About Me

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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What's in a Name?

My husband has just thrown the cat among the proverbial pigeons, by telling me that he doesn't like the title 'Corncrake'. So I've spent a wildly unproductive night trying to come up with a better name for the novel. Choices so far are The Corncrake, the Tattie Howker (intriguing, but does anyone outside Scotland know what a tattie howker is - and wouldn't that be a bit offputting?) and the Bonnie Irish Boy. Which I kind of like, but feel that it does suggest a different sort of book. And finally, The Summer Visitor or The Incomer. Both of which I also kind of like. All opinions about possible title, on the strength of the first four chapters below will be gratefully received!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Sad Truth About Writing

There is a sad truth about the struggle to earn a living as a writer, and it is something that has been - exercising - me. That's probably the right word. It exercises me, usually at four in the morning when, to quote Marian Keyes, I wake up to have a bit of a worry.
This sad truth is that eventually, whenever you get a modicum of success, you know full well that you've been there before, all too many times, and it means very little in terms of your future ambitions.
Let me try to explain what I mean, because I don't want to sound cynical or unhappy or ungracious. I'm none of these things. I love writing. And I don't have many regrets.
BUT
Way back in the 1980s, I can vividly remember the phonecall from Philip Howard, the artistic director of the Traverse Theatre, in Edinburgh, telling me that he wanted to direct Wormwood, my play about Chernobyl, in the coming season. I can remember the elation, the sheer happiness, the feeling that I had finally arrived. There were other times: my first book of poetry, the notification that I had received an Arts Council bursary, finding an agent, finding a publisher for my first novel, winning a couple of major awards for radio plays. Then there was the film company who were interested in my idea for a television series about a group of unemployed Glasgow men, who got together to become male strippers. I'm not joking. That was years before the Full Monty, it was called They're Lovely and They Dance and I still have the scripts. We had meetings in One Devonshire Gardens in Glasgow. They were enthusiastic. I wrote and rewrote for no payment. Then, of course, nothing happened.
The sad truth is that for all but a tiny minority of writers (and it is infinitesimally small) each success is not some kind of milestone on the route to somewhere else. Most of the time, for most of us, in the long run, it makes no appreciable difference.
Wormwood had excellent reviews and there have been other extremely well reviewed plays. The Price of a Fish Supper was one of them. I still send plays out to no response. The Curiosity Cabinet was shortlisted for a prize, published, was well received, sold out. As I write this, there isn't even a single second hand copy available on Amazon. But I still can't sell the next novel, Corncrake. I could cite many more examples, but I won't bore you. There is no progression, no real continuity. Some you win, some you lose. That's just the way it is.
Which means - and this is the good bit - that it is the work itself in which any satisfaction must and indeed should lie. The immediacy of the work as you are writing it is what is really important.
I think I always knew this, or why would I have carried on writing?
But I don't think I saw it so clearly as I do now, with a modicum of age and wisdom.
All the other stuff, the stars, the ratings, the competitions, the cv only matter a little. The occasional payment is nice. It's good to get stuff out there. But you should never, ever write what you don't really want to write, just because somebody says it will look good on your CV.
Write because you truly, madly, deeply want to do it. Or failing that, write for money.
If you can manage to do both at once, you are one lucky person.
But believe me, in the long term, to write what you don't much want to write, solely because somebody tells you that it will be 'good experience for you' is probably useless, and will finally prove vexatious to the soul.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fish Supper at the Gilded Balloon

Well what do you know? The nice young man who phoned me before I went off on holiday, has got back to me to say that they do indeed want to do The Price of a Fish Supper at the Gilded Balloon, in Edinburgh, as part of their 'best of the Oran Mor' season. Maybe the thing is not to care too much. Then perhaps the cosmos drops things in your lap, just to remind you of who's in charge. Perhaps I could write a self help book about it...
He asks me if I have copies of reviews because they can't find any. Fish Supper was well reviewed. Joyce Macmillan liked it. Somewhere I have copies. But where? Since the play was reviewed I have completely renovated the room where I write (and got rid of about a third of my books, and a small Finnish forest of paper in the process.) Spend several hours hunting in all the usual places. Eventually find reviews in a folder in one of the unusual places, a shelf that involves a balancing act to reach it. Very good they were too. 'Blisteringly eloquent writing'. Why am I not more famous?
Get several emails about play but realise that nobody has yet given me dates, so I can't pass them on. More as it happens.

Amazon Reviews & The Curiosity Cabinet

Have been reading reviews of The Curiosity Cabinet on Amazon. All writers do this, and most of us also compulsively Google our own names and work. If you are ever contemplating plagiarism, you can be fairly sure that your sins will find you out.
Read nice review which nevertheless says the book is 'not as deep as Emotional Geology.' Now I have read, and greatly enjoyed Emotional Geology, but have to take issue with the 'not as deep' bit. On reflection though, sometimes I think that the poet and playwright in me likes to pare down my writing to the nth degree and I'm not always sure that it does me any favours with the novels. I'm always reading other people's books and finding them slightly overblown, but I suspect that I do need to indulge myself just a bit more, otherwise readers may mistake simplicity for superficiality.
Every time I look at The Curiosity Cabinet on Amazon, I am filled with rage that it has comprehensively sold out, and that Polygon have refused to reprint even a small run, and yet as I write this, there is only one second hand copy available. I think I have the last few remaining books in my own possession. Am sorely tempted to ask my agent to reclaim the rights, and Lulu it.

Friday, June 08, 2007

More Thoughts about Working for Nothing - oh and a not quite gratuitous mention of David Tennant.

Just back from a week in South of France, staying with inlaws in their little flat in a holiday village on the Mediterranean coast. Weather windy and warm, then just warm. Scarcely an English accent to be heard, which gave us all the chance to try out our French. Reassured by how much came flooding back, mostly because I used to have to speak French to my Polish relatives, that being our only common language.
Came back to a week's worth of emails as well as
A phone message about The Physic Garden - will I call back? Yes, but I only get the answering machine.
Another phone message from a pleasant sounding lady who says she has met me. She edits a small literary magazine, and wonders if I would like to do a big interview with a famous writer for them.
Switch on the PC to be met by hundreds of emails, most of which are garbage. Check them however, since Norton has a habit of dumping the odd goodie in the spam box.There is one from the same nice lady. They would like me to do the interview in June, which suits the famous writer, and then write the piece (2000 words) before autumn. The snag is that the magazine is so small that there is no money for fees. She hopes that it won't put me off because she is sure I would make a good job of it. Too right.
I have some questions.
Foremost among which is
Who among us can honestly say that they would really love to do a week's hard slog on behalf of somebody else, for no payment whatsoever? I mean I do it all the time, of course, just about whenever I write, but then I'm doing it for me, and I'm doing it because my agent has a certain amount of faith in me, and I'm doing it because - really - I can't stop myself. Plays or fiction, I love it all.
Also, why does nobody ever ring me and ask me if I will - for example - do a good long interview with David Tennant. I might stretch a point. Particularly since I could ask him if he would like to be in my next play.
I would make a good job of that kind of interview as well
I stare at the email and the phone rings. It is the nice lady. I tell her, apologetically, that I can't do the piece. Besides, I have a book review and an article to write, both of which will result in a small payment: real money of the kind much encouraged by Tesco in exchange for food.
And then, oh then, I'm resuming work on the new novel. Of which more, much more, later.