Thursday, November 30, 2006

Blogs and book reviews

There seems to have been a controversy raging about bloggers who write book reviews in their blogs and how this could threaten the established world of reviewing in the mainstream press. It was stirred by these articles written by John Sutherland and Rachel Cooke and entries on Susan Hill's blog.

Perhaps one of the most balanced pieces about how ridiculous this all is has been written on Normblog. Do people really think that we are so naive that we don't realise that reviews and promotions are manipulated by the media and the publishers? It is no different to Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh shamelessly promoting their other artistes, who just happen to have new albums out, as special guests on The X-Factor.

I don't buy books solely on the basis of a press review or even the reviews of bloggers or Amazon buyers. I buy because I already know and enjoy the author, perhaps because the synopsis or even just the cover appeals. I buy many of my books in charity shops, so I can take risks with authors I don't know without wasting too much money and if I don't like it I just recycle it straight back to another charity shop. If I was more mercenary and organised I could sell them on. When I am uncertain about a book or author I try to find the book in a local shop and look at it before buying it new. So although I do read book reviews in the quality press they really don't influence me much at all, although I do sometimes laugh at the pomposity of the reviewers.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The X Factor

Watching the reality TV show I have been wondering what gives an artist or even a piece of writing the X factor?

Eton Road went home on Saturday so as far as the music show goes they are down to the last four. Leona is a beautiful girl and great singer, but very shy so her personality hasn't really shown through. I do also wonder if her style, which is very Mariah Carey/Celine Dion, is just a little bit dated now, but that is perhaps down to the song choices made for her. Ray is a real showman and will probably do well in the West End. His looks probably appeal to the little girl and granny voters but as I am neither of these I'm afraid he does nothing for me. The MacDonald brothers are pleasant enough, can sing in tune and certainly don't deserve the hammering they have received from Simon Cowell each week, but although they will probably do very well in Scotland, I can't see them as international stars. Which leaves Ben. For me he is the closest to having the whole package in terms of ability, looks and personality. Admittedly Leona is probably a technically better singer but somehow Ben seems to have more passion.

So is passion the key to finding the X factor? We are often advised to write about things we know and care deeply about and certainly for me that advice has produced my most successful work so far. The novel I have planned in my head would follow the same sort of themes so maybe it would actually work?

Sunday, November 26, 2006


It seems that to get a novel published by a big publishing house you need an agent, but getting an agent is almost impossible nowadays. So where does a first-timer start...look at the small independent press or go all out to catch the eye of an agent? More and more literary agents and publishing professionals are setting up blogs with advice for the would-be-novelist. Try looking at Miss Snark or The Rejecter...both on the other side of the pond but I'm sure much of the information would apply here too.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Story critique

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to have it read and critiqued, so I decided to send the story rejected by 'Woman's Weekly' to a professional critique and editing service. It costs money to do this, of course, and I certainly would not do it with every piece of work, but this time I wanted to get a view from a professional as to whether it was suitable for the weekly magazine market and how it could be improved.

I was pleased with the results. The reviewer noticed several small punctuation errors and made a few suggestions for minor changes but overall thought it could be published in the market I was aiming it at. So, onwards and upwards, next week I will edit again and get ready to send it out to another magazine!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Winter blues

I admit it isn't really winter yet but it is cold, dark, wet and miserable. I keep procrastinating about work and would like nothing better than to spend a few days just wrapped in a duvet in front of the TV with a good book (shades of Martine McCutcheon in a recent TV ad for fabric softener). Last week my doctor asked me if I was a summer or winter person. It's not a question that I had ever seriously considered before, because I don't really feel comfortable in any extreme of weather, hot or cold, but as soon as she said it I realised that my mood had definitely dropped when the weather changed so suddenly this autumn and the days became shorter. So perhaps I actually do suffer from SAD?

Monday, November 20, 2006

A challenge

A friend was recently raving about 'A Suitable Boy' by Vikram Seth, so when I spotted it in a charity shop on Saturday I had to buy it. However, having considered the size of the book, I have decided to just put it on the shelf and view it as a future challenge for now...

I still have limited computer time so haven't written anything new recently, but I do have a few ideas buzzing around in my head and odd notes written down, which I hope to be able to piece together into something more substantial in the new year.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

First rejection

The long awaited rejection letter from Woman's Weekly finally arrived this morning. I'm not at all disappointed as I had expected that to be the outcome. Woman's Weekly is highly competitive, they receive huge numbers of stories every week and only accept a very few. They seem to have quite a few regular writers and also stories by published novelists which are presumably commissioned anyway, so the chance of getting a story accepted by them will always be tiny. In any case I am not really sure that is the market I would want to aim for in the longer term, but I may well give it another go sometime.

I feel like a proper writer now and I will file every rejection letter for posterity!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Harley Street

Off to Harley Street to see the dental specialist today. After a couple of x-rays and a quick opinion (total cost over £100) I was left to consider the next step. It will probably be (a little) cheaper if my local dentist does the required work but I don't yet know if he will be able to.Either way it will cost an arm and a leg!

Didn't have to rush straight home so walked over to Marylebone High Street and found a specialist Oxfam shop full of books and music. I bought four books, including an unopened copy of Tessellate - the UEA Creative Writing Anthology 2006 which was only published last month and cost me less than half the cover price. As I hope to do a creative writing MA one day it is interesting to see what graduates of these courses write, I have previously also found an anthology by MA students at Royal Holloway in a charity shop near home.

Then onwards to Oxford Street, stopping for a caffeine boost in Starbucks on the way. Debenhams had one of its spectacular sales on so was crowded, but I bought a couple of things then had a snack in John Lewis before heading for home.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Busy week ahead

Important school meeting today. Doctor tomorrow, Harley Street dentist on Wednesday, lots of things to do at home, old friends to catch up with. Might even try to do some OU work and write something....

The X Factor continues. Up to last week I was definitely backing Ben. I still like him but Leona is getting better and better, she was fab on Saturday. So was Robert and Eton Road have a quirky charm so now I am totally confused!

Saturday, November 11, 2006


The writing is not going well. I have an idea for a novel and an idea for another poem but I can't seem to get started on them. It doesn't help that I only have access to my computer first thing in the morning when son 1 is asleep. His computer has gone off to hopefully be fixed by a friend, but it is not likely to be back for at least another week. Son 2 was off school for just one day in the week and his ear infection is clearing up well with antibiotics, but that was another lost day.It's good that I didn't sign up for NaNoWriMo as I would be so far behind by now.

I also find it hard to get started on a new piece when I am waiting to hear about other things, in this case my writing course result and a response to my first submission. This is something I will need to get over but in the meantime I am trying a few writing prompts and trying to get a few words written most days, however trivial and disconnected.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Son 1 is constantly borrowing my laptop while his computer is out of action, so my work time is limited. Son 2 is off school with an ear infection. Luckily we caught it early and he has been given antibiotics. Hopefully he will be able to go back to school tomorrow, as it doesn't appear to be bothering him too much today. All my plans for the day have had to be shelved yet again. Never mind, it's a good excuse not to do the ironing or the cleaning....

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

More damage

So today we discovered that whilst climbing through the garage searching for Argos catalogues (don't ask!) Son 2 had tripped over Son 1's expensive bike and ripped out the brake cable....

Nothing is safe here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Computer woes

I am almost ashamed to admit that thanks to wireless broadband we have three computers in the house. Son 2 has a cheap desktop in the dining room which is perfect for accessing CBeebies. I have a super-duper state of the art laptop ( well it was state of the art 15 months ago...) which I can use in the lounge and Son 1 has inherited the old family computer in the study upstairs. It died on him last night. This is rather unfortunate because due to current ill health it is his main means of communication with the world. So what to do? A friend who understands computers has offered to have a look at it but I think he will probably need a new one. Just what we needed at this time of year....and it has to be up to playing the latest 3D games and running multiple conversations all at once, so not cheap. Ho hum.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


This weekend's main distractions:

1. Watching The X Factor. At the moment I am backing Ben to win and I do like to see Simon Cowell sulking....

2. Sudoku. I've not got heavily into this before, but now someone has led me to this online site, so it will no doubt prove to be a wonderful displacement activity when I am supposed to be working.

3. Shopping. The fun kind, not Tesco. Including a stop for an Americano and a slice of lemon cheesecake....

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Short stories

Today's charity shop bargain was a copy of 'The Best American Short Stories 2005' for 99p. This was from the same shop where I recently found a copy of 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' for 10p....I think someone must have taken the title at face value! The book mountain in our dining room continues to grow....

Friday, November 03, 2006

A funny blog

Go and take a look at Non-Working Monkey.... it's very funny.

I haven't done any reading or writing today ( apart from a few emails) but I did have yet another visit to Tesco.The kids eat us out of house and home (something to do with teenage hormones I think) so I have to stock up on a Friday for the weekend. We have already run out of the mini choc bars left over from Halloween, when for once the only trick or treater who knocked was our tiny next door neighbour.Perhaps people are waking up to the fact that Halloween is little more than an excuse to rip off gullible parents.Those costumes and accessories don't come cheap!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

New course

Have had a headache today but managed to make a start on my new OU course K272 Challenging ideas in Mental Health.I have a feeling that this course is going to challenge me too! I am doing it mainly to educate myself more about the mental health issues which have affected various members of our family both now and in the past. It will certainly be different to doing the writing but hopefully will be interesting and provide me with potential material to write about later as well as to use in real life.

About 6 years ago I took another OU course in health and social care, K100, and some units of this are now available for free at Open Learn for anyone interested in an introduction to the subject area. I really enjoyed that course and it gave me a lot to think about in respect of my autistic child and his future care needs.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Today's reading

This morning I started 'The Wonder Spot' by Melissa Bank. I read her first book, 'A Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing' years ago and re-read it a few months ago. Her style is unusual and appeals to me. Although the books are marketed as novels they are really a series of linked stories which show the development of the main character over a number of years. The writing is as precise as that of traditional short story writers and Melissa Bank has an eye for quirky characters and a witty style which I envy.I'm looking forward to continuing the book.