Tuesday, 8 February 2011


I'm going to discontinue this blog and concentrate on posting on my other blog which happens to have a better name. So thanks to all my followers, but you might like instead to follow me on www.annajonesbuttimore.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Winter Wonderland

At the beginning of this month two feet of snow fell and we were stranded. The snow very quickly thawed just enough to refreeze into ice, and it became too dangerous to drive anywhere (I know; I tried) and pretty hazardous to walk. Our usual fifteen-minute walk to school (once the school reopened after being closed for the first week) took around twice that as we shuffled carefully across the uneven ice-sheet, with much comic flailing and many spectacular falls. On the plus side, though, the children made a great snowman, two igloos, and put the snow they didn't use on these magnificent creations down each other's backs, into each other's wellies, and all over my lounge carpet. They took photographs of themselves clutching five-foot icicles, and insisted on putting said icicles in the chest freezer. (Not a problem, since the freezer was empty.)

It thawed; we and the rest of the population of our village (15,900 people) went to Sainsbury's and replaced all the things we had been forced to eat during the previous two weeks (a tin of lentil and carrot soup with a sell-by date of March 2006, spam, loose prawns from the dusty bottom of the chest freezer, icicles) and now it has snowed again.

It has now snowed again, but this time we are fully stocked and prepared to batton down the hatches and go nowhere until Spring.

This snow is different from the last batch. I tried - and failed - to build a snowman, because the snow is strangely dry and powdery; snowballs just fell apart in my hopeful hands, and I couldn't get a good large rolled ball going for my snowman's body at all. Conversely, it was really easy to shovel it all off the driveway, and when it compacted under the considerable weight of my feet it didn't squish into a treacherous ice puddle, but crunched rather pleasantly and then just, sort of, vanished. I'm starting to see why Eskimos are reputed to have so many words for snow. This snow is bizarrely dry given that we live on a humid little island and are used to the wet, slushy stuff.

An old schoolfriend of mine from Laramie, Wyoming is visiting, and despite being British herself is amazed at how pathetic we Brits are in the face of this strange white stuff which occasionally falls from the sky. She hasn't let traffic reports urging motorists not to travel unless their journey (for example, to hospital to give birth) is absolutely necessary, and has merrily taken her husband and six children round the M25 to Hampton Court and Bluewater (on the last Saturday before Christmas) as Hubby Dearest and I shook her heads and wondered at such madness.

We Brits are rubbish at snow. We see it so rarely that we forget what to do with it when it appears. I recently received an email from national "autocentre" chain Halfords urging me to get my car ready for the cold weather and suggesting several items I might want to buy for the purpose. (It overlooked the facts that the horse has bolted, and that I don't have a car.) These items included a windscreen scraper, anti-freeze, and a tartan rug to keep back-seat passengers warm. Entirely absent was anything which might actually make it possible to use your car in the snow, such as snow tyres, sacks of salt or snow chains.

So it looks as though we're in for a white Christmas, and I know for a fact that the last time a snowflake fell in Britain on Christmas day was in 1995, because it was my eldest daughter's first Christmas. Apparently Laramie has about six feet of snow for six months of the year.

But as pretty as the stuff is, and as appropriate at it might be given the season, I'm still not too fond of it, either the wet stuff that turns into terrifying ice or the powdery stuff that defies all attempts to sculpt it into more interesting forms. That's why I'm ticking off the years until I can spend my winters in Florida, and like every other Brit, forget all about the possibility of snow.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Writing vs. Editing

This year I am really looking forward to having a holiday over Christmas. The charity I work for closes between Christmas and New Year, and this gives me a whole week off work. I'm very excited to have all that extra time to enjoy with my family and various visitors (including friends from Wyoming). But I'm even more excited to have a whole week free to finish writing the epic fantasy novel I've been working on all year. I love the writing process and can't wait to get stuck in to the creative part.

Not every aspect of writing a book is quite as exciting. This past weekend I have been very busy proofreading the "galleys" (they're not called that any more, but I don't know what they are called now) of my forthcoming book. It's been hard work. The problem with writing a book is that you don't just do it once. You write the first draft, then read through it and change it, several times. Honeymoon Heist then went to a professional freelance editor who went through it with me, which meant reading it again. I then submitted it, it was accepted, and I went through the whole process again with another editor. Finally I had three days to read the whole thing looking for typos and errors. Since I'd already read the book at least six times at this point, it was really very boring indeed. I wrote the thing, so there really was nothing new to discover on the seventh read-through.

But it's done now, and I get to immerse myself in the fun part of writing again. I must remember to make this one more interesting so that I don't mind having to read it through seven times. Editing is necessary, and it really does improve a book immensely, but I'm glad that I get to spend my precious Christmas holiday time writing, not editing.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


I recently overheard a conversation about one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett, who has been very public about the fact that he has Alzheimer's Disease, including doing a documentary about the illness. The comment that particularly troubled me was, "He's had to collaborate on his latest book, so obviously it's the beginning of the end now."

Should I be worrying about that view, I wondered? You see, I am collaborating on my latest book, and as far as I know I don't have Alzheimer's. If co-authoring a book with someone else is a sign that it's the beginning of the end for your writing career, then I might as well hang up my laptop now.

This is the first time I've had help with writing a book, and I'm loving it and wonder why I didn't do it before. Writing comes fairly easily to me, but coming up with workable ideas is more difficult. So for my current book, a fantasy epic called Emon and the Empire, I'm collaborating with two friends. Ryan came up with the original concept and gave me the outline of the story, and Phil is reading through, making suggestions and filling in some details. I've also roped in a few test readers whose comments have been very helpful, and will shortly be on the lookout for more.

I've found several advantages to having Ryan and Phil help me with this book:
  • They encourage and inspire me with their enthusiasm, and keep me motivated to keep writing. They always want to know when the next chapter will be ready for them.
  • They read this kind of book, so they know the market and they are my target audience. If they are happy, then I'm doing something right.
  • It is told from the perspective of a young man, so it is helpful to have two men around to tell me when it becomes too "girly". Which is often. Fewer romance scenes, more fighting.
  • They are very good at spotting errors, inconsistencies and areas where it isn't working.
  • It's fun! Our last "book meeting" was over a takeaway Chinese meal, we laughed nonstop and they came up with so many fresh and workable ideas that it was all I could do to write them down fast enough.

I've almost finished Emon and the Empire and have just started a new book which I am going to need some help with. It's the story of a young Welsh girl who moves to a town in the middle of nowhere in Utah and has some problems settling in. I need to find someone with good knowledge of the Utah public school system who is prepared to read it to let me know whether my American schoolkids sound convincing. Any volunteers?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Just for fun, here's a list of quotes from rejection letters, and similar, and the books and authors they relate to.

"We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell."

(Rejection letter for Carrie by Stephen King)

"An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull."

(Rejection letter for Lord of the Flies by William Golding)

"He hasn't got any future."

(Said by one publisher to a colleague, of John le Carre)

"I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say…Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level."

(Said by a potential publisher of Catch 22 by Joseph Heller)

"It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA."

(From the rejection letter for Animal Farm by George Orwell)

"There certainly isn't enough genuine talent for us to take notice."

(Said by a potential publisher of Sylvia Plath.)

"I'm sorry ... but you just don't know how to use the English language."

(Letter from a publisher to Rudyard Kipling.)

Stay-at-Home Mum

I'm going to say something very controversial. I expect a lot of people will disagree furiously with me. But it's my blog, and if I can't use it to express how I feel, then what's the point in having it?

I wish we could go back to the days when the father went out and earned the money, and the mother stayed at home and cared for the children and looked after the house.

I've mentioned here before that I have three jobs. I work for LawCare (http://www.lawcare.org.uk/), I'm an Avon Rep, and I'm a writer. I'm in the lucky position of liking all my jobs very much, and I'm lucky that they all involve working from home. But I wish I didn't have to do the first two.

Years ago mothers didn't go out to work. The income was provided by the husband and father, and it was enough. But we can't ever go back to those days, because when women started working too, families became much richer and, as a result, house prices went sky-high. Now most families could not pay the mortgage on one income and so the wife has to work and the children have to be farmed out to a childminder.

I'm even going to say that I am angry at this state of affairs.

Since the nesting instinct kicked in about a month before my eldest was born, I have wanted to make a nice home for my children. I want it to be clean and healthy, I want them to have freshly laundered and ironed clothes, balanced and nourishing meals, and plenty of quality time with me. Instead, when I come home from dropping them off at school I have to walk past the dirty breakfast dishes and piles of laundry waiting to be sorted, folded and put away, into a cold, dark office where I will organise volunteer rotas and design advertisements for five precious hours, before collecting my children from school again.

I would dearly like to spend that after-school time doing homework with them, cooking great meals, playing Mousetrap or Pop-up Pirate, but that's when I have to go and deliver my Avon orders or collect brochures. And the evenings which should be time for Hubby Dearest and I to relax together are the only chance I get to make an exhausted attempt to catch up with some of the housework.

As of now, the smaller children are two days overdue for their baths because I've just been too busy the last two evenings with shopping and taking the eldest to Sixth-Form open evenings. My lounge is desperately in need of tidying, hoovering and polishing, and we're halfway through redecorating it. My dining room floor is filthy and needs mopping, and the dresser is covered in junk. I have five clean loads of washing to be sorted and put away, and about four more waiting to go into the washing machine. Two beds need changing, and I can't remember the last time I hoovered upstairs, but it doesn't matter anyway because I can't see the carpet in either of the children's bedrooms. The garden hasn't been mowed since September, and is completely overrun with a pernicious bramble, assorted varieties of triffid and very wet toys. To cap it all, my ironing pile it so big I keep having to turn away outdoor types who turn up at the door with ropes and crampons wanting to climb it.

I want to do all these chores. I want to spend time with my children and make a good and happy home for them, but I can't because I have to work.

Decades ago, women decided they wanted to "have it all" and have jobs outside the home. They learned, I think, that you can't "have it all", you can only have a little piece of everything. I don't want to have it all. I just want to be the very best mother I can be, but that option - to be a stay-at-home mum - is not open to me because of the changes in society. It's not as though we have an ostentatious lifestyle - we buy value own-brands and I don't have a car - but the cost of living today means that I have no choice but to work, despite the fact that Hubby Dearest is highly qualified and has a professional career.

Of course, this might be just me. I am sure there are lots of women out there who love their jobs and are the kind of superwomen who still live in perfect houses and have clean and fulfulled children despite their careers. There are even those who earn enough to employ nannies and cleaners and ironing services. But I'm fed up with feeling stressed, short-changed and neglectful, and I truly wish we could go back to the days when the father went out and earned the money, and the mother stayed at home and cared for the children and looked after the house.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Ghost Writing

Dawn French is everywhere at the moment because she's just published her first novel. I love Dawn French; she was superb in The Vicar of Dibley and she makes it OK to be fat, but I confess that despite acknowledging her comic genius generally, not for one moment, when I heard her talking about her novel on Radio 2, did I actually believe she'd written it.

I must have been involved with the writing industry too long; I've become sceptical. Partly it's because I have a good friend who, as well as writing her own books, is a ghost writer. She's signed a cast-iron contract not to reveal who she writes for, but she makes a fair living out of writing books which others then pass off as their own work. It's pretty common, she told me.

Since I learned this, I have come to realise that of course it is going to be common practice. Writing well is a skill, like any other, and (there's a risk here that I'm going to sound terribly pretentious and big-headed) I have seen enough amateur writing to know that most people are really, really bad at it. Lots of would-be writers can't actually string together a good sentence, so why should any celebrity who wants to write a novel just happen to have the talent to create a robust plot, believable characters, and write in an absorbing and effective style?

Take Jordan - Katie Price - for example. Famous initially for having an embonpoint surgically enhanced to cartoonish proportions, she has written several novels which seem to score between 4 and 5 stars from Amazon reviewers. I've heard her being interviewed, and Essex accent aside (I have an Essex accent. It makes me sound stupid too) the girl does not have the greatest command of the English language. I find it difficult to believe that being a celebrity automatically embues her with the understanding and ability required to write a full-length publishable book, any more than it gives her the talent to turn her hand at her other enterprises, such as designing jewellery or lingerie. (OK, I'll admit, she is probably qualified to design lingerie.)

Several celebrities have used their fame to launch a writing career, and done well out of it. Alan Titchmarsh, Madonna, Pamela Anderson, Hilary Duff and now, apparently, Tyra Banks who has been offered a three-book deal. It's possible that some, or all, of those have written the books themselves - possibly with the help of an extremely thorough and heavy-handed editor - just as it's possible Dawn French wrote the novel with her name of the cover.

But I'm going to suggest that most of them didn't, because ghost writing is a great game for everyone. It's a win-win arrangement for the writer (who gets paid well), the celebrity (who gets extra publicity, and the right to claim to have written a novel) and the publisher (who sells many more copies of the book than they would had the actual author's name been on the cover). The only people who lose out are the buying public, who are being duped, but even they get to read a great book they might not otherwise have bought.

So would I ghost write? Yes. I need the money. And I would love to see a book I had written plastered all over posters on the Underground or in big displays in Waterstones, even if it did have Robert Pattinson's name above the title.