Monday, 30 April 2012


For my birthday I jumped on the e-reader bandwagon and bought a Kindle Touch.  I was quite excited when it arrived - a new gadget to play with is always fun - and it turned out to be very easy to set up. 

 I love books, and always have.  I feel a great sense of loyalty to real, printed books, and have been sceptical about having an e-reader. I was attracted, though, by the idea of not having to store books I know I won't revisit, and by the ability to access self-published books, whether mediocre or not. (I'm told you can learn a lot from a badly written book, too).

So I held my shiny new Kindle in my hands, and deliberated on what to buy. With my first ever wage from a Saturday job, I bought two books, which I still have and treasure - a dictionary and Birdsong, which I had coveted for months. (If only I had known what a beautiful book Birdsong was, it would have only increased my anticipation). In the end I bought a famous book I've never had the slightest inclination to read before, which was only 49p.  And then I began.

And instantly fell out of love with my Kindle. For all the times I'd worried I'd miss the physicality of a real book, I hadn't fully appreciated what I would miss until it wasn't there.

I missed seeing the cover. I missed hefting it in my hands, and feeling how slim or thick it was. I missed being able to savour the moment before you begin, when you read the blurb, and drink in the individuality of the thing. (Every book has its own identity.  Even different editions of the same book 'feel' different. But I hadn't realised that without a hands-on experience, I wouldn't be able to discern any identity. It was like trying to strike up a relationship with a robot). I tried fiddling with the font size, but it messed up my sense of the page.  I felt cramped trying to read, as if I was being forced to take in a panorama by peering through a letterbox. I hadn't realised before how much of my reading is not word by word, or even sentence by sentence, but is page by page - how I like finding my way through paragraphs I can see, and being able to chart my own progress across a two page spread, instead of hopping disfluently across a fragment of a page. And you can't tell how far through the book you are. Or flick back to check on a fact you didn't take in as well as you ought, finding your way through knowing what the page looked like, and which side the information was on.

I was sorely disappointed.  I mentioned it to two friends on the school playground as we waited for our children, and one, a convert to the e-reader, suggested that I read a familiar book first, and give the one I had bought a miss, for now.  It seemed like a helpful suggestion, to lessen the unfamiliarity of the medium, so I'm now reading Pride and Prejudice.

It is better than my first experience. It isn't, somehow, as satisfying as holding a book (give it a bit longer). I especially dislike the way that words which ought to be italicised are capitalised instead - it feels like being shouted at. Do all e-books do this? And the proof-reading hasn't been done as well as you usually find in printed books. But it's easy on the eye, and, as my converted friend says, no-one will ever know if I'm reading trash.

I'm going to withold my judgement for now.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Selling Out

I'm working on a short story at the moment, and squirming.  I'm aiming it at a particular audience, which means I'm having to adjust the way I would naturally write it, and this goes against so much advice about being true to your voice, and writing what you want, not for a market.

But money doesn't grow on trees, and I'm trying to establish myself as a writer.  This is a route to publication that I'm keen to explore.  And it takes a certain amount of skill to write for a particular audience, surely?  Copy-writers, for instance, get on and write what they need to to bring the pennies in, and are just as skilled with words and what they do as the next writer.

This is all theoretical.  Writing short stories is pretty tricky stuff, and getting published just as tricky.  Getting a story that's interesting - or even gripping! - into such a tight form is an art in itself.  I'm nowhere near getting it right, but I'll be nearer if I can keep writing them, and keep sending them out during this time when I can't focus on my novel the way I'd like to.

And that's the other thing, I suppose.  I love working on my novel.  I get lost doing it.  On the other hand, I'm very conscious of myself as I write short stories, trying to manipulate my words and the story. (Not a bad skill to hone).  I'm not as happy with what I'm producing.

So am I doing the right thing, or not?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Saying is believing

Friday felt like a good day. I had a self-satisfied feeling at the end of the day, which I thought was a vague, fuzzy sense of well-being following a day when I had achieved a few ticks on my to-do list. It took me an hour or more of smugness before I recognised it was mostly down to one item on my list: at last, two weeks past my self-imposed deadline, I had posted off a submission. I wasn't sure how good it was; I chided myself for hoping too much...but! I had kept the promise to myself.

And it makes me feel like a writer, even though I am typing this post one-handed with a small, warm baby snoring against my chest. I am a writer, I am a writer....

Monday, 16 April 2012

Singing the praises of touch-typing

When I was eighteen, and dragging my heels about going to University, I ended up with glandular fever (courtesy of a boy who broke my heart).  I had a year at home with my Mum and Dad, being ill and recovering, and living on waitress wages and benefits.

During that strange, fallow time, Mum told me I was going to go to night school.  Paralysed, at the time, by socialising, I resisted as long as I could, but she was determined and persuasive. So off I went to touch-typing classes, and Mum dug out some leviathon of a type-writer from the dusty back of her wardrobe. It had perfectly circular and quite delicious keys, a decisive return action and reassuringly loud clacks when used. I practised and practised on Mum's dinosaur ('the quick brown fox...') as well as on the smug electric models at class.  I was brave enough to talk to a couple of the other students, and gained confidence that helped propel me towards University. But most importantly, I came away able to touch-type.

 This class isn't offered by our adult education department anymore.  But I feel grateful to my Mum every time I watch someone else tapping away with two fingers, or when I'm typing up teaching plans at top speed. But most of all I appreciate it when I'm writing, and my fingers fly nearly as fast as my thoughts.  The letters appear onscreen with accuracy that still amazes me, requiring no conscious thought now; and, even more astoundingly, my fingers correct typos and stumbles before my brain fully registers they have been made. I think this is a skill I appreicate having gained more than any other in my life (barring the obvious early skills such as reading and making friends); perhaps even more than driving. Why don't we teach every child to type in this digital age?

It's never too late.  I'd highly recommend learning to every aspiring writer out there, even if you write with pen and paper first.

Murdering my darlings

Today an hour's session of writing turned into two, the way it does when you become absorbed.  I worked and worked on the story I'm trying to submit; first getting rid of kinks and weaknesses, then polishing the language, and finally I had to cut until it hurt to fit the word count guidelines.

As before when editing short stories, I felt overwhelmed by the time it took to do that for a little scrap of 1, 200 words; how on earth am I going to thoroughly edit and cut my enormous manuscript?

I've now printed the story off to read tomorrow, in case the drastic cutting has led to any unsightly amputations of thought or muddles of plot.  After that, I must send it as it is, or miss my self-imposed deadline just to keep tweaking; and then I have another story to give the same treatment to.

Trying to keep positive and have taped the mouth of the inner critic so I can only hear her mumbling...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


I felt like a 'proper' writer two evenings ago.  The baby went to sleep like a ...well, like a baby, so I decided to tweak the ghost story I was talking about in my last post. Then I looked up submission guidelines for a couple of the women's mags that carry fiction, and, feeling inspired, began to sketch out a new short story.

A couple of hours later, and one brief doze in front of the laptop, it was complete, and when I read the rough draft yesterday, I can see the potential in it.  I'm just struggling to find time to keep going while my motivation is high. 

And I'm still struggling to keep my eyes open. 

Thursday, 5 April 2012


I just returned to the ghost story that was shortlisted in a writing magazine's competition.  I worked so hard on that, and felt quite proud of it, which is why I'd pencilled into my diary that I needed to send it to a magazine this weekend for consideration for Hallowe'en issues.

But what do I find when I re-read it? That it's pretentious, and all the careful crafting that went into it just looks try-hard-y instead of clever. There seem to be too many characters. It jolts along.

I can't really describe how disappointed I am.  Is it worth re-working and sending anyway? I don't know. It doesn't seem like typical magazine fare. But it says on my whiteboard of advice that I need to keep sending work out.  I suppose I should bite the bullet and feel the fear and all those other cliches. 

But the discouragement is deadening.