Thursday, October 31, 2013

Scary things

Happy Hallowe'en!

My son is very excited about Hallowe'en this year. He's quite a sensitive soul and last year he was a bit worried by the holiday: all the fake blood, the skeletons, the pumpkins carved into leering faces. It was too scary for him. He dressed up as a cat and he wanted to carve our pumpkin into Peso, the medic penguin from The Octonauts, who is kind and helpful.

This year, he is nearly seven and he is all about the gore. He's painting himself green and dressing up as a zombie, pretending to gnaw on a plastic severed hand. He made sure our pumpkin (above) was very toothy indeed. When I asked if I could make it smile, he said, 'Okay Mummy, but give it an EVIL smile. And put in MORE FANGS.'

This is, of course, awesome. And I'm encouraging it like crazy. Though truth be told, I'm not keen on the plastic severed hand and asked him to take it off the table during dinner.

I love scary stories. Being from Maine, I'm a huge Stephen King fan. I love so many of his books, particularly the early stories, but the one I like best is Misery. It's not a supernatural story, and it's not full of action; the main character spends most of his time tied to a bed. The horror comes entirely from character, which is how I like it. This year, for my delicious thrills, I'm reading an advance copy of The Girl With All the Gifts by M.J. Carey, a zombie story with a difference, and although it's got plenty of gore and thrills, it's the character and emotion that sucks me in.

Meanwhile, I'm facing some heebie-jeebies particular to a writer: I sent my latest book to my agent yesterday, and she's reading it even as I type. (I know this because she keeps sending me emails to tell me so.) It's pretty scary. But is awesome. I'm so lucky to have this sort of terror.

Being scared when you know you're safe is wonderful. It gives you a thrill, and makes you feel even more grateful for the warm bed, the locked door, the loved ones nearby. I think of people who are genuinely frightened, who fear for their loved ones and themselves, who are under threat or in pain. Who live, in this country and in others, with the real horror of poverty or sickness or prejudice or injustice.

And I am thankful that we can play at being scared.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Baptism of Fire

When this blog was first started several years ago, I wrote a post about my ‘stage fright’ – I wasn’t used to doing talks in front of an audience and I’d just had to do one.  I was terrified!

I knew that as an author I would be called upon to do things like that at conferences and other author events, but I felt it just wasn’t me and never would be.  At the time, I doubted I’d ever get used to it.

I persevered and did the odd talk here and there and those who’d told me it would become easier with time were right in a way.  With practise, I learned that I could do it even though I was still scared each time, shaking inwardly (and sometimes outwardly too).  The key for me was to be thoroughly prepared, with notes in case I faltered and little prompts to keep me on track.  Doing joint talks with other authors was also a good idea, as we sparked off each other.  And kind, attentive audiences helped a lot as well – when you feel people are there because they truly want to listen to what you have to say, the nerves subside.

During the last two weeks, however, I’ve had what can only be described as a baptism of fire.  Together with fellow author Henriette Gyland, I was asked to go to Sweden to help promote our books over there, which was lovely.  What we didn’t know though, was that we’d be interviewed about our books in front of quite large audiences – in one case 250 people!

Two things helped us to cope with this – (1) we had what amounted to practice sessions at the Gothenburg Book Fair, being interviewed three times a day with only a small number of people watching each time and (2) we had a brilliant interviewer called Lotta Bromé.  Lotta knows exactly how to get the best out of everyone she talks to and whenever we faltered, she stepped in effortlessly with some comment that helped us overcome any sudden silence or blank.  She was superb and with her support, it hardly felt like an ordeal at all.

So will I stop being nervous now when I have to give talks?  Probably not.  But it’s certainly a lot less daunting now than it was three or four years ago, so who knows, in ten years time I might even look forward to it!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The TARDIS - Further Confessions of a Pack Rat

My flat is the Tardis. I know it doesn’t look like a blue police phone box but it does share one key characteristic:
It is bigger on the inside than the outside.
How do I know this, I can hear you ask. Well I’ll tell you. It is the only explanation for how, I have managed to remove two vans, one MPV and one small car’s worth of stuff from what is in reality only a small one bedroom flat. And that doesn’t take into account the kitchen stuff which I left in situ for my tenants.
I wouldn’t complain so much if I had just loaded those vehicles up without having done an initial reconciliation of my stuff... but I did! Hundreds of books went and I waved my sofa bed a teary goodbye at the Wandsworth Dump.
It is a mystery that one flat could contain so much stuff. I blame the storage space. Unusually for a central London flat it has quite a few cupboards. In fact they are the sort with handy top cupboards that can only be accessed by a stepladder and a long arm. It is amazing what was lurking in the back. A pair of ski boots emerged slightly dusty. Then a hard hat, reflective jacket and steel capped boots for construction site visits – no, I am not hiding members of The Village People (although I do have a fine collection of cowboy boots), it is for the day job.
This weekend I went through yet another cull of belongings that had emerged from my TARDIS, throwing things on the charity shop pile willy nilly. One day I’ll get my stuff down to manageable proportions... until I move back into the TARDIS of course.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Book Length

Love this Cormorant braving the waves...I took this pic on yesterday's celebration walk on Lizard POint
My next book A Cornish Stranger is due to be handed in on the 31st of this month. Yesterday I typed the words THE END but in truth it is far from the end. What happens now is what will make the book shine, or I hope it will.

However I have a problem at the moment. The book is shortish. Not novella length and not novel length yet I feel in my gut that the story is complete. I think with the themes and seriousness of some of the issues I don't want to pad the story out with things that will what do I do?

Today is my day away from the story. Despite the rain I plan to go for a walk, take a long bath and read something else. I know I actually like 'shorter' reads. But I wonder how readers feel? Do they feel cheated when the book isn't a door stop? What do you think?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Career Planning, or Sailing Blind

© Krzysztof Ostoja-helczynski | Dreamstime Stock Photos
In the day job, there are supervisions and appraisals. Evaluations and training needs assessments. Recently I've been looking at coporate, team and personal goals. Short, medium and long term. I can look at strategies, plans and peg my own aspirations to them. I can work with my line manager, area manager and team to set realistic, appropriate goals. Beyond that, I can career plan and set where I want to be in a few years' time.

 I feel the need for some writing career planning, but who do I work with? I need direction and an action plan.

"Are you okay, you look sad," asked Husband the other day. I wasn't sad, precisely, just preoccupied with trying to work out something I didn't appear to be able to work out... I couldn't figure out what to do and how to get there.

Yes, I know I could just write, but I feel like that old adage, "if one does not know for which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable." I've had a long break from writing seriously, and my writing confidence has suffered and I no longer know for sure what I can do.

Should I finish the big blockbuster or the abandoned Third Book? Should I try something completely different, or turn my attention to short stories? I feel like I can't afford to get this wrong, but have no idea how to work through it to get it right.

But maybe - unpalateable thought - there is no right or wrong thing and everything must take its chance.

But, man, I need a plan.