Saturday, 29 August 2009

How I Write

How are you all? Sorry the WKDN posts are few and far between - the juggling act of family/work/writing is more challenging than usual, and every spare moment is being spent on the third draft. Everyone is back to school in a week so the normal post & prompt format will return.

We've mentioned the great Guardian column Writer's Rooms before. Knowing how and where other writers do their work is so interesting - it's like going through the round window on Playschool. A couple of years ago a friend gave me a great book 'How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors' - it's full of images, anecdotes and the quirks of sixty or so top writers (Will Self has a thing for Post-It Notes, who knew). So how do you write, where, what are your talismans? If you feel like it why not put a link in the comments up to your blogs and show us how you do it?

The hound and I have been burning the midnight oil (she gets to sleep on my feet though) - 'how I write' at the moment is on the kitchen table after everyone is asleep for as long as I can - you can see the script I'm buffing into shape above. I'm just at that point with the new book when disappearing to a spa, or a hotel, or a shed (anywhere with uninterrupted peace basically), would be a really good thing - but it's not happening so the kitchen table it is.

I love this book. I love what the characters have become, the shape the story has taken, and I really want to do it justice. A deceptively clean first draft has now had all the historical info added in - sheets and sheets of red pen edits ... it feels like the house of cards we've talked about before, but this time it feels like there's something new. Maybe it's all the research - it feels real, and I'm excited just thinking about it. I was thinking about 'Officer & a Gentleman' at an RAF museum on the south coast the other day - you know these gorgeous looking chaps striding around in their blues, cravats, and Mae Wests are actors but there is something about a man in uniform ... Funny really that this story of romance, danger and courage is being spun at a kitchen table - but maybe that's where a lot of good things start. What are the other great endings you can think of in film/fiction? It's what I'm hoping for - an epic sense of happily ever after. WKDN has always been a recession/doom and gloom free zone - maybe everyone needs a glimmer of hope and a happy ending now more than ever. What do you think?

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Back to the Future

20/8/2071 Somewhere in France ...

For the past sixty years author Kate Lord Brown has published at least one best selling novel a year. On her hundredth birthday we catch up with her to discover more about her prolific career. Kate has lived in France for over half a century at one of two writer's retreats she established in the 20's. The other retreat is at a secret tropical island location, and is run by a co-operative of writers Kate met during the early days of blogging. At the isolated chateau this productive but private author lives with family (she has numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren), friends, and a famous pack of wild Afghan hounds that roam majestically across the parkland keeping wild beasts and snoopers at bay ...

Q: 100 years old! How do you do it?

K: I've always looked to successful authors and artists for inspiration. The polymath Beatrice Wood put her longevity and productivity down to young men and chocolate cake ...

Q: Is that your secret?

K: (laughing) well look around ...

(I note a large Chocolate Nemesis laid out on the terrace for tea, and several strapping young men tending the parkland).

Q: How would you describe your process? You've published over sixty bestselling novels, countless articles and screenplays ...

A: It's simple really - writing is a job like any other. You turn up at your desk and do your best. You put in a full day - every day.

Q: But how do you write so much?

A: In the early days I could type at thought speed. Then of course when they introduced thought recognition software that speeded everything up. Now I can just walk, think out the first draft of a new story and my assistant takes care of producing the hard copy.

Q: Of course you're known for the rather eccentric practice of still publishing paper books alongside the ebook editions.

A: I wouldn't call it eccentric. I'm a romantic, and so are a lot of my readers. I still like curling up in bed or beside the fire with a real book. Even after all this time, ebooks haven't been able to replicate that sensual pleasure.

Q: Tell me more about the two writers' retreats.

A: When I was starting out writing, I would have given anything for basic things - help with the children, a break from work, just the time to write without interruption. That's what I wanted to give back - the retreats are charities, writers can apply to come and stay for two days or two weeks. There's always a big waiting list ... We have creches, spas ... this is more of a family retreat, the island is a bit racier but then it is run by some of the very successful comedy writers I met through WKDN in the noughties.

Q: And several new authors have launched their own careers as a result of their stays here?

A: Yes they have. I'm very proud of them all. Everyone seems to like staying here - publishers, agents, artists. It's a creative and relaxed place to do business.

Q: What are your hopes for the future?

A: I don't think about that. I feel lucky to still be here doing a job that I love. After a particularly rough patch in my life and career at the end of the noughties, I realised you have to live every day to the full because you don't know what is around the corner.

Q: Carpe diem?

A: Exactly.

TODAY'S PROMPT: Why not go back to the future yourself? Imagine what you would say to yourself ten, twenty, fifty years down the line? If you've never tried Proust's questionnaire for an artist try it out and save a copy of your answers - it's amazing how your responses will change over the years. x

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Hound Bites Back

Dear Cesar,

While my human (I don't like to say mistress - nobody owns me), is taking a short break from WKDN, I thought I'd take the chance to write to you. I need your help Cesar - have you seen this? How dare they say Afghan Hounds are the most stupid dogs on the planet? Can a poodle write a blog post? Sadly I have been banned from watching the Dog Whisperer since I knocked over a flat screen TV barking at your handsome companion Daddy (I am after all a sighthound), but I love your work.

My human has tried everything - clickers, saying 'tsk' in an authorative way, even using her calm, assertive energy as you suggest, but I am of course untrainable (I imagine this is why people say we Hounds are stupid). In fact I need a strong man, Cesar, someone I respect - someone who whispers like you.

It's all very well being a writer's dog, but I long to roam free in the mountains with you. I am too beautiful to be ignored (see enclosed photograph), but that is exactly what my human does when she spends all day 'writing' and I lie loyally at her feet just waiting to be noticed. Who cares about her new novel when I need at least two walks a day? I thought all writers' dogs live a life of luxury - where's the steak? and the fluffy VetBed? I'm sick of dry biscuits and all this 'when I get published ...' business. I want comfort, a house on the coast and long runs on the beach now. I deserve to be a Muse, Cesar, to have books written about me - look at dear old What-A-Mess:

My human doesn't understand me. The things I do for her that go unnoticed, or worse that I get punished for. Does she not realise that I am just keeping the armchair warm for her when she is working? That I am only trying to help with the housework when I sneak a lick of the plates in the dishwasher or eat the laundry? She tells me off for shredding loo rolls, when I am simply rehearsing - how much prettier an Afghan would look in the Andrex ads than a dreary old labrador. When she caught me standing on my hind legs drinking from her freshly poured tumbler of iced water yesterday she went ballistic - I was only checking the temperature, Cesar. As for the first edition Harry Potter I stole and ripped up with abandon on a dark and dewy lawn the other night, it was only my way of telling her she should be reading 'Cesar's Way' instead (no need to thank me).

It makes me laugh when you look at the list of so-called 'intelligent' dogs. Were there rock carvings of Border Collies on cave walls 2200BC? I don't think so. We are ancient, proud, hunting and guard dogs, bred to outrun deer and wild cats in the mountains of Afghanistan. And humans expect us to act normally? It makes me laugh when people approach us in town and say 'Is that an Afghan? I had one in the 70s', with a vague, slightly terrified look on their face. We are beautiful, challenging, free spirits - tough luck if humans bought us because we went well with their shag-pile rugs and afghan coats. How do you define intelligence anyway? Tell me this - when a collie herds sheep, or a labrador plunges through gorse to pick up a dead pheasant only to give it to his human, is that intelligent? A sensible dog would eat the thing. Yes, there was that little misunderstanding recently when the pilot had to plunge into a freezing river fully clothed to rescue a lamb I'd chased ... but most of the time I keep myself in check.

Humans are so silly with their ambitions, always thinking of the future. Are we Hounds really so stupid if we enjoy every single day, the simple things like a pronk in the watermeadows or a juicy marrowbone? Yes, there are things I want to achieve in my life - I would like to be on Crufts like my mother and I long to be fondled by Ben Fogle (which Hound doesn't), but beyond that I am happy with my lot. I live each day to the full - is that stupid? I don't think so. Still, if we have managed to persuade humans we are the most stupid dog on the planet, our ruse has worked - and at least we are number one.

Yours - Lola xxx

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