Saturday, April 30, 2011

Zeitgeist - A-Z Blogging Challenge

Guys, we made it! 26 posts later and I think we've all earned a few cups of pink tea :)

And it's been quite a month - one of my oldest friends got a book deal, which was wonderful news, and Talli's blog vanished, which was not.

But I still have one entry to go, and I want to talk about zeitgeist.

Zeitgeist is a German word that literally means 'time spirit', or the spirit of a particular time period. (I include this fact just to underscore how great the German language is for coming up with new, compound words to explain concepts we all understand but can't name. Schadenfreude, anyone?)

Anyway. We all recognise a book that captures zeitgeist when we see it. I've written a post before on how naming specific kinds of technology - websites, models of mobile phone - can age a novel very obviously. It's a fine line between capturing the reality of our lives today (the existence of mobile phones has done a huge amount, both good and bad, for plotting) and having someone read your book two years from now and think 'Huh. Bebo. So five minutes ago.'

But no one wants to read colourless word-soup with no identifying features either. And people now do Facebook and blog and YouTube and flagrantly use nouns as verbs. It's just how we roll.

In November, I took part in Nanowrimo and hit on an ingenious way to shamelessly pad my wordcount (well, ingenious for me. Every year on the Nano forums, the dirty tricks posted are phenomenal in both number and cunning). I set the book in real time. That meant when I got stuck, I could throw in references to what was in the news that day.

Luckily, November 2010 was an interesting month in Ireland. Our economy was bailed out by the EU because the country was headed for insolvency, and we experienced freak weather.

And when I re-read the novel in 2011, I found that it read like a period piece. Already, so much had happened - the days where we were wondering if there would be a bail-out felt like a distant memory now that we were living with the reality of it.

I also found a ton of stuff that made no sense and had to be cut out. But I left in more than I expected - I explained the situation better, and had characters make fleeting reference to it rather than actually have conversations about it. And I left enough detail that someone who had never heard of the Irish bail-out deal could follow it and see why the characters cared.

It was a very difficult balance but I think I may have got it right. Only my beta-readers will know for sure once I get Draft Two to them.

Personally, I found it helpful to imagine a reader trying to make sense of it in fifty years. We may not use typewriters or telegrams anymore but we can easily understand their function in a story. And fifty years from now, I doubt anyone will care about the IMF bail out - they certainly won't remember the details. We also probably won't remember what Facebook was.

But if we get across the essential nature of something - whether a means of sharing information and communicating publicly, or an economic threat to a small island shaped like a teddy bear - then it shouldn't matter if the nuts and bolts are dated.

If you made it this far - well done! It was wonderful to meet so many new bloggers this month and I'll be popping back to the lists of participants to find new people to visit :)

Friday, April 29, 2011

YA - A-Z Blogging Challenge

I love YA (young adult) fiction. Absolutely love it.

I only read it occasionally when I was actually a teenager myself, but I still feel like I'm a teenager so that may explain why I love this genre so much. I'll read almost anything YA - fantasy, paranormal, romance, realistic, whatever. I'm not nuts about dystopian or post-apocalyptic, but that's in general, not just YA. And I will read them, if enough people tell me they're good :)

I also love that so many excellent and high-profile YA novels have made the genre acceptable for adults to read. Not that I would have let being an adult stop me reading YA (I'm 27, that's still young, right? Right?), but I love that there are so many great writers producing books for teens, and that so many people are enjoying them.

If you like YA, I highly recommend checking out Hannah Moskowitz. Imagine a young funky Chuck Palahniuk but full of hope, who creates very loving and lovable family-focused characters. I adored her first novel, Break, and I'm partway through Invincible Summer
.

Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon trilogy is also great, and the final title is due out very very very soon. And for British realistic fiction, I heart Sarra Manning - Pretty Things and Let's Get Lost are probably my favourites, but I read Nobody's Girl sitting on a pier last summer eating chutney sandwiches and will love it forever because even the sight of the cover makes me happy.

Anyone care to recommend some new YA authors? Have Kindle, will read!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

PSA: Talli's blog has moved!

Guys, if you read Talli Roland's blog, please note she's temporarily blogging at http://marshawrites.blogspot.com.

It would be a terrible shame to miss out on gems about writer's arse and where to buy good cupcakes just because Blogger's systems made an error. Hopefully she'll be back in her usual home soon :)

Xanatos Gambits and Publishing - A-Z Blogging Challenge

A Xanatos Gambit is a situation where every possible outcome has been engineered to suit you.

For example, let's say I'm the evil queen of Dublin (it could happen. . .). I want to conquer Meath and Kildare. I subtly trigger a war between the two of them. If Kildare wins, I can take over the weak and vulnerable Meath more easily than Kildare can, because I'm bigger. The same applies if Meath wins. Either way, I get closer to my goal. And once I've got one of them on-side, it's much easier to conquer the last one.

(In real life, Cork would notice this and refuse to stand for it. But since I am not the evil queen of Dublin, we can assume this whole premise is fictional).

Anyway, my own Xanatos Gambit regarding being published was always this:

I'll work really hard and keep trying and I'll never give up, which will maximise my chance of getting published. And if I don't, I'll leave instructions in my will that my heirs are to keep trying so if I don't make it while I'm alive, I can hope for posthumous publication.

Yeah. I don't handle uncertainty well.

Now, though, writers have a new Xanatos Gambit:

I'll try to get published. If that doesn't work, I'll release my work as an ebook and become the new JA Konrath. And if I don't become the new JA Konrath, the man makes a darned good point that there's no limit on time or shelf-space on the internet, so maybe I'll be a bestseller in ten or twenty years - or even after I die!

Remember, with Xanatos thinking, you're the winner - no matter what!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Weeping for Lost Technology - A-Z Blogging Challenge

The typewriter is no more.

When I was a kid, my dad had an old blue-grey typewriter in his study. When he wasn't home - which was often, his work took him abroad a lot - I loved to go in and run my fingers over the keys, slip my nail under the raised letters of the manufacturer logo. Even as a kid writing stories, I liked them better when they'd been produced by Dad's typewriter rather than by my own hand.

Now, I write on a netbook. I sometimes make notes on my smartphone (which I hate, by the way). I haven't used a typewriter since I was twelve or thirteen. It pains me to say it, but they're dying because they've been surpassed by something that is genuinely more convenient.

Doesn't mean I have to like it, though.

I'm an enthusiastic Kindle-owner and ebook-purchaser. I love the smooth screen, the font, the ease with which I can buy books, and the simplicity of carrying one light, durable item that contains many books instead of carrying two heavy, absorbant, easily torn books (I always had to carry two books in case I finished one of them while I was out). Ebooks are fab.

But I still squeed a little inside when I saw the new Penguin Essentials collection - book cover design is an art form and it's a pleasure to see it done well.

For me, print and digital complement each other. Reading a paperback novel and reading a Kindle book are different experiences, and I enjoy both.

And I'm sorry to see that the typewriter and the computer won't be coexisting anymore.

The typewriter has had such an impact on all kinds of art. Typeface design - Courier still evokes something that no other font can. Typewriters appear in so many films (someone pounding the keys hard and walloping the carriage-return lever was great cinematic shorthand for 'I am very busy and important, fuck off'). I think, like the Polaroid camera, they'll be venerated for what they were and what they gave us.

And hopefully, some mad artisan/engineer will go on building them and nostalgia-crazed lunatics like myself can buy them :)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Venice - A-Z Blogging Challenge

I've been thinking about holidays a lot recently, what with the time of year. I've always wanted to go to Italy. One of my all-time favourite books is The Talented Mr. Ripley (book is better than the film because Patricia Highsmith did not mangle the bloody ending, but the film is very well directed and shot and acted and still worth watching), and that whole book is a bit of a love letter to Italy.

Tom Ripley, the main character, avoids visiting Venice for most of the book because he doesn't want to be disappointed by it. When he eventually visits, he loves it and rents a house there.

So like all sensible people, I always wanted to see Venice. But then, as with so many things, The Guardian ruined it for me.

Venice's population is constantly dropping. The city has turned itself over to tourism so much that it's virtually impossible for people to get permission to build houses - as much land as possible is given over to hotels. The death rate outnumbers the birth rate 2 to 1, and there isn't even a cinema for the locals to use. Young Venetians cannot afford to live there.

That is not the portrait of a living city. That's a theme park.

And suddenly, going there seemed a lot less like something I want in my life. If I'm ever in the area, I'll pop in. But I feel uncomfortable about the idea of spending money in a city that venerates tourists above their own residents - that isn't a position I want to support.

Holiday planning gets a hell of a lot harder when you start trying to bring your politics into it. And if you read the Guardian, you might as well stay at home. . . :)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Unpublished - not a dirty word! A-Z Blogging Challenge

I keep seeing the word 'pre-published' around the net.

I like the confidence, the audacity in the word. I like the idea of people so sure it will happen that they are pre-, not un-.

But I don't use it. If I'm wrong, and I never get published, I don't want people to say, after I'm dead, 'Poor bitch was so sure and yet she never got there . . . '

I don't mind being unpublished. Even Shakespeare was born unpublished.

I write because I love it. I want to be published. I work towards being published. I'm not there yet and I'm OK with it. I'm on my path and it will happen when I write the right book.

If you're sure that you're pre-published, go ahead and call yourself that :) but there's not a damned thing wrong with calling yourself unpublished either!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Themes - A-Z Blogging Challenge

After yesterday's riff on my love of the sea, I decided I couldn't dedicate a whole post to tea, as much as I wanted to :) Instead, I'm going to say something very simple, very quickly and feck off to have some tea, which seems a reasonable compromise!

In the first few years of secondary school, we learned a lot about themes in books. The theme of To Kill A Mockingbird is racism and society. The theme of Of Mice and Men is violence and cruelty.

I don't buy that. I think Mockingbird is about a family facing a fight for their principles, and Of Mice and Men is about two guys who want to buy a farm. I'm with Stephen King - I think the story has to come first. It's the story we remember. We feel for Tom Robinson because we remember Jem walking up to his father in tears saying 'It ain't right, Atticus.' And because we remember Tom stopping to help Mayella Ewell. And Tom's community covering Atticus's back step with food, and how Atticus had to fight to stop the tears.

And when I think of Of Mice and Men, I do think of bleakness and cruelty, but I think of scenes - how there is simply no place for Lenny, how George never leaves him although he must have wanted to.

Good books can educate and enlighten. But they'll only stick in the mind if they're good. If there's no story, no characters, no technique, nothing to love, we're not going to get the message.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sea - A-Z Blogging Challenge

Dublin is a coastal city, and for over half of my time living in Dublin, I've lived less than ten minutes' walk from the sea. And I grew up in a seaside town.

I also work beside the sea, and when the weather is good I like to spend my lunch hours reading in a small cove behind one of the piers, looking out at the sea (when I can look up from my Kindle). If the tide is out far enough, I walk out as far as I can on the little jetties and the piles of rock and sit right at the edge of the water.

There is nothing so rejuvenating in the middle of a working day. To sit in a quiet spot where the traffic is drowned out by the sound of the waves, looking at the huge sweep of Dublin Bay, listening to the gulls.

My father was a marine engineer, who spent his life either at sea, or making sure other people could go to sea. His grave is close to the Dublin mountains, and they asked us whether we wanted him buried in a grave that faced the mountains, or a grave that faced the city and the sea. It was an easy choice, and I like to imagine him watching over the boats that come in and out, as he did when he was alive.

So you could say the sea is important to me. I love living close to it, and if I didn't live close to it, I would want to travel to it as often as possible.

But here's the weird bit - I can't swim :)

Randomness out.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reading - A-Z Blogging Challenge

Ah, reading. I know I'm preaching to the choir here but it's brilliant.

I read a lot. Stephen King once heard of an alcoholic who, when asked how much he drnak, looked blankly at his doctor and said 'All of it.' If someone asked me how much I read, I'd say 'All the time.'

I read while I eat, unless I have company. I read on the bus to work (this is why I don't drive to work. It would cut in on my reading time, even if that is only fifteen minutes). Now that I have a Kindle, which lies flat, I read while I knit. I read while the TV is on, unless I'm watching something good. I read on buses, planes, trains, in queues, in waiting rooms, at bus stops. A friend once asked me how I seemed to find so much time to read. I couldn't figure out how he didn't. I spend virtually all of my 'dead time' reading. Unless I'm specifically doing something else (watching TV, spending time with someone, cooking) I'm reading.

I read because I love to read, but also it teaches me how to be a better writer. At the moment, I'm reading a crime novel written in the mid-nineties and, while I'm enjoying it, I'm also enjoying the process of spotting what works for me and what doesn't. For instance, the writer uses this type of sentence construction a lot:

Jack arrived, having stopped off on the way to buy doughnuts.

I probably wouldn't pick up on the fact I hate this if it appeared in my own writing. There's nothing wrong with it. It gets the information across. But I don't happen to like it. I'd rather something that was more showing than telling. 'Jack arrived, clutching a bag of fresh doughnuts.'

In my own writing, I'd read the first sentence and think 'Cool. My reader is up to speed on the Jack-doughnut interaction scenario. Awesome. Now I can continue.' As a reader trying to lose myself in a story, I note that it jars my attention.

Yep, reading is ace. But if you knit, maybe read when you're doing a ribbed scarf rather than an Aran sweater for your boss.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Quote Queen - A-Z Blogging Challenge

I'm not going to post about query letters today, in spite of the fact my mind keeps turning to them and they begin with Q (I'm making some major revisions to my current WIP and I'm wondering how these will play in a query letter. Maybe I should write the bloody thing first!). I have nothing helpful or smart to say about query letters that hasn't already been said by Miss Snark, Nathan Bransford, Query Shark, Kristin Nelson or other Smart Blog Folk.

Instead, since I mentioned Dorothy Parker recently, I'm going to share a few of my favourite quotes.

I love Dorothy Parker. She is most famous for the string of wonderful quotes she left trailing in her wake (I like to imagine her roaming narrow streets between Art Deco skyscrapers, fag in hand, dressed in a black silk dress slightly too large for her, leaving a stream of inky black quotations written on the very walls of New York). But her short stories are excellent - laugh-out-loud funny in places and unbearably tragic in others.

But today is Q for Quote Queen and not S for Short Story Superheroine, so to brighten up your morning, have some Dorothy:

'Salary is no object; I want only enough to keep body and soul apart.'

'This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.'

'If all the young ladies who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, no one would be the least surprised.'

'I don't know much about being a millionaire, but I'll bet I'd be darling at it.'

'This wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.'

'Drink and dance and laugh and lie, love the reeling midnight through, for tomorrow we shall die (but alas we never do)!'

'If you wear a short enough skirt, the party will come to you.'

'So, you're the man who can't spell 'fuck.' ' (To Norman Mailer, who had acquiesced to his publisher's request to replace the word 'fuck' in The Naked and the Dead with 'fug'.)

'If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.'

And finally, a line from her famous short story, Big Blonde, which tends to nudge the reader towards carpe-diem-ing:

'There was nothing separate about her days. Like drops on the window-pane, they ran together and trickled away.'

Monday, April 18, 2011

P - Personal and Panic - A-Z Blogging Challenge

I was seriously torn about what to post today.

Yesterday, I posted about blogging off-topic, and I feel a bit of an urge to post off-topic today. I could write about protagonists, prologues, photography. . . but I want to post about panic.

I suffer from panic disorder. Basically, this means that I periodically cede control of my brain to an alien being who is terrified of everything and thinks I'm just about to die.

I pride myself on the fact most people don't notice the difference :p

Thankfully, I no longer get panic attacks very often and they are far less extreme than they were. However, I have a few things I'd like to say about panic, in case any fellow sufferers are reading:

1. Tons of people get them. If you do too, you're not alone.
2. What panic can do to your body is unbelievable. I've had or heard of everything from heart palpitations to dizzy spells to breathlessness to headaches to numbness and tingling sensations all over. None of these are dangerous if they only occur when you're panicking.
3. There is a book I found great called 'When Panic Attacks' by Dr Aine Tubridy. She has a few suggestions for getting better which involve chakras and meditation and other things that sounded like hard work to me, so I didn't actually try any of the things she suggested. But just reading a medical doctor's perspective on what happens before, during and after was very helpful.

I debated making this post, because this *isn't* a personal blog and I don't usually share any details about life events. But panic is terrifying (the clue is in the name) so I think it's helpful for sufferers to be open about what happens, for the sake of other sufferers.

So if you're reading this, and you have suffered from panic, have some resources: Dr. Tubridy's book and a support site. You're not alone and you can get better.

Tomorrow I promise to be cheerful and upbeat - and to talk about writing and . . . oh, feck, tomorrow's letter is Q. Guess we'll have to take what we can get. . . :)

O is for Off-Topic - A-Z Blogging Challenge

I worry about going off-topic too much on my blog.

Yes, I know - just like eating too much chocolate, I could, you know, stop doing it, and then the worry would stop like magic.

But - also like eating too much chocolate - blogging off-topic is fun.

This is allegedly a books-and-writing blog. I say books-and-writing because I love books, but also because I don't feel I have enough unique things to say as a writer. I'm working on my second book, knowing that I will most likely never publish my first (at least not under my own name). I haven't had time to learn many lessons.

So that's my topic. Every book in the world and the process of writing books. You'd think that would keep any sane person busy for a lifetime, especially with blogland throwing up cool things every day that I can respond to and comment on.

Nope. Instead I have found time to blog about why being an only child rocks, reasons to vote in the Irish General Election (starring both of my grandmothers), Billie Holiday, Blackadder, Dublin (repeatedly) and bouillabaisse (my personal favourite).

That is part of the experience of blogging though. Kiersten White uses her blog platform to educate people about the dangers of ectopic pregnancies, and my friend Paul used his blog recently to express his thoughts on fatherhood and faith.

So overall I feel occasional off-topic blogging is good. And I sure crammed a lot of words beginning with O into that last sentence while still keeping it clean. . .

Saturday, April 16, 2011

N - Novels and Why I Love Them (also starring Dorothy Parker)

The novel is the form I write in most often. Certain friends of mine may say that this is because I can't shut up and novels tend to be quite long.

Kinda true, actually.

I am not good with things ending. I prefer TV shows to films for that reason - with a TV show, you're following someone (or several someones) on a journey. You become part of the characters' lives. With a film, you're only allowed to see a single part of their story.

Take a romantic comedy film. The couple live happily ever after. We don't get to find out that a couple of years later, they're struggling with fertility issues. Or that they break up afterwards. Or that six weeks later they have a row about toaster settings and both are too proud to climb down for days on end.

Compare that to say, Friends, which was essentially a several-hundred-hours long rom-com. I didn't even particularly like the bloody show and I teared up when Monica and Chandler discovered they both had fertility problems. Because I knew these characters. Without even liking them that much, I was invested in what happened to them.

I love to read good short stories (Dorothy Parker's Big Blonde is a favourite, as is The Wonderful Old Gentleman and Here We Are and. . . well, the rest of them). And a good short story, like the ones above - including Big Blonde which spans a period of years - feel complete. You don't need to know more. You know all you need to. The same is true of a good film. Really, I don't need to know whether Juno and Bleeker got married. I'd rather not know.

But while I can respect and admire perfectly self-contained art, I like to sprawl. I like forms that sprawl. So I'm a TV girl., and a novel girl, and a girl who will always need a good beta reader to say 'For the love of GOD, do we need to know where the bitch went to school? The novel opens when she's sixty-five.'

Why do you write what you write?

Main Characters - A-Z Blogging Challenge

Ah, main characters. A good one makes the book, a bad one ruins it.

And secondary characters are easier. Not that we should all dash around creating a two-dimensional, wise-cracking supporting cast, but when you don't have to probe someone's motives as much, it is easier to like them.

Main characters are nastier.

The main character in my current WIP is a fairly nice and fairly normal girl in her late twenties who fell backwards into a life-absorbing career, which she is pursuing to the detriment of everything else in her life. Sometimes I want to shake her, because we've all had that neglectful friend who doesn't bother calling for months but shows up when she needs someone, or when it is understood that you See Friends (birthdays, New Years', etc). My MC even has a little rant about this at one point, not seeing her own hypocrisy.

The main secondary character is her journo flatmate. Who would also drive me a bit nuts in real life. But I'm not spending as much time looking at her flaws, so she is much more likeable in the text.

How do we solve this and keep our MCs likeable?

I have no sodding idea. I find liking them myself helps. And I am trying to keep her active - so she is dealing with her own choices, rather than just reacting to external factors. Also, this where Beta readers really come into their own.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Love - A-Z Blogging Challenge

It's been a bit of a tough week here at Pink Tea Towers (it's okay, I promise never to call myself that again). Nothing major, just lots and lots of stupid minor setbacks, as Homer Simpson would say.

So it seems like a good time to dedicate a post to some of the things I love.

Here goes:

Healthy seed bagels. Cupcakes. Chocolate and cake in all forms. Ireland, Dublin, cobblestones, small independent shops, finding bargains on market stalls. Old films and indie films. Teen books. Other kinds of books. Blogs. Herbal tea. Water. The sea, and living beside it. Moonwatching. Mandy Patinkin. The thick red curtains in the Savoy cinema that roll back before a show. Long emails from friends. Feeling healthy. Travelling. Good street food. Occasional walks. Parks. Ice cream at any time of the year. New blog followers (hi all, sorry if I haven't had a chance to visit you back yet, I promise I will!). The cinnamon buns in Simon's Coffee Shop in the George's Arcade. Stopping a stranger to ask where they bought something they're wearing and seeing their face light up. Packing to go on holidays (Seriously, I call myself the Packing Queeeeen and am considering having business cards made with all the extra eeeees).

Not a bad start, and not a raindrop on a rose or a mitten on a kitten to be seen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Knowledge - A-Z Blogging Challenge

One of the members of the Writers' Thingie recently finished reading a book (well, actually all members have usually just finished reading something. A particular member just finished a particular book). And one of the criticisms was that the writer seemed to be showing off her research.

Knowing about your topic is great. I took a feature writing course in the Irish Writers' Centre last year, which was great, and is starting again soon. Some of what I learned about the life of a working freelancer has been really useful for my novel. My main character's flatmate, best friend and hetrosexual life partner, Sammi, is a freelance features journalist. This is incredibly useful for the plot, because she has access to information that not everyone knows, she can have free time during the day when the plot demands it, and I can contrast her lifestyle interestingly with Becky, who lives to work.

But there is a fine line. No one is going to read this novel to hear about the life of a freelance journalist, yet if I got it wrong ('Sammi wrote one column a week about shoes and sex and always had money for Manolo Blahnik sushi cupcakes. . .') it would stick out a mile and annoy people. So the research is certainly worth doing. It is important, though, to strike a balance between interesting and authentic detail, and writing a report of your research instead of a novel.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jealousy - A-Z Blogging Challenge

Even writers who aren't jealous by nature can get jealous about writing. There are only so many publishers, they only have so much money. It's impossible not to feel a little competitive.

Competitiveness can be healthy. I know this, because I am ridiculously un-competitive - I blame being an only child, simply because that was my parents' choice rather than mine and thus I can pretend it isn't my fault ;) - and it can be crippling! But being competitive is only a good thing if it's healthy, loving and motivating (wow, I sounded like a self-help author there, I do hope I'm not ill). Thinking 'Oh, that person achieved that, I bet I could too!' is fine. Thinking 'That should be MINE!' and feeling vindictive is less good.

But - and I know I say this all the time - I think the new e-self-publishing revolution will take care of a lot of that. While I, and most writers I know, would prefer to be traditionally published, the fact remains that we now have something to do with the novel that gets rejected for being too edgy, too dark, too experimental, too 1980s.

You can always go digital and self-promote like mad. It's not a get-rich-quick scheme and you may sell no more than a handful of copies. But it's something. It's recourse.

And it's better than sitting at home feeling jealous :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Indirect Speech - A-Z Blogging Challenge

Otherwise known as reported speech, for example:

Kate told Jack what happened.

Sometimes reported speech in fiction just doesn't work. I don't mind it when it's like the example above, where the reader already knows something, but we need to know Jack's reaction to hearing about it too. There is no sense in having Kate explain everything we just read - unless she has a particularly interesting or inaccurate spin on it.

What I don't like is this:

Kate heard the sound of Jack's key in the door at half past six on the dot. She rushed out of the kitchen and told him what had happened when she was in Matt's.


Or

Kate heard the sound of Jack's key in the door at half past six on the dot. She came rushing out of the kitchen and told him that Matt had burned the deeds to the house.

To me, that just sounds a little clunky and forced - it's telling and not showing.

But we don't want to hear about Matt and his fit of temper again. If we're in Kate's head, we've probably just come from Matt's. We don't need 'then he said. . . then I said. . . then he got the matches and WHOOSH.'

What I find works better is something like this:

. . . She came rushing out of the kitchen.
'Are you OK?' Jack asked, as he hung his coat up.
'No,' Kate said. 'I went to visit Matt today.'
It pained Kate to recount the whole afternoon. When she finished, Jack raised his head slowly and looked her in the eyes.

'You know what this means,' he said. 'It means we have the only copy.'

The only reason to include something like this at all is so Jack can say the last line. But the indirect speech in there - 'It pained Kate to recount the whole afternoon' - kind of slips in unnoticed.

Indirect speech is great, and probably saves millions of trees each year. But it's also hard to get right sometimes!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hot Drinks: A Rant - A-Z Blogging Challenge

I recently bought a sachet of hot chocolate to have at my desk. I won't name the brand, because it was very nice and doesn't deserve the rage that I am about to heap on it.

The directions on the side instructed me to 'Brew it in your favourite mug. . .'

I cannot explain what happened next. All I know is that for the remainder of the afternoon - while enjoying the drink, by the way - I was working away as usual, but in the back of my head was the mantra 'I am a grown up. Do not tell me what mug to use!'

Now, I know that they do it to present their product as a luxurious experience, something to be savoured. Which is quite a responsible thing to do actually, because if one uses treaty food like chocolate as a quick snack on the go, one is essentially ingesting wasted calories and fat and junk and not enjoying them. One does this a lot, you see, so one knows what one is talking about.

But honestly. I don't need to be told how to enjoy hot chocolate. I am twenty-seven years old and have mastered the art of enjoying things.

Equally, even though I love them, 15 Minute Organic Teas bother me. When I first saw them, I thought 'But herbal tea doesn't take fifteen minutes to brew. . . ' and then I read the packet. They are not called 15 Minute Teas because they take fifteen minutes to brew, but rather to encourage the drinker to take fifteen minutes out of their busy lives to relax with a cup of tea.

Thanks. But if I need to take fifteen minutes, I'll know myself. I don't need a box of tea to tell me, although I appreciate the thought.

Yes, I am ridiculously over-sensitive. Eventually you kind of learn to live with it. . .

Friday, April 8, 2011

Germany - A-Z blogging challenge


Germany is on my mind at the moment - one of my closest friends has been accepted on a PhD programme in Bamberg, a small city in Bavaria.

I'm simultaneously delighted for her and sorry to see her go - but an excuse to visit Germany is always a good thing! Germany is a lovely country. It has beautiful cities, friendly people, world-class scenery and excellent food (and beer, but I don't drink beer). Their language is delightfully logical and expressive.

However.


Whenever I try to speak my (schoolgirl) German in Germany, I am rewarded with a cheerful smile and an instant switch to English. I love how so many people are bilingual and how they're trying to make me feel welcome, but seriously, guys - how will I ever improve? :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Family and Feminism - A-Z Blogging Challenge

There is an interesting article about Mum-Lit on the Guardian's website today. Christina Hopkinson has written a book about a woman whose husband has annoying domestic habits, and evidently a publishing house is very impressed, as she has signed a two-book deal for a reported quarter of a million pounds.

Personally at that point, I would be inclined to chill the frick out about the pile of clothes at the bottom of the stairs. I might even start a second pile and write another book about that one.

Hopkinson makes a very good point about the 'failure of feminism' (she doesn't call it that, which I instantly liked) - in order to 'have it all', western women are increasingly choosing to leave their children in the care of women from other parts of the world, who have to leave their own children behind in order to provide for them, rather than putting some of the domestic burden on men.

This doesn't mean that working mums are bad. They're not. It means that not enough is being done to ensure everyone in society has equal opportunities.

PS It also doesn't mean feminism has failed. It means we didn't get what we asked for and somehow that's our fault.

In spite of the fact I agree with Hopkinson about how society has failed to address childcare issues fully post-feminism, and in spite of the fact she sounds quite nice and I'm sure it's a good book, I also find the whole premise of the book a little insulting, not so much as a feminist, but as a woman.

Hopkinson says "Trying to control the home can be a form of eating disorder. When you're young, you identify yourself too strongly with your looks; when you're older, you identify yourself too strongly with your home."

Zoe Williams, the journalist writing the piece, adds "But only if you are daft, I feel is the unspoken but necessary postscript."

That may be a little harsh. People do pour their identities into all kinds of stupid things (take it from someone who tried to reinvent herself when she was a teenager by changing her handwriting), but I don't think it's the fault of the people around you (ie, the hapless husband) if you choose to do that. Deciding your identity hinges on your house looking nice is not sustainable (what if it burns down or floods?) but if you have small kids, then I'm with Zoe Williams. It's daft.

And the whole point of feminism is equality - as a feminist, I certainly don't believe women should only be presented in literature as perfect superwomen. If there are women out there who define themselves by how clean their house is, why not write books about them? They're real people. True feminism is about embracing everything that women, men and non-binary gendered people can be, and allowing them the chance to be anything. It's about demolishing roles that say 'You are male/female, you are allowed/forbidden to do this.'

However, it does bother me that there is an entire sub-industry out there devoted to spending fifteen years selling me books about meeting the perfect man, taming him, and finally settling down with him so he can reassure me about my fat thighs every fifteen minutes for the rest of my life, before switching to selling me books about why all men are shite and can't remember where the car keys are.

There is nothing wrong with any of the individual books that make up these genres. (Well, there probably is with some of them actually, no one is perfect). I'm not attacking the authors, who are mostly turning out good, entertaining books. I just don't like the fact that entire genres exist solely because people think I want to spend my twenties chasing after Prince Charming and my thirties yelling at him.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Eeep! A-Z Blogging Challenge

I was sitting at home, pondering what to post for E. I was going to post about my name, but that isn't very interesting (apart from the fact that my mother chose to name me after her mother-in-law because they were very close, which is unusual for a woman and her MIL, I gather!).

Luckily, though, I happened on Rachelle's blog, and she postedabout the reality of being a published writer, and one of her points scared the life out of me. I yelped 'Eeep!' and a post was born. Fortunately, because neither 'Blind Terror' nor 'Oh Crap Time Management!' begins with E.

Rachelle points out that if you're contracted for three books, you may be simultaneously promoting Book One, editing Book Two and writing Book Three. While working, minding family, or doing whatever else you do.

'Eeep!' indeed.

I have no doubt it's manageable - I wrote 50,000 words in November almost entirely in my lunch hours, and I don't have an especially long work day - but it's always good to know what you're aiming to get into, so you can work on honing the skills you already have, figure out where your strengths and weaknesses are and ultimately create the skillset you need to pursue your dream.

Even though it makes you go 'Eeep!'.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Death - A-Z Blogging Challenge

Gosh, I've had a cheerful blog challenge so far, haven't I? A tribute post to my late father, a piece of flash fiction about a poorly-named child taking revenge on her parents, and now death. Yesterday's chocolate post seems less like a self-indulgent ramble and more like a welcome respite.

Anyway, it's the use of death in fiction I want to talk about today.

Whenever I try to write a short story, it centres around death, grief, recovering from loss, or something else equally cheerful. It's because I think of death as, paradoxically, the ultimate life experience. Nothing else compares the loss of someone you love - the first time it happens, it changes you completely as a person.

But sometimes, death in fiction can be a terrible cop-out.

In my short stories - if you'll pardon the overstatement - I throw in recent bereavment as a shortcut to making the characters sympathetic, and as a way to inject profundity into a story that seems low on it. It's cheap, it doesn't work, and I take it out when I edit.

Deaths in fiction should MATTER. They shouldn't be an easy way to dial up the angst factor. I am a big believer that no character should be immune from death, but that doesn't mean you should kill any character you fancy.

Death in real life very often makes little sense - people are taken for what feels like no reason. While not everyone who experiences bereavement loses their faith (indeed, lots of people find it through bereavement), many do. Death can seem random, cruel, ironic, sadistic.

In fiction, though, a death should achieve something. Otherwise it just feels cheap and tacked-on. Life, sadly, doesn't conform to narrative laws, but - guess what? - narratives should.

Also, if you write fantasy, please please please please please ensure all deaths are permanent. If you don't, and characters can pop back willy-nilly, it means death can't be used as a plot device. Even the great JK Rowling was an shaky ground when she introduced ghosts and resurrection stones.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Chocolate! A-Z Blogging Challenge

Blogger is acting up so I can't catch up on my blog reading :( However, I can still post!

I wasn't sure what to write about for C. I thought of Characterisation, Clarity, Christmas and about twenty other things.

But in the end, chocolate was always going to win.

I don't know if I've even mentioned this on my blog before, but I am a true chocoholic. One serving a day is my bare minimum (although I'm working on changing that at the moment). I have very childish taste in chocolate - I'll eat any kind, but the proper, rich, dark, grown-up stuff doesn't grab me as much as the sweet milky confections. And do not get me STARTED on my love of Cadbury's Creme Eggs.

Even though my diet/healthy-eating plan starts today, I still wanted to ask you all - what's your favourite chocolatey treat? Since I'm planning to have chocolate less often, I need to enjoy each chocolate experience more!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bill

It's kind of fitting that B in the A-Z Blogging Challenge should fall today.

You see, today is the sixth anniversary of my dad's death. His name was Bill.

Actually, it was William, and when he was growing up his family called him Liam, but once he moved to England in his early twenties he was always Bill. English people in the 1960s had some trouble pronouncing Liam (this was before Mr. Gallagher). After being called Leon for weeks, he tried explaining that Liam was the Irish for William. . . and instead everyone called him Bill, and it stuck. It suited him.

I don't have much to add to the blogfest today, just that it's been six years since he passed away and he's still sadly missed. And I'm thinking of everyone who has lost a loved one today - we know we don't need an excuse to remember them, but on certain days we think of them more. This is one of mine.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Aoide - Welcome to April!

It's A-Z blogging challenge time! Click here to check out other participants.

Have some flash fiction for the first day:

Aoide

Aoide wiped her damp palms on her dress and walked towards the stage. This was it.

She had spent her life explaining that her name wasn't a typo, she wasn't called Aoife, and that her mother had named her after a Greek muse.

'Aoide' meant 'to sing.' Ironically, Aoide couldn't. Her mother and father, who sang in the local bar every Friday night, had never considered the possibility that their kid may turn out to be totally unlike either of her parents.

Well, they were about to find out just how much. Aoide stood before the microphone and took a deep breath.