Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Spring, paragraphs and Moomins

Hello again, and how are we all doing? Hopefully Spring has sprung in your part of the world - it's another lovely sunny morning here in Bath, hurrah. Eldest daughter's daffs (potted up at Brownies last year) are finally blooming little yellow trumpets, the crocuses are out, the tulips have pushed up tall green leaves, and there are the first signs of life on the magnolia tree: tiny furry buds. (I love magnolia trees. We only have a small 'Stellar' in a pot but my dream house (wherever that may be) will definitely have a huge magnolia in the garden absolutely dripping with those gorgeous creamy-pink flowers. Oh yes.)

The novel is still coming along, slowly but surely. I am up to 42,000 words now, and have been aiming for 2,000 words a day this week and last, just to keep it ticking along. Of course, that will go out of the window next week, as I've got to switch onto the second draft of a children's book, and need to come up with a new synopsis for something else... and then of course, the Easter holidays will be looming and NO WORK WILL BE DONE. But anyway, this week, I'm aiming to get as close to 50,000 words as I can. I always feel better once I've hit that halfway point.

Book-wise, I've just finished reading The Group by Mary McCarthy for my book group. I could have sworn I'd read this before back in my student days (I think it is that kind of book), but when I came to start reading the other week, it was completely unfamiliar. (This has happened twice to me lately. I was convinced I'd read 'A Patchwork Planet' by Anne Tyler too, largely because it had been sat on my book shelf for years and I just assumed I must have read it at some point. I hadn't though. I think that's what you call a senior moment, which is a bit worrying, seeing as I am still 39. Doesn't bode well for my old age, does it?) ANYWAY. So it turned out I hadn't read The Group after all, and I must confess, I started reading it, feeling very disappointed. The cover has glowing quotes from Sarah Waters, Marian Keyes, India Knight, all saying how wonderful they think it is, and at first I thought I must be reading a different book. It felt really heavy-going, I couldn't keep track of who the hell everybody was and, REALLY ANNOYINGLY, the design and layout is awful, frankly, with page after page of dense, solid prose, with hardly a paragraph break in sight. Perhaps this is very shallow of me, but I find that sort of page layout really off-putting. Even when there is dialogue, there was no paragraphing, the speakers just run on from each other in one great lump. Call me an old fart, but I JUST DON'T LIKE THAT.

Anyway (she says, hurriedly breaking up a rather long paragraph), once I'd got over my fit of pique and got to grips with who everybody was, I did really enjoy it. In fact, it's the sort of book that you want to re-read, so that you can appreciate the early chapters more, knowing what you do about the characters by the end of it. Lots to talk about too - a perfect 'book group' book.

I've just started reading 'A Tale of Two Cities' which I've definitely never read before. I'm finding that quite heavy-going too - maybe I was tired and befuddled by my streaming cold (did I mention my streaming cold?), but I had to read the first few chapters twice over before I could make any sense of them last night. Happily I am interspersing Mr Dickens with lots of eldest daughter's books, all in the name of research. I would really like to write a slightly older children's novel for girls next, mainly because my eldest is too old to read the books I'm currently writing and I miss being able to try them out on her and get her feedback. I've got an idea for a book anyway, but have told myself I need to research the market, so have been thoroughly enjoying myself snuggling up with all her recommendations. She is loving it too - "Mum, you must read THIS" etc, although she is terrible for spoilers - ie, "Have you got to the bit where she.... yet?" I have to put my hands over my ears: "Don't tell me ANYTHING!"

Finally, as a treat to us all, I'm reading 'Finn Family Moomintroll' to the kids for their bedtime story. I read it a couple of years ago to eldest daughter and son, and now I'm reading it to son and youngest daughter, although eldest keeps joining us to listen. It is one of the most perfect books for children, and I am enjoying it every bit as much as they are.

Right... nearly 9.30 and I'd better crack on with the novel. Time to throw in some major angst and drama, methinks... with plenty of paragraph breaks, of course!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Keep on running

It was the Bath half-marathon last weekend which was fab. There's something really mesmerising, I think, about watching thousands of people running along together, some seasoned pros, of course, who steam along at incredible paces (the freaks), some nervous first-timers who don't even know if they can make it the whole way around, people in Scooby-Doo and Superman costumes, ballet tutus and full make-up, others who run with a pack of mates, all cheering each other along. There are so many stories and so many dramas - the pain, the triumph, the blisters... it's like a microcosm of the human existence, man. Well, maybe not, but all the same, I find it fascinating - and awe-inspiring - to watch.

I am not a natural runner or an athletic type by any stretch of the imagination (ha! a nation sniggers) but I've been inspired to go out running a couple of times this week after seeing the marathon runners and envying them their stamina. I've also been inspired by Eddie Izzard's marathon challenge too - have you been watching the programme about him? Amazing. How did he DO that?

I guess running a marathon is a lot like writing a novel. All those hours spent training (or writing), the highs and lows, the will-I-get-to-the-end? angst, the pain and the anguish when it's not looking good, the soaring joy when you turn a corner and realise you can see a way through to the end... Gosh, I'm being very deep and meaningful here today - sorry. I don't know what's come over me. Am I making any sense?

I've had a wobble over the novel-in-progress recently anyway. I felt like I was going in the wrong direction, so took a deep breath and cut loads of it out. (Ouch.) Then I had a panic about how my word count had plummeted and an oh-shit-I-am-never-going-to-finish-this! freak-out. (Heeeeeelp!) BUT today I think I've turned a corner. Now I feel I'm back on track. I just have to keep plodding along, like Eddie Izzard, one foot after another, one word after another... and have a little faith that I'll get there in the end.
Let's hope there's a silver foil blanket and a Lucozade waiting for me when I make it. Or even a bottle of champers...

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

How Did That Happen?

Oh my goodness... I have left the blog neglected and dusty for a whole MONTH! How rubbish am I? I have been kind of busy though, honest, not just lazy. In fact, in February, I went to Norwich, Cornwall, London, Coventry AND Leicestershire for various trips, all of which were work-related, so that's my excuse. I'm back in sunny, nearly-spring-like Bath and am not going anywhere for a while. Phew.

So... what's the goss? I suppose I'd better tell you mine first. The new novel is coming along, slowly but surely. Part of the reason I was in Cornwall was for a research trip - the whole family were there at first and we investigated various places I want to write about (she said cryptically), and then they all buggered off home, leaving me in a cottage, writing furiously for three days. It is amazing how much work you can get done when you don't have the distractions of children, housework, Facebook etc. I wrote 18,000 words in three days! So that was a bit of a result. I felt so LONELY by the end of it though, I was desperate to see my kids and husband, absolutely aching to see them, if that doesn't sound too melodramatic. We had a lovely reunion on the platform at Bath train station though, children flinging themselves at me from all angles, awwww... Five minutes later, I was telling them off about something, but you know, it was nice while it lasted!

I went to London last week for two meetings - one with two children's book editors, for whom I'm writing a new series (did you like that 'for whom', by the way? Just call me Victorian Gentlewoman) which was fantastic - we were brainstorming plot ideas for the last three books in the series, and I came away feeling v inspired and like a proper creative person. Then I met my children's books agent for lunch and a catch-up, which was also extremely nice and I found myself rashly promising her a full synopsis for a new children's novel by the end of the month. Eek. Better think up an idea fast.

Afterwards, I'd planned to go to the Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy, but when I got there it was absolutely heaving, with a massive queue. So I went to Fortnum and Mason instead, as it was raining and I was curious. WOW. Have you ever been there? I never had before but I think it is my new favourite shop. The Easter Egg displays were just amaaaaazing (do NOT take a child in there unless you are prepared to say "No, you can't have it" at least 700 times) and ooh, everything, actually, was just beautiful. I went up to the 3rd floor to the 'Gentlemen's Gifts' section as my husband's birthday is coming up, to find tables of solid silver compasses, snazzy cufflinks, silk ties, bowler hats (I'm not joking) and a sales assistant wearing a full-on suit. Unless he was one of the customers, of course. Fabulous. Obviously I bought nothing, but all the same: fabulous.

Reading-wise, I was lucky enough to be sent a proof of Tess Stimson's new one - What's Yours Is Mine. I started it last night and it is so, so good - brilliantly written, great characters, lots of clever bits that make you think twice. It's out in April so look out for it, I'm sure it will be another whopping hit for her.

Right, better go, 2,000 jobs to do before school kicks out in half an hour, and it's the dreaded swimming lessons to be a taxi service for too. More soon. Well, sooner than a whole month, anyway, I hope... x