Demyan waited in the back seat of his chauffeured 1959 ZiL-III, strumming his fingers on the arm rest. It was cold, the wind was howling outside the armored vehicle and he was tired. But his time in the field was measured, or so he believed. Soon, he hoped he would spend his days at the Politburo and his nights wherever he chose.
He couldn’t see the hamlet hidden in the trees. But the agent knew the safe house was secure, having spent many a night like a great many agents before him, seducing an endless stream of Bond girl wannabes. He smiled at the memory of the stuffed swordfish mounted on the wall above the bed. It has always been a source of inspiration.
But those days were long past for him. This assignment was different. This mission involved an…
I just had a fright. I couldn’t access my blog; it was blocked. I was pretty sure I hadn’t done anything illegal, no incitation to racial or religious hatred, no bad language or mucky pictures. But you never know what some people might find offensive.
I lost Trixie too. My avatar had been removed—my black cat protesting about an empty food bowl had obviously offended the anti-cat lobby. I felt extremely uncomfortable. What had I done wrong? I sent out messages, twittered to the twittering universe, but got no replies.
A few minutes ago, while I was penning a question to the great white WordPress in the sky, Trixie came back, and with her, access to my blog. Panic over. But it has made me think about how fragile the virtual network is. As authors we are told that our reputations depend on our web presence. Our image, our brand, our future. Without the web we don’t exist. So what do you do when your Trixie goes blank and all that stuff you have accumulated to reply to the demands of an image doesn’t respond any more?
My first reaction was to check that I still had a FB account, that I could still twitter. The conspiracy theory kicked in immediately. I don’t regret the good old days of brown paper envelopes, IRCs and the vagaries of the postal system, the waiting for months and long months to receive a slip of paper saying thank you but no thank you. However, in the good, slow old days, we were aware that the postman might not make it as far as the right letterbox, that somebody in a far away office might have taken our sub home to read and left it on the train. We made copies. We prepared for long waits. We got on with writing.
Now we want replies at the speed of light, we want our latest quip to be repeated on and on across the universe. But what do we do when somebody pulls the plug?
I don’t have an answer. I just keep sending out the messages into the ether and hope I don’t get up somebody’s nose to the extent that they get me shut down. Instead of having that long-promised mug shot taken, I’ve decided to have my portait painted instead.
Today my Kindle arrived. All I can say is, it’s a good job I got the simplest, most foolproof model, because it has taken me hours to get it set up. Mainly because it won’t charge on my computer, and then because Amazon wouldn’t recognise my account. It’s sorted now—charged on husband’s computer, and hooked up to husband’s Amazon account. You’d think the Taliban had infiltrated the Amazon eco-system.
I was getting on fine with WIP until the postman beat on the door and knocked the letterbox off in his inimitable fashion—he does this regularly, trying to push large parcels through a small slot, but today he did it without trying to push anything through; it’s a knack he has.
The first fight scene was out of the way, the first argument scene was dusted off, and I was steaming ahead with some extreme introversion, when the Kindle took over. Will this be a life-changing experience? It doesn’t look like a book. Will I enjoy reading from it?
It’s rare that I buy new books. Most of the books I own are second hand, and the rest come from the library. Smelly, dog-eared books hold no mystery for me, nor do books with the odd page torn out, or some stupid comment scrawled in red biro over a particularly good bit. Then there are the dubious smears and stains that make me want to wash my hands every time I turn a page, and certainly preclude reading in bed. If that’s what people mean when they talk about the print book experience, then I can’t say I’ll miss it.
The Kindle doesn’t smell of musty old paper, but nor does it smell of whatever the last owner dropped it in. So, I won’t get the bacteria, but on the positive side, the Kindle is certainly lighter than any paperback and the pages stay open all by themselves. The text is clearer than many mass-market paperbacks with their smeary ink and super-absorbant paper. Not to mention the lurid covers.
Tonight will be the test. Tonight I will curl up with my (clean) Kindle, click on the only book I have so far purchased, and I’ll see if I manage to read it without too much nostalgia for the whiff of…
For the last lifetime I have been trying to sort out the chaotic mess of a book that will be the basis of a series. It will follow on from The Green Woman, which is already written, polished and quite presentable. Angel Haven was going to be a single book, but like Topsy, it grew. The first job was to sort it out, split it, and make two books out of it. Easier said than done. I split it okay, and sorted out the first part. I even expanded the first part to make a reasonable YA length novel (63k). The second part though, is much harder.
The first volume sets the scene, the atmosphere, the new characters, the threat, the new baddies, the things that are going pear-shaped in paradise. In the second volume we get to the conflict. When your antagonists are Goths, conflict means fighting. And I hate writing fighting.
A writer whose skills in writing fight scenes I much admire is David Gemmell. He makes it sounds easy, all those uppercuts and nifty leg work. Swordplay has never seemed so effortless. Much as I would like to emulate him, I have a basic problem. Before we get to the ‘play’ part, we have to deal with the ‘sword’ bit. Fantasy novels are full of swords. Swords and bows and arrows. And horses. I tried to get rid of them, but in a rather makeshift utopia that scorns violence, there aren’t going to be too many surface-to-air missiles, or nuclear submarines to deal with the rampaging Goths. When you’re fighting characters out of Beowulf, you inevitably end up using good old swords, and bows and arrows. In a ‘green’ community nobody is going to reinvent the internal combustion engine, so you also end up using faithful old Dobbin.
So we have swords, bows and arrows, and horses, none of which I have any experience of whatsoever. Nor do I have any experience leading troops in the field. In order not to look foolish I am leaving a lot of the actual fighting to the imagination. While wriggling out of describing how you decapitate a Goth with a homemade sword riding a Dobbin, I am also wondering how many other writers get themselves into similar difficulties. Fight scenes are difficult to do well. How many times have I read the long drawn out ‘action’ scene of a sword swinging down with such descriptive, long-winded prose that a blind, three-legged sloth would have had time to avoid it? Or the other extreme where the skinny kid with a penknife nips into a breach in Goliath’s defence and bingo! Goliath’s dead.
Am I the only one to loathe and detest writing fight scenes? Does anybody else long to be able to sneak into their pre-industrial world an honest to goodness Kalashnikov to rub out the enemy at the pull of a trigger, or a nice, uncomplicated nuclear missile? Is there anybody who actually enjoys writing about sword fighting? David Gemmell obviously did.
Since launching myself onto the turbulent waters of the book business, I have ‘met’ dozens of other new authors. Not new writers, as most of us have been writing since forever, but newly emerged as authors. It takes a certain amount of courage to ‘come out’ and admit to your secret vice. Not only admit to it, but show others, complete strangers, what you have been up to all these years.
I had years of creating babies before I turned seriously to creating something a little less stressful that wouldn’t object if I shoved it in a drawer and ignored it for a few weeks. Writing is one thing, attempting to get published is quite another. It’s at this point, I think, that a writer becomes an author. Even if you never snag an agent, or sign a publishing contract, if you want to be an author, you can self-publish. Any writer who wants to, can become an author.
What decided me was hearing that the husband of a colleague of my husband’s had published a best seller. This character already earns a huge whack with his own business, his wife earns a huge salary, and instead of two beautiful kids, they have two beautiful homes. It struck me as so totally unfair, that someone who ought to have been fulfilled with his fantastic lifestyle, should have broken into print. And how! It was the classic case of: it should have been me!
The sense of outrage that this businessman with more money than he could ever need was sitting there where I should be, right at the top of the best-seller list, galvanised me into action. I joined a writers’ group, got my mss sorted out and went about getting published in a businesslike manner.
Which, in a long-winded way, brings me to my point. Why do we do it? What is it that pushes some people to take the step from being a writer, a Sunday scribbler, to becoming an author? Why is the urge for recognition for having created something, often stronger than the urge to excel in a chosen profession? It seems to me that almost everyone feels the need to create something unique, whether it is literary, artistic or scientific, but most people never go beyond the creation. The sketches and photos stay in an album, the novel on the disc drive, the research passed onto somebody else.
For some people that isn’t enough. Some of us want, not so much fame, as recognition. I know that I get a tremendous thrill when someone whose opinion I respect tells me that they enjoyed what I wrote. Maybe it’s because it is mine entirely, fruit of a fevered imagination and weird dreams, but certainly all mine. It might not be the pyramids of Gizeh or even the Guggenheim Museum, but the writers who want to be authors also want to leave their little monuments. Small ambitions are easier to realise, and sometimes it’s better that way.
Spring is half-way through, so I thought it was about time for a gardening blog.
Since I can’t live in the middle of a forest in splendid isolation, I stick to close focus, on a very small garden. We live in the centre of a city that prides itself on its low level, low density habitat, where behind nearly every house wall lies a secret garden. Most of the gardens are tiny. In fact, in a previous existence I wouldn’t have classified them as gardens at all. We are lucky enough to have found a house with what passes for a ‘vast’ garden. In reality it is rather smaller than our last garden that I already considered pretty minimalist.
Among our other blessings, or self-inflicted curses, is a dog. Sort of. There was a fork in the evolutionary scale when the big mammals decided either, to eat grass and trade paws for hooves, to become herbivores, or to keep the meat-eating habit and the paws, and become honest to goodness carnivores. Finbar is a product of indecision at this parting of the ways: a dog that cannot quite resign himself to not being a horse.
A big dog that thinks he is a steeple chaser, in a small garden, is not good news for delicate plants. Especially as when he isn’t chasing an imaginary cat round the place, he’s grazing on anything green and leafy. When Finbar arrived, the path that runs all around the garden became a race track, and the flower beds in the middle became shortcuts to the finishing line. Last year I decided to bow to the inevitable, and rethink the whole concept of the town garden.
Looking at the result this spring, I thought our solutions might be useful to other gardeners faced with the same adverse forces of nature.
First, forget the lawn. You don’t need one, that’s what parks are for. In our climate, with very hot, dry summers, a determined dog will turn it into the Gobi Desert for you in next to no time. For sitting or lounging outside, build a deck. You won’t notice the difference. It also gives you somewhere to put the plants you have rescued from the dog track.
Next, forget about scattering seeds to fill in the gaps between large clumps of perennials. What the hooves don’t destroy, dog urine will. If, like me, you can’t resist planting seeds and watching them grow, plant them in pots with the other flowers, or underneath the rose bushes.
Put as much as you can in pots, at least until they get big enough to look after themselves. Plant rosebushes strategically, to protect the more delicate plants behind. Use pots as a barrier, and make sure you don’t leave large enough gaps for dog to try pushing his way round.
Use all sorts of containers to give variety, and kid yourself you filled your flowerbeds with pots out of choice.
Old garden furniture, and specially designed plant racks help keep plants out of harms way.
So far, so good. We are only just getting into the growing season, but I will update at the end of the spring with news of casualties.
… shooting stars often appear in bursts across the night sky, sometimes after prolonged periods of no sightings at all … equally, after no mention for months, certain subjects appear in herds of blog postings … some of the excellent blogs that I see on a daily basis have recently posed one such question … ‘is it wise for an author to write in more than one genre?’(by the way, ye get a prize if ye can pronounce ‘genre’ without sounding like Inspectors Maigret or Clouseau)… being devoid of any common sense of my own, I’ll aver that it IS efficacious, and even HEALTHY for a quill-scraper to indulge in more than one ‘JONRRR’... my crime thrillers have been a delight in terms of Amazon Kindle downloads (thanks Mabel),… but lately, my wee collection of tongue-in-many-cheeks blog posts, THE BLOGGER’S GUIDE TO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, is attracting some *blush-blush*…
Just back from a 9-10 day break, mostly spent in extraordinary, dazzling, dramatic Languedoc.
Languedoc, means (Land of) the tongue or Language of Oc -Occitan being the ancient language of the area. It is a region that has long exercised the medieval-obsessive imagination of your correspondent, your writer-blogger-chappie.
As a land of huge Cathar castles, at places like Montsegur; Lastours and Saissac, (pictures above) all perched on their craggy, towering cliff top peaks; of mighty monasteries and cathedrals; of battles and crusades, of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her troubadour poets, singing of knights and of courtly love; of stunning tapestries and religious sculptures.
Indeed as a crucible for almost everything that fires the mind about our sometimes cruel, yet often vivid and glorious medieval past. Because most of our images and ideas of that time either originate from, or found their highest expression in this region. And it still…