NaNoWriMoVersary

I wasn’t planning to do NaNoWriMo this year – I’ve got one book to rewrite and another to finish by the end of December – but then I realised that this year marks the tenth anniversary of the first time I took part, which was also the first time I finished a novel. Which led to me writing another novel. Which led to me getting an agent. And a book deal. And being what I am now, a professional writer. (Apparently I’m not professional enough to write that without wanting to add some sort of disclaimer, but I’ve managed to stop myself.) (Sort of.) So, in the spirit of nostalgia, I thought I’d hunt out the first thing I ever wrote about NaNoWriMo, on my (old) blog on 1 November 2004:

squirrel-winner-100.jpg.htmlPosting may be a bit erratic over the next month, now that NaNoWriMo has started. I’m only allowing myself to post on here once I’ve written the day’s NaNo. I’m aiming for 2,000 words per day – it has to be more than 1,666 which is 50,000 (words) divided by 30 (days in November).

You can read it here [not anymore you can’t] or if you click the ‘Chick Lit’ pic [Chick Lit!] or the link over there (assuming I’ve got it to work). The working title is Be My Baby. [This was an adult novel I never managed to get past 50,000 words. Last year I finally reworked it and it was published as an ebook novella by Hot Key Books – All I Want for Christmas under the name Esme Taylor.] Let me know what you think. [You could still do that if you read the novella. I’m really proud of it.]

David’s doing it too and he’s being interviewed by Mark Lawson for Front Row on Radio 4 this afternoon. I think the interview will be going out tonight between 7.15 and 7.45. [David still brags about this.]

So that we can both do it, I have to write in the day (how that’s going to work when I go back to work next week, I don’t know) and he’ll have to write at night. Which means I have to cook tea. Luckily David got the new Jamie Oliver for his birthday and it’s wonderful, so I’ve already planned out this week’s meals (and we’ll get a takeaway on Fridays as a reward!).

Anyway, I managed 1,854 words this morning while Harry was napping (although I forgot he was supposed to be having his jabs today and I missed the appointment – bad mother) [baby Harry!]. Will have to think tonight about what I’m writing tomorrow.

The rest is history. Well, not history. But four published novels (and two novellas) and two more novels coming out next year. (And I don’t cook anymore. That very Jamie book is in the charity shop pile in the corner of my office right now. Sorry, Jamie.)

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What I read in October…

I was lucky enough to get to go and see Frank Cottrell Boyce giving the David Fickling Lecture at Oxford’s Story Museum (thanks, Susie!) so I read Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time in preparation. And just like the first book, I loved it. (I’ve got the final book in the series lined up for November). I was also lucky enough to read an advance copy of Frank’s new book, The Astounding Broccoli Boy, and I loved that too.

I’ve been wanting to read Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill for so long. I loved the idea of it and Louise is great on Twitter and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s gripping and chilling and all too real.

I loved Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. A tricky subject gently handled and the character of Grayson is just lovely.

I didn’t know what to expect from Alex As Well by Alyssa Brugman, but I absolutely loved it. It’s got one of the best first chapters I’ve ever read and I pretty much inhaled the rest. There were a few bits I would have liked to have been fleshed out a bit more, but I still thought it was utterly brilliant.

I took a while to really get into Wildlife by Fiona Wood, but once I did I was addicted. I didn’t want it to end.

The only adult fiction I read was All Fall Down by one of my favourite authors, Jennifer Weiner. Another difficult subject, beautifully handled and another book that I pretty much inhaled.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham is far from an easy read – I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I finished it – but I really enjoyed it.

I also really enjoyed Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York, particularly the first essay by Rosanne Cash, which just blew me away and made me yearn for a whole other life.

What would be on your family playlist? (And what’s the best-known Beatles song?)

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To celebrate the recent launch of the iPhone 6 handset and its family sharing functionalities (you can now share purchase from iTunes with up to 6 people in your family), I was asked to compile a family playlist and, honestly, I got quite excited. I love a playlist, me, and I make them for each of my books and also for different moods and experiences (currently also compiling both Halloween and Christmas playlists).

UnknownOne of the things I love about iTunes is that I can have books and music and TV shows and films all in the one place, so it’s perfect for a family playlist. In fact, the most-played music on there is Phineas & Ferb. That’s not me. (Apart from Love Handle’s You Snuck Your Way Right Into My Heart. I love that one.)

The boys have also been asking a lot about The Beatles, so we’ve been listening to quite a few of their songs too. In fact, Harry asked me what the most famous Beatles song is. Not the best, but the best-known. Any idea? I think it’s Yellow Submarine. David said Yesterday (which hadn’t occurred to me) and Help, All You Need Is Love and Let It Be have all been suggested.

Remember when I asked for recommendations for Harry’s ‘musical education’ playlist? We still listen to that too. We actually need to add some more for Joe…

imagesFilm-wise, both boys are a bit obsessed with Charlie & the Chocolate Factory – they’ve seen the original, but prefer the remake (sigh) – and have watched it over and over. Also on the playlist is Despicable Me, which none of us ever gets tired of watching (“Curse you, tiny toilet!”). I’m about to download Out of Sight because I haven’t seen it for years and George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez are at their sexiest. No, it’s not family-friendly, but you know what they say, if mum’s happy…

mightybThe TV shows section of my iTunes is like a wander through the boys’ TV obsessions over the past few years. From Teletubbies to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Peppa Pig to Horrible Histories and the Wallace & Gromit Collection. Plus a couple of Peanuts specials forced on them by me (they made me nostalgic when I was a kid, I can hardly bear them now!). One of the most recent additions is Amy Poehler’s animated series, The Mighty B!, which is anarchic and hilarious.

UnknownThe Radio 4 sitcom Cabin Pressure is, I think, essential for a family playlist. For a while, the boys listened to an episode before bed (actually, so did I) and flying back from holiday recently, they both got very excited when ‘cabin pressure’ was mentioned as part of the safety demonstration, thinking that perhaps Martin, Douglas, Carolyn and Arthur were on board. (Almost as excited as I’d have been had Benedict Cumberbatch been on board. But I doubt he flies Ryanair much.)

What’s on your family playlist? 

Some exciting news

I’m happy and proud to announce that I’ve been awarded a Grant for the Arts by Arts Council England. The purpose of the grant is to support me in writing my next novel, All Together Now (due out next year), which is, of course, completely brilliant (the support, not the novel) (that’s only ok so far) (although I am really enjoying writing it), but I’m also thrilled to feel like my writing is worth supporting.

I first heard about Arts Council grants about ten years ago when I was first starting to really take my writing seriously. I looked at the form with its questions about ‘artistic development’ and who will ‘benefit’ from your ‘art’ and went “Pfft, god, I don’t know” and decided it was not for me, it was for Proper Artists. So applying was a pretty big step and I really didn’t think I’d be accepted. I sobbed my head off when I got the letter.

So thank you Arts Council England and thank you to lovely Zoe Marriott for all her help and encouragement.

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Go for it, dude

Because we’re hoping to move house (*crosses fingers*) I’ve started having a clear-out. And this includes books. Yes, I know. There are so many that we don’t read much anymore, but that I’ve been keeping for sentimental reasons (and not just me – David’s rescued quite a few from the charity bag!) and I needed to find a way to remember them without actually keeping them.

This one is Time To Pee by Mo Willems. Harry loved it, Joe wasn’t so fussed, but this page below absolutely killed Harry. The first time I read ‘Go for it, dude’ on the mouse’s sign, Harry laughed and laughed and laughed. He went bright red in the face, gasped for breath, tears streaming. He said, “Read it again!” And I did, over and over until we were both helpless.

(It barely raised a smile in Joe. Weird.)

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Note to self: don’t forget to have fun

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Lately I’ve been making lots of plans. I’m writing a book and editing another. We’re hoping to move house so I’ve been decluttering and cleaning and trying to whip our two tiny – and horrifically neglected – gardens into some sort of shape. I’m trying to go to the gym and eat a bit more healthily. So I made – as I always do – a to do list.

The way I work best is baby steps, a little every day. If I try to do a lot at once, I get overwhelmed and do nothing at all. Which is why I set the 1000 words a day writing target, which has been going so well… Or it had, until the last couple of weeks. I’m now 10,000 words behind and I haven’t written anything at all this week.

Last weekend we were lucky enough to spend a few days at the seaside, housesitting for a friend. I read lots and watched TV, we walked down to the beach at every opportunity (and, of course, had fish and chips) and walked to a local pub for brunch on Sunday. I went for a mooch round the local shops and sat in a coffee shop and wrote for a while. And then we came home.

And I felt completely fed up, which always makes me feel guilty because god knows I know how lucky I am. Partly I think it’s because at the weekend we had everything we’re wanting from our house move, but the moves seems quite a way off (also, we’ve been in this house for ten years and it just seems like such a big thing to do that part of me doesn’t believe it’s really going to happen).

And then yesterday I spent the day with a friend I haven’t seen for years (even though she only lives about ten minutes away!). It started as a meet-up in the park, but then thanks to the rain – and to our boys getting on so well together – it ended up lasting for most of the day. The boys played, we talked and talked and I realised what I’ve been missing.

Fun.

Yes, I’m making a bit of progress in a bunch of areas, but every day I get up and the same things are on my to do list. And yes, I’m so grateful that these things include ‘Write 1000 words’ and ‘spend 15 minutes on the garden’ rather than, say, spending an hour on the motorway and eight hours in an office, like my husband does, but doesn’t everything become monotonous if you do it every single day? (I remember looking at the Water Buses in Venice and wondering if the commuters were sitting and sighing about work or if they were looking out and thinking how bloody lucky they are to sail through Venice every morning. I bet it’s the former.)

So for the next few weeks I’m going to focus on fun. I’m going to read what I want, watch what I want, eat what I love, and get out of the house as much as possible. And if that wordcount widget doesn’t move, and if the oven doesn’t get cleaned (it won’t), and if the weeds take back the garden, that’s ok.