Monday, July 31, 2006

Monday musings

The Ritas are up, and so are the Golden Hearts.

Lovely to see Stephanie Feagan taking the Best First Book Award, and there was much cheering about Liz's. Best Short Contemporary win. It's only a shame Liz AND Bronwyn couldn't have won that together. I hate when you're torn between favourites...

I recognise names in the Golden Hearts, but it's always hard to marry e-mail or online names with people's real life personas... I'm sure I'm missing someone I ought to be mentioning, but there you go.

In Other News, it's a rainy Monday, and that's just what I need. Last night's walk was under a luminous silver sky, with two layers of dark cloud blowing underneath at different speeds. The trees ducked and danced and creaked and everything was very ominous and boding. Marvellous.

In Other Other News, keep an eye on the progress meter, it should start moving again. Don't know what happened to me in the last couple of weeks (well, I do, we reached a bit of a negative watershed in the pursuit of pregnancy and it hit me hard. But that's another story) but I'm getting a grip on the story again.

PS - I just had to go through and delete a bunch of wrongly placed apostrophes. *blank, shocked look*. Maybe I'm not as together today as I thought I was. *wink*

Saturday, July 29, 2006

God Bless Anger

Well, I wasn't wrong. Cheerful cut in later Friday afternoon, and hasn't yet gone bye-bye.

I'm having a rather serene Saturday morning - I had my first glass of water and my banana sitting in the arbour seat in the front garden, surrounded by flowering passion flower and honeysuckle. I watched the great buzzing bumbles, and the clouds of hoverflies hunting aphids and drinking nectar from the aquilegias and flat yellow fennel flowers.

Pippi joined me, very happy to sit beside me on the cushion while I combed the hair on her chest with my fingers. Minnie was hunting flies in the neighbour's garden while Cleo and Chrissy sat inside on the windowsill and looked out with envious eyes. Poor dears, we haven't got them 'done' yet, so they're not allowed outside into the world of hungry-eyed, swaggering, stalking toms.

Now I'm at my desk, catching up online, eating a distressingly non-descript oat bar and fantasising about french bread and brie.

The weight's still coming off, though. So for now the brie will remain fantasy and the oats reality.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Chop and Change

I love emotions.

I say this in the same way a gardener might say, "I love rain," or, "I love manure."

When I left to go to work this morning I was in the grip of a crawling depression. Crawling like snails, something injured, or flies on an open wound.

Now I'm so angry I'm laughing like a hyena. Nothing serious, just a passive-aggressive bitch queen from hell failing to give me essential information.

I remember a character in a Mary Stewart book talking about anger being a "chemically useful reaction". I think it was Charity Selbourne in Madam Will You Talk. It's true to say I don't feel down any more. Possibly, once the adrenalin of the anger had worn off and I've stopped snarling, I might experiment with an hour or so of cheerfulness.

Or alcohol.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Heat Wave - the up side

It's like this. I don't enjoy heat.

No, no, no.

This is not a body that was born to sweat. Heat makes me uncomfortable, it makes me feel unwell, and it makes my brain stop working.

There is a REASON I live in the far north of England. It's cooler up here. Allegedly.

Now I know that to many of you thirty degree C temperatures (what is that, 90s?) are nothing to write home about. For me, they're a reason to hit the river.

Near where we live, and nearer to where Husband works, is a small valley in the Lake District called Borrowdale. Pretty much all my favourite things can be found there. In the middle is a tiny craggy hillock called Castle Crag - you know some of the old Russian fables and fairy tales where the wizard always put his heart somewhere else to keep it safe? Castle Crag is where I keep my heart - and past Castle Crag winds the Derwent, a sweet, clean, clear river, speeding over rapids and lingering through deep, shaded pools until at last it slides past whispering rushes to Derwent Water.

Wainwright called this the loveliest square mile in Lakeland for a reason.

When I go to the river, I'm travelling light, so I rarely take my camera. But I have found one picture of the spot I swim in, plus a picture from up high of part of the valley.

Posted by Picasa

Posted by Picasa

It's a bit of alright, really, isn't it?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Gene Genie

The traumatic furore over Susie the tortoise’s near-death experience (she’s fine, btw – I saw her at the weekend, savaging a melon) and miraculous recovery got me thinking about what we inherit from our parents.

And I’m not talking about Nanna’s Delft vase, or the antique bread board (pretty please, Mum).

We’re a product of our upbringing, of course, but what we inherit from our parents isn’t always obvious.

It wasn’t so much Susie’s trauma that distressed me, it was Dad’s devastation. Because I totally understood and empathised with it. From Dad I inherited my sense of responsibility towards animals, my joy in them, and my fear for them.

But the way I responded to my distress was straight from Mum – tears and reassuring words. Real, natural, honest emotion, sympathy and mothering. From Mum, too, I have a sense of animals that are ‘true to themselves’ (Mum’s mantra), animals as separate, natural beings with intrinsic value beyond the enjoyment or products we get from them, not just as furry humans, and not restricted by our expectations.

So, all very interesting, I’m sure, but so what?

Well, consider this:- What do your characters actually inherit from their parents?

I think about the books of friends and contemporaries – Kate Walker (The Antonakos Marriage, for example), Julie Cohen (how about Delicious?) and Michelle Styles (Try Gladiator’s Honour spring to mind – and can easily spot the influence parents have had on their offspring, whether those parents are an active part of the story or not.

Less so in my own books. In fact, so much less so, I’m cringing. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

(Some of the characters are double counted if they fit more than one category)

2 of my heroes feel they have nothing in common with their parents (one has nothing in common with his dead parents)
4 heroes can count five dead parents between them
3 out of 4 of my heroines are orphans (although they weren’t orphaned as young children)
1 hero has a mother he’s very close to, but she plays no part in the story
1 heroine is in violent conflict with her father, and her mother is dead
1 heroine is only in touch with her dead fiance’s mother.

In my defence, I can also pick out where the parental inheritance is clear and part of the motivation… but it’s still true to say that for some of my characters, I know next to nothing about their parents.

So what does this mean? Does it mean I had a childhood I’m trying to forget?

No. I had a lovely childhood, thankyouverymuch.

It means I’m a lazy writer.

It means I’m writing parents out of the story so I don’t have to deal with a complication, like having complex action happening ‘off-screen’ to avoid difficult descriptive work (which I DON’T do, thank God – writing action is one of my strengths).

This has got to stop.

To help it getting stopped, I’ve developed a short list of questions. I should say, though, that my attitude to character questionnaires is that asking them – thinking about them – is more important than answering them. Answers are a bonus, but awareness is key.

1) Who are her/his parents?
2) What did/do they do?
3) How is he/she the same?
4) How does she/he try to be different – do they succeed?
5) Does he/she owe their physical appearance their parents? (In other words, who has whose nose???)
6) What creeds and codes have they inherited?
7) What fears and insecurities have they inherited?
8) Are there any circumstances in which they’d want their parents’ advice, or would think, “what would they do?” What are they?
9) If his/her parents are dead, when and in what circumstances do they miss them?
10) If they’re alive, do they meet? How often? Where and when?

For me, I’m never going to have this information lined up at the start. I’ll ‘discover’ it as I write. But unless I’m looking out for the answers, I’ll never find them.

Go and have a play with your own characters, and see if you've avoided this particular pitfall.

Oh, and phone your Mum for a chat. You know she likes that.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


There was a crack of thunder last night, and a rush of rain, and my brain came back online.

Thank God. I was beginning to think my synapses were permanently melted.

So while I am capable of rational thought (or as rational as I get. And, looking at my calendar, I see this is going to be a short-term situation. Ah, Eve. Next time you encounter something snake-like and beguiling offering a taste of its delectable fruit, make sure and tell it you spit, don't swallow) I wanted to ramble on about a couple of things.

1) I'm currently reading two books at once, as usual. In fact, when I'm not writing, I'm often reading three books. One is the DaVinci Code. Yes, I know. I'm so behind. I'm enjoying the pace and action, and finding everything else incredibly frustrating. Long-suffering Husband has now decreed that if I can't stop whining and exclaiming in outrage (this is writer outrage, not catholic outrage, you understand) I should stop reading it. But currently all my willpower is engaged with losing weight, and I want to see what else goes horribly wrong.

The other book is a bookcrossing book I picked up from Julie - I Capture The Castle. If The DvC is my bedroom book, then ICTC is my bathroom books. I'm spending so much time in there, I'm going to need to get padding for the loo seat.

I adore everything about this book!

I am wondering, though, why I left both these books behind when I packed to go away after work today. Perhaps because I like to leave everything behind and do different things when I go away? One to ponder.

2) I'm going through a tough 'desperate to be pregnant' stage. I find it comes and goes in phases, and I am getting much better about not suppressing it, and dealing wtih it matter-of-factly. I'm sitting here in a coffee shop - waiting for a meeting with a chef, actually - and there's this beautiful child sitting opposite. All strawberry blonde hair and frowning concentration. You know what I love most about children? Their logic. The way they think, the way they learn, the way they reason and argue. When I'm done here I shall go back to the car and cry for half a minute or so, and then I'll drive to Halford's and buy new wiper blades.

UPDATED POST MEETING. So, my meeting (a very nice man) turns up.... with his four-year-old granddaughter. She was fabulously naughty, and lovely to be with, a bright, testing, intelligent sprite of a child. And half a minute ain't gonna cut it.

Don't think, by the way, that I'm asking for sympathy. It just does me an awful lot of good discussing this like a grocery list, along with everything else that's going on.

3) The WIP is progressing well, but I find myself wondering if I was always this anxious about revisions. I remember rewriting McWife (which I should get used to calling Run Among Thorns) at a far more drastic level. I remember angsting about making it all link up properly. But RAT is a very action-led story, starting with a bang, and barely catching its breath. Whereas Danglies dwells in the ordinary world for a while, taking some time building tension and generating both a sense of foreboding and a sense of enchanted tranquility as a foil to the tragedy coming. It's so important to get the right ingredients into that front end, I worry I'm losing more than I should in the cutting...

OTOH, I've just got another chapter to go and they're in bed. Then their world falls apart, and they get running. After that, it's easy. *wink*

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Too hot. Brain fried.

Going off to visit Mum and Bro (Dad is in Pyrenees) tomorrow night late.

See you Sunday.

Too... damn.... hot....

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Question Time

No more progress on the WIP for me this weekend. On the other hand, I did write (and largely research, BAD me) a 3,600 word paper for my MA in two days. The paper was set some time in May, and it's due tomorroow. *eyeroll* Sometimes the scale of my procrastination astounds even me.

Bear (a very dear friend of mine) posted a question in comments the other day and, frankly, I don't know the answer.

She's been having some success in writing contests (Go Bear!), and one piece of feedback puzzled her, so I'm posting it here to see if any of the wise and wonderful writer women (and men) out there have got some insights.

When someone tells you that "your narrative is trying a little too hard" what do they mean and how can I change it??

Any thoughts?

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Ah! *cracks knuckles* I was almost starting to forget what progress felt like!

Once again, coffee and evocative music is the key...

Just in case you hadn't noticed, (and you'd be forgiven for not noticing, believe me) that word meter for Dangerous Lies revisions just moved from 5.7% to 12.7%.

It's probably pants, but it's progressive pants.

Chapter Two is toast.

Next up, a 3,000 word Masters essay, three evening meetings and continuing to battle to get my kitchen finished.

Oh, and Chapter Three

Life? What life?


Right Here, Right Now

Being excited about your story is just about the best feeling in the world, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Right Decision (for me, for now)

The conference was a fabulous few days - great opportunity to be exclusively in the company of writers, learn together, talk together and spend time with friends. I learned that historical writers need to strive for a sense of authenticity, rather than impossible accuracy, that writers need to plan their marketing well, and that drama techniques can really help give depth to characters' emotions and sensations.

I also learned a lot about techniques for re-starting stalled writing, that I have a very nice walk, and that I am capable of tickling people I don't know all that well with a feather...

Apart from all that, the conference gave me a chance to canvas opinions about an opportunity.

On Friday, literally minutes before we left for the conference, I received an e-mail wtih an offer of publication from a reputable e-publisher, for my first MS.

On Tuesday, I turned it down.

To say the offer was a shock was an understatement. The request had come back in June 2004 when I'd entered the first chapter in the Romance Junkies Writing Contest. I'd sent the full later that year, resent it when it turned up missing (so to speak) in March 2005. It was passed on to another editor, and then silence. Over two years after that first request, I had an offer, completely out of the blue.

I spent the conference listening to advice from people I respect, and making my mind up. For now I'm staying on the course I've set myself, and that course doesn't included e-publishing. That's not to say it might not in the future, or it might not with another book. But this book, this time, no.

But, oh, it feels good. Not the turning down, exactly - I always hate not being obliging - but the knowledge that my faith in that story is justified, and that I was this close.

Now it's up to me to get my arse in gear, get my finger out and be bold, fearless and dedicated in pursuit of the goals I've re-committed myself to.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Right Place To Be...

Given that I've been musing on writing and how not to postpone it, it's rather appropriate that tomorrow I'm going to be in the company of writers.

It's the Romantic Novelists' Association Annual Conference this weekend, at the rural UCLAN campus, Newton Rigg.

It's also appropriate that it's rather a romantic spot for me. This is the college that Husband attended as a mature student in order to be near me in the north. He dumped a reliable (if strenuous) job in the south to migrate after his headstrong then-girlfriend.

It is possible for two people to get some sleep sharing the single beds in the student accommodation.

Some sleep.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Right Thing To Do

Usually, when I write blog posts, I keep it very tongue in cheek and, I hope, humourous-melodramatic. This one has refused to be written any way except from the heart, and, what's more, has ended up with the exact opposite of the point I thought I was trying to make.

So bear with me. Here's the first attempt at this post:-

A few years ago I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, shortly after we made the decision to try for a baby (after six years of my desperately wanting to). Trying to get pregnant was immediately forbidden, and I was referred to a specialist.

I ignored the prompts of my monthly blood tests, avoided a doctor's appointment, and went to RWA National in NYC in 2003. Those were my last happy memories of 2003 - by August that year my memory was shot to hell, and I probably wouldn't have wanted to remember how I felt anyway.

The specialist, catching up with me when I got back from NYC, presented me with two choices. One, to continue taking drugs to suppress the thyroid gland, but not permanently affect it, expecting the thyroid to self-correct in time. This was the lowest risk option, and the least disruptive to my life. Two, to have radio-iodine treatment that would mean several weeks off work, at least a week of little or no human contact (no hugs allowed!) and several months of setting off airport radiation detectors, should I wish to fly. Option two also included the possibility of turning my thyroid to too low a setting, so to speak, and it was likely I would afterward be on medication for the rest of my life.

I simplify, but you don't need a medical essay.

The point is that Option One was the Right Thing To Do. It was gentler, and relied on nature taking its course. BUT - you knew there was a but, right? - at this stage, every month without a pregnancy was like being beaten with big sticks labelled "Failure", "Freak" and "Eternal Unhappiness". And with Option One, they were talking about months, even years to a resolution. Option Two? Four to six months. Max.

But I sucked it up, broke my heart on a daily basis, and got on with things as best I could, waiting out that Right treatment. Because sometimes the hard thing to do is still the Right Thing To Do.

I feel a bit like that right now. I'm not writing at the moment, and it's a conscious decision. Work is busy, I'm writing a paper for my MA, and we've been concetrating on home improvements. Pioritising writing over that is downright crazy, and a hiding to nothing. But I WANT to be writing, it nags at my like mild toothache, like a craving for something you can't have.

But Not Writing is still the Right Thing To Do.

That was where I was going with this post the first time I wrote it. Making the point that sometimes it's hard to do The Right Thing, but it's still necessary.

But then a little voice said, "um, but you don't WANT to do the right thing. You didn't then and you don't now."

And that's really true. After about eight months of that Right Thing To Do treatment, and no improvement, I broke down (literally! Cue hysterics in the doctor's office...) and demanded the riskier, quicker treatment. Because damn the sensible decision, I wanted what my heart demanded.

And it worked. It worked beautifully. It not only cured my hyperthyroidism, but it didn't give me HYPOthyroidism, either. I'm not on medication and my thyroxin level has been text-book perfect ever since. The recovery was almost miraculous, and I'm approaching the second anniversary of being given the green light for trying for a baby again.

(No success yet, but that's another story, and we're coping, honest.)

So I'm in a bit of a pickle. I intended to write this, "Sometimes you have to do the Right Thing even if it hurts" post, and I've ended up with the unavoidable conclusion that my point today is, "Screw the Right Thing. Follow your heart."

Which means, I'm a writer. I have to write.

Which is downright scary. I have no idea how to do this.

Wish me luck.