Wednesday, February 28, 2007


NOT a Ferrero Rocher in sight!

What kind of embassy IS THAT?

It was very civilised actually.

List making

I had to make a list to make sure I got EVERYTHING done today.

I even had to put 'wash hair' on.

Also on the list was:

Make Hermione Granger tie - tick, made from purple felt and yellow paper! For World Book Day costume, unoriginal I know but I only got three days notice that it was required. So there.

Organise book club website pages for Dreamweaver Brain Drain class - tick

Get links for Bangkok book shops for book club website pages - tick

Oh that doesn't sound like very much, does it? But for some reason I feel like I'm chasing my tail today. 'Organise book club website pages' was lots of work - I want to upload the pics of the books, and have a link to the review, so all the reviews (which start off in the magazine) had to be changed subtly and have a consistant style.

Am going to a posh party tonight, where there is a distinct possibility of Ferrero Rocher chocolates being served by tall haughty looking butler.

Shame I'm not the skinny girl in the designer ball gown. Oh well.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Crisis Analysis

I am a big fan of ‘how to’ writing books; I could open a generously stocked library with my collection, so I do know that there are always chapters devoted to, and even WHOLE books written on the subject of creative block.

There’s a lot of debate about whether creative block exists. Lots of authors are disparaging about the condition, suggesting that it’s a self-indulgence. Certainly those writing to order, like journalists, laugh derisorily and say ‘yes, well try telling your editor that you can’t meet your deadline because…’ Certainly when I’ve had a deadline for an article, I’ve never succumbed to creative crisis (though I’ve probably handed in a less well constructed piece, but I’ve always met the deadline).

But whether or not it’s officially acknowledged lots of people have experienced it - from the minor confidence wobbles to full blown paralysis. The worst experience I ever had was in the final year of my Fine Art degree. It was a terrible time to get it (and this probably contributed to the pressure) but I was very lucky to have a gentle tutor who was sympathetic. The Pull Yourself Together school of thought doesn’t work well with this condition.

For me the experience is characterized by something (a voice, a demon) in my head telling me I can’t write, I’m rubbish, why am I wasting my time, etc. (I realize that this sounds like a serious psychiatric disorder, but since it’s only telling me I’m crap and not to go out and murder someone, I’m fairly certain it’s not that condition!) I don’t know what it’s like for other people but I know that their experiences are similar. It’s utterly paralyzing.

As I recovered from my crisis in college I realized that what had happened was that I’d lost my faith – not a religious faith, but my faith or belief in my creative ability. I’d taken it for granted; damn, until it was gone, I didn’t even know I had it.

I understood something else aswell: having had postnatal depression after my daughter was born, I think that creative block and depression are close cousins. Or is depression the result of the creative crisis? Of course not being able to create is not the worst thing in the world to happen to someone, but if your good mental health depends upon you doing something creative, it is fairly damaging.

I haven’t got the answer here other than being gentle with yourself. I don’t know if it’s more naval gazing to be trying to rationalize it, but I do know beating yourself up about it when that’s what your demon is doing, isn’t the remedy.

I read somewhere recently that artists need their inner critic/demon/voice in order to get better, edit their work and so on. What you don’t want to do is silence it for ever because those critical faculties are essential. Maybe creative crisis is part of the writing process, perhaps it’s just a question of balance.

I’m not very good in the cold weather. I know that getting up and moving is the best thing for this, but I find it nearly impossible to do. I often say to people that I’m going to be one of those old ladies who sit in their chair, can’t move and die of hyperthermia. Creative crisis is a bit like that. You know that writing/painting/sculpting/whatever it is is the best cure, but you just can’t find the energy/belief to do it.

Julia Cameron has a trick that worked with me in college. In 'The Right to Write' she calls it an 'artist date' and it's about wooing your creative conscious. It needs to be nourished. I think of it like a bank account: you have to fill it up in order to draw on it. You may not be short of resources, but making the deposit can sometimes be a pleasure all of its own.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

No suffering

No creatures

have suffered as a

result of making

these pictures.

A bit crap... a bit pathetic again.

Mmm, I’m having a bit of a crisis of confidence here.

Not sure if I should blog about it or not.

I’ve been trying to plan better, so that I really feel I know the characters and how they feel about each other, and know (to begin with at least) roughly what scenes I’m going to need. But it just isn’t really happening. Maybe it’s that the story isn’t right? Maybe it’s because the kids are home for half term? Maybe I’m trying to do too much, and doing rubbish at all of them. Problem is I’m committed to everything else, and I really want to do this.

Maybe it’s because I’m crap and have no imagination?

Husband asked if the race helped or hindered. I think helps: I would have given up again if it weren't for the race...

I don’t know what to do.

Go away and read, and think, and stop worrying perhaps.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Horrible Harridan and History Homework

At the start of half term, Friday evening, I say to son 'I don't want to nag you about homework. I want you to enjoy half term, but it does still need doing.' 'Yes, Mum,' he says.

Tuesday afternoon arrives and nothing has been done, so I say 'When are you planning on doing your homework, son?' 'I thought I'd do it all day tomorrow: a big session, get it all done.'

Tomorrow becomes today. I put the homework printout from the school intranet on his desk so he can see we all know what needs doing. Son arrives in my room, looking emotional 'I can't do this. I don't know anything about the French Revolution. We're doing that next - why has he asked me to do something I don't know anything about?' 'It's so you start learning to do research, son' I say. 'You have this World history book, those Horrible Histories magazines, and the internet. Try the BBC website.' Son stays emotional, becomes stroppy and then gets stubborn: 'It cannot be done.'

So I stop work (I really was working) and I look up the French Revolution and locate the two people, two ideas, three events and three places of interest he needs to research. I cut and paste information for him to put into his own words.

He writes one idea and comes back to my office to say he hasn't got enough information. What, he insinuates, am I going to do about this? I ask him what he as written; I suggest including certain words and phrases. He returns to his room. Half an hour later I pass his bedroom, and he and his (fiction) book are in the loo. I check his pc, he has used 'social and political' like I've suggested. Nothing else has been done. I sigh.

20 minutes later I tell him to get out of the loo. He appears at my desk after another 10 minutes . 'Why have I got to do it all today?' he asks. 'Because yesterday you told me you would. And if you don't finish it today, we have to have this conversation every day until you do. And I'm tired of this, and I have work I want to do.' 'I don't want to do it all today, I want to do a little bit every day.'

Poor chap, I hear you say, what a harridan. But I have had this conversation with him 4 squillion times, and it's always tomorrow... until tomorrow.

Let him get into trouble at school, people say.

What kind of mother leaves him alone to face the music? Not me.

But I've done my homework and I don't want to do his.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Definitive list - suggestions welcome

I can now account for all the lethargy I’ve experienced lately: the dreaded lurgy. At least I can account for all the badly timed sleeps I’ve been craving (and submitting to).

I’m feeling back to normal today, and I’m going to get on with some work.

Although, rather excitingly, I’ve got some furniture coming for my little office space today which might mean I stop work (assuming I’ve started) and organise the area.

How many ways are there to postpone writing?

Do you think, maybe, that we could all come up with a definitive list?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Demon finesse

I was so hoping to make it to 6,000 words today, but it wasn’t to be. I had Dreamweaver brain drain class this morning, which was tough. I had such high hopes after last week, and then the 'non worm fiasco' meant I couldn’t do my homework and just like I knew it would, all the knowledge leaked out of my head. So today it felt like repeating stuff, but it was essential because I couldn’t remember any of it apart from a vague, ‘Mmmm, I think I’ve been here before’ feeling.

I’ve got this document that I started last week in Sam Roi Yot which I’ve called ‘conflict planning’ but this is just to outwit …


but really it’s my writing, it’s all in the wrong order and it’s got subtitles, but that’s just to trick my demon. If it thinks it’s only planning, it doesn’t bother to come out and shriek at me.

And you know what? It’s working an absolute treat; fool.

Oh God, I hope I haven’t spoken too soon…

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Too fatigued to be Officially Cross

If I weren’t still so weary I’d now be very bad tempered.

Yesterday I went along the Chao Phraya river on the courtesy boat to the Oriental Hotel where I had a sophisticated breakfast of eggs benedict in the coffee shop with my friend C. It is quite expensive there (to stay the night is inordinately expensive) but they kept bringing more coffee rather than only allowing me one measly cup, so I didn’t feel hard done by. We paid our bill, and then sat in reception to find out where the shop was that we were heading for. We didn’t look out of place; nobody said we were lowering the tone in this beautiful 5 star hotel. And we left.

After our shopping we headed back to the river to catch a river taxi up to the Indian cloth market, Pahurat, but by this time the Oriental’s coffee had done its job and I needed the bathroom. I left C waiting by the river and returned to the front entrance of the Oriental where a little man in a suit said, looking me up and down ‘Can I help you madam?’ ‘I’d like to go to the coffee shop’, I said. ‘Sorry, Madam, but we have a dress code.’ This is what I'm wearing: a smart green dress, over black bootleg trousers and I was carrying a Mulberry bag, what could he possibly mean? I said ‘But I’ve been in the coffee shop this morning with my friend. I had breakfast there.’ ‘I’m sorry Madam, we have a dress code. No sandals.’ Can you even see my flip flops?

I’ve been to the Oriental five or six times, always wearing sandals, NOBODY has told me I don’t look smart enough, and you know why? Because I do look smart enough - even with flip flops on.

Because of my extreme inertia I can’t decide what I should do. Should I write to the manager, enclosing my photo and ask him if he can see my flip flops?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Officially pathetic

I'm feeling a bit pathetic today and am just longing for my bed.

This is because last night I went out and had a life.

I stayed at home all day today, but instead of working (writing, Dreamweaver, website, daughter's birthday invitation) I just surfed and drank tea.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Planner or Plunger?

After posing the question on the 8th February: ‘if it’s your first book, how do you know if you’re a planner or a plunger?’ I think maybe I’ve worked out that I’m not a plunger regarding fiction. When I write articles, I’m definitely a plunger, I do lots of thinking with my fingers – think and type is how I’m happiest, then I cut up and paste (not on the computer, in real life with scissors and sellotape) and reassemble it.

On Saturday afternoon I realised that it was slow because I hadn’t really worked out what order I wanted the scenes in or even what each scene was to contain. I know the story but I need a plan to follow so I can still be creative without thinking about the logics of the structure. Maybe one day I’ll go back to being a plunger, but right now the logical thinking about what comes next is getting in the way of the creativity. On Friday and Saturday I got my word count up to 3,000, which I was pleased about if only because I was writing; remember, I couldn’t write without voices in my head! But it didn’t seem as much as I’d hoped.

I’ve been trying not to take on too much (100,000 words, isn’t so much, is it? Ha) so I thought that the simpler the structure the easier the job will be. I was trying to set the scene before the action starts, but there’s no getting away from the fact while it may be the beginning it shouldn’t be the start. So I’ve had to accept that I need flashbacks to explain the history. The rest of the weekend I just typed about the characters, I started conversations with them, and found out how they felt about each other. I worked out that the friend figure isn’t needed, and that the sister can do the job instead.

So in total I have about 5,300 words, but they aren’t story really – even first draft. I think I have to free write some more and let the story grow, then do my cutting and pasting job. So I’m not convinced that I can put all those words in the wordcount. I think maybe the 3,000… then after the cut and paste I can recount and see what happens.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Mountains and sea

After a very long journey from Bangkok (4 hours) and a worrying 30 minutes where the taxi driver kept rotating the map to see if it made any more sense another way up, I’ve arrived.

I’m staying in a rather Thai ‘spa and resort’, which is no bad thing (lunch cost £1.30 for example not £4.50 as it would if it was aimed at foreigners). On the internet everything was in English, which made me assume that it would have some English spoken… There isn’t, and since my Thai pretty much consists of ‘go straight, turn right, turn left, stop here, where is the loo?, stir fried chicken and rice’’, etc it makes asking ‘what time does the restaurant open?’ And ‘can I use the internet?’ rather difficult. But we have established that the internet isn't working though the Engineer is working on it now. I'd like to suggest that my Thai is better than I led you to believe, it's not - we got that from the receptionist's school girl English. Still, very clever Engineer has fixed the internet, and they tell me there's 'no charge.' Oh I love Thailand,

To my joy there are mountains, though rather off in the distance, but since there’s sea on the other side and we’re totally surrounded by palm trees I’m absolutely not grumbling.

And my word count has gone up. A bit. Little bit at a time: I’m just glad that I’m writing it down. It’s really nothing special, but I am getting words out without that demon fellow shrieking in my ear that I should stop, go back to Bangkok and get my nails done instead. This is progress indeed.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

What time do you make it?

There’s something really weird about time differences – it’s a bit like living in a parallel universe – actually, living overseas really is like living in a parallel world. I guess that I’m kind of getting used to it, but there are still times when I come over all Star Trek and can’t work out where the UK time is. Though I must be adapting because it was more odd that when I went home to the UK last summer that I couldn’t grasp the fact that husband’s time was in front of mine.

It’s early in the morning here, as I write, and my body is crying out for me to go back to bed. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s not to lie down after sending the children downstairs to the school bus unless I'm willing to capitulate to unconsciousness (I’m often a very willing subject, but I am trying to write...) This morning my bizarre parallel thing has been made worse by the fact that at 6am my Mum phoned. She was mortified because she was trying to send a fax and thought she’d woken me up, I told her ‘we’re up for school, Mum.’ The children were making disapproving noises about why Nanny was still up, when it was so late at home (Desperate Housewives!)

The whole experience of blogging has also made me newly aware of the peculiar notion of time difference. I might miss things: I could be a day late for them – or get this, I could be early. OH MY GOD, I could turn up for a discussion BEFORE it’s happened. How weird is that?

Shortly after I moved to Bangkok, I got an email from my sister saying that our Dad had fallen down some stairs and had cracked his head open. He was being kept in hospital for observation because he takes warfarin to thin the blood but that he was okay apart from resembling Frankenstein’s Monster. He’d fallen in the UK evening, Bangkok nighttime, and for some reason I felt guilty and even angry for having being asleep. It was as though I might have been able to do something about it had I been awake, which of course is nonsense, since I’m 5,000 miles away. I don’t think I’ve explained this very well but is probably to do with the guilt of moving overseas.

I am reading A Writer’s Coach by Jack Hart, and he talks about the idea of whether you are (in your method of writing) a ‘planner’ or a ‘plunger’. He credits this to Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute and Don Fry, a writing coach. I think the names explain the ideas for themselves but it makes me wonder what I am, and whether it explains anything about my stalling process. I wonder if I am actually a planner, but as I’ve always plunged in the past, maybe that’s why I find it difficult to write when I don’t know what order of things I’m writing about… That seems to me to be a problem: if you’re writing your first book, how do you know? If I write articles and columns like a plunger, does that mean I’ll write fiction like one? Or could I need to be a planner because it’s a change in direction? I just don’t know.

Well, I am off for my me time weekend tomorrow morning. I've got my camera charged, my pc ready and even one of those squishy neck cushions for the 3 hour drive. I hope to be at the coffee, if I can work out what time to come!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

My computer is a hypochondriac

My computer’s security thought it had a worm. It didn’t. But it worried and worried and as a safety measure, it blocked me from sending emails. My lovely friend C has spent all afternoon stroking and reassuring it, and on the phone to the helpdesk of the security system. It appears to be cured.

Have you found me C?

This morning I had book club – we read Alias Grace this month. It’s the first book of Margaret Atwood’s that I’ve really enjoyed, although I still have issues with it. I’ve realized that I struggle with books that are fictionalized versions of real events. When I read fiction there’s no dilemma for me about what’s based on research and what is artistic license; if it’s good, I just believe in the world that’s been created but the same can't be said when it's fiction mixed with fact. I can't cope with a mixture. For some reason I don't know which bits to believe.

A week or so I was sent a note about a bookcrossing group that someone was starting in Bangkok, and so tonight we met at Kuppa on Sukhumvit Soi 16 (one of my favourite restaurants). I went with my friend C, and I already knew one person there from my apartments, but all the others were new faces: lovely. Hello bookcrossers.

I love the idea of bookcrossing for the same reason as discovering someone who has read and loved the same book as you; it’s so lovely to share the joy you got from it. However, I have a small problem: I want to keep all my books – even the rubbish ones. There’s always something redeeming about them (how not to do it, gorgeous cover, or just by nature of the fact that they are a book and somehow precious). I tried to explain to C why (I wasn’t sure) but they are like trophies or a maybe a curriculum vitae. They go some way to explaining some of the stuff in my head, some of who I am. So I turned up at bookcrossing NOT having brought any books which was embarrassing as everyone else had books to swap. I promised them I would put myself on a 12 step programme to overcome needing to keep all books. I said I was uncomfortable taking books when I hadn’t brought any, and they were all the embodiment of generosity and said ‘take in advance’. What lovely people.

Having a crisis about my weekend away: the hotel is full and I can't find anywhere else to stay nearby. I want to look at mountains...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Uh Oh

Second post of the day - how's that for enthusiasm?

It's not, it's more excuses and BIG PANIC: my laptop security has jammed my emailing out because it has detected 'worm activity'. Oh god, time to cry. What does it mean? Why doesn't my manual scan stop it, find it and stamp it out? Where is husband? Out with colleague, not home stroking my laptop, helping...

I'm writing this on his pc, but can't do my Dreamweaver brain drain homework, and tomorrow all the knowledge will be gone. It's okay, though because as revenge, I logged onto his Bejeweled and I scored in his top score box with my name, ha ha ha ha.

Hubris and bla bla bla

I came out of Dreamweaver Brain Drain class today, having had a stonking lesson: very enjoyable, felt like I begun to understand a bit. Oooh, and bought two domain names while I was there: first choice and second choice. I texted husband to say ‘Great Dreamweaver lesson, feeling great, hope you’re having a good day’ and then I wrote another note over food to say: ‘And eating Dim Sum; can life get any better?’

I was definitely guilty of overweening pride, but the gods were sure gonna push me in a filthy puddle for it, and maybe twist my ankle as I went down. In my inbox when I got home was an email from children’s school, titled: Son’s bus behaviour. Mmmm, it’s a fair bet here that they weren’t writing to let me know what a joy he’s been on the bus lately!

We’ve been having diminutive teenage issues at home too (he’s 12). There is only so much nagging and telling off a Mum can do, and there’s unquestionably a limit to how effective this is. For me, it’s only effective for the length of the lecture and then I go all the way to Guilt City: for him, all he appears to hear is ‘bla bla bla’. It makes no impact on future behaviour at all. Whatever the problem, I am sure that I need to give him lots of positive attention... but boy, give me back those toddlers.

Writing? Well, this morning I had a deadline I’d been putting off. I was supposed to send a review of January’s Book Club meeting to the magazine I write for. We’d been reading Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. I struggled to get it read (because our best friends were here for the whole of Christmas and New Year) but loved it. Only two other people in Book Club had attempted to read it and neither had finished it. January’s meeting was a bit of a disaster on the book front, but interesting because some of the women present talked about their experiences of political unrest and having to flee the country during their expat lives. Maybe you know something about the unrest here in Thailand at the moment? So it felt a very relevant book. Thankfully, the story surrounding Nemirovsky’s life, the book, and its discovery was so incredible, that I told that in my review instead.

So no, as yet I haven’t started writing. I’ve got brain drain homework to do before all the knowledge leaks out of my head: I really should do it tonight.

Tomorrow is February's Book Club day (Alias Grace) … oh dear, more excuses.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Starting work, feeling good

I woke up feeling very positive this morning. That’s as much to do with having had enough sleep as well as the lovely messages of support I’ve had since joining the race. I’m such a monster when I don’t get enough sleep. It’s a constant struggle trying to fit in a social life with needing my eight hours a night (I have to get the kids up for school at 5.45am). There are also the occasions where I know perfectly well that I don’t actually need any more sleep, but my bed… is just… so… divine…

But not so this morning: I added some more to my chapter plan, and then I visited my character sheets where, instead of feeling a bit cardboardy, they had started feeling more real to me. I reminded myself why I’d named the four main characters what I’ve called them by visiting one of the name your baby sites, and felt particularly happy about one of character’s names.

Several weeks ago husband and I did a diary session, which consisted mostly of him saying: ‘I’m away here, and have (business) visitors there, so will need to be out schmoozing these evenings…’ so it was decided that I could have a weekend to myself. The plan being that I would go away with only my laptop as company, and try to write. (Maybe this is what precipitated jumping into the novel race now because next weekend is ‘JJ’s weekend to herself’). I do feel much more confident now that I will be writing my first draft rather than playing Bejeweled 2 Deluxe! Still, you know it might be better to uninstall it anyway, just to be on the safe side: I mean, it’s only a cold and I really could quit anytime. I’m going to stay in Khao Sam Roi Yot ‘three hundred peaks’ National Park which is a couple of hours away from Bangkok. It’s on the coast and has an incredible mountainous skyline to look at.

As well as beginning writing, I’m going to catch up with my desk photo, which I know is an out of date subject, but I enjoyed seeing everyone’s and wanted to join in. I am planning to get round to as many people as possible to say hello. Please bear with me.

Got a busy day tomorrow: Monday is Dreamweaver brain drain day (these are lessons I’m taking because I am attempting to learn it for a voluntary position I have taken with a charitable group here!). I am intending not to go back to bed when the children are picked up 6.30am and go and do some work instead. So watch this space...

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Okay I appear to be committed now. I think.

No, I am committed; but I’m still terrified. You can see I haven’t even said out loud on my profile that I want to write a novel. Saying it isn’t good enough, I know, I know.

I’m here because I really want to write, not think or procrastinate: not stand teetering on the edge, saying in a squeaky voice ‘I want to write a novel…

I’m not sure if I can think in terms of how many words I‘m aiming for. I just want to start writing it. If I can begin then maybe in time I can think about naming a number of words.

I’ve been checking in on you all since the race started. First I made a blog, then I dithered some more, and then I left a drippy note for Kate ‘ooooh, not sure I’m a serious enough player for this race’ but actually, that’s just more avoidance. She called my bluff and said ‘join in’. I thought she might write back and say ‘you’re right, you just don’t sound grown up and serious enough for this race.’

So hello fellow racers. Sorry I didn’t get to the coffee yesterday, but I’m in Bangkok and seven hours ahead of you. With the time difference perhaps it means I’ll be there first next week! I’ll put the kettle on.