In which I muse on musical muses

Posted on Updated on

You might have been following Elaina James’ very lovely blog series for Mslexia about her dream of becoming a lyricist. Of course you might not. If not, I suggest you jolly well go over there and read it now. I can wait.

*taps fingers impatiently*

Ah, sod it. I can’t wait. You’ll just have to catch up. Anyway, in celebration of the final installment of that blog series Elaina has asked a whole host of writers, bloggers and innocent passersby to join her in a blog-based celebration of all things writerly and musical – talking about how music has inspired and influenced our writing. And I enthusiastically agreed to join in because a) Elaina is lovely and b) I wasn’t 100% listening to the question.

Which leaves me with a problem, because, to be honest, I’ve never really been a music person. I mean I don’t dislike music. It can be perfectly pleasant. Few things take the edge of a silence more satisfactorily. But in those student conversations about a specific riff in an album track by Harpsichord Gibbon I was always the one just sitting quietly thinking about cake. I’ve never really understood listening to music as an activity in itself; music, for me, is essentially a background to doing something else.

So initially I didn’t think I’d be able to say anything about music as an inspiration for writing, but when I thought about it a bit more I realised that music definitely does impinge on what and how I write. Sometimes it can be a lyric that gets stuck in my head and becomes a sort of anthem for a particular character or storyline. Sweet Nothing I’ve mentioned before is a romance story about romance. It’s about playing around with the idea that there’s one true soulmate out there for any of us, and with the idea that romance and attraction are reliable ways of finding that person. And when I think about that notion I can’t help but think about Tim Minchin’s awesome song about love and romance* ‘If I didn’t have you.’

At the moment I’m writing a book that’s partly set in the 1970s and 80s, and I’ve made a little playlist of Bowie, Kate Bush and Stock, Aitken & Waterman to take the edge off the writing time silence. And that’s really helpful – not because I’m inspired by any one particular song or lyric, but because the music of a time instantly brings to mind the fashion, decor, and news of the time as well.

So that’s me and music and writing for you. There’s a rundown of wh else is participating on Elaina’s own blog. I heartily encourage you to go take a look.

 

*Not actually about love and romance. Actually about maths which is appropriate for Sweet Nothing too.

In which I celebrate the wonder of Victoria Wood

Posted on

It seems to be generally agreed that in terms of cultural giants shuffling off this mortal coil, 2016 has been a peculiarly horrible year. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Ronnie Corbett, amongst many others, have left us, and now Victoria Wood has died of cancer.* Now up until last year, I used to be pretty dismissive of the outpourings of grief that grip social media whenever a famous person dies, but then in March 2015 I found myself checking twitter on my phone to discover that Terry Pratchett had died, and ended up crying on a bench outside TKMaxx, so my views on people grieving celebrities they never met have softened a little.

And today I find myself in the same position again. Not on a bench outside TKMaxx, but being moved to tears over the death of somebody I only knew through the TV screen, the stage and the written word. It’s difficult to put into words how much Victoria Wood meant to me, and probably to a whole host of other people a bit like me. She was a woman. She was Northern. She was funny. She loved to play with language. And somehow, just by existing and being brilliant, she made that an ok combination of things to be. She was, essentially, the person I wanted to be if I grew up.

She also never rested on her laurels. With most celebrities you can say ‘Oh he was an actor,’ or ‘She was a writer,’ or a musician. Victoria Wood was all of those things. She wrote sketch shows, theatre plays, sitcoms, TV dramas and musicals. She performed as a comic actor, a straight actor, a musician, a presenter and a standup comic. To be as good as she was at any one of those things would probably be enough to get you minor national treasure status. Victoria Wood was brilliant at all of them. Properly brilliant.

Her ear for dialogue was one of the best I can think of. There’s something infectiously joyful about lines like ‘I’m on fire, with desire. I could handle half the tenors in a male voice choir’ and there’s also something gloriously specific about the writing. It’s half the tenors, not all. All would be too much; half tells you something more about the curtailed ambitions at play in this relationship. And half is funnier. Don’t ask me why. It just is. It’s like how seven and eleven are funnier numbers than eight or twelve. I don’t know why. They just are.

I was really lucky to be around the place watching TV while Victoria Wood was writing. I was even lucky enough to see her stand up show live. I really hope that she knew how much joy she brought to so many people, but I realise that I never told her. I’m not really the fan-letter writing sort. It’s always struck me as being a bit weird and overly-familiar to just write to a stranger and tell them they’re awesome, but my resolution for today is to abandon that rather silly little insecurity. I don’t think it’s ever unwelcome to tell a writer, musician or performer that you think that what they do is awesome, so I’m resolving, right now, that the next time I love someone’s work as much as I loved Victoria Wood’s or Terry Pratchett’s I’m bloody well going to write to them and tell them, before 2016’s grimmest of reapers gets to them too.

In the meantime, let’s just imagine Victoria Wood singing The Ballad of Barry and Freda on the great big stage in the sky with Pratchett, Rickman and Corbett in the audience, and Bowie singing backing vocals.

*reaffirming cancer’s status, as if there was ever any doubt, as an entirely stupid and shitty disease

In which I have a new challenge

Posted on

Hello there. There has been a dearth of blogging recently because I have been away on holiday. But now I’m back and returning my attention to the important issues of the Real World. This has involved the important buying of a New Notebook in order to start work on the Next Book, a lot of answering email, and a bit of watching recorded episodes of The Good Wife.

In addition to all of that I’m also, as is traditional after holidays, returning my attention to the fact that I really really need to lose a shedload of weight. Now I’ve needed to lose a shedload of weight for ages, and I’ve got really really good at losing about 10lbs and then getting bored and putting about 12lbs back on again, so right now I need to lose 5 stone (that’s 70lbs if you prefer, or 32kg if you’re a fancy metric type) which is loads. And losing loads of weight is tiresome and very very dull, so I have come up with a plan.

Instead of doing 1 diet to lost 5 stone, I’m going to do 5 or 6 different diets to lose 10-12lbs each. This will a) hopefully stop me getting bored after 10lbs and putting all the weight back on again, and b) facilitate the interesting and enlightening empirical comparison of a number of different weightloss plans as applied to a single experimental body (ie. mine).

So here’s the plan:

Phase one: April-May 2016 – The 5:2 Diet

Phase two: May-July 2016 – Good ol’ fashioned calorie counting

Phase three: July-Aug 2016 – Low Carb (picture me weeping at the very notion of this one – do you know that Low Carb is basically a euphemism for ‘No Toast’? How am I supposed to live on No Toast?)

Phase four: Sept-Nov 2016 – WeightWatchers (or possibly Slimming World – you know one of those things we’re there’s a whole system and Other People to peer pressure you into actually doing it, unless I wimp out of the whole Other People section and just do it online, which is probably more likely given my general suspicion of Other People as a concept).

And then we’ll see how things are going, and probably revert back to whatever worked best for the last few months. The goal is 5 stone lost by the RoNA Awards next March – that’s 5 stone in 11 months. Or, if you prefer 1.45lbs per week for 48 weeks (or more like 2lbs per week with some weeks entirely written off for Christmas, and birthdays, and holidays, and generally needing cake.)

So that’s the plan. Watch this space for updates on how it’s going, otherwise known as me rocking gently and typing ‘No toast, no toast, no toast…’ repeatedly as a I weep into a lettuce leaf.

Jolly good. As you were people.

In which I express extreme gratitude, on behalf of all the ladies, at being permitted to act on our own will once every four years.

Posted on

Four years on… the (possibly one day to be traditional) reblogging of my 29th February post.

Alison May

Something has been bugging me this week. It’s not the fact that it’s February and the weather went all weird and beer-gardeny last weekend. It’s not the fact that lovely budget-conscious husband took this as a sign that it was spring and turned off the central heating, meaning that I’m typing this with my dressing gown on over my clothes because it all went winteresque again. It’s not even the revelation that wine is not my friend, which I noticed for the absolute first time this morning after going out last night and have never had any sort of prior experience of at all at all at all.

No. The thing that is bugging me is that every time I’ve turned on the tv, looked at a paper (or at least a news website, because, y’know, newspapers are so 2005), or fired up the interweb, people are talking about proposing…

View original post 289 more words

In which Cora gets shortlisted for an award

Posted on

Yesterday the shortlists for the RoNA Awards were announced, and (cue much jumping up and down and squealing) Cora’s Christmas Kiss is shortlisted for the RoNA Rose prize for best short or series romance. Here it is alongside the other four shortlisted titles:

Rona Rose cover images

Being shortlisted for the RoNAs is ridiculously exciting. The RNA, which organises the RoNA awards, is the organisation that made me think that maybe I could be a writer. Doing my degree in creative writing was what made me determined that I wanted to try, but it was the RNA that made me think it might actually be possible.

It was through the RNA that I met fantastic, inspirational working writers like Julie Cohen, Rowan Coleman, and Katie Fforde. It was through an RNA party that I first met my current publisher, and off the back of a really constructive RNA New Writers’ Scheme report that I actually got up the nerve to submit my first manuscript to her. It was through the RNA’s local chapter groups that I made some of my closest writing friends (one of whom – the utterly fab Janice Preston – is also nominated in the same category). So to be shortlisted in the RoNAs is particularly pleasing. It’s like having an especially valued teacher or a mentor tell you that you did ok. In her own post about the RoNAs Liz Fenwick describes the RNA as her tribe, and I can’t think of a better way of putting it. Although writing is, in many ways, a disgustingly solitary endeavour, it takes a village to get a book from idea to publication – especially a first book – and the RNA were my village.

It’s also particularly pleasing to see Cora’s Christmas Kiss shortlisted for this award. Cora has already had one shortlisting for the Love Stories Awards, and I’m ridiculously proud of the positive response to the book. While I was writing Cora the book had the working title of ‘Ridiculously Complicated and Stupidly Over-Plotted Novella’ and the moments of self-doubt as to whether I could pull off the idea that I had were many, deep and lasting. Part of me thinks that I shouldn’t need the validation of shortlistings and nice reviews, but I really really do. Ultimately books are for readers, not for writers, so hearing that readers liked a book is both massively gratifying and a huge relief.

So there you go. I’m quite excited, and prone to much giddiness at the moment – I haven’t even started on the list of people who’ve previously won RoNAs (JoJo Moyes, Jenny Colgan, Veronica Henry to name just three – squeeeee!) Anyway, I do hope you’ll excuse the light gushing.

I hope you’ll also excuse me mentioning that there are still places on my June Developing Your Novel Workshop and the May Novel Writing Retreat I’m running with Janet Gover, and that they’re both now taught by a RoNA nominee so are totally better value than they were yesterday…

In which I wonder whether romantic fiction can be feminist

Posted on

The same question has come up recently in three different conversations – is romantic fiction feminist?

So I’ve been thinking about just that, and I’ve concluded Yes. At least it definitely can be.

So that was good. All cleared up. Unfortunately clearing up tricky questions speedily does not make for good blogging, so I shall muse a bit on the topic anyway.

I think the idea that romantic fiction is somehow anti-feminist comes from the idea that romance is about a woman being rescued by a man, or a woman needing a man and a relationship to, in some way, complete her and make her a proper member of society. Now, neither of those things are in any way necessary or desirable features of romantic fiction. You can just as easily write ‘Man who feels incomplete without woman’ (although that would probably be merely different rather than actually better). I try to write ‘man and woman who deal with their own issues and then decide to be together’, although I try to do that with jokes and ideally at least one comedy sword fight.

I actually have a heroine in one of my books who ends up deciding that maybe the available man isn’t going to be the right ending for her (and I’m not telling you which book – if you don’t know you’ll just have to read them all to find out).

Of course, that’s just the content of the books, and fiction is much more than that. Fiction is a whole industry, and actually, ‘is the romantic fiction industry feminist?’ is a more difficult question. In some ways very obviously yes – it’s massively dominated by female authors and editors. I’m proud to be part of the Romantic Novelists’ Association which is a UK professional association for writers of romantic fiction. It’s predominantly female and you’d have to go a long way to meet a more forthright, intelligent, capable group of women.

But.

We do still work in an industry where ‘women’s fiction’ is a thing, distinct from proper mainstream fiction, and where female authors write ‘chick lit’ and male authors just write comedy. We also have a publishing industry where certain sorts of women are far more likely to feature in the stories we see published – young(ish), white, straight women. There would certainly seem to be room on bookshelves for a bit more diversity.

And in terms of content of books, can erotic romances centring around domination of a female partner be seen as feminist? Projecting the idea that physical or psychological domination of women is normal, or even an ideal, seems really worrying, but if you’re writing for predominantly female readers who enjoy reading a fantasy of giving up control, then surely those women have the right to their fantasy, and telling them that they’re not fantasising right is also worrying territory.

So, can romantic fiction be feminist? Yes. Definitely.

Is romantic fiction feminist? Well, yes, sometimes. It’s complicated.

I’m genuinely just thinking aloud (or at least on screen) now. Would be fascinated to hear more thoughts in the comments…

In which I think about the lack of recent blogging

Posted on

I’ve been a bit lax about blogging lately. After resolving last week to get back into it, I find myself, this morning, staring at a blank screen devoid of blogging inspiration. And that’s been a problem a lot recently. There are plenty of subjects I could opine my little heart out about. Just yesterday I overheard someone talking about the refugee crisis, and saying ‘I’m not racist but…’ And yes he actually said that in real-life – it’s the sort of line I’d edit out of a book for being too cliched but she really really said it. Anyway, ‘I’m not racist but,’ he said, ‘what they have to understand is that they’ve got to earn our trust back. You know, after Paris and everything.’

Now I have Views on that statement. By golly do I have Views?* But I increasingly find myself weary of sharing those views on the interweb. One thing the internet does not lack is people who reckon stuff about things. Whether you like to be irritated and get into twitter fights with people you vehemently disagree with or whether you prefer to create a perfect little social media echo chamber of people who entirely agree with you, the internet offers a ready supply of opinion for you to be enraged or cosseted by.

So I could write you lovely blog posts about novel writing instead, but again, blogs about how to be a writer are not in short supply. There are blogs that will tell you how to write, edit, submit and promote your book. And, here’s my one piece of writing advice for this post, reading them can be interesting and lovely, and a fab way of meeting and interacting with other writers, but it’s also probably procrastination. Writing themed procrastination, which is the highest form of procrastination, but procrastination nonetheless.  There is no substitute for just writing the sodding book. Harsh, but true I’m afraid.

So that leaves me wondering what on earth to blog about on weeks when reckoning something about the news of the day fails to fill my heart with inspiration. And I’m genuinely wondering. Suggestions and ideas more than welcome in the comments… Otherwise I might have to abandon all pretense of coherent thought and just post pictures of baking. Mmmm… baking.

 

* They are about the ignorance of othering, and the general heartlessness and stupidity in mentally dividing the world into us and them, and grouping the them together based on race/religion/nationality.