Friday, April 29, 2005

Confession 38 A Night on the Town

Feeling a little fragile this morning. Went to K'sbook launch last night. Met J under the clock at Waterloo at 10 to 6. Rush hour was a real shocker after my daily quiet routine here of staggering from bed to kitchen, cobbling together daughter's packed lunch before writing until 2.45 and school pick-up time. The only people I ever see in the day are the window cleaner once every two months and the man in the post office about once in three when I allow myself out to post a MS.

We walked over Charing Cross bridge to Trafalgar Square, London looking lovely in the early evening light, and searched for a bookshop so that J cld buy a copy of K's book. There aren't any bookshops in Trafalgar Square, just a very tall column with a statue on the top, lions, fountains, pigeons and a very big art gallery. We did find a whole street of bookshops and nothing but bookshops nearby, but they were all specialist ones. One of them had a real Dalek in it.

I had my book with me in my bag. Great to see K looking so gorgeous and glam reading an extract from her hardback. Hardback for your second novel is pretty good going. Her editor gave a glowing speech telling us about their first meeting and how everyone in the publishing house loved K and her work. K gave a very funny introduction, explaining the author's Amazon nervous tic of looking your book up every hour when it first comes out.

Stuck with the girls from my writing group. We were feeling so bonded we even all went off to the ladies together at one point, in a little girly line, only to find that behind the door was an airplane-style cabin and we all banged into each other, so we became an instant queue instead. K introduced us to her editor, extremely pretty lady with a tiny doll-like nose, and another editor she met at the Robert McKee seminar, she stopped and chatted for a while and was very friendly. We also met an author who was on his third novel but had never sent them out to anyone ever. ! Said they weren't good enough.

We popped into the Groucho on the way home and shared a bottle of wine and some twiglets.
Didn't spot anyone famous. Last time we went J discovered in her boyfriend's Sun newspaper the next day that we'd just missed Bono and Bill Clinton, so expectations were high. We played it cool, though, and went to the quiet upstairs bar, 2 blokes on stools at the bar talking about going to South of France to stay in old Etonian friend's castle and pull girls, what pricks. J spotted a journalist, a woman who always wears a pink top. I bragged about how I used to go there in my TV days and get drunk with Jeffrey Bernard. We were editing a film in the West End about Keith Waterhouse, his play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell was on at the time. Whenever Keith, was in he'd take us to the Groucho. As the author not only of Billy Liar, but also of The Theory and Practice of Lunch, he knew a thing or two about lunch which nearly always included champagne. Sometimes these lunches went on till 6. The girl I shared an office with used to fall about at my regular morning hangovers. Jeffrey adored Keith, and so, by association, we always had a good time with him. He was very, very funny in an extremely sad way, exactly the same as the character in the play, you couldn't make him up. I had the same university conversation with him he describes in this interview, he was convinced I was one of the Oxford girls. For the first time in my life I was proud of my 3 O levels. It was the last film I worked on as a BBC girl, and one of the most exotic.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Confession 37 The Language of Lunch

Wordcount: 14,517

My agent bought me a very nice lunch to celebrate the signing of my first book deal. It was about 6 months after the signing as it'd taken so many months before I had the contract, but we got there in the end. We went to a good restaurant around the corner from her office and had a glass of champagne. She talked enthusiastically of my rosy future. I didn't look great, after a year of endless revisions and constant work work work, my skin was bad, I was overweight and my hair hadn't had a good cut in a long while. I also had a shoe problem. Did I walk there in my (best) heels or go in (shabby) flats and change round the corner? I decided to change round the corner rather than stagger in sideways with sore feet, and stuffed my flats inside a supermarket bag inside my shoulder bag (also inelegant). When we sat down she suggested she took my bag and put it on the seat beside her. Her face as her arm sank at the extreme weight of the thing isn't something I'll forget. She must have been thinking she'd landed a complete weirdo.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Confession 36 Work In Progress Meanderings

Wordcount: 13,147

Another early start, going back over the first 2 chapters of yesterday, changing long chunks of rambling introspection into bouncy dialogue.

For the first time am printing out each chapter as I go, and last night's read-through was majorly awful. The idea was to do this so that in the evenings I could ADD in tiny nice bits of sensory stuff and sound and weight and weather here and there as I go, and make the first whole draft readthrough less painful. At the moment it doesn't feel as if I'll ever get to that stage. Still, the dialogue has improved things and brought some handy conflict scenes in. It's funny how aware I am of all these craft things this time, when I did nothing of the sort for the first book. I just wrote the story down. As I used to work in film I used film language to construct it. Starting off with a first assembly, then a rough cut, then a final rough cut, then an answerprint, then a showprint.

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Monday, April 25, 2005

Confession 35 Hag Lit a Go-Go

Wordcount: 11,364

This is rewriting words, not brand new ones. Did four chapters today. Partner now chipping in by getting up for the school run, this gives me an extra TWO HOURS in the morning and no excuses for mucking around on the internet. It also means bye bye to Isabella morning runs for the moment, but must get as much done as possible in next few months.

Interesting programme on radio yesterday about fiction for older women. As this is the market I am now attempting to tap into, I listened with interest. There was a woman from Transita a new publisher who specialises in this area, agent has already mentioned them to me as a possibility, and another woman who didn't see why this new genre had to exist at all. She said snootily something about chick lit for older woman and the Transita woman denied this was what they were doing. WHY? What's so wrong with chick lit?? There's good and bad as in every genre. The best of chick lit has sophisticated writing, with its serious ("literary") themes hidden in the depths, but still there, beneath fun, easy to read writing. This is what I'm aiming at. So I was a bit annoyed at their dismissiveness. They called it HRT-Lit which doesn't have any ring to it at all. I prefer hag-lit myself.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Confession 34 Back to the Grind

Wordcount countdown: 7,219

Ignored the sunshine (after Isabella run) and got back to it today. Only have till late July to try and get some serious wordcount mileage in. It's final first draft from the beginning time. Final first draft for me means a draft that I would be happy to show someone. It will be bland, with speech not very differentiated, and without much sensory detail. What I'm aiming at is the story, beginning to end.

Yesterday did the plot pointing. Made a file of dividers for each chapter and itemised events which will happen in each chapter, working from the latest synopsis which has many additional story points now.

Of all of Robert McKee's Story , the bit I have noted to follow is this one:

"Look closely at each scene. What value is at stake in my character's life at this moment? Love? Truth? What? How is that value charged at the top of the scene? Positive? Negative? Some of both? Go to end of scene and ask. What is the value now? Positive? Negative? Both? Compare. If answer at end is same as at opening - why is the scene there? Why then? Probably it'll be exposition - conveying information about characters, world or history to audience. If this is the scene's sole justification - trash it and weave it in elsewhere."

I'm terrible with exposition in the early stages, as I'm telling myself as much as anyone what it's all about and where it's all come from.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Confession 33 First Day of Spring

Second writing day in a row barely spent writing at all. But lots of nice things happening today:

It's sunny and flowers and trees are sprouting everywhere

"People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us." Iris Murdoch

No nasty post

New haircut

E mail from quotes insights job saying 'great work'. Feedback! This means a lot.

Booked holiday. Speedferries are the Easyjet dears of the ferry world. Right now if you book before end of April you not only get a return peak crossing to France in July/August for £68 for all of you and your car, you get a BOGOFF too, car and all, which you can use till end of year. It goes to Boulogne which is so much nicer than Calais.

Have mastered the blogging link system.

I still like my novel, which I returned to yesterday after all the distractions with links and other blogs.

Which I'd better get back to.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Confession 32 How I Got Published Part III

How I got published part III:

So, at the publisher's Christmas party I finally met my editor. She said she had some good news about my book - W H Smith were taking it. Only get about one in ten of their books get in.

Three months to go before publication I contacted the press office to talk about their marketing plan, as advised by Carole Blake's Pitch to Publication.
I got nowhere. Carole was writing about authors with sizeable deals or writers with really small but enthusiastic hands-on publishers. Insane with frustration at lack of contact by publisher, I bit the bullet and phoned my agent to complain. This 'whingeing-author' card has to be played with extreme care. All authors have to promote their own books. I knew that, but wasn't quite prepared for the complete and utter lack of interest. The press woman was obviously worked off her head, she was the sole senior press and PR person.

I worked on it, and got myself into the local freebie glossy mag and the local papers and did signings, talked at my local college and stuff. The launch was brilliant, my friend T stepped in to be my PR type pal, she came with me to the signings and blagged cases of wine out of local businesses and my friend D organised an amazing post-bookshop party.

The marketing guy at the publisher's was friendly and on the ball, and arranged fliers and posters and stuff and they gave me £75 towards the party. (I was offered £50 for the 2nd book, this should have told me something!) Their distribution, too, was good, especially for such a small publisher.

I was so nervous on the day of the first launch I just sat indoors all day, rooted to the spot in fear. I have the shyness handicap, big time, and I suddenly realised what I was doing: publishing a novel and inviting 150 people to hear me read it out loud. Well, some of it, I mean. I got through it but it was no great performance that's for sure. Still, it all went well and we sold 90 copies on the night, a record for the bookshop. The same nerves thing was about to happen at the second launch when I was rescued by my homeopathic doctor cousin. At 10pm the night before, she drove 30 miles to give me EFT, which is an amazing technique she uses to cure all sorts of phobias, fears and illnesses. It's a kind of acupuncture rebalancing the mind thing, without the needles, which involved me counting to ten lots of times and singing a nursery rhyme whilst she tapped away at my meridien points. All I can say is it works. I wasn't at all nervous the second time, loads of people commented on how calm I seemed. And there was none of that build up of scaryness and no 'Thank Christ that's over' feeling afterwards, I simply did the job. It lasts too, apparently. Though reading extracts from a third novel is relegated to 'yeah as if' right now and possibly for ever.

It's the tradition at launches, fortunately I didn't know this then, for your editor to give a little introductory speech saying how much they love you as an author and your wonderful book etc etc. My editor didn't come to either launch, nor did anyone from the publishers. The bookshop people found this extremely weird.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Confession 31 Writers' Pub Night

No. of things happening: 0
No. of old computer games rediscovered: 1

"Last night I dreamed I ate a ten-pound marshmallow, and when I woke up the pillow was gone."

Tommy Cooper

Have had my head down the past couple of days, trying to get the website work completed. Going quite quote insane here.

"Man blames fate for other accidents but feels personally responsible for a hole in one."

Martha Beckman.

I have to find 75 of these, SEVENTY-FIVE, am up to 55, it's a bit like picking mushrooms, you find one quote then you suddenly find loads, then you find none again.

That sounds like a quote.

"I'll stick with gin. Champagne is just ginger ale that knows somebody."


It so got to me that at one stage I stopped completely and played Nev it Up I've never done before in the middle of the day.

What else?

Went to WC Writers on Tuesday. A quarterly booze session in riverside pub for anyone who writes professionally or is trying to write professionally. I enjoyed it, esp as L gave me a lift there and back so didn't have to think about not drinking or hang around at bus stops. Lovely to see C and D back after C's success. C won the Richard and Judy novel writing comp, beating 46,000 other entrants! Last time she came she was unpublished, now she has a nice advance, and, more importantly, her own priceless patch of R&J's sofa when it's published (we were all much more totally impressed with that than the advance) - and a deadline. Also nice chat with J who's on her THIRTEENTH published novel which she's calling 12A. The other J reminded me about the BBC comedy scriptwriting comp, I might have a go when quotes is out of the way and the house is clean and my hair is cut.

Received invitation to another book launch, at West End champagne bar this time. This is for K from my writing group. I haven't read it yet but it's getting some fantastically positive vibes already.

"The minute you start talking about what you're going to do if you lose, you have lost."

George Shultz

So, no more bus driving thoughts allowed.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Confession 30 Pitching at a Party

No. of phone calls with agent: 1
No. of pitches to seriously big commissioning editors: 1

Ah, soo. I called agent this morning, heard my script has arrived safely. He is in the US for 2 weeks now so I can have 2 weeks grace without going through agony of waiting to hear his opinion. The reason he wanted to talk is because he's moving agencies and wanted to let me know rather than coldly e-mailing. He says it won't alter anything, I will go over with him and so there we go! the closest yet he's come to saying he WILL represent me. It's another high-profile agency and I wasted no time rifling through my Writers & Artist's Yearbook to check out the score.

The book launch last night was fun. I arrived quite early and after giving author my best wishes I was at a bit of a loose end, grabbed a glass and hovered amongst the books. Both mine were there, novel 2 face out. The good thing about parties in bookshops is you can always just stand and read something. I was too vain to wear my glasses though, so found myself scrutinising Jo Jo Moyes' fuzzy acknowledgements without much joy. Had a nice chat with bookshop owner, who talks to me like I'm an author which is quite odd after all this time. She also works as a sales rep for a big publisher, we talked about sales and selling and how books are ranked A's and B's and C's in the shops like Waterstones and how selling isn't the same any more as all the decisions are made at their head office. Then she introduced me to an editor from her big publishing house. 'Ah!' we went. She said she thought of a line in my book almost every morning when she was getting ready to go out. (Why, oh WHY didn't you sign me then? I wanted to ask.) She was the very editor who'd given me the most rave rejection of my life for book 1:

To agent: "it was a really good call on your part in many ways, I loved it, it could have been written for me. Because I'm so familiar with the territory I wondered if this is why I enjoyed it such a lot.. ... so after much thought I am not going to offer on this, as much as I did enjoy it and as much as I would like to meet Amanda Mann... I like her sensibility."

These kind of letters are the most heartbreaking, so near but so far. Like getting five numbers on the lottery, but worse because it's years of your life and you are so close to achieving your dream but at the same time just as far away.

SO this was her! Cool, cool, play it cool I said to myself and bookshop owner and I continued talking for a long time about sales repping and things until, after asking who my agent and publisher was now, she drifted away. ('um looking for a publisher actually') But later she was back, on her own right next to me, so I just leapt in with something crass like, 'so, are you looking for authors at the moment?' Anyway, we had a good chat, I did my marketing talk and she liked the sound of the book. So! I don't think it's very good form, really, to pitch at another author's event, but as it was this woman I'd often wondered about contacting individually again anyway, as she liked the sound of me so much, I would have been daft not to.

Now, back to the quotes.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Confession 29 Agent Contact Alert!

No. of e-mails from agent: 1

Agent e-mails asking me to call him today or tomorrow. What does this mean? The simple answer would be to call him, but I'm savouring it for a day, and by tomorrow he'll have new synops and chapters on his desk so it makes more sense to wait. The real reason is so that I can speculate and not have the horrible let-down happening today.

The old two novels are neck and neck on Amazon today, 52,297 and 52, 545, I wonder if they'll ever get to a bingo situation. The non fiction is sailing spectacularly along at 208,243.

So, am back on the web work today, almost had a Cote D'Azur afternoon, taking my list of quotes out into the sunny garden to suck the end of my pen and dream up my guru-like comments about them.

Day started well. Very well, with a run in the Isabella Plantation. This is a woodland in Richmond Park, it was so beautiful I forgot to huff and puff and ran much further than usual. For an extra ten minutes deviation of route on way home, well worth it. Everyone said good morning, the gardeners, other joggers, which made it even more perfect. It's right up there with the two other truly magical places I've been to in the world, Bali and Ireland.

Am off to a book launch this evening. At the same bookshop where I had my launches, so will be acting like an author again for an hour or so.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Confession 28 1,000 Words A Day on the Cote D'Azur

1,000 words a day on the Cote D'Azur

Final day of the school holidays, late start, dentist's, picking at the synopsis. Changed the ending this morning, printed it out about five times today as I kept changing it, now think it's finally there. The story is much more circular and defined. It will change as it's written but it's the best crack I've had at an up-front plot plan.

Apart from the web work, which is more like work-work, this will leave me FREE TO DO OTHER THINGS! This is a strange sensation. I will sort out my clothes, clean the house properly, buy a few plants, even, go to the hairdressers and spend the beauty salon voucher I got for Valentine's (massage or pedicure? Have never had a pedicure, am scared of putting my feet in someone's face). Hairdressers are normally out of the question (£45 basic are they kidding?), but girlfriend has given me a voucher for a trial cut in Chiswick. Apart from my truant days out a few times a year, the writing has completely taken over. Maily due to sheer fear. I still haven't a clue if I will be able to crack it or not. It's every writer's dream to write a '1,000 words a day on the Cote D'Azur', as Noel Coward described it, or was it Philip Larkin on Noel Coward? Finish by 11 or 12, have a nice long lunch, potter in the afternoon thinking about the next day's work, do a bit of shopping, see friends etc. but the reality is it takes over and when you've finished the first book the second is a big worry, and when you've finished the second there's the third.

Bye bye for now, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Confession 27 Rewrite for Agent Checklist

I've been working on the synopsis for the novel and have been having, now familiar, feelings of ups and downs about it all. Yesterday lunchtime I was full of it, back on track and enjoying adding all the new elements and thinking it would be a fun book, it was going to be great. I might be able to be a writer after all. By the evening I had gone completely the other way, no story, not enough (eugh) plot, the heroine's a stupid idiot etc etc.

Today it was hard to get going, lots of fiddling around, feeling guilty because I should really be doing the web work which is real income. I was hoping to have it all done and away by tomorrow afternoon. Woke up with some important changes this morning, which will, hopefully, make character more realistic and sympathetic and less of a slapper. The problems I had to address were as follows:

first person to third (done)

too episodic, needs stronger central plot, more tangible, to make the episodes tie together (think have done. I have reduced the characters to the barest minimum and have them appearing in different places instead of solely in their b/g places).

Trickiest part a bloke called Anton (Anton's been binned, have nicked his looks, though, for the other bloke, Stuart). (NB: Anton's looks initially nicked from a magazine article about an actor. Journalists are very good at summing up how people look.) (NNB to journalists: By time of final draft, description will not be in text but hopefully character will have morphed into its own version of it.)

Needs strong sub-plots (well, there are a few now that weren't there before.)

Need more of a sense of who main character is. Her personality. Her inward struggle. (think have done this).

Need more info about the family (now there's LOTS of family. Family are very handy as they can pop up all over the place without question.)

Now I will leave it for another day and see if I wake up with any more tomorrow. I'm so keen to get it off. But if it's sent too soon that would be a major error.

My other writerly dilemma is whether to share a funny thing my daughter said in Shropshire. Is it fair to broadcast your children's funnies to the world like those awful women columnists? If she found out she might clam up and never say anything to me again. Oh well here goes:

We'd been visiting Acton Scott, a Victorian theme farm. I normally hate these sort of places but this one is really good with lots of 'smell-moments': stables (straw, shit, hoof oil, leather can't get enough of it); inside an old wardrobe (resin, wood and dust), a cottage coal fire (winging me straight back to childhood sitting room). Daughter and her friend had been able to milk a cow by hand, when her father asked her what it was like she said straight out, 'Like a boy's penis.'

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Confession 26 A Mini-Break and A New Commission

No. of cheques in post: 1
No. of new commissions: 1

Have been away, staying with friends in Shropshire. Lots of walking, talking, drinking and fresh air made me feel quite giddy after my quiet daily existence here. Had to spend most of the last day being very anti-social, lying down in darkened room recovering from all the excitement.

Though I took the synopsis and intended getting on with the rewrite, didn't do a scrap of work. Instead, after a good old rummage in hostess's bookshelves, happily surfed between sofa and garden with Alan Bennett's Writing Home,, and spectacular views across The Mynd.

Good news on the am-guru front: prompt payment for first lot of work, along with news that client requests insights on 75 more quotations. I will be an insane quoting person by the end of it , but this hopefully will stop me fretting about lack of work for another few weeks and will push me into getting synopsis rewritten, which I intend to do right now, and get the whole novel intro back to agent fast.

Bye bye for now, thanks for visiting, come again soon.