Nicola Vincent-Abnett

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

Sunday 30 September 2012

Less of the Mists and more of the Fruitfulness

It’s Official

It is autumn, or, if you’re on the other side of the Atlantic, it is officially Fall.

I like that you lot call it Fall. I like that we know how to change the clocks, because we ‘spring forwards and fall back’. I wouldn’t use ‘fall’ to mean ‘autumn’, obviously, but... you know... I like that you do. I like the idea that the year slides into winter, that it is a low point.

Anyway, I’m getting off the point.

It’s a little before nine on a Sunday morning and we have just taken delivery of the first consignment of logs for the year. I will set the first fire of the autumn later today, and this officially marks the end of the summer. It’s not so bad, it will be October tomorrow; conkers are maturing nicely on the tree down the street, and even beginning to fall; the air is crisp in the mornings; the husband now rises before the sun comes up, and the central heating has started to come on in the parts of the house that have it.

I like that we are marking the end of one season and the beginning of another, today. Generally speaking, the beginnings and ends of things are less distinct than they used to be. I don’t know if it’s because we’re getting older, or whether projects just overlap more now that we do so many of them, both together and separately. Perhaps its because we don’t have the inevitable routine that is the school year to punctuate our lives now that both of our children have left home. I don’t know. Perhaps it is because time seems to move so quickly that there is no hiatus between projects any more, no time to take stock, to enjoy the end of something, to celebrate, to muse over what has gone before or to contemplate what is to come.

That is one of the things that has to change, I think.

So, as this is the last day of the month, I’d just like to celebrate the fact that I finished a batch of edits on my own first novel, "Naming Names" this month, completed the last chapter of a serialised, collaborative e-novel and put another very personal project to bed. These three projects could not have been more different, one from another, and it’s purely coincidence that they have all come to fruition in the same month.

There are beginnings, too. The husband and I are pitching another collaboration, or two (or possibly three). I’m already working on a very fun novel that I refuse to talk about on the grounds that it might incriminate me. (Yep... I’m pleading the 5th! I exercise my right to remain silent), and I’m discussing a second novel of my own with my lovely agent; ironically, it’s called “The Winter Lamb”, and I can’t wait to get started on it.

I do hope that Keats was right. I do hope this autumn promises ‘mellow fruitfulness’, lots and lots of fruitfulness; we’re busy people and fruitful is exactly what we need to be. I might just use my last blogs of future months, when I remember, to stop and think about what I might have achieved in the previous thirty days, though, because, once in a while, it’s not a bad idea to remind myself of just how far I’ve come.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Shall I Let You into a Secret?

All right then...

Here it is...

This is one of my abiding mantras...

The housework will still be there when you get around to doing it.

This doesn’t work for everyone. This isn’t always true. For instance, the husband can’t always ignore the housework. When faced with the end of one job and the beginning of the next, the husband goes into a frenzy of tidying away, collecting rubbish, shelving books, storing weapons, (the replicas he uses for choreographing fight scenes; he does write an awful lot of fight scenes), and generally getting on with the housework. Since, mostly, he’s a novelist, he basically does a couple of jobs a year, so I figure that this is more-or-less reasonable. I guess he’s allowed.

Me? If I’ve got something better to do, a bit of dust isn’t going to bother me much.

Of course, now you’re thinking that you don’t know me at all. Now you’re thinking that I have no discipline whatsoever, and what’s more, if I ever invite you to supper you’re absolutely not coming. 

Fret not. It isn’t quite that bad.

Discipline is in the eye of the beholder.

Real discipline is taking a moment to do a little of everything as you go along. Discipline is throwing your clothes in the linen basket as you take them off, swirling a blast of hot water around the sink or bath as soon as you’ve finished your ablutions, rinsing your cup between beverages, shaking your duvet out every day and never allowing the stuff on your desk to pile up.

If you have a place for everything and everything remains more-or-less in its place, a flick of a duster and a quick bang around with the hoover is all the housework that ever really needs doing. If you shake your washing as it comes out of the machine and hang it out to dry properly, you don’t even need to get the ironing board out all that often, although there’s very little more satisfying than doing a pile of ironing, and don’t you just love the smell? Besides, it’s about the only time I ever get to watch crappy TV (reruns of the Antiques Roadshow, for preference).

There is always something more interesting to do than housework, and anyone who believes otherwise has got some sort of screw loose as far as I’m concerned. 

I totally admire those women who keep their homes immaculate... I honestly do... men, too, for that matter, but, why aren’t they doing something more creative/interesting/dangerous with their time? Because they lack the imagination, that’s why.

The dullest teacher in the World told me every day for a year that a tidy desk reflected a tidy mind. He was a grey little man, who bored and saddened kids who didn’t like him, and was paid peanuts for his not very considerable pains. I can’t believe he was ever satisfied with his lot, and I don’t believe for a moment that he was right.

I don’t know what happened to him, but I hope that he gave up teaching. I hope he handed his class over to someone with a little more joie de vivre.

Then I hope he learned to rumple his hair and let loose. I hope he lived a little. I hope he learned that order isn’t everything, that out of the chaos wonder can be formed. I do hope so. Everyone deserves a little wonder, and if all you have to do to get it is forget about the housework... Well that isn’t so damned difficult, is it?

Friday 28 September 2012

High Hopes

Today, the latest round of edits for “Naming Names” went back to my lovely agent.

I have high hopes for this lot.

When I first wrote the novel, I did it just for me. OK, that’s not entirely true. I did it because I felt that compulsion a writer sometimes feels; I really needed to write this particular book. I felt I had to get it off my chest. I also thought it was timely. I thought the World was ready for a book on this subject, a book like this, and, when it was done, I thought that it was good. I thought that I’d done the subject matter justice.

Other people liked the book too. Other people thought it was good. People like Jane Alexander and Kaaron Warren took an interest in “Naming Names” and read bits of it and supported me, and I appreciated it.

Finally, it was the Mslexia competition and the judging panel, and Sarah Waters in particular who really gave me the impetus to seek out my lovely agent, and it is she who has really nurtured me. Real faith has been invested, real time and energy has been spent. 

My lovely agent has already worked hard on the novel and given me invaluable notes, and Sarah has also commented pretty thoroughly, and I have done my very best, with their help and guidance. While I thought my first attempt was exactly what it needed to be, I think this draft is better... I think it’s really very much better, and that is because these lovely women have a wealth of experience and they know of what they speak. Other people bring a fresh eye, a reader’s perspective, a professionalism to all of this that I, as yet, lack.

I take my hat off to them, I thank them, and I hope, sincerely, that one day I can accrue the sort of knowledge and experience that might just allow me to offer a helping hand to someone starting out on this adventure as I am starting out now.

In the meantime, I am crossing my fingers and hoping that I actually have done what I set out to do, and ticked every box on those lists of edits and comments that these wonderful women compiled so that “Names” can safely go off to numerous editors neat and tidy and in the best possible shape to blow their socks off.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Back in the Land of the Living

My recovery time is getting very sluggish.

It was GamesDay last weekend. We had a lovely time. 

The husband and I drove up to Leicester for lunch with the daughter, and then out to Birmingham. We had dinner with the guys on Saturday night, and then got up on Sunday morning and worked the signing table all day... Well, the husband worked the signing table all day.

He sat behind his table with the Abnett Maze (or, as I call it, Dan’s Labyrinth) in front of him as, one at a time, or, sometimes, in two and threes, fans came up to shake his hand, get a photo and have a book or books signed. He had a cheery word or two for each of them, answered a question here or there: about a book or character, about new projects, about writing or even, once or twice, about himself. He handed out badges, stood for photos, smiled and generally joined in. The queue never diminished much, and when it did it was only because someone put a ‘closed’ sign on the end of it, so that we could find some time for lunch.

We took half an hour for lunch and ate baps out of a paper carrier bag in the canteen with the staffers, which is always nice. Then it was back to work, back to signing in the afternoon.

I don’t know how he does it, except, of course, that I watch him do it, and, except of course that I see the guys who stand in the queues; I see the men and women and boys and girls who read the books and become engrossed in the stories that the husband tells. I see how much they admire what he does, and I see how much some of them idolise him. How could he fail to enjoy their company? They are, to a man and woman, sweet, gentle, polite, engaged people, who simply want to meet the author, and meet him they shall.

The only job I have, I suppose, is the one that I invent for myself at these things.

Not for nothing, I began my working life in advertising and marketing, and when I turned up at the signing tables I saw several piles of handbills advertising the Black Library Weekender coming up in the first weekend of November in Nottingham; the husband and I will be there. Once the husband was happily ensconced with his sharpie, I took a pile of the handbills and began working my way through Dan’s Labyrinth chatting with the waiting fans, talking to them about the event and handing out the fliers.

It wasn’t work. It was fun. I met some cool people. I laughed a lot. Some of us invented the concept of ‘Abnett Maze Industries’ whereby, in future years, fans caught in the maze will be invited to bring with them objects of their own special manufacture; things like jam and jam cosies. I marveled at the cleverness and foresight of the man who had brought a shooting stick so that he would have a seat and could wait in comfort, but was astonished he wasn’t renting it out. I was thrilled by the blitz spirit of the mums and dads stuck in the maze for upwards of two hours; some of them even resorted to talking to each other and reading their kids’ books!

But it’s hard work, all this... Such hard work that we bedded down in Birmingham on Sunday night and drove home through all that rain on Monday morning. I did manage to thrust my head above the parapet on Tuesday, but I have no idea where Wednesday got to. I do hope you’ll forgive my erratic behaviour; I’m here now, and I plan to stay for a while... well for today, and perhaps tomorrow, and after that, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

All You Lovely Readers

We all know that I write this blog on a more-or-less daily basis, but what I often forget is that some people actually read it on a daily basis... or even at all. Yes, I know I check the stats, and I know that the numbers keep ticking over, but I still don’t really believe that people actually read my little posts, or that they take notice of the drivel that I spout.

I don’t actually believe that people are interested in the nonsense that springs unformed to my mind in the moments of madness or banality that I devote to this task on a more-or-less daily basis.

I really, really love that you do, though.

I was at GamesDay UK 2012 on Sunday, hence the lack of a post for the past couple of days... awfully busy, don’t you know. I realise that some of you know exactly what that is, and that some of you don’t have a clue; I’ll just mention that it was a big, public event where I got to meet a lot of people, and leave it at that, except to say that quite a number of the people I met mentioned that they read my blog on a regular basis. (Hello Readers!)

I found myself apologising. I found myself squirming slightly the first couple of times this happened.

During the morning, I saw a number of staffers, too, and some writers, and some of them also mentioned that they read my blog. Crikey! Real people with real jobs, and very real people with writing careers take real time to read my daily meanderings through my mind-crap. How the hell did that happen?

These very same people were mostly smiling and pleasant, and they said positive things about what I wrote. They talked about the ‘guilty pleasure’ of it. One person even said that one of my blogs about my brother had caused him to phone his sister. I gulped a little bit. After the tenth or twelfth smile and acknowledgement, I learnt to stop apologising. I hadn’t made anyone sit and read my blog; these lovely people had chosen to take a look at it in the first place, and, having read one post, had decided, of their own free will, to return for more helpings of my musings.

Gosh it’s awfully nice to be liked and accepted and appreciated. It gives a girl a little glow. I do hope I’m worth it.

I would say that as a result of meeting some of my very splendid readers I’ll try to be nicer and to snark less, but I have a sneaking feeling that’s not what you’re all after. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the things you really like about me is the snark... And, since I’m a convert to having a readership, and since my head has been turn and my ego massaged by all the lovely things people said to me over the weekend, who knows, maybe tomorrow there’ll be room for a snark... just maybe.

Saturday 22 September 2012

GamesDay UK in T - Minus 1 Day and Counting

It’s That Time of Year Again!


I can’t believe it’s that time of year again!

This weekend in September is a routine punctuation point in our year and it has been since the late nineties, but it is now one of the last. Gone are the days when our lives were ruled by the school terms and holidays, by half term weeks and Baker Days, by bank holidays and snow days and teachers’ strike days.

GamesDay UK is the last man standing.

This is my fourteenth consecutive GamesDay, so it must be the husband’s sixteenth-plus. That seems like a lot of years, and I was a youngster when I began turning out for these events. I was a young woman, who was regularly stared, and even pointed at, and The Black Library, the publishing arm of Games Workshop hadn’t even been conceived.

I love GamesDay; it’s probably the closest we get to the husband’s public, the closest we get to the readership, in its ‘en masse’ form at least. Many of the ten thousand bodies in the NEC belong to fans of the tie-in fiction that Dan and I write for the Black Library, stuff about warriors and monsters that entertain the gamers, men, boys, women and girls who spend their imaginations on these extraordinary universes. Don’t think it’s not time well spent. Don’t think they’re all geeks and nerds, which they probably are; don’t think they’re not incredibly creative, funny, engaged people, because they are. And don’t think we won’t have a bloody good time talking battle strategies and discussing the merits of particular regiments or the weaknesses of various foes. Don’t think we won’t all cry, “WAAAAARGGH!”

They love the husband. They love him so much, they hold him in such high regard that they stand in queues for hours waiting to shake his hand, have their photos taken, ask a question and get a book or two signed, and he loves them back... every one.

It’ll be a bloody good day.

So, we’re off to Birmingham. I’ve left the house tidy and the chirpy house-sitter is ensconced. Lovely chap. We’ll jump in the car, packed full of stuff to drop off in Leicester for the dort, and we’ll have lunch with her and her flatmates and her boyff (just to make sure she’s fed), and that’ll be very, very lovely.

Then I’ll brace myself, because it’ll be a full-on couple of days, and I’ll need a day or two to recover when I get home. The first one of these I did was thirteen years ago, when I was in my mid-thirties, when I could carouse with the best of them. Now I have to pace myself, but it’s bloody worth it.

Battle reports to follow!

Friday 21 September 2012

Sink or Swim

We all do things we’re scared of; that’s what makes us brave.

When I was a young woman, I made a point of doing things that frightened me, but, as I got older, I allowed myself to stop. I allowed myself  to grow into the sort of person who is content to avoid fear and conflict and the discomfort of dealing with... well... discomfort in most of its myriad forms.

Time passed: quite a lot of time, probably a decade or two.

Then stuff happened, as stuff does. Life changed, as it is wont to do. I was thrown, by circumstances into a whole new way of thinking, into a whole new way of dealing with my life and the people in it.

This is a good thing.

It is time to be brave again. It is time to take risks. It is time to roll the dice.

One small part... One very small part of making the changes in my life came in the form of a decision to learn to swim. I know... daft, isn’t it? I can’t swim. I attended a primary school that had its own pool and a secondary school that had its own pool, and swimming lessons were mandatory at both of those establishments, and yet I never learned to propel my body through water.

I like to stand on a beach and look out at the ocean. In fact, sometimes, the husband drives me to the coast with the sole purpose of doing that very thing. I was born only a few hundred yards from the North Sea, and I love it, but I struggle to get into any body of water bigger than the average bath tub, and, honestly, some days I have to get out of the bath because it makes me nervous. I can literally hyperventilate sitting chest deep in a bath of warm water.

First of all I talked about learning to swim, and then I went to the on-line shop and bought swimsuits, two of them so that I couldn’t make the excuse that my suit was in the wash. Then I sent them back to be exchanged because they didn’t fit. Then I went on-line again and got the address of my nearest pool. Then the husband took me to look at the pool where I got the number of the organisation that takes care of the lessons. The slip of paper with the number on it sat on my desk for several days... OK, a week... or two... while I plucked up the courage to ring it.

Finally, first thing on Wednesday, when the husband could stand it no longer, but with my permission, obviously, he rang the number for me. He got through to an operator, who promised that an instructor would ring back.

Nobody rang.

OK... somebody just rang.

I enjoy a coincidence as much as anyone does, but I was going to write a snarky blog about how I’d being bracing myself for weeks and weeks to book a swimming lesson and when it came to the crunch I was let down... Only I wasn’t...

I just spent ten minutes on the phone with a lovely woman and booked my first two swimming lessons.

My hands are shaking slightly.

I’ve got to meet Linda, my swimming instructor, poolside one Tuesday in October; we’ll be in our swimsuits, so there won’t be an opportunity to wear a green gardenia or to carry the Racing Post, but I’m guessing she won’t need me to advertise who I am; I’m guessing the body language and the expression on my face will tell her exactly who her next client is.

Poor woman. Do wish her luck. 

Thursday 20 September 2012

This is My Jam, but it could be Your Jam

I may have mentioned once or twice that I am a fan of This Is My Jam.

Of all the social networking sites, I think it’s my favourite, and there are several reasons for this. First of all, as far as I’m concerned, there really is no such thing as bad music. Your taste and mine might not be the same, but, in the end, music is music. I put it this way: If I arrived on my desert island, and the wrong discs were delivered, eventually, one way or the other, I would end up playing them. Like them or not, I would be better off playing any music than no music at all. It might take a very long time for me to get around to playing... Oh, I don’t know... Bonnie Tyler or Barry Manilow, or the latest thrash metal collection, or Perry Como’s greatest hits (bless him), but play them I would.

The second wonderful thing about This Is My Jam is that you know what you’re getting. With blogs and, to a lesser extent, Facebook and, to a lesser extent, again, Twitter, you don’t know what you’re getting til you’ve had it, and then it’s too late; then, you’re mind is already infected with whatever foetid rubbish you’ve ended up reading, almost certainly by accident. Even amazing people can be crap. With This Is My Jam all the information about what you’re letting yourself in for is right there, and if you don’t fancy playing a person’s music choice, you just don’t play it.

You see how much fun this is?

Right... I’ll give you a moment to go and join up, and when you’ve done that, please cut and paste a link and plant it in the comments, because I really, truly, honestly want to follow every single one of you who opens an account.

Are you back? 


Here’s the third reason why This Is My Jam is fun. It’s fun because it’s full of surprises. I follow people that I know are heavily into music, who I know are going to ‘give good tune’, people like Marco, and there are no surprises with them, or, I suppose, there are only surprises. It’s the people you feel you know well that are really interesting. When someone I thought I really knew posts a song that seems wildly outside of their sphere of experience I’m often ridiculously impressed or excited by it; it shows them, somehow, in a new light, a light that always flatters. I hope that happens in reverse once in a while.

And my fourth and final reason for liking This Is My Jam is because it’s subversive.

Most of the tunes I post are simply whatever happens to be in my head when I post them. I might have heard a snippet of something in a shop or on the radio. I might have been reminded of something by someone else. I might re-jam something. I often just have a fit of nostalgia; I'm at that age, don't you know. Then, every so often, and it isn’t all that often, a mood strikes me, and it makes me want to either lash out or reach out, and, whether they know it or not (and let’s not pretend it isn’t usually not) I direct my energies into a song and then launch it at some poor unsuspecting individual, who probably doesn’t even have a This Is My Jam account, and, if he or she does, probably doesn’t follow me. It doesn’t matter. I cast a spell, I laud or demonise, I declare my undying love or my never-ending disaffection, I flirt or lambast, I mock or shame, and, once in a blue moon, I do all of those things, because that, ladies and gentlemen is the power of music!

This is my jam, but it can be your jam if you want it to be. Go on, give it a go.

It’s a kind of magic.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

The Internet Makes Buddies of Us All.

A couple of years ago, I met an awfully nice chap. We were introduced. He mistook me for my husband in a quick-witted, humorous way that made all three of us laugh. We had a conversation, and were in the same room, in the same company for three or four hours. I had a nice time.

Not very long afterwards, the husband and I joined Twitter and I looked for various people to follow. Because he was amusing and clever, and made a nice impression, I looked up this chap, and, lo and behold, there he was. He also followed us back. So that was nice. When I got my own Twitter account, he followed that, too.

That was two years ago, and I feel as if he and I have developed a little relationship. He makes me laugh with his little jokes and puns. I read his blog and occasionally comment, not always to agree, and sometimes to commiserate, and, once in a while, we have a little back and forth.

I am rather charmed by the internet. I like that it means I get to interact with people. A writer’s life can be a solitary one, and it’s nice to dip into the world without leaving my desk. I like that I can say something to Sue Perkins or Susan Hill on Twitter and they might answer me. I like that a complete stranger or a fan has the chance to say something to the husband that might just get him thinking. It always happened via conventions or the website, or even via the PO Box with fan mail and whatnot, but Twitter is quicker and more immediate. I like that other professionals talk so freely one to another on the internet when once they might only have spoken two or three times a year in the bars at various convention hotels or at signings.

We are still strangers, though, aren’t we? I am perfectly friendly with lots of people that I have never met. I have even been known to flirt with one or two of them. I still believe that I behave differently with people I have met, though. I still believe that there is a type of connection that can only be made once flesh has been pressed, with the possible exception of Sarah Pinborough, but then isn’t La Pinborough the possible exception to all good rules?

Perhaps I am wrong (but not about Pinborough, obviously).

In one of our little conversations on Twitter, the lovely chap and I talked beauty, and he refuted his dashing looks, saying that if we ever met in the flesh...

I do not blame him for not remembering me. He was working the evening we met. He was ‘on’, as was the husband, and I understand the pressures of those events. There is an awful lot of glad-handing and an awful lot of name and face memorising, and I am not someone whose name or face is ever going to figure in the advancement of anyone’s career or social standing. I am only the wife of another writer. The lovely chap had more pressing things to worry about, and more important people too.

However, and this is interesting to me... However, this lovely chap has been very easygoing with me about responding to my overtures for a reasonably intimate internet friendship, which I had based on a very pleasant first meeting.

I’m charmed by his tolerance of someone who clearly must have come on a little strong, but more than anything, I wonder what he was basing the extent of our communications on, and I wonder how usual it is for people, by which I mean Twitter account holders, to strike up these sorts of correspondences.

On the other hand, perhaps I’m terribly stuffy and formal, and perhaps everyone else simply is more easygoing than I am. Maybe they are all chatting merrily away while I await the handshake and the written invitation.

Perhaps... Just perhaps, I still have a very great deal to learn about the internet... I shouldn’t be at all surprised.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

That's How We Rock

This is one of those days when I can’t think of anything to say in my blog.

OK... That’s not strictly true. I could write about all sorts of things, but some of them are too personal: Yes, I did have a wonderful weekend and a fabulous Monday, thank you. 

Some of the things I could write about are too weird: Dreams? Out, in a city I didn’t know, with a bunch of middle-aged women I’d never met, who were all drunk except me, so why did I ask the barman for a ‘very bloody virgin mary’ and what the hell is one of those? (I’m thinking a salt’n’pepper rim and extra tabasco).

Some of the things I might consider discussing are just too dull or frustrating or daft. Those edits and proofing notes? Why oh why remove the commas and then suggest that the sentence needs restructuring, taking the impact away from the front (where I’d deliberately placed it) so that the thing makes sense because without the commas there’s ambiguity! Argh!

Some of the things I would normally put out there are simply too domestic for a Tuesday. There’s no dishwasher salt and I’ve run out of paracetamol because of that headache I had yesterday, and I should order an extra pint of milk now that we have the coffee machine, and is there enough chicken left for two for dinner?

You see what I mean?

That’s life. That, ladies and gentlemen is your life and my life and the bloke down the street’s life.

On the other hand, the bloke down our street is a photographer, which I think is rather glamorous, not least because he’s young and buff, and he’s got his own darkroom... and he knows how to use the medium format camera that I bought months ago and haven’t got around to playing with yet. Making pictures with light, for goodness sake! How romantic is that?

Anyway, the husband is desperately in need of new head shots, so James is popping in this morning for a chat, because that’s how we rock. He might even rummage about for locations, which I guess will consist of which chair the husband might want to sit in or which bookcase he might lean nonchalantly against.

I’m rather looking forward to this experience. 

Adelie High has always been the husband’s photographer of choice so this is something of a departure. I’ll let you know how it goes. Who knows, maybe I’ll even charm the lovely man into taking a shot of me for this blog; and if my brand of charm doesn’t quite cut it with young, buff photographers, a cup of decent coffee from the new machine ought to do it.

Monday 17 September 2012

Getting My Priorities Straight

There comes a time in every adult’s life to stop and think about buying a bed, and not just a piece of furniture, but a proper, grown-up, investment bed.

There comes a time, probably somewhere in middle-age when how pretty the headboard is suddenly matters much less than the qualities of a well-made mattress. That moment occurred for us some time last week.

The weird thing is that it didn’t start that way. The weird thing is that it all started with size.

The husband and I have always slept on a standard double, a four foot six bed, 135cm if you will. It’s not very big, is it? It’s the size of bed that we bought for the children for heaven’s sake. 

I never considered a bigger bed. I like the husband, and being close to him in bed never felt like any sort of a problem; it still doesn’t. 

Then, last week, an odd confluence of events and my own clumsiness had me lying sideways on a bed that wasn’t wide enough for my height in a room that was more than big enough for a six foot bed, and the mattress was lumpy and the cheap brass lacquer was scratched and ugly, and I realised that we were selling ourselves short.

We spend a lot of time in bed.

Correction: Everyone spends a lot of time in bed. Nevertheless, we were bedding down nightly on something we bought for next-to-nothing fifteen years ago, and it just didn’t seem right.

I did my research and we went bed-shopping. We’d seen a bedstead we liked on-line, so went to someone who stocked it. Simple. They didn’t have one to view, of course, but what the hell, it was only the bedstead, it’d be fine. What they did have was a large array of mattresses to try out.

I would say, ‘It’s not rocket science,’ but it turns out that it is. It is if you want one of those memory-foam jobs, anyway. Turns out, after lying on one, the last thing I wanted was memory-foam, so I used my veto and on we went.

Now, you can colour me any way you like, but I do a lot of things in bed. In fact, I’ve never been much of a sleeper. Even as a child, I didn’t do a whole lot of sleeping, so it’s a decent way down my list of priorities when it comes to considering the purchase of a bed. The husband, on the other hand can sleep pretty well anywhere, and regularly does, so he’s not fussy about the sleeping action of the bed either. It’s the other things we do in bed that determine our needs, and we do lots of other things in bed.

Have I mentioned the salesman? Thought not.

I’m a great believer that customers get the service they deserve. Of course sales persons really ought to treat everyone the same, of course they should be professional and personable and courteous at all times, but they’re human, too, and if a customer treats a salesperson less than well, it’s never going to be an ideal relationship. Where possible I do try hard to be a good customer; in fact, if I struggle with a salesperson, I generally walk away from the purchase, especially a purchase as big as this one. 

Our salesman was rather lovely. He was a robust man in his forties, beautifully turned out, softly spoken, masculine, accommodating, and he was funny. He called me ‘madam’ and got away with it, which is rare for someone not very much younger than I am. He also managed to maintain his composure, except when he was laughing, and we laughed rather a lot.

It turns out that sleep is all and everything that any customer ever talks about when buying a bed. I am not any customer. It turns out that I am extremely unusual in wanting to discuss or even mention any of the other activities that I might want to partake of in my nocturnal habitat.

I was utterly amazed. Even for someone who’s lived with insomnia forever, there’s no way in heaven and earth that I’d prioritise a good night’s sleep over other things I do in bed. People really do have a lot to learn about life, don’t they?

Sleep is one thing, but there’s really nothing nicer than a properly comfortable place to indulge the desire for a long session with a really good book.

Saturday 15 September 2012

What Price Friendship?

Twenty-five quid, that’s what.

No... Seriously.

Way back in the dim and distant past... What was it? Eighteen months ago? I paid my twenty-five quid and I entered the Mslexia novel-writing competition. I did not know then what my money was buying me.

I was asked recently whether it was worth entering writing competitions that charge a fee. It’s a tricky question to answer. 

You might have read my thoughts on contributing work for free, and I still think I’m right. I still think that work should be paid for... always! Sometimes that pay might take the form of waiving a fee for the sake of a charity, but it’s still payment, because someone still benefits. As writers, as anything, we must not sell ourselves short. If one of us does it, we all suffer.

Does the same sort of principle apply to competitions? Does the competition turn into a vanity exercise if we pay to enter. It’s tricky, isn’t it?

The problem, as I see it is this: If you want a good and experienced reading panel, it must be paid to read, and if the competition is popular and a representative sample of each entrant is to be read, that’s a lot of reading, and a lot of responsibility for the reading panel to recommend the right books to the judging panel. If you want a good and experienced judging panel, and if you want to add prestige to the prize by having celebrated or acclaimed judges then they must be paid, too, and the more celebrated the higher the fee.

The Mslexia Prize attracted about 1800 entrants who were invited to submit 5,000 words each, for a reading total of 9 million words or about 100 full length novels. That adds up to about forty working weeks of reading for someone... someone who has to be paid. 

Then there were the judges. I don’t know exactly how this competition was run, but even if the three judges were only given the final dozen shortlisted books, they might still expect to read them pretty thoroughly. A dozen books that each takes a dozen hours to read, and all three judges have to accomplish that feat, adds up to a total of thirteen more regular thirty-five hour weeks. Add to that time spent talking about the books, comparing notes, working through suggestions, corresponding, weeding out, picking, choosing, getting together and cogitating, and it soon becomes very clear why some competitions really do need to ask for a fee, simply so that they can run at all.

The Mslexia competition took about £45,000 in fees for their novel writing competition, and I’m willing to bet that it ran at a loss.

As a runner-up in the competition it would have been twenty-five quid well spent. I got an agent, too, and you can’t put a price on that, and no one who has ever gone agent-hunting will argue with me, I promise you. If every budding writer could invest twenty-five pounds and be guaranteed an agent, trust me, plenty of them would sell their grandmothers to raise the cash to do it.

That’s not why those twenty-five pounds were a good investment for me, though.

As a result of entering and doing well in the Mslexia competition, I met Rebecca Alexander. We met on-line to begin with, and then in person, and we now correspond very regularly. She’s a lovely woman, and I am glad to be able to call her my friend. 

If my book had bombed I still would’ve spent the cash if it meant meeting Reb, and I’d do it again... and again. 

Friday 14 September 2012

Let's Agree to Disagree

I love it when people say, ‘as you say...’ when what they mean is ‘as I wildly misinterpret your words to mean so that they fit in with my diametrically opposed view’.

I have a sort of weird secondhand standing. I don’t know how it happened, but, because of the husband, and because I work fairly closely with him, I have had some exposure to his fanbase, and some of his followers have come to know me a little bit.

I’m not a public entity. I haven’t done enough work to be known in my own right, but I have been adopted, co-opted and even conscripted into a sort of merry little band. I like it there. 

These people are positively lovely. They are from all genders, ages, backgrounds and races, although, to be fair, there are more white guys between twenty and thirty than anything else. There are people who share my views and those who openly don’t. There are those with whom I laugh and cry and debate, and those with whom I nod and frown and debate. Some I have a cup of tea with and some a glass of wine.

There is a close-knit core, but there is also a broader base, and there are one or two people, on the periphery, who are the oddest creatures on the planet. They are like people everywhere. They are like acquaintances I have met in all sorts of other arenas, in school and at university, and in work and social situations. They are very particular.

There is a subset of people who assume that they are right about everything and that anyone they admire or like for whatever reason must, perforce, agree with everything they say. They also tend to have an insecurity switch, and, as a consequence, they will repeat back almost anything that is said to them, reinterpreting it to cover or include their own experiences or opinions.

Some of these people, for whatever reasons, want to be in my gang, or rather, they want to be associated with the husband and they see me as their path to success in that endeavour, which, frankly, I’m not, nor shall I ever be. They want to be validated as human beings, apparently by someone close to the husband.

If you are one of these people it is worth bearing the following in mind:

I don’t have a gang. I have no greater value than anyone else, and me offering you any sort of validation is more-or-less meaningless in a World where I have zero power to affect your social or professional standing.

The best you will ever get from me in this situation is my tolerance, and that’s benign enough, but it isn’t what you want. Do battle with me and persuade me of your argument, and if you can’t change my mind, at least persuade me that your argument is a valid one, and you will have my respect and acceptance. I don’t have to agree with everything you say to like you. You don’t have to agree with everything I say, or give the appearance that you agree with everything I say for me to like you. Don’t think I don’t know my own mind, and don’t think I don’t know when you’re misrepresenting me, especially if you’re doing it back to me.

In some instances, you might simply be the person who wants to believe that I think the way you think... that every right-minded individual must think the way that you think and that any other viewpoint is impossible. Well... OK then.

If, on the other hand, you’re the person that pulled the switch on me, willfully misunderstood me and then demonstrated your lack of understanding then I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t think we’re ever going to see eye to eye. Pity really, because in other circumstances, who knows, we might have been buddies. 

Thursday 13 September 2012

Canada Oh Canada!

It’s not every day I get to travel halfway around the World with four... count them FOUR New York Times bestselling novelists. In fact, isn’t there some sort of dictum against putting that many of those all on one aeroplane all at the same time? And if there isn’t, why isn’t there?

And if that wasn’t enough to get my heart pounding, those four lovely NYT bestselling novelists are to be supplemented by four more writers... let’s count them too... that’s right, FOUR more New York Times bestselling novelists in the making.

Then there’s me. I’ll be the girl writer of this merry band.

The Black Library does employ women writers. In fact, it is very happy to have women onboard... the more the merrier. I’m going for fun on this trip, though. I’m going because I haven’t been to Canada before. I’m going because when I booked the ticket I didn’t have much to do in October (although that has since changed and I’ll be packing my laptop). I’m going because Gemma at Chestermere Library said she’d love to meet me, and I’d love to meet her too.

I’m going because the Chestermere Expo is going to be the biggest Black Library event outside the UK this year... Did I say this year? I think I meant EVER!

I’ve done a lot of Games Days over the years, and they’re pretty amazing, but it’s the Black Library events that I really love. 

These relatively small-scale events are so much more intimate, dare I say it, more civilised than the great sprawling sea of bodies and cacophony of voices that tend to overwhelm the bigger events. It’s lovely to have the time to meet people face to face, with time to talk and the luxury of being able to hear questions and answers, and hold real conversations. 

These events tend to be when I see the writers at their best, most relaxed and most animated. These are the times when the real connections are made and when the most valuable networking is done.

It’s worth remembering that writers pass their lives alone with their keyboards and their imaginations in little rooms, and one of their rewards for all the hours they spend closeted is to meet the readers and share their enthusiasm for what they do. This is as much a treat for them as it is for you.

I hope to see a great turn out for the Canada Expo. I’ll be there and so will eight writers, who also happen to be eight of the nicest blokes I know. I think you’re going to like them too.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

9/11 part ii

Yesterday marked the anniversary of an event that changed the World.

It also marked the anniversary of an event that changed my world. Three years ago yesterday, the husband suffered a seizure, in fact, he suffered half a dozen of them, one after another, and he ended up in hospital.

Honestly, at the time, I wasn’t terribly frightened. I went into crisis mode, which meant being calm and dealing with what needed to be dealt with, making sure that the husband was OK, and the kids were sorted out, and generally getting on with things.

The first seizure happened in the night, and it wasn’t terribly dramatic. I was asleep, and, although it woke me, I wasn’t entirely aware of what was happening, so when the husband simply wanted to go back to sleep, I let him. The fits kept coming, and in the morning I finally persuaded the husband that he needed a visit to Accident and Emergency. Of course, by the time we got there, the seizures had abated, and there was nothing left to witness or treat. 

Quite a lot of people have a seizure at some point in their lives and, as always, the husband had been working too hard; we’d also ended the day with a celebratory meal and a bottle of wine, which had probably lowered his threshold for having a seizure. So after a consultation, we left casualty and hoped that was an end of it.

Four months, a series of episodes and a number of visits to the hospital later, the husband was diagnosed with epilepsy... And they were four extraordinary months that changed our lives. 

The worst case scenario could, of course, have been fatal, and, faced with that, the husband and I spent a lot of time talking. We talked about what we’d done and had, and how wonderful it had been. We talked about what we might have done differently, and about what we could still change, and we talked about what we’d like to do in the future if we had the chance. 

We didn’t spend those four months waiting and worrying. Confronted with mortality the way we were, I don’t think people do wait and worry.

Three years have passed, and things don’t change over night. It was important to normalise. It was important to work out which medication worked best for the husband, which took a couple of switches and then we had to optimise the dosage, and it took two years to get him back in his car. It was important to settle the kids, too, and the youngest has just left home.

Three years on, things are coming to a head, and the husband is getting impatient for the changes that we both know are on the cards. The work we’ve been doing since the epilepsy is finally beginning to pay off. We have plans for the future for work and for play, and just for us, and we’re about ready to implement those plans.

There’s still some way to go, but the second half of our adult lives is going to be different, and it’s going to be different because of the husband’s experience with epilepsy. In other circumstances, I’m sure we would simply have carried on as normal, and I’m sure we would have been perfectly happy, but I also know that it wouldn’t have been the same.

In the end, the epilepsy might just turn out to be the best thing that has ever happened to us. So watch this space, and wish us luck.

Tuesday 11 September 2012


I have been thinking, this morning, about the nature of history and the moments in it that changed the World... forever.

I have stood on either side of some of those moments, and they are not difficult to identify. What is truly difficult... impossible perhaps... is to describe what life was like on the other side of those moments... What life used to be like... What it was like before those World changing events happened, when we were happy and innocent and...

Today is the Eleventh of September 2012, or, as the Americans would have it, 9/11/2012. Today is the anniversary of one of those days that changed the World... one of those moments that I have stood on either side of.

They call this sort of thing ‘unthinkable’ because it was, and because once it had happened we could think of nothing else for a very long time. Let us not forget that, eleven years later, wars continue to be fought. 

For my older daughter this event happened half a lifetime ago. Any child still in primary school was born after 9/11. To remember in any detail a time before that event one would have to be an adult, and to be able to conjure up a sense of what life was actually like before that event one would probably have to be over thirty. My great nephew and nieces, all in their infancies, will learn about 9/11 in history classes one day, just as I learned about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. 

On 9/11/2001, I was an adult, a parent, someone with a full life and a long memory, and I remember what life was like before the World Trade Centre was hit by terrorism.

What happened in New York that day was one of those events that stopped time, that reset the clock, and that changed the World and our perceptions of it, of our place in it, and of the places of others. It changed us culturally. It changed us so much that it changed the history that had gone before. It caused things, events and people to be re-evaluated, to be judged with new, more fearful eyes. 

That day, that event, the falling of the Twin Towers, marks an extreme of human hatred that shames us all. 

Somehow the hatred of men and their regimes, and their opposition one to another, culminated in this place with these people and this intent, and we have all lived too long with the results.

Monday 10 September 2012

Nature or Nurture?

Studies have been done on this sort of thing, and I’m sure conclusions have been reached, but, in the end, if we look for answers, our own lives might just give them to us. 

My neighbour popped in this morning. 

I like my neighbour. She’s a very nice, clever, engaged woman and we get on. She asked how the daughter was coping since she’d left home, and her question led to a conversation about children and raising them, and about the whole nature/nurture question.

Here’s the thing:

As parents, not only do we influence our children, it is our duty to influence our children. It is our responsibility to steer them in the most appropriate directions so that they have the best chance to be everything that they can be. 

It is, however, my contention that raising a child begins and ends there. I honestly think that a parent’s influence effectively ends the day that child heads off into the World alone. 

I don’t think I deliberately sloughed off my parents’ opinions when I left home, but I do know that my own thoughts and feelings sang loudly in my mind. Genetically, I belonged to them; politically, I was someone else. My opinions about love, sex, justice and a million other things were tied to feelings, to personality, rather than to doctrine.

We are who we are, and we are all like that. Some of us are more embattled than others, some of us more akin, some less.

In my own family, I suppose I seemed like more of a rebel. I suppose I seemed to change more with my departure than did my brothers and sisters. It wasn’t because I was more difficult. It wasn’t because I was more defiant. It wasn’t deliberate.

I suppose I seemed to change more with my departure because I was more different to begin with. I suppose I seemed to change more with my departure because my nature differed more from the pattern of my nurture than did my siblings’. I wasn’t like them, not really. I was the cuckoo in the nest.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. That is just the way that it was. The apple rarely falls so very far from the tree. In my case, I think it might just have been whipped off its branch in a tornado.

In the end, though, it doesn’t matter very much. The nurture still raised me in a safe environment where brothers, sisters and parents tolerated one another reasonably well. Of course, our differences are amplified by the passage of time and by us all living in our own homes, some of us in different towns, but at least, as adults, we have the time and space in which to deal with that.

The hardest thing, perhaps, isn’t that I’m not what they thought I’d be, or even who they thought I’d be. The hardest thing, perhaps, is that I’m not what or who I thought I’d be. The hardest thing was that, for a long time, I struggled to recognise myself. They can all look at each other and know where they’ve come from and who they are, and I feel as if I have that luxury much less.

On the other hand, of course, I get to be me, and, for all that’s a mixed curse some days, I still wouldn’t swap... not for anything.