Friday, February 26, 2010

What Would You Do?

Today a press release pinged into my Inbox and instead of reading through it quickly then deleting it as I usually do, I immediately headed over to the link it provided. Here's a quick synopsis:

Co-Create London is a new social initiative giving everyone who has ever been to London the chance to change the city.

The project is designed to capture the everyday problems and ideas of the general public by asking the simple question ‘What Would You Do To Make London a Better Place?’

The best ideas from the co-creation workshop phase of the project will then be taken to Town Hall and presented to London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Now, I realise this is very likely a direct initiative from our beloved mayor himself (Update: a recent comment below by Fran shows I may have been overly cynical - or paranoid...). But hey, why not have a think about how you could improve your city? I suggested a book-swap-style kiosk in every Tube station so you could pick up new books to read and recycle those you've already read.

What would you do to make your stomping ground a better place?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Spy

When I took the Tube every day to work, reading material was essential. Every Monday I'd leave the office at lunch and venture up to the Finchley Tesco's to see what my fiver could get me. In most cases, it was a paperback on the bestseller's list, which I'd then devour over the course of my journeys that week. I'd covertly check out what my fellow passengers were reading, too.

Now that I don't take the Tube, I can't tap into into the collective mind of the London underworld. Or, at least, I couldn't -- until now.

CoverSpyLondon has launched a nifty website where you can see what the Tubites are reading without actually having to undergo the pain of travelling by Tube yourself!

Bloody brilliant.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

All About Me (and the Green-Eyed Monster)

I admit it. I get jealous when I hear other writers have struck publishing deals, that their debut novels are gracing the bestseller lists, that they managed to get the killer agent I've been coveting. Yes, I get very, very jealous.

I'm happy for them, of course. It's confirmation that with a good novel, anything is possible. But inside my head, a little voice is bleating: why can't that be meeeeee?

Rationally, I know there are zillions of reasons why it isn't me. I haven't written the right novel yet; my story-crafting needs work. I do think that one day I will get my fiction published -- hopefully sooner rather than later. But that doesn't stop the monster gnawing away inside of me.

It's times like this that I think back to my days as a competitive sprinter. I used to run the 100m and 200m, and I could -- and would -- obsess for hours about 'being the best'. Once I was the best, I'd worry about who was up-and-coming, who might knock me off my number one position. And that was when my coach would remind me that worrying about other people is a waste of time. We can't control the actions of others. But we can control ourselves.

All I can do is write the best that I can, and let the chips fall where they may!

Monday, February 22, 2010

How to Write Well Badly

Thanks to all those who offered their best wishes on my citizenship application! Fingers crossed. I'll hold a 'I'm British!' blog party when (if!) the application gets approved.

If you're a writer, chances are you've fallen into one of the many traps satirised on Joel Stickley's comical website How to Write Well Badly. It's part of my daily read and often makes me aware of things I'm on the verge of doing (although hopefully not to the extent he goes to!).

Today he posted a doozy: 'Write with a Half-Eye on the Market'. Here's an excerpt:

The Darknight Academy for witches, wizards, troubled vampires and tragically abused children was just waking up when the screaming started. Secret Agent Sam Glowingly sprang athletically from his bed and immediately reached for his pistol. He had been undercover for three weeks now and this was the first sign of trouble, unless you counted the theft of the Holy Grail the previous week, which he didn’t.

‘McSleet. Wake up,’ he hissed. His grizzled, cynical, alcoholic yet oddly sympathetic Scottish colleague mumbled an unintelligible curse at him and went back to sleep. Fine, thought Glowingly. He would just have to tackle this one alone, with only his gun and his mysterious otherworldly powers to help him.

Click here for the rest.

Thank you, Joel, for a daily laugh!

Friday, February 19, 2010


I finally submitted my application to become a British citizen today. I want in!

It's strange to think that all things being well, I'll be British in a few months. Because I don't necessarily feel British, whatever that is. But then again, I don't feel completely Canadian either. I haven't lived at 'home' for six years now -- and over the past eight years, I've only spent eight months there. I'm out of the loop as far as politics goes and although I read the papers online to try to keep up with events across the pond, it's not the same as being there.

This was brought home to me earlier in the week when the Olympics started in Vancouver, British Columbia. If it hadn't been for my Canadian friends on Facebook talking about its imminent start, I would have had no idea the Olympics were even taking place. But for the average winter-loving Canadian, it was full-on fervour. I tried to watch a few snippets here and there on the TV -- to share in the spirit -- but the BBC offered up limited glimpses of my country and its competitors.

So what am I? Canabrit? Whatever I am, I'm happy to be where I am today.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Word Spout

I am nothing if not prolific. I may not be Shakespeare or Hemingway but damn can I write fast! My sincere thanks to Ellen B for giving me the 'Prolific Blogger' award, further confirmation of my ability to spout drivel daily! Seriously, though, thanks Ellen!

While I realise I'm supposed to pass this on to seven other bloggers, I must confess I do not like to tag others, so I'm just going to urge everyone to visit Ellen's lovely blog from Dublin.

And now, since I'm fighting a cold so lovingly shared with me by The Man, I'm going to be spare with my words and sign off to blow my nose yet again!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lost and Found

I love the random objects that appear from nowhere on London streets. The beat-up chairs, the odd Christmas tree right up until March... and this chandelier, which I came across on Saturday just as I was exiting Carmel Court.

I love this little-known passageway in my neighbourhood and I always take every opportunity to use it. You head between two high houses rising up on either side of the narrow walkway and enter a tunnel for about 20 metres or so, before coming out right in front of the Carmelite church. While at night you could easily conjure up Jack the Ripper creeping behind you in the dark, during the day I love ducking into the secret nook.

As I walked away from chandelier (if one can call it a chandelier), I wondered what its story was and who had placed it there. Had it come from the church, staggered across the street after giving its confession and lay there to die? Was it cast off in favour of a swanky new glittery light?

Or had it made a break for freedom, tired of lighting interiors and desperate for the natural light of day?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

From the most romantic day of my 2009...

Just after our wedding in August as our boat pulls into port after a cruise down the Thames.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

(Photo by GoldLens photography; awesome photographers!)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Past Perfect

I consider myself very lucky to have grown up just outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. With miles and miles of woods around us and a back garden almost as big as my London block, there was plenty of space to run, build forts and divert streams (endless house of entertainment!). While it got just a wee bit boring as a teen, I couldn't think of a better place to spend my childhood.

It's easy to put the blinkers on when you look back, but as I browsed through the photos my Mum brought over before my wedding a few months ago, one thing jumped out at me: the dodgy seventies fashion!

Climbing a tree? Get those polyester pants on!
My brother and I hang out in the branches at our grandmother's house on Prince Edward Island.

Hanging out on harbour.
My brother sports a lovely plaid coat while Mum is the height of fashion with a Mary Quant hairct and jaunty scarf.

Ah yes, what a cool family.
This photo makes me laugh every time. Sadly my Dad's head is cut off but I do love his collar! I have bad memories of my bike, since it was taken away from me for a month when I was 5 after my brother and I drove through tar as the road was being paved. I'm sticking to my story: I was only following my brother!

Get me out of this!
I can't escape the plaid, either.

Yum... cake.
Wearing a poodle sweater knitted for me by my grandmother. This was taken at the church picnic; I'd baked some cupcakes for the competition but dropped them in the gravel before entering them. Nevertheless, Mum and I picked the gravelly bits off and no-one was any wiser!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Directionally Challenged

Continuing on with the problem theme...

First of all, thanks to everyone for chiming with their own problem words on the last post! It is very comforting to know I am not alone in this affliction. And a great memory tip to remember 'necessary' from Lahossner: think of a shirt - one collar (for the c) and two sleeves (for the s's)!

Not only do I have problems with words, but ever since I moved to London I seem to have problems with directions. Not directions as in 'How do I get there?', though: directions as in left or right.

Everyone knows the Brits drive on the left-hand side of the road. Although initially I was terrified of driving here (so terrified I told The Man that I was not going to drive my newly bought car home on the M25!), I adjusted without too much difficulty. When you're stuck in the daily traffic jams on the M4, there's plenty of time to contemplate which side of the road to drive on.

No, the asphalt wasn't the issue. The real issue was the sidewalk.

You know when you meet someone on a narrow stretch and you need to decide which direction to take to navigate by them? And they respond by moving in the opposite direction, so you pass without crashing? Here in the UK, I was continually confounded by which direction I should veer in. I'd inadvertently do a fake-out, adjusting my steps in one direction and then switching at the last second, pretty much ensuring a collision.

So I decided to leave it in the hands of the capable oncomer, to see what I could learn. But there didn't seem to be a pattern. Some would go left, some right; some wouldn't move at all, resulting in a shoulder crash (because I always refuse to yield to such sidewalk bullies. If they want a crash, they'll get a crash).

The issue was even more confused by the fact that on the Tube escalators, you stand on the right to let people pass by on the left -- completely disregarding the rules of the road.

Six years on, and I'm still none the wiser. So I now put the cry out: someone, help me make peace with the people of the pavement!

(And yes, this is what my life has come to!)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Problem Words

I think I'm a pretty good speller. Spelling tests were always something I actually enjoyed (yes, I was that kind of student. In English, anyway). Working as both an editor and an English teacher, accurate spelling and grammar is something I take pride in -- although I admit the results may not always be evident in blog posts as I don't edit them nearly as carefully as I should.

Why, then, are there words that always cause me problems? No matter how many times I look them up, I can never seem to remember how to spell them. Is it a mind block? Some wonky neuron firing in my brain? What is it about certain combinations of letters that eludes me?

And the troublesome words are, in no particular order (excuse me while I go look them up):
  • Consistent: I always want to spelling this -ant for some reason
  • Plumber: because that 'b' just doesn't look right!
  • Independence: Along the way, I remember someone telling me that the ending is 'dance' and it stuck in my mind. Now I am scarred for life.

There are more but they're playing hard to get right now. I'll add to the list as I remember.

Does this happen to anyone else?

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Plot Thickens

Over the past few days, I've been busily sketching out an outline for a new novel idea. (Yes, I'm still revising Novel Number 4, but as my head was about to explode from trying to corral it into order, I needed a break.) What I'm discovering is that I really, really like to make things complicated - even when I don't need to!

I've tried a lot of things with plotting and structuring, but I confess it's not something I ever got the hang of (of which I got the hang? hmm). From just writing to plotting all the focal points, turning points ad nauseum, I still hadn't found my way. I'm not sure that I have quite yet, but I'm trying a new pared-down approach which should make things easier for people like me who like to make things more complex than they should be. It goes something like this (courtesy of Mary Naylus, YA author):

Once you have your concept and your one-line pitch, get a piece of paper. Mark out Turning Point 1, Turning Point 2, Climax and Resolution for your main character. Do the same for your subplots. Then fill in the events and join up the subplots. In this way, you can make sure everything stays on track.

Sounds simple, right?

I'd love to hear how other people plot and structure their novels! Please, do tell...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sorry, Madam, No Nightwear Permitted!

I couldn't help laughing when I read this article recently, which stated that a Tesco's grocery store in Cardiff had banned all shoppers from wearing slippers and pyjamas whilst shopping.

According to the BBC, one of the pyjama-clad shoppers responded:

She said she had been "popping in for a pack of fags," but if she had been doing a full shop "then we obviously would have gone in clothed".

"But we only wanted fags and they still refused us to go in for a pack of cigarettes," she added.

The article made me remember my step-daughter's assertion that shopping in central Liverpool with curlers in your hair (in preparation for a big night out, naturally) was becoming a fashion, along with fuzzy slippers and pyjama bottoms. I have to admit I was slightly doubtful at the time... but not anymore!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My Favourite Bits

I meant to post this yesterday, but... I forgot! I recently did an interview with Ola Fagbohun of the Diverse Traveller website. Click here to read what I had to say about life, travel and my favourite London bits.

(And watch out for the giant photo...)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Getting Published - Seminar by Juliet Pickering of A P Watt

Sometimes I feel really lucky to live in London. Like when I cross Waterloo Bridge, with the dome of St Paul's Cathedral and the Gherkin in one direction and the pods of the London Eye rising in the other. Or when I run in Kensington Gardens, passing by Kensington Palace on my daily route. And, of course, when I hear there's a seminar being run by an agent from the oldest agency in the world -- and it's being held in my local library, a mere five-minute walk down the road. Even better, when I get there, they're serving wine. For free!

Well. Could it really get any better? Only if Juliet Pickering, the A P Watt agent running the seminar, reached down, plucked me up, and offered me a multi-million pound publishing contract. With the chances of that unlikely, I'd settle for listening to her views on publishing (whilst gulping - ahem, sipping - the wine, of course).

Some interesting points:

* It's better to approach in hard copy than email (for her, anyway), as email is easily dismissed.
* As more editors are taking on more and more work (due to cuts etc), agents are increasingly acting as editors
* Agents in the UK typically take 15% commission
* Advances are usually split in three instalments: first instalment after the contract signed; second instalment upon delivery of MS; third instalment upon publication
* Ultimately, promotion is the publisher's responsibility, not the agent's
* Book launches happening less frequently now due to economic conditions
* Royalties generally paid twice a year
* If your book sold averagely, you can expect to see a return on sales within 12 to 18 months (must earn out your advance first)
* Most books are not published in hardback anymore: published first in trade paperback then paperback
* Publishing is changing rapidly due to eBooks - uncertainty as to how publishers are dealing with electronic rights

Apart from a man claiming Isaac Newton decoded the Bible (or something along those lines), the session was informative and interesting. While most of the material wasn't news to me, it was good to get it straight from the source.

And did I mention there was free wine?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

24 Hours Paris Trailer

I know I said I'd have a proper post today. But, well, I lied (but not on purpose, so that doesn't count... right?). Anyway, I've been busy cobbling together a book trailer for 24 Hours Paris, to be released in May. There was no way we could fit in all the lovely Paris locations in our short trip, but I hope you enjoy what we could get on film!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Back to Grey

I'm back to the grey of London Town after a great trip to Paris and boy, am I exhausted (eating is hard work, don't you know)! So I'll leave you with this wonderful photo taken by The Man. I'll be back with a regular post tomorrow!