Monday 4 July 2016
Episode 52 - Conversation Between A Writer and His Demon on Reaching 65
I've been away on holiday in Russia. A lot of art and culture was involved and included trips to Red Square, the Kremlin, the Tretyakov gallery, the Winter Palace and the Hermitage. From Moscow we travelled on the high-speed Sapsan train to Saint Petersburg, 'the Venice of the north', a journey of some three and a half hours. The air-conditioning didn't work and the temperature in the carriage reached 33 degrees centrigrade, but instead of getting hot and bothered l wrote the following.
CONVERSATION BETWEEN A WRITER AND HIS DEMON ON REACHING 65
Demon : Did you see that programme on Nietzsche the other night?
Writer : Who?
Demon : Nietzsche. The German philosopher.
Writer : Ah yes... You mean about God being dead and all that.
Demon : Exactly.
Writer : No, I didn’t. Why? Should I have done?
Demon : Yes, it was brilliant.
Writer : Really? Tell me about it.
Demon : Well, Nietzsche had thoughts.
Writer : So what? I have thoughts.
Demon : Yes, but Nietzsche was famous.
Writer : And I’m not. Is that what you’re saying?
Demon : I guess so.
Writer : Well, just because I’m not famous doesn’t mean to say that my thoughts aren’t equally as important.
Demon : Hmm... I think I might venture to suggest that Nietzsche’s thoughts were somewhat more incisive than yours.
Writer : Says who? Nietzsche? He was German, wasn’t he? I can be just as arrogant if I want.
Demon : Tut-tut, no need to resort to cynicism. You know what they say about it being the lowest form of wit. Anyway, it’s not Nietzsche that’s saying it, it’s the rest of the world. They’ve never heard of you.
Writer : Ok, so perhaps my fault lies in not expressing myself adequately. I have to admit to a certain deficiency in that respect. I can be a bit slapdash. I mean, if I’d taken the trouble to write it all down, things might have been a little different.
Demon : Huh! If you’d taken the trouble to write it all down, you wouldn’t have filled the page.
Writer : Now who’s being cynical.
Demon : Touché. But the fact of the matter is, you’re nowhere near as bright as you like to think you are.
Writer : No?
Demon : No. You scraped a 2:2 at University in Engineering for goodness sake. That’s hardly hitting the heights of intellectual achievement.
Writer : That’s a bit cruel. Although technically speaking, quite true. But you have to concede that compared to my immediate circle of friends and working colleagues I stand head and shoulders above them in the thinking department.
Demon : Now you really are being arrogant. It’s a good job they’re not reading this. Which in itself says something about your standing.
Writer : Hmm... You have a point. But what about my novels? Am I not a fully published author? Not everyone can say that.
Demon : No, they can’t. But your publisher is a second-rate outfit that doesn’t exactly promote your work to the masses. If your books were any good they’d have been snapped up by one of the big boys a long time ago.
Writer : Actually, the way I look at it, their loss is my present publisher’s gain. The big boys have clearly failed to recognise talent when they see it.
Demon : Hmm, that’s what they all say...
Writer : Ok, so my first couple of novels have failed to reach the best-seller lists. Everyone knows it takes time to reach one’s full potential. There’s plenty more to come and there’ll be a considerable amount of improvement.
Demon : Really? I would have thought that at your age...
Writer : I wondered how long it would be before you brought that up.
Demon : Well let’s face it – you’re no spring chicken. Are you not aware of a certain amount of slackening in mental capacity? Are you really as sharp as you used to be? Can you still sustain a full day’s output at the same level of intensity as before?
Writer : Now that you come to mention it, I have noticed a mild deterioration... Although to be fair, I never was much good for anything after 3 o’clock in the afternoon anyway.
Demon : 3 o’clock? I heard you were all done by 11.
Writer : Ah, but that’s just the morning. In the afternoon...
Demon : Yes? In the afternoon?
Writer : In the afternoon, I do something completely different. Something physical, like mowing the lawn or painting the shed. Something to nourish the soul.
Demon : Nourish the soul? To stop yourself falling asleep, you mean.
Writer : Ah... Well... There may be an element of truth in that. Although I have to say that even then I’m not as active as I used to be.
Demon : At your time of life? I’m not surprised.
Writer : Yes, a few years ago I used to go out running three times a week. Now I’m lucky if I manage it once. And I’ve begun to develop a nagging pain in the area of the hip...
Demon : Better pack that up then before it ruins you altogether.
Writer : What? And succumb to napping instead?
Demon : It comes to us all I’m afraid. Some more quickly than others it would appear.
Writer : So is there no hope?
Demon : None at all as far as I can see. I should give up if I were you.
Writer : Oh dear...
Demon : This wouldn’t be your attempt to prove me wrong, would it?
Writer : Well spotted. There’s no pulling the wool over your eyes, I can tell.
Demon : Hmm... Well do let me know how you get on with it.
Writer : Don’t worry, I will. Oh, and while you’re there, pass me my trainers will you? I’m going out for a jog.
Friday 24 June 2016
Episode 51 - Journey By Rail (A Short Story)
Last week I promised to post my short story, JOURNEY BY RAIL. Here it is.
JOURNEY BY RAIL
There’s an advertisement doing the rounds on Transpennine Express. It depicts a young man in a passable imitation of Superman in flight. With his left arm thrust out and his body held perfectly straight, he flings himself forward above a sheet of waiting water. In real life I daresay he’d have stripped to his underwear, but to maintain some sense of decency, probably at the behest of his sponsors, he’s retained his jeans although he’s discarded his shoes and shirt. A makeshift yellow cape billows out behind him. There’s a strapline underneath : ENJOY IT WHILE YOU CAN. GET A 16-25 RAILCARD.
My own (senior) railcard lies in its plastic wallet on the table in front of me. I’m on my way to the airport, hoping to catch the 07.40 to Glasgow. I’ve a meeting at ten followed by a retirement lunch at which the Chairman will no doubt thank me for my contribution to the company, present me with a gift (it’s bound to be a watch) and wish me well for the future. It’s a seminal moment and rather than rush straight back, I’ve booked an overnight hotel.
So this is the first train out of York, and although it’s barely light I’m not completely alone. Sitting at the table across the aisle, an older man stares fixatedly out of the window. His face is lightly pock-marked and his silver hair is greased in a way I’ve always associated with working men of a certain age. He wears both the uniform of a rail guard and a decidedly gloomy look as if life has somehow wearied him and now he’s left to contemplate its unenthralling ending.
I guess he’s on his way to work. I often come across rail employees on the early trains as they seek to start their day. And as if to prove the point, he’s soon joined by a younger and marginally more cheery colleague. Aged no more than thirty, he strides confidently down the carriage before flinging his lunchbox and part-read paper onto the table, then plomping himself down in the seat opposite. I can’t help but overhear their ensuing conversation.
“Hey up, Brian.”
Brian continues to stare out of the window, acknowledging his companion’s presence with barely a nod and a grunted, “Mornin’, Jason.”
Seemingly undeterred, Jason presses on. “So where are you off to today? Anywhere nice?”
Faced with a direct question, Brian is forced to respond. “Bradford.”
“Lovely. Birmingham, me. I’m on the 07.33 from Leeds. I was up at half past four. I daren’t leave it any longer or I’ll miss it. If it had been the 08.05 I could’ve had an extra hour in bed. Good ‘ere, i’n’t it? You can’t win whichever way you look at it.”
Brian, who’s probably been on more trains than Jason’s had hot dinners, grudgingly agrees.
There’s a pause while Jason casts about the carriage for some form of entertainment. Finding none to hand, his eyes eventually light on Brian’s lunchbox which is lying next to his own.
“What’s in’t snap then, Brian?”
“Wonderful. I’ve got cheese. I don’t know why she keeps giving me cheese, there must be a special deal on at Asda or something. I said to her the other night, I says ‘I’ve had cheese every day this week, any chance of a change?’ ‘No,’ she says, ‘it’s cheese and lump it’. So it looks like I’ll have to lump it. Fancy doing a swop?”
Jason casts about again then begins to drum his fingers restlessly on the table. Finally, with nothing else in prospect, he opens his half-read paper and turns to a new page. Something immediately sparks his interest. “By ‘eck,” he says, “he’s got some muscle. Have you seen this?” He swivels the paper round and pushes it under Brian’s nose.
I catch a glimpse of a balding, muscle-bound man with tattoos on each of his bulging biceps.
“Look at the six-pack on that,” says Jason. “He’s aged seventy. Can you believe it? Seventy!”
At this point, our own guard arrives to check tickets.
“Now then, Eric,” says Jason. “There’s a picture of you in’t paper.” He swivels the journal once more.
Eric bends to look but slowly shakes his head. “Not me, pal.”
But I can see why the comparison is made. Although clearly younger than the man in the photo, Eric is also bald and his broad, bulky shoulders suggest a trim if not athletic figure.
“Are you sure?” queries Jason. “I could’ve sworn that was you.”
Across the table, Brian’s rigid countenance has morphed to a smirking grin.
“What are you laughing at?” says Jason. “I’m serious. I tell you what - you should work out. A couple of years’ time and you could look like that.”
“Aye,” retorts Brian, “and in forty years’ time you could look like that an’ all.”
“Forty years?” says Jason. “In this job? By ‘eck, that’s depressing.”
“Not half as depressing as it is when you get there,” says Brian.
Eric comes over to my table. I proffer my ticket and railcard. He clips and gives me a condescending smile.
Carefully concealed beneath his neatly-pressed shirt, I wonder whether Eric has tattoos. He looks the type. I have none – but they’re easy to arrange, and I recall that there’s a parlour at the end of Gillygate. Something traditional might be nice, a heart on one arm, a snake and dagger on the other. As for working out, they say there’ll be a gym in the new sports complex they’re building at Monks Cross. And if I apply myself hard enough, who’s to say I might not manage an imitation of Superman of my own? I’d need a cape of course. There’s a wicker basket in the loft full of old pairs of curtains. One of them would do the job.
I lie back, close my eyes and start to dream. And the train rattles on.
Friday 17 June 2016
Episode 50 - Keeping It Short
So, it's two o'clock on Friday afternoon and I have an hour to spare before leaving off to prepare for a York Lit Fest meeting starting at four - time enough to post my blog for the week and keep you up to date with the latest news. I'm particularly keen to do so as this will be a landmark, the 50th in the series. Next week I shall be in Russia of course so I'm striking while the iron is hot.
I left you last week with the idea that I was going to try and write a short story. Not a form I usually engage in, but one that seemed to suit the times. Two events had happily conspired (there's a word for that but I can't remember it at present) and I'd decided to take advantage. As a new subscriber to Writing Magazine, I'd discovered they were running a competition for a short story of 1000 words on any theme. Then, on the train to the airport, I'd overheard a depressing conversation between two rail employees about the nature of their work. I might not have taken too much notice were it not for the fact that on the partition at the end of the carriage was an advert for the 16-25 Railcard with the strapline 'Enjoy It While You Can' and the contrast in attitudes these two incidents provided was more than enough inspiration to get me started.
I began work first thing on Monday morning by setting out my objective ie. write a short story of 1000 words for the WM comp. This might sound a little trite but it does place limits and helps focus.
The next task was to lay out how the story was constructed. Most workshops on short story writing will say you need a beginning, a middle and an end, so how were these to be achieved? In my case as follows.
1. Open with a description of the advertisement for the Railcard (enjoy things while you're young).
2. Outline the narrator and the back story (on his way to the airport to visit new grandson).
3. Set out the conversation (forty years at work leaves you nothing to look forward to).
4. Narrator reflects on how to make retirement worthwhile (enjoy things while you can).
There was also a decision to be made about point of view and tense. For me, point of view was a no-brainer, it was always going to be first person but I made an error with the tense and I was horrified to find that my first draft alternated between past and present. A critical review actually revealed three key problems with this initial attempt.
1. Inconsistent tense.
2. It was too long by over 100 words.
3. In the section which outlined the narrator and his back story, I'd used my own personal experience of visiting my grandson as the reason for my being on the train. I'd had the vague idea that this might suit the theme of time passing, young (new) life, then retirement etc. But I soon realised that this didn't really fit so I changed it to being on my way to a retirement lunch. This was much more direct and in keeping with the story and was a salutary lesson in not allowing real life to interfere with the exigencies of fiction.
Many writers would now start line-editing from the very beginning in an attempt to rectify everything all at once. My experiences as a novelist have taught me that it's best to try and fix the big things first and then work on ironing out the prose etc. afterwards. So redraft number one addressed points 1 & 3 above and also fortuitously shortened things by about 50/60 words. Trying to reduce a text by 5% ie. from 1050 down to 1000 is relatively straightforward. Anything up to 10% can usually be achieved as a natural by-product of tightening the prose so once I was happy with the revised plot and the tense, redraft number two comprised the normal line-editing procedure.
The result is a 995 word short story that ticks all my boxes, but only because I defined what I wanted at the start, thought out how I was going to achieve it and then reviewed and redrafted it in two careful steps. I sent it off to Writing Magazine yesterday morning. Next week, when I'm away, I'll post it here so you can read it for yourselves. It's called JOURNEY BY RAIL.
The word I couldn't remember earlier by the way, is of course 'serendipity'.
Friday 10 June 2016
Episode 49 - Writing Rhythm
Those of you brave enough to read my other column, Euro Talk, will know that I've recently been in Frankfurt. It's the epitome of a modern city and run with a level of competence only the Germans can achieve. But despite their ruthless efficiency, they still haven't learnt how to make a decent cup of tea (what continental country ever has?) and on the one occasion I was foolish enough to order one, I was presented with a glass(!) mug pre-filled with tepid water and a metal strainer type contraption containing a few measly tea leaves. You can imagine how that worked out. Thank goodness I'm now back in Brewtopia and enjoying the real thing.
But not for long. In a fortnight's time DLW and I are off again, this time to Russia where we will be visiting Moscow and St Petersburg and in particular, the Hermitage Museum. This houses some of the world's greatest works of art and since DLW has never been, it promises to be a huge treat for her. Then it's back home, for three weeks this time before setting off once more to Devon to spend a few days in a cottage in the countryside with our family, some of whom will be accompanying us back to York. And finally, at the beginning of September, I go to Bulgaria on one of my foreign birding trips in search of whatever avian delights frequent the Black Sea coast.
Now you might think how wonderful this all sounds and what a lucky chap I must be to be able to do such wondrous things. And of course it is and I am - but as a writer I have to tell you that it plays absolute havoc with my writing. I find I need to get into a regular daily rhythm to be able to produce anything worthwhile and the constant upheaval commensurate with the kind of travel plans I've outlined above mitigates against that. I'm now faced with having to cope with the disruption it causes and the prospect of being unable to return to the writing desk on a consistent basis for the next three months. It was partly with this in mind that I made my decision regarding rewriting MALAREN (see Episode 48 below) - a move I'm still not entirely comfortable with incidentally.
I've faced this problem before. In 2014 I found myself in Iceland, Morocco and then Mexico all within the space of three months. All for very good reasons of course and all thoroughly enjoyable in their own way - but precious little writing got done in the intervening periods, if any. This summer I'd hoped to make a start on rewiting my fourth novel, BOXED IN, but with the best will in the world, I can't see that happening with any degree of success. And so, unless I want to capitulate and write the summer off completely, I've had to rethink my plans.
Fortunately, fate has handed me an answer. Firstly I've decided to subscribe to Writing Magazine. It strikes me as a great way of keeping abreast of what's happening in my profession. Secondly, I've been reading DUBLINERS, the book of short stories by James Joyce. I've really enjoyed them and they've inspired me to try some of my own. Writing Magazine runs a monthly competition for short stories. What better way to fill in the odd weeks when I can't settle to something longer than by trying my hand at the shorter form? And it just so happens that on my rail journey to the airport, I came up with an idea. The two weeks between now and my next trip away should be ample time to get it done.
Friday 3 June 2016
Episode 48 - Time To Let Go
Well, good news. The copy-edited version of MALAREN has arrived from my publishers and I've spent the last three weeks working through it to ensure that all the commas, dots and question marks are exactly where they should be. Hopefully they now are and having set myself the target of completing the exercise by 31 May, I'm pleased to say it was all sent back in time. But not before it prompted a major rethink.
There are aspects of the book I've never been entirely happy with. Or rather, let me rephrase that and say that the book presented difficulties that I've never been completely confident I've overcome. That at least makes this article sound a little more writerly and the solution I'm about to set out appear more professional.
I'm not sure it would be wise of me to elaborate on the problems I encountered. They, and how I intended to rectify them, are not the purpose of this article. Apart from that, I wouldn't want to supply any potential critics with ready-made ammunition with which to have a go at me. I clearly remember Gerald Ratner and how his self-deprecating comments totally destroyed his own business. Best stay away from that then. The question I faced was whether to conduct a full rewrite, and what I thought might be of interest was to describe the process by which I arrived at a decision.
MALAREN is written 1st person from the mind of the main protagonist, Alan Harrison. That this was the right approach has never been in doubt. However, there is a sub-plot involving certain other characters, the details of which he could not have known. The difficulty then lies in expounding these to the reader. This can often be done by introducing them through conversation with a second character. In MALAREN that task naturally falls to Katerina. So much so that I considered adding separate sections of the book written 1st person in her voice so that she could provide the back story to the reader more directly. This was MALARENv2 and at one stage I tried it but then reverted to the original format. Returning the copy-edited ms was the last chance for me to make the change. I was sorely tempted, believe me, but in the end I declined. Why?
The key lay in an exercise I conducted almost by accident. If I were going to rewrite, I thought, what would be the elements of the sub-plot etc. that I would want to convey via Katerina? The idea being that I could then work out where to position them. So I dutifully laid this out and when I came to read it through I realised that I'd already conveyed all that I needed in the book in its current form with one very minor (and ultimately unnecessary) exception. Was it worth the disruption a rewrite would require in order to satisfy what was now appearing to be a whim?
My instinctive desire to achieve what I perceived to be perfection said yes. The practicalities of the situation said no. DLW had said she liked it as it was and she does not give out such sentiments lightly. My editor had said how much he liked the book in its current form ('the best yet' in his words). He had also mentioned the possibility of helping me gain a wider audience for my work. To suggest a rewrite at this stage might incur his displeasure and put all the goodwill I'd built up at risk. It could also take several months and potentially throw out the nice calculations I'd made about what to do with the rest of the summer. And at my advanced stage of life I'm beginning to become sensitive about the time I might have left. Last, but not least, was the thought that a rewrite might not actually prove successful and come September I'd find myself in no better position - worse in fact, with the sense of regret at time wasted hanging heavy.
So, for the time being at least, there will be no rewrite and the ms has gone off as it is. Maybe, one day I will come back to it and at some time in the future MALAREN will reappear in a revised edition. In the meanwhile there comes a point where you have to move on and for me, with MALAREN, that time is now. I'm reminded of that quote by E.M.Forster (or was it Leonardo da Vinci?) about how a work of art is never completed, only abandoned. Well, in my case the term 'abandonment' sounds a bit harsh - but I'm certainly learning how to let go.
Friday 29 April 2016
Episode 47 - Playing Catch-Up
I've been away for so long I've had to read my last post to find out exactly what I've been up to...
Ah yes, editing and formatting MALAREN ready to send off to my publishers. All complete I'm pleased to say, so I now have to sit and wait while they carry out a proof-reading of their own before sending it back to me for final checking - which, according to their online system could take up to four weeks. Hmm... I can't sit here and twiddle my thumbs so I'm filling in the time, firstly by searching round for some decent endorsements - you know, those few kind words that people so generously come up with that you put on the back cover. Any volunteers?
In the meanwhile, my early-morning writing time has become available once more and I can begin to think about my next writing project. MALAREN will hit the bookshops in mid/late September so I (theoretically) have the summer ahead of me in which to work on something new. I say theoretically as there are plans afoot for the next few months and I may not be able to settle to anything for any decent length of time. My daughter is living in Frankfurt and currently expecting. I anticipate being a grandparent within the next few weeks. A trip to Germany is planned at the beginning of June. DLW has already gone out there to provide maternal support, leaving me to fend for myself (no problem there by the way, I'm quite self-sufficient). Other foreign travel is in the offing for later in the year. So rather than try and concoct something completely new, I've decided to renovate a piece of work from the pending tray. This means I'll be much better placed in terms of having to leave off and pick it up again at short notice and with frequent interruptions. At least, that's what I'm telling myself. BOXED IN will therefore shortly make a re-appearance after a number of years in the bottom drawer. In fact, it's so long since I last worked on it, I can't exactly remember which drawer it's in...
Well, wherever it is, work on it starts on Monday. Tomorrow I'm off to Stockton-on-Tees for my weekly book-signing in WH Smith's and on Sunday I'll be watching the motor-racing (come on Lewis!). I'll speak to you again soon.
Friday 1 April 2016
Episode 46 - What's In A Name?
So, back to the old routine. Although not quite. 'The old routine' would mean sitting at the writing desk from 6.30am for a couple of hours and attempting to concoct 500 or so words towards the next novel. I'm not there just yet as I still have to proof-read and format the last one before sending it off to the publishers. And here's an interesting aside. I've been forced into changing the title...
Nothing overly dramatic but it had come to my notice that MÄLAREN (as such) was causing a few problems. My publisher works exclusively online and uses an automated response system operated via its Author Forum. Some of the replies I'd been receiving had included my title in some decidedly odd formats. When I consulted their User Manual I came across a couple of statements advising me not to use hyphens, ampersands and other assorted adornments and not to cut and paste text into their webpages. Of course with MÄLAREN I'd been doing both. The Ä for one thing and the fact that on many input systems there is no facility to add such symbols so cut and paste is the only option - this webpage is a good example. The world, and not just publishing, these days abounds in automated systems. The opportunity for something to screw up somewhere, on other websites (eg. bookstores, distributors etc.) as well as internally is to be avoided. Think about using Google for instance or trying to locate my book on Amazon. Pretty important if you want the name to spread. With a title like MÄLAREN you'd have assemble it on Word then paste it in. Or not if you couldn't be bothered. And why try and make things more difficult than they need be?
The problem here is that the novel is set predominantly in Sweden on the shores of a lake whose correct name is MÄLAREN. The whole essence of the book is centred on MÄLAREN. It's what makes the difference to my main protagonist and I've even viewed it as a character in the book in its own right. To call it anything else would be a form of betrayal. BUT, sometimes common sense has to prevail and to insist on retaining a title that means readers may not be able to find it online and bookstores can't recognise it on their systems would be a little self-defeating. Plus the fact that the book will be read almost exclusively by British readers and the vast majority of them will have never heard of MÄLAREN. And even if they have, they'll have trouble pronouncing the Ä (I certainly did).
So, a compromise is called for and henceforth it will be known as MALAREN - easy to pronounce and easy to locate online. And that's just the title - I sincerely hope the rest of the proof-reading and formatting is a lot simpler than that. I'll let you know.
Thursday 24 March 2016
Episode 45 - Sounding The Last Post
So, as Roy Orbison famously sang, it's over. York Lit Fest came to a triumphant end last night with its Festival Wrap Party at The Black Swan Hotel. I arrived c7.30pm to set up the banner and help put out the chairs and by the time I left at 8.15 there were simply not enough spaces to accomodate the burgeoning crowd. The upstairs room at The Black Swan is not the biggest venue in the world and the atmosphere was, to say the least, intimate. My premature departure was entirely coincidental in that we had another event on at the same time ie. the second night of Austen's Women at the National Centre for Early Music and I needed to be there to take everything down. Even this was not without its own dramatic ending. A woman in the audience had passed out and when I arrived she was in the green room waiting for an ambulance. I'd barely entered the building before the Manager buttonholed me and I was dispatched to the front entrance to guide the team of paramedics. However, I'm pleased to report that all seemed to end well, both at NCEM and The Black Swan, although I didn't return to the party - poetry and I maintain a respectful distance from each other.
Well, what on earth am I going to do with myself now? It would be easy to think that a large void has suddenly appeared in my life and I'm going to struggle to fill it. Nothing could be further from the truth. York Lit Fest might disappear from public view for another twelve months but planning for next year's festival has already begun and yesterday afternoon was taken up with an extended meeting with the Director on just that. Personally, I intend to take a break over the Easter weekend - my house, car and garden are all in need of attention and I hope to find time to relax with some classical music and a jigsaw puzzle - but as of next week full-time work of one sort or another will resurface. The festival will comprise part of that of course, but with this year's programme out of the way I can get back to my main priority - writing.
I say writing but first on my agenda will be preparing MÄLAREN for publication. There's a lot of work to do here. The text has to be proof-read. I might even make a few minor changes. We'll need a cover design. Fortunately I've found an image on Shutterstock which seems to express the nature of the book quite well so that's a start. Plus I'll be looking for some endorsements. All this assumes I stick with my current publisher of course and that seems more likely with every passing day. So far, my efforts to rebrand it as a Scandanavian drama and recycle it have come to naught and the inevitable slew of rejections from the agents I'd so carefully selected to receive it are beginning to arrive. Before long (Tuesday?) I'll have a decision to make. Wait for an acceptance? Or plough ahead with JHP?
But an even more imminent decision is pending. On Saturday, whilst browsing my emails I came across a circular from Curtis Brown Creative offering a short online writing course. The nature and timing of it seem to suit what could very well be my next writing project. I had thought of starting something totally new but with the time from inception to publication being so long I've changed my mind. MÄLAREN will be published in the autumn of this year. My next novel needs to be out in the spring of 2018 and the only way that's going to happen via a mainstream publisher is if I begin pitching it soon. And that means taking an existing manuscript out of the drawer and working it up rather than starting on one from scratch. It just so happens that I have such a manuscript. Written as a first draft in 2008 with a working title of BARRY MULLINS it eventually morphed into BOXED IN and charts the rise and fall of a young boxing hopeful. I've always intended to revise it and polish it up. Now seems like a good time and CBC's course would provide the structure within which to do it. I made a swift application on Sunday and I've been accepted. I've got until lunchtime tomorrow to decide.
Meanwhile, the van has arrived to courier all Baillie Gifford's kit back to Edinburgh. My garage is looking distinctly empty and so is my office. That won't last long however and come Tuesday I'll be back in action again. My writing time will once more be taken up with my next novel and I'll be restricting my Writing Life posts to the occasional catch-up. Thanks for staying with me over the last three months, I've enjoyed my early morning sessions at the lap-top but now I must move on. As of next week you'll see a different appearance to the website to reflect these changes but I'll still be here in one form or another.
Do keep in touch and thanks for reading.
Wednesday 23 March 2016
Episode 44 - A Few More Items From The Lost And Found
So, we're down to the last knockings. Tomorrow will be my final post before closing up for the Easter break. After the holiday and with the Lit Fest behind me, I'll be adopting an entirely new routine and I'll go into some detail on that next time. I've kept today free for any last-minute comments and I want to make sure I've tidied everything away.
Reading through my posts yet again, I realise there are still a few loose ends I haven't dealt with. I'm a novelist and I know how infuriating it must be for a reader to reach the end of a book only to find that one of the key elements of the plot has failed to be resolved. Some writers will use this as a means of leading their readership on to their next book. I have never done that as a novelist (all my books are stand-alone stories) and I have no intention of doing so here either. So let's try and cap things off.
Firstly, a few minor points. You may recall that our Treasurer mislaid his glasses, and although this may be a minor point in the context of the festival as a whole, it's a personal tragedy for him. Well, I'm sorry to say that they're still missing and no contrivance of plot can bring them back. Even in the best books, some of our favourite characters die. RIP Terry's glasses.
As for my broken tooth (a casualty of the nuts in my muesli), I'm pleased to report it has responded to treatment and I'm now able to resume eating normally (phew).
On a more serious note, in Episode 41 I told you about the elderly gentleman we found dazed and confused outside St Peter's one evening and how he was taken in and given help. His agitated state was of real concern and the extent of his disquiet was later confirmed by his subsequent blood pressure readings taken at the hospital he was referred to. They were sky-high and it was a wonder that he hadn't suffered a stroke. What would have happened had he fetched up somewhere less caring and less able than St Peter's School that night I dread to think and I have to accord the staff there the highest praise for the attention they gave him. The last I heard he was safely reunited with his normal set of carers.
Now to the ongoing mystery of the disappearing banners, a subject which caused me more tearing of hair than any other single issue during the course of the whole festival. I had, or so I thought, devised the perfect logistical plan. I'd ordered the correct amount of material to satisfy every requirement and had a timetable that brought it all to the right place at the right time. I involved no one else and I took it all upon myself to get it right. But no man is an island and I failed to account for the random nature of external interference.
Firstly, BG (our sponsors) sent us one more banner than I'd asked for. I blithely added it to the kit marked for York St John and forgot all about it. A week later I knew I'd had one extra but I couldn't remember where it had gone. Cue two days panic searching until I finally tracked it down.
Then one complete banner and a separate fabric cover went AWOL at St Peter's. I was keeping all our kit in one of the rooms there off the corridor leading to the auditorium. The missing items stayed missing for the best part of a week despite constant reassurances that they would eventually turn up. By Sunday night things had become desperate, it was our last event at St P's and I needed to recover everything and clear the premises. My saviour proved to be one of the marketing staff who instigated a more thorough search. The fabric case was found amongst a pile of a dozen or so very similar cases in the marketing office and the recalcitrant banner was spotted propped up against the wall in the study of the Academic Head next door. So far so good. I recovered them and put them in my kit room with everything else while I went to attend the Poet Laureate's book signing. On my return twenty minutes later THEY HAD ALL DISAPPEARED YET AGAIN. Unbelievable! This time the solution to the whole problem soon became evident. Two of St Peter's janitors were wandering down the corridor ensuring everything had been put away and that all the offices were secure. And with it being a Sunday they were particularly keen to get away and so were patrolling early. Yes, they knew where my kit was, they'd removed from my kit store and put it somewhere 'safe'. My reaction was a tempered mixture of fury and relief. Next year, this will be someone else's job.
Tuesday 22 March 2016
Episode 43 - I'm Beginning To See The Light
So, York Lit Fest 2016 is drawing to a close. After last night's Feminism Now debate, we have only two more events to negotiate, the last of which will be our Festival Wrap Party. Unlike the VIP Launch which was characterised by the attendance of the Lady Mayor and the measured consumption of Wine and Canapes, the Wrap Party is more likely to involve the expression of raucous relief and copious amounts of beer and sandwiches. Don't expect too much in the way of sensible comment from this column on Thursday morning, by the way.
And, just like the festival, my current Writing Life diary must also come to an end. My plan has always been that it should have a limited lifespan, and with the Easter break coming up that seems like the natural point to move on. As of next week, I will return to using my writing time for what it was originally intended ie. producing the stories that matter so much to me. I have new ideas with which to go forward and I must start to give voice to them.
In the meanwhile, I must start to tie up any loose ends I may have left lying around. I set out at the beginning of the year with a number of clear objectives which I wanted to achieve by the end of March. Let me remind you just exactly what they were.
Firstly, I wanted to reach at least 50% of my sales target for my second novel, THE BURDEN. Following a concerted campaign of book signings starting on 9 January in Waterstones in Leeds and ending on 5 March in WH Smith's in Bradford, the figure now stands at 60%.
Part of my reasoning behind this was that it would encourage my current publisher to publish my third novel, MÄLAREN. Their offer was duly issued (see Episode 33) with the pleasing addition of more advantageous terms than my previous two. Just as well, since my submissions to agents in the hopes of getting an even better deal have all come to naught.
The small matter of actually finishing said novel was accomplished midway through February (see Episode 25), an event which then allowed me to focus on the Lit Fest.
In that respect my objectives were twofold. Firstly, I'd challenged myself to obtain charitable status for what is currently a voluntary group of individuals. Looking back through my previous posts I see that I'd reported the Charity Commission's response and that we needed to make a few minor corrections to our application. I also note that with the Lit Fest itself underway, I'd failed to record the fact that we swiftly made those changes and that the Commissioners have now allocated us CIO status. Secondly, I wanted us to deliver a successful festival. We're not quite finished but I think we can claim to have done so. Ticket sales have reached record levels and attendances are bound to follow suit. The quality of events has been extremely high and we have (so far) avoided any banana skins. The acid test is whether BG, our new sponsors, will want to renew their contract for 2017. We have worked assiduously to ensure that they're happy and although I can't yet confirm they'll be back next year, I'll be extremely surprised and disappointed if they're not.
So that's all good then, as they say in W1A. And it is, but it still leaves lots more work to do in the rest of the year. We're already starting to talk about next year's festival and I have another novel to write. We'll see what happens tomorrow and on Thursday I'll try and set out my thoughts for the next few months in detail. More exciting times are ahead. But first, I'm looking forward to that Easter break.
Saturday 19 March 2016
Episode 42 - The Good, The Bad and The Simply Incapable
Well, the first week of York Lit Fest is over. It's been tough but we've survived. Our second week is about to begin and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. After another hectic Saturday today things start to calm down and on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week there are no daytime events and perhaps we can think about enjoying ourselves a little. The Easter weekend will come as a welcome break and then we'll begin the process of evaluation and start talking about next year.
Some thoughts have already occurred to us. I've certainly formed a few views, some of which I've already shared with my colleagues. Something I've noticed is that the ability to perform in public is not equally distributed amongst our guests. In fact it's rather random and those who we might think of as the stars in the literary firmament don't always come across as we would wish. On the other hand, there are those situated lower down the literary pecking order who have a natural ability to engage and entertain and are an absolute delight to listen to. Let me give you some examples.
I won't name names but there were two highly respected and accredited novelists we hosted this week whom I was particularly looking forward to hearing. What a disappointment. The first came across as frankly rather vague and despite the interviewer's attempts to move them on, kept returning to the same subject until they became quite laboured. The second proved to be very dry and dusty and made one think of a 1970s college lecturer, a purely academic writer without a hint of any soul. The interviewer on this occasion didn't help, their questions and manner being far too timid and thereby failing to open the interviewee up. And with no sense of humour to be seen there was nothing to break the ice and bring the audience on board.
One expects the politicians to be able to talk. Portillo can certainly do that and although I couldn't be there for his event, the reports that I received were highly complimentary and just like David Starkey the year before, his evening was a tour de force. Last night we hosted Vince Cable at St Peter's and although he was perhaps not quite as eloquent as Portillo, he made up for it with a refreshing brand of candour and we gained a fascinating insight into the politics of the Coalition but without the ideology. Two big ticks.
There have been other engaging and worthy speakers (I'm told John O'Farrell was particularly good), but I want to focus for a moment on a group of otherwise unsung and unlikely literary heroines. Yesterday afternoon's event at the Quaker Meeting House drew together seven women who had collaborated on a book called UNCUT CORDS about their experiences as carers of children with learning disabilities. Here were seven authors whose names you would not recognise (and maybe never will) but whose stories of courage and persistence in the face of adversity stood out above those of many more celebrated writers. They were supported by Dame Philippa Russell, former Chair of the Government's Standing Commission on Carers, whose own son suffers from a learning disablity. Listening to their intimate and sometimes heart-rending readings, I cannot imagine there was a single member of the 50 strong audience who wasn't touched in some way or another. A smaller crowd than for some of our more famous writers perhaps, but one that left the Meeting House far more uplifted. It was an event I felt proud to have been involved in. Well done York Lit Fest for putting it on.
Friday 18 March 2016
Episode 41 - An Item From the Lost and Found
Let me begin by apologising for getting the date wrong yesterday. Although I have a good excuse. After the hectic nature of recent events it's hardly surprising that I don't know what day of the week it is. That feeling was reinforced last night when a distinct sense of deja vu came over me as I stood in the foyer of St Peter's for the fifth night in a row, meeting and greeting the guests as they arrived - for what? I froze and a momentary blank caused me to check my copy of the programme. Ah yes, John O'Farrell, There's Only Two David Beckhams - A Football Fantasy. I should have guessed of course from the nature of the audience, 75% male as opposed to the usual predominence of women. A welcome change, I have to say, and from the point of view of both the festival and the guests themselves, a new and rewarding experience.
And now to the meaning behind today's title. If you read my post yesterday you will know that one of our banners has gone missing. However, if you think this is going to be a humorous report of all that I found when I went to enquire after it, you're slightly off target. That indeed would be interesting but to be perfectly honest, I haven't had the time to conduct a proper search as yet. This concerns something a little more serious.
If I were to restrict myself to merely recounting what great events we've put on and what fantastic 'turns' we've had the pleasure of introducing to the public, that could become rather self-serving and dull. You can find that kind of reporting elsewhere. What you'd like to read here are the stories from behind the scenes, the little snippets that make life at York Lit Fest sound real. I'd love to tell you what went on in the pub after our autumn event with Roger McGough and Ian McMillan and the tale of Macca's trousers. Unfortunately I'll have to leave you guessing as I simply don't have the space. What I can tell you is that although things may have appeared quite smooth on the surface, our week has not been without its moments. For instance, may I remind you of the events of opening night which I recorded in Episode 38 - ...Cometh The Wine and Canapes. Nothing quite so dramatic since then but apart from the as yet unexplained disappearance of one of our banners, our worthy Treasurer has caught flu and is barely able to speak, rendering his opening piece at the Student Showcase rather muted. Plus he's mislaid a pair of his glasses. On Monday I broke a tooth whilst eating muesli for breakfast and the resultant emergency appointment caused me to miss an event and I was forced to make alternative arrangements for delivering the kit. Events, dear boy, events, as Harold McMillan once famously said.
But last night something happened which was really not funny at all. After clearing away as usual and having already made several trips back and forth to the car, I returned to the foyer at St Peter's to collect my bag when I was accosted by an elderly gentleman standing near the front door. He looked tidily dressed and clean shaven but as soon as he spoke it was in a rambling and mostly incoherent fashion such that I found it difficult to fully understand him. From what I could gather he lived in Leeds but had somehow found his way to York (a coach trip perhaps?). I have no idea how he managed to end up at St Peter's and as far as I could tell, neither did he. He spent a few painful minutes desperately trying to explain himself but much to his own frustration, he could not and soon became distressed. I called for help and we took him inside and sat him down. Here I hoped he would at least feel safe in the warmth and friendly surroundings - but they were not his normal surroundings and I suspect that made him even more edgy. Eventually he gave us a name and the appropriate searches began.
There were, by now, half a dozen of us crowded round him trying to calm him down and make him feel comfortable. I had the feeling that the less of us there were the better it would be so I slipped away and left him in the capable hands of the staff. He was most certainly Lost and I fervently hope he was subsequently Found. It made what can only be the temporary disappearance of one of our banners seem utterly insignificant by comparison.
Thursday 17 March 2016
Episode 40 - One of Our Banners is Missing...
I'm sorry I couldn't be with you yesterday. I had some personal business to take care of, leaving the house at 7.30am and not returning until half past six in the evening. Then I had to unload the car, grab something to eat, get changed and out again to St Peter's for the latest instalment of the Lit Fest. Where I found... Well, I'll tell you what I found in a minute.
If you've been reading my posts on the Lit Fest at all you will probably have gathered that my prime function during the festival itself has been to ensure that the right pieces of stage equipment and associated leaflets etc. turn up at the right place at the right time. For this purpose I've been calling myself Kitmaster General. I'd drawn up a logistical plan which involved splitting the equipment into four separate sets. After the to-ing and fro-ing of the weekend, everything was supposed to settle down with one set being permanently at St Peter's, another at St John's leaving two sets to 'float' between the one-off events. Everything was going well until Monday night...
I'm supposed to have 4 York Lit Fest banners and 6 of Baillie Giffords (I'd only wanted 5 but they sent me one extra which is what threw me a bit). On Monday I arrived at St Peter's to discover I only had 5 of Baillie Giffords. Cue rethink. Had they really sent me 6? Or was it only the 5 I'd originally asked for and I'd miscounted somewhere? I checked the paperwork. No, I was sure it was 6. Best not take a risk, I thought, so on Tuesday I initiated a thorough search. Nothing in my garage or in the back of my car and of course I knew it wasn't at St P's. Off I trotted to the Grand Opera House to see if we'd inadvertently left in there on Saturday night. It had been very dark backstage when we'd loaded my car after the show. Had we missed it? No, nothing there either. Then I mentioned it to RO. Yes, he said, it's at St John's. Oh, I said, how did it get there? You gave it to me, he said. And then of course I remembered that before everything started I'd said that since BG had sent an extra banner he may as well use it St John's. Problem solved, huge sigh of relief. Except I'm kicking myself for forgetting something so simple and beginning to think I'm going senile.
As I've already said, yesterday I was away all day, dashing to get to St Peter's before the end of the event. Having left prior instructions, I was pleased to see that the banners had been erected in my absence. Which was great because my contact from BG was in attendance and I had to run her to the station afterwards. Returning (somewhat breathlessly) to St P's to put the banners away, guess what was awaiting me?. Expecting to see 2 York Lit Fests and 5 Baillie Giffords, I found 3 York Lit Fests and 4 Baillie Giffords - and one of the YLFs was missing its fabric case. I give up. My resignation will be on the Festival Director's desk in the morning...
Tuesday 15 March 2016
Episode 39 - Stop The World, I Want To Get Off
I'm conscious of the fact that unless you read my other column (Euro Talk) yesterday, I haven't spoken to you for a few days. My apologies but we are in the middle of Lit Fest season and life has become rather hectic. In fact, outside of running hither and thither delivering, erecting and dismantling banners and other stage equipment, I don't think there's been much of a life at all.
After the excitement of opening night and with no time to rest, we were pitched into preparations for Friday. I can't imagine what was running through the Festival Director's head when he programmed four events all on the same evening but it proved an interesting exercise in logistics if nothing else. One of these was of course our headline act, Michael Portillo, at the National Railway Museum. The amount of planning required to put on a show of that magnitude in a setting which was designed to display railway engines and not accommodate theatre audiences is challenging. Imagine the far end of a railway station where four platforms coalesce in front of the brick-walled side of an engine shed. A screen c10 feet wide and 6 feet tall is mounted on the wall showing a series of slides. In front of this is a rectangular dias and in front of this again, 600 chairs are set out. The chairs arrived at 7am. Half of them were then put out and roped off, the other half stored for later. At 10am the Museum opened to the public and we had to leave, returning when the Museum closed at 6pm to erect the rest of the chairs and decorate what passed for a stage. This meant banners which is where I (briefly) came in, putting these up in both the station hall and in the foyer and then in the shop where Mr.P was due for the book signing after. I then shot off to my second event, a night of improvised comedy at the Friargate Theatre. More banners etc. in the foyer (no room on stage) followed by helping out with front of house duties. And it was here was where the carefully laid plan began to unravel just ever so slightly.
The Friargate event was shown as finishing c9pm. Enough time for me to dismantle the banners etc. and wizz back to NRM in time to catch the end of Portillo at 9.30pm before knocking that event down. But unknown to me, Friargate had two halves and 9pm was when part two began instead of part one finishing. So, leaving all that in the capable hands of the theatre staff, I dropped everything and shot across to Portillo, arriving just in time to hear him answering questions from the packed audience (all 600 seats were filled). The show over, Mr.P headed toward the shop and the signing while we started clearing up, a process which took quite a while. The banners etc. were easy but it took a long time to fold up 600 chairs and put them away, take away the dias and the PA system, leaving the place as if nothing had happened at all, ready for the public to come back in the following morning. Some of our volunteers didn't get home until midnight.
By now of course it was too late to go back to Friargate and with three events planned there for the next day I had to recast my arrangements. Meanwhile, with all those heads turned in the direction of the NRM, and with me looking after Friargate, other members of the committee were busy at two more venues. As you can imagine, we all slept well that night.
Just as well since Saturday brought a total of seven more events spread across the city throughout the day, starting at 10 in the morning and lasting until 10 at night. I'm not going to go into the details, but at one point I found myself having to break into a run to get from one place to another in time.
Hopefully, with these few hectic days out of the way, things will now settle down and in a week or so's time we'll be able to reclaim our lives. Whatever that means.
Friday 11 March 2016
Episode 38 - ...Cometh The Wine and Canapes
So I survived. The ordeal of opening night is over, York Lit Fest 2016 has been officially opened and we can get on with the rest of our lives.
I say ordeal but I use the term purely for dramatic effect. It wasn't an ordeal at all, rather more of an entirely enjoyable occasion. My three lady interviewees were all utterly marvellous and impeccably behaved and if they're reading this (which I doubt) then I'd like to say thank you to them for helping to make the evening such a success.
Which I think it was, although it's always hard to judge. Not that everything ran smoothly of course. Arriving at the venue at 6pm to set up (the doors were due to open at 7) we found that none of the chairs or tables had been put out. The Festival Director appeared rather grim-faced and muttered something under his breath about a failure of communication. I focussed on unloading my car of banners and goodie bags and temporarily retreated to the safety of the car park. When I returned fifteen minutes later the problem had been dealt with, the tables and chairs were where they should be, the FD had calmed down and we could get on with the sound check.
Another worry was the location. Bedern Hall is hidden away and although it's less then two minutes from one of York's main thoroughfares, it can be difficult to find if you haven't been there before. Which most of our guests had not. So rather than endure an empty room and lots of people wandering around the backstreets in search of us, it was decided to dispatch a couple of our trusty volunteers to look out for any lost souls and point them in the right direction. Many of them had known of the problem and had accordingly set off early so by 6.45 the place was full. Bring on the wine and canapes. Well, just the wine actually since the canapes were still in the oven.
Problem number three was the unexpected arrival of a dozen members of the committee of a local group of some kind who promptly commandeered the back room where the wine and canapes were due to be served (when they'd finished cooking). I discovered this when I went to fetch a glass of wine for one of our guest speakers and walked into what had minutes before been our reception area only to find that the wine had all been removed elsewhere and the layout of the room had been completely restructured to accommodate its new residents. Fearful of the Festival Director's reaction to this unwanted development I blagged a glass of wine from the kitchen and headed back to our guest, trying to pretend that nothing untoward had happened and that the curious smell emanating from the oven was in fact entirely normal. As it turned out I heard nothing more about the back room (other than the mention of a double booking and some form of compensation) and when the canapes did finally make an appearance at about 7.15 they were absolutely delicious. Thank goodness. The show must go on, I thought, don't panic Mr Mainwaring.
After that it was all plain sailing. The Festival Director made a short speech of welcome, The Lady Mayor did likewise, she fired the starting gun and I could crack on with the interviews. Once that was out of the way, more shmoozing followed and we all clapped ourselves on the back and went home. Complete with our goodie bags.
How can you follow that? Tonight we welcome Michael Portillo to the National Railway Museum. He'd better be good, that's all I can say.
Thursday 10 March 2016
Episode 37 - Cometh The Hour...
Back in the dim and distant past (26 February, to be precise) in Episode 29 I said I had two interesting events to tell you about. I only managed to include the one in my post that day and said the other would have to wait. I haven't forgotten about it and now it can wait no longer. Tonight is opening night for York Lit Fest and yours truly is doing the author interviews. The moment has arrived.
I don't actually remember being asked about it. If l recall correctly, the first I knew was when the proofs of the programme were put in front of us and we started on the corrections. When we came to that particular item our Festival Director may have said something to the effect of I've put you down to do the talk, Nick. Is that ok? And because we were under pressure to get the programme to the printers I merely nodded and said Sure without realising what I was letting myself in for. That chicken has now come home to roost and later on today I will be locking myself away in the study, turning off the phone and the internet and settling down to putting some thoughts down on paper.
It's an interesting task I have. An author interview is usually quite straightforward. You read their book, check out their background and CV and then devise some fiendishly cunning questions to ask them. I've done it before - once. What makes tonight so very different, and thereby challenging, is the fact that there will be not just the one author but three. THREE for god's sake! And they're all women! There's a saying in literary circles that trying to organise a group of poets is like trying to herd cats. Fortunately all three of my interviewees are novelists so I'm hoping things will be a lot more orderly than that. But THREE of them! And all women!
I make it sound as if it's a trial but to tell the truth I'm really looking forward to it. I've read all three of the books in question and I have prepared some questions in advance so most of the work's been done already. The tricky bit was deciding how to structure the evening. The original suggestion was that it would be a series of three separate interviews following one after another. I didn't think this would work too well. No one would want to hear me ask the same question on three separate occasions and our research has shown that audiences like interaction between the guests. Then there'd have been the problem of 'who goes first?' and 'who goes last?' with the inference of a priority order. Far better to take them all at once as a panel, one question to all three and then let them talk amongst themselves. And by the way, there'll be no fiendishly cunning questions either. This is opening night, there'll be a full house, The Lady Mayor will be coming to cut the metaphorical red tape and the place will be buzzing with the great and the good of York. So we won't be attempting to be clever, just trying to make sure it's an entertaining evening for all concerned.
One small complication. Did I mention that one of the guests is a winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction and was also shortlisted for the Booker? Well I did say it would be challenging. Wish me luck.
Wednesday 9 March 2016
Episode 36 - Trapped? Not Quite...
Over recent months I've become a fan of Scandanavian crime drama. I failed to watch Wallander when that was aired some while ago, then The Killing, and then the first series of The Bridge. I came late to the party and it was only when I had a conversation with our Swedish connections that I realised what I was missing. The second series of The Bridge had me hooked although my favourite has been Beck which was regrettably limited to just a few brief episodes. Lately I've been glued to Trapped. It's set in Iceland and has a particular resonance as DLW and I visited the island a couple of years ago to seek out the Northern Lights. We instantly recognised some of the landmarks and will often pause our recording to look at the shots of Reykjavik to cries of 'we went there!'
After we'd watched the latest epidodes on Sunday evening I had something of a light-bulb moment. Call me stupid if you like but it suddenly struck me that my new novel, MÄLAREN, is set in Scandanavia. If you've read anything of my previous posts, you'll realise how obvious that is but the significance of it hadn't dawned on me until now. The novel itself was conceived way back in 2005, before all this fuss about Scandanavia arose. It was never meant to be an attempt to climb on that particular bandwagon so I've never thought of it in that context. I am now.
MÄLAREN was only ever intended to be another piece of contemporary literary fiction dealing with the character of Alan Harrison. What if I were to recast it instead as a psychological drama set in Sweden? That doesn't mean rewriting it at all (I'm done with it), it simply means changing the pitch. And more importantly to my thinking, I believe it's eminently adaptable for the screen. Think about it. It's set in Sweden (tick). It has a stunning location (tick). It's got sex and nudity (tick). It has a touch of the paranormal (tick). It incorporates a deep friendship between two men and a deep hatred between two others (tick). It has a dramatic ending (tick). How many ticks do you need?
I've already been offered publication but the problem is that I'm still unagented and the publisher doesn't deal in film/TV rights. It wasn't my initial intention but maybe I should cast around a bit and see if I can find anyone interested in taking on both the book and the potential for screening. I'd planned on delaying things anyway while the Lit Fest was on. I might just make a few enquiries...
Tuesday 8 March 2016
Episode 35 - The No-Go Logo
The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that York Literature Festival has a new logo. Not that we've actively been seeking a change, we're very happy with our old design but things have been forced on us by the advent of our new sponsor. And to be fair, we're not complaining about it - the addition they requested is quite discreet and proportionate and in my view, adds more than it takes away. But as you can imagine it's given us a few headaches and it's made us much more aware of how and where it should be used. Most of that we've been able to cope with and in particular, the restyled appearance of our brochure is especially smart. But when versions of our old logo pop up in places we hadn't expected - or authorised - it's bound to exercise our minds.
I can understand why some else would want to use our logo. If you're promoting a literary event in and around York it clearly confers the stamp of legitimacy. I should know, I was a beneficiary of just that when YLF kindly offered to brand the launch of THE BURDEN, my second novel, when it was held at Waterstones in July last year. And for an author of my (meagre) standing that means a lot. My experience is that it does little to boost your audience - that's something you have to take care of yourself - but it certainly adds that air of authority to affairs. I, at least, asked permission and was granted use of the official logo. More recently others have not and unauthorised instances of its use have occurred on more than one occasion.
The institutions concerned have been contacted and politely asked to remove them. Whilst YLF is adamant that its logo must not be used without the appropriate permission, the committee has no desire to make enemies. In at least one case, the event concerned was one that YLF would have been very happy to have included in its programme and had YLF been approached about it, things would have been quite different. It wasn't and the committee was faced with the unenviable task of asking that the logo be removed. And despite these careful approaches, I'm sorry to say that none of the institutions contacted have done as they were asked. The YLF logo is still blatantly being used in the same place and unaltered.
There are three issues here for the Lit Fest. Firstly they cannot allow unauthorised use of their logo - that is an absolute no-go area. Imagine what would happen if someone tried to brand a new fizzy drink as Coke - there'd be hell to pay. Secondly, the Lit Fest has an obligation to its new sponsor - the logos which have been appearing are of the old design and make no mention of them. And thirdly, the events these institutions have chosen to arbitrarily brand are taking place during the fortnight of the official festival and so are in direct competition with the festival itself. No wonder the committee are incensed. And no wonder the committee will take whatever action it can to restore its reputation and authority. So if you're using the YLF logo without their permission, you can expect a knock on your door. You have been warned.
Friday 4 March 2016
Episode 34 - Run Ragged
You may have noticed that yesterday's post was a little shorter than usual. Small wonder there was any post at all since it was shoe-horned in-between a number of must-do York Lit Fest jobs of one kind or another. However, the news I had to impart was of such consequence that I simply had to make space for it. Recent experience has shown that if I don't strike while the iron's hot, I tend not to strike at all. For instance, I'm aware I still owe you something I promised a few episodes ago and I'm yet to deliver on it.
Back in Episode 27 I suggested things were hotting up and I mentioned a thinly-disguised air of panic. What I can tell you now is that the disguise has fallen away and we're in danger of becoming a bunch of headless chickens. Forget hotting up, it's now coming thick and fast and we're struggling to keep up.
The primary reason for this must date back to our decision to hold the festival a week earlier than usual this year. Mind you, I don't think there was very much choice. A week later and we'd have been into the Easter weekend and that was something we naturally wanted to avoid. There have been two readily identifiable effects.
Firstly, ticket sales. We don't feel comfortable with starting ticket sales before the first week in January. It would be logistically difficult anyway since our brochure doesn't become available until then. Losing a week of sales means having to work harder to achieve our targets. This year will see ticket sales comfortably exceed last year and our rate of growth will be maintained - but we've just had to run a lot faster to get there.
The same applies to the work involved in putting on our events. This year's festival is bigger than ever and I have no doubt that our audience will increase yet again. We've also acquired a major sponsor this year and a lot of time and effort has been devoted to bringing them on board. We have more events, bigger acts and bigger venues, all of which bring bigger problems. And with a week less in which to solve them and get everything organised, I'm very conscious of the fact that we're having to spend more time sorting things out.
The public won't notice any of this of course. We will put on a fantastic show for all concerned and I have no doubt it will be a great success. But there'll be some exhausted committee members at the end of it all, me included.
Thursday 3 March 2016
Episode 33 - Yes, It's Just As I Thought
So now I can start crowing! As I confidently predicted only yesterday, a third panel reader at my existing publisher has posted a positive comment (bless her!) and AN OFFER OF PUBLICATION has been issued. So all being well, my third novel, MÄLAREN, will see the light of day later this year.
That in itself should be pleasing enough but it's also been offered at the improved terms and conditions I hinted at. This makes me feel that the long hours spent in windy bookshop doorways all over the North East and the lengthy journeys to visit sparsely populated lit fest events and to give talks to writing groups have all been worthwhile.
It also means the beginning of a lot more hard work. Although I'd like to think that the manuscript I submitted was in fairly good shape, there's still the final proof-reading to be done along with the essential formatting. And as previous experience has shown, this can take a while if it's to be done properly. I'm also going to need to settle on a cover design and get some good endorsements. My weekly bookshop visits have convinced me how vital these are - for both the prospective buyer and for the author. If you want to make that all-important pitch, you need to have confidence in what you're presenting to the reader. In my case that probably means choosing the fundamental design myself - I can't risk leaving that to someone else and end up not liking it.
But, as you're already aware, we're just about to hit Lit Fest season and two weeks of hectic activity will shortly begin. Even with my legendary capacity for pigeonholing, I'm not sure I can keep that many balls in the air at the same time. Looks like something's going to have to give...
Wednesday 2 March 2016
Episode 32 - Yet More News
I don't know whether it's been apparent but I seem to have lost the thread of things over the last two days. Here we are, trying to set out my writing life and what have we had? A piece about the European Referendum and then a rant about virtual reality glasses. I could attempt to excuse this by saying that I do have other interests and that I should be a very dull person indeed if all I ever thought about was writing and its associated affairs. You would be kind to think that the case when the truth is that I simply went off the boil yesterday and let the ship drift a little. Matters have been brought sharply back into focus today. Two pieces of news arrived which have secured my complete attention.
In Episode 28 (Breaking News!), I revealed that my editor at my current publishers had reacted positively to my submission of MÄLAREN, proposing acceptance but with improved terms. His say isn't final and it left me waiting for feedback from other readers on the panel. A second comment has now come in supporting the first both in the way of acceptance and terms. That again is not decisive but with two votes already in the bag one senses that others will follow suit. I can't start crowing yet but I do begin to feel an offer of publication coming on.
Encouraging progress too with a subject we haven't touched on since Episode 25 (And Not a Dog Barked). My application for York Lit Fest to become a charity was lodged back on 17 December. I was told not to expect a reply until 22 March. Somebody at the Charity Commission has obviously pulled their finger out as I've had an emailed response. YLF is suitable for charitable status but a few minor technical amendments are needed to the paperwork before this can be confirmed. For instance, silly billy that I am I neglected to fill in a box asking for the number of trustees. Add that number plus a few other changes like it and we're done. Still too early to open the champagne but I think I can ast least put the bottle in the fridge in readiness.
All of which takes me nearer to achieving my first quarter objectives and gives me confidence that these things will be sorted out by the end of March - MÄLAREN finished and with an offer of publication and YLF firmly established as a charity. My book sales target is already in the bag so all that's left is making this year's festival a success. I'd better get on with it then.
Tuesday 1 March 2016
Episode 31 - The Sweet Smell of... Success?
I woke yesterday morning to the sweet smell of... woodsmoke actually which had somehow permeated my study. On Sunday I'd set fire to my Christmas tree in the garden and the fumes must have got in through the window. The smell in the study has dissipated now but it still lingers on my clothes and I seem to carry it about wherever I go. I'll be sorry when it disappears altogether - it's a great reminder of what a superb day it was and a link to the great outdoors.
I've missed being outside. We've had such a dull, dreek winter - wind, rain, flooding - and at times I've felt cooped up in the house. Once or twice I've looked out of the kitchen window and thought how I should really get out into the garden and do something. But up until recently the ground's been far too wet to even contemplate setting foot on it and I've had to stay indoors. But on Sunday the sun was shining, the lawn had dried out and I was able to make that all-important start on getting the garden sorted. And that means a lot to me. And here's why.
A week or so ago there was an item on the news about an exhibition on the latest in technology. One of the new gadgets we can expect to see in the future is a set of virtual reality glasses with a slot into which you can drop your mobile phone. Using that as a connection to the internet means you can conjure up pretty much any set of surroundings you like and be fooled into thinking you're actually in it eg. you could walk down the High Street and do virtual shopping from the comfort of your own home. Taking this a step further, you could climb Mount Kilimanjaro without having to leave the house, thereby avoiding all that tiresome travelling etc. not to mention the sheer physical effort it would have taken. In my case I could have sat in my study, put on my glasses and imagined myself in my garden. It won't be long, no doubt, before some bright spark dreams up a way of enabling me to experience the sounds and the smells that go with it as well. How unbelievably dull! I'm utterly horrified by the whole idea. I don't want virtual reality - I want the real thing, sun, wind, rain, the lot, all beating down on me. I'm with JMW Turner, the painter, who famously strapped himself to the mast of a ship in a storm so he knew how to paint it.
The prospect of a new generation who don't have these real experiences but prefer to hide away behind a pair of virtual reality glasses fills me with dread. How are they to know the world? Or will this be their world? A place where they can conduct all sorts of horrors and not have to face the consequences. In a very short space of time modern life has taken us away from our long-term natural roots. We are fast losing contact with the earth, its bounty and its beauty, and in doing so we are starting to destroy it. This is a dangerous path to follow and if not properly controlled will lead to disaster.
In September, I'm planning a bird-watching trip to Bulgaria. If I had a pair of these virtual reality glasses and I cared to turn on my mobile phone, I could doubtless experience the same trip from the comfort of my armchair. Why bother going? A thousand resons why. It's good to go away for a while. It's great being outdoors. It's great having the sun on your face. I love walking in the rain. I love listening to birdsong. I enjoy finding and looking at beautiful birds. And I value the sweet smell of woodsmoke in my study - it reminds me I'm alive.
So I will be going to Bulgaria, and I want to experience all the trip has to offer - for real. I want to see new landscape. I want to see the birds that live in it. And I want to do it before it all gets swept away in the rush for progress and all we have left is one vast virtual reality theme park.
Sunday 28 February 2016
Episode 30 - A Bright New Dawn?
What a lovely morning! The sun is shining, it looks glorious outside and I'm tempted to follow my neighbour's stirring example and get out into the garden, mow my lawn and trim my hedges. Although not at 8.30am as he's done, waking DLW from her much-needed slumber. Best move on, I think.
I am feeling pretty chipper though. And this despite having spent all of yesterday in a bookshop. You may recall that I'd become somewhat unenamoured of bookshops (see Episode 16 - I'm So Sick (of it all?) and that I'd felt I needed to give it a break. I'll try and excuse my lack of enthusiasm by reminding you that I wasn't well at the time and this may have contributed to my sense of dissatisfaction. I'm better now (thanks for asking) in more ways than one and I come away from yesterday's event in a different frame of mind. I may even be persuaded to book some more signings...
So what's made me think twice about it? Two things. Firstly, I had a really good day saleswise. I've now clocked up 60 days of booksignings since beginning the schedule back in December 2014. Of these, I've only sold more books than I did yesterday on three previous occasions - and those were all in the run-up to Christmas. And I know you're going to tell me that these petty commercial considerations shouldn't influence my principles - but hey, I'm only human and a good dose of hypocrisy only makes me more so. Of course it only needs a bad week in WH Smiths in Bradford next Saturday and I'll be back to my complaining ways.
But it wasn't just the numbers and in fact, my faith in book signings had already been restored before I even set foot out of the house. The events of Thursday (Episode 28 - Breaking News!) contain a significant clue. If you remember, I'd submitted MÄLAREN to my existing publishers for their consideration and garnered an immediate recommendation for approval from my editor (no guarantee of acceptance, by the way). He'd gone on to say about me
His writing is excellent and he works incredibly hard on the sales side. He's a fantastic example of how a fiction author can succeed in building a following.
Nice words. But the fact is, the only way I've built that 'following' (if indeed that's what it is) is through the medium of book signings in those very same bookshops of whom I'd begun to grow tired. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. His comments were a wake-up call and a salient reminder of which side my bread is buttered.
Someone asked me once about the best way of getting your second book published. My reply? 'Sell shed-loads of your first'. Maybe it's about time I started taking my own advice.
Friday 26 February 2016
Episode 29 - What Katy Did Next
Don't ask me why I've gone with the title of today's post. Because I'm going to tell you anyway, it's an interesting anecdote.
I had originally thought of calling it After The Lord Mayor's Show as I couldn't imagine how anything could be as exciting as yesterday's news. Then I realised that I do have a couple of other events of interest to report and it would be unfair to post them under such a deprecating title. And so, What Katy Did Next sprang to mind as being a far kinder heading. I was under the impression that What Katy Did Next was the title of a children's book but rather than risk it, I went to Google to check it out. The mistake I made was spelling it KATIE. You try it. Good, eh?
Beautiful vintage inspired lingerie sets all with matching suspender belts, plus fully steel boned corsets suitable for waist training and a wide range of stockings
Not quite what I was expecting. A triumph of commercial necessity over intellectual interest. No doubt some of you will be laughing your heads off at my lack of modern cultural knowledge and think I'm still living in the 19th century. Well, I can assure you that What Katy Did Next really is the title of a children's book and no I don't have any unseemly interest in looking on the internet for vintage lingerie sets. And if you came here thinking you were in for something salacious, you're in for a big disappointment. Now, where was I?
Ah yes, two interesting events. As you may know, I've taken on the role of Festival Development for York Lit Fest. I've composed a draft business plan which, until I can get one in front of and approved by the committee, will have to serve as my guide. One of my objectives is to form some strategic partnerships with other organisations in the city for our mutual benefit. With the help of NG from Make It York I've drawn up a list and I've started to make some phone calls. Yesterday that began to bear fruit and I was granted a half-hour telephone interview with RK of York Museums Trust. That pleased me no end as YMT are one of my major targets. It soon became apparent that YMT are keen to work with us and we discussed how we might progress our relationship. As a result we now have an invite to a private viewing of their up-coming exhibition Shaping The Body and ideas about how we might use that as a theme and relate it to literature are starting to bubble up. The debate about sugar tax and obesity are an immediate thought. There was also talk of an art exhibition in 2017. These are opportunities. Carpe Diem.
And the other event of note? I'll keep that for another occasion, partly because I'm running out of time and partly so that I can go back to my beginning and bring back What Katy Did. It's obvious to me now why I made my mistake. My subconscious mind was working ahead and I was already thinking of Shaping The Body. At least, that's my excuse...
Thursday 25 February 2016
Episode 28 - Breaking News!
I'm sorry that I didn't post yesterday. Had a bit of a blank, frankly...
But I must do so today because SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED. Not quite the Bigger Splash I was talking about earlier in the week but certainly a detectable ripple.
I've been submitting my new novel, MÄLAREN, to a select group of agents and publishers. I make that sound as though they should feel privileged to receive them - and so they should, 'I'm worth it' as they say in the cosmetics ad. Although the truth of the matter is I went the full round after I'd completed my first draft back in 2013 to test the temperature of the water and got next to no response. I really can't be bothered to go through that all over again so this time I'm picking my targets carefully.
I posted off the first three chapters and a synopsis to my prospective agent, JU, on Monday. I'll get a response but it will take weeks. Legend Press was done on Tuesday. I don't expect to hear from them for months but I don't plan to wait that long. It doesn't look as though I'll need to. Yesterday I made a submission to my existing publishers, Roundfire. I said they'd come back to me in days. They actually took hours.
Roundfire have a two-stage submission process. The first stage is fairly conventional, except that instead of three chapters you can send in as much as you have/like. If the writing and the idea appeal to them they'll invite you to make a full proposal. My submission was fairly straightforward and done by breakfast time. I had a response before lunch - they'd welcome a full proposal.
The email they sent told me that they'd set up a book page on their site and that I should fill in various details (a link was provided and if you're new to Roundfire they give you a password etc, to enable you to log in. As an existing author I already have one). Once you've completed your proposal they ask a panel of readers to look at your work and make recommendations. Their comments appear on the book site for you to look at.
Hmm... I thought, that's about what I expected. With two books already published by them I'd be very disappointed if they didn't want a close look at a third. And thinking that I'd do my full proposal the following day, I almost didn't click on the link. But curiosity got the better of me and I did. And what a surprise! Before I'd even had the chance to make my case, the Editor of Roundfire had posted a reader report with A RECOMMENDATION TO ACCEPT. And with improved terms. I don't suppose for one moment that he's read the whole manuscript - he may have looked at a chapter or two just to check - but he's based his judgement on my previous track record of both sales and quality of writing. All of which vindicates my campaign of book signings and having to endure windy book shop doorways in my attempt to reach my targets. It means I'll go to Waterstones in Darlington on Saturday in a rejuvenated frame of mind.
All very well, but it doesn't mean I'm home and hosed. Someone else could object so I'm not opening the champagne just yet, although it's looking very promising.
So I wake up today reasonably confident that my third novel will get published. Up until now it's been no more than a plan, a 'wouldn't it be good if' kind of idea, but today I actually feel it will translate into reality. And how Big a Splash that will be, we'll just have to wait and see.
Tuesday 23 February 2016
Episode 27 - Things Are Hotting Up
And after my unashamedly self-indulgent excursion into Euroland yesterday (see Euro Talk) it's back to more familiar territory today and a return to The Power of Three. Remember that? I'm sure you do, the three drivers of my current activity ie.
1. Reach my sales target for THE BURDEN
2. Finish MÄLAREN and get it to market
3. Deliver a successful Lit Fest
And all so that I can make A Bigger Splash (see Episode 26 below).
Well, I can tick item 1. already. I've reached the figure I set myself for the quarter and despite the fact that I'm not exactly enjoying book signings these days, I'm ploughing on with them. This week I'll be in Waterstones in Darlington on Saturday, drop in and say hello if you're around.
As for item 2. I've finished editing MÄLAREN and yesterday I got down to the task of getting it to market. And yet another three-pronged strategy as I intend to make three submissions. And only three. The idea of spending several weeks ploughing through The Writers & Artists Yearbook, seeking out relevant agencies and agents and composing countless separate submissions doesn't exactly appeal - and besides I did that already back in the autmn of 2013 when I completed the first draft. That exercise succeeded in turning up JU who at least admired my writing. So l now consider JU my unofficial agent and rather than send things out dozens of times, I'm taking the view that if it's not good enough for JU it's not good enough at all. Hence sub Number 1 went off in that direction yesterday. The result should be known within 6-8 weeks according to the website.
Sub Number 2 will be done today and sent to Legend Press. I'm on their email list and I'm curious to see how they will react. The big drawback with them is that their website says it could be 4-6 MONTHS before I get a reply. Hmm... I'm not sure their answer is worth waiting for - I'm hoping the book will be published by then anyway.
Sub Number 3. will go to my current publishers, Roundfire Books. That's a job for Wednesday. Experience has shown that they respond within a much shorter period, even days. More on this later in the week.
That just leaves us item 3. and the Lit Fest. We're now getting close to the final countdown. The first event in our programme is actually next Saturday (when I'm away in a bookshop - I must get a better diary) although it was only included in the brochure because we decided to brand it and it was just about within Lit Fest season. The real deal starts a fortnight on Thursday with opening night at Bedern Hall. Yours truly is doing the author interviews and needs to finish the reading list (more on this later). Meanwhile the committee met last night to finalise the detailed arrangements and there was a thinly-disguised air of panic as we all began to realise how much there's left to do in such a short space of time. The large majority of the evening was spent filling in an event sheet for every item in the programme so we know exactly who's doing what and when. With over 40 items to cover it's quite a task. And then we have to deliver... I've volunteered to take resposibility for a few events but my main part in all this will be making sure that our support materials eg. banners, leaflets, magazines etc. will be in the right place at the right time. This is important so that our headline sponsors (Baillie Gifford) are properly represented. God help me if I screw up - on anything.
Sunday 21 February 2016
Episode 26 - A Bigger Splash
I hadn't intended to post at all today (it's a Sunday - I'm entitled to a day off) but a couple of things have caused me to change my mind. Firstly, a dismal day in Middlesbrough on Friday and then, a trip to the cinema last night.
This week's bookshop expedition came a day earlier than usual. Waterstones in Middlesbrough had decided that they didn't want to clutter up their premises with the likes of me on a Saturday and so had offered me Friday instead. Gullible mug that I am I accepted. It was a half-term and the city centre would be alive with Mums and Dads taking the kids into town for a day out - alternatively they'd have all stayed indoors or gone somewhere nice and warm for a few days. Well it certainly wasn't the former and we struggled for footfall all day. At least it wasn't my fault as the staff told me it had been like that all week. And if that weren't enough, my back was playing up and for the first time ever in a bookstore I took advantage of a chair. Result? Not the worst day ever (that accolade belongs to D*******) but near enough to bear comparison. The staff were fine and the customers were nice enough - it's just that there weren't a great deal of them. And so I spent most of my time sitting in my chair, nursing my bad back and a general feeling of futility. I've already indicated that the novelty of bookstore signings has finally worn off (see Episode 16) and at one particularly low point I even thought I'm worth more than this. Was that vain of me? Or should I really expect better?
This line of thinking continued into Saturday and was given added impetus by a visit to City Screen to see A BIGGER SPLASH with Ralph Fiennes. I'm a huge fan of his and much admired his performance as Count Almasy in THE ENGLISH PATIENT amongst other things. During our recent trip to London (Episode 21) we made a special point of going to see him live in THE MASTER BUILDER by Ibsen at The Old Vic, an event that did his reputation no harm at all. If I were to chose an actor to play the part of Michael Blake in the film version of BIRDS OF THE NILE he would undoubtedly be it. Inevitable then that I should want to see him as Harry Hawks in his latest film - plus the fact that I'd been told his effort at 'dad-dancing' was not to be missed. I can now confirm that's correct, it's a scene of unfettered self-expression in which Harry gives full vent to how he feels about life - he revels in every moment, both good and bad, and lives every moment to the full, wringing emotion from his every act.
I doubt I could ever be like Harry Hawks - I don't think it's in me to be so - but there's an element somewhere inside that says I'm missing out. I have to confess there are times when I find life inextricably dull, I plod away with little or no excitement and I certainly don't ride the roller-coaster of emotions the way Harry does. Harry wouldn't have lasted five minutes in Middlesbrough before going out into the street and creating some kind of scene to attract attention to himself. As to whether this would have enabled him to sell more books, I don't think he'd have cared one way or the other - that's not the point. The last time I experienced anything like the 'highs' of Harry's existence was the day John Hunt Publishing said 'yes' to THE BURDEN and I knew it was going to be published. Thereafter, life returned to its lowland plateau. There was a mild flutter on Wednesday night at the Lit Fest's meeting to discuss charitable status. For once I felt intellectually challenged (and thereby uplifted) but when I look back on it, the outcome was never really in doubt and one could have got through it with far less hype. But moments such as these are few and far between and in the intervening periods one has to make do with being grateful for simply drawing breath.
A bigger splash - is that what I want? I need these challenges, otherwise life doesn't seem to be worth living. And they have to be challenges where the outcomes depend on me and not some arbitrary factor. I know I could climb Mount Kilimanjaro, there are expeditions that will take you there. The same goes for Machu Pichu or the Galapagos Islands. To me, these aren't challenges since they depend on someone else and the results are virtually guaranteed. You could do the same if you wanted it enough and you put your mind to it. I need to do something someone else can't do - I need to make a difference. Then I might begin to feel something for a change, instead of this sense that the excitement of actually living is passing me by.
Of course, Harry Hawks is completely OTT - and pays the ultimate price. But he certainly makes me wonder...
Thursday 18 February 2016
Episode 25 - And Not a Dog Barked
Well, well, well - in fact, all's well. And after the oppressive cloudiness of Tuesday (Episode 23), I suddenly find myself emerging into the sunny uplands of a Thursday which must be marked with a red letter.
Let me deal firstly with the events of yesterday evening as I know you're all dying to hear. So, how did the big meeting go? The phrase I've used to headline today's post sums it up. It's taken from Antonia Fraser's biography of Cromwell (Oliver) where she describes the reaction to his effective 'coronation' as Lord Protector. I may have misquoted it slightly but I'm not far off. That's not to say that no one batted an eyelid but there were certainly no fundamental objections and the much-feared 'coup' failed to materialise. And in the end, our resolution to wind up the existing voluntary group that currently runs York Literature Festival and replace it with a Charitable Incorporated Organisation sailed through with a unanimous vote in favour. What on earth was all the fuss about?
In actual fact, proceedings could hardly have gone better. After the possibility of an unwanted takeover, the next worst thing would have been a complete lack of interest by all concerned. But I'm pleased to say that a number of the festival's 'friends' were prepared to turn out on what was really a cold and miserable night and become engaged in a seemingly dry and dusty topic. Views were expressed and pertinent questions were asked - to which pertinent and satisfactory answers were given. All in all, both committee and friends conducted themselves in a very business-like and professional manner, the right thing was done and it was seen to be done. All hail YLF! With that potentially awkward hurdle negotiated, we can now march on to better things. In the meanwhile, we await the decision of the Charity Commission who are due to report back some time next month.
But wait, there's more. This morning I finished editing MÄLAREN. Last time I attempted this I gave up in disgust before I reached the end. This time I've stayed the course and while it's not perfect (nothing ever is) I feel it's as good as it's going to get. Tomorrow I'm in a bookshop instead of my usual Saturday so I'll let it rest over the weekend and begin the process of submission on Monday. Another box ticked on my red-letter Thursday!
So no time to post tomorrow but here's another thought before I leave you. This blog was always supposed to be about what this writer did each day. So if I managed all the above by 11am how did I spend the rest of my time? Here's a brief heads-up.
6.30am to 11am (inc half an hour for breakfast) - Editing
11am to 12.30pm - Trawled the whole of my email account deleting out-of-date material and noting everything still outstanding
12.30pm to 1pm - Brief phone call to Festival Director then booked day-long CVS course re Leadership, Volunteer Recruitment and Employment issues for 23 March
1pm to 2pm - Lunch!
2pm to 3pm - Hour long phone call with Baillie Gifford to bring Lit Fest arrangements up to date
3pm to 4pm - Prepared for book signing in Middlesbrough
4pm to 5pm - Posted this blog
Next up I need to book a restaurant for tea-time on Saturday, then I'm going to try and get some exercise followed by something to eat and out to the Novelists Support Group.
There just aren't enough hours in the day...
Wednesday 17 February 2016
Episode 24 - Tonight's The Night
I must begin by apologising for my inexcusable rant yesterday. In my defence, it was not a good day and although I'd prefer not to go into the gory details it did involve a misbehaving computer and significant lapses in discipline on my part. All my own fault and I'm over it now.
I have been prone to these kinds if incidents in the past. I seem to get into a rut of bad behaviour and I find it extremely difficult to get out of it, no matter how important I tell myself it is that I do so. As for the cause of yesterday's irritations, I have since taken executive action to cure the problem and while I cannot guarantee I won't 'lose it' again, you can at least be sure that it won't be for the same reasons. Now let's move on.
Thankfully, none of the above has prevented me from continuing to edit MÄLAREN. In fact, I've got in two solid days and I'm now within a whisker of completing the job. I could have done so today but I held off the last 500 words as I wanted to come to them fresh in the morning and ensure they're right. I'll be attending the monthly Novelists Support Group meeting on Thursday evening and it will be a great feeling to be able to go there and say I'm all ready to submit.
But first we have to get tonight out of the way. You may remember when I let the cat out of the bag in Episode 14 about YLF's decision to seek charitable status. I mentioned that the committee was on tenterhooks about the outcome of the Special General Meeting and the possibility of the vote going against us. Well, that meeting is in just a few hours time and I will shortly have to cut away and do my homework in preparation. I'll need to remind myself of the process we went through to get to this stage, why we think it's important and be ready to deal with any objections. I'll also be taking a copy of the constitution of the present voluntary group with me as we may have to consult it in the event of any unforeseen difficulties. I'm confident we'll get our motion passed - but we can't take that for granted and we must be ready for the unexpected. Tune in tomorrow for a full report. It's just like going camping - all the excitement's intense.
Tuesday 16 February 2016
Episode 23 - A Bad Day At The Office (Really)
I'M NOT A HAPPY BUNNY. I've had a bad day and frankly, I'm not in the mood to talk about it. I haven't done things I said I was going to do, I've done things I said wasn't going to do, I've totally underperformed, wasted shedloads of time and I'm really cross with myself. Other than that, it's been brilliant. The only reason I'm posting this is to try and salvage a modicum of self-respect out of the wreckage. In fact I'm going to leave shortly before I lose my temper altogether and say something I might regret. Goodbye.
TOMORROW HAS TO BE A SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENT OVER TODAY - PERIOD.
Monday 15 February 2016
Episode 22 - The Thick of It
A couple of days in London, a couple of days catching up at home and suddenly it's the start of a new week and we're back in the thick of it.
And having failed to get back to the writing desk on Saturday morning, I managed it on Sunday as per my re-arranged schedule and the rewite of MÄLAREN is back on track. Another good editing session today and I've now clocked up 86500 words so only another 4000 or so to go. I've done this before of course, only to get to this stage and throw my hands up in the air and say Stop! It's Rubbish! but this time I feel completely different. I truly believe the piece is as good as it's going to get, it's ready to submit and I'm happy to let it go. I find I have no desire to have another crack at it and I need to move on. So, just a few more days...
And with my quota for the day in the bag, a quick check of the emails before heading off into town for a meeting with NG of Make It York. Now that I've got the essence of my business plan for the Lit Fest in hand, it's time to put together a strategy for attracting some sponsors and I need his help. Fortunately, we see eye to eye on how to go about it. With Baillie Gifford as headline sponsor, we need four (say) other main sponsors eg. a media co, a drinks co, a publisher (or similar) etc. Then we could look to some local organisations to act as sponsors for individual events. Two key issues stand out in relation to the main sponsors, both of which were news to me. First (and foremost according to NG) we need to pull some information together about outreach eg. how many people attend the festival, their age range and where they come from. This will be essential if we are to make a proper pitch. Second, our pitch will need to be professional - you can't just call someone up from these major businesses and expect them to be impressed by a garbled phone conversation. A short video would probably be a good idea, extolling the virtues of both YLF and York and showing that we mean business. We had one done two years ago to support our AGM - something along those lines would be good.
We also discussed my pet project - a festival tent in the heart of York during festival week (and more) but this seems more long term in the light of the potential costs. We could start off with something more modest however and build up to our ultimate goal. There are several ideas for this.
Lastly, we talked about a possible themed weekend for 2017 and NG is going to let me know what's on the radar for next year so we can link in and hopefully broaden our audience.
Walked back home, head buzzing, then nearly an hour on the phone with the Festival Director exchanging notes before grabbing something to eat.
Finally, up to the study where I call our Chairman about arrangements for Wednesday evening (big night coming up re charitable status - remember that?) and then it's time to post before I sneak off to bed and get started on the third of the three books I need to read in preparation for opening night on 10 March.
There a lot more water to pass under the bridge before then though - it's all hotting up. Let's see what tomorrow brings.
Saturday 13 February 2016
Episode 21 - All Change
Firstly, the good news. I've had a fabulous couple of days in London (more on that shortly), I picked up some great ideas for the Lit Fest and I haven't been anywhere near a computer so no unwanted game distractions.
The bad news? Didn't sleep well last night, woke up with a head-ache (nothing to do with over-indulgence, I can assure you) and I arrive at my desk this morning with the realisation that there's no way I'm going to be able to get down to a few hours work on my novel as was my original plan.
I find this happens quite regularly. It's certainly the case after a day in a bookshop. I've learnt that I need to prepare my invoice for books sold straight away so that's first thing the following morning. My head won't let me go anywhere else. It's the same today. As much as I might pride myself on my ability to compartmentalise my life, that does not extend to arriving home in a taxi at 11.30pm one night and starting editing a novel at 7am the next morning. There's too much swirling around to concentrate.
I'd left off MÄLAREN on Wednesday halfway through a chapter with the full intention of having two days away and then finishing it off this morning, before going out to do some errands up at Monks Cross. Sunday, I'd planned to go out bird-watching (another compartment but we won't go into that now) and back to normal on Monday. Somewhere in-between I was going to squeeze in Italy v England but I wasn't quite sure when. Looked at in the cold light of day ie. now, that's all pretty unrealistic and something's got to give. Oh, and I forgot to mention, the housework needs doing. As I said on Wednesday, there aren't enough hours in the day (good job I've laid off that computer game). So, all change - and with all these thoughts rattling round in my head, the obvious thing to do is write about it here, postpone MÄLAREN until tomorrow, cancel the bird-watching and stay at home to watch the rugby. At least I can claim to be flexible.
And if I don't tell you about London now of course, it won't ever happen. So yes, a brilliant couple of days, full of both expected and unexpected pleasures, beginning with a bus ride into town and a midday train. Lunch on the way, arriving at Kings X around 2pm. We had thought about walking to our hotel near Waterloo (a good step but I enjoy that kind of thing) but dallied to do some shopping so finished up on the tube. We'd plumped for a Travelodge - basic accommodation for a simple overnight stay. Big bed in a small room, but surprisingly quiet considering we were staying in central London. A quick wash and brush up then off to an early meal at Meson Don Felipe, a small (and very intimate) tapas bar. Empty when we arrived, it started to fill up around six and by the time we left c7pm it was full to bursting. As were we, having seriously underestimated the size of Don Felipe's generous portions. A slow walk then down The Cut to The Old Vic and a performance of The Master Builder with Ralph Fiennes. Two good reasons to go and see this - I love plays of that ilk and era eg. Ibsen and Chekhov (and also the later works of Miller and Williams etc.) and Fiennes is a particular favourite of mine. Interesting, and I learnt a lot about the art of writing a play, although I didn't find the plot as convincing as I might have hoped. Back to the Travelodge and the big bed.
Our appointment re the Russian Visa the following morning was literally two minutes walk from our hotel and took less than twenty minute, leaving us with a whole day to ourselves before our 9pm train home. We easily filled the space, firstly with a visit to The Courtauld Gallery and then the The National, punctuated by an extended afternoon tea. The Courtauld could not have been better arranged, having a small but brilliant display of Northern Renaissance art, a subject dear to DLW's heart and one which we explored in Bruges a few years ago. One painting stood out, Madonna col bambino e angeli by Quentin Massys, executed so finely that one couldn't see a single brushstroke nor a stitch of canvas. Quite unlike my other passion in paintings, impressionism, which was exhibited extensively on an upper floor. Two quite contrasting styles, but both extremely enjoyable.
And finally, The National Gallery. It's late on a Friday afternoon, it's an art gallery ie. a dim, dark place full of pictures of dead people painted by dead people looked at by people who are almost dead themselves, the place is about to shut its doors and everyone is going home for the weekend. WRONG! It's six o'clock, the doors are just opening, the place is absolutely packed, mostly with the younger set, and it's buzzing. This is Valentine's Late, a special event celebrating love in art. There's a conducted tour (#paintedlovers), a jazz band in the foyer, demonstrations of courtly dancing, historical aphrodisiacs, fascinating fascinators and the language of fans. We take in as much as we can before we have to set off for Leicester Square and the tube to Kings X, stopping at a late-night M&S to pick something to eat on the train.
No wonder my head's still whirling this morning.
Thursday 11 February 2016
Episode 20 - So Here's The Plan
Wasn't supposed to post anything today as I'm off up the smoke for a couple of days ( Russian Visa) but I find I have half an hour or so to spare so I thought I'd try and make up for yesterday's failings. One of which was the deliberate error in Episode 19. Anyone spot it? No good looking for it now as I've made the correction. Answers on a postcard... And if I don't spill the beans about my masterplan for YLF fairly soon, the opprtunity will have slipped by for good.
Business plans usually start with a declaration of intent. This could be a mission statement or a set of aims. YLF's aim is quite simple - we want to be one of the best lit fests in the country - but how you know when you've got there is difficult to assess. Maybe it's a bit like an elephant - hard to describe but you'll know when you see one. One thing we do know is we are one of BG's chosen few and our new sponsor has honoured us with their support. One look at their web page regarding their 2016 programme puts us in very good company. I feel as though we have been promoted to the equvalent of the Premier League but as the Chairman of any Premier League side will tell you, the difficulty is staying in it once you've been promoted. So we are going to have to work super hard to keep our place.
My plan for 2016 was simple. Become a charity, retain BG as sponsors and write a plan for 2017. I feel confident that these things will happen and I don't see why they shouldn't be in place by the end of our 'year' ie. 31 May. The plan for 2017 is necessarily more complex and it has to centre around developing our resources. If we wish to continue to grow and move further up the league table then we'll need more backing to do it. That means more money, more people and more facilities (have I mentioned the Power of Three?).
Improving our finances has to be a priority. There are plenty of ways of doing this and I'm not going to list them all here (although I do have a thing about reducing those exhorbitant fees charged by some of our so-called Big Names). Principally, we need to find more sponsors and source some funding. To this end I went to the funding event at CVS last week and made some contacts. On Monday I have a meeting with NG of Make It York (one of our great supporters) where we will be developing a strategy for attracting sponsors. I also want to raise the issue of forming strategic partnerships with some of York's big tourist attractions as this is a resource I don't think we make enough of.
But we also need more hands on deck. We are currently a voluntary group of 6 plus a Festival Director. When I look at some of the other festivals in the Premier League they seem to have myriads of helpers and even full-time paid staff. We don't get close to that at present. We need at least 2 new committee members to take on the extra work. We need to provide our Director with some admin support, probably in the form of a PA (God help whoever that turns out to be - working with MS isn't the easiest thing in the world...). I've contacted CVS who've offered to advertise these opportunities on their volunteering site. They've also suggested I look at Do-It.org and I've also signed up to that with a view to an online search.
If we're successful with finding a PA for MS, they'll need somewhere to work. At present we don't have an office. All our meetings are held in our respective homes or in a pub. We also need a formal address for various purposes. Last week we were at Hiscox, pitching to join their business club which offers use of desk and office space. We're hopeful something will come of that. If nothing does, we'll have to look elsewhere, maybe with CVS. We don't have the money to rent premises so we'll be relying on somebody's goodwill.
And lastly, something which might be considered frivolous but actually demonstrates our determination to move forward besides being an ideal opportunity for attracting new sponsors - a hub, a centre set up during (and probably for a week or so preceeding) the festival where the public can drop in, pick up a programme, sit down and enjoy a coffee and a slice of cake, ask questions and book tickets to whatever events they feel like going to. My dream is that this will be a huge tent in Parliament Street, manned by volunteers, complete with concessionary coffee shop provided by one of our new strategic partners and having a remote ticketing facility. If we could get a few readings from local authors, some performance poetry and maybe a bit of music thrown in, wouldn't that be great? Maybe it's just a dream...
That's it for now, as I say I'm off to London to get my Russian Visa (and do a few other things as well) so I won't be back here for a couple of days. Have fun while I'm away.
Wednesday 10 February 2016
Episode 19 - Not Enough Hours in the Day
Or alternatively, I simply don't work hard enough. Here we are at the end of another day of long hours (and further lack of discipline) and I find I have only done half the things on my do list. This happens a lot. One solution is to put twice as many things on your do list as you realistically expect to achieve - and then, when you manage to do only half of them, you get done what you needed to do. That is, provided you did the things you meant to do and not the things you put on the list for the sake of it. Why does life have to be so complicated?
I invariably find I'm my own worst enemy and over the last couple of days I've fallen foul of an old foe. It's a computer game and once I get going on it I find it difficult to resist. As I say, a complete lack of discipline. When I bought a new computer recently I took my old one to my guru to be tidied up and turned into a word processor purely for my writing work. I preferred the old keyboard and felt more at home with it. I was already aware of the danger my computer game imposed and I asked him to remove it. He failed to do so and two days ago I rediscovered it. Arrghh! The hours I've lost are the stuff of legend. I MUST NOT PLAY WITH IT ANY MORE. I MUST REMOVE IT FROM MY COMPUTER MYSELF. Fortunately, I'm away in London for the next couple of days, the computer stays at home so the temptation will not arise. Which is why I've felt justified in playing with it so much today...
Anyone would think I've got nothing done at all but I put in another solid session editing MÄLAREN, 3000 words in fact, so I'm now at 81500 out of 90500. The boating accident has taken place, Don has been both lost and found and we're ready for the repercussions. The next 2500 words don't look too bad either. With things progressing so well (famous last words) I've felt able to respond to my prospective agent JU, offering to send in the work. I received an out of office reply so I guess I'll have to wait until they return.
And after I'd prepared for my London trip (bags down from the loft, find the tube map etc. you know how it goes) there was a little bit of time left to go back to my Lit Fest Business Plan. You remember that? The one I said I'd tell you about? Well, I'd just settled down at the computer and guess what? It's got this terrific game on it. In fact I think I'll go and look at it now. Arrghh!
Tuesday 9 February 2016
Episode 18 - Aches and Pains
The combination of long hours and a complete lack of discipline means little time left to post much in my blog today. So if you're expecting something rivetting you're going to be very disappointed - my apologies.
Just to say Praise Be! my head cold seems to have dried up and I CAN BREATHE AGAIN. It's one of those things we take for granted but when freah air is denied us for whatever reason, we miss it. So I've probably had a 48 hour bug, the kind that doesn't stay long but bites deep. That means that although I seem to have recovered quickly it has left an unwanted legacy - I ache all over!
Not to be put off purely by a runny nose, I went out for my usual jog late yesterday afternoon in the hope that a trot round the block might help clear the sinuses. It did, and although I had the good sense not to go too far, I certainly felt it. Tried a few exercises today and I'm definitely suffering post-influenza stress syndrome. Need to get in shape though as DLW and I are off to London for a couple of days at the end of the week. More on this later.
Slept like a log last night, partly due to exercise but mostly down to that good old standby, Night Nurse. You can't beat it! It must be the modern-day version of laudanum. So, fit and ready for work this am despite the aches and pains and managed to edit another chapter of MÄLAREN. 78500 words now and to quote the song, every day it's a gettin' closer. I also wrote my own version of a business plan for YLF but I'll keep the details of that for another day.
And that's it. I told you not to get too excited.
Monday 8 February 2016
Episode 17 - Back in the Old Routine
Yes, back to the writing today after a brief spell doing 'other' things. So my first job was to start editing Part Four of MÄLAREN. Not with any great degree of success, I have to say, as the woes which afflicted me on Saturday and Sunday have persisted and I found my head was bunged up and blocked in more ways than one. The runny nose, hacking cough and general feeling of blurgh all conspired to take my mind away from the words in front of me and I sense I may not have done the best I can. Not a disaster by any means as the section I am working on is fairly straightforward and merely wants tidying up rather than a full rewrite. The difficult bits are still a few days away and I have time to get things back in focus. c2500 words reviewed today so c76000 altogether.
Time then to progress some more Lit Fest work. And at the risk of sounding unduly repetitive I come back to the Power of Three yet again. I've already explained that my two principle objectives this year are attaining charitable status and bedding in Baillie Gifford. And with all that seemingly under control (famous last words) l can afford to look further forward and begin to think about a third ie. a business plan for 2016/17. YLF hasn't had one before and we've lived very much hand to mouth, doing what we need to do on a day-to-day basis. My remit as Festival Development means coming up with one and the sooner I get started on it the better.
I certainly picked up a few ideas last week at the funding event and also at the Hiscox evening as well as from my extended telephone call with RP. I've surfed a few websites (as you do) and I've started making notes but I didn't want to get ahead of myself so booked a meeting with Festival Director MS at lunchtime to discuss. Lots of ideas were tossed into the pot but we recognised that we need to involve the whole of the committee in this. I reported that I met a group at the funding event who offer mentoring and guidance facilities for charities who wish to draw up business plans and we agreed that this was worth pursuing. So tomorrow, I'll start making some phone calls...
Sunday 7 February 2016
Episode 16 - I'm So Sick (of it all?)
I'm sorry to have to tell you but I've not been well - rough as a bear's backside in fact. This all started earlier in the week. I haven't been sleeping well and I guess my resistance was low but on Friday morning I found myself suffering from a very sore throat which has since progressed - well let's just say it's since progressed and leave it at that. On Saturday I even considered calling WH Smith in Wakefield and telling them that I wasn't coming to the book signing. But then I asked myself whether or not I'd have gone into work if I was still employed and the answer was yes, pull yourself together and don't be so pathetic. So in the end I dragged myself out of bed and went - and I'm really glad I did.
I'm not sure I've fully explained my rational behind book signings. I know I've introduced you to The Power of Three and it's strange how often that concept crops up. Maybe it's just the way my mind works. When it comes to book signings here are the three things it boils down to.
1. When I pitched both BIRDS OF THE NILE and THE BURDEN to my publishers, this involved a projected sales figure. I feel compelled to try and achieve these targets and book signings are the most effective method I've come across so far.
2. When I come to pitch MÄLAREN, I want to have surpassed at least 50% of the projected sales figure for THE BURDEN. I've already hit my target for BIRDS OF THE NILE so if I propose the same figure for MÄLAREN, my publishers will know it's achievable.
3. I currently have a store cupboard full of books and by getting out there and doing some signings, I'm effectively turning that stock of books into cash at the bank. And if you saw my bank statement for the end of January after I'd paid all those Christmas bills, you'd realise how important that is.
All very well but I've been doing book signings constantly since December 2014 and the novelty has definitely worn off. Believe it or not I no longer leap out of bed on a Saturday morning eager to jump into my car and race off to Pontefract or Driffield or wherever the next engagement happens to be. I feel as though I've done my bit for the time being and it's about time I gave it a rest. Hence the temptation to stay snuggled up yesterday and give Wakefield a miss. With my target for BOTN done and being 53% of the way there for TB, you can understand my reluctance when I wasn't feeling that great. In the end the thought of all those books languishing in my cupboard and the memory of that sinking feeling when I received my last credit card bill are what drove me to get up.
Book signings in January haven't been as successful as they were before the year end. That's only to be expected I suppose but yesterday saw something of a revival and although I sold marginally less than my long term average, the large majority were novels as opposed to my short novellas, and that pleased me greatly. Next week I have a free weekend anyway as DLW and I are off to London for a couple of days where, amongst other things, we will be getting our fingerprints taken by the Russian Embassy (see Episode 7).
Meanwhile, I'm off mending fences with my son - literally... I intend to get back in the warm as soon as I can however and I'm looking forward to a hot bath and a slump in front of Ireland v Wales. Enjoy!
Friday 5 February 2016
Episode 15 - Funding, Sponsorship - and Schmoozing
My decision earlier in the week to take a few days break between completing the editing of Part Three of MÄLAREN and starting Part Four has inevitably had consequences. I've changed my daily routine and the time I'd allocated for writing between 6.30 and 11am has been taken up with other things, notably this blog. It's also left space in my head and that too has now been gobbled up - almost exclusively by Lit Fest stuff as you can no doubt tell. I'm giving myself a couple more days freedom but then I must return to the old ways as of Monday - if not, I run the risk that the novel will get sidelined and I can't afford to let that happen. But, in the meanwhile...
A heavy day in the Lit Fest trenches yesterday, although not as 'heavy' as the title of today's blog might suggest - I stuck mostly to soft drinks with just a single glass of white wine. But I was out on Lit Fest business from 9.30am to 9.30pm with just a hour or so in the afternoon to regroup between sessions so arrived home both exhausted and exhilerated - which may explain why I'm up and about so early today.
Into town via Park + Ride (what an excellent facility that is, especially given York's crippling car parking charges) and after visits to the bank and O2 (new mobile phone) checked in to the funding event at CVS. 20 assorted funding bodies and 80 assorted organisations looking for funds all packed into the hall with queues at every stand. I was glad I'd done my homework and had identified my targets in advance, although City of York Council proved fruitless but that was no surprise. On then to the Heritage Lottery Fund (known in funding circles as HLF, I discovered) and a preliminary pitch centred round using York's great history, architecture, buildings and landscape to enhance our festival. Then on to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and the idea that York Lit Fest could offer them a means of getting some of their research and social concerns out in front of the public. My principle objectives achieved, I then had time to take in some of the other stands and with things quietening down, made some more useful contacts. By which time, I was desperate for lunch...
Which I took with our Treasurer at Cafe Nero in New Street (my favourite in town haunt) and an hour's exchange of information. Then back home and enough time for a wash and brush-up before heading out again...
To Hiscox's Business Club selection evening, held on the top floor (where else?) of their brand spanking new building on Peasholme Green and a markedly different type of event from that at CVS. Our invitation specified business attire which we assumed meant a suit and tie although as we only have one between us, presented our Festival Director and I with some difficulty, particularly over who was going to wear the trousers. With this resolved, we set about the serious business of the evening, meeting myriads of York's growing and aspiring organisations all of whom are vying for the chance to become part of Hiscox's new Club. To cut a long story short, over the course of the next three hours we engaged in a group brainstorming session, a video shoot, a live radio broadcast and a stand-up finger buffet before finally making our ten minute 'pitch' to a panel of judges. Not quite Dragon's Den, but pretty damn close. Now we have to wait a week or so to learn the outcome, although the general concensus was that we'd done ourselves justice. Full marks to Hiscox for their initiative and organisation - and the sheer magnificence of their new building. We're keeping our fingers crossed.
And so to bed, as Mr Pepys used to say. I wish that was the prelude to blessed sleep, but with all this rattling round in what was my writing space, no chance. Roll on Monday.
Thursday 4 February 2016
Episode 14 - The Cat's Out of the Bag
Yesterday we talked novel, today let's talk Lit Fest. And you will no doubt remember that when we first did so back in Episode 4, I told you that I had two special responsibilities for the year. One was looking after our new sponsor, Baillie Gifford. Here I can report everything is on track (touches wood). The new banners are scheduled to arrive today and I am reliably informed that the rest of the kit will be here on 8 March, just in time for the opening event two days later. As far as my other responsibility is concerned, I was sworn to secrecy. But now I can reveal all - ta da!
I have been tasked with transforming York Lit Fest from a Voluntary Group into a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO). So what does that mean? I hear you ask. Put simply, it means we are seeking charitable status. Why? Well, there's a bit more to it than this, but here are the reasons as set out in a recent email to our members.
1. Improve our governance and become more professionally run.
2. Become more transparent and accountable.
3. Open ourselves up to new areas of funding which have previously been inaccessible.
4. Provide increased financial protection for the current committee members and organisers.
All very laudable and a necessary step if YLF is to become the kind of Lit Fest we want it to be. We have ambitious plans, none of which can be achieved without the proper building blocks in place.
Sounds pretty sensible, yes? So why all the secrecy?
Well firstly I daren't say owt until we'd informed our membership. That was done on Monday via the afore-mentioned email which also invited them to a Special General Meeting in a fortnight's time (Wednesday 17 Feb). There we will debate an appropriate resolution allowing us to make the change and hopefully secure their approval. And therein lies the second reason for keeping things quiet.
Not everyone likes the way we run YLF. There are elements amongst our supporters who would have us do things differently and there's an apprehension lurking within our committee that these elements might take the opportunity to stage a coup. I personally discount these fears. I move in their circles and if there is anything brewing then I'm certainly unaware of it. Besides, I'm not fond of conspiracy theories - organising such things take far more time, effort and, frankly, nous than most ordinary human beings can muster. We are not the Labour Party and we are not looking for a new leader. But, why give your potential opponents an advantage by leaking your plans in advance? Our current constitution requires us to give no more than fourteen days notice of a Special General Meeting and that's exactly what we've done so it's all within the rules. Limited time then, for them to put something together. And if they do? Plan B is up my sleeve...
Remember, Wednesday 17 Feb. Exciting stuff - will I sleep the night before? Put a note in your diary to read this column in a fortnight's time. Meanwhile, I'm off to a funding event at CVS...
Wednesday 3 February 2016
Episode 13 - The Best Laid Plans...
So here we are 7.05am on Wednesday morning and I'm desperately trying to catch up with my blog in the time I normally set aside for editing my novel - what's been going on? The fact is, I've slipped behind, although all with good reason as you will see.
Firstly, after Monday's epic rant I felt slightly written out and had nothing more to say. Then, yesterday afternoon I got involved in a prolonged telephone conversation with RP on the subject of Lit Fest funding (more on this later) and as I needed to set out early for the evening, my blogging time disappeared. I spent last night at the Spoken Word open mic, a commitment I will always try to fulfil, and arrived home c9.30pm with every intention of sitting at the keyboard. But with my head swirling after the events of the day, I could no more come up with anything sensible to say than swim the Channel so settled for some reading instead. My head is still swirling this morning, but needs must etc.
And now the good news - the reason I can utilise my writing time is because I've done what I said I'd do and I've finished editing Part Three of MÄLAREN. Alan (my protagonist) has concluded that his affair with Anna was a mistake, there's been a barbecue on the beach at which Don and Kurt have got themselves plastered and Alan has woken up just in time to see them roar off into the night in the speedboat. So 73500 words safely tucked away while I take a break for a day or so before starting on Part Four. That has all gone to plan if nothing else.
But there's more. It was always in my mind that as soon as I'd reached this stage I'd contact my prospective agent, JU. This is step two in my marketing strategy for getting the work published, as I outlined in Episode 3. A 'heads-up' at this stage, I thought, would give her ample time to respond while I completed the rest of the work. A judiciously worded email went off yesterday with a suggestion that if she was still interested, we could meet at the Lit Fest in March, by which time I'd have it all ready. Fully expecting her to take days (you know what agents are like), she replied within hours. No, couldn't make a meeting at the Lit Fest, but still interested in the novel. Hence the head swirl and failure to focus on much else.
On first consideration, this is obviously a good thing. But it immediately brings me face to face with all those doubts I've had about the work which I thought I'd overcome. Remember how I (blithely) said I was just going to tell the story as it is and if that was good enough for Patrick Gale, it was good enough for me? Well now it's no longer a question as to whether it's good enough for me, or Patrick Gale, or indeed anyone else other than JU. Have I addressed the concerns she raised when we last corresponded on this all those months ago? I rather fear I have not and whereas last week I resolved to plough on with things as they were, this week I must confront the possibility that I've been deluding myself. Oh dear... Head swirl... Doubt... Despair... Aarghh!
And it would have to be Episode 13...
Monday 1 February 2016
Episode 12 - The Voice That Does Not Speak
It's Monday, the first day of a new week (and coincidentally, a new month), so I thought I'd indulge myself and have a rant.
As most of you will know by now, I spend every Saturday in a bookshop doing a signing. This week I was at WH Smith's in Ilkley - and a nicer set of people you couldn't wish to meet. I passed a very pleasant day and we sold a goodly number of books. Having been on my feet all day, I invariably return from these expeditions feeling totally shattered and looking forward to nothing more than a hot meal and a collapse in front of the television. At present Dear Lady Wife is incapacitated with a frozen shoulder and the task of providing hot meals has fallen to me so I called in at The Wetherby Whaler on the way home for some fish and chips. So far so good, and the first box ticked.
The second box proved more problematic. I blame myself to a large extent by failing to have something pre-recorded up my sleeve - but I did not and so was condemned to rely on whatever was on live. This transpired to be The Voice, a programme chosen by DLW which, along with the latest thing in mobile phones, is part of her admirable attempt to keep in touch with modern trends.
Well, it doesn't do for me. I have watched it before - and enjoyed it - but that was in the days when Tom Jones had one of the chairs. He, at least, represented something someone of my generation could relate to. His departure left a huge gap. Added to this were the ageist remarks propounded by will.i.am (?) a week or two ago - something to the effect that if a contestant were aged 78 he couldn't possibly be any good. Now we all know that nobody of my generation is going to win The Voice but they could at least hold to that pretence for long enough to keep me interested. Apparently not - and with it goes my support. That other icon of BBC Saturday Night TV, Strictly Come Dancing, has gone the same way (remember Arlene Phillips?) and one wonders how much longer Len Goodman (bless him) can last. I turned it off after John Sargeant left - for me he was the last contestant with any kind of style worth watching.
Later on we were invited to visit The Real Marigold Hotel - another programme I declined to watch. As good an actress as she is, the sight of Miriam Margolyes, head back, asleep on the bus, did not exactly inspire me. Personally speaking, I'm too busy to sleep in the afternoons, I'm too busy to grow old and I'm certainly too busy to comtemplate dying. Although I can't argue this wasn't aimed at my generation as a bunch of septuagenarians are bussed off to India to try and 'find' themselves. I have no desire to go to India to 'find' myself but for the sake of my argument let's suppose there are plenty of septuagenarians who are. Their exploits are hardly likely to appeal to the younger element and my reluctance to watch The Voice is no more understandable than theirs is to watch Marigold.
The point I am making is this. When we had young family and the children were 8, 9,10, going on teenagers, we sat down on a Saturday night and watched something together. Those were the days of Blind Date with Cilla Black, Noel's House Party with Mr Blobby and the aptly-named Generation Game with Bruce Forsyth. We still talk about these programmes today and before you accuse me of being overly nostalgic, the reason I remember them is not so much because of their content, but rather that they represented a common culture that we shared.
I can imagine the Saturday night scene in living rooms up and down the country now. The children will be glued to their tablets and mobile phones, Mum and Dad might be watching whatever dose of reality dross the programmers have come up with in the absence of a budget while people of my generation will be desperately searching through their recorded files to find something worth looking at. Yesterday I checked with my parents (now in their eighties) to ascertain their choice of Saturday night viewing - The Pallisers, a 26 episode epic from so long ago it's probably in black and white. There's no way they're interested in The Voice or even The Real Marigold Hotel.
We are all living separate lives. Over the last hundred years, families have split up and the different generations have either been forced, or have chosen, to live apart. We berate the lack of understanding and tolerance this brings and wonder why modern society sometimes lacks cohesion. Today's targeted marketing techniques don't help where everything seems aimed at the younger generation while those of us in our latter years are deemed too fixed in our tastes to be influenced. I know it's a small point by comparison, but surely the lack of good wholesome 'family' entertainment on TV can only serve to widen that gap. We can't bring Cilla Black back - more's the pity - but if she were a judge on The Voice, I, and thousands more like me, would be far more inclined to watch.
End of rant. Tomorrow, it's back to the writing.
Friday 29 January 2016
Episode 11 - The Sense of an Ending
Earlier on today, a knock at the front door heralded a delivery from Amazon. To while away the time until her shoulder repairs, DLW has (amongst other things) ordered a copy of Julian Barnes' new novel, THE NOISE OF TIME. I shall doubtless get to read it at some stage although I currently have a pending book tower of three, namely those of the interviewees at the York Lit Fest VIP launch event. Not to mention that I still have a few pages of A PLACE CALLED WINTER to finish.
This all reminded me of Barnes' earlier prize-winning work, THE SENSE OF AN ENDING, and how appropriate that phrase is at the present time. I too have the sense of an ending - MÄLAREN is now 75% complete and within the next couple of (working) days, I will have successfully edited Part Three. And for the first time since I read through my original draft (and cried) I actually feel comfortable about it. It's not perfect (nothing ever is) but I think it stands up in terms of both plot and prose and unlike other redrafts, I have no desire to go back and rework it again. This is progress indeed. My plan is to spend Monday and Tuesday on it (bookshop tomorrow, day off on Sunday) and get Part Three finished off. Sense dictates I take a break from it on Wednesday (time to catch up on other affairs) and on Thursday I'm attending a funding event at CVS on behalf of the Lit Fest. So come a week today and I'll be starting on Part Four with the end clearly in sight.
I mustn't cross my bridges too soon but I can feel a final draft coming on. Most of Part Four is actually ok, although it can always be improved and there are two scenes in particular which will require special attention (three, I've just remebered another). Surely it can't be long before I put the whole thing to bed - I cannot let it drag on past the festival.
Speaking of which, I've today embarked on the next phase of festival development - which is funding. To tell the truth I actually embarked on it on Wednesday but I didn't have time to tell you about it. I began by having meetings with CVS and Make It York for some exploratory discussions. These resulted in invitations to the funding event next week and a further meeting in April. All very well but I can't wait until April, we need to get on with next year's funding now. IAM TEMPUS AGITARE as they say. But I'm new to all this so I spent this afternoon doing some preliminary research - very revealing, and I go to the event next Thursday forearmed.
Meanwhile, we've asked Big Name to do some press and radio interviews in the hopes of boosting their ticket sales. Hmm...
Thursday 28 January 2016
Episode 10 - Big Name? Big Deal...
Bloody hell! Is this really Episode 10? Break out the champagne, we made it into double figures!
Nearly didn't get here at all today as my blogging time got unexpectedly high-jacked. DLW has taken a turn for the worse and her shoulder is completely frozen so I've had to pitch in and get the dinner. Found some mushrooms and a few prawns in the fridge and knocked together a (mild) curry sauce to put them in. Then DLW decided it needed supplementing so oven-baked a chicken breast, diced it, halved the curry sauce and added a handful of chopped walnuts, raisins and some green grapes. Not bad... Next thing you know, I'll be writing a cookbook.
But seriously, I'm already writing a book of my own, so how's that going? Well in excess of 2000 words edited today and the grand total is now over 68000. Chapter 12 of Part Three awaits me tomorrow and I should reach 70000 by the end of the day.
Spent the afternoon catching up with Lit Fest stuff. In Episode 5 (Friday 22 Jan) I mentioned my disgust at the Big Fees doled out to the Big Names. We at YLF justify this by pointing to the large amounts of ticket income our Big Names bring in and how we can then use this to promote the lesser known, up and comers. Well, one of our Big Names isn't selling so well. In fact we could be on the wrong end of a Big Difference between Big Fee and Big Disappointment and finish up having to take from the small guys to finance the big ones. My blood isn't exactly boiling but I sure as hell would like to do something about it - like telling Big Name they can stick their Big Fee up their Big... But I can't and instead the good people of the committee are running round like BAFs trying to drum up some business by handing out flyers at appropriate venues. I can't help thinking this is partly our own fault and that Big Name wasn't really Lit Fest material in the first place. Lesson learnt? I hope so.
Meanwhile, the late arrival of today's blog allows me to make comment about the evening's TV. I began watching DICKENSIAN with mild amusement - not something to be taken seriously, rather to be enjoyed without having to give it much thought. My only thought now is when is the damn thing going to end? How boring it has become! The same old plot lines are respun every week and I swear I could miss half a dozen episodes and we'd be no further forward. When is Miss Havisham going to see sense? When is Arthur going to man up? When is Compeyson going to be brought down? When is Inspector Bucket going to stop fannying around and do some real detecting? When are the BBC going to put me out of my misery? And why do I think it will all be a great let-down when they do?
Big Name, Big Deal, Big Yawn - I'm off to bed.
Wednesday 27 January 2016
Episode 9 - Ploughing On
Some while ago (19 January, to be precise) I mentioned how much I was enjoying A PLACE CALLED WINTER by Patrick Gale. Life has been hectic since and I've had little chance to read much more but last night, after I'd successfully negotiated Chris Packham et al and Winterwatch, I managed to get in another hour at it. I'm down to the last knockings now and hope to finish it this evening but it has already set me thinking. It strikes me that not only is there a lot for me to learn from the appreciation of Mr Gale's prose, but his exposition of the plot is also of interest.
Now, I've struggled with MÄLAREN in this regard. This all stemmed from JU (my prospective agent) when she suggested that my plot seemed insufficient to sustain a full-length novel. I then spent time fretting over the introduction of sub-plots as a means of thickening up the soup and worrying as to how I might express these in the work. Two partial re-writes ensued, consuming much time and effort. This also exposed some problems in the overall construction of the book.
Conventional wisdom would have it that the main antagonist should appear not much later than the first turn (Plot Point One). My main antagonist doesn't appear until halfway through affairs ie. just after the mid-point (Plot Point Two). In fact, the appearance of my main protagonist IS Plot Point Two. With no main protagonist, the second quarter of the book must therefore lack tension and narrative drive. I tried to overcome this by creating a dummy antagonist between PP1 and PP2. This potential antagonist then turns friend, clearing the way for the real villain of the piece in the second half of the book. I was assured this was ok and would be readily accepted by my readers.
A PLACE CALLED WINTER bears certain similarities to MÄLAREN in terms of exposition and so is worthy of closer scrutiny. Gale's book begins in England where the main protagonist, Harry Cane, suffers a serious setback and is forced to emigrate to Canada. In MÄLAREN, Alan Harrison loses his wife to a mysterious illness and is invited to Sweden to recover. Both characters then discover a form of redemption through hard work and by finding a friend. The role of the antagonist in both these examples is to mess up this new-found happiness. There, the comparison might end - in Cane's case his friendship turns into a homosexual relationship whereas Harrison begins an affair with the antagonist's wife - but the damage has already been done.
The point here is that Gale manages to sail effortlessly through these potential plot difficulties without so much as batting an eyelid. He doesn't seem to worry about whether his antagonist appears prior to PP1, PP2 or wherever, he just gets on and tells us the story and lets the strength of his characters carry us through. The lesson I glean from all this is not to get bogged down in the modern-day theories of creative writing but simply to crack on and tell it as it is. If your overall plot is good enough and your characters are sufficiently engaging then you have every chance of making a success of it, never mind what they tell you as part of some new-fangled course. I near the end of A PLACE CALLED WINTER much encouraged both by Patrick Gale's succulent prose and by his knack of simple story-telling.
Another 2000 words worth of editing today - 65500 completed. At 67500 I'll be 75% done. Just like Harry Cane's attempts at farming in the wheatfields of Canada, I'm ploughing on...
Tuesday 26 January 2016
Episode 8 - The Power of Three
Have you come across The Power of Three? If not, here are some clues. It's nothing to do with mathematics and it's not a prequel to Conan Doyle's The Sign of Four. I come across it every Saturday when I'm in a bookshop and get close to the cookbook shelf. It's actually a set of recipes from Dale Pinnock which reflect the three nutritional secrets to a longer, healthier life. Now I'm not going to steal his thunder and tell you what they are - you'll have to read his book for that - but I do mean to reflect on the meaning of his title.
Many moons ago, I worked in industry. During my training period with what was then Crompton Parkinson, I was selected for the Junior Board of Directors. Every month we were whisked off for a day at one of the company's factories, given a tour of the facilities and then a lesson in business. I learnt much that has stayed with me ever since including one aphorism which went as follows. 'A well-run business resembles a three-legged stool in that it has shareholders, customers and employees. If any one leg becomes weaker than the others, the stool will fall over and the business will fail.' I always thought Crompton Parkinson a well-run business - I sincerely hope it still is.
Quite by coincidence, I seem to be running my current (working) life along exactly the same lines. The three legs of my stool are my writing, booksales and York Lit Fest. My private life is an entirely different matter and is, of course, quite private, but my working week appears neatly divided into three convenient segments. I write (or rather edit, at present) from 6.30am to 11am Monday to Friday, from 11am through 1pm I deal with correspondence (almost exclusively by email), and in the afternoons I look to Lit Fest work and make calls. Saturdays are spent in a bookshop while on Sundays I get to do all those things DLW asked me to do that I didn't get done in the rest of the week. And on Monday, it all begins again...
This regime will stay in place until after the Lit Fest ends in March. By then I will have finished MÄLAREN and my booksales will be sufficient to justify its publication. I say I'll have finished MÄLAREN and I have every reason to believe that I will, but after the plain sailing of earlier in the month we are now entering choppy waters. I've not yet got bogged down but things are getting progressively more difficult as I progress into the later stages. Nothing drastic as yet but I am having to think more carefully each and every day. Down to 2000 words reviewed yesterday and another 2000 today. True, I did cut c400 which are not included in the count - the first time I've had to be that drastic, a possible indication of things to come. On the plus side I added a small paragraph which significantly enhances the difficult seduction scene in Part Three (there, now that's got you interested!) and proves I can still create something new if I have to. 63500 words now in total, and to steal from Julian Barnes, I'm getting the sense of an ending. Surely it must come soon...
Monday 25 January 2016
Episode 7 - To Russia - With Love?
Twenty past three in the afternoon, time to relax with a cup of tea and bring you up-to-date.
The usual Sunday evening was spent in front of the TV watching CALL THE MIDWIFE and WAR AND PEACE. You'd have thought that the second of these would provide significantly more blood and guts than the first but you'd be wrong. Anyone planning on going to see THE REVENANT (see yesterday's post) would do well to warm up with an episode or two of CTM - no shortage of viscera here. Back to the writing desk this morning...
I recall saying that at 3000 words a day I'd soon knock off Part Three of MÄLAREN. Hmm... That was a little rash... Might have got there today were it not for the fact that I took two hours out this am to progress our application for Russian visas. Dear Lady Wife (DLW) and I have a trip there planned for later in the summer and with passports required for forays elsewhere beforehand we're anxious to have everything in place fairly soon. Have you ever applied for a visa to visit Russia? You'd remember if you had! By the time you've completed their requirements, they know more about you than you knew yourself. I've had easier experiences getting a mortgage. Sunday before last we prepared ourselves by gathering all the information they wanted, including a ten history of every visit we'd made abroad and a jobs record stretching back into the 1980s. Plus, copies of my recent bank accounts because I happen to be registered as self-employed. All this was packaged up and sent down to London first class post. This week, we're arranging to go down to the capital by train and stay overnight in a hotel so we can have our fingerprints taken as part of the application procedure. You can imagine how much that's added to the basic cost of our projected holiday. It's certainly taken the shine off, I can tell you. Does Russia really want tourists? It doesn't seem like it to me. You have been warned.
The upside (if there is such a thing in this context) is that we've taken advantage of our overnight stay to book a theatre trip into the bargain and we'll be off to see Ralph Fiennes in Ibsen's THE MASTERBUILDER at The Old Vic. Now that, I am looking forward to. DLW also has some art-related adventure in mind so we'll doubtless manage to occupy ourselves for a couple of days. It'll be two days I won't be writing of course. So much for that promise of 3000 words a day...
Sunday 24 January 2016
Episode 6 - Another Day, Another Dollar
Not sure it's even worth calling this an episode, just a few lines while I have ten minutes between watching Spurs win 3-1 against Palace on MOTD, preparing and sending my invoice to WH Smith after yesterday's book signing and going down to have breakfast in front of Andrew Marr.
No chance to blog on Saturday as I was in Beverley all day doing the signing. Very quiet with just a few people about in a book buying mood and overall, a little disappointing. A few months ago I might have been down about it but after over 50 such signings I've come to accept that they are what they are. I started signings back in December 2014 and while they've been brilliant in raising my profile, selling good quantities of books and impressing my publisher in the process (BIRDS OF THE NILE became their top-selling title in adult fiction as a result of it), the novelty has worn off and frankly, I'm looking forward to having a rest from them.
My immediate objective has been to reach 50% of my target for sales of THE BURDEN. Once I'd done that, my plan was to send them MÄLAREN while I was still in their good books. Well, I'm now 52% of target and I'm thinking of putting my feet up for the summer once I've finished my current tour. I'm booked up until the Lit Fest kicks off in March. After that, we'll see.
Mustn't forget to bring Friday up-to-date, even though it's now Sunday. Chalked up another 3000 words of editing so I go into next week with 59000 under my belt. Part three of MÄLAREN ends at around 74000 words so at my current rate of progress, I should finish that sometime toward the end of next week. Although something tells me it won't be that easy.
And I mustn't forget to tell you about THE REVENANT. I like cinema and in view of all the hype about the film we took an evening out to watch it. Well, it's certainly an extraordinary cinematic experience. But it's not for the faint-hearted, the brutality is savage, the violence is ruthlessly realistic and in parts, quite gruesome. If you've seen SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, you'll know exactly what I mean. And how they made that bear attack on Glass (the character played by DiCaprio) look so convincing is a marvel. But for me, there was just a bit too much violence, the film went on just a bit too long (156 minutes) and the plot told us nothing new. But as a piece of cinematography it's breathtaking. What astounded me was not that wilderness like that existed in America in the early 19th century but that they could find such unspoilt tracts of it to film in today. Mind you, The Hole of Horcum can look a bit like that on a winter's day... And DiCaprio's acting? If he does win an Oscar, it won't be for remembering his lines - he barely had half a dozen in the whole piece. As for the physical side, I'm no judge so I'll leave it up to the critics. Although maybe they should give one to the bear...
Friday 22 January 2016
Episode 5 - Even More Lit Fest
I see that I ended yesterday's post with a promise to give you a report about the Novelists Support Group last night. Well, I have a habit of breaking promises and there's another one gone. I'm going to shelve that for the time being because something far more interesting has come up. That's the thing about life in the fast lane, it keeps changing all the time...
Let's start with this piece in the Guardian by Claire Armistead.
The nub of all this is whether artists (and in this case in particular, writers) should be paid fees for appearing at literature festivals. Philip Pullman thinks they should and has resigned as president of Oxford Lit Fest because they don't. Cue massive storm as writers, artists, festival organisers and Uncle Tom Cobley all pile in. As I have a foot in both camps (I'm both a writer and a festival organiser) I thought it might be interesting to let you have my three ha'pence worth.
Firstly, as a member of the York Lit Fest committee, let me say that we try and pay writers a fee whenever we can. What I'm aware of is the massive difference between those at the top of the pecking order and those at the bottom. Frankly, I've been shocked by the exhorbitant amounts of money demanded by our 'big names' to come to and appear in York. I obviously can't reveal specific details but some of these people are getting more in attendance money for one event than I, and many more aspiring authors, will get all year from all our sources of writing income. Whilst I may find this abhorrent, we need these 'big names' to draw the crowds. This they (usually) do and by making appropriate entry charges we hope to create a surplus we can use to finance the smaller, loss-making ventures which the feature up and coming writers of the future. The money Mr Pullman so blithely wants dished out to all and sundry has to come from somewhere. I have no idea what his fees would be, but if our 'big names' could be persuaded to cut us some slack we could give more support to the newbies. Literature Festivals aren't all about providing platforms for the great and the good to earn more money - they're also there to encourage and promote emerging talent, without which the publishing industry has no future. So there.
Now, how do I see things as a writer. I've 'done' quite a lot of literature festivals. I don't often get paid travel expenses - never mind fees. I do it because I value the exposure and I need as much publicity as I can get. For me, it's not a question of making money out of fees, it's a question of taking every opportunity to promote myself in my attempt to climb the slippery pole of literature. It can also be enjoyable and gives me the chance to engage directly with the reading public. One of my most valuable experiences in 2014 was being invited to appear at a Lit Fest a little south of here. I wasn't paid a fee, although my travel costs were covered. I wasn't paid hotel expenses either, but I was put up at a committee member's house for the weekend and given all my meals. The 'friends' of the festival made me feel very welcome and I felt that for those few days I was part of their family. No fee in the world could have given me the same experience anywhere else. I just wish they'd invite me back...
The upshot of all this, and what makes all the blether in the press and on social media so irrelevant, is the action of market forces. While the 'big names' continue to exact massive fees and lit fests like ours continue to pay them, and while lowly literary folk like me are prepared to go hither and thither just for the fun of it, nothing much will change. Maybe there's a parallel here between publishing and the banking industry where those at the top get all the cream while us lowly interns have to work for free. My God, I'm beginning to sound like a Socialist - somebody come and rescue me before I start a revolution...
Thursday 21 January 2016
Episode 4 - Let's Talk Lit Fest
Not such a good day today although I've managed to review a further 3000 words and we now stand at 56000 completed.
Things got off to a bad start when I bit my tongue (literally) at breakfast, something I have an unfortunate habit of doing. This was followed by screwing up on what should have been a fairly straightforward (gentle) sudoku. I often begin the day or give myself a break with a mental puzzle in order to limber up and exercise the mind. Not getting even an easy one right doesn't inspire one with much confidence and I could tell my brain wasn't functioning as it should. So, 3000 words, yes. But I may have to look at them again.
So let's change the subject and talk about the Lit Fest. One of my immediate objectives is to see York have a successful one this year. I'm in my third (or is it fourth?) year on the committee and I have two special responsibilities. First, we have acquired a new sponsor, Baillie Gifford (let's hear it for them), and I've volunteered to be the link between them and the festival. We hope to hang on to them for a while but in this their start-up year, they will need special attention to ensure everything goes smoothly. I won't go into all the details but as an example, we have a new logo incorporating their name and this has to be applied across all we do so I'm just in the process of commissioning a new set of pull-up banners. And someone has to ensure their stage presence is correct at every event - and there are over 40 of those. That should keep me busy for a while... My measure
of success will be whether they decide to renew for 2017. Fingers crossed.
My second project is rather hush-hush at the moment and I'm afraid that if I tell you what it is, I may have to kill you (only joking). Seriously though, there's a big change on the horizon that I've been working on since September. All will shortly be revealed (promise) but keep your eyes open for a big meeting coming up in February.
Meanwhile, I'm coping with a slightly swollen tongue and a bruised mental ego. I'm consoling myself with the thought that Spurs have made it through to the 4th round of the FA Cup (what a goal from Son!) and I survived my first keep fit class of the year at Fight Fit last night. Out at Novelists Support Group tonight - will report back tomorrow.
Wednesday 20 January 2016
Episode 3 - At Last, Legend Press...
So, without further ado, let me make good on my promise and tell you about Legend Press...
This is all to do with my marketing strategy for MÄLAREN once I've finished it and start looking for a publisher. The strategy itself is comprised of six sequential steps as I gradually 'ski downhill'.
1. The General Market. This, as l'm sure you're already aware, involves trolling through the latest edition of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, making careful note of those literary agents who deal in your particular genre, then sending them a carefully scripted letter of introduction, the first three chapters of your masterpiece and a synopsis of the plot. Actually, the word 'troll' is well employed here as it not only means an accurate search but is also used in the fishing industry. Because fishing is exactly what you're doing, throwing out some bait in the hopes of getting a bite. I did this as soon as I'd completed my first draft back in the autumn of 2013. The result? One bite - JU.
2. JU. JU showed an interest, saying I wrote 'exceptionally well' but expressing some reservations. I agreed (about the reservations) and undertook to do a rewrite. But then the opportunity arose to get THE BURDEN published and MÄLAREN got put on the back burner. Now it's back in play and I intend to contact JU again and see if things have changed. JU is coming to York Lit Fest in March. Carpe Diem.
3. Roundfire. Why not approach your existing publishers? I hear you ask. And failing JU, so I shall. But as much as I love them and am grateful for the fact that they supported me with books 1 & 2, they're not exactly at the forefront of UK publishing and the grass is always greener. However, if they make me a reasonable offer, I'll be pleased to take it. And to encourage them in this respect, I'm breaking my neck selling as many copies of books 1 & 2 as I possibly can by standing in windy bookshop doorways every Saturday in an attempt to reach (and surpass) my sales targets. BIRDS OF THE NILE is already there and THE BURDEN is well on the way.
And so to Legend Press...
4. Legend Press. Every week I get at least one email from Legend Press. And from the look of it, they're very much the same type of organisation as Roundfire in that they will accept submissions from authors without the need for an intermediary. And, since I'm still technically still 'unagented', I may as well see what they have to say.
5. Stairwell Books. But if it's 'no' or something unacceptable, there's always Stairwell Books, publishers of my three short novellas at a time when no one else wanted to know me and no one else was publishing short novellas anyway. Old faithfuls and good friends, I may well have recourse to them once more.
And, if all else fails...
6.Self-Publishing. But let's not go there too prematurely, especially when I've lots more options in hand and I haven't even finished the book yet.
Speaking of which, another good day at the desk, successfully re-editing 3000 more words. It can't be long now...
Tuesday 19 January 2016
Episode 2 - A (Good) Place Called Winter
Yes, I know what you're going to say - you were going to remind me about Legend Press. All in good time, my friends, all in good time...
But first I want to tell you how good a day it's been. They're few and far between, so when one arrives it deserves to be cherished. The principle reason I'm chuffed is that for the first time in a long while, I've felt good about MÄLAREN. Up until now I've had serious doubts about it but I came to the end of my session on it today with renewed hope. Two things, I think, have made me feel that way.
I've just completed editing Chapter Three of Part Three - and so far I feel generally comfortable with the prose and the development of the plot. Ok, so there's maybe one or two little niggles (I can think of one now) but thus far I think it stands up. That means I've got 50000 words under my belt out of a current total of 90000 (over halfway there!) - surely that means I can negotiate another 40000 in the same manner and iron out the remaining creases. True, the remaining creases are by far the most challenging, but as I constantly remind myself You can make a silk purse out a sow's ear by the continuous application of hard work.
Plus the fact that I'm greatly encouraged, if not inspired, by the wondeful writing of Patrick Gale. I'm currently reading his latest, A PLACE CALLED WINTER, and I'm savouring every word, spending a couple of hours in his delightful company every afternoon. I wouldn't normally read at such pace, nor in the afternoons, but his engaging prose compels me and makes me aspire to higher things. He's only human, I tell myself, so if he can do it, why can't I?
And I need to hurry my reading up. As part of my association with York Lit Fest, I've been rostered to conduct the author interviews on our opening night at Bedern Hall (Thursday 10th March). The session is subtitled 'York Stories' and features three modern writers all of whom have set parts of their work in the city. Interviewing three writers means reading at least three books. The books in question have all arrived and stand at the top of my book tower ready for consumption. If I'm to get through them all and do them justice, I've got my work cut out.
But not before I've finished with Mr Gale.
Oh, and do remind me to talk to you about Legend Press...
Monday 18 January 2016
Episode 1 - Blue Monday
Not the most auspicious day of the year begin a new blog, I don't suppose. Here we all are, feeling fed up to the back teeth and not a shred of enthusiasm between us, but hey, we have to start somewhere. Although I must confess to having cheated somewhat - the rewrite of the novel around which these notes are based actually began a couple of weeks ago and it's only now that I've been able to clear my desk and set aside some time for the blog.
So, Parts One and Two of MÄLAREN have already been rewritten - for about the third or fourth time I hasten to add - and I can't see that they're ever going to get much better. It seems to me that you can continue to rewite and rewrite until the cows come home but you reach a point where you know that you're just tinkering. Remember the poet who spent all morning taking out a comma and all afternoon putting it back in? Well, you know exactly what I mean.
But starting this blog with Part Three isn't really cheating. A commentary about Parts Two and Three would have yielded little in the way of interest or excitement - it's Part Three where the fun begins. And today's the day...
I should have started by reading it through - but I've done that a dozen times and I'm pretty sure I know where the problem lies. Firstly, the quality of the prose steadily declines as you progress through manuscript. But that's fixable - I've learnt that you can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear by the continuous application of hard work. Call it rubbing down the rough edges again and again and again until it's as smooth as baby's bum. The real problem lies with the exposition of the plot. I'm happy with the plot itself, it's great, but have I told it in the right way? My fear is that I have not and despite my attempts to change it, it's remained fundamentally the same. Still, it is what it is and I've tried a number of variations but I haven't felt happy with any of them. And I'm coming to that point in time when I feel I have to commit...
So Part Three, Chapter One, revised to day and nothing more to say about it. Chapter Two tomorrow.
Oh, and remind me to talk to you about Legend Press...
Sunday 17 January 2016
The Story So Far
I'm a novelist living in York. I began my (public) writing life with three short novellas translated into print through the auspices of a local publisher, Stairwell Books (God Bless Them). My private writing life is, well, private. I've now been published nationally through Roundfire (God Bless Them Too), firstly with BIRDS OF THE NILE and latterly with THE BURDEN. Both have so far been successful (Touch Wood), although one can never be successful enough. In 2013 I wrote the first draft of a third novel entitled MÄLAREN. I spent all of 2015 trying to rewite it but it has stubbornly refused improvement - or at least, to the standards I've set myself. I am now trying again. What was it Samuel Beckett said? 'Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better'. 2016 has arrived and I'm trying again. I shall doubtless fail again. Please God let me fail better this time. Despite my protestations to the contrary (I never make New Year's Resolutions), I am determined to keep a day-by-day account of my attempt - and of anything else I think might be of interest.
Tune in tomorrow for Episode 1 as I start work on Part Three of the book...
Sunday 3 January 2016
Happy New Year?
Well, so much for my idea of adding something to the daily experiences of a writer. Life has a habit of getting in the way of such things - which is precisely why I'm not so rash as to set out any New Year resolutions. I hope you're sticking to yours - mine would be broken in a matter of hours.
But just like Ben Stokes on the second day in Cape Town, 2016 is off to a flying start. As I indicated below, I began work a week early. Or at least, I intended to but floods and the fact that everyone else was still celebrating held me back. The former meant that our New Years Eve plans were scuppered as we had booked for a relayed concert at City Screen followed by a meal out, only to discover that the utilities room/basement was full of water and all was closed. So, a night in with the TV instead. A few nights in with the TV in fact, encompassing much of what the holiday had to offer on the small screen.
My son had already complained about the lack of drama in the DOWNTON Christmas special. I told him that he shouldn't expect too much at the end of the series when the writers would want to tidy everything up. One hoped there would be something more to savour in the adaption of Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. But in terms of pleasant surprises, the outcome of that piece was accurately reflected in its title. What a waste of three precious hours! HARRY PRICE : GHOST HUNTER proved a little more entertaining but I much preferred DICKENSIAN. My only regret is that once the nightly series had started, it wasn't kept going. I could cheerfully have watched an episode (or two) of it every evening but now I'm obliged to wait until the middle of next week when time will be short and desire and memory consequently diminished.
But I can't leave off my commentary of last week's TV without mention of SHERLOCK. I readily admit that although I greatly admire and enjoy Conan-Doyle's original, I've never taken to the modern TV version. I like my Sherlock traditional, a la Jeremy Brett. So I was only persuaded to watch the New Years Day special on the grounds that it was set in 1895 rather than 120 years later. More fool me, although it took me until the third use of 'There's not a moment to lose, Watson' before I realised I was being had. And all that nonsense about Mrs Hudson's lines... Well, the Victorian element of the whole adventure was just about acceptable (despite Mycroft's 'fat suit') but then things got out of hand. I got the bit about Holmes' self-induced coma as a means of fathoming out what happened all those years ago and how someone can appear to be dead and yet not be. But when it came to relating that to the alleged modern-day reappearence of Moriarty, I got lost. Is Moriarty still alive or not? Or does Holmes merely fear he's alive and is using the past to convince himself he can't be? Either way, one really shouldn't have to be taxed to this extent on a Bank Holiday evening and I wonder how many of the rest of the population were left similarly perplexed. This is one of the reasons why I don't watch Dr Who as I never really understand what's going on. No surprise then that both shows come from the pens of Gatiss and Moffat - and jolly good luck to them, although they're a little too clever for me.
Meanwhile, in between all the TV I have managed to get some real work done and I've read through the latest draft of MÄLAREN. I'm pleased to say it's a huge improvement over the first although there's still a lot of rework to do. Down to it, then.
Wednesday 30 December 2015
After The Flood
Yes, Happy New Year indeed. A bit premature perhaps but then my New Year has started earlier than usual. Our Christmas guests arrived on Monday 21st and made a hurried exit on Boxing Day (no family fall-out here I hasten to say, rather the demands of the airline schedules) so we have been left to amuse ourselves in the ensuing lull. Nothing else to do really, except go back to work...
And I would have done so even earlier had it not been for the fact that we live within 400m of the River Foss which, up until Sunday, enjoyed a relatively unremarkable career as a tributary of its far greater relative, the Ouse. Then, some enlightened official decided to raise the flood barrier which had protected it for years and allowed the overflowing Ouse to back up into its upper reaches and scare half of Huntington to death. Fortunately, our house sits above the potential flood plain and we got away with it, but others were not so lucky. On Sunday morning my wife and I walked down to the river to inspect the extent of the damage and were treated to the sight of a raging torrent engulfing the footbridge at Yearsley Grove. The last time anything comparable happened was in the year 2000 - this was much worse. Monday saw water levels dramatically decrease - but not before they succeeded in damaging the local telephone exchange so we spent the whole of the day denied access to either landlines or the internet. My sole consolation is that I used to think of myself as rather antediluvian. That description clearly no longer applies.
I made use of the time by writing a business plan for 2016. As I outlined in the notes on my home page, I'm not going to inflict its contents on you in detail but it does involve the completion of MÄLAREN and its subsequent publication. I had intended to finish it in 2015 but I found it very unresponsive to change and I set it aside at the end of October while I carried out some redecorating to the house. That project was completed in time for our Christmas guests and involved my relocation to a back bedroom which has now been converted into an office/study totally dedicated to writing. Hence my relative silence over the last two months while I blistered my hands with a paintbrush rather than a pen. No excuses now though, and as I hinted earlier, I've already made a start...