Wednesday, June 30, 2010

a double whoo-hoo day

Current work: Venice book
Listening to: Sheryl Crow (who has a new album out soon – am looking forward to that) and Newton Faulkner
Reading: next on TBR (still too hot and sticky to concentrate – I don’t mind ‘dry’ Mediterranean heat, but really can’t cope with hot and humid weather. Kew Gardens used to have a glasshouse with thirteen different climates, and I loved the cool and humid one, aka the cloud forest. But hot and humid, as it's been here for three awful nights, brings me to my knees very quickly!)

Definitely a double whoo-hoo day, today.

Firstly, my ed liked the revisions (huge relief, there), so the Penhally book has been accepted – that’s my 45th M&B sold since November 2001. The kids immediately started on the countdown to #50, slave-drivers that they are. Actually, I was due to give my agent the ideas for the next contract, which takes me past #50 – hmm, that’s a bit scary!

Secondly, the school concert last night was brilliant. My baby played beautifully and I was incredibly proud of her; it was the first time she’d played an instrument at a school concert. Actually, all the kids did a fantastic job and they’d all clearly worked very hard, along with the music teachers. This was one of the real highlights of the school year for me. Well done to all of them, including the hard-working teachers. (And yes, of course I’ve written to the head to say so. Credit where it’s due.) I took a video on my phone, and converted it so that it would play on the iPad, so I might take it to show Dad next week. Hopefully he will be rather more lucid than he was yesterday (was quite a painful visit, bless him) and will be able to enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

a perfect summer day

Current work: Venice book
Listening to: Vivaldi cello concerti (the kids are officially protesting now so I might have to put some contemporary stuff on in the car for a day or so)
Reading: next on TBR (still too hot and sticky to concentrate and I could really do with a proper night’s sleep now)

Yesterday was the perfect summer day. Did a bit of admin in the morning, then off to the coast where I had a very writerly afternoon with my friend Kate (who sold a story that morning, so that was definitely worth celebrating!).

Started with lunch at the Priory (no, NOT the rehab place. This is a very nice café in Beeston right behind the old priory ruins). The food is excellent (and decent portions) and the staff are lovely. I opted for Bumbleberry juice (well, how can you resist a name like that? Dark purple, and you could definitely taste the blackberries and raspberries) and a grilled halloumi salad. (And, yes, I was bad and ate the bread. The carb police, aka son, asked me and I had to confess. It was very nice - still warm - and worth being bad for.)

We had a really interesting discussion about editing and structure (I am a planner and I am NOT ashamed of it – I don’t expect the rest of the world to be planners, but it works for me. Thing about planners and pantsters – they have the same aim, i.e. to write a book their readers will enjoy. They just have a different way of going about it. Doesn’t mean it’s wrong, just different, and I say vive la difference). We talked about books. And had a lovely, lovely time.

And then, because it was such a nice day and we were a couple of minutes from the sea…

Actually, I must confess that we went via the ice cream shop. Ronaldo’s does fabulous ice cream, and there were about thirty flavours to choose from. Tough decision but I opted for Norfolk lavender ice cream (it was lovely – intense lavender flavour but not soapy) and Kate opted for damson (which was nice, too – quite sharp). Of course, this was all research for my gelati book ;o)

The sea was beautifully clear.

And we discovered swirls of chalk on the sand on the way back. (Had to do an arty pic...)

Add in one of my favourite family coming for dinner (and the knitting lesson) and to play with my iPad, the fact that dinner was a barbecue so DH was in charge of cooking… and it was just a perfect day.

Same can’t be said of the night (DH had to give in, eventually, and let me have the fan on at 2.30 am as neither of us could sleep). If only perfect summer days could be followed by nice cool nights!

Monday, June 28, 2010

when it flows…

Current work: Venice book (bliss, bliss, bliss – going to bite me later, but I’m loving this right now)
Listening to: Vivaldi cello concerti – um, and the Psychedelic Furs (Sister Europe and India – not really pretending to be 14 again. All because of a discussion with DH about music post-Pistols)
Reading: next on TBR (been too hot and sticky to do anything at all)

When it flows, this is just the BEST job in the world. (That, and finding out that your book has put a bit of sunshine in someone’s life. Those are definitely my two fave bits.) The book really started to come alive this weekend. Probably would’ve done more on it, but when it’s as hot and sticky at night as it has been all weekend, I don’t sleep well and end up going downstairs to my office at stupid o’clock and sitting with the fan on full blast to cool me down, then feeling like a zombie all day from sleep deprivation.

This is when I could really do with some proper coffee to wake me up, but I switched to decaf a while back (except Tuesdays – lovely Jim makes me really, really nice coffee). Today is comforting chocolate flake tea, then. (And there is a bar of G&B in the fridge. DH must have a radar or something, because he rang this morning just when I'd put a piece in my mouth. 'Are you eating chocolate?' How did you guess? Rats, busted...)

Busy week, this week. Today am going out to lunch today with my friend Kate on the coast (NB this does count as work - we'll be talking writing, the sea will help remind me of Venice, and I have lots of thinking time in the car as I’ve just added some scenes to my outline. Oh, all right, we're going to be talking books and playing with my iPad. But it's still work. I don't get to see my writer mates in person that often).

This evening, my stepmum is coming over for a barbecue and teaching Madam to knit – a creative skill I don’t have, so daughter is very lucky that her grandmother can do it! Son has a quietish week, but daughter’s is utterly manic. (She will cope fine because she is absolutely a mini-me.) Tomorrow she’s playing guitar in the school concert (will be the first time she’s played at a concert, though she's played for the family), Wednesday she’s been picked to go to the science day at the UEA, and Thursday her class is playing samba (the music, not the dance stuff) at the Norfolk Show.

Righty. Am in Venice in my head, and then I’m off to Sheringham – where the sea will be blue rather than green, but will be inspirational anyway. (Dear ed. I am working really hard. I worked in the garden this weekend, and in bed on Saturday morning. The joys of the iPad...)

Friday, June 25, 2010

the benefits of passion

Current work: Venice book
Listening to: Vivaldi cello concerti/Athlete
Reading: Nikki Logan – Lights, Camera, Kiss the Boss (nice debut)

What I like about beginning a new book is the potential. I’m a planner, so I know pretty much what’s going to happen and when before I start. However, I’m also flexible – it’s OK to change things if I have a better idea.

I started with action, at a point of change. But the emotional stakes just weren’t there, and I knew it. I also knew why: my heroine isn’t going to spill her feelings to her boss. Her best friend… now, that’s another matter. My heroine can spill to her (or not – the friend will know anyway). And be told uncomfortable things (because you’ll accept it from your best friend, right?). So I’m starting the book a bit later on than I originally planned. The stuff I’d written isn’t wasted: it’s background information necessary for me to know so I can write the next bit. And am I breaking the rule by telling what happened, rather than showing it? No. The reader learns what happened through dialogue and reaction, and said reaction shows the emotional side of things – so it’s still showing. Just in a slightly different way.

My ed tells me that the word to remember for this book is passion. Hmm. I think what she really means is that I must remember to signpost things properly. For me, it feels as if I’m being heavy-handed, because I know the story and the characters; however, what I forget (and what both my editor and agent have to remind me about at the moment) is that the reader doesn’t have my head. I have to get it ON THE PAGE.


Which isn’t the same as having them do each other on page one. (I’m bored with that. Bored, bored, bored. So, dear reader, you’re not going to get *that* book because you’ll find it boring, too.) At the moment, I’m interested in masks and what people are hiding. Hence a book set in the city of masks. But where does passion fit in with masks? (Ask me in a week and I might have an answer. Today, I don’t.)

The title of this post is actually the title of a book I like very, very, VERY much – part of Catherine Fox’s Johnny Whitaker series. (Highly recommended, btw. I love the wordgames in it. And the characters. Fabulous writing and I so wish she would write more of the series.)

And that leads me to a question: how would YOU define passion?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

new book, new desk…

Current work: Venice book
Listening to: Vivaldi cello concerti (that’s what my heroine listens to, a lot)
Reading: next on TBR

New book. New way of working (one file instead of one file per chapter, because iPad file management isn’t up to scratch). And, as it’s glorious summer here, new desk (aka the patio table).

The ergonomics of that chair are not that good – actually, I’ve got three cushions on there to make it comfy – and I had to move back indoors in the afternoon, when the sun really blazes in to the back garden. But this is where I’m working at the moment in the mornings. And I really enjoyed that sparkling water with a slice of lemon.

The other excuse for working outside: yesterday, the sky was the same shade of blue as it was when we were in Venice. I’m a ‘method’ writer, so I’m happy with that feel to it.

Oh, yes. And new office companions. I have several doves, a couple of pigeons, two jays, some chaffinches, some sparrows… and this. (Squirrel doesn’t like sharing the office with me, though, so he only appears when Dog and I go indoors. Hence pic through glass on full zoom.)

Add in the scent of philadelphus…

Well, it worked for me. (Even though I completely rewrote everything on the desktop that evening – had started the story in the wrong place. You’d think I’d know by now…)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Current work: Venice book, yippee
Listening to: Athlete, Tourist (hmm – ‘Chances’ might end up being the song for this book)
Reading: next on TBR

Amazing what having two days WITHOUT any interruptions can achieve. Revisions are done. (Well. This time round. My ed might ask for more.)

What I have learned: signpost things more for readers. Is not being patronising, is getting things out of my head and on to the paper. (You’d think I’d know this after 45 books, but…)

So now today I can start on the Venice book. Need to tidy desk a smidgin and also need to do admin stuff today (pay bills etc, practise bit of guitar), and then the stained glass books and Venice research stuff can sit on the corner of my desk. Have just updated my spreadsheet (those of you at the RNA conf will learn about my lovely nerdy spreadsheet - eep, bit scared by how many people are going to be at my talk).

Provided I don’t get another week like last week of people and events taking my headspace, and provided I don’t get second revs (please cross fingers for me), I should be able to write this book before I go to the RNA conf, which means I can plan the next book on the train (aka perfect work environment – proper coffee and the iPad).

And I might actually get to meet my friend Kate for lunch next week and enjoy it instead of having to put it off (luckily, being a writer and a mum, she understands the demands of deadlines and children, too).

Fingers crossed...

Edit: As it's glorious, I'm treating myself to a new desk (aka the table on the patio). So I'm editing this in the garden on the iPad (with proper keyboard attached). I think this might be a mornings-only experiment (not enough shade for the afternoon), but mobile technology is marvellous stuff...

Monday, June 21, 2010

busy busy

Current work: (yup, still…)
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: next on TBR (when I have finished the book)

Thoroughly enjoyed my talk at Blickling Hall on Saturday – I had a really lovely group of women, and I was thrilled to get an email on Sunday from one of them saying that what I’d said had been useful. (I know my stuff, but I still worry about giving good value!) The NT gave us some seriously scrummy munchies to go with coffee. I was incredibly good and resisted the shortbread, even though it was calling my name. I had planned to wander round the garden and maybe sit among the rhododendrons and do some work after the talk, but (a) DH had been ‘helpful’ and switched off my iPad at the mains while it was charging, so I didn’t take it with me (and I didn’t have the right files on the laptop, which I used for the presentation), (b) it was showery and I wasn’t in the mood for getting wet, and (c) I had revisions and a bad dose of guilt calling me. (Last week was a wipeout, workwise – I didn’t have one single day without other calls on my time. And lovely Kate has been a gem and agreed to move our lunch today to next Monday.)

Couldn’t resist the farm shop on the way home (asparagus, grown literally a mile from the shop and freshly cut that afternoon – and it was SCRUMPTIOUS). Also skived off with the family on Saturday evening to watch Dr Who – superb episode (made me cry – excellent use of emotion, and a good reminder for my own work). Can’t wait for next week because I really can’t see how they can get the hero out of the situation they’ve put him in (even though obviously they will, because the two main characters are both in the next season). This has definitely been my favourite series of NuWho – and I’m looking forward to the next series, as Neil Gaiman is writing an episode. That’ll be a goodie.

Sunday – did some work in the morning; however, as it was Father’s Day, family time was required in the afternoon.

Righty. To work. And today I hope for no interruptions, so I can get the revisions off my desk before my poor editor thinks I’ve abandoned everything and run away…

Friday, June 18, 2010


Current work: revisions (still, arrgh)
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: (not till I’ve finished the book…)

I know I’ve banged on about my discovery of Teapigs… but my new delivery has arrived, and I have to say I’m really impressed with the roiboos crème caramel one. It’s like drinking dulce de leche ice cream (which is my favourite Haagen Dasz flavour) BUT without all the calories and fat. Roiboos isn’t actually tea, per se – it’s from the South African ‘redbush’ rather than Camellia sinensis or Camellia assamica (aka tea plants). It’s kind of woody and nutty and – well, not like tea, but very nice.

Today – still working on the revisions, and then tomorrow is my talk for the National Trust at Blickling. (Lovely Emma did two very nice pieces for the EDP and Evening News - thank you, Emma!) And next week I’ll be working on my Venice book. I’m, um, out to lunch today AND next Monday (long-standing arrangements - today is birthday lunch for my friend Sarah and next week is my author friend Kate, rescheduled from this week because of, sigh, revisions.) In between, am helping Madam to practise for the concert. She’s doing well but some of the timing on the last line is a bit tricky, so we need to go over it until she’s confident. And son enjoyed his skiing yesterday. Today is go-karting. Back to normal lessons next week, and I think that will come hard!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

running a bit late

Current work: revisions (still, arrgh)
Listening to: Beethoven
Reading: next on TBR (lovely Sarah Morgan has sent me a carrot to finish the book so I can read her new one…)

Late posting today. Busybusy. Sports day was fun but obviously took a big chunk out, and then it was a matter of admin phone calls and… this week is just running away from me.

Dentist this morning. She thinks that as the difficult tooth has settled, it’s best to leave it well alone, and I’m perfectly happy with that. (Root canal work is avoided for a bit longer.)

And then I went to see Dad. Bit of a sad visit today. What do you buy your father for Father’s Day when his world is so fragmented? He can’t use his CD player any more, so I can’t delight him as I normally would by finding old favourites he hasn’t heard in years. (I’ve always made an effort with presents, rather than just picking the first thing I see off the shelf – what’s the point of buying someone a present if you couldn’t care less whether they like it or not?) I know he likes what I bought him, but it felt… well, unspecial and not good enough, by my normal standards. He was a bit low today and cried; and I hate the fact that I can’t fix what’s upsetting him because it doesn’t actually exist, and reassurance only goes so far. Dementia is such a cruel illness.

Still. Glass half full. The sun’s shining today so my washing is drying outside, and on the way back from the home the radio was playing Beethoven’s 9th (second movement). So there are good things. Just… a bit sad today and wishing I had a magic wand.

Edit: If you want something to make you smile, go and give Julie Cohen a hug on her keyboard problem (I'm not laughing at her keyboard problem, btw - I'm not that mean and she's a real-life friend) and then read the comments beneath her post. Do NOT read them with a cup of tea anywhere near your keyboard. ;o) (Thank you, Julie, for cheering me up on a bit of a tough day. This woman writes comedy so brilliantly - and it's comedy with depth, so go and buy her backlist.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

elsewhere today and chance to win a book

Current work: revisions (still - these ones are a bit like pulling teeth)
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: Ariana Franklin, Relics of the Dead (fabulous read – and a satisfying ending)

Am mega-rushed today (daughter’s sports day at school, need to check a few things with National Trust before Saturday, revisions etc) and am blogging about one of my favourite girly things over at the eHarlequin Medical authors’ blog – with pictures. Do go over and comment to be in with the chance to win a copy of my latest book, Neurosurgeon… and Mum!.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Time to make lemonade

Current work: revisions (still!)
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: Ariana Franklin, Relics of the Dead (great pacing – absolute PTQ)

Yesterday was a really stressy day. Two years ago, we had a problem with a leak that involved months of having a dehumidifier running, my new (and expensive) kitchen floor ripped up, and eventually the floor dug up and replaced (because it just wouldn’t dry). The plaster dust and disruption and noise were unbelievable. I hated living with bare concrete floors for months. Add in the rainy season and a dog – and the fact we couldn’t wash the concrete because we were trying to get moisture out, not in… (Am just glad he didn’t do what he did the other day!) I hated having such unhygienic living conditions.

So. Yesterday morning, I noticed that the flooring in the downstairs loo had gone all bubbly – just like it did two years ago when we discovered the leak. And in exactly the same place. Was this another leak making its presence known? Or was the floor (or the latex covering over the concrete) not properly dry before the vinyl flooring was laid, despite the dehumidifiers and the drying certificate? Rang insurance company: please can someone come out to take a look and tell me if there’s a leak? The engineer was a really lovely guy; he checked the water meter and listened for leaks, and there was no sign of one. His view was that the floor probably wasn’t dry (and the amount of glue used probably wasn’t helpful either – hmm, didn’t think you were supposed to glue vinyl because it needs to move, and we discovered that this was incredibly glued down). Anyway, the main thing is that there isn’t a leak or any kind of moisture there, so I can stop panicking that we’re going to have a repeat of 2008. Just a matter of taking up the vinyl and talking to someone about new vinyl (probably to the people who did our carpets, because we were pleased with the job they did and they were nice).

There are a few other things stacking up at the moment; however, they’re not fixable, so am not going to drone on about it. (Those of you to whom I have droned on... thank you for listening!) Time, methinks, to make lemonade.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Magician’s book

Current work: revisions (still!)
Listening to: Bach lute suites
Reading: Ariana Franklin, Relics of the Dead (I am a big fan of this series – and this one so far is shaping up to be just as good as the earlier ones)

Michelle Styles has tagged me in a really interesting meme about a ‘Magician’s book’ – i.e. books you remember reading as a child and being absolutley perfect (comes from Lucy in the Narnia books – see Michelle’s blog for details).

I have always been a voracious reader, so of course I can’t stop at just one. The problem might be stopping… so I’ll stick to the ones that really stayed with me from before the age of ten.

The Wind in the Willows – I can remember sitting on my mum’s lap, wrapped in a blanket (we didn’t have central heating in those days and I might have had one of my tonsillitis bouts), while she read this to me. I remember it being perfect – I loved the character of Mole, thought Toad was terribly naughty, and I liked the ducks. Actually, I can remember my dad doing the voices for the duck song – it’s one of the rare things I can remember him reading to me, too. (My dad has never been into books, even before his dementia. He actually stopped my pocket money when I was six because I spent the lot on books. My mum used to buy me books sneakily, and eventually he had to relent. He said afterwards that he was worried we were running out of room to store my books. Hmm… Didn’t work, did it?) Perfect? I bought a really nice illustrated version for my son when he was born, but it didn’t quite stand the test of time for us, so it’s made me wary of revisiting books I loved as a child. Just in case they’re not as I remember them.

Alison Uttley, The Country Child – I also loved her Little Grey Rabbit books (which my mum also read to me when I was little – and she used to make up stories to amuse me, too. She’s where I got the writing gene, and it’s gone to my daughter. I would dearly love to trace it back through the family. Must ask bestest uncle). What in particular? The views of the country (not surprising that I ended up being a huge Thomas Hardy fan, then) and the macabre stuff (the Mistletoe Bride – and I’m still very proud of my own ghost stories).

Ruby Ferguson, the ‘Jill’ series of pony books. I had the lot. I was desperate for a pony at the time. I do remember one of the series being called ‘A Pony of Her Own’ (not according to the official list, so maybe it was a chapter title?). Anyway, the memory stuck, so I was thrilled that my first M&B was called ‘A Baby of Her Own’. (And no, I didn’t explain that to my ed. She would’ve thought I was barking!) My other favourite pony series was Elyne Mitchell’s ‘Silver Brumby’ books. Oh, and I loved Mary O’Hara’s ‘My Friend Flicka’. Now, I used to write pony stories at that point. I remember bawling my eyes out over Flicka. I wonder whether that early memory has contributed to my tendency to write weepies now?

Alan Garner, The Owl Service – actually, all of Alan Garner’s books. I’ve always enjoyed reading paranormal books. This one stands the test of time, though sadly I haven’t managed to persuade son to read it. I do think he’d enjoy it, but never mind… daughter will!

Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden – I’ve always loved time-slips. (‘Charlotte Sometimes’ would come in here, too (daughter is reading this right now). And ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ – not strictly time-slip but has the concept of time travel via the tesseract.) I would LOVE to write a time-slip, but it’s a matter of persuading my editor! I sneaked a bit of the Regency Doctor into ‘Neurosurgeon… and Mum’, but she warned me beforehand that if I overdid it she’d make me cut it, sniff. This one stands up to a re-read – have read it to my kids.

Gillian Avery, The Warden’s Niece. I guess this is where my interest in the Victorian period started (Victorian Studies was my subsidiary subject in the first year at uni). And I think this story made me realise it was OK to have academic ambitions. Nobody in my family went to university, so the fact that from a very early age I wanted to go to uni to study English made me a bit – well, weird. (My mum was wonderfully supportive, and had she lived would’ve probably gone to uni and studied English herself.)

Malory, Morte d’Arthur – again, one my mum introduced me to. (Have I mentioned just how wonderful my mum was?) I think I can trace my love of mythology and all things medieval to this. (The heroine’s son – and the hero – of my book ‘A Christmas Knight’, out Christmas 2010, would both have been deeply into this book. Have re-read since and still love it.)

Richard Adams, Watership Down – I loved this. I was given it for Christmas, the year it came out, and I read it so many times that all the pages fell out. It was like immersing myself in a completely different world. And I can remember being very shocked that Kehaar the seagull swore!

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights. OK, it was deeply unsuitable for a child to read. Emotionally, it was too old for me, but I was a voracious reader and I liked the idea behind it. This book blew me away – the passion and the emotion (not to mention Heathcliff). I remember being fascinated by the use of dialect, too; and the scene of Catherine putting primroses in Hareton’s porridge has never quite left me. (And yes, this did stand up to re-reading. Repeatedly.)

Laura Ingalls Wilder, the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series. I can remember reading these avidly and talking about them with friends: and I think this might’ve been the first time that I can remember talking about books with my peer group. (Something I love doing now, and don’t get the chance to do often enough. Am so looking forward to the time when daughter is old enough to have free run of my library. In the meantime, I read hers so we can talk books.) Not sure if they’d stand up to a re-read because of the attitudes. However. I have fond memories of them.

I’d probably better stop there! Though I do remember that when I was ten I moved on to Victoria Holt (I loved her Gothics), Jean Plaidy, Mazo de la Roche (my mum had the Jalna series, and I remember reading them by torchlight because I wasn’t supposed to read them) and James Herriot. And at the age of ten I had a deal with my parents that I could have their library cards, and the local librarians allowed me to use said cards and take out any books I liked on my junior library card, too, as I’d gone through all their junior books at this stage. I can’t remember the names of those librarians, but I would like to thank them for their kindness and their encouragement, and for suggesting books I’d enjoy. They made a slightly odd, only child very, very happy. And I’m very grateful that I’ve also been able to pass on the sheer joy of reading to my children.

And thank you, Michelle, for letting me unlock a few memories!

Again, a lot of people I know have already been tagged (or are on screaming deadlines so might not appreciate being tagged) – so if you’d like to tell me about your ‘Magician’s book’, do leave me a comment (or post a link below so I can come over and be nosey!).

Friday, June 11, 2010

comfort eating

Current work: revisions to Medical continuity
Listening to: Bach
Reading: Ariana Franklin, Relics of the Dead (I am a big fan of this series – and this one so far is shaping up to be just as good as the earlier ones)

Busy day today. Interview with lovely Emma (who was impressed by the iPad); visiting Dad (who was brighter today but still very confused); quick purchase of birthday presents; and of course working on the revisions and the outline.

Not helped by the fact that (a) I have another book unfolding in my head (am putting that on the sticky notes thing); and (b) my house reeks of disinfectant, after a certain bad dog rolled in something disgusting yesterday morning – JUST before we had to do the morning school run – and needed to be scrubbed clean again. His collar may never recover, and I was gagging throughout; he is SO in disgrace. And he is going to have a proper bath this weekend, even if it’s raining :o)

Still, I did another Teapigs order yesterday to cheer me up. My three big faves (chocolate flake, chai and superfruits), plus packs of the crème caramel roiboos and the winter spiced (orange, clove and cinnamon – that sounded irresistible).

And I’m cooking salmon with asparagus and parma ham for dinner tonight. (And I bought raspberry panna cotta in M&S. Comfort eating at its finest. Apart from the panna cotta, the rest is healthy and low fat, so I have no guilt.)

And now I'm going to lie on the sofa with the iPad and keep the wifi off so I don't get distracted...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

communication, congratulations and free books

Current work: revisions to Medical continuity
Listening to: Corelli
Reading: next on TBR

I saw this Lolcats pic a while back and really enjoyed it.

go 4 wlk? *send* lol snds gud *enter* k brb w leash *send*

This is a bit like being in this house, now we have wireless. DH emailed me last night to let me know he was in the conservatory (! I think that was a ‘time to stop work now, honey’ hint), and then there was an email exchange while we were curled up on the sofa - I was making book playlists and he was mesisng about on the internet. Cough. I foresee Saturday morning emails along the lines of above (except relating to cups of tea – DH having a lie in while I’m slaving away at the book, therefore nearer the kitchen and therefore being the person who should make said cup of tea - DH, if you're reading this, no, that wasn't an offer. I have revisions so cups of tea need to flow my way, please).

Congratulations? Well, there’s a celebration going on over at eHarlequin on the Medical authors’ group blog - several of us have been shortlisted for an award, so we’re celebrating with a party (and I happen to know that giving away books is part of the plan). Do go over and comment!

On other stuff: Dad isn’t so well, so I guess my sleepless nights are going to continue for a while. And I have an interview with the EDP and one of my favourite journalists tomorrow, about the Blicking Hall talk on 19 June – booking details of all four talks is here. (What, you think we’re going to drink coffee and play with the iPad? Umm… yes. After the interview. And during it. Just because it work doesn’t mean it can’t be fun as well.) And in between I have revisions. I am incredibly relieved that they're not quite as heavy as the last eighteen months have been. Let's hope this bodes well for the future, too.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Why I love my iPad...

Current work: Venice book (I did do some admin yesterday so am not a complete slacker…)
Listening to: Def Leppard
Reading: Lindsey Davis, Alexandria (finished and enjoyed hugely)

  • It’s incredibly fast - switch it on and go, just like my PDA, except I don't have to mess about with a stylus to type or get impatient because the PDA screen is slow to recognise my handwriting.
  • The onscreen keyboard is OK for notes, but the keyboard dock makes it act like a desktop. And it's comfortable.
  • I can work anywhere I like and am no longer tied to my desk (e.g. I can keep an eye on something in the kitchen and work at the same time instead of fretting that I need to feed my family but I also need to get on with the book).
  • I can plot a book on Infinotes by typing each plot point on a different note, colour code it depending on the story strand, and then zoom out and see at a glance whether it's balanced or whether I need to move scenes about (that's fab for a planner like me).
  • I can write the actual book on it (though I still have issues with file management and the lack of wordcount in the Pages app – there’s no excuse for this as Word Mobile can do more).
  • I can have a playlist for the book as I'm working, to help set the mood (e.g. for this book there will be a lot of cello music)
  • My research photographs are all sorted at the touch of a finger. (And my "gorgeous men" file is there for inspiration - Antonio Banderas, Richard Armitage - and my husband, of course!)
  • I can reward myself for working hard with games of Boggle or Peggle
  • I can research what I want on the net, including Google Maps with streetview so I can double-check things not local to me, and apps such as the Star Walk so I can see what the stars would be like anywhere in the world at any given time
  • I can read books on it (well, when I've bought some - cough, where is the category romance section, then, iBooks? Tut, tut - get your act together because romance is the biggest market in fiction)
  • It's light, it's fast, it's functional and it's fun.

In all – it's the best bit of kit I’ve ever bought. I am SO pleased with it. (And if anyone knows any really cool apps – iPod and iPhone apps also work on the iPad – do let me know so I can go and investigate!)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Test post from the iPad

Test post... After three frustrating hours yesterday and a call to BT that ended up with "oh, we don't support any Apple products"' today I spoke to a a really lovely woman who checked my settings and then changed the channel. Result: we are properly mobile. YAY!

After a call to Apple, I know how to do coloured text as well.

And my scan results are back - not brilliant news, but not the scary stuff, so all is definitely right on Planet Kate right now...

Tidy, tidy, tidy

Current work: Venice book (well, sort of - Tuesday is a non work day)
Listening to: Def Leppard
Reading: Lindsey Davis, Alexandria (still enjoying)

I admit, this picture is actually from March, but it did look pretty much like yesterday, too. Why March? Well, I’m in Writing Magazine, this month, talking about my working day; the interview was done back in Feb, and in March lovely Lynne Hackles asked for a pic of me at my desk to go with it. So I talked my official photographer (i.e. son) into doing the business.

So this is my desk. (Now I have mobile computing, my desk might turn out to be the garden, the conservatory, the kitchen or even my bed - if I ever get wireless to work - but this is my nice quiet space. Also the spare room, as it has a sofa bed. My guitar and music stand live here, too.)

Walls first: the two beautiful framed photographs are by my very talented photographer friend Steve Denby. (Left is Cromer; right is near here but sadly the tree blew down in a gale.) The map on the wall is Norwich in the middle ages. The clock speaks for itself, as does the calendar (it’s the ‘Little Dog Laughed’ one – their artwork always makes me smile for the right reasons). And the piece of paper you can see behind my monitor is my to-do list.

Desk: on the left, you have my printer, and between that and my monitor is the phone. On the right of the monitor are ex-Radley accessory boxes for stationery (bulldog clips, highlighter pens and stuff) and on top of that is a desk tidy which contains bits of stationery plus business cards (other people’s) and things I don’t want to lose but also don’t want to carry round with me. In front of that is a pile of sticky notepads, a stapler and a paperclip holder. (The scissors are hidden because the two youngest members of the house keep borrowing them and forgetting to return them, and I am very tired of having to buy new scissors!)

Next to the desk tidy is my handbag (that day, it was the Radley signature bag with the racing car – my first one and still my absolute favourite, though the iPad doesn’t fit into it). In front of that are a reel of sellotape, a reel of parcel tape and my desk calendar (which has daily puzzles and is very cool – Christmas pressie from my mate Sarah); and in front of them are some of the research books I was using that day plus a reporter’s pad and pen for notes. (At the time I was trying to break myself of the ‘back of the envelope’ habit because I always end up losing them. But now I have a sticky notes app on the iPad.)

On the monitor are two sticky notes – one was some research info I wanted to feed into the novel I was working on at the time, and the other says ‘Who cares?’ (tip from the Stuart MacBride interview I mentioned on my blog a while back, reminding me not to get sidetracked with minutiae). In front of the monitor is my cup of tea (Earl Grey, weak and milky – and the mug is the original Penguin cover of Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’, 40th birthday pressie from my best friend), wallet-sized photographs of my children in a frame, a kitchen timer (used when I’m on the internet because otherwise I am a Very Bad Puppy), the remote control for my CD system, and the case for my glasses (only needed for working at a screen – they’re practically plain glass, but they contain prisms to deflect light and stop me getting headaches). Oh, and on the lamp base is a cast-iron frog we bought in Ironbridge a few years back (because I liked it) and a tuning fork for my guitar. Monitor, mouse and mouse mat speak for themselves.

That’s really, really tidy for me. And yet it looks a mess. Sigh. I guess it reflects my mind and my schedule – lots of things crammed in there. (And it’s since become untidy as I have a wireless router on there now… and can’t get the wretched thing to connect to the iPad, the iPod, daughter’s DS Lite or my phone. BT helplines are, um, very polite, but they’ve told me that no Apple products can connect. Interesting, because that’s not what their website says. Will have to try again today – and this time, if I get someone who’s polite but hopeless, ask if I can talk to someone who understands WPA settings.)

So what’s your desk like? (Nosey minds want to know – if you can post a link to a pic on your blog, excellent; but describing it below would be just as fun!)

Monday, June 07, 2010

National Trust/Mills and Boon writing workshop

Current work: back to work - new book!
Listening to: Vivaldi cello concerti
Reading: Lindsey Davis, Alexandria (enjoying)

The National Trust is holding four writing workshops in association with M&B – Linda Fildew (senior Historicals editor) is doing one, and the other three are by Nicola Cornick, India Grey and Kate Hardy.

If you’d like more information, please go to the National Trust’s website for details – right here!

Back to school today, so normal routine again. Is also dog’s birthday (he’s eight). My wireless broadband stuff is due to arrive today… and I also need to start my new book. On the todo front, desk will be tidy a bit later; I have sorted the talk and just need to do the handouts; and today I’m working on the Venice book and licking the outline into shape.

As for the iPad – do I still love it? Yes, because it’s light and it’s easy to work in bed or on the sofa with it (OK, so I was playing Boggle, but the principle is the same – I can type without my wrists aching).

However, I do think that Apple could’ve done a bit more market research to find out who their customers are and what they want from applications such as a word-processor.

Apparently what we have (to buy) turns out to be a stripped-down version of Pages. Fair enough – my PDA has Word Mobile, which is also stripped down (and also is YEARS old… remember this in a second when I talk about the differences between them). Big missing functions for me:

  • track changes (from the support forum, it seems that all the lawyers are cross that they can’t do this, too. To be fair, you can’t really do it on Word Mobile either, so I can just about live without this)
  • ability to produce coloured text (which is what I want if I can’t have track changes – next best thing so I can fudge a DIY version of track changes, and that's what I have on Word Mobile)
  • ability to highlight text (dear Apple, just HOW do you expect people to use this as a proper business tool if you can’t even highlight text and make comments in a different colour when you’re editing your text? Word Mobile can do it – and if you can add symbols and drawings in colour in Pages, why on earth can’t you do the text in colour? Even if you limit it to half a dozen bog-standard colours, that would do. You can import them from Word (I tested it), so why can't you do them within the program?)
  • wordcount (OK, so if I fiddle with the settings and make the text TNR – as in the bog standard font used (even though Apple doesn’t support the one Word uses and changes it, cough) – I can do a rough wordcount, but that’s not the point. This is SUCH an easy win, and Word Mobile can do it. Why can't Apple?)

On the whole, it’s great. Just needs a couple of enhancements to make it REALLY awesome. And wouldn't it be nice if Steve Jobs and Bill Gates got together and realised that this isn't about their fight for world domination? It's about fulfilling customer needs - so if that means working together and sorting out connectivity properly, I wish they'd grow up and do it!

(Oops. This wasn't meant to be a rant. However. I was raving about how great the iPad is, so I guess this is balance.)

I will have wireless connection tomorrow - and that's when I'll find out whether it works properly or not...

Friday, June 04, 2010

ticking things off (and blogging elsewhere)

Current work: admin and finalising outline for Venice book
Listening to: all sorts of things on my lovely shiny, shiny toy
Reading: Lindsey Davis, Alexandria (still enjoying)

How am I doing with my to-do list? Actually, I’m pleased that a lot of things are being ticked off:

  • print off manuscript – done
  • send manuscript plus latest paperback to lovely agent – done
  • sort out RNA award entry - done
  • parcel up things for various people – done
  • stagger to post office with enormous bag of parcels – done (yes, really)
  • pay travel agent for Sorrento trip and transfer said money from savings account to current account – done (I’m starting to get excited now, especially as they’ve advised we are NOT flying with BA, so that’s one of the two possible problems averted. Now, dear volcano in Iceland, please can you stop all eruptions for the summer? Because I really want to climb a volcano, not get stranded by one)
  • finalise outline for new Modern Heat (aka Venice book) – still tinkering but getting there
  • update website – in progress
  • finalise talk for Blickling Hall on June 19 – in progress but will be done by Monday
  • sort out accounts – in progress
  • tidy desk – see Monday’s blog for that one :o)

I’m blogging over at the Pink Heart Society today about watching screens. (All right, a certain screen. A touch screen. So if you want to see The Shining One – as yet unnamed – go over. And if you have good tips about Mac software – especially keyboard short cuts on Pages – I am ALL EARS. Best tip nets a backlist Kate Hardy of your choice, subject to availability.) In the meantime, I think daughter and I have to go play Boggle.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

new toy

Current work: admin and finalising outline for Venice book
Listening to: Sheryl Crow
Reading: Lindsey Davis, Alexandria (still enjoying)

Although I don’t tend to talk about news stuff here, I can’t let yesterday’s events in Cumbria pass. Utterly shocking – incomprehensible, really - and my heart really goes out to the people who’ve lost loved ones, especially as they’ll never know why it happened. Much sympathy from here.

I have a hospital appointment today so I’m a little bit antsy. (That’s why I’m awake at stupid o’clock. It’s a painless scan to rule out a couple of things, but I’m not so good at waiting for results. Having an active imagination and a fair bit of medical knowledge is not necessarily a good thing!) So I need a bit of distraction.

And I get paid this week.

(You know what's coming. I've been bad. VERY bad.)

I’ve been eyeing up a netbook for a long, long time. I’d made my decision, actually. But the kids and I went into town yesterday to get some extra bits for DH’s birthday (happy birthday, honey) and they made me go into the Apple shop to play with an iPad. I had a very long chat with Jen (the lovely assistant, who remembered us from when DH talked me into buying him an iPod touch, sound dock and other stuff last payday) and she reassured me that I could switch things between Mac and Microsoft. Connectivity isn’t perfect, but then for simple wordprocessing it’s fine.

Kids’ verdict: ‘Mum, you can’t buy a netbook… not after this!’ No? We went to look at the netbook I had my eye on, so we could compare them properly. Then we had lunch. We talked about it. They pointed out that it’s the size of my beloved Olivetti notebook from the early 1990s (yes, I did say early 1990s – I also had a 386 processor when it was state-of-the-art and internet access at home at a VERY early stage, and I could transfer files between the Olivetti and the PC). And that I wouldn’t need to buy an eReader. And that if I bought a netbook I’d also need a hard drive, virus protection, and I’d be moaning about the keyboard.

And then there’s the fact that you switch it on and don’t have to wait five minutes for Windows to start working, which makes it the perfect replacement for my PDA. I can work in the car, play games (cough - well, of course I have word games on there - Boggle, to be precise), and read books (more than 20,000 free classics? Well, as if I could resist).

I am now the proud owner of an iPad with keyboard dock (and a very dinky case). Actually, in landscape mode, the onscreen keyboard isn’t too bad for typing notes. I just need to learn my way round the word-processing software. (Dear Apple – um, isn’t it intuitive that you name the file when you save it, not wait until it’s saved itself automatically as ‘Blank 1’ or what have you and then reduce the file and tap the name to rename it? And your file management system for documents seems a bit pants right now. I like to work in separate chapters – only in revisions do I use one big file. And I work on more than one book at a time. I like to use folders for each book, with one folder per draft and another for notes. Or maybe I’m just too used to the way Microsoft does things.)

If anyone out there has suggestions of a calendar app that’s as good as Lotus Organizer, I’d be delighted to hear about it. If you’re not familiar with Organizer – it’s BRILLIANT. It has a “year planner” thing (vital for deadlines and scheduling in conferences, London trips and what have you), “anniversaries” (i.e. birthdays and it repeats every year) and a to-do list (where you can put in dates and priorities and it also shows up if you’re overdue). All of these feed into the daily schedule. There’s also a notepad and a contacts list. It’s nice having them all in one place (though I see notes and contacts are already on the iPad as apps).

My family is delighted, too, because I have finally agreed to go wireless. (Though there will be parental controls so son can’t spend all day on the X-box, and I also need to update my laptop with virus protection if we’re going to use that.) DH has visions of sitting in the conservatory on a summer evening with a cold beer and YouTube… and I have visions of working in the garden, this summer. Parasol up so I have a shady corner of the patio, iced water with a slice of lime, dog sunning himself next to me, and birdsong.

Have I mentioned lately that I love my job? I am very motivated today...

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

happy birthday and beautiful blogger

Current work: admin and finalising outline for Venice book
Listening to: Sheryl Crow
Reading: Lindsey Davis, Alexandria (enjoying)

First of all, happy birthday to lovely India Grey. It’s a special birthday, so do go over to her blog and say hello and wish her a wonderful celebration.

She is also the one who asked me (as one of the Three Kates – I’m the middle one, short and round) to do the Beautiful Blogger thing. So here are the five questions (with five answers to each – and I apologise for fiddling with some of the headings. I used to be a copyeditor. When I see something that grates, I have to fix it. The kids hate it when I look over their homework because I make them redo it!)

1. Where were you five years ago?

  • In June 2005, we were living in this house; daughter was about to finish her last year at nursery and son his last year at First School. Oh, and daughter was recovering from chickenpox.
  • We were still a two-dog house (only for a few more days, but still – and I do miss Sally, even though she could be a bit grumpy).
  • I was writing the third of my Posh Docs trilogy (His Honourable Surgeon, aka my 17th M&B – hmm, currently on #46), thinking about my second Modern Heat (aka Strictly Legal/Mistress On Trial), and working on two (possibly three) nonfic books. I was also still working as a copyeditor and writing articles. (And I was PTA chair and a school governor – how on EARTH did I fit all that in? Oh, yeah – I was five years younger and had more energy, back then.)
  • We were about to celebrate DH’s 40th birthday – and I managed to surprise him with a personalised signed photo of Deep Purple (Ian Gillan, you are a TOP bloke) and a guitar-shaped cake. (Oh, and a new guitar. Get the theme?)
  • We were about to remodel the house.

2. What was on your things to do list?

Given all the above:

  • Declutter house, garage and shed, ready for the building work
  • Shop for family birthday party and pick up special birthday cake
  • Deadlines for books, articles etc
  • Sort out school uniform – in September, daughter would be starting First School and son starting Middle School
  • Planning school fireworks extravaganza for November (well, hey, do you know how much organising these things take? Lots of H&S regulations. And I spent £1250 on fireworks… Luckily I had a really good team: my treasurer and vice-chair were utterly superb. And I’m going out to lunch with them in a couple of weeks, yay – even though we’re no longer on the committee and they have day jobs now, we’re still friends and see each other)

This year – well, the house needs a tidy (my office certainly does as it’s in a post-book mess); party has been done; deadlines are still ongoing; school uniform will be done when we’re back from Sorrento; and the only extravaganza I have to organise is whether we go to the beach later this week or the cinema, depending on the weather.

3. Name 5 snacks that you enjoy
I’m limited to just five? Really? How can you do that to a foodie? Just five...

  • Gianduja (this is a mix of cocoa butter and ground hazelnuts – Italian, obviously, and utterly gorgeous – and it’s very, VERY rich so you can only eat a little at a time)
  • Fresh strawberries (preferably just picked from the field and still warm from the sun – and JUST strawberries, not adulterated with anything)
  • Ice cream (preferably my home made, but any proper Italian ice cream other than chocolate. Doesn’t matter if it’s snowing outside. Any day is an ice cream day)
  • Oatcakes with dolcelatte (or a good cheddar with home-made chutney will do. Or brie. Actually, I’m trying to think of a cheese I don’t like… and failing. Perhaps that should just read ‘cheese and crackers’)
  • Shortbread (especially if it comes next to a pot of crème brûlée)

4. Name 5 places in which you have lived

  • The haunted 19th-century cottage in which I grew up (see ‘How to Research Your House’ for more details… I had great fun researching it and discovered it was older than I thought it was)
  • The rather glamorous Edwardian house (?? mansion) in Leicester that was my hall of residence in my first year as a student
  • The little 100-year-old terraced house that DH and I bought when I left uni – it was tiny and damp, and the garden was so small that we couldn’t have a dog
  • The 1980s house that we bought because it overlooked fields and had a garden (meaning that we could at last have a dog – enter Ben the Springer spaniel – and it also had a full-size wishing well in the front garden that we had to partially dismantle before turning it into a rose bed)
  • This house (the only house in which our children have lived – scary to think we’ve been here for 16 years, this year!)

5. What 5 things would you do if you were a billionaire?

  • Play fairy godmother and put some sparkle into people’s lives (actually, most of the money would go elsewhere, because in my view if you have enough money to buy a comfortable house for your family and friends, and a little bit put aside for a rainy day, you don’t need squillions. Why do you need yachts or a Lamborghini for each day of the week? (Unless of course you’re a Presents hero *g*) I’d rather spend the money quietly making the world a better place and making a real difference to people)
  • Fund a cure for cancer (personal – lost my mum to it)
  • Ditto dementia (my dad, and believe me that’s a very long and painful goodbye)
  • Travel more widely (top of wish-list being to see the Northern Lights as part of a Norwegian odyssey taking in Oslo and Trondheim, but close after that would be Luxor, Rome, Florence and Paris. And I’d like to go on the Trans-Siberian railway. And the Orient Express. And visit New England in the fall. And… actually, I’d probably need to be a billionaire to do all this, especially as I have a taste for posh hotels since Venezia (and that would be back on my list, too, along with visiting Jersualem again and Constantinople and several Greek Islands)
  • Live in a really old house with an orchard, a ruined castle in the grounds, and possibly a moat (though that might not be practical with a Springer spaniel around… I’d spend all my time mopping the kitchen floor) (and, yes, I do have a house in mind – it comes on the market every so often, but sadly the asking price is a million pounds more than my house is worth, so it ain’t gonna happen – very, very few authors are that rich, and I’m not one of them!)

And now it's a matter of passing it on. Given that most of the bloggers I know are pretty much struggling with deadlines at the moment... if you read this and fancy doing it, go for it! And please let me know in the comments below (with a link to your blog) so I can come and be nosey... :o)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Current work: very, very last readthrough of Med
Listening to: Sheryl Crow
Reading: Lindsey Davis, Alexandria (enjoying)

Very relieved to say that I’ve finished the book. Just doing the last readthrough to pick up typos, and then it’s leaving the building. (Hence three screamers and all caps on the title today…)

It’s also half term, so the plan for this week is to spend time with the kids. Today son is having friends round for a big X-box session and a barbecue (might be an indoor one, by the look of the weather forecast), and meanwhile I’m going to be baking with daughter. One of son’s friends is allergic to wheat and dairy, so we’re doing some experimental stuff that everyone will be able to eat – provided Sainsbury’s delivers the gluten-free flour and soya marge this morning. (Otherwise we’ll have to nip to Waitrose, where I’m not usually allowed to shop without supervision because I’m very, very naughty…) Wednesday, dropping friend home after sleepover and nipping in to town to buy extra treats for DH; Thursday, DH’s birthday, so out to dinner; Friday, probably cinema; and the weekend, depends on the weather.

However, I get up earlier than anyone else in the house, so I should also be able to fit in some important admin stuff this week, including:
  • print off manuscript and send to lovely agent
  • finalise outline for new Modern Heat (aka Venice book)
  • update website
  • finalise talk for Blickling Hall on June 19
  • sort out RNA award entry
  • sort out accounts
  • update PLR and ALCS (deadline is end of month, if that helps remind anyone else)
  • tidy desk, which is in its usual post-book mess

Does anyone have anything nice planned for the week? I do know two people who have something nice due this week. Firstly lovely Liz Fielding, whose birthday it is today - have a wonderful birthday, Liz. And secondly another writer friend who is about to reach a milestone, so I'll be pointing you over to her blog tomorrow to say happy birthday...

Have a nice day! (even if it is wet and soggy, and our planned barbecue is going to end up being an indoor one...)