Monday, January 28, 2008

We Apologise for the Interruption to this Service

No blogging today.
Proper poorly.
Back tomorrow with another fascinating post.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Ice Prince

It's a good title, isn't it? But, sadly, not mine. It is, instead, the name of a cargo vessel that sank off Portland Bill a week ago. I knew nothing about it until we trouped down to Worthing prom this afternoon, for the small boy to ride his bike, and found 5,000-tonnes of timber lying on the beach.

The sun was shining and, in true British fashion, half the population of Sussex had turned out, accompanied by several ice-cream vans. This 31-second offering shows the wash-up still in action.

According to himself, who has lived in the area since...[insert date from long ago], Worthing was always the channel's dumping ground. It used to be seaweed, he said, torn up during summer storms, and washed up four-feet thick on the beaches just in time for the holiday season. It would then rot, attracting swarms of flies and giving off a smell that he can only describe as "pungent", thus rendering the beach "completely unapproachable". See this article on the Worthing Herald's website, from where I, er, borrowed this picture.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Stella: the Agent of Anti-naff

The last time I made a change to my hairstyle was in 1987, when I grew my fringe out. This was following my Goth-phase when I had the sides of my head shaved, and at the start of my hippy phase, when I looked like a 1960's flower girl complete with floral tunic and large spliff.

Since then life has moved on, but my hair never did. It remained long, unlayered, uncoloured, unstyled, occasionally unwashed and unbrushed, and (because I can't stand it in my face) tied back.

It was time for a change.

Some weeks ago, I was recommended to a new hairdresser, the wonderful Stella. We had quite a long chat about which style would suit my face, my age, and my unwillingness to do more than wash it occasionally. Stella knew exactly what would be best, but I reckoned anything would look pretty naff. She was honest enough to say that I couldn't really look any more naff than I already did....

So, yesterday, despite nearly bottling out on several occasions, I let her loose with a pair of sharp sissors. As a result, I am now sporting a smart bob (which I really like!) and an overwhelming sense of gratitude!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Another Wonderful (but rather tricky) Meme!

Tagged by Liz and JJ. Thank you!

The small print: Link to the person that tagged you. Post the rules on your blog. Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs. Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on his/her website.

1. I used to be a perfectionist, but having children cured me (it was a painful transition!). I am still quite obsessive about many things, but have finally realised that life is much more fun when you're chilled.

2. Between the ages of sixteen and thirty-one, I moved home twelve times. At one time I lived in a camper van in a pub carpark.

3. I have only ever had one proper job (for thirteen months after leaving school). I stormed out, having been told once too many times that I had a bad attitude (and, boy, did I have a bad attitude). Since then I have worked as: a gardener, an assembler of things electrical, a groom, a car mechanic, an odd job, a CNC operator, a (vanity) publisher, a web designer, a bar maid, a page setter, and a basketmaker. I hope, yet, to be a writer...

4. I married my university tutor.

5. I was born at home, three weeks early, and weighed only five-and-a-half pounds. I didn't breathe for two minutes, and owe my life to Dr Schultz. My father still sleeps in the room in which I was born.

6. I am very clumsy. I was on first name terms with staff at my local A&E/physio depts by the age of 13.

Now I tag...let's see...Sally, Karen, Helenmh, Lane, Maddie, and Womagwriter.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I Whole Day to do Writing

Jane has been bullying me, for some time, to go on a Della Galton course.
'I can't,' I said. 'It's all day. What'll I do with the kids?'
'I'll have them,' she said.
'But it's in Dorset,' I said. 'That's miles away.'
'This side of Dorset,' she said. "Hour-and-a-half max.'
'It'll be really expensive,' I said.
She made me look it up. 'Thirty-five quid,' she said.
And I said, 'Oh.'

So, on Monday, I wrote to ask if there were any spaces. I received no reply, but not wanting to hassle the great lady, I waited patiently. That was until (the lovely) Helen (to whom I am now twice indebted) forwarded me a warning from dear Della of the last few places available. I scrabbled another message off asap, and learned from the (almost instant) reply that my original email had never arrived. Eeeeek!
But it's okay, cos I'm now...Pencilled In! Yippee!

It turned out to be a really awkward day for Jane to have the kids, so, I called in some non-existent favours from some wonderful friends, and now have the following three-way schedule to staple to himself's forehead: [actually, I'll spare you the schedule; it's complicated...]

(Still loving the novel)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I've Never Been 40,123rd Before

I tried and tried and tried, but I couldn't beat Cally's 79wpm, or Lily's whopping 109wpm (I think she must have fifteen fingers, or something).

I tend to slouch in my chair, back straight, legs out-stretched, shoulders horribly curved. Sitting thus, I reached 61wpm. Right, I thought. I sat up, pushed my sleeves up, straightened my back (to the vertical rather than 45°) and poised myself like a concert pianist about to start Schubert's third. The result? 59.

I went back to slouching, and reached:

With no passes!
PS @ 2.15pm: Make that 76wpm!!! [slaps hand] Now get some writing done, or I'll send you to do the ironing.

This puts me in position 40,123, and made me wonder how fast no.1 can type. I found lots of videos of geeks typing really fast, but they were really boring. So, see this instead (33secs).

I Blame it on the Dentist

Still slightly shaky from a dentist-induced-horror-filled day on Thursday, I really mucked up yesterday.

Not being able to face another rainy day stuck in with the kids on my own, I decided to go and see my Dad. The traffic on the motorway was terrible - torrential rain/idiot driving - and after struggling through it for two hours I realised that we were missing the small boy's best friend's birthday party... Mercifully, the small boy howled for only a short time.

On reaching the supermarket near my Dad's, from where I had promised to buy lunch, I found that I had not only forgotten my coat (it was still chucking it down), but the purse that is in its pocket. I had also forgotten the baby's sleeping bag and her booster seat (i.e. essential equipment).

During the course of my visit, I showed my Dad chapter 1 of novel no.2. I am really proud of it and explained that, as I thought it much better written than previous stuff, I was hoping for an honest opinion. He read it, made a few useful comments about content, and declared that it "reads well, as ever".

My own criticism of others' work is only honest if I think it any good. If it's dire, I say something bland and vaguely positive, like 'reads well'. All the way back I struggled with the start of what has become my first serious loss of confidence. I was quite unhappy by the time I got home, whereupon I found a double rejection from Woman's Weekly on my desk...

I know I'll be all right in a few days, but I'm not enjoying this bit very much!

POST SCRIPT (8.20pm): My run of misery finally came to an end this evening when, having tripped over (something sharp) in the garden - while trying to retrieve the small boy's favourite toy from the trampoline (grrrr) - I lay in the (wet) grass until my shins had stopped stinging enough for me to get up. Back inside I kept hearing an ominous buzzing in my hair, and himself was able to extract a grumpy wasp (yes, a wasp) before it stung me. So it's not all bad.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Notebook Heaven

The Moleskine, the traditional notebook for the likes of Van Gogh, Hemmingway, Picasso and Chatwin, is actually bound in oilcloth and cardboard. I say traditional (and the Moleskine website calls them ledgendary), but the name Moleskine was not coined until 1986, and not registered until 1996.

The 'original Moleskine' (the notebook so favoured by the intelligensia) was made by a French bookbinding business that supplied a fashionable Paris stationary shop; but production ceased in the mid 1980s. The modern Moleskine, now printed in China and sewn in Italy, did not come into being until 1998. Since 2006 the brand has been back in French ownership.

Moleskines feature a handly elastic strap (for keeping your space pen in place), and a spine that allows the book to be laid flat. Many different sizes and colours are available, although 'traditionally' Moleskines were black.

According to their blurb, "red is the new black", so, clearly, some clever marketing men are in charge of things now.

For more information see the Moleskine website

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bedside Writing

I might not have a Moleskine by the bed, but I do have a Fisher space pen (my 2006 birthday present), and can recommend one such to all insomniac writers. The space pen, so called because it works in zero gravity, will write underwater, over grease, in any temperature between -20°C and +200°C, and, most usefully for the rest of us, it works upside down.

It was developed by Paul Fisher in the early 1960s in response to NASA's need for a pen that would work in space. The urban myth - stating that the Americans spent $1m designing a pen, whereas the Russians used pencils - is (sadly) not true. The Americans had found that broken pencil-leads tended to float into people's eyes, ears, noses and also into electrical circuits. They were also highly flammable in the pure-oxygen environment of a space capsule.

The space pen's ballpoint is made from tungsten carbide. The ink is hermetically sealed in a pressurised reservoir, and is forced out by compressed nitrogen at a pressure of nearly 35psi. I find that all this technology makes it invaluable for writing on the back of my hand at 3am.

See Fisher's website for more information, where, incidentally, they advertise the Moleskine as the perfect space-pen companion.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Lovely Long Procrastination Meme

Thanks, Cal, for this tag! I've had a terrible day, and this has really cheered me up (and saved you lot from the most depressing alternative post). Here we go...

What's the last thing you wrote?
Not including blogging, chapter 1 of novel 2.

Was it any good?
In first-draft mode? Probably not.

What's the first thing you ever wrote that you still have?
A short story about me looking after my Grandma's sweetshop, and a nasty customer whom I got the better of. I was about eight.

Write poetry?
Only when I'm depressed.

Angsty poetry?
Oh, yes (see above).

Favourite genre of writing?
I don't know yet; I haven't tried many styles. I guess I like best what I'm working on at any one time. Currently women's fiction.

Most fun character you ever created?
He is yet to come - a character from novel 2. I giggle just to think about him.

Most annoying character you ever created?
My baddie from novel 2 is pretty irritating, but I wrote a short story featuring a woman so snobbish that I just wanted to slap her.

Best plot you ever created?
I'm sorry, but if I told you this, I would have to kill you.

Coolest plot twist you ever created?
See above.

How often do you get writer's block?
Every couple months, and it usually lasts a couple of weeks. I hate it.

Write fan fiction?
Er...What's fan fiction?

Do you type or write by hand?
Type, except middle-of-the-night notes written on tissues/margins of magazines/the back of my hand.

Do you save everything you write?
Yes. I am an obsessive hoarder, and my writing is no exception. I get attached to it, especially the duff stuff that no one else likes. I feel sorry for it, you see...

Do you ever go back to an old idea long after you abandoned it?
I've never actually ever abandoned anything (see above).

What's your favourite thing that you've written?
My first serious short story, about a young English woman, and her infatuation with a French actor. I still laugh when I read it. I've never written anything as funny or as poignant since.

What's everyone else's favourite story that you've written?
I don't know for sure, but a funny Christmas story I wrote this year got good feedback.

Do you ever show people your work?
My pal, Jane, my Dad, and himself see everything I write. No one else!

Did you ever write a novel?
Yup. I started it in 1986, and had another go in 1996. In 2006 I completely rewrote it. None of the original 20,000 words now exists; but like the woodman's axe, I tend to think of it as the same story.

Ever written romance or teen angsty drama?
Well, I guess novel 1 started out that way, (because I was an angsty teen at the time), but it has morphed into something else. Chick noir, I think it's called.

What's your favourite setting for your characters?
Islay, and island in the inner Hebrides. A beautiful place.

[If you're still with me, hi!]

How many writing projects are you working on right now?
I working on revising novel 1 (for the nth time), and have made a serious start on novel 2.

Do you want to write for a living?
Make a living out of something I can't help but do anyway? Ermmm....[thinks], I guess so.

Have you ever won an award for your writing?

Ever written something in script or play format?
No, but I'm very keen to have a go at this. My first short story (mentioned above) would make a perfect Afternoon Play (and a big "Hello!" to any BBC talent scouts who are visiting today).

What are your five favourite words?
Um, if you take my word frequency count then: the, a, to, and, I.

Do you ever write based on yourself?
I'm sure all my characters have a bit of me in them (the nice ones anyway).

What character have you created that most resembles yourself?
The heroine of novel one started out (in the 1986 version) as me. She no longer resembles me at all, sadly (she's rich and famous, and I'm not).

Where do you get ideas for your other characters?
From other people, of course. I have made up a few characters completely, but most of them are based on people I know or have encountered.

Do you ever write based on your dreams?
Yes, I wrote a great poem (i.e. not a depressive one) last year that was based on a dream.

Do you favour happy endings, sad endings, or cliff-hangers?
I like happy endings best, but I try to write the end that best fits the story. There's nothing jags more than an inappropriate ending.

Have you ever written based on an artwork you've seen?

Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?
Yes. I'm an obsessive dotter of 'i's and crosser of 't's, even as I go along. I detest bad grammar, spelling and punctuation (especially when it's my own). Lynne Truss is worshipped in this house.

Ever write something entirely in chatspeak? (How r u?)
No, but I have written a short story that features it. That was quite fun to work on.

Entirely in L337?
/\/07 ¥37 (ha ha ha!)

Was that question completely appalling and un-writer like?

Does music help you write?
It's essential. I can't write without music, preferably in headphones.

Quote something you've written. The first thing to pop into your mind.
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,
upon the place beneath.

(Well, it was the first thing to pop in to my mind, although I confess I didn't write it)

I tag JJ, Karen, Maddie, Jen, and Sarah *G*.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Star of the Show

Himself has just returned from a week's morris dancing (read: beer drinking) in the States. I had the chance to go with him, but couldn't face it.

I hate flying. I hate the thought of flying for seven hours with three small children. I hate the thought of flying for seven hours with three small children and a husband who hates flying for seven hours with three small children (and a terrified wife).

I didn't go.

We had a pleasant, self-indulgent week, with no grumping; but it's nice to have him back, hangover and all (jetlag, my eye).

The baby amused everyone at Heathrow this morning by crawling a good way into the open space from under the barrier. She stopped, sucked her thumb, inspected her audience (all those waiting for arrivals), deemed that all was well, shrieked "Yah," and crawled back again. It made me laugh to see everyone grinning/waving at her, even the hard men!

Made my day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

And Today's Lesson is: Applied Mathematics

----"How fast do you think they were going?" the policeman asked.
----"Haven't a clue," Michael said. "The author hasn't worked it out yet."

During the climax of novel 2, the goodie and the baddie race along a road. One of them overcooks it on a corner, and they both crash. I kept putting this scene aside because I want it to be realistic, but I couldn't work out the mechanics of the accident. How fast are they going? Which car loses it first? Does he spin or slide or roll? Which way does the car go after that?

I contacted the [get this] Road Policing Department Force Collision Investigation & Reconstruction Unit (someone just said "crash team" when he picked up the phone) and spoke to a really helpful chap!

It was a bit like going back school. He had an equation to work out the speed, but I had to decide how sharp the corner was. Well, I have a particular corner in mind, so with
the help of such modern technological marvels as Google Earth and photoshop, I found the value of r.
I already had values for µ and g, so I plugged all the numbers into the equation, and the answer was....

----Michael scratched the back of his neck. "About eighty, I should say."

So, I guess I could have just made that up...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Bouncing Boy

Still feeling poorly, but was greatly cheered up by listening to the small boy (on the telephone) telling his father all about his trampolining class today. He was describing certain moves he has learned, and it was funny listening to his interpretation of his teacher's instructions:

'Reach up to the sky' became 'fly up to the sky'; 'push down hard' became 'whoosh down hard' [it's a bit echoey in there], and; 'kill the bed' [and expression meaning to stop suddenly] became 'and we had to kill the trampoline, but, Dad, I didn't know how to do that, so I just stopped bouncing.'

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rob the Balloon Guy

I didn't go blogging until quite late last night, and I was really tired (I have a horrible nasty cold and a cough that has kept me awake for the last two nights). This morning I found that most of my comments have not appeared. I conclude one (or more) of the following:
1. I left them on the wrong posts
2. I left them on the wrong blogs
3. I left them on the right posts/blogs, but rambled so much that the blog owners have deleted them.
4. I didn't leave them at all.

Oh, dear. Sorry folks.

The kids are now trashing the house (loudly), and I'm gazing wistfully at an unopened box of Christmas chocolates that I found under the sofa...

Meanwhile: this has gone some way to cheering me up.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Novel Race - They Let Me In!

As if posting my targets for 2008 wasn't enough of a commitment, I'm in the Novel Race [gulp].

I have committed to complete the first draft of Bully's Boy (which is novel no.2, and the sequel to no.1).

If I have time [ha ha ha] I will get serious about All For Fabien (novel no.3), and just in case I finish that one, I have up my sleeve ... [peers up sleeve] ... Going with the Flow (novel no.4)!

Now you might think that this is a bit optimistic, but I can type at nearly 65wpm, and get an hour-and-a-half every evening in which to write (assuming himself doesn't want supper, I've done all the washing, the children have put away their toys, etc.). So, allowing for a couple of evenings off a week, I should get three novels written in about, oh, ten weeks. Easy!

Anyone spotted the deliberate mistake yet?

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Relaxing Lie-in

I was still in bed at 8.30 this morning, when Jane came to collect the small boy for school.
"But it's inset day," I wailed from an upstairs window.
"No, Leigh. We've had this conversation before... [we have?] ...and it isn't inset day."


With only a small amount of oiwwing, the small boy was prepared to leave the great CBeebies-website portal (my computer) and get dressed. Meanwhile I made his lunch, found his PE kit (anyone who has seen my downstairs cupboard will be particularly impressed by this), and yelled "We're off," up the stairs.

Recently, himself has excelled in being a Good Husband, and I felt only slight guilt as I shut the door on the urgent cry of a newly-potty-training toddler: "Wee-wee coming. Wee-wee coming."

Miraculously, we made it to school, just as the bell went.
The small girl made it to the potty (and then carried the thing, sloshing, upstairs to show Daddy).
And I realised that panics are so much more relaxing when you don't know about them in advance.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Cracking on

Since complaining last night about how little progress I'd made, I've been stonking along. Ten thousand words edited today, and I'm really happy with this novel now.

I've just reached the chapter where one of my characters visits this viewpoint. I love both the view, and the description of it (which is grossly over-indulgent). The trouble is that this photo doesn't do it justice; the strait is straight, if you see what I mean, and, as a 180° panorama, this picture should really be viewed on a curved screen. So, if you wouldn't mind sticking your nose in the middle of it, and bending your screen around your head...there, that's better. That's what it looks like! Dramatic, eh?

Friday, January 04, 2008


I've been working really hard the last few evenings, doing real money-paying work [resists temptation to spit], and I've been going to bed with a buzzing brain, and thus, insomnia. As a consequence, I have had some hours to rehash plots, characters, titles, names and so on.

Last night, about half past midnight, number-three-novel title came to me. This was a Eureka! moment, and I sat up in bed like a shot. Of course, a proper writer would have a Moleskine and pencil beside the bed. Me? I found a dried-up felt-tip and a copy of Women's Weekly's Christmas Special; but it sufficed, and I wrote down my new title.

Now why is it, when the baby's still wailing at 2am (after three drinks of water, a cuddle, milk, Nurofen, Medised...), or when a child has been sick in its bed, or when you go into labour, men just mutter "this is not a good time" and go back to sleep? And then, when there's absolutely nothing wrong and you just need to write something down (knowing perfectly well that he won't wake up, because the chimney hasn't fallen in) he wakes up!

The funny thing was, he was really concerned. Was I alright?
"Yes, sorry, just, ahem, thought title".
"Oh," he said. "That's good. Have you written it down?"

I shan't grumble about him leaving the milk out for, what shall we say, three days?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Macworld Award for Scrivener

I've just caught up with the fact that Scrivener (the marvellous writing software for Mac OSX) is one of eighteen applications selected for Macworld's Annual Editors' Choice. It sits beside Adobe Premiere Pro, iWorks '08, Reunion 9, and (get this) MacOS 10.5!

This is a just reward for Keith Blount, a budding novelist, who created (and still develops) Scrivener
in his spare time. Now on version 1.1, Scrivener
rightly deserves this award. (My review is here.)