Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Story a Week

When I started working on short stories, the ambition was to write one a week. After the first month I was already behind, when someone told me that Della Galton wrote ninety last year. Please don't tell me that she was also looking after several ankle-biters at the same time...or I might just have to give up.

So, how well have I been doing? I started on the 24th March when the baby was two-weeks-old. (Well, there were a couple of guys ripping my kitchen apart too, so I couldn't do any baking.) Now, the baby is, erm, twenty-nine weeks old. So I must have twenty-seven stories by now.

Er, no.

I have good weeks and bad weeks, but if I spend more than a month on each story, I feel that I'm not going to get a reasonable return on my time. You'll notice two assumptions at this point. One is that I'll get any return for my time, and the second, that my time is worth something. It is, of course; if I weren't writing, I would be watching TV (and learning useful tips about cleaning the house), or actually cleaning the house (ha!).

One of Jane's stories was recently placed third in a competition. Now, Jane's grammar is bad and I am asked to proof everything; so, I hold my head up, knowing that it was my grammar & punctuation that won the prize. It was all her plot, though, and she's good at plots. Grammar you can learn, but plots come from the soul. Although I'm not quite sure where Jane's come from - she writes fantasy after all.

So here I am, still twiddling my thumbs. The baby being whisked away in an ambulance was a great excuse for procrastination, but I think, maybe, I'll get my head down this week instead. I put on 2lbs with the stress of it.

Although that might just have been the chocolate.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Chocolate and the Inland Revenue

They say, file your tax return online. It's much quicker than sending it by post.

Nothing to do with it saving the Inland Revenue a fortune: paper (I estimate 16p for the return itself, plus about £15.60 for the guidence notes), envelopes (~4p), postage (~1.30p), ink, staples, gum on the envelopes (God knows), one half-wit clerk to do the filing (~£25,000pa).

But filling it in online? I don't know. You can't be asking me to do anything too complicated just now; my brain's not up to it. Unless, of course, chocolate is involved.

With that in mind, I considered making them an offer: how about a large bar of Dairy Milk Turkish Delight, (approximate value £1.20), in exchange for the IR paper mountain? But then I remembered that the revenue man missed out on both the generosity and humour genes at conception; I thought I'd better just do it on paper after all.

It was the baby who caused my downfall (she, and my tendancy to leave everything until the last minute). Actually, it wasn't the baby, but all the blood that she vomited after swallowing the thing that she swallowed.

'What did she swallow?' the doctors asked. 'Well, if I'd seen it, I wouldn't have let her put it in her mouth...would I?' So, the last two days have been spent trying to find out what it was. We've been in two ambulances (one with flashing lights), two hospitals, seen seven nurses, three x-ray technicians, four paramedics (one of them rather dishy - Hi, Steve), two doctors, three consultants, and a registrar. We also had one dreadful, dreadful, night on the paediartic ward of UNNAMED hospital. And the baby's mystery object was...

...I'm still watching the nappies.

Once we got home on Friday I sat contemplating the experience. The NHS might be on its knees, I thought, but the people were fantastic and I could not fault the care she received. The paperwork and bureaucracy, on the other hand, rivalled that of the Revenue.

Oh, no!

Some quick calculations confirmed that I had no hope of getting my return in on time (okay, so who's idea was it to have the deadline on a Sunday? I just bet they'll get in on Monday morning, pick up everything that arrived during the weekend (on time), and then divert Monday's post into the 'TO BE FINED' tray).

Okay, okay.
Realising how much more Dairy Milk I could buy with my £100-fine money, I decided to do it online.

So, I logged on. Agreed to the Terms and Conditions (having read them carefully, of course). Registered. And received an email that said:

Thank you for enrolling for the Self Assessment Online service through the Government Gateway. Within 7 days we will send you an Activation PIN through the post.

This was some hours ago, but I remain truly speechless...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Scrivener for Mac OSX

Scrivener is a writer's software package developed by Keith Blount of Literature & Latte. In Scrivener, Keith has collected everything a writer wants in one tidy package. Here are a couple of screen shots:


I can't begin to list everything Scrivener can do, but here are some of the main features:
  • The Binder: easy access to multiple documents within one window.
  • The Inspector: for handy note/keyword/link storage for each document.
  • The Corkboard: a facility to view multiple synopses.
  • Outliner: which gives information about multiple documents.
  • Edit Scrivenings: where multiple text files can be strung together.
  • Full screen mode: where only the text shows - no distractions.

    There are many, many other great, and useful, features.

    The best way to find out about Scrivener is to visit the Literature & Latte website and download the latest version (free for a 30-day trial). It is only by using it, that you can appreciate the full extent of Keith's brilliance.

    In my opinion Scrivener is, by far, the best value-for-money writers' software.

    Aside from the software itself, Scrivener's greatest asset is its free-to-use Forum, where a host of friendly and knowledgeable people (including Keith) are on hand seemingly twenty-four-hours-a-day to answer users' questions. As well as technical support, there are also areas for general discussion, philosophising, and so on.

    My first word processor was Word Wise Plus, which (for anyone under the age of thirty five) worked in much the same way as html code does today (but not that good). Even so, it was a vast improvement on the typewriter, and I thought it was great.

    The jump from MS Word to Scrivener has been even better.
  • Monday, September 24, 2007

    Is this where it starts, then?

    Well, not quite.

    It actually started about eighteen months ago when my friend, let's call her "Jane", suddenly admitted that she was writing a novel. It was then that I remembered that I too was writing a novel, although I hadn't looked at it for a long time. (So long, in fact, that I had to retype it all - the BBC Micro no longer being my computer of choice.)

    So, unless I'm prepared to go right back to the very start (which I'm not, because my memory absconded when my first child was born), it started in March 2006 with 20K words of a novel that I hadn't looked at for over ten years.

    Jane, in fact, turned out to be writing a trilogy, of which she had completed only the first 250,000 words (a fantasy trilogy, you understand). She instantly put my meagre jottings to shame, and I determined to prove that I was worthy to sit at her kitchen table, drinking tea, and talking about Writing.

    Nine months later (I don't seem to be able to gestate anything in less than nine months), the first draft was ready for editing. I spent a further three months loving it, hating it, and ignoring it in turns, before finally submitting it. It was dreadful, of course, and my wall is now papered with rejection letters, but it got me off the sofa, and into the study.

    And so, as the novel disappeared into the clutches of the Royal Mail, I settled down to wait for my Marvellous Manuscript to be considered by the Great and the Good. I kept myself busy by producing another child, and seeing if I could keep its siblings from feeding it too many raisins. Jane, seeing that I had nothing better to do, suggested that I write some short stories in my copious spare time.

    It was a terrible idea, and one for which I will never forgive her. Having just spent nearly a year in front of the computer, I was looking forward to spending some time refocussing my eyes. I also felt the need to ask the man who lives in my house what his name is (I knew it once). But, sadly, I still haven't had the chance.

    Six months on, my Marvellous Manuscript is now scrap for Jane's kids to scribble on, the first three chapters of the second novel lie lonely somewhere deep in the harddrive, and my husband has started to cook his own meals.

    I now sit, awaiting the acceptance or rejection of my first batch of shorties. I sent a dozen out to various women's magazines at the end of August, and now jump every time the phone rings. Usually, it's just Jane to ask if I've got any spare chocolate (she should know better); but I do, at least, now have a certain sense of anticipation with which to greet each day. The arrival last week of an acknowledgement card from The People's Friend caused much excitement. 'They've opened the envelope!'

    It remains to be seen what they did with the contents.