Friday, February 25, 2011

More about the small stones

For me the river of stones project run in January was a great success, which got me back into the routine of closely observing my environment and writing a little every day (you can see all my small stones here under the label aros).

So I was delighted to hear recently that one of the small stones I submitted for the forthcoming anthology has been accepted. Interestingly, the selected piece (from 23rd January, if you're interested) was only my second favourite of the ten I sent in, which just goes to prove the point that we all look for something different in creative work!

Fiona Robyn, who set up the whole river of stones project with Kaspa, has just published a related ebook. I've already downloaded it and it looks fascinating. You can find the ebook here.

And finally, a new writing community has been set up for those interested in using writing as a way of connecting with the world. The Writing Our Way Home group can be found here and I've joined. It's so nice to be reminded sometimes that there is more to writing than just commercialism.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The death of a bookshop

On Saturday I wandered, possibly for the last time, into our local branch of British Bookshops. It's a shop I've browsed in almost weekly, a shop in which I've purchased not only books, but cards, magazines, stationery and craft materials. It's closing down later this week and a crowd was picking over the discounted stock.

Further up the street a more recent arrival, crammed with what appears to be mainly remaindered books, is also announcing impending closure. In the village a few miles up the road one of the two independent booksellers closed some time ago to make way for a coffee shop. The remaining bookshop is tiny and whilst it is no doubt good for ordering books, somehow I don't find it inviting for browsing. There's not enough choice.

That, I suspect is the key to this. We've all become used the the huge choice of the online booksellers, to getting exactly what we want rather than what happens to be in stock or what we've heard of. Through Amazon we can even peek inside many books or download a sample on to a Kindle, we can try before we buy just like we can in a bricks and mortar shop, but in the comfort of our own homes.

As a student I worked in a bookshop and I know that experienced booksellers are incredibly helpful and knowledgeable. But I wonder if the online community is gradually taking over that role via social media. My own Twitter stream is crammed with tweets by readers, writers, bookshops and publishers and I regularly read book blogs and other reviews. Because I now find shopping more physically difficult I'm increasingly reading books I see recommended, rather than random discoveries in a shop. I used to love Borders before its demise in the UK, but I'm no longer sure I want to walk around such a big store. My shopping has become more targeted.

We can still buy books here. We have WH Smith and a small branch of Waterstone's and perhaps, in the current economic squeeze, that will suffice. Books are sadly becoming a luxury item for many people, as are magazines, and yet libraries are threatened with closure. That doesn't make much sense to me.

And I'm very sad to see British Bookshops disappear. My Saturday afternoons won't be the same.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writing update

Son 2 has been getting up ridiculously early for the last few weeks. Despite our best efforts he is noisy, leaving us all feeling like zombies during the day. Add to this the introduction of my new medication, with a gradual increasing of the dosage, and I've not been feeling at my best.

As a result the total number of words written since the 1st January has been disappointing. But I have made a few submissions, of both the novel and shorter work. I've also clarified an important research point for novel two. It is critical to the plot and the backstory of one character, but I'd originally had difficulty finding the exact information I needed, either in the library or online. In the end I discovered it by entirely chance when I followed a link on a random Tweet. Such is the power of Twitter. I'm pleased that I can now progress without the possibility of a major rewrite of this character hanging over me.

So hopefully onwards and upwards. I promise I'll update the word counter when I stop chopping and changing my opening scenes to get into the characters and settle down to a better writing rhythm.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The saga of the dishwasher

Hubby and I were both brought up in families where there was not much money and even in better times our parents continue to live frugally. Although we were more comfortably off it wasn't until we had an extension built on our small 1920's kitchen that we actually had the space for a dishwasher. The extension meant that we had a separate laundry area and could move the washing machine and bring the tumble dryer in from the garage. We filled the space left by the washing machine with a pretty almond-coloured dishwasher which matched the kitchen units well.

Fast forward about eight years and the dishwasher packed up. This was at a very difficult time in our lives, one which we've moved on from and I don't want to drag up again, other than to say that getting a new dishwasher delivered was simply impossible for a while. Hubby volunteered to wash the dishes (after I said I wouldn't) and that is how it has remained, but the deceased almond-coloured dishwasher still fills the space in the kichen and glares reproachfully at me. From time to time I have broached the subject of a replacement, but Hubby didn't want to spend his redundancy money, worries about the running cost, thinks it's not essential, complains it takes just as long to unload one as to hand wash the dishes. You get the picture.

Last December Caroline ran a giveaway from Appliances Online on her blog and although I normally only enter book giveaways I stuck down a comment. I wasn't one of the lucky ones but it started me thinking about a dishwasher again. I'm tired of the piles of dirty dishes and having to wipe down a wet counter and floor after him, but at the same time I can no longer comfortably stand for long enough to do the job myself and I now have a worrying tendency to drop things. I began to plot how I could gradually find the money and work gently on Hubby again in the meantime.

Then, between Christmas and New Year, disaster struck when our washing machine died in a rather dramatic fashion. Having a disabled child means that a washer is an appliance we really can't do without for more than a day or two, especially since the launderette just down the road was transformed into an Indian takeaway. And our tumble dryer had been becoming less and less efficient, so given the impending VAT hike we replaced both, in a package deal. Gulp.

The dishwasher will just have to wait again.

(As a result of my comment on Caroline's appliance giveaway post the company offered me a small non-electrical incentive for mentioning them on here and although I have no personal experience, I was so impressed by Caroline's enthusiasm for the company's service that I agreed. Anyone leaving a comment with contact link on this post will also have possibility of being contacted by the Appliances Online team.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Writing about issues

I've just read this blog post by Elizabeth Baines (via Rachel Carter on Facebook) and it's got me thinking.

My first novel, Walking on Tiptoe, a novel about a family affected by autism, might be considered by many to be an 'issue' novel. For me it is not, because that is the reality of the only life I've known as a parent. But could being perceived as such actually be damaging? When I planned the novel I agonised over whether it should be literary or women's fiction, as I think my writing style can naturally straddle the two. In the end, because of the female first person narrator and the significance of a young child, I decided it needed to be written and marketed as women's fiction. I still think that was the right decision, but it is a tough market for a debut novelist to crack.

Jodi Picoult currently writes issue-led fiction to great success. I have been interested to see that a writer called Diane Chamberlain, a 'Southern Jodi Picoult' according to a quote I read on Amazon, seems to be currently be doing very well in the UK Kindle charts, following competitive pricing of some of her books. Indeed I have two of her novels currently waiting on my own Kindle. The public still seems to have an appetite for this type of fiction, even if misery memoirs are perhaps fading away. But I wonder if people's reading choices are determined to a certain extent by their life circumstances. Were people more likely to read about 'difficult' subjects when their own lives were very comfortable and will they turn to lighter material in the testing years to come?

Walking on Tiptoe is categorically not my story. The heroine, Emma, is not me. Her son Ben is not my son. They are both composite fictional characters. Their story is not ours, it is pure fiction inspired by snippets of parental testimony I've absorbed over the years from many sources, both journalistic and real life. But I wonder if agents and publishers will erroneously think that it is autobiography?

When I was writing the novel, I was certain about just one thing, that I wanted to be truthful about the realistic level of help to which parents of autistic children are entitled. I didn't want my work to deceive anyone. As that is an area which is changing all the time, even more so in the current political climate, I decided to set the book clearly in the years when Son 2 was young, because I knew I could be utterly truthful about what sort of services some people were receiving back then. If I was to write about what is available currently, which can easily be researched, the reality might be totally different if/when the book is published. It might set up false hopes for vulnerable parents and that is the last thing I would want to do.

But beyond some practical facts, the storyline and the main setting are both fictional. So when I submit the novel do I continue to mention that I have experience in the area of autism and can therefore vouch for the authenticity of certain facts? Or do I keep quiet, to prevent agents thinking it is autobiographical, even though my personal experiences could potentially be a media selling point?

I'm willing to accept that Walking on Tiptoe would probably be a 'Marmite' novel, because it deals with facts that some readers would rather ignore. But with one child in less than one hundred currently being diagnosed somewhere on the autistic spectrum, it is a situation which is not going to go away. Characters like Emma are here to stay, they are at the school gate, in the supermarket and in the park. For them life is not a romantic comedy.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Parisienne Walkways

Can this really have been a hit as long ago as 1979?

RIP Gary Moore and Phil Lynott

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Adieu to the river of stones

Yesterday, along with many other participants, I posted my final small stone for the river of stones project.

For me it was a hugely enjoyable experience. It made me stop and focus briefly, to concentrate on writing a daily posting. (I admit that two were posted on the subsequent day, but this was just the result of me liking to write my stone then leave it as a draft blog post for an hour or two, ready to edit. A couple of times I simply forgot to finalise the posting before midnight.)

I started off, and ended, by writing stones in haiku format and in between I slipped happily into the easier prose format. Some fragments I felt were very successful, others more mundane. But whatever style I wrote in, the posts became addictive.

So, although I won't be continuing to post a daily small stone, I don't think I'll be giving up completely. Watch this space and the 'aros' subject heading in the side bar. And huge thanks to Fiona and Kaspa for creating such an inspiring project to kick off a new year.