Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Conf 82 Signing out

No. of new words: 0
No. of responses from Guardian: 1

Hooray, can leave on a positive note. It makes such a heck of a difference to get some feedback.

E-mail from Guardian ed. today:

These are fab, Amanda, thank you so much...

Off out into the big wide world tomorrow, can hardly believe it. We only travel once a year.

I can stop doing this for fun , for a while anyhow.

Thanks too to you for visiting, I hope you'll come back again sometime.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Conf 80 End of Term

No. of new commissions: 1
No. of new commissions that pay: 0

A frenzy of activity these past few days: shows, picnics, tears, dancing and hugging as daughter finishes primary school & that's just the parents. Rites of passage are exhausting, topped by the stickiest and sweatiest traffic jams West London can offer. The leaving service in the beautiful old church was a real eye-shaker, culminating in the Irish Blessing, which everyone was saying 'oh this is going to get us going' beforehand but which I'd never heard of before:

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
The rain and sunshine warm upon your face
The rain fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again some day
May God hold you in the palm of his hand
May the memories that we have shared
Linger on and on.

Sung over and over as the tearful children collected their bibles one by one. Debbie next to me was being surprisingly stoical, she said later it was to to counter Frankie next to her who was in full wail before the children had even arrived.

Surprise e-mails from the press office of non-fic publisher and from the Guardian:

We are starting a new Q&A column where we field readers' interiors queries to the relevant expert.... ...I've got a couple of questions I thought you might be able to answer. We will, of course, say "Amanda Mann, author of advises.." so you get a plug for your book. The questions are pasted below, we are looking for v. helpful, clear answers (obviously) about two or three paragraphs.. Do let me know what you think...

So, here we go again. Do I do it for no money? Is a plug in the Guardian worth it? For six paragraphs, of course it is, but at the same time... I couldn't not ask, I hate asking for money! Hhate it! But I did::

...It would be great to get a plug for the book if my remedies are suitable, thank you. I hate having to ask this, but, as I'm not on any royalty, would there be any kind of fee as well?

And hit SEND before I could fart about with it.

The reply:

At this juncture, we can't offer a fee (we are fielding questions to so many untried experts, it would get out of hand). But if you were to become a regular problem solver on the page (your subject seems to be cropping up a lot) and your answers were fabulous, we could look at bunging you a few quid for your solutions (don't get excited, the fees here aren't huge). In the first instance we would certainly say "Amanda Mann, author of.."
So your book gets a plug. Does that sound any good?

It took me two hours. Worth it undoubtedly. Will just have to wait and see if it's fabulous enough.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Conf 79 Links & Pitches

No. of words: same

Sad to see that Max has blogged-out. (http://bookangst.blogspot.com) She was one of my favourites.

However, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, whose agent nightmares were on Max's pages, dropped a thank you note by at Confession 70 which happily led me to her own blog. This sets off in high style with a fascinating essay on the jealousies and envies involved when authors review other authors (with particular reference to Curtis Sittenfeld's 'wrongheaded' review of Melissa Banks' The Wonder Spot in the NY Times) and an informed analysis of the chick lit tag.

alamedawritersgroup.org/newsletter_0805_DRAFT.html newsletter has a must-read for screenwriters at

9: Steve Kaire on Hollywood & High Concept by Jeff Szalay.

I don't know who Steve Kaire is, but as a guest of this LA-based writers group, he appears to be from the depths of the inner workings. The order of pitches easiest to sell run from Science Fiction (least difficult) through Fantasy, Horror, Musicals, Westerns, to Period - Historical (most difficult).

Talking of pitching, I had my lunch at the BBC yesterday with the last producer I worked with (over 10 years ago). TV Centre seemed incredibly exotic and distant, so unlike the run-down place I remember. I don't really feel I am going to fit in anywhere, but who knows. We talked about one of my 'Big Ideas' a music series I got quite the way down the line with all those years ago. Music, he says, is the most difficult to sell, the Period-Historical of the TV world. What they want are formulas, formats, concept things like Big Brother. You also have to be 'channel specific', identifying why it would be a BBC1 idea or BBC2, BBC3 etc. After warning me how careful you have to be at letting ideas out of the bag in TV, he said he'd look over my treatments. So, Pitch Well Done. It's funny because in writing you don't worry about letting your ideas out, or I don't & most people I know don't. But in TV you really have no control & would have to be slightly barmy to hand over your unique treatments to strangers in production companies. Whereas with writing, it's only really at beginner's classes I've taught where I've found people who have a story they're so enamoured with they are scared to show it to you in case you'll nick it. Most writers have far too many stories of their own to be bothered with nicking other peoples', but at the same time writers are natural thieves as well, we steal from everywhere, except, unspoken honour amongst, other writers.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Conf 78 Author Moments

No. of words: 31,202

After weeks, even months probably now, of editing, did the first stretch of brand new words yesterday. Am inserting first-person flashbacks to the 70s which is an excuse for mass indulgence on the memory front & too much timewasting on the Internet today.

Can't really settle to writing as it's daughter's 11th birthday & have had to decorate cake (sugar roses) and fix pass the parcel, with forefeits between the layers (have water poured into belly button and win a sweet), and stuff like that. We're taking 5 of them to an Indian penny pound jewellery emporium in Hounslow after school & letting them shop till they drop. Then it's rope swings in Marble Hill and home for Chinese takeaway.

I've had rare feedback on novel 1 in the past few days, not once, but twice, via two independent means. One of the playground mums, who I don't know well at all, introduced me to her brother as the 'author who wrote that book'. We were somewhere in front of the stage in Kew Gardens listening to the Buena Vista Social Club at the time. Hand flew to mouth in shock. Brother, it turned out was crazy about Bridget Jones so sister had given him a copy of mine and he'd loved it too. He was talking to me about different parts of the PLOT!, unheard of authorly basking for me. Then he introduced me to his wife and then I got to puff up all over again. She got out the champagne she'd been saving for the post-gig party and cracked it there and then, asking me which way I wanted the cork facing and stuff like that. Extraordinary after such a long time with no feedback at all. I don't know how much they'd had to drink by then, mind you, and I hadn't exactly been short of a few glasses, but all the same. A day or so later I decided to check the forthcoming non fiction out on US Amazon & spotted a new customer review for same novel.

** Could Not Finish It.

...unbelievable and silly, the story dragged and dragged. Skip it.'

It's funny how many American reviews like to add that bit at the end. SKIP IT; DON'T, WHATEVER YOU DO BUY THIS BOOK!! (Well, mine anyway.) The English just say 'crap'.

Maeve Binchey once said in an interview that the most important thing to do as a writer was to KEEP WRITING no matter what was happening around you; if you were getting rave reviews, bummer reviews, or (for most of us) no reviews at all - you have to keep on going and remember why you ever started doing this stuff in the first place.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Conf 77 Detail

No. of words: 30,376

I got bored with doing the 1,000 word thing. Only a couple of weeks now till we go to France, French house is in the story, I want to be there for it in the WIP so I've been blocking out from old drafts.

I am stalking book-mother in playground, she forgot it yesterday so will be pestering her today.

I hope, whoever the author is, they write like this:


Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Conf 76 Getting Back to Normal

No. of words: 12,064

London buses and trains are getting back to normal, but the aftershocks are still being felt. Like the tsunami disaster, the scale of the tragedy really hits home when the names and photos of the victims start appearing in the newspapers.

Lots of people are saying they won't let it beat them, that they'll carry on as normal. I was due to take a group of 5 11 yr olds on the tube to Covent Garden next week for a bungee jumping and bead buying birthday treat. This will now not happen. I'm not about to defy terrorists with other peoples' kids.

A mum stopped me in the playground today. She's just back from the US and said she'd read a novel on the plane she had to show me because the writing really reminded her of me. I am intrigued. Who will it be? Anne Tyler! Carol Shields! Marian Keyes! or Amy Jenkins?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Conf 75 What Next?

No. of words novel 3: 11,064
No. of words novel 4: 14,012

Have just peeled myself out of my secsy skirt and blouse. After my 1,000 words of Novel 3 this morning, had a temping test at my local Brook Street Bureau. Am sitting here in my Tesco pink sarong now, sheltering from the sun. The good thing about Brook Street is they have all the training packages on site, so I can go in any time and brush up my Excell and Powerpoint skills. Better than forking out for a college or online course, or buying our own packages which we were looking into as well. I was quite proud of my results, actually. I scored 52% on the dreaded Excell, having never done it before, which is plenty good enough I was told, anything above 60% is expert. My typing speed was 83 wpm, 98% accuracy, faster than my shorthand. Now, this means if I typed stream of consciousness non-stop I could write 4,980 words an hour, which would be 39,840 words for an 8 hour day, which would be first draft completed in two days.

Another novel has sprung up in the word-count count, this was novel 3 but is now novel 4, fully-formed but put to one side due to topicality (and therefore less likelihood of out and out rejection) of novel 4. Toyed with insane idea of writing both at once, 1,000 words a day each. Maybe I should just batten down the hatches and finish both in four days?

I've also arranged to have lunch next week with the last producer I worked with at the BBC. Though I've been getting cold feet about returning to TV, I must keep all the options open and explore the possibilities. A thought struck that I might be happy working in the classical music section. Though it's much, much smaller than it was ten years ago, it still exists. I think I could be happy there, floating along the corridors of TV centre wearing long flimsy skirts and sandals with symphonies in my head (the BBC really was like that in the old green carpet days). I production managed a prom concert once, Ravel & Debussy, it was a good experience. Nice people. That's the most important thing now, nice people. It's as good to remind myself that not all arts TV has gone down the pan.

Talking of which, A A Gill on top form last Sunday with this, which I think is the best opening line of any TV review EVER.


Here, more perceptive thoughts on arts TV plus a superb description of the UK's no. 1 joke politician:


Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Conf 74 How To Write A Novel

One night Mack lay back on his bed in the Palace Flop-house and he said, "I ain't never been satisified with that book Cannery Row. I would of went about it different."

And after a while he rolled over and raised his head on his hand and he said, "I guess I'm just a critic. But if I ever come across the guy that wrote that book I could tell him a few things."

"Like what?" said Whitey No. 1.

"Well," said Mack, "like this here. Suppose there's chapter one, chapter two, chapter three. That's all right, as far as it goes, but I'd like to have a couple of words at the top so it tells me what the chapter's going to be about. Sometimes maybe I want to go back, and chapter five don't mean nothing to me. If there was just a couple of words I'd know that was the chapter I wanted to go back to."

"Go on," said Whitey No. 1.

"Well, I like a lot of talk in a book, and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. And another thing - I kind of like to figure out what the guy's thinking by what he says. I like some description too," he went on. "I like to know what colour a thing is, how it smells and maybe how it looks, and maybe how a guy feels about it - but not too much of that."

"You sure are a critic," said Whitey No. 2. "Mack, I never give you credit before. Is that all?"

"No," said Mack. "Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. The guy's writing it, give him a chance to do a little hooptedoodle. Spin up some pretty words maybe, or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up in the story. So if the guy that's writing it wants hooptedoodle, he ought to put it right first. Then I can skip it if I want to, or maybe go back to it after I know how the story come out."

Eddie said, "Mack, if the guy that wrote Cannery Row comes in, you going to tell him all that?"

Whitey No. 2 said, "Hell, Mack can tell anybody anything. Why, Mack could tell a ghost how to haunt a house."

"You're damn right I could," said Mack, "and there wouldn't be no table-rapping or chains. There hasn't been no improvement in house-haunting in years. You damn right I could, Whitey!"

And he lay back and stared up at the canopy over his bed.

"I can see it now," said Mack.

"Ghosts?" Eddie asked.

"Hell, no," said Mack, "chapters..."

Sweet Thursday, sequel to Cannery Row
by John Steinbeck

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Conf 73 The Real Doc

When major tragedies happen my friend Debbie bakes plate-sized chocolate chip cookies. I tend to sew or make soup. This morning I made a long, complicated minestroné and listened to the radio.

Radio 4's Book of the Week this week has been Under Water To Get Out of the Rain by Trevor Norton. Today's instalment made me stop everything and just stand and listen. One of my all-time favourite, favourite books is Steinbeck's Cannery Row and here was a profile of the real Doc. Wow, he, and Mack and the boys and the rest really existed and I didn't know. His name was Ed Ricketts and he ran the Pacific Biological Laboratory in Monteray. I just heard it again on the BBC's 'listen again' link.

I have stopped writing now and have gone into full marketing mode. Yesterday the synop went off to the editor, today I'll mail the 2 agents. Dug out the e-mail from agent who has already shown interest in my work. It reads far more positively than I remember, partly, maybe, because I had my head turned by the other agent who offered me coffee.

As I really am beginning to think I'm not going to get any sort of a proper job, even the temp agency is being sniffy and I just got a rejection without interview for the council admin job, I'm upping the effort at the writing end. My marketing push is now expanding to include non-fiction again, mailing non-fiction editors who might commission and submitting a children's book which was taken on by an agent once but nothing happened.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Conf 72 Word Elimination

No. of words: 6,922
No. of synopsis pages: 4
No. of storyline pages: 9

Nearly there. A few tweeks to do on the synopsis and it'll be in the post tomorrow. Have decided on a mailout of 3:

1. A query letter and synop to editor I met at party.

2. A query letter, synop, first 3 chapters and story outline to the other agent who was interested in me at same time as Agent 2. I haven't contacted her since she e-mailed to say she liked novel 3 & wanted to see more (since postponed for novel 4).

3. As above to
him, as a 'what the heck' really. (Link from maud). He's the agent I went to see with my writing group and sent my very first novel idea to.

Sorry, that link didn't work:


It's astonishing how many words I found to delete today, this from a MS I considered finished. When I put the wordsearches in I found two 'olds' in the first 3 lines! Of my pet over-used words were still:

1 muted
7 really
6 just
2 dust/y

I then found this list and set to again, finding to delete/change:

1 lovely
1 good
1 better
4 big
1 change
1 happy
1 think

This on a MS that's been edited dozens of times.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Conf 71 Cruising

No of words: 4,248
No of synopsis pages: 8

Yesterday I rewrote the synopsis. It is still far too long. Tailored for last agent who, because he'd already shown interest, would have stayed the course of (what was) 9 pages of every twist and turn. Now, as I am back cold-calling I have to cut it down to 4 pages, preferably 3, in what's scarily reminiscent of my CV hell week. I want to get it out this week.

Genevieve has a list of the top ten Brit blogs which got me linking all over the place this morning. I'm getting all in a twist with my links again here, so more tomorrow, but I was thrilled to discover a magazine devoted to found objects, one of my favourite diversions. Sorry, that link has twisted with another one. That one there is a Guardian article about a new initiative for first-time novelists by author/publisher Susan Hill. The magazine is www.foundmagazine.com.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.

Conf 71 Blue Skies and Nightingales

'He who feels inflated must have been a bubble.'
Lao Tzu

Weekend camping in the New Forest has given a refeshing new perspective.

We are not Normal Campers, despite having 5 types of cooking stove, four types of inflatable mattress, 3 of the the softest down sleeping bags money can buy and two tents. I am reluctant, though, to call us ex-campers as I love tents and all the outdoors. The last big trip was to the Italian mountains when daughter was a baby. Camping with a baby is hard work PLUS, so that's when it stopped.

Now baby is nearly 11 and this weekend was her friend Claud's birthday party in the forest. She and four friends had their own tent (our Tent No. 2) in the trees surrounded by wild ponies and a wilderness to build camps and run free. Most sites, in the UK anyway, drain the magic of camping, but the Forestry Commisson ones are so big you can get your own spot away from everyone else. Luckily for them in our case as we were those 'other people' you don't want to be near, the puppy barked, the children told ghost stories way into the night and were up at 6 shrieking and laughing.

It was a bit of a twitchers paradise, evident by tents with bird tables and peanut feeders outside. Then a passing camper told us they'd heard a nightingale the night before. I thought they only existed in poems these days. We wouldn't have known how to recognize the song. Like a song thrush, we were told, but with more range.

Now it's a new writing day, was intending to redo synopsis but something else has cropped up. As a result of change of scenery maybe, and horrible visit to a local employment bureau on Friday - talk about humiliation - I woke up with one of those 'Ideas' that come fully formed sometimes. Usually these are radical new plot turns or even complete new story ideas, but this one wasn't anything like that. I quickly dampened the enthusiasm as I made breakfast, it's a simple website idea, bound to be done, bound to have been done a thousand times over. But a quick search hasn't revealed anything yet, and the six-letter domain name is free.

I need some Time Management on this. The first three chapters and the synop are nearly ready to send out, so will spend a couple of hours retraining myself on web design and then get the synop rewrite finished. Or should it be the other way round?

New Forest

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Friday, July 01, 2005

Conf 70 Finding An Agent Who Cares

Have just read a fascinating post over on bookangst in which Lauren Baratz-Logsted talks in detail about her dealings with the six agents she's been 'engaged' to.

As one comment so succinctly put it - God's Teeth!

And I thought I'd had a depressing time of it.

A response to the piece by Jessica Brilliant Keener says the best piece of advice she ever got, and passes on to us is


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