Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Going cold turkey ...

We're off to Italy tomorrow to stay with friends and I'll have no access to the internet for 10 whole days!
Please feed and water the blog for me if you get the chance.
Anyone know the origin of the phrase cold turkey?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Now I've gone and done it ...

Last July I took a 1 year unpaid sabbatical from the part time finance job I'd done for the previous 7 years. I was going to concentrate on my writing.
The months have raced past and now it's decision time.
Do I go back?
The answer would appear to be obvious given that:
- I haven't been offered a new book deal (yet)
- We've only done a couple of photography jobs so far this year
- G lost his job (circumstances beyond our control) and is currently only working 2 days a week.
So we got together with the kids to talk about it.
And guess what. I ain't going back!
Is this a leap of faith? Some kind of positive visualisation? Or an indication of collective family insanity?
You'd be forgiven for assuming the last to be true, but for me/us this is the only possible sane decision.
I seem to have arrived at a space in my life when I can't visualise being able to work anywhere and for anyone. Ever. Don't get me wrong. I'm not lazy. It's just that I can no longer handle compromising on my autonomy. I feel this so strongly that in the last year or so that I was working every fibre of my being screamed out that I was doing something fundamentally WRONG! It was a good organisation with some wonderful people. If I can't hack it there ...
Part of what's given me the courage to take this step is ... wait for it ... YOU, my fellow blogsters. I feel as though we're riding the wave of something very exciting and packed with who-knows-what potential. I can't bear the thought of not having time to spend writing and blogging.
Up 'til last July, I juggled parenthood with working 3 days a week, doing wedding photography at weekends and writing my first 3.5 novels in the evenings.
I'm not sure if I could go back to that.
I know I don't want to.
Following on from Skint's post and all the ensuing debate, I think I know now why blogging's so important to me. Have you noticed how it changes as more people are drawn in? It's like interactive collectively-controlled journalism. With group hugs. An alternative community. I love it!
A (now ex-) colleague said I've got balls the size of breasts when he heard my decision to leave. (The opposite would be more accurate.)
Let's just hope I don't get kicked in them!

Snip ... snip ... sob (not)

I cut First Born's hair yesterday. Instead of waistlength tumbling locks he now has shoulderlength etc etc. It was his decision to chop (as was the initial one by he and Little Bro to have their hair long in the first place).
So why now? In preparation for Big School of course. He feels he doesn't want to draw too much attention to himself but wants to retain his individuality at the same time.
All through primary school he's been subjected to taunts and worse about his hair. Occasionally it's upset him, mostly it's just made him more determined not to give in to other people's fixed ideas and prejudices.
The most upsetting thing for me has been the appalling levels of homophobia in schools. The slightest difference in boys (don't like football, have long hair, are perceived to be in any way 'soft') is punished by accusations of being gay. Which is like The Worst Insult!
And I thought we'd made progress since the 70s!

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Can anyone tell me why I've got that funny spacing on my links to other blogs? It looks fine when I do the preview but now ... and I can't see anything obvious ...
And there I was feeling oh so proud of myself for getting it sussed ...

Friday, May 19, 2006

State of the Industry

So you've got a 2 book deal! Fantastic news! Your head's in the clouds. Nothing like this has ever happened to you before. The life-changing potential seems huge - as well as very very scary!
Everyone's telling you you've made it. You're a published writer. People who never gave you the time of day before are suddenly jostling for your attention.
You keep telling everyone that you just want to enjoy the ride and see where it takes you. That nothing's predictable and that you're still struggling on a teensy income and living in a council flat.
So then you get accused of spoiling your chances by not being positive enough. Which then makes you feel guilty.
But you feel having your books published is such an amazing feeling anyway - it's what so many people dream of.
When you first get signed up everyone tries to convince you you’re going to be the Next Big Thing. Cue huge fanfare. What they don’t tell you is that it’s going to be a case of one strike and you’re out.

Here’s how it goes:

• No matter how hard the publicist might work their socks off, unless there's been mega hype, first novels rarely get widely reviewed. So the number of copies sold to the bookshops is almost immaterial, as few people will actually know the book exists!
• The trade is dominated by the huge chains. Buying is done centrally with managers of local branches only able to order one or two copies of anything not ordered by head office.
• Publishers don’t have the resources to approach all the wonderful independent bookshops that are out there or to go to local branches of the chains.
• The chains reserve their space and energy for the books that are assured bestsellers – the front of house 3 for the price of 2s.
• Other books are on the shelves for a month or two at the most before being returned to the publisher if they are unsold by the end of that time.
• This gives no opportunities for a slow burn or spread by word of mouth. At the point when the book disappears from the shelves, no one’s going to stumble across it and they won’t have heard of it due to the lack of reviews, so are unlikely to go into a bookshop and request an order to be placed.
• When your second book is published, the chain buyers examine their records of how many copies of the previous book were sold, using a system called Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS). Most likely (given the points I’ve made above) sales won’t have been brilliant (even though you're personally blown away that there are 1500 or so people out there who have read the book YOU have written). The chain buyers therefore order very few of this second book.
• The second book gets more reviews than the first.
• The Catch 22. More people will have heard of your book but, alas, it’s not widely available in the shops!

It used to be an accepted truth in the book trade that authors often don’t take off until their third or even fourth or fifth books. Suddenly the word seeps out and they are ‘discovered’ by readers, at which point sales of their back catalogue would increase, often resulting in reprints.

Nowadays, this is well nigh impossible. If your first book doesn’t take off (against all the odds given the points above) everything is against you being able to make it with subsequent books. 3rd and 4th book deals are notoriously hard to come by for authors who haven't 'made it' commercially with their first two.
Even if there's a small but loyal band of readers who can't wait to see books 3 and beyond on their shelves ...
See what I mean about Catch 22?

If you’re an as yet unpublished author, I wish you loads of luck. Keep on writing and keep on trying for that elusive deal.
Enjoy the ride and, if you do get lucky, revel in the thrill of seeing your work in print and on sale. But try to keep expectations realistic at the same time.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to minimise the importance of positive thinking!
In retrospect, I really wish I had my site up and running when my first book was published in 2003.
Ah well, better late than never ...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Reading aloud

Went to a really good Society of Authors seminar this week re giving a reading.
It was packed with useful tips (though I'll never be able to read as slowly as instructed).
It was good to meet a fellow crime writer, Victoria Blake, whose books I'll definitely be checking out. And one for you romance buffs - Joy Dixon, who has written a book called the Romance Fiction of Mills and Boon. Can't find her book on Amazon but imagine it would be right up your literary alley, Sharon and co ...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Wandering Scribe

Thanks to Minx, I've just come across the Wandering Scribe - a homeless woman who has been living in her car for several months and dealing with all kinds of stress and distress.
There has been a lot of cynicism and doubt along the lines of Is She for Real or Are We Being Manipulated?
Personally I have no doubt. Oh and she writes beautifully ...
Check her out and make up your own mind.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Who'd be a woman?

I went for a routine mammagram (known in our home as the Squidgy Boob Test) earlier this week.
'We need to press the breast flat so we can see all the tissue,' explained Ms Chirpy, the radiographer. 'Tell me if it gets too uncomfortable.'
What she didn't say was 'We need to press your breast flat as a tissue,' but I didn't get cross.
It was so appallingly hot in there, as soon as I walked in I thought I must have slammed into the menopause and was in the throes of my first ever full on hot flush. It can't be pleasant working all day in those conditions. Plus I'd power walked there and had to apologise for smelling a bit gamey. Last night's garlic bread must have added to her olfactory ordeal, so I didn't like to complain.
Anyway, you park your breast on a metal plate and she presses a button which lowers another plate, gradually compressing your poor mammary. When it got to the thickness of a slice of bread, I cracked.
'Er ... that's really uncomfortable ...' I gasped. (Imagine strangled voice delivered from behind clenched teeth.)
'Sorry. Bit more,' she chirruped.
Paper-thin was when she relented, instructed me to hold my breath (was I supposed to be breathing?) and pressed another button before finally releasing me. After repeating the torture on the left side, she assured me she'd correct any imbalance now by repeating the whole process vertically.
I've always been rather fond of my breasts. Hope they forgive me ... It was for their own good ...
I don't want to put anyone off having a mammagram, so here are some positive aspects:
you get to meet and bond (albeit briefly) with other women approximately your age
it's quick
it's not as bad as a smear

Running? Wossat???

I really should have blogged this sooner but better late than ...
Greg ran the marathon this year in 3hrs 1min 47secs - 10 mins faster than his previous best. Pretty bloody good for a 48 year old insulin dependant diabetic and tantalisingly close to his target of cracking 3hrs. No sooner had he crossed the line than he was planning his strategy for next year. Sigh. I sometimes wonder how I ended up in this family ...
Anyway he ran this year for an amazing charity run by a friend of ours and called ALD Life. Check them out. It's not too late to sponsor him.

Monday, May 08, 2006

SATS spat

Across the country today,thousands of 10 and 11 year old children will be sitting hunched over exam papers. And they will continue to hunch for the rest of this week - 4 English papers, 3 Maths and 2 Science.
Some will be calm, others will be nervous, many exhausted and some particularly fragile kids will be in a state of utter terror and panic.
And what for? What will anyone gain from this pointless and CRUEL exercise?
Supposedly the secondary schools these children will move to in September will have a clearer idea of the children's abilities. Bollocks - all they'll get is a picture of which kids are good at TESTS. If they really wanted to assess ability, they'd get a far better idea from coursework and reports.
And supposedly the results will be useful because they'll enable people to compare schools via the league tables. More bollocks! League tables are pointless and meaningless - no one believes them or in them.
And supposedly the SATS will prove what a caring/sharing government we have - committed to equality and choice. Aaah, now we're getting somewhere ...
The SATS are all about political stupidity and showmanship. They're certainly not about improving education. And they're most definitely not about children. Which is why you're unlikely to ever meet a teacher or parent or child who approves of them.
If only we could have a mass boycott ... but without that, you don't dare remove your child from the system because - it IS the system! So it would be detrimental to them if they didn't do what everyone else is doing ...
The result is that this government is fucking up our kids. In years to come we will see that our children have been victims of a really stupid experiment in education. And we've been forced to collude with them.
I will never forgive them for that ...

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Harold Shipman of the publishing world

This is a post I did on the news section of my website that I thought I'd reproduce here where it will be more available to fellow blogging authors who may be interested in my ramblings ...

Huh! And harrumph! That's me being CROSS!
I refer to the Observer's review section of last week. There's a section called 'Book Doctor' for writers wanting advice on their ... erm ... writing. Anyway, someone wrote in saying they were writing a book but had received advice from several people telling him/her to 'only bother' writing the first four chapters and then send them off to agents/publishers. That way, if it gets rejected, they won't have 'wasted all that time writing the whole book'!
Which would be bad enough, but the advice from the not-so-good doctor was 'Absolutely right!' So in other words, value can only be measured in monetary terms. If you're not going to make £££ from your writing, don't bloody bother. And since everyone knows making any money (let alone a living) from writing requires little short of a miracle these days, no one should ever bother writing at all!
So - don't write just because you feel a need (or compulsion) to tell a story.
Don't write just because it gives you an outlet for your creativity.
Don't write just because it gives you pleasure.
Don't write just because it feels like part of your identity.
Don't write just because you find it therapetic.
Don't write just because you feel you have something to say that maybe, just maybe, someone else would like to hear.
In fact, don't bother bloody writing at all. Leave the literary world to the likes of Dan Brown and the Chick Literati who have already 'made it' ie their books are on the 3 for 2 tables at Waterstones.
What a hideous comment on the state of the publishing world. With book selling dominated by the huge chains with their central buyers, independant bookshops being squeezed to within a millimetre of their lives, getting that elusive deal becoming harder and harder - not only for first timers but also for the dreaded mid-listers, what advice does the industry (as represented by the Book Doctor) give?
S/he might as well have said straight out that the only valid reason for writing is to make money - and since you won't, don't bother.
Well I may not be medically qualified, but this is MY advice to that would-be writer:
Write and enjoy. If you do get a deal, consider that to be particularly scrummy icing on the cake, but don't consider it to be the only possible validation that what you are doing is worthwhile and has intrinsic value. And if you don't get a deal, you will have had the pleasure and huge sense of achievement of having created something from nothing.
In my not-so-humble opinion, people who write simply in order to be published will probably be writing stilted formulae that have less chance of being picked up anyway. Whereas if you write because you genuinely want/need to, what you produce will be more likely to be fresh and interesting.
So fuck the Book Doctor! Find yourself a good local writers' group (or start one yourself if necessary). You'll get good feedback, a ready made audience for your work and the motivation to carry on past those first four chapters. Alternative medicine!
Good luck!

posted by Debi at 9:39 AM

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Choices. Would you choose to have them?

I've been thinking quite a bit about this stuff.
On the face of it, we seem to have far more choices than previous generations. Where and how to live ... employed, self-employed, unemployed and living on benefits, dropping out, attempting self-sufficiency, living in an ashram in India, in a village in Africa, with a tribe in south America, on a beach in Thailand ...
Of course the first point is that not everyone has those choices. Certainly they're a privilege accorded only to those living in comparatively wealthy countries and to those not hindered by ill health or extreme poverty.
The next thing is that to an extent they are an illusion. Just try doing something 'alternative' and removing yourself from the mainstream. Society doesn't make it easy, believe me. You need incredible resources in terms of self-belief and clear focus. (Not to mention having a few quid - helps a lot ...)
Then we have the whole 21st century selling of choice as the new must-have buzzword. 'Choices' in health, in education etc etc that the government tries to persuade us is such progress. Whereas if you're ill, or looking for a school for your child, it's not choices you want. You want local services of a sufficiently good quality that you would have no need for alternatives.
But even if you get through that lot and resolve those issues, I'm still not convinced that having those choices in terms of where and how you live bring happiness. With more choices, there's always the chance you'll feel you made the wrong one. There'll always be the potential to say 'What if ...?'
Hmmm. Tricky business. I know I don't want us to be living and working in traditional ways for the rest of our lives. I know I want to be part of an alternative community where 'neighbour' doesn't automatically mean 'stranger'. Where our children have significant relationships with other adults that for one reason or other they are unable to get from our own families.
But how? What choices should we be making ...?