Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Writing Wednesday - Libraries...again...

Last weekend I found another benefit for libraries: cheap books!

Half-term, and they are selling off old books. Granted, some are rather battered and worn. And I avoided the hardbacks as I like to read in bed and find them too cumbersome. And a lot were of no interest at all.

But still - 6 books for a £1! Even with that cost I'm prepared to give some new authors or genres a go. A couple of music discs and I was out of there with heavier bags and only slightly lighter pockets.

All I need now is some peace and quiet to read them all in.

Roll on the end of half-term...

Friday, 18 February 2011

Love: Solving the Valentine's Day Mystery

On Monday my son checked the front door two, if not three, times before going to school. He never normally looks in the porch in the morning. The post always arrives after he goes to school. I am the one who ventures outside for the milk. There is no reason to look. Unless...

... unless you are expecting something.

But, of course, he is a boy. A 10-year-old boy. They are not interested in girls and love and stuff. Oh no! Girls are the enemy, the slime on the earth, people to be avoided at all times.

So, of course, there is no reason to be checking the porch for a card, is there? None whatsoever.

When I stopped laughing at this (quietly, behind his back, in a loving mother fashion) I had a mild concern as I knew there was a card and present coming from a girl in his class, because her mum had told me so! 

Nevertheless he had a full day at school and when he got home I asked, "Did you get any Valentine's cards then?" (I'd abandoned subtlety at this point.)

"No!" he said emphatically. But his eyes were gleaming and he was smiling from ear to ear.

"Really? None?"

"No. Nothing," and slunk off up to his bedroom.

So then I was baffled. I knew he was due to get one; he's claiming not to have one. Did she bottle out? Was our front door too difficult to approach, given the dug-up driveway? Is his funny grin a sign that he really did, or that his embarrassing Mother is being laughed at for asking?

A nosey mother only has one more route to go: talk to the girl's mother. Bluffing my way through the conversation I learnt that she did (via a friend - how else?!) give him a card and a little present, as expected.

Armed with this ammunition I ask my son last night one last time: "Are you sure you got nothing for Valentine's Day?"

Time had weakened his resolve (or I had battered it down relentlessly), for immediately he said yes, and took me up to his bedroom to show me. He was given a beautiful little bear, and a handmade card.

"But look, mum, I couldn't tell you," he says. "She wrote inside 'Don't tell anybody about this.'"

I have learnt my lesson. Not telling anybody includes - logically - his mum. He honoured the girl's wish. What more could a mother ask of a son?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Writing Wednesday: 5 reasons why I hate editing

Editing is a job that has to be done. After months and months of labour writing thousands of words into something approximating a book, the next job is to review it all in detail and iron out all the mistakes.  Of course, I never make any mistakes myself (ahem!)

Okay, okay - of course I make mistakes. There are spelling errors, tense errors, grammatical errors; there are flaws in the order or plot (a loose term, given it is a memoir, but I have discovered that in my draft I celebrated the rains arriving a couple of chapters after it was raining in the story...); there are bits that are poorly written, stodgy or don't flow well.

I have procrastinated for months, possibly years. Here are the reasons for hating editing:

  1. It is depressing looking at work again and again. It becomes mundane, tiring, even boring, reading the same story repeatedly.
  2. Each version looks worse than the one before. Why can't I just write it correctly the first time?
  3. I keep wondering about changing fundamental aspects of it, particularly the tense. Currently it is all written in the present tense - would it be better in the past? How far should I stick to the true chronology, and how far can I flex stories so that it seems to flow better? And the title: I'd like to change it, but to what?
  4. I am never good at finishing jobs. I am much better at coming up with ideas or starting projects. This is part of why our marriage works so well: I generate a plan and my husband implements it! (I'm sure he doesn't appreciate this quite as much as I do!)
  5. Crossing out large chunks or scribbling over paper printouts in red pen is not building my self-confidence.

So, given all this, why am I quietly enjoying it so much? Is it because I can see the writing improving every time? Or because I know I am getting closer to my goal? Or because actually I am quite proud of my book and am looking forward to others enjoying it too?

I am loving my new-found excitement with my book and writing. It is a part of my New Year's Resolutions that I never thought would come to pass ... but approaching half-term and I am 75% of the way through my second draft.

Third draft next half-term...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Marmalade wars

Over a couple of weekends, my husband and I have each made marmalade. Now, we are not competitive at all (ahem!) so I just wondered which was better.

First came mine: half normal (perhaps thin cut - I wasn't sure how fine I was supposed to slice the peel), half with ginger.

Thin cut

Dark, but perfectly set.
And delicious (we have gone through a jar of each already).

Yesterday came his: half normal (chunky cut), half with lemon rind as well.



Both much lighter and - oh, his rind has rather floated to the top.

Did I win?

Best of all, my daughter must have been paying some attention. For months now her favourite sandwich for school has been cheese and marmalade (if you haven't tried it, you should: it really is very good!) It is partly for her that we've made so much. So imagine my horror this morning when she announced she didn't like marmalade.

"It's got rind in it," she says.

And it didn't before?!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Writing Wednesday: Libraries

Recently there has been a lot of campaigning to 'Save our Libraries', at risk from the massive cuts that our government is introducing. There are arguments for and against, of course (the BBC gave one such balanced argument here, comparing it to the internet), but in my opinion the loss of a library is a loss of community, history and education. The internet and ebooks are here to stay, but so are paper books and ancient documents.

As a family we love our library and use it regularly. My daughter takes books that are pink or about fairies; my son can find endless books on Star Wars or Dr Who. It is a cheap source of games for the Wii and DS, games that can be tried and dismissed, tried and later bought or (due to my son's obsession and commitment) tried and completed within the borrowing period.

After months of being ignored, my book is being severely edited with the help of the library. I find that by forcing myself to go there I can sit in peace and without significant distraction and scribble all over my print-outs. Later, at home in front of the computer, I can translate my scribbles into prose. This way I get a better overall view of the story, can think as I write longhand, yet can do all the cutting, pasting and tweaking at home.

I could, of course, use the computers there as well, but I enjoy the freehand aspect of sitting at a desk to write. I also enjoy the people in the village who come in to read the newspapers (and have a quiet gossip on the side) and the children who come in for book readings. I use it to keep up with what is going on around me as I read all the notices near the entrance for the various local societies.

The library offers such a wealth of information for free. I can borrow a cookery book in order to make marmalade, or a book of local walks because we have a free weekend, or a book on cheesemaking (because I've never done it ... and now know I'm never likely to!); and I can even borrow novels to read.

Regular, long-term readers of this blog may recall that last summer I set myself a small library challenge. Whilst my children entered the local Summer Reading Challenge to read six books over the holidays, I decided I would try to do the same. My main excuse for failing is that my books were considerably longer than theirs! (If you are interested, I read The Tea House on Mulberry Street by Sharon Owens,  Something Fresh by PG Wodehouse and Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith).

What is particularly lovely about libraries is that, through the PLR system, the authors receive money every time a book is borrowed. This way, although they have no royalties from a sale of the book, they do receive something for it being read. Authors (with some notable exceptions) do not generally earn very much and these few pennies matter. We encourage and support musicians by purchasing their music (on-line or from shops); in the same way we should support authors for their hard work in producing quality prose or poetry.

So please support your favourite authors and local community and use your library. If not, you may lose it.

[Here is the author Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo and other classics!) campaigning against the cuts in library funding.]

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Slow and painful death

Thankfully not mine. The computers'.

Ours are on their way out.

My desktop (supposedly the new one, with plenty of space and memory) has hung - tragically - completely immobile, three times in the last ten days. Each time has resulted in frantic backing-up (particularly as I am finally giving myself time and space to edit my book - how maddening if I were to lose that!) At the grand old age of three I would have thought it would cope with my blogging dabblings and basic word processing, but something has started to tickle the system towards closure.

My husband's laptop is five years old and is working more and more slowly. For about 6 months to a year we have been considering getting a new one but all the money has gone into the house renovations instead. It crawls through the open programs and creaks at the seams.

Then - even older - there is my laptop which the children use. I noticed the other day that it can go from 100% battery to 5%, red and - oh! - off within about 40 minutes. Whilst this is not yet death, it is fairly terminal. Replacing the battery is the obvious answer, but is that worth it, given the age? It is already through its second battery and upgraded memory. Should the children have a better (or even the best?) computer to do their homework on? Or will they just attack it so hard and be so careless that they ought to have the one that might die any moment?

What, in this day and age, is a reasonable life for a computer? Does it make any difference if it is a laptop or desktop? Do computers have 'dog years' like, well, dogs do? If so, how long is a 'computer year'?

The thought of replacing all three should send shivers down the spine of my banker (although he's probably too busy enjoying his champagne and caviar from the bonus that my mortgage payments have funded). So in the meantime: back-up, back-up, back-up is my mantra.

And my reason for disappearing right now!
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