Friday, February 26, 2010

Sad Bookshop News

I just read this online. Hughes & Hughes, an Irish bookshop chain best known for their branches in Dublin and Cork airports, have gone into receivership.

I like Hughes & Hughes. They are hit and miss, though - their branch near my office is excellent and the staff are lovely. Their airport branches are nothing special, even by airport bookshop standards. The other branches fall somewhere in between. I also like them because they made Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon their staff pick on its release week, thus revealing their impeccable taste. Oh, and one of their branches has a Costa Coffee in it, and they do very nice caramel slices.

Basically, they're absolutely fine, but if you were visiting Ireland and asked me about good bookshops I would never say 'Oh, you must get to Hughes & Hughes.'

Hughes & Hughes have issued a statement saying, among other things, the following:

"In common with all retailers, Hughes & Hughes have been operating in an environment of collapsing consumer demand due to the weakness of the economy and the exchange rate differential with sterling.

Bookshops also have the added factor of the revolutionary wave of internet competition to deal with.

Further, by virtue of the majority proportion of Hughes & Hughes business being generated through our airport concessions the business has been particularly badly hit by the collapse in passenger numbers passing through Dublin and Cork airports."

In other words, ahem, something a bit like what I said in my post about striking fear into the hearts of Irish book retailers about a month ago. Ahem.


I will be sorry to see them go, if it comes to that. Not just because it means a loss of Irish jobs (as an Irish person with a job, I'm in favour of them), but because it's not nice to see the casualties of change.

That being said, I do stand by my earlier comments on the subject. Irish bookshops are already not very competitive for my business. Unless a shop has the book actually in stock, Amazon or its ilk is the only way to go. Ordering a book takes at least a week and it will cost more than just buying it from Amazon.

But if they have what I want, the experience of the high-street, bricks-and-mortar bookshop is unrivalled. I can pick up the books. I can flick through them. I can touch their pages, and this is a very big concern for someone who hates deckle-edged paper. And I cannot stress that word 'hate' enough. There is a nice atmosphere. Browsing in a bookshop is pretty close to the top of my favourite-things-to-do list.

Also, I like to bake, and I like to knit. If I want to buy a recipe or a pattern book, I have to flick. The 'Look Inside!' option on Amazon with its obnoxious exclamation mark just won't cut it. I need to look at every recipe and every pattern. I'm currently chasing a good cupcake recipe book and this quest may take months to complete (I'm smiling enthusiastically at the thought).

And for that reason, I will always be sorry to see another bookshop start to teeter. Fingers crossed, Hughes & Hughes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Introducing Yet Another Blog Post With The Word Random In The Title

Hello all,

I have a few bits and pieces to mention today, so it was hard to think of a title for this post. I was going to call it something like 'Random Thoughts', but I think the word 'random' is insanely overused online. I like the word 'random', and I don't like seeing it exposed to this constant wear and tear, so if I'm going to use it, I'm sodding well going to be ironic about it.

So there.

Anyway, today is virtually all good news. I'm still sick (boo!) but apart from that, this is blog post of happy things.

Firstly, Claire Hennessy has a link to my recent post on telegrams over on her blog. She also recently posted a raft of book reviews so if you're stuck for something to read, visit Claire and scroll down.

For anyone who may have popped over here from Claire's blog to read about telegrams and decided to keep reading, I offer one that I left out of my earlier post for very good reasons which I will now go into in rather too much detail. I love blogging. No one tells me to shut up.

My godmother is very widely-read, and she told me once about a brilliant telegram exchange, but I can't remember who was involved. I texted her today to find out of she could remember, but between us we got nowhere, and Google was unhelpful. So this could be totally apocryphal, but it's fun.

A writer sent a manuscript to an editor, critic or otherwise Big Cheese for consideration. After a wait of quite some time (which I think we'll all sympathise with. . .), the writer sent a telegram.

Please inform soon of decision re manuscript as have other irons in fire.

Big Cheese cabled back:

Take out irons. Put in manuscript.

Not exactly uplifting in and of itself, I agree, but hey, has anyone here ever gotten a rejection that heartless?

My other happy thing is about a missing notebook containing a chapter or two of material that I have no memory of and would find really difficult to rewrite.

It showed up today, about two months after I realised it was missing.

It was like those scenes you see in airports where people hug and cry (I'm never involved in those airport scenes, I'm always too busy swearing at my wheely suitcase. My wheely suitcase flips over all the time. Is that normal?). It was also a little like that scene in the most recent episode of House where Dr. Cuddy lets out a lovely, loud, ferocious 'YES!' in the middle of the hospital lobby.

So yes, links and lost things. Time for some celebratory camomile tea. Party down. . .

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nice Things About Writing

Christine posted her top ten reasons to love writing, and since I'm still off work sick and feeling utterly miserable, I really needed a nice upbeat post :)

I'm a bit too miserable to come up with ten (you know how it is when you're sick), but as I was pottering about the flat today I did have a very nice thought.

I've been reworking one section of my novel pretty much completely, from the bottom up. Great fun. It's working a lot better the new way (now with conflict!) but I'm not sure where it's going. I know that my premise has completely changed but I'm not sure how the ending will pan out.

I love this.

So as I was folding some clothes this morning, I thought 'Oops. I have no idea how that gets resolved. I know Character A finds out this, and Character B will have to react. But I don't know how. . . Goody!'

OK, I didn't actually say 'goody'. If you're a regular reader, you may have gathered by now that I'm not quite the type. I was very pleased though - my favourite parts of writing are knowing your characters and your situation well, but not so well that they can't surprise you, and then setting out to play with those elements and make stuff happen.

Tomorrow marks a point by which I really wanted this to be finished. It's not, and it's not even close. Luckily, I just found the fun again :)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ten Simple Rules

W. Somerset Maugham said there are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

That's one of my all-time favourite quotes, but it turns out Maugham may be worse at maths than I am, because The Guardian have asked lots of fiction writers for their
10 Rules for Writing Fiction and they've assembled rather a lot of them.

Contributors include Neil Gaiman, Roddy Doyle and Margaret Atwood, among many others, and some of the rules are pretty funny so it's worth reading.

Here are a few of my favourites. I especially love Geoff Dyer's advice about Nabokov.

Margaret Atwood

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

Roddy Doyle

Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

Do not search for the book you haven't written yet.

Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work.

Geoff Dyer

Don't be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.

Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.

Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.

Richard Ford

Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.

Anne Enright

The first 12 years are the worst.

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dots, Dashes and Stops

My last post, about how communications technology affects the way we tell stories, has given me a great excuse to talk about one of my very favourite things: telegrams.

I'm fond of telegrams. I like old things that involve words.

I own a telegram, actually. My dad's old company sent it to my parents a few days after I was born, congratulating them (kind of a cool thing to own, right?), so it's 26 years old. I can't remember the last time I heard anyone mention a telegram, apart from me mentioning my one. And when he was growing up, my dad worked as a telegram boy in his local post office, and loved it, and wanted to do it for the rest of his life. He might have, except that someone intervened and he became an engineer (which he also loved).

In their time, telegrams were not just a form of communication, they were an art. As they were usually charged by the word, it was in the interest of the sender to keep them short. Robert Benchley's famous telegram to Harold Ross when he arrived in Venice was a masterpiece of brevity: Streets full of water. Please advise.

Will Rogers used to do the world's shortest pre-Twitter column, by sending a daily telegram that was syndicated all over the world. They can be found here and some of them are pretty good.

Then there's Mark Twain's 'Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated', which was delivered by telegram, Peter Sellers cabling his wife downstairs to ask her to bring him up a coffee [my mother and I, when we lived together, used to text each other rather than calling from room to room, which we felt was vulgar. Our house is *really* small], and the lovely telegram sent by a British biologist investigating platypus eggs: Monotremes Oviparous, Ovum Meroblastic. Indeed, and so say all of us.

JFK used to joke that he received a telegram from his father during his election campaign that said Dear Jack. Don't buy one more vote than necessary. I'll be damned if I pay for a landslide.

Some classic put-downs were delivered by telegram. I quite like this exchange between George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill, even though I'm sure it's apocryphal. Shaw sent Churchill tickets to his opening night.
Shaw: Here are two tickets. Bring a friend, if you have one.
Churchill: Impossible to make it opening night. Will attend second night, if you have one.

And Dorothy Parker famously cabled a friend of hers who had just given birth (and who had been boring Dorothy senseless about her pregnancy) to say Congrats Mary - we all knew you had it in you.

When I first started college, I had only owned a mobile phone for a few months and I lived in hope that text messages would take over from telegrams when it came to providing short funny anecdotes like these.

Hasn't happened yet.

I was also hoping Twitter or Facebook might do it, but alas not yet. Either we're getting less funny, or our celebrities getting more crap, or maybe there is just such a massive volume of content being generated nowadays that anything funny gets lost. Whatever it is, I miss telegrams.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Matters Zeitgeisty, or How my blog post title mojo isn't what it might be

Thanks for all the lovely comments on my extract for the Love At First Blogfest! Apologies for my blog-silence all week. I've been sick, and so I haven't been reading blogs as much as I should have. I'm still a little under the weather, so further apologies if this post ranges all over the place.

I have, however, been comfort reading, which for me generally means YA. And just as I was in the middle of having some thoughts about it, Randy Russell has a guest post on his blog from Maurissa Guibord, about the use of technology in fiction.

It's not exclusively a YA problem. In fact, I'd guess detective and suspense fiction probably have the worst time of it. Imagine if the talented Mr. Ripley and Dickie Greenleaf were on Facebook, for example, and bang goes your premise.

But teens tend to be early adopters of new technology, and two of the novels I read got me thinking about their use of technology. Both books are by the same author.

The first book is an updated version of one originally published in the late 90s, and although all of the pop culture references have been seamlessly updated, one thing stood out. A character's boyfriend keeps calling the hotel where she is staying and leaving messages for her while she's out (it is quite important that he not reach her for a couple of days). And at another point, the same character is supposed to meet her friends and decides not to at the last minute - not unreasonably, she gets a mild bollocking when they find her.

Seriously, get this girl a mobile. I'll chip in.

And this could have been disguised fairly easily - just mention she forgot her charger and couldn't borrow one, that her phone doesn't work abroad, anything. But without it, because the rest of the book was so up-to-date, it seemed like quite an omission.

By contrast, the second book was massively tech-heavy, with characters constantly uploading photos, emailing each other, adding each other on Facebook and at one point, live-Tweeting a fight as it happened.

The second one was more realistic, as I sat reading it in February 2010. But I can't help feeling the first one will age better.

There are certain kinds of technology that are just faddish. Email and texting are not among them - people have always sent written messages, and when email and texts have become obsolete, I think future readers will still be able to enjoy books that feature them, in the way we can still enjoy books the rely heavily on letters and telegrams for their plot points (one of my uncles informs me that eleven letters are sent in King Lear, she says for no apparent reason. Just thought it was interesting).

I do wonder how references to Facebook and Twitter will date, though. Firstly, if you wanted to be down with the young folk a couple of years ago (in Ireland, anyway), Bebo would have been the social network to namecheck, not Facebook. And having watched an entire generation of Irish people migrate en masse from Bebo to Facebook, I wonder what will replace Facebook when it gets boring.

I feel it helps to avoid mentioning specific 'brand' names. I'm loath to say this, because mentioning brands can really help to ground a novel in its time and place, and avoiding them can look so dodgy if it's badly done, but there are ways and means. Say email and not Hotmail (does anyone still use Hotmail? I'm a Gmail girl myself these days). And say 'I checked to see if she had replied to my email' rather than 'I logged on to Gmail to see if she'd replied', or 'She'd posted my pictures all over the internet where anyone could bloody see them' instead of 'She'd posted my pictures on her Facebook where any of her friends and her friends' friends could see them, under that bloody new privacy policy.'

That's just my $0.02. I imagine if a novel has tweets and status updates and Farmville wars (ooh, idea. . . ) and Nintendo Wiis and blogs and iPhone apps, future ages will still manage to figure out what was meant and enjoy the book. If the writing is up to scratch, little else matters. But you'll look properly outdated in eighteen months.

Of course, my grand plan goes out the window if you're writing something where the plot hinges on technology. There has rarely been a time in history when technology has changed so much, so fast, in ways accessible to so many people. It's a tough time to be a writer.

Has anyone had to deal with these issues? How do you get around them?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love At First Sight Blogfest

I love the word 'blogfest'. It sounds almost gooey, in some way reminiscent of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food.

Just me? OK.

I found out about the Love At First Sight Blogfest at Courtney Reese's blog and thought it sounded fun. A group of writers are posting scenes from their writing where two characters fall in love, or realise they're in love. I don't write romance, but as it happens, there is a scene in my WIP where two of my characters meet properly for the first time and start to fall for each other so I thought, why not? I like to be a part of things. I'm quite Zoidbergy in that respect.

Ahem. So now that I've name-checked a scifi cartoon lobster, I trust you're all in the mood to read about something romantic. Well, actually it's not very romantic at all. I may have bent the rules a little with my extract but my book seriously lacks romantic bits.

For links to all the other participating bloggers, if you fancy something else to read, go here :) I can't wait to read them all.

March 1935

Elizabeth was seventeen when she went to her first dance – a ceili in the parish hall, which Rosie had begged and begged her to attend. She had spent most of the night standing around sipping an orange drink and feeling very out of place as Rosie danced with Stephen Collins, the doctor's son. It was when Rosie vanished for a while and Elizabeth was looking for her coat so she could leave (and then Rosie would be sorry!) that Billy McCarthy asked her to dance. Elizabeth said yes, blushing, then took his hand and walked into a table.

Billy told her later that he fell in love with her at that moment, which she didn't quite believe.

When they sat down to talk, Elizabeth was glad they'd danced first. It gave her some time to mentally process the fact that Billy McCarthy was two feet away from her and had asked her to dance and actually seemed to like her.

“So you work in your dad's shop, do you?” he asked her.
“Yes. I see you coming in sometimes.”
Billy smiled.
“Do you work for your father as well?” she asked.
“He's training me to be a carpenter. Did you know that?”
“I think your sister said something to me about it once.”

The annoying thing about Clonleth was that you knew exactly who everyone was – you knew their family, their history, what side they took in the civil war that Elizabeth could hardly remember. You also knew anything foolish or embarrassing that they had ever done. The entire town and the areas around it seemed to be populated by anecdotes dressed up in human disguises. To make things worse, she knew everything about Billy because she'd always had a notion in him, and it was hard to strike the right balance – if she knew too much about him, she'd look pathetic and strange, and if she knew too little, she'd either look stupid or like she never socialised. In fact, she only socialised with Rosie (if you could even call it that), but Rosie's talent for gossiping was so great that she was practically an entire town wrapped up in one person.

“Da wants me to take over his workshop in a few years' time.” Billy said.
“You're very young for that!”
“I know, but he's been training me on and off since I was a kid. Whenever he was busy I'd help him out for a bit after school. I suppose your da will have you married soon?”
“I don't know,” said Elizabeth, with feeling. “Nothing's been said.”
“Now, I find that hard to believe.” Billy said, flashing her his best smile.

Elizabeth said nothing. It was a touchy subject at home. She was grateful when Billy started talking about his sisters. Elizabeth told him about her family – her brother, Thomas, the eldest, in university in Cork learning to be a pharmacist; her younger sisters, Kate and Carmel, were both still at school. Carmel was eight, and she would help out in the shop at the weekend, stacking the shelves and sweeping up and tidying while Elizabeth managed the till. This was Elizabeth's favourite time of the week because she could play with Carmel all day. Kate, the middle sister, was thirteen and a gifted seamstress, and she was excused work in the shop and had a bedroom to herself because she “had a gift”, which Elizabeth felt she was welcome to.

Rosie sprang up behind Elizabeth just as she was telling Billy exactly where their house was.

“Lizzie! Who's your suitor?” she joked. Elizabeth's heart sank.

Billy laughed. “I'm Billy McCarthy. And you must be Black Rosie, who else could you be?”

Something in Billy's voice made Elizabeth's insides tremble. There were two Rosies around Clonleth, and they had gone to the same school. To distinguish them, the boys called Rosie Martin 'Black Rosie' because her hair was the colour of new leather shoes. The girls had never adopted this habit and called both Rosies by their full names – except Elizabeth, who called them “my Rosie” and “the other Rosie”.

Sometimes in the shop, Elizabeth heard people allude to Rosie in ways she didn't like – that she was “fast”, that she was “troublesome”, that she was “popular”. Elizabeth had some idea what they meant – she knew she was naive but she also wasn't stupid – but she could never bring herself to believe it. Rosie was wild and funny, and Elizabeth had always felt she was running to keep up with her, but she was a good person. Elizabeth was certain of this because she kept a running tally in her head of incidents that proved Rosie's goodness, and whenever Rosie upset her – which was often – she used them to construct a defence of her friend. She had listed these incidents so many times that she had a private shorthand for them, and a single word could stand for an episode in their friendship that had strung out for weeks.

Elizabeth didn't want Billy to know that Rosie's reputation wasn't perfect. She also didn't want to think about how he seemed to know it already.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thanks, Terry. . .

Terry Pratchett says that his books don't have chapters because life doesn't have chapters.

Fair point. I think I had read three Pratchett books before I noticed the lack of chapters so he may be on to something.

I didn't write my current WIP with chapters either. I didn't plan it that way - it just made more sense to divide it by time-sections. All this stuff happens in the same year, then we fade out and it's two years later, then we fade out and it's four years later again. . . there were natural divisions, but they weren't chapter-shaped.

Until some of the divisions got kinda long, and now I'm doing one of the most thankless tasks know to writer-kind - figuring out where the chapters are.

It's thankless for two reasons. Either the divisions are obvious (this happens 98% of the time), so all you can think is 'Why didn't I just do this the first bloody time round? Now I have to remember whether I typed Chapter 27 or Chapter 28 seven pages ago!'

Or else they're not.

I have a single page, which spans a month. I feel it wants to stay in the book, but at one page long, it can't be a chapter. It can't be squished into the chapter before it, because it ends with quite a big 'goodbye' moment, nor can it be merged with the chapter after it, because that starts with someone going into labour (really, is there a more textbook 'beginning' moment?).

One solution would be to open with the labour, flashback to sum up the last month, and then keep going. As in:
Rosie was lucky. The pains didn't start at night.
She had been in a strange state for the last month. . .

But I do that all the fecking time, and sometimes I have to, because my novel makes such big temporal jumps. I'm not sure this extract quite merits doing it again.

So I feel it has to go. I'll read through it, pick out the important bits and slot them in after the labour starts - assuming that Rosie has enough time to think about them, that is, what with being in labour :)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book Review - Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher

I read this book on the strength of Claire Hennessy's review. The format and the premise intrigued me, although I suspected it was going to be a character piece, made or broken by the voices.

And although the voices in the novel are well done and didn't disappoint, in the end it was the format and the premise that made the book for me.

Clay Jensen receives a package in what he would call the mail and I would call the post, two weeks after his classmate, Hannah Baker, killed herself. The package contains seven audio tapes, 13 sides in all, and instructions to listen to them all to find out why Hannah did it, then send the package on to the next person who is mentioned on the tapes. So if Clay received the package, he must be one of the reasons Hannah killed herself. . . And if he doesn't listen to the tapes and forward them, Hannah has made arrangements for them to be released to the whole town.

Clay then does what any sensible person would do (and if our Clay is anything, he's sensible): he freaks out and drops everything to listen to the tapes in spite of his terror.

Luckily, or this would be a very short book :)

The book alternates between Hannah's voice and Clay's. Hannah's monologue is rendered in italics. Clay's narration (he does a lot of walking around as he listens) and his responses are in plain type. I found that the switch between voices was often too abrupt - I would be halfway through a paragraph thinking 'Wow, Hannah has a crush on a girl, that's a little unexpected. . .' and then I'd realise I'd been reading Clay for half a page. This isn't a fault with Asher's writing, though - he has created two unique and distinct voices. I blame either my reading speed (I read fast, and I re-read everything) or the layout, as there is no extra line break when it switches. Although the voices alternate so much that a line break between each switch would have added up to a lot of extra pages.

Claire's review (which y'awl might like to read) mentions that a lot of emphasis is placed on the actions that influenced Hannah rather than the fact that ultimately, suicide was her decision. I agree with that, but Asher is getting very deep into the head of one girl, one girl whose perspective is naturally a touch skewed, so I would expect her to be externalising most of the blame. And at one point, albeit fleetingly, she does concede that she may have a predisposition towards suicidal feelings - she says that her thoughts turned that way during any period of strife. That said, there is at least one person on the list, probably two, whom I think Hannah was terribly unfair to single out. She walked away from a lot of people and blamed them for not following her for long enough.

The character of Clay is particularly interesting, because we have a protagonist who we see doing virtually nothing. Apart from Hannah's voice on the tapes, he interacts with maybe three people. He walks. He orders a milkshake. He takes buses. Ho hum. You know how every agent blog you've ever read about characterisation says that your character needs to be active, to make decisions with consequences, rather than sit by passively and be acted upon? Well, Asher turns this on its head and he does it well.

Clay is three-dimensional and well-drawn - although sketched might be a better word as Asher manages to make very little detail convey a lot. For instance, at one point Hannah remarks (on the tapes, where no one can answer you back) that Clay never went to parties. His response? He has to study at weekends. Most of his classes have tests on Monday. It's not his fault.

That says so much about the character. The 'It's not my fault' is interesting - he could just decide not to study. Or not to study after a certain time in the evening. Or to make up the time during the week before. But no, it's 'not his fault' and he has no choice. And of course it wouldn't cross his mind to just not study.

The form was the thing that made this book, though. I don't know whether it is more accurate to call it a dialogue where one participant can't hear the other, or a monologue with ineffectual responses interspersed throughout.

There was one line that really stood out of me, from Hannah: "You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything. . . affects everything."

And in spite of what some reviewers have said, I'm not sure there's any message that we can take away from this book. Except one of total helplessness - you have no idea how your actions may affect others. And in many ways, this is a book about helplessness. But it also a book about decisions and consequences, and I think Hannah's decision was made before the last few people crossed her path.

Verdict: A good read, a page-turner, and an interesting study in rule-breaking. Very challenging themes and *very* dark for a YA - but it would be, given that Hannah was dead to begin with so there's no hope of a rescue.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Striking Fear

As some of you may know, it was my birthday last weekend.

No? Gosh, didn't you get the memo? I had it skywritten and everything.

On the day before my birthday, I got a text from my mother, asking me for a few suggestions for books she could buy me. I texted back the name of every Alice Hoffman book that I don't already own and the latest Alexander McCall Smith.

My mother, in turn, went to two bookshops in one of the major shopping centres in south Dublin. One is good, as smaller chains go. One is a glorified magazine shop. The better of the two had one Alice Hoffman, the other had none. No surprises there, as Hoffman is a lot more 'fringe' over here than she is in the States and she can be a little hard to find unless you want to own another copy of Practical Magic. Alexander McCall Smith, on the other hand, is everywhere.

So she went to a smaller, local bookshop, and asked for all of the above again.

It didn't help that the staff weren't nice. But they had none of the above in stock either. 'We can order it.' said one of the staff. 'It will be here in seven to ten days.'
My mum said no, because my birthday was the following day. And it's me, so she just had to send another text to get a whole new list of book suggestions.

When she told me about this, I told her that the next time she met a rude bookshop manager who offered to order a book, she should smile and say the words that strike fear into the heart of every bookseller - 'Thanks so much, but Amazon is quicker.'

She went a step further and decided that next time, she'd fake a phone call to me and allow the staff to hear her say 'Ama-what? Free shipping to Ireland now? And you say they have virtually everything? Wow.' My mother is a very nice person but she has moments of pure evil.

Anyway, I then went on to bore her for some time about why Amazon are actually not all good. As one does.

But Nathan Bransford's post today about whether bookshops and e-books can coexist made me think about bookshops and what they offer.

Already for me, as an Irish consumer, bookshops aren't competitive, even just against online retailers. Amazon are cheaper, they - finally!!!!! - have extended free super saver shipping to Ireland and they deliver faster than a bookshop can order. Ireland is a small market, and it can be hard to just walk in off the street and buy stuff. I've been after Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter and Sweet for ages and it just can't be bought here. And I've never seen an Ally Carter book for sale here. So for those things, I go online.

But I love bookshops, and I will keep going. They are competitive in another way, because with Amazon or its ilk I have to know what I want, then I type in the title, and I buy it. A bookshop is where I go to find out what I want, and once I do, I buy it there. Sometimes an interesting cover catches my eye, sometimes I see a familiar name. Online retailers will never, ever replace that for me.

And luckily, the overwhelming majority of bookshop staff are just lovely :)


I'm all happy now :D I got another blog award! Many thanks to Guinevere, whose blog deserves more out-checking.

Here's my list:

10 Things That Make Me Happy

1. Writing. Not always, but it enriches my life so much, even when it's going badly. There's no feeling in the world to match that moment when you see a new direction for a character, or come up with a new idea.

2. Books. Pretty much all of them.

3. Tea. Camomile is my current favourite. Before that, I used to drink loads of pink tea, hence the name of this blog. Favourite pink teas are Twinings Orange, Mango & Cinnamon (my Formula One tea) and Barry's Very Berry. For proper, caffeine-y tea, Barry's is my tea of choice, with no sugar and a reasonable dollop of milk. Yes, I do have more to say about tea than books. Surprised, anyone?

4. Family, friends and loved ones. Can't stress this one enough. Really. But I won't go on about it as I don't know how cool any of them are with being discussed in Blogland. Just be assured that they are great.

5. Chocolate. Very nearly as much as the one above :p

6. Music. My taste in music is very wide-ranging. I like everything from good stuff to terrible stuff. And I walk a lot, and I have long bus journeys into work, so I listen to a lot of music.

7. Dublin. I complain about it quite a lot, but I really do love Dublin. Georgian houses, lots of trees, good cafes, small quirky shops, cobblestones, Stephen's Green, Phoenix Park, the Dart, Blackrock Market, Ranelagh and Rathmines, history, craic, great people, lots of pubs and cafes. Apart from the cost of living, the weather and the traffic, what's not to love?

8. Travelling. Ah, Dublin. How getting away from you rocks.
Really, though, I love travelling. I love figuring out what's the best way to get the airport, and what time I have to be there. I love looking up articles about places on Wikitravel, and buying guidebooks is one of my secret vices. I love arriving somewhere new and getting to know it, seeing new things, and then coming home to bore the very pants of everyone about the 'little differences' without even a hint of Pulp Fiction allusion. I can talk for hours about the differences between pub food in Ireland and Britain, where to get the best hot chocolate in Amsterdam (Bagels and Beans. They're a chain, and you must go), my favourite bookshop in London (Skoob in the Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury) or what spire in Prague is the prettiest.
Now, aren't you glad you don't know me in real life? Except those of you who do :p

9. Cork. I'm bracing myself for an onslaught of missiles thrown by Corkonians for this, but the Republic's second city (pardon me while I duck) never gets the recognition it deserves, so here's a little plug from me.
Cork is lovely. The people are pleasingly mad (I can say that because my father was from Cork, you see, so it's not prejudice) and it's like Dublin would be with less globalisation. Small Irish chain stores often survive here after they've died in Dublin due to the high retail rents. There are more knitting shops per head of population than I have ever seen anywhere, and they also have Vibes and Scribes, an utterly kickass independent bookshop where you can find all manner of weird and wonderful things. It's been over two years since I was last there but just knowing Cork is nestled down there waiting for me is really lovely.

10. Baking. I'm throwing this one in because I feel most of the things I've mentioned are quite big things - writing, family, friends, books, my city. Baking isn't a major life-defining Thing for me, but I do love it. I tend to zone out slightly when I do it, which is always nice (doesn't everyone love those switch-off-this-part-of-brain, switch-on-other-part activities?) and you get something nice to eat at the end of it all. I made cinnamon muffins on Sunday, my first ever muffins and they turned out well.
I'm an insecure baker, though. I keep asking people's opinions of what I make. Be warned, it gets annoying :)

Now, to pass the award on - well, I've passed on lots of awards lately, and I have a very short follow list, and I don't want to force people to give over their entire blog schedule to awards and memes. So I'm going to take a novel approach here (that is a pune or play on words, Pratchett fans):
If you read or follow my blog, if you ever comment, or if I read yours, please consider yourself a winner of the Happy 101 award and take it if you wish :) If you fall into any of those categories, what the hell, you deserve an award. Help yourselves.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Bow Before My Awesomeness. And The Awesomeness of Seven Other Bloggers

Simon over at Spellmaking has decided to award me one his seven Prolific Blogger Awards :D

I'm very happy about this. It's nice to know my posts are being read and enjoyed. And this couldn't have come on a better day, because my day today was utterly rotten.

Best of all, I get to pass this on to seven other bloggers.

As ever, there are rules attached to these things :

  • Every winner is expected to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers.
  • Each Prolific Blogger is asked to link to the blog from which he/she has received this award.
  • Every Prolific Blogger is asked to link back to this post, which explains the origins of the award.
  • Every Prolific Blogger is asked to visit the post listed in rule #3 and add his/her name to the "Mr. Linky" at the bottom

So, I get to nominate seven other wonderful blogs. Simon has nominated a few bloggers that I would have chosen too, so be sure to check out his list too :)

Digging Out of Distraction, by Christine
- a very humane and real-life friendly approach to writing
Write On! by Marsha - an often-updated and very London-loving blog :)
Kristin Creative - today is particularly good day to visit her as she's interviewing Jennifer Hubbard
Unedited, by Jen - very often updated and always interesting
This Is Not My Day Job - not only a great blog, but it sounds like there's a great book backing it up!
The Sound of Rain, by Natalie - entertaining blog. It helps that Natalie has the same name as Maria Doyle Kennedy's character in The Commitments. As a child my sole ambition in life was to be Maria Doyle Kennedy.
Shelby Dupree - regular updates and great links :)

Also, I have nothing to say about writing today. So I'm very glad to have this opportunity to hide my inadequacy by directing everyone to people who do :p

Sunday, February 7, 2010

An Assortment of Links

Thank you for all the birthday wishes, guys :D For your reading amusement, have some links:

This is simply hilarious. Nicola Morgan, the crabbit old bat, held a bad query contest some time ago and the results are great. I especially like If Only Your Neck Was Longer.

The BBC have published an article that suggests that we can feel younger physically using the power of our minds. The good news is I don't have to be 26 anymore if I don't want to. The other good news is that, even though Jennifer Aniston's production company is considering making a film about the retelling of this study, the BBC do not include any pictures of Ms. Aniston alongside their article, proving once again that the BBC is at the forefront of British journalism today :p

Friday, February 5, 2010

Zsa Zsa and I

Bet you didn't know that Axl Rose, Bob Marley and Rick Astley have the same birthday as Eva Braun.

Guess how I know? Because I do, too.

As well as Eva Braun, Axl Rose, Bob Marley and Rick Astley, I share my birthday tomorrow with Ronald Reagan, Babe Ruth, Rip Torn, Mamie Van Doren, BJ from M*A*S*H, Kate McGarrigle, Jim Sheridan, Kathy 'Voice Of Peggy From King of the Hill' Najimy, Calum Best and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Arthur Ashe, King George VI of England and eight of the Busby Babes died on my birthday. My father, a die-hard Manchester United fan, never forgot my birthday because of the Munich crash - and I wonder if he knew that he and George Best both had a child born on the same day. I think he would have liked that :)

Singapore was founded, New Zealand was established as a British colony and the first female Justice of the High Court of Australia was appointed (I was three, to put that in context).

What interesting things happened on your birthday? Wikipedia knows if you don't :)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wanting It Bad

There is a lovely, inspiring post over at The Blood-Red Pencil today about how far the desire to write can carry you.

Very far, apparently, once you channel it.

This post didn't come at a great time for me - I was just talking to a friend last night about the fact that my desire to write is suffering at the moment. I'm blaming the fact that I'm dead busy, that my new place is still a bit chaotic and I feel guilty carving out writing time while the floor is still at least 50% debris (we are making progress on that, though). Writing is very far down the list at the moment, and I'm hoping that will pass.

But the last few months have been hard.

Missing my self-imposed deadline last year hit me harder than I wanted to admit at the time. It seems like a gross admission of failure (what would insert-dream-agent's-name-here think of me if they knew I had missed a self-imposed deadline? How will I deal with the realities of external deadlines, if and when I'm faced with them? Why must I be so crap? etc. etc.). But then, this is my first novel. I am nowhere near ready to query yet. What an agent may think of my behaviour now is about as relevant as what an agent may think of my degree. Yes, it's contributing to making me whatever type of writer I may become, but it's not going to be current by the time an agent is looking at me.

So I'm working quite hard at not beating myself up about this.

The other problem is that I am pretty bored of my novel at this point. I'm keen to start on another one.

When I started my current WIP, the goal I set for myself was to finish it, no matter what. I needed to prove to myself that I could finish a novel, that I had the staying power. I haven't allowed myself to start any other serious projects since I started this one. What would be the point, if I hadn't proven to myself that I could finish a novel? How many half-novels does one girl need?

I'm beginning to think that may have been a mistake. I think having a second project may have helped to keep the first one fresh. Unfortunately, it's too late to rectify it. If I start a new project now, I will abandon the old one. I've reached a critical level of boredom. All I can do is incorporate the lesson next time.

So the only solution is to bite the bullet and write faster and get through it. Then I can start on something new, and learn even more about how I handle projects.

I think I've proven that I have staying power though. I have it to a fault :p

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Over the Top Blogs

Karen has tagged me with this Blog Award, which has a very pretty graphic and comes with fun questions.

Rules: Answer the following questions with Single Word answers then pass this along to 5 other bloggers. Make sure you let them know about it though.

Your Cell Phone? Doomed!
Your Hair? Brunette
Your Mother? Fun
Your Father? Missed
Your Favorite Food? Chocolate
Your Dream Last Night? Green
Your Favorite Drink? Tea
Your Dream/Goal? Happiness
What Room Are You In? Living
Your Hobby? Baking
Your Fear? Death
Where Do You See Yourself In Six Years? Different
Where Were You Last Night? Here
Something That You Aren't? Redhead
Muffins? Chocolate
Wish List Item? Bravery
Where Did You Grow Up? Ireland
Last Thing You Did? Chatting
What Are You Wearing? Jeans
Your TV? Off
Your Pets? None
Friends? Wonderful
Your Life? Changing
Your Mood? Tired
Missing Someone? Sometimes
Vehicle? None
Something You Aren't Wearing? Hat
Your Favorite Store? Retro
Your Favorite Color? Black
When Was The Last Time You Laughed? Today
Last Time You Cried? Weekend
Your Best Friend? Unranked
One Place You Go To Over And Over Again? London
Facebook? Addict
Favorite Place To Eat? Abeno

If this is anyone's second tag, apologies:

Since the whole challenge is to answer each question with just one word, I am resisting all temptation to explain things in more detail here :)

Thanks, Karen, that was fun!

Jodi Picoult - Handle With Care

I have a policy about Jodi Picoult books. I cannot start one after 6pm.

I did once. It was Christmas Day, and I'd finished my first Christmas book. I started a Jodi Picoult in the evening and finished it at 3.30 am. I couldn't put it down.

Since then, I have learned my lesson. This woman's books are like crack to me.

The first one I read was My Sister's Keeper, probably Picoult's most famous book. It's about Anna, a 'designer baby' - her parents deliberately created a perfect genetic match for their elder daughter, suffering from leaukemia, so that Anna could donate cells for a transplant. They'd wanted another child anyway, they just made sure they had the right child. Except it didn't stop there, and now after a childhood of medical procedures, Anna is thirteen and she's been asked to donate a kidney. So, like any sensible teenager, she sues her parents for medical emancipation.

Picoult's signature style is alternating first-person point of view. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, so the reader can spend time in every head, and ultimately - when she's successful - sympathise with every character and see every perspective. This is why her books are addictive for me - I find myself empathising with everyone, but they can't all get what they want.

Handle With Care is told the same way, and in many ways it is very similar to My Sister's Keeper. Charlotte O'Keefe's youngest daughter has OI, a form of brittle bone disease, and requires constant care, which is draining her familiy's finances and energy. Charlotte is offered the chance to sue her obstetrician and potentially win enough money to set her daughter up with care for life, but there's a problem - the obstetrician is her best friend, and the lawsuit hinges on Charlotte swearing in court that she would have aborted her baby had she known about her condition. Like My Sister's Keeper, it's about who has the right to decide if a baby should be born, how much say should medical practitioners get, and what happens when a mother puts the wellbeing of her neediest child above that of the rest of her family.

The back cover copy for Handle With Care suggested to me that the main conflict was going to be the fact that Charlotte was suing her best friend (the annoyingly-named but likeable Piper). In fact, the main issue in the novel was how Charlotte's family dealt with her willingness to say that she would definitely have terminated her pregnancy had she known about her child's condition - especially since her child is a precocious six year old and understands that the lawsuit is about whether or not she should have been born. About whether or not she was wanted.

Picoult has posted a review on her website that contains the following line: "Picoult individualizes the alternating voices of the narrators more believably than she has previously" (from Publishers Weekly). I was surprised that she included a review that was implicitly critical of her other work (and I really like her for doing it), but this is a problem with Picoult's books - her characters can sound very similar. It was definitely less of an issue in this book, perhaps because everyone's goals were so different, but as a result I found it far harder to like Charlotte O'Keefe. She was one of the best-defined Picoult characters I've read, and also one of the least likeable.

I think this is a good thing. Although her ability to get into every head is admirable, and it is what makes her books so compelling, it did mean Picoult was a little short on folk I didn't like, and that can get wearing after a while. I'm liking her new ability to annoy me and look forward to seeing more of it.

One interesting twist that I thought she really nailed was how the O'Keefes' Catholicism impacted on their decisions. Living in Ireland, I have met many a la carte Catholics, which is *exactly* what the O'Keefes are. Sean O'Keefe consults his priest for advice, although he has already secretly decided on a course of action that he knows is against his faith. Charlotte goes to Mass every Sunday but will stand up in court and swear (under oath) she would have had an abortion, which is strictly forbidden by the Church. This didn't help with Charlotte's likeability as it did make her a bit of a hypocrite, but it is certainly realistic and effective.

She handles subplots very well too - there is a conflict in the family lawyer's private life that mirrors the main story thematically but otherwise has nothing to do with it. And it is a mark of her skill that even as I was unable to get my head out of Charlotte and Sean's life for more than the bare minimum amount of time needed to work, eat, sleep and shower, I didn't greet Marin's reappearance on the page with a deep sigh and some aggressive page-flicking.

This isn't my favourite of Picoult's books - Plain Truth and The Pact probably share the crown - but it shows definite growth as a writer in how she handles voice and how she creates characters that are compelling but could do with a smack in the gob. And every writer should have a few of those.

[This is my first book review. Please tell me what you'd like more or less of. Did I overdo the plot summary? And does this book review make my bum look big?]

Monday, February 1, 2010

Comfort Reads Strike Back

I am now moved into my new flat. As I am Irish, it is a flat and not an apartment :p

I was sorry to leave my old place, which I liked a lot, but the new place is nice too and the location is great for me. I'm closer to my favourite bakery but further from my favourite pub, so Fat and Sober may be my watchwords for the next while. . . and please don't ask how my new year's resolution to get fitter is going :) Also, I'm a little unsettled to find out that I measure my life in terms of proximity to bakeries and pubs.

Anyway, I still have a lot of tidying and sorting to do on the new place, so apart from the second meeting of the Writers' Thingie tomorrow night, I'm unlikely to get very much writing done for a little while longer. Also, during periods of transition in life, I tend to retreat into my Comfort Reads.

But I feel bad about neglecting my little green blog, so instead of blogging about writing and books, I'm going to review some books over the next week or two.

This is mostly just to let you guys know that I'm still reading and commenting when I can, and will be writing new posts as soon as I can.