Saturday, 27 November 2010

Diaghilev, Drag Queens and Duxford

Photo - Rina Gill, Corvus

Happy Thanksgiving to all WKDN's US readers. Hope you are enjoying your holidays. So, how can I describe my flying visit home? Do you remember that scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma gets an adrenalin shot? It feels a bit like that. Not only did I spend a fabulous day with the Corvus publishing team playing with Spitfires, I discovered possibly the perfect antidote to the doldrums. If you enjoyed 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' on film, run, don't walk to the Palace Theatre in London to see it on stage (I believe it's coming to the US soon?). It is fabulous - I haven't laughed and cried like that in ages. Admittedly, I did have my own personal disco ball back in the UK, but if you find your eyes defiantly welling up at 'I Will Survive' - well, it's for you too.
It was bliss to be home for a couple of short days, just simply to be walking the familiar streets of our old homes Cambridge and London. I loved the architecture, the crisp snow-filled skies. I loved catching deadpan snatches of British humour, (in Boots, the chemists, I heard a woman ask the assistant what she'd recommend for her husband's man-flu. 'Are you sure you want to bother, love?' she answered. 'I just had mine put down'). I loved the buzz and the energy of it, of meetings with my publishers and agent, of striding down a subway to the V&A Museum with a busker blaring out a jazz song that the crowd bobbed along in time to, and of red buses sweeping through streets strung with Christmas lights. The media was fizzing with news of the Royal Wedding - Wills and the fragrant Kate, and speculation about who will design The Dress (imagine how fabulous it would be if it was Vivienne Westwood ...)
And the V&A - omg the things you take for granted as a student in London. I must have spent hours each week sketching in there, but seeing old favourites again, let alone the gorgeous Diaghilev exhibition blew me away... Maybe living in a desert is a bit like being on permanent detox because my eyes and heart were awestruck by the beauty and colour of it all. All the things we take for granted about home - the freedom, beauty - even the ability to stop off for a bottle of wine as you walk home with your oldest friend (not to mention happy looking dogs, everywhere!), I saw it all with the eyes of a stranger. It was, as they say, just what the doctor ordered (rather like the Pho soup I sipped looking out across the skyline and berry laden branches of a holly tree in Cambridge at dusk). There is so much that is good here, and I guess in a few years, when we come home, it will all be there, still. Meantime (sing along ...) I Will Survive.

TODAY'S PROMPT: Maybe that's given you a quick word-picture of what the UK is like, through my eyes. We all see things differently - and as a writer the way you see the world will add colour to your unique voice. What's the world like where you are today? Fancy painting a quick word picture in the comments box below? Or if you are travelling, it's the quickest way to record the places you visit. When you get home and are ready to write, the quick notes you made - and the things you noticed - will be the fastest way to access your unique memories.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Chocks Away

How are you all? I've just chased a cockroach the size of a mouse across the bathroom (*shudders* they've been spraying industrial quantities of PifPaf at ground level, and I think they've all rocketed up to the top floor ...) Anyway, (deep breath), I'm cockahoop at the thought of a flying visit home, to do some filming for 'The Beauty Chorus' at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. Grown men, ex-RAF chaps here are *green* with envy at the thought of getting within sniffing distance of a Spitfire. Can't wait. It's going to be a whirlwind three day visit, but I am so excited at the thought of Cambridge, London, old haunts, old friends and a chance to catch up with my lovely agent and publisher. Then there's bookshops, grass, autumn leaves, BLTs, proper tea ... not to mention the first time I've flown alone for nearly nine years (the pilot is babysitting, bless him). So while the chaps are envious of the Spitfires, every mother I've spoken to covets the idea of 8 hours peace in a 777.

Meanwhile it's been busy here. A reading at Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation where I road tested two of the characters from the new book was interesting - an all-Qatari audience, two young (male) Qatari writers, and me. Rather intimidating. I wasn't sure how the Spanish Civil War would go down, but I hope it was a good sign when a man came up to me afterwards and told me my story had 'broken his heart' ... must mean Rosa and Freya are working.

The second reading of the week was to Year 4 at the Doha British School (I'm not sure which audience was tougher actually :) 60 or so 8 year olds don't take any prisoners, and they've been studying WW2 this term, so they knew their stuff. I showed them today's clip about the Spitfire girls, and read them the (edited), opening of 'The Beauty Chorus'. It was the first time reading from the proofs that have arrived. I think the first time you see your work as A Book is unforgettable, something we all dream about. It's a moment that makes it all worthwhile. Also, when your daughter's funky 20-something teacher points at the cover and says 'That's gorgeous, I wish I could pull off that look,' you've got to smile.

TODAY'S PROMPT: How's NaNo going? A combination of the writers' workshop with Leila Aboulela and Nano has been a good inspiration/kick up the backside. For me it's not about sprinting to 50,000 words (which will be a fraction of the completed book), but a steady 2000 +/- words a day of new work. It's the intricate, historical part of the story which mirrors the modern storyline I've already written, and I'm loving it. Freya is becoming 'round' as a character. Have you ever thought of characters like that? Round or flat. Today, why not think of characters that you've fallen in love with - or ones that have left you cold. Think about how you can make them 'round' - have you ever tried character questionnaires or essays? (There are several online, but if you'd like to see the ones I use, drop me an email and I'll mail you once I'm home).
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