Sunny with a Chance of Zombies

For the last week I’ve been hopping about with excitement, desperate to celebrate and start shouting about something, but not quite sure whether it was allowed. I hung on, biting my lip, hugging myself with glee and squeaking quietly every so often, waiting for permission – until now, when, with great joy and a nod from the editor, I can announce that I’ve had a short story accepted into an anthology! Sunny With a Chance of Zombies, published by Knightwatch and edited by my online chum Dion Winton-Polak, comes out in July (announced here), and my story Run, Rabbit made it into the final choice of twelve.

Utterly delighted by this – Dion and I have known each other for a while (he used to run the Scrolls podcast at the awesome Geek Syndicate, and I contributed from time to time), and I’m so chuffed to be a part of his latest literary venture, I can’t even tell you. Run, Rabbit is the first properly creative thing I’ve written for ages, and I very nearly didn’t send it off – but so glad I did.

And the best thing of all is that the antho is being launched on 11th July at Edge-Lit 4, Derby’s annual sci-fi, fantasy and horror literature event – which is taking place at Derby Quad, a whole 25 minutes away from my house! I’ve been invited, and I’ll be there with knobs on and a massive stupid grin on my face. In fact, the massive stupid grin is already in place, and will probably stay until July.

I’m a bestseller! (In one shop, in one city…)

My little Norfolk Dialect book came out a few weeks ago – I somehow failed to announce it here, being mired in a Sargasso Sea of work, family stuff and … well, mainly work. I’ve been subcontracting for Routledge, working for agencies in Europe and keeping up with academic and private clients – well, let’s just say I haven’t always achieved my requisite seven hours of sleep a night. I’ve really enjoyed having all the work, of course, and I’m not moaning about it, but it’s in the nature of freelancing that there will always be fat times and lean times. I’ve just come through a fat time.

And in the middle of all that, Norfolk snuck out. I did mark it with friends and family (I said “yay” a few times and sent copies to my folks), but didn’t really have the energy to do more than that. While I wasn’t looking, though, the book has started to make its own quiet way; it was spotted front and centre in a bookshop in central Norwich (with thanks to @longjohnhill for the heads up), and then I received this image from my Dad this morning:

cropped

And there I am, on (almost) the same bestseller list as such luminaries as F Scott Fitzgerald, John le Carre, Hilary Mantel and Dan Brown. (Mainly the first three, to be honest.) The image shows a cutting from the Eastern Daily Press weekend edition from a couple of weeks ago, and Jarrold is a local printer/publisher/bookseller. Local number one bestseller? I thank you.

In my career as an author, I think it can pretty much only go downhill from here, to be honest…

Writing and other animals

So my own purposely played-down resolution doesn’t look so clever now, does it? I shall write, I resolved, way back at the beginning of January. Be a writer, live the writing dream, write more, write better. And this is my first post here since that time. To be frank, it doesn’t look good.

In my defence (and how did you know that was coming?), I have been writing, just not here. On Saturday night I sent off the final manuscript of the Norfolk Dialect book, 12000 words which I have researched, written, edited and rewritten since Christmas, and which will be published somewhere around April by Bradwell (who also published the Sussex Dialect book I wrote last year).

This is massive for me – although 12k is not a long manuscript, I’m still enough of a novice at this writing/publishing lark that I agonise over most every word, beat myself up over small sections of text, and have little confidence in my own craft. I do realise that this is probably true of most writers, except the most egocentric and self-confident, but it doesn’t make for fast or easy manuscript production.

Amazingly, however, I managed to turn Norfolk out a couple of weeks early, spurred on by the idea of a work-free week on holiday with my extended family (ironically, in a cottage in rural Norfolk). The last few weeks have been tough, trying to finish the dialect manuscript and also working on editing a long academic manuscript for publication by Routledge and fitting in other shorter edits for other clients, as well as wading to and from school though snow and supporting children through exams and illnesses.

So that’s why I haven’t been writing here. Not an excuse but an explanation, and a small amount of self-justification because I knew I shouldn’t have made that wretched resolution.

Sigh. I never learn.

…and a resolution for 2013

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I know my own propensity for fleeting motivation followed by a slow slide into failure and residual guilt, and I realised long ago that New Year’s resolutions are simply setting oneself up for a fall. So I stopped writing lists of resolutions and sticking them up on my wall, only to be torn down somewhere around mid-February when I was too ashamed to look at them any more. I stopped telling my loved ones that I was going to join a gym/start running again/clean the house/keep in touch, and I gave up on the idea of ever being able to quit biting my nails*. In a nutshell, I relaxed and allowed every New Year to pass by without lying to myself.

So what I am doing here? Why am I writing this post, about to inflict a resolution on myself and the world? I think the answer lies in the fact that this year’s effort is not so much a resolution as a life choice, a career choice and a sanity check, all rolled into one. Because this year, dear reader, I’m going to WRITE MORE. There’ll be journal entries, work on books, stories, notes, letters, reviews, and entries here – some of my words will remain private, some will be for friends and family, and some will be published, here and (I hope) elsewhere.

My (probably unrealistic) ideal is to write at least something each day, even if only a few words, because if I know one thing it’s that writing takes practice, and no one ever wrote a masterpiece by simply thinking about it. So I guess this is by way of a warning. Brace yourself, 2013.

*For the record, I did quit biting my nails, but not as the result of a New Year’s resolution.

2012 in review

So here we are at the tail end of the year. For me and my family, 2012 has been a year of spectacular highs and one or two crushing lows – a weird year in some ways, but it’s been creative and funny and scary and challenging and all of that stuff. In summary:

January was the month of snow, walking to work across drift-covered fields and nervy preparation for our first ever skiing trip in February, which was terrifying and exhilarating and expensive and fabulous and a thing to be repeated when we have saved up again. Real life, school and editing seemed terribly dull on our return.

March disappeared in a blur of school and work stuff (seriously, I’ve been back over my diary, and nothing happened. NOTHING), so we’ll move swiftly on to April, which was Book Club month, the inaugural meeting of a small group of friends from work. We have kept meeting, and during the year we have read a variety of books – not always ones I would have chosen, but isn’t that the point of Book Club? We’ve also had some truly memorable conversations, and not always about the books. Reading ladies of AHS, I salute you and look forward to more in 2013.

April was also the month when I was, rather astonishingly and out of the blue,  commissioned to write a book of my own. Therefore, writing and research in May, burying myself in the ancient and splendid Sussex dialect and peppering my conversation with words like sureleye and pathery. Turns out writing a book is actually quite hard work. Who knew.

June was more writing and great joy when I turned in the manuscript on time, but also sunshine, our brief warm summer, spent at school and guiding Molly through the first real round of her GCSE exams. Not that she needed much guidance; if ever a girl deserved to do well by dint of organisation, application and sheer gutsy hard work it would be my Molly. So proud.

In July I concentrated on getting to the end of the school term without collapsing or killing anyone (dropping my hours to four days a week certainly helped with this), and had a week at home on my own when Tom took the children to the coast (they had already broken up, I was still at school – happens every year). This was at the same time dark, empty and dreadful, and blissful, liberating and QUIET. Then, of course, came the Olympics – a fortnight of marvelling and weeping and laughing and marvelling all over again.

August was Big Theatre month, when we sang and danced and played and acted until we (literally) dropped, and between us produced The Blue Dress, the best show we have ever pulled off. So proud of all the Big Theatre babes, but (naturally) of my own children most of all. We also camped in Yorkshire, spending five wet and windy nights under canvas wondering where the tent was going to spring a leak next (once – memorably – under my bed).

Back to school in September, but as always the bitter pill was sweetened considerably by my birthday on the 11th. Also, I took part in a community performance of Carmina Burana, accompanying an 80-strong choir as part of a semi-pro orchestra brought together for the day. I’ve never been prouder to call myself a violinist.

October was theatre again, recalling the Big Theatre cast and reprising The Blue Dress from the summer for a triumphant three-night run over half term. I also worked through the final edits for the Sussex book, involving lots of to-and-fro between me, the commissioning editor and the designer before we finally arrived at the print draft.

Eventually in November  Sussex Dialect was published, amid a great deal of pink-cheeked grinning on my part. Pity my poor friends and family, who have been forced to read the wretched thing over and over again and answer questions about it. (They haven’t really.) I also took part in my first podcast recording, having a total ball with Dion, Barry and Clo from the Scrolls book group at Geek Syndicate. I definitely want to do more of this.

December, as always, was a frenzy of concerts, school performances and preparations for Christmas, but also, out of nowhere, Wandering Weeds was published, containing a short story of mine which I had more or less given up for lost. Unbelievably happy about this, especially since fantasy fiction is what I really want to be writing. In the absence of any further ideas, though, I also signed a contract to write a Norfolk dialect book. Something of a pattern here.

Through this all I have edited, and written, and knitted, and edited more, and edited a LOT more, and generally wondered where all the work is coming from. If my freelance work continues to gather momentum in 2013 I’ll have to take serious stock of whether my current school commitments are sustainable, but that’s for the future. For now, I’m looking forward to going back to school and getting my teeth into writing Norfolk and editing a couple of novels which are lined up for the early part of 2013. Also, the last two months of 2012 showed an impressive average of a book published a month; I know I can’t sustain this over the next few weeks, but if 2013 can match 2012’s total in terms of publications with my name on (or in) them, I’ll be delighted.

Announcement: Wandering Weeds

So here it is – my exciting announcement, which I’ve been gleefully hugging myself over for a week or so. I had almost given up hope for my little story which I submitted to the Wandering Weeds antho way back (especially since the prospective publisher’s website appears to have been taken down – picture my joy when I discovered that). So I was completely delighted to receive word from Jaleta Clegg and Frances Pauli that the book had snuck out, in print and Kindle, published through CreateSpace and managed independently by the editors.

weedsebookcoversmallI’m so chuffed by this, I can’t even tell you. Fantasy is one of my go-to genres for reading and writing both, and I’m so delighted to have made it into this antho alongside a such a talented bunch of writers. Also, I can’t thank Jaleta and Frances enough. They’ve kept this antho alive through all sorts of backstage stuff which I can only guess at – believe me, bolshy authors have been the least of their troubles – and at the end of the day we (the authors) have come out with a rather better deal than we signed up to in the first place. Way to go, ladies – you’ve done us proud.

The book is available through the usual retailers in both paper and Kindle versions (Amazon US – here and here; Amazon UK – here and here), as well as direct from CreateSpace here. To whip up your enthusiasm even further, this post is part of a bloghop event for the book – you’re already part of it, but do take some time to poke about on the websites of some of the other contributors. Here are the links:

Finally, by way of an advert for the book, here is a short excerpt from my story, Sleeping Beauty – a retelling of the old fairy story that doesn’t have quite the happy ending you might expect.

Part of the enchantment, as I’m sure you know, was the dense hedge of razor thorns that sprang up and enshrouded the palace, sealing the recumbent inhabitants inside and disbarring all from entry. The thorns were as long as your arm, vicious and ragged, saw blade teeth with scalpel edges. The leaves were thick and leathery, darker green than the deepest forest night, and the stems and branches resisted any attempt to hack a path through them, twisting and writhing to trap the unwary or the foolhardy in a verdant tomb.

Those who tried—and many did, my dear, in the early days when folk were still testing the terms of the enchantment—were all beaten back, slashed and twined and strangulated into slinking retreat. Some never got the chance to retreat at all, becoming mired in the twisting growth, impaling themselves on the thorns and bleeding their life out into the roots of the plants. Their shrivelled corpses, sucked dry and gradually turning to dust, hung from the spines that drained them, the tatters of their clothing flapping and whispering like macabre ribbons on a deadly wishing tree.

As the decades passed the number of visitors dwindled, until eventually years might go by with no attempts on the palace at all. Where once there had been the laughter of well-bred maidens, there were no sounds but birdsong, the soft chirr of the wind slicing itself apart on the thorns, and the occasional sigh from the princess and her attendants in their tormented sleep.

However, excitement grew as the centenary of the enchantment approached, and hopeful youths came from far and wide. The beauty of the princess was legendary, as was the wealth of her father, and every boy in every village had heard the tales of the slumbering princess who could only be won after a full hundred years by her true love battling through the thorns and placing a chaste kiss on her soft pink lips.

Millers’ sons came, and farmers’ boys, and blacksmiths’ apprentices, and yeomen’s lads, and noble-born youths, and even a couple of princes. Some were handsome, my dear, and some were rich, some were both and some were neither, but all believed that the thorns would not pierce their tender flesh—or, even if they did, how bad could it possibly be?

Sussex Dialect – it’s out there!

So long since the last time I posted here – I have been a bad blogger… In my defence I have been terrifically busy, and some weeks have struggled to fit sleeping and eating in, never mind blogging – but no other excuses shall be offered. I have catching up to do.

Lots has happened since I posted in September, which I’m planning to blog about in a series of posts over the next few days. The first and probably the biggest was the release of my book on Sussex Dialect, which I wrote in April/May. It came out in November, and is now available (I’m reliably informed) at outlets in the south of England, and here online (I think probably at other places too, although the distributers seem to be taking their time – if you come across it, do let me know).

I’m really chuffed with this little piece – I’d worked before with the commissioning editor who contracted me to write the book, but previously I’d edited and proofread for him, and he took a massive leap of faith in asking me to write. He seems to like what I did, though, because I’ve just signed the contract to write a Norfolk edition (due for release somewhere around April next year).

I’ve had great feedback from a few readers, but only one review so far – although that is a 5* at Waterstones. 🙂  Again, do let me know if you find any others. In the meantime, I’m pretty proud of my little book.

More posts later this week, I hope, with news of other stuff I’ve been up to, and then another EXCITING THING is happening on Monday next week. I’ll be shouting about it here and generally making noise in other places too. Until then!

Update – Sussex, Yorkshire and the Russian Revolution

A quick post by way of a general update, since my blogging mojo has clearly deserted me – if indeed it ever visited, which seems unlikely based on the evidence. Today it appears to have popped in for a cup of tea at least, so here I am.

The summer holiday has shot by, and has been incredibly busy – it seems entirely unreal that I’ll be back at my four-day-a-week school job next week, fitting in writing and editing around that and everything else which goes with running a family of five. Since we all broke up in July we’ve camped in a puddle in North Yorkshire (not on purpose – the puddle wasn’t there when we put the tent up), acted/played/sung in a play about the Russian Revolution with the Big Theatre company, and enjoyed the splendid irony of marvelling at the pinnacle of sporting endeavour in the Olympics and Paralympics while slobbing about on the sofa eating cake.

I have also put the finishing touches to my book on Sussex dialect, which is due for publication in the next few weeks (the final proof should be going off to the printer any day), agreed in principle to write another in the same series, probably about Norfolk dialect, as well as a few others which may or may not be in the pipeline, and rushed out some text for a photo book on the Peak District which will be published in time for Christmas. All these have come my way via a colleague who prefers not to be named in thanks and acknowledgements, but who nevertheless brokers deals with publishers and then shoves them my way. I am extremely grateful for all his efforts.

I have had word that the Wandering Weeds anthology, featuring a short story of mine, will also be making an appearance pretty soon – I’m glad about this, because I had almost given up on that little story ever appearing in the wild. I know Jaleta and Frances have both worked really hard on the antho, so I’m looking forward to it coming out.

In between all this I’ve edited reports, articles, book chapters and a novel, and have just started work on a second novel for the same client. After a tremendously busy period in July, when I was working on three or four (and for a short but memorable period, five) separate editing jobs at once, the freelance work has thankfully levelled off to a steady and manageable rate. I have a few long manuscripts booked in between now and Christmas, with plenty of scope for fitting shorter contracts around them and also for working on my own writing. Good times!

Finally, and apropos of nothing in particular except to prove that it didn’t rain all the time we were in Yorkshire, here’s a picture of York Minster. I’ve been playing with my (still fairly new-to-me) camera, but most of the other shots I’ve taken seem to feature my children gurning. Delightful.

New blog – The Really Wild Editor

So I’ve started a new blog. Because clearly one isn’t enough for me – I mean, look at the volume of my output here. Obviously I just won’t shut up.

Ahem.

Anyway. My new effort, The Really Wild Editor, is a place for me to rant and complain about all the errors in written English that I come across in my random perambulations around Derbyshire and the wider world. I’ll photograph them and then name and shame – because, you know, a small part of me dies every time I see apple’s for sale at the local greengrocer, or a menu advertising a compliementary bottle of wine.

Come join me and send me examples of your own – you send ’em, I’ll post ’em.

Writing challenge, 26 May 2012

Another one from Mama Kat – I almost didn’t share this because it still, to this day, makes me hunch my shoulders and gnaw my fists with shame. (For the other responses to Mama Kat’s prompts, click here.)

Write about a time your child embarrassed you in public.

Oh, this is going to be a common one; I’m sure I can’t be the only mother this has ever happened to. You know the setting – the local supermarket, a weekday morning to avoid the after-work and weekend crowds. Me, with two small children in tow – eldest (aged 5) at school, but middle (3) and youngest (0) strapped securely into a double-seat trolley. It’s not too busy – in fact, it’s quiet enough to make the fact that I’m supermarket-shopping with a toddler and an infant bearable, if not actually enjoyable.

We’re trolling about having quite a nice time, considering – me and the Boy singing songs to each other, pointing out interesting packets of biscuits and having mature three-year-old discussions about why he can’t eat all the grapes before I’ve paid for them. I even throw in an occasional and sneaky bit of trolley-surfing in empty aisles (the Boy clapping and shouting with glee). The baby, for a wonder, is fast asleep.

We arrive at the freezer aisles, and I stop by the frozen peas (or something – I can’t remember, it’s not important because OH MY GOD what happens next wiped all the details from my mind). I’m aware that there’s another trolley owned by a fellow shopper just across the aisle, but I’m not paying attention because I’m chatting away to the Boy while trying to work out which peas (or whatever) are on offer. Suddenly the Boy speaks, loudly and clearly, cutting across my babble.

“Mummy?”

“Hmm?” I look up. He’s pointing across the aisle at the other shopper, about five feet away from us. “What?”

“”Mummy, why is that lady so FAT?”

Appalled silence. Involuntarily I glance across to lock eyes with a rather large lady dressed in a maroon tent-like garment, holding a bag of frozen vegetables. I look away in horror and wait a beat too long to reply to the Boy.

“That lady, Mummy. She’s really fat.”

And now, too late, I’m in motion, mouth flapping – “You mustn’t say things like that, darling, it’s not kind, come on, let’s see what kind of ice cream they’ve got, babble, drivel, blah” – pushing the trolley as fast as I can without actually running, rounding the corner of the aisle and glancing back to see the lady exactly where I left her, staring after me with her bag of sprouts still in her hand.

To compound the horror, it’s not that large a supermarket and we cross paths with that poor lady at least three more times before I finally manage to escape. My Boy has never been one to be fobbed off, and each time he spots her he points again and prepares to ask his question even louder (perhaps he thinks I’m going deaf, since I clearly failed to hear him the first time he asked). By the second time this happens I’m prepared and manage to divert him, but I’m shaking and sweaty by the time we arrive at the car. I throw the shopping into the boot, strap the children in and we make our escape.

And then I let myself go, howling with hysterical laughter until the tears roll down my face and the Boy starts to get worried that I’m upset, or have gone mad. Because ever since he first pointed her out and used his loudest and best speaking voice to ask his question, I have been trying not to laugh. I must not let that poor lady see how FUNNY that was, because oh my god she must be mortified, I would be so upset, she must feel dreadful – but all the time I’m screwed up inside, holding in shouts of embarrassed and horrified laughter. Because SHE WAS FAT, and there was no way of denying that, and no way of apologising without making my son a liar, and no way of making her feel better about herself. The damage was done, and nothing I could say or do would make her day any better.

But the worst thing? Absolutely the most shameful thing about this whole episode? That, my dears, is the fact that she saw my hysterical laughter in my face when we locked eyes over my son’s outstretched finger. She saw that all I wanted to do was collapse in horrified laughter, and SHE KNEW. Oh yes, she knew alright, and she let me KNOW that she knew.

I didn’t go back to that supermarket for months, and when I did I went round it like a demon – head down, arms pistoning to grab items more or less at random from the shelves, throw everything through the checkout and safely away. No children with me that time, no sir, and any sign of a larger customer sent me spinning into the next aisle, eyes wide with horror and hysterical laughter snorting down my nose.