Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The RNA Pure Passion Awards Lunch, otherwise known as a Shoe In

As a mother of four, I really really don't get out much. And the chance of me going somewhere posh and putting on a pretty frock are normally zilch.

However, this year the RNA, ie my favourite writing group in the world, celebrated it's 50th anniversary. PLUS, I was on the longlist for the main award which was dead exciting. However, the awards ceremony was on a Tuesday, and the domestic commitments I have at present, meant I felt I couldn't commit to going unless, I miraculously made the shortlist (needless, to say, dear reader, I didn't). Having decided NOT to go, step up the hero of the hour in the shape of my lovely mother, who decided I needed a treat and was very happy to come and do the school run and cook tea on the day in question. Yay for lovely mother, particularly as she stayed for several days and did all sorts of helpful things round the house. It was like having my own personal fairy.

So my personal fairy having waved her magic wand, Cinderella could make it to the ball. I had with help from the youngest bought a posh dress (see here for a picture of me wearing it. If I was an organised blogger, I would have PICTURES. But I'm not, and I am a bit short of time, so am sending to you my friends' blogs instead, sorry about that. You can go here for a Proper Report and pics of the winners, and here for pics of the partygoers, and very glam they look too!). I had also at Christmas bought myself some luvverly sparkly shoes. The first rule of any RNA do is that you are going to have a good time. The girls (and some boys) of the RNA really really know how to partaaay!! The second rule is you HAVE TO HAVE lovely shoes. I am absolutely crap at describing clothes & shoes and wouldn't know my Jimmy Choos from - well any other kind of posh shoe maker (bit of a bugger that, when writing contemporary fiction, always have to get my editor to tell me where to look(-:) - but it is a RULE at RNA dos that the most important item of clothing you wear will be on your feet. So a pair of lovely sparkly shoes was an absolute must.

Alas, dear reader, two minutes before leaving I had a catastrophic shoe disaster. I put my glam shoes on and the elastic on the strap broke. It was irreparable, I was inconsolable, AND I had a train to catch. Amazingly for me, for once I had actually left myself enough time. So realising that not only did I have to wear a scrappy pair of sandals, but also the only tights I could find were THICK BLACK UGLY WINTER ones, I decided there was nothing for it, I was going to have to scour the streets of High Street Ken (dammit, why did we have to be in such a pricey part of town?) for a pair of new shoes and some lovely soft shiny tights to wear with them.

So I came out of the tube station and went straight into some serious shopping. My first foray into Clark's was a total waste of time. They only seemed to sell what the children would no doubt have referred to as "Old Lady" shoes. The next shop up the road, I walked into and straight out again when I saw a price tag of £100 on a pair of shoes that looked like they'd have been overpriced in New Look. I criss crossed up and down the road, with an increasing sense of desperation. Either the shops I went into didn't do sparkly party shoes, or they did at exorbitant prices.

Finally, I decided I had one last shot, and entered a really blingy shoe shop with shoes bearing such outrageous sparkles, it had to be designed for a potential RNA partygoer, and there on the first shelf I looked at, miraculously sat a pair of sparkly shoes very similar to the ones which had earlier let me down. My fairy godmother was certainly working overtime.

So it was that ten minutes later, having also purchased some suitable hosiery from Boots, I found myself tottering into the loos at the Kensington Garden Hotel and completely changing my footwear. Now suitably shod, I was ready, at last to enter the fray...

And what a fray it was. Within minutes of arrival I had encountered a fellow writer who lives in my home town, whom I've been promising to meet for months, several writing friends whom I haven't seen for a couple of years, a friendly agent, my lovely publishers, one of my fellow Avon authors, Miranda Dickinson and shortlistee (sadly she didn't win), who I've been tweeting with since the autumn and so on...

Thanks to my very very late purchase of a ticket I was on a table where I only knew a couple of people, but this being the RNA, it really really didn't matter, as I may or may not have mentioned another RNA rule is that a) everyone is incredibly friendly and b) most of them love to talk. So do I. Which is why I feel right at home.

Our wonderful Chair, Katie Fforde gave a lovely and funny speech, despite battling a hideous cold and then passed over to guest of honour, Barry Norman,who gave a warm and witty speech and endeared himself to every writer in the room by telling us, that while filmstars didn't make him starstruck, writers did, because he knows how hard it is. Fittingly, as the RNA is such a stalwart supporter of unpublished (or prepublished, as some of us prefer to think of them) writers, he made no distinction between those of us who've been lucky to secure a publishing deal and those who are still working on it, which is just as it should be.

There were six awards this year:

The RNA People's Choice was won by Louise Douglas for Missing You
The RNA Love Story of the year by Nell Dixon for Animal Instincts
The RNA Romantic Comedy of the year by Jane Costello for The Nearly-Weds
The Harry Bowling Prize (for a prepublished author) by Debbie Johnson
The Romantic Film of the Year was An Education and Lynn Barber accepted the award.
The Romantic Novel of the Year for Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon.
While I was naturally disappointed that Miranda didn't win, I was also really delighted for Lucy whose stories are lovely, and for her editor Isobel Akenhead who is another twitter friend.

Meanwhile two lifetime achievement awards were given to the awesomely talented Maeve Binchy and Joanna Trollope, both very worthy winners.

After the excitement of the awards, everyone got down to the serious business of partying and we all took ourselves over to the Goat pub across the road, where I was delighted to meet another couple of Twitter friends: Tamsyn Murray (get her fab book My So Called After Life now!! )and Brigid Coady, as well as meeting the wonderful Jill Mansell in the flesh after having been online friends for ooh, at least eight years. If you ever want a good heartwarming read, with dollops of real life, and brilliant humour, Jill's your woman. Rumour Has It saved my sanity last summer on holiday, and am already in the queue for her next one.

The only downside to RNA parties is that there are so many people you can't get to meet them all, so there were a few writing pals I waved at briefly and never spoke to, but I'm hoping to make up for that in the summer, when (sssh, don't tell Spouse) I hope to get to their summer conference.

All in all it was a fabulous, brilliant day (oops I was one of the last to leave the pub), and huge congrats go to the RNA Committee for putting on such a great bash. I had a great time. And would have, with or without the right pair of shoes...

Friday, March 12, 2010

More shameless self promotion, oh yeah, yeah. (Or How Not to Write a Book)

Actually have been very very slow to announce this, but here is the gorgeous cover of my next book, The Bridesmaid Pact which is coming out on May 27th.

The Bridesmaid Pact tells the story of four friends: Doris, Sarah, Caz and Beth, who watch Diana and Charles getting married as eight year olds and and make a vow to be each other's bridesmaids when they grow up, and then for a variety of reasons fail to do so...

I think I am quite pleased with the end result (though so far all readers seem to have cried, I presume this is a good sign(-:), but I can honestly say this book was an utter pig to write.

When I started it, it all seemed to be going so well too - as I blogged here - though I recognised from the off this book was going to be a slightly painful one to write, the first few scenes did literally write themselves.

But oh dear, god, once I got going, it was like getting blood out of a stone. I spent the best part of last year not being able to settle to it - as I may have mentioned before Prevarication is my middle name - and whenever I did sit down to write it seemed to go painfully slowly. Initially I was supposed to finish by the end of the summer term. FAIL. I was only a quarter of the way through. My lovely editor kindly extended the deadline to October, and my plan then was to take my laptop away on holiday and write while my children splashed happily in the pool. MAJOR FAIL. As blogreaders may remember, thanks to a panic attack which sent me to Casualty the day before we went, I was in no fit state to do anything when we got there. I did, however discover, that writing by hand made the story flow better. So I bought some notebooks and started to scribble away. This was all fine and dandy up to a point, but when I came home my panicky state meant I could barely bear to go near a computer, so I ended up writing the majority of the book by hand.

It was only when I came to type it up that I realised a) how little I'd actually written (the book was probably about 20 000 words light on its first draft and b) how very long it takes to type things up. So it was I had another deadline FAIL and Spouse wasn't best pleased when we went to my mother's for the weekend and I spent the whole time typing away on the laptop.

However, I got there in the end. Finished book sent it off and waited for a response.

Now, my normal MO for writing is, I get an idea, the characters form in my head, usually a pivotal scene jumps out at me, all during my prevarication period, and THEN I sit down and write a reasonably detailed synopsis. It's kind of like an essay plan, or a hanger on which the bare bones of the plot are laid out, and I fill in the gaps. I've got into that way of writing, and its where I feel comfortable. However, this time, my brilliant system went tits up.

For a start, the characters all started clammering to talk to me. Although Doris is my main character, the others wanted their share of the limelight too, and they all wanted to tell their story in the first person (something I haven't attempted since my very first failed ms), PLUS there had to be a lot of switching back and forth between past and present which quite frankly did my head in. And I was conscious the whole time that I needed to get their individual voices right - Doris was relatively easy, she's quite dappy but also terribly smart (I knew two fearfully clever girls at uni who were brunettes but behaved like dizzy blondes, then freaked boys out by being cleverer then them, and I thought it would be fun to have a character like that), and Caz, who is probably the spikiest and least likeable character I have written was great fun as she belligerently popped out of nowhere, but in my first draft Sarah (the sensible one) and Beth (the shy one) were in danger of appearing interchangeable, though I hope I've sorted that now.

Another reason that this book was hard, was because while I haven't had any of the experiences my characters have, I did dip into a whole well of emotion from things I have experienced to tell their stories, and it turned out to be quite a difficult thing to do. I think it would have been tricky anyway, but the writing and rewriting coincided with one of the most stressful periods of my life in recent years, and hence the first draft was a little short on humour, shall we say. Again, I hope I've fixed that now(-:

Finally, when I came to do the first rewrites, my lack of planning showed through woefully - my editor said wisely that it was like trying to fit a jigsaw puzzle together, and I can tell you getting the bits in the right place was bloody hard work. And I had another Major Fail when I missed that deadline twice (I really thought I could do it before Christmas, but no, and then promised to get it in in January, and Christmas was such a disaster I missed that one too.)

I am IMMENSELY grateful to all the lovely people at Avon who a) have been sympathetic and understanding beyond the call of duty during my trials and tribulations and b) have bust a gut to make up for my tardiness, whilst also working their rocks off to get me the loveliest cover imaginable. Thanks guys, I promise to do better next time.

When it came to rewrite 2, I then realised that for a wedding book, it wasn't really very weddingy. So I spent ages researching dresses (I am really really crap at describing what people wear), and tapped into as many wedding memories of mine and other weddings I've been to, to get the right feel. Phew. I think the balance is right now.

But my worst moment was at the copyediting stage, when I had less then a week, as it came in over half term, and I realised to my horror that NONE of my dates matched up. I think I've got it right now, as I had to write a proper timeline (NOTE TO SELF: Do this at the beginning next time), but if you do happen to find a mistake, please don't send me dozens of emails to tell me. I really don't want to know...

Still, I got there in the end, and like I say, to the best of my ability (it is almost impossible to judge your own work accurately) I think its ok. I certainly like the characters and their situations, and I hope I can make you laugh and cry with them.

Having done it all wrong this time around, I am hoping to learn from the experience next time. So my latest plan is to disappear periodically to the library with my laptop to escape the perils of internet timewasting and make me feel like I'm properly going out to work. Working from home, particularly with my current set of domestic responsibilities means it's all too easy to put work on the back burner. I am hoping if I can discipline myself a bit more, I stand some chance of meeting my next deadline. Well that's the plan....

As usual, my story has a soundtrack, and for the Bridesmaid Pact it goes like this:

White Wedding by Billy Idol - had to be soundtrack for the book, didn't it? I've always loved the energy of this song, and I think it's particularly apposite for Caz's wedding at the beginning of the book.

You Know I'm no Good Amy Winehouse for Caz. You have to hand it to Amy, she has a brilliant knack of turning her personal disasters into fabulous songs. Caz is the wild child of the quartet, so this song sums her up.

However, when I heard Wire to Wire by Razorlight on the radio one day, I thought wow, this could have been written for Caz. It really fits her self destructive sadness, and sends shivers up my spine. Fab, fab, fab song.

I love the high energy of Let me Entertain You by Robbie Williams , which is a great party track and totally suitable for Doris' joie de vivre, battiness and hen night with her mates.

Pure by the Lightning Seeds is one of my favourite love songs, and just for Doris and Darren's relationship. Pure and simple all the time. I'm always a little in love with my leading men, but I adore Darren. He's very cute.

The Shadow of Love by the Damned is a great gothic song which fits Caz very well - if she were to get married, I can see her doing it goth style...

and Always on my Mind by the Petshop Boys (yes I know they covered Elvis, but I do love their vierson) is just right for Caz and Charlie

Thanks to a flurry of tweets on Twitter one day, I had a great Fleetwood Mac fest, and have ended up with Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac for Sarah - is there a better break up song?

As well as, Love is a Losing Game by Amy Winehouse - the sad poignant melancholy of this song fits Sarah's sense of loss perfectly.

Caz doesn't know her dad and feels the loss keenly, so Oh Daddy by Fleetwood Mac (thank you Twitterverse) was the obvious choice here, more for the emotions then the lyrics. I think it is powerful, sad and heartrending. Perfect!

Songbird more Fleetwood Mac for Beth, who hides a painful secret, and somehow this song sums up her pain for me as well as giving hope for the future. Plus it's just BEAUTIFUL.

The Man with the Child in his Eyes for Beth and Matt - don't know why, it seems to fit their story somehow.

The Sadness Runs Through Him by the Hoosiers is another heartrending song which fits Beth and Matt, whose situation particularly gets to me.

Before I fall to Pieces by Razorlight is for Caz, who has to stumble a little on the way to finding redemption. Again this song seemed to capture her perfectly.

Hurt by Johnny Cash is the pivotal song of the book, for Doris and Darren particularly, but for al the characters in their own different ways. And it always makes me weep...

And finally, Doris is obsessed with all things Disney and this is a book about friendship, so You've Got A Friend in Me by Randy Newman from Toy Story is the perfect swan song!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Vote for me, oh yeah.

OK, so here's the thing. My publishers have suggested I enter this blog competition and for pubbed/unpubbed authors who blog, and asked me to ask you lovely people to vote for me. At which point I have come over all English and embarrassed (picture me BLUSHING here) and feel like a total twat. In fact I feel just like Laney Boggs in She's All That when Zac suggests she run for Prom Queen. (Waddya mean you haven't seen She's All That - go and watch it right now, if only for the fantastic dance scene at the prom.)

Anyway. I've entered. Vote for me. Yeah, Yeah. Otherwise. Vote for someone else whose blog you like more. Really, I won't mind. Well, not much...

That is all.

IF you do feel so inclined you can vote for me here and earn my undying gratitude. That was worth it now, wasn't it?

PS have tried and failed to add a widgety thing. But apparently I should have this on my blog too. Am so no good at this kind of stuff(-:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Boy meets Girl

I seem not to be blogging very much at the moment, though I'm not sure why, as ironically I seem to have a little more time, but somehow not much inclination.

I HAD planned to blog about the finale of Being Human, but seem to have missed the moment, so I'm saying nothing except, waahaahaaaay!!! for that ending, I was on the edge of my seat all the way through and nearly jumped up and punched the ceiling when the identity of the vampire brought back from the dead was. Bring on series 3!!

Next week looks like being busy, and I should really be blogging this Monday, but I'm going to get ahead of myself for once, and do it now.

Next Monday you see is a very important day for Spouse and me as it marks a quarter of a century of us being together. Oo-er, now I feel PROPERLY old. When my parents used to talk about 25 years ago I used to think how can you remember that far back? And yet I can remember THAT day incredibly clearly...

Spouse and I first met in the October of 1984. I'd been at Liverpool University three weeks, and on my very first day had made friends with someone who later became my flatmate, and remains a good friend (albeit that she now lives on the other side of the world). My friend had spent two days in Liverpool the previous year. and had there encountered someone on Spouse's course. They got on rather well and spent the rest of the year writing to one another (my friend hadn't quite twigged that he had a romantic interest in her). Needless to say this boy had mentioned her name ad nauseam all year, so that when she turned up at Liverpool, Spouse and his mates were keen to meet the mystery woman.

In fact it was two of Spouse's pals who met her first, and one of them, a rather gobby Scouse medic took a shine to her. Such a shine that he invited her out to a nightclub with him. He made the mistake of asking her in front of a group of us who were sitting having coffee in her room.
Panicking slightly, my friend said yes, on condition he invited all of us. The medic panicked equally and turned up at Spouse's house, demanding back up.

And so it was, that I found myself one cold October evening in the Willow Bank Pub on Smithdown Road (later to become a favourite haunt) , with my girlfriends and a bunch of blokes who were so shy they all hunted in packs. One of them, needless to say, was Spouse.

I'd like to say at this point, that Cupid shot his arrow, it was love at first sight, etc etc, only that wouldn't be true.

What actually happened was, my Adonis, was crouched over the bar, fag in one hand, beer glass in another, and in a gesture which I later realised was the result of crippling shyness, he covered his hand over his mouth every time he spoke.

He seemed nice enough, and was delighted I was soft southerner like he was (there weren't many of us who'd ventured up north), and immediately started talking to me about nightclubs in London. I think he was showing off, but it made no impact on me, as I'd only managed to go out to one nightclub at that time, and hadn't rated the experience. We had several polite conversations during the evening and that was that...

Now one of his friends, on the other hand... well he made an impact on me, but sadly I didn't on him.

If you'd told me at the end of that evening I'd be marrying the shy dentist who chain smoked I think I'd have probably laughed in your face.

Over the course of the next few months, we met at various parties. Though I was never part of any kind of cool dudey gang, it certainly gave us first years a certain cachet to get invited to all the second year parties and feel more grown up then we did in hall. As time went on I found myself more often then not talking with Spouse in the kitchen at parties, usually sharing the bottle of vodka he'd secreted in his voluminous (obligatory) student black coat. With his entertaining conversation, black jacket, skinny jeans, black pointy boots and GREAT taste in music, I wasn't exactly falling for him, but certainly a party when he wasn't there was rather dull. Mind you, not sure my twin would say the same. She was first introduced to Spouse in a cab after a very wild drunken Liverpudlian night out (I used to go and stay with her in York and have CIVILIZED weekends), and the memory haunts her still... There was also the memorable time when Spouse, one of his mates and I were at a party that was heaving with so many students it was a wonder the house didn't collapse. As a result of the chaos the police were called, and we got to see the strong arm of the law up close and a little too personal. (I will never forget the sight of a female copper, built like a brick shithouse, pushing some poor sap against the wall for making some sarcy remark as he left.).

Come the January, I was still thinking we were mates (I was interested in someone else, who alas wasn't interested in me - do you see a pattern here?), until one party when I spent ages talking to him and he seemed really solicitous of me. Rather stupidly it didn't occur to me that things could develop into anything else, so I thought nothing of it and then didn't see him for a while. I might have been kidding myself there though, as I do remember looking out for him at various points and being disappointed that he wasn't there.

Come the week before term ended, and it had been several weeks since we'd seen each other. On the Friday night there was a disco in hall, and I had bought a ticket. However I had arranged an evening with my other, inexplicably-disinterested-in-me love interest, so I decided I wasn't going. Getting back at midnight, I still thought I wasn't going, but the disco was so noisy I knew I was never going to sleep. plus, Id spent MONEY on a ticket, so I changed my mind.

And so it was that I wandered into the Rathbone Hall Disco on March 15 1985, rather late in the evening and clocked Spouse in the corner. I must go and say hello I thought, but got distracted dancing and talking to my mates. Eventually at about 1.45, fifteen minutes before the end of the evening (nothing like leaving things to the last minute, eh, but I didn't know Cupid was about to start playing funny games with me), I summoned the courage to talk to him. Now why was I feeling nervous, when I thought I didn't fancy him? Hmm, funny that...

We got chatting and chatting and I was dimly unaware that he was trying to ask me to dance. In fact I was so unaware of the fact, that it was quite surprising to later discover his friend was poking him in the back, saying Go on, ask her to dance. Eventually Spouse took the hint, and we headed for the floor for the last few dances of the evening. I can't remember which order they were played in, but I do know we danced to: I Want to Know what Love is, by Foreigner, and Drive You Home Tonight by the Cars - pathetically after all this time, I still go weak at the knees when I hear those songs...

I don't know how it was with you when you were young free and single but the general etiquette when I went to discos was that if you weren't interested you pushed off after the first dance. I didn't know that I was interested, but I was in the mood for a little fun, so I hung on for the second dance, and had a moment before the third when I took the split decision to be chilled and see what would happen next...

What happened next was much snogging and me walking out on his arm, much to the surprise of all our friends. THAT was so much fun, seeing everybody's mouths agog, as I hadn't admitted ot anyone I was interested in Spouse (hell, I hadn't admitted it to myself till that moment). We went back to my room and spent the night talking (yes, talking, really, I was quite innocent in those days), and I suddenly realised, hey I like this guy, like really like him.

As he left we tried to arrange a date.
Can you do tomorrow he said - nope, had already got a date with Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats at Liverpool Empire Theatre.
What about Sunday? (Oops going out again with other love non interested in me party, tricky one). Busy I'm afraid.
We got as far as Tuesday and arranged a date to go the cinema. I can't remember what we saw but I still remember the nerves of choosing what to wear, followed by the panic that he might blow me out, and the weird realization that I'd gone from being quite relaxed in his company to insanely nervous. How had that happened? We were supposed to go out the next night, but he'd forgotten he had an exam (I mean, how do you forget exams??). Two dizzying evenings together followed, (during one of which he introduced me the Mamas& Papas and the Zombies - California Dreamin' and She's Not There, also make me go weak at the knees) and then I was going home on the Saturday, so we went out the Friday night and pulled another all nighter, before he took me to the coach station. By the time I left I can remember counting the seconds till we were parted and wondering how I was going to bear a whole month away from him. Within a week I had gone from vaguely interested to completely smitten.

I'd had a blinding and very funny week, but as he saw me off on that coach, much as I wanted it to,I really didn't think it was going to come to anything. We'd had a fun end of term and that was it, or so I thought.

Shows how very very wrong you can be...