Vowel Problems

typewriter    There’s an interesting piece on The Writer’s Almanac today, the anniversary of the patenting of the first typewriter. Remember typewriters? My first one was given to me by my mother-in-law and was already so ancient that it required great physical strength to pound the keys and great resourcefulness to find replacement ribbons.

I never learned to touch type. Instead I developed a regrettable but very fast two finger technique. That typewriter was a thing of beauty, as was my old Singer sewing machine. Both gone. I wonder where?

Happy as Larry

larryLarry McMurtry, one of my most esteemed writers, is 79 today. There are  writers who are very full of themselves and indeed these days are encouraged to be  –  put yourself about, blow that trumpet  –  and then there are writers like Larry who never take themselves too seriously. My favourite McMurtry anecdote is the one about him wearing a sweatshirt printed with the legend MINOR REGIONAL NOVELIST. Happy Birthday, Larry.

What Would Agatha Say?

gravedigger   So how do we feel about Sophie Hannah performing CPR on another writer’s character? I think Agatha Christie’s wishes were pretty clear when she killed off Hercule Poirot. He’s been in his grave for forty years as has Agatha and it seems to me an act of gross impertinence to dig him up. I realise Sophie Hannah is a hugely successful crime writer and I know the Agatha Christie Estate agreed to the Harper Collins project, but still. Not so much a case of flogging dead horses   –  Christie’s novels are still very popular  –  more a case of flogging stolen horses.

What Mother Knows

motherknowsIt’s that time in my writing year when the manuscript comes back to me with bloopers and queries marked up by the copy editor. Copy editors are essential people in the publishing business. They catch howlers and misspellings, they patiently insert missing commas.  But sometimes they go a bit further and make stylistic suggestions and when they do that they cross my personal version of the yellow incident tape the police use to cordon off no-go areas. You can’t write a novel by committee. No-one tells me how my characters speak.

A Hopey-Changey Post

bookheap     Thanks first to all those who sent messages of support/death threats to my publisher/offers of a long-term let of their garden shed. My book proposal, revamped because I refused to accept that it was totally crap, is being reconsidered and may yet live. But what with one thing and another I’m not likely to hear the news, good or bad, till mid-May.  So two more weeks of unpaid leave. What to do?

‘You could dust the top of that wardrobe,’ whispers the ghost of my dear departed Mum. Well yes. But I thought I’d begin by tackling the twenty seven books on the floor beside the bed.  My husband put his head round the door and asked what I was doing. I said, ‘There are going to be some long overdue changes in this room.’ He fled.

The Shoe Drops

nomessagesNo news is good news, so they say. Why do they say that? No news is, well… no news.

So as of 9am this morning I was still unemployed but hopeful. My proposal for a new novel was on my publisher’s desk and with every day that passed I had fallen more and more in love with the story. I wanted to start writing it but caution held me back. ‘Don’t set yourself up for disappointment,’ whispered the voice of Good Sense. ‘Keep busy. Dust the top of the wardrobe. Arrange your spice jars in alphabetical order.’

To You, To Me

movingfurniture    There are encouraging whispers about another book contract  –  calm down, that girl at the back. It’s not in the bag yet   –  but in the meanwhile I’m still rather conveniently in publishing limbo and therefore available to nurse my injured husband. And move furniture.

I’ve been in my current study for five years and  realised only recently that I was perching in it, like an office temp. It is the repository for all on-going (and half-abandoned) projects, and frankly it had become a dispiriting mess. I have written four books looking at the same wall and the same framed poster for a show I once directed.  A poster I didn’t even particularly like. So that got tossed earlier today and, stiffened by that small achievement, I began moving furniture.

Notes From a Far Shore

historywritersWell not a terribly far shore, admittedly, but the wrong side of the Irish sea with a husband immobilised in a hospital bed. Fifteen years ago when he fell and sustained the very same injury he memorialised the calamity by fixing a small brass plaque at the San Toma’ vaporetto stop (downtown route). HIC IACET HOWARDUS it read (I think. I am no classicist) and there it stayed for many years, ignored by the city and the bus company and occasionally visited by kind friends carrying a can of Brasso and a cloth. When the embarcadero was revamped a couple of years ago it was torn up and no doubt now lies in some Italian landfill.

Fay’s At It Again

fay      The indefatigable Fay Weldon has been opining again, dishing out advice to writers. She says we need to get with the program and write fast, page-turning reads because people nowadays are too busy for contemplative or demanding reading. There may be some commercial wisdom in what she’s saying but her reasoning is flawed. People don’t have less time these days, they have more time because they no longer have to polish the brasses, push sheets through a clothes-wringer, black-lead the grate, try to make something edible out of a sheep’s head, or walk ten miles to market to sell their eggs. People today have plenty of time to read if they really want to. If they choose to do other things should we writers chase after them? If we hope to continue earning a living perhaps we’ll have to. Or should we just pack it in, call it a day, try a new profession? I wonder if I could be a life-style mentor?

Drowning in Books

drowningIt isn’t the first time I’ve written on the topic of book overload but I’m hoping to turn things round this time and actually do something about it. I’m spring-cleaning, which is to say I’m dusting around the high-rise piles of Laurie Graham books. My study is starting to look like a Dubai skyline.