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?