Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
Wild's End by Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard, additional material by me, and Fiefdom are available. Out of Tune Vol 2 is out in May

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Day 366


As hard as it is to believe, this is the last day of the first year of my blog. It’s gone bloody quickly and some pretty big things have happened.

I do love a statistic or two, so I’m going to offer some up from the last 366 days.

I finished in the final three of the first Mslexia novel writing competition. I also met eight amazing women and made one very good friend out of the experience.

I got one lovely agent! Huzzah!

I wrote two and a half novels and some short stories.

I also wrote 315 blogs, including this one, which I realise wasn’t quite the one a day that I was hoping for, but isn’t a bad hit rate, and the total word-count for which adds up to approximately two more novels.

My blog was visited 65,000 times, which is about 206 times per blog, although the most popular blog has received 1100 hits.

Complete strangers have approached me as far away as Canada to tell me that they read the blog, which is a bit weird. It’s almost weirder that some members of my family read it.

I have plugged the blog more than a thousand times on Twitter. I call these ads ‘blogplugs’. I do it deliberately, of course, but I still get comments from people who are amused by the word, because they have misread it.

Although I intended to write about ‘writing and other stuff’, I do seem to write more about ‘other stuff’, and some of those blogs are among the most popular; they are very often the snarkiest blogs, too.

Sometimes I write about the husband, but when I do, I always make sure he reads what I’ve written before I post it; it’s only fair.

Not everyone that comments on my blog agrees with me, and sometimes the people that do agree with me do so for all the wrong reasons, but that’s OK with me.

I have come to enjoy blogging, and I intend to continue. I hope that my regular readers will continue to follow the progress of my blog, and that new readers will come along and maybe even stay for a while... But those last few weren’t so much statistics as statements, so maybe it’s time to sign off.

It’s been a pleasure! 

Monday, 28 January 2013

99 Percent Perspiration


As far as the writing goes, being in the groove is a great feeling. Getting in the zone, writing for hours without noticing, the words spilling out without having to give them a second thought, focusing on nothing but the page is an amazing feeling.

That’s when I feel unstoppable. That’s when I feel as if I’m producing my very best work. The spirit is moving me, the muse is doing her thing, and all is right in my writing world.

This past week has not been like that.

This past week I’ve been struggling with a story. I’ve been scratching it out a paragraph at a time, and then working over the thing a sentence at a time to try to build a rhythm and a pace and get the thing working. It has been agony. I don’t know whether I’ve ever found a job quite so tricky.

Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t that I haven’t enjoyed it, and it isn’t that I didn’t know what I was doing. I had a plot, characters, a word count and deadline to work to. It was my usual job of work, and it shouldn’t have posed any problem I haven’t come up against before, but, somehow, it did. Somehow, I had the feeling that this wasn’t up to my usual standard, that somehow this story wasn’t really all that good.

Working with the husband is great fun, but it also adds an extra layer of pressure; there’s a lot to live up to when you collaborate with someone who has the sort of reputation that he has. I love it, but I also have a certain amount of trepidation about it. When it goes well, it gives me great confidence, but this wasn’t going well.

Eventually, of course, I had to show my efforts to the husband. He’d shown me his, and I had to show him mine; that’s the way it works.

It turns out that the best stories are not necessarily the ones that come most easily, after all.

The husband loves my story. He even said he thought it was my best so far.

I’ll take that.

It’s a good feeling, being praised, and I enjoyed it for all of five minutes, because it’s left me with the smallest problem. I never really minded the work when it was tough, when I did battle with it, because that was the price I paid for the ‘good’ days, but what if my ‘good’ days aren’t really that good? What if my rough days are my best writing days, after all?

That throws a whole new light on my writing life, and I’m not entirely sure what to think about it. I guess the only way to think about it is positively: my ‘good’ days are good for me and my ‘bad’ days are good for the work, but most of my days are somewhere in between, and isn’t that pretty much the same for all of us?

Yeah... I’m guessing it probably is. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

First Cup of the Day


I had to make my own cup of tea first thing this morning... OK, so it wasn’t actually first thing. Usually, the husband brings me a cup of tea before I am fully conscious, because he’s the early riser in our house, and I’m the night owl, so he gets a couple of hours of peace and quiet first thing in the morning and I get a couple last thing at night. We also work in different rooms, but, other than that, we share the same spaces; we move in each other’s orbits all day, every day.

Except...

Except, this week, the husband is doing a tour of schools to promote Dragon Frontier for Puffin, so, this week, not only is the husband out for five long days, he’s also away for two long nights, and that means I have to make my own cups of tea on those mornings. It’s weird.

Of course, most of you who have a live-in partner, whether you’re married to him (or her), or not, would balk at the idea of living and working with him, at being in the same environment, at making two cups of tea whenever the kettle goes on, at sharing every meal, at having intimate knowledge of each other’s projects, working practices, foibles. Most of you would think it very odd, and, perhaps it is. 

I do not know whether we have achieved a greater intimacy because of this strange connection or whether our private life is somehow compromised because of it. I do not know whether it is healthy. I do not know whether those who know us, who see us together or who monitor the work we collaborate on have an opinion on any of this, but if they do, they’re wise enough not to offer it.

I do know that life is still full of surprises, professional and personal, and I know that things grow and change between us. I know what I have known for a very long time: I know that, for whatever strange reasons, this works for us.

This week will be strange, but I will work, and I will eat and sleep, although probably not terribly well. I will have supper with family, and I will do the things I need to do. The differences will be small. I will make my own cup of tea in the morning, and when I put the kettle on it will be for one cuppa instead of two, and I will eat most of my meals alone. I won’t pine, though, and I won’t be on the phone to the husband every five minutes. I won’t weep into my solitary cups of tea. I will simply go about my business, and hope that he goes about his, and has a happy productive week.

On the other hand, I am rather looking for to next week and a return to normality and my regular early morning cuppa. Did I mention that I make dreadful tea?

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

To Sleep...


I’ve never been much of a sleeper. Even as a child, I struggled to sleep, with all the junk whirling around my head, keeping my mind too busy for the good stuff.

In my teens it wasn’t so bad. The young are tough, and who needs sleep when you can be partying? Besides, isn’t that what Sunday mornings are for? Most school nights I’d be up reading ’til three or four in the morning and struggle out of bed at the last minute, never quite late for school. In my twenties with two babies my sleeplessness stood me in good stead. My oldest dort woke every couple of hours all night until she could read herself to sleep, and she never really napped, either. So, like mother, like daughter, I guess. 

By my thirties I had more of a routine, and I honestly believed that if I could only get five hours sleep a night, fairly regularly, I could do anything. I was probably kidding myself.

I believe it’s been five nights since I last slept anything like five hours, and I feel a little dull, a little woolly in the head. I don’t feel stressed or particularly tired, and I don’t feel snappish or ragged or strung out. I’d like to sleep, and I know that I will... eventually.

Finally, in my forties, I learned that there is only one way to deal with a lack of sleep, and that is to relax, and to get as much rest as humanly possible. I try not to think about the sleep I am not getting. I try not to clock-watch, I try not to become anxious. I keep my routine just as it is. I go to bed at the same time, and I get up at the same time, and I resist napping. I have books on my little i-pad so I don’t have to turn on a light and wake up the husband, and I have a mini-dvd player on my nightstand with earbuds, loaded with old favourite tv shows on dvd, nothing I haven’t seen before, and nothing too exciting, and I watch that. I might get up and make a hot drink, never caffeinated, but I don’t turn on lights, because it’s still night time and I don’t want to stimulate myself into activity.

I might not be able to sleep, but I can have some peace and quiet, and I can rest, and that has a value all of its own. One day, soon, the sleep will return, and I’ll feel great again for a little while. There’s no way to catch up; lost sleep is lost forever, but I don’t have to be stressed about it. This too shall pass.

Wish me luck for tonight.

Friday, 18 January 2013

I Love my Reading Group!


I joined my local reading group last spring and, despite my busy schedule, I’ve only missed one meeting in the time that I’ve been going. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect at the outset, but I suppose it doesn’t differ very much from any other group in any other town in the UK.

We are mostly women and mostly over forty, but we have men and younger members, too, although we don’t have a young male member. We nominate books and then vote on them, and we read whatever wins the vote. Then we meet up and talk about what we’ve read.

There’s no requirement to actually read the book; it isn’t homework, and one of us rarely finishes anything, because one of us is fastidious about reading choices, and that's fair enough.

I tend to read through most books, not least because many of them are not reading choices that I would make for myself, and while I find fault with a lot of them, there have been one or two gems among them, too.

What’s fun, for me, about the group, is that we’re usually divided in our appreciation for a novel. As a rule, we fall into two camps, even though, and this might seem strange, it isn’t always the same people in those camps.

When one of us hates a book that another one of us loves, things really get going, and we can ramble on for an hour or more about the pros and cons of a read, and even get quite heated about it. I know I can.

We’ve had some fascinating conversations about love and life, art and morality, and I’ve met, and I hope made friends with, people that I would never have known under any other circumstances. Some of us are even talking about starting a pudding club, staying on after book club to eat pudding, since we meet in a pub restaurant; sounds like a plan to me.

Then there’s the downside.

When we all agree on a novel, when it’s universally like or universally disliked, we tend to have very little to say about it, and that’s OK, except, last night, I was really looking forward to book club because I loved, “Any Human Heart” by William Boyd, and I was looking forward to fighting my corner on the subject. I didn’t get the chance.

It would have been fine if everyone else had been as enthusiastic as I was, but they weren’t. Everyone else liked it well enough, thought it was fine, enjoyed it while they read it, but they weren’t blown away by it. They didn’t register the subtlety of the structure, the building of layers, the detailing of the minutiae, the deliberateness of the writing style.

All my enthusiasm went for nought, and I began to wish that someone in the room had hated the novel so that I could champion it.

Never mind. I suppose there’s always next time to look forward to... I wonder whether I’ll love or hate February's offering.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Superstition and Ritual


Lots of creative people I know, including writers, are religious in some way, and those that aren’t seem to be superstitious, or, at the very least, they employ rituals of all sorts to get them through their daily lives.

The husband is a man of rituals. I am not privy to them all, because his office is his private space, and I tend not to intrude, but the biggest of them involves a massive tidy-up at the beginning of each new major project. Two or three times a year everything is dragged out and re-ordered. Old research is boxed up and archived or recycled to the second hand bookshop if it is very specialist and unlikely to be re-used, notebooks are collated, sacks of documents are shredded or burned, and the blank slate is reinstated. Then the ritual data-accumulation begins again in ‘the box’ as a new project, often a novel, unfolds.

I don’t accumulate, except for a note here or there, a line or two jotted down. I’m easily overwhelmed by research material, so I glean and cherry-pick and move on quickly. The husband surrounds himself with lead figures of superheroes or space men on his desk, with post-it notes on ever surface, with piles of books cracked open and spread facedown one on top of another. I lift a detail and return the book to its shelf. I jot down a note on a legal pad and stash it in my desk. I don’t make the graphic or the book jacket for my latest story my desktop wallpaper, as he does, I pop it in a folder on my desktop and leave my screen black.

Then there are the OCD things: the order the husband opens the mail in, or how I move across my open tabs or refresh pages or save documents. There’ s his pacing and my utter stillness. There’s the fact that he talks for hours on the telephone, and I avoid using it at all and any cost.

We are different the husband and I, when it comes to so many things.

On the other hand, we are hopelessly alike. We share a hopeless addiction to Moleskine notebooks, Mont Blanc pens, Yellow legal pads (perforated across the top), all things Apple, and to vévés, amulets, good luck charms. We aren’t fussy. They can come from any creed, any culture, any religion, any superstition; we are as at home with horseshoes as we are with crosses, as comfortable with a four leafed clover or Hamsa charm as we are with a star of David or a prosperous fish.

Creative people do all kinds of things for security, for comfort and for luck, and I’m tempted to think that we’re born that way. As a very small child, so small that I don’t remember the first time I did it, I would insist on taking my new shoes to bed with me. As an adult, I still keep my shoes boxed, no matter how old they get. 

I also smell my husband’s head, but perhaps that’s a confession for a whole other kind of blog.


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

There’s organised... and then there’s ORGANISED!


I have to be fairly organised. There are lots of good reasons why this is important. Some of those reasons are to do with the fact that I have to be self-motivated. I don’t clock in. I don’t work to anyone else’s timetable. No one knows or cares whether I’m working or not, but if I don’t work I don’t get paid, so I have to put in the hours.

The husband works a lot and we live in our house twenty-four/seven so we also make more mess indoors than most people who go out to work make, so, in theory, there’s more housework to do too. To be fair, the housework will still be there when I get around to doing it, and we’re pretty clean, tidy, do-it-as-you-go-along sort of people, and it’s all a lot simpler since the kids left home; nevertheless, it does all have to be organised. 

There are layers, though. For example, I box my shoes, and that includes shoes that are, I don’t know, ten+ years old, and I iron just about everything, except socks. I always put the lid down on the loo and I always close the internal doors on the ground floor, except for Dan’s office if he’s in there and he’s left it open, and the drawing room if it’s occupied. On the other hand, if the hoovering gets missed, it’s not the end of the World.

Then, there’s work.

I have very little trouble getting up and getting on. I have a basic routine that I follow. I work fairly regular hours, and, within those hours I do fairly regular amounts of work. The spirit doesn’t have to move for me to be able to write. If it has to be done, it has to be done, and I find a way to do it. I have good days and bad days, of course I do, but the basics are in place.

My problem, and, honestly, it isn’t so much a problem to me as it is to my poor editors. My problem is that I don’t plan. I don’t even know if I can plan, not really... At least not in detail.

Writers of tie-in fiction are often asked to plan fairly thoroughly. It is quite important, often, for an editor to know, fairly precisely what is going to happen in a novel, especially if it is one in a series that involves continuity of place, time, characters or other elements. I get that. I honestly get that.

My problem is that I don’t quite seem able to see that far into the future, not in any real detail.

I can imagine a basic plot, and, some of the time, I can stick to it, but all the amazing ideas I have along the way that are generated by the work are what really excite me about any writing project. When it comes to a short story, it’s not so bad, of course; how far is it really possible to stray? But give me 80 or 90 or 100 thousand words to play with and anything can happen between A and... well... that’s the point, because if it’s flash fiction not much can happen between A and B. If it’s a short story, getting to C or D might allow for a detour or two, but with a novel, if I’m going to get all the way to Z, which heaven knows, I might, I could end up in Timbuktu for all I know.

Thank God I’ve got a modicum of discipline... Just enough, I hope, to tame the beast, rein in the madness, enjoy the journey and make the most satisfying detours. It can be a hell of a ride. I only hope that I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Research suggests...


I love newspaper articles that start with those words, or with words like them. 

For one thing, I like to know what money is being spent on in our education establishments, and for another, I like to know what our lovely academics are hyposthesising about, because it seems to me that nine times out of ten, they’re trying to prove what anyone with an ounce of common sense has already deduced, not that those things aren't worth verifying, you understand.

I read an article that started like this in the weekend papers. Apparently, a lively little band at Liverpool university has proven that reading Shakespeare lights up the brain, but reading the work ‘in translation’ doesn’t have the same effect.

First of all, I must take issue with that expression, ‘in translation’. Shakespeare wrote in English, for crying out loud, and suggesting otherwise is misleading. It makes it appear as if Shakespeare’s work is somehow alien, doesn’t belong to us, isn’t something we can identify or empathise with. If we start saying that, our kids will have even more trouble studying it than they already do, and, let’s face it, plenty of them struggle with it more than perhaps they ought. By ‘translation’, the article meant re-written in straightforward, contemporary English.

As I understand it, what those nice people at Liverpool University are suggesting is that if you dumb down Shakespeare the neurological and possibly the intellectual response you’ll get will also be dumbed down. I’m tempted to think that this stands to reason.

The more you stimulate the brain, the more it will work to assimilate, to understand, to respond to the challenges that you offer it. The harder the brain works, the more neural pathways are set up. Of course, it’s a good idea to offer those challenges in a sensible order. For example, you might want to teach a child to read, and then build up its reading and comprehension age before offering it the challenge of Shakespeare, because it’s probably going to be too much for your average seven year old.

Naturally, that doesn’t mean that Shakespeare should be considered too difficult. Some people might never respond well to the challenge, some might not want to, but that’s no reason not to expect everyone in school to have a crack at it, because we all benefit from growth in the minds that are stimulated and the greater understanding they reach when offered more challenging material. 

There has been a tendency in our learning environments to offer material that is more accessible to a wider range of abilities, and I believe that’s a mistake. I believe that we should have a broader ranger of expectations and deliver a broader range of material. Of course we should not leave anyone behind in our education system, but that includes the more able and the more motivated. We must stretch those minds at the top of the curve. We mustn’t let them languish. 

The brightest and the most able have special needs too, the kinds of special needs that Einstein and Churchill and Picasso had, the kinds of special needs that the great and the good, the powerful and the brilliant have always had. They need to be nurtured perhaps more than ever, and, right now, I wonder if our system is doing that as well as it might.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Youth Culture


So... Bowie!

As I understand it, and I’ve only caught snippets of this news, because, frankly, I’ve been pretty busy with my own creative output, Mr Bowie has released his first new single in ten years to celebrate his sixty-sixth birthday. 

This seems to have set up some sort of hue and cry.

I haven’t heard the new song, although I might just saunter over to YouTube after I’ve written this and check it out. Who knows? I might even post a link to it, so that any of you who might not have heard it can check it out too, and, if I like it, who knows, I might even post it on this is my jam. (I do so love this is my jam; in fact, I love it so much that I wrote about it on this blog.)

Right... back to business. Forgive me, but I do not understand what all the fuss is about. I am not surprised that Mr Bowie has written and recorded a new song at the age of sixty-six. If anything, I am more surprised that he appeared to stop writing new songs as early as his middle fifties, if it is true and he hasn’t written a new song in ten years.

Aren’t we supposed to get better at what we do with age and experience? Doesn’t practice make perfect? When asked, don’t I continue to tell budding writers that the way to get any good at this thing we do is to write every day and read every day and keep doing it until something half-decent emerges?

We used to call the early work of any creative type ‘juvenilia’, and there was a reason for that. Artists, by which I mean all creators, would regularly destroy early or sub-standard work rather than have their weaknesses exposed to the public. Now, I see pages from the sketchbooks of well-known artists mounted and sold that would never previously have seen the light of day, and it seems horribly cynical to me. At the other end of the spectrum I see writers who cannot find representation self-publishing everything they produce rather than work at their craft until they have something that is fit for public consumption.

There are no filters any more.

Mr Bowie came up through the ranks the old-school way, because he had talent and drive, because he worked long and hard to produce good work, and because, let’s face it, other than the ‘casting couch’, there was no other way to come up through the ranks. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that he was easy on the eye and that some of his work was controversial, but he took those risks. Hard working, talented people don’t fade out at thirty or forty or fifty-five or ever. It doesn’t matter what field they’re in, they move with the times, they reinvent, they lead in their fields, and they never stop learning and they never stop creating.

It is nothing for a man of Mr Bowie’s talents to write and record a new song at sixty-six after a career spanning five decades, why should it be?

For goodness sake, people, we’re not talking about bloody “New Direction” for crying out loud!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

This Year’s Diary


I’ve tried to keep journals in the past, but I’ve never managed to keep much more than an appointment diary or calendar.

I don’t know why. I don’t know whether I’ve been too busy living life, or whether I’ve just thought that life was too dull, although those two notions seem somewhat contradictory; I don’t know whether there’s a sort of self-consciousness attached to recording my own life that I don’t feel at all when it comes to recording my daft ideas in the form of stories, but I’ve never successfully kept a journal.

This New Year I thought about it again, and, as of a couple of days ago, I realised that it was utterly redundant, because, as of a couple of days ago, I realised that I was writing on this blog the sorts of things that I might have written in a journal, the kinds of ideas, thoughts, almost private little rants and snarks that I might have consigned to the pages of a little book, never to be read by anyone... ever.

And that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?

Why write a journal or a diary if no one’s ever going to read it?

I’m just as self-absorbed as the next person, I really am, but I’m not introspective. I’m a storyteller, and, basically, that means I want to share. Keeping a journal is too private, too insular, too isolating an activity for me, and, looking back, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that it was something that I was never really able to keep up.

Some writers, particularly in the past, kept very good, even positively fascinating, diaries, but I wonder if at least some of them did so with a view to eventual, possibly posthumous, publication. I wonder, if I’d had the foresight and the intent, whether I might have been more successful at keeping a journal if I’d thought of it as a publishing exercise. Of course, there’s the possibility that if I’d gone that route my entries might not always have been entirely honest.

I did write letters, as a young woman; when I was at university, and dating the husband, we kept up a regular correspondence by mail. Those were the days when, if we wanted to actually talk to each other, I had to queue up for the pay phone and feed it with ten pence pieces. It was expensive, and standing in a bloody phone booth, even in the halls of residence, wasn’t conducive to private, romantic calls, especially when the husband was speaking to me from his parent’s hallway, sitting on the stairs. Of course, there was no such thing as e-mail. Those letters were honest and romantic, and full of the details of our lives. I wonder if they’re a sort of diary? I wonder if they tell an interesting story? I wonder if they might be published one day? I must read them all again and see what wonders they contain.

In the meantime, while this blog started out as a comment on writing it has become more than that to me, it has become a repository for my thoughts, and a very useful journal-substitute.

I do hope that doesn’t put you off reading it, and I promise that, once in a while, I really will talk about writing... properly.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Grunt Work


Every writing project, whether it’s flash fiction, a short story or any piece of longer fiction all the way up to the novel series has a cast and a location, or in some cases a whole set of locations, and it has stuff in it; it has props and catchphrases; it has personalities and business; it has landscapes and settings and all kinds of things: stuff and things as we have come to call them.

You might have read my recent blog If Memory Serves, and, if you have, you’ll know just how much trouble I have remembering stuff, right down to the names of all but my major characters. So you can also imagine me trying to remember the eye colour of a minor character, whether he is left handed, how many brothers he has, his address, occupation, his wife’s name, or, indeed, whether I have ever mentioned any of these details.

Of course, you might also be able to imagine the trouble I get into when I decide to write a second or third story involving the same characters and locations. How the hell am I supposed to know what their verbal ticks were in the first tale, or what sort of watch they wore, the colour of their trousers or their cat, or which side they parted their hair on.

The truth is, obviously, that I’m not going to remember that stuff. How the hell am I supposed to know whether the second housewife on the left preferred to wrap her husband’s sandwiches in foil or put them lovingly in Tupperware? How?

I’m not going to remember! I’m simply not!

That’s why I spent most of this week re-reading a novel I wrote some time ago, using various coloured text liners to separate characters from locations, and creatures from things, and that is why I then opened a series of spreadsheets on my computer so that I could unravel all that information, sort it, collate it and manage it.

When I come to write the next book, very soon, I will have all the information I need right there at my fingertips, and all the hard, dull work that I have done will have been worth it. To be fair, it was worth it to read the book again... I’d forgotten it, so I was able to come to it with a fresh eye; fortunately, I thought it was really rather good.

There is just one small drawback. 

I do wonder what slipped through the net. I do wonder what I missed. I do wonder what will come back to haunt me. I do wonder what that small detail will be. Could it be that I thought it would be amusing to call a little boy Shirley or Valentine or Tracey, and I now assume that character is, in fact, a little girl? That’s the problem, you see... There’s bound to be something, and you can bet your life that I won’t know what it is until it’s all too late.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Proud Much!


Today, I found out that the husband has had two honourable mentions in the Publisher’s Weekly Graphic Novel Critic’s List. He was mentioned for his work on "Kingdom: Call of the Wild" for 200AD and for "New Deadwardians" with I.N.J. Culbard for Vertigo.

It might not sound like much to you, but, trust me, it’s a pretty big deal.

Publisher’s Weekly is a prestigious magazine. People take it seriously. Graphic novels are not taken terribly seriously. Comics are a business, for the most part, and not an art form. Comics are for kids and geeks. They’re for fun. They’re throw-away culture, not high culture. 

There are, of course, obvious exceptions to this rule. Certain comics have been taken seriously over the years, and very good some of them have been, too. I’m suspicious that the term ‘graphic novel’ was coined for the purposes of separating all kinds of stories told using serial art from people’s expectations of comics, which generally mean the sort of superhero books produced by DC, Marvel and others.

There’s a lot of snobbery about comics, and about tie-in fiction, which is the husband’s other speciality, but he isn’t a snob. He’s a damned fine writer. He’s clever and funny, and he’s conscientious, and he does what he does about as well as anyone else doing what he does, right now.

He’s prolific, too, and he writes in a number of arenas. The husband doesn’t just write comic books, he writes novels, too, and computer games and audio-dramas; in fact, he’s been a New York Times bestseller in four different categories.

It seems to me, though, that all the real accolades go to people who can only do one thing, and who can only do the thing that they want to do. It seems to me that while the husband works hard to produce stuff that an audience will love others simply produce the stuff they love in the hope that it might find an audience.

I’m not making any kind of judgement call. I’m not saying for a moment that the husband doesn’t love what he does, because I know that he does love it. I’ve also never heard him complain, not once, that he hasn’t been recognised for what he does, because let’s not pretend that he isn’t paid, and even paid well for his work, and let’s not pretend that his fans don’t show their appreciation in spades.

It is work, though, and some of it’s damned good, even Publisher’s Weekly is prepared to admit that, and, even though he’s happy to do a job and enjoy it, and be paid for it and move on to the next job, I’d like to see a little more recognition. 

I’d like to see the husband raise a trophy or open an envelope, or win an industry prize, once in a while, and not just him, but others like him, who work hard to give the fans what they want, who deliver, year-in and year-out, who maintain a standard that is rarely recognised.

I’m proud of the husband every bloody day, and I hope that he knows it, but I also admire what he does more than I can tell, because I’ve done it too, and, trust me, it’s no where near as easy as writers like the husband make it look! 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

If Memory Serves


As a kid, I soaked up stuff like a sponge... All kinds of stuff, any kind of stuff; sometimes I still surprise myself with the odd bits of very specific knowledge I accumulated along the way, usually when I happen to overhear a quiz question on the telly, or when I’m playing Trivial Pursuit with the kids. I even remember the once dort proclaiming, “Mummy, you know EVERYTHING!”

I do wish it was still possible to impress my grown-up children, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Anyway, somewhere along the line, sometime around having the children and becoming domesticated, I lost that capacity for simple, unconscious information gathering. Then, sometime around the point at which I was doing a decent amount of editing, I actually taught myself to let go of things, to shove them out of my head to make way for new stuff. You can’t have the old book and the old rules in your head when you begin a new one with an entirely new set of rules; it just makes things too difficult.

Of course, I’m now approaching middle-age (and you people at the back can stop sniggering, thank you very much), and I appear to be stuck with the legacy of those years working for other people. I appear to be utterly incapable of remembering anything. I still do first edits on everything the husband produces, and, once done, I can’t remember the details of any of his books; damn it, I can’t remember the plots, either, or the names of any but the most major characters.

Yesterday, I sat down to begin a new story of my own, and, yes, you guessed it, it follows on from a story that I wrote a year or so ago, and could I remember what the hell happened in it? Well, sort of. I couldn’t remember the order or the detail, and, yes, you guessed it again, I couldn’t remember the names of any but the key characters, either.

So, I gave up... Not on writing the new story, but I did give up on trying to remember; I gave up on trying to remember, and I pulled up the old story, and I sat down and read it.

Obviously, this takes time and energy, and it shortens my writing day, and there is an element of frustration and even worry attached to the idea that I can’t even remember my own work. Am I going senile? Do I have early onset Alzheimer’s? That sort of thing.

There is, however, an up-side.

There is something pretty amazing about coming to your own work with a truly fresh eye. There is something lovely about reading something you know that you wrote as if it was written by someone else, and when you like it, when you think it’s good stuff, when the prose is well-paced and the characters are compelling it really does put a smile on your face, I can tell you.

It certainly put a smile on my face, and it really gave me the impetus to begin this new story. Talking of which...


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Self-Taught


I was bibbling down my Twitter feed this morning, in my usual haphazard fashion, half-wondering what on Earth I was going to blog about today when I came across someone talking about learning a new skill.

I was impressed. I’m always impressed by that sort of thing. I’m lazy by nature, and I prefer to do the things that I’m good at, so it’s a while since I learned to do something new, and that’s not a state of affairs that I’m at all proud of. 

I was left wondering, though. I was left wondering when I realised that the tweeter planned to teach herself this new skill. I see this from time to time; I see ‘teach yourself...’ adverts, and I hear about people being self-taught artists or musicians or whatever, and I am mystified.

How does one teach oneself to do something one doesn’t know how to do?

Obviously, I realise that it is possible to learn to do something purely mechanical by following instructions. I am, I suppose, a self-taught touch-typist, having learned from a manual using my mother’s old typewriter with the keys covered in sticky labels, when I had the chicken pox as a kid. I doubt that I am the kind of expert touch-typist that came out of the best secretarial colleges in the fifties and sixties, but that doesn’t matter much for my purposes, and ninety words a minute isn’t bad.

Most things, in my experience, aren’t purely mechanical, though; I’m not utterly convinced that touch-typing is, if I’m honest.

Some people have a natural capacity for something, a talent, a flair, I suppose, and that must help, but where do skill and talent and mindset meet and overlap to make someone an artist or a musician, and is it really possible to be self-taught and be really, properly proficient, or even good at something?

I suppose that’s where I expose myself, because, as I said somewhere up there, I prefer to do the things that I’m good at. I guess I’m competitive. I guess, for me, there wouldn’t be much point playing the piano if all I could ever do was pick out a tune and plonk away at it like an amateur. I just don’t do that stuff for fun. Of course, lots of people do, and they should, and I wish them all the fun in the World, and I wish them joy of their hobbies.

Me? I’d have to get a teacher, and I’d have to practise for hours on end, and I’d become obsessive, and it wouldn’t be any fun, and, sadly, that’s just the way it is.

Of course, there is an exception, because art is fun for me, or, at least, it sucks me in and chews up hours of my time without me noticing, and I never seem to get any better at it, and I never seem to produce anything that’s worth very much to anyone but me. I do love the process, though. I do love being in my head. I do love testing my skills... The skills that my teacher has taught me, because I really couldn’t have learnt the few meagre skills that I have managed to acquire from a book or a dvd, and I do love immersing myself in the act of drawing and painting, and looking at the subject.

When they are wonderful, and many of them truly are, teachers are the most wonderful people in the World, and it seems such a pity to miss out on what they have to offer. So, if you do want to learn something new, and your resources are limited, there’s nothing wrong with trying to teach yourself from books or dvds, or whatever resources you can get your hands on, but why not try to get a recommendation and treat yourself to an hour with a real   
teacher, because, in my experience, they’re worth their weight in gold.
  

Monday, 7 January 2013

Red-Faced!


Not for nothing, the people I most admire in the World are those least easily embarrassed... No... It’s true.

Of course, it’s not universally, true, I don’t admire the sort of utter ass-hats who go through life treating people badly, riding rough-shod over their feelings by embarrassing them in public and not giving a damn about any of it. 

No, I’m talking about the sort of people who can let loose with an utter lack of inhibition, in whatever they do, who can dance as if no one is watching, without the crutch of inebriation, who can throw back their heads in abandon and laugh with their whole bodies, who can  recognise when they’re wrong and make unapologetic amends rather than bluster or try to cover their tracks.

Those are the people I most admire, and that is the sort of person I would like to be.

I’m not sure, as I’m often not sure, whether this sort of thing is down to nature or nurture. I’m not sure whether a person is like that because he is born to be or because he is made to be, but whichever it is, I wish I had a bit more of that particular quality or character trait. I wish I was less inhibited. I wish I cared a little less what other people thought. I wish I didn’t embarrass quite so easily. I wish I could let loose a little more freely and a little more often.

It strikes me that the less inhibited a person can be, the more she is likely to be able to live in the moment... in the present, and, as far as I can tell, that’s where all the good stuff is.

Of course, I’m not entirely buttoned down and clammed up, and hamstrung. Of course, once in a while, I do throw caution to the wind. It almost always happens entirely by accident, and I catch myself, unawares, thrilled or moved by something, or transported by a feeling that I didn’t look for or wasn’t expecting. Then, everything stops, everything stands still and I am transported.

I love those moments; they give me some of the purist pleasures of my life, but I have to beware. I have to beware that I don’t think about them too hard afterwards, that I don’t deconstruct them too thoroughly, because, who knows what embarrassments they might contain? Who knows what madness in them lies?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Blog 300!


Wow! I’ve written 300 blogs! Or at least I will have by the time I reach the end of this one. Coincidentally, I also happen to be writing this one on the morning after I finished writing my sixth novel in three years, and that’s not bad going either.

This latest novel has been something of a departure for me, in more ways than one.

To begin with, I haven’t written a novel like it before, not in subject matter, tone, theme, content or anything else for that matter, and, what’s more I had never before thought about writing in this particular genre. 

This novel is such a departure for me, in fact, that I’m not going to divulge the genre, the title or my latest pseudonym... not yet, anyway.

Having written this book, and having enjoyed writing it, albeit there were some hugely demanding technical issues to overcome, I do hope that I’ll get the chance to write more books in this genre. In fact, don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got the sequel mapped out already, and an outline for book iii. Yes, I know it’s wishful thinking, and I’m probably jumping the gun, but I have great faith in my lovely agent; she can work all kinds of magic.

I had a blast researching this novel, and an even bigger blast writing it, and I can’t help thinking that really ought to translate to the reading experience.

I am not naturally funny. I can remember the punchline to precisely two jokes, but when I come to tell them, I generally mess up the lead-in, and yet, somehow, I have managed to make all three of my beta-readers laugh with this novel... out loud, apparently. I have made them laugh and cry, and once or twice I have made them sigh and even wince.

My readers, poor jaded souls, who generally read whatever comes to them in the order that it arrives, have been turning the various chunks of this book around remarkably quickly. I’ve been getting comments back, sometimes, within hours of sending the latest chapters... They really must be keen! They’ve also been talking about my MCs as if they are living, breathing souls.

I only finished the novel last night, and within two hours one of my beta-readers was clamouring to know the plot of the second book. So, clearly the cliffhanger works too!

Finally, I feel as if I’m doing something right... Finally!

So, this weekend, I’m celebrating... I’m celebrating reaching my 300th blog and finishing my 6th novel, and I’m doing it by prep-ing the book for sending to my lovely agent on Monday. I hope she likes it, and I really hope she can sell it.

In the meantime, tomorrow’s another day. Honestly, it’s a Sunday, and I might just take the day off. So... Monday’s another day, and that means the start of a new project, and I know exactly what it is, and it couldn’t be more different from the last book. In the end, I reckon that’s a big part of what makes all of this worthwhile, because I know that I shall enjoy the next project every bit as much as I enjoyed the last, but for very, very different reasons.

Friday, 4 January 2013

New Year’s Resolutions


Oddly, this year, I haven’t heard anyone talking about New Year’s resolutions very much. I certainly haven’t talked about them.

There’s nothing wrong, per se, with wanting to change or with wanting to do better. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to give up a bad habit, or modify one’s lifestyle; we could probably all use a little more moderation in our lives, except for those of us who could use a little more liberation, of course.

New Year’s resolutions seem so alien to me, though. 

Take dieting for example: In the depths of the winter, in the coldest, darkest, most miserable time of the year, when all the fun has been had, and there’s nothing much to look forward to, except for more cold, more darkness and a lot more wet, before the spring finally shows up some time around May, should we really expect so much of ourselves? Should we really expect to forego, to give up the things that actually keep us going through the most miserable season of the year.

There is a reason that lettuce grows in the summer and turnips grow in the winter. There are vastly more sugars and starches and calories in a turnip, and you can, in fact you’d be advised to, eat it, steaming hot! The land around us is what nature provides to feed us, so why would we shun it and diet during the season that provides us with higher calorie foods. There is a reason that there is limited daylight in the winter. If we just slept through the hours of natural darkness, we’d go into the sort of natural semi-hibernation that would preserve our physical resources through the coldest weather, so why on Earth do so many of us join gyms in January?

It just isn’t natural!

Modern living tells us that we can have what we want and do what we want, when we want, so we eat lettuce and lemons at Christmas, and the length of our working day never alters. We wear t-shirts inside in January in our over-heated houses and then wonder why we feel the cold outside, and why we fall prey to every cold and flu and stomach bug going around. We don’t listen to the World or our bodies, and then we wonder why they stop working, and we try to make up for it with a New Year’s resolution. 

I don’t think it’s going to be enough, somehow, do you?

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Panto for Beginners


There is a long tradition of going to the pantomime in our family. We’ve been going every year for a long time, and some years we’ve gone en masse, twenty or thirty of us filling a couple of rows at the local theatre.

We’ve seen some great pantos and some rubbish ones, but we’ve enjoyed all of them, one way or another. I think the best might have been the one that was pulled out of the bag by four understudies a dancer and the prop guy when the cast went off sick. They read bits of script off props, scenery, and, sometimes, each other, shifted their own sets, played more than one role each, mimed the songs, improvised the dances, and threw caution and dignity to the winds to give us a performance to remember; and we do remember it, and we will for a very long time to come.

That’s what panto is all about: risk... risk and magic, and getting the audience on-side and keeping it there. I doubt anyone in that auditorium had ever laughed so much at a pantomime as we all did that night, including the dudes on the stage.

Last night, at the very last minute, the dort got tickets for the panto, for the four of us, and she booked a late lunch/early supper beforehand, too. We all decided it was a splendid way to round off the holidays, and off we went to the local Italian for a bowl of pasta before the curtain went up.

We were seated and had ordered when a family group of four adults and two kids, of about three and five years old, came into the restaurant. The kids were clutching plastic wands with flashing lights and rotating tops, and the youngest, a little boy, was grizzling, loudly.

My question is this: Who expects such young children to sit through a couple of hours of performance in a theatre, while getting hopped up on flashes and bangs and ‘behind you’, and probably on ice-cream and fizzy pop, too, and who then expects those same kids to sit quietly and behave for a couple of hours in a restaurant while the adults drivel on inanely about whatever crap happens to be exercising their tiny minds at that moment, and which might include the latest hit tv show, designer bag, new car/kitchen/house or, perhaps, who’s doing what to whom?

I’m all for having high expectations of kids, and I’m the first to recognise that they’re not going to live up to all of them, but a five year old and a three year old would have to be superhuman to be capable of sitting still and remaining quiet in public for four, or possibly five hours, while their parents and grandparents enjoy the theatre and a meal. Really... Who on Earth thought that was ever going to happen? One or the other would be a tall order for a three year old, but both?

I wouldn’t mind so much, but it wasn’t the three year old’s fault he was pissing the rest of us off. I didn’t want to smack his bottom, as some of the other patrons of the restaurant clearly did. I wanted to smack his mother’s bottom.

Her solutions to the problem were various. She began by getting cross. You can be as cross as you like with a screaming three year old, but harsh tones will not make it stop crying, probably ever, and all she was really doing was adding her noise to his.

In the end, two iPads were produced. The five year old could manage earbuds, but the three year old couldn’t. I gather that the kids watched the same tv program, because they were actually asked, and the sounds of the kid’s crying were swapped out for the dulcet tones of the cast of EastEnders, which begs the question of who thinks a soap is appropriate tv viewing for a three year old or a restaurant. 

Honestly, I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have put up with the child’s noise. Better yet, give the poor little mite to me, because a bit of a attention, a few kind words, a little discrete playing, maybe a run around outside, and there’s a good chance he would have calmed down and been perfectly fine for a while longer.

The panto was graced with Chloe Madeley’s presence as Cinderella. I don’t think any of us truly believes she was born to sing or dance... including Chloe Madeley.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

That Monday Feeling


Every day is pretty well like every other day around here. There isn’t much of a distinction between the average Tuesday and the average Saturday. We do impose some differences, because otherwise we really would work all the time, but, mostly one day can be pretty much like another, especially now that we don’t have kids at home and in school.

I do love the weekends, though, especially Sundays. I do love the fact that there are vastly fewer interruptions from e-mail and phone calls at the weekends, and, on Sundays, there isn’t even snail-mail to deal with. Of course, that doesn’t stop either one of us working on a Saturday or a Sunday. We work a lot, but you know that, don’t you?

I’ve never suffered from that Monday feeling. I’ve never gone to bed on Sunday night dreading waking up; it’s never been in my nature, never been part of my make-up, not my biorhythm. The husband, on the other hand...

The husband isn’t a fan of Monday mornings. There’s no particular rhyme or reason to it; he just doesn’t like them, and they don’t like him. He struggles. He can’t explain it, it simply is.

It was New Year’s day yesterday, and I’ve already spoken about New Year’s Eve and the sadness I always feel at this time of year. I know that most people look forward to seeing in the New Year. I know that most people look forward to the party. Heck, most people look forward to any party. Me? I see the sad.

The same is true for the husband and New Year’s day. Not for him the pleasures of a clean slate. Not for him the joy of waking up feeling fresh and new, with the World at his feet and only good things ahead of him.

No. For the husband, New Year’s Day represents the biggest, nastiest, most threatening Monday morning... EVER!

We had a lovely evening on New Year’s Eve. We ate supper with my brother and his family, and with Lily and Thomas, and we played games until midnight. We toasted one another, and then we headed happily home.

The husband and I toasted again when we got home, with a bottle of bubbles, and went to sleep for the first time in our newly delivered bed.

Of course, in the end, we did get through the biggest Monday of the year, yesterday, a Tuesday, and I expect we’ll do it again next year and the year after that, and for many years to come.