Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Talking about books again

Back to Oxford again yesterday for an event as part of the Lit Fest's 'School Days' which went really well. I met some lovely friendly authors there and had a very lively audience who were just fizzing with imaginative ideas. I love it when the kids come up to me afterwards and say they want to be authors, or they're going to write stories, or they've thought up a great title, or whatever. Very satisfying.

On the train going in yesterday morning, I finished reading Wife in the North which I absolutely loved. It's so funny and moving and well-written - so honest, too. I was sorry to finish - especially as I didn't have anything else to read on the way home. Trauma or what. Obviously I remedied that asap with a swift trip to Borders and bought fellow New Romantic author Veronica Henry's new one - Just A Family Affair. Ooh, I'm hooked already, it's fab.

I am really looking forward to doing some writing again now - it's been great going off and doing these events this week and last, but now I am dying to get back to writing stories rather than talking about them. I've hit the 60,000-word mark in Novel 4 and that feels like a good point to stop and read through the whole thing so that I can pick up any loose threads I may have forgotten about, so I have printed it off and it's sitting there ready for me to get stuck into it on Friday. But for now, I'll have to get on with the edits for Secret Mermaid book 7 before playgroup and school pick up....

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Home and Away

Hello, hello, hello and sorry, sorry, sorry... it has been ages since I last blogged. Still, I've got plenty of good excuses including a long weekend in Wales and a small-but-exciting author tour of various Oxfordshire libraries speaking to hundreds of children (and getting them all to make loud troll noises and scream at various parts of my stories - am now slightly deaf as a result). Anyway it all went really well - stopped off at lots of gorgeous rural villages, met some lovely librarians who were all passionate about getting books to children, stayed in a hotel in Oxford and oohed and ahhed at the gorgeous old buildings, got taken out for a nice dinner... oh, just non-stop good stuff really, although I was very very tired at the end of the ninth hour-long event and am full of renewed admiration for teachers. How do they do that crowd control thing all day, every day?
And ooooohhhh it was just so lovely to come home on Thursday and see my children and husband again. I was beginning to ache for them, I was missing them so badly. My youngest has basically refused to leave my side ever since, I have become a mummy-slave to her, and only Mummy will do when it comes to teeth-brushing, hand-holding etc but frankly I am delighted to be so adored, to be honest, and don't mind at all.

In fact, I am feeling greatly adored today, it being Mothering Sunday - I know it's only a matter of time before I swing back to being general servant to the kids (my usual appointment) but today I have felt mightily appreciated, what with the cards, breakfast (and newspapers) in bed, flowers, chocolates, cake... even a flashing 'Best Mum in the World' badge. Yes, I did say flashing. Multi-coloured, too. No expense spared for me, you know.

Right... off to make a dent in those chocolates and loll about indulgently before Lost. Hurrah!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Words and pictures

Back in the olden days, when I was a lowly skivvy - I mean editorial assistant - at Random House, I decided that writing picture books was surely the easiest way to make money on earth. All you had to do was bash out a few words - a few hundred, tops! - and then an artist would do all the hard work. Best of all, you'd get the same sort of advance as someone writing thousands of words worth of fiction. What was not to love?

Only... over the years I've realised it's actually not that easy. In fact, I've found writing picture books to be tantalisingly difficult - the Holy Grail of children's books. Sure I've written lots of TV tie-in picture books (that's different) but only ever had one proper picture book published (here it is) and countless rejections for my efforts.

I haven't tried writing one for a while but am working on a new one right now, which I feel quite excited about. It has come back to me twice from my agent already with advice to cut, cut, and cut some more, and to think visually rather than as a fiction writer, leaving room for the illustrations to tell the story just as much as (if not more than) the pictures. BUT the idea is good, she says, so I need to keep trying. It is a delicate art, I have come to realise, shaving a line here, giving the artist space there, making every single word count - rather like painting in miniature. I am grafting on it every bit as much as a longer children's story, pruning, polishing and perfecting.
It started off at about 2,000 words (which is ridiculously long for a picture book) and is now about 600. I feel like I am nearly there... fingers crossed!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Mad March mare

Sorry... I have been a bit slack on the blogging front lately, am having a mad March in a headless chicken, running around frantically sort of a way. Roll on relaxing April, I say.

I'm off to Oxford next week for THREE WHOLE NIGHTS away from the kids... I have never been away from them for so long, so I feel a bit strange about that. I am this year's 'Reader in Residence' at the Oxford Literary Festival (don'cha know) which involves me doing nine hour-long library events over three days. I'm launching my new Secret Mermaid series so will hopefully give that a good start and lots of publicity but I think it's going to be pretty knackering, and I'm sure I will be crawling back home at the end of it. Having said that, I do feel quite excited about a) going back to Oxford (I lived there for about a year ten years ago) and b) staying in a hotel! It's the little things...

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Kate Atkinson

Went to see Kate Atkinson as part of the Bath Literary Festival last night. She is definitely one of my favourite authors, I think I wrote a post last summer about how When Will There Be Good News? is the only book which has ever made me burst into tears with shock (and if you've read it, I'm sure you know the bit I mean). Birdsong and a couple of other books have seen tears running down my cheeks whilst reading but this was the most intensely anguished a book has ever made me feel. Now that's a sign of a bloody powerful writer, I reckon.

Anyway, she was just so interesting and inspiring last night. So funny and quick-witted and articulate, I really warmed to her, especially as she said when writing a novel she's always convinced it's rubbish. (I can relate to that.) And I was surprised that she's not a plotter kind of author - especially when you think how tightly wound her plot threads are. She says she knows her starting point, and where she wants to end up and the fun part is the middle where you find out how it all happens. (I can relate to that too, although I don't know if I could ever describe the writing as 'fun'. Mind you she did also say that she finds writing very tedious!) The interviewer asked if her characters 'lived' in her head, whether she heard their voices speaking to her and, after a perfectly timed comedy pause, she replied, "Oh, no. Because hearing voices in your head... well, that's called madness, I think, isn't it?"

She read a passage from When Will There Be Good News? - it's the chapter where Reggie and Ms MacDonald are introduced - and at first everyone in the audience was laughing away at all the funny bits. But then, by the end of this piece, she got to the bit about Reggie's mum dying and my God, the room just turned completely pin-drop silent. I think that's amazing, the way she can flip from comedy to pathos so smoothly.

Feeling guilty as I have to work today to catch up on deadlines but am so inspired by last night, I'm going to make sure every word I write is brilliant. Well, here's hoping anyway...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Reading aloud

It's the Bath Literary Festival at the moment, and last night I went to see Rose Tremain, Helen Dunmore and Jane Gardam being interviewed by Sara Davies (Radio 4) at the Guildhall. Wow and wow again. What a stellar line-up - all so inspiring to listen to, and absolutely fascinating when talking about their research methods, and how ideas come to them. During the intro, Sara Davies pointed out that two of them had won the Orange prize, one shortlisted, two had won the Whitbread, one shortlisted, two had been shortlisted for the Booker... between them, they'd been on every major literary award list. I think that calls for another wow actually.

Jane Gardam made everyone laugh with her tip for budding authors: "Never - NEVER - set a scene on a train. Somebody will always write in and tell you that actually, the 5.15 from Manchester doesn't go to York, and you can't change at Carlisle for the Glasgow train or whatever..." And they all had different views on research - Helen Dunmore says she needs to know absolutely everything before she starts, so that it's like being able to walk around a room in darkness and know exactly where everything is. Rose Tremain disagreed slightly - saying she likes to have a fifth of her 'room' visible but prefers to leave the rest for her imagination to fill in. She made a good point about how you have to draw a line with research because if people feel as if they're reading a text book, you've killed your novel...
Lots of discussion about short stories v novels too. Rose Tremain said she loves it when she gets a new novel she knows she's going to enjoy because it's like curling up with the most wonderful companion who's always there for you to turn to whenever you want. But a good short story should pierce you, Helen Dunmore added. It should be perfectly constructed, every word in the right place, a jewel. (I'm paraphrasing all of this, my memory is hopeless.) All extremely inspiring anyway.

Anyway, I had an event of my own today, although not quite the glamour and glitter of the diamond-chandelier-decked Guildhall. I went to talk to a junior school not far from here, just a half-hour assembly talk as part of their World Book Day week celebrations. "How many children will it be?" I asked the teacher on the phone yesterday. "250," she said. Gulp. All at once! They were great though - laughed in all the right places, got excited about writing stories and had loads of questions. And it did feel quite something to be speaking to so many children at once and the room being absolutely dead quiet, all eyes upon me... Well, most of the time, anyway....

Monday, 2 March 2009

Dear Tooth Fairy...

Best tooth fairy letter EVER discovered under son's pillow last night:*

Hello Tooth Fairy
My name is Tom, what's yours?
Please can you give me £5.50. I am saving up for a DS. You have got to reply or I will chop your head right off and by the way you smell.
All my love Tom xxx xxx

...seems to be written in his big sister's handwriting. Hmmm.... I suspect a stitch-up!


* obviously never to be alluded to in front of him if you know us, I don't think I was meant to see it!