Thursday, 25 April 2013

Missed houses. misty lenses

Apologies for not having posted much lately. There's been a lot going on, not all of it good. I backed out of the house next door and a For Sale sign has just gone up and I feel quite sad and wistful. I didn't back out on a whim. I was buying it to secure it for the guy next door, who was going to buy it off me next year when he got his money through. But ten days or so ago he collared me in the street and shocked me by saying, "I don't want you to rely on me."

Well, of course I was relying on him! I knew there was no point my buying it otherwise, as it needs heaps of modernisation and I don't have the cash. That put me in an awkward position and I didn't know what to do, so I mentioned it to a property renovator friend who toyed with the idea of lending me her builders to do it up in return for a split of the proceeds, until she did the sums and realised there wasn't enough profit in it to make it worth her while. So I would have been stuck with it. Mr G told me I wouldn't cover my costs if I sold it without improving it, so I backed out and the solicitor has slapped a bill for £900 on me, saying we were near completion. Then, to cap it all, Mr G has now started telling me I should have bought after all and spent £20,000 on a rear extension which would have been easier than rebuilding the illegal loft rooms. Why didn't he suggest that earlier? Too late now.

On Tuesday, I trekked into North London and saw a gorgeous flat. It had two bedrooms, a lovely garden and... oh joy... a bedroom with nobody above it. The agent said I had to make an offer there and then or risk losing it. I said I needed to sleep on it, as it didn't have much in the way of storage and I needed to think about it, and by the next morning he'd sold it to somebody else.

As well as all this, a friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy on Monday. I went over to see her today and apparently she had a severe reaction to one of the drugs and nearly died! Thank God she is recovering now. I hope she will be okay. She's certainly optimistic and determined enough.

There is a faint light of hope flickering on the publishing horizon. In my last post, I mentioned the latest hot genre, New Adult (what an appallingly unimaginative name). Well, the publishers are researching it and there is a possibility that my sexy book Perfect Lives, that was supposed to come out at Christmas and didn't, might be their first New Adult title. Please cross your fingers and toes for me...

Meanwhile, I have been buying lots of books for my Kindle. I have got into Judy Astley and have bought three of hers, plus three 99p books from an Amazon offer. I only read my Kindle when travelling. Yesterday, it made a half hour tube journey and a 50 minute bus ride pass so quickly that I almost missed my stops. I had been to the British Museum to see the Ice Age exhibition and found myself in tears of deep emotion. I felt connected to all the humans who have ever existed and in awe of the artistic impulse that lives in all of us. I wonder how the man or woman of 23,000 years ago who carved a reindeer's head on a piece of mammoth tusk would react to the sight of modern day people peering at it through the glass of an air-conditioned case whilst plugged into an iPod telling them all about it?

For a brief spark of a moment, I felt as if I were looking through a telescope at a fur-clad figure chiselling away with a sharp stone, his or her skin ruddy in the glow of a fire. For a microsecond, eyes connected across the millenia, deep-set brown with my own myopic hazel. Then the lens misted and I was back in 2013. Slightly regretfully.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

New book genre

At last publishers have invented a slot between Young Adult and Adult fiction. It's called New Adult (nothing very imaginative there!) and here is a link to a very good article about it. I might just have a go...

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Cat nap

Flad is so old and stiff that he can't curl up into small ball the way he used to. So we decided to treat him to the biggest cat bed we could find. However, he doesn't quite seem to have got the hang of it, does he?

Saturday, 6 April 2013

A shock and a knock

The shock was a complaint about my work. The knock was to my self-esteem. I am still trying to come to terms with both. Here is what happened...

About three years ago, an old boyfriend I hadn't seen since 1981 tracked me down on the internet. He has a high-powered job in the Intelligence services and had started writing thrillers and asked me to appraise and edit them for him. We agreed on a fee and the work began. He was a new, raw writer with a tendency to over-wordiness and an inability to get under the skin of his characters, but he wrote terrific, authentic-sounding scenes and his plots were very good. A few drafts later and he had a much better grasp of writing techniques and his work had improved considerably. However, after several tries, he had failed to find an agent or a publisher.

Ten months ago, I proof read the final version of his first book and last week he decided to send it to a publisher who had expressed interest in the first three chapters. Yesterday, I received a withering email from him telling me I had done a rotten job and that, on re-reading his manuscript, he had found loads of typos and words omitted from sentences. I was horrified. I always do a final read-through before sending a job off to a client. I recalled that he had made a few changes to the book, which he had discussed with me, but he insisted that the version he had found the errors in was the same one I had worked on.

I was terribly upset. I won't say that proof reading is my favourite job. Writing is what I enjoy most. Creative editing of other people's work comes second. Proof reading is, to me, the equivalent of ironing, my least favourite housework chore, the reason being that by the time I am at that stage, I have already been over the book several times during the editing and rewriting process and, unless there is a gap of a couple of months and I am coming to it afresh, I am, quite honestly, getting slightly bored with that particular story. I think an author should bring in a pair of fresh eyes to do the final check.

Perhaps this is where things went wrong. Maybe, knowing the story so well, my eyes skated over it too fast and I missed things. But I doubt it. If I am being paid for something, I like to do a thorough job. So last evening I emailed him three times, asking him first, to send me some examples of things I had missed (he was adamant that he was reading the same version of the book that I had proofed for him); second, offering him his money back; and third, apologising as grovellingly as I could.

I haven't heard a thing. I am very upset, wondering how I could have done such a sloppy job. It's not only my professional confidence that has been knocked, but my personal confidence, too. He is (was) a friend and the fact that he is so angry with me, so scathing about my professional abilities (I have been editing and proof reading for a staggering 43 years!), has damaged our friendship. I don't think he will ever want me to work for him again. No wonder they say that you should never mix business with friendship. I once wanted desperately to buy the flat in Camden that a friend was selling, but she refused to sell it to me for fear that if I was miserable there because the neighbours were noisy or the freeholders causing problems, I'd blame her. She said she would never sell a home or a car to a friend. I think 'never work on a friend's book' should be added to the list. I am certainly never going to do it again.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The self-publishing lottery

As I am planning to go down the self-publishing route myself, I read every article I can find about it. It really is lottery, a rags-to-riches dream. The Mail On Sunday's (I only buy it for the word games, honestly!) Live section this week contained an interesting piece by Rob Waugh on self-publishing success stories, the main interviewee being Hugh Howey, who went from stacking shelves to a seven figure salary with Wool and its subsequent sequels.

I subscribe to an interesting daily newsletter called Book to Book ( ) and this morning it contained a link to an American blog called Salon which carried a feature by would-be bestseller writer John Winters on his attempts to promote and sell his e-book. Its wry, self-deprecating humour made it an enjoyable and empathy-provoking read, so here is a link:

Having read it, I don't think I shall be rushing to make a promotional video! Yet still I wonder about what makes a good e-book and what doesn't.

Since getting my Kindle at Christmas, I have bought, or downloaded for free, quite a few books, several of which were recommended by fellow authors, and although most of them have been carefully edited and checked for typos, one in particular (no, not yours, Eileen; that's in the first class category!) shocked me because of the number of careless and avoidable errors it contained which spoiled a potentially gripping story, because the glaring mistakes - spelling and punctuation errors and phrases left hanging in the air, seemingly unconnected to the sentence that contained them - soon dominated my attention, to the point where I was playing spot the error rather than spot the plot twist.

I know that few writers can afford to pay for a professional proof reader or editor, but surely they know someone whose grasp of the English language is a bit better than their own and who will, for the price of a pint or two, go through their manuscript with a read pen? Yes, you spotted the deliberate mistake. It's a homonym, a word that sounds the same as another but has a different spelling and meaning. In my job, I come across similar errors all the time and I'm sure the good old Spell Checker is to blame a lot of the time. All it takes is two or three such glitches to make the reader doubt the author and lose their trust in the story, on the grounds that if the author can't be bothered to get their spelling right, then perhaps they are incapable of writing a good plot and unworthy of being paid £3.99 for the benefit of the doubt!

My bedtime reading at the moment is Proust. Having avoided In Search of Lost Time (my French isn't up to A La Recherche...) all my life, I put it on my bucket list and am now on pg 47 of Volume 2. This is writing as done by a scientist/surgeon peering at life and emotions through a microscope. No writer would get away with being so long-winded these days and taking three pages to describe the scenery by a river. Neither would they get away with writing paragraphs that are three pages long. Reading it is like watching paint dry very slowly and speculating on the former existence of the paint bristles trapped within. But by God, I'm sleeping well! Throw away the Zopiclone. Proust should be prescribed on the NHS for insomniacs everywhere, but don't, DON'T, whatever you do, try and read it on a Kindle. One paragraph will last for ten small Kindle pages, you'll lose the plot and be found in the morning babbling wildly and trying to spread marmalade on your e-book reader. If that's not Bibliomania, then what is?