Nicola Vincent-Abnett

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

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Happy Hallowe’en and a Sensational Samhain

All Souls is one of our favourite festivals. The autumn is one of our favourite seasons. 

I remember bonfire nights with my family and my mother’s treacle toffee, and I remember a time long before we got our hands on anything as glamorous as a pumpkin when swedes and turnips were our sacrificial vegetables when it came to good old Jack o’ Lantern. I remember the smell of the burning flesh of a swede when the tealight burned away, and I remember the soups and stews that were made with the stuff that was excised. I still make those wonderful orange soups, albeit they’re spicier and more sophisticated than my mother’s versions were in the 60s and 70s.

As a family, with our daughters, we developed rituals of our own. We always brought a cauldron to the table and had a family fondue. We didn’t take the children trick or treating, because it seemed like an odd, foreign form of begging that didn’t jibe with us, and it still wasn’t common in the UK when our own children were young enough to enjoy it, but, latterly, we always kept a big bowl of goodies for the neighbours’ kids to dig into when they knocked the door, and we always loved to see their costumes... Still do. 

The husband and both of the daughters were born in October, so it’s a special time for us, an indulgent time, and Hallowe’en marks the end of those celebrations, too.

This year is different, though. This year, neither of our daughters is home. This year only the house sitter will be here. There will be no fondue, no pumpkin, not even a cat. This year was going to be terribly sad for me. I was dreading it.

Then, out of the blue, we got a lovely invitation.

The husband has been working with a very clever, very talented artist, who is also a lovely, friendly family man, who happens to live locally to where we need to be for the next few days. He and his wife have invited us to supper tonight, and I am delighted. It will be great to be in good company. It will be splendid to eat home-cooked food for the only time in four or five days, and it will be wonderful to share Hallowe’en.

The husband is always a fantastic guest, and, honestly, I’ll be happy just to sit and soak up the atmosphere. I can’t wait.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

What Ed Said...

Yes I did read Ed Milliband’s speech to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and I’m not sure how impressed they must have been by it, either.

Talking is cheaper, so let’s talk, seemed to be at the thrust of his policy for improved mental health care.

He also seemed to be saying that Jeremy Clarkson’s a tw*t and Janet Street-Porter is a cynic; well, I think we probably had an inkling.

I suppose it’s to be expected for politicians to tailor their speeches to their audiences to some degree or another, but I can’t think of a single audience, and certainly not one as educated and sophisticated as a bunch of mental health professionals, who’d want to hear a politician of the calibre that a leader of a major political party ought to be spouting generalisations on the subject that audience really ought to know inside-out. 

I think this speech was, at best, ill-judged, and, at worst, insulting. Did Milliband honestly think that he could tell these men and women anything they didn’t already know, more intimately than he did, in more detail, in a more nuanced and much subtler way?

Of course, the truth is that this speech was not intended for this audience; this speech was intended for reporting in the national press for the domestic voting audience. This was Ed Milliband having a crack at the popularity contest, and he probably won some decent people over in the process.

This thing isn’t black and white.

People don’t turn to drugs or become criminals simply because they’re mentally ill, and it’s irresponsible to suggest that’s the case. People are not unemployable, unproductive or a liability simply because they have mental health issues, and yet that idea is reinforced in several paragraphs in Ed Milliband’s address, yesterday. Life is almost always much more complicated than that.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the consensus must be that mental health issues must be dealt with effectively by the individuals affected by them and by the healthcare professionals they interface with, and there are still taboos, and there are still gaps in that care. I believe those gaps can be plugged by a clearer understanding and acceptance of mental health issues, and there is, of course, work to be done to ensure that people’s needs are met, and that people are looked after and made well.

I don’t want to hear Ed Milliband talking on this subject or, for that matter, on any other subject that makes me wonder what the hell his motives are. I want him to talk like the leader of the Labour Party. I want him to talk like a political leader of the first water. I want him to talk in grand, sweeping terms. I want to hear about ideas. I don’t want him to fuss over one thing this week and another the next. I want him to talk consistently about the big things. I want to hear about the singular ideology that matters.

When did our leaders stop surrounding themselves with specialist advisors and cabinets full of people who knew what they were supposed to be focusing on and begin to try to be Jacks of all trades? When did our leaders stop trusting themselves to delegate and stop trusting the people they delegated to?

I wonder if they stopped doing those things when they stopped being trustworthy? I wonder?

Monday 29 October 2012

Write What You Know...

That’s what they tell you... That seems to be the generally received wisdom for new writers, except that, in my experience, new writers are young and don’t know diddly squat. I didn’t begin writing in earnest until I was in my forties and I didn’t know diddly squat.

Besides, you won’t learn anything by writing what you already know, and where’s the fun in that?

I don’t know who said it, but I imagine the reason to think it’s a good idea to write what you know is that it’s tough to write, so it’s not a bad idea to make it easier, and I get that. To write a novel, for example, takes months or even years, and considerable mental stamina, so is it a good idea, in the first instance, to begin with unfamiliar subject matter? Maybe not.

Honestly, I don’t think it matters in the slightest whether you write what you know. I think what really matters is that you write what you feel... that you write what you must.

My first novel was, thematically, about something I thought I knew a good deal about, but I gave it an SF setting, introduced a lot of stuff about maths that I had to learn, had a key character on the Autistic spectrum that gave me plenty to research, and lo and behold all the thematic stuff changed when the very process of writing the novel adjusted my thinking. It was a great experience, a real pleasure and a lovely way to learn something new about myself. I don’t know if you’ll ever read Savant, but it’s a book I’m still proud of, and a great beginning.

Writing is a transformative experience, for me at least. Whatever I know when I begin a project might alter entirely by the time I’ve finished, my opinions might change, and I’m almost bound to learn a great deal along the way. I might only learn a lot of facts, but, more than once, I’ve learned things about life, about how I feel about things, about the way my mind works, about how to write better.

In the end, perhaps we always write what we know, but, here’s the thing: The more we write, the more we learn, and, with any luck, the better we get at this. I certainly hope that’s true, because I’m about to put Naming Names out into the world, and then I’m embarking on The Winter Lamb, and everything I’ve learned about being a writer is going to be very useful when it comes to writing that book... very useful indeed.

Sunday 28 October 2012

A World of My Own

The clocks went back last night... At least they did (or were meant to) if you live in the UK. We went back to dear old Greenwich Mean Time after being on British Summer Time since the end of March. Does it strike anyone else as odd that Greenwich Mean Time, by which all things time related are measured, is only in operation in the UK for five short months in any given year? Come to think of it, does it strike anyone else as odd that we still maintain daylight saving in the twenty-first century? No? Just me, then.

I can’t help thinking we could save ourselves, and, in particular all families with small children at least two weeks of aggravation a year re-setting our circadian rhythms and, in particular, our babies’ circadian rhythms, if we just gave the whole thing up as a bad job. There is no harvest remaining to gather in, and, if there were, that’s what combine harvester and floodlights are for.

My point, though, is that I now live in such a refined world all of my own, and of my husband’s, of course, ruled only by ourselves and our own desires, that we actually put our clocks back after we’d finished entertaining ourselves with a bit of therapeutic shopping yesterday.

The dudes in Austin Reed (don’t bother, you won’t get served) were so rubbish last week that we drove down to Ashford outlet centre yesterday morning on a whim, and I ended up buying three shirts in Ralph Lauren for the price of one in the aforementioned. Then Dan decided he needed something that he could only get at BlueWater, and, of course, it was lunchtime by then.

Anyway, we needed to get some work done, so, when we got home around three o’clock we decided to put the clocks back a  little ahead of time and extend the afternoon by an hour, so that we could finish what needed to get finished.

How many people do you know who can live their lives by their own clock?

We don’t watch tv, we didn’t have any dinner reservations, we weren’t meeting anyone, we didn’t have children to get to bed, or get up for in the morning, and our lives are totally, and completely our own, so, the bottom line was that, yesterday we took an extra hour in the day instead of waiting for all the clocks to automatically reset over night.

The husband and I set our ancient manual watches by hand at about three o’clock yesterday afternoon and began Greenwich Mean Time a little ahead of the rest of you. We travelled through time, and it was lovely.

I like the world that I live in. It’s perfectly fine by me that everyone has now backed up, and that we’re all back in synch, but how cool is it that I was able to step off without upsetting myself and without anyone else noticing? What a luxury!

Saturday 27 October 2012

Write it Down!

There’s always stuff to do, but, yesterday, I was on top of things.
I’d got to the place I wanted to be with the new book, I hadn’t yet started the final edit on Gilead, and I’d spoken to my agent about Names; I’d done a tiny little favour for a friend, and had dropped a short story on my desktop to read as a special treat. I had the VAT lined up for Monday and Tuesday, and that was it; my in-tray was, for all sensible purposes empty.

I don’t generally keep blogs on-hand. If I have an idea and ten minutes to write it, I might have one or two in the drawer, ready to go, but I usually write my blogs on the mornings I post them; they’re a sort of warming up exercise; I tend to write them while I have my first cup of tea in bed. It’s a bit like opening the mail, I suppose, or limbering up.

Last night, I had an idea for a blog. it was a good idea, and, under almost any circumstances, I would have written it down; I might even have sat down and written the blog if it had been any other time of the day or day of the week, but Friday night is date night, and I was in the bath getting ready for dinner with the husband. I didn’t get out of the bath to jot down my idea, and I didn’t jot down a note when I did get out of the bath.

I keep a nifty little pen on my bedside table, with a notebook, for the purpose of writing down ideas and bits and pieces that occur to me in the night or when I’m upstairs; for occasions exactly like this one, in fact, but I didn’t write this note down. I didn’t write this note down, because it was only one little thought, and I decided that because my head wasn’t swimming with things, that everything was neatly taken care of and I wasn’t juggling half-a-dozen projects, that I would simply remember my blog idea and write it in the morning without any trouble.


There is a reason why I keep a notebook and pen in my handbag and another on my desk and one more on my bedside table. There is a reason why I keep a virtual notebook on my computer... On each of my computers, in fact. There is a reason why I keep notes. There is a reason why I write things down. There is a reason why I record ideas. There is a reason why I keep lists.

I know this. I do not need to remind myself of the fact that if I do not write it down, I will forget it!

What I am doing here is reminding you that if you do not write it down, you too will forget it.

I’m all right, because, in the end, I got a blog out of my idea, anyway. I still miss it, though. I’m still left with the feeling that I wanted to write about something, that it had some value to me, and that it might have had some value out in the big wide World.

It is gone now, and I shall mourn it, just a little.

In the meantime, learn my lesson and learn it well.

If you have an idea, write the little bastard down. You might not use it now; you might not use it ever, but if you don’t write it down then you’re bound to need it, and, what’s more, you’re bound to have forgotten it when its time has come... and you wouldn’t want that, now, would you?

Friday 26 October 2012

Nothing's Impossible...

I overheard a man talking to his small son yesterday. He said, “Nothing’s impossible son...” 

That’s OK, I thought, the kid’s had a tough day; life’s not always easy, and a few words of encouragement never hurt anyone. Then the whole thing fell apart when the next thing the bloke said was, “Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t worry about it”! What the hell is that?

If you’re going to say, “Nothing’s impossible son”, you’d bloody better end that sentence with something more appropriate; you’d bloody better go on to say that life’s tough, but with the right amount of hard work, dedication, time and application it is possible to succeed, that, eventually, you might climb the slippery slope of whatever your particular something is, and achieve a modicum of what you might have been hoping for.

The last thing you should say after, “Nothing’s impossible” is, “Don’t worry about it”. 

What is wrong with people?

It’s like when I hear some whining teen say, “I just want to be liked for who I am” when I know for a fact that she’s a spoilt brat. The answer to that is, “Then be the best person you can be, and you will be liked”.

There is no such thing as a free lunch, people. When are we ever going to learn that? And, more importantly, when are we going to start teaching it to our children? 

I am not suggesting for a moment that everyone doesn’t have value; I am suggesting that we value people honestly. What is the point of telling a plain girl that she’s beautiful or a dull boy that he’s clever? Or the other way around for that matter?

I know you’re thinking that it’s easy for me. I know you’re thinking that I was the clever, pretty woman and that I was handed it all on a plate. Well, I’ll tell you what my problem is, shall I? Apart from the fact that I’m not remotely athletic, which I’m not, and that I don’t hold information in my head for long, that I’m scatter-brained, and that I tend to put off until tomorrow what I could easily accomplish today? Apart from all of those very ordinary foibles, and we all have them, and the best of us do try to do something about them, shall I tell you what my problem is? 

My problem is that I don’t like doing things I’m not good at.

There you are... That’s terrible isn’t it? But, honestly, I just don’t see the point, and I’ve never seen the point. I bloody did do the things I wasn’t good at, though. Still do. When I had to do Geography and PE, I bloody did them. I didn’t bunk off or forge a sick note; OK, I didn’t throw myself into them body and soul, but I had to be there, so I bloody got on with it, because that’s what I was taught to do, that’s what was expected of me. 

The same thing applies to work now. I’m not a hugely organised person and I don’t hold information in my head, so research isn’t my favourite part of this job, but you can’t just make shit up... apart from the shit you make up, obviously. I was asked, recently, about that. I was asked about Geography, so that if I set a story in Paris, would I just make up an area of Paris and plonk in whatever I needed? I thought it an interesting question, and a perfectly valid one, and the answer is, of course,  no. If I set a story in contemporary Paris, I’d research the area, and the shops, cafes, houses, buildings, streets would be real, right down to the street lamps, trees, types of windows and window treatments, if at all possible.

So no, nothing is impossible, but yes, we do need to worry about it, and don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise. Worrying is good and useful and it will get you what you want... maybe... eventually.

Thursday 25 October 2012

The World is divided into two kinds of people...

That can’t be true, can it?

Or perhaps it is. Perhaps the World is divided into two kinds of people. Perhaps the World is divided into the sort of people who like to divide the World into the two kinds of people and the sort of people who prefer not to.

I’d almost be prepared to go along with that.

I was going to talk about something else, though.

I’m not a big eater of confectionary. I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth. As a child I only ate ice-cream because the other kids liked it. I was never terribly fond of it; I would rather have had a chunk of really good cheese.

There is an exception to this. Actually, there are two exceptions. The first is that I have a jar of sweeties on a shelf in my kitchen. OK, there are, in fact four little crystal jam pots, one of which I keep filled with boiled sweets, mostly sherbet lemons and pear drops, but sometimes acid drops or cough candies, sour apples or rhubarb and custards. I go through fads and fancies. I might go weeks and weeks without eating a sweet, and then I might eat one a day for several days in a row. I don’t ever eat more than one a day, though; they’re a treat, you see.

The other thing I like is a Rococo chocolates. Gosh, they’re good! 

When I was a child, the World was divided into two kinds of kids; the kids who liked palma violets, and the kids who didn’t. I was always a little suspicious of the kids who didn’t, but then I was the sort of kid that almost all the other kids were suspicious of for one reason or another.

My favourites of the Rococo chocolates are the flower creams: the rose, violet, lavender, and my very favourite geranium creams: Flowery chocolates for heaven’s sakes!

I recently found out that it has been mooted that space, or at least the ozone layer has a distinct smell, and that smell can be determined by the chemical compounds that prevail there. It is no wonder to me, then, that I was one of those children that liked palma violets. It is no wonder that I love flower creams. 

The ozone layer, as it happens smells of my favourite chocolates and of the flowers that I grow most abundantly in my garden... The ozone layer smells of geraniums... And what could possibly be nicer? If we didn’t have enough good reasons already to want to preserve it, I think this might just trump the lot.

Can I just add that it is my older dort’s twenty-second birthday today, and I would like to wish her a very happy birthday and a wonderful year ahead... and geraniums!

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Dear Austin Reed...

I was in your Bluewater store yesterday.

I do not shop very often, and I don’t do it in person, if I can help it, but my daughter was home for the half-term break and she loves to shop, so the husband and I took her out for the day.

I decided to look for shirts while I was out, because it hardly seemed fair that I should spend all day in Top Shop and Urban Outfitters with the daughter and not do some shopping for myself. I live in jeans and shirts, and I do like to look neat and tidy, so proper, fitted shirts are a must.

The only other customer in the shop was an old bloke, who didn’t buy any of the gloves that he spent several minutes groping. Nevertheless, the two young men at the counter decided that they were doing a better job talking to each other than servicing my needs, during the ten minutes that I spent looking at the various designs, colours and sizes of shirt on offer.

I liked one or two of your shirts, and might have considered trying something on, but I didn’t feel welcome in your little emporium; there was no sense that I was valued, no welcome smile or nod, let alone a word of greeting.

I don’t know what it was that put your sales staff off. I don’t know whether it was my well-groomed appearance, my newly cut hair or my manicure; I don’t know if it was my Moschino jeans, Lacoste shirt, or my Rag and Bone jacket; I don’t know whether it was my good jewelry or my Tom Ford glasses; perhaps it was the fact that, in my late forties, I’m not quite the demographic you are used to catering for; or perhaps my size twelve figure isn’t standard enough for you. Maybe the fact that I was carrying shopping bags from Armani and Calvin Klein upset your staff. 

I have no idea why I wasn’t served in your shop, and, honestly, it doesn’t much matter to me. Competition on the high street and in the shopping mall works in favour of the consumer at the moment, and, right now, I can get a discount just by paying in cash instead of on my credit card; come to think of it, I can get a discount just by being pleasant in some shops... Of course, it’s my nature always to be pleasant; it’s rather a pity the same can’t be said of the sales staff in the Bluewater branch of your business, which, should you be remotely interested, I won’t be visiting again any time soon.

With thanks...

Tuesday 23 October 2012

I’m Writing a New Book

I was asked to write this book. 

No, that’s not quite right. My agent suggested that I might write this book. She put the seed in my head, and, being the sort of person who lives with the sort of writer who is generally commissioned to write stuff, and being the sort of person who can’t resist a challenge, and being the sort of person who never turns down a job, I thought I’d give it a go.

I haven’t written this sort of thing before. It’s sort of chick-lit, or romance, and it’s a bit sassy and a bit sexy, and it’s a lot of fun. The research has been fun, and writing in the vernacular has been fun, and letting loose has been fun, and... you know what? I’m having fun. This thing has got a lot of pace, and it’s pouring out fast, and, when it’s done, I think there’s a chance that my lovely agent might like it, and I think there’s a chance she might even be able to sell it for me.

This isn’t the sort of thing that I write, though. This isn’t the sort of thing that I’ve ever written, so I’m looking around for people to test it on. I haven’t really found anyone yet, although, the lovely Reb has offered to beta-read it for me, and she’s always a damned good bet, so I shall certainly take her up on her offer, in due course; she does have at least one book to edit by December, though, since she’s just signed her first contract (huzzah) and I’m not going to stress her out by giving her my latest opus right now!

The dort’s home, which is a lovely treat, so I thought, since she’s young and sassy, that I’d try out a bit of my book on her. I wanted to know if a particular section was working, and I wanted to make sure the pace was good, so I thought I’d read it aloud.

I read it aloud.

“Does it work?” I asked.

“How do you mean?” she asked.

I explained what I was looking for.

“I did not get that,” she said, “but then I’m not very quick with those things.”

This from the girl who got an A* for her A level English, because quick is exactly what she is.

“Maybe if I’d seen it on the page,” she said.

Gosh she is sweet.

I tried it on the husband, in front of the dort.

“I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” he said.

“Don’t explain it to him like you explained it to me,” said the dort.

“I’ll just read the last line again,” I said.

“That’s what confused me,” said the dort.

“What if it was like this?” I said, repeating the line with a couple of small changes.

There you go!” said the husband.

Now I get it!” said the dort.

And there in lies the lesson. Just because it’s light and sassy, just because it’s chick-lit, just because this isn’t LF, and just because this fiction isn’t intended to be terribly demanding, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be right.

More than anything, this has got to be exactly right, more than anything, this has to be the most right. This sort of prose requires the lightest touch, the most measured balance, the tightest plotting, the cleanest and neatest of everything. It isn’t as easy as it looks, but then, who makes it look easy? In my opinion, nobody much makes it look easy, so let’s watch this space and see what I can do, and I just hope I don’t make a total idiot of myself.

Monday 22 October 2012

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll...

... Or having the kids home for half-term.

I used to love the school holidays. I used to say that I just got my kids back to being lovely when off they went back to school, mixing with the riff-raff.

I know that not all mothers feel that way. I know that I was one of the lucky ones. I made sacrifices to be at home with my children and to raise them myself, of course I did, but I was also lucky enough to have the resources in place to be able to work from home and live on less. Who needs two cars, or foreign holidays, or, come to think of it, any holidays? Who needs smart clothes or manicures or regular hair cuts? I certainly didn’t, because, apart from anything else, I didn’t have a boss to impress.

Anyway, my point was that I used to enjoy the school holidays. I used to love having my children around me.

I was devastated when our nest emptied. I was bereft when our younger daughter left home in September. I was thrilled that she had found something that she wanted to do, and I was proud to put her out into the World to do it, but I could not have missed her more, and the house felt horribly empty. I’m not ashamed to say that the husband and I wept buckets the first week she wasn’t here. We cried over every reminder of her absence.

The dort is at a dance academy, which keeps a school timetable. There are no short, university terms with long breaks in between. The terms are long, long enough to require a break in the middle of them. So, the dort arrives home today for half term, and I couldn’t be happier. What’s more, in a couple of days, one of her pals is joining her, so, for the first time in what feels like ages, we’ll have two kids in the house, leaving noise and mess and mayhem wherever they go.

Anyone would think I was talking about a couple of kids, and, as far as I’m concerned, I am. On the other hand, we met the dort in London for lunch a couple of weeks ago to celebrate her twentieth birthday. She’s not a kid at all; she’s a young woman, a beautiful, talented, funny, and, I hope, happy young woman. I can’t wait to see her. She’ll only be here for a couple of days before she toddles off to spend some time with her boyfriend, but it’ll be a couple of days very well spent, as far as I’m concerned.

If you’re a parent of kids who are still at home bloody well enjoy them, because, trust me, you’re going to miss them when they’re gone; and, if you’re a kid who left home recently, have fun, but don’t forget to touch base once in a while; you might not give Mum and Dad a lot of thought, but they love you and they miss you, and a call or a text might very well make their day. 

Sunday 21 October 2012

Sex, Religion and my Twitter Feed

Someone once asked me how I  know who on my joint Twitter account with my husband is following him and who is following me. What that person clearly didn’t realise was that I have an account of my own. The difference in the number of followers on the two accounts is, as of today, 5202, which suggests that the husband has 5202 more followers than I do. This does not surprise me... Of course it doesn’t.

The husband is infinitely more interesting than I am. 

Last night, the husband suggested that he and I should start a religion and write a sex manual... That’s how interesting the husband is. I thought that was such a combination of interesting and hilarious that I tweeted about it on both of our Twitter accounts.

I tweeted:

The husband just suggested we start a religion and write a sex manual; I'm not sure which is the bigger responsibility.

Our joint twitter feed responded exactly as you’d expect with comments about L. Ron Hubbard. People offered to join up more-or-less immediately, and everyone who tweeted about it was pretty well convinced that the husband could pull off the whole religion thing. It was all very light-hearted; no one got upset about him blaspheming (and that certainly wasn’t his intention), and everyone took the tweet in the spirit it was intended. It was Saturday night for goodness sake, and it’s been a long, hard working week; we’re all allowed to let off a little steam once in a while. 

There was, on the joint feed, also a comment on the sex manual element of the tweet; it was a reference to a certain popular erotic novel that shall remain nameless, but which I have lambasted in these pages, with the word ‘Grey’ replaced with ‘Abnett’. As with the religious reference, it was intended to amuse, although the tweeter clearly hasn’t read my blog. Don’t worry, I won’t hold it against him. 

That’s how the fans, colleagues and friends of the husband rock and roll, and bloody good for them. I’m impressed. I’m always impressed by these very fine folk, all five and a half thousand, or so, of them.

I’ve got about four hundred followers of my very own, and I uploaded the very same tweet to my account... the very same one. 

For my sins, I earned several topless sex-bots.  They swell my follower numbers by roughly half-a-dozen, and will probably do so until they realise that there really is nothing for them here and they move along, and then, of course, I’ll be disappointed when my numbers drop off again, and I’ll wonder which of my precious four hundred and thirty wonderfully devoted pals can’t be bothered with me any more, because I will have forgotten that I used the word ‘sex’ in one of my tweets and unwittingly invited the bots onboard.

No one referenced Mr Hubbard, but that’s OK.

I would, however like to thank @_MikeLane who did make a premature ejaculation joke after my follow-up tweet, and very timely it was too.

So that’s the difference between the husband’s followers and mine, and there’s no jealousy, and I’m perfectly happy with my lot... Thank you for asking... But if you should happen to be interested you can always follow me @N_VincentAbnett. I can’t promise to be the most interesting contributor to your feed, but I can promise not to clutter it up all day long with banalities; honestly, I don’t have the time to do anything much more than plug my blog, and you read that anyway.

Go on... What have you got to lose?

Saturday 20 October 2012

And One thing Leads to Another

I happened to say something to the husband, last night, in the course of our regular conversation, and he said, “That’s a great title for a novel,” and the conversation rambled on, and I wanted to get back to the point I was ever-so keen to make, twenty minutes later, so, in order to reiterate, I repeated what I’d said before, and he said, “You know what... That’s still an incredibly good title for a novel.”

And I said, “But I want to make my point, because I feel very strongly about it.” So I made my point, and he refuted it, beautifully, by paying me one of his painfully eloquent and impossible to gainsay compliments, and I tried to make him understand, and he absolutely refused.

I still thought I was right, and I probably was, but... you know what? By then, it really didn’t seem to matter very much in the grand scheme of things. So, I shut up.

I leaned over to my side of the bed, to where my computer stood, leaning up against my bedside cabinet in the manner that I leave it, so that I can simply reach over and scoop it up whenever I feel the need, and I sat it on my lap, and I opened it.

“What?” asked the husband.

“What?” I asked back.

“You’ve gone quiet,” he said.

“I do that,” I said. “It’s fine. I’m just making a note of that title.” The husband makes little notes in the little black moleskine notebooks that he carries about his person wherever he goes or leaves on every surface. I've gone digital.

“It’s a great title for a novel. You really ought to write it for me.”

“I shall,” I said, “but you won’t like it.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because I’m right,” I said.

“That’s OK,” said the husband. “It’ll take a while to write the book, and by the time you get to the end, you’ll have worked out that I’m right. It’ll all come out in the rewrites.”

You’ve got to admire his confidence.

It really is a great title.

Friday 19 October 2012

Sometimes My Mojo is a Mo-Fo

Sometimes my mojo is a mo-fo, and sometimes I hate that, but... sometimes... Sometimes, I revel in it!
I take an interest in all sorts of mental health issues and in all kinds of psychology. I write about it. “Naming Names” is all about one form of gross criminal psychology.
With about a quarter of all adults in the first World being diagnosed with some mental health issue during their lives, every family is affected, one way or another. I read this yesterday, and I thought it was worth thinking about:
"Creativity is often part of a mental illness, with writers particularly susceptible, according to a study of more than a million people. Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse, the Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute found."
First, can I say that I’m not sure that substance abuse should be called a mental illness, even if some people with mental illnesses do self-medicate with all kinds of things including sex, drugs, alcohol and even rock and roll.
Now that’s out of the way, I have a couple of other thoughts on this particular subject.
  1. How useful is it to glamorise mental health problems? By which I mean that it isn’t difficult for the general public to believe that the creative professions are pretty glamorous, and once we begin to suggest that creativity is somehow synonymous with mental health problems we might be on a sticky wicket. I also wonder whether we want to suggest to young people that if they are creative they are likely to suffer from mental illness; do we really want to push creativity underground, since, believe me when I tell you that, despite increased public awareness, mental health issues still raise prejudices and still carry a stigma.
  2. Whose definitions of mental health problems are we going to adopt? Do we trust those who self-diagnose and bandy about terms like cyclothymia and manic-depression, as if they’re buzz-words. Do we take seriously people who seek attention through their non-existent panic attacks? On the other hand, do we fail to recognise the creative potential of those people who are disabled by the mental health disorders that they never seek medical help for?
A creative person’s mental health status can be as big an impediment to his success as a creator as it can be an impetus to produce work. I wrote a play when I was nine or ten years old and a novel in my teens, and, for twenty-five years after that, I was only able to finish short stories and contribute to collaborations. Since I began to medicate for my own bipolar disorder in my forties I have completed five novels with three more at various stages, and a lot more energy in me for a great deal more to come in the future.
Sometimes, my mojo is a mo-fo, and the good stuff has come to me rather late, but I still count my blessings that it’s come at all. On the whole, I wouldn’t change the who and the what I am, and I wouldn’t change my past. There are definitely days when I wish I’d had more help sooner, of course there are, but I didn’t, and I can’t change that now.
Are creative types more likely to have mental health issues? I don’t know, and I’m not sure it matters. What matters is that people with mental health issues get the treatment that is appropriate to their needs, and that they get that treatment as and when they need it. 

Thursday 18 October 2012

Words: To Count or Not To Count?

Several years ago the husband was asked about his output. He often says that he wishes he hadn’t answered that question. He often feels that the answer came back to haunt him... that, sometimes, it comes back to haunt him still.

There’s nothing wrong with having goals; if anything, it’s probably useful. We all need tools; we all need something to aim for, somewhere to head. We all need a reason to get up in the morning, and we all need something to sustain us through the day... Perhaps this is true of creative types more than other people. Honestly? I don’t know.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I do not think that a word count is a useful yardstick by which to measure the progress of a piece of writing.

Writing two thousand words a day, or even four thousand is not the same thing as writing two thousand usable words that advance the story, whether it’s a novel or a complete little short. 

I can type at about ninety words a minute, its a skill I picked up as an eight year old with chicken pox, and I’m damned glad that I did, because, when I’m in the zone, I’m like a great racing driver: I can go faster than everyone else without crashing and burning, because I have mad skills. I can, theoretically, win the race. On the other hand, I’m not actually Jane Austen. 

Think about it: ninety words a minute. Even if I only worked for forty-six minutes an hour that’d be my four thousand words, and even if I only worked four hours a day, that’d be sixteen thousand words. Look at what I’m telling you, people!  I’m telling you that my typing speed would allow me to write an average length novel in a single, part-time, working week with time to drink a cup of coffee every other hour and pee in the hours in-between.

Yes, you’re right... That’s utter madness!

What about rewrites? How many drafts might a novel go through before it’s published? Do they count? If by the end of a long working day I have two fewer words in a novel than when I began, does that mean I achieved nothing? Of course it doesn’t. I might well have achieved a good deal more than I did on a day when I put two or three thousand words on the page. 

I have been looking for a way to explain just what nonsense it is for me to use a word count as some sort of badge of honour, and one arrived, yesterday, by way of Peter Jeal (@redziller), who gave me this on Twitter, “You wouldn’t count notes writing music!” 

It’s perfect, isn’t it?

You wouldn’t count notes writing music!

You wouldn’t count steps choreographing dance!

You wouldn’t count brushstrokes painting a picture!

I’m not about to compare myself to Bach or Balanchine, or Auerbach; what I am going to say is that writers write, and that it’s not that hard to motivate them to write. OK, we all have good days and bad days, because we, too, are human, but, in the end, writing is what we do, and we will produce words and we will meet deadlines, and making a daily record of just how we meet those deadlines isn’t necessarily something that we all need, and it really, really isn’t something we need to share and compare. Writing is not a competition.

So, to count or not to count is entirely up to you. I’m not above glancing at the little number at the bottom left of my screen, myself. I’d just much rather let the words run my life than the numbers, because, you know what? There’s much more fun to be had in the words... Much, much more fun.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Musings on Writing

It crosses my mind that when I began this blog my manifesto was quite clear. I decided that I was going to write about writing with the addendum that there would also be posts about ‘other stuff’.

After a number of blogs about writing, after having a good deal to say about it because I was in the thick of a project that was coming to fruition, and the Mslexia competition, and tying down an agent, and whatnot, a good friend of mine said he thought the blog was more interesting when it was more personal, and I began to worry less about what I wrote about. I began to think that it was OK not to stick quite so religiously to the idea that all my readers wanted to read about was the writing, the words, the work.

Recently, I don’t seem to have written about the work at all. Yes, I did write about appearing on  a question and answer panel, which I suppose is related, and I wrote a blog about the husband’s next book, Dragon Frontier for Puffin, but the last time I wrote about the work was on September 28th when I mentioned the second round of edits for “Naming Names”.

I feel rather remiss in my duties. 

Right now, I am pitching. 

One way or another, I’ve got three or four ideas out there for consideration. I’m working with the husband on ideas for another co-write, which will involve space warriors of everyone’s very favourite kind. I’ve pitched my ideas for “The Winter Lamb” to the lovely agent, who’s going to call me for a conversation about the book next week with a view to getting started on it very soon, and I’ve got a pitch out for something that will remain under wraps because I’d hate to jinx it.

I’m also writing the most unlikely novel in the World... Or is it? I don’t know, but it’s a love story, of sorts, and I never thought I’d write one of those. The romance is mostly intellectual and there’s a lot of humour to be found in it, I hope, but it’s very far from cynical. Who knows... you might even like it.

Writing is a funny thing. 

Lots of writers specialise. Lots of writers like to write within certain parameters. Lots of writers write thrillers, or SF, or Fantasy, or Romance, or LF, or whatever it is that they like to write. 


I like to keep my options open. I like to write stories. In no particular order, the last  few things I wrote were a story about an elf, an SF novel (unpublished), “Naming Names”, which is general fiction, a cross genre Fantasy novel (unpublished), and a Romance. I like to be Nik Vincent one minute and Nicola Vincent-Abnett the next, and, who knows, down the line, maybe I’ll be Adelie High again, one day, or even Jesse Hargreave.

Anything’s possible, so watch this space.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Stop the World, I want to get on!

Or do I?

I catch a glimpse of other people’s lives, sometimes, and I don’t want what they have. I don’t want a thirty-five hour working week with twenty hours in front of a tv and two evenings in the pub. I don’t want a zumba class and 2 point four kids and a cat (actually I want at least two cats), and two cars parked on the drive of my link-detached 1980s executive home. I don’t want to retire at sixty and help out with the grandkids. I don’t want two holidays a year and the odd weekend in Paris or Amsterdam, or, maybe, Brighton. I don’t want four nights a year in London for dinner and a musical (unless it’s to watch the daughter being brilliant). I don’t want this season’s designer jacket and to be a size ten. I don’t want my husband to shut up about the football and sex, and I don’t want to start fantasising about that boy whats-his-name? Robert Pattinson, or even that man George Clooney.

We were talking, the husband and I, about our life-clocks the other day. If our lives are represented by an hour on a clock, how many minutes of it are filled? And, of those, how many minutes are filled with things that we value?

Well, some of that is simple: the minutes that are filled are filled with things that we value. We simply don’t fill our lives with stuff we don’t want to do, and we haven’t for a long time. We don’t fill our lives with junk, either; we don’t watch tv mindlessly, and we don’t kill time or chill in that haphazard way that achieves nothing. Life is short and we don’t just wander randomly through it.

On the other hand, we’re not terribly dynamic people. We don't get out much.

The most stimulating environment I know is our home. It’s nice to get away and stay in a hotel for a night or two, but here, I have everything I could want at my fingertips. No hotel suite can possibly compare to the environment that we have built together for ourselves.

There are certainly some minutes left in the hour of my life, though, and of our life together, and they’re minutes that I’d like to fill with something stimulating.

We love to spend time in galleries and museums, and those are minutes well-spent on our clock, but we could add more travel time to our hour. We could spend more time in foreign cities and landscapes, just so long as we can avoid globalisation. I don’t want to eat McDonalds anywhere in the World or buy from the Gap in every major city on every continent or shop at Marks and Spencer in Muscat, Oman. I want the World to be a bigger place, not a smaller one.

I’d like there to be more people, too. I love the people that are in my life already, and the first step is, surely, to spend more time with them, to be more interesting to them, and to value them more. I’ve begun that process by organising girly weekends away, and I hope to make them a regular feature of my life-clock.

When that is done, I’d like to meet more fascinating people that I can say hello and goodbye to in single meetings, and then remember them forever, and I want to form new but lasting friendships with amazing men and women; I’m just not sure where to start looking for those people, or whether they have any interest in knowing me.

I’d like to find properly exhilarating company, but to do that, I guess I must first evolve into someone worth knowing, someone who can offer a bit of exhilarating company in return.

You see what a tall order that is? There’s a drawing board to get back to, I guess, and a big old blank sheet of paper, and an abyss of thought.

Oh well... Nothing ventured...

Monday 15 October 2012

The Fall

I’m not given to reviewing stuff on this blog; it’s not a review site and I never planned it that way. I do, obviously, plug stuff from time to time, so feel free to take a look at anything I’ve ever talked about, and, in particular, take a peek at “Dragon Frontier” by the husband, Dan Abnett, which I think is going to be a huge hit for Puffin.

I’m not going to actually review “The Fall” either.

Last night Richard and Lucy came for take-away and a movie. It was Lucy’s choice, and she brought “The Fall”. Dan had mentioned the film to me a while ago, and we’d been planning to see it.

I don’t go to the cinema much, and I really don’t go to watch anything blockbuster-y or anything with big visuals or big sound. The cinema isn’t what it it used to be. It’s always too full-on and it’s always too loud, and there’s always a nine-year old girl, usually a Chav-tastic little beast in a pink velour tracksuit with something inappropriate embroidered across her ample backside or, heaven-forfend, her chest, and always, always texting on her smartphone in its rhinestone-encrusted cover. There’s always too much noise and too much moving about from the audience, and no one ever sits through the credits any more. Cinemas smell pretty gross these days, too. Most public spaces that get filled up with people eating and drinking, and farting and sweating for hours at a time don’t smell great since smoking was banned, but that isn’t really my point, and I’m not an advocate of smoking but... yadda, yadda, yadda...

The bottom line is that I do visit the cinema, but only when the daughter and the husband talk me into going to a matinee with them, generally to see some sort of comedy chick-flick that probably won’t include bonkers visuals or too many explosions; I believe our last outing was to see “Bridesmaids”.

Last year we converted one of the little rooms at the top of the house into a screening room. We bought a dvd projector and some Goo screen paint, and added the cheapest surround sound system we could buy, and we got rid of all the tv sets from our public rooms. Honest to goodness, it’s one of the best moves we ever made. If we want to watch something... anything... we do it on purpose, and we do it in style.

“The Fall” was a great choice. It’s a clever idea for a story and it’s nifty storytelling. It’s beautiful to look at, and it’s neat and circular and satisfying. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I’ll be watching it again. 

“The Fall” reminded me, pleasantly, of “The Princess Bride”, while being utterly different from it.

You see, I told you that this wasn’t going to be anything like a review.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a recommendation, go and see “The Fall”.

Can I also recommend that you invest in a dvd projector, if you have room for a screen anywhere in your home. Watching pictures made out of light is a far cry from watching them on a screen, and I wouldn’t go back to watching telly... not for quids.

Sunday 14 October 2012

It’s fine... I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

I thought I’d caught up... I honestly did.
We went to Canada, but you know that. 

We went to Canada. I broke a tooth, but the dentist in Canada was lovely; he fixed me up with some temporary composite and told me I’d need another gold crown when I got home, but he was quick and efficient, and not expensive, so that was fine. My eye swelled up, but dark glasses and good living sorted that out in a couple of days. I had a fabulous time bibbling on the Q&A panels I was invited to take part in, and I spent an amazing day in the mountains with Heike the hiker and her husband Erik, who I cannot recommend highly enough if you ever fancy spending time in bit of the Rocky Mountains that happens to be in Canada.

What I didn’t do in Canada was sleep.

OK, that’s not quite true. What I didn’t do in Canada was sleep enough. I did sleep. Not sleeping at all would have been virtually impossible; I was, after all, in Canada for six days, and I slept for a total of sixteen hours. Every morning, over breakfast, I was invited to give the guys a running total of hours spent unconscious, and every night the guys fervently wished me a good night’s sleep. Everyone was very kind and very sweet, but even over the weekend, at the event, I was virtually blink-sleeping, and that really isn’t good. I was in stupid-head mode. Thank heavens the Canadians are so damned relaxed and forgiving, because I have absolutely no idea of half of the things I said or did.

Then we travelled home and I didn’t sleep on the flight, either. I hoped I might, and I even took my lovely tranquiliser, but nothing, nada, zip, zilch... There was no sleep... none.

When we landed in the UK, I got through the day unpacking and doing laundry, catching up on  e-mails and doing bits and pieces for the daughter’s and the husband’s birthdays, and I went to bed at my usual UK time.


I woke up twelve hours later.

It was heaven! I felt like a human being again.

Three hours after that, I inadvertently took a two hour nap when I thought I was reading a book.

Then I slept another ten hours on Thursday night.

I had a three hour nap on Friday...

It’s now Sunday, and I slept another ten hours last night.

Either I’m five years old, all of a sudden, or I have jetlag that has lasted four days!

I guess I always was an all or nothing kinda girl; this is just one more of the very many things that proves it.