Saturday, September 30, 2006

When my novel, Something Beginning With, first came out, I remember a friend telling me it had been on the longlist to be chosen as the book one UK village would all read that year. I thought she was having me on, but I've just discovered the website for the tiny village of Waverton (population 2,000), and am very chuffed to see my book there in the archives. What a fantastic idea though - to support first books by new authors through actually reading them. I'm really looking forward to seeing who they pick this year - the list alone looks varied enough to give no clue.
I'm behind with my writing prompts this week as life has popped in and shaken me up. Here are some I'm planning to use in bursts this weekend ...

a) Painted toenails always make me ...

b) Reading My Son (a la Catherine Smith)

c) Putting away my summer clothes

d) Be patient and ....

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

"Talent is such a small part of it. Willingness to work hard to learn the skills. (Including the nuts and bolts like spelling and grammar.) Patience to do the necessary revising and if necessary rewriting to get it right. Persistence in the face of rejection. Judgment in deciding what advice to listen to and whom not to trust. Humility to know when you're exerting suction. Knowledge, all sorts of knowledge, knowledge of what's been written, knowledge of the world and its peoples, knowledge of physical science, knowledge of at least one other language to give you perspective on your own. And most important of all: understanding of human beings and why they act the way they do and the way they interact with each other, which can take a lifetime to master but without it a writer is a failure. Maybe a clever failure, maybe sometimes an entertaining one, but a failure all the same."
William Sanders

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

For my second guest in the Girlfriend's Cyber Circuit, I'm really pleased to
introduce Karin Gillespie's new book, not least because I think it looks wonderful. I went into a London bookshop at the weekend and asked for a funny book, which stumped everyone. They said they'd never been asked for one before and couldn't recommend any at first, not even mine! Let's have more funny books, I say. And here's news of Karin's...

“Each character is lovingly crafted in Gillespie's hilarious, heartwarming, and often irreverent look at senior living in small-town America.”— Starred Review Booklist

Dollar Daze

The Bottom Dollar Girls in Love

Karin Gillespie

If love is blind, why is lingerie so popular?
Comment overheard under the hair dryer at the Dazzling Do’s

Karin Gillespie’s Bottom Dollar Girls are back with a sugar-spun vengeance in Dollar Daze: The Bottom Dollar Girls in Love (Simon & Schuster; August 2006; $19.95). Broaching the age-old question – Is it ever too late to find one’s heart’s desire? – the feisty ladies of Cayboo Creek are suddenly blindsided by schoolgirl flights of fancy when unexpected romance enters their lives.

Mavis Loomis, Birdie Purdy, and Gracie Tobias, widows in their mid-sixties are certain their dating days are over until they observe their friend eighty-something Attalee Gaines in tempestuous relationship with Dooley Prichard, a trifocal-wearing charmer. If it’s not too late for Attalee, how can it be too late for them?

Unfortunately the eligible men in Cayboo Creek are as picked over as a garage sale at noontime. Things look discouraging until an old high school heartthrob comes to town and Birdie and Mavis compete for his attentions. In the meantime socialite Gracie Tobias finds unlikely love in the arms of a rugged duct doctor. Can she overlook the vast differences in their backgrounds?

All of the books in series have been selected as featured alternatives for Doubleday and Literary Guild book clubs. Bet Your Bottom Dollar has been optioned for film by the actor James Woods. Gillespie ( is also co-author of The Sweet Potato Queen’s First Big-Ass Novel. (Simon and Schuster, January 2007) and has a story called TRASH TALK in This is Chick Lit ((

Praise for Dollar Daze
“A sweet and amusing tale of romance and lust for the older crowd”—Kirkus

“Gillespie writes with such conviction that readers are thrust right into Cayboo Creek and the lives of the Bottom Dollar Girls….charismatic and replete with poignancy, a story to pass on.”---Romantic Times, four and a half stars

“Laugh-out--loud”—Atlanta Magazine Critic’s Pick

“Fun factor remains high from first chapter to last… The Bottom Dollar Girls…. provide the simple pleasure of an ice-cold bottle of cola and a bag of salty peanuts and that’s just fine.”

David Marshall James, The Columbia State

“Bless her heart, she's done it again. Karin Gillespie's latest installment of the Bottom Dollar Girls series is a fun, breezy read. As tried and true as ham biscuits at a senior center potluck… the book reminds us of what's important just as often as it entertains.

Dawn Baumbartner Vaughan, Durham Herald-Sun
The deadline for the second National Short Story Prize is not too far away now - 31st October. The prize is the world's largest, with the first prizewinner gaining £15,000. Last year's winner was James Lasdun with his story, 'An Anxious Man'. In an interview at the time of the award, he gave the following advice to writers:
Read and study: the obvious. Live in as conscious a way as you can. Get used to turning your experience into language, keep a journal. Read your favourite writers analytically and consciously as well as for pleasure. Then write!

And my writing prompt for today is going to be ... anxiety (an easy one for me!)

Monday, September 25, 2006

See this, it's the face of Mars. Have you seen anything more strange? It makes me tingle. You can get daily pictures from space here.
Having spent the last hour reading over my just finished notebook before I put it away and get out a nice new one, I'm feeling nostalgic about the previous six months of writing. My prompt for today is going to come from one of a list of headlines from the Daily Mail I copied out and never did anything with - I've made the bad mistake of not dating it, but seems like an average Daily Mail day to me! I love the idea of taking some of these statements at face value and writing on...

How 200 people a day vanish into thin air.
Shadow of a supermodel
The end of authority.
A generation out of control.
Sordid secrets of the English lady.
Naturists on the path to victory.
How men take control in the 'zapper battle'.
We also do Posh.
Boss yourself around.
Night patrols will be able to gag noisy neighbours.
You CAN change the shape of your body - we're the living proof.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

“Handsome words don't butter cabbage.” German saying
And my writing prompt for today is going to be ... ugly words.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Inspired by this article in the Toronto Star, I'm going to write about my characters FORAGING today.
And I'm reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez at the moment, so here's a short story, Eyes of the Blue Dog

Friday, September 22, 2006

Whether you've got kids or not, this time of year, going back to school time, seems to bring up mixed emotions, and that's my writing prompt for today.

I was stimulated by this article on Jeanette Winterson's wonderful webpage. I like what she says about reading in particular:

If reading reclaims time, it re-aligns time too. Time for us is always slipping away – we talk about losing time, finding time, making time, and taking time. The well-being we feel when we don’t notice time, because we are happy or engrossed or in love, is the result of those rare moments when time inside us and time outside us are not in conflict. Reading is another way of allowing this to happen, and as it becomes a habit, like all habits it affects the rest of our behaviour too. No question, reading is good for you.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Remember those games where you would have to make as many words as possible from one long one? Well, this version is particularly addictive. Eat your heart out Countdown!
And my writing prompt for the day is ... scrambled words for breakfast.

Monday, September 18, 2006

My writing prompt for today comes from Margaret Atwood's new book, Moral Disorder and is to write about the child of this woman:
She would turn into a woman others came to for advice. She would be called in emergencies. She would roll up her sleeves and dispense with sentimentality, and do whatever blood-soaked, bad-smelling thing had to be done. She would become adept with axes.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Something to read for the weekend? Try this story, Afterwords by Laurie Mazzaferro from Carve Magazine.

And my writing prompt for today is going to be: What I don't remember.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I missed the Edinburgh Book Festival this year, so am pleased to see that recordings of selected talks and readings are now up on the website, particularly Paul Muldoon's.

Friday, September 15, 2006

So the 'planet' that toppled Pluto from the starry ranks is going to be called Eris. There's something tasty about that name. As the press release says:
In mythology, Eris caused a quarrel among goddesses that sparked the Trojan War. In real life, Eris also caused strife, forcing scientists to produce a strict definition of the term planet - and that eventually led to Pluto losing the status it had held since its discovery in 1930.

According to the website, Skyscript, Pluto also has discord behind the meaning of its name:
In Greek mythology Pluto is Hades, god of the underworld, and the era of Pluto, including both Nazism and the use of nuclear bombs, certainly presents an unparalleled vision of hell. At its worst, Pluto symbolizes the abuse of power, hellish experiences, and the threat of death, either physically or to a sense of self. In mythology we learn that Hades donned the helmet of invisibility when leaving the underworld. Thus Pluto also speaks of that which is invisible or absent.

All, it seems, is not happy in the sky, but luckily they've both been officially categorised only as 'dwarf planets'. So that's all right then.
I think I'm safe from accusations of self-interest as even I can see that this blog is really more of a scrapbook in which I can keep ideas, quotes, websites that interest me rather than a potential bestseller, but I'm really interested in the concept behind the Friday Project. For any of us who blog, or spend any time on the internet, surely there's no argument that much of what we read online is just as good, if not better, in terms of humour/honesty/information than to be found in books. So this publishing company is the first I've seen which is focused on capturing the raw talent on the internet. OK, I will admit some self-interest here, because it was through a short story on East of the Web that I was discovered. About two weeks after it was first published on the site, I received emails from two agents and a publisher asking about my work. It was as unexpected as it was beautiful. I hate the thought that people will start writing blogs or putting work up on the internet just to get a publishing deal, but I do like the fact that some of the absolute passion for writing and communication I see every day might just be rewarded.

Another site that facilitates publication through the internet is The Front List, which invites writers to submit work for peer critiquing. Nothing new in that, maybe, and there is a charge for receiving critiques, but at least one senior editor has committed to reading the best manuscripts which can't be bad.

By the way, one of those involved in the Friday Project is Scott Pack, former buyer at Waterstones and so often called 'the most powerful man in publishing', it must be true. Mustn't it? Anyway I've been following his blog with interest for some time, partly to find out what's going on in my industry, but also because I've discovered some fantastic new books and authors through him - and what's not to love about that? Childish too, I know, but his recent comment: 'Available from all good booksellers, and some crap ones too' made me laugh so much - it's what everyone tags on to that line, surely, but doesn't normally say out loud. Let's say more things out loud - make the world a more contentious place.

And my writing prompt for today is going to be a personal one: dressing up as a superhero to persuade someone not to leave (... eh? probably not what you think!)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

For my first touring 'girlfriend', I'm very pleased to welcome Melanie Lynne Hauser to this blog. Melanie's book, Confessions of Supermom is one of a series she's writing, and has already been chosen as a Literary Guild November Selection. It's been described by no less than Publishers Weekly as:
"Like its title character, this debut novel has a secret's unexpectedly poignant and packs an emotional punch despite the cheery veneer... at the heart of this story is a narrative about a lonely, wronged woman who just wants to do right by her children and stand up to an uncontrollable world. Hauser slips in soliloquies on motherhood and womanhood that, though brief, are moving, showing us Birdie Lee's heart and in that, the wishes and dreams of super moms everywhere. "

Resisting the urge to find out more about Supermom's cleaning tips and what exactly the stubborn Stain of Unusual Origin was that her heroine found on her bathroom floor (the removal of which gave her superpowers), I asked Melanie instead a couple of writing-based questions to find out what makes her write, or not!

Do you have a favourite writing prompt, or exercise, to share?
I've never done any kind of writing exercises, actually. But a couple of tips that help me in my day-to-day writing: 1) Don't set daily word count goals; I never tell myself I have to write X amount of words every day. I just tell myself I have to write something every day. 2) Leave in the middle of something. I don't stop writing for the day at the end of a scene or chapter; I always make myself start the next section, even if it's just a couple of sentences, so when I start the next day I've already begun, which is always so daunting.

What's your best (or worst!) writing distraction?
The Internet, definitely! There's so much to see and do; while I'm grateful beyond words at the invention of the PC, because I would never have the fortitude to do this writing longhand, I curse the invention of the Internet. How's a poor writer supposed to get any work done???

So thanks to Melanie, aka Superwriter, (and also by the way, the invention of the internet and her blog for introducing me to her and her work) my writing prompt for today is going to be to start mid-sentence, and end mid-sentence...
Anyone in London on Monday 25th September is in for a treat with the New Voices evening of poetry reading at the Troubadour venue. A biaised plug here, as two of the readers - Ann and Carol - are in my fortnightly writing group, but I can vouch for their originality and talent.
"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before."
Willa Cather

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Pulp takes the theme of war in its issue this month, and is well worth a look, particularly the story by Sarajevo author Nenad Velickovic, A Hypothalmus Knight.

Hah, The Wicker Man has nothing on my writing prompt for today, which is to write about these two splendid scarecrows from the weekend's allotment show. (Ps I do know that the last link has little to do with our show but I love it so much I had to include it. Worth listening to!)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My writing prompt for today will be to finish a piece starting with: Clowns make me ...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Happy birthday to me,
Happy birthday to me ....

... and lots of lovely presents, including the news that The Girlfriends Cyber Circuit has voted me into its membership, so I get to have some of my favourite US writers appearing as guests on this blog. Watch this space! Also a copy of Woman's World, which has to be one of the maddest books I've seen. Graham Rawle (creator also of the Lost Consonants Series from which the picture above comes) collected words and phrases from 1960's women's magazines, which he then cut and pasted to make the narrative. The most bizarre thing of all is that, from what I've managed to read so far, there really is a story there, and the slightly clipped and frenetic tone of the 1960's is still coming through. It doesn't read the same without the mixed typeface, but here's a random paragraph:
Mary prefers to be the one to answer the door to callers, but she must have stepped out into the back garden for a moment, so I decided to deal with it myself. With a graceful flourish, I opened the door to reveal a postman who stood on the threshold with a dominant nose on his face, and dare I say it, Postman's knock on his mind.
"Barmy but brilliant" is the blurb from Raymond Briggs and he's not wrong. Oh definitely a happy birthday for me!

And my writing prompt for today, because I'm starting these all over again, is:
My Tenth Birthday.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

There is nothing fiercer than a failed artist. The energy remains, but, having no outlet, it implodes in a great black fart of rage which smokes up all the inner windows of the soul. Horrible as successful artists often are, there is nothing crueler or more vain than a failed artist.

Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

Saturday, September 09, 2006

I had such a lovely gift this afternoon - one of those times when you laugh so much you feel weak and all cleared out. And the strangest thing of all was that it was my own humiliation that made me so merry! Close readers of the blog (aren't you all?) will remember my 'baby pumpkin' (thanks Clare); well, today was the day of the great Allotment show and I decided after a sleepless night (really) to put it in no matter what size the other beasts were. I actually felt quite confident by the time I went to pick it for the show; no need for dolls house equipment to make it seem big (thanks Kate). Well, if you have a look at the photograph above, you'll probably guess the big one isn't mine. No, mine is peeping out from behind it, that little yellow thing that looks like a grape. I don't think I need to spell it out that I didn't win, didn't actually come second, no, folks, I was a whole 30kg behind the second smallest pumpkin in the competition.... It was a fabulous show though, more later.

Friday, September 08, 2006

There's some really useful information for writers on the Mslexia magazine website. As well as the archive of interviews with authors including U A Fanthorpe, Helen Dunmore, A L Kennedy and Hilary Mantel, their Writers' Kit page includes information about finding an agent, sumitting, setting up a writers' group etc. WIth the writers interviews, do follow the links to the individual writing processes. The variety of ways in which people write always amazes (and reassures) me. What I like best though is the guide to E-language. Now I know where I've been going wrong in my online conversations \o/ - I'd just thought they were typos ;-).
E-language: Common abbreviations for use in the quickfire environment of a chatline. (Whether you think they’re witty or naff, at least you’ll know what they’re on about...)
:) happy
:( sad
:| angry
%-) happy-confused
8-0 shocked
;-) winking
:'-( crying
:-* kiss
X-( brain-dead
lol laughing out loud
:-P sticking out tongue
:8) pig
MC:8) male chauvinist pig
:-X my lips are sealed
\o/ Halleluiah
%-) celebrating
%-( hung-over
@}-`-- a rose…
I'm re-reading Alice Munro's collection of short stories, Runaway at the moment. Quite wonderful, as is this archive interview with her in the Observer. I was particularly interested in this paragraph because it reflected the conversation in my writer's group yesterday when we were talking about the importance of just getting something down first:
Most mornings, she'll write for three hours in the dining room. There will be ideas that she's had in her mind for years. She starts by sitting on the couch and writing in longhand. She no longer worries what the first version sounds like: 'I just write the story.' She'll type the first draft and begin the second version - 'That is the most important leap, in a way,' she says. 'It has to start feeling strongly as if it's happening and I am not pushing it. Then I write and rewrite.' She has a horror of being 'flabby or dull'.
One of the writers yesterday mentioned that Pat Barker called her first attempts, the Serbo-Croat draft, I guess because it makes such little sense to someone who doesn't speak any Serbo-Croat. Trouble is when the second, third, fourth draft feel like that too...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Someone asked about the shoes on yesterday's post. I got them in the Lulu Guinness sale but I don't wear them - they're too beautiful. Of course I probably should, how daft am I? I can just hear my mother's voice, 'now she's only gone and spent her money on a pair of shoes she won't wear', but instead they sit on a shelf in my office like works of art and make me smile every time I pass them. This 'book bag' I do use, however - it was a present from my husband when I finished my second novel and I definitely felt I deserved it!
Always worth remembering it could happen to anyone - Decca's reasoning behind their rejection of the Beatles:
“We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Life Is A Picnic, or ....

I've been neglecting Poetry Thursday for too long so to reprimand myself, and also because it's 'back to school' week and that always makes me feel industrious, here's To be of use by Marge Piercy from Circles on the Water. (oh ps. hopefully everyone will know Marge Piercy but if not, please look her up. She's a FAB writer - her strange novel Woman on the Edge of Time is probably one of the books that has made the most impression on me ever, as writer, woman, etc etc. In fact I'm persuading myelf to read it again ...)

To be of use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Oh, oh, oh ... this quote from Toni Morrison hits home!
"We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I'm not sure we deserved such big A-pluses for that."
In one of my short stories, I make fun of the idea that you might be thinking of someone just at the very moment they're ringing you up. However, I'm ABSOLUTELY delighted to hear that telephone telepathy might just be true. It makes a much better story!
How important are your roots in your writing? This is a question I've been thinking about for some time now, not least in relation to the whole aspect of making things new. Trouble is, with the best will in the world, the area of England I grew up in isn't very exciting. Even its own website has John Major as the pin up boy and admits that it is normally thought of as 'hardly remarkable'. But is that the case? Surely it's up to me as a writer to make it interesting? This is a challenge I intend to rise to, particularly as I freewrite about all the images and memories that have stuck with me - getting bogged down literally in the bog for several hours in a cold landrover on Christmas day, going to see ALL of the original Planet of the Apes films in the local fleapit, my first kiss outside the youth club, horseracing, the postman we had in the village who couldn't read and so had to ask at each house what letters he should deliver to the next house, cycling along straight windy roads, the smell of sugar beet, the reflected glory we got from having BOTH Samuel Pepys and Oliver Cromwell as 'local lads', and above all the strange relationships and names of the families living around.

The wonderful Laurie Graham, a writer I've just discovered but who must have some Fen blood in her somewhere has tempted me with this last one. Here's an extract from her book, The Future Homemakers of America, about a conversation between an American and a Fenwoman:
"She was Annie Jex, then she married Harold Howgego. Their boy Colin was took prisoner in the last lot; Japs got him. You should have seen him when they sent him home. I've seen more flesh on a sparrow. Now, he married a girl from Lynn, and her mother was a Jex, only not the same lot, of course. Annie as one of the Waplode Jexes, and her mother was a Pargeter."
This sent shivers down my spine as it could have so easily been my mother talking when she was trying to explain - as simply as she could - who someone was. It used to send us into gales of laughter - matched only by the time she described a 50 year old man as 'young Arthur'. Actually, I'm not sure now if it was her description or her anger at our laughing about it that made us the happier. Although of course we also got pretty merry with the way a real Fenman we knew used to start every sentence with 'I'll just turn round and ...'
So my writing prompt for today is going to be to try to capture the essence of Huntingdon. There's more food for thought about how our place shapes us here.

Monday, September 04, 2006

There's still time to enter the Arvon International Poetry Competition 2006:
This year marks 25 years of the Arvon Poetry Competition. Over the last quarter of a decade the top prize winners have included Andrew Motion, Selima Hill, Don Paterson, Paul Farley, Mario Petrucci and Joe Kane. All poems are read by the judges and are anonymous, previously unpublished and written in English. Closing date 15 September. First Prize £5000, Second Prize £2500, Third Prize £1000, Three prizes £500 each.
And if you're in need of inspiration, the site has some well-thought through tips from Choman Hardi too.
Further to Clare's interview with a 'Reader in Residence', a friend's sent me this link to Library Thing where you enter either just the book you're reading or your whole bookshelf (titles of course, not the actual thing) and so get linked with people reading the same thing(s) as you. I love the fact that all the moaners said that the internet would mean the end of books, but - unless I'm being naive - the opposite seems to be the case.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

From the utterly brilliant Harold's Planet this week:
I recommend you read Clare Dudman's excellent and interesting interview with Susan Tranter, Reader in Residence with the British Council. I particularly liked the idea of Encompassculture, a world wide reading group!
So do I want to be a 'better me'? Always, which is why I've been obsessed with this quiz. I'll believe what I've been telling myself - that it's all a bit of fun - when I get full marks, and at the moment I'm a long way off!!!!

Friday, September 01, 2006

One of the books I've been most looking forward to reading for a time has been Jon McGregor's second novel, So Many Ways To Begin, and this interview with him I dug out of the archives of the Bloomsbury website is a fascinating insight into the collage of places and things that eventually make up a novel.
I wish I'd been asked to contribute to this book but I wasn't (sob) so the least I can do is tell you about it and encourage you to get a copy from Bluechrome. The Book of Hopes and Dreams is a collection of poetry from writers such as Simon Armitage, Margaret Atwood, Moniza Alvi, Alan Brownjohn, David Constantine, Cyril Dabydeen, Carol Anne Duffy, Ian Duhig, Ruth Fainlight, Vicki Feaver, Elaine Feinstein, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Charles Ades Fishman, Magi Gibson, Alasdair Gray, Tony Harrison, John Heath-Stubbs, Michael Horovitz, Mimi Khalvati, Tom Leonard, Robert Mezey, Edwin Morgan, Lawrence Sail, Penelope Shuttle, Jon Stallworthy, Anne Stevenson and many others. As well as its charity element - it is raising money for Spirit Aid - it has a particular aim which is reflected in the book's title, and I quote:
"The poetry within its covers is subversive; reading it may lift your spirits and could possibly infect you with optimism. Exposure to optimism can be dangerous; it is not just delightful, but highly-addictive. In extreme cases addicts will happily run the risk of public ridicule by swimming against the prevailing tide of post-modern, ironic ennui. Their street-credibility decimated, their cool lost forever; you will know these hapless addicts by the upturning of their lips and the twinkle in their eyes."
You can find out more by visiting the website of the editor, Dee Rimbaud.