Monday, November 30, 2009

What to read?

Is this the longest ‘I’m nearly there…’ in history?

I am nearly there though. (And you’re all being wonderful, tolerant and cheering me on – even though I can imagine the gritted teeth…)

I finished Zoe Heller’s The Believers on Saturday. It had an utterly unlikeable main character and I wondered what I was doing continuing to read (well, it was wonderful despite that.) She was so cruel to her children and I didn’t feel enough understanding of her past to have much compassion for her. We knew a bit… but not enough to empathise. Of course it reminded me of the mother in my own story… and do we know enough, early enough, to identify with her?

I couldn’t decide what to read next… it’s too soon to start the next book club choice. Then I saw this BBC National Short Story Award article and that was it: decision made. The short story volume, Women fly when men aren’t watching by Sara Maitland.(Sara was involved in devising The Literary Consultancy's mentoring scheme.)
I think the universe is trying to tell me something because I’ve just received my prize from Salt Publishing of a copy of Short Circuit: A Guide to the Art of a Short Story, edited by Vanessa Gebbie.

So what’s the universe trying to tell me?

To write some short stories?

To bloody well get this draft finished so that I can try my hand at some short stories.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

word count confession

Sunday means only one thing to me. It’s word count confession day; this week's words: 3107.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Writing suddenly got hard again.

There’s a lots of other work to do as well:

• Christmas hats to be finished
• year end books to be bought (up to budget) for the library and paperwork to complete
• events I’m committed to attending
• grotto signs to remake (This job feels like groundhog day: the first year I forgot to bring it home; the second year I remembered but it’s not looking so hot with bits of lettering peeling off – so yes, time to make it again.)
• several appointments which I put off until the start of Dec hoping that would be post finished draft…

Even Starbucks’ magic is waning. Still, I’ve found a rather lovely new place to work. Isn’t this beautiful?

This is Thailand Cultural and Design Centre. It’s a gallery space and design library at the top of Emporium Mall which is very close to home. It cost me £22 to join for a year.

I'm so close to finishing this draft and there are no excuses with this lovely space to do it in.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Photo

It's a bit bleurgh around here at the moment - or is that just me? So I'm posting this festive wish to all who visit Tea Stains. Please write your wishes here: (really or virtually)

Part of the Christmas display at Amarin Mall, Nov and Dec 2009.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Odds and Ends

Until yesterday afternoon I was busy suspending my disbelief. Against all expectations I really enjoyed The Time Traveller’s Wife. For the first half I had to keep pushing the niggling voice away that was taunting me for reading something that wasn’t realistic… but I thought it was a great idea, very believably executed. (As long as you didn’t try to work it out.)

I had some little elf helpers come over on Monday afternoon to help with the Christmas fascinators. So the hard work has been done and all I have to do now is assemble them. What a relief. I have a horrible control freak trait - that I want to do it all by myself. Thank goodness my friends didn’t stop asking ‘do you want help?’

On Monday evening I went out to the Night Market where we did a bit of shopping and then had a few beers so on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning I’ve been migrainous (is that a word? This morning’s drugs are due to wear out anytime now: I really hope I’ve kicked it into touch.) Ever since we’ve been here (2005) the Suan Lum Night Market has been ‘closing soon’ to make way for a mall (because Bangkok really needs another mall – from where I’m sitting now, in Starbucks, there are eight malls within ten minutes walk.) The night market is lovely and different and not as exhausting as Chatuchak weekend market which I guess is the alternative. The last time I went shopping in the Night Market, it was sad and the vendors were desperate which meant great bargains if you could find what you wanted. This time, it felt livelier and full of funky young designers. So I’m putting that back on my ‘tourist list of things to do in Bangkok.’

Writing? There are only four days until the end of November when this draft is meant to be declared done. Hmmm. Maybe I won’t make that after all. I’m not entirely sure what’s happened… apart from migraines… I am trying to talk to myself sternly to kick myself up the backside.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It seems I must blog...

This ‘not blogging’ thing isn’t really working. Ever since I said I hadn’t got time for blogging, I’ve done considerably fewer words. Maybe blogging is my warm up…

So, I missed word count confession yesterday because I was out gallivanting. This week’s words then are 3,584 which is a fine and dandy word count but if I want to finish the draft by the end of the month, I’ve got to do better than that.

I finally finished Love in the time of Cholera which had been November’s book club’s choice and I hadn’t managed to finish for the meeting. Each time I picked up the book to read it I enjoyed it but I was never desperate to get back to it. It felt a bit like wading through treacle – quite pleasant but hard work. I think if I’d studied it I would have enjoyed it so much more. Is that okay? It’s not the immediate gratification that I want with a book I’m reading for pleasure but the depth of love can be so much greater if it’s been studied. Does anyone write with the hope that their book will be studied rather than just read?

Why is Florentino Ariza so entirely revolting? With his comb over and his constipation? Is it simply that love conquers all or have I missed something?

I don’t know what’s possessed me but my next choice is The Time Traveller’s Wife. No, *sigh* I haven’t read it already: my heart sinks at the notion of time travel – it’s the suspension of disbelief that I struggle with. Still, it was held up somewhere recently as a fine example of moving its readers (making them weep for all the right reasons) and I found myself thinking ‘oh, okay, perhaps I’d better read that.’ And... it has been on my TBR shelf for years and I'm getting SOOO much grief for the overflowingness of the TBR book shelves at at the moment that I thought I'd better read it… one down, 352 books to go.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

No time for blogging

I’ve just hit 90,000 words.

Thursday is my day off writing because it’s usually Neilson Hays Library or BWG day but I couldn’t bear not to write because I AM SO NEAR THE END. I’ve got a website meeting this afternoon but it hasn’t stopped me writing. (Actually it should have done: I had a banner to make for the website and although I’ve started it, I won’t get it finished.)

Things have gone a bit wrong on the word meter over there on the left… And I can’t be bothered to stop and sort it out. Anyway I don’t know how many words are left… round about 5 or 6k I think.

So there’s no more blogging now either. No time to blog. Must. finish. this. draft.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Email from Husband

I received the following email from Husband a few days ago.  I think, maybe, he's trying to tell me something. I'm just not quite sure... what.

Some Maths Homework

41 = Books read so far this year (from your blog book list)
2/12 = Fraction of the year remaining (November and December)
41*2/12 = 7 More books to read this year.
41+7 = 48 Books read in 1 year (forecast)

43 = Current age of reader.
16 = approx age reading reached current pace and books were not just Enid Blyton
43-16 = 27 reading years
27*48 = 1296 Books read so far.

500g = Average weight of quality paperback (use 200g for chick lit and 800g for Stephen King)
4cm = average thickness of quality paperback (use 2cm for chick lit and 6cm for Stephen King)
500g * 1296 = 648kg.
4cm * 1296 = 52m

500cm average width of bookcase shelves
5 average shelves per bookcase
500*5 = 2.5m per bookcase
52m/2.5m = 21 bookcases required to house your books; with a total weight of a small family car.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A new low...

A while back (although it might have been yesterday given the regularity I am reminded of this sad episode) I told you how I’d gone to sleep in Starbucks. I hadn’t accidentally fallen asleep; I’d realised I was tired, it was nice and warm in my armchair and I’d clasped my handbag to my front, and settled down for forty winks.

Honestly, you’d think I’d done something really dreadful like vomit down my front in public. I am reminded about this low episode, almost weekly. Thais sleep everywhere; on the pavement, in coffee shops, at traffic lights (I kid you not.) I was just showing how culturally immersed I’ve become, honest.

Anyway, today I sunk to a new low (no, not sleeping on the pavement; that is going too far.) Today, I had a little weep in Starbucks. It wasn’t quite a fully fledged sobbing episode but definitely a moist eyed, wobbly chin, in need of a tissue to mop up my runny nose, kind of weep.

I was writing you see. I’d got to a scene where I thought my MC was having some thinking alone time in the kitchen garden, when quite suddenly, Jean was out there, confessing stuff. Before you tell me how great this is – that if I’ve moved ME, I’ll move my readers – I don’t think the scene is ready yet, but it will hopefully get there.

When I got home I found
this article. The website looks as though it will have other useful resources too.

On a cheerier note: Yesterday I discovered that I have won a copy of Short Circuit from
Salt Publishing: HURRAH. I cannot wait to read it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

This is the plan

I’m hoping to finish the first draft by the end of November. You can see over on my wordmeter I’m in spitting distance from the end. I’m not 3k away… but more like 6-8k. I think.

But even when I’ve typed ‘The End’ I won’t actually have finished the first draft because I’ve got an extra character, a subplot and a bit of business that needs to happen earlier, that need to be written into the first half of the book.

I also have my mentor notes to act upon.

When I wrote the first 60,000 words, I was receiving feedback from my mentor at TLC. When each report came back from her, I was frantically writing the next 10,000 words to send her. I would read her report but not go back into the text to change anything; partly because my head was now in the next section and partly because I needed to absorb and decide what to do about the feedback.

But. I have had an offer of a read through from someone (it would be stupid to decline) and they need to do this in January.

So. When I get to 'The End' my plans are to go straight back in to write in the new character, the new subplot and a structural change between a minor and the main character.

When that’s done I will let it rest. I will put it in a drawer, let my reader see it in Jan and then start on it again. This is the plan.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Word count day


That’s the sound of my relief after four days of being offline at home and trying to negotiate with a Thai internet provider. It was quickly followed up by a surge in serotonin and a ‘wheeeeee’ sound. It really is a bit pathetic and I think I may need help.


Okay, so Sunday is:
• Word count confession day.
• The day Daughter goes off on school residential.
• The eve of Son’s GCSE mock exams.

I can’t DO any more about any of those things. Words are written; bags and brains are packed with clothes and facts respectively. (I do hope Daughter's gone up north with the clothes and not the facts... What would Son do tomorrow in the exam hall to find his brain containing nothing but frivolous outfits?) Still, apart from checking who has packed what, I’ve done what I can.

This week's word count confession: 3814 words. Now I’m off to catch up with some blogs…

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Photo: London October 09

I love this picture.

At dusk in October the simple 'black and white' of the decorations and roofs made me think of Mary Poppins and Bert the chimney sweep.

When the Christmas lights are turned on by a minor celebrity, I expect it'll morph into a garish and bland image.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Two faced

I went to art college two years after my daughter (my second and last child) was born. I did it because I wanted to bring my children up but being at home seven days a week was starting to make me a bit mad.

I was writing up until the time I went to art college. Mostly I was writing angst ridden stuff that will never see the light of day in any form other than an emotion for my fictional characters. But I was also trying (unsuccessfully) to write ‘how to’ articles for craft magazines. I hadn’t heard of perseverance in those days and my (non digital) photography skills were pitiful. However, it was pre-art college that through a friend, I wrote and recorded six or so talks for BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought.

Then I forgot the writing and went off to art college. It took two days a week, for two years, to do a part time foundation course in Art and Design. How I loved Mondays. When everyone else I knew was bemoaning the end of the weekend, I was cheering: Monday and Tuesday were my days in college. Towards the end of my foundation course, I knew I had to do another course and so when Daughter was one term away from starting school, I enrolled for a full time degree in Fine Art at the same university.

I knew, by the time this course started, that I was a maker (not a painter and I don’t like the term sculptor) and the more I made the less I felt the need to write. Except that I was writing essays – there’s always an element of theory – but I didn’t think about that as writing. So I thought that I needed one or the other: writing or making.

I’m not sure that’s true any more. Making takes you to that place where your subconscious does magic stuff all on its own for the benefit of your writing. And see, I’m still desperate to make…

Meet my two new friends; they’re helping with the hat making.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thin Blue Smoke by Doug Worgul

It is said that we should never judge a book by its cover but I’ve discovered many a wonderful read by just that method. (Pigtopia and Mothernight are two volumes whose visuals made me swoon with delight before even setting eyes on the blurb.)

And so it was with Thin Blue Smoke, Doug Worgul's debut novel, published with Macmillan New Writing. It’s true that the book’s editor, Will Atkins, was there talking about how evangelical he feels about this book but there were five other gorgeous books present, and Thin Blue Smoke was the one I noticed and admired. ‘How’ Will Atkins said, ‘do you illustrate a book about BBQ without offending people?’ Just like this: I love the visual shorthand of the (poor) cow and the smoky font of the title.

LaVerne Williams is the owner of Kansas City’s best BBQ joint: LaVerne Williams’ Genuine BBQ and City Grocery. It’s known to the locals as ‘Smoke Meat’, because that’s what’s painted two feet high on the front wall. LaVerne has firm ideas about barbecue (for heaven’s sake, don’t call it ‘barbeque’ ‘because that’s a sissy-ass way to spell’ it) and he isn’t afraid to expound his philosophies. Smoke Meat doesn’t serve fries, onion rings, coleslaw, potato salad or any kind of chicken; but it does serve beans. Not Kansas City beans because they’re too sweet and rich. Smoke Meat serves Texas beans ‘just the way LaVerne’s grandmother made them.’ He snarls and he snaps at folk, but he’s a good man – don’t go on about it though, LaVerne can’t be doing with people going on about things.

Thin Blue Smoke is as an epic redemption tale of LaVerne and his friend and customer, Ferguson Glen. LaVerne, a tall, skinny black man, is an ex baseball player (he was invalided out) and a reformed felon. He’s married to Angela and their only son, Raymond, died at nineteen. Ferguson Glen is tall, white man; an alcoholic, Episcopal priest who has never pastored a parish. At 24 he wrote a Pulitzer Prize nominated novel. His one and only marriage failed the day before their honeymoon finished.

The diner, Smoke Meat is the pivot of the novel; the narrative revolves around the tendrils of lives and relationships of the employees and customers. It’s a novel about community; about friendships that transcend, race, religion and gender. It considers blood ties and how they can mean everything or nothing. It’s about chances in life and overcoming the lack of them and about making mistakes again and again but still being given another chance. It’s about faith – in the widest possible sense. It looks like the randomness of friendships but what most of the characters share, and interwoven throughout, are a desire to do the right thing, and a passion for music and food.

More important to the story than what happens is how it happens.

There is so much more I want to tell you about this novel because I don’t think I’ve come close to doing it justice. I want to tell you about more of the characters, about AB Clayton, and why I loved him. I want to tell you about Delbert Douglass Merisier III and his friend Harholz, both of whom lost their wives in tragic circumstances; and Bob Dunleavy and his son Warren, who has a delusional disorder and speaks in Lapine, the language of rabbits. I want to say that despite the foreignness of the book, summed up by Smoke Meat’s unfamiliar menu: Vinegar Pie (a dessert!), Pulled Pork, Pulled Chuck and Burnt Ends, I was among friends and I felt absolutely bereft when I had to leave them behind.

Thin Blue Smoke is tragic, funny and real. My only negative comment is that if debut novels are always this good, is it worth persevering with my own?

Doug Worgul’s website is here: There are interviews here and here.

UPDATE: You can hear Will Atkins, Doug Worgul's editor at Macmillan New Writing, talking to Sue Cook and guests on Write Lines on BBC Radio Oxford until Sat/Sun.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Twitter Titter

I’ve given Twitter a go. I like being able to ‘talk’ with my writing friends but I had a bit of a meltdown when a stranger began to ‘follow’ me. Agggh, I thought, I have to say something intelligent.

I did what I do at parties: I stood in the corner and watched.

Then I began to follow someone who looked interesting and I saw she posted a snarky comment about ‘if you want me to follow you, you’ll have to tweet more than once.’

When I realised I really didn’t want (her) or anyone I didn’t know to follow me, I accepted hmmm, yeah; I think that’s a no to Twitter then.

But I haven't deleted my account; I’ve locked it and thrown out the three followers I had that I didn’t know and now I can check up on my friends and keep them up to date on the important stuff: like whether I settled for egg mayonnaise for lunch or tuna.


I have written my review of Doug Worgul’s debut novel, Thin Blue Smoke (Macmillan New Writing.) I need to let it brew before I post it. Please do come back tomorrow and read it.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

On being uncool

So it’s Sunday…

But I can’t concentrate because I’m swinging and bobbing up and down a bit in my chair, listening to Johnny Horton’s The Battle of New Orleans. I love that song.

I watched Midnight Cowboy last night and have been tormenting myself all day, trying to work out how I knew the ‘Everybody Talks’ theme tune… not from the original: I’d have been two to three when that movie came out and I’ve not seen it before. (Apparently it was featured in Forrest Gump but I haven't seen either!) It's no doubt something terribly uncool ... like the Julio Iglesias cover and I'll wish I never mentioned it.

Anyway, Sunday means a word count confession.

I haven’t done any illicit Sunday writing today which is a bit disappointing… but I’ve started my second book review and I’m hoping with a fresh brain first thing in the morning it will come together in that magic way that it (sometimes) does.

Right so here goes, words this week: 3,101

So Sheepish, what have you done this week?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Here we go again

I started writing a blog post this morning; about how I’m writing again which feels great. I’ve got book reviews to write too. (One on The Little Stranger for Contact, the BWG magazine and one on Thin Blue Smoke for my blog after Will Atkins very kindly gave it to me at my industry day) but I am still managing to fit in writing. It’s such a relief.

Then today I went to the BWG committee meeting and during our conversation about the Christmas lunch, someone asked what headdresses we were going to wear this year. Normally someone goes to Chinatown and buys something classy like, Rudolph antlers that sing ‘Jingle Bells.’ Oh we know how to celebrate here you know. They get worn during the Christmas lunch at the British Club too, and the carol singers that go to BNH Hospital wear them as well. Any opportunity to don our chic and sophisticated headwear is grabbed with both hands.

Anyway, whoever mentioned the headdresses precipitated a collective groan around the table until someone said ‘I think this year we should wear Christmas fascinators.’

There was lots of laughing, and pointing at me until I realised that I’d said it.

So now I’m making not fourteen this time, but twenty five Christmas fascinators, and truly, I can’t wait to get going on them.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Melbourne Cup (for the last time)

This is us strutting our stuff down the catwalk, shortlisted for the 'best table' costume prize.

It makes me realise that you can the women out of Britain ...

May we always be able to laugh at ourselves and not have to wear something 'pretty' with a label to explain what we've come as.

My photographs are dreadful; here's hoping that friends will have pictures to send me.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Costume clue

Tomorrow the costumes will be worn and then I can forget all about them.

The traumas of the printers doing them wrong, not once but twice, are still fresh in my head. As is the person who came to collect their costume who wasn’t on my list. (We’d had an extra one printed ‘just in case’ and I’d made an extra hat because ‘thirteen is unlucky’ but I still get the hot and cold shivers when I think of how close we came to not having enough costumes.) I’m vowing never to do it again - until the pain wears off - and I find myself volunteering for it all over again this time next year…

I can’t unveil yet, but I’m going to give you a clue.

I did have my toenails painted as part of the theme and I took a picture to show you, but honestly, when I saw the photo… uncooked pork sausages came to mind and I decided not to put you through it.

So you’ll have to do with this. Note: I haven’t been at Photoshop again.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sunday word count & excuses, excuses…

Since I started my mini race with Sheepish I’d been writing pretty consistently. This was good because it meant I was carrying all the threads of the plot in my head and was shuffling between them as and when it was needed. Then I had the emotional traumas of the UK and even when I had a tiny opportunity to write, I couldn’t.

The day that I left Bangkok, you may remember that Paul Theroux came to visit the Neilson Hays Library. He said during his talk that he was grateful to his family for providing him with a stable and happy environment in which to write. I noticed this comment but didn’t think much of it until several weeks later, a good while into my UK trip and then I realised that this is essential to me too. My family here give me that (mostly) and I am very grateful to them for it. (It also appears that I can’t write in my pyjamas…I have to get showered and dressed and honestly, I feel a bit resentful about this. What is the point of working from home unless it’s so you can stay in your pyjamas all day?)

So the writing should have exploded in this last seven days but in addition to losing the thread of what happens next, I’ve also been making hats fighting jetlag. I really am rubbish at changing time zones – what am I doing living here? Or going back there?

Anyway, the words this week have been a rather pitiful 458 but any words are welcome: some are most definitely better than none. And this has pushed me to a word count of over 80,000 which is rather fab.

I was still holding onto a bit of anxiety though; these weren’t new words. They were inserted while rereading the last 10,000 words which I had to do in order to remember what was going on in my story. Even after re-reading I still couldn’t see my way forward so I was quite despondent yesterday but I went back to it fresh this morning and I’ve disentangled the different threads and now I have mapped out a rough way forward.

Fingers crossed please.