Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Things that go awww in the night

I was going to have a big mumbly grumble about how Hallowe'en is rubbish these days. When I was a kid you attempted to carve scary faces into a swede,* aka the hardest vegetable known to humankind, and hoped no one would throw eggs at you if you dared to venture out, wearing your big sister's tights and something gothic made of binbags. Now it's just a perturbing combo of parentally-sanctioned begging and dressing up like a whore. (This wasn't just me being an old fart: a 12-year-old kid in costume came marching around the tables of a cafe I was in yesterday, sticking a bucket under people's noses - which he presumably expected to be filled with cash, since most coffee drinkers don't bring a handful of sweeties to Nero's with them on October 30th - and swearing loudly at us when we refused. Niiiiice.)

But then tonight I walked past the house of the crazy-brilliant children's authors who live up the road, which is decked out with fake cobwebs and pumpkin lanterns and cheerful people, and possesses exactly the kind of homemade awesome that made me think very fondly of the aroma of warm, slightly rotting swede. Hurrah for fake witch warts made from Rice Krispies! Your time is not over after all.

*Pumpkins were not to be found in Wales in the 1980s, alas.

This interview with Rob Newman, former member of The Mary Whitehouse Experience, turned slightly duff novelist and political activist. I was quite helplessly in love with him when I was about 16. The romance waned a tad when, post-gig, I queued up for an autograph and realised quite how dependent he was on enthusiastic hugs from teenage fans to soothe his fragile ego. Understandable (ish) given what he says in the interview about not really managing fame, but not what one demands from one's heroes. Sadly his new BBC4 show is, erm, awful. I reckon someone who professes not to own a telly has no business in writing for it: he's not persuaded me otherwise.

Busy busy busy. Have finished the Rewriteathon at last: it's off for line-edits etc now, so I've got a week or so's grace before I'm back to snipping and tweaking. Also wrote some extra blurb for a sampler which will be doing the rounds of booksellers soonish (this would usually be a bound proof, but there just hasn't been time to put one together), which says encouraging things about press coverage and giving people free mouse mats. (Do people still use mouse mats?) Apparently exciting things are happening with the US layout. We've got a new UK cover (black with shiny bits, ooh: I heart it very much). And it's now on Amazon UK, too (though the cover isn't yet, sorry). Blimey.

Fixing my wi-fi (sodding cheapo Curry's laptops, grr), West Wing season 7, eating lots of cream crackers. Though I also ate the world's juiciest pomegranate earlier, which has contrived to squirt all over my bedroom wall. I'm leaving it there as my sole contribution to the day's festivities (and hoping I remember to clean it up before anyone come round and assumes I've been decapitating people).

Monday, 22 October 2007

A Day in the Life

They say that a writer’s daily life is a rich creative seam, merely waiting for us to pluck the ‘story’ from within.

Assuming this is true, my next novel will include the heroine throwing away a tenner’s worth of food because some swine unplugged the freezer and she didn’t notice for three days. (Because of…amnesia! Yes! And the person who unplugged the freezer did it because they knew there was a severed limb inside, and they plan to blackmail the heroine, except the heroine has no idea whose severed limb it is. With hilarious consequences!)

This will be followed by eight chapters where the heroine does nothing but stand in a massive queue to buy some train tickets. (Because she is fleeing the blackmailer, you see? Except when she buys the ticket she opens her wallet and realises there’s a ‘left luggage’ ticket inside, and when she goes to redeem it, inside the locker is…a suitcase containing a million quid!) Then she goes to Sainsburys and stands in another massive queue (because obviously she’s being tailed by the blackmailer, and she wants to make out that she’s doing ordinary things, except she’s in the yoghurt aisle and she’s thinking ‘wtf? Do I even like yoghurt?’, and then when she pays with some of the cash from the suitcase, security guards leap in and arrest her for attempting to pass off counterfeit money). And then she goes home and watches the Sarah Jane Adventures. (Which will be watched from outside the heroine’s grim cell by the security guards – who are obviously fake and work for the Big Villain – because it’s very very good and even evil henchmen would be in thrall to it, and learn the error of their criminal ways purely via its gentle educational message.)

All of this will then build to a gripping peak involving doing laundry and boiling an egg. (Um…the heroine escapes and returns home to wash Eau de Sweaty Henchman off herself, and on raiding the airer has a Proust’s madeleine moment while clutching a pair of knickers, just in time for her to remember her secret ninja skills and give the Big Villain a good kicking, all within the time it takes to soft-boil to a firm yet dunkable yolk.)

Phew. No wonder I feel a bit tired.

This Observer interview with the Mighty Boosh. Noel is absurdly kidlike, Julian is surly and tired, both are very funny and the interviewer does a neat job in separating them to see what happens. Plus S3 is in a second-hand shop owned by Naboo. This cannot produce anything but greatness, truly.

I managed the glass of red wine but not the three pages. MUST REWRITE LAST THREE PAGES. Or I could delete them. No one would know. It could be enigmatic and surreal and people might debate my decision to end in the middle of a sentence for decades to come.

Random episodes of Farscape, cinnamon bagels, severed limb disposal.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Big Gay Dumbledore

So JKR has outed Albus Dumbledore, beloved Headmaster of Hogwarts. (Spoilers for Deathly Hallows below, by the way, for those behind on their reading.)

Hmm. Online reaction has been mixed (‘empowerment hurrah!’ versus ‘but you didn’t mention it in the books and also he’s dead and closeted and hang on, that’s not actually empowering at all’), and I feel similarly divided. Yes, it’s pleasing that it’s not only house elves who get a wave of the tolerance wand. Yes, it’s utterly marvellous that the audience of kids at New York’s Carnegie Hall responded to the news with delighted applause. And I do think, given that the final book turns on how little we know (and how little Harry ever bothered to find out, the div) about Dumbledore’s personal life, it’s in keeping that this too should be inexplicit.

But we're still left with the clanging missed opportunity of Remus Lupin, whose secret existence as a werewolf seemed to have been expressly constructed as an elegant allegory for homosexuality – right up until he got married. Possibly JKR wanted to duck any suggestion that ‘the gay’ is something one catches, something grim to be concealed: when one’s work is as closely scrutinised as hers by readers and far-right nutters alike, I can see the logic behind that hesitation. But why, then, did all the teenage fumblings and smirky innuendoes of the later books need to be so emphatically straight? It's unreasonable to ask a single series of books, no matter how far-reaching their influence, to broach every potential 'issue' in kidlit while also ducking accusations of tokenism. But now she's raised it herself, it feels more like a conscious omission than before - especially in the presence of an online fandom which has embraced every possible pairing imaginable, especially the 'slashy'. In the absence of even a glimpse of Justin Finch-Fletchley furtively eyeing up George Weasley, we’re left with a resoundingly heterosexual Hogwarts, complete with an epilogue that suggests that neat and tidy wives and kiddies are what constitutes a happy ending. Isn't standing up after the fact and promising she didn't mean it to look that way only a step or two from ' but lots of my friends are gay...'?

The part that really makes my head spin, however, is Dumbly’s ex. I found the inclusion of Grindelwald as a ‘proper’ character in Book 7 quite startling, since all we’d known from previous books was that he was a Dark Wizard defeated by Dumbledore in 1945. I know I’m not the only reader to interpret that as a casual (if slightly tasteless) hint at how our ‘real’ Muggle history is littered with unseen wizard intervention. But does that mean ‘Hitler was Dumbledore’s boyfriend’ is now author-sanctioned Potter canon?

Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The very wonderful gag about tapes left in the passenger footwell of a car (after two weeks they automatically transform into Queen's Greatest Hits) is evidence of how late I am to this particular party: people have been telling me I'd like Pratchett forever, and Gaiman's Coraline is categorically the most terrifying kids' book I've ever read (and brilliant with it). I should listen to people's advice more often: tis indeed a riot.

Nothing at all. Felt like a well-wrung dishcloth after last week's editing, so I gave the creative brain the week off. This evening shall be spent with a glass of red wine and those last three pages, though.

Time-travel. That is, last night I went to the indie disco wearing some DMs, danced to Rage Against The Machine, and mocked the little indie boys who have still not registered that optimisitically dancing at someone is an ineffectual way of getting a snog. Most odd to wake up and realise that it's not 1993 after all.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Adventures in Freecycling

Alas, poor Freecycle. No one wants my broken telly, but they aren't too shy to ask for a non-broken one.

The Freecycle Yahoo group works on a charmingly simple principle: Person A has some crap they will have to put in a skip; Person B would clamber into the skip if they knew where it was because that crap is exactly what they need; Magical Internet C circumvents both skip and clambering, and the crap of the world is recycled. Hurrah!

That's how it used to work, anyway. There are still noble souls providing everything from the prosaic bookshelves, bedheads and baby clothes to '12 slim maternity pads from Mothercare (unused)'. There's even a nice-sounding lady terribly keen not to let a 'half-used can of squirty cream' go to waste. (There's a subtext in there somewhere.) But one couple just moving into their new home have requested '*Dining table & chairs (4-6 pref)*Toaster*Kettle*Coffee table*Microwave*Wardrobe (pref flatpacked due to narrow stairs!!)*Small under-counter freezer*Most kitchen stuff minus pots & pans*Curtains*Lamps.' Apparently I was mistaken about that principle: actually it's 'Please deliver your skip of crap to my house, and come to think of it I'd rather nothing in it was crap, and you can make me a cup of tea while you're at it, two sugars, where's my biscuit?' Except without the 'Please'.

The 'we've just moved house' handwringing is the crucial change here, though. It's not enough these days to simply post a mild bit of begging: an X Factor-style 'I'm doing it for me dead mum, Sharon' is the only way to ensure only quality crap comes your way. That's how I know that C wants some size 10 clothes for her young daughter, whose weight problem is preventing her from buying childrenswear; that L's asking for a Christmas Tree outfit for an 8-month-old because her husband's in Iraq and she'd like to send him a photo; that ‘Wanted: To see my son’ is in fact a plea for a bicycle to help a newly-separated dad travel to see his toddler. TMI. It's like online dating, except the punters hope the fleeting attention of strangers will lead not to romance, but some shelves. I blame Facebook. Web 2.0 really has eaten that supposed British reticence, hasn't it?

(And if I sound unsympathetic, do bear in mind that a suitable bike, clothes and enough kitchenware to restock Ikea were 'offered' on the site during the week, if the 'wanted' crowd could have been arsed to look.)

Margery Allingham's Look to the Lady. 'My dear fellow,' said Mr Campion with affable idiocy, 'I have buttered my bun and now I must lie on it. And you, my beautiful, will stand meekly by.' Like a cup of tea and a hug, in paperback.

The Editathon is over! Apart from the last three pages. They aren't important, are they? I have (re)discovered that I like editing books the least of all the writerish things there are, which means I feel quite skippy and gleeful at the prospect of writing something fresh and new. Presumably this is how things are supposed to work.

Obsessively reading Freecycle pages (apparently), buying a new telly (delightedly), sleeping (fire-alarm-interruptedly).

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Down at the bottom of my garden...

Are fairies, obviously. They appear to have left these behind, though.

Squllions of them appeared this morning. Browsing suggests they may be Mycena, or Psathyrella, or possibly the Shaggy Ink Cap. (Actually, they're almost certainly not the Shaggy Ink Cap, but aren't you pleased to have learnt there is such a thing?) I do not plan to make quiche with them, however, mainly because I am crap at pastry.

Gave me an excuse to flee the desk and sniff some grass for a full five minutes, at least.

The baffling news that NBC plan to revive Knight Rider. Surely a talking car is a bit passe for Teh Kidz in these days of GPS? The Grauniad's Organ Grinder column is replete with equally daft suggestions for alternative telly revivals. Give it up, chaps: better CGI might make it possible for Manimal to turn into more than two different beasties, but just how much crime-fighting can you expect of a penguin, a hamster, a manatee? It'd be panthers and eagles all over again and you know it. But props to the person who wanted Triangle to return. Personally I'd plump for The Champions, but I'd want it to be set in the 1960s and still have Alexandra Bastedo in it...

The editing lumbers on, like a donkey through cement.

Downloading Radiohead's new album (hurrah, it's ace), wondering why no-one on freecycle wants my broken telly (they always want broken things on there normally, boo), watching the magnificent new trailer for The Golden Compass.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Greetings from Bizarro World

Dear Little Me,

You know all that time you don't spend imagining the rest of your life, because you fear it will turn out to be a bit pants and filled with gloomy window-shopping at other people's more interesting ones? Newsflash from the future:* don't worry so much, k? Because one day you will catch sight of a smiley lady wearing a lovely new green coat, skipping off a tube in London to meet her editor and talk bookishly like what writers do, and she is you.

Much love (and sympathetic looks at those awful specs you appear to be wearing),
Old Crumbly Me xx

The reality involves a handful more panic-infused deadlines and tax forms than the fantasy permits, but still: I do appear to be starring in the fake movie of my life where only nice things happen. I do hope the next scene involves me having a haircut. And that Angel isn't tied up in the basement having visions. (Not having a telly is not noticeably altering the way my brain works, nor the number of TV shows I'm watching. I really am living in The Future, whee! These bacofoil knickers do chafe, mind.)

* Where they all listen to Goldfrapp, if Heroes is to be believed (about which I would say more, except I am watching it in naughtyvision and must not spoilerise nice sisterly types).

This devastating Guardian article about the abortion laws in Nicaragua. Coupled with the latest from the US, maybe my generation has some bra-burning to do after all.

Fun With Editing. Also, Fun With Writers: my meeting managed to coincide with David Levithan, Very Important Scholastic, Inc blokey and deeply brilliant YA writer himself - if you haven't read Boy Meets Boy then you have something unique and spectacularly warm and witty to look forward to. Then I bumped into Jacqueline Wilson at Baker Street. (See? Bizarro World.) Having already fangirled one novelist that day, I didn't say 'hello, we met once about 6 years ago and I quite love you.' But I'm sure I conveyed it by my general demeanour. I bet people convey things to famous novelists through their general demeanour all the time, or they'd never have time to write.

Making pea, prawn and spinach balti, aka whatsinthefreezer?curry. Surprisingly edible.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Contains elements of Psycha-Soula-Funkadelic

My iPod has deserted me now as well. My flat's turning into some kind of Rest Home for Broken Things: they're just lying around, taunting me with their inability to entertain. I smell conspiracy, and firmly suspect my editors. And thus, as my evil overlords will be pleased to learn, I have been RRRing like billy-o.

Dean Lorey's Nightmare Academy: Charlie's Monsters (HarperCollins, out in March 08): one of those random freebies I'm lucky enough to get paws on these days. It shall I put this...familiar? There are very few stories we all know inside out and backwards: the little tale of a garden with two nekkid folk and a snake in a tree; that one where the wheezy chap says 'No, Luke, I am your father'; the story of the Boy Who Earned. It's a hackneyed and usually daft criticism, comparing every kids' book published to Harry Potter as if Rowling invented schoolrooms or wizardry: the first resort for reviewers who've never actually read any other kidlit to namedrop. But when the first book in a series whisks our boy hero (an oddball who appears to possess strange abilities) off to weird school (after 100 pages, most of which could be snipped quite happily), where he meets a gobby dopey boy and an slightly irritating 'clever' girl, it's hard to dodge.

There are some pleasing scares, and enough gore to keep 10-year-old boys quite happy: as much Darren Shan and Jamie Rix as JKR. But the characterization is thin and often reliant on stereotypes (cowboys, Southern matrons) that seem to have got sunk on the Atlantic crossing, and the same is true for rather too many of the gags - a surprise, since Lorey's previous job was as writer and co-exec producer for the much-missed Arrested Development. Not at all terrible, but not really good enough, I fear, with Potter looming over its shoulder.

Alas, rewrites of the rewrites! I am being taken in hand by my two lovely editors, who sadly saw through my usual editing technique of 'Insert More Jokes (and hope this distracts them from the parts where you haven't really changed anything)' and want me to do some proper hard work involving Thinking. All I need now is a time tunnel and to quit both my other jobs, and we're set. Editing down to the wire like this is actually vaguely enjoyable, in a 'punishing self at the gym' kind of way: you know it makes you a better writer, even if you'll smell a bit by the end. But it's all undercut by a mild sense of terror. I don't just have a responsibility to my lovely publishers, but also to my book, the one in my head, the first draft, the seven that followed, and to all the people who read it along the way and liked THAT bit best. I want to be kind and fair and respectful to all of these. I want, fundamentally, not to mess it all up at the last hurdle. (I doubt you've ever seen me hurdle, but I'm not exactly a natural. Perhaps I should hope not to mess it up at the last cup of tea instead.) Fingers crossed, anyway. Not that that'll help the typing.

Sorting out a bag of Haribo Micromix into the four major food groups (fake licorice allsorts, the ones a bit like cross-sections of fuse wire, nasty jelly things, cola bottles) and ensuring I only consume a balanced handful at a time. Never let it be said I don't know how to enjoy a Friday night.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Never was a story of more woe...

I've been dumped, dear reader. Cruelly and unceremoniously dumped. It's been 7 years since the relationship began and we've been inseparable ever since, curled up together night after night. Friends used to come over not just to see me, but to see us both. Sometimes I'd turn down a night out with them so we could have a little quality time, just the two of us. But I get home tonight and boom! It's over.

No one should be abandoned like that. There should be some build-up, some subtle hint that things are drawing to an end: a furtive eyeroll at my efforts to channel-hop so efficiently I can watch two programs at once; a dismissive sigh as Buffy S4 goes in the dvd player again. True, there was that nagging problem with the right-hand speaker that would go off in a sulk every now and then. But I thought we were working through that! I compromised! I waggled that bloody SCART cable and twiddled the aerial and ignored how there wasn't a second SCART socket so I had to stand on my head and perform spaghetti-unravelling every time I wanted to watch a video! WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT, EH?

I do have a confession to make. Lately, I have been thinking of, well, 'trading up'. I've been looking at other televisions: sleeker, slimmer televisions, with 'on' buttons that work first time. I felt guilty at first, but now? When that first advance cheque comes through, mister, expect to find yourself well and truly replaced. And don't think I'll be pining for you, either, because my new honey is going to be widescreen. Size matters, k?

Inappropriately attached to my telly? Moi?

Naturally, this happens after I spend a weekend chained to the laptop getting the (hopefully?) final draft of the book done and dusted, and thus at the precise moment where all I want to do is loll slack-jawed in front of due South repeats. But I'm less distraught than I was when my laptop performed the same trick back in May, which was frankly so upsetting that I almost considered buying one of Siralan's Emailer phones. (I said almost.) I am suffering from the usual 'there's been a power cut' goldfish mentality: can't watch Neighbours, bugger, ah well, Friends is probably on E4 instead...oh, hang on... But between the laptop dvd player and the likes of TV Links, I have a pretend telly of sorts. Does this make me a desk potato?

Missing Flight of the Conchords and Charlie Brooker again, though. Second week in a row. I shall be making sure not to walk underneath any grand pianos next Tuesday...

Richard Morrison's daft scaremongering in The Times: I knew this bloke who died in his 30s, therefore universities are evil.

Notes for book 2, god help me.

More My So-Called Life on dvd. Why the hell was there only one season of this?