Friday, 25 January 2013

Publication week, er fortnight

It was never like this for Jane Austen. She didn't have to say, 'I can't come for dinner yet, Mother, I'm busy tweeting.'  She never had her blog refuse to upload her photos or worry that she would be an egg on twitter forever. She can't have hesitated over requests from strange men wanting to be her friend on facebook.
Did she have to create a Facebook Fan page?  No, she definitely did not. Her constant interruptions were probably things like 'Jane, what did you do with the pink vase?' and  'hurry up, we've going to have tea with Mrs Composmentus' who was ubdoubtedly the most boring person in the world.

Links have become the very bane of my life, sometimes they land, sometimes they disappear between Facebook, me, twitter and wherever the hell else they should be. I am hopeful that sooner or later I will upload a picture of one of my books which is the right size. At the moment they are either so small that they can't be seen like postage stamps or so big that my friends on Facebook feel obliged to make comments because they can't see around the image. The small ones people are tactful about, God love them. I have never been quite so grateful to my friends and keep ringing them, asking stupid questions and I can hear the patience in their voices as they think, 'can this woman not do anything on her own'?  I can milk a goat, so there. Very useful of course.

This is the problem, all my skills are old. I touchtype, I can light a fire, I know how to gut mackerel. I should be doing one of these programmes on telly where people go off into the wild and live off the land. Okay, so I live in the middle of town these days and never venture further than M&S. Is it my fault I have to try and live in the modern world? I was so good at the old one.

My computer is objecting hugely to the way I am now spending hours a day sitting in front of it demanding it go back and forth to internet sites like something demented. My back isn't terribly happy about it either, now we come to mention it. Last night my computer kept assuring me that if I didn't want to look at stuff it wanted me to look at it was going to close down forever. The only thing which prevented me from throwing it out of the window is the fact that the window has been there since 1927 and has stained glass in it.

I did once build a house, with help of course. I had a child, let's not go there. Won't  be doing either of those things again. So why do I just not get technology?  I'm not that old, I think really there is no techie in me. And as being idle I don't do that. I think what I need is to become rich so that I can get somebody else to do all these things - oh, and the housework and pay the bills, and take the car to the garage and plan holidays. Don't you just hate that? All that detail.

Writing novels is all about detail and the hardest thing of all is editing where you go back and forth and back and forth among a hundred thousand words, wondering how long a character has been pregnant, whether Mr Standalone really did have brown eyes and why the important scenes have been put in twice or totally disappeared and that a certain character was introduced at the beginning and not mentioned again for a hundred pages. Then there is the problem when you write historicals as to the year Peter Pan came out, I got it wrong by a year when I wrote about it but some eagle eyed editor found it, thank the Lord.
Or which street in St Andrews had plane trees on it in 1900?  And as my agent pointed out just a couple of weeks ago, people in Durham did not sit outside tower houses on the river and drink chilled Chardonnay in 1910. Well, most of them anyway. On that note I shall leave it and no, I am not going back to the internet, I'm going into town probably to pick up a bottle of nicely chilled Chardonnay. Some things about the present are definitely good.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

My Six Ebooks

Out today, published by Quercus books my six big sagas that ruled my life for several years.
The first one, The Singing Winds, named after a line in an old folk song, is set over on the Durham coast not far from Sunderland.  I was inspired to write it after I visited Seaham, the old pit town where my grandmother and her family lived before she left the bakery in which she worked and travel to Weardale. There she met and married my grandfather who was a tenant farmer.
Seaham, when I knew it, years ago, was a very dramatic place, the pit wheel set beyond the little town, the rolling sea crashing up the beach and three big pits close together. The man in the book is called Jon Armstrong. I rang my sister, after I finished writing it, I told her, 'I have created the perfect man'.

The second, Far From My Father's House, is named after a line in an old Irish poem and tells of the Lowe family who were tenant farmers and of their joys and sorrows before and during the second world war. How things changed there  because of the war and how the death of their loved ones affected their lives.

The third book is called Under A Cloud Soft Sky. The title came from a poem by a local man, George Leslie Lister.  It's set in Tow Law, the tiny pit town on the Durham moors where I was brought up and is about two boys and two girls. When it was first published my daughter and her friends read it because it was about people their age. My teenage novel!  It's also about an love affair which an older woman has with a young man and how a beautiful girl is seen as nothing more than a pretty face.

The fourth book is The Road to Berry Edge and is set in the steel town of Consett which was originally called Berry Edge and is the story of a young man who comes home to put right the steelworks and how he feels that he has to to marry the woman his brother couldn't because his brother died and Rob feels responsible for his death.

The fifth book is called Snow Angels and I got the title from the children's game of lying down in thick snow and pushing your arms and legs to their furthest extent. When you get up the imprint looks like an angel.  I worked so hard on this book. It's set in Newcastle upon Tyne where I was born and is the story of a shipbuilding family.  I did huge amounts of research for it, as I do for all my books.

The sixth book is Shelter From the Storm, originally Black Prince and is the first of a trilogy but it stands alone as well.It tells the story of two young women who marry the wrong men and of men who are outsiders in insular society.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

What Not to do on Facebook and Twitter

I feel I haven't met up with half of them yet but the first problem I found was that I accidentally let some man on my facebook page, who will be nameless, actually it probably wasn't his name, trying to tell me his wife had died and he had a little girl and he obviously knew we had so much in common. I thought oh-oh, how very odd and wrote him a very polite note, saying how awful for him and how I hoped he found somebody nice and then I got another message and talked to friends and realized this happens all the time.
So, point one, be vigilant but you can get rid of people
Point Two  Don't write on other people's timelines. I wrote a long piece and then realized I was in the wrong place and quickly deleted it.
Point Three.  We all know publicity is useful but try to not to brag too much, it makes people mad. Me, me, me darling. Yes, well we all have that problems and it's rude to muscle in on somebody else's space. I'm big on my own space.  I keep dreaming other people move in with me and wake up covered in sweat.
Point Four. Other people might not be interested in facebook and twitter. I've only been here a fortnight and already I'm boring on about it to the people I see.
Point Five.  It can take over your life.  Help!
Point Six. Too late.
Point Seven. It isn't mean to be a contest. How many friends have I got? My daughter says you are supposed to stop at five thousand so I have long way to go.
Point Eight. I am supposed to be writing books.
Perhaps I should stop now and go off and do that.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Open Mouth, Insert Both Feet

I had lunch with Joan and Malcolm the other day and we got to talking about what people say to those of us who are widowed or have cancer. Two of us have had cancer, all of us have been widowed.

So to people who have cancer try not to say

How long have they given you?
How is your cancer?
God is with you. ( Not in my case, I'm an atheist.)
Positive thinking helps. ( no, it bloody doesn't)
You are very brave ( like it's optional )
It could be worse. (Thanks)

The best thing I got from my surgeon was
This was not your fault.

I think this is increasingly rare as we are blamed for cancer, strokes, heart attacks.

And my Macmillan nurse when I telephoned, panicking about what I should and shouldn't do, eat etc.
Go out and enjoy your life.

For those who are widowed don't say

I know how you feel. My wife went on holiday for two weeks without me.
You'll find somebody else. ( Joan and Malcolm did. I'm still waiting for Brad Pitt.)
We had sex three times the other night.
Can't your friends find you a nice man?
Haven't you got over it yet ?( this was after six months What is grief, a stile?)
Do you want to go to bed with me?  You must be missing sex.
My wife and I haven't slept together for years.
Come and have dinner with us ( I fell into this trap a couple of times and had excruciating evenings with men I didn't want who didn't want me.)

And things you wish people would say

Save me the last dance.
I've bought you a bottle of pink champagne.
Can I walk your dog/do your shopping/take you out for an hour to a nice cafe for tea and buns?

And of course the worst thing of all that you can say is nothing.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Internet Man

I wish my dad had lived to be involved in the internet age. He loved gadgets. We had a dishwasher in the early sixties. It used to sit on the draining board and the water would come back into the sink where my mum would dump the pans so that they too were washed.
He bought us a tape recorder, big square grey thing when we were quite young and he just let us play with it. We had one of the first record players where the towers sat apart from the thing itself and he was not mean, it was a Bang and Olfsen set up and must have cost a great deal.
My dad was essentially an engineer which is possibly why I have a weakness for men who build things but he had to be many things because he ran a steel foundry single handed and had sixty men working for him.  He wasn't an easy man. He could go for hours without speaking, he only said something when he really had something to say, my mum was the garrulous one and he let her get on with it.
He was the only boy in his family and went away to a small public school called Scorton Grammar School in Yorkshire as a small boy.  He loved school. I think my daughter takes after him that way, we were all rather horrified that she took to school in such a big way.  We were brought up in a pit village and were quite wild so we didn't like sitting behind desks ( God help me, what am I doing now? ) and being told what to do.
As I grew older I learned to hate the confines of a pit village and to long for other places and other people. We were sent to middle class private schools and my God it was awful. He thought he was doing the right thing, I suppose you would if you had liked school but none of us was academic, we were the kind of children who camped out and played cricket and walked miles to dam streams. Our friends were the village children, we went to school with them for a few years and I am so grateful now that my education was all over the place, because as a writer I feel I can move between the social classes having lived and been schooled among most people.
My mum was the very opposite of my dad and it was just as well. If he had married somebody like himself we would probably have all left home early out of frustration. My mother was a farmer's daughter from Weardale. She was good with children and animals and apart from anything else she was stunningly beautiful. I look like my dad's side of the family. Sad really. Now if I'd had his brains that would have been worthwhile. I think he was so disappointed that his children were no good at school.
I think these things miss a generation and that if my daugher ever has a child that child will dislike school and run off to spend time with unsuitable people and generally let the family down as every good child does.
My father certainly let his family down. Mr grandma was so disappointed when he chose not to be a vicar. He hated the church with a passion. I don't remember ever seeing him there unless it was a wedding or such. And best of all on Sundays we put on our old clothes and got on our ponies ( borrowed from the local travellers ) and spent our days screaming up and own the field behind the house or building bonfires or cooking rhubarb in tiny pans or  throwing turnips at passing trains to try and derail them. We set the garage on fire, we wrecked my father's car by throwing stones at it, we flooded the back kitchen more than once. I remember when we had a glass door at the front and my sister, in a temper, had put her fist through it and when my dad came in from work at dinner time in the middle of the day, he didn't even comment, he just looked at it, had his dinner, smoked his capstan and called in at the glazier's on his way  back to work.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Twitter ye not, Missus ( with apologies to the late great Frankie Howerd)

Well, I made it, sort of anyway, I am now on Facebook and Twitter.  Officially of course this is all for work but I have lovely photographs of my daughter and me in various gorgegous places from last year so that every time I turn on Facebook it makes me smile. I don't think I've quite got the hang of Twitter. It's like working down a mine, I can't see anything and am not quite sure where to go. I feel like just staying in bed and pulling up the duvet and saying, 'I can't do this.'
Have you read Sue Townsend's book, The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year? I bought it for Katy for Christmas. I haven't read it yet but I take the sentiment to heart. Bed is the place for me. Some years ago I bought myself a large expensive bed and a large expensive mattress. When all else fails I do the Marian Keyes bit and have duvet days. The joys of working at home. I remember hearing about one guy who used to do his ironing naked while doing a radio show. You could be playing Angry Birds, I know I do. It knocks all the aggression out of me without involving anyone else.
Also I listen to Rebus.Does Bill Paterson have the sexiest voice on earth or is it just that I am a sucker for  his northern accent, having one myself though not nearly as attractive as his. Edinburgh ain't Durham. I think we speak here what they call low Scottish. Do other people notice these things?  Writers do of course, even the slightly deaf ones like me.
 When Katy was little we used to play a game when the adverts came on television. Whose voice is it?  I alter my voice all the time. Not necessarily consciously, I just pick up the cadences of other people's speech. I wish it meant I could speak other languages but it doesn't seem to work that way. Six years of french at school and I have about two dozen words.
When I go back to Tow Law, the pit town I grew up in, I'm indecipherable to the world beyond. In London I'm being professional and upgrade it a whole load. When I give talks I try to be their writer. I can be pet and love and ducks and even darling but not flower. I hate flower.
When I was a journalist at twenty I had a horrible boss and he had this awful sarcastic way of making me feel incompetent by referring to me over the telephone as flower. I wasn't the world's best journalist but I was not much older than a kid and could have done with a bit of encouragement. However, I did learn later that he left journalism and went off to run a post office and somehow that made me feel better, at least he wasn't bullying some other cub reporter.
I went off journalism, I hated the way it went round and round. My writing goes round and round too but since I have no idea how the process works I'm still fascinated and glad to be in the circle and glad now to to be in the facebook circle and the twitter - can you call it a circle?
Pigeons fly round and round. When I lived in Crook which isn't far away from here I used to go down to the river with my springer spaniel Timmy and walk him there and on sunny days the pigeons would be out of their crees and flying in circles in the sunlight white and silver. I love the sound of pigeons cooing and of gulls crying. It makes me think of my favourite places,  countryside and seaside. And pheasants up in Weardale where my family comes from, they make that lovely hoarse sound as they strut about the fields. the most incongruous or birds, they look like exotic visitors. I love birds so yes, I think I'm going to like Twitter if I ever get the hang of it.