Thursday, 31 January 2008

A Fine Line

You will be pleased to hear that my Zen phase has passed. Total calm no longer prevails and I am nicely, slightly stressed. Yippee! (Though I did enjoy the Zen phase.)

Few will have missed the Surprisingly Essential First Page Challenge (or First Five Hundred Word Challenge, to be precise), held this week by Nathan Bransford on his blog. The contest closed yesterday, with a total of 645 entries on blogger and 29 on Nathan’s Myspace page.

I’m a fan of Nathan’s blog, but I didn’t enter this contest. And now the deadline has passed, I would like to say why.

The first page of my ‘finished’ novel starts almost halfway down the page and totals 152 words. The first 500 words = more than two pages, and includes the inciting incident, the setting, and motivation of two main characters. That’s quite a slice.

As the entries poured in to Nathan’s comment page, some of the contestants became concerned about their work being critiqued on other blogs. But, "Nathan Bransford -- Literary Agent" is neither a private, nor a quiet, little blog. Had these contestants forgotten where they had posted their pages? I imagine Nathan’s blog draws people from many levels of the industry, all over the world. Everyone, and anyone, can read the entries.

The contest is not being run by a literary agency, but on a literary agent’s blog. To enter such a contest with a hook, first paragraph, first 16 lines, or even a query, is helpful and fun. But, within the context of the blogosphere, the first 500 words of a novel is, perhaps, a step too far.

If I were to post those first 500 words on this blog, it would be a calculated risk. I KNOW I don’t get hundreds of hits per day. Far from it!

I'm not suggesting we should be paranoid about plagiarism. But, in the case of my novel, those 500 words say a lot: context, character, and conflict -- the set-up for the story.

If someone is writing as a hobby, a contest such as this can be part of the fun. But, if a writer is submitting to agents and publishers, their novel is a piece of intellectual property. It is a product they are hoping to sell.

The creative industries are tough. They are cutthroat.

In my professional world -- the fashion world -- you quickly learn the difference between offering a taster, and giving the concept away. It’s a fine line, and one easily crossed by young designers, understandably keen to impress.

But a seasoned professional, offered more than a tiny peak of a collection, can grasp the idea, spin it forward -- and run. The result: your concept lands on the high street before you can blink. Your collection is yesterday’s news.

It’s good to share our work with people we know. It’s good to take part in fun contests with people we don’t. But, when it comes to work we hope to build on in the real world. When it comes to our careers, I think we sometimes need to be careful.

This is obviously just my opinion.

So ends this serious post! :)

Tuesday, 29 January 2008


I feel very calm. Which is most unusual, as I normally function at a level of medium to high stress. Rarely low stress. And never total calm.

I can’t remember when I last felt this way, if, in fact, I have ever felt this way at all! I am totally and utterly chilled. I’m listening to ambient music (and visualising dolphins ;)) as I type!

My ex used to insist that stress is good, that without it one wouldn’t get anything done. But these last two days I’ve been highly productive. It’s so enjoyable!

Not being stressed, I haven’t expended energy on unnecessary urgency. I haven’t had the stress response.

But there’s one problem. Everyone else is -- or seems -- stressed. Is stress contagious? Is it expected? Do we worry that others might think we’re not working hard enough, or not taking the job seriously enough, if we aren’t slightly stressed?

Then there’s the anxiety of everyday life. High winds blow litter onto my property, and I hate picking it up. I usually rush out, mildly annoyed, and thrust it all into a bin bag.

But today it seemed interesting (there was quite a haul). And I paid attention to the flotsam and jetsam of life: leaves, string, cigarette ends, pieces of white polystyrene, a two-pint milk carton, a soup cup, a plant pot, paper and plastic bags, sandwich packaging, a beer can, takeaway food trays, a pink umbrella, and two metal forks!!!

Zen Circle. The inscription reads - 'Each thing is perfect'. 
Painting by Tanchu Terayama. Sumi ink on paper.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

You have to be in it, to win it!

Lottery by Patricia Wood

My name is Perry L. Crandall and I am not retarded.

You have to have an IQ number less than 75 to be retarded. I am not. Mine is 76.

I am lucky. I know this because I am not retarded.

I know this because I have two good arms.

And I know this because I won twelve million dollars in the Washington State Lottery.

Perry L. Crandall is an adorable character. His story grabbed me from page one.

I loved the voice and the rhythm of the writing. I felt the haziness surrounding the action and conversations Perry didn’t understand, or didn’t wish to be involved in. Perry is a man with a low IQ, but also a good and happy person.

When he wins the lottery, his mother and brothers try to swindle him out of his fortune. But Perry ultimately proves to be wiser than them.

I laughed, and I cried. Perry’s friends became my friends. And, after 305 pages, I wanted to keep on reading.

This book is a gem!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008


Today is my birthday.

And, at long last, I’m impressed by my sisters’ good taste. Because this year – they both gave me Waterstone's gift cards.

I can buy more books.

Happy Me!!!

Monday, 21 January 2008

Fear of Flooding

In January 2005, after one month’s rain fell within 24 hours, the area where I live was severely flooded. Many properties were affected, and many people’s lives turned upside-down.

This afternoon, I popped to the supermarket, about one-and-a-half miles away. It was raining, heavily.

As I wheeled my trolley towards the checkouts, two cashiers were talking. They said the main road I’d just driven down was flooded, and that my part of town was completely cut-off!

I told them that only twenty minutes ago, it was fine.

They insisted they were right. That I must have just missed it, and would not be able to get back home! And if I lived near the river -- which I do -- my house would be flooded, too!!!

They said they’d heard it on the radio. They said the schools were closing early, and their colleagues who lived in the affected areas had already rushed home.

I was skeptical. I kept my cool. Then I hit a massive traffic-jam (most unusual) and saw cars containing school children, at two-thirty in the afternoon!

The traffic was crazy.

But the roads were open.

There was not even a puddle in front of my house!!!

What a bizarre afternoon.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

A New Pitch

This week, as well as work-overload, I’ve had dental appointments and a hospital appointment, meaning messy chopped-up days. It's so frustrating to rush to an appointment, then sit -- waiting for two hours -- when you have other things to do!

But, while lounging around at the hospital, I remembered some pitch-writing advice I’d read on editor Cheryl Klein’s website, Talking Books:

If someone asked you before you met your significant other, “What kind of person are you looking for?” would you have described the exact person you’re with now?

For instance, if you asked me that question, I would not have said “A Chinese-American corporate lawyer from Queens who really likes Dungeons and Dragons,” which pretty much describes my last boyfriend.

And if you pitched that guy to me as a possible date, I might have been, “Ehhh, not so much.”

But if you said, “I know a really sweet, funny, smart guy who likes to read and is taller than you are”—well, there you go!

This makes sense!

And last night, in the after-glow of this light-bulb moment, I re-wrote my pitch in a flash. So, if my current submissions are rejected, I’m ready for the second round.

There is so much advice, so many examples out there of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ pitches, and I’d been trying to make mine 'fit'.

But this is not a pitch and letter writing exam. The purpose is to sell something unique.

Perhaps I’ve veered slightly from the standard. Maybe I’ve broken a couple of ‘rules’. But... I also did that in my novel!

My thanks to Cheryl Klein.

A New Me!

I’ve changed my profile picture!

When out and about in the blogosphere, I will now look like this...

The new me!

Friday, 11 January 2008

Moving Wallpaper & Echo Beach

A new TV concept aired last night. 

I LOVE new concepts!

From What’s On TV:

Echo Beach is a … soap-style drama … while earlier show Moving Wallpaper is a comedy that follows the fictionalized crew who make it." 
Wow. Sounds GREAT. I would never have expected this from ITV!

“The interlinking comedy and drama screen back to back … with plots, characters and jokes crossing over between the two."
THAT was a one-way street.

“Echo Beach sees much-loved soap stars Jason Donovan and Martine McCutcheon return to their roots playing ex-lovers Daniel and Susan."  
I should have known...

“On the other side of the camera, in Moving Wallpaper, the hapless producer Jonathan Pope (Ben Miller, of Armstrong and Miller), is pushing his creative team to the limit.”
But not far enough to exceed mild humour!

“Producer Jonathan Pope claims the concept will 'change the face of British television for ever'.”
I doubt it.

As you’ve probably guessed, this did not live-up to my expectations. Perhaps because I was a huge fan of The Larry Sanders Show, from which this type of concept is obviously derived. I’m not saying no other show can do it; I loved Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

Moving Wallpaper & Echo Beach takes the step of splitting the idea into two separate shows. And is weaker for it, IMO. But they are targeting a different audience (I think!) and soap fans might appreciate this more than me.

However, I did laugh at this line in Moving Wallpaper.
Script Editor to Producer: “They’re writers, they hate everyone!”

Everyone? Perhaps with the exception of Larry Sanders!!!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Editing Frenzy

If I were keeping to my schedule, I would, by now, have written several thousand words of the first draft of my new novel.

But I woke with a start on Sunday morning, compelled to edit (yet again!) the manuscript I’m currently submitting. I was puzzled. I ate a delicious croissant and drank a litre of coffee, hoping to come to my senses.

I’d previously worried that I had edited this novel to death. So why was I thinking of pushing it over the cliff? Was this a self-destructive urge? Was I about to take a sledgehammer to my pages, my goal, my DREAM?

Sentences and paragraphs flashed through my mind. I was editing again, already!

Did I need a therapist?

No. I needed to sit down and spend three days on the FINAL, final edit. And I made a lot of changes. Things that, for whatever reason, I hadn’t seen before. The manuscript is definitely not dead (why had I thought that?) and much improved by this FINAL edit.

Next week, I’ll start my new novel -- my ghost story. And push the deadline for the first draft back to the middle of April.

It’s vital to have goals and deadlines and schedules. But, I’m learning, flexibility is hugely important.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Horses & Ponies

I should have blogged about this sooner, when it wasn’t last year’s news!

I’m a fan of local newspapers. One of my favourites is The Keswick Reminder (it inspired the newspaper in my novel). When I first saw it, I couldn’t believe it: eight pages, no colour, heavier paper than regular newsprint. I'd include a link -- but they don't have a website.

I love things in miniature, and I also love horses. So this story in The Cumberland News about the surprise birth a Falabella foal, just days before Christmas, warmed my heart. (No, I'm not afraid to be syrupy!)

I would love to have been one of the children in the photo. How wonderful for a five-year-old to stand face-to-face with a horse, then actually bend down to stroke the foal. When I was five, ponies were HUGE!

And I’ve decided; when my dreams come true and I have a house with a field, I will own two of these miniature horses.

It will be an ideal world, so... I think I’ll also buy a Fell Pony!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

The best book I read in 2007...

Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb

I’m in awe of this little book (132 pages). It is so well written, acutely observed, interesting, funny; such a good story, beautifully told.

From the back cover: “Amélie, a well-intentioned and eager young westerner, goes to Japan to spend a year working at the Yumimoto Corporation. Returning to the land where she was born is the fulfilment of a dream for Amélie, but once there her working life quickly becomes a comic nightmare of terror and self-abasement. Disturbing, hilarious and totally convincing, Fear and Trembling displays an elegant and shrewd understanding of the intricate ways in which Japanese relationships are made and spoiled.”

I’ve read reviews that describe this novel as “simplistic", and the characters “stereotypical”. But Amélie has a chid-like view. Nothomb pulls it off with verve!

Happy New Year!