Saturday, December 13, 2003

Have found an amazing site - when I was searching for pronounciations for some of the mathematical words in my monologue. Can't believe I haven't come across it before because pronounciation is one of my real difficulties. I find I take very tortuous routes through conversations sometimes just to avoid certain words I know I won't know how to say properly and so will make a complete fool of myself. Although I suppose if you say them confidently enough then everybody will just think you have a silly accent.

A conversation on a forum I belong to about the difference between male and female writing - and reading. Seem to have been here so many times before, and there's no resolution. One email talks about the need in societies for the submissive group to watch the more dominant group's behaviour closely in order to anticipate and mimic - will only be a matter of time before someone suggests this is why women are so good at writing male characters, but not necessarily the other way round.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Reading Toast by Nigel Slater - he uses food as the framework for his autobiography, chunks of time separated by different foods or ingredients. Some good memories - sherbert fountains, how difficult spaghetti used to be to cook - those long tubes of blue paper. Inevitably took me off on my own foodie trails - cheesy baked potatoes in front of the Flintstones, that horrible jelly in pork pies, how we'd never eat custard out of a matter of principle although I, for one, secretly loved it, how mum tried once to disguise it in trifle but we 'found her out', the day she gave us brains and we refused to eat them. The crushed iced surfaces in MacFisheries, blue and white tiled walls in the butchers, going round the supermarket stealing the gollywogs out of the Robinson jam wrappers - they were only tucked in, not sealed, jars and jars of sweets - coconut mushrooms, exotic american hardgums, wine gums we'd think made us drunk. We knew that we would be abducted for the white slave trade by men offering us boiled sweets, so we planned what to do - we'd pretend to accept and then steal the sweets and run away. But what if the sweets were poisoned? Once we - the group of girls I used to play with in the street at home - got ourselves into a state of complete hysteria because we saw some rope in a parked car and persuaded ourselves it was a murderer's. Strangely when we did meet up with a real life flasher, we all carried on talking to him unaware of what he was doing until a woman came up and told him not to make a fool of himself. A bit of an anti-climax all around.
Got my American page proofs - sweet little hearts by each footnote.
To the cinema last night to see Spirited Away, the Japanese cartoon, except it's not called cartoon for adults, it's an animation. Wonderful whatever.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

"Associate with all the smart, funny, talented, creative people you can, learn to write beautifully, but don't stay locked in your room to do it: go out and try new things, meet new people, have a wonderful, rich, compelling, and interesting life -- and then tell me about it in the most beautiful prose imaginable." --Jeff Kleinman

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Reading about seductresses in a book a friend lent me. It's research for my next novel - the Seduction Committee - and it's fascinating. Keep wanting to put it down and discuss every page. And it's funny. One quote - 'God never favoured the badly dressed' will definitely inspire a short story for me. The author Betsy Prioleau dedicated it to her daughter though - can't help wondering if this will be a legacy welcomed later, or will it cause intense embarrassment? In Writers [on writing], Barbara Kingsolver (who seduces me every time) writes an essay about her mother reading one of her sex scenes. A friend tells her 'Barbara, you're in your forties now, and you have two children. She knows that you know.'
I'm in the opposite position, it's me who gets embarrassed in front of my kids, but they don't bat an eyelid. I wouldn't let them take a story of mine which appeared in a book called 'Sexy shorts' ( into school although they wanted to.
Book dedications anyway are difficult. I'm still a beginner but it's a strange, almost hormonal time publishing a book and my mood swings are frightening. Have been torn between wanting to thank everyone profusely and saying 'sod all of you, this is my book. I've worked hard enough on it so I'm keeping it to myself', but I guess that wouldn't make me seem very nice. Actually, the Lexicon is dedicated to my particular friends in Edinburgh and it makes me feel warm having them all together at the front of my book, so I get the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Having just moved my desk to the window so I can see out, I'm interested to read just today that Flannery O'Connor sat for two hours every day at a typewriter facing the back of a wardrobe so she'd have absolutely nothing to look at. This is from Writers [on Writing], collected essays from The New York Times. Worth buying just for the title of Joyce Carol Oates's piece: To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet or the one I have most sympathy with In the Castle of Indolence You Can Hear the Sound of Your Own Mind by Paul West. I'm a great fan of being lazy and would hate to see us losing the art of it.
The subject of the monologue I'm writing at the moment, Alice Duer Miller, wrote for one of the New York papers on the suffrage movement. Extract from one of her columns:

Why we oppose pockets for women!
1. Because pockets are not a natural right.
2. Because the great majority of women do not want pockets. If they did they would have them.
3. Because it would destroy man’s chivalry toward women, if he did not have to carry all her things in his pocket.
4. Because men are men, and women are women. We must not fly in the face of nature.

She wasn't lazy though. She was a mathematician. Once she said about somebody - they are not exactly well bred, they are not exactly ill bred, they are the sort of person who keeps a parrot. That still makes me laugh.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Another addictive internet site - It's like playing spot the difference - alhtough some must just be camera angles. I wasn't quite at the stage of being happy playing all day with a cardboard box but we did get a lot of pleasure when I was a kid from these photographs in the newspaper which showed an everyday household object from a strange angle, and you had to guess what it was. Think I might write a story through the games/quizes/shows that make up someone's life. The Golden Shot - Bernie the Bolt! - Crackerjack - every Friday I still seem to look at my watch at five to five and feel the urge to shout it out, alhtough it pisses my kids off - Open the Box! - that conveyor belt in the Generation Game - the Daleks - Spot the Ball. Do they even do Spot the Ball now?
Reading The Christmas Carol for the first time. Have a list of books I always think I've read but haven't - The Hobbit has only just been crossed off. Mind you this list isn't as long as the one of books I've pretended I've read - Daniel Deronda, Finnegans Wake. And I keep turning anyway to the book I treated myself to yesterday as a reward for spending Saturday teaching - The Life Laundry, How to Declutter Your LIfe Forever. If only ....

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

My house is turning against me. It's crawling on the outside with builders sawing it up and knocking things into it, so it's retaliating inside. Three times bulbs have popped when I've turned the lights on, the boiler won't allow any heating to work and there's a persistent and numbing dripdripdrip from somewhere I can't identify. Will have to buy it flowers and light candles to pacify.
My publishers, Bloomsbury, have a great website, and a service which sends a word for the day to your inbox. Here's todays: OPISTHOPOREIA n. Involuntary walking backward. Apart from walking up the down escalator, it is hard (though amusing) to conceive a case of this. How would the sufferer ever get to work in the morning? And, much more
worrying from the sufferer’s point of view, how would he get home?
I also subscribe to my daily horoscope and two uplifting writer's quotes - it's OK I scoff at myself. The best free site on the internet though is where you can get your tarot cards read. I keep telling myself it can't work, but it's strangely addictive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Bought my diary for 2004 today - always feels like a significant moment. After all this is the thing I'm going to have by my side for the next twelve months - and this year it's a grown-up one. I've finally given up the Far Side and got myself into black leather with an address book and even a little pen which I know I'll lose straight away but is nice to have anyway. If I could be one thing next year, I'd like to be organised. I always used to have diaries with addresses at the back, and it was interesting to see who was transferred through to the next year and who was left behind.
Have been invited to an old - and I do mean old - school reunion. There were only eleven girls in my year and we're all meeting up in January. We last did this about five years ago after a gap of about ten years and after the initial, mandatory shriek every time someone first walked through the door, we all settled down and it was as if we saw each other every day. Actually, come to think of it, nearly all the others do meet regularly - they had to trace me through that schoolfriends website. Ho hum, so I'm already feeling like the unpopular one, not transferred from year to year.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Sometimes things happen which are too big to write about at the time. You know you will one day but in a form that has become absorbed and transformed through time and space. Maybe this is why so much on the spur of the moment emotional response stuff is truely bad - it's just a reflection of what every one thinks, and not the poet or writer giving their personal emotional truth.
On a different level - honestly - have been walking round with a smile on my face until I remember why. Alfie and Kat's declaration of love in Eastenders pn Friday was so sweet, and I fell right into it, despite being annoyed at how I was manipulated into that position.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Have longish finger nails for the first time in, well, probably forever. Real ones too, not falsies. It's amazing how much difference it makes to everything I do. I tap away at the computer keyboard and it makes a completely different - tappier - noise. Even scratching my head feels like someone else is doing it. I think that's why I always kept my nails short before - there was something creepy about having a dead part of you still growing away. Can see though that a character with long nails would behave differently from someone with short ones, but I can't remember anyone writing about this before. Hmmm... on reflection, maybe with good reason!
Working on 'setting' for a days workshop tomorrow. One of the exercises is on finding a very odd object in a familiar place - adds great tension. There was a whole book of short stories written on the theme - a wedding cake in the middle of the road. Have taken a short story - This Blessed House - from Jhumpa Lahiri's brilliant collection as an example. In it a young Indian couple move into their new house and the wife keeps finding Catholic 'paraphenalia' hidden everywhere - including a 3-d postcard of Saint Francis taped to the back of the medicine cabinet. I was in Sorrento at Easter, and there were some bizarre hologram religious posters you could buy at roadside stalls, including one of Mary which started off smiling but she gradually started crying as you moved your head.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

I'm addicted to spider solitaire. I don't even seem to need to move on to more difficult levels, just play the same game again and again. I'd like to say it's part of my creativity but it's not. It's just a waste of the time I should be spending writing. I even think about it at night and when I'm travelling - it's as if my fingers want to be clicking.

Have been reading horror stories in preparation for a class on writing them. I love one description which is that they make the skin on our souls shiver. Am surprised by how much I am enjoying them considering I was the child who refused to read Kidnapped because I got too scared by the title alone. I've still never managed to read the book. Watching the 100 most scarey film moments on TV too - it's not the gore and blood that gets me, it's the everyday actions turned on their head. Was surprised at how much telephones were used in horror action - could it be something to do with the way they allow voices to be disembodied?

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Have just agreed a contract for Russian translation rights for the Lexicon. The publishers go by the extraordinarily English name of Thornton and Sugden.
Must be a story there.
A habit in our family is to cut out stupid or even interesting newspaper clippings. Two this weekend are about being forced to move from homes - firstly, a couple who had to move from their address - Butt Hole Road - because they couldn't take the jokes anymore. What seemed to grieve them most was that pizzas weren't even being delivered because the pizza companies thought it was a prank. Second, a jail sentence for the neighbours from hell who set up an amplified laughter machine which went off every time their neighbours left their house, greeting them with noisy and lengthy laughter. Hmmm.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

'Everyone who's worth anything begins life again somewhere between thirty-five and fifty - begins it destitute in some important respect.' Alice Duer Miller.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Heard a romantic 'Thornbirds' story from an Irish friend last night. There's a grave in her local cementry of a priest from Lewes, near here. He's buried next to a widowed woman who he lived with in Ireland for many years as her 'companion'. When the woman died, she was buried nine foot deep so her daughter could be buried on top of her. Then when it came to the priest's turn to die, he requested that he be buried next to the woman, and even though he had no one to be buried on top of him, they took his coffin down to nine foot too so the couple could continue to exist happily side by side.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Book club tonight. Always makes me feel a bit inadequate because I feel the group expects me to be able to say something more intelligent about the books than them because I'm a 'writer', and I can't. Writers don't always make the best readers - sometimes I get too interested in the techniques used to take one step back and see the larger themes but I'm amazed at the quality of the discussion - and yes, we DO talk about the books! Inadequacy is even worse tonight because I've just found out I've been reading the wrong book - Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, when it should have been Love in a Cold Climate. Mind you, they're probably both so similar that I'm wondering if I can get away with it!

Been speaking to students recently about this writing/reading thing. Some of them claim that they've stopped enjoying books because they're getting held up with the style. I've certainly less patience than I used to have with books. There are several recently that I've just stopped reading, but with others - the joy. I'm not reading I'm living it. The latest of these is The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nightime. It was stunning and why it wasn't on the Booker shortlist, I can't imagine.

A bit of a strange day - have been able to write all day which is good, but I've had to spend hours on my teenage hero's wetdream. Not the most pleasant place to be.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Spent hours last night on the internet trying to research into Sarah Sophia Banks to see if she'd be an interesting subject for the monologue I'm writing to be put on in Brighton before Christmas. She was the sister of Joseph Banks, the plant collector, and lived with him and his wife. It seemed a pretty claustrophobic relationship. Apparently once when someone remarked that it was a nice day, she replied: 'I know nothing at all about it. You must speak to my brother Sir Joseph Banks, the noted naturalist upon that subject when you are at dinner.' I LOVE that, - a bit like that joke about the woman who cries out 'My son - the Doctor - is drowning' - but am not sure whether it justifies a whole monologue. When we had our meeting, we were advised to pick a character 'in extremis'. More and more this makes sense - there needs to be a reason for a character to be telling their story.

Writing with a friend this morning, we picked on the subject - things that revolt us. We tried to really write into the subject, using all the senses to really make it disgusting, but we were sharing a table with a couple of middle aged women busily enjoying their lunch so it felt too mean to read our stuff out!

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Walking through town, I saw a wooden model of a spiral staircase on sale in a furniture shop for over £1,000. It must have been about two feet high and I couldn’t see any purpose to it at all. It didn’t even look nice. Couldn’t help thinking how disturbing it would be to have this in your sitting room, and how it could fit into a short story. Maybe someone could give it to their partner and it would be the death knell to the relationship, never getting anywhere.

There’s a snippet in the newspaper today that is too weird to put into a story. Apparently a male thief dressed as a woman was caught after being pursued by a pensioner on a lawnmower. Sounds like a dream for headline writers.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

The Bloomsbury catalogue came in the post this morning featuring Something Beginning With. I looked through it twice before finding the right page, despite the fact that it was marked quite clearly. I think in a strange way I hadn’t wanted to see it – if I’m honest, the whole thing makes me feel sick with nerves.

I spent the day with other members of the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society in a workshop led by Moniza Alvi. We worked very hard – eight exercises in all, and enjoyed lots of lively discussion, not all of it about puddings. It’s always interesting in any teaching group to see how quickly we revert back to how we must have been at school – we had the class swot, the naughty girl in the back row and the one student who didn’t do any of the exercises ‘properly’ but ended up with something uniquely their own. Sometimes all these roles were in the same person! One of the most enjoyable exercises was one based on a Billy Collins poem – READING AN ANTHOLOGY OF CHINESE POEMS OF THE SUNG DYNASTY, I PAUSE TO ADMIRE THE LENGTH AND CLARITY OF THEIR TITLES. Moniza suggested we make up our own titles. My favourite of the ones I came up with was ENRAGED ON THE SCHOOL RUN, I CAN’T TAKE MY HAND OFF THE CAR HORN. Think I might work on that one further!

Talked with one of the women poets there about whether you ever got to an age when you were too old to cry about love. Maybe it’s real maturity – but neither of us thought it was something to look forward to.

The same woman told me about a girl she had known many years ago whose parents wouldn’t let her read books at home because she was ‘too clever.’ The girl even had to read the local newspaper standing up in the hallway in case anyone discovered her.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Went to teach at Bridgewardens College at the old dockyards at Chatham in Kent. I had read the biography of Samuel Pepys by Claire Tomalin over the summer so I got there early and walked round for a bit trying to work out where he had lived but couldn’t, so I went to the new outlet shopping centre instead, feeling like a failed culture buff. Then I ended up buying so many cheap chocolates from the Cadbury’s shop there that the bag split in the car park and people had to help me scoop them up. An appropriate quote arrives through the internet – ‘A writer is like a bag lady going through life with a sack and a pointed stick collecting stuff,’ Tony Hillerman.