feeling. A bit blue and ‘is that it?’ when life everywhere else goes on the same.

It seems novels take me about three years. A Kind of Intimacy did, and this one, very roughly, did too. Three years. I should get some sort of certificate. It’s as long as my degree or a PhD or the hard bit of bringing up the Small Fry. And second ones are supposed to be the hardest, so that’s got to be worth something – maybe the posh organic satsumas and not the suspiciously vague supermarket brand ‘citrus’.

I’m done though. Whoop!

Going to spend this afternoon drinking tea and reading the latest issue of Bewilderbliss. I’ve a soft spot for the magazine – issue one and A Kind of Intimacy shared a launch party, I invited them to come and read from issue two at one of my Word Soups (video readings for your viewing pleasure here) and now they’ve asked me to pick a theme for issue three – which I did. Untruth. Fellow Prestonian Andrew Hurley is featured, which is excellent to see.

And then planning readings and workshops for two ‘appearances’ this month. First up, I’ll be reading and speaking at Edge Hill’s Rose Theatre this week – and may give a bit of Cold Light an airing. Seeing as it’s done, and all. And then later in the month on the 22nd together with Jen Hadfield – hosted by the Manchester Centre for New Writing. I’ll be hanging about after both these events, so if you’re a blog reader, come and say hello.

Politico Review + Interview + Cold Light Update

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Here’s another review of A Kind of Intimacy – this one from the Politico website. Shane Creevy, the reviewer, also interviewed me for the site – and if you skip past the swathes of my opining, you’ll get to the last question, where I give a sneak preview into what Cold Light is going to be like.

You might have guessed I missed my Valentine’s Day deadline. A Small Fry who was sick through half term and me being exhausted after programming and hosting two literature events knocked my plans out a little bit.

But now, I am done. I’m going to proof read, again, over the weekend, and it’s out of here on Monday.

I am pathetically excited. Second Novel Syndrome my arse!

Sophie Hannah at Ormskirk Library

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

I mentioned in my last post that things have been bedlam here in Preston. As well as racing to finish Cold Light (I’m on the dull parts of editing now… tweaking sentences and figuring out if it’s Woolworths or Woolworth’s or Debenhams or… you get the gist) I was out in Ormskirk Library at the weekend hosting an event with Sophie Hannah and Martin Edwards as part of the work I do putting on events for the Lancashire Writing Hub.

Martin Edwards unfortunatley found himself unable to join us, but Sophie read and talked to us all about her first four novels, her forthcoming novel and even her plans for her sixth – which sounds intriguing.

Sophie is a writer who I’ve been following for a while – I read Little Face when it first came out, and have since read the rest of her novels – as well as her short story collection (although not, to my shame, any of her poetry). I love the impossible scenarios that kick-start her plots and the way that mystery, secrecy and suspense are always the main narrative motors of her fiction. We read on because we want to find things out. As Sophie said in her talk, books that have mysteries in them are always far superior to books that don’t have mysteries in them. I also love the way she portrays motherhood in her work (truthfully, and without sentiment would be one way of putting it) and the fact that the women in her plots take centre stage without ever becoming crime-fiction stereotypes.

During the event, I got to ask Sophie questions and so did the audience. After hearing how she starts her novels – with an intriguing, mysterious situation she isn’t quite sure how to resolve… (what would happen if a woman insisted the baby lying in her daughter’s cot was not her own, and her husband insisted that it was… or this one here) I had to ask her if she’d ever concocted one of these opening conundrums and been unable to resolve it. Partly because I thought the audience would be interested in any bottom-of-the-drawer novels Sophie had not published, and because I wanted to know for my own writing. What happens when you get a great idea, but just can’t make it work?

She said no. Nope – no conundrums she’s been unable to resolve, because she doesn’t let herself consider that an option, and the rigour and limitations involved in writing a plotted crime novel that must resolve the situation evoked over the first few chapters is actually an aid to her creativity, and not a barrier to it. That struck a chord with me – both the confidence and the refusal to do failure, and the way that in my own experience of writing Cold Light and struggling, as I always do, with how to resolve the ending. Once I’d decided to jettison part of an idea that would not work, and concentrate on the characters and plot points that did make sense, resolving the whole thing became much easier and more enjoyable. I’ve given up a novel in the past – although in retrospect, this was because the characters and the theme quickly lost their appeal, rather than anything tricky about the plot getting the better of me. 

That’s all. I don’t do book reviews on this blog, or anywhere, in fact. What I do is recommendations. If you like dark, literate crime fiction, then you’ll probably like Sophie Hannah’s novels.

Tinkering with Cold Light

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Even at this stage, I’m still writing new material for the novel. There are two new scenes I want to write – both of which are about developing the relationship my narrator has with one of the other characters. They sit very nicely together – one taking place in 1998 in a teenage girls’ bedroom, and another happening ten years later – the middle of the night in the bathroom of a run-down studio flat.

I thought of these scenes at separate times but now I’m coming to write them I’m seeing the similarities and the ways the present works as an echo of the past. I wonder if anyone else will notice this. I mutter to myself. Three years to write it, and it takes three hours to read. I feel curmudgeonly, and carry on scribbling and underlining and typing.

The rest of it though, is tinkering. This is how I do it:

1. Take the file on my memory stick to Granthams, get it printed out two pages to a sheet of A4, landscape, and then comb bound across the top. It sort of looks like a book, but it doesn’t work like one. Wide margins, so there’s plenty of room to write. And only one side of the paper.
2. Gasp at how much the printing costs, and
3. gasp again when I realise I’ve left my memory stick in the shop.

It’s lovely though. At Granthams, they put it in a box and wrap the box in brown paper. They are politer and dishier than the lot at Staples. I pretend I’m special – that I get the box and the paper because the Granthams-printing-and-comb-binding-massive know this is a novel and not a thesis or a catalogue or a report but a novel.

There’s a certain, breathy way you should be hearing that word in your head right now. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen it printed out before, yes? We’re concerned about the environment. We work on screen and save the wasteful treat of paper until the very end.

4. I get hold of the heft of the paper in my hands for an afternoon and then I give it away and pretend it doesn’t exist.
5. I get a friend or two to read it with pens and pencils in their hands.
6. I leave it a few weeks, and do something else / earn some money.
7. (a) I pretend I’ve forgotten.
7 (b) I get (even more) bad tempered.
8. Then it comes back, dog-eared and tatty and smelling like someone else’s house and I go over it and read it myself with another pen. Scribble away. Scissors. Post-its. The Small-Fry’s Christmas Crayola Marker Set.
9. Then there’s a day or two in bed with my ego and a bag of oranges, groaning. And feeling pleased, too – because it’s big – thousands of words, and I wrote it myself.

I’m there now. It’s going to take me another four weeks or so to translate all those scribbles into the document on my computer, and write those two scenes. But when I’ve done that, I’ve done with the book.

Exciting!

Nearly There!

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Less than a week to go! This getting very near finishing the novel is exciting. If you’d like a sneak preview of what I’ve been doing with myself, you can read an extract of Cold Light here – it’s a chapter from the first third of the novel, and I’ve called it ‘Same Old’.

The editor of The Manchester Review, the poet John McAuliffe, told me that in the extract, Lola makes ‘whole family’ sound like a swear-word. There isn’t, I don’t think, any other way to say those words.

Other interesting things this month included the third meeting with my mentor. We talked a lot about my characters, and their motivations for doing the things they do. I have a very self-absorbed first person narrator, but I didn’t want her lack of interest in the people around her to mean that the other characters in the novel were pale and insubstantial. Working that out took a few long conversations and some fairly brutal rewriting – but I think I’m nearly there now.

We also talked about where to go next – and what to do once I’m finished with Cold Light. I have an idea for another novel, and some ideas for ways to make money while I write it – but I can’t have a mentor forever. I need to figure out a method for writing and living as a writer where I can hold my own hand through the tough bits and cheer myself on when it is crap and also give myself the much needed kicks up the arse, when needed. I’ve already learned some good techniques for managing my time and working out how to do a really, really big project without going mad, so I’m sure I’ll work this out too.

I wish Creative Writing MA courses covered this kind of thing. I should probably write an extra module…

I’ve been doing lots of outsidey things this month too. Readings at the Chester Literary Festival and the Liverpool Chapter and Verse festival at the very swish Bluecoats. An interview with a Swedish journalist and creative writing workshops in Morecambe and Freckleton as part of the Lancashire Library Service’s Adult Learning Festival. A Special Word Soup for National Poetry Day in Blackpool, and planning another one which will be tomorrow, in Preston – and specially Spooky for Halloween.

If you feel like seeing Jenn in the flesh, I’ll be reading (again, from Cold Light) at the Manchester Blog Awards on Wednesday, at Lancaster Literature Festival on Friday and at the Birmingham Literature Festival on Saturday. In-between, I’ll be sleeping and frantically writing.

And buying wedding shoes…

Failed Novels + Tiny Stories

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

I read this, this morning, and it got me out of a foul mood that has been simmering for about a week. I’ve also been enjoying the short short stories Emma Lannie has been writing during her September project.

I’m sick of my novel. SICK, I tell you. Oh well, back to the coal face. I don’t have a break scheduled in for another three weeks.


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