Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On the whole, writers talking about writing sucks

Yes, I know I wrote a post about my writing yesterday. But to be fair, Readers, I don't write about writing that much and I wanted to keep you in the loop. In fact, I've hardly written about writing at all when you consider I've been blogging since 2007. Mainly, I just write about random stuff like ducks, cupcakes and anything that else that happens to cross my mind. Anyway, I decided it was about time I investigated social networking and linking with writers etc etc etc. I discovered lots of groups and websites for writers on the net. Great, I thought.

Only then I discovered lots of them have rules.

Yes, rules. I hate rules.

Now I like meaningful societal rules like Thou Shalt Not Kill and Thou Shalt Not Put Potato Peelings in the Recycling Bin but generally I'm not good with other kind of rules. Especially rules enforced by by the I Know Your Mother and You Used To Wet Your Bed types. Ugh.

I joined one group on Google+ but in truth I am shit scared (and coming from me that's saying something) of posting something in Publishing Discussions that should be Marketing Discussions and being verbally whipped by several over-zealous authors with an interest in young adult fiction. I mean that's enough to make any 48 year old woman quake at the knees isn't it?

Anyway, I've had enough of all that already. So I've decided that instead of talking about writing tomorrow (which I wasn't planning to anyway as basically I don't plan anything I just fly by the seat of my pants) I've decided I'm going to talk about something way more interesting than tips for writers. I'm going to talk about women's changing rooms at the gym.

As I said, way more interesting.

Okay, maybe that's not tomorrow but sometime soon. When I get off my backside. At the moment, I'm still reeling from my last visit to ladies changing rooms after a aqua aerobics session. I may take some time to recover.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Where Am I At?

So it's seven weeks today that I finished the first draft to my novel. I've been trying to hold back from editing as long as possible in order that I can get the best perspective on it but I am not sure that I can hold out much longer. In the meantime, I've made some preparations:

1. I've studied all the literary agents. That was pretty disheartening as there's no one really looking for comedy, other than the coffee-table Christmas book type. I get the impression that subtle humour - the type that could pass unnoticed without detriment if you didn't get the joke - is about as much as will be tolerated.This has really confirmed an idea that was growing whilst I was writing my novel that it might actually work better as a screenplay as it has very visual aspects to it. That's something to think about in the long term. So it's been tough trying to make a list of possible agents but I've now, at last, settled on my first choice and written a covering letter. I think I'll start with one and then send out a further submission every two weeks.

2. I've written a synopsis. Like the cover letter, it was a tricky business. I read several of publishing guru Nicola Morgan's books to help crystallise my ideas. Nicola writes in a very contemporary and engaging way. I recommend her books if you want simple and effective writing advice.

3. I've created a new webpage The Changing Room: A novel  attached to this site which will go live when I send off my first submission.

4. I've joined Readwave and started to upload my stories. This is useful for feedback to help me improve my writing and to see if others enjoy it. Hopefully, it will also enable any potential interested parties to get an overall feel for my writing and consider more seriously whether I could serve up more than one book - which seems to be quite a concern when taking on d├ębut authors.

5. I've weighed up the pros and cons between self-publishing and traditional-publishing. I am not adverse to self-publishing which has some distinct advantages in that the writer remains fully in control and receives a far greater amount in royalties than traditional publishers. To the this extent, I am prepared to go it alone if I can't find someone to publish my novel within a reasonable time frame but first I will try the normal route mainly as I don't want to do it alone and thought of having to organise everything myself bores me rigid. Hopefully, the agent/publisher would do a lot of that organisation - I mean, other than an agent getting you a contract for which they take 15-20% and a publisher delivering the printed word whilst taking a whole lot more I would hope they would be doing some of the promotional stuff. If not, I'd want to know why not.

6. Social networking. Well I've done very little about this. Truthfully, I'm not sure how much difference it will make and I don't think it's likely to increase your sales that much beyond friends and family unless you devote yourself to extreme measures. Besides, I'm not very good at marketing myself for altruistic purposes: I just like having fun and making friends because either I like people or they have something interesting to say. To this extent I think there's probably more luck involved in achieving recognition at writing rather than skill or how many "friends" you have in your Google circles or on Facebook. Sure, a good book with great writing and a strong plot and lots of Facebook friends will increase your chances and make agents more amenable to you but, let's face it, there are some books which have had enormous success which are, by any standards, poorly written and have just gone viral because they've captured the public interest. I think I will be happy to publish a book that people enjoy. I've already ignored almost all the advice I've been given so as far as The Changing Room is concerned I've already put world wide literary domination on the back burner.

7) So then there's Twitter . It's a subject on its own really. I can already hear every potential agent saying "But you must be on Twitter!" Yeah, I know and I suspect I would be quite good at reeling off the one-liners but there's also a part of me that says "Ugh." So much time and finger pressing. I could be writing a story. I suspect reluctantly I'll have to do it some time. But not just yet.

8) I've sourced a professional editor. But I have't sent my novel off just yet. Something is niggling me. It's the humour thing again. I could spend a lot of money (around £500) and get back the usual negatives. I need an editor who sees my vision but I'm not absolutely sure I can find one because I write outside a clearly defined genre and I write comedy. That doesn't sit well with a lot of literary types. I actually feel my novel will appeal to a lot of "ordinary" people; those who don't necessarily read a lot but know when they find something something funny. Perhaps to this extent I will be my own best editor and it's worth chancing my hand with agents without using a professional editor first.

So, Readers, is there anything else I should consider? Any opinions? Feel free to jump out of the woodwork and leave a comment. I'm happy to listen to any advice and observations...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Birds are out to get me

Birds. I've had enough of them. Yesterday, I reported on some errant ducks and now this morning just as I was sleeping heavily the chickens started clucking and crowing at 5.45am. I staggered out of bed, precariously negotiated the stairs, filled up a bowl of grain, a tub of fresh water and stomped out into the garden cursing my chickens and wondering what would be the chances of passing off six dead chickens to Master Ben as a mild case of Bird Flu which didn't need reporting to the Health Authorities.

So I was grumpy after my interrupted sleep and annoyed with myself that I'd arranged an 8.20 am dentists appointment for the boys. I'm not sure why I do these things to myself - I should be like most other mothers and just take them out of school at a more acceptable time. Perhaps after I've had my elevenses and I've woken up. I think I do these things to myself as I'm a really diligent mother and I don't like to take the boys out of school when they could be learning their times tables. (Or just how to write really. That would be a good start.)

Oh alright. I won't go into an educational rant. I'm not due one for at least another 48 hours. Count yourself lucky.

Anyway, back to my being a diligent mother. So I try to be a really diligent mother - only I'm not so diligent as to remember the exact day I booked the dentist. Consequently, we turned up at 8.20 a day early. To be honest this isn't too bad for me as we have in the past shown up at the dentists a week early and even a week late. Don't ask me how but let me assure you it IS possible. And I'm not even dyslexic.

So then it was a case of getting the boys to school on time. Both schools are actually within walking distance of the dentists. Master Ben's school is about five minutes walk so he set off looking rather smug. This is probably because he knew he now had time to stop at the sweet shop and part with the few coins he usually has cunningly stashed away at the bottom of his rucksack. Master Jacob's school is about twenty minutes walk away which frankly should be nothing to a fine athletic young man who is a county tennis player and county cricketer. Unfortunately,  Master Jacob decided twenty minutes walk was too much as he'd dropped a shampoo bottle on his toe whilst in the shower. Now whilst this is true we are not exactly talking severe injury here or that he'd have to hobble his way across town like Quasimodo. We are talking a minor abrasion not a possible case of gangrene.

Yeah, so in the end I had to drop Master Jacob at school, got stuck in traffic across town and killed a pigeon on way home. (By accident: it was its own fault as it was flying without due care and attention.) What's more I didn't even get the chance to cut up Mrs S from the book club who was in front of me on the bypass. What a bad start to the day. It can only get better.

"Okay, Lads, this time it's War. That bitch has insulted the ducks, fed the chickens poor quality feed and now she's taken out Captain Blythe who was delivering her a reminder from the dentists. Arm yourselves with worms and maggots, brace your bowels - we swoop at dawn tomorrow."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Me and the errant ducks

Yesterday I went swimming while my boys were playing tennis. The indoor pool was full of children and parents with babies so I decide to brave the cold and sprint to the outdoor pool. (When I say "sprint" I actually mean  "fast waddle" but since I'm on a diet hopefully it will be less of a waddle in due course.)

Anyway, it was no surprise as it was freezing outside that the pool was empty except for two ducks: I think they got confused trying to find their way to a nearby lake and decided to check in at the sports centre for refreshments. Now I rather like swimming by myself in the pool which is where I ponder the meaning of life and other vitally important issue like the cost of chocolate, whether there's a two for one on offer on the Slimfast bars and whether or not the Looney Left will actually cause a scene at Mrs Thatcher funeral (no prizes for guessing the answer to that one) so I was rather perturbed that once I recovered from mild hypothermia and started to swim that the ducks didn't decide to clear off, bearing in mind the tidal waves that would soon be washing over them. Nevertheless, I started swimming with a gentle breast stroke whilst watching my aquatic bird companions. It was all rather picturesque and peaceful. However, as I approached Mr and Mrs Duck in the centre of the pool I was somewhat aghast when the brazen creatures began to make-out in front of me.

Yep, the ducks decided to indulge in some hot love right before my very eyes.

Ducks do it on dry land as well.  Curious. Still whether they get up to it  on dry land or on water at least they don't have to change the bedsheets.
Personally, I think some things should be kept private. But you try telling that to a pair of ducks. Wanton creatures. Anyway, I swam to the end of the pool, turned around and started to swim back and they were still at it and steadfastly ignoring my pleads to move to outdoor jacuzzi. It was shameful behaviour indeed and what's more it was particularly brutal hot love: when Mr Duck grabbed Mrs Duck's head with his beak and shoved it underwater I was almost at the point of intervening. In fact, I looked around for the lifeguard for assistance but he was nowhere to be seen: I think he'd gone to look for some bird feed.

So just as I am drawing level with the ducks Mr Duck finishes having his wicked way and flaps off Mrs Duck's back. At which point I decided it was best to swim with my mouth closed.

Mr Duck then sails up to me and looks me at with a beady eye as if to say "How was it for you?"

I was at the point of saying "wet" when he quacked. It went something like this:

"Quack, quack.... quack, quack, quack."

Which roughly translated means:

"You're a pervert watching me and Mrs Duck!"

To which I replied:

"Quack, quack, quack QUACK quack quack."

Which roughly translated means:

"How do you like orange sauce, Mate?"

He and Mrs Duck were clearly outraged at my suggestion and so cleared off to the side of the pool to bask in the sun whilst watching for any indication that I was going to light up the poolside barbecue. They were still there when I left although just as was opening the door to go inside I heard something that went like this:

"Quack, quack."

Which roughly translated means:

"*uck off."

Ducks. Tricky creatures. But nevertheless still nice with orange sauce - or plum sauce for that matter.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Disgusted with the Daily Mail

I don't think I have ever been more disgusted with The Daily Mail. Yesterday, three people, including a child, lost their lives due to bombs exploding during the Boston Marathon. Today, above their main news headline about this tragic event they are running a moving banner that reads "Breaking News...Attack on The White House" It is part of an advert for the film Olympus Has Fallen. If you happen to focus on that moving banner as I did when I first opened the Daily Mail website it looks very much like another awful tragedy has occurred.

I really think this sort of mindless, insensitive and aggressive marketing is totally unacceptable. Factor in the ridiculous articles by self promoting female journalists in their Femail section willing to sell their souls and their families for cash, the bigoted writing of the likes of Richard Littlejohn and Jan Moir and the general twisted reporting and homage to celebrity culture The Daily Mail isn't worth reading anymore. In fact, I'm not sure why I've been reading it anyway - perhaps because when I do I actually spend more time reading the comments which at least provide an interesting look into British public opinion. That's about it though. I can't see much else of value.

Anyway, enough is enough. I've deleted The Daily Mail from my bookmarks. There genuinely is a market for a lightweight, easy to read online and print newspaper with balanced and responsible reporting.

Unfortunately, it isn't The Daily Mail.

Other related articles: A Beautiful Storm: A Writers Dilemma
                                 Sex and Sleaze: Whatever happened to Journalistic Integrity?
                                Mania and Madness: Living and Dying in the Public Eye

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thoughts on the other Mrs T, Mrs Thatcher

Yesterday the news broke that Mrs Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1979 to November 1990 had died from a stroke. Her death unleashed some unpleasant vitriol: students celebrated on the streets, offensive remarks delighting in her death were posted on Facebook, left-wing politicians queued up to slate her, an e-petition was started to prevent her from having a state funeral.

Subsequently, I have thought back over the life of Mrs Thatcher,who was in power for most of  the years when I was forming my own political opinions, and I've wondered if she deserves the vitriol or whether, in fact, she deserves the accolades that those with more respect for her passing have shown.  Was she truly a"great" leader and, if so, what are the qualities that distinguish a "great" leader from any other leader? What sets her apart from any other British twentieth century peace-time politician to the extent that she warrants an expensive and elaborate funeral? 

I came to the conclusion that there is one overriding factor in determining a "great" leader:

I believe that factor is courage.

Policies and circumstances all change. That's life, that's momentum. There will always be arguments over Mrs Thatcher's political legacy as there will be for any other political leader. But I think what distinguishes her, like Churchill, from other politicians is her courage, her resolute determination, her undeniable self-belief and unswerving loyalty to this country.

In 1984 I was in my second year at university. I lived in a ramshackle student house with four other female students. I was studying History and had chosen Modern British Government as one of my two core subjects for that year. Although not a political activist, I was interested in politics in the way that any reasonable intelligent being would be having lived my teenage years witnessing The Winter of Discontent, the death of Bobby Sands and The Falklands War.They were turbulent times when the news was read on the television and radio with ever-present gravitas.

On October 12th 1984 my house mates and I gathered around our television to watch the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Mrs Thatcher at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. I can't remember what all our respective political opinions were now, nor do I particularly care, but I do remember we all had a lot of admiration for Mrs Thatcher. We respected that she had taken on a male dominated establishment and we respected that she was prepared to face bitter political, social and personal antagonism and hatred in order to do what she believed was best for the future of this country.

We respected her courage.

We are all free to voice our own opinions, that's democracy. And it's my opinion that it's not courageous to speak ill of the dead in the manner of the last twenty four hours - especially when it is about someone who was freely elected, who proved beyond doubt that women are equal to men and devoted their life to British politics in a far more honest and transparent way than many of her detractors.

Mrs Thatcher's legacy is but one chapter in the history of these isles. It is a particularly interesting and courageous chapter. It deserves an epitaph.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

More annoying emails and some soothing music

I just got another email from the author I referred to in my last post. How very, very annoying. How many times is he going to e-bomb me?

I've press "send" on the draft email in my last post.

I'm sorry but he deserved it. I can just about overlook one hideous self promotional email but two? I'm afraid not. I had to send my reply: it was my duty for my Queen and country and for all hard-working, honest writers and bloggers the world over who don't do that kind of annoying bullshit. Sorry.

Ugh, the youth of today - what it must be like to have so much confidence in your abilities that you'd happily spam a whole load of strangers to promote yourself. I wish there was an X Factor for authors. I'd love to see this guy on it. I can just see him on his knees before Simon Cowell pleading to not to be kicked off the next episode:

 Adam: "But people always told me I was brilliant at writing! My gran said I should travel the world and write about my experiences!"

Simon: Did you ever think there was another reason your gran told you to travel?

Adam: My Mum and Dad even gave the me the fare for the flight. They said I was brilliant and the world needed my contribution!

Simon: Look, Son, my pants are too big but yours are even bigger. The difference is I fill my pants. Got it?

Adam: (weeping and wailing) Pleassse, Mr Cowell, please, please, please make me into a famous author. I really really want to be a famous author...

Simon: (looks at fingernails, blows non existent cobwebs of his ipad, says nothing)

Adam: Pleaseeeeeeeeeee

Simon: No. Goodbye.

Right, now I've got that rant of my chest. I want to assure you that I really am a nice person. I really, really am. Everyone loves me - well maybe not the Headmistress at my son's school. In fact she might actually have a voodoo doll of me. Anyway, just to reassure you I am fluffy-bunny, lovey-dovey kind of person lets play a nice romantic song which is my current favourite:

Friday, April 5, 2013

A Letter to a Young American

This morning I received an an email from a young American requesting help with publicity for his forthcoming novel. I've copied it below with a few pertinent details changed. Below is my reply. I haven't pressed "send" yet. What do you readers think? Should I send it to him? 

Oh before you start reading, I'd  just like to say first to my American readers and friends: please remember I have a sense of humour and note that I was bored when the email arrived in my inbox at 7 am this morning. I'm afraid it's never a good idea to email me at that time of the day. And I love you. Okay? Right, here we go:

Heyyyy Jane,

Through a series of links, I just came upon your blog, and I have an idea.

My new book, (Deleted title) is coming out on April 22nd. It is the narrative of my one year trip around the world. I mustered cattle. I volunteered with children. I went scuba diving. I grew a mullet. I fought bulls. I made love on a beach. Etcetera.

A few years ago, for my first book, (Deleted Title), I was featured in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, the New York Post, the Atlantic, on the Today Show, CNN, Fox News, NPR, 20/20, 147 radio programs, and blah, blah, blah. My publicist expects similar exposure with the release of this next book, and with that kind of clout coming to your blog, I’d love to work with you on its release. What if…

·         I send you the full PDF of (Deleted Title)
·         You post about it however you’d like (review, blurb, article about a particular issue, etc.).
·         You give away the eBook (for free) to any of your readers who share the post on Twitter/Facebook/Etc. (Or any other kind of incentive you’d like to use.)

This is good for everybody: I get online exposure through your blog. Your blog gets engagement (and people sending along the link to your site to their friends). Your readers get something for free. We all go to the beach to sip on sangrias.

More importantly, though, there is some quality content here to unearth, and there are some important issues that can be discussed on your blog (beyond just doing another book review). People need to travel more, not only because it is satisfying and fun and inspires purpose and provides service to a world that needs it and sparks creativity, but because we need to open up our eyes to what is really going on out there. This is vital.

The bottom line is this: in this increasingly global world, it is essential that more people (young Americans, especially) step foot out of their country.

So, this is more than, “Hey, Jane! Help me promote my book!” This is an opportunity to provide quality content to your readers, and thus create interesting discussion, and I’d like to help do that.

Anyway, I’m attaching the press release here (for your eyes only, please) as well as a sample essay from the book. If this sounds like an endeavor you’d be interested in, let me know. (Likewise, if you’re not interested, let me know that also, please, so I can move along to someone else.) 


My reply:

Hi Adam,

Thanks for your email. Please fire whoever advised you to send it out. Really, do people fall for that kind of bullshit? Still, it was worth reading your email for the line “We all go to the beach and sip Sangrias,” it really tickled my fancy and definitely broke the tedium of filing my nails. Yeah, I know what you’re trying to do with that line but boy let me tell you it categorically does not work. At least not with a Brit. We don’t fall for that kind of hyperbole, I’m afraid. If you want to send me some chocolates I might reconsider.

Anyway, here’s a couple of pointers that I think you need to address before sending out any more of that stuff:

You write:

People need to travel more, not only because it is satisfying and fun and inspires purpose and provides service to a world that needs it and sparks creativity, but because we need to open up our eyes to what is really going on out there. This is vital.

I write:

People need to travel less because travel and transportation is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, form of pollution. Have you heard of climate change? Maybe you haven’t. But let me tell you that a lot of the general population and many scientists believe that pollution is seriously screwing up our world. Yep, I get all that fun and exciting bit and even the creativity bit but let me tell I know a good many people who have managed to do that without flying around the world burning up fossil fuels. Hmm...come to think about it maybe that would be a good topic for my blog! You can give twenty reasons why young people should travel and I’ll give twenty reasons why not. Sounds fun eh?  No? Okay let’s forget it :)

You write:

The bottom line is this: in this increasingly global world, it is essential that more people (young Americans, especially) step foot out of their country.

I write: 

Oh God: No! However, I do appreciate the sentiments. It would really help if young Americans appreciate other cultures then they might understand how best to approach them which isn’t (just in case you haven't worked it out) sending them badly worded emails. However, I don’t want to appear rude as generally speaking I love Americans and they form the largest quota of my blog readers (for which I am genuinely grateful) and what’s more you even elected George Bush junior to President and that gave me years of quality entertainment. So thank you for that and, by the way, can I just say I love Friends, Cheers and even some of those intense crime dramas where everyone works in the half-light. I have to  have my spectacles on to watch them but nevertheless they’re great. I also quite like Tom Cruise but that’s probably because I’m approaching the menopause and I've lost some of my better judgement about the opposite sex.

You write:

My new book, (Deleted Title), is coming out on April 22nd. It is the narrative of my one year trip around the world. I mustered cattle. I volunteered with children. I went scuba diving. I grew a mullet. I fought bulls. I made love on a beach. Etcetera.

I write:

Please, please, please tell me you lived in a Kibbutz. Is it a big chapter on volunteering with children? Because I’m not sure I could stomach too much of the scuba diving and making love on a beach. Hmm…I guess you slipped that making love on a beach thing in to tantalize me with your sexual prowess and long, lithe limbs eh? Is that one of those that sex sells marketing ideas? It’s working, Adam, because I’m going to be honest here I am kinda interested to know whether the romance was with one of those bulls you sparred with. That sort of physical intimacy with animals can lead to all sorts of things can’t it?

You write:

My publicist expects similar exposure with the release of this next book, and with that kind of clout coming to your blog, I’d love to work with you on its release.

I write:

Do you think you could bring some clout to my blog? Really? I am sooooo excited!  Let’s work together on promoting your book and making my blog into a sort of international travel companion! I simply love the idea! I’m sure you do too:) We Americans and Brits really do have a special relationship don’t we? Churchill would be proud of us! My only proviso about working with you, Adam, is that there’s no room in our relationship for the bull. I can be very jealous.

Well that’s it for now, Adam. I’ve got to get back to my nail filing. It’s been lovely getting to know you. I wish you well with your book and many appearances on CNN etc etc.

Yours affectionately,


Ps: If you ever come to the UK please email me. I think we’d get on like a house on fire!

Pps: Don’t bring the bull.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Goodbye, Mr Banks

It is with great sadness that I read today that the author, Iain Banks, has only a few months to live. Not long ago I went to Luton Central Library to listen to him talk about his career in writing. He was thoroughly engaging, charming and wonderfully funny and I subsequently purchased a copy of The Wasp Factory which he signed for me. From what I have read, Iain is approaching his early demise with great courage and humour. I hope, as no doubt we all do, that his remaining months are as pain free and happy as possible.

Iain Banks: A legend in his own life time.
 (Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)
The Wasp Factory, first published in 1984 -the book that began it all.

My Nominees for the US and UK Elections and Other Waffle

It's the early hours of the morning, and I have had a large gin... Late-night alcohol is always a good recipe for writing gibberish. And...