Monday, 22 February 2010

Book Group

It's that time again, the night before book group. Normally I'm in the shameful position of not having finished the book but due to a bout of winter vomiting virus yesterday and taking a recuperative day off work today, I have actually read the whole of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I was absorbed by it once I got over the clumsy writing and sloppy editing, which just underscores the power of a great plot. Did I mention the information dumping? I don't think I'll read another.
I've found ways around not having finished the book. I read the first and last chapters and a few in the middle, then print a couple of reviews off the internet. Usually, I can blag my way through the evening, since our group can be distracted by the wine, the food and other pressing matters and we have to remind ourselves that there is a book to discuss. I'm usually reading something else and find it hard to tear myself away to read the book group choice. Why make the effort? Without the group, there's so much fiction I wouldn't have tried because it's outside my comfort zone. Even if I don't finish a book in time for the meeting, I almost always finish it later. And we laugh.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

My Working Life (1)

I don't write much about my working life but since work is where I spend most of my time, that's about to change. It's half term this week, so the schools are closed but it's still busy. This afternoon I visited a family to discuss my statutory advice or 'Appendix D' which is a detailed report educational psychologists write on children who are undergoing a legal multi-professional assessment of special educational needs.
In the small living room there were five children, the autistic child I was assessing, two little girls under three and two boys, one about three and the other about eight. The television was on and a neighbour was visiting. We spent about an hour and a half going through my report in detail, with everyone chipping in. This is normal, except that quite often there can be dogs as well.
We got the work done and I had a cup of coffee before I left. Life is great!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Writing on a shoestring

Is it possible to write a novel without any time? I can confirm that it is absolutely possible but a publishable novel? I'll let you know. Firstly, lets dispense with the myths. The first one that's trotted out is the 'getting up at dawn' scenario. If you don't sleep well, that's an impossibility. Dawn may well be when you're just getting off to sleep. But I do know writers who've done it. The second myth is that you can write at work (when the boss isn't looking). Again, I've met writers who do this but if you have a fast-paced job, it's impossible. Here's what works for me, written as a list because very busy people make lists, which is pretty annoying I agree:

1) make contact with your novel every day. This is an old chestnut but worthwhile, even if all you do is read through what you wrote the day before. This keeps your characters at the forefront of your mind and you can mentally write the next scene, work out tricky plot situations or even map out a whole chapter while you're driving, shopping, standing at the photocopier or struggling to remain conscious in a meeting. The disadvantage is that the written version is never as good as the one you 'wrote' in your head. Road safety is another disadvantage. I get so absorbed that I miss junctions or even forget where I'm going. Once, I drove quite a way to Manchester before I remembered I was meant to be driving to Darlington.

2) read lots of fiction. By all means enjoy the book but try to notice stylistic devices, interesting vocabulary and ways the plot is driven forward and shamelessly copy them. Everyone does it, nothing is original, just watch out for plagiarism.

3) avoid television unless you're brain dead at the end of the week. Something has to go and there's truly nothing on.

4) only allow yourself to look at your e-mails and Facebook after you've done your writing. This tip was given to me by Martin Bedford, one of my tutors at Manchester University. Thanks Martin.

5) keep up with friends, family, shopping, holidays, meals out, films, theatre, walks. Live a life. If you don't, what on earth will you write about?

6) carry a notebook and write down overheard dialogue and scenes you observe. You'll at least feel like a writer and restaurants will think you're a critic.

7) if all else fails write about the thing that robs you of your time, whether it's work, children or elderly parents. Keep a diary. Remember, life is art. A teaching assistant and a parent are jointly publishing the home/school diary that went back and forth between them every day for all of a child's primary education. The child has autism. Publishers are fighting over the book. Of course they are.

8) if you have to take a break from the novel (it's Christmas, you have flu, you're on holiday) try not to make it too long. From my experience, getting back to writing after a break can be very difficult.

9) don't worry about how or when you write. I've heard a lot of published authors speak and they're as lazy as the rest of us.

Good luck!