Saturday, 30 April 2011

Lex and the Pity too

Okay, so it’s not the greatest wordplay title ever and ‘lex’ isn’t even a real word – even if lexis was Greek for ‘word’. Although it does give me the opportunity to reference the excellent Mslexia magazine.

I watched Sex and the City 2 last night. I enjoyed the first film and the series had brilliant dialogue threading through it like veins of gold. But part deux…. Well, let me tell you a little story first.

Back in the day, I went to see the first Bridget Jones film – me, Anne, a friend of ours and a friend of hers over from Germany. At the risk of generalising, I’d say I was the only guy watching screen one and I was probably also the only one not laughing. The German woman sat one side of me leaned over and said, “I am watching this film and I see that other people are laughing, but you are not laughing and I am wondering why this is?” I took a deep breath and explained that I’d broken my nose when I was thirteen and in comparison that experience was funnier.

I’ve revised my opinion since then, I should add, both about the Bridget Jones films and breaking my nose. Believe me, there’s nothing funny about finding cartilage in your mouth unexpectedly.

Sex & the City 2, however, managed to offend me twice. And I’m pretty hard to offend.

The first offence was the way that Carrie Bradshaw was portrayed as a writer. Yes, of course I know it’s fiction and meant to be entertaining, but it still got my goat. There she is, her sing-song voice merrily tweeting away about some article she needs to write – fortunately she has an unused apartment she can stay in undisturbed for a couple of days to do her literary stuff, as all writers do.

Come on, I hear you whisper, it’s just a first offence – let it go.

Wait, I haven’t told you about the second, more heinous offence. She’s a writer, right? So when she pens an article entitled The Terrible Twos, you wouldn’t expect to see an apostrophe in among those three words at the top of the page? Rent the DVD and check it out though.

Yes, my friends, unlawful use of an apostrophe: bang to rights. That's got to be worth two years in solitary confinement - ample time to write Sex & the City 3.

Friday, 29 April 2011

The sin of submission

No, I didn't know peacocks could climb trees either. That's the great thing about life, it continually throws us curve balls, surprises and surprise curve balls.

I recently broke a cardinal rule of writing: thou shalt not revisit an agent who hast declined thy work. I started with a letter outlining our previous interactions and explaining why I now thought that agent was appropriate. In the meantime, I revisited Standpoint and reduced down to an impressive (for me) 102,000 words - the shortest it's ever been since I first completed it, some time in the Jurassic Era.

My approach was a little more considered this time than just sending in a synopsis and manuscript sample. I also sent in some positive feedback from a publisher's editor who ultimately declined Standpoint, but who still had some good things to say about it. And I sent in a critique report I'm purchased and acted upon. And finally, I sent the positive feedback from www.youwriteon.com (look for Standpoint if you'd like to read some of it).

The agent went through everything I'd submitted and wrote back to him, indicating why they thought they were not the best fit for my work and suggesting some other places I might try.

In my response, I also asked if they'd like to see an extract from Scars & Stripes and they said yes! So now I'm in the happy position of revising chapter 1 and creating a new synopsis. Which just goes to show, as one of the characters says: If you don't ask, you don't get.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Here's Looking At You

I trust I'm not alone in that when I check out the reader reviews on sites like Amazon, I always look at the lowest scores first.

It's not literary schadenfreude that drives me, it's the same approach I take with my own work. Some would say that makes me a glass empty kinda guy. More accurately, I think, I see life fundamentally as a set of problems to be solved.

This particular chicken came home to roost recently when I was putting together a feedback overview as part of my submission package to a literary agent. While the good stuff was.... well, good, what caught my eye were the weaknesses and snags and the queries about my occasionally idiosyncratic approach to grammar.

Writers, as a breed, tend to abhor criticism. The first rejection is like a broken heart and over time we become inured to it. Deep down though, most of us believe, just like mother that we know best.

But objective, constructive feedback is priceless to a writer, whatever the genre. It is the magic mirror that tells no lies. And even I have no problem with that.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Apples and Peers


There's a famous exercise that's used to determine what kind of person you are and it runs something like this:
You're at a party where groups of people have formed around common interests. There are artists, scientists, writers, managers, musicians, sports people, philosophers and a whole host of others (clearly, it's a big party). So which group do you gravitate to first?

Over time, each successive group you join leaves the party (How great a conversationalist must you be?) until you've not only arrived at a prioritised list, but also ended up with a whole load of free food and drink. I can't be certain, but that exercise may be in the excellent career guidance book What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. The point, obviously, is that our choice of peers - or at least, those we like to consider our peers - say something about how we see ourselves.

Today I received an email from Ben Locker about a forum he was participating in, entitled Ask the experts: How to break into copywriting. It was a blend of the inspiring and the maddening, as questions flooded the forum about how to get started and how to stay in the game. And a great way to spend a little time.

Having done some copywriting myself, I was interested in the different perspectives and approaches. I'm not sure at what point in the party I'd be cosying up to the copywriters, but I do know they'd definitely be on my list. It's an art-form every bit as creative as writing a novel. And potentially just as elusive.

Friday, 1 April 2011

A funny old day

It started with a dream about my brother. He was around 18 or 20 and there was a huge whiteboard covering one wall of the living room, in the old family house in London. I had some calculations or writing up there and he picked up a permanent marker and started writing. I became irate and told him he was using the wrong sort of pen then showed him how you could write over the same line with a temporary marker to cause a chemical reaction that enabled you to wipe the mark off. My brother, unsurprisingly, wasn’t that interested!

Then he introduced his girlfriend who, in the dream, I recognised from a school the three of us had attended. He started talking about a camping trip to Mousehole and I mentioned a tent they could borrow and another camping site they could stay at nearby. Then he pointed to a black & white photograph of mum’s family at Christmas and I said I didn’t have a copy of that.

It was the kind of dream that lingers afterwards and even now I’m wondering whether it’s just a brain glitch during screensaver mode or if, somehow, my brother is metaphorically tapping me on the shoulder from beyond the veil.

In a deli, I saw someone spill what looked like a gallon of coffee over the table and stool. Think Niagara Falls, only with caffeine. Later, I saw a people carrier stopped in the middle of a busy country road, with hazard lights on and the passenger door wide open. A woman was on the grass verge kneeling down. As I drew closer and slowed the car, I could see she was corralling a ferret into a hessian shopping bag. And all the while she had a mobile phone pressed to her ear.

Life is so much more straightforward in books, even mine!