Sunday, 6 April 2008

So long, and thanks for all the fish

I hate you all and I'm leaving the internet FOREVER!!!1!

(Memo to Self: work on my convincingness.)

I am leaving this particular spot, alas, but you can now find me Reading, Writing and Rocrastinating at my shiny new gaff, (Took me hours to come up with that catchy name, honestly.) No RSS/direct email yet (bear with me), and there's still a thing or two that needs a spit and polish, but I'm quite fond of it already.

The latest blog is here. (Warning: contains dalek.) You do need to fill in a name and email to comment, but I promise not to sell them on for magic beans.

Oh, and my book's out. It's called Big Woo. In case I didn't mention that. If you felt like buying it, I wouldn't dream of stopping you. If you felt like reading it after buying it, I would suggest that you were only doing what came naturally. And if you wanted to write a review of it on the internet telling everyone it's really quite good, then it would certainly be nothing at all to do with me, nor the biscuit/pony/hard cash I might offer in return. :)


Monday, 24 March 2008

Sighted: the Lesser Spotted Bigwoo

Despite not being officially released into the wild until April 7th, eagle-eyed genius MG has spotted this rare bird in Oxford Waterstone's. Quick, someone call Bill Oddie!

The Lesser Spotted Bigwoo is by nature quite timid, but its magnificently shiny plumage should make it easy to locate. If in doubt, apparently look for it amidst books about cake. And geese. (Yep, I'm in the Cake & Geese section. Who knew?) And do please report any further early sightings of this fine fowl: it's quite exciting seeing it on a shelf like that...

Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris (adult, contemporary). Office workers at a failing ad agency trundle through their mundane lives, which are shared through a collective voice. I haven't come to the end yet, however, so I'm not in any position to pass judgement: so far file under 'interesting conceit, but actually quite uninvolving'.

Musicals! Everyone loves musicals, right? Right? *looks hopeful*

Finally getting round to watching Die Hard 4 (liked the way they didn't bother pretending it was in any way related to the other films: didn't like the startling chunk of misogyny and racism that was applied to one character); eating very fine tortilla (and salmon, and risotto, and cheese, and actually I'm quite full just thinking about it); wondering why The Great Escape isn't on.

Sunday, 16 March 2008


(For those living under a rock/on the wrong continent, that's Ryan Jones, Captain of the Welsh rugby team, celebrating our glorious grand slam in the Six Nations. He looks quite happy, y?)

Sport is mostly a dull thing to me. I was your typical specs 'n' textbook brainiac in school, and PE lessons rolled around on the timetable like a twice-weekly Room 101, performed in bri-nylon hotpants. The only time I ever threw a javelin, it went backwards. Hurdles, being at the approximate height of my armpits, were a bit of a challenge. I did make the school hockey team, but as goalie, a position where the only skill involved is intimidating the opposition by wearing really enormous clown shoes. Watching sport therefore tends to reduce me to a pimply-legged shivering 14-year-old, attempting to do cross-country half-naked through the streets of my home town to the sonorous hooting of passing cars.

But not rugby. It's not a sport in Wales, not really: it's a fandom. You buy the shirt; you argue about the team selection, favourites, past glories; you bellow like a loon at the telly, as if volume alone can spur your heroes on to glory, and then dissect and revisit and delight. It's like Doctor Who, only with really muscular thighs.

For me, too, there's a whopping chunk of nostalgia: going into Cardiff on match days to mooch round the shops and soak up the atmosphere, then home to line up on the sofa and holler (with a half-time cake to soothe nerves). The real joy is that I grew up watching the 80s, when we were mostly crap. And now? Well, look at Ryan's face. :D

I keep failing to babble properly about Scarlett Thomas's The End of Mr Y - partly because I'm not sure I can describe it. It's a university novel: Ariel, impoverished student, is writing a PhD on 'thought experiments' in philosophy and literature while conducting an inappropriate affair and trying not to starve to death. It's a book within a book: The End of Mr Y is a deeply obscure Victorian novel, said to curse anyone who reads it. It's a sci-fi fantasy with bonus time-travel: the cursed novel isn't fiction, but a key to a parallel world. It's a thriller with evil agents and death threats, a romance, a genuinely complex and thought-provoking reflection on relationships, on time, on selfhood. It's twelve books at once, and yet it never for a moment feels muddled or overstretched. Fascinating, intelligent, witty, brain-breaking - all the good things. I loved it. (I'm told by several that her PopCo is equally good: one for the Big List Of Things To Get Round To Reading.)

Biscuits & Lies progresses in lurches rather than leaps and bounds, but progress is progress. I'm still having fun with it, anyway (it's reached the 'Susie makes herself get some work done by coming up with stupid jokes' stage, which is quite fundamental to my working routine). Publication of Big Woo (April 7th! That's actually quite soon!) continues to impend. I'm still working on The Website, but all will be unveiled once there's some 'all' to unveil. In the meantime, the US bound proof (a pre-publication version they send out to drum up interest) has already got a few bloggers Stateside talking, and in glowing terms too. Woo!

Suspecting my house is trying to kill me (ceilings falling down, microwaves on fire: Coming Soon: LOCUSTS!); watching Sunshine (an interesting take on the 'people trapped inside a spaceship' genre - but what the hell is the glittery gold spacesuit all about? Did no one tell the costume guys that the official colours of space travel are white and silver?); painting my fingernails Incredible Hulk green.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Adventures in CSS

Not as much fun as adventures with CSS, I'd reckon.

Or indeed the Go! Team, who I saw this week and are still so. much. fun live. It's like being in an unusually kawaii school assembly run by Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem: all splitting the crowd down the middle for a singalong and prescribing the appropriate timing of one's pogo. Gig was much enhanced by the doorman asking me for ID (and being hilariously floored when I told him my age), a bloke on the way out telling me I had 'the best hair I've seen in ages. Well, six months', and a random after-gig club with a playlist from Grandmaster Flash to the theme from Neighbours. Anyway, here's Ladyflash for the uninitiated.

An interesting piece in the Times about how internet nerds are all girls these days, except in the world of programming. I'm depressed by the 12-year-old who thinks that girls only like the communicative fun bits and should leave the techie business to the boys (especially the day after International Women's Day): maybe our schools need to be wallpapered again with the IT equivalent of those cheerfully grimy girls in boiler suits waving spanners to encourage us to become mechanics. (And let's ignore the fact that I've been living up to my gender stereotype all weekend, harassing Wordpress templates into minimal degrees of submission and wishing it was all laid out a bit more visually.) Then again, is content really a lesser species than code? Web 2.0 isn't just about the back end being Open Source so we can fiddle with it: it's about simple elegant interfaces which let you get on with writing. Bet that 12-year-old grows up to be a journalist...

Not a lot of B&L writing due to the aforementioned Wordpress harassment (more on that soon, once there's anything worth looking at), and scribbling some Big Woo promotional material. Imminent publication: it's like having a proper job or something.

Watching Wales v Ireland and actually getting a bit teary (I am so proud of the boys, bless them, and now I've heard about the gouging I feel less cross about us earning 2 sin bins); finding out that someone very lovely is getting married, hurrah; eating pearl barley; moaning about Ashes to Ashes Alex Drake's bra strap.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Do Not Adjust Your Set

Thank heaven the writers' strike is over. Listed as in 'active development' by Production Weekly:

Producer: Tyra Banks. After being electrocuted to death on the runway, a leggy model finds she can't enter Heaven without first returning to Earth and doing good deeds to earn her way in.

Is it wrong that I really, really want to see that? (Also: I should pitch 'Zinnia Zmith: Googlenurse' to the CW. They are on the special medication.)

Paul Cornell (he of 'writing some Doctor Who I adore and some I despise' fame - not that that singles him out particularly) says British telly needs the US system of writers' rooms. I suspect he's right - nicking the 'showrunner' concept without the 'other people, also possessing good ideas' to go with it is like recruiting Hannibal without the A-Team, and your plan's never going to come together when there's no one to fly the helicopter/be a manwhore/pity any fools in the vicinity - but it's still a concept that breaks my brain. I talk all the time while I'm writing: bits of dialogue, bits of backstory, bits of me shouting 'shut up and type you arsewit', the works. But that's the sort of conversation probably best had with oneself, no? Or is a writers' room full of people doing that all at once, in a super-efficient time-saving fashion, with free biscuits? That, I could learn to love.

The End of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas: will babble properly when I've finished, but basically it's your average Coraline meets Heidegger via Samuel Butler and a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Brilliance.

Frankly pathetic progress on B&L. But I've been having some pleasingly daft thoughts about Big Woo-related shenanigans and shiny author websites...

Compulsive Prison Breakery (T, it seems ungrateful, but I feel I must share this with you); smirking at the zen calm of Garfield Minus Garfield; discovering the sprouting lentil; wondering if Ewan McGregor can possibly have needed the money quite this much.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

I went to London and all I got was...

...champagne and lovely lunch and boooooooooooooooooks! Oh, glee. It's not in the shops till April, so until then you'll just have to make do with a rubbish cameraphone picture which in no way conveys the sheer SHININESS of the beautiful wee thing. And the inside looks even more pretty. I love it to bits, I do.

I might be convinced to part with one or two - mainly to stop me from spending the next six weeks in a giddy stupor, unable to stop just gazing lovingly at its shiny woo-some self. You'll have to be very persuasive, though. I am open to all forms of bribery involving either tea or cake. Let the bidding commence!

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine (YA 12+, contemporary fiction). I loved her debut last year, Finding Violet Park, and we're in similar territory here, with another teenage hero struggling with the responsibility of taking on an adult role within a family. FVP's Lucas was trying to become his missing father while searching for him: Broken Soup's Rowan has to play parent to both her little sister and her ailing Mum, in the absence of her dynamic big brother. There's romance too, and a puzzle to solve - but unlike her first book, precious few laughs. Yet however much I found myself missing Lucas's sly little asides, there's really no place for them in this heartbreaking story. Any reservations I had about the meandering plot and the slow place were crushed by the latter half of the novel, in which difficult subject matter and a slightly creaky plot twist are handled with such skill that there is not one false emotional note. Not fun, exactly, but absolutely worth the work. (Contrast Anne Kelley's The Bower Bird, winner of the 2007 Children's Costa and the last in my trio of 'books about kids at death's door', which I will be kind enough not to pass comment on. If you can't say anything nice...)

Writing? I have no time for writing! I am too busy meeting sales reps and being taken out for lunch by my editor!

Compulsively listening to the Moldy Peaches and Kimya Dawson (baa baa, yes, I know); being in Wales; ice-skating (which apparently is a Thing I Can Do now: how odd); becoming strangely obsessed with Masterchef (though if Emily doesn't win, this will lead to sulking).

Monday, 11 February 2008

Blue is the colour

Hurrah! According to the Grauniad, the blue Smartie is set to make a comeback. The blue smartie is undeniably king, just as the brown M&M is a shoddy waste of time. The blue smartie might be hiding unknown Wonkaesque strangenesses beneath its shiny suit. The brown M&M will never contain anything but chocolate.

Which reminds me: why oh why did they discontinue these? It's a surprise, and some chocolate, and a really pathetic model of a crocodile on a lilo. Oh, hang on, that was Kinder eggs. Same weird mixture of different types of chocolate, though. M&S have stopped doing their layered thing with dark, white and milk all at once, I see. Am I the only one that likes these things?

Finally finished The Joshua Files: Invisible City by MG Harris (10+, contemporary adventure): thank god I managed to have the last 100 pages to myself without distractions, as I would have throttled anyone who interrupted. I will admit here and now the author is a mate (you'll find a link to her blog over on the right), but sod bias: this truly is the real thing, a brilliant modern thriller-with-a-brain which starts strongly and then absolutely soars. Josh Garcia's life turns upside down when his archaeologist father mysteriously dies in Mexico, sending him in pursuit of the fabled Ix Codex, a mythical Mayan text which it is death to touch. All the classic ingredients are here: a coded letter, torn in half, containing a prophecy; a sinister organisation in pursuit; stakes that get raised from the mundane (proving his father wasn't unfaithful to his mum) to the epic (potentially saving the world). But alongside the Bondesque car chases and exotic locations, there's genuine heart. Josh is challenged not only by the usual gun-waving types but also by heartbreaking personal loss, and the sensitive way his emotional state is handled - without ever detracting from the pace - is what makes this such a memorable rollercoaster to ride.

It's the first in a series, and if it isn't hugely successful the world has gone quite, quite wonky: climb aboard now to reserve your smug expression for when it goes global. And if you can't remember the title when you're in the bookshop, it's that incredible neon orange glowing book you can see from 30 feet away...

Half high-speed sledging down a hill going 'wheee!', half sitting in an igloo all alone. Big Woo went to print on Friday (except that it didn't, but hopefully will today), there's a bound proof of the US edition on its way across the Atlantic, exciting things are popping up in the trade press: all quite skippiness-inducing, if distracting. But Biscuits & Lies is limping along (mostly notes and ideas and new bits of plot still, though there are actual whole paragraphs that might one day see print now). And my igloo has a kettle.

Cloverfield (brilliant, clever, go and see it), Juno (brillianter, cleverer, go and see it even quicker-er), epic curry (homemade pakoras, korma with real coconut, eleventy-vegetable balti: was more impressive before I fed it to someone allergic to anything spicy, oops), making a Mii for the Wii that looks like Justin Lee Collins, failing to not read ONTD, squeaking with delight at the rugby, going out for coffee a lot, writing this during official 'work' hours, thinking a bit too much about chocolate (see above).

Monday, 28 January 2008

Farewell Christopher Robin, 1669

I'm officially novelisting as the day job: hurrah! No more guided tours from me.

It was time to stop: I was starting to sound like Mark Gatiss doing the Stumphole Cavern sketch every time I talked about ceiling bosses. But I will miss being asked about architecture and history and where the toilets are, and quite often knowing the answers. I'll miss the little ripple of laughter I always got from the obligatory Shakespeare anecdote. Above all I'll miss being able to call this 'the office':

Kiddie deathlit: like buses, apparently. Second of the 'three came along at once' is Jenny Downham's Before I Die (YA, hardback). Like Sam in Ways to Live Forever, Tessa has a list of things to achieve before her terminal illness wins - but Tessa is 16, so we're into sex, drugs, rock and roll territory. There's something mournfully pedestrian about Tessa's list, and about her life in general, however extraordinary her circumstances: she's an unflinchingly horrible teenage girl, whose real tragedy is that she'll never live long enough to grow into the gentler, more interesting woman lurking beneath. Just as unflinching is her best friend, Zoey, retained because she's the only girl in school selfish enough to ignore Tessa's illness, yet utterly destructive to be around as a result (until she undergoes her own emotional renaissance). The prose is striking, recalling most the powerful simplicity of Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Sadly towards the close, it becomes overlong and repetitive, with an infuriatingly self-indulgent fifty pages at the end that makes you long, guiltily, for the inevitable. But it's a memorable, if gruelling, read. I'd have some chocolate on standby if I were you.

Next up, The Bower Bird, about, er, a girl with a terminal illness. Then again, I did receive a certain adventure story with a glowing neon orange slipcover from Amazon just this morning...

Advice on how to not be daft online, for the endpages of Big Woo. Did you know that the internet is a train full of spidermonkey enthusiasts? No, I have no idea either.

Being a domestic goddess (minus the hoovering), gossiping wildly with my now-ex work colleagues, watching Primeval even though it's awful, failing to go to the cinema.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

fumbly, mumbly, little bit stumbly

In trying to nail a new character voice, I've realised my productive vocabulary is miniscule. But my fantasy vocabulary is thriving.

Channel 4's Shrink Rap is a 'dumbly and unpleasantly titled series', said A.A. Gill in yesterday's Times. Which is true, but apparently open to misinterpretation: pronounce the 'b' in dumbly and voila! you have a whole new word for a sort of plodding doughy ordinariness, with just a hint of a twinkly-eyed wizarding headmaster to make it forgiveable.

(I'm trying to ignore the rest of the review, where Gill declares that the most morally unsettling aspect of Pamela Connolly (nee Stephenson, of Not the Nine O'Clock News/married to Billy/qualified shrink fame) interviewing Chris Langham (of Not the Nine O'Clock News/sacked from The Muppets/imprisoned for viewing images of kiddie porn notoriety) is her haircut. There were interesting things to say here about the responsibility of documentary producers, and the nature of our confessional culture: instead we get a middle-aged man feeling affronted by a middle-aged woman daring to not look dowdy. He also seems to have some difficulty with Dawn French who is, apparently (wait for it)...fat. Heavens. However is he to survive under this onslaught of imperfect, not under-25 women, poor lamb?)

Back to words: I spent much of my childhood indulging in accidental neologisms due to not wanting to look thick before my brainy family, and thus never asking what anything meant. I'm not sure it's done me any harm, though. How much more fun is life when a terpsichore is a medieval musical instrument, or a heliotrope is a da Vinci-era prototype helicopter?

Ways to Live Forever, Sally Nicholls (YA, contemporary fiction, first novel). 11-year-old Sam is dying of leukemia, and we already know how this story ends. So far, so miserable, no? But this really is a beautiful book: wistful and filled with I-appear-to-have-something-in-my-eye moments, certainly (especially whenever Sam details, calmly and without commentary, the words of his agonised, awkward parents), but still studded with hope and wit. I met the author for a millisecond the other day (she's a Scholastic stablemate: they've been raving about her forever, now I know why), and she is scarily young and clearly lovely. Only 23 when she wrote it, says the blurb: blimey. One to watch out for, I'd reckon. Also whizzed through Penelope Lively's Ghost of Thomas Kempe. They don't make them like that no more - or rather, they don't publish them. Dated, but there's a lovely subtext about history and where one fits into it.

Correcting the galley proofs for the UK edition of Big Woo, at speed as we're on the most insane schedule. I love proofs: it's the first time you start to really feel it's a book, not a manuscript. They also allow you to pretend to be a proper writer: 'Sorry, darling, will call you back when I've finished with the proofs for my new novel' is one of those sentences you dream about saying, just a little bit.

Watching Babel (genuinely excellent, though it emphasises the fragility of our little lives too acutely for comfort); yoga class (I'm so rubbish at this time of year: ow); Buffy and Torchwood and Farscape and can you tell I'm supposed to have been writing this weekend?

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Vitamins, incoming!

Step 903 on The Path To Conceding One's Undeniable Oldness: cancelling the dvd delivery subscription in favour of an organic veg box. It's like the moment I finally switched off Radio 1 for good, and decided to wake up to John Humphreys badgering politicans of a morning like the grown-ups do. (Apart from the bit where I just rent my dvds from somewhere else now.)

Anna Pickard's 'oh bloody hell, what am I supposed to do with THIS weird vegetable?' blog has been quite the godsend during the initiation period.

But now I've got one of these. Roughly the size of my own head. I like mashed swede as much as the next unusually-
fond-of-root-vegetables person, but there's a limit. Suggestions? Otherwise it's going to end up in my fennel risotto, and that's probably a bit too experimental...

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. Teen romance which has spawned two equally successful sequels, there's a movie in the works, everyone and his dog has read it, etc. So far it appears to be Buffy, minus the jokes and the feminism. Because those weren't in any way integral to making Buffy brilliant. *sighs* Possibly I've been ruined for this sort of thing by Diana Wynne Jones' The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which has left me with a certain disdain for any character whose eye colour sometimes flashes to symbolic black, or whose hair is in improbably metallic. ('Bronze'? Really?) And waiting till page 120 for her to realise he's a vampire, when the blurb told us that? But perhaps the heroine will suddenly start hitting things or having witty, characterful friends or something.

Layouts and edits and advances, oh my! The UK page layout of Big Woo is shaping up very beautifully indeed (despite today's discussion of possible changes taking place on a malfunctioning speakerphone at their end, with much juggling of coffee and banana chunks across a windswept quadrangle at mine). US bound proofs should be done in a couple of weeks. And I met up with my writing group at the weekend, who were their usual gloriously inspiring and encouraging selves regarding Biscuits & Lies. Nothing puts me in positive writing mode so well as curry and fireside chat with that lot.

Prison Break S1 (still only on episode 11, but gosh, yay, etc), and lots of carrot scraping.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Take off shoes, Take off socks, Lift foot and hope

Happy New Year, etc.

As befits this festive time of year, I am feeling a bit too full of crisps to construct much in the way of sense. Thankfully, amongst my many fine gifties was a desk calendar offering me daily suggestions, nay requirements, for procrastination. It’s like having a proper job, only without the annoying need to not be in pyjamas, or that pesky salary. As a result, despite having spent much of the last week doing an impersonation of a drowsy limpet stuck to a pillow, mental muscles have still been flexed. It’s like a pencil-and-paper Facebook. Two days into 08 and already I have joined some dots, decided whether Morecambe or Wise is best (not really a fair fight, alas), and concluded that To make best use of the resources we have, all old car tyres will now be used to make…polomints for our Iron Man overlords, naturally. And what have you achieved, eh?

The only difficulty is restraining oneself from skipping ahead. Already I’ve sneaked a peek, and tomorrow I get to write a play in four lines and draw a fake Andy Warhol, all while pretending to be working. Genius!

Dick Francis, because my brain is cabbaged. Also Oliver Burkeman’s rather endearing end-of-year summation of Web 2.0. I feel quite fortunate to be part of that bridging generation that feels securely part of both worlds, pre- and post-internet. I may occasionally still talk about ‘albums’ like a decrepit old bat, but I’ll weather that if it means I can retain a little Spielbergian sparkle about what we thirtysomethings like to call ‘modern technology’. I remember when Virtual Reality was putting on a hat that made you look like Predator and having to float in a billion-dollar duckpond, and now there’s a Wii next to your telly and Bob’s your relative - which I appreciate all the more for knowing that WiiPlay Air Hockey is basically Pong with more flailing and a faint subtext of lightsabres. Internet, you are my fifth limb at the very least. Don’t go changing. Except to be more shiny and filled with silly toys, naturally.

This is slightly humiliating, but I appear to have accessorized myself in the style of my new heroine. Or rather, I bought two bracelets today in the sales, which are currently savaging chunks out of my laptop but which seem to be encouraging my brain in useful, thinky-type directions. I’ve done talking to myself in character, and leaping about the room to test out dialogue and scene-length, but dressing up is a new one. Trust me to do it with someone who thus far appears to model themselves on Vince Noir’s Camden Leisure Pirate…

Being annoyed by most of the Christmas telly (except Ballet Shoes, which was adorable); seeing in the New Year in the company of The Professionals instead of real, non-1970s people due to poorliness; preparing for a challenging speaking role; eating very much too much for too long oh god where is the gym again?