Friday 28 May 2010


For the past two months I've been up to my neck in the new novel, writing around 4,000 words a day, living and breathing and dreaming my characters and plot. Now, as the first full draft is nearly done, I'm experiencing a period of mental readjustment that I'm sure is entirely usual but with which I could use any tips or advice on offer. I'm grieving a little for my characters, not wanting to say goodbye, which sounds like twaddle but doesn't feel that way. I've become horrible misanthropic these last few days, aware that I'm about to enter a phase which requires I stop holding the rest of the world at bay and rejoin the human race. Does anyone have any recommendations as to the best way to go about this? I'm not a very sociable being at the best of times; my instinct is to withdraw and spend time alone but I sense that's not what I need (although, oh! for a week in a faraway spa, all by myself). Exercise, diet and/or mental stimulus suggestions would all be most welcome. Thank you!

Thursday 20 May 2010

Bristol Short Story Prize

The longlist for the Bristol Prize has just been published, and I'm thrilled to find my name among so many I know and admire, including Frances Gapper and Elizabeth Baines. Now I must do my best to forget all about this and concentrate on other things, namely the novel. A good friend of mine and a great YA author, Elizabeth Wein, wisely said that wishing or hoping too hard for a thing often scares it away. Much better to enjoy the moment (only 40 entries out of nearly 1,500 made it to the longlist) and forget all about it.

Monday 17 May 2010

Glass Woman Prize, and Asham Award

Flash fiction has another notch in its bed-post today, as Julie Innis' Sanctuary has won the Glass Woman Prize. Congratulations, Julie!

That's the short short story. The longer one is that I hit 60,000 words with the novel, today which feels like an important milestone. I still haven't re-read any of it and don't intend to until I've reached a first full draft, hopefully by the end of this month. It feels good to be a full-time writer again.

Back to the short stories, because I want to say how much I enjoyed Average Sunday Afternoon by Pat Jourdan, which includes a marvellous flash fiction piece called Miss Haversham Reconstructed. Wonderful, impish and so true.

Finally, the Asham Award is about open for business and this year there's a theme. Ghost, or Gothic. I have something to send to this - hurrah! The entry fee is £15 - boo. That makes it one of the most expensive contests to enter in the UK. Ouch.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Two schools of thought

Opinion is divided on this one, and I'd be interested in people's preferences. When you're writing, do you also take time out to read? Or do you prefer to keep the two separate? I know some writers who find (or just fear) they'll lose their own voice if they're writing while reading another author. I can understand this. But, on balance, I prefer to take the risk. Chiefly because I get so much out of reading, it inspires me, it fills out the world I need to inhabit as a writer, while writing.

During the last ten days I've written the first third of a new novel. I've been writing four or sometimes five hours every week day, an average of 1,000 words per hour. My routine goes something like this: 9am walk for an hour (my incentive is an excellent takeaway latte, at the top of a gruelling hill) while "watching" the next scenes in my novel running like movie reel in my mind's eyes; 10am write for three hours; break for lunch and read for an hour and/or make notes towards the novel; 2pm write for another hour. After the school run, I go offline, tidy my notebook for tomorrow so I know roughly where I'm starting from. Then I read, for a couple of hours at least.

I find the keeping of notes very helpful. I don't re-read what I've written the day before, unless my notes dictate a light edit. But mostly I concentrate on moving forwards, getting it done. I find reading essential. It flexes a different part of my brain entirely. It makes me think about what works and doesn't work in novels, structurally perhaps more than in terms of the words themselves. But when I say that during the last ten days I've read Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore, and AL Kennedy's Day, it's probably apparent that I'm not reading around any one topic, or looking for exact inspiration. I'm just closing the circle, surrounding myself in words because this is where I want to be right now. Where I need to be.

Do I worry that my novel will end up owing too much to these other authors? That my voice will be drowned out? No. I'm on my guard against it, for one thing. And it's good for my writer's ear, I think, to hear other voices than my own.

But what do other writers think? How do you complete the circle, when you're writing something new? What rituals and charms do you put in place, to stay focused in the right way?