Friday, 30 March 2007

Novel Update - Aha moment!

Having googled extensively I now know what I'm writing.

Apparently it's "paranormal chick-lit"

Who knew there was such a genre? Not me that's for sure.

But there's a market for that genre in the UK. Right? Right?

(still not sure I'm being funny enough though)

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Novel Update - Is there such a thing as miserable chick lit?

I'm now over 12,000 words in and my protagonist is still really quite miserable. In fact, there's going to be a fair amount of misery in this book for another 3,000 words or so before Chapter 3 kicks in and then then much hilarity will ensue (okay, some hilarity in a not particularly hilarious manner). There are some light(er) moments in the early parts of the book but no laugh out loud "look at bridget dressed up as a playboy bunny at the not really a vicars and tarts party" moments. This has me slightly worried. The TONE of my book and, I suspect, my writing style are very chick lit but it's not exactly a laugh a minute. Does that matter? If I hook my readers in with the story line (which I hope I've done - it's quite unusual) but don't make them laugh will they carry on reading?

Can something still be chicklit if:

a) it doesn't include shopping
b) it doesn't include singleness
c) it doesn't include 'yummy mummys'
d) it doesn't include shoes
e) it doesn't include a gay best friend
f) it doesn't include a 'I've never really thought about him in that kind of way before' male friend who is OBVIOUSLY the one meant for the heroine
g) it doesn't include a whole lotta laughs

I'm not entirely sure if what I'm writing is chick lit anymore. I think it's like Maggie O'Farrell lite (which is probably not a good thing). I mean, I LOVE Maggie O'Farrell but part of the charm of her books is her use of language and I am not a particularly 'languaged' writer.

Is there a market for this novel?

I'm worrying again aren't I. Somebody stop me.

No really. Stop me. Now.

p.s. I have an idea for the next book. It's chick lit. It's definitely chick lit...with a twist. So maybe that's not chick lit either? Oh, I dunno.
Photo copyright me. Grumpy monkey, Monkey World, Dorset 2007.

A hit and a miss...

The miss first - my 100 word story didn't make the final 3 in the Radio 4 Front Row World Book Day comp despite my writing group thinking it stood a v good chance. There were thousands of entries apparently so I don't feel too despondent. Anyone know somewhere good where I can sub a 100 word dark, literary flash?

The hit - I found out yesterday that one of my stories has been shortlisted by a very well respected, high paying ezine for one of their themed issues. Won't find out if the story makes it to the final publication for a good month or so but this is the first time one of the stories I've subbed there has made it to the shortlisting stage so I'm pretty chuffed (will be even more chuffed if it actually gets published!)

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Novel Progress - 10,000 words target hit!


It's amazing what you can do when you only have an hour to write (in my case - lunch time). I managed 1,427 new words.

Listening to music definitely helps (in my opinion anyway). Yesterday I got a bargain 2-CD Billie Holiday CD for £3 from Fopp and I listened to it while I wrote. It's weird how your brain blocks out the music and lyrics after a while and instead you hear your narrator's voice.

Anyway, new total is 10,620 words (11.8% done). New target is 20,000 words.

Is it wrong to feel paranoid...

...when the automated air freshener in the ladies loo at work squirts me every time I stand near it?!

Damien Rice Gig Review (Hammersmith, London 28 March 2007)

Why is it that the things you look forward to the most are often the most disappointing? The older I get the more I think you should keep your expectations low. That way when something IS good there's greater potential to be pleasantly surprised.

Take New Year's Eve for example. When I was younger I always used to really look forward to NYE but I can count the number of truely great NYEs I've had on the fingers of one hand. In fact, on the fingernail of one finger. On the other hand you can go to a totally random party in the middle of the year where you don't know anyone and you're expecting to have a terrible time and it turns out to be one of the best parties you've ever been to.

I'm waffling of course but what I'm trying to say is that the Damien Rice gig last night was a bit of a disappointment.

Three reasons why I was looking forward to the gig:

1) I LOVED his first album and the B-sides album (although I thought the second album '9 Songs' wasn't as strong)
2) I'd seen footage of one of his gigs on Channel 4 and it looked amazing
3) Two of the people I went to went to the gig with had been at one of his gigs 2 years ago and raved about it

Three reasons why this gig was disappointing:

1) No Lisa Hannigan. Despite Damien's attempts to fill in her parts it just felt like there was something missing. Lisa was missing and that robbed some of the songs of their beauty and balance.
2) Some of the songs turned into overblown w*** fests. By that I mean DR totally overindulged himself musically and a four minute song inflated into a ten minute noise explosion. DR may have found it rewarding but most of the audience were left perplexed (and waiting for the next song)
3) There are some gigs you go to where you feel like you're watching musical magic. Last year, for example, I went to see Tracy Chapman (I've been a big fan since I was 13) and when she played 'Fast Car' it was like every hair on my body was standing on end. It was sublime. When Eddie Vedder sang 'Alive' at Reading I felt waves of energy and emotion rush through the crowd. Admittedly here were moments in the DR gig that blew me away with the raw intensity and anger (such as 'Woman Like a Man') but there were no real moments of unashamed beauty despite DR playing an unplugged version of Cannonball right at the end.

Don't get me wrong - it wasn't awful or a bad gig by any means but I'd expected too much and when the music doesn't distract you from how sore your feet are or how much your back is aching (we were standing) something is wrong.
Photo copyright Damien Rice (probably).

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

My Idea of Hell...

From the Bookseller website:

Agent Tony Cowell is to launch a new Dragon's Den-style show on ITV London which will seek out new author talent for publication under the Random House Group's Arrow imprint. The series of six 30-minute programmes will air at 6pm on Sundays starting 1st July on ITV London, sponsored by Borders and produced by independent production company Prospect Pictures.

It will be repeated on one of Sky's digital channels.Would-be authors will pitch their books to three judges: Cowell--who is himself an author with John Blake and the brother of The X-Factor's Simon Cowell--agent Ali Gunn and "a bestselling author" to be chosen by Random House. Around two thirds of the programme will be devoted to the contest, and the remainder will show an interview with another bestselling author about how they got started.

"There are just as many wannabe writers out there as there are wannabe singers but I don't think many people know how the industry works," Cowell said. "We're going to create a similar feel to Dragon's Den where people come into this really frightening pitching room [but] we're not going to shout at them. It's not like the X-Factor ..."

It sounds like my idea of hell (being on it that is) but I'm soooooooo gonna watch it!

Chinese Fortune sticks cont...

Last night I asked the sticks if I would live happily ever after.

The reply?

"You made an unreasonable wish."


But I did write over 800 words of the novel and 10,000 words is nearly within my grasp. Am off out to see Damien Rice tonight ( his gig, rather than a personal rendez-vous) so probably won't get chance to write any more.

Am liking how, now I'm actually writing the novel rather than just umming and ahhing about whether or not to start it, ideas are starting to pop into my head. At about midnight last night I sat bolt upright in bed and scribbled down three ideas for new scenes/tweaks to existing scenes before I forgot them. Am fast accruing a stack of random bits of paper with scribbles on. Must keep them all in one place (and re-read them).

Photo copyright me 2007. Bungalow, Cowes, Isle of Wight.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Things you shouldn't do when writing a (sort of) chick-lit novel...

1) Read internet articles about how crap chick-lit novels are
2) Read internet articles about how the chick-lit market is over saturated/over
3) Read internet articles about how novels by female writers are invariably slated by male critics
4) Read internet articles about how you can't make a living by writing a novel (unless you are a celebrity or a JK Rowling/Dan Brown rarity)
5) Read internet articles about how hard it is to get published
6) Read blogs written by anonymous agents which reveal that they only sign 1 author out of every 1,200 slush pile submissions
7) Read the (bad) amazon reviews of other chick-lit novels and wonder what kind of criticism your novel might get
8) Obsessively search the internet to try and find out if anyone has ever written anything similar to your novel and, when you can't find anything, assume you're not looking hard enough

Any more anyone wants to add?

(all this and I haven't even written 10,000 words yet. Me, a compulsive worrier/analyser/control freak? Never!)

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Novel Progress - Update

Didn't really feel like writing today but felt guilty about my lack of words yesterday so sat down with the laptop and prepared to type.

I'm not sure if anyone else does this but I need to go over the last few paragraphs (to get myself into the right frame of mind) before I can start writing anything new. Anyway, tonight the last few paragraphs seemed a bit thin and needed some extra work (words) so I did a fair bit of work there before I progressed with the story. Progression was the tricky bit. I'm now onto the second chapter and it's much less clear in my mind than the first chapter. That said, once I got going the words started to flow and my character's entrance into chapter two was different from how I'd initally imagined it. It worked though (I think) and she's just met the third character in the book (there are eight main characters in the book at the moment but only four of them are pivital, including my protagonist). She doesn't like him - so that's going to be interesting.

Am currently deliberating about whether or not to tell the story from the protagonist's POV (1st person) all the way through or whether or not it might make the story a bit more rounded if 3 of the other main characters get the chance to tell their story too. Then again, if I do that, it might give too much away and ruin the climax of the story. I think that I'm going to continue just writing from the protagonist's POV at the moment and reconsider if the story seems to move a little too quickly.

Anyway, 1,000 words written so that's me for tonight. 8,309 words written in total (9.2% of novel). My first milestone of 10,000 words isn't looking too far away now.

p.s. Word counter thingy appears to be down so I can't add the new words. :o(

Film Review: 300

So, no new words on the novel yesterday but I did go to the cinema. I wanted to see "Amazing Grace" but was convinced to give "300" a go instead.

In case you haven't heard about it it's about how 300 Spartans try and defend their nation against the million plus Persian army. Apparently it's based on a comic (I didn't know that before I went to see the film) and is directed by the same guy who directed "Sin City" (a film I really didn't like). My one word summary of this film is:


It's awful. Oh God I can't express the true awfulness of the film. The dialogue is appalling, the narrator is repetitive and annoying, the characters are two dimensional, the look and feel of the cinematography makes everything and everyone look plastic wrapped. Yes there are men with six packs in little more than a cloak, underpants and sandals but the whole thing is so unashamedly homoerotic that even the sight of toned, semi-clad men didn't distract me from how truly terrible this film is. I laughed all the way through it (at one particular shot in the sex scene and, most often, at the dialogue) and I just didn't care when people died (this is a film that shows the protagonists - who you should be rooting for - dropping 'small' babies off a cliff at the start). Each sepia soaked scene made me groan. The film is style over substance and left me feeling robbed (I was, of the £6.70 it cost for the ticket).

I want those two hours of my life back. On your head be it if you decide to go and see it.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Novel Progress - What Do you Write To?

Progress is going well. I wrote nearly 2,000 words yesterday and nearly 1,000 today (would be more but I've got people coming over in half an hour so I just had to squeeze some words out in an hour).

At the moment my big push is to get over the 10,000 word mark. Once I hit double digit thousands I'll feel like I'm making real progress and that I can't turn back once I get that far (not that I would anyway but it's all psychological).

I've been fighting a few writing demons over the last couple of days. It's just the normal stuff i.e. can I actually write? is my character fully rounded? does my dialogue suck? am I putting in too little description? am I pushing the boundaries of suspension of disbelief too far? (my story doesn't fit into the normal chick-lit "sex, shoes and shopping" box. There's no sex, no shoes and no shopping for a start). Anyway, in an attempt to block out those dastardly writing demons I've been writing to music. This is something I often do with short stories (and should do more often). It helps drown out the internal editor and focuses me on just writing. It also helps if I'm aiming for a certain mood in a scene so if I'm writing something sad I'll listen to something sad. If I'm writing something upbeat I'll listen to something up... you get the picture.

So the question is - what do you listen to when you're writing? Does listen to a song with lyrics do it for you? Do you prefer classical? Maybe you write with the blare of the TV on in the background or the waffle of the radio? Maybe you prefer silence?

And another question related to that - how do you get into the mood of a scene? Do you visualise it? Do you try and step into your characters shoes and feel it? Do you listen to music to change your own mood before you write?

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Chinese Fortune Telling Sticks

I bought some Chinese fortune telling sticks today. I saw them in the sale in Cargo about a week ago and my heart skipped a little beat.


Well, when I was at school one of my Chinese friends had a set and very occasionally she'd get them out and let us have a go. What you do is hold the container in your hands (at a slight angle) and make a wish. Then you shake/agitate the container until the sticks start to move forward and inch their way out of the pot. When one stick ehr sticks out more than the rest that's your fortune stick. You take it out, check the number that's printed on it and look up that number in the little paper book that comes with the sticks.

Now, I was twelve a very, very long time ago (or so it feels) but I do remember that we were astounded by how accurate the sticks were. We used to beg Alex to have another go but apparently you can only use them once a day (that's still 365 wishes a year so you can't really complain!). Anyway, I saw the sticks on sale last week and I got really excited because it was the first set I'd ever seen since Alex's, all those years ago.

The sticks were reduced from £29 to £19 which in itself is a pretty good reduction but I was utterly skint. I nearly bought them on my credit card but stopped myself (New Year's resolution - stop buying stuff with credit card). Instead I thought I'd wait until pay day and if they're still there I'll get them.

So today I went back to the shop and nearly cried when I couldn't see them. They were gone! I searched the whole shop and finally found them squirrelled away in a corner of the basement. They were still £19 (which I don't think it cheap for a bunch of sticks in a cardboard box) but one of the members of staff was sticking stickers on the other sale items so I thought I'd chance my luck and ask if the sticks were going to be further reduced (I never, ever do that normally. For some reason shop staff tend to treat me like I've got something stinky stuck to my shoe).

Anyway, much to my delight and surprise, she said "I'll just go and check for you." She returned with a new sticker in her hand which she affixed to the box of sticks I was holding.

"They've gone down to £9.50," she said.

Result! The sticks had already saved me a fortune (boom, boom).

I couldn't wait to get the sticks home and try them (you try shaking a box of sticks in an open office and see what kind of reaction you get!) and try them I did about 10 minutes ago. I closed my eyes, made a wish and shook (the sticks). The result?

Number 39:


You've drawn today a "Thirty-nine"

For business deals it's very fine.


A fortune is your aim in life.

Your firm and main desire;

you'll struggle hard, but don't give up,

you'll win if you don't tire.

You have made a hasty promise that you regret, but must keep.

You will get your wish.

Now I'm not sure about fortune being my main aim in life but I do want to write a bestselling novel so they're right on the nose there. I'll have to struggle hard? Hmm. Sounds about right. Hasty promise? *thinks* Not sure what that is but if I work it out I'll keep it (don't like the sound of the regret bit though).

But the best bit - I get my wish! (and I'm not telling what it is in case that jinxes it and I don't get it).

p.s. Yes, I know I'm sad!

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Novel Progress - Improving

I should probably touch wood or something but I feel like I'm finally over the awkward 'I'm not sure I can do this' stage at the beginning of my novel and words are starting to flow. I wrote nearly 2,000 words today. Admittedly they were scenes that I knew pretty well (in my head) and the real test will be when I finish this chapter and start writing the scenes that aren't so well formed.

So, just over 5% written. Only 95% to go. Aagh!

Novel Progress - Synopsis

So the novel word count has sneaked up a tad (a tiny 0.3% of a tad) but I'm pleased to announce that I've written the synopsis. Okay, I've written the first draft of the synopsis which is particularly impressive (to me) because I'm not 100% sure what happens in the book.

Anyway, the synopsis is currently around 934 words which is a page and a half (single spacing) or near enough. Anyone know if that's acceptable? Or whether I should trim it to a page? I researched synopsises (synopsi?) on the interweb last night and apparently they should be a page to two pages long. Maybe two pages is too long for this competition - particularly if they have to read thousands? Okay, have decided. Will try and cut it down to one page.

The good thing about writing the synopsis this early on is that it actually gave me some new ideas for the novel. Two new characters even appeared. Whether they end up having decent parts in the story or if they're just bit players I have no idea. I guess I'll just have to write it to find out.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Runner up WriteSpace "Modern Fairy Tales" competition

Just received a lovely phone call from Vanda at WriteSpace ( to tell me that my story "Archie Wilkinson and the Great Sugared Doughnut" is a runner up in their Modern Fairy Tales competition.

There were 180 entries and a 1st, 2nd, 3rd prize and 10 runners up. That means my story beat 167 other stories. Hooray! No real cash prize (for me) but I do get £15 worth of vouchers to use on any of Vanda's courses or on future entry to her comps. Am hoping I can use it to get a free critique on the first 2,000 words of my novel. That could work!
Photo copyright me. Gent, Belgium 2006.

Tracking Novel Progress

Wrote some new words and, inspired by my efforts, have added a novel tracking progress bar on the left.

2,094 words or 2.3% of the novel has now been written (but not completed. In the very distant future I'll need to edit it all.) It isn't a very inspirational figure at the moment but seeing that progress bar steadily creep towards the right should be. I can but hope.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Novel Progress

In one word - slow.

I haven't been living at home for the last few weeks and I think that's shaken me out of my novel writing mindset. That said I have managed to write a story (for the editor who asked me to try writing something back in January). I subbed it to him and I'll hear if he likes it in about a month. I have another idea for that particular series which I might try and write in the next month. I've also written a couple of flashes recently.

Tonight (temporarily back home for a night) I thought I'd have a go at the novel again. I only managed 784 words which doesn't sound particularly impressive but it has pushed the word count up to 1,684 (1.8% of the finished 90,000 word novel done!) which is over halfway to the 3,000 words I need to submit to the comp at the end of May. That means I've got 2.5 months to write 1,316 words and edit the whole lot. I think that can be done! (particularly as I know where I am with the beginning. It's just the middle bit I'm not sure clear about, but there's a long way to go before I get there so I'm not too worried, yet!)

And - totally off subject - how good was the Catherine Tate/David Tennant sketch on Comic Relief tonight? Made me laugh loads. "Bovvered" is such a good character. Oh, and well done Tara for winning Fame Academy - the girl's got guts.

Writing AND watching TV at the same time? Ah the joys of multitasking!

Photo copyright me. Bruges, Belgium 2006.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

The Queen

Saw the film "The Queen" last night. I'd been really looking forward to it, especially after the lovely Helen Mirren won an Oscar for her portrayal of the Queen. But...I was quite disappointed. It all felt very fluffy and light and with all the actors (apart from Helen M) continually gurning and doing the appropriate hand gestures of the Royals and politicians involved it felt a bit like the Rory Bremner show, but without the laughs. I don't know. I expected something a bit more weighty with a bit more gravitas. I expected it to feel a bit more real.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Still Rewriting

I think perhaps you have to get into a certain mindset to start rewriting but I don't seem able to stop at the moment. As well as the story I mentioned in the last post I've rewritten two other stories in the last day and a half. Mostly I've pruned them quite harshly (reducing each one by about 1,000 words). When stories are just filed away on my hard drive doing nothing (because the crits they got said they weren't up to par), they silently bug my subconscious. "What about me?" they moan. "You really liked me. Send me somewhere. I just need a bit of work and then I'll be good enough." You know, because my stories have whinging voices like that.

Anyway, the reaction to the first rewrite at my writing group was mixed. One writer gave it a much more respectable score and two others gave it 'ok' scores. I obviously hadn't done the dramatic "oh my god it's fantastic now" rewrite that I thought I had. The problem? No one GETS the theme. One reviewer even said "it's obvious the writer of this story has the theme firmly fixed in his/her head but I don't get it". That's a big problem with some of my stories - often the themes ARE too complicated and muddled. One of the other reviewers DID get the theme but he wasn't moved by it at all. Sometimes when the theme seems big to me it can seem banal to someone else. What's the answer? Shrug my shoulders and hope that an editor out there WILL respond to the theme. And if they don't? Doesn't matter - not every story needs to find a home (despite the whinging).

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Revising and Editing

Yesterday I brutally revised and edited one of my stories.

I'd sent it in to my writing group to be anonymously critiqued and the result was, well, quite a mixed bag. Some liked it, some didn't. Most were a little confused about the theme and glitches in the plot were pointed out (some that I'd noticed and some that I hadn't). The leader of my writing group said he could cut it down by 50%. As the story was 2,200 words approx my first reaction was "Yeah right!"

I mentally put the story in a drawer for a few weeks and forgot about the crits. Yesterday I decided to revist the story and see if there was anything worth salvaging. I mentioned in another post that I've been reading "How to Write a Damned Good Novel" by James Frey. I've also read his other book "How to Write Damned Good Fiction" which is very similar but concentrates on short stories rather than novels. Frey says that you shouldn't determine the theme of your story before you write it but, when you come to edit, you need to identify the theme and ruthlessly cut anything that doesn't support it

The theme of my story is, to strip it to a basic equation is:

"a loved ones serious illness + realisation that they have no other friends or family = guilt that no one else will care when they die"

The story is about more than that though. It's about guilt, love and the short sightedness of youth. My story, in its original form was even more complex. It was about repressed emotion, about a fixation with death masks, about friendship groups dwindling over time, about dreams - none of which directly supported the theme. As a result I had to cut ALL of that out.

What was left? 1,300 words approximately! Not quite 50% of the original story but near enough. Admittedly the story does feel a little thin now and I suspect that there's something missing but I do feel I'm starting to get a handle on theme (at last).

The revised story has gone back to my writing group for feedback. I have no idea if they'll like it or not and, if I'm honest, I don't really care. This was a useful exercise, no matter what the outcome. It's all a matter of practice.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Eurofiction - Final Result

My last story scored 20 points and got good feedback. Hooray!

That's the end of Slingink's Eurofiction competition for this year. In the end I placed 14th out of 48 which isn't terrible but I'm a bit disappointed I didn't get into the top 10. Hey ho - at least I got loads of new stories out of it.

Oh - and many congrats to Kenneth Shand who won the comp (and the prize money)!

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Camera phone pic wins me $10!

I found out about this last month but wasn't sure if I could say anything until the results were announced officially so I decided to keep schtum.

Anyway, a camera phone photo I took at last year's Fireworks Night celebrations in Lewes, East Sussex has won me $10 in the Flashquake Less is More competition. I subbed a flash to it too but that didn't make the grade.

Maybe I should be a photographer instead of a writer?

Photo is here (scroll down):

Biscuit Publishing shortlist

Another hit today. My flash "I Used To Be John" reached the shortlist of the Biscuit Publishing Flash Fiction competition. That means it reached the final 30 stories out of 626 flashes entered.

It was originally a story that was entered into Slingink's Eurofiction comp (that I think only got me 9 points) and I cut and cut it to make it short enough for the word limit for the Biscuit comp. Result!

Jump! (Martial Arts meets Slapstick)

Went to see 'Jump!' last night at the Peacock Theatre in Holborn, London (we got a deal on our tickets - 2nd row of the stalls only £12 each).

It's...and this is going to sound strange...a North Korean martial arts comedy. It's slapstick, it's lots of jumping and spinning and sword fighting and doing the splits and 'oh my god, they're so bloody flexible' and more than anything else it's very silly and funny.

I can't recommend it enough. I haven't laughed so much in ages (and it's suitable for kids). It's also made me want to get out my Tae Bo videos and improve my high kicks!

There's a video clip at the end of this page: