Tuesday, February 27, 2007

52,236 Words

Just a note to anyone who might be following my progress: as I edit I do also update the extract available on my website, www.yorkshirewriter.co.uk in case you want to read it/re-read it.

Love A

51,982 Words

Still heard nothing about that job. Well, not nothing exactly; I heard on the grapevine that it was between me and one other candidate, and I was told it would be sorted out by the end of last week. Today is Tuesday and I still can't get any answers. I tried calling them but the woman from personnel said they couldn't be contacted and she'd make sure they got back to me. But I know local government - know it well - and I'd bet anything they're fiddling around with the hours to try and fit us both/all in, only there are so many rules and regulations that they can't just hire us, they'll still have to hire just one candidate for now, but they can create and advertise new posts and make the others apply again. I once vowed never to go back into local government; for a time I forgot why, now I remember all too clearly.

My current inability to make any kind of plans is affecting my writing. I don't seem to be able to get going, I don't feel settled. Our lives are so tightly scheduled and this web of mine so precariously flimsy: the whos and wheres and whens set down in spidery scribbles across the too-small squares of the family calendar; the thorn in my side that is a mother wanting to change our joint school-run rota, which suits me just fine the way it is; the childminder who's hanging on, waiting to see if I need her or not - not wanting to let me down, not wanting to let others down. They have no idea, the potential employers, of the stress generated by a single week of uncertainty.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Half-term hiatus

Hi, not much time for writing this week so I've been doing other things instead. I'm attending the small presses fair at Huddersfield library on 18th March so I'm hoping to be able to give out some copies of my manuscript. I know small presses don't have the wherewithall to offer anything so luxurious as an advance, but it's an opportunity I can't afford to miss. I've ordered printable CD labels and paper sleeves and I'll take half a dozen discs with me on the day.

I've also been in the process of applying for a job. I used to be a library assistant before I went to university and, for a while, I've been thinking I'd rather go back to that part-time than my other career. My other career, although well-paid, had become increasingly depressing - so depressing in fact that I didn't request maternity leave, I just handed in my notice. I didn't feel that I could enjoy my time at home with the thought of that place hanging over me: my awful, thankless job still there, waiting for me. I know I could have taken maternity leave and then not gone back at the end of it, and I'm sure I'd have been better off financially but I just couldn't bear it. Anyway, the interview was two days ago, I've had a call saying I made their short-list and they're just waiting for the last few references to come in before they make their final decision. It's only 15 hours a week, and they're funny hours so childcare is going to be difficult, but at the moment I'm writing for an hour a day (when T takes her nap) 4-5 days a week, and I'm not getting anywhere fast. I can't produce anything worthwhile in the evenings - I've tried, and I can't continue a train of thought for long enough in the daytime to really get to grips with the plot. If I work 15 hours, then I can afford to pay for childcare for the 21 hours (across 2 children) that it'll take me to work and travel back and forth, and an extra 3 hours on a Tuesday morning just for writing. It doesn't sound like a lot but I ought to get 2 or 3 more 'nap hours' each week on top of that and I'm hoping that this block of time will make all the difference. And, oh the excitement, I'll actually have about £20 a week left over! There, I've counted my chickens now so I expect I won't get it.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

51,874 Words

I'm still retracing my steps so forward progress is slow but it'll be worth it in the end.

I've been daydreaming my Desert Island Discs again. I thought I'd put them here so that I can have a good laugh if I ever do get successful enough to be invited on. Or I can cackle bitterly through my tears if I never get anywhere at all. Either way I can't remember how many songs you get - I'll do seven.

KIRSTY: "Well A, your fourth book, The Towers, set in medieval Milan, has just been nominated for the Costa and I think we can all agree that it's a far cry from the Leicester-based detective trilogy that first made your name back in 2007, tell me... were you already fluent in Italian or did you have to learn it in order to research this book?"
A: (provides witty yet succinct response, and reminds Kirsty that they actually met once, at an awards ceremony in 2003)

KIRSTY:"Why that's amazing! (of course she doesn't remember at all) Tell us about your first record."

My records:
1. Between the Bars, by Elliott Smith, sung by Madeleine Peyroux (my current favourite song)
2. Flower Duet from Lakme (the first piece of music to give me goose bumps - I remember seeing the BA ad as a child and asking "Mum, what is that music?")
3. Smells like Teen Spirit, Nirvana (the second piece of music to give me goose bumps: fifteen, house-party, bottle of Thunderbird with the top smashed off because we none of us had a corkscrew)
4. Faure's Requiem, because it reminds me equally of my late Grandad and his American cousin Gene, living 3000 miles apart they both loved this piece and both played it to me, each hoping to be the first.
5. Something by Portishead because it's so evocative of my later teenage years - a whole new sound (3rd set of goose bumps!)
6. Canon in D by Pachelbel, because we had it at our wedding, not caring in the least that everyone does. Why pretend not to love something, just to be cool? We also had Let's Stay Together by Al Green and karaoke! (We were 23 so you'll have to forgive us - it was a fun wedding though)
7. A cello concerto, perhaps Dvorak - to remind me that one day I intend to learn the instrument properly (I started at school but there was an incident with a soft cello case and a self-closing door and I was asked not to continue unless my parents bought me one of my own, which they were unwilling to do, perhaps understandably)

My book: If I could recapture the way I felt when first reading Jane Eyre, I'd probably take that but it ought to be a book I could read over and over, perhaps Midnight's Children. Actually, if it were allowed, I'd take my photo albums instead. I'm, assuming that I'm there without my children and family and I think they would be the only 'books' I could never tire of.

My luxury: my photo albums if she says they don't count as my book - otherwise chocolate.

And which record would I save? Well, if the waves are taking my stuff, chances are it's global warming and the sea will soon claim my entire desert island and me with it. So, if I'm about to die, I'll take Lakme please, with that music in my ears I could really believe in heaven.

Love A

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

51,016 Words

So many books that I've read have been ruined by badly executed sex scenes. The sad thing is that even if I enjoyed the rest of the story, it's those awful, laughable, cringe-making phrases that tend to stick in the memory. So how DO you write a sex scene without letting yourself down by using any of the following words?

- aroused, stiffened, engorged, tumescent, hard, soft, wet, creamy, crotch, caress, embrace, manhood, member, cock, etc. (and the equivalents for the female characters of course)

I'm not really sure but I'm about to have a go anyway. I hereby take the following additional and most solemn vow: in no book will I ever cause one character to christen, or speak directly to, another's genitalia (unless I am deliberately going for laughs). Perhaps I should make a proper list of the things I must try to avoid - these to be my commandments for ever more.

1. as above
2. I will not describe the exact fabric, colour and cut of my characters' clothing - it soon becomes dated and besides, it is annoying.
3. I will not moon over the handsomeness/prettiness of my characters. I will not compare their eyes to deep pools of water or flashing jewels.
4. I will not make my characters deliver speeches on my behalf, for the purposes of proliferating my political or other opinions - it's always obvious and again, it is annoying.
5. I will not use ridiculously obscure words that will send readers off hunting for their dictionaries, just to show how clever I am - I will use the words that fit, short or long.
6. I will not bring in half a dozen different regional accents because I have no other way of differentiating the personalities of my peripheral characters.
7. I will not hang my entire plot on an obscure and long-forgotten character/conversation that occurred in chapter three. Likewise I will not reveal additional knowledge in the final unveiling, that wasn't in the story and the reader could have no way of guessing.
8. I will not twist just for the sake of it.
9. I will not give my characters all the flowery (or otherwise OTT) names that I didn't dare saddle my children with: Arabella, Florianne, Violetta, Troy.
10. I will not fear cliche, no matter what some critics may write. In descriptive passages, yes, it can be just plain lazy but cliche is how people speak to each other, it is a valuable cultural shorthand and can be more real, in dialogue, than its tortured avoidance ever could.


I've been reading The Lovely Bones because I'd heard things that suggested to me that it might be similar to what I'm trying to do. I wanted to make sure that I found out in time so that I could steer myself away from my intended path if necessary. I needn't have worried. I'm enjoying the book but it isn't too similar to mine, for a start, Amelia isn't looking down on everyone from heaven or anywhere else - her influence is definitely felt by the surviving characters but the only place she lives on is in their memories of her. In fact it isn't the memory of what Amelia did or didn't do that's the point, it's really much more about how those events made the other characters feel about themselves.
Having written that and re-read it I'm actually beginning to think it could equally apply to The Lovely Bones. Well, the setting and the timeframe are both different and, although Amelia may have been killed by someone she knew, she never saw them coming so there's no element of her watching her murderer escape like there is in Alice Sebold's book. I'll have to finish reading it before I can really comment I suppose, I'm still 3/4 of the way through.
The thing I do find heartening about it though, something I had worried about, is that it's success shows that an adult audience will read a book predominantly about teenagers (as long as there's more to it than 300 pages of pubescent whining and fumbling behind the bike sheds).

Love A

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Thank you

My mum likes my writing but that's her job - it is indescribably lovely to have encouragement, unprompted, from a perfect stranger. I used to like to do competitions: poetry and short stories. It was another way of testing the waters. I was even shortlisted in one, but now I find them too distracting. I get that building up a writer's CV is considered important by agents, etc. but it's hard enough to find time for my book as it is! The blog is different. When I started my novel, it was all handwritten in a big black notebook and I used to feel compelled to make little notes in the margins about how I was feeling about the plot, the characters, the very business of writing. When I reached page 100 and started typing it all up on the computer, this seemed to be the natural alternative. I quite like the idea of its transcience - web-logging has the potential to prove revolutionary in terms of grass-roots personal history for future generations of social historians, and yet at the same time it's all just molecules of silicon in a chip in a machine, in a room, in a building, in a city. I don't even know where. It could be obliterated at any time at the flick of a switch, not to mention fire, flood...


When Beth & Nicholas Hardiman left the Saturday Guardian's Review section I was (briefly) distraught. I was slightly baffled by the whole incomplete snowman thing but I love the new 'writers' rooms' feature, it has really captured my imagination. I've been thinking that my desk is too small, and too high. Papers and pens migrate down the back of the radiator that it rests against. I spent an hour last week measuring and drawing my ideal desk and my next-door-neighbour is making it for me out of pieces of birch ply that his son brings home from his job at a printing firm. My neighbour is retired and usually makes garden furniture and rabbit hutches but lately he and I have been copying designs from catalogues for dolls' houses and toy boxes and the like. I can't wait to have it. I can't help feeling it will be lucky.

Love A

Friday, February 02, 2007

50,483 Words

I've been editing again, hence the odd word count.

A funny day, this: it's usually here that I'm a writer, rather than a mum; it's in this room that I forget about washing the PE kit and what time pottery club finishes; I forget about nappies and 5-a-day and concentrate on what's inside my head, but today the two halves of me are inseparable. My friend V has just texted me that she's pregnant again. She has one daughter, the same age as my little Tabby. I should be happy because I already have two beautiful girls. I should be happy because she is a little older than me and was semi-secretly afraid that it might not be so easy the second time around. I should be happy because I don't want another baby just yet - I want to do this, for a while longer. I should be happy because my husband's controversial vasectomy seems to have failed so at least I have the possibility of another child, at some point. I should be happy because I hope that V might ask me again to be godmother, and I have liked having that connection to V's little girl. It was just a wobbly moment, I hope, when I felt like sitting down, just where I was at the side of the road, and crying. The funny thing was the idea that consoled me: I thought to myself Well I'm on this diet now. As long as I am shrinking as she is growing, I'll feel okay. I was shocked at myself at first, and have tried to fathom the reason for this odd mode of thinking which, however strange, seems no less true to me now than when it first popped into my head. Perhaps it is that I must make a change in my life, in order not to feel stagnant, left behind, boring even; there are many possible changes: I might get a part-time job, I might even get published, but dieting is something I can control - for certain. I have heard the theory of eating disorders as responses to a world one feels one cannot control, and today I agree.