I’m writing a book that makes me laugh.
I’ve sent the first ten thousand words of my dying-in-a-car-crash rewrite off to Sophie. I’m waiting to see if she thinks I’ve got the narrative voice just right. So, in the meantime, I’m working on another book – a funny book.
I actually laugh out loud when I’m writing it. And giggle almost all the time. I’m writing it with my 11 year old daughter. We make up what happens over our afternoon tea. I go away and write it up and then she reads what I’ve done and asks for edits. It’s more fun than anybody really deserves to have.
For years and years and years, I’ve been trying to be serious and grown up in my work. To be honest, I don’t think that’s worked all that well. And one reason it hasn’t worked all that well is that, although I am well educated and think seriously and deeply about all kinds of current issues and philosophical concepts on which I am fairly well-informed, I’m also rather…silly.
Silly by choice. Silly because, damn it, there’s enough to cry about and be shocked by and worry over in life without me sitting down at the keyboard and adding to it. Silly because I have thought seriously and deeply about all kinds of current issues and philosophical concepts on which I am fairly well-informed.
I’m not silly because I’m too stupid to understand the dark side of life. I’m silly because I think the best thing I can do with my talent is help get my readers through another bloody day.
God, I wish I could share this chapter with you right now. The part where the teachers all fall off the back of the stage makes my eyes water with pure joy. Instead, have this selfie of me that got photobombed by the labrador. Hope it makes you smile.
I’m working all May on marking. It’s Thursday, my movie day, and I haven’t even showered yet (it’s nearly noon) because I’ve been marking flat out since seven am. I’m marking, sending reminders for students to put their work up on the virtual learning environment, making little voice recordings of feedback, and coaching staff and students on upcoming assessments. I’m also dealing with the inevitable student complaints and trying to make sure that I’ve been fair, they’ve been fair and that nobody in my care will miss graduating because I didn’t work hard enough and quick enough.
If I work all of May and get my marking done, I’ll be able to write all of June and July. That’s right. I’ll spend every day with my heroine, as she remembers all the events of her past and makes the decisions for her people’s future. And that means, I’ll finish my current book and Sophie will have yet another project to send out to editors for me.
I’m robbing myself of time now, so that I can have more in the future. I’m investing time now, so that I can draw it out again then.
And isn’t that what writing is, really, anyway? Don’t we spend our lives, scribbling away, so that our voices and ideas live on? My books go places I’ve never been, meet people I’ve never met. When I’m dead, they might still be read. Some dusty shelf will be cleared and someone will pick it up and open the page and…I’ll be getting back some of the time I invested in its pages…
Well, it’s been an exciting week!
- My wonderful agent, Sophie Gorell-Barnes, is sending Hospital High out to publishers,
- I met with my new writing group and it wasn’t nearly as scary as I feared, and
- I’m recording with BBC Radio Four this afternoon…something about writers and their love of stationery.
It feels like a proper writer’s week… Of course, I’m most comfortable in my dressing gown, typing away in my room. But that’s no way to run a whole career. Fine for a hobby, but not for a life…
I used to teach a class for my second years about how to get published. For a year, it was made compulsory, and as I was walking up the stairs I overheard one boy say to another, ‘I don’t want to learn this sh*t. I just want to write.’
When we got into class, I announced that I had overheard this conversation. The class was shocked and silent, rather fearful of my reaction. I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you something. I don’t want to do this sh*t, either. I want to live in my room, write whatever I want and have money and food slid to me under the door. But that’s not going to happen for me and it’s not going to happen for you. So let’s get our pads and pencils out and learn how it really works.’
No matter what your creative endeavour, I urge you to get out and about a little this week. Go to a workshop or a fair. Talk to people about it a bit more. The rewards can be absolutely amazing, once you manage to get over the threshold of your room…
…even if it’s just to go over to someone else’s room! (Thanks to Peter and his cat! For more about Peter’s wonderful nature and environmental writing, click on the photo.)
I don’t know where my house keys are. I’ve lost the pin number for the card I need to pay my hairdresser. I messed up my own haircolour (see above) and also need the pin number so I can go to the chemist/pharmacy and buy more stuff to sort it out. It’d be nice to be able to lock the door when I do that…I went to the hairdresser with it unlocked.
I don’t even want to talk about work – I think I’m on top of everything, but I have a nasty feeling that’s a fairy tale I’m telling myself.
But the new book is going great.
I need to call Sophie to make sure she got Hospital High. I need to write this blog. I need to clean my kitchen and my bathroom and sort out a hundred other things. And Christmas is coming (aaaargh!) and I’m sure I’m late to post my lovely mommy’s presents again.
But the new book is going great.
And as usual, there’s a correlation between those things. I could be a much better mum, friend, teacher, co-worker, wife, housekeeper, etc, if I actually used the whole of my brain. But I don’t. Oh, yes, part of me is trying to do her best for everyone. But part of me is in another world entirely, with a whole other set of people. Part of me is working out just how I’m going to introduce various plot strands into the complicated structure and voice of this novel. Part of me is in a tower today, scratching a letter to the bishop on homemade paper with a rusty pen.
People who value my writing understand. And people who don’t …well… I say the words, ‘I’m sorry,’ an awful, awful lot…
Well, it’s gone! Huzzah!
I was right that it wouldn’t take long to finish Hospital High once I knew what I was writing about…I sent it off to Sophie just now.
Now, I’ll do what authors learn to do best – I’ll wait.
First I’ll wait for Sophie to have time to read it. Then I’ll wait for her to send it out. Then I’ll wait for editors to come back to Sophie.
I hope I don’t have to wait too long!
In the meantime, I have my new book. I can’t wait to get started on it again. And after that, my bear book. So it’s not like I’ll just be filing my nails and watching daytime television…
But right now, I’m going to treat myself to a giant cup of tea and a bus ride to the garage to pick up my car. It’s going to be wonderful driving WITH a clutch.
Hope Sophie can help me pay for the repairs. I wonder how long it will take her to read it? I wonder how long it will take to sell? I wonder if I’ll get a good deal for it? I wonder …
Hey, I said we learn to wait. I didn’t say I already knew how…
This is Sophie Gorell-Barnes, my wonderful agent from MBA. On Monday, I took the train into London just to see her and hear, face to face, her advice about the final touches to Hospital High. She’s been telling editors about it and it’s time to send it out to them.
Sophie may look sweet and lovely (and she is) but she can be tough, too. I’ve seen her in negotiations, and I’m glad she’s on my side.
We’ve had good and bad times. Giddy times of big sales (when we sold Wipe Out, we hugged each other and silently danced around in the publisher’s loo with joy) and frustrating times when nobody likes a book we’ve slaved over (her emails were even more angry about this than my own). You have to bear with each other, and get through things, you and your agent. It’s a bit like a marriage!
Some types of writers don’t really need agents. They’re the ones with the business heads, the ones who read Bookseller and Publisher’s Weekly and study publisher’s lists and network with editors. They live in London, and they’re on the canapé circuit and they know who’s who and what’s what.
I’m not that kind of a writer. I read widely in my areas, of course, and I have a feeling for what’s going on in my markets. But I need time to dream, to pretend to be a bear, to look for a long while at the colour of tree bark, to bob up and down inside a wetsuit in a cold sea. So, I walk by the river. Sophie eats the canapés and lunches and goes to the meetings. Sophie knows who’s who and what’s what.
I write the stories, but Sophie and I work together to make them into books – and then Sophie thinks about who will want to publish them…she will have been thinking about that even while we do the work of making them into books together.
I trust Sophie. And I’d find it very hard to do without her.