Monday, 4 August 2014

Of holidays, fan letters and lost envelopes...

Ah, holidays. Long days of chateaux, wine-tasting, museums, the occasional bit of canoeing or Via-Ferrata-ing (not too much, though), the smells of grass and sunshine and the salty stuff they put on vineyards... Followed by long evenings of driving through the French countryside looking for a campsite, long hours of arguing about which road that 'Camping' sign was actually pointing to, and long minutes of staring at French responsables of said campsites and saying, 'How much?!'

Oh, and food. Did I mention the food? Not the restaurants so much (although I'm not complaining), but the crackle of a fresh baguette, the squeak of saucisson between your teeth, the light crumbly folds of a pain au chocolat or a croissant. Not to mention my new discovery, the Paris-Best, which is like a doughnut-shaped profiterole filled with nutty creme patissiere and topped with flaked almonds. Although all of this palls beside the way that, after a day in a not-very-cool-bag in a hot Land Rover, everything tastes of cheese. Yum.

I've been away. For a whole month, more or less. (That's one benefit of being a writer, I guess: no one notices your absence.) And now I'm back, serene and relaxed and extremely glad to be sleeping in a bed.

Not much has happened in my absence. This is both reassuring (no one's died, my agent hasn't dumped me, no one has yet discovered that I falsified my tax returnI plagiarised all my novels I was married already er-hem anything bad), and depressing (I haven't won any prizes, no one desperately wants the film rights to my books**, I haven't unexpectedly inherited a massive legacy from an anonymous reader). Oh well.

But there were a couple of things which I found in my inbox. Nice things. I love hearing from you, dear Readers, and it was lovely to get back and find you'd been in touch. I won't boast about you here (because quoting one's own fan letters is possibly as bad as quoting your own good reviews***) but thank you. You are very nice. :)

However, there is one exception to the don't-boast rule, for reasons which will hopefully become clear. I don't often get real, physical letters, especially not from outside the UK, and in this electronic age there's something particularly nice about it. (I was going to say, especially when it's a nice letter, but I suppose if it's not then you can actually literally burn it in a cathartic sort of way.) The downside, of course, is that it's not easily retrievable if something... hypothetically... happens to it. If you know what I mean.

This is the point at which you're all nodding wryly and assuming I spilt a glass of wine over it. Right? Well actually you're wrong. I am in the delightful position of being able to blame this entirely on my agent, who opened the letter and threw away the envelope before he realised what it was. Yes. He threw away the envelope. The one on which there was, presumably, a return address. This is the sort of quirk of fate that put paid to Romeo and Juliet. Hmph.

So Halleye (sorry, not sure how to do the accent here), if you're reading this, apologies for the delay and THANK YOU! And can you email me your address, please, so I can send you a proper answer? I feel like your letter definitely deserves one. :) My email address is on my 'Contact Me' page. (Then again, if you sent me a proper letter in the first place, you may not have internet access, in which case I'm talking to no one. Oh dear. Very R+J again...)

And now... back to work.

* This is for comic effect. My tax return is TOTALLY HONEST. Trust me, I'm a Quaker.
** Actually the film rights for The Traitor Game are already spoken for, but that's another story.  
*** Quoting your own bad reviews is very good form indeed. (When I'm feeling down I google a book I love and console myself with the thought that there are a lot of idiots out there.)

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

An Old Flame*

Are you the same person that you were ten years ago? I mean, obviously in a lot of ways you are (name, memories, NI number and so on). In some other less obvious ways you... maybe... aren't. Those pink corduroy flares that you thought were a good idea? That evaporated milk habit? That - ew, squick! - that boyfriend?**

If you're wondering why I'm asking, it's because I'm editing my first novel. I wrote it nearly ten years ago, and it's an odd experience coming back to it. I hadn't even read it for years, and so in some ways it was rather exciting. There are lots of adverbs (sadly) but also some rather fun scenes, and some plot twists I genuinely hadn't remembered. It needs work but I think it could be quite good, if I do the right things to it. And the right things aren't the opaque, totally mysterious impossibilities that they are for my most recent magnum opus, thank God, they are actual definite changes that I can do. This is all good. 

But - as I say - it's odd. It's odd because my writing voice has changed, and I'm trying to work out how much I should go with my old one and how much I've got better. It's odd because the sort of book I write now isn't the sort of book I wrote then, but that doesn't mean I don't want to write that sort of book. It's odd because I recognise myself and I recognise the differences, the way I've developed as a writer and as a person.

It's oddest of all, I think, because it's a love story.*** It was my first love story. 

People talk about how first novels are autobiographical (and then often go on to say that they're rubbish because they're autobiographical). That's not true, obviously, because loads of people write novels without ever writing anything recognisably autobiographical. But in a way it is true: your first novel is the one you've waited your whole life to write. It's the one, I think, where the purest expression of yourself comes out. You're less guarded, less ambitious, less driven by career moves or vanity. Not to mention that every time you write a book, you narrow down the possibilities for your next one - so the first, the first... It's not the best. But sometimes it's the most yours. 

And so... my love story. It's making me feel the way I did ten years ago. I was in love with my character then, and I'm still in love with him. I have to be, or I couldn't write the book. But now... I don't know. It makes me feel... off-balance. Haunted. Maybe slightly unfaithful. Like a perfect lover from the past has walked in and expects me to love him as much as ever. And I do.  

We'll see. But right now, I'm enjoying it. To be fair, I'm only four chapters in. But I can't help thinking, maybe I've cracked it. Maybe that's the trick of happy editing: leave the book for a decade.   

* I love this metaphor. Especially as the character in question is called Ash. 
** This is a joke. I didn't have a boyfriend ten years ago. And not having a boyfriend is never a bad choice.
*** Slashy?! Of course it's slashy.