Thursday, 31 December 2009

So, how about this e-publishing, then?

Paper books. They're nice to hold in your hands. You can take them on the bus, you can read them in the bath, you can easily lend them out to your friends (and never get them back, in my experience) ... and, if news reports are to be believed, they're fucking dead.

In 2001, Apple computers launched the iPod. Until that time, mp3s and music downloading had been the preserve of music nuts, people given to sharing music illegally on sites like soulseek and kazaa. Most people who shared mp3s were music nerds, and used file-sharing to listen to new music and try out new bands & artists without risk. After Apple launched the iPod (and subsequently, the Apple store) everybody was at it. By 2009, even people who don't really like music all that much (e.g. the kinds of people who habitually buy CDs in supermarkets along with the weekly shop... Robbie Williams fans and the like) wanted one. Everybody and their wife / husband / civil partner had an iPod.

Along the way, the swapping and sharing of music had become the property and preserve of the people who made it. MySpace allowed bands to easily manage their own hosted website, distributing their music directly to their fans without the need for tape-swapping or a middle man. Bands no longer needed a record company or a publicist to share their music with others. This way of doing things opened many bands' eyes to a more DIY way of doing things: they owned their music, they didn't need to sign over their rights to somebody else, and more crucially, they didn't have to spend a lot of time trying to get industry attention.

Will we now imminently see the same sort of sea change in publishing? Several e-readers are now available, and bookworms can now purchase e-books on Amazon for as cheap as $1.99. This kind of publishing allows writers to upload and directly distribute their work directly to readers, and to interact with them on the Kindle forums. Rather than losing out on royalties, authors using this method of publishing get to reap the entire profits that their work generates. [There's an interesting post on how this approach worked for one author - whose novel was already available in traditional format - on The Millions.]

I don't know how e-books would work for a reader like me. In an embarrassingly old fashioned manner, I like the feeling of a book in my hands. Equally, in my doddering old age, I'm prone to leaving expensive items in public places. That's two iPod shuffles and a mobile phone I've lost already this year, by the simple expedient of catching a train. Well done, me. So would I ever use one? It's difficult to say until I've held one in my hands. I might really like it, although I'd probably leave it on a bus or something. But it's not use relying on me for predictions. You're reading the musings of a woman who thought CDs would never take off. [Note to self: never take job working in the Futures department of any large corporation].

In theory, for authors, the e-book looks attractive. You can choose how the book's marketed, and what goes on the 'cover'. You get the final say in editing decisions, and you don't have to attract the attentions of a publishing house or agent. But equally, there are so many downsides. The writer becomes solely responsible for the marketing and selling of his or her own book, if he or she publishes this way, and although there's no significant financial outlay, is still essentially self-publishing. Although most writers are more than happy to spend a lot of time and effort publicising their work, how many want to be solely responsible for it? A lot of writers might be left doing the e-publishing equivalent of spending all day on MySpace browsing people's profiles and clicking "add". "Add." "add".

And how might this alternative access to publishing affect the quality of work that's available? If this method captures authors' imaginations, we might see a lot of un-rewritten work out there, with 'authors' who don't bother with the sort of extensive writing and rewriting that fiction needs to be readable. This might leave a lot of e-book adopters with a lot of dross to sift through, and a general loss of faith in the medium as a whole. A lot of the work available won't be going through the extensive professional attention of editing and critiquing process of conventionally published books. There again, it also means that genuinely interesting, good quality books that publishers are currently unwilling to risk publishing, will get into the public domain. We might see a wildly oscillating range of quality of books, but also an explosion in style and genre. It could be an exciting time.

E-publishing is already starting to have an impact on the publishing industry, and it'll be interesting to see how this pans out. Will readers ever totally abandon the paper and ink book? And if they do, how is the landscape going to change for publishers and writers?

Monday, 21 December 2009

Fa-la-la-la-laaa, la-la la la!

So Christmas is coming and the goose is getting &c, it'll be the end of the year before you know it, and before you know that, Winter will be over. End of decade-lists and end of year-lists abound everywhere. The only list I like is a good to-do list, preferably with everything crossed off it, so I won't bore you with one here.

It's been a tough couple o' years, the recession deepening and really getting its claws into all of us. Millions out of work, shops closing down all over, industries closing down, far right groups doing their best to make political capital and gain ground, as they always do in recession-times [scum], people with dark shadows around their eyes everywhere you look.

People often say that economic hard times are always times of great creativity. Like, people are looking for new ways to make things and do things, maybe because lack of cash and resources forces us to work harder. Also, because you haven't got the money to go out, you spend all your time indoors Doing Stuff [no bad thing]. Also, the climate of the times sees us all creating stuff that reacts against the politics of the time [cf. "Stand Down Margaret" by The Beat, "Maggie's Farm" by The Specials, both made in the big recession in the 80s, when 3.2 million people were unemployed...]

One of the big problems with recession for writers is that publishers are unwilling or unable to take risks, and there is a great blog post about this very issue over on the Tonto Books Blog. It's a valuable read for anyone with more than one rejection letter to their name, for example every writer in the world.

Christmas for me is going to mean a break from the day-job, more valuable time spent on the Big Secret Project (now extremely close to being finished), and getting some more short stories done. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, 14 December 2009

In New News (obtained from the Tonto Books blog), the new news is that the Tonto Short Stories anthology will be available in shops from May 2010. In between now and then, it will be available in e-book format (What's best? Amazon Kindle or Borders E-Reader? I'm still very much in the Technologically Backward Granddad Category: "Is that the same as a Tamagotchi?"). It's currently being sold into bookstores, which is good news for readers an' writers alike. The book's more widely available, and it gets picked up by more readers on the strength of the cover. Everyone's a winner.

In my own personal news, I've been working hard on my current big project. I've been pullin' the typewriter up close and personal when I get home from work of an evening, the result of which being that I'm a long way into it. The first draft should be finished by the New Year. (Am I jinxing myself with those very words? - no, I don't think I am).

Boyfriend commented recently, "You're very disciplined". [Also commented, "Do you really need more notebooks?" when I stocked up on travel-journal notebooks in the Paperchase / Borders closing down sale. I will always need more notebooks. Please, send notebooks. Always send notebooks]. "Of course," I answered, primly. "Do you know that Murakami wrote his first novel in the early hours of the morning after coming home from work every night?" Actually, if I'm honest, this was not my first answer. My first answer was, "No talking while I'm busy."

So, the Christmas chunk of time off will be spent with my head anti-socially buried in my laptop (but don't worry, I'll be wearing a seasonal party hat while I do it), knocking off the last 15,000 words before I get to the editing and rewriting part, which I'm am slightly embarrassed to admit, is my favourite part of the process. I'm embarrassingly nerdy about rewriting and editing. It's one of the great joys of my sheltered little life. Other people get drunk, take drugs, and indulge in high-octane, adrenaline junkie life-threatening extreme sports. Me... I rewrite.

In the course of writing this novel, I have so far drunk 137 cups of tea, lost one pair of fingerless gloves (where can they go in a 2-bedroom terraced house?!), used one notebook, worked about 300 hours, invented a whole fictional world of people, surreptitiously asked my friends about their day-jobs in the way of research, and given my boyfriend at least 52 dirty looks for trying to converse with me while I am working. I don't deserve him, really. (somebody is in line for a really smashing new pair of slippers when this is finished).

Friday, 4 December 2009

Assistant Wanted....

In recent weeks I've been vocal (or should I say, 'writey'?) about the advantages of winter for writers. It's cold, it's dark - perfect weather for staying in, and what better to do with your enforced time indoors than getting stuck into the latest project? I've got me a pair of fingerless gloves and a whole bag of mulled wine spices - so I'm all equipped for it.

At last, I've got a perfect routine going. Work is such that I get home early enough, and emotionally equipped and energetic enough to get a bit of work done most evenings. But you know what really grebs away at the time? Things. Stuff. Crap tasks, like going to the post office, and putting the washing in. It's not just that I resent housework for being an instrument of oppression to women (Emmeline Pankhurst didn't chain herself to the railings so I could waste my time vacuuming the stairs, that's what I always say), but also as a drudge, an idiotic waste of time, and worst of all, it keeps me away from writing. And do you know what the worst swizz of it all is? That you have to do it all again a few days later.

I dream of having a maid. Or even better than having a maid, having an assistant: somebody to pay my National Insurance Contributions at the Post Office. Somebody to go to Wilkinson's to buy cat litter. Somebody to cook my dinner! It's days like these when I exist entirely on pasta and noodles - not because I like either food, but because they take under ten minutes to cook. Alright, so it wouldn't be a very fulfilling job, but it'd free up my time to get more done. You ever wish there were 26 hours in a day? That's me.

You'll already know about Borders' financial troubles. They went into administration recently - a friend who works there told me that the branch he works in is staying open day by day on the basis of how much stock they sell each day. They don't know for certain when the store will close for good - could be any day.

Any way you look at it, Borders' closure is bad news for readers and writers alike. Most book fans are first attracted to books by their covers, and decide to buy on the basis of flicking through them in store. Yes, the prices are cheaper on Amazon, but who buys a book without first holding it in their hands and reading sections of the book to check they like the authors' style? Without bricks and mortar stores for people to wander into, to browse the titles, or to be tempted to buy more books than they intended to through 3 for 2 promotions, I can't see how book sales won't be impacted. The scary thing is, if a bit store like Borders can't survive in this climate, what hope is there for independent & locally owned bookstores?

But... onto the Good News. Mslexia's 2010 Short Story Competition is now open! Submissions of short stories by women authors are invited for the competition, closing in January 2010. The top prize is a day with an editor from Virago. This is a prize really worth winning - so good luck, those of you who enter it! There are more details in this quarter's issue of Mslexia.

Also, independent publishers Wild Wolf Publishing are accepting submissions of full length novels. Specialising in dark, brutal and edgy fiction, they accept submissions of any genre, so long as it's dark! [You can't miss their website. It has pictures of wolves all over it].

Until next time.... I'm putting the fingerless gloves back on and heading back up to my study.... x

Saturday, 21 November 2009

November: writing season

It's been over a month since the clocks went back, and I've been wearing my fingerless gloves all around the house ever since. This is no pretension on my part: it really is that cold in our house. Most evenings I creep up to the attic to get to work wearing two shirts, two vests, a thin jumper, and a wonky home-knit aran sweater that I made two years ago, and which is too embarrassing to wear outside the house. Putting the heating on is cheating. Apparently, if one wants to write a great novel, one has to suffer like a character in a Dostoevsky novel. That's Ricky's excuse for not putting the heating on, anyway: it's all the interests of supporting my work.

Dark nights can be something of a productivity slayer. Crawling into hibernation after long days at a day job is perilously easy. However, the slide into torpor is even more depressing than 16-hour long nights, rendering the lazy writer a regretful quivering heap by February, when the snowdrops start to emerge.

A winter night is well suited to writing. It's dark, it's cold, there are few distractions. What else are you going to do? It's not like you can have a barbeque, for God's sake. And so, every night after tea, I waddle upstairs in my seventeen layers to do a couple of hours' work.

This November I have mostly been: still embroiled in the very exciting Secret Project I'm working on. At this rate, I'll have the first draft finished by February. Interspersed with this, I've been working on some short stories. I've had some good ideas lately and they've all made their way into the fiction.

For anyone looking for places to submit work this month (be quick, there are short dates on these) here are a couple of competitions I've unearthed lately:

The Willesden Herald runs an International Short Story competition, leading to publication by Pretend Genius Press, who are an independent publisher who run on a non-profit basis. They have about 15 titles to their name, and currently also publish 'zines. They seem like a publishers' with a unique ethos, so go check 'em out.

This is a good comp for anyone who's a bit wordy in their short stories, as the word limit is 8,000 words. Best of luck to anyone who enters this one.... I'm off to don my gloves and get back to work!

Currently Reading

When To Walk Rebecca Gowers
Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them Phillipe LeGrain
Before She Met Me Julian Barnes

Sunday, 1 November 2009

A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but cafes are a girl's best friend....

Last weekend saw me tagging along behind Ricky on a trip to the South coast. I had a couple of free days, and he had some photographs to take. Although entreated to stand around holding a flash, or to stop passers-by from walking in front of the camera, I demurred. "You want me to take two whole days away from the Big Secret Project?" I shouted. "And get stuck in the middle of Chapter Six? I DON'T THINK SO."

The more I work at being a writer, the more it becomes clear that taking any sort of break from writing - especially in the middle of a big project like a novel - is disastrous. There was that one time when we had a holiday and I made the mistake of leaving my notebook at home. When I got back, I lost hours in staring angrily at blank pages, trying to get into a stride that had been unbreakable before we'd gone away. It's not the sort of mistake you're in a hurry to repeat.

So I shoved my laptop and a notebook into the old rucksack, along with a pair of clean knickers and a travel bottle of shampoo, and joined him in the car. Call me strange (go ahead, everybody does) but when we pulled into Brighton, it wasn't the main shopping street, or the tourist attractions, I was scanning the streets for, but a cafe.

You know the sort of cafe I'm talking about. It's the sort of cafe writers love. It's got mismatched furniture, jumble sale crockery, a clientele that plays Go quietly, and who chat at a non-concentration breaking level, and owners who don't mind customers ordering one cup of tea and staying there four hours. I found one such cafe in The Lanes, a cute place with a colourful array of retrieved furniture, and a synthetic cow-hide rug underfoot. Satisfied that I'd found my working spot for the rest of the afternoon, I plugged the computer in and got to work.

Despite my highly-strung need for absolute silence when working at home, paradoxically, when working in a public place like a cafe or a library, the quiet level of constant noise around me is comfortably stimulating. There is nothing more inspiring than watching other people eat (discreetly, of course... it's rude to stare) and listening in on their conversations for a couple of hours. Oh come on, it's not just me. You all do it.

My thanks go out to the owners of this cafe for not ostentatiously clearing up around me as I worked, in an attempt to hustle me out of the place. Their consideration allowed me to get my work done, and I don't doubt that there's a great tradition of letting writers get on with their work by cafe owners, without which the creation of many great works of literature would have been completely scuppered: "I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines give to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that.... you're taking the sugar bowl? Oh, for Christ's sake, please not the sugar bowl. Now I just look like a tramp who came in here to get warm. Thanks." ( (c) F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1926)

After a couple of hours' work, I felt bad about making one cup of tea last so long, and approached the counter again. The cafe was small enough that I could leave my laptop on the table to keep an eye on it while I ordered another cup of tea, and a slice of cake. "Greedy," the owner said to me as he reached into the Brownie jar with his tongs. I don't know how many slices of cake he thought I'd had in the two hours I'd been there. Seemed like he thought I'd been doing nothing but shoving bits of flapjack into my face continuously, rather than working tirelessly on The Big Secret Project.

Anyway, it was thanks to his consideration and generosity that I was able to get another chapter finished, and to tidy up a few other smaller bits of work that needed doing. I can't be alone in needing to thank cafe owners up and down the country for their understanding in allowing me to work in their establishments for hours at a time for the price of a hot drink.
Favourite writing cafes, anybody?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

12.5 writing tips....

Found on this morning... words of encouragement for writers everywhere.

On the whole, I'm not a big fan of writing advice. A lot of it is a bit too prescriptive, but this... this is good.

[image originally from palavra aguda's blog].

Monday, 26 October 2009

30267 words and counting....

A week off from the day job, I though optimistically, would give me the time to write a good 10,000 words. Hell, maybe even 15,000. When your productivity rate after a hard day's work is generally around 1000, writing 10,000 words when you've taken the time off specifically just to do that, should be a snip, right...? Right?

It's at these times that the writing malaise always strikes. Isn't it always the way that when you've specifically set aside the time to write, there's nothing you feel less like doing. Give me an hour in a productive meeting at work, an hour in the supermarket, an hour shopping for shoes that fit properly (spit) .... and all I can think is, "I'd rather be behind my desk right now". Yet now here I am, with a whole week to spend behind my desk, and I'm procrastinating. (See entry on "Bradley's foolproof 10-step procrastination method" if you want to know how my time is being wasted).

In times of writing malaise and laziness, I try to inspire myself by reading. I don't hold with this rubbish about not reading fiction when you're writing fiction. If, like me, you're continually writing fiction (ha, except for today, of course) then your reading list would be a dry mix of The Encyclopedia Britannica and The God Delusion. That's the literary equivalent of existing on a diet of dry shreddies and punishment muesli. With maybe a bit of brown rice for variety every now and again.

If you hold with this quite frankly ridiculous notion that writers shouldn't read fiction (IDIOTS), your writing is accordingly also going to take on the same dry texture, until you're turning out 'comedies' that read like academic textbooks, or pacey crime novels that read like nutritional information. There are enough rubbish books as it is, and I can do without funny books that read like the phone book, thanks.

Accordingly, I try and match my reading with the tone of whatever I'm writing. Writing dark, read dark. Writing light, read light. It's a formula that can't go wrong. (Maybe). The current book is a farce / comedy, so here's what I've got on the old bedside table at the moment.

Currently Reading

Carry On, Jeeves P G Wodehouse
Persepolis, Marjane Sartrapi
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
How I Paid For College, Marc Acito

How do you get yourselves going on the dry days?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Editing the book...

Who'd be a writer, eh? After last week's good news about the Tonto Books competition, I have spent this week looking over my novel, with the aim of getting it into as publishable form as possible. (I've read somewhere that this is an important thing to do with unpublished novels).

I didn't know, until leafing through the Writers & Artist's yearbook last week (my favourite idle read of the moment... I have a copy of it on my bedside table, between my copy of What Ho, Jeeves! and Old School) that 60,000 - 70,000 words is generally considered the optimum length for a paperback novel. Publishers and agents, apparently, find novels of this length easier to market and sell.

I can't deny that I'd love to be the sort of established literary genius who's above the rules, and who can write a book as long or as short as she damn pleases; but I also can't deny that I never pick up big books myself. Take Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell , for example. It's well written and interesting, but at about the stage where a regular size paperback would have finished, I found myself losing interest. It's not Susanna Clark's fault. It's not that her book's boring. It's that I've got one of those iPod attention spans that sees me flicking past songs if I don't like the first 10 seconds of the intros, and I'm no different with books.

Which conveniently brings me to the 'problem' of my book. It's way over 60,000 - 70,000 words, and would benefit hugely from editing. I don't know anyone who can do it for me, and so in the absence of that, I'm doing it myself: taking out all the unnecessary repetition, taking out all the irrelevant bits, making it shorter, sharper, snappier, faster, and more interesting. More... iPod.

I don't doubt that some of you are going to be seething in outrage at my comparing literature to MP3 players, but I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on this. Who else finds themselves writing or editing with an imaginary 'audience' reading their work over their shoulder? Can't be just me!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Good news, everyone!

Right, I'm going to throw superstition to the wind, and just go ahead and announce it: one of my short stories is to appear in the forthcoming Even More Tonto Short Stories collection. Tonto is a small independent publisher that has been publishing a short story anthology annually since its inception in 2005.

The book isn't out yet, but when it is you'll be able to buy it in the Tonto Shop.

Whoop whoop!

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Hands up if you feel ugly

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that most of us feel ugly at least at some point in our lives. (I'll go further still, and say that if you've never felt ugly, there's probably something the matter with you). And although I've no stats or evidence to back me up, I think it's more common in women than in men.

We're constantly surrounded by images of women - in advertising, on TV, in magazines, on billboards, on packaging. Any images of realistic looking women - and by "realistic", I don't mean women who are size 12, who have quirky faces or haircuts, or any other slight deviation from the narrow and homogenised beauty ideals we're constantly surrounded by - when I say "realistic women", I mean women who look tired, women whose clothes look like they need a wash, women walking around carrying 73 different bags containing everything they need for the day ahead - are vastly outweighed by these unobtainably beautiful images of women which can only be rendered possible with hours of lighting and photography, and a lot of judicious photoshopping after the fact.

Beauty I have no problem with. We all like to look at something beautiful, after all: that's why National Parks and America's Next Top Model are so popular. But the images of beautiful women with which we're surrounded are so completely ridiculously attainable, there's no way that even the foxiest of average woman isn't going to feel inadequate by comparison every now and again. Who has time to spend six hours in make up every morning? (before a full day at work, right? When do I have to get up? Four hours before I go to bed?) Who's got a special 'photoshop filter' through which everybody will look at them? (Look! No skin blemishes or marks! And look at my unnaturally thin thighs!)

There's no way we can live up to these ideals. We haven't got the genes, for one thing, for another, we haven't got the time, and for another, we haven't got the technology. But that's just the way advertisers like it: our insecurities make us buy more. Like it or not, that's the premise upon which so much advertising works, and women are especially susceptible because of being primarily judged on their looks. (Gee, thanks, partriarchy. When's the next stop?)

Wouldn't it be far better for everybody's mental health if advertising images used only images of normal women? Here, I've got to make a slight detour to give Dove a nod for using real women - with visible rolls of fat - in their advertising campaigns. Imagine it: you'd look at a poster of somebody who looked like your foxy 50-year old neighbour, modelling lipstick, and you'd congratulate her for looking so sexy at 50, you'd congratulate the company for using a real person, and you wouldn't feel ugly by comparison every time you looked at the image. Hell, you might even buy the cosmetics they were advertising.

In a world where it was the norm for women to feel good about themselves most of the time, as the rule rather than the exception, everything would run so much more smoothly. No more spending ages despairing over our own reflections in the mirror every time we think about leaving the house. No more desperately seeking reassurance about our image from our partners (come on, guys, this is a winner. Imagine never being asked "Do I look OK in this?" ever again!) No more obsessing over how ugly / old / sunken our faces are becoming. The casualties would be the photoshoppers, the advertisers, the beauty fascists, and who's going to mourn them??

Who's with me?!

Writer's foibles

I ought to be working, and so... I bring you this blog entry, not on the theme of procrastination (which I believe has already been quite comprehensively covered both by myself and other bloggers), but on writer's foibles and obsessions.
As a breed, writers are generally accepted to be a neurotic, eccentric bunch. For one thing, a person has to be a bit screwy to want to spend hours of their time making things up. And for a second thing, the conditions that a writer needs to do his or her work - sitting in a room alone, involved with the problems of their characters, depicting and representing what is essentially a 'fantasy world' to others - only exacerbate matters.

Through idly reading through blogs on RedRoom (yes, I should have been working then, as well) and observing my own behaviour - as well as that of writing friends - I've compiled the following list of writer's obsessions.

1. Word counts. How long does it need to be, how many can I write today, how many have I written already, and - horror of horrors - how many might I need to edit out at the end? When so much of our work has an intangible quality, and is subject to - well, subjectivity - word counts give us something concrete, something functional we can hang on to. Never mind the plausibility of the plot, or the coherence of these characters. Word counts are something we can easily judge for ourselves - hell, the word-processor will count them for us - and we don't need objective opinions on. In times of lean inspiration, its the word count who casts his villainous shadow across our work.

2. Comparison with other authors. Am I too old or too young to write a masterpiece like Hard Times? What age was Kazuo Ishiguro when he wrote Remains of the Day? Why did X get his novel published with such relative ease, and what is wrong with me that I can't? Why do I spend so much time messing about on Facebook when I could be working on my novel? I bet Jane Austen never spent this much time commenting on other people's photos. (Only because they didn't have social networking in the 18th century).

3. Notebooks. A separate notebook for everything, and everything in its right notebook. A notebook for keeping track of submissions and competitions, a notebook for writing down true stories from work. A notebook for keeping track of ideas, and a notebook for cutting out funny stories from papers and magazines. A notebook for keeping track of errors and plot lines for the novel, and a notebook for writing to-do lists in. There is no excuse for writing down an overheard conversation in the character-work notebook. Everything must be in the correct notebook, otherwise everything descends into complete anarchy. Boyfriend keeps complaining that there are notebooks all over the house. Suggests that I could perhaps get a notebook to keep a track of where all my notebooks are.

4. Thinking too much. From reading blogs with keywords like "it won't write itself" to "nobody procrastinates like a writer", I've gathered that this is a common problem among us. We all spend hours thinking about what will happen in our books, or what our lives could be like as a 'successful' author (how we define success differs from person to person, of course; for some of us, success is being as commercially successful as Stephen King; for others, success is being as critically acclaimed as Muriel Spark; for others, success might be having a few friends read your work and genuinely enjoy it). From what I've heard, some writers spend hours caught up in these thoughts, and too little time writing. Not that I ever spend too much time thinking myself, with a heavy side-order of unproductivity, you understand. It's just what I've heard from other people.

I realise this is only a short list of four, and that there are probably other writer's quirks and obsessions that I've missed out. I'd be interested to hear other people's thoughts on the strange habits of the writer!

Writing Space

I laugh when I read other writers saying, "Write wherever you are". A laudable aim. Who amongst us has never written on a busy train, whilst sitting under a tree, in a cafe, or even in the living room while others are watching the telly?
But the truth is - and I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it - I've become precious when it comes to writing space lately. My excellent boyfriend, who is handy with a couple of rawlplugs and a drill, built me a desk right under our living room window, so that I can write and look out over the allotments. Excellent, work, boyfriend. Now what can we do about getting me a bit of peace and quiet?

Our house is not a large one. We live in a terraced house, in a quiet street in a quiet area. The walls are thin, and one gets used to 'tuning out' the sounds of life that come from the adjoining houses: children playing, the sound of somebody else's television, a person who owns only one CD and listens to it repeatedly over and over again. (Why does it have to be Keane?) But try as I might, I can't tune out the sounds that come from within the house. It's these that break my concentration and leave me a quivering, twitching wreck.

I know it's the luxury of silence, and a dedicated writing space, that has made me this way. There was a time when I could write anywhere, even with my housemates howling and chattering over How Clean Is Your House? in the same room. I'm just not the same girl any more. I can't stand to be interrupted when I'm working, especially if it's to be asked a question; more so if it's a stupid question, and most questions seem to be fairly stupid. Whether its "How do you spell tomorrow?" or "Do you want anything from the shop?", an innocently asked question is liable to send me twitching and gnashing my teeth down into the kitchen, where I will stomp around noisily making a cup of tea until the offending question-asker has discreetly removed him or herself away to a safer location.

It got me thinking about what other writers need to write? Do you have the same obsessive need for quiet as do I, or can you write in just about any conditions? I'd love to know!

I quit! Fantasy Resignation Letters

This post first appeared on my Red Room profile

It's not smart to burn all your bridges in a resignation letter. The world of work is a small place and you never know who you might meet again. A resignation letter that doesn't disguise your contempt for your boss, those you work with, or the general culture of the workplace you're leaving, can haunt you professionally for years.
But just say... just imagine that it wouldn't. Imagine you could write anything you liked in your resignation letter. What would you say?

It might look something like this:

"Dear George,

I am writing to give you 4 weeks' notice of my resignation. As you know, I have been working here under sufferance for several years now. At first I only came here because it was an excuse to get out of the house, but once I got a mortgage I kind of had to keep on working here, against my better judgement.

It isn't that I dislike the work. There's nothing I enjoy more than coming to an office where people strenuously avoid eye contact with one another, and spend all day with their heads down in silence, pushing bits of paper around from one tray to another. In fact, I like the work so much that earlier on this year, when the guy who used to sit next to me walked out one day at lunchtime and never came back, I didn't complain that management considered the best way to redistribute his work was to pour his in-tray into mine. The difficulty is more that my work is so pointless that, for two whole months last year, I didn't do a stroke of work, and nobody seemed to notice for ages.

This bout of laziness did appear to have some form of payoff in that, eventually, my colleagues seemed to catch on to my incompetence. The eyes that were once so pointedly fixed on their desks began to look up when I approached, to give me looks of pure hatred and ice. I realised that I had made a difference: my colleagues were no longer indifferent to my existence! In a small way, it was a sort of triumph. In other ways, it was a disaster. People pointedly left me out of the tea-round. Nobody brought me Twixes back from the corner shop any more. My life at work became a sort of slow death by exclusion.

I could manage this, given that I only had to put up with it for a seven hours a day. And in a way, it was a bit of a compliment that you valued my work so highly that you handed down an increase in my hours to nine a day, to give me time to get everything done. I didn't expect any increase in pay or conditions to go with the extra hours. I'm not unreasonable. But then I saw a job doing the same sort of thing within a ten minute walk of my house that's better paid, and that's when I decided maybe my quality of life would be better if I could get home in time to watch the teatime edition of Neighbours.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for undervaluing, underpaying, mistreating and generally wringing me dry for the past 5 years. I look forward to watching Australian soaps while you still remain at your desk, eyeing your underlings suspiciously and thinking about how much you hate everybody.

All the best for the future,

(In the interests of not getting fired from my job, I'd like to make it absolutely clear that this resignation letter is pure fiction. PURE FICTION. It in no way reflects on the actual circumstances of my day job or the way I do my work.)

If you could write your "I QUIT" letter without fear of retribution... what would you write?

Neurosis bingo!

This post first appeared on my Red Room profile

For something that's meant to be relaxing, sleeping can be incredibly hard work. There's no time like the early hours of the morning to magnify trifling troubles into insurmountable problems. My brain actively invents problems when I'm trying to sleep, and then won't shut up about them. What am I going to do about my 'problems' when it's 2AM and I'm meant to be asleep?

The rational part of me knows how stupid it is to pay my racing-mind a second's attention; but the obsessive part of me says, "Hang on, she might be onto something here." I'm left laying half-awake, thinking at roughly an eighth of my normal capacity, trying to solve problems that really don't exist, and which will look quite frankly laughable in the morning.
Don't believe me? I'll write you a list of the things that have kept me awake over the past three weeks or so (I bet many of you out there have got similarly pointless obsessions).

1. Cannot believe how much better than my old job my new job is. Practise and lack of protocol at my old place were horrendous. (leading on to...) I must have picked up a load of bad habits from working there. No wonder my new workmates were looking at me so strangely today. Maybe should just try to sit very still at new job and not get in anybody's way, but not so still that it becomes obvious that I'm not really doing any work. That will only lead to more bother.

2. Noticed that my friend has started chatting to his ex on Facebook. She was no good, that one. Cheated on him several times and ultimately left him for somebody else. Wonder if they are getting back together? Hope not. Last time I saw her I told her what a slut she was. I can see that being a bit awkward socially.

3. I've got a long drive to work tomorrow. Wonder if my little car is up to doing all these miles? Long journeys mean more risk of being involved in an accident. Better concentrate really hard behind the wheel (although staying awake worrying about driving to work isn't going to help much in that regard).

4. When I start working 5 days a week, how am I going to find time to write? Maybe could hide in stock cupboard at work and do it when nobody is looking. Alternatively, could do it late at night, when I would only otherwise be lying awake in bed thinking about rubbish...

Lady GaGa: Hero Or Villain?

Q. How do you make Lady Gaga cry? A. P-p-p-p-p-p-p-poke her face

Lady Gaga: who honestly knows what to think? Officially, she's a singer and performer, but she also appears to relish in her role as a sort of professional talking point, a bizarre public figure who generates conversation by arriving at airports dressed in a leotard and outsize sunglasses, and by playing at Glastonbury from inside an enormous box. Once you hear one of her tunes, the damn thing gets wedged in your head for literally days. ("Can't read my, can't read my, no he can't read my poker face," anybody?) While some people relish having that sort of earworm, others ie. me, find it an infuriating life-ruiner. Debate in the gossip columns about her large hands, muscly legs and ridiculous layers of make-up are rife; and yet La GaGa goes about her business regardless, continuing to do concerts in outfits that are more abstract sculpture than haute couture, and do press conferences in gimp masks without a shred of embarrassment, as though she either doesn't know or doesn't care what anybody thinks of her.

So, Lady Gaga: do we revere her as a modern-day Madonna for the noughties, a fearless performance artist who forces the chattering classes to accept more confrontational modes of female sexuality, or do we think she's a sort of "La Roux for idiots"? (Thankyou, The Guardian).

Let's weigh up the evidence, should we?

1. Continually sings about her own vagina.

"I wanna roll with him, a hard pair we will be, A little gambling is fun when you're with me, Russian Roulette isn't the same without a gun, And baby when it's love if it's not rough it isn't fun... Cos I'm not bluffin' with my muffin, I'm not lying, I'm just stunning with my love-glue gunnin" (Poker Face).

Confident in her own voracious sexuality, knows what she wants in bed and doesn't care who knows it: Ten points.

2. Dresses as though she's a living art installation.

Claims: "I dress this way because my whole life is art, and my whole life is performance."

Then that explains get-ups like this:

Kermit my, kermit my, no he kermit my poker face

and this:

Just dance!

Quite frankly, I'm of the opinion that the pop world needs this kind of fearlessness. If it wasn't for crazy bitches like Kate Bush, Bjork, PJ Harvey and Lady Gaga putting a bit of thought and creativity into their wardrobes, the whole world would be full of boring twats dressing like Coldplay, and who wants that? I'll tell you who. Kasabian. A hundred points.

3. Might take herself a bit too seriously.

In a recent interview for MTV Malta, GaGa claimed that the gimp mask she was wearing (yes, gimp mask) was "not just a mask, it's a temporary art piece by a designer friend of ours". It's hard to tell whether or not she was joking - on account of the mask covering her face. She went on to talk about her commitment to her work and the life of solitude and her admiration to designers who live a life devoted to fashion. Generally gives the impression that fashion and pop music are really really important rather than being a bit cheap, transient and throwaway, like Primark. Props to her for having the courage of her convictions, but is she destined for a bit of a body-blow when she becomes a bit 'last year', in the way that all pop phenomena eventually do?

4. Entire career and persona appear to be an elaborate art prank that went a bit too far.

The evidence is all there. The outrageous persona. The freaky costumes, the explosive stage shows. The way she talks about her work, as though she's daring somebody at the press conference to start laughing and poke holes in it all. The ridiculous self-congratulatory interview with Paris Hilton that seems too absurd to be true...

...all this, plus the fact that she once upon a time made music that sounds like a cut-price version of Shania Twain...

...points to her recent career being a bit of a well-conceived and extremely well-planned practical joke, in which Gaga and those around her have cooked up a whole new persona, an arresting wardrobe and 'pop concept' to go with it. Then she can go on telly and to press conferences to talk about her work with a straight face, defying anybody present to be the first to notice that the whole thing is an elaborate hoax.

The pop world needs more of this sort of thing.

Verdict: Lady GaGa: Hero.

Shut up, writing demon!

This post first appeared on my Red Room profile

If you're anything like me, you'll have your very own "writing demon" - an internal self-defeating little joy-sucker who spends his or her time telling you that nothing you ever do will be any good.

I keep toying with the idea of giving mine a name. He might get named after somebody I know at work who spends all her time creating trouble and causing disharmony, impacting on other people's ability to do their jobs properly, and with confidence. If anybody tries something new - or tries to do something in a different way, and it ends in what is now euphemistically called "A learning experience" (viz. a mistake), she'll curse the person to anybody who'll listen, calling into question their professional competence, the quality of their character, even the level of their intellect. See, my writing demon is exactly like that.
Here's a list of the things my writing demon likes saying (yours probably says similar stuff to you)...

"Who in their right mind is going to want to read that?"

"This story is never going to come right. Might as well give up."

"Why are you bothering with this?"

...and worst of all...

"Nothing you ever write will ever be any good."

On some days, it's a struggle to wrestle him into submission, and to get him to stop with the negativity. He's fond of telling me that I'd be better off in the garden, or in the kitchen, than at my desk. On those days, I just tell him to shut up.
What does your writing demon say, and how do you get him to mind his own business?

Bradley's foolproof 10-step procrastination method

Want to get some writing done? Frustrated at your current overly-productive rate of activity? Gurn no longer! I can help you, with my tried-and-tested, guaranteed foolproof low-yield ten-step procrastination method.

Following my advice, any newcomer to the writing game can easily fritter whole days away in the pursuit of less fulfilling activities that produce no writing output whatsoever (unless you count commenting on somebody else's Facebook status updates).

For the purposes of following the method, you need to be at your desk and ready to begin by 09.00. Follow the points step by step, and don't miss any out. It won't work otherwise. Ready? Let's get started!

1. It is still too early to start writing. There is too much else to do in and around and out of the house. Begin by writing a list. Spend no shorter than half an hour writing this list, and include absolutely everything on it, from the physical ("paint the outside of the house") to the metaphysical and / or spiritual ("What is the meaning of life?")

To improve of the efficacy of point 1 as a timewasting activity, you may wish to embark on some of the tasks named thereon. Ensure that you do not complete fully any of these tasks, as completing any sort of task could be considered productive, and is thereby contrary to the spirit of the ten-step procrastination method.

2. To engage brain and to warm up into the writing activity, open three tabs on your browser window: one to Facebook, another to web-based email, and a third to the talk-board or forum of your choice. Spend at least one hour providing ill-informed advice to strangers on the internet and commenting on your friends' status updates. Oh look, are those pictures of Tom's wedding? 256 pictures of people you hardly know! This is procrastination gold. By the time you have looked at them all, there will be more status updates, and more strangers seeking advice. You have already spent up to an hour and a half at your desk, and not a single minute of it spent in the task of writing. Keep up the good work!

3. Jeez, nearly lunchtime. It's time for a well-deserved break, to have a root through the fridge, and to watch a bit of Come Dine With Me off the Freeview Plus box. You can't write on an empty stomach, and in any case, Come Dine With Me counts as research on account of the human drama and the interaction of all those different characters. Also worth watching to get some ideas for lunch.

4. That's enough time-wasting. Seriously now, get back to work. Maybe it would be useful to spend a bit of time updating the old internet 'shop window'. Update blog, spend a bit of time browsing Red Room. (careful now. Overdo it and you might be in danger of doing something useful).

5. This computer is filthy. Clean screen, get desktop vacuum out, vac out keyboard and inside mouse. Carpet and coffee table also need vacuuming. May as well do those since have vacuum out. Look for other opportunities for housework. A clean environment is more conducive to productivity.

6. Still haven't got anything done. Can't fix mind to writing somehow. Seems like very hard work today. Maybe I could concentrate better if I did a bit of exercise?

7. Go for a walk or bike ride, or put on latest Girls Aloud album and dance around the living room. Close curtains if the neighbours are home.

8. If plan has been correctly followed, it will now be around 3 (possibly after) and partner's arrival home from work will be imminent. You have not yet written one single solitary word other than "lol" or "fail". These barely count as English. Allow feeling of destitution and disappointment to gather over you for a few minutes.

9. Time to knuckle down. Straight after this cup of tea.

10. Congratulations, you are a successful (?!) graduate of Bradley's foolproof ten-step procrastination method....

Come on lads, say what you mean....

Does what it says on the tin  

I've been thinking a lot lately about cunts, and when I say that, I'm not talking about that awful woman with a voice like Mars Attacks who sits next to me at work, talking about her boyfriend all day. No, I'm talking about actual lady's cunts. Yours and mine, and everyone's we know.  

I've noticed lately that advertisers are doing their damnedest to fan women's insecurities about their lady-parts to try and flog us all new products. These are products aimed at pubic grooming, everybody, so don't get squeamish - everybody loves a well-looked after pussy, after all.  

Thanks to all the fighting that our mums and grandmas did (thanks mum, thanks grandma) we ladies are now in the fortunate position of being able to choose whether we want to rock a full-on 70s-style bush, or a smartly-waxed Hollywood, without anybody criticising us for our choices. That's one of the array of choices that you get to make as a modern woman. (Not quite as important as deciding whether you want to train as an engineer, a mechanic, or a teacher, but hey).  

I could just about stand it when it was Gillette trying to flog a razor specifically aimed at trimming women's pubic hair. As far as I can see, Gillette developing a razor aimed specifically at women's bikini lines is essentially the same as when Rowntree's started marketing Kit Kat Bites in a bag: it's a superfluous new product that doesn't do anything your old razor / normal Kit Kat didn't do. Only difference is that there's a new advertising campaign to go with it.  

So much for the 'special' razors. But earlier on today, my ire was stoked during a commercial break during Friends (and you all know how much I love Friends), when I saw an advert for FemFresh, a new product which coyly describes itself as being "specially developed to cleanse and refresh the most sensitive area of your body". This is no good on two counts. For one thing, agony aunts for time immemorial (thanks Just 17, thanks Mizz) have been urging teenage girls not to wash their cunts with soap. All together now: it upsets the delicate balance of your innards, and gives you thrush. Secondly, why be so coy? Just say what you mean, guys: "Come on lady, your cunt is disgusting. Sort it out."  

Who in their right mind thinks any cunt is disgusting? Fannies are a thing of great beauty. Surely everybody knows that. They come in all shapes, all sizes, all colours, and every last one of them is a smasher. All of them have a unique beauty, and they can bring you great pleasure. If there's one lesson I can give you today, it's to learn to love your cunt, just as it is.

Men render selves redundant in spectacular scientific own goal

Some scientists, yesterday 

Scientists at Newcastle University have created, for the first time, synthetic sperm from stem cells, in so doing achieving what buffoons have wanted for many years: to render men theoretically redundant. In light of this scientific breakthrough, a slew of reactionary articles celebrating the "end" of mankind have been wasting my time on the internet. "Yes, let's get rid of them!" they trill, in a whimsical, faux-amusing fashion. "They always leave their wet towels on the bed anyway." 

Let me tell you, readers, that I'm exactly as humourless about articles that propose getting rid of men as I am about articles that castigate female celebrities for going out without washing their hair. Men are brilliant, and a world without them would be rubbish, for the following reasons. 

1. I love cock. There, I've said it. 

2. A world without men would be the sort of place that had no such thing as Elvis Costello, James Gandolfini, Charlie Brooker, Graham Linehan, or Terry Wogan, and who wants that? I'll tell you who. IDIOTS. 

3. Yes, I know we're proposing getting rid of men that come hereafter and not the ones we have currently, but that means getting rid of all future possible Elvis Costelloes, James Gandolfinis, Charlie Brookers, Graham Linehans, and Terry Wogans. This would be stupid and rubbish and anyone who thinks it is still a good idea can come and meet me in the car park after work for a dust-up. See, women can aggressive too!  

4. A lot of them can make me laugh.  

5. Some of them are very sensitive and thoughtful. I have even heard that some of them can dance a bit. 

6. Men, (as well as women, don't think I'm negating the work of women here, fact-nazis) have always done lots of good work like naming stars, splitting atoms, writing books, inventing vacuum-cleaners, and bringing me a cup of tea in bed. Long may it continue.  

So we're all agreed then! A world without men would be spectacularly rubbish and boring. Let's put the whole issue to bed and move on, shall we?