I'm covered in flour - it would take too long to explain...

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy new year!

As new years eve beckons and a night of sober reflection and soul searching does not, I would like to give you a little gift of this short story, inspired by recollections of summers spent in North Norfolk.



Water poured down the windows of Maureen’s cafĂ©. It poured down the inside also, as banks of kettles steamed and the great, hot mouth of the stove bellowed opened. As if she stoked some inverse tramp steamer, Maureen used a spade to shovel another batch of scones onto a cooling rack, and thudded the door shut with a floral print foot. Sleeves rolled up over meaty white forearms; she slung her scone shovel into the sink and turned grimly to feed the next round of teapots.

Her sister Wendy juggled the hot scones onto their plates and sliced each open with the motion of one decapitating an aristocrat. She encircled them with cream and jam in a variety of containers. Eggcups, ramekins, washed out jam jars and even a lidless mustard pot were all pressed into service. Pausing only to drag on the cigarette she’d balanced on the windowsill, she heaved her tray out backwards, vast denim clad backside first.

Crossing the linoleum brown hallway she forced her way into what from March till September was called ‘the tearoom’. Her sister’s good suite languished in the outhouse under an old tarpaulin, annually usurped by a rag-taggel assortment of chairs and small tables. The gas fire blazed on four bars, and the air was ripe and as steamy as the kitchen.

Every table was full, all but three occupied with Maureen’s chief cliental, Twitchers; responsible for flavouring the air with waxed jacket.

The placed rustled with hastily un-zipped pack-a-macs and the hall outside sprouted a forest of green wellies. Grey sock feet clustered under miss-matched tables, their owners eager to glean secrets while guarding their own. Telescopes, binoculars and cameras balanced precariously among the cacophony of crockery; melted butter was accidentally smeared on zoom lenses and jam wiped on fishermen’s trousers, internally running with sweat. Over the chorus of waterproofs, the radio struggled to gossip about the up and coming wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Dianna Spencer. Unless the heir to the throne had decided to wed a lesser-spotted flycatcher, it was fighting a loosing battle to be heard.

The three tables not occupied by Twitchers held a pair of retired vicars debating the moral implications of ordering a full English as opposed to a light English tea; three lads with a telephone and the Marks family on holiday.

Clive Marks had a brother who owned a holiday cottage on the cost, and Clive saw no reason to spend money on foreign travel while the children were young. His wife Alice secretly harboured a dream of the pair of them painting in the Dordogne, under a blistering sun while they enjoyed a rough red wine from a local vineyard. Recently Clive had faded from her vision, just as the owner of the vineyard had grown younger, developed a penchant for removing his shirt and shaking down his tousled hair.

Their son Spencer was young enough not to regret his parent’s naming blind spot, and was happily working his way through his third scone. Their daughter Sarah had not touched hers, and would have been annoyed to be considered a child. She was uncomfortably aware of her first bra, an unforgiving white creation with more scaffolding than necessary. She was more aware of the three lads sat round the telephone with an intensity usually only mustered by thirteen-year-old girls.

There was a blonde lad, a dark lad and a ginger lad, and by the time Sarah returned to school in September, they would be good looking. The Twitchers watched them with as much intensity as Sarah, but their interest focused on the telephone. It rang, the lads exchanged resigned glances and one lost the unseen game of "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

He answered it.

‘’Ello, Maureen’s…no…no…we ain’t seen none of them ones since last week. Marsh Harrier? Over Great Snoring way I think, boy. What you seen then?’

The Twitchers caught a whiff of excitement, and the buzz of conversation faded. Wendy dumped her plates of scones on the tables, oblivious to furious glances as the Twitchers strained to hear.

‘A what now?’ The boy paused, his pen hovering over a large pad of paper. His companions sniggered, aware he was milking the moment. Sarah sniggered as well, though she didn’t know why.

‘Over by there…so that’s out by Little Creek way then…a white throated what?’

Hands surreptitiously closed over camera straps, necks craned trying hear without appearing eager.

‘Dipper?’ The lad finished.

In a flurry of camouflage and telescopic lenses, the dun coloured flock took flight. Teapots clattered, half eaten scones were crammed into mouths; woolly grey feet wriggled into boots and in a matter of moments, Maureen’s front room was empty.

Wendy waited until the last were gone, and methodically began re-stacking her tray.

‘Maureen!’ She bellowed from the side of her mouth, ‘take a pew, girl!’

‘My goodness,’ remarked Clive, ‘bad luck for you.’

‘No tain’t.’ Wendy grinned. ‘They’ll be back later.’ She jerked her head toward the lads. ‘Them boys gets reports from phone boxes up and down like, that’s why Twitchers come here. They’ll be back.’

‘People phone in with sightings?’ Alice asked.

‘Yup.’ Wendy looked out of the window. ‘Gonna be fine now.’ She said as if she controlled the weather along with the supply of scones.

‘What an interesting service,’ Alice said buttering her teacake. ‘And all for free, I wonder if it has a name?’

‘What do you mean?’ Clive refilled his cup.

‘Oh, you know, like the speaking clock.’

‘With all those birds involved, maybe it should be the tweeting clock.’ Clive snorted a laugh.

‘Yes,’ said Alice, ‘or maybe Twittering clock.’

‘Twitter.’ Clive frowned, ‘that would never catch on.

Alice bit into her teacake. The blond lad winked at her.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Here is one of my writer mates

His name is Alistair, and we often have wordy chats about our respective out pourings - if you are reading this then I would suggest having a look at his pages also.
I really should write some flash fiction for him, hmmm - off to scratch my head methinks!

When worlds colide

Okay, so, I have now merged my book with it's prequel, and spent two weeks adjusting the flow so that the climaxes arrive at the same time. It has been an interesting and really quite enjoyable task, as I have merged some chapters of the prequel and then cut them to the bone so as in stand up comedy, the timing is spot on. It felt all the time like the shading on a good tattoo - which is mentioned in said book - like the deepest and most satisfying scratch you can have.
Of course, this has meant a re-write of my synopsis and cover letter so carefully constructed with the help of Bubble Cow, but I am hoping that their lessons have been well learned and I have still hit the right note with both.
Of course, now it needs time to sit again, because the doubts and fears need to creep into my mind before I take another look - after all, asking someone to read a 140,000 word novel and tell you what they think is harder than when it was 75,000 words. But I have had one volunteer, so will keep you posted!
Now - on to reading about the Ukraine and taking a peek at my other open project.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

It's all in the mix....

I sat back from the laptop last night after sending myself the latest edit of my now combined novels. I have cut around 10,000 words from the rough draft and managed to bring both stories to their climax at the same time, which feels like something one might call an achievement. The narrative now moved back and forth from the 1980's to 2010, with some of the same characters in both strands - namely Grigory Dankovich who popped into my head eight months ago and started all the trouble in the first place.
Of course, there now begins, or rather re-starts, the process of submission pack and letter writing, which I was half way through when I decided to begin this act of union three weeks ago - thank God I am a fast worker!
To prove this point, I re-opened my lap top twenty minuets later as an idea had occurred to me. In the first book, which is still provisionally titled 'At night, all cats are grey,' there is a crime which resonates from the past to the future. It's rather nasty, as it should be, and involves a man being forced to watch his wife murdered. I won't go into details, but it's based on a true story.
When I say based, I think inspired might be a more accurate term - the seed was planted in my worryingly fertile mind some years ago, and involved my brother.
My brother and a school friend were messing about with some recording material - both now work in the film and sound recording industries respectively - and stopped off for a drink in a local but unfamiliar watering hole. It was rather a 'American werewolf in London' moment when they walked in, and they soon attracted the attention of a rather neanderthal punter, who sat down and proceeded to regal them with drunken tales. My brother surreptitiously recorded him, thinking he might prove an interesting character study (Artists are such leeches!) and the man proceeded to tell them that he and his mate liked to drive around in a van looking for Eastern European migrant workers. They would them kidnap them, take them back to his mates potato shed, string them up from the rafters and punch them until they died.
This is not the sort of chat that makes one linger over a pint, and so my brother returned later white faced with this recording.
He came in a told me about it, and I urged him to go to the police, which he did. He feared that they would brush it off, but they were very serious and investigated it at once. The outcome was that they tracked down the drunk easily enough, and when put on the spot he admitted it was all a pack of lies told to 'impress' some kids in a pub.

Now of course, my writers brain stored this away, and last night I started wondering what if that story was true, and the admission of exaggeration the lie? So I went on line and began looking for articles about migrant workers in the UK, and ones who work illegally and how they end up in that position. I also discovered that Ukrainian nationals have no right to work here, and make up the bulk of illegal migrant workers - don't forget the nice Polish and Romanian chaps who did your extension have every right to be here an work.
Ok, I thought, I see a story about a Ukrainian brother and sister, where the brother goes missing and the sister tries to find him but cannot go to the police for fear of deportation. So I found a website for the Ukrainian community in the UK, and discovered that pre-war, there was a lot of legal migration into the UK from the Ukraine at the time the USSR took over. I then saw the word Holodomor, which I did not know. I read on and discovered this is a word for an enforced famine created by Stalin that killed seven million people in 1932-33, a third of which were children. The Ukrainians are trying to have this recognized as a genocide as part of the general move to have Stalin's crimes recognized as being greater than Hitlers - this is not to diminish these, but to acknowledge that all such crimes must never be forgotten a long with the lessons of history the teach.
Well, this now started to work into a story about Ukrainians unable to work/feed themselves by the state unless they work illegally in 2001 (leaving aside the argument about whether they should be here, as in my opinion, most people would do the same if the situations were reversed to try and create a better life) and a whole nation denied the right to work/eat in 1932 - and of course the figure of the whistle blower - in the case of the famine a few journalists who tried to get the story out, and in the contemporary story someone who might help the sister but even face condemnation from their own society for helping illegal immigrants.
So I went to Amazon and looked up the word to see if I could find a history on the subject. The only book that mentions Holodomor in the title is out of print and massively expensive to buy, but turned out to be a Holodomor denier who writes that the famine never happened, that the USSR did not have control over Ukraine until after 1933 and so Stalin could not be responsible for it anyway; if there was famine it was down to the Ukrainian farm system.
Okay - so now we have nay-sayers and whistle blowers - and, ladies and gentle men, a very very big research project....

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Sneeze on Tuesday, get a letter...

Hello people of the world,

I have recently signed up for an e-course with Bubble cow. Their purpose for existence is to help writers get published, and as I am a writer in need of a publisher, our wants dove tail beautifully. Alas, I am as ever sadly lacking in funds, so I am not sure that i can make full use of the services they offer, but their special offer of an e-course on fine tuning ones submission pack was too tempting to miss.

I have had much advice from various sources on what makes a good submission pack, but Bubble Cow approached it in a different way so that at least is novel. (As it were.) I can not claim that their method is the right one until I have got at least a second look from an agent, but I will certainly say that the pdf I was sent was clear, informative, well written and really interesting, so that at least must count for a star on their chart, may be even two of them.

They talk about how the letter is crucial to catching the eye of an agent swamped with similar missives, and how the key is to find a one line phrase that gives the flavor of your book - in essence to create a maggot with which to bait ones hook.

The example that they give is that of the film Alien, which was pitched to the studio with the line 'Like Jaws in Space.' As they go on to explain, of course the film is much more than that, and many ways superior to the impression that gives, but the point is not to tap into a cultural short hand for the essence of the idea. When it was used, Jaws had sunk it's teeth into the collective consciousness, and although no one would ever claim it to be high art, it had become a short had for a certain type of monster movie.

By using it to pitch Alien, the producers were able to sum up what would make the film a box office hit, and thus enable what turned out to be a much more iconic film be made.
Indeed, the proof of the pudding is that now, if one said Jaws is like 'Alien on the beach', one would know exactly what was mean as well.

Bubble Cow also talk about how to categorize ones book so that an agent can see at once if they could sell it for you. Agentsm like serial killers, have a 'type', and so it's crucial that you find one who deals in your book's genre, other wise you are a Philps head screw presented to a flat screw driver; not a good fit.

With all this in mind, and with the help of the first part of the course, I have now worked on my submission letter; and here it is.

At Night, All Cats Are Grey - ‘Lady Chatterly with Gangsters.’

Ex-con Danko is forced to kill to protect his true love Saskia, when vengeful gangster Alexis resurfaces from his past. Saskia finds her love for Danko revitalises both her art and life, but their relationship provokes her jealous ex-husband to threaten a custody battle for their daughter. Can their love survive against the odds?

This is my first novel, of eighty thousand-words. It’s passionate, sometimes humorous work of Women’s Fiction. It would sit well along side Deborah Smith’s Stone Flower Garden, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Rosamund Lipton’s Afterwards.

Set in New York, it’s the story of artist Saskia Cooper as she seeks an escape with darkly attractive Danko, from her life in the shadow of her possessive ex-husband Geoff and his lover Michael. Their relationship provokes a jealous to threaten a custody battle for their daughter Elsa. Unwilling to lose the passion Danko has re-awakened in her, and with a chance of a life changing exhibition, Saskia fights to keep Danko in her life; but when vengeful gangster Alexis threatens Saskia, Danko is pushed into a confrontation with Alexis, killing him in self-defence. Saskia is plunged into guilt as Danko is arrested; all she can do is write a letter to help plead his case and channels her depression into work that finally meets with critical success.

The story was inspired by real-life events, starting from a commission to re-decorate a strip club. During my varied career as a costume designer, performer and teacher, I have always written. I have now started a family and children’s wear company, but write constantly. At Night, All Cats Are Grey is the first novel I’ve felt is ready for submission. I have also finished a prequel to this, which tells the story of Danko’s life in American after escaping Soviet Russia as a boy until his imprisonment, which my writing group described as ‘Irvin Welsh meets The Sopranos’.

Next time - synopsis.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

In my point of view...

I have been working on my first novel, as ever trying to polish it to an extent so that it's genius shines forth - and have been debating the eternal question of Point of View.
I had written it in the first person perspective, as the book was very much in the head of the main character and I had always enjoyed the special insight into her world it gave me.
But as part of my writing process, I tend to write the scenes one doesn't see in the book, so that if they need to be referenced I know exactly what happened, even if my characters don't.
In this book, there is a killing at the climax, but until now it happened off stage as my main character did not do it - but I wrote the scene so that I was sure of what happened.
As ever, I did not want to write it from the POV of the character who committed the crime as I prefer looking at everything sideways so wrote it in the third person but from the view point of a side character. This had two functions, firstly this character, a young teenage girl with learning difficulties called Jodie, is understandably too frightened by what she sees to come forwards at first, though her account will eventually prove the the character acted in self defense, and continues with one of the themes of the book which is to look at what crime does to people around it, rather than as the main action it's self.
But when I came to read the scene back a few months later, I realized it was a damn good scene.
I really wanted to include it in my book, but couldn't see a way of introducing a third person scene in isolation without the tone jarring.
I have read up on the subject in some excellent blogs, and the general feeling is that third person perspective books are more readily published - and added to that I have also written the prequel to this book entirely in the third person - so If I take the huge step of converting the perspective of the whole book to third person, it also opened up the possibility of somehow merging the two stories.
I was also worried that loosing the first person voice would loose something of the interior world of my MC, but by keeping the camera as close to her as possible, I have found that I am still able to give the reader the insight into her inner world, but have the possibility of looking round more corners when I need too.
S0 - 32,000 words done, only another 50,000 to go....

‘Okay,’ he says, ‘we good to go?’

His car is perfection. It’s an S.U.V, with a huge set of silver bull bars, pink interior, vast tyres and headlamps, which if mounted on a building, might contravene air safety laws.

‘Wow!’ Elsa says, forgetting her shyness, ‘is that your car?’

‘It is today,’ he says proudly, clicks the key, and the huge battery of lights flash a welcome. Saskia wonders if he has stolen it on the way over, and if so, from whom for Goodness sake?

‘I borrow it from a friend,’ he says to her, ‘he’s out of town this weekend.’

‘Elsa will need a booster seat,’ she says.

‘Awh, Mom!’ Elsa exclaims furiously, ‘I’m not a baby!’

‘Ehh Rubbish,’ Danko says, ‘it’s got racing harness, is plenty safe.’ He opens the back door, and Elsa climbs up.

‘It’s got a TV in the back Mom, how cool is that, can I watch it?’

‘For DVD,’ Saskia can see a clutch of disks in the open glove compartment. Danko dives in and proudly brandishes one.

‘Only if it won’t make you sick.’ Saskia says.

‘Is this really your car?’ Elsa asks him as we pull out.

‘No, it belongs to a friend of mine who is away.’

‘What does he do?’

Five to ten, Saskia thinks to herself.

Friday, 2 December 2011

If you ask for advice...

remember that like any exercise if it ain't hurting, it ain't working. In my on-line life I often haunt the word cloud where aspiring and published writers meet.
Part of the wonderfulness of the cloud is that one can post extracts from your work and open it up to the critical eyes of all and sundry.
Like many newbies, I posted up my early scribblings and sat back waiting for the plaudits to roll in - oh you should be published, oh you're an undiscovered genius - and as you might expect, that did not happen. My first instinct was to huff and go and sulk in my tent, but I didn't.
There is no point refusing to learn from what people say about your work, even if you analyze their comments and refute them, the very act of asking your self the question is the most valuable thing you can do for your work. If your first reaction is denial, don't let it be your last - because if you want to stand any chance of growing as an artist you should never ever think you know it all or ever think you're infallible. You can fight for your work, you can argue your point till there are ample angels on the head of your pin - but don't ever be too proud to take a look at what someone else has said about your work. They may be wrong, but the act of investigating that can push you to see something new and wonderful and ground breaking you would have have created without that introspection.

Oh, and people who have been doing it a lot longer than you, are pretty expert in spotting the same old mistakes they made when they were like you. You can ignore them of course but my guess is you'll realize their right one day, and have wasted a lot more time in your arrogant bubble than was necessary.
I know I did.

And why the cockatoo? Because he's nice!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Write the book, paint the book...

As well as my abilities as a writer, which you can judge for yourself of course; I also have a bit of experience in the visual arts - drawing, painting, making wedding dresses, that sort of thing.
I also often to be found floating around the Word Cloud, and through this lovely on-line community I have run into other writer types who have taken the plunge into e-publishing. Although I have yet to dip a toe in that water, I have made a splash with some book jackets for an online pal of mine who writes fast paced, no-nonsense page turners, which one day will be brought to you screens staring Daniel Craig, if there is any justice. (He's not necessarily right for the part, I just like looking at him!)
Anyway, I thought I'd share them with you, as Mr Stephen Terry is satisfyingly pleased with them. In the new year I shall be offering my services for a small fee to other e-publishers, watch this space ....or book jacket.