Brick walls & Retirement

retiredOne way or another I have been writing fiction for at least thirty years.
I have files of hand written jottings outlining short stories that remain unwritten but which were the seeds of episodes in longer novels.
I have sheets and sheets of notes, with the sprocket hole edges still intact, with passages of writing which, as I re-read them after so many years, are actually quite good.
I have notes printed out from floppy disks as it became evident that floppy disk drives were no longer de rigueur.
I have CDs containing the back ups (backs up?) of early drafts of all my final published novels.
I have a shelf of external disk drives going back over years of drafts, re-writes, re-re-writes and final off-to-the-publisher writes.
What I haven’t, any longer, is the will to carry on.
My electronic pencil has reached its stub end.
I started writing seriously in 2002 when the plot for The Iniquities Trilogy began to form and now, more than fourteen years later, I am re-writing that as one book Iniquities Revisited. Once that is done … no brick-wallmore.
There is only so much beating one’s head against brick walls one can take.
Brick walls?
Well, trying to get people to notice one book amongst tens of thousands; trying to get reviewers to review, booksellers to stock, readers to buy; putting up with the fact that best-seller lists are full of ghost written celebrity ‘autobiographies’, television tie-ins and cookery books that no one will ever use; watching television mini-series where the plots are thin and the plot holes are so large as to be only describable as sink holes.
‘Dispiriting’ doesn’t come close.
So that’s it. After The Last Dance, Walking Alone, Runaways, Highly Unsuitable Girl, Her Parents’ Daughter, A Set of Lies, Second Strand and Iniquities Reworked no more.
No more exploring the lives of my imaginary friends.
No more wondering how I can bring Susanna back into my world.
No more doubting whether Skye and Fergal’s marriage will survive their investigatory adventures.
No more worrying about how I can finally kill off Carl Witherby (who has been with me since the very beginning).
No more thinking what to put in a blog on the website.
No more being bothered to tweet and post on Facebook.
No more of any of that.
That’s it.
When people now ask me what I do I will no longer say ‘I write’ I will say I am retired.
With the emphasis on ‘tired’.

Washing-Up Bowls

Washing Up BowlsResearch seems to be done into everything and anything and then the resultant press release forms the basis of news bulletin after news bulletin. What I want to know is why research has not been done (at least doesn’t appear to have been done because if it had it would have led the BBC News for at least 24 hours) into that most common of household items – washing-up bowls.
Why are they used in the first place when they are placed within perfectly adequate basins?
“I’ve lost the plug to the basin” “It’s useful to have a space down which to pour cold tea without dirtying the washing up water” “It’s quieter to use than a metal sink” “It’s less likely you’ll chip a plate or glass against plastic” “It uses less water” “The water can be chucked over plants after, rather than being wasted down the drain”.
But they are not all good news.
“They’re not healthy – they’re breeding grounds for bacteria” “They are, like greetings cards, an unnecessary accessory creating a whole unnecessary industry” “Why would you want to put a piece of cheap plastic in an expensively designed kitchen?”
Perhaps we only use them because we were brought up doing the washing-up in a plastic bowl.
So we use them. By the millions.
And so someone, somewhere should do some research.
Are they (like cars) becoming available in fewer and fewer colours?
Are they, as they seem to be, getting smaller and smaller – so small that even reasonably sized dinner plates don’t lie down in them?
If they are getting smaller is this a response to the need to save water. Is it in response to the need to reduce the amount of plastic used? Perhaps it’s in response to smaller houses, smaller kitchens, smaller sinks, less washing up being done (more take-aways?)
I call upon someone to research this most important of household items. An anniversary must be coming up. “One million years since the first human being carried water from a watering hole in an animal skin and, rather than pouring the water over the eating implements and pieces of wood used as proto-plates, put those re-usable items in the carrying vessel.”
Which brings me on to washing up liquid….

You can see from this post that I’ve made no progress with A Second Strand in the past weeks. I’ve been busy with the day job – but next week it’s the final read through before sending it off to edit! I’ll be in touch Matador….

A Job in Retail

Dartmouth Community BookshopToday I have done something I have never done before.
In my time I have had various jobs and a long career in self-employment.
I have folded sheets in a laundry (three summers), been a ‘lady wot does’ (a few weeks), packed boxes of biscuits in a chocolate factory (two summers), worked as an accounts clerk in a paper mill (one summer), taught in both the public and the private sector (three and two years respectively), operated a Wang machine for a firm of Chartered Surveyors (eighteen months), worked in customer support for a word-processing manufacturer (two years), run the word-processing department of an insurance broker in the City of London (eighteen months), run a word-processing bureau (three years) and, for the past thirty-three years, run my own office based business but today, for the first time in my umpteen years, I have been involved in selling something directly to members of the public.
I really can’t count the one hour I was paid to stand behind the bar in a pub on Christmas Eve because it snowed and, since there was not one customer, we ‘bar-staff’ were all sent home early. Nor can I count the few occasions on which I helped out in a picture gallery as I can’t honestly remember ever selling anything.
Today, after writing books for more than ten years (can that be called a job?) and spending quite a few hours in various bookshops around the country doing signings, selling books it is true, but never actually taking the money, I have spent two hours working in a bookshop.
Today, for the first time, I talked to customers (and browsers), scanned bar codes, inserted cards into the hand held card reading device thingy and operated a till.
Thank you, Dartmouth Community Bookshop, for giving me the opportunity to learn something new, thank you Andrea and Hilary for showing me something of the ropes and, most of all, thank you customers for being patient and understanding!
I really am looking forward to the next time.

 

Being the right size

Old LorryCars are first on my list of things that are not the right size – they are just getting and wider and wider. A 1970 Ford Mustang was 59” wide, a Mark 1 Ford Capri was 64.8”, a 1963 Morris Minor 1000 was 61” and a 1968 Austin A35 was only 55” wide. Even a 2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom was only 78.3”. Yet since that time cars in everyday use are getting wider and wider. A Range Rover Vogue is 87.4” (without mirrors – and what car has no mirrors?) which is 4 inches wider than a current Ford Transit van and about the same as lorries of the 1950s and 60s.
It’s such a shame that many traffic lanes, car park spaces and most garages in urban areas were designed to accommodate Morris Minors and A35s.
Doorways are second on my list of things that are the wrong size. Having just moved into a house constructed sometime in the 1820s I feel that in those days a) they didn’t have much furniture and b) those pieces they had were considerably smaller than today’s. Even a comfortable armchair of the 1980s would be 71 cm wide, yet many in 2016 are over 100 cm and doorways have got no wider….
And then there’s people – they seem to be getting taller and wider by the generation – but don’t get me onto that.
Talking of size, if not width, I have been wondering about how long a book should be. According to www.huffingtonpost.com the average word count of a Top 10 bestseller is 121,395. My recent (2014) book, Her Parents’ Daughter, came in at only 109,800 words which is the length of a Top 25 bestseller but I was happy to sell 300 copies….. According to Huffington’s graph the shorter the book the fewer copies are sold with Top 1000 sellers averaging only 73,408 words. So I will make sure A Second Strand is as long as it possibly can be and I now hold out great hopes for Iniquities as it is currently 365,367 words! But then it is three books (the three books of the Iniquities Trilogy – The Last Dance, Walking Alone and Runaways) and amazingly that averages at almost exactly 121,395 words per volume.
Top Ten Bestsellers List here we come!

Getting back to it….

EditingAfter a break of over a month I am getting back into A Second Strand this week.
I finished the second run through in the first week in January and handed the manuscript (well, the printed sheets in a black ring binder) over to a friend, Darren Mann. Darren having read, and allegedly enjoyed, Her Parents’ Daughter, volunteered to read and comment on the draft of its sequel. This he did in very good time, handing it back to me little more than a week later. Ideally I would then have got on with attacking Draft Three except that at that time my husband, cat and I were in the throes of packing up our home and moving. By the end of the HPD Covermonth we were ensconced in our new home in Dartmouth and I was ready to return to A Second Strand.
But then the day job demanded attention. In the twelve years since I started writing seriously there have been many, many times when I have wished I could be the sort of commercially successful author who could concentrate fully on her books. Or, barring that elusive success, perhaps I could have been ‘financially independent’. But I am neither so I have had to earn a living. To date my books do not earn enough to pay the bar bills let alone allow me to retire to become a ‘full time author’. So for another two weeks the black file remained on my desk unopened.
This week, however, I am going to open the 286-page long Word document and the Excel spreadsheet which details who is doing what, when and where, and I will sort out the issues Darren raised.
For me this, the third edit, is the most important. It is now that back stories are added, where characters’ characters are developed more fully and where anomalies are resolved. I’m looking forward to it.

Firsts and Lasts

In my first book, The Last Dance, Alicia Donaldson says that the last time a person does something is as significant as the first. But I have to argue that the first time you do anything is going to be more important for the simple reason that it is always possible to know when you are doing something for the first time but not necessarilyThe Last Dance Cover possible to recognise a ‘last time’ until it’s already in the past.
Usually a ‘first time’ can be anticipated. You know (admittedly not always exactly) when you are going to start at a new school or job, first exchange of bodily fluids with a new partner, move into your first home, get married, do a book-signing. The first time for all of these is important and is usually no surprise. You can plan for them – and worry.
Perhaps it’s an age thing but I have to admit to worrying about the less important ‘firsts’ to do with moving house for about the thirty-first time.
I put off for days driving up Crowther’s Hill in Dartmouth for the first time; I’ve had to master how and when to put the correct rubbish out for collection by South Hams District Council and tomorrow we must let The Lodger out. The poor cat has been stuck inside for more than two weeks and is getting stir crazy but I cannot help but dread that on that first ‘escape’ he will not find his way home.
Yes, many firsts are significant steps and are recognized as such.
But also, recently, I have done a lot of things for the last time; booking a return ferry from Yarmouth to Lymington, walking into The Wheatsheaf or The Kings Head to find our drinks already on the bar. But I didn’t worry about these things because I had done them before, they were familiar and anyway, were they necessarily the last times? Who can tell?
I know The Last Dance was my first published book but is A Set of Lies my ‘last’ or simply my ‘latest’?
Will A Second Strand (sequel to Her Parents’ Daughter) ever see the light of day?
Will there be others after that? Who can tell what the last will be?
So, Alicia, I have to disagree, first times are always more significant – and more difficult.

Goodbye Yarmouth

YarmouthGoodbye Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, it’s been nice knowing you.
This coming weekend I, along with my husband and our long-suffering cat, The Lodger, will be leaving the Isle of Wight for new adventures in Devon.
Almost exactly four years ago we decided we had to leave Shropshire and started looking for somewhere to live. We could have gone anywhere in the world really but we hit upon the Isle of Wight for reasons I can’t quite remember.
Now it is time to move on once more.
I have enjoyed being an Island Author and consequently my two most recent books (A Set of Lies and Her Parents’ Daughter) are firmly set on the island as is my next one A Second Strand so as I continue to market the old ones and set about selling the latest one the island will not be far from my thoughts.
My twitter tag @iowauthor (used more or less exclusively for tweets about The Archers) will not change neither will @Carolyn_McCrae (used for tweets about my books) but there are a number of amendments to be made to Twitter and Facebook profiles and to my website which will all take time and will, no doubt, make me wish we were staying.
Thank you Isle of Wight, and especially Yarmouth, for your inspiration, encouragement, friendship and hospitality for the past four years.
You will, no doubt, crop up in other books in the future as Fergal and Skye Shepherd continue their adventures.