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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Carving Out Time

by Hellen Riebold

A year ago next month I gave up a job I really enjoyed in order to concentrate on my writing. The idea was that I would treat the writing like a ‘proper job’ and spend a set number of hours a day locked away at home getting my story finished. I took this decision, with my wonderful, understanding husband’s support, and, for the most part, it has worked really well.
 
Over this past year I have completed, not one but, two books, one of which we have published while the other is still with agents. I have learnt so much, not just about writing but about publishing and marketing and, most joyously, just how supportive and welcoming the writing community is.
 
It has been difficult, during the year, to remember I cannot just say yes to all the fun invites to shopping trips and coffee I get from friends and family. I make sure I get up when my husband leaves for work so I don’t sleep the mornings away, although I have to admit to allowing myself breakfast in bed on quite a number of occasions.  I have had to train myself to turn off the TV and retreat into my office to work, after all just how many wrecks of homes can you watch getting new windows, bathrooms and kitchens and then painted magnolia all for less than ten grand? (Really? How?). I have learned to ignore the phone in the mornings, telling myself if I was out at work it would have to wait till I got home and, no matter how much they beg, the dogs have to wait for their walk until I have finished my allotted hours, even if the Sun is shining. But lately one thing has got me beat.
 
Christmas!
 
How do you dedicate three hours of every day shut away in your office writing when there are 34 presents to buy, wrap and distribute, 107 cards to write and post, the house to decorate, a tree to buy, the food to organise… Shall I go on? My office is currently home to a selection of bags filled with presents, wrapped and unwrapped, an assortment of tissue paper, bows, scissors, ribbons and gift bags, not to mention the endless unfinished home-made gifts I thought I’d have loads of time to complete.  Now that we are almost there another two complications loom on the horizon too  – Christmas parties and children’s Nativity plays (I really do need to make sure any new friends don’t have children!).
 
Now I could get stressed and freak out but actually Christmas is my very favourite time of year, I love the silly films, the egg-nog and mulled wine, the delicious food, I even like the endless cookery shows on TV showing you how to make it all from scratch, they tend to make me giggle. I delight in all those Nativities and usually cry at each and every one and as for the Christmas parties, who wouldn’t want to go and watch normally sensible people let their hair down and have fun? No, when it comes to writing, the Christmas compromise is just a step too far so this is what I have decided to do.
 
Take December off!
 
I do, after all, have a very understanding boss. I am also realistic enough to know I am not going to winning a Pulitzer prize anytime soon.  So I have decided that if I get any writing done in December that will be a bonus but I am going to put my efforts into Christmas and put my carving skill to use on the turkey. I’ll probably then make a New Year’s resolution to get back into the writing which actually solves two problems doesn’t it? I think they call that a win-win, will let you know if it works.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Never “Meet” your Heroes

by Anna Buttimore

My favourite radio show (Simon Mayo on Radio 2) has a book club. Every two weeks they interview an author and invite listeners to read the first chapter on their website. Other listeners, from a pre-selected panel, have already read the book, and give their reviews. It's fascinating to find out how the writers go about researching and structuring their books (a recent featured author was Conn Igguldon who had been to Mongolia in order to get a feel for the location of his historical epic about Kubla Khan, and found it "very like Wales") and naturally you get to know quite a bit about the authors themselves.

I may be shallow, but it actually matters to me what those authors are like. I want them to be nice people. I was delighted to learn that JK Rowling had donated a vast amount of money to the campaign to find Madeleine McCann because, like the rest of the world, I love Harry Potter, and for some strange reason it mattered to me that the creator of Hogwarts was a nice person. Finding out that Enid Blyton was an adulteress and an uncaring mother has affected my enjoyment of her books, and my likelihood of reading them to my children.

Sir Terry Pratchett seemed to be just as delightfully eccentric and personable as I could have hoped and I read his books with renewed delight. And I liked Anthony Horowitz so much when I listened to his interview that I am suggesting one of his books to my book club. Barbara Taylor Bradford came across as rather aloof and unfriendly, so I won't be going out of my way to buy her books.

The biggest shock, however, was Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories books which my middle daughter loves so much she has developed a fascination with history generally. In his interview in Radio Times he was little short of offensive. He was arrogant, objectionable and at one stage dismissed a keen 11-year-old fan saying, "How dare people come to me?" He was scathing about other highly respected historians and writers, and even such venerable and admired institutions as Radio 4 and the nation's schools. Interviewer Rosie Millard, herself a venerable and admired institution, did her best to redeem him by mentioning his charity work, but from what I’d already read I loathed the man so she might just as well not have bothered.

So there are nice authors, and not-so-nice authors, and you really can't tell much about the personality of the writer by reading their book. But I really hope I can be a nice author. It's so distressing and disappointing for fans to discover that someone who had created so much reading pleasure is not deserving of their adulation.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Recycling: Good for the Planet, Good for Authors

by Michelle Cunnah

As I rewrite and edit ruthlessly what I hope will be the sixth book that I sell and have published, I got to thinking about my writing process. And has it changed over the last decade since I sold my first published novel?
 
The answer I had to give myself was no, it has not. The technology has moved on considerably, but I still find ideas and character quirks in the same ways. And characters are of prime importance to me — I love character-driven stories.
 
Some years ago I was chatting to a very famous and successful author in America (I’m not at liberty to say who!), and she told me that she recycles ideas or characters constantly that didn’t originally make it into a published novel, and even some that did. A good tip to any writer: why not reuse something that works for you? I have to confess that I do exactly the same thing.
 
So here is something I wrote a few years ago when we lived in America. Things haven’t changed that much, just the location. And the technology. . .
 
Diary of a Glamorous Writer in Cyberspace
 
Well maybe not so glamorous…
 
6.30 a.m. Monday morning. I’ve already been up for more than an hour because for some strange reason my body clock has adjusted itself and I cannot sleep far beyond 5 a.m. these days (possibly panic due to impending deadline?).
 
In that time I have (a) tidied the downstairs, (b) thrown some disinfectant into the downstairs toilet in my half-hearted quest for germ annihilation, and (c) washed and put away the dishes. Despite the fact that I bribed The Teenagers (as I collectively refer to my two children) to wash the dishes after dinner last night, the dirty crockery pile has once again mysteriously bred like crazy overnight. Where do they come from? Where?
 
I really must get the dishwasher fixed…soon.
 
But whilst in that state of half-awake limbo where actions are performed on autopilot, I have had an epiphany moment for the new book. It will include the theft of garden gnomes, superglue and…dishwashers! I just don’t know the how, yet…
 
I ignore the layer of dust on the hardwood floor and the unvacuumed rugs, and make a mental note to remind The Teenagers about the function of (a) the vacuum cleaner, and (b) dusters.
I wake up The Teenagers, reminding Teenager #2 that yes, he does have to take a shower before school. But, he explains, Teenager #1 is now in the shower and she will be ages and ages.
 
I sigh, and go back downstairs to make tea for myself and for Oh Patient One, my husband. I also make toast. I will eat breakfast whilst checking Internet news sites for interesting stories which I might be able to use in the book, thereby killing two birds with one stone. Excellent plan!
 
Teenager #1 has beaten me to the Internet computer, but at least Teenager #2 will have time for that shower…
 
7.45 a.m. The Teenagers leave for school, but not before we solved the Panic of the Missing Homework (Teenager #2), and the Panic of the I Need a Check for $25 for the School Trip Right Now (Teenager #1). Plus, Teenager #1 doesn’t feel too good. She tells me that she’ll be okay — she doesn’t want to miss school. Oh Patient One kisses me, bids me to write many pages (he lives in hope of early retirement) and trundles off to work.
 
I take my shower and pull on comfy old sweats. No one is going to see me, anyway. I scrape back my still-wet hair, and diligently apply face cream. "Wrinkle" is not a word I want to talk about any time soon…
 
9.30 a.m. 3 pages so far. Hurrah! Today is going to be a good one! Think I’ll just try for one more page before I put a load in the washing machine…oddly, my next scene includes (a) garden gnomes, and (b) a dishwasher. I’m still working on the Superglue Angle…
 
9.35 a.m. Telephone rings. I reach for the wireless phone in my office, but then remember that one of The Teenagers borrowed it a while ago, and it is now lost forever. I dash downstairs to the kitchen phone. It’s a telemarketer, of course.
 
Distracted by bronze donations of fifteen dollars, I remember my earlier intention to check for possible Internet articles. I find an old story about a Mrs. Layne (89), who passed away childless and left her entire estate, worth approximately a million dollars, to her cat Tinker (circa eight). I read another story about a cat that reached the ripe old age of 33. This cheers me enormously, and as I wish Tinker a long and happy life I wonder how I can use it…
 
10.15 a.m. I head back upstairs to work. Two paragraphs later, the telephone rings again. So again, I dash down to the kitchen to answer it because, of course, I forgot to bring it upstairs with me. It is the school nurse. Teenager #1 feels sick and can I collect her right now? Instant feelings of bad-motherly guilt for having let her go to school in the first place. Fortunately, it is winter. This means that all I have to do to make myself presentable is to put a hat over my hair, a long coat over my shabby sweats…and a bit of lipstick on my mouth.
 
11 a.m. Teenager #1 now ensconced on sofa with comforter, pillows, TV remote and hot drink. I am back in my office working on The Superglue Angle.
 
12.30 p.m. Teenager #1 is feeling worse. I call the doctor and, thank goodness, there is a free appointment if we can be there in half an hour. I change my sweats for proper clothes, and bundle Teenager #1 into the car. Doctor diagnoses strep throat. Next stop the pharmacy.
 
2 p.m. Arrive home and apply TLC to Teenager #1, before I go back to work.
 
2.30 p.m. My mother calls me to remind me that it is Mother’s Day in England on Sunday. Why it can’t be Mother’s Day on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time is a mystery to me, but I make a mental note to buy cards.
 
3.15 p.m. There is a knock at my office door, and it is Teenager #2. "What?" I ask him, totally distracted, because I’m right in the middle of a scene. He has brought me a cup of tea. I push my keyboard aside and we chat about his day.
 
4 p.m. Another knock at my office door. Teenager #2 has Jujitsu practice and cannot find a clean outfit to wear…
 
From 5 until 6.30 I devote myself to slapdash domesticity as I (a) transport Teenager #2 to and from dojo, (b) go to the supermarket for luxury items such as bread and milk, (c) call past the garage to pump air into one of my tires...suspect I have a slow flat…
 
8.00 p.m. Dinner is over. Teenager #1 is feeling a bit better, which is good news. Teenager #2 offers to wash dishes, which is lovely. Oh Patient One had his usual busy day at work and is just arriving home. As he eats dinner we chat and catch up on the day, and I whine about my latest sticky plot point. He solves it for me instantly!
 
9.00 p.m. I still haven’t caught up on e-mail, but Teenager #2 is doing vital homework research on the Internet computer and will be at least another hour…at least he’s not playing Internet war games.
 
Oh Patient One and I retire to the living room with a glass of Shiraz, and a Lord of the Rings DVD.
 
10 p.m. Am so tired I cannot keep my eyes open even to watch Orlando Bloom killing Orcs, so Oh Patient One and I retire upstairs.
 
Just as I am on the verge of sleep, I realize that I forgot to buy those Mother’s Day cards. Tomorrow, I’ll do it tomorrow…right after I get the slow flat fixed, and make an appointment to get my dishwasher mended…
 
But in between everything, I wrote ten pages. And I also know how I’m going to solve the Superglue Angle. I also know how Tinker the millionaire cat will fit in…
 
All in all, not a bad day.