Sunday, February 27, 2005

A Rebuttal

I have been accused of 'organisation' and 'tidiness'.

I beg to differ.

In support of this stance, I offer the following evidence....

[NB - Hello doesn't seem to want to play with me today - I'll be back later to post the piccy!)

Note the discarded hair towel, the half-finished packet of ginger nibbles, the pile of... stuff. There's a bed under there somewhere.

And that's the back end of a camera-shy black cat disappearing off the corner of the desk.

Tidy indeed. *Harumph*


Friday, February 25, 2005


I think a writer’s desk is like a fingerprint of their personality. Unique to each writer, and tell-tale. What we see tells us alot about them as a person.

Here's mine:

My fingerprint Posted by Hello

For me, though, it’s the stories behind the details that really make the person. That yellow post it, for example, to the left of that picture, says, “Don’t Forget Jamey.” Sir Jamey was a member of eHarlequin, and a warm and funny person. One day, on his way back from a writers group meeting, he pulled over on the side of he road, and quietly died behind the wheel. It was a terrible shock, and we still miss him.

But the reason that post-it exists is because I was rather ill at the time Jamey left us, and my memory was failing badly. I had a morbid paranoia that this lovely guy had left us, and soon I would forget that he had ever existed. That wasn’t to be tolerated, so I wrote myself an aide memoire. Although I’m now well, and never likely to forget him, I keep it as a reminder both of Jamey, and of how ill I was, and how lucky I am to be better.

Then there’s the dictionary and thesaurus. NOT, I hasten to add, put there to look clever in the photograph. I wil admit I rarely use them *blush* but they were my 18th birthday present from my parents. When other 18 year olds were getting stereos and TVs, all I wanted in the world was a guide to the world of words. Kind of a pointer to the woman to come, no?

There’s stacks of paper, the ubiquitous tyvek envelopes, a fluffy pink flamingo pen from Kate Walker, the Vogler Madalyn Reese bullied me into buying and he obscene notice from Julie which (thank heaven) is obscured by the black notebook so you can’t actually read it, and which reminds me that I’m talented, when I think I suck.

Look top right - that lighthouse? That's one of Mel's lighthouse pictures. And below that is Vin's bald pate just looming. He looms so well....

Nothing like a bit of name dropping, eh? Seriously, though, if there's one thing my workspace says about me, it's that I have wonderful, generous, supportive friends. I'm very lucky in that.

And there’s Minnie, curled up dozing in the lap of Paddington, who was my birthday present when I was about four (the teddy bear was, not the kitten...). My writer’s life would never be complete without cats. The green blankie on top of the printer is hers, too. ;-)

I used to have an utterly beloved ginger tom called Geri who slept on my desk whenever I was writing. I still remember how he felt under my hand, writing and purring, while I worked out what the next sentence would say.

Minnie’s more likely to leave sticky nose marks on the monitor, but she’s young yet…

NB - distrust the writer who has a perfectly empty and tidy desk. They have something to hide.... *looks shifty*

Monday, February 21, 2005

Three Cruel Ironies (or The Sublime to The Ridicupiss)

1) The very early signs of pregnancy are remarkably like bad PMS. I get bad PMS. I suspect I shall be blogging about trying (and failing) for a baby sometime soon. Nuff said for now.

2) My Big Grey Cat Merlin is dying of cancer and chronic kidney failure. He's responding well to treatment (and to coaxing with expensive foods), however, so he's not suffering yet. We've probably got weeks, maybe months, and I've gone from wishing he'd died suddenly to being incredibly grateful for every moment we still have. But this does mean that we have an obsessive interest in his toilet habits at the moment - every pee is a small triumph.

Today, he peed in my work shoes.

And as the now cold cat's urine soaked into my unsuspecting sock, I was troubled by mixed emotions. On the one hand - "hooray, his kidneys are still working!" on the other hand, "these are my only decent work shoes!"* And a healthy dose of, "ewwwwwww!"

3) The prospect of having to lose weight by cutting down on what I eat is depressing. The only decent cure for depression is a chocolate croissant.

* I suffer from shoe poverty. I love shoes, I would like to own many pairs of beautiful shoes. But a combination of aggressive sensible-ness and 'those are too fashionable for me' inferiority complexes sabotages any attempt to add to my meagre collection.** I have two pairs of work shoes. Only one are really comfortable. On twelve hour days this MATTERS.

** I have decided that strong-willed friends and alcohol are probably necessary to aid me in my endeavours to own more cute footwear.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Some more Eden valley views from Saturday... Posted by Hello

A voyage of discovery

[Written Saturday lunchtime] This is my warm up exercise, since I’m fairly certain I won’t be able to write anything substantial until after lunch. I’m one of those people who are a slave to their blood sugar – particularly when hormones are jumping. I’ve hit the rambling, poor concentration, please-don’t-fall-over stage at the moment.

I am trusting this will be solved by asparagus, shallot and parmesan tart at one of my favourite writing restaurants.

Mmmmmm. Tart.

So far (and it’s only lunchtime) today has been a wonderful antidote to this week. The twisted scowl that had been fixed to my face as a result of stress, tiredness and PMS has been replaced by a beatific smile. There has been sunshine, and beautiful, hidden places, and time to explore.

It occurred to me that I don’t get enough time to explore, to do things just for the joy of it. Recently, I’ve spent so much time rushing from task a to task b, or from place a to place b, even relaxation time has only been what you do in between doing the other stuff.

Relaxation is an end in itself. Your own time is very, very important.

Having said all that, I started my Saturday morning by going to work. Luckily, the work in question was an hour and a half drive to a farmers' market, to chat to the lady who organises it in advance of an event we’re running next month. So it was work, but it wasn’t exactly a hardship. And, back in the car, duty done, I found myself thinking, “what next?”

I looked at the clock. My fingers skittered over to grab the map. I started to smirk to myself.

Then I did one of my favourite things – I looked at where I was (Brough) and where I wanted to be (home) and chose a circuitous, meandering way to get there, using roads like these.

The winding road... Posted by Hello

The sun was shining, the sky was aggressively blue. I wound my way through limestone hamlets huddled together for warmth, and sleepy sandstone villages dreaming of the glory days of Gentleman Farmers and Lords of the Manor. Sheep watched me pass, stately ash trees dipped their branches, and dark woodlands whispered their enchanting enticements. Come deeper…. Come into the shadows…. Tread lightly on our soft moss and never think to know sunlight again….

My lunch just arrived.


Where was I?

Ah yes. The glories of the Eden valley. Wish you could have been there. It was fabulous. ;-)

Well, since I’m getting some energy back, any more on this post would cross the line from warm up to procrastination, so back to Kier’s big, juicy steak….

Friday, February 18, 2005

A Resolution

It occurred to me that it would be a really bad thing if Husband could learn significantly more about me, and what I was thinking, by reading this blog.

So I am resolved to talk to him about the stuff I post here, too.

Just a thought...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

An exception to the rule

I am not a morning person.

In those perennial "How to Find Time to Write" workshops* the suggestion to gain an hour by getting up a 5am acts on me like kryptonite on Superman, or water on the Wicked Witch of the West.

Melting! I'm meeeeltiiiiiiing!

This morning was different.

This morning I really, really needed to be in work before half eight instead of after half nine, to get some work done before a ten o clock meeting.

There had been a heavy frost overnight, and the sun was just coming up as a I left. I'm very, very lucky where I live, in that I have to drive through the Lake District mountains to get to work.

Picture the pink light of dawn just beginning to hit the moutains, pale yellow sunshine pouring into the shadowed valleys, dispersing the mists that hung alondside woods and rivers. The platinum grey rocks at the mountain's heads were just dusted with brilliant snow, like diamond dust. Last year's bracken gleamed gold behind the silver birch in the gullies and ghylls. The whole world was jewelled. And half it's people were still in bed, and would never see it.

But I was lucky. I saw it.

So, today, I was a morning person. Just once.

*Which are, I hasten to add, generally fantastic!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Are Domestic Goddesses ever Stressed?

Today, I shall be a Domestic Goddess.

The time is only 8am, and already I have completed a number of tasks, to whit:-

The washing up (Husband could not do this last night, as his lap was occupied by Merlin)
Clearing out one of the cat's litter trays
Dumping a chicken carcass in some water to boil for stock
Half writing a set of notes for a meeting on Wednesday

Later, I shall continue the theme by:-

Making a chicken pie
Making soup
Doing minimal hoovering
Arranging flowers for the guest room
Going emergency grocery shopping

The occasion? The parents are visiting!

However, I suspect that your true Domestic Goddess remains, calmly poised, in a perfectly appointed kitchen, whisking up confections of cream and sugar, occasionally tasting her creations and winking suggestively.

I am almost certain she never has to stand over a litter tray, plastic bag in hand, while a cat strains purposefully, or wrestle the remains of a chicken into a large stock pot.

And she never, ever, gets pulling-my-hair-out reaching-for-the-wine-bottle stressed.

A little Colombard, anyone?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Reverse Psychology and the Stubborn Writer

I have such a twisted psyche.

As soon as anything writerly marches itself from the 'fun stuff' column into 'stuff I HAVE to do' territory, I become the original stubborn mule, a dig-your-heels-in one hundred per cent thirsty-horse-refusing-to-drink-at-water hardarse.

Have you ever had a conversation like this?

Person A:- You need to get that stuff done
Person B:- Yeah, I know.
Person A:- The sooner you get it done, the quicker you can get back to fun writing
Person B:- True. But that still means I have to do the crap stuff first
Person A:- Be professional! You're a committed writer!
Person B:- I'll be professional tomorrow. I DID work a 40 hour week, you know.
Person A:- Do an hour at the crap stuff, then go and watch a DVD or something.
Person B:- OR, I could go and watch the DVD and forget about the crap stuff
Person A:- You'll hate yourself if you don't do it
Person B:- I'll hate myself if I don't bleach the toilet, too
Person A:- You suck
Person B:- Bite me

So, you HAVE had a conversation like that?

Ever had it with yourself?

I do. All the time. Every day. Continuously.

I'm doing it right now. I'm thinking, "I could be writing instead of blogging. But if I don't post regularly, I might as well not blog. But if I don't finish reworking that scene this weekend, I'm going to wake up tomorrow and groan in anguish. But blogging is writing, kind of - it's a writing exercise. Sex is exercise - but staying in every night and bonking ain't gonna get you a gold medal at the hundred metres."

Etc etc. Ad nauseum.

In the past I've been reduced to sticking up post-its and notices saying, "The sooner you finish, the sooner you can get back to [fun WIP]." Generally I raise two fingers at them. I could always work on something else, but even the thought of doing that grinds the cogs in my head so loud I wince as sparks and sheared off cog-teeth fly out my ears. I have an editor request for this MS. What is WRONG with me?

Is there a solution? Well, writing the Damn Book might be a start. Accepting the process instead of agonising about it might help - I tend to have a couple of months of white-hot writing, then a month or two of very little.

But, no, I haven't really found a solution. Yet.

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Subtext, soup and the delete button.

Well, I wrote.

Or rather, I am choosing to class leaning on the delete button as a productive writing session.

I did also manage a bit of 'real' writing. It's going to be quite an interesting scene, where the H/h are completely failing to talk about recent catastrophic events, focussing instead on mundanities and inconsequentialities. I want the conversation they do have to be almost bland, while the words they aren't saying are screaming in the silence.

It's going to be hard to pull off, I think. If I get it right it will serve to heighten the tension AND inject a sense of the ordinary within the extraordinary.

If I get it wrong, the reader will be wondering why the hero thinks it's important to tell the heroine that he likes leek and potato soup.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Whatever the weather

I'm a writer.

Someday soon I'm going to have to crack the concept of writing all the time, no matter how I feel.

Because there are always excuses. On a minor scale there are always demanding people, and chores, and (heaven forfend) the day job. On a major scale there are families and husbands (well, hopefully only one. Unless.... No. Only one) sickness and worse.

In other words, there will ALWAYS be too many days when you don't feel like writing, for reasons that seem damn good to you. You can postpone your whole life saying, "tomorrow will be better."

I'm not trying to depress you. I'm not saying, "tomorrow will always be worse." I'm trying to say, "I can make tomorrow better, if I write today."

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Touchy feely

I went shopping for underwear today.

For Husband.

Well, I did stray into M&S for myself, but they didn't have anything I liked. So off I wandered to try and buy something for him.

So, trunks, boxers, slips, hipsters, button fly, keyhole (excuse me?) fly, A-frame (what? He needs scaffolding now?) fly, micro-fibre, cotton, jersey......


I really should know what he wears. But most of the time, when I'm focussing on this part of Husband's anatomy, he's NAKED! And now I'm trapped in a narrow eisle in a department store, surrounded by pictures of improbably endowed semi-naked male torsos and crotches. (NB, the M&S Point of Sale graphics are to be savoured. I wondered about slipping one in my bag, but since it was two foot by two foot, I didn't have a big enough bag. Curses.)

I was just about coping until I strayed, unintentionally, into the Jockey section. My jaw dropped open and I started to blush.

My fast-erroding composure was finally obliterated by the words emblazoned across some anonymous model's bulging package - Soft To The Touch

Husband can buy his OWN underwear....

If you go down to the woods today...

I've just been on a residential team development/training course thang here for a couple of days.

Apart from mapping out support needs, doing a skills audit and playing with balloons (too cool!) we went for a walk in Grizedale Forest Park.

There was a storm here, not so long ago, and they're still clearing up the wind damage. It was an incredible sight - you felt as if you were walking across the set of Gladiator (you know, the opening battle scenes were they trash some woodland) and into Middle Earth.

Whole stands of pine snapped off at head-height, jagged, splintered trunks still showing rose-gold where the wounds are fresh. Moss-covered trunks laid flat amongst still standing firs, wreathed in mist. Beech and ash tipped over, their root plates canted at awkward angles, like the King of Siam's wives in unaccustomed crinolines.

Living nature and destruction hand in hand. There was something very awe-inspiring about it all.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Don't mess with children or animals...

I was reading a book last night, a historical from a well-known author. Well, I say reading. I mean I read half and skimmed the rest.

What was wrong?

Well, we all know that the greater the barriers character have to overcome, the greater the the satisfaction when they reap their reward. There must be suffering on the way to those Good Things, or the Good Things don't seem so wonderful.

This is true. Up to a point.

As romance writers, we've learned that there are some places the reader won't follow you to. If you're going to kill a child off in your story, or murder off pets, you'd better be sure you've gripped your reader good and hard beforehand, or they'll put the book down, disgusted and upset.

But in the book (not a romance, I hasten to add) I was reading, it wasn't that the villain was a kitten-murderer that turned me off, (he was also deformed, ugly, bitter and greedy. Whoa there. Enough already) it was the saga of suffering the heroine went through to reach her Good Things.

There is such a thing as too much. This story went on heaping physical suffering on to mental suffering onto emotional suffering... until the story seemed to be a chronicle of how low a character can be driven.

There are some things that no amount of Good Things at the end can erase. It wasn't uplifting or satisfying to reach the end and see the characters receive their reward - it was gruelling.

So if your heroine has already been through hell and you're about to put her in hospital, too, please, please think again. Do the Good Things measure up to the ordeal? Or are you trying to take a short cut to reader sympathy?

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Words for words' sake

I've got so blocked I can't even think of a decent blog post.

Maybe this will help.

There's gold outside. Sun-gold. It's pouring down the rendered walls of the house opposite, slip-sliding over the shivering pine-needles, staining the livid yellow willow stems. In the shining ivy, frail birds sing full-throated, catching the moment.

The once-muddy road glistens, gilded. The laurel is illuminated: gold leaf on green leaf.

The sun sets, it grows cold. A grey, drizzling day is given a last benediction, to remind us why we're alive.

Roll on spring.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bein' Obvious

We hate to think of ourselves as predictable, or easily sussed, don't we? We like to think we're complex, mysterious, that it would take time to get to know us, to pin down what makes us tick.

This being so, it was mortifying to have the Pilates instructor, after only two sessions, turn round to me with a smile on her face and say, "you're thinking too much. Stop it."

"It seems I was bein' obvious, Bunter."*

Of course, she might have got a hint from the lifestyle section of her little form, where I'd put, I work at a desk all day, then go home and work at a desk all evening.

Curses. Must strive to be inscrutable.

*Dorothy L Sayers, Strong Poison

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Mr Merl Posted by Hello

Young Merlin Posted by Hello

Mr Merl

Let me introduce you to Merlin.

Merlin's my oldest cat, a huge hephalump of a grey-and-white tom. His Dad was a roving pedigree Siamese with a hareem spreading over a ten mile radius, and his Mum was an oft-harassed half blue persian farm cat.

The day I met Merlin, nearly fourteen years ago, I walked into a warm farm kitchen, and a litter of kittens scurried for cover behind a ratty armchair by the stove. Then one of those kittens, one with a white bib, nose, and cute little white socks, bravely tripped back out again, and sat on my foot. "Mine" he seemed to say.

Merlin answers to many names - Mr Merl, Uncle Merlin, Buncle Berlin (don't ask), and NO! Don't Spray The.... argh!!!

His antics have been many and varied - from climbing sunflowers to fighting mad toms, learning to lean into roundabouts to taming the electrician. In recent years he's gone about life radiating this level of low-grade annoyance at everything for being detrimental to his dignity.

Oh, and he's NEVER forgiven me for marrying Husband.

He likes chicken, turkey and tuna, soft blankets, warm rooms, and constant adoration commensurate with his status in life.

Romance - it's in the details

Husband doesn't go in for buying me flowers. Jewelry isn't his thing. Chocolates are something we get for a treat, not something we give as a present. If I want a romantic weekend away, I'd better book it.

Does that mean he's not romantic?


He's spent the last ten days or so putting his CD collection onto his computer as MP4s. For me, this meant lots of 'yes dear' moments when he waxed lyrical about whichever CD he was copying. It also meant enduring the agony of 'The Rush Day'. Let us never speak of it again.

When he'd finished, on his last day off, I suggested he go for a walk, or go out, or do something for himself. "Nah," he said, "I've got a few music-y bits and pieces to finish off."

The next day, as I was about to leave for a weekend with my brother, he leant in through the window of the car and handed me a CD. "Here ya go. There's over a hundred tracks on here, for the journey."

"Thanks, love!" I said, thinking he'd just put a random sample of his collection onto CD for me.

I drove off.

I pressed play.

Every one of those tracks is a personal favourite, or a cherished memory, or somehow significant to me, or to us. All those times, in the (eeek!) twelve years we've been together, when I've gone, "Ooooh, I love this one," he REMEMBERED. The first tune I ever taped off the radio. The ones we laugh through together. The ones I write to. The embarassing ones I sing to, eyes screwed shut. The ones that are more about my relationship with my God, than my relationship with my Husband.

All the way down the motorway, each new track, I was yelling, "You GENIUS!" delightedly at the stereo. It was like he was sitting beside me, handing me little gifts.

Some of the tracks I didn't even know he HAD. Some of them he bought online for me.

I can buy myself flowers. Heck, I can buy myself diamonds. This... this kind of understanding I couldn't get anywhere else.

It's all in the details, folks. It's something I need to keep in mind for my heroes.

Important Announcement!

My friend sold. :-D Nothing else is of the slightest importance.

Congratulations, Shannon!