Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Home Again

Many thanks to everybody for the kind comments on the finishing of Not One of Us - it was great to come home to the comments on my last post. Thank you all.

Whilst I was away, despite being away from home and somewhat occupied with keeping house for my dad whilst my mother was in hospital, I found myself constantly going over Not One of Us in my mind and wondering how it’s going to be received, so it was wonderful to come home (mum in tow to convalesce) and read this wonderful review of Testament from Juxtabook.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that NOOU would be on my mind. Not only had I finally got around to letting my nearest and dearest read it (being married to a writer must be awful – we spend all this time and intensity doing something which excludes everybody else and we won’t let them near it until it’s damn near perfect – or, at least, that seems to be the case with most of us) but also I was slap bang in the middle of the area where the novel is set, where the Rebecca Riots took place in the 1840s.
Then I was persuaded to discuss the book with some old friends I haven’t seen since we left school and who still live in the area inand I spent hours walking my parents’ dog around the lanes and woods of the valley that almost becomes a character in its own right in the book. I discussed Welshness and incomers with my family, all of whom still live in Cardiganshire and almost heard my characters joining in. I felt as if I was surrounded by my novel.
So, although I’d left behind the kitchen table where I wrote the book and our house in which the novel had come to life, going to Cardiganshire wasn’t ever likely to be a break from the book.

Now, back at home, while I wait to hear the fate of Not One of Us, I’m beginning to think about the next book. I’ve started looking around for background reading and research and the story is beginning to take shape – already two of the characters are hovering in my mind, waiting for my undivided attention so that they can step forward and we can get to know each other. But they’re going to have to wait another week, I’m a bit preoccupied as yet. And anyway, I’d like to let a bit of research inform the background that my characters are going to step out of into the light.

So… here I am, back at home and there are three books on my mind: Testament because of
Juxtabook’s wonderful review and because my copies of the Spanish edition of Testament arrived while I was away. (I have to say they’re rather splendid. ) Not One of Us because it's finally launched tentatively into the world or at least into my family and on to the desk of Will, our MNW commissioning editor whose verdict I'm simultaneously eagerly awaiting and dreading. And the new, as yet unplanned and unnamed book whose characters and stories are beginning to creep out from the corners of my subconscious.
It’s good to be back.

Thursday, 9 April 2009


OK, so, well, it's done... the editing of the work in progress is finished. It is a work in progress no longer.

I am a little on the exhausted side but, on the whole, cautiously pleased with how the thing's turned out. A finished novel is never quite the towering work of genius (ahem) that you envisaged at the outset but, from my far from objective position with my nose permanently grazed from the grindstone, it looks OK.

As I said to my editor, Will, ideally instead of sending it off to him (which I now have) I would leave the book somewhere for three months to forget about it, then read it with fresh eyes, cry 'Aaargh' or something articulate like that and set about re-writing the whole thing.
Or maybe I'd say 'Hmmm, not so bad after all..'
Who can tell?

Anyway, the point is, it's done, it's sent and there's nothing more I can do about it for at least a fortnight because I'm going away.
I shall be out of email and blog contact because I'm going where there's no internet (my parents house) or internet cafe (the town nearest to my parents farm) so I shall be incommunicado.

It'll be good for me.

Let me just say it again - the book's finished!
For those who haven't picked it up from various ramblings here over the last few months, it's called Not One of Us. At least for the moment.
I really should update the Work in Progress page on the website... remind me when I get back... got to go and pack.

Have a fab Easter everybody!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Time to think about...

Over at Juxtabook, Catherine has picked up a time theme from Simon at Savidge Reads and invites us all to have a go.

So I took a break from the editing marathon and here’s my effort.

What time do you find the best time to read?

I’m literally a morning, noon and night reader. Having to sit in front of my lightbox for half an hour in the morning for the darker six months of the year has trained my brain to expect thirty minutes of reading matter with breakfast and this carries on into the summer. I’ll usually take at least half an hour for lunch and I read then (lunch has to be something eatable with one hand as I’m using the other to hold the book open). And, at the end of the day, I find it almost impossible to get to sleep unless I’ve read for at least half an hour.

At the weekend and on holidays, my idea of bliss is uninterrupted reading time somewhere warm.

What are you spending time reading right now?

Just at the moment, I’m rereading Ian McEwan’s Atonement and finding it brilliant all over again. I don’t generally re-read books (life’s too short and I read too slowly) but my younger son is studying it for AS Level and I wanted to be able to discuss it properly with him rather than relying on my ludicrously poor memory. It’s started us both on an Ian McEwan reading trajectory – he’s just read my copies of Black Dogs and Enduring Love. He’s got Saturday and Chesil Beach waiting for him and I need to acquire Amsterdam. Couldn’t ever get on with The Child in Time…

What’s the best book with time in the title you have read?

Like most other people in the known universe I did enjoy Audrey Niffeneger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife very much. And The Thief of Time allows me to cheerlead for Terry Pratchett – way more than a spoof fantasy writer.
But if I can cheat and put in a plea for a book with a time-related word in the title I’d recommend Sue Gee’s The Hours of the Night, a beautiful, lyrical, deeply humane book.

What is your favourite time (as in era) to read novels based in?

The medieval period – it just fascinates me - though I love the Lindsey Davis’s Falco novels set in Imperial Rome, too. I’ve also recently read a book or two set during the English Civil War and that has whetted my appetite for more novels from this period. Any recommendations?

What book could your read time and time again?

As mentioned above, I’m not a huge one for re-reading but I do regularly re-read Terry Pratchett as his books cheer me up so infallibly, particularly any of the titles that feature the witches, Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax and Magrat Garlic.

What recently published book do you think deserves to become a classic in Time?

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. Absolutely stunning. (My review of it is here.)

What book has been your biggest waste of time?

James Joyce’s Ulysses. I felt I had to read it while I was at university. Finnegan’s Wake, ditto.

What big book would you recommend to others to spend time reading if they haven’t?

It’s quite old now but Leon Uris’s Exodus – a wonderful epic about European Jewry in the early twentieth century and the birth of the state of Israel; the entire Harry Potter canon – storytelling at its page-turning best; Dickens’ Bleak House.

What’s your favourite read of all time?

I find this an impossibly difficult question as various books have been important to me at different times. When I was ten, I read The Swiss Family Robinson six times in a single year so that must be a contender though I can barely remember a word of it now. Except one word which I’d never come across before I read it and had to look up. Isinglass…

Thursday, 2 April 2009


Editing. What is it like? To what shall I compare it?

It’s like photoshopping your rather poor and out of focus photographs – you blur a bit here, sharpen up a bit there, make the colours in this part of the image more intense, bleed those out a bit so they’re a little more opaque…

It’s like doing a jigsaw where there’s no picture to follow and the blocks of apparently quite distinct colours aren’t actually distinct at all but turn out to be mingled in all sorts of unexpected ways.

It’s like doing one of those puzzles that are made up of eight tiles in a frame of nine spaces that force you to move one tile at a time in order to get everything to line up and make sense.

It’s laborious, it’s creative, it can be immensely frustrating, it messes with your head but, ultimately, it’s the difference between having a good idea and writing a book that actually works.