Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Widow's To Do List makes a Christmas book list. 

High 50 is a website for "Generation High 50" - check it out here. And here's Mariella on the dawn of 50-something movies. Talking of which, I went to a screening of Bonobo last weekend. A movie v much with The Widow's To Do List sensibility, about sexuality and the older woman. Tessa Peake-Jones is fantastic and James Norton gorgeous. 


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Successful Writers Reflect On Failure

As this blog began all those years ago as an anonymous document of failure after my 2-book fiction deal wasn't renewed, I had to post this Guardian article:

Plenty of nuggets here as Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Anne Enright, Howard Jacobson, Will Self and Lionel Shriver reflect on failure.

I loved Will Self's:

'A creative life cannot be sustained by approval, any more than it can be destroyed by criticism – you learn this as you go on.'

Howard Jacobson's:

'..failures are nothing if not grandiose. If the world doesn't value us, we won't value the world. We seek solace in books, in solitary and sometimes fantastical thinking, in doing with words what boys who please their fathers do with balls. We look down on what our fellows like, and make a point of liking what our fellows don't. We become special by virtue of not being special enough. I doubt many writers were made any other way.'

And Anne Enright:

'...A book is not written for the crowd, but for one reader at a time. A novel is written (rather "pathetically) not to be judged, but experienced. You want to meet people in their own heads – at least I do. I still have this big, stupid idea that if you are good enough and lucky enough you can make an object that insists on its own subjective truth, a personal thing, a book that shifts between its covers and will not stay easy on the page, a real novel, one that lives, talks, breathes, refuses to die. And in this, I am doomed to fail.'

After a few tough years unrelated to the writing side, I used to be so sad, and worried, but am, now, finally, happy in my own writer's skin. The Deal or No Deal, all or nothing, element has long ago been eliminated. I can live a life of writing without the worry. That is what I think successful authors are envied for by other writers above all else: the freedom they have to carry on writing.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Hidden London - At The End Of The Summer

Holland Park

Holland Park
We've been having a bit of a strange August. Torrential rain for days on end, washing out the Carnival, followed by cool, overcast days. Amidst discussions about putting the heating on, a general acceptance that that was it for this year, suddenly, this morning, a full-on summer's day blinks back into action.
Holland Park
After all that rain, the park was looking extra-special, in full, post-soak, bloom.
Holland Park

Holland Park

Friday, July 25, 2014

Hidden London: - Marina Abramović

London is roasting and schools are out. The traffic has eased and everybody appears to be slowing down. The most exciting event for me so far this summer has been the exhibition by Marina Abramović at the Serpentine GalleryThe gallery is a pleasant half hour walk through the parks. 

"In a unique work created for the Serpentine, the internationally acclaimed artist Marina Abramović will perform in the Gallery for the duration of her exhibition:  10am to 6pm, 6 days a week. Creating the simplest of environments in the Gallery spaces, Abramović’s only materials will be herself, the audience and a selection of props that she may or may not use. On arrival, visitors will both literally and metaphorically leave their baggage behind in order to enter the exhibition: bags, jackets, electronic equipment, watches and cameras may not accompany them. 
The public will become the performing body, participating in the delivery of an unprecedented moment in the history of performance art." Serpentine Gallery
I had to queue for around 40 minutes. Once inside I was ready to turn and run, fast and hard, but curiosity kept me there a little longer. Falling in with the general pace of things, I walked slowly through the rooms, returning to hug the wall in the main room, settled now, and happy to observe.

Then I had 'my' encounter, she came across the room, full eye contact, smiling widely, gently put her arm around me and took me for a walk. She went and found me a chair and I sat there for I don't know how long.

This was weeks ago now. I want to go back and see what's happening now. I might go this weekend.  I find it quite amazing that it's all still going on. Her energy must be incredible. She's startlingly beautiful. Ageless. At midnight she records a diary of the day.... you can see it here. Also online are the visitors' comments. I've just been scrolling down - looking to see if mine is there of course. We are all about ourselves. That wasn't it... I found it! But what a great read her visitors' book is:
"Silent Party at Marina's House."
"Amazing what you can make a group of people do just by setting an example. Huh? Bit Weird"
"I really don't know. I have very loud clicky ankles."
"Of course in the 70's we did it naked."
And here's me!

No. I haven't a clue.

So there you are, if you fancy it, you can go and take part in this extraordinary thing. Open until 25th August. Free.

Walking home, feeling a little floaty, I came across that empty flower meadow - in the centre of London...

Actually, I can't wait to return now.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Free Ebooks With Digital Book Day - Authors join in now...

One of the most successful US indie authors, C. J. Lyons, has thought up this great initiative to replace the discontinued US World Book Night. Authors make one of their ebooks free on July 14th and post it on this site. On July 14th we all link to the Digital Book Day website and readers can browse and download as many free ebooks as they wish.

I will be offering Done & Dusted: The Organic Home On A Budget, my collected Guardian columns, eco household cleaning tips and various bits of domestic miscellany.

Read Jane Friedman's interview with Carol here. Authors interested in joining the fun, add your ebook here.

Digital Book Day: FREE on Amazon on July 14th

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Fun While It Lasts

The Widow's To Do List is #4 in Amazon UK's Literary Fiction, Humour and #14 in Romance Literary Fiction. This one is hilarious - tucked in with all the Janes:

It's all thanks to Amazon KDP Select's Countdown system, which lets you reduce the price for 7 days in each 3-month period. The book then appears on an Amazon front page "Countdown offers of the day". So it actually gets to be seen by readers. This is the biggest challenge, to be seen. When it reaches the charts it then flips out to more readers seeing it. It might then find its way on to the 'also bought' sales pages of some of those insanely big name titles, or it might just sink back down again as soon as the price changes. Definitely fun while it lasts.  

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The Best Book On Writing I've Read Since 'On Writing'

  • Forget pantsers vs plotters
  • Forget the hero's journey (as a film-goer oh yes please) 

What a fantastically generous, practical and wise book this is. And how needed as well. For movie-goers sick of the refusals, magic flights and thresholds and the rest and for writers of all genres, novelists and screenwriters alike. I found it thanks to a Tweet by the great (IT Crowd, Father Ted) Graham Linehan, whose Amazon review here speaks for itself (& love the 'comment'!).

It came at just the right time for me, post-pantser-first-draft novel and with 2nd draft plot/character cards plastered up everywhere.

About to tear all this down and start again.

The ending of this book (being the all-important conceit) blew me away. THANK YOU HULK.


Amazon Kindle USA

Amazon Kindle UK

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Lots of Good News For Authors: What I Learnt At The London Book Fair Day 1 #LBF14

Not strictly at the Fair, but first, the difference between learnt and learned had to be Grammarly Googled... learned is used much more frequently in the US, but as I'm in the UK, learnt it is...

I made straight for The English PEN Literary Salon at the back of EC2, an oasis of calm, nearby coffee and seats, to meet with author friends from my old writing group, Jacqui Hazell and Louise Voss. I told them about signing up for IPR License and recommended the free App Afterword which tracks Amazon sales, and Louise told us she'd heard great things about Amazon Audiobooks ACX. Nah I said, only for those in the USA; but a later visit to their stand confirmed that they have indeed just this week opened for business to authors and publishers outside the USA. This is very good news - a whole new revenue source.
The London Book Fair
Jacqui went off for a meeting with her agent; Louise to a meeting with her writing partner and I for lunch with Sarah Tomley, my ex-editor at Hamlyn and now DK editor, MD of Editors Online (just love their website design) & associate editor at Blackbird Digital Books, amongst her many hats.

We made for the famous (Dylan/Hendrix et al) Troubadour Coffee House in nearby Brompton Road. They have a great buffet salad thing going on, I'm guessing for the duration of the Fair. My publishing focus this year is on developing the company and the site before we start growing the content side some more, and Sarah had lots of good mainstream publisher's advice for me and I was able to fill her in on how digital publishing is developing.  BookBub is still the buzzword - again, this is US only, but at least they are open to all comers. It's difficult to purchase a slot with them as they're so picky, which is what makes the whole thing work so well, especially in collaboration with Kindle Countdown. So we talked about how there needs to be some quality review, recommendation initiative that is outside the (all US-based) Amazon/Goodreads/Library Thing rating system - and later I saw on Twitter that Penguin Random House are about to launch My Independent Bookshop which is simply more good news. On top of that The Guardian, in association with Legend Times, has announced a new, monthly literary prize for self-published authors.

Time to get showered and ready to set off again, I'm going to a talk at 2.30 and will probably leave it at that for today. Unless I bump into anybody. Yesterday, I was standing with a friend as they were having a bump-into moment and a not unhandsome man came up to me and kissed me on the cheek. He then realised I wasn't who he thought I was, his face did a kind of combined twist of shock, embarrassment and drop to the floor in disappointment and he literally turned and ran.

Oh, a friend has just called. More Troubadour now scheduled for later... & more fun at the Fair.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

On Writing - By Joanna Trollope

I love this Decca Aitkenhead interview with Joanna Trollope (last week's Guardian). I loved her, too, with Mark Lawson on TV a week or so ago.  I confess I haven't read any of her books. I am a new fan. I wish there were more serious, in-depth interviews with contemporary women's fiction authors:

"Were Trollope a young woman today, however, she's not sure that she would become a writer. "That's a very good question. I think it's 10 times harder now, because you see, when I started it wasn't a sexy profession at all. It was a rather dusty thing you did by yourself, and nobody took it seriously. I remember people would ring up and say, 'I'm going to come round for coffee,' and I'd say, 'Well, no, actually I'm writing,' and they said, 'Oh that's fine, I'll only be 10 minutes,' you know. Now people are always saying to me, 'I'm writing my novel.' "But I think it's incredibly hard now....." Read on..

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hidden London: Beaches, Hangmen & Pirates

Sandy bay, Wapping
Spent the morning away from the computer in Wapping, East London yesterday. A real "I've lived in London all my life yet never set foot..." off the beaten track place suggested by friend J. We met at The Tower of London and turned our back on it, walking instead through St Katharine Docks and on to Wapping High Street, ending at London's oldest riverside pub, The Prospect of Whitby. So much to see, so many stories - ghosts, pirates, a hangman's noose and even a treasure hunt, all before too much wine for a lunchtime (just the one I add, but what size the glasses) &, last but not least, "driving" the train back into the centre. A real walk through history this one. Superb! 
Execution Stairs Beach, Wapping
 See the old oyster shell, and the old clay pipe fragments? Beaches beneath pubs are happy mudlarking hunting grounds as in the olden days they'd smoke their clay pipes and throw them out of the window. Oysters were once cheap, plentiful and eaten by many. "Perhaps Wapping's greatest attraction is the Thames foreshore itself, and the venerable public houses that face onto it. A number of the old 'stairs', such as Wapping Old Stairs and Pelican Stairs (by the Prospect of Whitby) give public access to a littoral zone (for the Thames is tidal at this point) littered with flotsam, jetsam and fragments of old dock installations. Understandably it is popular with amateur archaeologists and treasure hunters - it is surprisingly easy for even a casual visitor to pick up a centuries-old shard of pottery here." Wikipedia
Shardhorn on Execution Stairs Beach


"The pub was originally frequented by those involved in life on the river and sea and it was a notorious haunt for smugglers, thieves and pirates.  Other notable customers have been Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys, Judge Jeffries and artists Whistler and Turner." The Prospect of Whitby recommended: very friendly, good food, large wine glasses, resident black cat.


Hangman's noose, Prospect of Whitby
 "It was formerly known as the Devil’s Tavern, on account of its dubious reputation. In the seventeenth century, it became the pub of choice of the brutal “Hanging” Judge Jeffreys. According to legend, criminals would be tied up to the posts at low tide and left there to drown when the tide came. It is here that he sat and watched criminals he had sentenced die. Judge Jeffrey’s ghost is believed to still haunt the area."
Prospect of Whitby

As one of the early  members of the FB group "Travelling At the Front
of the DLR Train and Pretending to be The Driver", this was a perfect end to
the morning out.

Further reading: The Pirate's Who's Who, first published Burt Franklin, New York,1924, Now available as a free ebook, with thanks to the Gutenberg Project.

"KIDD, Captain William, sometimes Robert Kidd or Kid.
The trial of Kidd proved a scandal, for someone had to suffer as scapegoat for the aristocratic company privateers, and the lot fell to the luckless Kidd. Kidd was charged with piracy and with murder. The first charge of seizing two ships of the Great Mogul could have been met by the production of two documents which Kidd had taken out of these ships, and which, he claimed, proved that the ships were sailing under commissions issued by the French East India Company, and made them perfectly lawful prizes. These commissions Kidd had most foolishly handed over to Lord Bellomont, and they could not be produced at the trial, although they had been exhibited before the House of Commons a little while previously.

It is an extraordinary and tragic fact that these two documents, so vital to Kidd, were discovered only lately in the Public Records Office—too late, by some 200 years, to save an innocent man's life.
As it happened, the charge of which Kidd was hanged for was murder, and ran thus: "Being moved and seduced by the instigations of the Devil he did make an assault in and upon William Moore upon the high seas with a certain wooden bucket, bound with iron hoops, of the value of eight pence, giving the said William Moore one mortal bruise of which the aforesaid William Moore did languish and die." This aforesaid William Moore was gunner in the Adventure galley, and was mutinous, and Kidd, as captain, was perfectly justified in knocking him down and even of killing him; but as the court meant Kidd to "swing," this was quite good enough for finding him guilty. The unfortunate prisoner was executed at Wapping on May 23rd, 1701, and his body afterwards hanged in chains at Tilbury."

Extract from The Pirates' Who's Who, courtesy of the Gutenberg Project.