Stock Check

Can words been seen as stock?  I’m not too sure, but for my purposes today that is what they are and that is what I’ve been counting. My writer’s shelf is embarrassingly bare; I am not the most prolific of souls and sometimes it gets me a little disheartened. I also write in fits and starts and can never tell how long each burst will last. Finally, my short stories are utterly bizarre in their gestation – there’s usually a research period into the subject matter with a vague idea of how it’s meant to be told, several abandoned handwritten starts in a notebook and then a flourish of typing when I transfer the bones of the drafts to the laptop and begin to flesh the bones out. This can take months. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. There’s a tale I really wish to tell about rapper dancers (the kind with swords and bells, not a dreadful cacophony of words and noise and thrusting naked parts).  Research is complete – I even played one of their songs note by halting note on my much abused recorder to get the thread of it – and nada. Nothing. Abandoned pages, no story. Just one very bemused and anxious dog sticking her nose up the end of my instrument and begging with me to stop the dreadful racket.

So, bare cupboards. Lots of scrag ends, little tangible. To get over this hump I’ve had a look at the work I was attempting to complete last year. Two novels, Breaking the Angel and Poison Prince remain incomplete.  However, looking behind that at the drafts so far I’m actually pretty happy. BTA has shifted shape a number of times, being the first vague idea I ever had for a novel. It’s now at 63,387 words – and I’m aiming for it to be complete at 80,000. I’m finally happy with the structure and direction. I am way over the initial writing crisis with this one and I am planning book 2, ensuring that certain threads are planted in the story arc at this stage to give continuity without being heavy handed.  Given that at work I churn out 20,000 word reports on a pretty frequent basis, I can see the finish line for the first draft with this one and I’m going to prioritise it this winter / spring because then I can actually say ‘bloody hell, I wrote a novel!’. It may never go anywhere other than my laptop and Wattpad, but I really don’t care – the mental line of finishing will have been crossed. And without a forcible / sackable deadline, I am a crappy starter / finisher. An excerpt:

What was illusion, I wonder now?  What parts of Gabriel should I have trusted – or should my own intuition regarding his motives towards me be my reference point?  It’s easy to love something that beautiful; such elegant eye candy.  When he smiles and bestows his glory on me – on any woman – you become transcendent.  He raises you up.

Then just as quickly he can drop you down again.

I should have taken more note of his words, I suppose.  He was trying to tell me I still had the opportunity to fall on the side of nominal good.  To avoid his mistakes, regardless of the fleeting pleasures they could bring.

Gabriel was the one for all my life.  That’s all I knew at eighteen.

Poison Prince started as a bit of fluff, drawing on my memories and diaries as a teenager. It’s fluff that’s reached 30,000 words and is completely different to BTA in that it is much more contemporary coming of age and has no magical realism or fantasy woven in.  Him Underfoot has read the draft so far and been consistently amused and on occasion a little bit shocked.  I haven’t held back. He has mildly suggested it may be something I never, ever let my family read…and he has a point.  This is the catharsis book. I wrote this first section over a concentrated 2 month period and then just…stopped. Work / life / Christmas got in the way. Guilt over not finishing BTA. I got side tracked. As much as this amuses me, I need to park it for a while until BTA is at full draft stage and I can devote my full attention, frustration and occasional seething anger at it. Along with my never ending love of dodgy 1980’s music.  It is plotted in full, which helps. A quote:

My brain was in denial that disco day.  Right up until I got home, that is.  I walked through the door to a scene from a badly lit soap opera; Bernadette sprawled gracelessly on the settee, makeup sliding from her face and eyes like coal pits.  My father was holding court in the kitchenette, a glass of dark liquid being liberally poured down his throat as he bawled insults at his dear wife.  I was pretty sure the liquid wasn’t cola.

Their argument was in full flow, and as I walked unwittingly into their midst so unfortunately was a glass ashtray.  Shaped in a lucky clover leaf design, it was just the right size to whack into my nose – arguably my cutest feature – and leave a considerable dent therein.  Not content with mere reshaping, a bloody effluent came pouring out of my left nostril and splattered the lino as it overflowed my inadequately small hands.

Then there is the short story dilemma. I do not consider myself a strong short story writer, yet I do on occasion produce work I am proud of. When they work (very infrequently), it’s like they have been delivered to me from another dimension. I know how much work I put into them, the research, the marination, the execution, more marination, then editing and more editing. They are highly subjective and much more literary than my novels. I find them mentally exhausting to write – there is a reason I call the loose collection The Repository of Lost Souls.

But they have another purpose. With Charybdis published, and The Bone Queen to follow this year, they give my writing a legitimacy it didn’t have before. They make me actually think, hey, I can do this and people don’t think I’m a screaming weirdo lunatic. They may be sad and odd but they’ve connected with people.

That’s not why I write them. I sat down today unsure what to write or where my thoughts were going and I began to write Scylla, a companion piece to Charybdis.  Now she’s been floating about in my head for a while (yup, research done) but she’s never coalesced into anyone tangible.  Today she did. It’s early days, early drafts (only 2 abandoned paper based starts), but I am broadly happy with where the first draft is going.  The only botheration is that I’m back at work tomorrow and all writing will now be parked until the weekend. So I’ll lose the flow (and no, there is no creative writing at work, I am too busy writing issue based, emotionally exhausting assessment reports trying to find money for amazing charities).

Broadly speaking, I feel I am starting the writing year in a solid place.  I have tangible, realisable goals and it was a pleasure to be writing properly today. I’ve written this post to remind me of this, when I flag. When I lose myself in the Universe of Procrastination (aka the Internet). So that when I come back here in a year’s time I can reflect on one completed manuscript and another in progress (if not in full draft).  The only thing holding me back is me.  I’ve never been here before, and it feels like the sun is dancing on my keyboard, bringing life into my fingertips.

Breeding Books

It’s January. That means it is definitely time for a book census before 2014’s book buying begins in earnest. It also means I need to sort my desk out and get back down to some serious writing. And of course, it lends itself to a glorious afternoon of lost treasures and procrastination.

However, the task is now complete and 26 books have been identified for initial consideration this year (I really do stockpile them. Charity shops are my downfall). Rather than list them, I took a pic as they looked so pretty:

From French folk tales to the history of the damned, my little reading pile for 2014

From French folk tales to the history of the damned, my little reading pile for 2014

Three of them are library books, so pretty high up the pecking order, with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children also being high up the list as it’s book club’s read next month. I’ve already read this, and think it’s a bit of a strange choice for my normally conservative and classic loving group but we shall see! I’ve chucked a bit of steampunk into the mix with Cherie Priest and James P. Blaylock, plus some historical books (the history of St Nicholas’ Hospital, my local mental hospital and Death in the Victorian Family, a very odd find in my local Mind shop).

I’m really looking forward to reading  Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik, Temeraire was one of my big reading delights of 2013 and this promises to be just as lovely. I have just picked up the amazing William Horwood’s Winter, the conclusion to his brilliant Hyddenworld quartet which I need to read when I have time to digest it, obsess over every word and just generally appreciate what a beautiful, heart breaking author Mr Horwood is.  Also in the heap is a very old copy of Lorna Doone, found in the Red Cross shop (I live in a charity shop wonderland). I have no idea how old this book is; I bought it because when I opened it a letter fell out, explaining it was a birthday gift and it instantly grabbed my heart:

Lorna Doone plus lovely letter

Lorna Doone plus lovely letter

Sadly once I’d finished playing with books (which literally are breeding in various corners of this house), I had to bite the bullet and get my desk back to optimum work position. Now this past week has been all very exciting, learning that The Bone Queen is going forward for publication in an anthology with Red Squirrel Press later this year, and having to send off the document for typesetting – but I have to admit I’ve written nothing this year. Nada. I have some lovely ideas, have carried out the requisite research and yet produced nothing. I have watched a great many episodes of Criminal Minds however. So, nose to the grist time.   My desk is now perfectly formed (if a little pose-y!):

Spot all the cliches!

Spot all the cliches!

So, yup I am a walking cliche. I love fountain pens – and this is a gorgeous gift from my big brother, an absolutely exquisite Pelikan pen which writes like a dream (I am not a pen snob mind you, I have a sweet little Parker for outside use which is equally pleasing and writes with pretty purple ink). Under the dubious cloth there is a lovely  wooden desk that I am paranoid about damaging, hence the cover. And yes – cliche no 2 – moleskine note books abound in my world. There’s just something about the creamy paper and durability of them that does me fine.

The two pics have been giving me some inspiration. The two dears on the right are actually great great aunts of mine in their Victorian finery and looking very stern.  The lovely lady on the left with her pert bob and pretty red suit is my maternal Grandmother, Elsie Margaret who never let her 4’10” frame stop her from being totally in charge.  She was a lovely lady and I like to have her here watching me.

So, to the real work.  And to that, as much as I love paper and pen, I need my lovely Zephyr. My Macbook. Never knew I needed a Mac until someone gave me one.  Zephyr (yes, I name my technology – his predecessor was Ares, my first laptop Zeus. Sorry for blowing you up Zeus).  And a cup of tea. And now I really do have no excuses!  Until next time…


A sweet Christmas. A quiet new year.

A step forward with technology, with the adoption of a tablet (and yes, the delight of free classics on Kindle has not passed me by, the tablet is loaded up with enough free gothic literature and poetry for many weeks to come). I have been a screaming Luddite for so long, my complete conversion has been a little bit of a shock. I confess there was a huge element of ‘hmmmm…’ when I opened the shiny Samsung packaging. I couldn’t even work out how to assemble the plug! Thankfully a call out on Facebook alerted my more technologically minded friends who provided excellent advice, file sharing apps, and a smattering of sarcasm. I would expect nothing less!

I am one of the lucky few who has an extended leave period, I don’t return to work until the 8th January where I’m swept straight back up into the maelstrom of grant visits and project assessments. For some reason these seem to peak in the snow! I’m quite used to turning up places in my big boots and volumous green velvet jacket after a perilous journey across the North on public transport where people gaze at me as if I’ve been transplanted from another planet. Perhaps I have, in some respects. Still, give me a smile, a cup of tea and a biscuit and you’ll win me over immediately – I’m that easy! I also have a healthy respect for the time people take out of their busy and often fraught working schedules to spend time telling me about the work they do, the people they support and the hardships facing them due to swinging cuts to charities, youth clubs, Sure Start Centres etc. Even though I can’t always get you what you want in terms of funding, I try to do my best by you all and I am privileged to do the job that I do.

I’m not bothered about resolutions.  I have some vague ‘wish list’ of activities, but really all I can hope for is that those around me remain healthy and happy. You reach a stage in life where that matters far more than material ambition. When an awareness of everything there is to lose becomes ever more present. Now if I can only communicate that to my credit card’s relationship with Violent Delights and the like and curb my dress buying impulses, I’ll get along swimmingly…!

I’m now trundling off to do a wardrobe census. I appear to be wearing the same 5 items of clothing on a cycle (skinny black jeans, Joy Division t-shirt, deep fuchsia swing cardy, patterned purple short skirt, knee length black boots). Much as I love them, I have a wardrobe full of loveliness that I really need to air more often. Though I am desperate for a decent new winter coat (much as I love my Spin Doctor Crazy Doll frock coat, it really isn’t appropriate for work). I’m adoring the Hellbunny Millie, but I’m reluctant to buy as I have a petite frame and suspect the collar may be overpowering to my teeny neck so I guess I’ll have to hoof it round the shops next Tuesday. What a chore!

Whitby, Whalebones, Me in my Crazy Doll coat with a cat stuffed in my pocket!

Whitby, Whalebones, Me in my Crazy Doll coat with a cat stuffed in my pocket!

So, good wishes for the New Year.  And as someone very prone to making mistakes, a quote from Neil Gaiman who writes what I would like to say far more eloquently than I could ever phrase it:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”