Monday, 29 October 2012

Cutting and chopping

Southerscales - Credit J Richards
In my other life I work for a conservation charity. Quite how a Classics graduate, who didn't own a coat one entire year of university let alone waterproof trousers , whose only steel toecaps were patent purple DMs and who, until last week, couldn't tell a sycamore from an ash tree manages in an office where people get really excited by moss is a bit of a mystery. But I like to think I bring my own unique skillset to the workplace. But when I was offered the opportunity to spend two days doing manual work in the Dales I jumped at it.
We started out at Southerscales, an unearthly landscape of limestone high up in the western Dales, pulling sycamore saplings out from between the grikes. The limestone itself was very slippy and some of the cracks very deep but, armed with just a pair of loppers, I searched out and cut down as many saplings as I could find - once I'd managed to differentiate the sycamore from the ash. The next day (after a night in a bunk house so well equipped it was luxurious) we went to Grass Wood, a beautiful woodland full of autumnal hues. Here I got my inexperienced hands on a hackshaw and leaned how to cut down a tree. An actual tree. Me, a saw, a tree and one yell of 'Timber' (well, me plus my brilliant, patient colleague). It was pretty primal and maybe, just maybe I might survive an apocalypse after all.
A few days anyway. Foraging for food is still beyond me.
Grass Wood Credit J Richards
It feels pretty counter intuitive to be killing trees. After all, Classics graduate I may be but even I know that Trees are Good. How can it be good conservation to chop them even if turning lumberjack is more fun than I could have anticipated - in a back breaking, seriously achy way.Turns out there are many good reasons; chiefly sycamores are non native species, ash need space between them so woodland flowers - and the species associated with them - can flourish. The chopped trees were cut and left in piles to make habitats for invertebrates.
There was lots of time to think, especially on Southerscales, when I wasn't concentrating on not slipping and breaking my leg and imagining how mortifying it would be too be rescued by the Air Ambulance and I came up with a new black moment and resolution for Minty. I also realised how similar chopping trees and rewriting are. They are both brutal, irrevocable and essential. When I sit down to rewrite I keep the full text of the old draft in front of me because I figure I can reuse bits of it, especially my favourite bits. Surely in the end they can be worked into a new scenario?
*shakes head sadly*
Never happens  As I work it all gets chopped, cut. Deleted. No matter how much I love it, how witty it seems, how integral to the character. The characters have moved on,evolved and the book needs to move on to. The cut bits are left as habitat piles to feed the characters' growth. They served their purpose and now it's time to walk away, hacksaw in hand, and cut some more.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Social whirlwind

When I was a little girl a friend's mother caught me reading in her daughter's room during a birthday party. I had to put the book away and join in the games. 'We'll have to reconsider inviting you again' she sighed, 'if you can't join in.'
Truth is I never have been a great joiner-inner, preferring to read, quite happy with my own company and loathing 'organised fun'; party games are my idea of complete hell.
But that doesn't make me a loner. A few friends, a bottle of wine, chat and good food? Heaven. It can be hard though, working part time I miss the post-work spontaneous pub trips, but am at work when the other mums go running or have coffee - and I'm usually too knackered to drag myself out once the 9yo has been chauffeured to her activity-of-the-evening. Most of my closest friends live over 200 miles away. It can get a little lonely even for someone who prefers to live in books.
Sometimes it feels like it's just you, that everyone else is out having a fun packed, busy social life. But last week I had a casual chat to two very different women and realised that actually most people feel that way, trapped in an exhausting cycle of kids, work, domestic chores and money worries. Thank heaven for books and writing.
And thank heaven for social media.
I love both Twitter and Facebook. There are lots of people who mourn the loss of letters, phone calls, even emails and hate the way the world is divided into quick snippets.Not me. My friends may be be 200 miles away but I can see their son on his first day of school - and console them after they waved him goodbye. I can flick through their holiday pictures, celebrate the good and listen to the bad. I can chitchat with them. They are closer despite the distance because we still interact, we don't just communicate in edited highlights.
I have made new friends too, my Tweet stream is a fascinating mix of politics and writing, I met my amazing, talented Crit Partners online and Twitter is the first place to check everything from what dog breed would be suitable to correct grammar. To wrinkle brows at Tess Daly's dress sense and try to avoid spoilers during the Homeland/Downton Abbey scheduling clash.
And no one expects you to put down your book to join in. Even better!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Post competition thanks

Oh man, I hate these posts.  You know, those post-competition posts where I say 'Sadly I have not finalled and yeah, I am upset but the positive news is that I have learned loads and am a better writer as a result' finished off with a pithy, remark which shows how good humoured I am about yet another setback.
Don't get me wrong, I think those posts are important; this blog is meant to detail a writer's journey after all and goodness knows setbacks are a huge part of that. Only I wrote already wrote these posts after NV10, and NV11. And there was the epic NWS12 wallow too.
Wow, I am whiny. Apologies for that.
So we'll take it as read that I spent more hours than I care too admit waiting by the phone whilst refreshing my emails, obsessively waiting for a call that never came.
And we'll skate past the knowledge that naturally I am disappointed but I am picking myself up, dusting myself off and jumping back in the saddle (that's a metaphor you understand although I was tempted by those fitness machines that simulate horseriding. I'd rather ride an actual horse but sadly too time and cash poor. And urban. Luckily I do have a  new keep fit regime which  involves chasing the puppy up and down the sitting room yelling 'drop' fifty times a day).
Instead we'll celebrate the real positive of the whole SYTYCW experience - just how amazing people are. So many people voted and tweeted and shared my chapter on Facebook, promoted me in  blogs,sent me lovely messages and emailed links to their friends. I got support from friends, colleagues, fellow writers, people I don't even know. Even my husband read it; usually he looks horrified and mutters that 'it's not really my thing'.
So in the end I didn't get enough votes, nor did I get one of the coveted Wildcards but lots of people really tried to get me there. And that is completely brilliant.
Thank you xxx

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Relentless harassment (so sorry!)

You can never please all the people all the time (note to self; if ever lucky enough to be in a position to get reviews then remember that. It is NOT personal!) and when you open a competition up to public debate there are always going to be some strong opinions. Last year's New Voices competition came in for an certain amount of criticism from a vocal minority not just for the rose bombing (brutal) and some  perceived negative comments but also for the first shortlist; favourites were missed out (not mine *beams at Charlotte Phillips and her 3 book contract*) and there were some contentious inclusions.

So I completely see why it was changed this year. One vote a day from an IP address to cut down on vote manipulation (so I can't get my whole office to vote, damn!), no comments and completely left up to voting apart from 3 wildcards. I do miss the comments though; there have been entries I have desperately wanted to comment on but as I have no idea who the author is I haven't been able to.

we are not allowed to bribe people to vote;
 so puppy pictures are not a bribe, merely an incentive...
The problem with public voting is that, with 700 entries, how could anyone make a really informed choice? Much as I'd like to be zen about the whole thing and leave it to the fates I can't;  with just 3 up for grabs the odds of a wildcard are pitifully slim, so painfully, reluctantly I've been touting for votes. That way I know at least I've tried.

Not obsessively, not constantly. Work, child and frantic rewrite/polish Just In Case means I don't have the time. I am posting a daily FB reminder and tweeting - although of course that just reaches people who would probably vote for me anyway (apart from my husband 'What? Every day? I have read it though.' Which makes a change, he usually doesn't.). But with a vote a day I need to make sure they remember.

So I am Very Sorry everyone who knows me. Hopefully I'll never badger you again this way (if I ever do have a book out I'll be a lot more subtle, I promise) and thank you to everyone who voted for Minty and Luca - here's the link just in case you want to do it again *ducks and hides*

and, in the interest of fairness my CP's ridiculously accomplished entry:

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Vote for me! (If you don't mind that is...)

The voting stage for So You Think You Can Write has started and you can vote for me here
Every day until the 11th Oct. Every Day.
I mean, please, if you would be so kind. If you don't mind that is, if you want to.
Honestly, you don't have to...
Sorry to bother you, I'll go away now.

My goodness, I thought the rose bombing and comments in New Voices were bad enough. SYTYCW allows each person one vote, one day. So, if you want to galvanise support, you have to keep doing it. Every day remind your family, friends, colleagues, neighbours, random person in the supermarket, poor man at the door who only wanted you to change your electricity supplier. Every day you have to say 'Vote for Me.'
It's terrifying.

Thing is, I should love this. I adore marketing, am a social media addict. This should be right up my street. Only, it's different when it's me. Coming out of the romance writing closet, asking people to read my work again and again. This isn't fun, it's terrifying.

I have forgotten everything I know about social media marketing. I haven't scheduled tweets, nor do I retweet. I completely forgot to hang out at the Harlequin e-forums. Last year I was interacting and leaving comments from the day the competition opened. This year I feel more like a kid on the sidelines whispering 'Hi, please pick me...'

Having said that I am really lucky to have had a lot of support and I  want to thank everyone who has RT and shared my link, mentioned my entry in a blog and, of course, voted.
Could you do the same tomorrow please?
There are more puppy pictures if you do...