Saturday, 22 December 2007


Yes, this year I am holding Christmas in a gay roller disco.

Note the unpleasant minty-green wall which is standing in for 'tree under which to put this sort of thing'. Note also the complete absence of labels indicating which present is which. Have I cleverly colour-coded the sparkly ribbon so I can tell who gets what? Have I bollards. This could get...interesting.

Off to battle my way onto a train. May your turkeys all be golden, and my apologies if you are one of the long list of people whose Christmas cards are sitting on top of the fridge. I do love you, just apparently not enough to have ever worked out where you live.

Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveller, which is reminding me it's been a while since I've read anything genuinely 'literary'. You are the reader, reading Italo Calvino's book, which turns out to be the opening chapters of someone else's book, misprinted, which you then seek to read more of, only to discover that it too has been misrepresented, in the course of which you read another misidentified opening chapter of yet another novel, and so on, all while you slowly find yourself becoming not reader but character, narrative, plot. Extraordinarily clever, although I'm wondering if it can sustain itself for another 150 pages. That's the trouble with post-modernism: sometimes the idea is more fun than the execution.

Signatures on contracts and resignation letters. (They say you shouldn't give up your day job just because you have a book deal. 'They' don't also work nights. :P) And notes, notes, notes.

Feeling poorly because now I am on holiday and that's just bloody inevitable; ripping bits of Supernatural onto ye iPod for travel distraction purposes (tiny Dean!); wishing the Spice Girls would stop trying to act and/or sell me things; watching The Children of Green Knowe and feeling impossibly nostalgic.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

lipstick cherry all over the lens

Author Photo day, hurrah! Lovely Sadie: Make Up Lady transformed my pallid old fizzog (apart from the cold-induced red nose - so festive) into something resembling a human being. Dominic the photographer skipped about with a big flappy foil kite to make natural light suffuse me with glowiness, while shouting 'Say A Sentence!' at me at intervals. (This is to keep your face muscles relaxed between glamorous-yet-intellectual authorial smiles. Either that or he was a bit bored.) And I was fed cups of tea.

Very emphatically best of all, though: on the way out I passed the next author in the photo queue, an affable-looking chap who was introduced to me as 'Philip' and kindly asked about my book. 'And what do you write?' I asked. He looked slightly crestfallen, and mumbled something about having written quite a few books, actually, at which point I thought 'Oh arse, he's someone terribly famous, have made utter fool of self and offended him, gaaaah', until his mumbling included the words 'Mortal Engines' and OH BLIMEY IT WAS ONLY PHILIP REEVE! I adore Philip Reeve (despite evidently not knowing what he looks like). I covered my huge error by flailing at him like a lunatic and telling him he's completely brilliant, and would've gone on for about half an hour if he hadn't had to go and Say Sentences at Dominic, which on reflection was probably fortunate. He seemed to find it all quite entertaining, anyway: apparently it makes a change from people thinking he's Philip Pullman. Oh, and he was wearing a brown moleskin three-piece suit, which makes me love him all the more.

After that there were dull things like being trapped on Oxford Street for an hour and a half (they closed the tubes due to overcrowding: strangely this did not improve the bus/traffic interface), but pfft. Philip Reeve!

Jenny Valentine's Finding Violet Park, which won the Guardian Children's First Book Prize this year. Only halfway through but it's a thoroughly deserving winner already: real laugh-out-loud-with-a-lump-in-your-throat stuff. Hearing good things about the follow-up (Broken Soup, out in January) already too.

Must come up with a neat little summary for Biscuits & Lies. People keep asking me what it's about, and 'um...biscuits?' is not the answer they're hoping for if facial expressions are to be believed.

Failing at Christmas shopping decisions (even choosing wrapping paper, for pity's sake), lusting after Lyra Belacqua's Northern wardrobe (please someone tell me where I can get a hat that looks like it has a sort of woollen plate attached to the back of it?), eating fudge immediately before bed (clearly unwise).

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Reality check

I'm giving up on fiction. Reality's getting too peculiar for me to attempt to compete.

First up, we have Canoe Man, who in the space of two days has gone from a tragic amnesiac who resurfaced after being presumed dead for 5 years in true Cast Away fashion, to a fraudulent git who let his sons think he was dead so his wife could buy a house in Panama.

Then there's Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian woman who was kidnapped and spent 8 years living in a cupboard, who is taking the oh-so-predictable career move to become...a chatshow host. For those suspecting the ordeal might have left her adversely affected in the marbles department, her press release contains possibly the most chilling sentence ever constructed: “For a while now I have been considering the idea of coming out of the role of a passive media object and becoming proactive in creating media content.” With repartee like that, no wonder Parky's retired.

And let's not get into Beargate.

William Goldman, writer of The Princess Bride (both novel and film, each equally wondrous), points out that life's 'movie moments' are infuriating: his example in Adventures in the Screen Trade is Michael Fagan breaking into the Queen's bedroom, while the guards happened to be walking the corgis, and the lady's maids happened to be cleaning another bit of the castle (bless him: I'm fairly certain this isn't what 'lady's maids' do - but hey, he wrote 'My Name Is Inigo Montoya': he can think whatever the hell he likes), and the people monitoring her security buzzer happened to assume it was faulty. All true(ish): none of it any use to a writer, because it's so hopelessly improbable. As Goldman puts it: 'Truth is terrific, reality is even better, but believability is best of all.'

It all comes down to genre. Genre gives us parameters and security, as writers, readers, consumers in general: no axe-murderers for the under-5s, no portals at the back of the wardrobe in chicklit. Real life is just another genre: no random drunk blokes in the Queen's bedroom, and no dead dads coming back to life in a way that doesn't lead to a party. There are rules to our mundanity, and we quite like them. No wonder celebrities go bonkers, stuck in a universe so off-kilter it wouldn't even pass muster as sci-fi-fantasy. 'Sorry, Ms Lohan/Winehouse/Spears, but your reality is too cliched for us to apprehend it as reality. Move along now?'

Finally reading Louise Rennisons's 'Georgia Nicolson' series, starting with Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging. (Dying to know what the original title was, because I'd put money on it not being that.) I've been putting it off for fear of cross-contamination: when you're reading a really good writer you pick up on their style, and I didn't want to be channelling a snarky teenage diarist while writing...another one of those. Ahem. She's brilliant, though. I was all set to be 'read it for research, can tick that off' about it, and instead appear to be more on the lines of 'am hopelessly addicted now, please give me book fix soon?' 'I was all enigmatic, which is not easy in a beret.' Hee. Thank heaven there are about 8 more of them, or I would be grumpy.

I am definitely having my photograph taken next week. Cue much wardrobe anxiety (along with hoping my cold goes away, because the red nose will look a lot less festive come April).

Buying fairy lights and thus declaring it Christmas, failing to go to a Philip Pullman book-signing, watching Graham Norton interviewing Marilyn Manson and Nigella Lawson at the same time and throwing all that 'real life is a genre' crap out of the window.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

All I Want for Christmas Is...

One of these!

I have my own wrapping paper. Nothing is more exciting than that. This is the UK booksellers' pack, complete with text sampler and shiny mousemat. But frankly the wrapping paper is the best bit. (Don't tell anyone I said that.)

Finished Douglas Coupland's Microserfs: brilliant. Odd to read something net-based written in 95, so it's a mix of the out-dated and the strangely prescient. (Also, in 95 I was checking my non-existent email on one of those screens that only showed orange text: I suspect if I'd read it then I would've been a bit baffled. These days I speak fluent C++, of course.) Above all, it's bloody hilarious: At the Bellevue Starbucks, Karla and I discussed the unprecedented success of Campbell's Cream of Broccoli Soup. On a napkin we listed ideas for new Campbell's soup flavours: Creamy Dolphin, Lagoon, Beak, Pond, Crack. Highly recommended if you are even vaguely of the nerd persuasion.

Still at the note-writing stage of Biscuits & Lies: have assembled lots of pieces, now need to rearrange them into some kind of convincing jigsaw-type-thing. Or just start writing in the hope that they'll all leap to life and dance into place, Disney-like, as I type. *shrugs* You never know. I might be going to have my 'I Am An Author' photo taken next week, too. What does when wear when one is An Author?

Sneezing my way up the banks of the Seine in the rain (the Notre Dame gargoyles really do look like they're throwing up all over your head when they're funnelling the rain: tres amusant), failing at domestic goddesshood (I forgot to put the butter in my gingerbread dough: epic duh), getting excited about the Heroes finale tonight even though 've already seen it. Ooh, and watching the new trailer for Prince Caspian. I always loved the bit in the ruins, waiting for them figure out what had happened...