Into the Ether

Well, as I’m sure most readers are well aware, it’s been a bit of a bitch of a month – and that’s me found out that another setback means I won’t know whether my mortgage has been approved until after the holidays – gah!

However, it’s not all bad news, I’ve also just discovered that iPhone short story publishers Ether have managed to get my stories up in time for Christmas. If you have an iPhone/Pad/Pod, please do download the Ether App, where you’ll find me in the Authors section and be given the option to grab a few of my stories free and three others at the modest price of 59p.

There are some amazing authors on there, and I feel thrilled to be in such esteemed company – so go check it out for work from everyone from Hilary Mantel to Henry James.

Ether is possibly the perfect pocket-sized entertainment solution for any booklovers stuck waiting for nonexistent transport to hurry up and materialise, and if you’re one of the many people struggling to get home this year – here’s wishing you good luck.

A sweet and sour day for sure, but that’s always the way isn’t it!

Sketching a smile

sketch of Lynsey May by Fin CrambIt was hard to dredge up a smile by Friday night this week, but Ink sending me this picture he’d drawn for me managed to spark a few. I also got to finally give him his birthday presents – the impatience always kills me!

The last few weeks have passed in a haze of stress, and I’ve just realised how much it’s been clouding what’s really been a pretty amazing year. It’s not been without its lows that’s for sure, but back in January I definitely wouldn’t have predicted we’d end up in NYC at Cynthia’s Von Buhler’s birthday party (and meeting Neil Gaiman) after Ink interned on a graphic novel. Then there’s the whole flat thing, which will end up a dream come true if it comes off.

Ink and I have also had some luck with our various pursuits, although they’ve been pretty hard won. Tough moments included being told my writing wasn’t ‘strong enough for today’s market’; better ones included hearing

things like ‘I am more than happy to publish more of your work’.

Despite the occasional setback we’re slowly getting there, so we’ll have plenty more hard work to be busying ourselves with in 2011.

I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into it, hope you all are too.

A change is as good as a rest

It’s a nice saying, and it has some merit, but as someone who worked two jobs for a good chunk of time, I can safely say the novelty wears off pretty quickly. Everyone needs some down time and maybe a few of the good distractions I was on about earlier in the week thrown in for good measure. No relaxation time at all and you definitely start getting strange (right Dave?).

drawing of an old manBut sometimes it isn’t so easy to let yourself rest and that’s when a secondary goal comes in handy. The last few months haven’t been the best for writing, mainly as I’m too fractious about the whole flat thing, so I’ve been drawing a little instead. It’s good because I feel like I’m keeping some kind of creative hand in, but I don’t feel the same need to be good – or even constantly improving.

This is a pic I did the other week – which Ink kindly put a little colour in for me – and I could feel myself relaxing loads the whole time I was drawing it so i think it probably doesn’t count as procrastination, right? Right?

The fine line between good and bad deadline distractions

We all know what it’s like to have a pressing deadline, the kind of deadline you really don’t want to miss, and yet instead of knuckling down and getting it done, you find yourself watching a compilation show of Eastenders’ most depressing moments. Procrastination has been the subject of countless books, essays, blogs and laments, but today I want to argue in its defence: distractions aren’t always a bad thing.

When I was wee, I was one of those really annoying kids who goes home and does their homework as soon as they get in. I think it had more to do with my love of stationary and straight lines than it did any real desire to learn, but the point is I was technically doing exactly what I was supposed to – except I’m not sure it really did me any favours.

By rushing home and knuckling down, my head still full of school and my tummy rumbling for the all important post-lessons snack, I wasn’t working under the best conditions. If I’d spent a little more time kicking back with the Samurai Pizza Cats I bet I would have paid more attention to my geography book when the time came around (and then I might be able to read a freaking map today!).

I reckon the same is true today. When the ‘all work no play’ head goes on, the work may happen, but I can’t help wondering about its quality. Last week, I struggled to get a single thing done. Cut to a weekend drinking mulled wine and playing the XBox, and suddenly the boy Ink is dying to get home and draw and my head is bursting with ideas.

Why? Because we let go of the projects we were wrestling with long enough to get a little perspective. And, as we chatted and defeated pixelated monsters, we were using different parts of our brains – giving the creative, problem solving areas the change to stretch and get comfortable again. The same is true whether your preferred vice is reading, watching TV or shooting the breeze with your friends.

It’s a dangerous game of course, because if you’ve got a deadline going – especially if it isn’t a self imposed one – a week lost to a new box set or computer adventure could be disastrous. But on the other hand, can you really afford not to waste a little time on your favourite pastime? Don’t let your ideas stagnate, shake them up with a little healthy distraction.

How not to wait patiently

I am an impatient person. A very, very impatient person.

I always want answers immediately and therefore spend far too much of my life staring at email inboxes or holding mobile phones willing the messages I’m waiting for to appear.

If only you could make things happen more quickly by desire alone, I’d fly through the world at breakneck speed. Instead, the only thing that increases is my frustration levels, and never has this been more apparent than when trying to buy a flat.

I think I might explode. Everything takes so long, and the stakes are so high – waiting for rejection letters is nothing compared to this. Anyone got any good tips for, you know, being less impatient?

A madcap recap and online vs. offline literary reviews

Life has felt rather un-linear in the last few weeks as I’ve been bouncing from one unusual event to another. The craziness is mainly rooted in my attempt to buy a flat with the help of the government’s shared equity scheme (so many crossed fingers) but it’s not been the only thing gobbling up my time.

Last weekend Ink, his writing partner, his writing partner’s actual partner, and myself took a trip down to Leeds for the Thought Bubble festival. It was fun seeing what everyone was up to and we got talking to some really interesting people. As always, I left feeling quite inspired, but the inspiration all went to waste as the next day I was on the plane to Bahrain to deliver a couple of days of training.

Travelling for work is never as fun or as glamorous as you’d like it to be, but I got to fly business class for the first (and probably last) time and on the last night we were given a short guided tour of some of the highlights – including a wander round the centre and its souks and some really amazing bars.

Bahrain, suk at centre of Bahrain

The trip took up pretty much the whole week and there was some frantic email checking during it, but I made it back safe and sound and in time to pop along to an event discussing literary reviews on- and offline at the MacDonald Road Library in Leith.

The discussion was quite lively – with writer and reviewer Stuart Kelly for print reviews, Rosy Barnes advocating blogs and Eve Harvey of Litopia mediating, and I could see valid points in both sides. I’m impressed by book reviewers as a general rule anyway, as I know I’d never be able to give a negative review to anyone for fear of hurting their feelings.

In a way, I think the argument is one that won’t last long as it looks like the majority of print reviews will be online one day in the near future anyway – the real questions in my opinion will be what quality signals people are looking for when reading book reviews and how the reviewers will monetize the process, if they decide to monetize at all.

I’ll always love paper, but all the new different ways of sharing stories online makes me hopeful about the future of literature in general – at least difficulties tend to inspire people to invent responses, I suppose.

So now I’m home and rather than thinking about books and their reviews I’m going to avoid the snow by getting back to reading some, David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten in next on my list, as soon as I finish the last few pages of Cormac McCarthy’s Cities of the Plain. Note, don’t read this on a plane when you’re getting close to landing if you want to avoid snuffling and red eyes in public.

The rise and rise of celebrity kid’s books

Ok, so if I was a celebrity (haha, yeah as if) and someone offered me the opportunity to write a kid’s book, I’m sure I’d jump on it. But I’d like to think I’d spend plenty of time researching, reading and working on it – not to mention the five years studying English and writing at university I’ve already enjoyed, of course. Do I think that’s the case for most book-happy celebs? Not really.

I’m not saying all stars are lacking in the qualifications it takes to pen a worthy kids tale. In fact, I’m sure plenty of them are. But the whole thing rubs me up the wrong way – much like pointless celebrity memoirs do.

Today the Beeb asked if celebrity kids books are any good, and there were plenty of folks arguing that, in general, they aren’t really. I don’t know why this would be surprising – I honestly can’t fathom a reason for anyone thinking former glamour model Katie Price would be a genius when she hit the books, Thanks goodness for ghostwriters eh? Not that they always help.

The BBC’s table, reproduced from Nielsen Bookscan does make me laugh though – what on earth does this say about the UK?

Finding the perfect work space

You’re an ever-so-slightly temperamental creative type, what’s one of the things you need most? Ok, the list (at least in my case) is pretty extensive: attention, enough money to survive, steady supplies of sugar and caffeine… But for me, space has to be up there in the top three at least. I’m not only talking about physical space – the mental variety is pretty essential too – but the former can sometimes have a large impact on the latter.

The reason I’m thinking so much about space, or lack of it, at the moment, is the fact I’m currently flat hunting. A little bit of luck has opened up a shared equity opportunity that means I’m actually in the position to potentially buy somewhere – if the luck holds, that is. And it’s massively exciting, but also incredibly scary.

We’ve seen some lovely paces and some really grim ones (yuck, yuck, yuck to the place with underwear all over the floor). And the budget means the flats are never huge, but finding one with an extra room is a bit of a priority – mainly as Ink and I are hoping to share this place when it/if eventually becomes a reality.

Both being creative-types and definitely in need of the alone-time necessary to get any work done, we know where our priorities lie when it comes to flats – and that’s in the potential workspace. I look at rooms and try to imagine working in them and the ones that paint a pretty coffee-filled rose-tinted picture shoot up in my estimation.

I might write most of my first drafts in cafes/on buses/on my lunch break at work, but the second, third, fourth and fifth tends to be done in bed for the time and in the future (flat hunting willing) I’ll hopefully be able to graduate to a study or desk somewhere.

In my opinion, a good space doesn’t have to be a big one; it just has to feel right. What kind of space feels best to you when you’ve got work to get through? Do you like silence or noise? Isolation or action?

Are you an early bird or night owl writer?

I’m at my best when I wake up in the morning, the world seems full of possibilities and I’m all nice and rested and ready to face them. Ink, on the other hand, is not a morning person. He’s a definite night owl and, on occasion, is still up when I wake up early in the morning. But this isn’t (only) a post about how annoying it can be to date someone who functions of the opposite sleep pattern to yourself, I really do want to talk about the time of day that you function best at.

Personally, I think my peak hours are before lunch. When I first open my eyes, my mind feels blank – in a good way. This feeling of blankness and freshness means that I’m able to quickly apply myself to tasks and get down to work. When I’m at home, this can be my best writing time and there have been plenty of mornings that have seen me grabbing the laptop and getting down to it before even getting out of bed.

Once it hits the afternoon however, I start to slow down. I get distracted by everything, the feeling of undirected hope and exhilaration that started the day has dissipated and I’m left feeling fidgety and doubtful. For Ink, it’s almost the exact opposite. He wakes up too fuzzy to concentrate, but his mind sharpens throughout the day until it hits his peak time – generally in the evening.

We joke that if we ever have a big collaborative project we’ll be totally sorted for 24 hour shifts. However, it’s actually quite handy for getting time to work when the other person isn’t around – fewer chances of distraction. What are your working habits? Do write better in the morning, evening or at no particular time? Do you have the same situation as me? Or have you found a partner who is in sync?

It may be a comic, but that doesn’t mean it has to be funny

When I was a teenager, I thought reading comics the epitome of cool. This was largely influenced by the fact there were plenty of really interesting titles around at the time, and the term ‘graphic novel’ was starting to be bandied about and really kind of mean something.

I remember reading James O’Barr’s The Crow – which was my first comic of that ilk, although I’d seen plenty of The Broons, Beano and Dandy type things by then – and being totally blown away. And where did I end up next? Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. And what next? Neil Gaiman’s back catalogue. No wonder I assumed comics were where it was all going on.

Neil Gaiman, Death, Chris But I never turned into a die-hard fan. I had plenty of other books to be reading, and as much as I love gorgeous art work and innovative experiments with visual narratives, I really am a straight prose kind of girl. So for me, comics were always that cool cousin from out of town that had that little something different that you could only experiment in. So it came as a bit of a shock to me when, years later, I realised that getting people to, you know, respect as well as read comics was still an uphill struggle.

Dark Knight Returns comic coverOf course, I’d know a lot less about comics than I do if I didn’t know Ink, but I’d definitely still have a healthy regard for those who are able to tell a story and tell it well – whatever the medium. For me, I think the biggest problem with comics is that people tend to lump them all in together – which makes no sense at all.

James O'Barr Crow comic coverWhen I think of novels, there are only certain categories or sections I’d bother to consider: I’m not a huge fan of pink covered books for girls, detective fiction doesn’t do much for me and some fantasy stuff makes my eyes hurt, but obviously I don’t think that all books are the same as the ones I don’t like. Nope, I just bypass the commercial or niche books I’m not into and move onto the ones I am.

I doubt there are many people out there who think Jodi Picoult, Terry Pratchett, Audrey Niffenegger and Muriel Spark write the same stuff, so why do people write off comics so quickly?

It’s not something I really thought about much until I started going along to comic conventions. If I mentioned them in passing, I’d tend to see a strange reaction – a kind of stifled surprise from the more polite people – but if I say I’m going to see someone at the Edinburgh Book Festival (comic writers included) no one blinks an eye.

It’s really weird, and kind of sad. In all mediums, the most powerful pieces of work are the ones that defy their boundaries and it’d be a shame to think that the majority of people write comics off as fluffy entertainment and blockbuster fodder without giving some of the greats a try.