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.