Thursday, November 29, 2007

Today's the Day!

Sorry to keep wittering on about this. But I've never had a book published before, and even though I have been in the industry for far too long, I have never got over the excitement of seeing a book I've worked on make it into a bookshop, so to have one I've written selling in Tesco's from today, is just bloody unbelievable.

I've been hugely helped by a lot of people on the road to publication but I would like to say a special thanks to my wonderful agent, editor and everyone else at Avon, and also to the RNA, which in my (unbiased, clearly) view is the best professional writing organisation in the world.

I don't usually go hugely personal on the blog (apart from my splurge about my dad several months ago) - I guess like the majority of bloggers I like to build a little wall around the bits I am prepared to write about and those I'm not, but I hope you'll forgive me here if become a little indulgent.

When I first wrote Pastures New it was going to be set in a Surrey market town, similar to the one I live in - write what you know and all that. However my very brilliant editor felt that as Amy my heroine was giving up life in the city, she needed to go a bit further afield. I was at a loss to begin with as to where to send her, and then I had the brainwave of sending her out to Suffolk, as that is where my mother's family comes from.

I've talked a fair amount about my paternal grandmother, whose name I blog under, but I think it's time to mention my maternal one. Her family came from a little village in Suffolk called Bures, and many many years ago my mother took us there. My great great grandfather (I think - I'm sure MT will correct me if I've got it wrong) ran the water mill at Bures, a lovely little village that sits I think on the River Stour (may have got that wrong too) - if it's not Stour it will be a tributary thereof. My mother wanted to find the grave of her great Uncle Bob, whom she thought was buried in a graveyard which bears the charming name of Cuckoo Hill. I remember us scouring for ever to look for his grave and not finding it.

Having a) a scene in the book where my heroine encounters my hero sitting in a graveyard and b) liking the idea of a town like Bures (which is actually Bures/Bures St Mary) which straddles a river, and so half the town is in Essex and the other half in Sussex (my hero is a GP, so I was able to get in the odd topical comment about post code lotteries), I decided that I would base my town on Bures.

So last autumn I took a very enjoyable day trip out to Suffolk with my mother and we went back to Bures, so I could take some photos and get a feel for the place. We found the graveyard again, where stupidly I didn't take any pictures, but it is the basis of the graveyard Amy sits in in the book. We also looked for members of the Clark family (my grandmother's maiden name) but again couldn't find any.

Then we went to Stourbridge, so I could get some pictures of a high street, to form the basis of the high street in the book. And from the trip Nevermorewell (so called because the air so good, local tradition says you're never more well then when you're in Nevermorewell) was born.

The High Street in the book isn't exactly like this, it's more of a conglomeration of Stourbridge and my own town - but that's the fun of creating an imaginary landscape.

This though is a pub very much like the one I send another character Saffron too.

And these cottages in Bures, bear a passing resemblance to Amy's. One of them may or may not be Great Uncle Bob's which my mother remembers visiting in the thirties.

And the church at Nevermorewell probably owes a lot the one at Bures. I discovered here, from my mother that Suffolk churches are huge because of the wealth of the wool trade in mediaeval times - a snippet that trickled into the book as I've made Amy and Ben both interested in local history.

And finally, here's the river at Bures which I couldn't actually see from the graveyard, but Amy and Ben can see in Nevermorwell. I also added a huge country park next to it, where all my characters go out on a country walk. This isn't anywhere near Bures, but I think (again from memory) it's somewhere near Saffron Walden - my mother took us there a few years ago as it was the site of country walks which my grandparents took in their courting days.

The personal I find always has a way of sneaking into fiction. I have dozens of little things in Pastures New that have either happened to me or someone I know, and have popped up in an unexpected way when I came to write them.
I wrote a lot about my father earlier this year - when writing the character of Harry I had really been thinking about my father in law, who was a keen gardener. It was only when Mad Twin read it, and commented on the fact, I realised a lot of his philosophies were coming straight out of my father's mouth.

I used a rather dramatic incident from my childhood to form the basis of a secret that Ben is keeping.
Spouse losing his wedding ring in his parents' garden and it coming up on a leaf makes an appearance too.
As does the shillelagh...

I don't know if it works like that for other writers, but that's the way it works for me.

And it gave me great pleasure to create Nevermorewell and think of my mother's family when I was doing it. I come from a very large extended family, and as I've got older, and my children occupy me more, it is one of the sadnesses of my life that there is never enough time to go and visit, as they are in the main too far away to hop over to see them while the kids are at school, and there always seems to be so little time during the holidays.
I have several wonderful aunts, the oldest of whom loomed large in my childhood as the aunt who tried and failed to teach me to knit. She was also the most elegant person I have ever known and to me as a child always seemed so bright and sprightly and full of life.
She's now in her eighties and getting very frail. I haven't been able to see her for far too long.
A couple of weeks ago I did nearly get to see her, but unfortunately the timings didn't work out. But this week she's staying with my mother, to whom I've just sent a copy of the book. I had a phone call last night to say my aunt, for whom life is pretty difficult now, had been reading bits of it out to my mother all evening and getting so much pleasure out of it that she took it to bed with her.
An unexpectedly moving bonus, I think.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Second Book itis

I have been suffering from a severe case of second book itis.

As you are all boringly aware by now I have just completed the second book, just as the first book hits the shops.

Book no 2 is a very different beast to no 1. It's faster and more furious. I've concentrated on four different characters rather then three, and I've spent significantly less time with them then I did with Ben and Amy, the characters in Pastures New, who lived in my head for nearly four years by the time I'd finished with them.

Book 2 is also not really my second novel - if you count the unpublished ones it's my fourth. So you might think I'd got the hang of this writing malarkey now.

You might.

But actually, I approached the writing of book 2 with a huge amount of trepidation. Up until now, though the aim has obviously always been publication, to a degree I could please myself, and write what I liked, not what someone else wanted (there is, believe me a difference - having sat at the receving end of manuscripts which are fabulously written etc etc but not at all what I was looking for, I am well aware of how the commercial writing world works.And there is no point writing something that nobody wants).

This time around, I not only had a deadline and an editor as well as my agent to please, but I also had to overcome the psychological hurdle every author faces of feeling you're only as good as your last book. As an editor I never quite understood this phenomenon, knowing that I was going to love the stories of most of the authors I was fortunate enough to work with, but oh, how I understand it now.

It is - paralysing. Utterly utterly paralysing. I finished dealing with the edits of Pastures New earlyish in the year, and then was supposed to get down to business. I had my characters: Mark a divorced dentist (where my story began) about to be sued by a z list celebrity; Emily a lawyer realising she is in the wrong job, relationship, life; Rob whose happy go lucky exterior hides a painful secret; and Katie, who is ridiculously eager to show she has a perfect life. I've brought them all together at dancing classes. I had a very detailed plot worked out. I knew exactly where the story was going. Getting started should have been a piece of piss.

It was at this point I think I began to turn procrastination into an artform. I started to spend an unhealthy amount of time in the blogosphere (not that I'm sorry about that, I've gained readers by doing it, and made some new bloggy friends as a result), I got slightly obsessed with housework (most unlike me), and I kept getting ideas for other books - Livy a character who belongs to another book entirely wouldn't stop chattering away in my head, until I had to firmly tell her where to go. If I come to write her next, I expect someone else will do that to me.

(I have to apologise here. My head is a very strange place - and I don't expect non writers to get how I quite happily cohabit with people I have made up populating my brain. I know my husband thinks its certifiable. And he's probably right).

Thanks to Kate Harrison I got myself in hand by joining the Novel Racers who blogged every Friday about their progress on her blog.

So slowly but surely I got myself going.

I then did what my writing friend Penny Jordan assures me happens to her every single time, namely wrote pretty much the whole back story in the first three chapters. The friend I showed it to quite rightly pointed out that I had far too many characters in Chapter One, so I went through and ruthlessly lost a few.

Over the course of the summer term, progress was patchy and slow, I kept missing self imposed deadlines, but promised myself I would get the first quarter done before the summer holidays. I duly did, and as I wanted feedback to see where it was going sent it to both my agent and editor, who - phew! relief - liked it so far.

Then it was the summer holidays.

So, I stopped. For a bit.

I had this vain thought that maybe I could get up in the mornings before the kids and get an hour done each day.

This was clearly folly, as a) I am lousy in the mornings and b) actually when the kids are home they fill my head so full of their needs and wants and desires there's no room for anything else - not even my fictional friends.

So reluctantly I consigned Mark and Emily and Katie and Rob to wait in the wings till September, when I knew I would be rejuvenated and reenthused enough to meet them again.

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.

Writers who are way behind on deadline do not need their eldest child to start secondary school at the time when they need to be getting going again.

I just hadn't factored in how much emotional crap goes into guiding an eleven year old through those thorny first weeks at a new school, or how much it completely debiliates the creative part of your brain...

All of this is by way of explanation as to how I got to be soooo behind my deadline that I had to write 50 000 words in three weeks.

I think next time (if such a thing shall forunately come to pass)

I shall a) make sure I'm well into it by the summer and b) actually get some childcare over the summer so I can have a bit of time to keep the thread going. Trying to get back into it after a six week break was murder...

I have no idea whether it works or not, but as a wise writing friend of mine observed, you can't actually tell yourself if its crap or not.

There are one or two scenes which I saw so clearly in my head, and tantalisingly I haven't got down in the way I wanted to, but one or two others where I had a blast. I'm also proud of a few of the jokes - at least one made Spouse laugh - and I really enjoyed the ride.

Inspirations this time were mainly taken from Green Wing and this fabulous poem:

Dance like no one's looking
Love like you've never been hurt
Work like you don't have to
Live like heaven on earth

I always use music as background and to get a feel for a scene.

This time my playlist is rather long and includes:

The First Cut is the Deepest - Mark's broken heart
The Weakness in Me - Emily's life dilemmas
Fifteen Years - the future Rob and Mark may have if they don't sort themselves out
The Boys are Back in Town - for when they're lads out on the pull
The Miracle of Love - for all the falling in love bits
Feel - For Rob. How I listened to that track over and over!
Can't Get you out of My Head - I think all my characters feel that at some point.
Slipping Through my Fingers - the way Mark feels about his daughter
Shape of my Heart - just for the feeling it engenders
Fields of Gold - for one of the scenes I had trouble with
and Nights in White Satin - for the feelings again.

It would be so neat to do a virtual book where I could put the soundtrack over the words, but I don't think the technologies quite there yet.

That's it.
I am officially cured of second book itis.

Now I've got to think about the next one and choose one of four ideas bubbling about in my brain...


I think I'm about to come down with a severe case of third book itis!

Frantic as ever...

Well. I've done it. Four weeks ago I was about fifty thousand words into the New Book, and panicking ooh ever such a smidgeon. I've managed to write the next fifty thousand words in a fraction of the time it took me to write the first. I think a looming deadline might have had something to do with that. This being the first time I've written to a proper deadline, it occurs to me that I write the way I give birth - not much happens for ages and then it's all hands to the pump for the last five minutes.

My deadline was Friday, so I have just managed to do it, despite a near nervous breakdown yesterday when I was whizzing through to print off the pages I had made alterations on, and I kept pressing the wrong bit of the print key so my stupid computer was a) printing off the whole thing before I was ready and b) constantly getting jammed up.

I might have just managed it had I not had to pick no 1 up from computing club. She said a tad dramatically in the morning, Since I can't do anything else, I have to do computing.

Still, I thought, I can just manage to print off the remaining pages I need before I go to pick her up.


It was at this point I realised I had fifty print jobs backing up in the system and the sodding thing ate my paper again.

I went to get no 1 and then had to deal with her near hysteria on the subject of her geography homework which she absolutely had to go online right now to sort out, and her RS homework which was to draw a picture (currently impossible) write a poem or a story. She opted for a poem as it was quicker then a story, then said she didn't know what to write. I, I nearly screamed at her, am not going to write it for you (which I think might have been the heavy hint she was giving me). My slight frenzy about getting my manuscript printed went completely over her head, as geography had to be in today, so was clearly a priority. (We sooo need to get the internet on another computer).

At this point bil turned up early to go the gym with Spouse, so I took time out from printing. It was gone five by now, but I thought there was just a chance I could get to Mail Boxes Etc before six. Spouse also arrived home early, so I ran upstairs thinking, yes, yes, yes. I can do it...

To discover, no, no, no. The sodding printer had eaten more paper.

I suppose if it had been the day before the deadline I would have gone the extra mile. As it was I decided I knew when I was beaten. So I gave up and had a cup of tea instead.

Last night I sorted out the homework - supplying some suggestions of words no 1 could use for her poem - she then suffered writer's block till I told her to go for a walk round the house, and she came back and knocked it out in about ten minutes - sorted out the printing and then sat down with a glass of wine.

I put it in the post today and got home to an email from my agent telling me she's out for the rest of the week, so I may as well send it to reach her on Saturday....

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Life Imitating Art

Of late, this blog hasn't been much about the mania of being a mum of four, but today. Oh today. Oh yes it is...

The day was supposed to go like this.

10.20 No 1 picked up by new friend from secondary school's dad (whom I don't know) to go to ice skating party for the day.

I was meant to be revising The Book prior to sending to my agent (I've finished, I've finished!)

2pm I was meant to be helping at no 4's Christmas Fair
4pm No 2 had a party to go to.

But what actually happened was this.

All was going swimmingly, till an hour after no 1's departure, when I got a phone call from the dad I didn't know to say she'd fallen over on the ice and had possibly broken her arm.

My children have form in this department. No 1 has already suffered one greenstick (playing piggybacks at school, her friend landed on her. Embarrasingly, friend's family are Spouse's patients...)

No 2 fell off a telephone table aged three and broke her arm in two places resulting in an operation (this was also the day I found out to my consternation at the time, that I was pregnant with no 4. It's all go in our house).

Readers of this blog may also remember she broke her arm in Switzerland on holiday last year.

So omens for it merely being a strain, I have to say weren't looking too good.

I rang a friend to say, Soreeee can't help at the Fair, got in the car and drove the half an hour it take to get to the Ice skating rink, picked no 1 up and was at our local A&E (which miraculously, despite the PCT's best efforts hasn't shut yet) at 1pm.

A&E was absolutely packed - full mainly of small boys who'd injured themselves playing football. It took us an hour to see a triage nurse who rather unhelpfully said he didn't know where to suggest she had an xray as it seemed to hurt everywhere. He was convinced it was a sprain, which made me feel a bit better, but no 1 is a stoical little soul and I suspected she was in a lot more pain then she was letting on.

At 2.30pm a paediatric nurse had turned up so we were able to repair to the more child friendly surroundings where the paediatricians hang out and eventually no 1 was x-rayed. However the very friendly doc was worried that she may have broken a very small bone that doesn't show up easily on x rays, so she splinted it, and we're back to Outpatients on Tuesday morning - inconveniently at 8.30am. On the upside the hospital is very close to no 1's school, so at least I can get her there easily...

I rang my mother to seek expert advice (she's an ex nurse, which is rather handy) and her immediate response after instructions to elevate the arm, and press frozen peas on it to reduce swelling was to say, you should put it in a book.

Which of course (this having happened before) I already have.... Pastures New indeed has a scene in which my hero's son breaks an arm. That will learn me....

I had also coincidentally just written a scene in The New Book in which my hero's daughter has a rather dramatic accident. As the subject matter of a lot of it is about our over litigious society. my hero makes a point of declaring he won't sue anyone as a result of the accident. In a life imitating art kind of moment, I could feel the frisson of anxiety when I went to pick no 1 up as to what my reaction would be... I think the dad was heartily relieved when I said, Oh, they normally break their arms with us. I felt very sorry for him, it must have been a hell of a thing to do....

So now we're back home, no 1 has had calpol and has her arm propped up. Even if it's not broken, that'll be no swimming, tennis, dancing or writing for a while. But she can play the piano right handed and is luckily a little bit ambidextrous, so may manage the writing.

It's certainly never dull in my house...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I'm so excited....

I'm so excited...

I just can't hide it.

I'm about to lose control

And I think I like it...

Feel free to sing along....

The reason for my merriment is not alas the football (I am up here tapping away because I cannot bear to watch to the bitter end).

Nay verily.

It is because....

TA DA!!!!

I have copies of this...

Well, two copies to be precise. The rest of my author copies follow on later.

It looks even better in real life then the cover would have me believe. And I am slightly recovering from the shock of seeing my name on an actual book, wot I appear to have written.


I'm still excited...

I just can't hide it...

Dode do dedo

And I think I like it...

Picture me doing a virtual back flip. and you might get the picture.

Meanwhile book two is tantalisingly close to the end and I am daring the children to be sick this week... I will be blogging about that one shortly.

Suffice to say it has been a mad few weeks spent flinging words on the page, and when I'm done I'll have to reread and see if they make any kind of sense. I do know that all the lawyers of my acquaintance are going to be sent a huge fat list of questions as I think my courtroom scenes probably owe more to This Life then anything else...

I hope after that, normal service on this blog will resume.

Watch this space.

PS. I'm still excited....

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pastures New Update

I realise I have been appallingly quiet, but am still frantically trying to finish my next book.

However, I have an important update. Namely my website is finally up and running at:

I nearly had a nervous breakdown doing it, but thanks to a very nice man in India last week I got it sorted.

I have also - tada!! - given full rein to my directorial fantasies and posted a video ad on You Tube for your delectation and delight.

I hope to be running an online launch party and am trying to arrange a signing session at my local Waterstones about which more anon....