Friday, 28 December 2012

Happy Midmas!

I don't often mention members of my family in this blog, partly for reasons of taste, decency, privacy etc and partly because none of them are famous. (A forgivable oversight on their part, but an unfortunate one, given that Celebrity Begets Celebrity.) But here is a tiny glimpse into the mindset of my Life Partner: he is a complete Scrooge. He was too miserable even to wear his black "Bah Humbug!" hat this year, and his current catchphrase is "Christmas is Over!" This means that no one is allowed to play the "Christmas at King's College Cambridge" CD and we have to listen to Steve Earle instead. Festiveness is a scant resource in our house.

Anyway. The point of this post is to say It is So Not. As in, over. I really love this hidden time, between the last mince pie and the social embarrassment of not knowing who to kiss at midnight on New Year's eve. All year long, I wish there were twenty five hours in a day or eight days in a week, and now, as the year staggers to a close, there are five unlabelled days to write in. It's a shame that some of this valuable time will have to be spent marking, but there you go. At least there are no presents to buy/wrap/deliver, the hangovers have receded and the obligation to turn in to a born-again gym bunny is yet to come.

In a way, Midmas is a good time to get into training for the really important resolution, the only resolution that counts, which is to Write More. I will be Writing More in the New Year, and no matter what the distractions - surviving my PhD viva/being published/not being published/torpid teenagers/everything else you can think of - I will also be trying to focus on Process.

My great discovery as a writer has been that starting with the end in mind is not desirable. It is far better to start with the middle in mind, and stay there. The happiest place for me is the Zone, where writing happens, and nothing else matters. See you there in 2013, I hope!

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Next Big Thing

Have been absurdly busy recently, not in a good way, more like a hamster which has accidentally nibbled some speed before jumping into its wheel. So I have been a tad hopeless about being part of a wonderful project called The Next Big Thing,  which brings together writers to answer questions about their books. I was invited to take part by my lovely writer friend Susanna Jones.

Susanna is a brilliant author and her most recent novel 'When Nights Were Cold' is the gripping and atmospheric story of a group of women mountaineers in the early 20th century. Her writing is taut and spare, and full of tension. Susanna's work has already won a number of awards, including the CWA John Creasey Dagger, the Betty Trask Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. You can find out about Susanna and her work here.

Any road. This is my response to the Next Big Thing questions - and do watch this space for news about four fellow writers and their new books.

1. What is the working title of your next book? 

It has two titles: 'Dark Aemilia' and  . I'm a bit of a title junkie.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was writing a historical novel for my MA at Brunel University, and it was actually meant to b be about Lady Macbeth. I had the vague idea that either she or Macbeth himself might be the Fourth Witch, so that was the title of that book. Then I started researching Shakespeare's play-world in sixteenth century London, and then I came across a necromancer called Simon Forman who wrote the first known review of Macbeth, and through him I found out about a woman called Aemilia Bassano (later Lanier).

It was basically love at first sight with Aemilia. She was Jewish, illegitimate and orphaned at 17, when she became the Lord Chamberlain's mistress. When she got pregnant he married her off to her feckless, recorder-playing cousin - but she still ended up being one of the first women in England to be a published poet.  And she was - possibly - Shakespeare's mysterious and unfaithful lover, the notorious Dark Lady. I mean, what is not to like here? All my notes about eleventh century Scotland went into the bin.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

It's historical, but not a. bodice ripping or b. National Trust.

4. What actors would you choose to play the characters in a movie rendition?

This is very easy for me. Rachel Weisz is Aemilia, and Daniel Craig is Shakespeare. I'd avoid Dames Judy or Helen for Queen Elizabeth, and would go for something more unusual. Maybe Rupert Everett or Gary Oldman. Kathy Burke IS Moll Cutpurse. (Please pass this on if you happen to see any of these people.)

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Lady Macbeth stalks the streets of sixteenth-century London, searching for the story that will unleash her warped, demonic power.

6. Is your book represented by an agency?

I'm represented by Greene & Heaton.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Two years.

8. What other books would you compare this to within your genre?

I'm not sure about 'genre' exactly, but the historical writers I most admire are Rose Tremain and (of course) Hilary Mantel. But Angela CarterVirginia Woolf and Jeanette Winterson have also influenced me. There is a bit of magic in the book. It's sort of realist magicalism.  

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Aemilia Bassano.

10. What else about this book might pique the reader’s interest?

It's women's-eye Shakespeare, the play-world from the perspective of the mistress/mother/whore.

 Now... off to find those four other writers.

Friday, 14 December 2012

'Tis the season

I am approaching Christmas with what I suppose I must call Mixed Emotions. First, I'm relieved. I have pretty much worked my butt off for the last three months, and I like the idea of rising late, drinking wine, and reading by a large festive fire.  Second, I am chastened. The world probably won't end on December 21st, but from my perspective at least it has been a noticeably sad and horrible year. One that I will be glad to see the back of. And thirdly  - for as all writers know, three is a powerful number - I am determined.

Yuletide may not seem like the season for determination, it's more about Bailey's Irish Cream and just one more layer of Milk Tray. Determination is a New Year thing, designed to offload sudden-onset cellulite and shot-putter arms. But I like to feel determined at inappropriate times. It takes the pressure off, vis a vis trying to relax and enjoy yourself.  My determination is focused on Writing. There has to be a new book in 2013. The old book - much as I love it and always will -  has had a enough airplay. It's like a spoiled and over-watched last child, and is still living at home when really it ought to be out in the world, fending for itself.  2013 is going to be The Year of the Dark Thriller. With a dash of humour. And this is my cue for a suitable photograph.

There is only one fail-safe cure for the affliction of wanting to write, and that is writing. It can cure all the attendant ills, the uncertainty, the waiting, the unworthy jealousy of other authors, the mad staring at rival writers' launch events at Waterstones in Taunton on Facebook et cetera. (Writers sometimes admit to being on Facebook too much, but they don't often say what they are feeling.)

I'm not going to put labels and links into this post, though I know I really should. I am going to light the fire and uncork the bottle. But tomorrow. Tomorrow there will be some Attitude.