Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Cooking up a novel

Having spent the last few days eating sugar I decided today to fill us with some nutrients and searched the net for a recipe for vegetable stew, hoping to imitate a dish I had recently tried at Greystone Farm shop tea rooms. The Internet being what it is the search threw up a myriad of variants (I settled on the African version from a site specialising in fat free recipes, a fact that allowed me to also make the tangy lemon squares for desert without guilt). However, among the google results was a rather surprising but equally nourishing one - a poem fron Myra Schneider entitled Root Vegetable Stew complete with interview with the author.

Now, I'd like to say that I was inspired and that I sat down and wrote my own poem entitled 'Ode to Australian Women's Baking Book', or some such, but I didn't. Not that I am ruling it out for the future. It's just that I had a few slips and had my kitchen experiences tonight produced any actual writing, it would have been more like 'Ode to the egg that cracked in the carton and made the cardboard all soggy' or a haiku on the feel of lemon juice on Italian floor tiles. So as yet, no poem. But, as I was tipping sweet potato peelings into the bin and licking mashed butter and icing sugar from the whisks ( come on, don't tell me you don't do the same) I did manage to think about first drafts.

When I determined to take some days off work to concentrate on my novel (the first of which is tomorrow) I also decided to set myself up with some inspirational books on writing to keep me focused and learning as I wrote. So, earlier today I was reading an excerpt from Annie Dillard's Bird by Bird found in a chapter on getting started in Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction. She expresses her point eloquently but if I can paraprhase her: she reccomends forcing yourself to write 'shitty first drafts' and sees them as an essential first stage to producing wonderful work after several edits. As an example she tells how she went through drwan out processes writing restauarnt reviews, starting with utterly unpublishable words, agonising in case she was run over by a bus before she could improve on them and anyone saw what kind of writer she really was.

It's starkly obvious when you read it in a text book on writing: its utterly unrealistic to think that a first draft can be perfect. In fact, many writers would get little or no pleasure from producing perfect work first off because much of the pleasure of writing is in the crafting, the polishing and creating. The making something rather than the recieving of something. Yet at the same time we paralyse oursleves with the belief that we cannot spoil a blank page with first draft twaddle. We demand the 'right environment', a dedicated and uninterrupted writing time, before we will start.

Cooking for me is another form of creativity, especally baking. Yet I never stare at the empty cake pan worrying that it may turn out sunken or burned. I do not take out the utensils and then spend the next five hours avoiding starting. I do not even agonise about which cake to bake - I just lucky dip into a cook book, or more likley, work out what I can make from that limited ingredients in the cupboard. I can cook in the spare minutes around other activities - a tray of raspberry muffins is in the oven ten minutes after I start and who cares if I had to push aside the tins waiting for recycling and the unwashed liquidiser jug to find room for my mixing bowl? I think nothing of checking on the lasagne and throwing in the garlic slices between the beating and the folding stages. I happily make a messy batter of broken eggs and clouds of flour, confident that a bowl of slop is a necessary pre-requisite for a marble cake or a dozen squares of fudge brownies. And if they go wrong? I'll scrape them into the bin and make another batch.

So why should my attitude to writing be any different? I can't think of any reason why. So tomorrow, I am going to bake me a novel. And if it looks sloppy and half-baked? Well, then I shall set it aside to cook for a while and meantime, I shall enjoy licking my bowl clean of churned up ingredients. After all, that's still the best part of baking isn't it?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas crisis

It is Christmas Eve and all is not well in the Conway household. LouLou has gone missing. She was in my parent's back garden in a village just outside of Penrith. The last time she was seen she was by the pond and now she is missing and naturally my mother is very upset. The natural assumption is that she has fallen into the pond so it has been dredged. The first attempt to do so was a bit unpleasant as the resident frog was disgruntled and made his slimy presence felt but eventually Dad did manage to get to the bottom of the pond. He found his missing garden fork and a large twig -come- small branch. But no Loulou, so we are having to resort to an internet appeal in case anyone has seen her.

Loulou does have abit of a wanderlust. She has fallen into the pond once before and was rescued, she also vanished completely one night but was found misplaced down the bottom of the garden near the stone wall which keeps the neighbour's cows out of my Dad's rockery. A fox was blamed on that occasion. So it might be that this time she has gained courage from her previous escapades and has taken off for further afield. So if any one finds her could they please return her?

She is a petite duck of light grey stone who quacks in a Welsh accent (having been originally purchased on Cardiff's Christmas market). Her real name is Toilet (her partner, who now sits dejected and lonely by the pond is Crispin, also known as Crispy). Please report all sightings via the comments facility below.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


A kind friend who is the bodily incarnation of the good angel that sits on my shoulder and eggs me on to the things that are good for my life, enquired recently what had happened to my blog. The answer was a simple, I haven't had time. Or at least, becuase she is also the good psychologist who gave up her time to teach me some stress management techniques, I hope it came across as a simple answer. If she would now take up - just for a few lines - the role of the good friend who is willing to skip a few lines - I will reveal to the rest of you that the real answer was actually a more frenzied rant along the lines of I HAVEN'T GOT TIME BECAUSE WORK INSISTS ON SWAMPING THE WHOLE OF MY LIFE AND THE HARDER I TRY TO KEEP IT AT BAY THE MORE IT CALLS ME CANUTE ..... So, as I really cannot expect her to skip anymore lines, I am now going to have to come up with some meaningful content for today's blog.

Which is where that inspiring event of last Saturday comes in. No, not Shane Ward winning the X factor ( although desperate as I am, I will in fact take anyone who achieves what they want as a role model at present). I am talking about the moment I got my third autograph in my current journal. The first belongs to Alexander MCall Smith and was obtained at the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. He is a lawyer too and should be admired in my view simply for the whimsy of the fact that he has written the only existing textbook on Botswanan Criminal Law, quite apart from the beautiful simplicty of his Ladies No 1 Detective Agency books. ( I know that my embodied angel disagrees with my opinion of those books but she is allowed to be fallen just once). Moreover, he is a lovely man with perfect manners - I had a story I wanted to tell him and waited, at his invitation, while he signed books. For every person in the in the not inconsiderable queue, he stood up to shake hands with them, then sat down and wrote personal dedications for them all.

He liked my story too: My mother does not read fiction. Ever. Its not true so why waste her time, is her logic? On one visit to my house she ran out of reading material and, as the latest strategy in my quest to educate her as the foolishness of her thought processes, I loaned her 'No 1. '. She handed it back commenting that it was a lovely book. ' So, I finally got you reading a novel!' I gloated, only to see her face fall in disappointment. 'You've spoiled it now!' she said. 'I thought it was true!' Doesn't that have to be the best compliment any fiction writer could get?

But I digress. The second signature is Kathy Reichs, obtained at a signing session in Waterstones, admired for her abilty to write about the technical details of her job and still make it accessible and entertaining to lay people and for combining a prolific writing career with a demanding professional life.

But perhaps the most inspring to me is the third. It should really have been Michael Connoley, also seen at Waterstones, but his signature is little more than a scribble and I was hungry and tired and couldn't be bothered to queue. So the third turned out to be a new, prize winning poet called Neil Woodcock. Not only do I have his signature but I have his latest poem written out for me in my journal, in his handwriting, signed and dated and I am betting on it being a good investment for the future.

OK. It might be a little early to gamble that he will be the next poet Laureate, because Neil is 9. (just). And I might be a little biased becuase he is my nephew. But I still think his poem is great, and, more to the point he made time to sit down and write it, whch is more than I have been doing lately. So for me he is just as inspiring as the Sandy's and Kathy's of this world. Here is his work for you all to enjoy:


Squibs and starburst
sparks in the sky spectacular sights
to delight the eyes

with cracks and bangs
and earth shattering boom
from powerful rockets launched towards the moon

its really important not to forget
the danger of fireworks to children
and pets

By Neil Woodock

Monday, December 05, 2005

Travelling books

Having just recovered from Birmingham I am now teaching in London for a week and musing on the fact that whoever set luggage allowances for airlines could not have been a reader. Even the books I have carted down here to keep me company in the evenings are challenging that weight limit. So why are airport editions always big trade paperback versions of the books? Don't travellers need versions printed on tissue paper if we are not to continue to suffer injury by checking in 20k then trying to walk upright onto the plane with another 20k of books stuffed into our handbag/ coatpockets/other hiding places I'm not giving away ?

Anyway, I have learned in the last 24 hours that there are in fact other ways to let books travel. I stumbled today on a site called Bookcrossing. Not in fact a site for people who like to put chicklit dust covers onto ferrari manuals but a site encouraging to deface - sorry lable- your book with a cataloge number and then to 'release it' for other people to stumble on and 'catch'. I'm really not sure about this one - my books are not in captivity to be released - they are loved and treasured. Plus they reckon that only 20-25% of releases are caught - so what happens to those other poor lonely books, left homeless in a cruel cold world?

A much better idea seem to me to be Book Aid International, which I found referred to in my free Observer provided on the BA flight to Heathrow: it is their Christmas charity this year. Book Aid works in 18 Sub Saharan African countries to provide books to communities with little other source of reading matter. They run literacy supprt groups and camel mobile libraries for example. The books are often educational - from stories about how children deal with floods to Internet or technical drawing manuals. They run a book club - for £5 per month you don't receive 4 books - but someone else does. Have a look.

I like the quote from their website:
"If education is the road out of poverty, books are the wheels needed for the journey" Richard Crabbe, Chairman, African Publishers Network, 1997-2002

Now talking about wheels and journeys, time to catch a bus to Piccadily to go and browse in Hatchards and Waterstones.....

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Amazon morality question

When I started this blog I promised myself that I would be crafting beautifully put together daily pieces, pithy and worthy of a hard-back collection later when my cardboard box of novel fragments transmogrifies into a shelf of published novels. Or at least, I thought I'd aim for that and at the very least I'd be fulfilling the 'write everyday' dictum. ( Which in my house translates into the ' if-you-think-about-writing-every-day-well-with-your-day-job-thats-pretty-good-going-all-by-itself-have-a-day-off-to-reward-yourself' dictum). You will see from the dates of the entries that I failed the daily test. (I'll leave you to post a comment in relation to beauty and pithiness, but bear in mind that my fridge is bear of all comfort food save for a half bar of emergency cooking chocolate. ).

In my defence, I do have an excuse. I spent most of the evenings last week sitting on the bed in a Premier Travel Inn room in Birmingham, with no internet access and only a donated coffee cake and dire TV for company and a blizzard going on outside. During the day I was teaching trainee solictors how to survive being a family lawyer. In the evenings... well actually, I was writing. It seems that boredom, lonliness and a surfeit of espresso flavoured butter cream might actually be quite creatively stimulating. Especially when writing a scene about a woman who is an unhappy comfort eater. ( I am looking forward to writing the scene where she wins the lottery). So, I have the first four chapters of my novel knocked into a state I am happy with for now as a first draft and having written every day for three days... well, a girl deserves a treat. So I walked fifty yards up Broad Street in the snow and went to an early showing of In Her Shoes, chosen over a couple of other possiblities because I recently discovered Jennifer Wiener's blog - she wrote the novel on which the film is based.

So now I want to buy all her novels. The good news is that I can do so without bankrupting myself because, remember when Amazon sent me an email saying that they duplicated an order and here was a gift certificate for the inconvenience of posting it back? Well they duplicated the gift certificate email too. Now I can tell you that the Consumer Protection Distance Selling Regulations) 2000 Reg 24 ( No I am not making this up) allows me legally to deal with the 'goods' as if they were an absolute gift to me if they were sent with the intention of me acquiring them. But is that the same as an apology being sent twice? But actually that is only the first morality question of the title. The morality question refers to my previous mass purchase of books because I liked an author's personality.

In 'Swallowing words' I said I was going to go and buy One Marian Keyes book. I lied. I bought five. At once. Even thought I know I will not read them before my Christmas books arrive and I already have a shelf of unread books. Which glutonous behaviour is the equivalent of eating a whole box of chocolates at once. Which is why I only have cooking chocolate left. But anyway. I scoured Amazon marketplace and filled my basket with the cheapest copies available in good condition. Then I had a morality moment. If I was buying these books because I liked the author was it the equivalent of a Glasgow kiss to indicate my affection for her work by paying a penny to a second hand dealer for her books? Should I not be buying them new and giving her royalties? So I opened a new browser window and logged onto Amazon again in my husband's name and filled his basket with new copies to see the price difference. And there was a bit of a difference. Not one the size of our EU rebate but one that would buy quite a lot of Cadbury's Flakes. So I dithered for an unreasonably long time then pressed the checkout button to order the second hand ones.

And then I went to Birmingham and felt guilty. I had defrauded my new found friend. ( Note to self: Only stalkers really think that someone is their friend becuase they sounded so nice on their audio book recording). Scrap that: I had defrauded a fellow author of her hard earned royalties, which were all the more due to her becuase of her clever marketing plot of sounding so nice on her audio book. And that's when - sitting amongst the coffee cake crumbs on my budget hotel duvet, that I thought that perhaps I had crossed the line from being a reader who wanted to write to a writer who reads. I had not yet crossed the line from writer to crusader which is why I was still able to put the question of the morality of Amazon discounts and the destruction of the world of small booksellers as we know it to the back of my mind, but still, I felt terribly guilty. So I had another slice of cake and vowed to post good reviews for the books. But I still felt guilty. So I had another piece of cake and scattered some more crumbs ( Premier Travel Inns do not come with plates) and vowed never to behave in this scurrilous way again.

Then my husband rang.

He wanted to to know why he had just received an email indicating that a large pile of chick-lit novels were about to be charged to his credit card. Ooops.I promised to pay him back and then I didn't feel so guilty anymore, so I had a piece of coffee cake to celebrate. And then I was so sugared up that I decided that I would buy her next collection of journalism pieces 'Further under the Duvet' full price. From a bookshop. After all, If I am going to be writing these pithy well rounded pieces, I need to learn the craft. Which may well make the book a teaching manual. Which, could possiibly, just, make it tax deductable and in effect the same price as a second hand one anyway. So Marian Keyes should be happy with me, my bank manager should be happy with me and I should have saved the cost of the dry cleaning needed to remove these coffee cake crumbs from the seat of my jeans.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Swallowing words

I take it back. Marian Keyes is not fluffy. Well, actually she is, but she is less fluffy like a pair of Barbie Fairytopia Bibble doll (look it up if you don't believe me) and more fluffy like a £500 angora sweater. I'm on chapter 34 and going for more very soon.
This morning an Amazon parcel arrived. Hardly an unusual occurrence in this house but my husband eyed it greedily and asked if it contained one of his Christmas presents. ( It was a small parcel and he knows me well enought to know it couldn't contain all his presents.) I said it was but in fact when I opened it it was a second copy of a book I'd ordered for work 'Insolvency Personal and Corporate'. ( I am not even going to contemplate making that title a hyperlink for you to check it out!) With sinking heart, thinking I'd mistakenly duplicated the order I logged on to the website intending to find an address to return it to and berating myself for incurring unecessary postage. In fact before I got past the home page my email bleeped and there was a nice message telling me it was all their fault and could please send it back to the Freepost address and they were so sorry for the inconvenience they were attaching a £5 book voucher!
So, I'm off to order a free angora sweater substitute. See you later!

Friday, November 25, 2005


Here's a thing. I went on Google today and searched for unusual jobs. I don't want one. I have enough jobs as it is. But I wanted a character to be thinking about one and the advantage of broadband is that when I blank for a fact whilst writing, I can just keep typing as if I am writing and those kind Google men give me the answer without me ever having to break flow. So as I say, I search for jobs and there is a site with a list by type. It turns out being a writer is an unusual job. It is on the list of 'Ten jobs for people who want to keep learning'. It did not appear on the list of 'Ten jobs for people who want to pay their student loans off straight away'. For that you need to be a carpeter. Apparently.(Note these lists are for real). I ought to write something thoughtful about how interesting it is that writers are considered to be on a lifelong journey to knowledge and fulfillment but its weekend so I won't. Instead I'll tell you another thing.

My name is Helen and I am a .... well, that's the thing. I don't know the word for what I am, which is a person addicted to buying books. I am not a bibliophile because that is a person who loves books, which obviously I do but its not what I am getting at. I am getting at the fact that I buy books even when I have so many unread ones I have to spread them out over the floor because the piles were threatening to topple and kill me. Plus I am sugestible and I like to be nice to other writers. All of which is not a good combination. Take today.

The bad news was I had to drive 1 hr 40 mins to Kendal. so, In a fitof inspiration I went via the library and borrowed a CD version Marian Keyes' collection of journalism pieces 'Under the Duvet'. As I had just minutes before read a brief artcile about her in Mslexia ( on the loo wearing my coat in that pre-motorway if-I-don't-go-now-i'll-need- to-the-moment-I-get-on-the-M58 visit!) it seemed apt. So off I set being ably entertained by her Irish tones reading her own pieces. She is not an author I have ever read, havng rather snottly dimissed her as 'fluffy' but she does know how to make a crawl through roadworks pass easily.

The good news is that when I get there it takes all of fifteen minutes to convince the Magistrates to do the blindingly obvious, and after such a long journey, a spot of Christmas shopping seemed a good idea and could be easily justified by the need to avoid the DVT I'd be risking if I turned right around and drove home again. Kendal, I thought would have lots of individual shops, great for thoughtful and original gifts. This may be true. I wouldn't know because the first interesting shop on the way out of the car park is Ottakars.

And in there is a Marian Keyes Novel. I don't need it. I have a life threatening collection at home and a Christmas list of more has already been submitted to my supplier, sorry, husband. But she sounds like such a nice person and she even tells a story about seeing someone buying one of her books and how happy it made her and ...... OK. Time to admit my addiction and implement my 12 point plan.
1. Acknowledge the soverignty of your Higher Power and the fact that you need his/her assistance with your weaknesses.
2. Conclude that your Higher Power chose to communcate his own message to the world in a book and thus books cannot be equated with wraps of brown powder and thus need not be resisted.
3. Moderation however, is still a virtue.
4. Decide to read one chapter in the shop rather than purchasing it. Read three.
5. Avoidance of temptation is a useful strategy.
6. Put book back and go to look for other shops bearing in mind you only paid one hour of pay and display.
7. Exercise increases self-esteem and effects the release of endorphins so often found in addictive susbtances
8. Power walk to WHSmiths and read another two chapters.
9. Failure is human. Divert your attention from your own sorrows and consider those who are worse off than you.
10. Go to both Oxfam and British Red Cross shop and search for second hand copy of Marian Keyes books. Conclude that their absence means they are so good no-one will part with them.
11. If your addiction is so serious you are at risk of committing crime to feed it, seek help.
12. Hear the town clock strike half past the hour and realise you are now in at-risk-of-parking ticket-zone. Attempt abstinence. Get to car park door and jog back to Ottakars and confess (in now slightly wheezing tones) addiction. Accept £1 off cover price.
OK, so the plan needs work. But I got 648 pages for £5.99 which is 0.09pence per page which means i can afford the BUPA subscription for when the to-read pile fractures my scull. And I can learn how to write chick lit. And after all, learning is what being a writer is all about.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

What if?

The trouble with training yourself to play the 'What if' game as a writer is that is begins to take up permanent residence in your brain and springs into operation when perhaps it would be better just to stick to the facts.
Early this morning our phone woke us up. Or to be more precise it woke my husband up. I continued with a dream in which Zadie Smith and Michael Douglas was in a post office, there was a big problem about the precise milage to Lancaster and everyone was so worried about it no one would answer the phone. (Don't get all Freudian - I'm reading On Beauty, I need to put in a mileage claim and I forgot to post a pile of letters yesterday. I'm not commenting on the presence of Michael Douglas.) When I twigged that it was a real phone and that Zadie was in fact between two brown covers on the floor, I suddenly woke up and found myself instantly in the 'What if game', encouraged by hearing Dennis say "Why, what's wrong?"
What if my Brother-in-law has split up from his girlfriend again? Or no, what if he is ringing to to say one of my elderly parents in law is ill? Or worse what if one has died? What if I have to get on a plane and go over.... I had proceeded impressively far down the route of forming a contingency plan to deal with my work in my absence by the time Dennis shambled back into the room to explain that my sister needed a favour.
She is a paediatric nurse and was convinced that she was working a late today - until the hospital rang and woke her up too to explain that she was now a quarter of an hour late for her early shift. Her husband had taken her car to his job at the airport and could I please get up quick smart and drive her to work in the next town?
I wanted to say 'What if I don't? What will happen?" but at that time my brain works faster than my mouth so I just mumbled "Onmway" and tumbled into a pair of jeans and the car.
Which brings me onto the question of routines ... or for anyone with confused sisters the lack of them. I'm playing about with the best daily routine for days when I have the whole day free to write. I seem to have a huge afternoon slump and have decided that the best way to deal with it is to go with natural rythms and use it to read instead... worthy novels, books which will serve as role models, works of art that will last all time... or on days when I have been dragged out of bed into fog without even so much as a cup of tea, a copy of Oprah magazine.
Inside the November issue is an advert for VW Beetles. It is a perforated sheet of card comprising nine tear out cards, the middle one of which directs you to the VW site. On one side of the others are photos of eight happy looking people and one ugly and vicious looking cat. On the reverse side there is a potted biog of each person giving their name, job, what they keep in a bud vase, (ranging from Sunflowers to a glittery doll's head) their 'special powers' and their good deeds. The scary cat turns out to be called Armand and have a job as a therapy pet. Instant characters...who said reading O Mag was skiving?
Now, I have to go and figure out what would happen if a 2000 Reflex Silver New Beetle Convertible ran that skinny feline over....?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


This week I acted for a father in a contact dispute. His own father was also making an application to the court and both came out with identical orders. The grandfather was grateful and appreciative. He was of the view that past grievances with the child's mother had to be be laid aside and that there was a long future to look forward to. He thought the five hour round trip they had to do to collect the children was nothing for the pleasure of their company. He was gentle and forgiving in his attitude. The father, reacting to the exact same outcome, gave me a constant tirade about the unfairness of the system, his intention to make complaints and to go to the European Court of Human Rights. He was disgusted with the outcome, angry with the mother, fixated on the wrongs he percieved she had perpetrated against him and unable at all to talk about his plans for his time with the children.
Also this week, I have begun a self-imposed study programme for my 'writing sabbatical' which includes rereading some of the novels which are close to mine in genre and which I raced though out of pure enyoyment first time around. I want to take time to go back and read more closely to learn from the author's techniques. I have started with Jodi Picoult's book My Sisters's Keeper and it just so happened that today's chapter was the one where the family recieved the news that their four year old daughter has cancer. At that stage we know little about the characters but each is distinct in their reaction. It is noticable that we do not need to know the character to understand their reaction, rather we learn the character by observing their reaction. Thus a rolling programme starts - the plot provides the event, the reaction tells us about the character, his reaction sets off another chain of events, to which the character reacts....
Try taking the exercise from yesterday - your character does not get his prefered food from the chiller cabinet. Is he angry, does she think that it is just typical of her miserable life? Does he take action by going elsewhere, does she eat something she dislikes instead not to offend her lunch companion? Then, how does the shopkeeper react to an angry customer? Does the lunch comanion depise the woman for her inabilty to assert her preferences or does he love her for it? Make it a suprising reaction, make then regret their reaction, make the two different reactions a source of conflict between characters ('How could he not cry? Why is she always so emotional?)... do whatever you like, it's your book, just keep on writing! I fell down the well for a full two and a half hours today and it feels great! Mind you even if I had fallen down a cliff instead I'd probably rather be at the bottom with a broken leg than in a car for five hours with that father!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Cafe inspiration - a home baked writing exercise

Earlier this week, The Times published an account of a research programme costing in the region of £140,000. The study examined cafes such as Starbucks and Cafe Nero and came up with such conclusions as:
* cafes are a convivial place to meet friends
* people stop going to a particular cafe if the coffee is no good
* a request to borrow a newspaper is either met with a cold shoulder or a welcoming smile.
Apart from the fact that a lot of writers could have benefitted greatly from that cash - to attend an Arvon course maybe, or just to have a couple of days off work to imerse themselves in writing, the researchers seem to have missed one of the vital points about cafes: their value as safe havens for writers.
We all know of the famous authors ( need I say the JKR words?) who scribble their way to fame and fortune over a mocha-decaff- soy milk-cappucino. (Or perhaps just a black coffee in a chipped mug until that publishing contact is actually signed). How many others (should I admit to this online?) have conducted some very effective and cheap research by stacking a basket of books and retreating to the inhouse coffee shop to make notes in their journal ... and then 'rewarded' themselves for their hard work by choosing a novel from the pile. ( Shame on the bookshops - Foyles in London and Waterstones in Bath, for example, who refuse to presume that a book lover will not dribble their latte on the pages and ban books in their coffee shops. You deserve the sale of the reward book to go to Amazon).
And what about the people who use cafes to carve out precious writing time? A day like mine today- court case in the morning ( no I'm not a criminal I'm a barrister - read my profile) lecture to give in the afternoon, a drive in hideous fog from Liverpool to Manchester for dinner with a very supportve writer friend ( check out her website) , back home to prepare tomorrow's case - does not lend itself to a daily writing practice. But skip breakfast and you travel out of rush hour ( just) which saves you time, which gives you longer for breakfast, which means you can sit in a cafe and think and write before work.
Plus, the environment stimulates the imagination. Try this - it worked for me this morning. Look at the chiller cabinet through the eyes of one of your characters. What would she like to eat in there? ( In my case, Anna, who actually works in a cafe, would like the fromage frais topped with organic mango). Then create conflict - why can't they have it? (In Anna' s Liverpool greasy spoon it might be too expensive for her and the customer's like her to buy). Then go with that - take it to the next step and the next step. (It's the ingredients which are too expensive. Why? Becuase Izzy her employer is in debt. If Izzy is in debt he might have to lay Anna off.) Bingo - new chapter ending, new challenge for Anna who is struggling to set up a new life after fleeing domestic violence, new storyline as she makes plans to help him out of the debt. All because of a chiller cabinet of yoghurts.
Now if only I could have some of that £140,000 to take tomorrow off to write that chapter up!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Blogging distractions

Strictly speaking my 'writing sabbatical' does not start until January but just having made the decision to start has given me impetus and the abilty to give my writing some priority in a busy schedule. Why is it that we writers are so good at putting of starting writing when the actual writing gives so much pleasure? My first resolution of this blog is simply to focus on the enjoyble process of playing with writing rather than the scary self-imposed requirement of producing quality first time round. Yesterday I wrote just over 3000 new words - and today I have edited old fragments of material, experimenting to see how much better it is if I put my main character Anna into first person, if I slow down a bit and focus on details.
I may well have done more than this edited 1000 words today if I had not digressed into the new (to me) world of blogging. A kind man named Lurgis from Louisiana not only read my first post and added kind comments but pointed me towards the Gostats site where I spent a happy half hour choosing me a vistors counter and feeling clever for managing to insert html code into the template settings for my blog. (Don't be impressed - you can go far with guess work and cut and paste). Then there are all the other blogs out there - Lurgis has his own ( check out the Osama picture) but there are also many other authors out there blogging away - check out AuthorBlogs.com and also the November issue of the Internet writing journal for a great article on writer's blogs which inspired me to start this in the first place.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Shouting up from the well

Natalie Goldberg, in her books for aspiring authors, talks about the blissful moment when a writer is in full flow, imersed in their work, living the lives of their characters. She calls it 'falling down the well'. It's true - that plunge into another world is wonderful. On the otherhand there are also those days when you sit in another well altogether - the one filled with smelly stagnant water - the ideas that stink, the words that won't move from head to page. I'd like to think that in this blog I will be throwing up words of glee from a Goldberg Well but I suspect anyone willing to spend time reading this blog is likley to get some curses from the other well too, because I'm gong to be writing this to to chronicle a mini-writing sabattical I am about to start.
Sounds grand. Not so much. I wanted time off from a career that tends to leach into evenings and weekends and to wash away any decent writing time. But I didn't want to be without income or to wreck my various sources of self-employment. So, I dithered and debated and finally I compromised. One of my three sources of income is to be on hold from January, the usual jobs swapped for novel writing until I have enjoyed fifty dedicated writing days. The aim - to get the 60,000 words of fragments I currently have into a first draft by July.
Will I succeed? What will I learn along the way? Don't know - but come along for the ride and I'll let you know.