Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Why I'll not be writing a NaNoWriMo

For my travelling visitors, this is the invitation to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. If you are suddenly inspired at the thought of this, you can find the details here.

Surely, those travelling people might say, it can't be that hard. Say you have a twenty-hour flight, surely you could scribble several thousand of those in one go? All those hours waiting in bus stations. Would that it were that easy.

Writers, of course, come in all shapes and sizes, and there are those who rise to the challenge of writing 1500-2000 words (useful words, so probably at least three times that many deleted) every day for a month. Which involves clearing workspace, social space and headspace for a whole month (plus the time to go on the relevant website and 'chat' to everyone else going through the whole process with you). When I'm away from home my head is full of travelling - far too involving to free up space for writing.

I am in awe of everyone who does it. That level of self-discipline is astonishing. And I'm sure that many - even if their novels ends up in the 'could do better' file - are better writers for it. All that practice must keep the internal dictionary working, and the imagination firing on all cylinders.

What possible excuse can I have for not doing it? I live alone, so don't have to work round children (who are, in the UK, at home over half term - how can you write with children tugging at your sleeve wanting you to paint/play football/take them to the park?). I've retired, so don't have half my head (or more) filled with Child Protection challenges. I'm not on another trip for another month, so don't have to bury myself in the Lonely Planets quite yet.

I don't do it - because I don't want to put that pressure on myself. Sometimes I write 1500-2000 words in a day (sometimes even more) and sometimes I don't. If the words flow I can sit at the computer till my fingers freeze. On other days it's like pulling teeth and I'm better off going out for coffee. Writing is not work for me. I knew pressure at work - and it was right that I did. We made huge decisions about children's lives, decisions that should never be made without serious soul-searching. I don't need to do that any more.

But I shall cheer those brave writers on from the sidelines. I shall think of you as I drink tea in bed in the morning, and as I raise a glass of wine when the sun goes down (well, a bit later than that - the sun does down around 5ish now). I hope each of you writes the best book you have ever written, and wake up on 1st December feeling knackered but rightly smug.

And that, I'm afraid, is the best I can do. (If anyone who is actually writing NaNoWriMo has time to read this blog, do tell us why you are doing it!)

Sunday, 28 October 2012

A blog award!

How fab is this! There are a few award-things going around at the moment, and - yippee - Jacqueline Pye (her wonderful blog is here) had nominated me for the Addictive Blog Award!

Thank you so much, Jacqueline - and I hope all my lovely followers will drop by your blog (and if you follow her links you'll find she does some great cooking stuff too!)

The idea, before nominating others, is to witter a bit about why I blog. To begin with, it was to build a platform - I mean, that's what writers are meant to do, isn't it? And I was in the process of self-publishing Over the Hill, so it was interesting (well, I was interested) to witter about the whole process - to share my general ignorance, and learn from anyone passing by who was willing to share his or her wisdom.

I've carried on - like I've carried on travelling - because it's fun. I break the rule that suggests I should be consistent in what I write about, that the blog should be focussed. No doubt the rule-writers are right, and I'd have a bigger following if I stuck to one topic, more or less. Instead I have a post about the silly song my washing machine makes alongside thoughts on ebooks, and tigers. But I make no apology - for now I blog for fun. And if it stops being fun, then I shall stop doing it.

In response to this wonderful award, I must (well, I won't turn into a frog if I don't, but it's part of the game) nominate five other blogs. This has been hard - there are a lot of bookie links and chain-tagging blogs around at the moment, so wanted you to meet people you might not stumble across in the normal course of things. And so here I've tried to introduce you to some people who write about the world around them, the minutiae that they notice, the people they meet - without passing judgement. They all make me smile:

4 Kids, 20 Suitcases and a beagle is such fun - the writer is Australian, living in Qatar, and she writes with great wit and insight.
Thinking of the days is just that - a gentle account of life with a puppy, and garden. And it has some great photos!
Rosalind Adam is writing in the rain - she writes about writing, and about anything that takes her fancy.  Which is probably why I love her blog!
The English Travel Writer - Jenny Woolf writes about travelling. And she observes everything - from doorways to ducks.
Finally, Is Anyone There? Which has bits about holidays, and bits about being at home, and bits about reading - you get the picture.

And now I'm off to celebrate - cake, anyone?

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

I am not a robot.

After Monday's seriousness (thanks to everyone who commented, here and on Facebook) I'm back to normal - this time wittering about something that is slightly irritating, rather than vitally important.

Is anyone else losing patience with the captcha, anti-robot thingies that pop up each time you try to comment on a blog?

I've taken mine off, as one of my followers told me very nicely that they were driving her bonkers. It is her comment that has made me notice them more - and I agree that they are getting increasingly difficult to decipher. I get that we must take a moment to work out what they are wanting us to say - but do they have to be so obscure that letters run into each other like rain, or numbers are lost in the shadows? And if you get them wrong once, it often seems impossible to correct that on the second or third attempt.

It might help if they were a real word, and not something like EdvUlgn 61. What's that meant to mean - though anyone with a child using the phonetic reading scheme would say I should be able to read it without worrying about meanings. But I want to know what 61 EdvUlgns might look like, smell like? Are they animal, vegetable or mineral? Can I eat them? Will they eat me?

Since taking mine off, I've had a couple of ridiculous comments, and a flurry of invitations to check out a foreign bank, but blogspot seems to pick most of them up and send them to my email for checking - so they are easy to delete. But it's not been a huge problem.

So on a little blog like mine it seems, from my follower's comment, that having to prove you are a real person was putting people off.

I accept that, for those with thousands of followers, some form of filter might be necessary. But surely there has to be an easier way than making ordinary people squint at their screens trying to work out if that splodge squashed between the 't' and the 'r' is an 'e' or an 'o'. Are you quite happy deciphering EdvUlgn 61, or is it driving you bonkers, too?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Publishing ebooks.

I've had an email from someone asking me to blog about my experience of self-publishing on Kindle - the pros, the cons, and is it cost-effective. So - here goes.

I must begin by saying that this is only my experience. There are thousands of us uploading, downloading, groaning into our cocoa trying to make the bloody technology work and then realising we forgot to press the save button ... We all have different stories to tell.

The decision to self-publish was easy: I won a place on a mentoring scheme, as a result of which Over the Hill was lashed into shape. It was my mentor who told me that, ten years ago, I would have found a publisher. But not now - I'm neither young nor famous. But this was good enough to see the light of day and so I should do it myself. So I did - there are some early blogposts of the general angst but I made it.

And don't regret it. I've made mistakes, learned along the way, but have generally enjoyed myself. Putting the second book on Kindle was an easier decision: it's too short to be a print book but was such fun to write it made sense to give Over the Hill a follow-up.

But - there has to be a 'but' - is it cost-effective? It's not going to make me rich. In fact, if I cost the time it took the write, then paying the copy editor, then the time formatting and uploading, then it's a crazy way to spend my time if I want to make money. Amazon, of course, makes money. Cheap books (less than $3.50, I think) earn me only 35% - so that's 35p for a book costing £1; that's how many books to pay for one cup of coffee? And how many cups of coffee are needed to write one book? Pricier books earn 70%, but you still have to sell them in the hundreds or more to make serious money. Mine are niche books - they are never going to sell in huge numbers. (Well, would they if I spent hours marketing? I'll never know - that's the bit I'm truly rubbish at).

So, why do it? I'm lucky - and I know it. I have enough to live on and so am not dependent on my writing to pay the grocery bill. I can do it because it's fun, because I love it when people send emails saying they've enjoyed the book, or asking more about my travels - and yes, emails that prompted this post. And because I love the writing - I can make myself laugh. (I am already working out how to write a trip to the physio where I must ask her to get my knees strong enough to manage squat toilets ...)

That's how it was for me. How was it for you?

Monday, 15 October 2012

Travel writing from home

I've been blog-walking recently, with some chattering about travelling as a writer (or writing as a traveller?) here, on Karen G's great blog, and here on Ros Adam's - it is especially wonderful of Ros to invite me, as she has a fit of the vapours at the mere idea of some of the things I get up to.

So, after my blog-wandering, I'm back to writing about my home town and its quirks. Travel writing from home, so to speak. Every October, on two successive Saturdays, Marlborough High Street closes and the fair moves in - known as the Mop Fairs. It goes back, or so we are told, to times when servants would stand in the street at the end of harvest with the tools of their trade (hence the 'mop') and new masters would inspect and hire them.

But this was not an organised gathering - it was not like choosing teams at school - I'll have Nicola cos she's good in goal and you can have Enid who can't run for toffee - no, it wasn't like that. Servants jostled for places, trod on each others' toes, may even have speared each other with pitchforks. The ale houses were busy, beer slopped onto the street to mix with the horse droppings. Stray dogs snuffled in corners till kicked away. There was shouting and mayhem - and fun.

Now - we have the Big Wheel, the Dodgem cars, the Waltzers. A great stall called Froggit (smack the little post with a mallet and send rubber frogs flying towards the lily pads). Hook-a-duck. All play different music - which gets louder over the course of the day until by 11.00pm it can be heard half a mile away. The ghost train, with its bits of old tights dangling down pretending to be spiders' webs. Lights flash, children scream, lads prove their manliness by not throwing up when turned upside-down. The pubs, of course, are as busy as years ago - though now it is plastic glasses that litter the street alongside the wrappers from candy floss and hot dogs. Children clutch blue bears twice their size. (My grandaughter won a vulgar blue creature with a band round its head that said 'Tony Bear.' If I could have separated it from her long enough to take its photo for you I would have done.)

I love it - It is noisy and smelly and disrupts the polite order of things.

Yes - this happens on two consecutive Saturdays. In between, the fair retreats to the common. For our ancient charter, which allows this fair to continue, stipulates that it must clear the High Street by midnight, leaving everything clean for the righteous who must put all this revelry behind them and go the church on Sunday morning.

Such a wonderful, ridiculous collision of tradition and modern celebrations! Do you have anything like this where you live?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

When daughters fly

I have four daughters. This piece is prompted by one of them, but applies to them all.

And sometimes she flies. No, I don't mean fly the nest. Not that moment when you leave her in the car park at uni knowing she has cases to unpack. Leaving her full of excitement and terror with all the gizmos she might need but no sensible knickers. And you go home to an empty house and you're not sure if you like it, or if you should like it, so you make her favourite meal for tea and wimper a bit and then play your own music and read your own books and no one interrupts and you realise you could get used to this.

No - I mean flying in the air. In an aeroplane. A huge metal contraption that, looked at objectively, shouldn't be in the air. That smell - of stale air, and yesterday's supper. That are filled with people who, at best, could be overweight and at worst (I disregard the terrorism option) are sick with beri beri or typhoid or mysterious green-frothy disease which everyone will catch. Daughters sit in this thing, above the ocean, for hours. With no realistic means of escape. Then they have to land - on something as tiny as a runway and come to a careful halt, without so much as bruising a finger!

I know what you're thinking. I agree with you - it's fine for me to go flying, head across the world when I feel like it. There are countries to explore, adventures to be had. And I have no problem with them having adventures - even adventures in unlikely places. I do not need to keep the world away from them.

I just wish she could get there a different way. Not in a plane. I know the statistics - she is safer in a plane than crossing the road (though I have been known to reach out to hold a hand crossing the road, in an unthinking, maternal way, and been put back in my place!). But there's something about planes, all those people crammed together in that tiny space, and no plan B should something go wrong. I quite enjoy it for myself - but shudder each time I leave her at the airport.

I know I shouldn't check the news. I'd hear soon enough if there were a problem. I know there is no point looking up in the sky as if just wishing her well could keep her safe. At least I have the sense not to watch Airplane.

Welcome Home, Anna!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Taking my knees walkabout.

A while ago I posted a dilemma - my knees were rebelling, and I had to decide if I should nurse them at home this winter, or risk being stuck in a jungle if they went on strike.

I took the sensible course. (What? Sensible! Not willingly, I must add. Nagged by sensible daughters who would have to sort me out if the worse happened. I take their point - they have jobs, families, cannot drop everything to fly across the world to rescue me from something I could have predicted in the first place.)

So I have had x-rays and seen the bone-person. I won't go into him looking young - at least I didn't ask him if he's started shaving yet. More importantly - he listened. And he didn't even flinch when I mentioned tottering around unlikely places with a rucksack.

He told me I have arthritis (which I knew) and that both knees are probably beyond tinkering with. 'We could give you arthroscopies, but in your case there is a chance it doesn't work and could even make things considerably worse,' he said.

'I'm not ready to give up my lifestyle,' I said.

'If course you're not.'

(Hurrah!! He's not assuming I'll retreat into a corner with my cocoa!)

'So,' he went on, 'I'll give you steroid injections to help the pain for now. (Ow!) We'll sort some physio to keep the muscles in good trim around the knees - which should keep you going for a while. Eventually we'll give you new knees - starting on the left.'

'So can I go to Madagascar this winter?' I explained about carrying a rucksack, and he asked reasonable questions about weight and distance.

And then he said, 'You go. You'll have less pain in the warmth anyway. But you might need to pass on ten mile hikes - sit on a beach with a book instead; and, if you can, get other people to carry heavy things for you. Then we'll see how you are in the spring and operate if you are still in pain.' (The subtext - I can't make them any worse. So I might just as well take them travelling as sit at home feeling sorry for myself. And then he'll sort me out so I can carry on travelling year after year!)

So - Madagascar this winter, I thought. Raced off to buy the Lonely Planet.

Except that isn't going to be as straightforward as I'd thought - so I'll let you into my tortuous thinking about where to go in my next post.

But the main news is - me and my knees will be off again this winter! Yippee!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

It's autumn, not Christmas

It's October. Mellow fruitfulness and all that. Harvest festivals. Harvest suppers. Time to see if the central heating still works, in the mice have eaten winter woollies stored in the attic, to decide if you can live with the invasion of spiders coming in from the cold or if they should all end up in the hoover. Time to remember to allow that bit longer for getting out of the house - to pull on boots, find gloves, excavate the pockets of your coat to get rid of yesterday's tissues. To notice that it's icy and the car windscreen needs a scrape. (I don't have a car - one less thing to worry about. Though I do need to allow time for thermal layers to make sure I don't freeze at the bus stop.)

We can wrap up and go to the forest, kick through leaves, throw them in the air like rain and brush them out of each others' hair. We can find conkers and have discussions on the ethics of vinegar and slow cooking to make them even harder. We can stop to smell that glorious, dank, misty smell of autumn. Bring leaves home to make pictures to stick on the fridge, knowing that they will crinkle and fall and end a dusty mess on the kitchen floor.

When the rain comes, driving against the windows, we can light the fire, toast crumpets, remind ourselves how wonderful they taste dripping with butter. We unearth games not played since April, argue over the rules to Cluedo.

Soon the children will talk of halloween, of fireworks. We can cook baked potatoes, heap them with cheese or beans, and eat with our muddy fingers.

So - it's not Christmas. Not even nearly Christmas. So, shops, that means no crackers, no mince pies, no wrapping paper, no tinsel and not even a cardboard reindeer that sings 'Do you know it's Christmas?' as I pass. I mean, internet marketing people, that I do not need Father Christmases popping up in the corner of sites I am actually enjoying.

So BOGOFF Christmas! (And I don't mean buy one, get one free!)