Friday, 9 May 2014

Apple Blossom Time*

(*In other words, a mighty long time since I last posted)

I love this time of year. I would say it's my favourite, except that I suspect I've probably declared in previous Septembers, Novembers and Junes that Autumn, Winter and Summer are the seasons I like best (ie. whichever shiny new season is just unfolding.) But I really love Easter, and daffodils and forget-me-nots, and I love those few weeks when the evenings lengthen and are indigo blue rather than sullen grey, and when the blossom is out and it glows against the gathering dark, and when our garden actually manages to look almost nice for about five minutes.

This year the season has been all the more special because amazing things have been happening in book world, and from now on I know I'll always associate pink trees and the scent of wisteria with the excitement, fear and amazement of selling my first longer-length, single title novel. In the two weeks leading up to easter my incredible agent (Becky Ritchie of Curtis Brown) was emailing daily to keep me updated on developments as offers came in, and the whole thing took on the aura of a pink-petalled dream. Finally, two days before Good Friday, a deadline was set and a decision made, and I can now announce with enormous pride and excitement, that Letters to the Lost will be published next Spring (also at apple blossom time) by Simon and Schuster under my new writing name of Iona Grey. 

I haven't blogged much (at all?) about the book, which I wrote quite quickly last year. This was a bit because I didn't really want to admit that I'd set aside the one I'd been writing for such ages (which I did four days after writing this post!) and a bit because, following my failure to make that one work, I was far from confident I'd be able to do better with the next one, even though it felt like a joy to write. I'm looking forward to massively boring everyone about it when publication time approaches, but in the meantime I'll leave you with a little synopsis, and the link to my Pinterest board. (How modern!)

Letters to the Lost is the story of how love can stand the test of time and death. 1943: In the ruins of Blitzed London American airman Dan Rosinski encounters vicar's wife Stella Thorne. It is the beginning of a reluctant, impossible, unstoppable love affair in which all the odds are stacked against them. In a time when everything is uncertain, their letters help them to hold onto the one thing of which they can be sure: their love for each other. 2011: Tia Moran stumbles on an empty house in her moment of need and it seems like a miracle. But then a letter drops through the door and she is drawn into the story of a love that has endured for over half a century, and the search for the elusive Stella Thorne. Can piecing together fragments of old lives give Tia a better understanding of her own? And can uncovering the story of a past love give birth to a new one?

In other news, we've got a new kettle. An electric one, which is quite something as for the last four years or so we've been using a camping one on the gas hob (it's a long story...) And, with GCSEs starting on Monday, today is daughter #2's last proper day at High School (although I'm not sure 'proper' is the right word, given that it will mostly involve water fights and drawing on each other's school uniform). How can this be? Wasn't it only the other week that she left primary school?  

Friday, 20 December 2013

India's End of Term Report

"...India has enjoyed a mixed year in 2013. It is disappointing to note that her promises to do better in the field of physical exercise came to nothing and she ends the year as dismally unfit as she began it. She has also failed to improve her level of organisation and tidiness: not only is her desk an utter disgrace but also a potential public health hazard. (Given her total lack of aptitude in Biology, her excuse that she is studying the growth of mould on cold tea rings rather hollow.) Her personal presentation remains an issue, as the unfortunate postman will certainly testify.

Nowhere is her lack of application more notable than in the upkeep of her blog. This might be more forgivable if the posts she did manage to write were more interesting, and less centred on flimsy excuses for their scarcity. Disappointingly, her annual piece on Christmas adverts has not materialised, and the fact that she has made so few posts this year that one only has to scroll down the page to find the last one is, frankly, little consolation. Although she did manage to attend the RNA Conference and the Winter Party she did not provide a report of either event, or any photographs. Holidays and 'research trips' have gone similarly unrecorded, giving rise to the suspicion that these have been little more than opportunities for more aimless loafing in alternative locations.

It is somewhat encouraging to note that the book she has been writing is actually completed and has been submitted (though one can only shake one's head in despair at the fact that is not the same book she blogged about in March, which was set aside soon after the post appeared). Her forays into Pinterest and Instagram are laudable, though rather dismal at present. (Since most of her Pinterest boards are secret, one has to question whether she fully grasps the concept?) Here, as in so many other areas India must try harder.

In short, India needs to spend less time gossiping on twitter and scouring the internet for 'James D'Arcy shirtless' and 'Henry Cavill in a G.I. uniform' and more time tidying her desk and going to the gym. She also needs to understand that a day spent lying on the sofa reading other people's novels does not constitute 'work', in the same way that half a chocolate orange does not constitute 'fruit' (and cannot therefore be counted in the Five-a-Day total.) If she can achieve these things, and also expand her cooking repertoire beyond pizza, spaghetti Bolognese and chocolate chip cookies, there will be some grounds for optimism for 2014.

Wishing you all the very best for a hugely happy Christmas..." (and lots of love to you all. See you next year! xx)

Monday, 11 November 2013

11th November

I don't think there's anyone left to remember John Henry Skitt today, 
so I'm doing it.

Monday, 2 September 2013

A Poem for September

Or a bit of one. Louis MacNiece's Autumn Journal is pretty long, very beautiful and well worth a read as the nights draw in (with the possible addition of red wine and maybe even cinnamon toast if, like me, you find yourself in the mood to go large on the whole Autumn Experience.)

September has come, it is hers 
Whose vitality leaps in the autumn, 
Whose nature prefers 
Trees without leaves and fire in the fire-place.
So give her this month and the next
Though the whole of my year should be hers who has rendered 
So many of its days intolerable or perplexed
But so many more so happy; 
Who has left scent on my life and left my walls 
Dancing over and over with her shadow, 
Whose hair is twined in all my waterfalls 
And all of London littered with remembered kisses.

(I'd like to pretend I'm familiar with this poem from dusty university tutorials or because I have dozens of slim, well-thumbed volumes of poetry on my bedside table, but I actually came across this excerpt as a teenager in one of my all time favourite comfort reads, The Shell Seekers. As someone who definitely prefers trees without leaves and a fire in the fireplace it struck enough of a chord to make me seek it out, and to add it to the list of Things I've Learned by Reading Romance.)

Happy Autumn everyone! 

(Honestly, blog posts. Like buses. Not a single one for 5 months and then 2 in the space of a week.) (Nearly.) 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Moving On (and Looking Back)

Well. Gosh. Here I am. Five months - that's quite a long time, isn't it? Almost two seasons; long enough to encompass snow and heatwave in our eccentric British climate (I'm pretty sure we had snow in March this year?) Long enough to have celebrated Easter and a birthday, steered two teenagers through the white water rapids of Big Exams (or rather, watched from the bank, hands twisted in helpless anxiety as they steered themselves), had a wonderful time at the RNA Conference, indulged in fancy dress high jinks at our annual family get together, spent a glorious week eating carbohydrate in France, celebrated the results of the teens' exams, and almost written a book. (That last item probably needs expanding upon slightly at some point, possibly even in a post all of its own.) So, though five months is barely a flicker of the pulse of history, you can pack quite a lot into it; enough to make updating your woefully neglected blog feel like the labours of Hercules.
While I may not have been posting, I've certainly been thinking about the blog. (Oh, how wonderful it would be if thoughts translated themselves magically into words on a screen.) (But only if you had a chance to edit them first, of course. Otherwise it could get extremely messy and probably involve lawsuits.) Although I'm deplorably bad at keeping it updated, I am very fond of it; the friends I've made through it and the record it provides of the last six happy and eventful years. (Highs. Lows. Books finished. Books that stubbornly refuse to be written. Heroes. Idols. Being idle. Domestic triumphs and disasters and a smattering of philosophy.) When I started this blog my children were twelve, nine and six, and so it charts the primary school years, of Nativity plays and birthday parties and, in view of the fact that a month from now my eldest will be packing for university, I'm glad to have that record. (While being fully aware that it's of interest only to me, my mum and maybe my husband - if he actually knew where to find it.)
But, but... even having said that, I somehow can't see myself returning to those far-off days of blogging twice or three times a week, and I've been wondering why that is. Maybe I've got lazier, or maybe my life has got duller and less worthy of recording (though a glance back into the archives substantially discredits the likelihood of both theories). What I know for certain is that a day when I blog is usually a day when I don't add much to the wip, and so I often find that I'm stuck in a spiral of blog-neglect guilt versus unmet-wordcount guilt, and that such spirals tend to lead directly to the biscuit tin.
I think the main reason for the gradual falling off of my blog habit can be blamed, like lots of my other shortcomings, on twitter. Many of the staggeringly inconsequential things I used to put on here now find an outlet there and are instantly absorbed into its teeming depths. A quick glance at the list of blogs on my sidebar suggests that perhaps other people are doing the same, and that the gentle art of blogging, like letter-writing and taking afternoon tea, is being lost as technology gives us quicker ways to reach out to each other. One of the things I took away from this year's RNA Conference (in addition to a swanky silver bag bursting with books and chocolate) was the value of sites like Pinterest to authors, so I've revived my early, abandoned Pinterest interest and made a board for my past books (in addition to the three boards of various things I'd made a year or two ago and kept secret, which is probably missing the point somewhat.) I haven't quite got the hang of it all yet but will probably get there, just as the bandwagon rolls out of the station and onto the Next Big Thing. Just in case that happens to be Instagram I'm there too, after some hard sell from the daughters who all love it. I kind of love it, though I feel a bit like I've arrived in my horrific pyjamas at a party full of luscious, pouting adolescents. If anyone else is on there, please let me know and I'll gratefully cling to follow you and try to work out what it's all about.
So there we are. Moving on - to a new era of family life, in which daughter #1's place at the table will be empty *sniff* and onto new arenas for keeping in touch. The blog will definitely not be abandoned, but between appearances here there are other places where I'm likely to be found, dispelling any suspicions that I've given it all up to become a sheep farmer or have quietly expired over draft 392 of my book. (Which is, as I said, a subject for another time...)

So, has anyone else made a brave foray into the worlds of Pinterest or Instagram? Did you love it and linger, or feel bewildered and bolt? I'd love to know your thoughts, and also any tips you might have on what I should do and who I should follow. (And I'd love to see your pins and pictures!)

*A big apology to anyone who read this post when it first went up, when the last paragraph had somehow been replaced by an erroneous link that had gone astray from further up. You see, I thought I was being terribly clever languishing on the sofa and blogging on an ipad mini, but it seems it was just too mini to spot the glaring errors. (Which reminds me, must make an appointment at Specsavers.)*

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Gap Between Head and Page

Last week (or it could have been the week before the way the time is playing evil tricks on me) I finally wrote a scene that has been in my head for about 8 years. It was a scene that came to me when I first had the idea for this book, and which kind of informed and inspired the way the story developed. Although much of the book has been written, then re-written in a slightly different way with the characters under different names, then re-re-written with the original names but a different POV and/or motivation, this scene was one I hadn't actually committed to paper before, and through all the huge changes that this story has undergone and storms it's weathered, the way I'd pictured it had remained pretty much unchanged; a solid platform of certainty in the shifting landscape of the story.  I knew the circumstances under which it would take place, the three characters who would be in it, the setting, the mood and the way it would relate to what came before and after. I could see it - and I still can.

So why in the name of the Easter Bunny is the scene I've written NOTHING LIKE THAT??

It's all most unsettling. My very deep and emotionally loaded scene is now littered with other - very minor - characters, and instead of taking place in bleak, freezing February it's now June. The mood of yearning and despair that was supposed to pervade it has been replaced by a something less emotionally loaded, and whereas it was going to be the point where the dynamic between the hero and heroine really shifts, as it turns out they barely connect at all. Of course, as I write this it does occur to me that the changes I've made elsewhere were bound to have an impact so I suppose it's only logical, but it does still take me by surprise when the words I put on the screen end up creating a very different picture than the one in intended to write. Does it happen to other people, or is it just me?

The upside is that all the emotion that was supposed to be in that scene, with its shadowy chateau and candlelight and scratchy gramophone waltz (though the music in my head was this) now needs to go somewhere else. And so a completely new scene is taking shape, with rosy apple orchards and syrupy sunlight. And the music in my head is this. (DON'T LAUGH.) Ho hum. Onwards and upwards.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Oh - hello!

Happy new year, if February 27th isn't too late for such a greeting. I won't bore you with excuses  explanations for my shameful blog absence, in the hope of giving it a little air of mystery and intrigue, suggestive of sojourns on far-flung shores beyond the reach of wifi, or exciting happenings too top-secret to share. Anyway, here I am - still alive, still writing (still in my pyjamas at midday mostly - although perhaps I should keep quiet about that in view of the mystery and intrigue thing.)

Yesterday I managed to get changed out of my pyjamas before midday and put on mascara and decent underwear and head down to London for the RNA RoNA Awards. I hadn't intended to go, being under a self-imposed ban on fun, frivolity and glamorous events, but last week (in the middle of half term, which might not be coincidental) I had a sudden craving for all of the above; as well as for the pleasurable ache you get in your throat and feet the morning after you've talked your head off in a crowded room for a couple of hours wearing high heels. It was a fab evening, and easily justifiable to my inner Writing Despot on the grounds that it yielded not only plentiful champagne, but also bucketloads of motivation from being surrounded by totally top authors (as well as the chance to meet the amazing Susanna Kearsley in actual person, which was pretty overwhelming as I'd spent the entire journey down engrossed in The Firebird. Honestly, at my age I really should be past blushing and stammering when I meet people, shouldn't I?) Because it was a fairly last minute impulse, I didn't stay the night in town, but if I had I would have liked to spend it here, which is where Abby Green and Heidi Rice partied into the small hours on the contents of a very luxuriously-stocked mini-bar.

Anyway, the news on the homefront is that my book is coming together, though my computer is falling apart. Remember the terrifyingly efficient Mac? *hollow laugh* It is no longer presiding over my cluttered desk with its reproachful sleekness, but is in some repair centre in Warrington where, I was informed this morning, it might remain for another three weeks. THREE WEEKS? Do they not know that I've set myself a deadline of May for this book and there's still an awful lot of anguish to endure (both on the page and in reality) if that goal is to be met?? Of course there's nothing to be done (although the mini-rant on the phone was cathartic) except keep going - on scraps of paper, on the Fisher-Price netbook and the backs of envelopes if need be. Luckily I'm at the stage where the story is vivid and immediate and writing itself, which is just as well as writing is a bizarrely ritualistic activity; generally I need to be in the same place, with the same mug, the same scented candle, listening to the same music, wearing the same pyjamas for it to work. Though maybe that's not writing. Maybe that's just me.

It's been ages since I posted any writing soundtracks, so here's a bit of the music I'd be listening to, if I still had my Mac on which to listen to it. As it is, you can imagine me humming it tunelessly as I scribble away in my cheap supermarket notebook.