Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Saturday 30 June 2012

What a Difference a Day Makes.

We all adopt personae at one time or another. 

I honestly believe that my behaviour and my personality are more nearly approaching each other, in most respects, than they ever have, but, of late, I find that I am rather more playful than I have been in the past. There is something about getting older that is incredibly liberating. I have no one to please but myself, and, after all these years, it turns out I really have very little in the way of a reputation to live up to.
I detect a sea change. There are reasons for this, some of which I am fully aware of, but won’t discuss here because they are not all mine own, and other people’s secrets are precisely that. The point is this: Change comes upon us and it doesn’t much matter why, what matters is how we choose to deal with change, how willing we are to embrace it, and whether or not our attitude is positive.
My attitude is very deliberately positive.
Some of the changes in my life at present are very much being thrust upon me, and I have chosen, quite consciously, to thrust back.
Yesterday, I got rid of my grey hair, at least for the time being. I coloured my hair for an age, but three years ago, or so, I decided that the grey, the badger as we grew to call it, might look rather good on me, sophisticated, even, and I was going to embrace it. It was serious hair, and why the hell not?
Yesterday afternoon a total stranger stopped me in the street and told me that I looked cool. Last night the husband snogged me rudely when he arrived home, and ran his hand over the nap of my hair, which nearly resembles a vixen pelt. Then, during dinner, my favourite waiter, who has the best taste of anyone I know, also commented on how fierce I was looking.
People can be lovely, but I’m going to try to bear in mind that perhaps I am looking good right now, perhaps the fact that I am enjoying life, throwing myself into all sorts of madness, vamping up my wardrobe, posting photos of myself in a corset, tinting my hair, waxing my eyebrows and flirting with the husband morning, noon and night is giving me the sort of glow that people respond to.
I tell myself that is just possible.

Friday 29 June 2012

On the Subject of Corsets

Corsets have come up in ‘conversation’ several times in the past few days.
Well, I did warn you this blog might become personal, and the corset is, let us not pretend otherwise, an incredibly personal item of attire... perhaps the most personal.
When I turned 40, I had a corset made. You could buy into the whole underwear as sexual repression riff and decide that the corset is not for you, and I applaud your right to do so and your course of action in discarding your undergarments. There are days when I, too, go bra-less and even panty-less, although generally not for political reasons.
On the other hand, I’m a big fan of the corset.
As someone with a long history of back problems, and a hankering for gorgeous clothes, (and why shouldn’t those two things work hand in glove?) I adore corsets in all their forms. They suit all women and some men, and they are wonderful feats of engineering.
My corset cost me a decent amount of money when I bought it, despite being a fairly generic one made using only a few basic measurements, and the next one I have made, and rest assured, I will have another made, will fit like a glove, if I have anything to say on the subject, and will probably cost a small fortune, but oh how wonderful I shall look and feel in it.
The subject of corsets is writ large on my consciousness at the moment. The wonderful Rosie Garland (aka Rosie Lugosi) spends a good deal of her professional life in one and is an advocate of their proper manufacture and fitting, and recently posted on the subject on her FaceBook page, concerning sales of cheap substandard products.  I have also been researching burlesque dancers, who employ the corsetieres’ arts in the most obvious, but also some of the most delightful ways, and a friend of mine on Twitter has been considering investing in one for herself. You can see why I am obsessed with them at the moment.
In every case, I have been happy to comment, and tempted to post a photograph of myself in my corset.
In the end, I have done the former and not the latter.
This, I suppose, is the bit that is ultimately personal. The corset is not the subject of good old English slap-happy humour to me. I would not subject myself to the vulgarity of a Benny Hill sketch nor expose myself to be ridiculed as some middle-aged woman pretending to be a sex symbol. It is a nonsense. 
I feel great in my corset. It makes me stand up straight. It pulls in my waist and pulls up my torso. It makes me drop my shoulders and fill my lungs, and, yes, it thrusts my breasts up under my chin in a way that might not appear entirely innocent.
Why do I care?
My corset should say nothing more about me than that I own a corset. It should say nothing about how I feel about sex, or sexual tastes, or even my sense of humour, and yet, some of you, or certainly some people, might interpret pictures of me in my corset in all sorts of ways that I might find distasteful.
I say again, why do I care?
In the end, I find that I do not.
If anyone should ever hold up a picture of me in my corset and ask, “What were you thinking?” I’d like to think I might be able to answer, “What the hell business is it of yours?”
So, here it is! 
Think what you like. 
I don’t care.
This is what this woman looks like in her corset. 

If your opinion of me has changed, I can only hope that it is for the better, and, if it has changed for the worse... Well... That’s on you.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby! Part ii

It just goes to show you... Or, at least, it just goes to show me... you can’t second guess your readership.
When I wrote, yesterday, about having a crack at the “Fifty Shades of Grey” market, I was joking... OK, I was teasing, I was positing an hyphothesis. I don’t do it all that often, but everyone else is talking about that particular book, so I thought I’d jump on the band wagon. The thing was more a cynical exercise in having 50 shades as a label on my blog than it was a genuine attempt to engage with the material. I even knocked out a sentence or two of parody at the end of the post, just for fun.
Perhaps I was wrong.
I got lots of messages of encouragement. Lots of people said that if I wrote it, they would read it. Lots of people said there was nothing wrong with a bit of well-written erotica, and I can’t say I disagree with that.
Write what you  know, they say.
And there’s the rub. Let’s just suppose I did know anything about sex, I’m still not sure I’d want to write about it. Part of the point of being a writer, for me, at least, is to emerse myself in all the stuff that interests me, but which I might not have any first-hand experience of.
I want to write about elves and space warriors. I want to write about murderers and the criminally insane. I want to write about the truth. I’m not sure where I’d find the truth in an old-fashioned pot-boiler. I’m not sure where I’d home-in on the universal significance of a sex act without being tempted to speculate on the banality of it. For me, I suppose that sex is only, ultimately, interesting to those taking part.
All the best books are about sex and death; all that is most affirming about life is wrapped up in those two themes. We have known it since Ovid, never mind Chaucer or that Johnny-come-lately Shakespeare. I’m just not sure the best way to tackle the themes of sex and death is to write about people indulging in various sex acts. That doesn’t seem to me to be the point.
It’s like all those wonderful actresses who say they’ll never take their clothes off, until they find that most extraordinary of scripts combined with that most charismatic of directors, and they decide that it’s all worth it, that the plot demands they hang their tails out in the wind.
If or when I have an idea that absolutely requires I describe a series of sex acts, I’ll let you know, and I’ll give the writing my very best shot. Until then, satisfy yourselves that I probably wouldn’t have been terribly good at it.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby!

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is making it big... very, very big!

Apparently, it isn’t very good. Some critics go so far as to suggest that it really isn’t very good at all. I haven’t read it and I don’t plan to... At least, I didn’t plan to. I might have to revise my position on that.
I’ve been having sex for a long time. That doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, I’m sure, after all 
a) you all know that I’ve known the husband for 30 years, and 
b) you also know I have two daughters. 
You don’t want me to talk about sex, though, do you, not really? It’s a bit weird when people you don’t really know start discussing a subject we all think we’re experts on, particularly when it’s out of context, particularly when it’s a middle-aged, middle class, middle-English, white woman. What could I possibly know, right? 

What indeed?
Then I had a conversation with the husband, and I decided that it might be fun to write about sex. It might be fun to write a book for a marketplace that clearly wants sex. It might be fun to have a look at the other end of the spectrum.
“Naming Names” is a book about sex of the worst, most damaging kind. It was very tough to write, but I’m confident that I injected it with the sort of brutal reality and utter acceptance that the subject matter required.
I wonder whether I can do something similar with the fun stuff. I wonder whether I can raise a smile and then an eyebrow. I wonder whether I can conjure a tingle and then a shockwave. I wonder whether I can make an audience’s giggle turn into a throaty laugh. I wonder whether I can get down and dirty with the sweat and tears, with the grinding and moaning, with the flesh and the filth and the fantasies.
Right here, right now... I’m almost tempted to try.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Time and Tide

Time is doing that funny concertinaing thing again.
It is most confusing.
I know, these days, we’re taught that time isn’t linear or a constant, and I’m down with that; I’ve read enough SF to know the rules. I just respond in the strangest ways when it does that shit in real life.
There is no point banging on about being old. 50 is the new 35 and 19 year olds never did know what they were doing, and, anyway, with the advent of the internet, no one ever really dies any more.
On the other hand, I met my husband 30 years ago this week. I am 30 whole years older than I was when first we met. That’s two bolshy teenagers‘ worth.  I realise that makes him 30 years older too; I’m not daft, but really? 
My mother and sister were both grandparents by the time they were my age. How is that even possible? I look into my younger daughter’s wise, 20 year old eyes, and it’s as if I’m staring back at myself... and that’s how it’s possible.
Somehow, I am a 20 year old girl and a 35 year old woman, and my mother and my sister all rolled into one. I don’t know whether I’m coming or going, but there is a little bit of me that wants to celebrate.
I’m calling it my midlife crisis, but, actually, I’m finding the daughter enchanting, the husband charming and witty, and my entire life utterly amusing. Some days I feel like it’s all speeding past and I’m living off a wing and a prayer. So be it.
Life’s too short.
In the meantime, I’m off to indulge the 20 year old in me. I’m not sure what’s more tempting, a good pair of jeans or a radical new hair colour, but something’s got to give, just a little bit... Something’s got to give soon, before I turn back into the woman that’s already been a grown-up for 30 years. Heaven forbid.

Monday 25 June 2012

Balance and Band Wagons

Yesterday, on this blog, I threatened to open up and discuss stuff that wasn’t writing related. Should I say threatened? Or is promised more accurate? Certainly my intentions are good.

I do find myself fearful, today, though. I do wonder just where to dip my toe... and how.
Should a blog, or any public venture really be a pulpit or, for that matter a confessional? I rather doubt it. 
It is not that I don’t admire people who talk about the personal, who talk about the things that affect their lives, and the lives of other people. People are universally touched and delighted when the right sort of people say the right sort of things about the right sort of subjects, but who and what are they?
Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax talking openly about their depressions might make a difference to people’s perception of mental illness, their own or other people’s, and that has to be a good thing, right?
Well, yes, I guess that it does have to be a good thing.
I am not Stephen Fry, though, and nor am I Ruby Wax, and even if I was one or other of those people my experiences would still be uniquely my own, however universal my appeal. 
I have said many times, in private, that I am sick and tired of celebrities thinking that they become more interesting to us when they decide to expose the true miseries of their existences. If they want to make a difference in kids’ lives, are they really going to do it by claiming in a red-top that they were bullied at school? If they want to make a difference in kids’ lives couldn’t they just volunteer for a couple of hours a week in an inner city primary?
I suppose, in the end, they couldn’t. I suppose, in the end, one of the kids, or, who knows, a teacher, would only have to get his mobile out and twitter a picture and the whole thing would turn into a pap-fest.
I wasn’t bullied at school...  not really... and I certainly didn’t do any bullying. I did spend many happy hours when my daughters were in school reading with special needs kids. It would be rather lovely, I’m sure, to be successful, and I hope that, one day, I will be, but there’s more to life, and I hope I know that. Those kids didn’t care who I was or what I was; they just liked having someone to themselves for ten minutes. 
I can’t say that I blame them.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Musings on Writing and Other Stuff

When I began to blog, I did so with the mission statement, “Musings on writing and other stuff”. I believe that, thus far at least, I have written more-or-less exclusively about writing, and not at all about ‘other stuff’. Perhaps it is time to alter the balance a little bit, to shift the emphasis.
Having written this blog every day for 145 days, I asked a friend about his reactions to it. He made some good and useful points, one of which was that he felt that I was practising being a blogger. I think, in a way, that he was right. It isn’t that I don’t believe what I say, because I do, but he knows that I hold the views I’ve expressed here in the past four or five months, and he knows that I air them regularly and without embarrassment. He has heard it all before.
When it comes to writing fiction, I am the sort of person who opens a vein. The experience is very real to me, visceral almost, and it matters very much. I think that, at least in part, is why I left it so late to begin to write in earnest. I hope that I will one day be the sort of blogger who gets down and dirty, and who shares the very real, but that means getting personal, really letting you into my life, and, let’s face it, I don’t know you. 
It isn’t always terribly easy to open a vein to fictionalise ideas, so, imagine how painful it might be to open a vein to share what is personal. Imagine opening a vein, sharing the ideas and then having to somehow justify them to a divided audience, to strangers who can maintain a veil of privacy while I expose myself to the World.
It can be done. I have seen it done, often beautifully, with guts and great heart, and those blogs leave their mark upon me. I always find myself feeling very protective towards those bloggers, though. I always find myself trawling the comments on those blogs to make sure that the bloggers' remarks have been understood and appreciated. 
I always think it is very brave and rather wonderful when people are willing to lay themselves bare in this way. At the same time, I think it might be rather foolish to try to do it myself. 
We shall see.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Personality versus Behaviour

I’ve just been having a fascinating conversation about the differences between personality and behaviour; loosely speaking, the differences between the things we can change about ourselves: our behaviour, and the things we can’t: our personalities.

Hopefully, as we get older, the two things come closer together, our behaviour mirrors more closely our personalities and we are able to be truer to ourselves and more transparent to others.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
I am given to wonder, though, whether this is true for the characters that we invent.
Do they have internal lives? are they complex? Is it truly possible, as a writer, to be sane and yet to keep a number of very real people in my mind all at the same time?
Honestly, I do not know the answer to this question. I do not know whether I know my characters entirely. I do not know whether there is more to learn about them that I will never know unless I need to know those things. If the book I am writing doesn’t take those characters into certain situations will some questions about their personalities ever be answered? Is their a difference between a character’s personality and his behaviour? I suppose if the piece is written in the omniscient third person there is room for that, but what of other structures?
The hero of “Naming Names” spoke to me. I always felt that she had a life of her own and a voice of her own. I always felt that there were things about her that she did not choose to tell me. I always felt that she had a life outside of the novel, and that she would continue to have a life out in the World when she had finished with me.
Perhaps that says more about my personality than it does about hers. That I write about it speaks volumes.

Friday 22 June 2012

Getting Personal

I am apt to forget that my life is extraordinary. It doesn’t feel as if it is. 
Mostly, my life seems very domestic to me. There is the husband and the daughter, and the house and the cat, and there is writing and reading, and the occasional movie.
Then I have a perfectly ordinary conversation, and my life suddenly seems very different from other people’s.
It seems very strange to me.
I went to my reading group last night, where we talked about Paula McLain’s novel, “The Paris Wife”, and we ended up discussing the ‘artistic temperament’. Of course, this is not one thing; artists of all kinds are people too, but the consensus appeared to be that Hemingway was beastly to his wife. This led to talk about other artists who had apparently transgressed in some way, including Picasso, who was labelled a womaniser.
I pointed out that I could easily be the sort of woman who’d be enchanted, dare I say seduced, by either of those men. I said that I thought intense creativity came with a kind of appetite for life that made artists, men and women both, so engaged with the things they were interested in that, excepting the truly obnoxious or immoral, much of their behaviour fell within a range that might seem a little extreme, but was probably excusable, and certainly forgivable... by me at least.
Just writing that makes me wonder whether I’m on shaky ground. Am I trying to excuse my own peccadilloes by claiming to be a creative type and therefore beyond societal constraints? I hope not.
The truth is, though, I do have opinions and I do share them freely. I do become impassioned on all sorts of subjects, and I do become snarky. I don’t want to claim that I feel a wider range of emotions than do other people. That would be arrogant and absurd; I do think that perhaps I enjoy that wider range of emotions, though; that I’m rather more content to go to the less comfortable places that others might shy from. 
I never feel more alive than when I am crying great heaving sobs, whether they are generated by joy or pain. I think that when a life is full of creative, clever, charismatic people who have full, interesting, passionate lives there is the opportunity to cry more often. I just think most people don’t want to cry.
One of the women in the reading group said that she wanted the roses around the door. That’s all well and good, and I wish her joy of them. I want something else. I want to stamp through the nettles at the gate, slide around on the moss between the paving stones, fill my nose with the scents of crushed herbs and dying blooms, draw blood on barbs and thorns, gather what looks and smells and tastes good and sweet, and bitter and sour, and I want to tear my hands to pieces in the process... and that’s just for starters.
Anyone care to join me?

Thursday 21 June 2012

The Long Lunch

There are, I suppose, disadvantages to being self-employed, which is what most writers are. 
It’s important to be disciplined, which isn’t always easy, and it couldn’t hurt to be a bit of a self-starter, motivation-wise. Sometimes, the mental workspace can feel like a bit of a vacuum where insufficient praise and encouragement is fed in compared to the colossal weight of doubt and concern. 
Oddly, it’s pretty difficult to take a break, to stop, to risk booking a holiday, because what happens if a job comes in? Or edits need doing? Or a deadline shifts? or illness strikes?
On the other hand, some days, it’s not very easy to ignore the washing, dishes, beds, hoovering, tidying, cleaning, or a hundred household jobs that really need doing, and it’s a nightmare trying to work out just where work ends and so-called leisure time begins.
The husband and I work in the same industry, and we find ourselves talking about the jobs we’re doing at all sorts of odd times; if we’re in the supermarket, we call it multi-tasking, and everybody’s happy, but what if it’s date night and we’re all dressed up and dinner’s costing us a fortune? Is it really a good idea to thrash out plot points right there, right then? May be not.
The biggest single advantage to the husband and I both being freelancers, both working from home, is that, once in a while, and it doesn’t happen very often, because if it did it wouldn’t be nearly such a huge treat... Once in a while the husband and I take a long lunch together. 
It’s lovely.
The long lunch is euphemistic for spending three hours in the middle of a day doing something that no one in their right mind would consider normal behaviour during the working week.
We think of ourselves as nine-to-fivers, but, once in a while, we just don’t want to wait until Saturday to go window shopping, and sometimes we just don’t want to wait until Sunday morning to catch up with the week’s papers and magazines. 
Yes, I know it’s decadent, but you really ought to try it some time.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Taking a Break

I made plans yesterday to have a girly weekend away with a writer friend of mine. She’s a lovely, funny, caring woman, and I suspect we’re going to have a lot of fun!

I’ve never done this before. It comes as a bit of a shock that I’m doing it now.
I don’t really do breaks. The husband and I have never actually been away on holiday together. (That time when my parents took us when we were 17 doesn’t count). Other people find this weird, but it has never seemed weird to us.
Until now... apparently.
It all began when we were invited to the husband’s oldest friend’s wedding... in Australia! We’re going, obviously, but it’s not as if you can just go halfway around the World for a weekend, so, we’re planning some other stuff while we’re there... like sightseeing and touring, and... you know... holidaying!
Then the Maldives came up in conversation. Don’t ask; I don’t know!
I surprised myself enormously by getting excited about reading on the beach and eating too much seafood and drinking fruity cocktails out of fancy glasses. I even went on-line to see what I could find in the way of bikinis... BIKINIS for goodness sake!
First things first, though, I’m off on the train in a few weeks for a couple of days of silliness with my pal.
I wonder how it will affect the writing? I wonder what will appear later in scenes in stories? I wonder what ideas will be triggered by the experiences we share? I wonder how much shopping we can fit in? And how many meals?
I wonder if I’ll get the chance to write, at all? I bet she won’t mind if I just take the odd hour to myself to tickle the keyboard and keep the brain ticking over... She’s a writer too; she knows how it goes...

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Whether the Weather

The weather has been a huge topic of conversation of late. To be fair, this is England, so the weather has always been a topic of conversation; it’s what we resort to almost before we even consider other subjects for smalltalk. 
I never really expected to be asked about writing and the weather, but, recently, I was. “How does the weather affect your writing?” I was asked.
“Crikey! I hadn’t thought that it did,” I said.
And then I began to back-pedal.
Of course the weather has an effect on my work, in fact, it influences not only the content, but also the amount of work I can produce, and even my writing practice.
Depending on the weather and the time of the year, I write at different times of the day in different rooms in the house. I could hardly be more influenced by the weather on any given day of the year if I tried.
I am not an outdoor person, and yet I suffer from SAD; that’s Seasonal Affective Disorder to the rest of you. There’s a whole serotonin/melatonin thing that renders me more-or-less useless in the winter, or, at least, it did, until I discovered tanning booths. I’m not particularly vain, and I’ve never been into the tanned look, but I do tan year round, now, and I definitely feel infinitely better for it.
In the winter, I sit in my very cosy drawing room with a log fire burning if I want to write. I sit in a big leather wing chair and wrap a blanket around my legs. I also turn on every lamp in the room.
In the summer, I sit in my very bright sitting room, under a pair of large skylights when I want to write, or I sit at my desk which faces North out onto the garden, so the light is delightful.
When I began writing this blog, I wondered what the lesson of the day would be, and here it comes.
If you want to be a writer, and if you want to be able to make a job of it, writing a decent amount under circumstances that might not always be entirely satisfactory, it can’t hurt to have a number of tried and tested coping strategies.
So, for me, that means having somewhere comfortable to sit that is very well lit. I don’t have a dedicated work room, for the most part my laptop is my desk, but I do have comfortable places to go to work that makes the writing easier... And you should find out where those places are for you, too.

Monday 18 June 2012

It's Monday, so Bring It On!

I might have mentioned this before, but I do like Mondays.
Monday always feels so full of possibilities.
After reading my blog, yesterday, several of you suggested that perhaps I needed a day off. Well, you might have been right. I didn’t mean to take yesterday off, but that’s what happened. I enjoyed it. I did nothing of any value whatsoever, except put a smile on the husband’s face by tracking down and sending him a groovy Youtube link, and I went to bed easy of mind and light heart.
I didn’t sleep, of course, but that’s another story.
Today, I feel ready for anything, which is just as well, because there is much to do.
This week, I’d like to plan several short stories, and another possible collaboration with the husband. I also need to talk to my lovely agent about the edits I’ve already done to “Naming Names”, about what’s next for the novel, and about the other projects I have in mind. I also have to sell my lovely agent on the idea for the next novel, which I’m now absolutely falling over myself to begin.
Add to that some trip-planning, and a couple of appointments that must be scheduled, and the housekeeping will be taken care of and I can get onto the real work.
This weeks ‘real work’ is the final three chapters in a long-running serialised novel that the husband and I have been working on for a year. It’s been a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t have missed out on the experience for anything, which is why I plan to do it again in the not too distant future.
This is my rare opportunity to pick up strands and work to a fairly predetermined plot. It’s rather liberating, in it’s own way, and besides, I get to write about elves. How cool is that?

Sunday 17 June 2012

Don't Do as I Do...

Well... Today was a total wash out.
I put my hands up.
I should have been writing. I intended to write, and what came out? Bugger all.
These days are few and far between for me, thank goodness, and I’ve had such a happy few weeks that I’m tempted to let this one slide. In fact, I couldn’t be less stressed about it.
I don’t suffer from writer’s block. That nonsense is for other people.
It does make me wonder, though. I must seem like a nightmare to all of you. I’m forever saying that if you only work harder and learn more, and apply yourself and have higher than average expectations, you might one day stand a chance of making something of yourself, and here am I at teatime on Fathers’ Day, and I still haven’t written my daily blog, let alone contributed anything to the chapter that I had planned to work on today.
How on Earth can I expect you to strive if I can manage to dawdle through a day like I did today?
I even sent the husband out with the daughter. They went shopping, and came home several hours later with all sorts of good things, including wondrous gifts, wrapped in tissue paper and packaged in boxes, just for me, and what had I done, having shooed them out of the door so that they didn’t distract me from my afternoon of hard at work?
I’ll tell you what I’d done.
I’d drunk three cups of coffee and a large glass of lemonade. I’d been to the loo three times, because of drinking too much. I’d spent an hour on Youtube and sent the husband a groovy link. I’d spent another hour researching a possible career for the daughter, even though I knew she wouldn’t be remotely interested in it, and then I spent an hour on-line window shopping for footwear.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is today’s example of how not to do as I do, but to do as I say.
Off you go, and be productive, while I decide on those shoes.

Saturday 16 June 2012

Unleashing the Hedonist

Appetite in all its guises is a wonderful thing.
The husband is a man of enormous appetites, and I love him for it. I struggle a little with my appetites sometimes, finding it more difficult to let loose the hedonist in me. She’s a dangerous creature.
I’ve been thinking about this long and hard, today, though, and I’ve decided that appetite is a key component to creativity... perhaps even a critical one.
My favourite people, and I include the husband and the daughter on this list, have all been clever, creative men and women with enormous appetites.
Sometimes, they’re betrayed by who they are, and we all come to know their reputations for drink or drugs, or sex or gambling, or whatever it may be. I’ve even heard people bemoaning the fates of these creatives and the private misery they sometimes leave in their wakes, and I wonder if I would ever do the same. I find myself wondering whether the really talented among the debauchers are actually all that difficult to forgive, in the end. I sort of doubt it.
I know that on those days when everything seems fresh and spangly and amazing, when the coffee really smells great, and food is unbearably delicious, when every picture on every wall demands my full attention and when I can’t get enough of a great song... I know that on those days when the hairs go up on the back of my neck in anticipation of some hedonistic pleasure or another... I know that the writing, too, will be well worth the effort.
I know that the time at my keyboard will fly past. I know that every word will be nuanced and beautiful to me, that the phrasing will be just so, the rhythm crisp and precise, and the energy transcendent.
When my appetites are heightened, when I feel alive in the world and all my senses are tingling... That’s when I’m my favourite writer. That’s when everything is possible.
Of course, it’s a bloody long time and a lot of distance between that day and the day the book might arrive in your hand, but I can’t help thinking that those days filled with hedonistic wonder make a difference to you, too. I certainly hope they do.

Friday 15 June 2012

Delete, delete, delete...

Most people write too much, and most of the too much they write is shit.
It is infinitely more difficult to hold a writing implement, a pen or pencil, and make words longhand than it is to type them out on some sort of keyboard or other, even if your keyboard skills are non-existent... Admit it, they are, aren’t they?
What most so-called writers forget is that it is also just as easy to eradicate words typed into some sort of word processing package.
In the old days, when I began writing with a pen and paper, before what we called ‘white-out’ or ‘snow-paque’, in the era of the ink eraser, which didn’t erase, and in the age of the teacher who not only commanded, but also managed to get some damned respect for heaven’s sake... In the old days, the most efficient way to delete unwanted words was simply to strike a line through them. That’s what I was told to do at school, and that’s what I did.
Our orange school pencils with the paint shaved off at the blunt ends so that our teacher could ink our names into the wood, making the things undeniably the responsibilities of individuals until they were nothing more than nubs, were rubber-less, so, even before we graduated to ink pens, and we never did progress to biros, not until the 80s anyway, we did not erase our words, we simply struck them through. There was always a record of what had gone before.
We considered what we wrote. We didn’t simply vomit up every last word in no particular order for messing about with later. We stopped and thought. We didn’t suck the ends of our pencils, or, heaven forfend, chew them, because that, too, was forbidden. We sat quietly, and we thought about what we wanted to write down, and when we had ordered our thoughts we committed them to paper, and there they remained, essentially, forever.
There is a very great deal to be said for restraint, for the long pause.
In an ideal world there would be a very great deal to say for the delete key, but almost everyone is too damned scared to use the bloody thing. 

Thursday 14 June 2012

I've REALLY got that feeling!

I’m not sure I adequately expressed, yesterday, just how exciting it is to be a writer.
It isn’t always exciting. Sometimes, it’s a colossal pain in the arse, mostly it’s lovely, often it’s a privilege. Days like yesterday, days like today, are rare, though. They are rare and wonderful, and they make everything worth while. 
It wouldn’t matter if I was never published (much easier to say now that I have an agent than it ever was before, but not less true), it would still be worth everything to feel the way I feel today and the way I felt yesterday about a new project, about the possibilities.
If I can only manage to express this adequately and do that right, and do justice to this thought and capture the quintessence of that idea then this book will be the very best thing I have ever written. It might even be the very best thing I am capable of writing right now... if not ever.
I don’t know if you can imagine that feeling, but I do know that I feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t felt that, who doesn’t know what that’s like.
The day will come, of course, when I have done what I can do, and my attempt will fall short of my expectation, of what I thought I might be able to achieve, but that’s to do with being human and fallible; that’s to do with not being Jane Austen or Virginia Wolf, or Muriel Sparks or... take your pick.
There will be some pain, for a while, but then I will read the book again, a few weeks or a couple of months after the first draft is complete, and I will fall a little bit in love with bits and pieces of it, and I will see ways to make the least good bits better, and I will begin to build a relationship with the words. It will all end, one day, in a sad parting, but, I hope, a respectful one.
Right now, I am in the first heady rush of pleasure. I know that I am willing to open my heart and fall in love.
It’s just as well, because I also know that this book requires that I open a vein. This is one of those ideas that will come to nothing if I do not give it blood... Lots and lots of blood.
Come back in three months time and see how I’m talking about this book then. I suspect it ain’t gonna be anything like as pretty as this.
That’s OK, though, because, right here, right now, I’m basking in the glory of this feeling, wallowing in it, bathing... Floating away on a...

Wednesday 13 June 2012

I've got that feeling

I am awfully excited.
It’s getting to that time again.
It’s getting to that time when I won’t be able to help myself; I will have to begin a new book.
There isn’t really any rhyme or reason to the start of a new novel. I don’t decide that I’ll begin on a particular day, or that I’ll begin when my desk is clear of the last job. There are no practical considerations for me. In this particular instance, I have yet to finish my current writing project, and at least another two are in the editing stages. Basically, I start a new book when I cannot stand it any longer and I must begin to get my ideas down on paper.
There are, I think, huge advantages to this method of writing.
Writing is difficult, so being hugely excited about it is a massive advantage. Brimming with enthusiasm for an idea, and wanting to know what it will feel like to write it and how it will begin to grow is amazing. Sometimes, I rein myself in for some time, getting all hot and bothered about the whole thing, just to ramp up the excitement to get me through those first ten or fifteen thousand words. There is nothing more reassuring than the feeling that I have begun a project in earnest, and, more importantly, that I stand a chance of finishing it.
It is like taking a lover, in the old-fashioned way. It is like all those delicious dates when the clothes stay on and it’s all about eye-contact and talking, and anticipation and connections. Embarking on a new book is breathless and tingling; it’s all frilly knickers and lip gloss, and taxi shoes and sweet sighs.
Editing a book is like having a long conversation with an old boyfriend you know you’ll never sleep with again, whom you’ll never forget you loved, and with whom you have loose ends of unfinished business. It’s about long distance phone calls late at night in your pyjamas with unbrushed teeth and plates of toast and mugs of cooling tea.
Both are wonderful in their way, and the one need not interfere with the other, but, right here, right now, I’m off to buy a new lipstick... a red one.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Here I go again!

Classical music appears to be the last bastion of the traditional art. It is not that composers are not still making new music in new ways, it is not that innovations are not being made, it is not that music is dead. It is simply that musicians are still expected to study what went before.
Musicians still routinely learn pieces written hundreds of years ago.
I studied fine art for three years, and the one thing I never really got was any schooling in the history of art, certainly not beyond a dozen lectures in my first year. None of my classmates was interested in anything outside of what they were doing and the artists that directly influenced them, all of whom were either still alive or very recently deceased. There seemed to me to be no broader context for the work the students were making, and, as a consequence, I thought very little of it terribly interesting.
The same, sadly, is true of the study of our literature. 
Not only are undergraduate degrees now available in Creative Writing (and you all know my views on that), but dead writers don’t seem to feature on the curriculum in secondary schools, either. Why teach Shakespeare and Chaucer when you can teach de Bernieres or Frayn? I have nothing against those two gentlemen, albeit Smith (Zadie) and Waters (Sarah) might be my preferred choices, but I can’t help thinking that if you asked any or all of those four fine writers they’d agree that it couldn’t hurt to give kids something proven to read, some of the stuff that they, in fact, read when they were kids.
The problem, as I see it, is that Shakespeare and Chaucer are difficult.
Well... You know what? Everything worth having and everything worth knowing, and everything worth anything is, to some degree difficult; that, at least in part, is what gives it value and meaning. That is what elevates it beyond the ordinary.
We do not offer our students that which is difficult so that we do not disappoint them when they fail, but what about the kids that will rise to the challenge? What about the kids who won’t fail? What about the kids who want the opportunity to go the extra mile? And for all those kids who fail? Well, you’re doing them a favour too.
Some of you might be cynical enough to believe that our teachers might not be up to the task of teaching that which is difficult. I have more faith in them than that.
Could we just have a go, for once, at raising all of our expectations. I’m the first to admit that not all of them will be met, but it doesn’t matter how low our expectations are, there’s always someone, somewhere willing to duck under them.
Let’s not turn this into the World’s most disastrous limbo dance, shall we?

Monday 11 June 2012

A Note on Inspiration

I don’t want to be the bringer of bad tidings... No... Wait... I quite enjoy being a snarky old moo... The point is this:
If you want to be a writer, there’s no mileage in waiting for inspiration to turn up. For a start, it can be a very long wait, and, b), inspiration is like a flighty lover: even if he does arrive, you never know how long he’s going to stick around for.
The best you can hope for is that you are already sitting at your desk or your laptop, working, when inspiration strikes.
So, just to be on the safe side, it’s better to be working pretty much non-stop. Of course, the advantage to this philosophy is that you can spend lots of lovely time honing your craft, developing your skills, making your workspace a jolly nice place for inspiration to visit, making it a delightful prospect, an alluring space in which he might just choose to loiter for a while.
The reason that Picasso could make art with a line in ten seconds flat was because of the twenty, thirty or forty years he spent practising. The reason any artist’s, any writer’s output varies is because the craft must be honed, and, after that, there’s no accounting for when inspiration will strike, or where the fairy dust will fall.
About this time, you might be wondering what the hell I know about it. I sometimes wonder that myself. So, I’m going to remind you that when you buy my first published novel, I will have been writing, practising my art, honing my craft, and at the irregular beck and call of inspiration for twenty or thirty, or even forty years, depending, of course, on when you count from.
My problem isn’t that I’m a writer who doesn’t write. My problem isn’t that I’m a storyteller with no ideas for stories, and it isn’t that I’ve been sitting on my hands waiting for inspiration to strike. Mostly, my problem over the years has been confidence.
Confidence isn’t a modern problem. Everyone now believes that they’re perfectly capable of doing whatever the hell they set out to do. I admire that. I wish I’d had a little more confidence a long time ago.
Can I just suggest that confidence is a useful tool, but that there really is no substitute for a job well-done, and that means getting on with it. Now... off you go and make something wonderful.

Sunday 10 June 2012

There is No Time to be Sick

There are huge advantages to being a writer. There are huge advantages to being freelance.
The downside is an unwillingness to turn down any job, or to leave my desk for more than a few hours at a time. This is how I live and work.
Getting sick is not really an option.
Naturally, I do get sick. I am, after all, only human.
I try not to think about it, and I certainly try not to talk about it.
I try not to tweet or FaceBook my complaints and ailments such as they are, as infrequently as they occur.
They too, however, have their uses.
I am in the unenviable position of being able to sit and write in bed, if I so desire. Nothing need stop me from working, including altered states of mind brought on by... Well... Brought on by anything. A decent temperature can alter my state of mind enough to make what I write odd or surreal or interesting, or just unlike anything I might usually do.
This is a good thing.
So, when I get sick, on those rare occasions when I don’t feel able to get up and face the World in a meaningful way, I don’t just stay in bed and watch bad tv and swallow my weight in paracetamol. 
When I get sick, on those rare occasions when I don’t feel I can continue with the project that I might be working on, I do, nonetheless, take a laptop to bed with me, and I write. Sometimes, I write the stuff of fever dreams, and there’s unlikely to be any immediate use for the words I produce.
Those words are useful, though. They’re useful if they remind me what being sick feels like. They’re useful if they remind me of altered physical and mental states. They’re useful if they describe unmedicated pain and medicated indifference. They’re useful if they capture the fraying edges of the human condition in all its physical frailty.
A sick day can be an inconvenience, might not be very pleasant, and I’m not about to wish one on myself, or on you, for that matter, but, for artistic purposes at least, a sick day need not be a lost day.