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?