Saturday, 15 October 2011

This blog has moved ...

... to a column on my shiny new website at:

The website will be live from the middle of the third week in October 2011.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The rewrite, continued ...

For various reasons (life in all its glorious unpredictability, mostly) I find myself re-rewriting my second novel.

It's not an unusual state, after all, all writing is rewriting (finally found the man who said it):

Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is greatly to enhance the prospects of never publishing. Richard North Patterson
My new delivery date, to my long-suffering agent, is 18 April. Here's a beautiful image (from Flickr) for that day:

May my second novel (whose title, at least for the moment, is WRITTEN in WATER) bloom as beautifully, very soon.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Rewrites and primroses

I've just delivered the rewritten manuscript of my second novel, WRITTEN in WATER (as it is now called) to my agent. Wish it luck, please.

I've written about the novel before, here, but it was a while ago (writing a novel is like climbing a mountain, you keep reaching a summit which, you discover, has another summit hidden behind it). And here as well, when it didn't have a good enough title, among other things. And here, if you really want to read any more or go back that far.

And primroses ... :

because they thread their way through the novel and so, even though they are outwith the season, as one of the characters says in the novel, this photograph, which came from here (thank you) is to wish my manuscript luck when it lands on the publisher's desk, and because I hope the primroses will bring me luck too, and show me that this summit really is the summit (for this novel).

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Just When ... will we do something?

Just published by the wonderful Beautiful Books, is this volume of short stories:
Inspired by Kipling's Just-So Stories, the Just When Stories focus on the animals we need to protect today. There are stories about turtles and cranes, seahorses and chimpanzees, ducks and elephants and dolphins, tortoises and tigers and more.
The stories are published (and there's also a CD of five of the stories) to raise awareness of the horrendous rate at which animals are becoming extinct in our world. I contributed a story to the book because I think we have forgotten that this planet belongs to ALL the creatures, not just us, and I wanted to do something, just a little something, to try to help restore the balance.
Tamara Gray, who put this whole beautiful book together, says:
One hundred years ago, when Rudyard Kipling wrote the Just So Stories, including his story of the rhinoceros with the itchy skin, rhino numbers stood at around 65,000. Today, fewer than 3,000 black rhinos survive. The same tragic story goes for too many other animals.
The title Just When Stories asks the question: when will the irrational and cruel destruction of wildlife stop? And when will we take action to make it stop? Estimated at between $6 and $20 billion a year by Interpol, the illegal wildlife trade has drastically reduced numerous wildlife populations and has some teetering on the brink of extinction. All profits from the sales of the book and associated media formats will be donated in full to WildAid and the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation. The authors are: William Boyd, Raffaella Barker, Anthony Doerr, Nirmal Ghosh, Romesh Gunesekera, Witi Ihimaera, Radhika Jha, Hanif Kureishi, Antonia Michaelis, Michael Morpurgo, Jin Pyn Lee, Lauren St John, Kate Thompson, Nury Vittachi, Polly Samson, Shaun Tan, Louisa Young and Angela Young.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Nine months later ...

... and exactly the right amount of time since my last post, because I have just delivered the manuscript of my second novel to my agent.

The process hasn't been painless, but what birth is?

But the most important thing I've discovered is that a story can be told in many different ways without its heart getting lost or its soul fragmented. This novel has been through several drafts (all quite different) but the story at its heart has grown stronger each time. In fact my trouble is that I fail to get to the heart of the matter quickly enough. I circle round it but fail to find the courage to dive in until the very last minute. I love words so much that I let them lead me where they will instead of heading (wrong word, hearting) for the heart of the piece as early as I can.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.
And he's so right ... my agent, the wonderful
Heather Holden-Brown suggested, when I delivered the second draft in the middle of April, that she still didn't care enough for my protagonist. It was only when I went where my protagonist went with my own heart, when I cried and laughed with her as I wrote, that I got there ... no surprise, of course, but it is the thing I avoid doing because it means I must feel too ... aren't we strange creatures? The very thing I need to do to make the novel work is the very thing I avoid doing until I absolutely have to ... so frightening, sometimes, these things called feelings.

The novel, by the way, is called WRITTEN in WATER now (adapted from John Keats's epitaph for himself and suggested by a friend). And it was sent out to publishers on Tuesday. So now we (my agent and I) wait to see who'd like to publish it ... nerve-wracking and exciting all at the same time.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

And now for a complete rewrite

When George Plimpton of The Paris Review [pages 6-7] asked Hemingway why he rewrote so many times, he said:

I do it to get the words right
He was right. Of course he was right. He always is. (He also wrote standing up. Perhaps I should try that.)
Since 16 June, when I delivered what I fondly believed to be an almost-finished draft of my new novel to my agent, I have read her report and her reader's report and we have met and I have written a new plan for the novel and said agent and reader have reported on my new plan and we have talked again and during the whole process I have realised:
that there are many ways to tell the same story
The trick is to choose the way that best serves the particular story you are writing. (Not as easy as you might think.)

But as I begin the rewrite I am excited and enthused and delighted by what lies ahead, and altogether a rather more grown-up writer than the one who began this process. (I reverted, when I first read the reports, to a spoilt, five-year-old, misunderstood child but by the time we met I had, mercifully, recovered my senses - and my age - and arrived full of ideas for ways to rewrite along the lines they suggested.)

I am still searching for a title. At the moment it is SONG of the STARS but I hope a better one will occur as I rewrite. But if any of you should come up with a title for a novel set in late Victorian/early Edwardian and just post-World-War-One England and Scotland, whose central dramatic event is my protagonist's survival of the sinking of the Titanic and her change of heart and character as she tries to cheer her frightened fellow passengers beneath the bright stars (it was a calm, cold, extraordinarily starlit night) I would love to hear from you.

And in case you were wondering why all the hills, they're not indicative of the ones I must climb as I rewrite, but of the beautiful Lomond Hills in Fife where my protagonist will live for part of the novel.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Thursday last ...

... on Thursday last I gave my second novel, whose working title is Hope Remains, to my agent.

And now I feel oddly bereft.

I have become so used to spending my days immersed in the sadnesses and joys of the characters, in watching them move about in my head, in omitting long passages that I had planned for them and in discovering the things that they led me to ... that now my days feel empty.

The original idea for the novel came from the fact that my great-grandmother survived the sinking of the Titanic ... but facts do not a novel make and so I invented a life and a love for her. What she realises about herself in her lifeboat in the cold lonely mid-Atlantic is at the heart of the novel both emotionally and actually (there's a pleasing symmetry in that).

I hope the language serves the characters and their stories well but now, until my agent has had time to read the book and tell me where she thinks it needs work, I have to leave the characters and their stories alone.

And I find that I miss them.

In the nursery rhyme Monday's Child, Thursday's child 'Has far to go ... '. I hope that Hope Remains and its characters won't have too far to go before a publisher provides them with a home. (And I find a better title!)

And it's been odd, but since October last I have never once felt like MATing ... perhaps I've kicked the habit?

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Not posting, but writing

I'm working on my second novel so I won't be posting for a while (not even to MAT).

I don't know how long a while is, and I won't know until I get there, but the SOED says:

A period of time, considered with respect to its duration.

and, a little less obliquely:

The time spent (connoting trouble, effort or work) in doing something.

So that's what I'll be doing (not, please note, whiling away the time which implies that nothing will have been achieved by the time the whiling ends). And that's why I won't be posting for some while.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The White Tiger wins the Man Booker

Congratulations to Aravind Adiga whose first novel, The White Tiger, won the Man Booker prize last night. Michael Portillo - chair of the 2008 judges - said it 'knocked his socks off'.

I haven't read it yet, so I've still got my socks on ... but I heard Adiga interviewed this morning on the Today programme (and yesterday, before the announcement), and he sounded wise and thoughtful. The White Tiger deals with one man's quest for freedom in modern India; Adiga works as a journalist in India, and he's almost finished his second novel ... . The White Tiger is the fourth first novel to win the Man Booker. The others were The Bone People, The God of Small Things and Vernon God Little.

I've just finished Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture which was shortlisted for the Man Booker (and which I hoped would win but obviously Portillo's socks remained on his feet when he read it). It is a beautiful, poetic vision of Ireland embodied by the two main characters: one female, presbyterian, Irish and one hundred years old; the other sixtyish, male, English (but he's lived in Ireland for years) and Catholic. I recommend it.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The Troubadour Cafe

The Troubadour is, as they say on their website, a proper cafe. It's been around for years but it just gets better and better. It's in London, find out where here, and it's in Speaking of Love because, in the Sixties in London, it was the place for poets to read and perform their poetry. (It still is.) It's also where Bob Dylan and friends played in the Sixties. So where else could I possibly set Kit Marchwood's poetry readings but The Troubadour? It was the grooviest place I knew at the time, and I fell in love with the coffee pots on the shelves in the window.
Aren't they beautiful?

Like Iris in Speaking of Love, I hoped I was as trendy as the trendiest customers and, of course, I longed for a poet to fall in love with me. I gave that privilege to Iris (probably because it never happened to me … !) when Kit falls for her on the night she comes to hear him and then, until they leave London, they share his flat above The Troubadour.

If you live in London, or when you come here, do go to The Troubadour. You can even stay there if you rent The Garret above the cafe; you can eat wonderful food there; you can listen to poets and musicians in The Club and if you can't make it to The Troubadour for a while, you can whet your appetite by reading about it in Speaking of Love.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

The Man Booker Shortlist

So here they are:

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole

Two first novels have made the shortlist, Adiga's and Toltz's, which is wondeful. But I'm very sad that John Berger's book didn't make it.

My money - if I had any - is on Sebastian Barry to win.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

SW11 Literary Festival

I know I said I wasn't going to post for a while because I'm writing ... but I thought you might like to know that the SW11 (London) Literary Festival begins on Monday 8 September and ends on Monday 29 September.

Here's what Wandsworth Council - the organisers - say about it:

The SW11 Literary Festival 2008 is going to be one of the most exciting so far. Apart from a programme of excellent writers there are a number of creative writing workshops, from poetry to playwriting, to starting a novel. There is also an event devoted entirely to chocolate! The legendary Quiz is back, get a team together and turn up at the Latchmere Pub for a great evening of Literary fun.
Victoria Hislop and Will Self and Ruth Rendell will be appearing, among many others, including the wonderful storyteller Jan Blake who'll be running a storytelling workshop. And I'm going to do a Speaking of Love talk and reading on Wednesday 24 September @ 7pm at Battersea Library, Lavender Hill, SW11.

Hope to see you there.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Writing, not Posting

I am writing or, more to the point, doing this before I write. I have laid the foundations and now I'm building the trellises and the supports around which the plants of my story will grow.

(image found here)

I still agree with John Fowles when he says that writing is an organic process. He wrote this, on pages 85 & 86 of my copy of The French Lieutenant's Woman:

You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons. ... Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine. We also know that a genuinely created world must be independent of its creator; a planned world (a world that fully reveals its planning) is a dead world.

but living breathing organisms also need a purpose and a direction and, as they grow, they conceal, and can replace, the 'planned world' - the pergolas, around which they began their growth.

When the pergolas and the trellises are completed, I shall write.

So I won't be posting for some time.

I don't know how long.

But, for the moment, the MATs have flown.

(image found here)

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Booker Longlist

I'm a bit late ... it was announced on 29 July, here, but here they are:

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture
John Berger From A to X
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency
Joseph O'Neill Netherland
Salman Rushdie The Enchantress of Florence
Tom Rob Smith Child 44
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole

My excuse for lateness is that I've been here:

and saw him:

by David Cerny in front of his
museum. (Although this statue of him isn't in front of his museum, it's in the Jewish quarter where he lived.)

And then we saw Mucha's glorious stained glass window:here.

However, back to the Booker point, and I find myself, like Simon at Stuck in a Book, not having read a single longlisted title. But I love the sound of Girl in a Blue Dress - particularly because it was published by Tindal Street Press, a small press, although I've just discovered that it's not published until 14 August, and I've heard Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture not only tipped to win, but highly praised.

And John Berger, if my memory isn't fooling me, gave at least half his 1972 Booker Prize winnings, for G, to the Black Panthers in protest at the Booker's sugar-trade funding. (The latest Berger I've read is Here is Where We Meet, which is quite wonderful. It is, at least in part - and again if my memory isn't deserting me - a fictional encounter with his dead mother who is, beautifully and heartbreakingly, more alive than he is and so teaches him how to live.)

Saturday, 26 July 2008


Sheri at One of the Best Things posted this (two quotes about writing and ideas).

Which inspired me to post, in a comment, Goethe's wonderful words:

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
And then I thought I'd post them here too, for double inspiration.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Six Random Things ...

... I was tagged by A Work in Progress at the beginning of May (yes, that's the beginning of May) to do this meme which I've only just seen. My excuse is (and it's a good one) that I've been head-down in planning (yes, that is planning) my second novel so I haven't been reading many blogs or writing much on this blog.

That'll be the case for some time to come ... but for a bit of light relief from planning, here are six random things about me:

1 I write fiction. It is the thing I've always wanted to do and now that I'm doing it - even if it's going horribly wrong - I'm a much nicer person than I was when I desperately wanted to write and couldn't find the courage to begin. (The thing about writing that isn't talked about much is that you need a job that both pays you enough to live on and gives you enough time to write. I edit and proofread freelance and it more or less works.)

2 I love blue ... once upon sometime ago, when I was the Economist's first personnel manager, I had a blue office, even though the corporate colour was, and still is, red. I learned to edit and proofread at the Economist, thank you Economist.

3 I love How to Eat by Nigella Lawson (and, of course, Nigella Express). The thing is she's a wonderful cook AND a wonderful writer which is an irresistible combination.

4 I used to be jealous of the successes of other writers, but now that I know how long it takes to write a novel and how difficult it can be to get a novel out into the world, I find myself not only free of all jealousy, but full of admiration for other writers. There's a wonderful freedom in that.

5 My grandmother once told me that my handwriting is 'quite beautiful and utterly illegible'. (Interesting, for a writer, don't you think?)

6 I have fallen in love late in life and that is a gift beyond description (or expectation).

Here are the rules for this meme:
Link to the person who tagged you
Post the rules somewhere in your meme
Write the six random things
Tag six people in your post
Let the tagees know they’ve been chosen by leaving a comment on their blog
Let the tagger know your entry is posted

I haven't tagged anyone ... but if you'd like to do this meme do let me know that you've done it because I'd love to read your six random things.

Monday, 14 July 2008

BBC National Short Story Award: the winner

Congratulations to Clare Wigfall who's just won the BBC National Short Story Award 2008 for her story The Numbers from her collection The Loudest Sound and Nothing.

The shortlist is here; a couple of blogs about Clare Wigfall are here (and see the Faber website link from her name, above) and you can listen again to her story, The Numbers, here until Wednesday 16 July.

May she write many many more.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

The BBC National Short Story Award

The shortlist is:

Richard Beard Guidelines for Measures to Cope with Disgraceful and Other Events
Jane Gardam The People on Privilege Hill
Erin Soros Surge
Adam Thorpe The Names
Clare Wigfall The Numbers

The stories are being read on Radio Four all this week, you can listen, or listen again, here, and the winning story and the story that runs up will be announced on 14 July on the Today programme, here.

The prizes are severely financially worthwhile ... so hooray for the BBC, Prospect, the Arts Councils and the Book Trusts who've made it happen.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Storytellers ... on the road

Two storytellers, Peter Chand and Giles Abbott, have begun a storytelling journey from Avebury to London. Like itinerant monks, they will depend on the charity (or love as it has long been translated) of others for their welfare along the way, and in return they will tell stories.

Their storytelling journey will also raise money for the Parkinson's Disease Society, the MS Society and Chelsea Children's Hospital Schools.

Iris, in Speaking of Love, becomes an oral storyteller and oral stories inform the novel. I fell in love with oral stories as I was thinking about the novel that eventually became Speaking of Love and it seems to me that what these two storytellers are doing is reincarnating the ancient art of the troubadour. Catch them if you can, on the road.

PS: they're blogging about their journey as they travel too ... on their website.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

The Reader: Philip Pullman and The Storyteller's Responsibility

The Summer issue of The Reader is, as usual, full of wonderful things (I discovered The Reader over on dovegreyreader's blog a while ago, thank you dovegrey).

But the reason this issue (No. 30) is particularly wonderful to me is because of the essay by Philip Pullman called The Storyteller's Responsibility. It beautifully describes what it is that we storytellers think about - or should be thinking about - when we write.

Pullman writes about financial responsibilities: 'We should sell our work for as much as we can decently get for it' in order to support our families; and the responsibility to, and for looking after, the language: 'We should acquire as many dictionaries as we have space for.'

He discusses clarity and emotional honesty and keeping a check on our own self-importance, but the responsibility that Pullman feels 'trumps every other' is:

the storyteller's responsibility to the story itself. ... When the story's just a thought, just the most evanescent little wisp of a thing - we have to look after it ... to protect it while it becomes sure of itself and settles on the form it wants.
He writes eloquently about how the writer doesn't know why a story wants to go in one direction and not another, just that that is true. The story is 'the boss' and 'this is the point where responsibility takes the form of service ... freely and fairly entered into. This service is a voluntary and honourable thing.'

And on planning, my sometime difficulty, he writes these wonderful, and wonderfully clear, words:
Telling a story involves thinking of some interesting events, putting them in the best order to bring out the connections between them, and telling about them as clearly as we can; and if we get the last part right, we won't be able to disguise any failure with the first - which is actually the most difficult, and the most important.
Wonderul summer reading. Thank you, The Reader.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Literary fathers

Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book has prompted this post, with his post today.

He asks who our favourite literary fathers are. I commented on his post, here, but I feel so strongly that Mr Bennet is the best literary father in my literary world that I've turned my comment there into a post here.

Mr Bennet is undoubtedly the best literary father, to me, for these reasons: when Lizzie Bennet turns down the obsequious Mr Collins's offer for her hand in marriage (a match that would keep the Bennet house in the family, that would save the Bennets from losing the roof over their heads when their father dies, but a match that Lizzie cannot make because she cannot love Mr Collins) Mr Bennet says:

'Well, Lizzie, from this day henceforth it seems you must be a stranger to one of your parents.' (He looks at her while she nervously awaits his decision. He keeps her waiting ... .) Then he says: 'Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins ... and I will never see you again if you do.'

Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet in the BBC's 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Mr Bennet's deep love for his favourite daughter shines through these words, as does her subsequent relief, her slight surprise and then her gratitude and her laughter at what he has to say.

And Mr Bennet's amused, and sometimes not-so-amused tolerance of his desperate-to-marry-off-their-daughters wife (see here for some more of the wise and wonderful words Jane Austen gave him, adapted for various screenplays), his asking of the right questions of his daughters at crucial moments and his understanding of them (for instance, when Jane becomes engaged to Mr Bingley it is Mr Bennet who understands why they will never quarrel - because they can only see good in each other) - all these things make him the father of literary fathers, to me.

But I also feel this deeply because my own too-long-dead father loved Mr Bennet himself, and sometimes thought himself in a similar twentieth-century version of Mr Bennet's position because he had four daughters of his own and no sons.

Why don't you suggest your own favourite literary fathers, either in comments here, or where the idea began, over at Stuck in a Book, here.

Monday, 9 June 2008

South East London reading

I'll be talking about and reading from Speaking of Love tonight at Penge Library in south east London. It's part of The Blurb, Bromley's June festival of Books and Reading and it's free, but if you'd like to come you need to book. The event has been organised in association with Spread the Word's bookchat series ... because Speaking of Love came fifth (of 500) in Spread the Word's Books to Talk About competition earlier in the year.

It would be lovely to see you there ... .

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Rose Tremain wins Orange ... HURRAH!

One hundred years ago a great friend told me about Rose Tremain's short stories, and since then I haven't stopped reading her work. She's written at least two collections of short stories and ten novels and today, wonderful writer that she is, Rose Tremain has won the Orange Prize for Fiction with her tenth novel, The Road Home (a wonderful portrait of an eastern European immigrant and his struggles to settle here and, more importantly, to find that place that we all long to call home). Tremain's work has been shortlisted for the Booker and for the Orange before, but this is the first time it has won. I can't think why it hasn't happened before. Her work is brilliant and deserves all the awards.

I've read every novel she has written (she's been writing for more than thirty years), but if you haven't, I recommend Restoration, whose central character, Robert Merivel, physician, transforms himself from King Charles II's idiotic vet (and cuckold) into an empathetic and wise-before-his-time doctor at a Quaker asylum for the insane. This, as Merivel tells what has been revealed to him about the treatment of the insane, had me in tears:

'Madness may be born of many things but yet for all except those who are lunatic from their births there was a Time Before, a time when there was no madness in them ... madness is not a static thing but, just as all things in the world are changeful, so is madness and, like them, may change for the better or for the worse. But we do not ask what were the Footsteps of each case of madness ... and we should try with each one of those in our care to look back into past time and ask them to ... remember how it was to be in the Time Before and what thing or calamity came about to put them into the Sickening Time ... .' And now [out] poured all my ... cures by dancing, my suggestions for story-telling and the playing of music.
Or there's the wonderful Music and Silence set in King Christian IV of Denmark's court (1630) who lives in fear for his life and his country's ruin, and his wife's not-so-secret adultery. He comforts himself with music which is played by his Royal Orchestra in the freezing cellar at Rosenborg, while he listens in his cosy Vinterstue above. Music, he hopes, will create the sublime order he craves but Kirsten, his devious wife, detests music.Or you could try The Colour, which is set in the New Zealand Gold Rush of the mid-19th century (I never knew there was a New Zealand Gold Rush until I read The Colour) - to which Harriet and Joseph Baxter (and his mother) have fled from East Anglia to escape the consequences of something he did ... and to build a new life.
All Tremain's work is peopled with vivid and often strange characters, and will live long after you've read it in your head because of its glorious settings and, above all, its emotional and psychological honesty. She's written seven other novels that I haven't even mentioned, but read her work ... you won't be disappointed.

Here's a big HURRAH for Rose Tremain (and for the friend who told me about her all those years ago).

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Favourite authors, at a moment's notice ...

Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book tagged me for this meme, which began on Heather's site, Errant Thoughts. Thank you , Simon ... .

1. Who’s your all-time favourite author, and why?

John Fowles because his use of language is astonishing, glorious, erudite and because it teaches me, without patronising, and because he creates worlds that I never want to leave. Particularly The French Lieutenant's Woman

for its extraordinary story within the story, modern/Victorian novel, double-ending brilliance.

2. Who was your first favourite author, and why? Do you still consider him or her among your favourites?

Lewis Carroll, for all the same reasons as John Fowles, and most particularly Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. 3. Who’s the most recent addition to your list of favourite authors, and why?

Marina Fiorato, see here for her debut novel, The Glassblower of Murano, just published in the UK. An absolute must-read for lovers of Venice, lovers of glass and its extraordinary nature and lovers of mystery and love. Lovers, really.

4. If someone asked you who your favourite authors were right now, which authors would first pop out of your mouth? Are there any you’d add on a moment of further reflection?

John Fowles, Lewis Carroll, Maggie O'Farrell, Rose Tremain, Jeanette Winterson, Marina Fiorato.

And on a bit of reflection ... Niall Williams, Philip Larkin, George Eliot, the Brontes, Jean Rhys, Michael Ondaatje, Douglas Adams, Khaled Hosseini, Danny Schienmann, one William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Taylor, Rosamund Lehmann and so many more ... but if I listed them all this reflection would go on until tomorow.

I tag these five people to continue this meme, if they feel like it:

Verbivore (now Incurable Logophilia) - who's on holiday for a little while
Booknotes by Lisa
A Work in Progress
Geranium Cat's Bookshelf

and anyone else who'd like to join in ... .

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Foot Planning

In the poem called 'Words' for Lucy in Don't Let them Tell you How to Grieve, there are these lines:

one foot in front of the other
and don't forget to breathe

They are the last lines in a poem which is full of the words of comfort that people send to a grieving person, and they are so very apt. The poet says that they are the lines she clings to.

But I also think that, in happier circumstances, those words can be applied to the planning of a novel (or the planning of anything). So, today, I have begun writing the chronological stories of my two main characters, one foot in front of the other, breathing when I don't know where I'm going (but not diving off into a haven of frenzied research) ... and I shall continue, one foot in front of the other, until the end of the plan.

It sounds simple, I know. But the temptation to veer off the road into writing a full-blown scene, or into frenzied research (procrastination, so often) is gigantic.

Wish me luck, please.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Don't Let Them Tell You How To Grieve

I read about this extraordinarily beautiful, touching, poignant, funny, sad, life-affirming, illuminating, comforting and grief-understanding collection of poems by Gina Claye on dovegreyreader's blog at the end of April.

I ordered myself a couple of copies which arrived this morning.

I know we all talk about essential books, but this one is quintessential. Buy it for yourself, for those you love, for those you don't know well, for anyone who's grieving who you'd like to tell that they're not alone. Buy it from here or here or here, or anywhere, but please do buy it.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Lost in Translation ... ?

I found a clever little widget over at Bookersatz which translates your blog for you. It's called Altavista Babelfish Translator and you can see it over there on the right and down a bit.

But because the title of my blog includes a neologism the translations are hilarious.

In French MATs translate as NATTES (plaits or braids); in German MATs translate as MATTEN (enough or curds) and in Norwegian as FOOD (I found that by mistake - there isn't a Norwegian flag on the widget); in Chinese there are apparently no characters for Angela or blog and by the time I clicked on the Portuguese flag Bablefish had expired for the day.

Never mind, it's surely enough to confuse the French, the Germans and the Norwegians into thinking that I plait my hair instead of writing; that I have simply had enough of writing or that I resort to eating curds (or anything) instead of writing.

I wonder how this post will translate ... ?

Monday, 5 May 2008

Research, and fiction

It is an extraordinary thing (although obvious I'm sure to all except me) the way that research informs fiction and changes its direction.

Several years ago, when I was writing a series of Just-Soesque short stories for children, I spent hours in the Zoological Society's library because I wanted the anatomical details of the animals I was writing about to be accurate by the end of the story. I didn't want to mislead my young readers, even in a piece of fiction, because I knew, even then, that if a reader finds something implausible, or worse, just plain wrong, she loses faith with the whole story - even if it's fiction.

In my research I read that a group of camels, seen from a distance
looks like a group of ostrichesand immediately the story changed direction and got itself published in SPIDER (back issues with that story, Ostriches, or the birds nobody noticed, aren't available online).

I've just been transcribing tapes of an interview with a woman who knew my great-grandmother and the things she told me about the friendship between my great-grandfather and my step-great-grandfather have conjured scenes where once there was nothing but sheets of blank white paper ... .

Research is better than inspiration, any day.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Planning a novel ...

... is a strange and frustrating business, despite my colleague's beautiful vine and wire analogy.

My heart gives a little leap of excitement each time I think I've 'got it', only to find that what I thought I'd got won't work, because something else comes to light as a result of what I thought I'd got.

I would love to be able to look on this process as a puzzle: (image from the Crafty Puzzle Company), as I've heard Peter Matthiessen say that he does. I've also heard him say that while meditating - he practices Zen Buddhism - the answer to a plot puzzle sometimes comes to him, which is frustrating because he can't get up and write it down. But when he told his Zen Master this, the Master simply smiled and said, 'Well of course you must go and write it down.'

I admit that I am less frustrated with Hope Remains (working title for the novel that was, once, a biography of my great-grandmother) than I was at this stage with Speaking of Love because I know, having got there once before, that the puzzle will resolve itself eventually (or, I will resolve it). But I am impatient to write before I've done enough planning even though I know, from bitter experience, that to write too soon means writing for miles down the wrong road.

What I need is a plausible connection between Jennie, my twenty-first century protagonist, and Noel, my own (fictionalised) Edwardian great-grandmother beyond the Titanic (possible title there ...). It must be something that Jennie would, plausibly, not have known. I thought I had it last night but this morning the sun is shining brilliantly through the holes. With any luck the sun will shine on a watertight solution tomorrow ... .

Thursday, 24 April 2008

As easy as 123

Norm at normblog has tagged me for this ... and because I've never been tagged before (I'm so easily flattered) and because my nearest book was not what I usually read but what I absolutely need (for research for my next novel) I thought I'd give it a go:

1. Pick up the nearest book
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence
4. Post the next three sentences
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you

Nearest book: The Edwardians: the Remaking of British Society by Paul Thompson. The sixth, seventh and eighth sentences on page 123 are:

There was the annual Sunday school outing. In summer they could go walking, and pick up apples. But for these English country children there was nothing equivalent to the storytelling, music and dancing which still flourished, as we saw in Peter Henry's story, both in family and community in the north.
I've tagged - if they want to be tagged: Stuck-in-a-Book, BooksPlease, Cornflower, A Work in Progress and Random Jottings.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Telling ourselves into being

I found this:

We tell ourselves into being, don't we?... I think that is one of the great reasons for stories. I mean, we are the storytelling animal, there is no other creature on earth that tells itself stories in order to understand who it is. This is what we do, we've always done it, whether they are religious stories or personal stories, or tall stories, or lies, or useful stories, we live by telling each other and telling ourselves the stories of ourselves.
It's from an interview with Salman Rushdie by Matthew d'Ancona at The Spectator. But I didn't find it there, I found it here, at normblog. Rushdie says precisely what I believe about why we tell (or write) stories ... what possible other reason could there be? This is it.

Thank you Norm, at normblog.