Archive for the ‘annoyances’ Tag

Posh Frocks

I’m really not much of a glamour girl – it’s all a bit too ‘high maintenance’ for my liking.

For the last seven years, though, one of the responsibilities I’ve had in my day job at the medical college has been to organise the bi-annual formal dinner for the New Fellows. This is a black-tie affair in a five-star London hotel. Hence, twice a year it is necessary for me to get into a ‘Posh Frock’.

I’ve come to the conclusion that these women that look fantastically glamorous all the time don’t actually do anything at all – they just sashay around looking gorgeous. When I try and get all glammed up, it really doesn’t work out well. Consequently, though I’ve gone through a few posh frocks over the last seven years, I don’t have a wardrobe full of them, which more glamorous women might have acquired.

A few years ago I had a lilac dress full of sequins. I bought a pair of spangly sandals with kitten heels to go with it (another point – me and fancy shoes don’t get on either, but more of that later). Every time I wore the dress, I managed to get the hem of it stuck in the spangles of the shoes, and the thing was full of loose threads. I also kept losing the sequins. Once, I managed to put the heel of my shoe through the chiffon inside lining. But this was hidden under the main layer of the dress, so you couldn’t see the rip.

I did manage to get about four or five wearings out of this dress, but when I had my wardrobe detox a couple of years ago with the stylist, she made me get rid of it. In fact she looked faintly horrified when she pulled it out of my wardrobe. I’m still not exactly sure what was wrong with it – apart from the fact that lilac is apparently not my colour.

Armed with new style knowledge, I went and got another dress for the next dinner. This was a midnight blue long number with Greek-like folds. I had been told this was one of my colours, and I thought the dress looked nice. It was quite expensive, too – first time I’ve ever paid three figures for an item of clothing. I wore it twice that winter – once to the dinner, and once to the formal dinner dance that Hubby’s scuba diving club put on every Christmas. We have to travel by public transport into central London for the latter. On the escalator down to the underground, the long dress got caught in the escalator mechanism, and fearing being pulled into the machinery I had to yank it out hard to free myself. Miraculously the dress didn’t rip – synthetic fabric is hardy stuff – but it was all pulled out of shape and ended up with a fair bit of black oil all over it.

I objected to paying over £100 for a dress I only got two uses out of so I was determined to wear it again. My mother in law managed to work miracles with white spirit and got the oil out of it, but nothing could be done about the rather mis-shapen hem line. As it happens I now can’t fit into this dress – it’s a size 12. I’m a size 14 nowadays and I can no longer get the damn thing zipped up. So I think I have to say goodbye to it, wonky hemline and all.

My latest posh frock is a black and white silk prom dress that I bought for a friend’s birthday party last year (she had a ’60s glam’ theme). Then I wore it to the dive club dinner last year. We had to take the train into London, as usual, to get to the venue. On my way to the train station I fell over because I was having trouble walking in the shoes, and now it has a couple of black marks on it. I deliberately chose shoes I thought I could walk in, because I hate having to take a bag full of shoes to change into when I’m going out of an evening. Clearly I was wrong. Is it too much to ask that someone invent girl’s shoes that it’s actually possible to walk in? And just how are you supposed to keep these damn dresses clean until the end of the evening? If I don’t fall in the mud, I end up spilling my dinner down them.

We’ve had a reshuffle of responsibilities at work and the organising of the dinner has now passed to someone else, so hopefully I won’t have to keep investing in posh frocks. Just as well, really. Evidently staying neat and clean of an evening is completely beyond me. I guess I’m just not a ‘posh frock’ kind of girl.

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Can We Start Again, Please?

2012 has not got off to a good start. My NetBook dying on New Years’ Day was the first bad portent. A sore throat the following day was the next.

This had turned into a cough by the time I went back to work. If like me you have asthma, coughs are never good. They take ages to go, and often turn into something far nastier.

After two weeks of struggling along and coughing like a plague victim, I went to see the doctor, who decided I had a chest infection. She prescribed antibiotics and signed me off work for the rest of the week. This was on Monday of this week. So I have spent the majority of this week cocooned on the sofa feeling sorry for myself. And playing Dragon Age, my latest video game obsession, which was the only thing I found I could concentrate on and at least it distracted me from thinking about how rubbish I was feeling.

I am not a good patient. I hate being ill. I hated the fact I was coughing so hard, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t focus on anything, and I had to put ordinary activities on hold. The antibiotics, although helping clear up the infection, have side effects, the most annoying of which is stomach pains. I also developed a constant niggling ache in my lower back, which I suspect is caused by straining some muscle or other through coughing too hard.

Now we are at the weekend, I have to say I am feeling a lot better. I am no longer waking up in the night having coughing fits. The back pain seems to be easing. If I eat something with the antibiotics – even if it’s just a couple of biscuits – the stomach pains aren’t as bad. The coughing is still there, but not as frequent, or as violent, as it was.

Frankly I’m tired of being ill, and I am keen to get back into the usual routine. I’m going back to work on Monday. I aim to do some writing this weekend. I’d even like to get back to going to the gym.

I would like to write off the entire month of January, as I got nothing accomplished during it. Well, I made quite a lot of progress in Dragon Age, and even managed to score a couple of trophies. But I’m not sure that counts.

‘Overnight Success’?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

The misconceptions about writers that are perpetuated in the media can be annoying. One previously-mentioned example of this is the writer in a TV show who will bang out a first draft on their Apple Mac (usually in a matter of weeks) and pass it to the editor/agent without having to rewrite a single world. And then the novel appears in print within a couple of months. You’d think scriptwriters would know a bit more about the way publishing works, wouldn’t you?

Another example is the concept of an ‘overnight success’. I very much doubt there’s any such thing as an ‘overnight success’, and this applies to artist and musicians as equally as it does to writers. The reality is you work for years on your writing, music or art. You rack up countless rejections, and nobody knows or cares who you are. Then you might have a degree of success. If you’re a writer you get a couple of books published. You work hard at the promotion, while still working on the writing, but still nobody knows or cares who you are.

Then twenty years and half a dozen books down the line, you may get a book published that does reasonably well. People who like that book start looking for others and discover your back-catalogue. Word gradually spreads and other people start buying and liking your books. And then suddenly the media start describing you as an ‘overnight success’. Not so. You’re the same writer you were a year ago, or five years ago, or maybe even ten years ago. The only difference is more people know who you are now.

I have a couple of friends in the music industry. They’re both doing reasonably well there currently, but only after a good many years of hard work, of not knowing where the next gig was coming from and struggling to pay the bills.

Occasionally a first novel is published that does so astoundingly well the author becomes extremely well known in a short period of time. But such cases are the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately, like those writers that sell so well they make vast quantities of money (JK Rowling, perhaps – and even she wasn’t an overnight success), they perpetuate the myth that all writers are rich and famous.

There were a few people who said to me, once they found out about my first publishing contract, “I guess you’ll be quitting work now”. I just didn’t have the time or the energy to explain why that won’t be happening any time soon.

So, now I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll get back to juggling the writing, promoting and editing around the day job. Maybe in 20 years’ time I’ll have a dozen or so published novels under my belt. Who knows, maybe even I might one day be be described as an ‘overnight success’.

E-books and Editing

(Cross-posted from the WriteClub blog)

Sometimes I feel like I’m on a one-woman crusade to champion the cause for e-books. But there’s a lot of prejudice out there against them. One misconception is if you’ve got an e-book, you’ve PDF’d it yourself and stuck it up on Amazon.

It’s true there are a lot of self-published e-books. There are a lot of self-published print books also, but I guess e-books are easier and cheaper to produce if you’re going down the self-published route. Self publishing has always had bad press in the industry. Just because a book is self-published doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad – although I have read some that have made me understand where that assumption comes from.

The fact remains, though, that more and more small publishers are specialising in e-books only. This doesn’t mean they scrimp on quality. There’s still a rigorous editing process. SUFFER THE CHILDREN went through no less than seven rounds of editing, not including the pre-edit. DEATH SCENE is still in the process, but there’s already been three rounds with more to come.

With the nature of publishing changing the way it is, I think we’re going to see more and more independent publishers setting up as e-publishers. Sadly, much of the industry still has to come to grips with the fact that just because a book is an e-book only and has no print version doesn’t mean it’s not a ‘proper’ book.

I’m on a personal crusade to disabuse people of this notion at every opportunity. In fact most people who know me are bored of me banging on about this now. The publishing industry is changing. Those of us who are e-book converts just have to wait for everyone else to catch up.

Somebody’s Sitting In My Chair

I’ve mentioned that when I have my writing mornings at Starbucks, I always sit in the same chair. Writers are creatures of habit. I also mentioned, in my last post, the madness of writers.

I arrived at Starbucks yesterday morning for my writing session, to find someone else sitting in my chair. This annoying fact was exacerbated by the fact that apart from this interloper, the place was empty – of all the chairs to sit in, he happened to choose mine.

Feeling rather put out, I bumbled around for a while trying to decide on an alternative chair. And sitting elsewhere clearly affected my productivity. Usually I manage at least 900 words in my morning writing sessions. I did less than 700 yesterday.

I channelled my murderous intentions inwards and started to imagine what would happen if I took vengeance on this unsuspecting Starbucks customer. I don’t carry much on my daily commute that could be used as a weapon. I could hit him over the head with the NetBook, but that would probably do more damage to the NetBook.

I could smash a chair into his face, while explaining why it’s a bad idea to sit in a writer’s seat. Once he’d finished picking his teeth up off the floor, he would apologise and beat a hasty retreat. More likely, though, he’d call the police, having been subject to an unprovoked attack by a mad woman. Trying to justify this action to the police would be difficult. It’s a public place. There are plenty of empty chairs. What’s so special about this one? Somehow, I don’t think my explanation of, “I write better in this one” was going to wash.

Happily, though, since all this played out in my imagination, the unsuspecting Starbucks customer left unmolested, and none the wiser. I do hope he’s a passing tourist and isn’t going to make a habit of occupying my seat in Starbucks on Friday mornings. Then I might be obliged to explain to him for real why it’s a bad idea to sit in a writer’s “writing spot.” And then, things might get ugly.

On Not Being “Trendy”

As someone who’s spent her whole life “not fitting in”, I am suspicious of anything referring to itself as a “Trend”. There’s something on Twitter called “Trends”, which seems to refer to whatever the popular topics of the day are. I wish they wouldn’t call them “Trends”.

The mere word is off-putting. “Trends” are about everyone else being into something that just doesn’t interest me. “Trends” mean whatever I want won’t be available. My favourite TV shows get cancelled because of poor ratings, while more money is poured into rubbish reality shows because that’s what everyone else watches. I go on holiday in December and can’t buy sun cream or summer tops because everyone else goes on holiday in August and there’s no demand for these things when I want them. And I shall probably never be a best-selling writer, because I do not write in the genres that everyone else seems to like reading.

Going with the majority opinion is the cornerstone of democracy. And I’m not actually complaining about this – this is the fairest way. But in a vote of popular opinion, I will always be in the minority.

I have accepted the fact that this is the way life is. I am quite happy in my own un-trendy world. The population here is small, but select.

But can’t we find some other word for that Twitter thing than “Trends”?

Gender Assumptions

Yesterday I was on a train on the Victoria Line, on my way to an early-morning writing session at Starbucks. It was the second day in a row I’d crawled out of bed at 5:45am to get some writing in, and I do tend to be rather grumpy that early in the morning.

There was an advertising poster on my tube carriage that I found rather irritating. It was an advert for an online store. The gist of the advert was that this particular place was a one-stop shop for your Christmas shopping. “Gifts for her”, the advert said. Underneath this was a picture of a make-up set. “Gifts for him,” it went on. This featured a picture of a PS3 game.

Now, I do try to keep politics out of this blog, but it does annoy me when people make assumptions based on gender stereotypes. And this time of year, coming up to the dreaded Festive Season, we are bombarded by ads making the presumption that men sit around watching football, drinking beer and playing computer games, while women are preoccupied with shoes and handbags and clothes.

Me, I’d rather have the computer game than the make-up set. But anyone who doesn’t know me well enough to be aware of this isn’t likely to be buying me presents.

E-books and Obstacles

(Cross-posted from the WriteClub blog)

Since acquiring my e-reader, I have been buying e-books. And I have encountered two intensely annoying problems that are preventing me from buying all the e-books I would like.

First of all, each e-reader uses different software, and not all e-books are available in all formats. If an e-book I want to buy is only available on the Kindle, I won’t be able to read it on my Sony e-reader. This I find rather irritating. It’s like buying a film on DVD and discovering that this DVD won’t run on your Toshiba DVD player – you have to have a Sony.

The other problem is the whole DRM issue (otherwise known as digital rights management). I’ve heard several arguments for DRM now, but I am yet to be convinced it’s a good idea. In practice, what it means is that if I am at my computer in the UK, and I find an e-book I want to buy that’s only available on a US e-book site, I can’t buy it.

This seems, to me, to be completely daft. As I have family in Canada, hubby and I frequently visit there. We love browsing in Toronto’s wonderful book stores, and we will invariably find books that we want to buy when we browse – generally things that aren’t in print or available yet in the UK, or sometimes just because this is the sequel to the book one of us finished reading on the plane on the way over. So we’ll buy the books, we’ll put them in our suitcase and we’ll bring them back to the UK. We’re not doing anything illegal. We are legitimately buying the books; we are contributing to the Canadian economy; and we are putting money in the pockets of the writers. And we will enjoy the books. Even if I buy a print book from the US Amazon site it’s not a problem – Amazon will happily ship the book to me in the UK – I just pay a bit more for postage.

Yet, if I try to buy an e-book from the US, I can’t. I have discovered there are a number of e-books I can’t buy, either because they are only available on US e-book sites or they are only available on Kindle. And it’s really starting to bug me. Here I am ready to embrace this new electronic technology, and I find obstacles in my way. Have publishers not yet figured out that if the books people want to read are freely available to all as e-books, there’s less of chance they will be pirated?

I will take a moment to praise my publisher, Lyrical Press, here because neither of these problems exist with their e-books. There are no digital rights restrictions on e-books purchased direct from Lyrical’s site, so you can buy them from anywhere in the world (and I’ve had people in Canada, US and the UK buying my e-book), and each e-book is available in six different formats, so you can load it onto whichever e-reader you wish.

Yay for Lyrical. Now we just have to get the rest of the publishing world to follow in their trailblazing footsteps.

Walking To Work

It’s a grey, cold, wet Autumn Monday. And there is a tube strike today. Not a good way to start the week.

My contingency plan for tube strike days (and this is the second in a series of four planned strikes over the next few weeks) is to leave the house really early, so if I have to walk to work from Victoria Station, I have sufficient time to do so. I was on the train this morning at 6:40 – the same train I catch when I come in early for my writing mornings.

I did go searching for a bus at Victoria Station, but there were already horrendous queues for all buses, even at 7:10 am. I can make the walk in 45 minutes, and I had left the house prepared to have to walk, so off I set.

My route takes me down Buckingham Palace Road and past the Palace (the Queen was not at home, it seems), and through Green Park. Emerging from Green Park I hang a right at Piccadilly, go past the Ritz Hotel and then turn left down Old Bond Street, which eventually becomes New Bond Street.

Bond Street is full of swanky designer shops. None of the items in the artistically arranged window displays have price tags – I guess if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it. Even walking past these shops makes me feel like a bag lady. Fortunately for me, at 7:30 am none of the shops are open, so there are no supermodel-lookalike shop assistants to glare at me for bringing down the tone by walking past their doorstep in my hiking pants, back pack and walking shoes.

At the end of New Bond Street I turn right into Oxford Street and I am back into familiar territory.

I may have had to crawl out of bed at an ungodly hour to get to work this morning, but at least the rain held off for my walk, and I started the day with some exercise. I do rather hope I can find a bus back to the station tonight, though. One 45-minute walk in a day is plenty for me.

Writing Processes – Part 9: Fix It In the Rewrite

It bugs me sometimes the way writers are portrayed on TV and in films. The writer is seen bashing away on their typewriter (or Macintosh, in more recent films), and then they type ‘the end’ and send the package off to their agent or editor. So the first draft comes out publishable, does it? That’s why this bugs me. You never see any of the endless rewriting process that happens with real-life writers.

I don’t let anyone read my first draft. It comes out in a barely coherent form. With the lessons learned from previous novels, by the time I finished SUFFER THE CHILDREN, and started on the amateur sleuth novel, my priority was to get to the end of the first draft by whatever means necessary.

That tends to mean leaving huge plot holes and scenes that don’t make sense alone, resisting the urge to fiddle with them until Draft 2. If I am struggling with a particular scene, but I know how the next one goes, I might actually skip it completely, leaving a note to myself in the manuscript that says something like, “Character X has to learn about the affair here”, or whatever.

Therefore, when I get to the end of the first draft, what I tend to have is a horribly deformed mass, ugly and clunky with huge chunks missing. So I make a start on Draft 2 fairly swiftly, using my notes to try and fix what’s wrong. By the end of Draft 2 or maybe Draft 3 – depending on how much there is to fix – I will generally be ready for outside opinions. So I submit it to the writing group. By this point I am aware there are still things wrong, but I can no longer be objective about what they are – I’m too close to the manuscript. This is why my system of saving each chapter of each draft in a separate document serves me well. I find it easier to go back and fiddle with chapters this way.

Once the T Party have pulled the manuscript to pieces, I will make a start on the major overhaul that will become the next draft (3 or 4, by this stage). After that, it’s another major rewrite, to fix any new major problems that have been unearthed in the overhaul. Hopefully, by the time I get to Draft 5, I have reached a ‘minor amendments and polishing’ stage.

The Final Draft is normally Draft 7 or 8. Ultimately, you can carry on rewriting something forever more. This is the first lesson about rewrites. There comes a point when you have to say, “It’s done.” When I arrive at that stage, that’s the point at which I put the whole manuscript into one document and tidy up the page numbers, formatting and word count.

With DEATH SCENE, I think I arrived at this stage at Draft 6, and just over two years after I started the first draft – a marked improvement on the ten years it took me to complete SUFFER THE CHILDREN. However, it’s already been through another rewrite since I submitted the final draft to my editor earlier this year, and I know that the version that will eventually be published will be different again to the current version.

Because this is the other lesson about rewrites. No matter how many times you rewrite, and how good your manuscript is, when it gets picked up by a publisher, there will always be more edits.