Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guest post: Keris Stainton

Today, as promised, I'm delighted to welcome Keris Stainton as part of the blog tour celebrating the launch of her first YA novel, Della says:OMG!

Over to Keris:

When Cathy asked me to write about motivation, I happily agreed. And then I started to think. What *is* my motivation? What motivates me? It's not something I've ever really thought about, to be honest. I'm not even 100% convinced what it means, but I was told at university not to start an essay with a dictionary definition (after I'd started an essay with a dictionary definition...) so I'll resist looking it up.

Instead I'm going to look at it like this: what makes me write? What gets me to the computer, opens the document, finds me trying to create characters and put together a plot?

Well good writing does. Reading someone else's good writing, I mean. When I read something like Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries or Lauren Oliver's Before I Fall or Marian Keyes' The Brightest Star in the Sky it makes me want to write. I know I can't write as well as any of those three authors (yet), but reading their books makes me want to try.

Another thing that makes me want to write is New York. I don't know where it comes from, but I love the place, always have. When I'm there I feel inspired, I feel like anything is possible. I want to write when I'm there and I want to write even when I just think about being there. If I, say, wander around Greenwich Village on Google Streetview, I want to write. So I try to do it just enough to inspire me and not so much that I lose a whole day.

I also find I'm inspired, more and more, by interiors. I don't know if this is a sign of age or of being settled with a husband and children, but Living, etc., magazine is like you-know-what to me. I'm inspired by other people's creativity, but it also makes me want to improve my home, to find or create my dream home. Which leads to...

Money. Yes, I'm motivated by money. I'm not making a lot, but I hope - and intend - to one day. And since I feel like writing is what I'm supposed to be doing in life, I have to assume that writing is where the money's going to come from.

But my main motivation is love. Love of books. Love of reading. Love of writing. Love of that moment when I forget I'm writing and it feels like the story's writing itself. Love of the times when I read my writing back and I think, "Bloody hell. This is pretty good!" But also love for my family. Wanting to support them and provide for them, yes, but also to inspire them. My motivation for giving up work to write was that I didn't want my son to have a mother who was to afraid to follow her dreams. And that motivates me to keep following them.

Thanks Keris! You can find details of all the stops on Keris' blog tour here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Young Adult heroines

Although it’s currently very hot, I have to admit that I’ve not read much Young Adult fiction and what I have read has been predominantly by crossover authors such as Mark Haddon, J.K. Rowling and Meg Rosoff. I’ve equally never had a desire to write Young Adult fiction myself simply because, despite having teenagers in the house, I don’t think I would be very good at capturing the ever-changing teen voice. So I’ve been fascinated to read two new Young Adult books by my online writer friends Tamsyn Murray and Keris Stainton, to see how they go about it.

Lucy Brown, the heroine of Tamsyn Murray’s My So-Called Afterlife is a ghost. But apart from that she is a typical streetwise London teenager, full of bravado and outer-confidence which masks any insecurities. I see and hear girls like Lucy every time I leave the house and was immediately able to relate to her, despite the supernatural elements of the lively narrative. The story of Lucy’s Emo ghost friend Hep (aka Rosemary) also had particular resonance for me and a difficult subject was skilfully and emotionally handled (it made me cry).

Della, the heroine of Keris Stainton’s Della says:OMG!, is witty like Lucy, yet at the same time she has unwarranted low self esteem. Della is a sweet, innocent character who sometimes seems younger than her years, particularly in comparison with confident best friend Maddy and gorgeous new boyfriend Dan (who I thought seemed very mature for his age). The unfolding of Della’s first romance and sexual relationship is depicted with absolute honesty at the centre of this story, so Della will be a reassuring character for less socially confident older teens.

Two very different characters, but I enjoyed both books very much and suspect it won’t be long before I’m looking for more Young Adult fiction in the library...

Tomorrow Keris Stainton will be visiting here, as part of her blog tour, to tell us more about writing Della says:OMG!
So be sure to call back...

Monday, April 26, 2010

First time politics

Don't worry, I'm not going all party political on you. In fact it's just a quick post as our internet connection isn't good at the moment and often won't let more than one computer online at a time. In fact I'm having to use my mobile broadband dongle (why does that word always make me snigger?) to get online now, as both the boys are home.

But I thought it was worth noting that Son 1, who is eligible to vote for the first time ever, is showing an intelligent interest in the election. As Son 1 is not a great reader (I know, I know, we tried our best), the reason for this is, I'm sure, the televised leaders' debates. Son 1 has watched them with us. He has been intelligent enough to form his own views and independently remarked on last Friday morning's biased print media response to the previous night's debate.

If he has become this engaged by the TV debates I wonder how many of the other young first-time voters have done the same and what difference, if any, this will make?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rowan Coleman's Short Story Competition

Lovely Novel Racer and talented author Rowan Coleman has just launched a short story competion for writers without an agent or publishing contract to submit a 1000 word story on the theme of 'Starting Over'. There are some fabulous prizes up for grabs so it's well worth looking at.

Full details can be found here on Rowan's blog.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Head down working

I got my edit back from Caroline at the end of last week, so I am now going through the whole novel, once again tweaking and expanding. It was a relief that no major surgery was needed and I hope to be finished with the edits by the end of this week (I've had today off, as I was meeting friends). Then there are just the synopsis and query letter to complete...

This morning my friends asked me about progress and I told them I was not too far away from being able to start sending it out to agents. They then asked what I would do next and looked horrified when I said I would probably start writing another novel...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ashes to ashes

Watching and reading reports about the travel chaos caused by the cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland, I have been forcibly reminded why we just don't travel with Son 2 nowadays.

I used to love to travel. I've even lived abroad for a while. But anyone who travels regularly will know that from time to time difficulties will be encountered in the form of delays, breakdowns, missed connections or even, as in this case, a totally unpredictable 'act of God'.

Over the years I've had my own share of travel difficulties. A missed connection in Germany while travelling alone at the age of 17 necessitated spending hours on Cologne station in the dead of night. A broken-down plane enforced an extra 24 hours in Hong Kong when all hotels were fully booked and the airline tried to book us into a brothel. A delayed ferry meant ultimately spending an uncomfortable night on Victoria Coach Station. And of course there have been many more frustrations in the form of traffic jams and vehicle breakdowns.

But Son 2 couldn't cope with any of that. Like many people with autism he needs life to be totally predictable, because he has a constant high level of anxiety. There is nothing he loves better than the security of home and he just doesn't 'do' holidays. If he is stressed and unhappy, we are stressed.

For years we did go on holiday, because we are lucky enough to have family living by the sea in a beautiful part of the country. But for the last few years staying in that sort of 'home from home' has not been possible, so we have stayed here.

Of course, not all people with autism are like Son 2 and I have friends who do travel successfully with their autistic offspring. But trips have to be planned like a military operation and recent events have left me wondering how they would cope if stranded abroad by a flight ban, or cooped up in a stalled Eurostar train for hours on end.

Perhaps I am being overly negative in worrying about such things. But I used to return from even our straightforward trips with Son 2 feeling mentally and physically ill from the stress of trying to prevent him doing damage or escaping the building. It was never, ever a holiday for me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A writing heroine

I think I've probably mentioned before that I love Maggie O'Farrell's work. She writes exactly the sort of fiction I aspire to create myself, namely complex, intelligent, beautifully written and commercially successful books.

So I'm excited that she has a new novel, The Hand That First Held Mine, due out later this month. It will certainly go straight onto my wish list. In the meantime I can whet my appetite with the beautiful book trailer:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What a difference sunshine makes...

We all know that warm, sunny weather lifts our spirits. But in my case it seems to give my muscles a boost too.

I've written before about how I've been suffering very painful spasms in one leg for close to three months now. I've always suspected that the onset of this annoying symptom was related to the exceptionally cold weather we had in January and medical opinion has confirmed that it could indeed be the case. Over the last week or so, as the weather gradually got warmer, the pain has receded. It's not gone completely, but I finally feel that it eventually will, which is a huge relief.

On Saturday I went into town and was able to walk around much more freely than I have since the onset. Just to prove it wasn't a fluke, I was able to do the same yesterday. I will have to build my activity up slowly, as fatigue may also be a factor, but I no longer feel scared that the intense pain could prove to be permanent. I've also found that just using a simple tubi-grip elastic support on the ankle (around which the pain now locates itself) is a huge help and I regret not having thought of that before. I'm to be referred for a proper specialist physiotherapy assessment, so when that it happens it will be interesting to see if they have any further ideas.

The end of the school holiday has also brought a return to my novel. Over Easter I wrote one short story, but didn't look at the novel at all. Now I can no longer put off writing the dreaded synopsis and I've made a start this morning...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Frankie Boyle - social media strikes again

I've held back from blogging about this for a few days, because it's a subject upon which I know that, due to my family circumstances, I might not always be objective. But having given it thought over the weekend, I'm now sure about where I stand.

On Thursday morning I logged into my Twitter feed to find that a blog post was being retweeted. I duly read the post and was horrified.

We have watched Mock the Week for a long time and I'm well aware of Frankie Boyle's humour. He is the sort of comedian who takes his material right to the boundary of bad taste and often beyond it. Sometimes he makes me laugh a lot, but just as often he makes me squirm in discomfort. So I wasn't really surprised to read that he thinks that making a string of jokes about people with Down's Syndrome is acceptable. That laughing about people who will almost certainly neither understand the jokes or be able to fight back is acceptable. To me it is definitely not.

But perhaps what shocked me most of all was the way he treated the blogger and her husband, the fact that he said he didn't 'give a f*ck' that his material had upset her, even after she had calmly explained why.

The power of Twitter worked, as it did in the case of Jan Moir's remarks about Stephen Gately. The story was soon picked up by the mainstream media. India Knight wrote an excellent column in yesterday's Sunday Times. A blogger who just wanted to make sense of a confusing situation was plummeted into a media whirl she neither wanted nor expected. But hopefully it has made at least a few people think.

I wonder if Frankie Boyle gives a f*ck now?

Friday, April 09, 2010


A mish-mash of news and random things today.

Firstly and most importantly, I completely forgot to blog about World Autism Awareness Day, which was a whole week ago. If you are interested in finding out more, the UK website is here.

We're all currently a bit under the weather with cough and cold viruses. However, a nice man has removed the virus from Hubby's laptop for a very reasonable fee.

Tesco decided that macaroni cheese was a good substitute for Chinese crispy fried duck in our order today. Why? The macaroni cheese was sent straight back. To be fair, we usually do get fairly sensible substitutions, this was just one of the most random ones we've ever received. But home delivery is such a blessing during school holidays when it is almost impossible to get to a store.

Finally, I now appear to have been married for 22 years. How on earth can that be?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

School holiday, week two

This hasn't been a very productive holiday so far. Last week I regularly decamped to Starbucks or the library to escape the noisy chaos at home. I had good intentions of writing, but none actually got done, although I did read a lot and plan a little. I also learnt a lesson about how much I can do at present without exhaustion setting in.

I have subsequently written a womag-style short story from one of those ideas, which I'm quite pleased with, although it still needs some tweaking. I've also been investigating a future direction I might want to explore with my writing.

Actually, perhaps I have done more than I realised...

Monday, April 05, 2010

Our Easter so far...

Coughing. All of us, but particularly Son 1, who I sent to the emergency doctor on Saturday morning as he sounded so bad.

Chocolate. Though not as much as usual, we've cut down this year.

Coffee. Too much.

Computers. Hubby has managed to get a nasty worm or virus on his new laptop which will need professional attention. I then spent ages ensuring my own machine was thoroughly scanned for nasties.

Dr Who. First impressions of the mad new Doctor were good. Potentially great chemistry with the feisty new assistant and some fabulous one-liners in Steven Moffatt's script.

Sleep. After rushing around possibly a little too much last week, I spent the whole of Easter Sunday afternoon asleep. Of course my daily 5.20am starts with Son 2 haven't helped either.

Writing. None actually, I've been too tired to form words into logical sentences. But I have been doing some more research for the next novel and thinking up some more potential themes for short stories. All I need to do now is sit down and write them.

Friday, April 02, 2010

What writers really earn

So we all know we're not in this for the money, right?

I was interested in this blog post by Gary Smailes of Bubblecow, showing that according to published data the typical (median) annual earnings of a writer is £4000.

That figure struck me particularly because back in 1982, when I left university and started training as a Chartered Accountant, my initial salary in outer London was exactly that, £4000. Even then it wasn't enough for a single person to live on and I only survived because the bank gave me an overdraft, presumably on the basis of future earnings.

Mind you, at the moment even £4000 would be very welcome and actually compares favourably to what the government thinks carers are worth (£2761 in 2009-10 for 35 hrs+ of care a week). It seems that both writers and carers should be working for satisfaction rather than a living wage. Perhaps I really should go back to accountancy.