Thursday, 17 June 2010


I don't know what you think of soap operas and frankly I don't much care, because I just watched an episode of Emmerdale that moved me in the nicest possible way.

There's been an ongoing storyline for months: Teenage hooligan goes increasingly off the rails and finally has to admit he's gay. He's a laddish lad full of anger and aggression - beating people up, getting into trouble with the police, generally being a pain. And for a while he was full of self-directed homophobia, refusing to accept any common ground with all those nancying bloody queer folk, and assuming that any acknowledgement of his sexuality would mean his whole life imploding and nobody speaking to him ever again. And then he tried to kill himself, and he nearly went to prison, and ohmyGod his Self Destruct button was like some giant carbuncle on the end of his nose just waiting to pop.

Aaaanyway. Some of it has been a bit extreme, as is the way with dramatified wotsits, but sadly homophobia is alive and well and there really are teenage boys out there killing themselves, being beaten up, generally wallowing in mires of confusion and angst, and all because of homophobia.

I've heard people defend the use of "gay" as an insult, on the basis that they don't mean it like that. They are being ironic and cool and all their gay mates understand that it's only a joke.

I have a friend whose son, when he was five, had a best friend who was a boy. They were inseparable and started to say that they wanted to marry each other when they grew up. They were already using "gay" as an insult, because it's standard playground language. But at that point he had no idea what gay actually meant. Then one day he asked his mum. She explained it to him, and he made the connection. So if he and his mate married, that would mean they were gay? That awful thing that nobody wanted to be? He was horrified. He was angst-ridden about it for ages. He kept picking over it and trying to find some alternative explanation. Of course at that age nobody could say whether he would turn out gay or not, and it really shouldn't have mattered. But it did.

Whenever somebody uses the word gay as an insult, there is a teenager somewhere listening in and hating themselves.

I was in a local secondary school the other day and I saw a poster on the wall: "Zero tolerance for racism and homophobia." I was SO impressed. I saw a documentary on the holocaust recently and there was a section on teaching the topic to teenagers in history lessons. The pupils were asked which groups were persecuted by the Nazis. They came up with all of them: Jewish people, old people, disabled people, socialists, etc... but they missed out gays and their teacher didn't correct them. Indeed he had a pre-prepared list with everyone listed... except gay people. I was shocked. But homosexuality is STILL something that isn't much talked about in schools. The Tories have a lot to answer for. I haven't forgotten all their crimes from first time round. Grrrr.

Anyway. I'm getting distracted. What I wanted to say was that there have been several great bits about the way Emmerdale has handled this. One of them is the way his family (the Dingles), who are all butch and gruff and traded a lot of homophobic banter before they knew he was gay, have all rallied round and done their best to help him accept himself. And tonight, he finally kissed another boy. And it made me go awwwww. They were tentative and awkward and kept misunderstanding each other and were worried that maybe the other one didn't fancy them after all and it was all scary and nerve-wracking and it took me straight back to being a teenage girl in love with other girls, and all the terror and confusion that went with that, but then.... aaaaah. They kissed. And then they did that mad grinny thing you do when you've finally got to kiss the person you've fancied for ages and it's LOVELY and you can't stop smiling.

[happy sigh]


Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Cover Girl


We have a final image for the cover. And I love it! I particularly love the covers. And I love the plan for the cover. It's going to be really clean and simple, just one big bold colourful energetic picture, the title, the author's name (I've decided on Alice Turing) and on the back nothing at all except a small vignette at the bottom. Matt finish. Yay! The lettering will be drawn by the illustrator, rather than trying to find the right font. It gives it a more organic feel.

I'm really excited about it. This cover is going to be sooooooooo much better than my other books so far.

It's still under wraps for now, but once we have a final cover design, I'll post something up. Meeting with the designer tomorrow, all going well.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Anal Info

Have I blogged about this before? I'm not sure. Well anyway.

In the last few years it seems to have become a blog etiquette thingy that bloggers must answer each comment individually, and make direct reference to the things that were said.

I guess a lot of commenters don't read the other comments and don't care how the blogger responds to them, but I'm kind of anal, as well as nosy, so I tend to read the whole lot. And then get really annoyed, because the blogger's response will typically look like this:

"Mr Smartypants, you know what? I think you're right.

HedgehogInABlender, I thought so too, but then I read Tolstoy and all was revealed.

ABCToG, I expect so. Apart from the plums.

Pantygirdle, hahahahahahaaaaaaaaa!"

...and so on. Sometimes there will have been double-figures-worth of comments before this happens, and although I may be anal and nosy, I'm not quite so intrigued that I can be bothered scrolling up and down to cross-reference every comment to its response. Even responses to my own comments often leave me a little stumped cos I can't remember what I said in the first place.

In fact it's surprisingly easy to either quote a line from the original comment or otherwise make your response make sense so that everyone will understand what the hell you're on about and not just the person you're aiming it at.

I'm not singling anyone out here. You all do it, you bastards. Well, most of you.

So anyway: STOP IT.

Thankyou. That is all.

Squashed Flat!

My littlest got his finger slammed shut in a door last week.

Flat as a pancake it was, and it kind of popped at one end.

Oh that's weird, I did it again. "One end?" said my mum. "Surely you mean the end?" and I suppose I do, but fingers have two ends, don't they? It's just that one is attached to the rest of the hand and is unlikely to pop when slammed shut in a door.

Anyway. He was weirdly unfazed by it all, as was I. "It's only a finger, don't worry," I said to his big brother who was busy having hysterics, although it turned out he didn't find out until the next day that his little bro hadn't fallen down the stairs. I think it was the blood that did it, as it did rather get spread over everything and made things look worse than they were. Anyway, the unfazedness of Son Number Two was probably connected to my own tranquility, which was really just a steadfast refusal to think too much about the squashed-flat-ness and focus instead on its amazing bounce-back-to-life-ness which occurred only minutes later and made me think I had imagined the squish. But I knew the bones of young people are bouncy and hard to break (they weren't broken).

He's now very pleased with the succession of multicoloured socks which have been put over the bandage to stop it falling off. When his nan asked about it on the phone, he chuntered out one of those long toddler sentences that make no sense to anyone but the toddler, and waved his hand enthusiastically at the earpiece so she could see.

Some friend of my mum - in the middle of the night, when half asleep - once put her baby down on the floor, then pulled down a hinged spare bed from the wall, sat on the bed, bent down and picked her baby up... only she couldn't, because the baby had become myseriously glued to the floor. She tugged at it for a while before she realised that she was sitting on the bed, whose leg was placed firmly on the leg of the baby (who had already been crying anyway, and the mum didn't understand the increase in intensity). Anyway. The baby's leg looked proper-squished, for a few minutes, but then it pinged back into shape and the baby was fine. And is now an unmaimed adult.

Not that I'm recommending anyone drop weights on young children or find other creative ways of squishing their bones...

Eek. This post will go horribly wrong unless I stop digging. Seriously. Son Number Two got lots of cuddles and we were all very perturbed and are now terribly anal about propping the front door open and watching out for the tiniest gusts of wind (it blew shut, you see).

I found myself wincing and closing one eye when someone blogged about cats in distress this week, and felt slightly sick when I returned to find nothing new had been posted to distract me from the cats. Have I just committed the same sin? Hmm. Possibly I have. No babies were harmed in the making of... well actually... oh dear.

It Never Ends

Oh, woe is me. I am some kind of major fool masochist. So there I was, nearing the end of the hardest nine months of my life courtesy of my new career, and what do I do? Pile a load of new pressure on myself, that's what. Why did I decide to publish a book on my own exactly now?

Because I wanted to. Oh.

Well, anyway. The bloody thing still isn't edited, and there are various tedious hold-ups and setbacks...

Oh well, actually the "setbacks" consisted of me being slightly paranoid, which has just been unconfirmed by email.

My main problem is that what I really need right now is the freedom to say "When the kids are in bed I will kick back, watch telly, drink beer and sleep as much as I damn well please" for the first time in a long time... except I can't cos I have to finish this edit.

Oh well. I brought it on myself. And now I'd better get back to it.

I'll just rabbit a little more first.

Of course there are the usual self-hating woes, but I do have a recurring habit of focusing on one small flaw and deciding the whole edifice is a pile of shit. Which really isn't true, and anyway all the flaws are fixable. Which of course means more editing... but it's worth it. It has to be good.

Coming soon: Blog posts about stuff other than books. Maybe.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

In a name

I have no name!

I did have one, but it's a bit broke cos of negative associations. Then I had another one but it turns out to also belong to some Scottish liberal democrat.

I need a pseudonym that sounds like a real person, but is a bit distinctive, a bit sassy, a bit clever... argh. I really don't mind if it's actually quite ordinary, I just have to feel like it could be me.

It's horribly difficult. All suggestions welcome.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Va Va Voom*

I can't get started today. This might be because I am suffering from up-late droopiness. Or because said up-lateness was caused by me crafting an email for potential reviewers, telling them how delightful it would be to receive a proof copy of my book. Or because I'm a workshy eejit who never starts work as soon as she reaches her desk.

Anyway, I'm all keyed up. I sent extracts out with that late-night email, so people could get a hint of what an amazing book mine is [cough]. So this marks the first time in a long while that I've pushed that child onto a stage and asked her to perform.

I've been flitting between periods of gloom this week. I've come to the end of an intense period in my new career. I'm suffering the comedown from that, as well as some doubts about whether my life isn't just one long catalogue of Bad Decisions. And I've been editing the book, which - particularly as I haven't read it myself for over a year - means the usual rollercoaster of "It's brilliant!" "It's terrible!" from one moment to the next. It does mean I have a fresh perspective on which extracts will showcase it most effectively. But one of the people I approached last night has already responded, and one of the actually-very-helpful things she said was that a random set of unconnected extracts don't give her a proper idea of the book. She would need to see, just as an agent or publisher would, the first three chapters. She makes a good point. I only thought of the extracts as teasers, to give an idea of my writing style and convince people to request a review copy and see the whole thing properly, but what she said still applies.

The "she" in question is Nicola Morgan, who writes the "Help! I Need a Publisher!" blog, and is an all-round good egg. She wrote a blog post about me and my plight a while back. She responded incredibly quickly to yesterday's email, and in a lot of detail. Sadly she can't write a review, but I understand why.

Anyway. Two people have already said yes, but now instead of getting on and editing the damn thing, I'm watching my inbox. Gah.

I'm only halfway through the edit, and of course the schedule has slipped. The design meeting was cancelled because the illustration wasn't ready yet, and there's no way I'll be getting the review copy off to Lulu this week as planned. I thought I would do a quick edit - just tighten the prose. But in the process I've noticed a couple of weak areas that would benefit from some focused work. And I really really want this book to be good, and it's great to have the perspective of returning to it after a long break, and I want to make the most of it. So I've added a fortnight to the schedule, and I think that works.

Sorry, this post is getting boring now: Feel free to wander off.

The big areas of work are (a) editing the manuscript, (b) getting the cover finished, and (c) setting up a campaign (website, emails, Facebook group etc) to persuade people to buy the book in advance. Maybe I'm going overboard. Maybe I have enough friends and family who would buy copies with minimum encouragement. But what if I don't? Huh? How awful would it be if I had to refund everyone's money because there wasn't enough to fund the print run? And anyway... this is the bit I like. "Look at me!" I shout with glee.

But isn't this what I was trying to get away from? The jostling for attention, followed by disappointment when the only response is a pooch on the pavement licking my hand? Um... no. No, I don't think so. My expectations are low, and they have an end point. Instead of the moving-goalpost aim of more and more people buying my book, all I need is a discrete number. Then the book will be printed, dispatched and that will be that. I'll carry right on with my life. In the corner of my study will be one proud copy of one beautiful book. There won't be boxes and boxes of the damn thing staring at me reproachfully every time I open the cupboard door. Just one. And I will love it.

*When I started this post, I mistyped the title as "Va Va Vom". I need to file that one away for a dynamic post about sick.**


Thursday, 3 June 2010

Wing Dust

I've been editing all day. Goalposts are moving and the book cover won't be ready for another couple of weeks yet. The review copy, which I was hoping would go to press this week, might take a little longer too.

The good news is I like this book, and I'd enjoy reading it if I hadn't written it. No matter how many times I edit it, it always wants more work, so it needs pinning to history like a butterfly in a museum case; taking beyond my reach to preserve the dust on its wings.

I'm more excited about the reality of this book than I ever was by my other published works. Being in proper control of its physical being makes a huge difference. The others, when they arrived, were anticlimaxes. I already knew I didn't like the covers very much, so holding them in my hand was no big deal.

This one has to be different.

Bullet Holes

I can't stop thinking about the Cumbrian shootings.

These things are always shocking, but this happened in an area of the country I know very well. I know some of the characters affected, albeit vaguely. But I've met them. I've been there. Members of my family are there now (but not directly affected).

I've always been fascinated by the extreme. I've read and written fictions about people hiding out in remote countryside locations from menacing figures with weapons. The basis for these wild imaginings has always been Eskdale, just because I know it so well. But I find it almost impossible to believe that something real, as preposterous as the scenarios played out in my head, has actually happened there.

I want to know what was in his head, what he was thinking, how he felt, how someone can do something like that. WHY. And not just because I'm shocked and horrified, which obviously I am. But because I'm intrigued. How does it happen? What is the process? Was he always a little mad, or did it happen suddenly? We'll never really know.

I've tried writing fiction in which people do extreme things, and it doesn't work. Maybe because I've never done anything like that myself, never could. My emotions are extreme but my actions never have been. I can't imagine myself into such a situation, not convincingly, neither as victim nor perpetrator.

It's hard to believe it's true. They moved Coronation St on location for the day, right?

I can't think of a suitable way to end this post. It's tempting to post platitudes such as "my heart goes out..." or "condolences..." just in case anyone seriously affected by today's events happens to stumble by. But it would be hollow and insincere, a passing nod to propriety. This is all fiction to me. I can't seem to make it real.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Cool Reception

Yesterday my son got given a helicopter ride as a birthday present from his doting nan. Said ride happened at a Country Show at a stately home in Yorkshire, a weirdly posh-but-not-posh event. By chance he ended up getting the helicopter ride with the children of the people who owned the helicopter. I suppose this means they were rich, but they didn’t look it to my untutored wouldn’t-know-a-designer-label-if-it-bit-her-on-the-arse eye. They were wearing jumpers and jeans. Anyway. After the ride, the father of these other children asked my son what he thought of it. “It was cool,” said my son. “We don’t use words like that,” said the man. So I laughed heartily. I assumed he was joking.

His face said he wasn’t. I struggled to take any of it seriously and had to exit quickly.

People are weird.

Stuff Going On

I've just come to the end of a particularly intense project in my new career, not much sleep etc, and now I have a week off. Which means I get to catch up with the rest of my life, not least a humungous quantity of housework, but crucially I get to be ALONE. Oh, it's like plunging into a warm pool under a sunlit sky. I get to be in my own home for a long period of time with no urgent deadlines and nothing stressful to do in the morning and all small people safely dispatched unto the care of others' hands.

So now I can focus on my book. This means spending most of my spare time editing a final draft, to be Lulued into review copies. But also...

For the past month the illustrator has been cogitating over the cover, and this weekend he came up with a couple of tentative draft images. This bit is HARD. Thank God he's a professional illustrator with decades of experience and knows what he's doing, cos I sure as hell don't. I can say what I don't like, but what I'm crap at is imagining a preferable alternative. The drafts have energy and humour, and I'm worried our tinkerings might stamp that out, but I think between us we'll get there. His wise voice is reminding me that it doesn't have to be literal. That what we are trying to do is capture the spirit of the book, and make people want to read it. And that if there is sex in the title, there probably has to be sex on the cover.

Yesterday we swapped pictures and thoughts, and this afternoon we'll be doing more of the same. It'll be ongoing all week. I have a meeting with the designers on Thursday, but we've agreed that we're not aiming to have a finished illustration by then, as that might put us in too much of a rush. This isn't to be hurried. We hope to have it nailed by next week though.

What's lovely about all this is that the illustrator is doing this for love, not money. We are old friends and he really cares that we produce something lovely. Of course I feel guilty about not being able to pay him much, but I just have to try not to think of it like that.

In the past I've done things like this and been terrified of offering an opinion or making any demands on people who clearly know more than me and who are anyway doing me a favour, but I've learnt it's pointless to think that way. This is my book, and my opinion matters. But I also have to trust in others' creative ability. Eek. The meeting with the designers will be interesting, too - particularly as we might not have a finished image to work with, but it's only an initial meeting.

So I'll be seeing Francis (the illustrator) on Friday, when I go and stay with him in London, and hopefully we'll have a tentative design to look at by then, as well.

My other reason for being in London is Stan, aka Bete de Jour, aka Karl's party. I found him fascinating even before I read his book and decided he wasn't real. Now he's admitted he isn't real. Or at least, I think he has. I probably found out who he was by accident a few months ago, so I think I already know. But anything could happen on Friday. Including bugger all. We have a back-up plan, Francis and I, just in case. I love London. I'll be there less than 24 hours (motherhood, motherhood, motherhood) but I'll make the most of it. Time for me has been scant for the last nine months, so this is a rare treat.

I thought about posting the draft book cover images here, but won't yet. We wouldn't tell people what names we were considering for the babies in my belly, either. It's the same thing. Unfinished creations are uniquely vulnerable to criticism, and sometimes even two opinions are confusing enough, never mind any more.