Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year's Resolutions

1. Send back the silver salt-cellar and pepper-pot to King's College. I am not going to give indiscreet details about how they came into my possession; suffice it to say that they shouldn't have. And I have held on to them for long enough (i.e. more years than I care to remember).

They will be going in an anonymous, unlabelled parcel, of course. My instinct for righting wrongs is not infinite.

2. Get my M.A. As this consists entirely of writing a letter asking aforesaid King's College to graduate me in absentia, it's rather embarrassing that I haven't done it yet. But sometime in 2012 I will be B. R. Collins, M.A. (Cantab). Promise.

3. Do something at least once a week that I haven't done before.

4. Fall in love with someone single, available, fairly well-adjusted, fairly solvent and living within ten miles of Tunbridge Wells. (Which is where I live, rather than just some arbitrarily picked area.) How hard can it be?

Oh, and resist the temptation to blog about my love-life...

5. Edit Edward Leigh. Finish The School of Glass. Think up an idea for my next book for Bloomsbury and write that too.*

6. Keep writing. Stop giving myself a hard time about getting a proper job. If I decide I really need a proper job, just get one.

7. Have more sex. As before: how hard can it be?**

(Note to self: lower standards if necessary. Possibly also applicable to Resolution 4.***)

8. Answer all queries about laundry, washing up, tidying up, emptying the dishwasher, cooking etc. with, 'Sorry, I made a New Year's Resolution not to do that any more.'

9. Live adventurously.

10. Stop getting really, really angry about politics. Do whatever I can, and then swallow unnecessary fury and try to achieve serenity. (Ha!)

Also, hold people in the light more. Try to see the good in everyone, even wankers, arses, idiots and total shits... (Yes, well. Possibly this one might need some work.)

11. Stop overusing brackets, italics, smiley faces, asterisks and... ellipses.

12. Stop buying lottery tickets. Except metaphorical ones. Buy more metaphorical lottery tickets.

* If I put these all in one terse, unchatty resolution I'm hoping they'll seem like less work.

** Oo-er.

*** This is a joke. Probably. :)

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The glamorous life of a writer...

I was a little bit fragile last time I posted... I won't apologise, though, as I feel like it's important to share these things. Mainly because when I'm having a crisis of confidence it cheers me up no end to know that someone else is feeling bad. Hopefully that works for you, my lovely readers, as well - meaning that moaning and whining are in fact providing a useful public service. Wait, what do you mean, that's just me? :)

However. Thankfully things are looking up. (Or, as I mistyped that initially, "looking yup". I rather like that.)

So, NaNoWriMo, plays, love affairs, and books all end. But hey. Here is something which will always, always cheer me up. Yes, that's right. Lunch.

Especially lunch at someone else's expense. And especially lunch at my agent's expense.

In this case, wood-pigeon, twice-baked goat's cheese and thyme souffle, white chocolate and chestnut tart, and coffee. And wine, of course. Although not too much of it because I had to catch the train home and didn't want to doze off and wake up in Hastings. (I have nothing against Hastings but it's right at the end of the train line.)

And it was lovely. The food, obviously (see above) but also the company (my hopefully-soon-adult-book-agent*) and the conversation (about me)... We were talking about my grown-up novel, The Two Lives of Edward Leigh, which I sent off months ago and managed to forget about - only to get an email a few weeks ago which said that she was really excited about it and could we meet for lunch? Cue great jubilation in the Collins household. And added to that, the agent in question worked with me on The Traitor Game before it went out on submission and was a wonderful, incisive, tactful editor - so I was (and am) really pleased that she's interested in Edward Leigh. Now I just have to redraft it...  

That was Wednesday. And on Thursday I was at the Bloomsbury Christmas party - Quality Street, pretzels, satsumas, wine - chatting to my editor and copy-editor and lots of other nice people. (The big names included N. M. Browne, Celia Rees, Mary Hooper, Mary Hoffman, Mark Walden, Gareth Jones... and possibly lots of other lovely writers whom I met too late in the evening to remember clearly. My apologies if you're one of them. You were lovely, anyway.) It was fantastic. I came home on Thursday night feeling very glamorous and exuberant. Just those two occasions made up for many long weeks of slaving away alone over a hot computer.

And I'm not, contrary to appearances, just saying that because of the free food.

* Fingers crossed. If I manage to implement all her terribly sensible suggestions. Watch this space... :)

Monday, 5 December 2011

Endings, real and imaginary

So. NaNoWriMo is over, and - as you might have guessed if you saw the Winner's Badge on the right - I DID it! 50,000 words in a month. Actually, it's probably not the most intensively I've ever written, but it's pretty damn' close. I finished a day early, after a weekend of really good, hard work, and since then I haven't even looked at the novel. You will be glad to know that I've taken nearly a week off.

And I feel... bad.

It's an interesting one. I should be feeling triumphant, I guess. I may not have written a whole novel (50,000 words? Ha! It's got to be at least 80,000, and at this rate it looks more like 100,000) but I've done well, by anyone's standards. My characters definitely hate each other, and now I can get down to the serious business of making them fall in love. The path is there, in front of me, and another month or two and I should get to the end.

And yet, and yet... Maybe it's the anticlimax of it - exhaustion, the slow realisation that self-imposed tasks only garner self-imposed rewards (i.e., not much), a vague crisis of faith in the novel... But also, I think, I was using the discipline and the absorption of the deadline to keep me going after King Lear finished. I didn't have post-show blues, because I was moving straight on to NaNoWriMo, I had something new to create, something new to get excited about... But it's like drinking to get over a hangover - it just hits you harder, the longer you put it off. Did I say recently that plays are always, for me, like love affairs? Now I feel... heartbroken.

So I am thinking about endings. Real ones. But I am also thinking about fictional endings, because - well, I may have mentioned that I have no idea where or how my novel is going to end. So that's... interesting.

And I was wondering whether fictional endings are a sort of way for us to confront the way things change in real life. Fictional endings, you notice, are incredibly final, in the sense that that's the last page, there is no possibility whatsoever that there's more to come. (Unless the author cheats and write a sequel. :) But the less said about that the better...) But at the same time, they're only final in the sense of a door closing - and you can make believe that behind the door, life is still going on. Think about the last lines of a novel you love. Here's a quick, random-ish selection from my bookshelves (extra points if you can name the book):

'"Hallo, you great turnip," said Tris La Chard.'
'...They are rebuilding Isca Dumoniorum."'
'Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.'
'Then out of the sea, like a ball of fire, the sun came hard and red.'

You see? The start of a conversation. A town being rebuilt. Sunrise. The absolute opposite of an ending.

I'm not, you'll be glad to know, going to quote my own last lines, more (I have to admit) because of spoilers than because it's embarrassingly bad form, although obviously it is... but they all, I think without exception, contain something that references the future, the beyond-book, as it were: 'tomorrow' or 'I had a long way to go' or 'I'm quite looking forward to it' or even just a verb in the future tense. The best endings, for me, are the ones that work against their own finality. They soften the blow. And I don't think that's me being squeamish, or sentimental. I really don't.

Because life, I think, is exactly the opposite. The end of something in real life - a production of a play, a love affair, whatever - isn't clean, in the way that a blank page is clean. But there's no comfort, either. You know you have to go on - Becket again*: 'you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on' - but what you love is over, and you miss it. Sometimes you miss it... well, horribly. Which is exactly why we need novels to end the way they do - and partly why, I suspect, we feel so cheated by bad endings, or fudged endings, or meretricious cliff-hanger endings (mentioning no names, coughPatrickNesscough**). We get enough of that kind of sadness and frustration in real life. Art is there - yes - to confront that grief, to teach us how to cope with it - but if it were exactly the same as real life, it wouldn't be art. Real life is a character getting randomly written out halfway through a story. Art is when that means something: when it makes us, on some deep level, recognise the rightness of it. When we think, yes, OK, I see now why that had to happen. (And often in real life that's the biggest problem, when it just doesn't seem to make sense.) It's a consolation, of sorts. Understanding is a consolation. Narrative is a consolation. If only real life were more like books.

Then again... once the book is over, the characters are stuck. Even if the ending tries to evoke the future - it can't ever really give them more life. They don't grow or change or have any more adventures (see previous caveat re sequels), they don't fall in love again, they never have the opportunity to be glad that their story didn't end right there. There's a moment I love in revenge tragedies, after the orgy of fights and bloodshed and death at the end - which is often really macabrely funny - when suddenly there's silence. And you realise that for the characters... that's it. The party's over. The Great Climax has come and gone, and the poor sods will never have another one.

I'd like the drama and meaning and catharsis of a fictional ending. And sometimes, after something's finished, it would be great not to have to get up the next morning and live with the emptiness. But, in the end, I guess we'd (most of us) still choose real life. Because at least then you can take a deep breath and start something new.

Or, possibly, in my case, just stop moaning and get back to work. :)

* No, not 'But is it true love, in the rectum? That's what bothers me sometimes.' Although I will try to find an opportunity to shoehorn this one in somewhere next time. If that's the phrase I'm after... :)

** I have a friend who, seeing that Patrick Ness was my friend on facebook, said, 'P. Ness?! P. Ness?! This is a penis joke, right? He doesn't really exist...' 'Nuff said, I think.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

NaNoWriMo, Dialogue, Falling In Love...

So. Well, sorry I haven't updated this for a while - as you've probably gathered, I'm doing NaNoWriMo, and I got behind at the weekend due to a monumental hangover, and am only just now back on target. Although, as I'm writing this blog rather than my novel, and haven't finished my quota for today, this positive state of affairs might not last...

Anyway. The novel is going as well as can be expected, in the sense that I haven't yet run out of plot (I'm fairly sure I will at some point, but I'm refusing to think about that right now). And I haven't reread any of it, which probably helps with my morale. No doubt I will finish it, thinking it's wonderful, and then go back and be horrified by what absolute tripe it is. Maybe that's the point of NaNoWriMo, though. It might be shit, but at least I'll have 50,000 words of it...

But it has been making me think. Which I suppose is a good thing. (Well, I hope so. You never know with thinking, it's a dangerous business.)

My novel, by the way, is called The School of Glass, and, as I've mentioned before, it's slash fiction. (Not fanfiction, but original slash - for more thoughts on slash versus fanfic, see my previous blog...) Which means it's basically a love story. With other elements, obviously, but the emotional thing is much more foregrounded than in any of my other novels. (Except possibly bits of Tyme's End, I guess. And The Broken Road. And Come The Revolution... hmmm. Looks like I write a lot about emotions, now that I think about it. And have a tendency to make sweeping generalisations about my own work which are just wrong. Oh well.)

Anyway, at the moment my protagonists hate each other. And I'm really enjoying writing them into a situation where they can be nastier and nastier, while trying to keep my options open for later, when the reader will have to start rooting for them to get together. It's intriguing. Right now I'm working up to some actual physical damage... and not in a good way. (Or rather, it isn't good for the characters. I'm hoping there will be a certain... frisson... for the reader.)* And the long downhill slope - from first dislike to visceral detestation - is quite easy, really. Hatred, once it's mutual, is surprisingly logical. And satisfying to write.

But it does make me think about what happens on the other side, when they have to start fancying each other. It raises all sorts of questions about why and how you (well, I, I suppose) fall in love with people. Not to mention the knotty problem of how that's expressed in words...

In a way it's really the same old issue of writing about emotion. You can approach it with the classic tactic of avoiding the label, and going instead for the physical and mental experience of what that state is like. In the way that, as a rule of thumb, you can't say, 'I felt angry', you have to say, 'I felt sick. How could he have done this to me?'. Or, rather than 'I felt happy', you might say 'the fresh air went to my head like champagne'. (Those examples are purely to explain the principle. Please don't judge me...) To make emotion immediate, it has to come to the reader in a vivid, non-abstract image. So, when you're in love with someone, you look at them and your stomach flips over, your heart races, your - well. You get the idea. Probably best not to go into too much detail... :)

And that works, up to a point. But, even in life, the symptoms aren't everything. There is something else, clearly. But I'm damned if I can say what it is.

Or rather - and more to the point - if I can write it. This is partly to do with the fact that we will never, let's face it, care about a character as much as we care about ourselves. Obviously. So romance in books is already at a major disadvantage, in much the same way that watching your friends snog has very little of the same effect as actually snogging someone yourself. Romance has to be better, much better, than it is in the real world. Someone in a book says, 'I love you,' and it just doesn't... well, it doesn't make your heart beat faster, or make you shiver or catch your breath. People have said things to me that have gone to my head like a drug, that I've actually felt in my chest like a shot of adrenalin... things which have turned me on like a light switch... and yet if I typed them here they'd make you wince. At best. (Don't worry, I'm not going to.) A character saying, 'You know I love you. I absolutely love you,' just doesn't cut it. Even though in real life it sometimes, actually, does.

So you have to try to create the intensity of it all, when you're hampered by a) the fact that you have to use words and b) the fact that it's fiction. It's well nigh impossible. Or at least it looks it, from this end of the book. Maybe by the time I actually get to the soppy section it'll seem much easier. (Then again... should I draw any conclusions from my use of the word "soppy" to refer to anything associated with romance?)

I should point out, at this point, that while I have identified these problems I have absolutely no words of wisdom to offer as an answer. I'm just letting you in on my preoccupations.

So there we go. My characters will blunder on for the moment, hating each other, and sooner or later they will have to start the long slow U-turn that will lead them to True Love. Or something. It'll be an interesting journey - for me, at least... From profound enmity to romantic passion... or, as a friend of mine said in a (fairly) similar context, from "fuck off" to "fuck me".

Then again... maybe that's a perfect beginning for a relationship.

*OK, this sounds kinkier than it was meant to. But I still can't bring myself to delete it.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Good news!

Well. Day... er... 4 of NaNoWriMo. And I'm at 6000-and-something words, hoping to be more by the end of the day. So far it's going well - more fun than anything I've written for a while, mainly because I feel liberated from the pressure of wanting it to be good. Although obviously I would prefer it to be good...

Then again, my writing buddies are dangerously close to getting ahead of me, if they aren't already. So there is that pressure to counterbalance the whole freedom-from-quality-control thing. Never mind. Hopefully they will have a big stumble over the weekend and drop horribly behind. :)

But one of the other nice things about NaNoWriMo is that procrastination is acknowledged as part of the writing experience. Which meant that I spent twenty minutes this morning burning CDs for the Great NaNoWriMo CD swap without feeling guilty. Well, not too guilty. It's almost the same as writing, right? And I'm so excited about getting some back...

Anyway. I didn't mean to blog about NaNoWriMo, mainly because I don't have very much to say - but I wanted to procrastinate some more share some good news with you: Tyme's End has been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal! I'm very pleased. Any mention in a long or indeed short list is great, but the Carnegie is particularly special. And doesn't require your characters to die, necessarily.

So. Back to the grind.

Writeordie, by the way, is feeling a bit hardcore for me right now. Maybe I should create a similar program called

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Bookdrum profile for Gamerunner...

Well, so NaNoWriMo has started, and with the help of I am off the mark. And slightly ahead of target, which is probably just as well, given that I'm highly unlikely to carry on being so self-disciplined...

But I really only wanted to share a new exciting thing about Gamerunner - it has a new profile on bookdrum, a website which creates and shares "guides" to books - i.e. images, research, background, plus lots of interesting other things. If you're interested in a book, bookdrum is the perfect place to find out more...

So here it is. Created by the wonderful Victoria Hooper, to whom I am extremely grateful.


Monday, 31 October 2011

Time for NaNoWriMo...

So. King Lear is over. Several months of pure joy (if you don't count the occasional moment of terror on stage, which I don't, because that's really part of the joy) have finally finished. And, predictably, I'm feeling a little bit sad and confused and like I need something new to fill the gap. 

Luckily, today is Hallowe'en. 

No, I'm not talking about trick-or-treating. (Never really been convinced anyway, as it seems to me to be basically encouraging kids to beg aggressively for sweets.) What I mean is: tomorrow is the 1st of November. 

Remember, remember the first of November? 

That's right. NaNoWriMo. 

Now, I've never done National Novel Writing Month before. This is mainly because I've always been in the middle of a novel when November rolled round, and also because my novels were Serious Writing that Couldn't Be Rushed. Happily this year neither of those statements applies... well, I do already have 5000 words of my novel, but that's tiny, isn't it? It would be a shame to pass up the chance of doing NaNoWriMo when it's not really cheating. I definitely need at least 50,000 more words for the book, so... OK, so I'm not convincing anyone here. It will be cheating. You're not supposed to have any words already written. But I don't mind. I fully intend to enter into the spirit of the thing as strongly as if I were doing it properly. And my slash novel is the perfect vehicle, as it doesn't really matter if it ends up as a load of balls.  

So I'm feeling kind of excited. And a little bit scared, because even if I do write for a living I could fail spectacularly at this. But that's the fun of it, I guess. 

I will try to keep you posted. Although if I'm writing 1,667 words a day, including weekends, this blog may falter from time to time... Wish me luck. 

Oh, and if you're interested in King Lear, here is a short video of me painted gold and doing the Merlin speech from Act 3. I haven't watched it, as I always feel a bit ambivalent about watching myself, but - well, enjoy. (I am less blurry in real life. I hope.)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Another play, another love affair...

Or not. Exactly.

I mentioned back in the summer, when I'd just finished doing What the Butler Saw (click here for a photo, I am the one who is not naked) how I always thought of plays - i.e. the process of being in one, from audition to last night - as being like love affairs. It's something I've been thinking about again recently, what with King Lear and all... and also, I guess, because I'm thinking about love affairs generally for my germinating slash novel. (I.e. the novel is germinating. I haven't just invented a new genre.)

I realise this might sound a little bit weird, or perverse, even though* I should point out that, for the record, I am not talking about actual love affairs with actual people. But bear with me, OK?

It may seem a little strange to think about an abstract process in terms of sex. One of the fairly universal assumptions about sexuality is that it has to have a direct object - whether that's a person or an animal or a high-heeled shoe... But, you know, I'm not convinced. I had a discussion with someone a while ago about how "appropriate" it was to exploit one's sexuality in the workplace, and she suggested that whenever anyone did anything that they loved, and did it wholeheartedly and well, that their sexuality was automatically engaged: that in a sense it was meaningless to try to demarcate the "appropriate" spheres for sexuality because it was there in everything. This isn't, I hasten to add, about fancying anything that moves. It's more the idea that what drives us is not clearly divisible into sexual and non-sexual, or even romantic and non-romantic. Desire is desire, whether it's for sex or an elegant solution to a problem or a really good bacon sandwich. The object is actually an indirect object - pretty much (OK, this is probably a bit contentious, but hey) incidental. What you want to achieve varies - but the feeling that motivates you is... the same.

And the process of being in a play has the same shape as a burgeoning love affair. You hear about the play and you're interested, you have that moment of connection (the audition), you walk out feeling hopeful but helpless - it's down to them whether they want to see you again - and then you get cast and you feel triumphant and attractive... And then in rehearsals you have fun, you laugh a lot, you have moments of wondering whether this is the best thing ever or if it's all a horrible mistake... you get a whole new group of ready-made friends with whom you have something in common... and all the time you're moving towards the Great Climax of the first night. And then you Do It. Again and again. Until suddenly it's over. Leaving you, at least in my case, invariably a little bit broken-hearted.

But it isn't just the specific emotions that make the simile work for me. Because, let's face it, I've been in plays where the rehearsal process has been painful, the other actors boring or irritating, the director tiresome - where, in short, I haven't enjoyed it much - and somehow, even in those cases, the metaphor still rings true. No, it's more to do with the way it makes you think about the future. Does that make sense? It's because of the balance of enjoyment and anticipation, certainty and uncertainty, pleasure and fear... And maybe it's something much more universal, something about all narratives, whether they're ones we live through or ones we read or watch or write. I think what I'm driving at is the way momentum and experience meet and interact, our relationship with the present vs. the future... (This is getting wanky, but bear with me.) When you're acting you have to be absolutely in the moment, focused on what's happening now, and there's a kind of happiness that comes from that, especially when you're doing something you love. But at the same time, rehearsals are only there because you're going to perform. That's the whole point. They only reach their full meaning retrospectively - when you get to the performance. If, when you rehearsed, you didn't believe that one day you'd perform, you wouldn't enjoy it - even if nothing about the actual experience was different. And it's the same for all narratives. You're driven by the desire to know what happens next - not right now, maybe, but soon. You have to enjoy the process of reading, but it only reaches its fulfilment when it finishes. That's why a brilliant book with a bad ending can be so frustrating. It's like great sex that breaks off when your partner goes to answer the door and doesn't come back.**

OK, so I didn't mean for this to get quite so Barthesian. To be honest I was really only thinking about how sad I'll be when King Lear is over. I'm not absolutely sure where this splurge of quasi-narrative theory came from... but it's probably better that way. (Possibly something to do with the fact that I'm delaying the moment when I have to do some real work.)

I am going to sign off now. Mainly because I just realised I could sum this post up in three sentences: "I like being in King Lear." And, "Last night we went to the pub after rehearsal. I had a very nice time."

* Or, possibly, especially because...
** I imagine. This has never happened to me.***
*** No, it really hasn't.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Stranger Things and Other Things

Last week, as you might remember if you follow this blog, I had the UK premiere of my first full-length film, Stranger Things, at the Raindance Film Festival. Which was amazing and bizarre in equal measure. Try seeing your own face, very close up, on a big screen when you're only sitting in the second row... I'd imagined it was going to be like watching the DVD only bigger (logical enough, when you think about it) but actually the whole experience was different and weird. Mainly good but also... odd. It hadn't occurred to me to be nervous beforehand, but so many people asked me if I was that by the time I went into the cinema I was feeling very jumpy indeed. And of course watching that first scene with the zombies didn't relax me much...

The really nice thing, though, was that I found myself forgetting that it was me onscreen, and just letting the film tell me its story. Sometimes I think that story-telling is really the thing I love best about acting (or possibly about everything) - and in film you don't get to do it yourself, you're only providing the raw material for someone else to do it. So seeing it all put together and looking beautiful is a lovely eureka moment. Oh I see, I said to myself. I understand now...

On a less thoughtful note, I hope and pray that I am better-looking in real life. Several of my friends assured me I was. But then, they're my friends... Maybe I should ask an enemy.

Anyway - so that was Friday. Then on Saturday, just as I was going to bed (a little bit addled from my father's birthday dinner)* I had a phone call from Ron, one of the directors, saying we'd won Best UK Film! I had to check on the Internet the next morning in case I'd dreamt it... Very exciting. And it also won an award for Best Direction at a different festival the day after. Honestly, Ron and Eleanor (the other director) are so successful it would be unbearable if they weren't so nice.

So I radiated glory and triumph for about two hours yesterday morning before I had to go to rehearsal for King Lear. And had a splendid time forgetting my five lines and being restfully dead. I'm loving rehearsals at the moment.

Oh, and did I mention I sent Mazecheat to my editor? So it's Liberty Hall chez moi at the moment, as I'm not exactly sure what to work on. Slash novel? Historical novel? More blog?

Time for writeordie, I think.

* I had scallops with pancetta and chillies, calf's liver with fig sauce, semi-freddo and coffee. Since you ask.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

OK, so three princesses walk into a bar...

(c) Di Byers, 2011
Did I mention that I was (am, am going to be) in King Lear? Well, I expect I did, but here anyway to prove it is a photo of me with some of the other actors. I'm the one in the white dress, looking stern in an I'm-taking-myself-terribly-seriously kind of way... Yes, Cordelia, how did you guess?

I am also playing the Fool, which is fun too. I get to make lots of rather dirty jokes, not to mention do a brilliant impression of a horse eating buttered hay. (Confused at first, then dubious, then won over by the idea and thoroughly over-excited, since you ask. All in an unmistakeably equine fashion. It'll be worth seeing the play just for that... Promise.)

So today I was going to blog about the Internet and the fact that it's a Good Thing, after all... but I started and then realised it was going to take longer than I'd planned to write it. So I thought, nah, put that on hold, something with a picture would be better. And since pretty much all my time is taken up with rehearsals at the moment, King Lear sprang to mind.

This photo was posed, I hasten to add. For the local paper. Which hopefully will go some way to explaining why it looks so... odd. And why Lear's court has mysteriously been transformed to a cave. (Possibly a mystic cave.)

Never trust a man in a fur jerkin, that's my motto.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Fanfiction, slash, and the Female Gaze

I'm taking a pause in the middle of Mazecheat edits, which are slow, boring work (mainly adding in technical/plot points so that the end actually works - which is complicated, requires close reading and is highly unrewarding). And it's lunchtime and there's nothing on BBC iPlayer I feel like watching, so... I thought I would write this.

I've been meaning to write about fanfiction/slash fiction for a while - ever since, in fact, I read one of the first ever online reviews of The Traitor Game, which said: "the one thing I'm curious about is whether B R Collins cut her writing teeth online, as there are elements in it which are closer to fanfiction than to professional fiction - and this is in no way a criticism!" Later she added that it was "something to do with the quality of the emotions. Like I said - definitely NOT a crit!"

Ri-ight, I thought.

I didn't get it at all. I knew nothing about fanfic at that point - and when I looked at some it still didn't make sense. Fanfic, I thought, is when a writer takes SOMEONE ELSE'S CHARACTERS and SOMEONE ELSE'S WORLD and writes their own story about them and it. (Those caps aren't emotional, by the way, they're supposed to imply a kind of slightly bemused emphasis. Imagine me talking to myself in a very slow and confused sort of way.) So if you're writing with your OWN characters and your OWN world... er... well - fic possibly, but where does the fan bit come in? (Unless you're your own fan, of course, which I suppose, in my case, possibly... but that's presumably not quite what she was driving at. She'd never met me, after all.)

It bugged me. Because deep down - and the more I read fanfic, the stronger it was - I had a conviction that she was on to something. And that felt... weird. As if I'd revealed more of myself than I meant to.

And I kept reading. I read lots and lots of fanfiction, most of it slash fiction. And slowly, slowly it started to dawn on me. She wasn't really talking about fanfiction in general. No, she was talking about slash. Slash is - and I'm mainly talking about M/M slash, just so you know - a form, or let's say a subspecies, or maybe a kind of daughter-species, of fanfiction. But here's the crucial thing: 'original' slash can (and does) exist, when 'original' fanfic (presumably) doesn't.

For anyone who isn't familiar with slash, let me give you the basic rundown. Slash fiction is (generally, see above) fanfiction which involves a non-canonical pairing of two (generally) male characters. It is (generally*) written by women for women. And most of them (generally**) are straight or bi. I.e., they find their male characters sexually attractive.

(For more details, plus endless, endlessly enticing links - this time I got distracted through here and here to, er, here - go to TVTropes. Actually The Traitor Game has its own TVTropes entry, where the troper has obligingly joined in on this debate...)

So what's the difference between slash fiction and gay fiction? Surely gay men (for example) writing about gay men will have the same basic approach? And they don't get labelled slash, do they? (And whether or not you think "slashy" is pejorative, it's certainly more marginalising and easily dismissible than "gay".) I'm happy to acknowledge slash as a genre, but I'm not prepared to define it simply by the gender of the author (M/M fiction by woman = slash, by man = gay). No. So what is it about? The believability of the Ms as Ms? The transparency (or otherwise) of the convention that these are, actually, Fs, rewritten and encoded in order to explore something about them in the real world?

Anthony McGowan (great YA writer and altogether Good Thing) once said to me that he was astonished at how male he thought the characters in The Traitor Game were. And it was one of the nicest compliments I've ever had. (My mother, on the other hand, told me they were far too female. I like to think that Tony knows more about male experience than my mother... but you never know.) I really wanted TTG to be authentic; I didn't want the characters to be some female fantasy of adolescent boys. (There's a place for that... but possibly only in my head.) And I do think, truly, that I succeeded. "Gay", then, rather than "slash"?

And yet... it is a bit slashy. I mean... What was it the review said? "Something in the quality of the emotion"? Well. There's a lot of sexual attraction. There's a lot of boys looking at each other. There's a fair amount of sublimated eroticism which focuses on eyes and hands and voice, rather than - well, breasts or arses or cocks or... Maybe there really is something in the quality of the gaze, not just its object, which can imply or subvert the gender of the gazer. Maybe there's something female in how you look, not just who you're looking at. Maybe the implied gender of the gazer is more important, in the end, than the gender of the gazee.

But no. I don't like that conclusion, and I don't trust it, either. My gut tells me that fancying someone is fancying someone. Sexual attraction is sexual attraction. Men don't automatically fall for big tits, any more than women fall for a lovely personality. The Female Gaze, as Our Friend TVTropes says, 'may overlap with Homosexual Male Gaze'. Think we're back where we started.

And yet... and yet...

I am playing around at the moment with a slash novel. Yes, deliberately slashy, deliberately self-indulgent - not one for the publishers, more to remind myself of the onanistic pleasure of writing, to drive away the I-must-make-a-living-demons that prey on creativity. I started it yesterday. It's from a male character's POV, and on the first page I reread the sentence: "Behind him there was a young man - his own age, but taller, with a clear, cold look in his eyes, as though the mountain air had got between his irises and the outside world."

Bingo, I thought. That is so slashy.

And I don't even know why.

*OK, I'm going to stop doing this now. You get the idea.
** No, I'm sorry, I can't.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

UKLA Longlisting for Tyme's End!

Er. Well. The title says it all, really...

So, I had a vague idea that the UKLA longlisting was coming up, but I didn't know exactly when. And this morning one of my friends had linked to the list on facebook, but since no one had told me about it I assumed that Tyme's End hadn't made it.

So I wasn't going to look (I mean, honestly, why would I be interested in other people getting accolades? You must be mad) but then I told myself I was being a little bit pathetic, and I should gird my loins and grit my teeth (or possibly vice versa) and see who the lucky people were who'd managed to be SO MUCH BETTER THAN ME even though I DIDN'T WANT TO BE LONGLISTED ANYWAY-

(- I hope you're getting the tone of this - )

- only to find that in fact I was on it.

Cue big grins and sheepish laughter. And this blog post, naturally.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

At Last

So. It's finished.

I wanted to find a picture of a limp rag - wrung-out and dripping - to express exactly how I feel, but I couldn't muster the energy to look for one.

That said, if you can imagine a limp rag with a quiet feeling of inner triumph, that would be even closer to what I'm trying to evoke.

It's been a long hard slog. But on Sunday - after a weekend when I wrote frantically, because it felt like if I didn't finish soon I'd go mad - I finally did it. The last sentence is - no, wait, I don't want to give too much away... the last word is "rain". It's a good last word, I think. And I was very, very glad to write it.

Now I'm going to take a (short) holiday. I've got books reserved for me at the library, a room to clean, laundry to do, lines to learn for King Lear, sleep to catch up on, and errands to run. I've got a new book to think about - and I can think about it now, without feeling guilty, like I'm peeking at the bottom tray of a box of chocolates before I've eaten the last couple of toffees on the top layer... Paradise.

And then - oh, did I mention the edits? I've got a whole page of them already, so many that there are major continuity issues in the book where I changed my mind half way through and didn't go back to update the beginning. It's going to be quite a lot of work, I think - although right now, in my haze of fatigue and euphoria, I'm sure that once I've done it Mazecheat's going to be brilliant... But it can wait, at least for a few days. 

I might even start that next book, if I'm feeling self-indulgent.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Stranger Things at Raindance

Stranger Things is my first feature-length film. It's a touching study of a young woman touched by grief (played by me - see fig. 1, left, I am the one who doesn't have a beard) who strikes up an unusual friendship with a vagrant who breaks into her dead mother's house. It's beautifully shot and scripted, and the film is a subtle and poignant story about loss, vulnerability and healing.

And if that doesn't grab you, and you're more of an action-movie fan, let me just say that although there aren't any car chases, there is a section where I flail around uselessly in a field with a stick.

I worked on it a long time ago, so it feels weird (and nostalgic) that it's only just having its London premiere (although it's done the rounds in the US and South America, picking up lots of awards on the way, including Best Narrative Feature at Slamdance and Woodstock). But it is!

At 9 pm on the 7th of October, Stranger Things will be shown at the Apollo Cinema, Piccadilly, as part of the Raindance festival. Everyone is more than welcome...

Saturday, 27 August 2011

One of the nicer things this week...

Good reviews are nice. They really are. It's lovely to have someone be nice about your books, especially when it's someone brilliant (coughMalPeetcough) in a national newspaper... You can quote them on the cover and everything. It's great. I've been lucky with reviews, on the whole, and I'll always be grateful.

But a few days ago I came across something on the Internet that gave me more pure, lasting, disinterested pleasure than a review ever has.


The Traitor Game has not one but at least two people writing fanfic. Possibly even more. I can't express how delighted I was - am - to have found that out. It feels like such a privilege. Is that crazy? I had to restrain myself, with difficulty, from commenting. (I was only going to thank them and say I thought it was really cool, but all the same I decided not to, because I don't want them to feel I'm looking over their shoulders, or that I imagine I have some kind of right over what they write. The same goes for positive Internet reviews, as it happens. Every so often I can't resist, but in general I feel that the author should keep in the background, so that people can say what they want without it getting personal.) But I was just... so pleased.

Fanfic is a weird thing. I've never written it; I only really heard of it after I wrote The Traitor Game, because someone wondered whether I'd been influenced by slash...* Fanfic is subversive, in a way; there are stories about authors and producers getting antsy about other people writing about "their" characters. But as long as no one's making money out of it, I don't understand the problem. And yes, I used those quotation marks advisedly. Michael and Francis aren't really "my" characters: any more than - oh, I dunno, let's say Takeo and Shigeru, or Fitz and the Fool, or (and I've read a really good piece of slash about these two) Sparrowhawk and Jasper aren't "mine". I'm a reader: those characters live in my head, independently of their authors. And they go on living. That's what reading is. I've never written fanfic, but I recognise that experience - you read a book, you love the characters, and you rewrite them again and again, you get to know them, you live their lives... That's normal, isn't it? And it's a huge compliment to the author. I'm amazed and thrilled that people care enough about Michael and Francis, that they want them to go on living, that they want them to have a happy ending.

So thank you, whoever you are. I'd give you my blessing if it didn't sound patronising. Hope people go to read your stuff here. And here.

And yes, I always thought Michael and Francis would get together eventually too.

*This is an interesting question, and one which I fully intend to muse on at more length. But not now.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Garden Macaroons, Rain

I feel like Garden Macaroons, Rain should be a haiku. Or a still life.

I was going to write a long post explaining everything, but you know what? I'm just going to stop here, and let you speculate.

Monday, 8 August 2011

A Strange Juxtaposition

I don't have much time to read at the moment as I'm working really hard, but I never stop reading completely, and in the last few days I found myself reading two completely different books at once.

The books were A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu by Marcel Proust, and The Rules, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider.

A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (OK, who'm I trying to kid? Let's call it Remembrance of Things Past. I'm reading it in English, obviously) is a masterpiece. It's probably best-known for being extremely long: it's somewhere around a million words, I think - I'm on page 829, which is near the end of the first volume of three... But it's also well-known for being brilliant. Proust is an amazing observer, dry and quietly witty and beautifully incisive, saying things about human behaviour and emotions that are true, and surprising, and surprising because they are surprising. There's more wisdom about memory and friendship and pleasure and unrequited love than you can shake a stick at. Not to mention writing and success and failure and... well, you get the idea. All the subjects that are close to my heart. I would recommend it to everyone. (Or at least the first 829 pages. I don't know about the rest yet.)

The Rules, on the other hand, is an abomination. I requested it from the library because I'd come across it on Wikipedia and thought it sounded interesting in a distasteful sort of way. I now feel - literally - dirty.

The Rules is a "self-help" (I'm sorry, but those quotation marks are necessary) book which, by its own admission, is designed to help women capture the heart - sorry, the engagement ring - of "Mr. Right". It is a guide to "playing hard to get" and consists entirely of gems like "always hang up first", "never accept a date for Saturday after Wednesday" and "don't sleep with him on the first date". I started off by feeling amused and superior. As I persevered I started to feel queasy. "We are feminists," the introduction announces, "but men and women are biologically and emotionally different. Men are the aggressors." There is so much wrong with this statement that I don't know where to start. (Here might be good, actually.)

The authors of The Rules are deeply smug about their "success stories". Cherry and Marilyn and Paige have all, apparently, done really well in their quest to get married (notice the lack of indirect object in that phrase). Thanks to The Rules. And you know what? I can see why, if you're already the sort of person who would do The Rules, doing The Rules might help you. If you need The Rules, you are probably the kind of person who will do better in the "quest for Mr. Right" if you hide the real you. (Actually, I think I feel sorrier for the "Mr. Right"s.)

I also couldn't help posing the question of what happens when, having got that all-important engagement ring, you finally let your fiance see the real you. This had obviously occurred to the previous readers of The Rules, since in this new updated edition the authors had explained that you don't stop doing The Rules just because you're married! Oh no! You go on with The Rules, because if you don't want to be single or divorced you have to make sure your man feels good about himself and goes on feeling that he's the aggressor he naturally, biologically is.

I wonder what Proust would have made of all this. Unlike Fein and Schneider, he probably wouldn't have claimed to be a feminist. And he might well have acknowledged the power that delay and frustration have on desire. But I like to think that he would have been quietly contemptuous of their sexual politics, their smugness, their evangelical desperation. And, indeed, their prose style.

Then again, I haven't finished Remembrance of Things Past yet. For all I know, the next 2,200 pages could be filled entirely with dating advice.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

These Foolish Things

I very rarely feel famous. But now and then I see my book in a bookshop, or read a review, or someone says something that gives me a great rush of excitement. And this, I say to myself, is why I like being a writer...

I mention this because I had a lovely moment last week, in the pub. (The pub bit is incidental, but it adds local colour.) I was having a drink with an old friend, and she was telling me what she thought of Gamerunner. That was nice in itself, actually, because she'd really enjoyed it. But then she added something which I thought was amazing.

She'd bought it in WHSmith in Victoria Station.

Yes. That's right. In WHSmith, in Victoria Station. It's been a long time since I've been to Victoria, but I like to imagine that the WHSmith there is pretty small, with an extremely select array of books. I closed my eyes and imagined my book, on their shelves. I felt great.

Then I opened my eyes again to order a drink. And just as I was about to speak, the barmaid said to me, 'Wait - aren't you the writer-girl?'

I blinked, and said, 'Er... yes...? Should I know you...?'

'We met a few weeks ago,' she said, and mentioned the friend who'd introduced me to her. 'And my sister read one of your books and she absolutely loved it. She thought it was brilliant.'

It was possibly the best five minutes of my week.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


Hello, chaps.

OK. Well, I'm still working like mad on the Gamerunner sequel. I've only written 6,901 words so far this week (which leaves me 5,099 words behind schedule unless I write them by this evening) but believe me, what I've lost in efficiency I've made up for in actual time spent staring at my computer screen. If only blank pages counted as work ("this page may not have any actual words but it represents 37 minutes of my life")...

So I should get back to that.

But I didn't want to leave you with nothing, so I thought I'd share a new-ish discovery of mine. You may have heard of it - but if you haven't, let me introduce XKCD, 'a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language'. It is, IMHO, brilliant.

And if you like the comic, google "xkcd color survey results", which also made me laugh out loud.

I'll leave you to it, then. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Montpellier mon amour...

I got back from France last night, after having spent three days or so down south in Montpellier. I love the south of France - I haven't been there that often, but when I have it's been wonderful. The sun! The wine! The tapenade! And this time there was the beach, as well... It definitely made a change from getting up at six to go to talk to schoolkids. (Nice as they were, I hasten to add.)

Anyway - we were there because the French Boyfriend's grandparents live there, and were celebrating various birthdays en famille, so we spent lots of time with FB's relations. And actually that was perfectly nice. It made me realise how well my French has come on - a year ago it would've been absolute purgatory. And then there were a few moments round the edges when we (FB and moi) could be alone together, pretending to be properly on holiday.

But now I'm back. And back to work.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Close of Play

Well, that's it, then. My play has now finished. I'm at that depressing going-back-to-normal-life stage, and I can't bring myself to do anything. Not even laundry, and believe me, I really need to do some, or I will actually disappear beneath the surface of a swamp of dirty T-shirts and drown.

It's such a long time since I've done a play that I'd almost forgotten what it was like. Finishing a film just doesn't have the same impact - mainly because doing films isn't much fun anyway. No, a play is different. It's - well, it's like a love affair. The adrenalin, the fear, the uncertainty, the delight... The rehearsals as you appraise and wonder and flirt, the tech as you think this was all a huge mistake, and then the performances when it all falls into place and you've found the purpose, the love of your life. And then the party, and the euphoria and fatigue, and then that moment when you go round saying goodbye to people and you realise it's raining outside and it's half past three in the morning and you're walking home alone.

And this has really nothing to do with actually falling in love with someone in the play. (Sometimes that happens too, but let's not go into that.)

But there you go. I feel like I've just been dumped. No, not dumped. I feel like we've decided, with mutual sadness, that it's not going to happen and we should stop now before someone gets hurt. Not the end of the world, but... what do I do now?

Well, we'll see. Today I was looking over profiles from for a competition I'm judging - that was nice, not too demanding but I had to concentrate - and it won't be till tomorrow that I'll have to do some real work.

Or possibly I'll buy some ice cream and eat it in my pyjamas, sitting on the sofa.

I'll keep you informed.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Writing? Oh, yes, I used to do that.

I am suddenly, strangely, busy.

This is very unusual for me. Normally I've got a daily routine of writing, going to the gym, cooking, watching films, going to bed... The writing gets done because it's the only thing I really think about.

But in the last few weeks I've actually been doing things. Like, I'm in a production of a play (What The Butler Saw, at Trinity Theatre in Tunbridge Wells) which goes up tonight, so I've been rehearsing for that. And I've been to Wales - did I mention Wales? A week in a lovely little cottage near Fishguard, walking, reading... oh, and we had one of the best meals I've ever had.

(Skip this paragraph if you're not interested in the details of said meal: I had scallops with pancetta and lemon and laverbread butter to start, then venison with a fruity, chocolatey sauce and unlimited vegetables (including but not limited to red cabbage, mashed turnip and a wonderful garlicky potato gratin) and then I had a lemon and apple parfait with Calvados. I left the restaurant about a stone heavier than I went in, and I didn't even care.)

Anyway. Came back from Wales to rehearse, and went on rehearsing while some American friends stayed, and then Marc (my lovely Frenchman) stayed, and then there was the Royal Wedding which of course I wat-- no, wait, that was the day of the snooker semi-final, right? Well, I watched some of it, between frames... And while Marc was here we worked on my CV, as I have a kind of plan to move to Paris, and it would be great to find an actual, proper job there. That felt very (bizarrely) professional - it's so long since I had to do any of that stuff. Incidentally, did you know that French people put photos on their CVs? Even when they're not actors or models? I found that a little bit strange...

And then Marc left again and I went on rehearsing and now it's production week. And this morning I spent doing emails and judging a book-profiling competition (of which more later, in the next instalment).

So, have you noticed the deliberate omission? Yep. This means it's months since I did any writing.

But after the play there will be a long sad desert of not doing anything. And then I will get back to work. Promise.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Depression, AKA "lying fallow"...

So. I've got three books already on the waiting list at Bloomsbury, two of which are coming out in the next year, and my agent has told me that basically she's not going to be able to sell them any more for at least another year. Fair enough.

But what the hell am I meant to do every day?

Unfortunately the adult novel is, at the moment, like wading through treacle. (There has to be a less hackneyed phrase for that, but hey, it'll take too much work to come up with it. You see what I mean.) Possibly this is just a reaction after writing 100,000 words of it in six months - that's what I'm hoping - but possibly it's a reflection of the fact that after all it isn't quite the masterpiece I thought. Just the idea of it depresses me, right now - and this despite the fact that over the last few days I've been rewriting the beginning, and managed to produce a few thousand not-incompetent words, which I guess is a step in the right direction. But it's like looking at a really, really untidy room: you sort of know that if you start with, say, the dirty plates and mugs, and then move on to the underwear, and so on and so on, you will eventually start to make a difference - but it's so daunting that you end up paralysed and helpless, knowing you'll never do it. However. I really need to get on with it, because I can send it to my agent once it's a bit more presentable and then if it's rubbish at least she'll tell me and I can get on with something else. So I will soldier on.

But once I've sent it off (if that day ever comes, sigh) - then what am I supposed to do?

I was feeling quite low a few weeks ago. This was before I screwed my courage to the sticking place and actually started the adult-novel redraft (henceforward "ANR"), and I was getting up in the morning and not wanting to work and not wanting not to work and generally doing nothing. (There're only so many times you can google yourself before it stops being useful. If it ever is.) And I felt dreadful. That's when being a writer really sucks: when you're not writing. Then you're stuck on your own without a proper job and all that imaginative energy is working away at your self-confidence, asking you why you're doing this to yourself and how come everyone else always gets the prizes and why your editor hasn't got back to you when, dammit, she's already had two hours?

So I was googling myself, following links and blogs and things, reading about YA writing and the Twilight phenomenon and its sexual politics and so on, and I decided I was going to write a cynical, unoriginal supernatural romance that my agent could sell for some actual money. I planned it all out in my head, and then started to write it, thinking I just needed some cash and I didn't care how good it was. And you know what? I suddenly realised I was enjoying it. No, more than that. I wasn't feeling crap any more.

I realised that I just needed to write something. That was why I was feeling so down. If I'm not writing something - if I don't have that sense of advancing a little bit every day, of going to bed having achieved something, of having something that I can obsess about and have absolute power over - I feel bad. It's that simple.

OK, that's probably pretty unhealthy. But I was glad I'd realised.

I duly sent my agent a synopsis and the first three chapters. I'm hoping she'll say yes, this is going to earn you vast amounts of money, write the rest immediately. Failing that... well, failing that, I hope she doesn't reply - because once I've sent my ANR off for feedback, I'll need something to work on. And I'd rather find out after I've written it. Sound weird? Yes, I know.

Or I suppose I could just get a job.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Broken Road

So. The Broken Road. What do we think? Well, I know what I think, what do you think?

I'm hoping you like it, anyway, because it's the new title for my Children's Crusade book, the one that's coming out in January next year. Originally it was called The Way We Went, which I quite liked, to be honest - but my publishers said it was a little bit samey and boring and too like all the other books with I in the title, like Before I Die and If I Stay and What I Was... Pretty good company to be in, I would've thought, but apparently no, this was a bad thing. So that was out.

So, my publishers said, we know this comes as a bit of a shock, but we're thinking: 1212.

1212? I said. (Inwardly.) 1212? Are you mad?

1212, yes, my publishers said. Simple and strong. With the tagline, The year the children left.

Simple, maybe, I said. Strong...? Oh, and did I mention, absolutely not?

No. OK. I admit it. I didn't say that. I drafted a long, considered, helpful and measured email about how I wasn't quite sure 1212 was intriguing or enticing enough, and how between us I was sure we could come up with something we really loved. I spent quite a long time on it, because I didn't want to piss anyone off, and after all they do know more about marketing than I do (thank God), and getting snotty wasn't going to help anything... But 1212 - is it just me, or is the number of teenagers who're likely to say, hey, 1212, that sounds interesting, I must buy this book, I wonder what happened then? a little bit - well, minimal? It also does not sound at all literary. You might as well call it, This Is A Book About The Children's Crusade. It doesn't give any information that can't be equally well conveyed by the cover image and blurb. And - as I pointed out to my editor, in slightly less bald terms - the cover can change, the tagline can change, but I'm stuck with the title of this book for the rest of my life. I just really want it not to sound embarrassing.

So anyway, I wrote this email Very Carefully, with that terrible pit-of-my-stomach feeling that they'd do what they normally do, which is thank me for my feedback and then ignore me (I'm not bitter, by the way, that's normal and healthy, most of the time). I kept telling myself a little unsteadily that no one could force me to go with a title I hated. And then, late at night, I had a brainwave.

I googled it.

OK, I accept it's not that much of a brainwave (especially since I had to change the title of my sci-fi novel for exactly that reason). But it paid dividends. There already is a book about the Children's Crusade called - you guessed it - 1212. Hurrah.

I can't tell you what a relief that was. It meant I could write a gently regretful, philosophical email suggesting other titles. 1212 was out. (And I feel that says something about how inventive and exciting it is, as a title...) So I came up with a list of other ideas, one of which I loved (not the one they chose, by the way) - but all of which were bearable. The Broken Road isn't my favourite title ever. But at least it has words in it.

Thank you, Kathleen McDonnell. I might even read your book.

Incidentally, in the interests of fairness, I should probably point out that my agent also really liked 1212. Maybe I just really have no idea about this kind of thing...

So. The Broken Road. Tagline: well, it could be worse.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Very Sad News

I should be working right now, but I can't set my mind to it, so I gave up on the idea and thought I'd blog instead. I know I haven't written anything here for ages, and so I suppose I ought to give you an update about how the books are going - proofreading for Gamerunner, edits and new title for the Children's Crusade book, new draft of the adult thing - but it doesn't seem all that important, to be honest. This afternoon I'm going to my ex-agent's funeral, and everything seems just a little bit trivial in comparison.

My ex-agent was called Rosemary Canter. She was at PFD when she took me on, and then left when everyone else did to form United Agents. She was my agent until last year, when she took some time off to have chemotherapy for a recurrence of cancer; she was hoping to come back to work afterwards, and it was only this autumn that she knew she wouldn't be able to. Of course we knew, when she said that, that things weren't going as well as she'd hoped: but it was a shock all the same to hear that she'd died so suddenly.

But that really doesn't tell you much that's worth knowing. What you should know is that she was extraordinary. It wasn't just that she was a fantastic agent - although she was, and I will always be grateful to her for believing in me, and taking me on - but that she was brilliant at the personal touch, the management/morale-building/friendship side of the job, too. I could phone her up and talk through a problem, and even if the news her end was bad and frustrating I would get off the line and feel better. Invariably. And not just better - I'd feel that I'd done exactly the right thing to call her, and that she took my problems seriously and cared about them as much as me, and everything was in the best possible hands. (I.e. hers.) I have never known anyone who was as good at that as she was - and that's not post-mortem sentimentality, it's what I used to say (with a sort of amazed admiration) after I'd hung up the phone. She was utterly charming, and yet it was mixed with a sort of brisk humorous warmth that made you feel that it wasn't calculated, it wasn't just that you were her client... I don't know how publishers managed not to give in to her every demand.

What can I say? I wish I'd known her better. I wish I could have thanked her in a Carnegie-medal-winner's speech. I hope she knew what a difference she made to my writing life.

I'll miss her.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

You win some, you lose some...

Still working on my adult book, which is why I'm not blogging enough to be an even vaguely respectable blogger. The plan was to finish the first draft by the end of the month (well, s'pose it still is, in theory) and then send it off to someone my agent knows. I thought it was all going well... but then my mother read it.

My mother, I should add, is a Real Writer and also a real-life salaried Creative Writing teacher, so I do tend to take notice of what she says. And what she said was, 'It's brilliant, darling!'

I was quite pleased, until it turned out that we were talking at complete cross-purposes. Unfortunately what she thought was happening in the book actually wasn't, and it was much more ordinary and predictable than that - so ordinary and predictable that she thought something else had to be happening, or why would anyone even bother? So, not brilliant at all, then. Actually rather boring.

The thing about feedback is that it has to make sense to you, the writer, before you can even begin to do something about it. Now, I don't think I'm being defensive, and I pride myself on taking feedback well, not arguing, just letting it sink in... but I just don't get it... leaving me floundering, because does this mean my judgement is so wildly off-the-wall that what I thought was the first draft of something quite promising is actually utterly conventional and insubstantial? And if so, what am I supposed to do about it?

On the plus side, I did have a nice review in the Guardian for Tyme's End. If not the effusive, gushing, fulsome eulogy that I was expecting, and is, frankly, only my due.

What do you mean, my judgement clearly is impaired?

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Back from France, back to work...

The title says it all, really. I spent New Year in France, and now I'm back - 20,000 words to go on the novel, which is nothing, really, so I hope to finish it before the end of the month. Ha.

So today and tomorrow are the last days of my holiday, and I'm acclimatising. Which means doing some laundry, fiddling about on my computer, and googling myself. NEVER google yourself. It's like eavesdropping. It's invariably depressing. If someone says something nice about you, you'll get to hear about it. If not... well, better left unread, I'd say.

What is worse is that I discovered, quite by accident, that my publishers have published a book about the Children's Crusade this January.

To understand why this is an issue, the backstory you need to know is: I wrote a book about the Children's Crusade two or three years ago, which was meant to be the next book after A Trick of the Dark. Except that Bloomsbury explained that it would be much better to sit on it until 2012, which is the 800th anniversary, and so I ended up writing Tyme's End for the same deadline. They agreed that it would come out early in 2012, so that it would be the first in a possible spate, not just another Children's Crusade book. (See where I'm going with this one?)

Now, there may be very good reasons why Linda Press Wulf's book won't make any difference to mine, and looking at the blurb it looks very different (and good, incidentally - I'm definitely going to read it), and maybe it's better to be published in the anniversary year than just before. But what bothers me - really bothers me - is that no one even mentioned it. Not in an email, not formally - which is OK, I understand that editors and publishers simply don't have time to keep writers posted on every little detail - but not even at the Christmas party, for example, when I was talking about the Children's Crusade and it might have come up quite naturally in conversation...

OK, maybe I'm getting paranoid. No, I am paranoid. But all the same - am I being unreasonable? I don't think so. Maybe because I'm paranoid...

This is why you should never google yourself. Or anyone else, for that matter. Moral of the story: just get on with your work, for heaven's sake.