Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Fifty shades of Lace

A couple of weekends ago I went to the RNA conference in Penrith. It was fabulous from the filled goody bag when I arrived to the final talk by Kate Walker on emotion. There were far too many good moments to choose from; meeting two out of my three CPs in real life (and we had just as much to say in person as we do on line); watching fellow Yorkie Donna Hay, aka Donna Douglas, discover her inner self publicist (her first book as Donna Douglas The Nightingale Girls comes out 18th August and I can't wait to read it); or fan-girling over the uber glamorous  M&B contingent, especially twitter pals Fiona Harper and India Grey who were just lovely.

As for the talks - inspiring, thought provoking, tear-inducing (thanks Julie Cohen) and a real treat for an ex bookseller who loves a bit of industry talk, especially the frank and open Mira presentation. But if there was one theme that dominated the whole conference it was the sudden and surprising success of That Book. Less than half of us admitted to having started it, and fewer to having finished it but the truth is we would all kill for sales even half as good as hers.
A quarter as good.

But behind the envy and the admiration and the disdain and surprise and interest there was real puzzlement. Why this book? Why now? After all, it's not that well written (so we have heard) or original (fan fiction origin) or even that dirty. Apparently. (Okay, I haven't read it but I am addicted to this blog). And let's be honest. The romance writing sorority have been writing on this theme for years. 
You want to read about hot billionaires brought to their knees (ahem) by sassy virgins? M&B Modern line has them in droves. Sarah Morgan's RITA winning Doukakis's Apprentice is a witty, fun twist on the genre. And it's pretty steamy too. In fact read anything by Sarah Morgan, India Grey or Caitlin Crews. They can supply you with more alpha billionaires, lip biting heroines and knee trembling moments than tears at a gymnastic final. With emotion, wit and some pretty brilliant writing too. 

One of the worst parts of That Book's success has been the horrid, horrid term 'Mommy Por'n. There are so many things that offend me about the term that I won't even begin to go there; seriously. Patronising much? But apart from the patronising, sexist smugness of the term is the amusing implication that this is new. 

'Which one of you three
bitches is my mother?'
When I was a teenager the 80s bonkbuster ruled supreme. Jilly Cooper's jodhpurs clad playboys, Judith Krantz's high society heiresses, Jackie Collins's Hollywood bad boys and girl. All getting up to hot and steamy action that would blow Christian Grey's mind. Judy Blume's Forever was passed round my class, followed by the first three Jean M Auels, read less for their painfully researched look at Ice Age humanity than for the frequent and explicit love scenes. I was not allowed to stay up and watch Lace - but I sneaked a copy out of the library instead. It's being re-released and this fascinating interview with Shirley Conran made me want to read it all over again. 

Truth was though for me and most of classmates the sex scenes were fun - and informative. But a good book was better. I would far, far rather have read a good sweet romance than a badly written erotic one.  There's hardly a kiss in Heyer and I reread her many, many times. So despite the curiosity I won't be downloading Fifty Shades. I may have to take a copy of Lace on holiday to read by the pool though! 

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Love your library

One of the first tips for any would-be writer is to read. Read your chosen genre, read around your chosen genre, read widely, read voraciously, read greedily. Reading is one aspect of the writing game I have sorted. Not the way I used to; a job, a child, a social life (child's not mine, are you crazy?) and the aforementioned writing-lark mean that reading is something usually done before bed. Or while I'm cooking dinner. Or while child is at rehearsals/swimming/gymnastics/parties. Or when I dice with kindle death and read in the bath. Or because the sun's out. Or I have a cold.

I was shiny when I was 16!

Legend has it that I taught myself to read when I was just two. There may be some parental exaggerating in this but it's true that I don't remember learning to read and my school had me marked down as a problem child the first day of reception not just because I was *shock* the only child with divorced parents who *shock* couldn't afford school uniform and *shock* was on free school dinners but worse - Much Worse -'What are we going to do with her?' they whispered. 'That child can read...'
I read at other children's parties, under the covers at night with a torch, under my desk, at the table.

And when I wasn't reading I was making up stories in my head. I still do, only now I call them 'plots' and sometimes I even write them down.

As a child the library was my favourite place, my safe place. A whole room filled with books that I could read. I could try new things, rediscover authors, reread old favourites. I loved the slightly musty smell, the hush, the serious look as people browsed the shelves and that flash of delight as they found just what they were looking for.

I belonged to the library in every place I lived including my university city Glastonbury, Connecticut where I au-paired for a year. The American library had vast quantities of cosy crime and regency romance which I borrowed in huge armfuls to the horror of my employer who steered me towards the literary works on his bookshelves. That was okay too, I always did like to mix up my reading diet. This week alone I have read Sarah Morgan, Miranda Dickinson, Jasper Fforde and Henning Makell; category romance, chick lit, speculative fantasy and Nordic Crime.

Childrens, hard backs and classics. Not alphabeticised in vain attempt to seem less anal... there is a similar amount of fiction; category, some YA, the entire Agatha Christie & tbr mountains are all upstairs

Now I don't use the library in the same way. The years I worked as a bookseller I had a good discount and access to a lot of proofs and I got into the habit of owning and accumulating books; a habit my kindle has made a lot worse. There are 273 items in my kindle library after 20 months - and I don't download free books. I use my local library for the cafe, the wifi and the coffee and to try and find that book that will kindle my daughter's interest in reading. A book that so far remains elusive. Although in the dark times of redundancy the library was once again a place of comfort, of refuge. An escape.

Like many libraries the ones near me are changing, evolving. They are now called 'Explore Centres', there are less staff and more machines, less actual books and more computers, cafes and wifi, noise seems to be encouraged and children shout at whim (not mine; she may not be a reader but she has respect for the books). Sometimes this saddens me when I look at the space on the shelves and try and block out the noise, sometimes I applaud the innovation; an old failing building in my local park has become a 'reading cafe', a mixture of afternoon tea and books linked to the library system. Cake and stories and trees, what's not to love?

But as I hear of more and more libraries closing, shrinking, replacing professionals with volunteers, cutting, cutting, cutting I think of all the kids who may not have access to books at home for so many reasons, children who need libraries to flourish, to learn, to grow. Of me as a child, as a student, as an adult whose job disappeared and with it all security and freedom. Libraries are not a luxury, they are an essential. And we need to fight for them.

Monday, 2 July 2012

My father's legacy

There were many tales told at my father’s funeral. I didn’t really know him so I listened to them all avidly trying to get a sense of what kind of man he was. What kind of man left two young daughters and created a whole other life without them.

St Nicholas Street, Galway
He died alone, in a cluttered, very, very dirty house in Galway by this time pretty much a recluse. It must have happened near his birthday. I’m not sure how old he would have been; 58 or 59 I think. Not old but he was an alcoholic who had escaped death three times I was aware of. It had to catch up with him eventually.

It was a waste, everyone agreed. A waste that a brilliant, charismatic, charming man had squandered his life in this way. In the end, for all his talents he achieved nothing apart from fathering two children he didn’t raise.

I spent a lot of my adolescence and early twenties being very angry and bitter. When I wasn’t being sad. One visit to Galway as an adult was unsuccessful, I didn’t repeat it. And I didn’t tell him he was a grandfather, I didn’t think he deserved to know, didn’t want to taint my small, perfect baby with his deserting inheritance. My stepfather was (is) the funny, loving, doting grandpa she needed. Life was simpler, easier, better if I erased my birth father from the story.

Then he died and erased himself. I put a photo of her in his very grand, oak coffin at the very grand Irish Catholic funeral the lapsed Catholic Irishman would have hated. Wishing I had sent one photo while he was alive. Such a small kindness it would have been.

There were many tales told at my father’s funeral. The time he bought a model aeroplane and didn’t start it; he didn’t want to make a mistake so he kept it in a box and thought about it, too worried he might ruin it to ever actually make it. The books he planned out were never written not a word put down on paper because each word had to be perfect. The truth was he didn’t think he’d be a perfect father so it was easier not to be one.

Nature v nurture. He didn’t raise me, one weekend a month from the time I was five, gone before I was ten. And yet I have the same fear and I see it in my daughter too. The fear it won’t work, it won’t be perfect. The fear that as we are not good enough it’s better not to try. ‘There’s no point me practising my violin,’ she cried out in frustration one day. ‘I’m going to fail my exam anyway.’ It’s easy to say the right words. To tell her that failure is nothing to fear, that as long as she does her best that’s all that matters. Practice makes perfect. But I have the same doubting voices in my mind.

Why haven’t I edited Summer Fling? Why am I stuck on a rewrite of one chapter that won’t flow? Why am I putting all my energy into reworking a book that hasn’t been asked for instead of working on the one that has? I am so scared of failing, of not getting right, of that R&R turning into a simple R I am paralysed, sabotaging my chances of success with the guaranteed fail not finishing it will bring. Better to orchestrate your own failure than fail despite trying your best.

'Stop trying to talk yourself out of what you're trying to achieve Right Now.' More wise words from my C.P. as I panic, flounder, doubt. And she's right. I was, am, do.

But I am more than my father’s daughter. I have written three books. I am raising my daughter. I gritted my teeth and carried on when things got so dark I didn’t think I’d ever see the light again. I am terrified of failure, hence the epic wallow at my last NWS report, as all I could see was it confirm all those secret, negative fears, ignoring every word of praise and encouragement.

 I am terrified that I will keep on and on writing books that are never good enough. But crucially I also know that if I don’t write them, if I don’t try, then I will never get there. I have to keep going. And in that I am not my father's daughter, I am my own person.