Monthly Archives: January 2012

tip top and full war paint

As someone who works predominantly from home my eye was caught by an article by India Knight in the Sunday Times where she expressed surprise when discovering that a writer couple she knew went to work in their respective studies fully dressed, hair brushed and make up applied.  I noted that she did not specify who wore the make up or indeed if they both did, but put that aside for another day.  It was her shock that surprised me.

Before settling down to the invoices/tax return/facebook/blog/sax practice … and eventually when all other options have been exhausted … writing, I do have to take the dancer and runners to the station for the school train.  Depending on whether they have decided upon the late late, late, early or bloody ridiculous why bother going to bed train, I am usually at my desk by about 7.45am.  It would be feasible for me to take them to the station in my dressing gown.  We have no neighbours to see me slinking out wrapped in white towelling (a one off indulgence from The White Company and not even in the sale – the boss is unaware of this last salient point) and as I don’t have to get out at the other end, merely eject the passengers and their vast bags, I could get away with not getting dressed at all so long as I didn’t need to fill up with petrol or breakdown in the middle of Neville’s Cross.  But I don’t I can’t imagine not getting properly dressed in the morning.

The actual outfit is governed by the rest of the day.  Tomorrow I am in school in the morning and then going to a smart lunch so will have to unearth “smart, sexy, the other side of 40 on the outside but not the inside and not too short”.  Today I am at home all day, but have no intention of doing anything in the garden (which necessitates full body armour to protect against thorns, prickles, geese and snow flurries) so have a cheeky little hooded mini dress, very thick woolly tights and my hair swept up in a french pleat – actually that’s a little disingenuous.  Hair is up because it needs washing and has the added advantage that when dirty it stays up far better than when clean.  But I digress.  I also have full face paint and perfume (L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea for Two – I felt it went well with the brown of the dress).  My only concession to slobbery are my sheepskin slippers, a wonderful Christmas present from the dancer last year and now looking a little well worn.  Their most exciting feature is the logo on the side which reads “Bedroom Athletics”, a perfect example of the  triumph of hope over experience.

I cannot work unless I am properly dressed.  According to research by Myslexia some women can’t work unless they not dressed at all, completely naked.  That would be most uncomfortable here, not only would you freeze to death but the enquiring nose of the Newfoundland would be most distracting.  Similarly I can’t work in bed.  I can read in bed late at night until the wee wee small hours, but once I am awake I have to get up, unlike the boss who can translate entire AMM dossiers armed only with a dictaphone, a cup of tea and a duvet.

I wonder if authors were photographed for the flyleaf in what they wore to write the book the best seller lists would be turned on their heads.


I once had a blog with a title that while derived from a totally innocent nick name of mine had a tendency to drive traffic that was bound to be disappointed when it got there. Checking the search engine terms in my stats used to provide endless amusement.

So it was slightly more than idle curiosity that led me to see what drove people here.  Well pass the feather and knock me down, it’s an old post about good old Marion Richardson (that will be another half dozen visitors just like that).  Copperplate gets an honorary mention, but it is the woman who unwittingly drove me to the loops and curlicues of copperplate who gets top billing.

I had no idea that handwriting was such a fascinating subject, nor that a woman who I thought nobody other than a handful of seventies children had ever heard of  and now has a school named after her in Stepney would generate traffic to my blog almost every day.  I can only assume they must be very disappointed when they get here.

For the record, I hated her handwriting lessons hence the fact I write in copperplate.

rejection letters and back ups

It has struck me during conversations with non-writers (well they can write, perhaps not necessarily joined up and sometimes with spelling even more imaginative than mine, but they only write out of necessity, shopping lists, thank you letters, twitter etc.   People who do not sit and stare at a page or screen and will it to turn into a novel while they watch) that it is possible that I am not taking my rejections seriously enough.

Thus far I have had two rejection letters.  Actually they were emails but the message was the same, and I quote from the second.  “We’ll pass on this one.”  I felt no crashing sense of defeat, not even a momentary whiff of failure passed under my nose.  I filed them (it’s the inner organiser in me, even my emails are filed) and moved on.

It would seem that this is quite the wrong response.  Apparently I am to be upset that I have been passed over, irritated by the lack of feedback and most certainly not to be downhearted.  I am none of these.  I am not surprised I have been passed over, it could be because I am crap it could be because I am not what they are looking for/they have enough of my genre/they are having a shit day.  Lack of feedback is a bit hard to explain to non-writers who really don’t seem to be able to get their head around this.  I never thought I would be the defender of agents but there you go, I never thought I would be living in rural County Durham with three hormonal teenagers, an eclectic menagerie including a psychotic  parrot and a very long suffering husband.  As for downhearted, this is the oddest one, anyone would think I was dancing on my grandmother’s grave from the response I get to my lack of dismal despair.  Perhaps I might be more concerned if I am still in the same position in ten years time.  At that point I may have to accept that it is not that I am wrong for the current market but just wrong and that may well induce a certain amount of gloom.  But until then I will keep smiling if that’s okay.

Now I have a question – where do you back up?  I once lost the first 20,000 words of book one.  In fact it was a life saver, although it didn’t seem so at the time.  The re-write was infinitely better than the first attempt, it was practically a different book and without the whole thing disappearing down the drain it is highly unlikely I would have had the patience to start again.  However, one lesson is quite enough and I have no desire to stare down the abyss of an empty folder and will my work to come back ever again.

After that first disaster I was an obsessive saver, and I saved in multiple places.  Consequently I had multiple copies and always failing to copy the right copy to the right folder and I got myself into more of a fankle than I had before.  Then I discovered DropBox and now have everything on DropBox and an external hard drive.  But is that enough?  What do you do?  Where do you keep your work to protect if from “file not found”?

recompense for what we are worth

I have been listening with the discussions about the bonus(es) paid to senior staff at RBS for with some interest.

Many years ago I was an incompetent junior oik on the Nordic desk at Barings.  This was long before Mr Leeson showed how incompetent my bosses were, but that is a story for another day.  I had fallen into the job from a much more enjoyable but less well paid one with a small theatre company.  I hated it and spent most of my time doing the FT crossword and looking for another job.  Thus it was no surprise when I was called in by one of the directors and given three months to find another job.  I pointed out that as I had spent the previous three months doing just that it seemed a perfectly reasonable suggestion.  The deal was that if I applied for a job in the City they would not give me a reference (well presumably not one that would have secured a job!) but if I were applying outwith the City then they would be happy to comment favourably on all the things I was good at (presumably crosswords and CVs).  I was polite enough not to observe that I would rather be grilled with a garden flame thrower than work in the City and agreed to the their terms.  Three weeks later I had a wonderful job managing the overseas projects for a development charity.  But here is the nub, the previous March I had received a bonus.

Now, as a very junior oik this bonus was, compared to those bandied about in the news today, extremely small.  Approximately £2,000.  To a junior oik this was quite a considerable sum, and it was a bonus.  But I was a lousy banker, due to be asked to leave.  Why give me a bonus?  Because everyone gets one, it had no bearing whatsoever on my skill and I hardly think I contributed in any major way to the astronomic profits the bank was making in those days.  It was an automatic handout.

So now fast forward to Stephen Hester.  He has taken over a bank in trouble, like Headteachers parachuted in to rescue a failing school, he is probably worth paying more than someone who is merely guiding a ship sailing in calm waters,  IF he can bring the bank through the storm.  His job will be harder and he will face more skeletons falling out of cupboards than most.  So pay him more UP FRONT.  If he is worth X+15% because he is better and the job is harder,  then pay him x+15%.  A bonus is defined as “an unexpected or extra benefit”, “seasonal gratuity paid to employees beyond their normal pay”.  As yet, Mr Hester and his staff have yet to show that they have achieved anything that supports an extra benefit or a gratuity beyond their normal pay.  I suspect if the published salary included the bonus and value of assorted share options the outcry would have occurred long before anyone was in post.

There is a lot of talk about dependency culture, it would seem to me that the City has become a society which functions only because of its dependency culture; a dependency on bonuses.  Bonuses are paid regardless of performance, they are considered a right, part of the pay deal; as the ink dries on the contract the bonus cheque is probably being raised in the Finance Department.  Perhaps if City bonuses were genuinely paid for proven merit we could learn to love the banker again.

plots and procrastination

So the novel has been sent south to take root in various slush piles (there are not many slush piles native to the north).  Two have evicted it already and I imagine the remaining two are composing its marching orders as I write.  But that’s fine, it’s no more or less than I expected and the mere fact that it is finished, edited and paired up with a synopsis and covering letter is something of which I am really rather proud.  Frankly at this stage I am so relieved I got this far that I don’t quite know what I would do if an agent said “yes please”.

In the meantime I march on with book two. Or not.  I have given up drinking, well clearly not all fluids, just the ones containing ethanol.  Which in my case tended to come under the pseudonym of Merlot, Shiraz or on a good day Cotes du Rhone.  It seemed like a good idea at the time and has certainly helped in the campaign to reduce the amount of water I displace in the bath.   The school uniform crises are fewer and whilst the knitting output is only marginally increased the dropped stitches and need for frequent frogging have been almost eliminated.   However, contrary to expectation, it has had markedly little effect on the amount of time I spend on book two.

Apparently Raymond Chandler believed that a writer should sit down and work every day for a set time.  So far so good.  He would sit for a minimum of four hours each day to write.  If he didn’t write, if the muse had shoved off elsewhere, then he just sat.  The rule was that he was not allowed to get up and do anything else, and certainly not anything useful or constructive, other than writing of course.  Clearly Raymond Chandler was a man.  It’s not his name that gives it away (Hilary Benn, Margaux Hemmingway … oops back to wine again) it’s the fact that he could sit for four hours and do nothing if he so chose.  Clearly no games kit crying out to be sorted and boiled, no dogs sitting with their legs crossed, wearing their most pathetic faces, even the tax return takes on a slightly attractive hue when the alternative is to sit down and force the putative murderer to come up with at least a half decent motive that might keep the reader guessing until at least page ten.

My new found sobriety has not given me hours of extra time to sit and contemplate the empty screen.  No, it has offered me a much wider window of opportunity for displacement activity.  There is no cupboard, no outbuilding safe from decluttering; no paper that cannot be filed; no cushion unplumped; no dog unwalked.

So tonight I shall go to bed and ask for a miracle to come to me in my dreams.  A motive please, size and colour immaterial, I’ll make it fit in those four hours I am going to have to sit and stare at the screen.