Monday 28 September 2015

Ant! (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Until You must be mad entrusted Little G into my unreliable care, I had forgotten how funny small children could be. The baby is now 19 months old and is developing her own sense of humour. I think she could easily do stand up - though in her case it would currently have to be sit-down.

Much of the humour comes from seeing what makes me laugh and then repeating it - on the basis that if it made me laugh the first time, then the same must be true for the second, third, fourth and beyond times. OK, maybe not, but it is the altruistic desire to amuse that counts. And she doesn't get a repeat fee.

One of the things Little G finds very amusing comes into the category of  Winding up Grandma.  'Yellow spoon,' she says, handing me the blue spoon. 'No, that's blue,' I say. 'YELLOW spoon,' she chortles. I correct her. 'Yellow spoon!' she crows, eyeing me devilishly.

Much mirth is also derived from shouting obscure words  'Ant!' she yells at the top of her voice as we are making our way to the bus stop. She then collapses into howls of laughter. 'Ant?' I repeated, slightly puzzled. 'Ant!' she shouted triumphantly. She can keep this up for ages, if I unwittingly play along.

I am reminded, as I am regularly bested by a small cherubic infant with a left-field sense of the absurd that rivals Kafka, that all brilliant comedians and trenchant observers of the human condition must start somewhere. And when in the fullness of time Little G makes her debut at the Edinburgh Fringe, I will be sitting in the front row of the audience, bursting with pride. I may even shout 'Ant!' every now and then. Just for old times' sake.

To be continued ...     .....

Saturday 26 September 2015

The PINK SOFA meets writer and blogger Terry Tyler

Terry Tyler is a bit of a Renaissance Woman: she reviews, she blogs, and she writes modern and historical fiction. She has a huge following on Twitter (@TerryTyler4), where she is generous with her retweeting and support of other writers. The PINK SOFA, who is always disappointed that I am not a glam blonde, is overjoyed to welcome her and has been sprucing up its cushions like mad in anticipation of her visit.

''First, I must say how grateful I am to be allowed past the hallowed portals of Carol's blog to talk about my new book.  I bribed her with cake, which I am sure she will never eat.... but she can look at and perhaps even photograph (and then tweet) it!
(I have in my head a picture of a mountain top, with celestial beings guarding the entrance to the dwelling that houses....da da daaah ~ The Pink Sofa....)

Right ~ my new book.  As I write this, The House of York is in the hands of my proofreader, who is also the first to read it.  This is always petrifying.  Until the moment another person claps eyes on your latest creation, the world and characters within are known only to you.  Sure, it all works, comes together so smoothly - you've lived with it for months, gone over and over it in your head and on your screen until you know all the ins and outs by heart.  It's only when First Reader says, quite casually, "Oh, by the way, I've started your book," that you think Waaaah ~ I hope it really does work.  Was I imagining it?  It is all just a load of rubbish?

....I am now continuing this post a week later, and The Book Is Back ~ it works, it works, she says!  I was reminded, yet again, how the parts in a novel that 'speak' to a reader might be those you didn't think particularly strong, and your favourite sections might not be theirs; and that this will, of course, be different for everyone.

So, The House of York.  It's about a family called York, and those who join with them through marriage, love affairs, business, nefarious plotting, etc.  The Yorks own a company called Parhelion, which runs health food caf├ęs and York's Wine Bars ~ in the south of England, to rival the Yates's Wine Lodges of the north.  Told from the points of view of selected cast members, the saga (for indeed it is!) spans the years 1993 ~ 2014.  I've written other family sagas, but this is 'darker', with themes of psychic awareness, good versus evil, abuse and murderous intent running through.  It is loosely based on the story of the Wars of the Roses, though not a modern day retelling, as I have done before, with the Tudors in Kings and Queens and Last Child; this true story was far too complicated to be written as anything less than a trilogy, and I am the only writer on Amazon without a trilogy to my name.  I stand alone with my stand alones!  I did have a go at a closer retelling of history, but I got to 30K words and realised that if I carried on, I'd still be writing the first draft this time next year, and it would take another year to read, let alone write.  Perhaps that's how trilogies come about, I don't know.

I hope The House of York will be out in October; it now has to be read by Mr Picky, a family member who will not allow my books into the world without his input.  This is the part of the process I fear almost as much as the day I look at Amazon and think "no-one's bought the wretched thing for days", or the first less than positive review; however, it is good to have a Mr Picky in one's entourage, as he points out the dodgy bits that no-one but those of his ilk will notice.

Now what?  Well, I'm enjoying the small break I allow myself before starting the next one; I like to have a few weeks' trimming down of the to-read-list and have already
ticked a few off this, with a satisfied nod or six.  During this 'between novels' time I kid myself I will catch up on housework, give the whole place a really good going over; I don't know why I still pretend I'll do this because I never do.

There are always so many more interesting things with which to occupy one's time, though, aren't there?  Like my current astrology feature on my blog ~ thrice a week I am featuring a different writer, talking about how the characteristics of their star sign affect how they work.  When I began asking for posts I hadn't anticipated that the response would be so great, and I have posts scheduled until the beginning of December, so far.  The subject is treated lightly and in a sometimes tongue-in-cheek way, I hasten to add.  Very, in some cases; I've had a post from a certain Mr Gemini that totally trashes the whole thing!

Oh yes, I was going to talk about what I was writing next, wasn't I?  Well, my intention had been to write a novel set in the 14th century, and I have started doing the reading for it; I love history (in particular the Plantagenet and Tudor periods) and have been working towards this for some time.  However, I realised when I finished The House of York that it was perfectly set up for a sequel, and my test reader says that, rather than being merely 'set up for', it actually needs a sequel; I already have the story in my head so might have to write that first....  I have a 'to-be-written' list as well as the 'to-be-read'!

Thank you, Virgin Media, for malfunctioning this morning, which meant that I was sans internet and thus got this piece finished instead of ambling around Twitter and emails for two hours ~ and thank you very much, Carol, for inviting me onto your pink sofa!  I hope the cake was worthy and I will, of course, remember to feed the fish on my way out.''

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Monday 21 September 2015

A Case of Mistaken Identity (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

There comes a time in every baby's development when they begins to realise they are a separate person from the adults around them and parents/carers have an important role in helping and supporting the child as they establish their own identity. According to the baby experts, that is. Sigh. If only it was that easy...

From a very early age Little G has been fascinated by her own reflection. You must be mad has a large mirror on the floor by the front door and Little G has always spent a lot of time chatting to the baby in the mirror.

She shows the mirror baby her toys and books. She checks to see if the baby in the mirror has the same food. Lately she has taken to standing by the mirror, and kissing the baby. Last week she waved happily to it and said: 'Bye bye baby' as we left. It's very sweet, but I'm not convinced she has made the connection.

The other thing Little G has always enjoyed doing from the moment she could sit unsupported is looking through my online pictures. She loves the cat pictures and the numerous cake ones. Of course a lot of my pictures are of her at various stages and whenever we come to one, I always make sure I tell her: 'Look, it's you!'

Consider my predicament therefore when, scrolling through some pictures the other day, we found a couple of Little G taken recently on holiday. 'So who's that?' I asked. Little G stared hard at the pictures for a second, then announced triumphantly: 'It's you.' Yikes, major #Granfail. I wonder what the baby experts would have to say about that? Nothing good, I fear.

To be continued ...    .....

Saturday 19 September 2015

Choosing the Write Name

The late & much lamented Victoria Collins

One of the first big decisions facing any budding author hoping to publish their novel is deciding what to call yourself. There are two options.

Option 1: Be yourself.
Plus points are that it's easy to remember who you are (until dementia takes over, when you have to rely on friends and family). And it stops that look of vague terror crossing your face when being introduced as a guest speaker. Or seeing a poster with your face and stranger's name under it.  It also makes the banking of meagre royalties easier, and stops HMRC from going into meltdown every time you fill in a self-assessment form.

Option 2: Be someone else.
Initially, that's what I was going to do. I wanted a different name for the author of Diamonds & Dust. As it was going to be my first 'adult' novel, I thought I'd like to create a new identity to go with it. And I wanted something that would place my books at eye-level on the bookshop shelf - something that not enough writers factor in when choosing their author name. (Think supermarket and bottom shelves). Plus I wanted a name that suggested the book was a historical novel. Thus Victoria Collins was born: Victoria after the Queen; Collins after Wilkie Collins, writer of the first detective novel. Great name! Or so I thought.

Alas, just as I was beginning to develop a split personality and quite enjoying it, the negative aspects of my decision began to surface and niggle at me. To launch as an unknown historical fiction writer seemed a bit risky, didn't it? How would anyone who already knew me, find me? A quick trawl on the internet also threw up a couple of other Victoria Collins. Both established writers, both with blogs. My alter-ego had competition before she'd even started.

However, 'Carol Hedges' existed as a known entity, and had a presence on Amazon, Wikipedia and other sites. It seemed daft to turn my back on what was already set up and running. So sadly, Victoria and I parted company. Purely for commercial reasons. But I like to think that she hasn't completely gone away; that she is still out there, somewhere. A spiky, scatty version of me ... in a bonnet and crinoline. Causing trouble.

Monday 14 September 2015

Mock & Roll (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

I used to think my childminding skills were on a par with that famous fictional umbrella carrying childminder: 'Practically perfect in every way'. That was before I started minding Little G. Now it is becoming more and more obvious that I am riddled with faults. Most of them are being brought to my attention by the baby, who has taken to imitating me.

''ALLO!'' she greets me, sounding like a cross between Inspector Clouseau and a South American parakeet. Personally, I wasn't aware that I said this, but apparently I do. I also wasn't aware how often I checked my watch, until Little G started doing it. Not that she has a watch. She does a very good imitation of having one though.

She is also MUCH better at giving people The Hard Stare than I am; it's really scary, I wouldn't like to be on the receiving end of it. And she raises a tiny hand in gracious acknowledgement to drivers who let us cross. I have seen people collapsing over the wheel in fits of laughter as we pass. This is how we roll.

However the ultimate humiliation came last week, when Little G was tucking into her dinner of cheese and peas (we like rhyming food) and a friend called my mobile. Having watched me for a couple of seconds, she suddenly held her spoon up to her ear, gave me a cheeky grin and started making blah-blah noises into it.

They say everyone's a critic, but my goodness don't they start young nowadays!

To be continued ...     ....

Friday 11 September 2015

Fuelling the Writing Process

Surprise has been expressed in some quarters at the amount of coffee that I drink while writing my Victorian Detective series. Lest it be thought that I spend all day sitting in front of a laptop, mainlining caffeine, I probably need to point out that the coffee cup: word count ratio also includes other writing-related activities that may take place at different times of the day and in different places but can include coffee as part of the journey.

For a start, there is thinking/planning coffee, which happens while counting the fish in the pond, re-arranging various drawers, reading the paper, de-frosting the fridge or moving objects upon the desk. Okay, I call it thinking/planning coffee, but let's be gut-honest, you know, and I know you know exactly what it is.

There is also research coffee. Research is something most writers do, especially those who write historical fiction, because every little detail has to be absolutely accurate. You can wing it, but sod's law dictates that if you do, your book will fall into the reviewing hands of the one and only world-expert in the winged area, and they will take great delight in exposing your ignorance to the wider reading public.

I use two sources for research: the internet, which is brilliant for very specific information: Victorian funerary practices, the acceptable length of mourning for different family members etc. However I also like to get out and use the local library, because there is something about the serendipity of working along the shelves and discovering something you didn't know you needed until you came across it. It's a bit like Topshop, but with books. I once found a whole page on how the Victorians decorated their Christmas trees in a book on Celebrations - and used the information in Diamonds & Dust.

Both research sources involve copious amounts of coffee naturally, although the best thing about extra-mural research coffee is that it is usually accompanied by research cake. Victoria sponge cake, of course.

Monday 7 September 2015

Talk the Talk (Adventures of L-Plate Gran)

Pushing a baby round town is giving me a whole new insight into the way we (you, I don't do this) use bad language in the street. On several occasions I have had to TALK LOUDLY to Little G as some person has passed by us, swearing liberally while on their mobile. The last thing I need is for Big Ears the Baby to tell You must be mad to **** - off.

Little G is now sixteen months old, and has a wide vocabulary. She soaks up words and songs, often joining in conversations when a word occurs that she recognises. Thus the need to monitor and sometimes censor the language she is exposed to. I am adept at giving miscreants The Hard Stare.

However there is one word she has learned that You must be mad is NOT happy about. Little G has started saying 'Wor - ah' when she wants a drink. She has picked it up from somewhere and it seems to have stuck. Thus we are out and about in town, when this little voice pipes up from the buggy in fluent Estuary English: 'Wor - ah?'

Last week I decided to have a purge on the ubiquitous glottal stop. Whenever she asked for a drink, what she got was some WaTer. Carefully enunciated and in my best Home Counties accent. Thought I'd cracked it. But the best laid schemes of mice and gran gang aft aglay. Next day, we're on the bus going to Baby Rhyme Time, when the little voice suddenly pipes up hopefully:  'Wor - Tah?'

I still have so much to learn.

To be continued ...     ....

Friday 4 September 2015

WHSmith Does Not Stock My Books

A fellow writer posits that they see similarities between Romance and Crime fiction. Not sure. At least, there may be some similarities in content (as in: ''She was struck by a piercing glance from his dark brown eyes ..'' etc). But we are totally different animals in the writing room. Yes, indeedy. Writers of Romantic fiction compose with a red rose tucked behind their left ear, and a big box of Black Magic on the desk beside them. Bluebirds sing outside their window, and small fauns gambol on the green lawns. Sometimes a white horse, ridden by a dashing male figure in breeches and a wet white shirt slashed to the waist, gallops by in the lane below.

By contrast, writers of crime fiction crouch menacingly over their keyboards, a kitchen knife gripped between their clenched teeth, ready to stab at any dark hidden depths that might float to the surface during the writing process. They write at night, furtively glancing over their shoulders every now and then, their ears peeled for footsteps coming slowly up the creaky wooden stairs. I know this, gentle blog reader, for I am such a writer. That is also why the highest award for a crime novel is in the shape of a dagger, while the equivalent prize for the best Romantic book ... isn't.

I hope we've got that sorted, though I doubt it. And so to the subject of this blog. WHSmith, bastion of pens, pencils, sticky notes and books, do not stock any of my Victorian Crime novels. I have tried asking them to, but they claim I do not exist. I do not exist because I am not on their supplier list. I am not on their supplier list because they refuse to ask for me to be added, despite numerous people locally trying unsuccessfully to order my books from them. Go figure.

It is all part and parcel of The Great Bookshop Ripoff. All bookshops demand a big discount from publishers. They then add the markup and pocket the difference. No exception is made for self/small publishers, who cannot run on such negative profit margins. This is why Amazon et al flourish, and all the whining from bookshops about poverty is purely their own fault. They could set up special deals and discounts if they wanted. Plenty of other retail outlets in different sectors do. Also big publishers PAY for table space and window space, which the rest of the smaller publishing world can't.

It is a ripoff. Both for authors struggling to get their work known to a wider reading public, and to readers who are being denied access to some very fine writers. What saddens me, as a writer of Victorian fiction, is that WHSmith started trading as a newspaper distributor, book seller and lending library in Victorian times. The first station bookstall opened in 1848, at Euston Station. They even score a mention in the 4th book. Their loss. And yours.