Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Points mean Prizes

Magnificent news: fellow scribbler and dear old mate Sarah Mussi has won the Glen Dimplex New Writers' Award 2007 for her children's book, The Door of No Return. I couldn't be more thrilled, not only because she's a friend, but because Door really is something special: a book aimed squarely at teens with powerful and sensitive issues at its core (financial reparations for slavery), coupled with a cracking thriller that tears you through the pages so breathlessly that you barely notice you're being educated. It's as far from an 'issues' book as you can imagine (it's hilarious, for one thing: hero Zac is a corking example of an 'unreliable' narrator) yet doesn't flinch from telling uncomfortable truths. Stuck for a Christmas present for a teenage boy, anyone?

This is the first time I've really known someone else's book from 'I've got this idea' to it being an actual object with pages and a cover and an ISBN. It's quite terrifying to imagine that every single novel you see on a bookshop shelf has gone through all those sticky moments in between: the second-guessing of the plot, the second-guessing of the very premise, all those rewrites, then the merry dance of finding agents and/or publishers, more rewrites, then the whirligig of promotion and whether you're in a 3-for-2, all observed by friends and family and enthusiastic writing groups, by which time you're on to the next one anyway because it's taken 2-3 years to get to this point (assuming if you write quite quickly)... I know all these things already, but for some reason it feels more real when it's happening to someone else. Watching the unfolding narrative of my own book-gets-published saga is participatory: I'm too much of a character, too closely involved. With someone else's I get to sit back like Hercules Poirot, observing the scene, my little grey cells all a-fizz with glee as it unfolds exactly as I would have hoped. Cheers to you, Sarah: first of many well-deserved accolades, I don't doubt.

Aaand the internet crazy just keeps on coming. Old story, newly in the mainstream media, of a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide: Making Light has an excellent round-up of the sequence of events, plus the obvious-yet-apparently-not statement of the week: What happens online is real.

Copyedits a-go-go. Sometimes WTF should be wtf. No, I don't always know why. Also: Dear Copyeditor, I'm very sorry for writing the prizewinner of Least Possible To CopyEdit 2007.

Trying that thing where you stir-fry sprouts with bacon instead of just boiling them (not half bad); being on trains and buses and feet; locking myself out of my flat bumbumbum; wondering when lazy-bastard Lovefilm are going to send me the next bit of Prison Break; almost being in Paris. This last makes me happy. When I was little I had some knickers with 'A Weekend In Paris' written on them. Clearly they were formative. :)

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Brand Names: 50% More Amusing!

I'm going through the US copyedit of serafina67 (as she'll be known over there), and giggling. Spending one's day AmericaniZing Noel Edmonds is a corking way to earn a living. (Still stumped on that one. The kicker is finding a US-translatable personality that a UK-based person might feasibly reference - which is the problem throughout: yeah, I know what a parking lot is, but that doesn't mean I'm ever going to use the phrase. See also: ass, fries, butt. I'm so highbrow.)

In the process I have discovered a universal comic truth: specific is funny. Tesco > Supermarket. Lemsip > Decongestant. Vicars > Priests. (Priests doesn't rhyme with Knickers, for one thing. Fortunately we have Nuns as a stand-in. Not much is funnier than Nuns.) Sadly, incomprehensible references aren't funny at all, which is why Mr Tesco has to take a hike. Though god bless my poor dear copy-editor for translating 'I have icing on my top' as 'dandruff'.

My American cousins, some assistance please? What are the inevitable set texts you have to study during your teens? I'm trying to translate Siegfried Sassoon (WW1 poet, force-fed to all): are Salinger and Steinbeck a bit old hat these days?

This genius example of how endlessly scary Internetland is. Every time I find one of these, it is odder than the last. *takes notes*

Get your butt under that comforter, smartass!

Fangirling vampires and teaboys, making spicy parsnip soup (twice because it was REALLY nice), plotting going to Canada and pretending that the words 'Benton' and 'Fraser' have nothing to do with the appeal of this concept.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Dedicated to the one(s) I love

Can you do us a little biography to go in the book? And did you want a dedication?

So says the email. The biography is no bother: I will take the usual bee-keeping-and-yoga-thrice-weekly route beloved of the committed CV-writer (ie resort to fiction). The dedication involves a fraction more angst. Tim Dowling was memorable enough on the point back in June for me to go hunting for his article (worth reading in full, for the copy ed’s rather sweet accidental rendering): A dedication remains…the first thing the reader sees after the title. As an author, one wants it to be reflective of the contents, or at least reassuring and inviting. The perfect dedication would also be immediately moving, or funny, or both; timely but also timeless. No pressure, then.

My first book was dedicated to my nephews and nieces (all doted upon to an embarrassing degree, given that they are now aged from 19 to 13 and, really, doting bookish auntienerds are not the ultimate teenage accessory). Since then, I’ve acquired a new niece. Clearly she deserves a dedication so she can catch up (and because she is AWESOME) – but, then, is it unfair to give her a whole book all to herself, when the others had to share? What about my sisters, who have nurtured this book along far more than the last? And my parents, who have throughout, and with extraordinary restraint, refrained from gently suggesting I should get a proper job? Then there are the friends, the editors, the virtual folks who’ve contributed just by being online. I am Halle Berry, and I would like to thank my lawyers.

I think I’ve decided what I would like to do. (Probably.) And I wrote the book, so it’s sort of up to me. But, you know, actually it's dedicated to YOU, yes YOU, no, really, YOU THAT’S READING THIS RIGHT NOW, YOU SPECIAL LITTLE PUPPY. And that bloke next to you. Him too. And his nan. So if you should feel a mite neglected by the dedication, you are a silly, because PUPPY YOU is totally included within it really.

Too many emails. Nice emails about festive shopping and unicorns, as well as the tedious work ones, but still: lots.

See above. Plus I'm playing Name That Character! which is always a bit of a laugh. (I called someone Tallulah once because it took a while to type, and thus gave me time to think what came next. Expect Biscuits & Lies' cast list to contain Geldof-esque levels of absurdity.)

Pretending that Monday and Tuesday are still the weekend, faffing in London, watching old Wire in the Blood, eating crumpets.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

I am Loaf Man, observe my sandwiches

I've realised the most annoying thing about Facebook isn't being told that someone I dimly recall from college has a cold, twice, because the first time they spelt it wrong. It's not the hours I've wasted on Scrabble, either, because that was educational and I keep winning. It's the trundling mundanity of it all, in the face of the day-glo potential daftitude of a social-networking platform.

As this wonderfully earnest to-do list amply demonstrates, half the charm of being online is coming up with a pseudonym: your alter ego, your avatar, the other, more interesting you. A name, like that of a first pet, which will echo through time to ennoble or humiliate you in later years.* Futuristic space children wearing x-ray specs will perch on your knee and ask 'What did you call yourself during Web 2.0, Grandma?': imagine how disappointing it will be to answer 'I was Wendy JonesformerlyBooth', when the likes of malevolent_crumpet were available to you.

Except that's supposedly Facebook's USP, where one may not 'impersonate any person or entity, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent yourself'. Yawn, boo, etc. (And aren't all those people who keep ninja-ing me misrepresenting themselves, or do I just not know my friends very well?)

Obsessing over screennames is something I got quite familiar with over the summer, when Beloved British Ed, myself, and everyone who dared to come near me had to try to rustle up an alternative one for Big Woo's central character.That's me, evidently paperless, tattooed with (mostly awful and hopefully illegible) suggestions. After weeks of pondering why she wasn't a julie_madly_deeply or a cinnamongirl, we gave up and went back to what we started with. In the process I discovered that virtually every ridiculous thing I came up with already existed on MySpace. Alas, young to-do lister, there are probably multiple SonOfBitches out there already. I bet he ended up deciding Loaf Man wasn't so silly after all...

* Starsky remains a perfectly sensible name for a goldfish. And I still applaud whoever it was who named their cat Graham 'because it was grey'.

Good to see AA Gill saying what surely everyone must think about Poliakoff. Tragically rich people, family secrets, a big posh house: time to delve back into the Big Box of Ideas, maybe?

It was a butterfly. :D Started Book Two last night. So far, it appears to be almost entirely about biscuits. And lies. I shall call it Biscuits & Lies, for I am the Mike Leigh of YA fiction.

Flailing at West Wing season 7, nearly making gingerbread men, realising that the only thing in my kitchen which would allow me to do so is a gingerbread man-shaped cutter, eating jelly babies instead. I really need to stop having such exciting weekends.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Brown Bess, Terror of the Seas!

Dear retailers of the ever-popular knee-high boot,

Why have you made all your boots look like wellies this year? I wish to look stylish/piratical/possessed of actual ankles, yet you are determined to make me resemble a ruddy-cheeked farm wench on the way to the cowshed. Sort it aaaht, yeah?

Yours embarassed-by-the-hole-in-the-toe-of-my-old-boots-ly,

I cracked and bought some anyway. They're brown, though. I'm not sure you can be piratical in brown. I doubt anyone would have been afraid of Beigebeard.

Finished Walk Two Moons while at work, which was unwise as it made me cry. Lots. It's a deceptively simple tale of a 13-year-old girl telling her grandparents of her friend's discovery of a family secret, while on a road trip to face up to her own: beautifully paced, genuinely memorable. Now reading Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study, which is reminding me just how long it is since I read pure fantasy that wasn't for kids. Am reserving judgement, and dusting off my willingness to read books with maps in the front that are played completely straight.

Agent phoned to check I was happy to sign a contract agreeing to deliver Book Two by the end of July. Pointed out that I've already signed another one agreeing to deliver Book Two in June. This would be more amusing if I knew what Book Two was going to be about, obviously. That idea's still fluttering about, though...

I have no time to rocrastinate, for I am filled with glee! The Champions is to be remade as a film by Guillermo del Toro. Two very wonderful things combining to make the rest of the world go 'unh?', and to make me pathetically happy. Woo!

Monday, 5 November 2007

I tend to view this nation Through the condensation

on a dirty glass...

I have conjunctivitis, and thus am bespectacled, instead of being becontact-lensed. Grr, I say. I've had contacts for decades now, after suffering through many youthful years of Jarvis Cockeresque NHS frames. (Due to not being a Sheffield-based indie-electro nerd-poet, but a stumpy Welsh schoolgirl, the potentially chic qualities in these babies - girlish pink version, natch - were somewhat lost.) The frames may have improved over the years, but I see they still haven't invented ones that don't mist up when you open the oven to see how burnt your dinner is. :(

Finished Good Omens, which is an odd mix: half-brilliance (Crowley and Aziraphale), half what-why-what-who-are-these-boring-people? (the Them), and a pay-off that just about rescues the wobbliest non-structure imaginable. Given that it was written by two people, it's tempting to wonder if the good bits are attributable to one and the, er, other bits to the other. Very funny, though. Now on Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, which came up in conversation with Beloved British Editor. I read Love That Dog a while back and liked it a lot, although it owes a lot to the likes of Beverley Cleary: this is more along the lines of 'proper novel', and although it's heading for a reveal you can see a mile off, it knows it, and is just holding your hand, touchingly tightly, along the way.

UK press samplers arrived today, so I now have a glimpse of the cover for Big Woo (minus shiny/glossy effects): very fetch. US version is in the post, but Beloved US Editor warns that the 'shocking' pink has turned out not so much Punk as Pepto-Bismol. Apparently the real thing will be less likely to invoke thoughts of indigestion. Like Jacqueline Wilson's recent overseas editions, there'll be a glossary in the back of the US one to explain what the likes of fish and chips are, which is...bonkers. No clarification for 'WTF', but 'biscuit' needs a paragraph or two? Better that than I am forcibly required to send all my characters to the Dairy Queen of an evening, though. (That's where y'all hang out, yo?) I foresee some transatlantic cackling, anyway: apparently the handful of US-based characters I've included are all a bit too 'I say, Father, might one invite Perkins for tiffin after cricket prac on Sunday?' for comfort. Got to love an editor who can mock you and make you grin in the same sentence.

Utterly failing to make progress on Book 2, but there's the ghost of an idea flying around my head. Am now waiting to swat it, and see if it's a butterfly or a gnat. Quite fun, while the deadlines are still mistily distant. (Possibly that's just my glasses. Bugger.)

Watching Stardust (oh, clingworthy film of loveliness, truly you do deserve the crown of 'A Bit Like The Princess Bride'), watching Davison-era Doctor Who (Time-Flight: just watch it with the commentary where they take the piss, or it's unendurable), watching Steven Poliakoff's Joe's Palace ( was ok? But could he possibly write something that isn't set in an outrageously posh person's house where an outsider comes in and reveals the hollow heart of it all?)