Sunday, 26 September 2010


Autumn seems to bring a change in me, as well as its gradual misting and moistening and russeting of the outside world. Oddly, I feel much more nostalgic and emotional. I remember being a child more vividly at this time of year. Perhaps I recall the excitement of the new school year and the magic of having a virgin pencil case and new shoes (even if I loathed my mother's choice of the latter and sulked all the way home from the shoe shop).

Then again, perhaps it is the prospect of log fires, frosty windows, warm scarves, hiding Christmas presents and drawing the curtains at four in the afternoon that combine to induce that feeling of cosiness and being wrapped up against the world. I must have felt very protected and warm at home as a child. Hence the nostalgia. I also love autumn for its strange arrangement of the bleak and the colourful, for its bitter cold and glaring sun, for the feeling that it is acceptable to hibernate at home and refreshing walks can be forgivably brief.

I am also thinking about how fortunate I am to be enjoying myself so self-indulgently by the fire with my writing. I do feel guilty about how I take it for granted at times. So I am really pleased to have had a story chosen for 50 Stories For Pakistan, the 'follow-on' from 100 Stories For Haiti and the brainchild of the lovely Greg McQueen again. Sales of the book will help people in desperate circumstances of the sort that we shall never experience in our safer, more insulated world, whatever the season.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Old Friends

We all try to recognise rejections as opportunities for a different market and many of us discover that a story succeeds after a couple or more attempts to find its true home. However, I still have lots of stories that may never be read by anyone. They've been sent to all the obvious places and turned away. I can bear them in mind for competitions, but they clearly need some further work, or even stripping down to the core and rewritten.

However, it has occurred to me during an idle moment or two, that I want to keep some of the characters, even if I discard their story. Most of my stories are character-led and I have become attached to them. In fact, 99% of my social life revolves around fictional friends. This is actually true. I have few friends in reality. I am terrified of friendships. If I make a friend who seems to like me and becomes keen to meet up frequently, I feel trapped and make excuses not to see them. It's lucky I like my own company, or I don't know what would become of me.

But my thought was really about characters. I think I should keep a list of them all, so that I can be reunited with them in the future, even if I have decided not to use their story. There are one or two who keep haunting me and I can't always recall the title of the story in which they featured.

I made a lovely man called Johnny Carpenter. He is aloof, but charming and irresistible. He is tough, but has a vulnerable side. Sadly, I killed him in a shock ending. But that doesn't stop me from summoning him back to life. That's the other advantage of fictional people. You can make them appear wherever you want and do whatever you tell them, whenever you feel like.

Maybe I'm a secret control freak? In real life, I find it hard to say no. I'm one of the least assertive people in the universe and my husband calls me a soft target. But, when I'm writing, I can bend and shape people to my heart's content. It's probably the perfect antidote to real-life for me!

I think virtual friends are perfect. We can drop in and out of each others' lives, or segments of our lives, at times to suit ourselves. We can think about responses and never have to be put on the spot. I once had a friend who would arrive at my home unannounced and ask what I was doing on a certain day. Thinking she was going to suggest a nice outing, I would say I was free. Then she would ask me to babysit her children for her. She got me every time! I'm hopeless when I'm caught unaware. I always say yes before I know what I'm being asked!

I wondered, before I began rambling, whether other writers keep a list of favourite characters and allow them to see the light of day on more than one occasion? Or does each new story need a completely fresh viewpoint? Sometimes I like a character so much, I can't bear to let them go and actually miss them when the story ends.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Back To Earth

We may have to live on bread and water for a long time, but it was worth it. We have just returned from a big holiday, the first one spent in hotels rather than self-catering. It was the first time I haven't had to plan and cook meals in thirty years. We gazed into the strange depths of the Grand Canyon, waded through the heat and bright lights of Las Vegas, drove along Route 66, melted in the sunshine at Palm Springs, craned our necks to peer up at the endless height of the sequoia trees in Yosemite, mingled with the strange human life crammed into Venice Beach and left great pieces of our hearts in San Francisco. And more besides. We planned and saved long and hard for that holiday and the memories will live forever. It was monumental and we feel blessed to have had such an incredible experience.

Perhaps only writers will therefore understand why, back at my writing desk with all this mind-broadening depth of travel experience to trawl for inspiration, I am writing a story this morning about a decaying parade of shops in Ealing...