Nicola Vincent-Abnett

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

Tuesday 31 July 2012

For Native English Writers Wherever They May Be

Globalisation is not necessarily a good thing. 
Everyone is starting to sound the same, and write the same, and we are beginning to lose our regional differences, our characters, our individuality, sometimes, even our souls.
I wouldn’t mind so much, but this generally means that we are all starting to sound, to my ear, rather like Americans.
Everyone uses ‘seemingly’ these days. I don’t; it’s an ugly word, and, besides, ‘apparently’ is not only more satisfying to say, but, to me, at least, it’s also more meaningful. I do not understand the use of ‘likely’ as a substitute for ‘probably’ either, not the way the Americans use it. “Likely, Johnny will do his usual poor job,” simply isn’t good British English. Substitute ‘probably’, or, if you must use ‘likely’, at least formulate a better sentence. “It’s likely that Johnny will do his usual poor job,” is infinitely preferable to and substantially more English than the American alternative.
When I was a child, I was acutely aware when I was reading something by a writer who was writing in American English, just as I was aware of American accents in film and television. My own children do not make these distinctions. 
You might wonder why I am concerned about these sorts of details, especially when I am such a stickler for things that the purists might consider more important, like writers recognising when a single agreement is required rather than a plural, or the difference between the present and past participles (I could, and probably will, write an entire snark on the confusion caused by ‘sat’ and ‘sitting’, and ‘stood’ and ‘standing’ in particular). You might wonder why I hanker after distinct regional voices when people still don’t know that ‘different’ is always followed by ‘from’, or that ‘try’ must never be followed by ‘and’.
I do it because I have a great many concerns and they all exercise my mind. I want specificity when it comes to writing, and accuracy. I want writers to be good technicians. I want grammar to be beautiful, and I want writers to care about it, but those things are generally more-or-less invisible to the reader.
I do it because cultural differences should not only be visible to the reader, but they should also be celebrated. Americans ought to read British English and instantly recognise it as different from their own language and from the language of other native English writers from other English speaking countries. From Canada to Australia, and from South Africa to the Bahamas, writers in English have a vast range of cultural experiences and a breadth and depth of language to plunder in order to tell their stories. I wish they’d take full advantage of that, but I fear that mass communication, laziness and the pervasive homogeneity of a modern culture typified by Subway sandwiches, Coca Cola, Transformers Dark of the Moon and Call of Duty could put an end to all that.

Monday 30 July 2012

Lunch for One

Quite by surprise, I find myself sitting in a hotel room in Oxford, waiting for a club sandwich,  a fruit plate and some decaff coffee, so that I can enjoy a late lunch.
Things have changed as I have got older.
I have always been content in my own company, and in my own space. I have always been able to find enough to do to keep me happy, and I have always been quite good at doing very little, given half the chance.
For that reason, among many others, I have not traveled much with the husband, despite the fact that he has traveled quite a lot to promote his work. He’s gone all over the place, regularly spending weekends away in the UK, long weekends away in Europe, and weeks away in North America or Australia. He has been happy enough to travel alone, and always returns home full of energy and excitement, and brimming with stories.
Latterly, we have begun to miss each other more during his absences. We have been sadder when it has come time for leave-taking, we have spoken more during his absences, and we have looked forward more keenly to his returns home. It’s rather lovely in a way.
When the husband found out that he would be in Oxford for a couple of days this week, I didn’t think very much about it. 
I like Oxford. The husband was at university here almost thirty years ago when we first dated, so I know it a little bit, and our daughter will be going into her final year of studies here in the autumn, so we’ve been back once or twice in the past three years. It’s a lovely place, and we have a favourite hotel where we stay when we visit the city.
I was rather delighted when my husband said that he had booked a nice double room at the hotel and was hoping that I would go with him.
So, today, I spent the morning sitting in a strange bed, banked up with pillows, reading one of the shortlisted novels for the Mslexia prize, and this afternoon I went back to the husband’s old college to replace his very worn tie and to have a walk around the quad. I strolled around the Sheldonian and the covered market, and bought a pack of the very best razor blades in the World, which are very difficult to find, but which I discovered in Frederick Tranter on the High Street. 
Having walked down through the ‘gown’ side of the city I cam back through the ‘town’ side, where I did some shop-window gazing, and, now, here I am, back in my room, writing a blog and collecting images for my Pinterest page.
It’s all terribly charming and relaxing, and, honestly I’m really rather looking forward to having dinner with the husband tonight, which I won’t have to shop for, prepare, cook or wash-up after. It’s not a bad life, is it?

Saturday 28 July 2012

The Secrets of Life and Death

What’s in a Name?

I’m sure I’ve talked about titles before, and I know I’ve talked about character names, but I have good reason, today, to return to my vomit, as it were.
Book titles are funny things. I have book titles jotted down in notebooks that I have never been able to find the stories for, and possibly never will, and I have struggled to come up with titles for stories that are fully-formed and finished. 
Some stories have a title, and, in my mind at least, could never be called anything but whatever title I have bestowed upon them. For me, “Naming Names” is like that. Of course, that doesn’t presuppose that when the book finally appears on the shelves in bookshops it will do so with my chosen title. Lots of people will interface with me and with the novel between now and then, and, I suppose, the title is one of the things that will come under scrutiny and might be changed. Who knows? Somewhere along the line, a better title might even emerge, although, right now, I rather doubt it. On the other hand, the unspeakable might happen, and there might be a very good reason why I can’t use the title I’ve chosen: someone might get there ahead of me, or a popular TV show or music CD might appear on the market with the same name. This sort of thing isn’t unheard of, after all.
Yesterday, I wrote about Rebecca Alexander, my co-runner-up for the Mslexia prize, and her novel “Borrowed Time”, which I have just read, and which I loved. I also liked the title; in fact, I liked the title so much that I made rather a faux pas.
Way back in March, Reb wrote this blog about meeting and signing with her agent, and in it she explained exactly why she couldn’t continue on with her intended title. I muddled myself and honestly believed that she had changed the title to “Borrowed Time” not from it: Stupid thing to do, I know.
I cannot imagine writing a book, living with it, spending a year agonising over its course through a big and prestigious writing competition, being awarded the accolade of runner-up, being offered a meeting with an agent, schlepping hundreds of miles to London to meet the lovely woman, impressing her, and then being told that, aside from anything and everything else, the title of my book is unusable. 
Us writers invest in these sorts of things. We make choices and we live and die by them, not just professionally, but often emotionally too.
So, with sincere apologies to Reb for being utterly rubbish, and with the rather pathetic hope that the same fate does not befall “Naming Names”, can I just say that the title of Rebecca Alexander’s novel, which I will expect all of my readers to pick up just as soon as it hits the shelves (date yet to be released), is, as things stand right now:

Friday 27 July 2012

Better Read, Better Writer

I may have mentioned the other day that Rebecca Alexander, the other runner-up for the Mslexia prize, and I swapped novels recently. Well, this morning, I finished reading “Borrowed Time”, and when I supposed that it must be an awfully good book, I supposed right, because it turned out to be very entertaining indeed.

I’m a bit of a fan of mythology and of history, and I like a bit of a thriller. I love the English tradition of horror stories... OK, I know that Polidori was mostly Italian, and Stoker was very definitely Irish, but it is the quintessential Englishness of this story and of John Dee, and of the attitudes of the modern protagonists, in particular the women, that drew me into the novel and held my attention. The fact is that the better read a writer is, particularly when she is engaged, interested, passionate about her subject, the better her novel is destined to be, and Rebecca is certainly engaged with her material.
This is a clever writer, who assumes that her reader can keep up, and that’s a good thing. She gives us everything we need, but never condescends, never talks down, never simplifies, because she assumes that her readership is smart. She does however, contextualise, and this gives her prose a richness and depth that is enchanting. 
Rebecca could have written an historical novel, or a modern thriller, but she cleverly weaves the two strands of her tale together, entwining them in such a way as to render them inseparable, making the whole greater than the sum of the parts. 
There is no doubt in my mind that this novel is commercial, and that it should have a broad readership. I’d buy it for my mother-in-law and my nephew, at either ends of the reading spectrum, and for several of my friends in between, and I feel confident that they would all enjoy it.
Brava, Rebecca! I can’t wait to see this on the shelves in all our High Street book shops... And, for that matter, to be invited to the inevitably busy launch party in central London in the not-too-distant-future. 
In the meantime, another of Rebecca’s novels is doing rather well in another writing competition, and I can’t wait to read that one, too.
Bring it on!

Thursday 26 July 2012

Writing in an Empty Nest

It’s a little ironic that a portion of my readership for this blog is made up of young people, kids who are roughly the same age as my own children.
On the one hand, I rather like this, and I certainly want to be a good role model, and, perhaps, a bit of a teacher, and maybe a sort of favourite aunt. I also want to write for those readers, and don’t want to feel like I’m excluding anyone from taking an interest in specific blogs.
The irony is that they are the very people leaving all those tragic little nests empty up and down the country.
My older daughter is married and living overseas with her wife. She returns to Oxford in the autumn, and, no doubt, I will see them there when they return, but it’s been a very long time since we were all in the same room. It’s lovely that they are so completely out in the World, but the feeling that they are where they belong doesn’t mean I don’t think about them.
My younger daughter is off to dance college in a few weeks. No doubt she will be home at the end of every term, at least for a while, but, in my experience, when a child leaves home the first time, things are never really the same again.
I loved raising my children. I had the privilege of being a full-time parent. I cannot believe that it is over so fast, and that I am still so very, very young.
What the hell am I supposed to do now?
The truth is that I have a very great deal to do.
The truth is that every book I write has a very real place in my life and in my heart, and it’s nice to have the time and energy to really concentrate my mind fully on my work. When I was raising my kids, it was really all I was doing. I picked up freelance work once they went off to school, but it was only when they took steps towards seeking their own independence that I began to bury myself in my own projects.
Writing, for me, is consuming, and, I suspect that over the next year, at the very least, I will be extremely head-down, elbows out, working all the hours that I possibly can to produce the next book, or, possibly, the next two books. I will need something to fill my mind and my heart, so that I am not left feeling heartbroken, bereft, abandoned when my youngest child finally waves a cheery goodbye and pirouettes off to Leicester.
If I can harness my energies, if I can herd my emotions, this could just prove to be the most challenging and the most productive phase of my professional life, so far. I hope so. It might make up, in some small part, for not being needed, quite so much, for any maternal skills I might have developed over the last twenty years or so.
It isn’t always going to be easy, but my youngest child is excited to be moving on, it’s her time, and she’s ready. I wish her nothing but love and luck.
All I need now is for you to wish me a bit of luck, too.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Food for Thought

I was looking for something to blog about today when the husband suggested that I research the idea that today doesn’t exist at all, in some sort of odd, archaic, time-warp, leap-year kind of way. Today doesn’t exist so completely, in fact, that I cant’ find reference for the news article that he thinks he heard about it, and if it really didn’t exist, he’d have bunked off work, and spent the day with me, which he didn’t do. So, the husband’s off in the wastes of North London somewhere in what we now call the Dead Zone, and I’m here, trying to think of something to write about.
It is Wednesday, and we generally have supper with the husband’s parents on Wednesdays, not every week, sadly, because, we’re all busy people, but as often as we can all manage.
When they come to us, the husband and I generally split the cooking chores; he cooks the main course, and I knock up a pudding. Tonight, with the husband out for a long day, and me buried deep in a LOT of work, I was thinking of serving take-away. I know it’s a cop-out, but we’ve got lots of good local take-away restaurants, and we don’t indulge all that often...
... except, lately, we do!
Lately, we never seem to eat anything that we’ve actually cooked. Lately, there doesn’t seem to be much time for anything except for work, and enough play to keep the work happy, oh, and sleep, obviously. Cooking can be fun, if there’s time for it, but time is very precious right now. On the other hand, so is sitting down with family and eating a really good, home-cooked meal.
Besides... and here’s a little something I found out while looking for that article on being in limbo today... July 25th is Culinarians' Day! (For what it’s worth, it’s also Thread the Needle Day, but there certainly isn’t time to embroider table napkins, so I’ll be drawing the line at a bit of cooking on this occasion). 
So, I’m off to raid the freezer and the larder, and I’m damned well going to produce a nice, nutritious, delicious meal tonight. It won’t be fancy, but it will be prepared with love, and I’m sure that we shall all enjoy it the more for that.
And, when it’s all over, I can, at least, rely on the husband to do a marvelous job of loading the bloody dishwasher... I do so hate that thing!

Tuesday 24 July 2012

This is My Jam

I believe I may have mentioned that my favourite social networking site is This is My Jam. The reason for this is simple, as far as I’m concerned, and it is this: I do not care whether you like my musical choices. There is no such thing as bad music. 

I might question your taste in music, and there is certainly stuff that I wouldn’t buy, but, supposing I got stuck on a desert island with someone else’s choice of discs? You know what? I’d play them anyway, and I’d keep right on playing them until my wind-up gramophone had scoured every last groove out of those lovely vinyl records to the point where they were virtually transparent and totally unplayable... and then I’d put them back on the turntable and try very hard to play them some more.
At one time or another every type of music known to man has been played in one or other of the many houses that I have occupied during my lifetime. My mother and father played music, and so did my various brothers and sisters, and I don’t think any two of them had the same musical tastes. My mother was raised by a pair of professional musicians, and my father danced, so between them they had about a thousand years of music pretty well covered. My siblings were born in the fifties and sixties. I was a teenager in the seventies and a student in the eighties, and I was influenced by some pretty amazing people from all works of life and from all over the World.
Take a look at my page on This is My Jam, if you like, but don’t expect me to be consistent; today I chose the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No 1 in G Major, deciding on Rostropovich’s version, but only a week or two ago it was Lily the Pink by the Scaffold and last week’s list included Sparks and Westbeech.
If you can guess what tomorrow’s pick will be, there will be a prize, but I know that you can’t! Besides, it doesn’t matter, because the World is full of music, and it only takes a minute to set up a This is My Jam account and share your own musical choices; remember: you can’t possibly be wrong.

Monday 23 July 2012

The Litmus Test

It’s always nice to be read, and it’s lovely to be appreciated, but I’m a realist. I’ve been around long enough to know that not everyone likes everything. You can please some of the people some of the time, and that ought to be good enough, enough of the time. 
You can never second guess who is going to like what, or, for that matter, why.
I got lucky when I submitted “Naming Names” for the Mslexia prize. The judges, Jenni Murray, Sarah Waters and Clare Alexander, liked my novel well enough to confer on it the accolade of ‘runner-up’. I pleased them, and, in doing so, I also pleased myself... I pleased myself very much indeed.
The other runner up for the prize was Rebecca Alexander, and, over the past few months, it has been my very great pleasure to get to Know Reb a little bit. Finally, last Wednesday night, she and I met. I knew I was going to like her!
As a consequence of our meeting, we finally swapped novels.
I’m slightly ashamed to say that I haven’t yet managed to dip into Reb’s book, which I’m already convinced must be quite brilliant. There are two reason for this. The first is that Reb is a wonder; she’s smart and funny and just caustic enough to make me gasp slightly and then laugh... a lot! She’s also caring and lovely and clever. As I said, I like her. The second reason is that her book was accorded the same status as mine, and, just between you and me, my book is quite extraordinary, so it stands to reason that hers must be, too... right? After all, the wonderful women who liked my book, also liked hers, and I trust their good judgement.
Reb, wonder that she is, read “Naming Names” over the weekend, and sent me an e-mail to give me her thoughts.
I cannot tell you how relieved I was. This was one occasion when it actually mattered to me that a reader genuinely ‘got’ what I was trying to do with the writing. She got it, although not without some reservations, and she admired it, for the most part, and, in places, she was positively glowing about it.
It mattered that Reb liked my novel because I had come to like Reb. 
There was, however, another reason why I wanted this woman to understand and appreciate what I had tried to do, in particular in this novel. I had, as it turned out, written in Reb’s field. She had the inside track on my character in a professional capacity. This really was a test, for me, a proper, old-fashioned, bona fide litmus test.
I am very happy to report that, on the whole, for better or worse, I passed.
I had no idea how many boxes I would end up ticking on my way to publication. I had no idea how many hoops I’d jump through, or how many of those would be, in one way or another, of my own manufacturer. I think, in the end, though, “Naming Names” will be a better book because of the journey, and, who knows, I may even end up being a better writer, too.

Saturday 21 July 2012

I’m going to let you into a Secret

Time management is everything.

People wonder how the husband achieves so much. He is known for being one of the most hardworking and prolific writers in his field, and it’s true. The husband produces about as much work as it is humanly possible to produce, but there are reasons for this, and I’m going to tell you how it works.
We have hit crunch time.
We both have a great deal on our plates, and we have both been asked to insert more work into our schedules.
Generally, when the husband is asked to do additional work, I am able to pick up the slack by doing research for him or by working up plots, or just by picking up the slack at home, doing more of the day to day running of the house and office. We have gone beyond that point. There is now more work than we can fit into what is our normal week. Our normal week does not consist of whatever the normal working week is for the average nine-to-fiver (if such a thing exists in the real world).
The husband usually gets up and is at his desk by about six in the morning and generally finishes work some time around six in the evening, and he does this more-or-less seven days a week. We take a long lunch about once a week, and he takes a couple of hours out to read the papers on Saturday and Sunday mornings. He generally spends a day a week out of the office, too, but that’s usually to do research, or to work elsewhere. His routine doesn’t alter much.
My routine is less concrete. I’m at my desk by nine, but most of my serious work is done between one and six in the afternoons. Mornings are usually reserved for reading, blogging, and doing bits and pieces for Dan.
Currently, our working days are roughy divided in half: before lunch and after lunch. While we are busy, our working days will roughly be divided in three: before lunch, after lunch and after dinner. 
Here’s how it will work. We will generally only work two sessions a day, but lunch and dinner will be more flexible. So a long, late lunch works like a siesta, or a late supper leads to a guilt-free lie-in followed by an early lunch. 
We will have less free time, of course we will, but we should manage to add an average of two to three hours of work to every day for as long as we need to without burning ourselves out. I realise that could mean an extra twenty hours a week of work, each, on top of a workload that some would already find exhausting, but, whatever happens, nobody works when they should be sleeping, and nobody eats when they should be sleeping, and nobody does a desperate on-line grocery shop when they should be sleeping.
Whatever happens, the office door closes in time for us to relax and unwind, and go to bed to go to sleep.

Friday 20 July 2012

Tackling Edits

Not only do I think it’s possible to write for an audience, I think it’s desirable.
There is a lot of snobbery about writing, and a lot of writers are the most awful snobs. I, for one, think that limits their output and even their appeal to their readers.
Some writers, particularly at the more literary end of fiction, seem to want to make their own rules. They seem to be prepared only to write what they want to write; only to write what pleases them. 
What about the reader? 
Don’t get me wrong... I’m not talking about jumping on band wagons, and I’m not talking about writing to formulas. What I’m talking about is having the good since to listen to the advice of those who know.
When I wrote “Naming Names”, I always thought that it would divide opinion. I was wrong. To a man and woman, my readers have all said how extraordinary and how powerful the novel is. The criticism that I thought it might engender never surfaced.
I was rather gratified.
One of the upsides was that I never had to defend the book against something that I didn’t agree with, which allowed me to look more kindly on the criticisms that my novel did invite.
It is always absolutely clear which readers bring what agendas with them when they offer comments on any text, and it is always worth bearing them in mind when considering their notes; in some instances it might be better to disregard them.
When readers that you trust and know to be insightful and experienced begin to say the same sorts of things and voice similar concerns, particularly if they tally with your own reservations about your work, you know you’re on to something.
My first draft of “Naming Names” was exactly what it needed to be for me, but it left a void where the reader really needed and wanted to connect with my protagonist. She was my creation, she lived in my head; I knew her and I loved her, and her story unfolded because of me, so, of course, my connection to her was very real, but I could absolutely understand that my audience, the reader, might need me to give them something more.
I am not compromising my vision of my novel or my understanding of my protagonist in taking into consideration the needs of my audience, I am breathing more life into my protagonist, making her more real for them.
I set out to tell the Truth in “Naming Names” and the readers who have criticised and commented on my early drafts of the novel have not taken something from me, they have enabled the story to grow and develop, and my work on later drafts has exposed more of that truth.
It will be a better book because of it, a better book for the audience, and, I’m willing to bet, a more successful one too.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Now for some Networking

Last night was the first meeting of the shortlisted writers for the inaugural Mslexia novel writing prize.
It was also the networking meeting set up by New Writing North and Mslexia to introduce new writing talent to agents, editors, publishers and various talent scouts.
I was so excited to meet the other women on the shortlist, the other women that I’d been corresponding and blogging with over the last four or five months that I hadn’t honestly given a huge amount of thought to the meeting, greeting and charming people part of the event.
The nine of us had decided to meet a couple of hours ahead of the party for tea and a chat, and meet we did. I had seen photos of about half of the women and received mail from all of them. I’d also read some of their blogs, although I haven’t, as yet, read any of their work; I sincerely hope that will soon change.
In this World we live in where youth seems to mean so very much, I was surprised, but also cheered to realise that not one of us could reasonably be called ‘young’. We ranged in age from our late thirties to our early sixties, and we could not have been more different if we had planned to be. We were from different areas of the country, different backgrounds and professions, different cultures and sensibilties, and from two generations. We were all, however, smart, funny, clever, engaged women. Kate was boisterous and generous, Rebecca wise and witty, Azmeena serene, Rachel elegant, Emma bursting with energy, Jenny warmhearted and sardonic, Victoria sensitive, and Catherine was thorough and beautiful.
By the time the ‘professional’ contingent arrived on the scene we were all very comfortable with each other, and in our environment. I had thought we’d be like lambs to the slaughter, but it rather felt like the other way around in the end. They were walking into our space, vying for our attention, following our leads. The youth in the room was concentrated in the eager faces of the agents and editors looking for talent. They needed us more than we needed them.
By the time we left, I certainly had the impression that everyone had capitalised on the opportunity to network, to make new contacts and to impress somebody. I certainly hope so.
I was in the very fortunate position of having my lovely agent by my side for most of the meeting. She introduced me to several very interested parties, who are looking forward to reading “Naming Names” in the autumn, and I got to talk about my book, which still holds my interest even after nearly four years since I first began working on it.
Nobody ever claimed that being a writer is easy. Events like last night do make being published feel a little less impossible, though, and if I can do it... Who knows? Maybe you can do it too.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

When all I wanted was a Pair of Knickers

I was in a shop the other day, buying a pair of knickers...
Normally I might not need to tell you what I was purchasing, but, bear with me, because there is a connection.
I was in a shop the other day, buying a pair of knickers. It was while my sister was with me, and my husband was away, and I was having a girly time. I did not expect to vent, and I don’t think anyone else expected me to either.
The young woman behind the counter, who wasn’t much more than half my age, was a chatty little thing and quite the saleswoman, which is fine; I wasn’t going to buy anything I didn’t want, but I certainly didn’t mind engaging with her.
It was all going well, and she was getting towards the end of ringing up and packing my knickers when she said, “Do you read?”
I was somewhat stopped in my tracks. I felt my face freeze a little. I knew where this was going. 
My sister looked at me, and she looked at the slip of a thing behind the counter, and she said, “You have no idea.” She’s a good woman, my sister, and she was clearly trying to nip the thing that was obviously about to happen soundly in the bud.
It is bad enough being confronted by an entire shelving unit full of paperbacks of this desperate trilogy, complete with its rather banal and terribly uninspired covers, in my local Waterstones, it’s quite another to be confronted with it in the lingerie section of the department store.
So, I’m slightly ashamed to say that I vented.
I am, thankfully, the sort of woman who does not shout or swear in public, and I would never be truly terrifying to a perfectly sweet young woman of my very vaguest acquaintance, but I will admit that I made my feelings on the subject of these odious books quite well known to the shop assistant and the two or three other people in the shop that could hear what I had to say on the matter.
I might have suggested that the lovely young woman go away and read “Wuthering Heights” or “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” or something else with a little more literary merit and genuine romance than bloody 50 Shades of Sodding Grey, but I can’t be sure, and besides, I bet she won’t heed my advice.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Gilead Revisited

This week, I have spent a very happy couple of days revisiting a novel that the husband and I wrote back in 1999.
It was “Gilead’s Blood”, one of the early projects that we undertook for the Black Library, and it is due to be reissued when its sequel “Gilead’s Curse” is published in 2013.
I can’t believe it will be fourteen years between the first of these books and the second, especially since fans have been asking for another book about our favourite elf almost since “Blood” was written, and I can’t believe it was the first piece of long-form fiction that the husband and I collaborated on.
I also can’t believe how far we’ve come in those fourteen years.
I’ve always had a soft spot for this book. I loved working on it with the husband, and I always liked the slightly stroppy central character. I liked the episodic nature of the narrative, and I liked that the story seemed to go down so well with a relatively untested audience. It always rather felt like the beginning of something. I also liked that it was Warhammer, and therefore Fantasy rather than 40K, not least because the husband has written a very good deal of 40K (it’s probably what he’s best known for), but he’s only written a handful of Warhammer novels.
So, I’ve spent the past few days preparing “Gilead’s Blood” for publication, or re-publication. I’m happy to say that it’s really rather good. I think it holds its own. I’m enjoying it. The characters are compelling and the stories are intriguing and the whole thing hangs together. If you haven’t read it before, I think you’ll enjoy it.
I am glad I got my hands on the manuscript, though. Here is proof, if it were needed, that writers do improve with practice.
I’m a great believer that you have to be pretty good to get published in the first place; you have to tell a decent story and you have to do it well. There are no shortcuts, and most writers have had quite a lot of practice at their art before their first story makes it into print. That’s how it should be. There is always room for improvement, though.
I’ve been looking over “Gilead’s Blood” and I’ve been making little tweaks, nips and tucks, on almost every page. I’ve been adjusting the rhythm, teasing out placeholders, adding or removing a comma, breaking a single sentence into two, shifting a clause back in a sentence or turning a paragraph on its head. 
If you read the original, you probably won’t notice the tiny little changes I’ve made, but I’m glad I’ve made them. “Gilead’s Blood” trips along very nicely, thank you. Everything I’ve learnt in the past fourteen years about editing, everything I’ve learnt about cadence and rhythm, and structure has influenced how I’ve read this book. I couldn’t have done it when I wrote it, when I was close to it, but time is magical, and “Blood” came back to me as if written by somebody else.
I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to see a novel so clearly again, but this has been an education, and one I won’t soon forget. 

Monday 16 July 2012

My Verdict on the San Diego Comic Con

It’s been a funny old week. I’ve rather felt as if I was in limbo.
It’s not that I haven’t managed to do anything. I did get that story off to my editor, and I started edits on a novel the husband and I collaborated on a long time ago that’s being reissued. I also spent a couple of lovely days with my sister.
It hasn’t been an easy week, though. The husband has been away at the San Diego Comic Convention, and it’s been surprisingly tough. 
We’ve been doing this forever. He’s been going off to do signings and conventions all over the World since he started in this business; it’s not new. I have been with him on a few occasions, but it’s expensive, there isn’t a whole lot for me to do when I get there and I’m not a huge fan of aeroplanes. Besides, I hated to leave the children, and I couldn’t take them out of school, so, for a long time we didn’t have the option of going together. We got used to it, we took the routine for granted. Hell, I think we even enjoyed it, at least some of the time.
Not any more.
I don’t know what changes or why, but things do.
I wish I’d simply done this trip with the husband, and I get the feeling that he wishes I’d gone with him, too.
I don’t know whether it’s because we’re older, and, in some ways, actually closer than ever. I don’t know whether it’s because we rely on each other more, or because we’re less tolerant of others. I don’t know whether it’s because we just like to be comfortable. I don’t know whether it’s because we like the familiar, and we are incredibly familiar with one another. I don’t know whether it’s because we understand one another or because when we’re together there’s always someone in the room who gets the joke or the reference. Hell, I don’t know whether it’s the fallout of the husband’s recent epilepsy diagnosis.
I think this week was easier for me than it was for him; at least I was at home; at least I was with my sister and my daughter; at least I was comfortable.
San Diego Comic Convention is an extraordinary event and an amazing experience; you’ll hear the husband say it himself in his event report on his blog. It’s also a heaving mass of over a hundred thousand geek bodies, who all want a piece of something. There’s more energy in that vast space than can be generated by all the superheroes put together, and more adrenalin pumping than can be found in the veins of all the victims of all the supervillains placed end to end. 
I know the husband met some wonderful people. I know that he found friends old and new, and that he wouldn’t have missed it for the World. I also know that he’s a little sad he didn’t get to share the experience with me, and that makes me a little sad too.
So, if you saw the husband at San Diego this year, and you happen to see him again in the future, spare a thought and if you can manage it, a smile, for the little woman standing a yard or two behind him with the big, slightly terrified eyes. She hasn’t been to the biggest comic convention in the World before, but she’ll be there the next time he’s there, and it’s going to be interesting.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Siblings and the Art of Communication

My sister has been spending a few days with me this week.
She and I have not lived together for twenty-nine years, and are seldom together for more than a few days at a time. In fact, it is only recently that we have stayed under the same roof over-night, and yet...
I share with my sister certain verbal habits and mannerisms that have developed over an entire lifetime; some of them date back to our shared childhoods, and some only to the last year or two.
Communication is a fascinating thing. Lots of close relationships develop all kinds of shorthand. The husband and I can convey scads of subtle information via a word or two, the squeeze of a hand, a look or a gesture, but that’s not terribly surprising since we share  our lives, our work and our home.
I wonder if there is something very particular about being children together, about the shared learning and experiences of infants, or, even, whether there’s a genetic component that means that two people (or, in our case, five) can continue to have a complex and effective network of communication long after time and proximity are lost.
We are not alike, my sister and I. I’m not sure I’m very like any of my siblings, but, somehow, we understand each other, effortlessly it seems to me. 
So when we’re together, and there’s a decision to be made, we do a little verbal dance.
One of us will begin a question, “Shall we..?”
The other will answer, “Shall we?”
Then we will say it together.
No one will have said ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but we will both know the answer, and, nine times out of ten, we’ll be laughing about it. It’s something to do with the tone. It’s something to do with whether or not ‘shall’ ends in a couple of ‘l’s or a ‘w’. It’s something to do with my sister’s eyes widening at the prospect of whatever it is. Most of all, though, I suspect it’s something to do with us being sisters, and that’s more than OK with me.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Sisters are funny things.

I have two of them. The younger of my sisters, although she’s still quite a lot older than me, and a grandmother, lives quite a long way from my home, and I only get to see her three or four times a year, but I try to arrange for her to spend a few days with me when the husband’s out of town. 

He’s in San Diego this week, for the Comic Con.
When the husband’s away...
I like and admire women, more so as I get older, but I’ve never been one of those that has collected women acquaintances or belonged to a group. I don’t make friends easily. I wonder if this is, at least in part, because I have close relationships with my siblings and therefore have less need of close relationships outside of the family. I don’t know.
I do know that, despite us being very different, despite us sharing few opinions, despite us clashing wildly from time to time, the sister and I get on like a house on fire. Despite being an essentially private person, I will talk to her about virtually anything and everything. We disagree without fear of falling out, and we laugh, and we laugh, and we laugh!
The one small downside to her visits is that for the time the sister is with me, nothing ever gets done. We eat out, because no one can be bothered to cook; I don’t put a wash load on or fill the dishwasher, which is fine, because, after all, no one cooks; there’s zero chance of me dragging out a hoover, and the beds go unmade. 
But here’s the thing, the sister is the last person who’s ever going to stand in judgement of my status as a domestic goddess. She doesn’t care whether I can cook or clean, she doesn’t care whether there’s lipstick on my teeth or my shoes are scuffed, and she doesn’t care how much I weigh or what I earn. The sister cares that I am happy and healthy and that she can make me laugh, and, you know what? That’s what I care about, too.

Friday 13 July 2012

The Landing’s the Thing

San Diego is a long way from Maidstone. I know this. I am not a total idiot, despite the fact that geography isn’t my strong suit. The husband has been before. It takes some time for him to get there.

It was all going terribly well when I got a text to say that the husband had been upgraded to business class. I don’t know how he manages it, but this wasn’t the first time the kindness had been extended to him. It just makes the journey a little easier, and we’re all grateful for that. That was at around 11am, about three hours after he left home.
Eleven hours later, the husband was stuck in Texas, stuck in queues, stuck in bad weather, stuck in an airport... He was stuck.
Can I just say, the Texas Hub is a bloody nightmare; avoid it, if you can. Just as this wasn’t the first occasion when the husband was upgraded on a flight, this was also not the first occasion when the husband was stranded at the bloody Texas Hub.
It’s not that I worry or anything; after all, there’s absolutely bugger all I can do about it, but by this point I was about ready to go to bed, and I couldn’t. I never sleep terribly well the night before the husband embarks on a long trip, and I don’t sleep terribly well in an otherwise empty bed. I never sleep until I know he’s on the ground. The landing’s the thing.
I don’t, as a rule, ring or text the husband. He’s a much busier person than I am, so I don’t disturb him, assuming that things will go faster and easier if he’s left to get on with them. The husband calls or texts me. It got to five-thirty in the morning, though, and I hadn’t slept in nearly twenty-two hours, and I knew that either the husband was still on the ground in Texas or he was in the air over the western USA, and I knew I couldn’t do anything about it.
We have code for stuff, the husband and I; it saves time and energy. So, I sent him the usual couple of question marks, which means, ‘let me know when you get the chance’.
The plane finally touched down in San Diego at six-thirty-two, and, of course, he texted, but the husband didn’t arrive at his hotel and call for a chat until after eight o’clock. 
It’s bad enough that I didn’t sleep for twenty-four hours; it’s worse that the husband had to drag his butt halfway around the World, adjust his epilepsy meds and sit in an airport in Texas while a storm played out around him for several hours. Now, I have to get on with my day. I’m just thankful that his twenty-four hours ended at midnight, local time, so, with a bit of luck, he should get a decent night’s sleep before he starts his Wednesday. I do hope so, because he’s going to be a very busy man for the next few days.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Supper for One

You know it’s bad when...
... all you can think to do is turn on a tv, or in this case select iplayer on the internet, and what do I choose to watch? Yep, that’s right, an episode of ‘Bargain Hunt’... Of all things!
I find it a little unsettling, the husband being away. It’s still the day he left, and he’s still somewhere in the sky. I did manage to do some work today, not a lot, but some. I kept the appointments I made to fill up my time and give me a distraction or two, and now I’ve got an hour on my hands before I have to go to a dance recital.
It’s fine, the dance recital is a good thing. The daughter has been volunteering her time, this past year, to the PE department at her old school, helping them with dance, organising clubs, and choreographing and presenting showcases; this is one of those. I’m pleased to go, not least because she’s cool, and she’s talented, and I adore her. 
Honestly, I didn’t much fancy going alone, but my  mother and three of her friends have also bought tickets, so I’ll have someone to sit with and chat to during the interval, and... you know... I’ll get to see my amazing daughter’s fantastic hard work paying off. Who could possibly ask for more?
In the meantime, I should probably eat something, and I don’t have to go anywhere for the better part of an hour, but there isn’t really enough time to get back into the work.
I really ought to eat something.
It’s rubbish eating alone, and it’s even worse cooking for one. When the husband isn’t home, I try to eat with my brother and his family, or with my daughter, and, this time, my sister’s coming for a visit, too, but, today, for whatever reasons, I have no one to eat with. Normally this would mean that I simply wouldn’t bother, but I really ought to eat.
I decide to make an omelet. There are free range eggs and good cheese, and it’s quick.
I pop up a screen for iplayer and select an episode of 'Bargain Hunt' which I set to play while I whip up my ridiculously early supper. When I sit down to eat it, the intros are all finished with, and the contestants are discussing, in actual earnest, the merits of an earwax spoon, which, it turns out in the second half of the program isn’t nineteenth century, is plastic, not ivory, and has nothing to do with the hygienic removal of aural excretions. Go figure.
The husband has been absent from my life for something over nine hours and it has come to this already.
Never mind, tomorrow’s another day, and it’s not been touched yet. 
There is, I am sure, hope for me yet... The landing is the thing. Once he’s on the ground it’ll all be fine... until he’s in the air again.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane

No... Not me... That would be the husband.

Every so often, the husband is required to go away and be charming to people, often for several days at a time. This morning, he flew out to San Diego to take part in the madness that is the San Diego Comic Con. I won’t see him for a week.
People assume that the husband and I spend all of our time together. This isn’t strictly true. He puts his backside in his chair at about 6 o’clock in the morning, often before I’m awake, and I generally don’t go in his office, unless it’s to take him a cup of tea. Of course, he’s there, so, I suppose I could intrude if I wanted, or needed, to, but he’s at work, so I don’t. 
The husband and I generally only see each other for passing moments until dinner time, just as many married, working couples do. At least one day a week, he flits off. Often, I have very little idea what he’s doing, sometimes because he’s involved in secret meetings or he’s signed non-disclosure agreements, and he’s a professional and he keeps secrets and doesn’t disclose; and sometimes because he’s a bit of a rambler and a collector of sights and sounds and ideas, and he just feels the need to bugger off and bibble about. 
I try not to interfere with those days. If he rings in, that’s fine, and he generally does, but, I usually leave him to his own devices and try to get on with my stuff. It’s not as if I don’t have things to do.
The long trips are different, though. 
The very worst of it is probably the last few hours before the husband hits the road. He’s preoccupied with making sure he’s organised, and he’s excited about the trip, and, possibly, a little nervous, so, in a way, he’s already gone. He’ll miss me, and I know I’ll miss him, but from now on at least the time apart can only get shorter.
I shall have trouble settling to anything this morning. I’ve got a little list of odds and sods to do, and a couple of little appointments to distract me this afternoon, but I know I’ll be a little more jumpy than usual, that the house will seem rather too quiet, that I’ll prowl from room to room every half an hour or so, and make too many cups of tea. It’s always a bit like that the first few hours.
I’m guessing that today will be a particularly long one. I usually begin to settle properly when I know that the husband has reached his destination; if that’s anywhere in the UK or Europe, it’s not too long to wait. Today, the husband is flying out to San Diego. We said goodbye at ten minutes to eight this morning. I’m not sure when he’ll finally arrive at his hotel, but I’m guessing it could be sixteen or eighteen hours after he left here.
Like I said, long day... Now... What to do next... Tea anyone?

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

I like to have a look at the basic stats for my blog on a fairly regular basis, but I decided, today, that it might be fun to look at some of the more advanced things. OK... advanced by my standards... I realise that, for many of you, this stuff isn’t remotely advanced.

I went to sources and keywords.
I’ve heard all kinds of stories about how people get to websites, about the little trails they follow, about how people use google, about favourite search terms and safe keywords.
I was surprised to find that about half of the keywords used to bring people to my site were variations on my  name. I had no idea that so many people knew my name, or cared enough to look it up. I was rather touched, and I thought it was cool. 
To be honest, I was also a bit intimidated. If people know your name then doesn’t that mean something? If people know your name doesn’t it follow that they think they know who you are, or, at the very least, that they think they know something about you? Crikey! Perhaps they do.
It’s daft, isn’t it? The more people know my name the better, right? If people know my name they’ll use it, and, if they use it, more people will get to know it. What more could an artist of any sort want? What is more useful to a writer, actor, performer, musician, painter, sculptor or whatever than that people know his name? Much better to say, “Johny Harris is a wonderful actor,” than to say, “That bloke, whats-his-name, off that thing ‘London to Brighton’... You know who I mean... He was good, wasn’t he?”
I don’t know how I thought people would find my blog: by accident, I suppose, mostly.
Some of the other keywords used relate to friends and colleagues who have, very kindly,  added my blog to their blogrolls, and I thank them for it. The others are rather amusing.
Some people even seem to have arrived at my blog by searching for ‘sex’, ‘corset’ and ‘making porn’. 
It’s not that I don’t believe in the wondrousness of the internet. It’s not that I don’t believe that, for the most part, at least, it is a force for good. I’m also not daft enough to think that any of the people who typed in any of those last three search terms were converted to reading my ramblings on a regular basis, or even once, although one or two of them may have looked at a photo of me in my corset, which is kinda gross.
I do hope they found what they were looking for, but I can’t help thinking that most of those surfers must either be twelve year old boys (or, more likely 80 year old men, since kids seem to be very internet savvy), or web-virgins, and that they might want to learn to refine their search terms. 
If I was looking for sex and I got the ramblings of a middle-aged woman writer I think it might put me off the internet for life.