A while ago, I had a moan on Facebook about how difficult I was finding it to get hold of a book I loved when I was a kid. The Reluctant Vampire by Eric Morecambe snared my imagination when I was still young enough to try and turn my bunk beds into a coffin with the help of a spider-webbed sheet scavenged from the garage and I’ve never forgotten it since.
I didn’t have my own copy, I borrowed it from the library over and over again (thanks Portobello Library for letting me!). I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this book for a long time but hoping I could find it without having to pay six times its cover price. I’ve been keeping an eye open but hadn’t thought about it for quite a while when a package came through my door last week.
My friend Jason spotted a well-loved copy of this very book and bought it for me. Then shipped it all the way from NYC without telling me what he was doing. I ripped open the envelope feeling mild curiosity that was quickly replaced by a big bubble of elation.
I jumped up, had a little dance to myself, ran through to show Fin then sat back down and reacquainted myself with this little book that has somehow become a big part of the story of growing up. It was bloody brilliant.
You people who always have three different book ideas on the go – the ones who have notebooks filled with plots that are straining at the leash and who never seem to be without something to work on – I envy you. I know you sometimes probably have more things to work on than you can cope with, but I bet you never have to suffer the between projects moment.
I mean, that moment when you realise the thing you’ve been working on for years is at a point where you’ve either finished it or you need to let it rest. The moment when you find yourself casting around for something to fill all the time you’ve been sinking into the same imaginary world for ages, when you look for the next big thing to keep yourself busy – and find there’s nothing there.
Not nothing. There are plenty of things there. It’s just you haven’t got a hold of any of them yet. You’re warily walking round the side of them, kicking the edges and wondering whether there’s enough in this idea to sustain you through a whole book. And it’s hard to know which one looks great on the outside but doesn’t have the guts you need or which crappy exterior is actually going to open up some amazing characters for you.
So you’re wandering around in a funk, trying to work out what you’re doing and remember who you were before you started the last big project. Reminding yourself that you felt pretty crappy then too, the last time this happened, and that somehow, you got over it then and you’ll definitely get over this between projects moment too.
A long gone bookcase
How many times have you read a book and fallen head over heels about it, blabbed on at all your friends about what a life changing experience it is, given it a pride of place on your shelf, then gone back to it a year later to find that, actually, you’re not that in to it? I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this, and I reckon it’s the ‘lust and love’ effect.
You know, when you’re in the mood and you want something a little special to happen, and you pick out a book that looks like just the kind of thing you’re after, and then you project all of your good feelings on to the book and turn it into something its not, just so you can have a little literary fling. And of course, lusty, hungry encounters like that, filled with your own expectations rather than the author’s, rarely last.
These books, the ones you inevitably feel disillusioned by, it’s often that there’s not anything wrong with them, you just turned them into something they’re not. Don’t disregard them, recognise that you needed what they had to give at the time, and relegate them to a special moment in your past.
You’ll probably find that they offered you a few wee lessons along the way, so that when you come to the books that fill you with a real, long lasting sense of satisfaction, you’re able to appreciate every sentence, luxuriate over all the right words. Because those ones might not always be the ones that look as attractive or sounds as exciting, but they might just be ones that you’ll come back to again and again and love forever.
The Edinburgh Book Festival is over. The tents have been packed away, the authors and booklovers have dispersed, the grass is starting its slow journey to recovery and all over town there are folks like me wishing we could do the whole thing again.
There’s nothing like being to pop along to Charlotte’s Square Gardens at all times of day and knowing you’ll be guaranteed to bump into someone who is as crazy about books as you are. The atmosphere is always amazing, the bookshop is a delight and chances to see some of the world’s biggest authors discuss their work are never sniffed at.
Me at Unbound. Pic by Chris Scott.
No wonder we tend to feel somewhat deflated when it’s done for another 12 months. This year, I was incredibly happy to see lots of my friends perform at Edinburgh City of Literature’s excellent Story Shop
programme and the popular Unbound nights at the book fest Spiegeltent. I even got the chance to read a story for Illicit Ink
’s Unbound event myself, which was a fab experience.
Plunged headfirst from the bookish wonder of the festival to the stacks of work abandoned at home, I realised this wasn’t the time to let enthusiasm dwindle, and decided to book a last minute place on an Arvon course at Monaick Mhor. I can’t wait to spend another week luxuriating among words.
It’s officially been a month since I quit my full time job in favour of a freelance existence. So far, so good. I’m still in one piece, people have been paying my invoices in a timely fashion and I haven’t become addicted to day time TV (to be fair, we don’t have a TV aerial, so this is less to do with willpower than I would like to think).
I haven’t quite managed to write loads of stories, which to be honest was kind of the whole point, but I have really enjoyed the chance to pet a really cute dog, play with my bookshelves and do a lot more reading. There’ve been quite few train journeys in the last few weeks, so I’ve been making the most of my new wee Kindle.
That said, I was feeling quite discouraged for a while, because I think I read three novels on the trot which I’d heard were good but turned out to be kind of unsatisfying. I won’t say what they were, because I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night for the thought of author’s Googling their own names and making lists of every slightly negative thing anyone has said about them ever.
Luckily, this disappointing run was broken with A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I loved and which reminded me what it feels like to be in the hands of a capable author. More books like that please. How much time can I reasonably spend reading and pass it off as research?
The Antiques Roadshow generally makes me think of that sad, Sunday feeling, but it does sometimes uncover a lovely story or two. The current favourite has to be that of Mr James, who was given some books by his schoolmaster back when he was 11 and, rather than giving them a read, he shoved them away unopened.
Skip forward a couple of decades, and his wife discovered that the inside of the books had been hollowed out and a variety of chocolate bars had been secreted inside.
Now, I disapprove of cutting up books in general (how can you deface those poor defenceless words, you monsters!) but this story did make me giggle. Just imagine the disappointment of that 11 year old, when he realised he’d passed up on the goods.
That said, I’d like to think that what you find in a decent book is even better than chocolate. It’s tends to last better, at least, but really, the ideal situation is a combination of both. Maybe with a bath and a glass of wine thrown in for good measure, mmm.
I did always want one of those fake books though, although I think the only thing I really wanted to hide at that age would be my diary, which would kind of defeat the purpose. Although I suppose it would be a grand way to hide my chocolate stash from Ink…
Recently I’ve had a bit more work-related travel than usual, and you know what that means – extra reading time! In the last few weeks I’ve read a whole bunch, including The Crimson Petal and the White – Michel Faber, Not so Perfect – Nik Perring and The Stars in the Bright Sky, which were a pretty ideal mix to be honest. All very different (and not just in length!) and great in their own ways. But it’s not all been about reading quietly on the train, I also read a flash story out loud at the FlashMob event in Manchester. As always, a bit scary, but that’s the third time I’ve done it and I still haven’t burst into hysterical laughter or starting trying to scramble over the audience to escape, so I’ve chalking it up as a success. All the folks were lovely, especially Nik Perring (the guest reader who read from the collection mentioned above) and the judges, especially Roland and Sarah-Clare and Tom, who made sure I ended my journey a bit tipsy and safe in the knowledge that girls who say ‘judge a man by his shoes and I don’t like politics’ are a little scary. All of the shortlisted stories are available to read online now, including my storyand the worthy winners. Another story of mine popped up on the web this week (always a flood or a drought eh?), and you get a squiz of Chewed Blankets in Spilling Ink Review number 5. In there you’ll also find Benjamin Judge, who happened to be one of the organizers of the FlashMob event. Almost like it was meant to happen… There’s also a nonfiction piece by the super Chelsea Cargill, who just happens to be in my writers group, hurrah. It’s so nice to feel as though you are in good company, and that there are so many awesome and friendly writers out there – my faith in the community spirit of writing has been restored.
A small selection of my messy books
I work in a digital company; we provide a variety of services for companies who have a presence online. This means that I’m probably more exposed to the tech driven world than plenty of other people I know. However, I like to think I’m still a bit of a traditionalist at heart.
True, I love my iPhone (and the Ether app in particular). Ok, I have a blog, Twitter and Facebook. Yes, I do check my emails about a million times a day. But I’ve not been swallowed up by the digital dragon – yet. I still write longhand, I still love unfolding a broadsheet, I never want to stop leaning back in the bath with a new, slowly wrinkling, book.
Only occasionally do I lie awake at night and worry that all of my thoughts are becoming shallow and superficial, that I never have enough brain space or time to delve a little deeper. Most of the time I think the balance is about right and all of that technology is only there to help me.
But if that’s the case, why does the drawing above our social media department fill me with such a feeling of cold foreboding? Maybe because the wobbly picture of an iPhone and its apps spells out the message: These Define Me.
That’s not what I want to hear. Certainly not what I want to believe about myself. If I have to be defined by anything, I want to be things like hot peppermint tea and cold coffee, five groaning bookshelves, ink stains on my fingers, a fuzzy dressing gown, the smell of our breakfast cooking, the cracks of light at the edge of the blind that tell you to hurry up and lift it. What about you? How would you prefer to define yourself?
Dancing for joy at the new flat
What a crazy week! I’ve finally made it into my new house but I can still barely believe it’s actually happened. We’ve been wandering around the rooms, making plans and thinking about all the potential each holds. One of the best things about it has to be the nice little study we’ll be sharing. How well the sharing part of it will work out remains to be seen, but the fact Ink and I will have some proper space to spread out and work in is awesome.
Very little writing has been done recently, but I’ve been trying to edit as I go. Couple of rejections rolled in over the moving in period, but I’ve been so happy about the flat and the future opportunities for long nights reading, writing and relaxing they haven’t made much of a dent. Onwards and upwards and all that jazz. Also, I was probably buoyed by the fact my Two Dancing Doves story made it into the top five of the Ether bestseller list for a while over the rockiest patch.
Now I can’t wait to start unpacking the books, we just need to build the bookcases first!
It’s been another busy week in the land of Lynsey, what with trips to London and nasty work deadlines, so I haven’t done any of the things I should have. Nothing has been packed yet, not one story has been revised since last weekend and I’ve barely written anything new all week. So what did I do last night when I got back into town? Doodled instead, typical! I have to say though, after re-discovering charcoal a wee while ago I’ve remembered how much I like drawing.
As you can see, this is not the most finished of pictures and I had to take a photo rather than a scan, but still, I’d say this portrait is a good example of my grumpiness levels when I’ve not had enough time for reading, writing or seeing my most lovely friends. I’m not really sulking though, I’m still too happy about the way various things are working out at the moment. Also, I have a massive stack of new books and comics to read this weekend – yay!