And then I went to A&E…

So where were we? Crewe station? Oh yes.

While waiting for the train, I finally had something to eat. I hadn’t been able to face the sandwich I’d bought just after falling. I’d asked David to pick me up and he and the boys were waiting for me at Preston. I rolled up my jeans, preparing for their shrieks of horror, only to find the bump had gone down. Almost entirely.

We headed for the hospital, but I dithered. I didn’t really think it was broken. But there was the clicking. And the comment about the blood clot. And we’re going on holiday this week. Did I really want to head off on holiday and then end up in a hospital over there? No, I did not. “It’s just a bruise,” I said. “I probably shouldn’t go.” “I don’t think you need to go to hospital,” Harry said, “There’s nothing there!” “Better safe than sorry,” David said. Yeah, okay.

So they dropped me at A&E at the minor injuries and illnesses bit.

I went to triage. (On the way, I mentioned going to triage and David mocked me: “It’s not M*A*S*H*!” Shows what he knows.) The nurse said, “Oh yes, you’ve got a huge haemotoma.” Now, even I know that’s basically a bruise. (Just looked it up and it’s not quite a bruise. And can present similar symptoms to a fracture. Sort of. Shut up.) And the nurse did seem a little smirky. I told her I wouldn’t have bothered coming if I hadn’t been going away. She said someone would see me in a while. I said, “Do you think I need to be seen?” She said, “Well, you’re here now.” Fair enough.

I read my book. I nosed at other people’s injuries. I stared for slightly too long at a foxy young man and then at his foxier twin brother. And then I went to be examined. This nurse was lovely too. She said she totally understood why I’d want to be reassured it was okay before going on holiday. She didn’t think there was a break in the shin cos that would hurt like hell (I’m paraphrasing), but that there’s another bone in that part of the leg that you can break without realising. She said she was happy to send me for an x-ray for reassurance. And that when I got back she’d clean my gammy fingers and give me a tetanus.

To X-ray!

I felt a bit guilty when I was waiting for my x-ray. There were four people on trolley beds, moaning quietly. One had a dislocated shoulder. They were all, quite clearly, in much more need of an x-ray than I was. I still had one, mind. It was fine. No breaks, no cracks, no chips. (Mmmm… chips…) I tootled back to the nurse and she cleaned my fingers and stabbed me in the arm (tetanus), said the clicking could be fluid, and then David picked me up.

But I can’t stop thinking about how lucky we are that we get to go to A&E and have an x-ray just in case. That the nurses didn’t laugh at me, say, “Pull yourself together, you wuss, it’s just a bruise!” or charge thousands of pounds to treat me. If the sample of the novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is correct – and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be – in America the emergency room visit would cost $900 and an elective x-ray almost $500. I spent 60p on a Snickers.

My leg’s fine. Thanks for asking.

Writing Wednesday: Not drowning but writing

Firstly – is this not the most gorgeous typewriter you’ve ever seen?! I found it on Pinterest.

Anyway. For as long as I can remember I’ve been familiar with the concept of your life “flashing before your eyes” when you die or are having a near-death experience. It was only fairly recently that I learned that it’s caused by your brain scanning through your memories to try to find something that may help you get out of whatever dangerous situation you’re in. Gobsmacking.

But a similar thing happens to me when I start working on a new book. I usually have a germ of an idea – just a character or a setting – and then, once I start to focus and actually think about writing the book rather than it just being a vague future prospect, lots of other things pop into my head. An article I tore out of a magazine just because it seemed interesting. A song I downloaded after hearing it on an advert. A photo I spotted on Tumblr and bookmarked.

And then the more things I gather, the more I find or remember until I start to feel like bits and pieces of the book are flying towards me and I just have to fit them together. It’s the most amazing feeling.

Of course then I have to actually write the book, but for a while there it’s just awesome 😉

Writing Wednesday: Have you got the yips?

I was reading Russell Brand’s Booky Wook 2 t’other day and a passage leaped out at me. It was about “the yips”, which Brand described as “the condition that affects darts players and golfers… the inability to let go of the dart or to take the final putt.” A quick Google suggests that the yips may be physiological rather than psychological as I think Brand was suggesting (though I could be wrong), but anyway, his description put me in mind of something I think a lot of writers struggle with – letting go of a book.

I recently did an interview on Nicky Schmidt’s blog Absolute Vanilla and one of the questions was “… who or what really taught you to hone your craft?” After flailing a bit in my answer, I finally came up with Holly Lisle’s One-Pass Manuscript Revision, which I think made a big difference in dealing with my own “yips”. Holly introduces the method thus:

The first draft of your novel is finished. Now, according to the recommendations of any number of writing books, pundits, and writers who go through this themselves, you’re in for five or ten or more rounds of revision, in which you’ll polish your work until it is a gleaming, perfect pearl … and in which process you’ll dither for months or years.

I did indeed dither for years. Years. And then even when I had what I thought was an agent-ready book, I dithered some more. My dithering manifests itself in research. I researched the best way to present a manuscript, what paper it should be printed on, whether I should print it at all*, and, of course, which agents to send it to. Now all of this is important and has to be done, but it should take weeks rather than months or years. If, like me, you started researching agents when you got a new Writers & Artists Yearbook and were still researching when the next year’s edition came out… that’s too long. You may have the yips.

It’s understandable – I think it’s that typical thing of as long as the manuscript is in your head or on your desk, the dream is still alive, but by sending it out into the world you risk shattering it. But it has to be done. It really does.

As Holly Lisle puts it:

The point of a novel revision is to finish this book. I guarantee you that as long as you’re willing to keep piddling around with the same manuscript, you’ll find ways to make it different. You don’t want to make it different. You just want to make it as good as it can possibly be, and then get it out the door.

Why? Because the definition of a writing career is: Write a book. Write another book. Write another book.

I love that. And I think “get it out the door” all the way through the revision process. What about you? Do you suffer from the yips? How do you deal with it?

* I decided not to print and only queried agents by email.

{Photo: The lovely typewriter necklace my sister got me for my birthday}

Writing Wednesday: Do you ever switch off?

One of the things I love about writing as a job is that you can use everything. As Nora Ephron’s parents told her, “Everything’s copy.” But for me this also means that life and work get mixed up and I can find I’m working all the time. Let’s take a day last week (when I, um, drafted this post) as an example.

When I got back from the school run, I sat down with Joe and, while he “brummed” his cars all round the lounge (Harry never did this, it’s highly entertaining) I read an old novel, the structure of which I’m nicking using as inspiration for the book I’m writing at the moment, and made notes.

Once I finished that book (I only had two chapters left), I started reading a book a friend sent me to review. That done, Joe went up to bed and, once I’d got some paid work out of the way, I started work on the new book I’m writing for Spring Into Summer.

With half an hour left to go, I thought I’d put something on to listen to/watch in the background while I did some more writing / internet footling and remembered there was an episode of The Big Bang Theory I wanted to watch. Why did I want to watch it? Research for another book I’ll be writing soon. (A Top Sekrit book! Oh, I love having a Top Sekrit project!)

Don’t get me wrong, I love it. I wanted to turn my hobby (reading/writing) into my job and I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to, but sometimes I would just like to switch off. Do you know what I mean?

Writing Wednesday: Do you become your characters?

For a few weeks now, I’ve been reading an amazing book by Cordelia Fine called Delusions of Gender (I was pacing myself with one chapter a day. I’ve finished it now). It’s actually about “the real science behind sex differences”, but there was one bit that related to writing so I thought I’d share.

In a recent series of experiments, Adam Galinsky at Northwestern University and his colleagues showed participants a photograph of someone: a cheerleader, a professor, an elderly man, or an African American man. In each case, some of the volunteers were asked to pretend to actually be the person in the photograph and to write about a typical day in the person’s life from a more dispassionate, third-person (he/she…) point of view…

Asked to rate their own traits after the exercise, those who had imagined themselves as a cheerleader rated themselves as more attractive, gorgeous and sexy, compared with controls. Those who imagined themselves as professors felt smarter, those who walked in the shoes of the elderly felt weaker and more dependent, and those who had temporarily lived life as an African American man rated themselves as more aggressive and athletic. Self-perception absorbed the stereotypical qualities of another social group. 

This is interesting from a writer’s point of view, don’t you think? Given that we spend quite a chunk of time pretending to be someone else. I know in the past I’ve felt worried or stressed or upset and then, when I stopped to think about why, realised it wasn’t me who was worried/stressed/upset, it was whatever character I’d been writing about that day.

What do you think? Do you notice that you take on your characters’ traits when you’re writing?

Writing Wednesday: Cliché

Basically, I’m writing something about book clichés and would like to pick your brains (because mine’s is a bit squishy).

Which writing clichés set your teeth on edge? Love triangles? Bad boys? Fat girls losing weight? I’m particularly looking for YA books, but happy to hear about any, cos I’m nosy.

My top one is the main character describing themselves looking in a mirror. Drives. Me. Nuts. (Which doesn’t mean I haven’t written it myself, you know…)

Writing Wednesday: Swears

When I was about 13/14, I was obsessed with Rob Lowe. I got each of his films in turn from the video shop and watched them until they were almost worn out (when the screen started to flicker and the edges of the tape went frilly, it was time to give another film a turn).

Class (which also starred Andrew McCarthy) was one of my favourites (probably second to St Elmo’s Fire). I don’t know if you’ve seen Class and I don’t want to spoiler it, but Rob and Andrew have a fight. It goes on for a while, in different locations, and Rob’s character is mad as hell. At one point, Lowe says, “I’m going to kick your ass”*. A while later, Class was shown on TV and the line was changed to “I’m going to kick your head in” and it struck me as completely unconvincing (granted, part of the problem was that the actor who overdubbed the line had an English accent, but still).

I’m wittering on about Rob Lowe not because I’m finding myself a little bit obsessed again, thanks to this Vanity Fair cover, but because of a discussion about swearing in YA that I inadvertently started while requesting help with my line edits on Twitter. Lovely Jo has blogged about it at Once Upon a Bookcase (I love Tom Clempson’s comment) and equally lovely Raimy is pro-swearing at Readaraptor. I was just planning on letting the two of them duke it out, but then I thought I should probably write about it too…

You see, there was a fair amount of swearing in DELLA SAYS: OMG! When I write, I seem to write quite a lot of swears. It’s not something I’d given much thought to previously – I try to write how people speak and if I think someone would say “Shit” if they, say, knew someone was reading their diary, then “shit” is the word I’d use. My line edits for DELLA included a list of the swearwords, asking me to make sure each was essential. Once I’d stopped blushing, I said I felt they were – either for realism or because there was no viable alternative – and my editor was fine with it, so they stayed in. (For info, DELLA has some sexual content that makes it more suited to older readers, swearwords notwithstanding.)

It was a bit different with JESSIE ♥ NYC. There’s nothing in JESSIE that would make it unsuitable for younger readers (although obviously it is aimed at teens) and so my editor felt we had to be a bit stricter with the swearing so, once again, I went through the book changing or justifying my swears. There were a couple I just didn’t want to change (because I liked them) and some more that I felt I couldn’t change, again because a different word would be inauthentic.

I’ll give you an example. In the book, an 18-year-old American male (I’m trying to avoid spoilers!) has had a huge row with his girlfriend. He tells his friend, “I was so pissed at her, man.” Now there’s no alternative to this. There’s nothing an 18-year-old male would say in this context other than “pissed”. He wouldn’t say “cross”. He wouldn’t say “angry”. He would say “pissed”. And so, in my opinion, it has to stay. But if, say, a British character had said, “I was so pissed last night” I would have happily changed that to “drunk”. I think they’d be more likely to say “pissed”, yes, but it wouldn’t pull me out of the story if they said “drunk” so “drunk” would be fine.

What do you think? How do you feel about swearing in novels? For adults or for teens. Do you use “bad language” in your own writing?

* Up until about a minute ago when I tried to google it, I thought the line was “I’m going to f**k your ass”** and it literally just occurred to me I may have misheard and it was actually “kick”, but I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, I’m hoping the point still stands.

** Given the theme of this post, I haven’t asterisked that for propriety, but to prevent dodgy searches!