Saturday, 28 February 2009

Vietnamese flower

I took this photograph in Vietnam last year.
It is here to celebrate getting to 40,000 words. Good work, team!

Thursday, 26 February 2009


The picture above is from Michelangelo's unfinished 'Captives' series. These are my favourite of all his works; in them you can see the mind of the sculptor operating and follow the process of the form emerging from the marble. Even at this stage the tension, emotion and sheer beauty are already visible.
Michelangelo is reported to have said that the shape of the sculpture was already there within the rock and the skill of the sculptor was in finding the form and coaxing it out.

I personally think he was selling himself a little short by this. However, I do think there are parallels to the process of writing a novel. According to Margaret Atwood's wonderful 'Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing', I am not the first novelist to liken the sculpting of a novel to that of a stone statue; you begin with your ideas and slowly begin to rough out the beginnings of a form. As you dig into the mass the ideas crystallise and you begin to feel the shape of the story within. There is a definate sense that there is something already there and you are merely smoothing away the layers to find it.

That is very different to the analogy of building, that you start with the raw materials and add block by block, creating the details last.
Sculpture is the process of removal. The story is already there and must be released through determination, hard work and care.

Maybe what is more fascinating, then, is the question: if the writer or sculptor merely reveals the shapes, where do they originate?

Friday, 20 February 2009

Pink Chaddi Campaign

I am hijacking my own post today.

It was a protest that spawned a movement. Fed up with moral policing by radical Hindu groups who had attacked women in pubs and targeted unmarried couples celebrating Valentine's Day, a group of women decided to fight back – with pink knickers.

The result was a remarkably successful dirty dissent. Not only did 40,000 items of rose-tinted underwear, much of it apparently unwashed, end up flooding the offices of the Sri Ram Sena (Lord Ram's Army), the non-violent act defused much of the tension surrounding the acts of vigilantism by self-appointed guardians of "Indian culture".

Spearheading the new movement is "A Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women", a group of young female journalists, lawyers and academics, who began with a Facebook group protesting at the attacks on several young women last month in a pub in Mangalore, a university town in the southern state of Karnataka. Yesterday it had nearly 50,000 members.

Please click on the link above to see the full article.

As well as sending underwear, women were encouraged to go for a drink (not necessarily an alcoholic one!) on Valentine's Day and raise a glass to women's freedom.

But it isn't 'just' women's freedom, is it? These women are standing up to extremism and the bullies that want to impose their biggotry through violence. There are terrifying examples around the world of just where violence imposed in the name of 'morals' can lead.

In case you still need a reason to support women who live maybe thousands of miles from you in a different culture where you might think different rules apply, remember that human rights are without borders.
Please also remember this poem written by Martin Niemöller about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power. The weakest groups in society are often victimised first.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Please visit their blog and Facebook page for more information.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

I Get the Nicest Rejection Letters

Many thanks for submitting your work to F- Press. Apologies for taking so long to get back to you; I thought your submission had potential and wanted to give it a proper assessment.
As a very small press we have to be extremely selective about which books we do decide to publish and unfortunately we will not be taking on yours. I felt there were some good ideas here but that the manuscript as a whole was not what we're looking for at F-. I like much of your writing style, however, and wish you every success with this.

Sigh. I only have one publisher to hear back from now. On the plus side, any letters I have had back that have personal comments have always been positive. They don't tell me to Naff Off and Never Darken Their Doors Again. I seem to have 'potential'.

Maybe they'll like this next one more. 35,000 words and counting...

Here is some cake to cheer you up.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


I just had one of those moments! When ideas collide together and create their own life!
This is why I'm a writer; do mortgage underwriters get these highs?


After my nonsensical ramble yesterday I am flexing my fingers in a positive way today. Why? Because I feel like there is a little team of cheerleaders around me.

LL, I completely take your point that deadlines do not produce good writing. They don't. If anyone needs proof they should read my Masters' dissertation in its original form, which was quite the most diabolical thing ever written.

However, as Queen of Procrastination

I do need a kick up the bottom and a sense of purpose or I will drift around forever (see boat picture from yesterday- can't use that one too many times).

But feeling answerable to a friendly community is a good feeling. Writers don't have much of a community, other than their potplants (and the Leonardo Da Vinci action figure on my desk) and it is nice to feel that I can report my successes to a bunch of nice people. Of course, you're not going to fail me if I don't meet my deadlines. You won't deduct marks or refuse to pay me. Well, you can try but I'll ignore you.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


What is needed is deadlines. Are deadlines. Is a deadline.

There's some business/corporate-speak motto that goes something like: a plan without a deadline is just a dream.

Well, I like dreams. I had one the other night in which I was chasing baddies and I had magic powers: Harry Potter meets 24. If corporate-speakers had dreams like that they would never give anything a deadline and just close their eyes and enjoy the ride. That's what us creativey types had been smiling about for years but in some ways these Blue Sky Thinkers and Low-Hanging fruiters (maybe I should start another blog giving definitions to these phrases? Oh, it's probably been done a thousand times) have got a point. Without deadlines it is possible to drift like a toy boat on the pond of life. (See above in case you have problems visualising this. I was quite pleased to find it and may refer to it several times more during this post.)

Sometimes it is easy to lose all perspective and feel like a tiny ship on a great sea (see above).

Sometimes you get caught up in your own little world and you don't realise your sense of scale is all skewed (see above).

Oh, stop it now.
But writing does have a tendancy to drift if you don't set yourself deadlines and goals. Without publishers to nag you how do you stay professional and keep writing your 1000 words a day? How do you keep from being demoralised?
I tend to find that when I am keeping up with my writing goals the wordcount becomes an achievement in itself and I am motivated to keep going. But when I start to drift and become sidetracked (with work, social life, cleaning,, all the other things you can do when you don't have someone cracking the whip) then it becomes a law of diminishing returns: the less I do, the less I do.

So the plan is to impose deadlines on myself. For a week, a month, the finished book. I need to reward myself for hitting them but not beat myself up too much if I don't. I also need to remember that deadlines and me don't live happily; I did my entire undergrad dissertation in the last two weeks and my MA dissertation in, well, less time then it takes to write a dissertation. Staying up for three nights in a row is not the answer and usually produces utter twaddle.

So we still have another 65,000 words to go. That's 13 weeks. Call it four months for a first draft. That's mid June.
OK, well you guys can hold me to that. Although finding me is another matter...

But, seriously, check out

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Writer in the Workplace: the pen is mightier than the credit crunch

So once the money runs out writers have to find a job. That is the usual way to catch money from the swirling mists of the ether and solidify it into the very real figures of your bank account. Other methods incude bank robbery, selling one's organs on the black market and hanging around docks looking for lonely sailors. As I don't own a balaclava, am quite attached to things that share my DNA and get seasick, I decided job hunting would be the best course of action.

A few months before Christmas the warning signs were there. The usual doom, gloom, death and despair eminating from the newspapers had taken on a slightly panicky note.
"Oh heck!" said the expletive-censored journalists. "This could actually affect US!"
Jobs in the papers and agencies had dwindled to almost nothing. I had applied for a few suitable ones (ideally I wanted to work part-time so I could still write) but had heard nothing. I ought to mention here that with a Masters degree and a background in a local government fast-track management scheme I really should have been able to find something in a normal economic climate. I can Project Manage, for heaven's sake. (That's what the certificate says; it is just another term for being bossy in reality.)

Things haven't been that normal though, have they?

I had helped out some friends with small businesses in the past with general officey tasks: spreadsheets, research, flyer design and the like and wondered if there was much of a market out there for small businesses who didn't have the resources to employ someone full time for these sorts of jobs but were feeling a little over-worked.

So I designed a flyer.

'Do you run a business? Feeling overwhelmed? Let me help you!'
And then listed my useful skills. (I do have some, despite the degree in medieval history)

I dropped 300 flyers into office letterboxes around town and by 8pm that night had had four phonecalls.
"Help! Come in on Monday! We're swamped!"

And so Jenzarina had work! Being freelance I can set my own hours and still write. Yeah! I love writing. It's going much slower but I reckon it would be worse if I was living in a gutter, having been kicked out of my house for non-payment of bills.

Take THAT, credit crunch!