Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More notebook jottings

From yesterday's trip to Oxford this time:

*My new coat giving me a kick-ass shape, even when, as now, I'm definitely not feeling it.

*Passing the primary school playground on the way and seeing a flower shrine on the railings by the swings.

*S telling the story of the terrier who kept rogering her leg during a dinner party. The hostess put the dog in the kitchen several times, but each time it escaped and made its way straight back to S. Everyone else tried to ignore what was happening. Later, the same S said her mother had once knitted her a swimsuit in a fairisle pattern.

*Overheard, "I have not got an internet personality"

*Seeing the workmen at the closed Regent Street tube station measure something with their arms and knowing, just knowing, they were describing the size of a rat.

*Trying to work out what that part of the face between upper lip and nose is called. How H kept on saying 'upper lip' and both of us getting so cross we couldn't speak to each other.

*The colour-in poster of pubs in Oxford. Story: the mother who buys it for a geeky student son because it might make him seem cool. (Laughing to myself about this until realising I'd probably be this mum)

*Seeing all the Alice stuff in the Christchurch dining hall - "We're not altogether sure which was here first". The corner door in the panneling which was the inspiration for the rabbit hole. The magic painting where Mr Strange turns his head at a certain point of walking past.

*The man coming out of one of the college rooms with odd shoes.

*The flip flop cactus in the shop window - "it's solar powered and that's all it does. We've had the greatest minds in the country trying to work out if there is any point to it, and there isn't. I promise you."

*Story idea: from comment - "It's very safe in the centre of Oxford, everything you do, everywhere you go is filmed on CCTV camera". What if a girl wanted to be a model and spent a day posing for the CCTV cameras?

*H saying 'This whole city is a shrine to Stephen Fry'

*The book you didn't know you absolutely needed until you saw it - photographs of odd chickens.

*B saying about G: 'Of course he's not a dog man.'

*My first time in an Oxford don's room and I end up being the expert of the Archers, somehow I can't stop talking about it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Bizarre habits

Such as, apparently, sleeping in the same bed as your partner. Dr Neil Stanley, a sleep specialist, says: "Historically, we have never been meant to sleep in the same bed as each other. It is a bizarre thing to do." More worringly, or maybe not, there is the suggestion that sleeping (not even having sex) with someone else drains men's brains. Now, there's a thought for a story - even better than Stephen King's idea of sleeping on Lovecraft's Pillow.

And my writing prompt for today is: 'Sleep is selfish'

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Random thoughts from Whitstable today:

* Sitting in the restaurant window and seeing the small boy on rollerskates being towed along the road by a Jack Russell

* Having lunch and arguing about whether it was really 11 o'clock or 1 o'clock because of the time change, and then deciding it didn't matter anyway

* Trying to work out from a distance whether that strip of grey was the sea, or just a darker strip of grey sky

* The hut for let with 'Nice one' written under the notice

* Hot chocolate sitting on a sofa looking straight out to sea

* How nearly everyone looked as if they were from London, and wondering if we did or not, and then deciding it didn't matter anyway

* Noticing everyone's noses today. Do we pick on a different part of the body to notice every day?

* Praying my book wasn't in the remainder bookshop, but then when it wasn't, feeling slightly disappointed

* Seeing all the children with stabilisers on their bicycles zooming along the sea path and remembering the day mine were taken off, and how I didn't like it, but had to pretend I did because everyone else seemed much more excited than me

* Lightshades like sea creatures in a shop window

* Suddenly wanting to punch the smug second-home owner in the face because his children had silly names and having to walk fast so I wouldn't

* The size of squid's eyes

* Seeing the canoes being prepared for the Summer, and wondering about the difference between canoeing on the sea and on the river

* Inventing a game of throwing stones at F's prone body and trying to hit the buttons on his coat. Putting my hand down, picking up a stone with a perfect hole in the middle, and getting a shiver of joy

* The man coming out of a £50 cash casino and not being able to make out whether he'd won or not, and then deciding it didn't matter anyway

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Interesting step-by-step piece on the Penguin blog here on how the blurb for Embers got written.

Really really useful...

... information here. This is going on to my 'things that will make other people impressed with me' list, along with playing an ace poker hand, making the perfect cocktail, understanding a company report, and not getting cross when strangers ask what name I write under...

And my writing prompt for today is: just one more cocktail before I walk out of the bar in my high heels

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself." --Truman Capote

Chicken or egg?

I can't see who the people are who read this blog, but I can find out - in some cases - what they were searching for originally. Top choices are the lyrics to Honey, the words to a verse that used to hang in my granny's bathroom, Please remember, don't forget, never leave the bathroom wet... and also, weird writing. I was surprised by this last one, until I googled it myself and found this blog came about 10th in a list of 4,550,000 references to weird writing. So, of course, I investigated further, which took me, wonderfully to the horror writer, H P Lovecraft. I'd expected his essay, Notes on Writing Weird Fiction to be too, well, weird for me, but I ended up inspired right from the beginning paragraph:
My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature.
This idea of capturing an atmosphere, rather than a hard plot:
There are, I think, four distinct types of weird story; one expressing a mood or feeling, another expressing a pictorial conception, a third expressing a general situation, condition, legend or intellectual conception, and a fourth explaining a definite tableau or specific dramatic situation or climax. In another way, weird tales may be grouped into two rough categories - those in which the marvel or horror concerns some condition or phenomenon, and those in which it concerns some action of persons in connexion with a bizarre condition or phenomenon.
seems to be captured in Michel Houellebecq's biography, H P Lovecraft Against the World, Against Life, which has just arrived in one of those exciting Amazon cardboard parcels. It's described in an introduction by Stephen King as 'a kind of scholarly love letter, maybe even the world's first truly cerebral mash note,' and looks fascinating.

So I'm grateful to those searchers who have let me join in their internet trail, which I'm sure is going to take me to even weirder places in the best possible way. These trails are a bit like one of those conga party dances - we're all joining in at different stages and dropping out in different rooms too.

My writing prompt comes from Stephen King's introduction to the book above - he dreams of finding Lovecraft's pillow in a junk shop, and sleeping on it so thus absorbing all of the horror writer's nightmares. It's a story he never writes because:
"I paused too long to consider the drop and the possible consequences. Thus I was lost."
So without pausing, or considering, choose whose dreams you'd like to absorb and imagine sleeping on their pillow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My very own writing map ...

... here. Have just spent half an hour following map routes and finding some interesting sounding new writers. That is, after I spent half an hour getting over the glory of being on the same page as Charlotte Bronte!

And my writing prompt for today is ... the picnic was interrupted by snow.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Orange Prize Longlist

The 2007 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction longlist is announced.

The 20 books are

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Half of a Yellow Sun

Clare Allan Poppy Shakespeare

Rachel Cusk Arlington Park

Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss

Patricia Ferguson Peripheral Vision

Margaret Forster Over

Nell Freudenberger The Dissident

Rebecca Gowers When to Walk

Xiaolu Guo A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

Jane Harris The Observations

M J Hyland Carry Me Down

Lori Lansens The Girls

Lisa Moore Alligator

Catherine O’Flynn What Was Lost

Stef Penney The Tenderness of Wolves

Deborah Robertson Careless

Rachel Seiffert Afterwards

Jane Smiley Ten Days in the Hills

Anne Tyler Digging to America

Melanie Wallace The Housekeeper

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


This link is my writing prompt for today. Visit Found Magazine for more 'finds of the day'.

Monday, March 12, 2007

So how do you think of the title?

The shortlist for the annual unusual book title has just been announced. The bookies favourite (really? People really bet on these things? Ho hum) is 'How Green were the Nazis?', but my own winner is The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: a guide to field identification (Harry N Masters), described as: "Julian Montague's study of urban life and irretrievable loss". Quite. Mind you, I like this because it lets me show this beautiful picture of just what we could do with stray shopping carts:

I could have done with this ten years ago when I had two toddlers and a friend who thought it would be a good idea to buy them a toy shopping trolley. They would spend the day filling it with things from my freezer, and I would spend the day putting everything back. If only I'd thought to get them to get out their sticky backed plastic and turn the wretched plastic thing into something beautiful.

And my writing prompt is: In the busy supermarket, I pick up the wrong shopping trolley...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Park Benches

I'm not sure where the park bench is on the front cover of my novel, Tell Me Everything, but it's exactly how I imagined the bench when I was writing. And it led to an obsession with park benches and their inscriptions (already documented in the archives of this blog!), particularly the personal ones which can be so moving.

And when it's sunny, as it is today, the location of these benches becomes all important. My home town of Tunbridge Wells is well documented for its, ahem, mature population, so it's perhaps not surprising there are benches everywhere, just right for a 'nice quiet sit-down'. What I hadn't realised is there is a social message behind which bench you choose to sit on. Best of all, apparently, are the ones up at the top of the hill, in the spot nicknamed the 'South of France'. In his memoir of growing up in TW, the historian Richard Cobb writes about his mother's regular battle to get the best seat:
"My mother, who always had lunch at midday and who could walk quite fast well on into her seventies, could generally beat the Wellingtonians to it, cutting down through Little Mount Sion, then right across the Common, past the Wellington Rocks, to reach the South of France by one, while the regulars were still at lunch. It was one of her favourite seats, but as she reached her late-seventies, she had to give up her trips to the local Riviera, it was too hard going."

And my writing prompt today is: It was lying under the bench...

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Getting away from it all...

This picture is Salim Hossen Gaus, a carpenter from Bangladesh, who winches himself every day 100ft up to a platform he's built in a tree, just so he has space to read. Apparently everyone thought he was mad, but are now asking him to build platforms for them too.
"I feel a deep affinity with nature when I am in the tree writing poetry in the moonlight or looking at the sun rising or setting," he said.
No, not mad at all.
"Writing is rewriting. A writer must learn to deepen characters, trim writing, intensify scenes. To fall in love with the first draft to the point where one cannot change it is to greatly enhance the prospects of never publishing." Richard North Patterson

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Only six hours to go...

... before the eclipse. Am slightly disappointed I won't have to wear my Blue Peter sticky-backed plastic glasses I've saved from last time, but otherwise am counting down the minutes until I see that red moon.

On the Back of a Napkin

The magazine, Esquire, sent 250 writers a blank napkin and asked them to write a story on it. They got 100 back, and the results are now up on the website. I love Aimee Bender's most - so spare.

So that's my writing prompt for today, and look, I've put one up for you at the top here to fill in too... all nice and white and blank.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Dog Book Club

Even by my standards, we had a particularly good dog count in the book we were discussing in my bookclub last night. At least three different breeds. No Puggles though (see above) or the other breeds that are apparently becoming fashionable, according to Dog Breed Facts:
Other popular designer dogs are the: Schnoodle (Miniature Schnauzer and Poodle), Goldendoodle (Golden Retriever and Poodle), Shorkie (Shih Tzu and Yorkshire Terrier), Schnorkie (Miniature schnauzer and Yorkshire Terrier), Maltipoo (Maltese and Poodle), and Chorkie (Chihuahua and Yorkshire Terrier).
It makes my border terrier almost look boring, but not, of course, to the man who followed me on a recent walk, shouting 'Congratulations on your dog'. I ended up having to run away.

But look, joys, the ever first blog written by a dog. All those people who come on here only to find out about dog borstal will at least find something interesting amongst the book news and writing prompts. Thanks to A Dog About Town for this link, a chance for all of us to find out what the best dressed New York dog is wearing this year.

And my writing prompt is ... a new breed.