Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Lizard and the Lion

One of those strange weeks.

There have been a lot of blogs lately about the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and with good reason. It's a festival within a festival, in a city that goes ever so slightly bonkers every August. Charlotte Square, where the book events are held, has a special feeling to it, a particular excitement/flavour/buzz. The yurt, the food, the famous faces, the oft-times frantic networking ... I'm always really chuffed to get to be a part of it all. (This year I did an Amnesty reading, an Outreach event, and a Schools Programme event - the last two were Slightly Jones Mysteries talks, including a sneak preview snippet from the upcoming Case of the Cambridge Mummy). It's a) fun b) exhilarating c) anxiety-inducing d) exhausting ... It's the Jesus Lizard side of being a writer. The beast may be running for its life in that photo, but you can't tell me the bubbles aren't pretty!

Part way through, I took time out and went along Princes Street, through the crowds of gawkers and Fringe event hawkers and die-hard shoppers, to the Durer exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery, mainly to see this:

I've blogged over on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure about it and now I was in a dimly-lit room with the original (okay, it's an etching, so it's not the original, but it was a lot more original than my long-owned, well-loved postcard version). People didn't hang around - and not that many people had found the exhibit anyway - so I had the saint and the lion pretty much to myself. It was exquisite. I kept fogging up the glass trying to get as close as possible. See every detail. I wasn't thinking about anything except IT. The thing itself. But afterwards I realised it was a reminder and a help as well. This is the other bit about being a writer. The essential bit. Solitude and focus. Concentration and contentment. Stillness.

Here's to having them both - the lizard and the lion - and an infusion of art from time to time to help keep the balance.

Cheers, Joan.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Moments of Recognition

Below is a quote from Imogen Robertson's blog on The History Girls which I like so much I've imported it here for you:

"Sometimes strange things happen when you write. Of course, when we are plotting and reasearching we are in a certain frame of mind which, perhaps, makes it more likely we will see and take notice of coincidences. We are gathering as much information as we can, and looking for the links between the pieces, the joins; we’re trying to find or invent lines that will hold all the parts together and create a story. I think when you are in that state of creative investigation your mind spots patterns it might normally miss."

It's true. The patterns are there, all the time. When you see them, it's a moment of recognition - but of course! - a rightness ...

Along the same line, I was struggling with a short story this week. I shouldn't have been taking the time but I decided to give it a day anyway. I had the voice, I had the concept, I had the word length and the intended audience, I had ... nothing. Just a lump. All day I poked at it, in an ever increasing snit (I don't have TIME to be writing you, you ungrateful hunk of prose!) but it wouldn't budge. Until, finally, in the evening, it suddenly came right. All I had to do was recognize that the bimbo was a double agent. She'd been one the whole time, but neither I nor the protagonist had realised ...

Moments of recognition. For sheer pleasure, they knock drugs and sex and rock and roll into a cocked hat.

Whatever that means.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Spread Thin Across the Toast of Time

I'm writing two books at the moment. One is set in Cambridge in the 1890s but deals with Egyptian antiquities from (very roughly) 2000 BC. The other is set in Orkney, round about 2500 BC, but includes a character from 2500 AD ...

It is quite possible my head may explode.

How I find myself in this position is a long story I won't bore you with. Of more interest is whether or not it's possible. I've never tried to write two novels simultaneously before, and certainly not two with such disparate time frames. Will I find myself putting 26th century tech into the hands of my Victorian detective? Will my Stone Age heroine start speaking in cockney rhyming slang? Will the two books merge imperceptibly into one gigantic surreal entity, leap out of the temporal toaster and go rampaging off across the kitchen of eternity, thereby making it difficult for me to meet my deadlines?

Stay tuned and I'll let you know how it goes. For now, I think a break is in order - I find myself strangely peckish ...

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Saints, Cats, Brontesauruses and the Vagaries of Ranking

This week I've been blogging around again, at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure:

St Jerome and the Sleeping Cat

and at Girls Heart Books:

What I Want for My Birthday!

Interesting news on the Wikio Blog Ranking UK this month - this blog is up 10 places to number 25 in the Literature category, and up 25 places to number 51 in the Culture category! I have to admit that, even after perusing the explanation several times, I still don't really understand how these ratings are calculated, but if any of it is down to you lot coming by and reading, well then, thank you very much!