Monday, November 23, 2009

The Truth About Rudolph et al

Am persuaded to save my last post for a shorty, so here's an early festive joke instead:

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter, usually late November to mid-December. Female reindeer retain their antlers until after they have given birth in the spring.

Therefore, if we are to go by every available depiction of Santa's entourage, every one of them - from Rudolph to Blitzen - is a girl.

We should have known. Only women, while pregnant, would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night and not get lost.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Another Hit!

It took until I actually read the letter to realise I'd sold another story. I didn't notice that the envelope had been addressed to my writing name, that the postmark was Dundee (home of D. C. Thomson), and that it contained one of my easily identifiable SAEs (neatly folded and returned, bless 'em).

So, as proof that my first sale was not a fluke, The People's Friend have asked to buy one too. Am terribly chuffed. They gave me great feedback with some early rejections, but I had failed to make any further progress, and had given up subbing to them. This was the first thing I'd sent them in over eighteen months.

I don't have a publication date, but you can be sure I'll let you know!

For information: they'd had the story since the middle of March, so if you are awaiting a reply from the Far North, have faith. Your sub is not down the back of the radiator just yet.

Thank you to everyone who has signed the Chambers petition (more links in the post below). If you've haven't yet indulged me by signing, please consider doing so. You'll be in good company; Ian Rankin (possibly even the real one) did today.

Just to complete my day, I have been retweeted by @TheXFactor (who have a following of nearly 42,000); but I shan't mention such popularist nonsense on this blog. You're all much too highbrow for that, aren't you?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Save Chambers!

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have occasionally mentioned Chambers Dictionary, well, just once or twice...

Its parent company, Hachette (there's an apt name if I ever heard one) decided last month that it would be a good idea to close the Edinburgh office, out of which Chambers has worked for 190 years - for no doubt sound financial reasons, but no sound human reasons - and split ChambersHarrup between the faceless leviathans of Hodder and Larousse.

A petition has been started in the hope of saving the Edinburgh office - with its twenty-seven real people doing real jobs - and prevent Chambers being subsumed. PLEASE SIGN UP!

Save Chambers Petition (you don't have to donate to iPetition)
Buy Chambers Dictionary! (Nothing compares with a real one!!)
@ChambersOnline (on Twitter)
Chambers Online Dictionary (The online version)
Clishmaclaver (ChambersOnline's Brilliant Blog)

The background story can be read on the Publishing Scotland website, and in The Scotsman.

Footnote, 16/11/09: the Chambers office is now due to close by New Year, with half the staff having left by the end of November. I am at a loss to describe how angry this makes me feel, and how sad I am. Bean-counters - I wonder how you sleep.

Friday, October 16, 2009

On Fogginess, Precipices & Isolation

The summit of Braeriach, as only the truly bonkers will ever see it:

The drop over the edge is 1,000', or more, depending on whether you bounce left or right as you go!

Having descended out of the cloud, Strath Spey shows in all its majesty. Only four hours to go...

And my favourite photo from August (a patched-together screen-bending panorama). This is Loch Avon:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Big Hill and a Healthy Soul

Have been in Scotland for five days, walking and climbing. Feeling stronger and stronger every day. Well, not today, but that's because I climbed a particularly big hill yesterday. Big enough for me to exclaim on the way up, at least twice, what the hell am I doing here? and whose idea was this again? Er... mine; but a good idea nonetheless.

The big hill was Braeriach, at 4,252' the third highest in Scotland. It is also one of the more isolated peaks in the Cairngorms, requiring a two-hour walk to reach the lower slopes. The photo is not mine - it was foggy and snowy yesterday, so much so that I turned back just 200 yards from the summit. You can see why...

Tomorrow I start for home, 600 miles and another world away. I won't get to come here again until next year, and I am already missing the battering wind, and crunch crunch crunch of my feet on some remote mountain path.

But my body is completely better, and I think my soul is now better too.

What's good for your soul?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Small Confession

Hello folks!
Sorry for the appallingly long absence. Been continuing to struggle with poor health, but in the last few weeks, I think I might, actually, finally, be better. It's been eight months...

Anyway, my small confession is that I sold a story. About a month ago, whilst on holiday in Scotland (how perfect is that) I received an email from the adorable Jill Finlay at The Weekly News, asking to buy a 1000-word twist-in-the-tale. Well, having been writing shorties for two and a half years, and having sold precisely... nothing... up to that point, you can imagine how carefully I had to consider my answer.


So, to all you struggling newbies, let me also confess that I have subbed over fifty stories to get that hit. So keep going. I won't give you the J. A. Konrath quote again, but how about this one by Tim Clare, via Sally Zigmond and Womagwriter: "Getting published is about practising until you're really good, then persevering until you're really lucky."

Am writing this now, having just received payment for my story. Real money, in my back account! I'm not going to spend it yet - I'm about to go back to Scotland for a week and could do with an emergency float - but as soon as I've got some spare (next month... always next month...) I'm going to put it towards a red iPod nano. If you buy directly from Apple, they'll engrave it for free, so I'm going to have them put: "This is what I bought with my first short-story payment." I know it won't last for ever, and I can hear my (late) mother chastising me bitterly about this fact, but hell, it'll give me loads of pleasure while I have it, and perhaps I'll have earned some more shorty cash by the time it stops working. Yey!

What will you/did you spend your first-writing earnings on?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I've been meaning to move those bookshelves for months, but my sticking point was moving all the books first. Ten shelves, double stacked... you can see my problem. I don't think the small girl set out to help, but she emptied the first shelf most effectively, and somewhat more quickly than I would have done.

Perhaps I should have explained the myriad of reasons why I hadn't wanted her to do what she was doing, but it wouldn't necessarily have stopped her having another go when my back was turned. I should have known, though, especially as she's such a chip off the old block, and I was an incurable shelf-climber too. Needless to say, a double-stacked shelfful of books on her head gave her pause for thought - at least while she drew breath for the wail.

Anyway, she got me started on the book-removal process, and my bookshelves are now happily reinstalled on the opposite side of the room. Now, having painted two walls already, I can paint a third.

This is part of an exciting development in the Room of my Own saga: having undergone a domestic rearrangement towards the end of last year, I suddenly found that I didn't have to convert the loft to find my own space after all. It might have taken me a while to start getting organised (been proper poorly, long term, as has my dad)*, but things are obviously on the up: not only have I moved the books today, but I am blogging again too, see?

*Thank you to those who have kept in touch by other means. Your messages have been much appreciated. I can assure you that I am now, finally, on the road to recovery (as is my dad).

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Nothing More than Shameless Advertising...

...of some of my blogmates' books:

Heaven Can Wait
by Cally Taylor

Hens Reunited
Lucy Diamond

How to Write &
Sell Short Stories

Della Galton

Monday, May 18, 2009


Last month I posted about Chambers Online dictionary (here), and have been following their blog, Clishmaclaver, ever since. If you've not been over to see them yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. Recent posts have such inviting titles as: A Hairy Situation, Not Everything from Mexico is Bad, Textual Intercourse (you'll have to read it!), and The Emergence of Gambit, as well as the one I mentioned previously, Filth.

Those of you with a love of words - and I suspect many readers of this blog have a fairly intimate relationship with words - will find Clishmaclaver a great place to lose a few hours broaden your education. They also Tweet @ChambersOnline.

And if you don't know what Clishmaclaver means, I invite you to look it up in the dictionary!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Comfort Blankets

Having declared not so long ago that I had abandoned N1 for N3, I made the mistake of using one of my protagonists from N1 for Sally Q's Character Workshop earlier this year. I stupidly went and fell in love with him, and the bloody book, all over again. The trouble is (excuse coming up here...) we've been together a lot of years now, this book and I, and it's like a mad bad old friend without whom I can't quite bear to live, despite its appalling treatment of me (or should that be the other way around?).

Okay, I admit it, N1 is my comfort blanket. I feel particularly safe fiddling with chapter fourteen; I like that bit best.

Oh, Leigh! I hear you cry in exasperation. You'll never get a damn thing done like this.

I know. I know.

Sooo, I have to tell you that, having been re-inspired by many happenings this year, I am killing all my darlings (including a few characters), cutting out a terrifying amount of crap, and oh-so improving the rest. Such fun!

When you edit, do you, like me, find yourself going back over the same favourite bits over and over, or are you ruthless and determined and plough on through? (Or do you, even more like me, sit and procrastinate on Blogger/YouTube/Facebook/Twitter/iTunes, etc.?)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Appropriate Speech

When the Reconstructed Man gave me the Chambers Dictionary for Christmas, it came with a free six-month subscription to Chambers Reference Online (dictionary and thesaurus). Now, while I am more than partial to a spot of page flicking, my copy of Chambers weighs 2.5kg and I don't always have it with me, so I just love this resource.

The lovely people at Chambers, obviously being modern folk, also have their own blog, Clishmaclaver, and recently, they published this post.

In it, Ian Brookes discusses the place of profanities in the dictionary and in everyday language, and the very narrow line between causing offence or not. He also touches on swearing by fictional characters, and how in some cases "...the swearing is integral to the situation and appropriate to the characters..."

Now, this is related to a problem I'd been having with my baddie. Whenever I read through his dialogue I felt it just wasn't convincing; he sounded too educated, too middle class. Now, many people don't like swearing, and I know so much of the advice on the subject warns writers away from it, but once I started introducing a few obscenities into his speech, he came across as much more plausible. I mean, a man of his calibre just wouldn't say, "Well, I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree on that, old chap." He'd say, "Fuck you."

Do your characters swear? Does it bother you?

ADDENDUM: And there was me thinking, 'I'm sure I'll get away with using a screen-shot of the Chambers site for my post illustration; no one from there is ever gonna visit my blog." Only took them a few hours... thanks for the tweet guys! You can follow their twittering @ChambersOnline!

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Gentle Return

There hasn't been much to blog about really. I've been poorly since January, and you didn't want to know all about that, did you? That's not to say that I haven't been doing anything, I just haven't had the energy to bore you all with it afterwards. Now I'm finally starting to get some strength back, I'll tell you what I've been up to writing-wise:

I've written quite a lot: been keeping up with my Story a Fortnight, and working on the novel(s) too.
I've subbed quite a lot: this is good. I subbed virtually nothing last year (though I wrote loads).
I've done a Della course: can't recommend them highly enough.
I've been to a couple of book launches: any excuse to buy books and drink wine, eh?
I've made use of my camera: as part of some Tom-Foolery-inspired photographic walks.
I've chilled with blogmates: a girly weekend with Helen (in which Spiral Jen played a rather drunken part), and a day with DJ, Troy and Mrs Troy, and various associated children.

I have also, by virtue of some domestic rearrangements, discovered a Room of My Own without my having to convert the loft. More of this later.

My list of Things to Do this year include: London Book Fair, Flash Fiction evenings, Novel Racers' Meet, SaF Meet, another Della Course, and Isle of Wight trip with DJ +N3S, Calistro's book launch (hint hint, Calistro), and no doubt much more.

Do you have any writing/blogging-related events planned for this year?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What to do with all this time?

I am in hiding at a secret location somewhere in England. My Dad used to come here when I was a child, and thus it is a magical place - from where he would send postcards - and not one that really exists at all. It certainly doesn't exist in the real world, but I am not in the real world just now. I am in me-time world.

Probably for the first time ever, and certainly for the first time since the children were born, I am on my own. For three days. In short, I have been let out.

Being totally used to feeling-that-I-should-be-doing-something-else, I am struggling to relax. There is no washing/cleaning to do (someone else is doing that), no meals to prepare (someone else is doing that), no mess to tidy up (there isn't any). I am at liberty, and am not sure what to do.

I had planned to do writing (of course), and so am blogging. Ever the arch procrastinator.

So what do you do with free time on your own? Not the five-minutes-for-a-cup-of-tea sort of free time, I mean the really free time (if you're lucky enough to get any). Do you go for walks, read, sleep, watch TV, drive around feeling aimless, or what? (Keep it clean please, Troy.) I have another forty-eight hours to fill, and would appreciate your ideas.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Improving Slowly

Oh, it's been a slow week. Not because my little darlings are on half term (I love having them at home), but because I am still recovering from flu. It's been weeks now. And weak is the word. I've been trying to rake up all last autumn's leaves in the garden (not to mention the hedge cuttings) and I've been such a wimpy wet about the whole thing: you know, put-a-few-handfuls-on-the-bonfire-and-go-in-for-a-cup-of-tea, that sort of thing.

Anyway, have been writing - new novel and shorties. Have also been subbing more (this is particularly good), and now have nine shorties awaiting rejection. All this courtesy of the Reconstructed Man who gave me two mornings off this week. Very nice.

So you see, things have been getting better. And then, this morning dear readers, I logged on to DJ's blog to find I have been presented with a very grand award: Overall Winner. I'm not quite sure what this means, as others have been awarded first second third and so on, but I am very pleased with it. Here it is, for me to show off.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A New Start

Now I know you only come by to read my sparkling wit and wisdom, and that no one's interested in the progress of my writing, but did anyone see what I did in the sidebar there? Notice anything different about the word meters? Did you? Mmm?

Well, those of you who eagerly tune in to watch the colour faltering along pixel by pixel, will have noticed that since last May I have written only shorties – I have even subbed some, and am in great danger of impersonating real writers here – but shorties have only ever been part of what I want to do. I want to write novels too.

So, exactly how many words have I written since joining the Novel Race last year?

Next question please.

Lisa's parting words have shocked me into realising what I fraud I am: I'm not a writer who writes; I am a writer who procrastinates. Yet I still have the very chance that she has lost: To Finish The Bloody Book.

In truth, I have finished the book, but it's crap and I can't face the interminable rewriting that it needs to knock it into shape. Thus, I am shelving it, and starting again. God. Did I just say that?

Must have done. Because last night, I finally settled down to start novel 3, originally planned over two years ago. And now, if you take a little gander at that sidebar, you'll see 3,000 words already written.

Carpe Diem, and all that.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

For Lisa

And this is how I will think of her, just a little bit ahead of the rest of us on the journey. Out of sight for the time being, but able to see whatever is just over the horizon.

You can make a donation to Cancer Research UK here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

I Made DJ Kirkby Laugh

Apart from the occasion of my previous post, I am not having a good week (not least because I've realised that my latest story-a-fortnight candidate just doesn't hack it). Only three evenings until the deadline, which might seem like loads of time, but Helen's coming to stay... and it is possible that alcohol will be involved...

Fortunately, DJ's weekly caption-competition once again brought a few belly-laughs into my life on Wednesday, not to mention a huge grin this morning when I discovered I was a joint winner for for the second of her two photos (DJ, where do you find them?).

So, I'm happy again.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Rare Moment of Peace*

The boy is at school, the small girl is at playgroup, and the Reconstructed Man came to take the smaller girl out for an hour...

Thus, I'm sitting, feet up on the sofa, computer on lap, cup of (hot) tea to hand, and – and I'm not quite sure why I decided on this, but – Jimi Hendrix blasting from the speakers. It is a moment of utter bliss, and I wanted to share it with you.

* With Hendrix, of course, peace is a relative term.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Ten Stages of a Forgotten Cup of Tea

You decide to have a cup of tea, but later on you find...
1. You forgot to fill the kettle.
2. You filled the kettle, but forgot to switch it on.
3. You remembered to switch it on, but it was still unplugged from the last time.
4. You managed to boil the kettle (twice), but forgot to get the cup or tea bag out.
5. You reboiled the kettle (three times), remembered the cup, and a tea bag, but didn't get as far as actually adding any water.
6. You remembered to put the water in, but forgot to take the tea bag out.
7. You remembered to take the tea bag out, but forgot to put the milk in.
8. You remembered to put the milk in, but forgot to drink the tea.
9. You drank half a cup, but forgot the rest.
10. You find half a cup of cold tea in the microwave three days later...

I mostly flounder between nos 3 and 8. What about you?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Where is Everyone Going?

In an uncontrolled fit of benevolence, I agreed to collect the Reconstructed Man from Heathrow yesterday. I say uncontrolled, because his flight was due to land at 5.25am.

The alarm was set for four ten, and we were on the road by half past. All through the Sussex weald, I saw no more than half a dozen cars, but by the time we reached the M25 (5.30ish) there were hundreds of them.

I don't do mornings (the school run is very much my limit), but when I am out early, I'm amazed at the amount of traffic. Where is everyone going? Some, I discovered, were heading for the airport like me, but what about all the others? Do people go to work that early? What work to they do, to be on their way at that time of day?

Do you ever go out at 5am, and if so, where are you going?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

FOR SALE: Loo Cistern (in two parts)

Ah ha! I have been challenged, by my Partner in Procrastination, Tom Foolery, to post the following pictures of this bog blog standard item.

And, TF, I'll have you know I went out into the cold to get this...

And appreciating that interested parties might want to see some features in close up:

From left to right: the flush mechanism, the handle (just look at the quality - they don't chrome things like that anymore),
and the broken edge - to illustrate ease of gluing (Araldite recommended).

Additional information: this cistern gave faultless service from November 1981, until October 2008, when it fractured, loudly, at 4am, gushing water all over the bathroom floor (while the valve, of course, began dutifully refilling at full pressure...).

Fortunately, I had returned from a ten-day holiday some full two days previously, and being a mother of small children, was instantly awake to the sound of Something Not Right in the Household. Thus, the bathroom carpet was saved (sadly), as was the windowsill of the room below (including its collection of dead flies, dust, and lego-models). Hurrah.

But, having flushed itself into the focus of my anti-hoarding obsession, the loo is now in want of a loving home. See TF's blog for full details ;-)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Another New Blog: Creative Crutches.

Hey Folks, found another great new blog: Creative Crutches, which offers just that. Inspired me within about twenty seconds of my arrival.

Procrastinating? Moi?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Honesty is the Best Policy

The wonderful DJ Kirkby has awarded me this gong, for which I feel truly honoured (that DJK notices my existence is an honour in itself). The requirements for receiving it are as follows:
1. List ten honest things about yourself (try to make it interesting, even if you have to dig deep!)
2. Pass the award on to ten other bloggers

Okay, here are the ten things:
1. I am a recovering obsessive, by which I mean that I now know myself to be obsessive, and try hard not to be. I also know many of my obsessions to be an unbelievable waste of time, but I still find it incredibly difficult to avoid them.
2. My house is an utter tip, despite tidiness being one of my obsessions. This causes me huge stress!
3. I dislocated my sacrum (the lower part of my back) at the age of twenty-four, and have suffered from almost constant pain since. It enrages me to see people lifting things using their backs - they have no idea what they are risking. USE YOUR KNEES. PLEEEEASE!!!
4. I cannot work without music on - it occupies that other part of my brain that would otherwise be drifting/worrying/obsessing. I listen to the same tracks over and over again and, according to iTunes, some have been played over two thousand times [gulp].
5. I envy women with loving mother-daughter relationships. I did not get on with my mother.
6. I love playing with Lego (having a six-year-old son is a real boon).
7. I have a passionate love of walking in the countryside - the more mountainous the better.
8. Despite having been writing since childhood, I was 35 before I realised that I wanted to be a Writer.
9. In real life, I earn my living as a web-designer, which panders wonderfully to my desire for perfection; there are endless opportunities for tinkering with a website.
10. When I was a child, I dreamed a lot about flying (I could take off, although not always successfully, by doing breaststroke into the air). I almost never fly these days, but I still dream very vividly - in Technicolour and with full Dolby Stereo.

And here are the ten other bloggers:
Debs, Liz, Karen, Helen, Maddie, JJ, Sally, Sprial Jen, Lane and Womag

Slightly Out of Focus: a blog

I've discovered a new blog: Slightly Out of Focus (a name that, I think, speaks to many of us). It's owned by Leah Ebdon, a creative writing student who appears to like cats and motorbikes (so she gets my vote), and is quite handy with a camera too. Go see.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2009 Goals

Here is my updated achievements-and-targets table, taken from this time last year:

Words written73,359>100,000~38,000>50,000
Shorties plotted46402026
Shorties written19261526
Flashes written3110110
Poems written3515
Novels completed11-201
Novels plotted4010
Novels started2101
Total Submissions53100450

*Yey! A target met!

Apart from that one achievement, it will appear to you that I have had an appalling year, and in some ways I have; but, in truth, I have been necessarily distracted from writing (and blogging) by life - and I am glad to have spent the time sorting out those things that needed sorting out.

Now, life is Different, and that is Good - because it was Pretty Bloody Awful before - and I plan (with somewhat humbled ambitions) to return to my writing.

I also wish to offer a huge-and-public, THANK YOU to Helenmh and JJ who, despite having their own lives to lead, have been such good friends to me this year, both via the net and in real-hug-life. Thank you girls - I am immensely grateful for all your support. And thank you to all my other blogmates and visitors - it's been a pleasure to share the ether with you.

May 2009 bring progress in your life, writing-wise and otherwise.