Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Brit Writers Awards 2012

Brit Writers Awards 2012
After weeks of secret discussions and piles of research on the growing guest list, it was very exciting to get to the Thistle Marble Arch and meet my co-hosts (Rebbecca Hemmings and Saima Mir) and all the tech crew to check out the itinerary for the evening.
By the time it was ready to go, it all looked fabulous. We all looked fabulous! I have never presented anything on this scale before so I was a tad nervous. But there was no time for that. I had to get out there, mingling and answering questions while the rock band went to get changed in my room. Ah! Where did I leave my dirty…thank you, lovely hubby, for protecting my dignity!
After the amazing young dancers who led us all into the dinner, we took the stage and wallowed in the buzz that was permeating the room. It was alive! Full of writers, performers, singers, celebrities, publishers, agents, more writers…a hum of creativity as people found like minds with whom to talk.
I had particular fun with some of our overseas guests: Mykel Hawke wanted me to tell him the winner in his category so he could practise saying the name. “Only one problem with that, Mykel,” I said, “It’s a competition – I don’t know who the winner is!” But it was a fair question – the pronunciation, that is. The BWA has become so multicultural and international the names represent the world.
My only difficulty through the event was time-keeping: every speaker was so interesting and had so much to share about the world of words, I could have listened to each of them all night but I had to keep the slots tight! We were surrounded by the most amazing wealth of experience in so many areas, it was simply an honour to be there listening.
And on top of that I got to meet my own publishers – the delightful Ronnie and Dawn of Indigo Press.
There is one very exciting year ahead. Thanks to Imran and Brit Writers for making it possible – for me, and all the fabulous finalists and winners on Saturday night.
Ps I still want an award!!
Pps Tatiana Wilson had the best shoes!!!!

Monday, 26 November 2012

India; Part 2

 Part 2: A scary day and a dark night.

The Indian guides stepped in, and two of the trek leaders flanked me front and back, taking my hand when necessary (‘just hold it, please?’) and quickly learning to block my view before I could register the next drop. By the time we made it to the bottom of this valley, crossing a bridge with no sides to have lunch by the river, I was shocked and mortified by what was happening to me. I felt too sick to swallow any food, and there was still the other side of the mountain to climb to reach where we’d camp for the night. I knew my body was empty, but we had to walk on. One of the Indian guides, Manev, said to me, ‘For you this walk is about companionship and helping hands. How very intuitive and wise: you see, I am not the sort of person who asks for help, whatever I’m doing. I push myself hard, finding it difficult to accept help from even my closest friends. And here I was, being forced to literally hold hands with strangers.

The climb up was just as bad, with the awareness that we were getting higher with every step so obviously I would have so much further to fall as I tumbled and broke my neck. I kept hearing a friend’s voice in my ear, ‘baby steps, just watch your feet and don’t look over.’ It wasn’t always easy not to look, though, and eventually I swore at it all. ‘Feck!’ The trek leader in front of me, Dave, said, “Thank goodness for that. I was having trouble with an Irish person who didn’t swear.” I laughed and told him I’d been doing my best to behave myself. From that point on, I used expletives as ammunition to attack every next obstacle the mountain threw at me: brooks over rocks and mud, flaky clay, the large tree that had come down right across our path, hence acquiring my nickname for the week, ‘Madame Feck-feck.’

I arrived at camp in the dark (and no, I wasn’t last). I wanted to hide in my tent and cry. But I didn’t. After a coffee with a splash of brandy from my tent buddy, I wrapped up in my extra layers, donned my head torch, and went for chai. Circling the edges of chatting groups, I would hear someone refer to ‘that poor woman who was scared of heights’. I’d step forward, “That’d be me.” And another, ‘that poor thing who was crying on the way down,’ “that’d be me.” And that was when I started to make friends.
That night I could not sleep, as in literally – my eyes, my body, my brain simply would not switch off, despite me knowing that I was exhausted and needed it. Instead, the night was filled with flash after flash of all the terrible moments that had made up that fearful day, accompanied by wash after wash of adrenalin-flushed terror. Definitely my long dark night of the soul. I had wanted this trip to India to be in some way spiritually enlightening, but this sure as hell wasn’t what I’d envisioned. So I lay there and made a plan – firstly that when I got home I wouldn’t be so fiercely independent and would invite and be grateful for help in my life, and secondly, that I would make it to the village on the next day’s itinerary, then I’d head back along the road to Dharamsala. You see, I wasn’t afraid of an adventure, I just had to get off this mountain.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Finally talking about India. Part 1

Helping Hands in the Himalayas: A journey of Companionship
(otherwise known as ‘getting around the mountains on sugar, sweat and tears, and holding a lot of hands!’)

‘Did you see that man?’
‘What man?’
‘The one over there.’ I followed the direction of the pointing finger. It was 6am and already there were people everywhere. The porters crowded the back of the bus in their dirty red shirts and un-white neckscarves. The luggage compartment was yanked open.
‘What’s he doing there?’ I ask.
‘Dunno,’ another voice responds. ‘He’s not one of them,’ she nods towards the porters. The porters, who step over him, unlooking, to reach the bags.
I take a step closer to look. A camera clicks beside me. ‘I have to have a picture of this, unbelievable.’ I flinch. ‘Do you think he’s dead?’ asks camera woman.
In the dry dirt and dust of Delhi train station, this man lies face down, his eyes shut, his body flat against the hard, unwelcoming ground. His t-shirt is grubby to a point where I cannot imagine the cause. His jeans are faded, ripped, plastered against the fleshless bones. Naturally, he has no shoes.
One foot twitches.
‘Oh, good, he’s not dead then,’ as she clicks once more.
I want to feel relieved. How can I when his waking life is this? I wonder if anyone knows him. Anyone at all.
India is a tricky place to visit. It is the first time I have been somewhere that I cannot say I ‘enjoyed’, because aspects of that culture and that world broke my heart.

For a start, it’s a long way away: two planes, a seven hour train journey, and six hours on a minibus to get to our destination in Northern India, Dharamsala, in the foothills of the Himalayas. We arrived in the dark at 10pm, raced around to the restaurant that kept our dinner for supper, then back to our hotel for 5 ½ hours’ sleep. The previous two nights were lost to travel and time changes and unhealthy dozes in various moving vehicles.

The next morning we stared out of our window at the mountains rising before us and made sense of the fact that we’d taken the elevator down last night to Floor One as Five was street level. After breakfast, we were off in jeeps an hour further into the hills to be deposited in a woody glade. The sun was shining. Snow was bright on the distant peaks. Wow. We were kitted up, booted, and off. An hour later we stopped for a breather, all in high spirits, guzzling our water as ordered and trying to say hello to one another. Then we set off again, down the side of the mountain. And I mean down the side of a mountain. Suddenly this was serious: zig-zagging along what was way too steep to just go down, rough steps hewn into the clay to give some foothold. The paths were narrow and the edges too close, too severe: precipices.

Now I am not normally a coward. I’m an independent career woman who has brought up an Autistic, deaf young man by myself for many years. I have paraglided across the sea when I cannot swim, I have done a ‘loop the loop’ in a small plane over the White Cliffs of Dover, I’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower and the World Trade Center, when it still stood. So I was not ready for what happened next: I panicked! I looked at the size of those hills and the drop of those falls and I was terrified. And terror is so unhelpful. Adrenalin pumps through your body, wasting your energy reserves, and hyperventilation is totally ruining the oxygen balance so you get wobbly and shaky – not what you need when you don’t trust your feet on the ground anyway. Add to that the shock that it is happening at all – to me – here in the Himalayas! I didn’t think it was the most appropriate moment for a full-on nervous breakdown. And to top it off, I was among strangers – what must they be thinking?

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Making friends with your Editor

So, I’m thinking I should deliver a more serious blog about another writer’s learning curve I’ve been travelling: one which we all travel, eventually, through our own design, or that of someone else. Editing.
For some reason, when I finally gave in to my desire to write, really write, I thought I could just knock out the finished article in one draft. In fact, the word draft was not on my agenda. I honestly thought I could just write a book, scoring out and amending my mistakes along the way.
Fortunately, while novels (ahem, first drafts) languished under my bed, I wrote a play that was to become my one-woman show ‘From Within’. I had the support of my director and dramaturge, Jeff Sheppard and learned the value of another pair of ears as I re-worked the script.
My next lucky moment was meeting another writer, Vincent O’Connell, who offered to mentor me to develop a film script. Now, that is excellent training. I would turn up for a meeting, next three scenes in hand, he’d read the dialogue, a whole paragraph, maybe, and challenge me thus: “Which of those lines does the character need to say?” Of course, my first answer was ‘all of them’.  But as I stared at my precious words, I would see plainly that no, they were not all needed. I continued to write everything I needed to say, but came to enjoy the cull to get what they needed to say.
During the last two years, on board with the Brit Writers Publishing Programme, I got out my two novels and put on my Editor head. It has been hard work, but a satisfying revelation. You see, with the world of publishing undergoing so much change, the author has to offer a script as close to ‘best draft’ as they can manage alone. At first, I was pretty disappointed about that – my other illusion was that you’d be given an editor who would do all that annoying work. (And yes, you will still get an editor go over your final draft).  But here’s the thing: when I was asked to do re-writes, my first reaction was dread…of all the work, and whether or not I’d see what needed to change etc., then it occurred to me, why would I let someone else edit my work and possibly change my voice? Of course, the only person who should do the re-writes is me, albeit guided by someone else. So I’ve done the work. The book is in its current best state, and I am trusting that my editor will merely have to tidy up. My book remains my book, which is what I wanted all along.
When you are banging (or coaxing) out that first draft, make sure that Editor is nowhere to be seen. But take pleasure in bringing those skills out later. It will all pay off in the end.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Aspies and she-wees.

Every once in a while Beloved Aspie surprises me with a random response...(okay maybe that's more often than once in a while).
On a family outing last Sunday, my husband and I were discussing my progress with my 'she-wee' as I prepare for my trek in the Himalayas, when the outburst from behind us in the car went something along the lines of,"we should find that factory and burn it down, destroy the designs, forbid the manufacture forever" and other such 'I'm on a killing, role play game' type expletives.
Bemused and bewildered I asked him to explain his harsh response."Surely you don't want me to get bitten on the bum by some snake or giant spider?" I ask.
 "No", he says, "you have to clear the area first, with a stick."
"But the she-wee is so much easier."
"No. It's wrong. People should not make things that go against nature."
So, there you are, a woman standing up to pee is just the first step towards...who knows? But he didn't like it.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Never trust a cyclist

Especially if she's me...
So, as part of my training for my charity trek in the Himalayas in October (massive big deal on so many levels), the husband and I went cycling -to work those thigh muscles for climbing and all that. We went along the tow path on the Taunton canal. It was scary but all good, so we stopped for tea and cake before heading back another 4.5 miles.
Barely off when a bunch of teens came a walking. They could see me, and as hubs had passed first, and in his words, built like a brick sh-house - they had moved out of his way. But it would seem that despite the new yards of ass my middle age has endowed, they thought I needed less room.
Therein lay the problem.
Teenage self-ish, gangly, no awareness of body space...and the generous but mistaken notion that person on bike equals cyclist (i.e. someone who competently manages bike). I am a rubbish cyclist. I am not confident cyclist. I didn't have a bike when I was wee (there were 7 of us, that's a lot of bikes to afford). I am even more nervous if he next space is a body of water. So, dear teens, I really needed you to move. I had nowhere to go.
Too late, I realise that the last few inches are not spared and I whack into the girl's elbow - just enough to tilt my handlebars and throw me off balance. I can't swerve into the water, so I fall off, twisting my big toe as I hit the ground.
It swelled up so badly I was sure I'd broken it.Not funny when I am supposed to be training big time. Well, ten days later, the toe is moving and not broken and I should be able to walk again properly before the week is out.
My note to teens is - really - don't assume the adult is more competent, just cos they're on a bike! Save your tender skin and get the f-ck out of the way.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Motivation and characters

In the past week, an odd question has been put to me about my current work.
The novel is dark, handling themes of violence, abuse, sexual deviance and betrayal of the deepest loyalties.The question is this; what am I doing to protect myself while working on these topics and manoeuvring my characters in and around the tale?
I was touched by the question - offered out of genuine concern. And it certainly made me think. I mean, if you watched horror movies all the time, you'd get jumpy (I had a three hour nightmare about Zombies the other night that took a whole day to shake off). If you read sleaze all the time it would alter your perspective, wouldn't it?
When I studied Acting, we had strategies to put in place if you were undertaking a heavy role (I had one where I'd lost my mind and my daughter was about to put me to sleep with her gun). They were processes to disengage yourself from the role and the things that were happening to your character.
That was when the curtain drew back and I finally realised why I have been struggling to get on with this book. I simply haven't been looking after myself -carrying around deep grief and pain on behalf of my young girls in the story, and feeling generally heavier than I might otherwise.
So, I share this as a cautionary reminder that you should make conscious preparations to enter the created world you are writing, but more importantly, exit it mindfully and definitely when you are finished for the day.

I shall endeavour to put this into practice and let you know if it works.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The dentist

A seven month trial of infection and pain finally came to and end for beloved Aspie.His poor mouth had been in agony since Christmas, and he really needed root canal treatment. BUT he is completely needle phobic, so there was no way he was going to face all that. An extraction was suggested as the best way forward. But how to sedate him?? we ended up travelling to three different towns to special Dental Access Centres, the last was a two hour round trip. All to no avail. It was looking like a general anaesthetic would be the only answer -not what I wanted to hear - he's had too many for one life time already.

Then, at my own dental appointment, my good lady dentist asked to meet him. I took him along - just to meet and look around etc. Well, she talked to him for a whole half hour, telling him exactly what would happen, discussing the difference between horrid feelings and actual pain, and made a deal with him that he could leave only if he promised to come back and let her do the job. He responded quietly, "Just do it."

A collective deep breath.

She used that needle and extracted that tooth in 5 minutes. Of course, I had to lean over him, holding the side of his face while his eyes widened in terror, very aware of the sensations and trying to process them. I coped with watching the needle go in, but when she fixed the wrench around his tooth, I thought, selfishly, this is another of those awful moments that no-one prepares us poor special needs Mums for. That was not a picture I wanted in my mind, so I had to look away. Too much!

He was in shock afterwards - in a good way - that he had been through it and he was okay. And he took great delight in showing the tooth to the members of my choir who stopped to eat with us after an event the next day...I only just managed to convince him to clean the blood off first.

So, where was I? Oh, yes, writing a novel...

Monday, 2 July 2012

Absence...with Aspie

Can't believe how long I've been 'missing' but I can assure you it has been in action. Beloved Aspie has been studying for a Foundation Degree (I know!) and it has been enormously hard work - for him and his interpreter (me). A lot of the time it felt like bashing a square peg into a round hole and I wondered why we were doing it. During that whole period - I had no time/life to call my own and barely got to write a word. Heavy days.
Well, term is finished, results are out - he just missed an overall distinction !!! And I am back at my keyboard. Hooray! Expect more...