Monthly Archives: April 2013

Positivity Will Catch You – Honest

In conversation with my husband last night – after a long, long day for both of us – the topic of positivity and optimism came up. I described to him how hard it is, at times, to keep my thoughts positive and focused, and how easy it feels sometimes to let myself sink under the burden of ‘Why bother? This whole stupid writing dream is never going to happen, anyway.’ My husband, as he is wont, made a statement of such profound wisdom that I felt the need to share it with you all this morning.

Being positive is a safety net, he said. Think about that for a while.

Image: tayaradio.net

Image: tayaradio.net

Isn’t that a brilliant thought? Positivity will catch you, like a safety net. What he means is, of course, if you keep a positive outlook, little setbacks (like rejections, failed story-ideas, missed deadlines) will somehow not seem so bad. Being positive helps you to take things like that in your stride, and every time you choose to be positive in the face of a setback, it gets easier. There’s an added benefit, too – every time you choose to be positive when something relatively minor goes wrong, the easier it gets to stay positive when something more serious goes wrong.

Having said that, nothing serious (thankfully) has yet gone wrong for me, really. Things are, more or less, going to plan. But as anyone who’s been alive for longer than a few months is aware, nothing ever goes to plan for long.

Image: awaypoint.wordpress.com

Image: awaypoint.wordpress.com

Habits, like plans, are easy to form, and hard to break. This is not news. For example, I’m a person who’s notorious for chewing the inside of my mouth; I’ve done it all my life. Even though I know it hurts, it can lead to lacerations, and all that, it’s a habit I can’t break. I do it without even thinking about it. Heck, I’m probably doing it right now. Of course, this is a bad habit, and one I could easily do without, but because people are complicated little things, it’s always easier to form bad habits than good ones. They do have something in common, though – the more often you repeat an action (whether good or bad), the more habitual it becomes. The same thing applies to mental habits, and particularly to positivity. I do believe positivity is a mental habit, and I believe it can be practised and learned and encouraged to become habitual. It just takes a huge amount of effort, particularly for a person who isn’t naturally positive – i.e. me.

My mother spent my entire childhood telling me to develop PMA, as she called it – Positive Mental Attitude. I knew she was right, and what she was saying made sense, but for some reason I could just never do it. I allowed myself to be beaten by pessimism time after time, making silly choice after silly choice, giving up on dream after dream. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older, or more secure in my life and myself, or because I’m doing something I really, truly love and want to devote my life to, but being positive now seems like the only logical thing to do in a situation like mine. Mam, if you’re reading this: I finally learned what you were trying to teach me all those years. And – you were right.

As well as the benefits of trying to think positive, and taking the optimistic view in every situation, there’s also this to think about: the more often you succumb to negative thinking, and pessimistic choices, the easier that becomes, too. Every knock-back you get, if you’re in a negative frame of mind, puts you down so much that you just don’t have the time or energy to fully recover from it before the next one hits you. Then, you get put down again, and you sink even lower than you were before. And so on, and so on, until you reach rock bottom, and you’ve no further to sink. Negative thinking, like positive thinking, is a cumulative thing; every choice builds on the one before it, and forms the foundation for the one after it.

This is easy to understand in an abstract sense. It probably sounds quite logical (hopefully) when divorced from a context. When you’re going through something crushing or complicated or upsetting, of course, it’s not so easy to keep your thoughts positive. But, if you’re anything like me, once you start trying to do it, and you let the light in just a little, it begins to get easier and easier, until eventually – I hope – it will become effortless. Imagine what you could achieve if you just believed that you could do anything that came your way, and that you’d give it the very best shot you could. If you were enthusiastic about challenges, and met them with a smile on your face, instead of fear in your heart.

I hope it helps to remember my clever husband’s phrase – positivity is a safety net. He’s right, of course. Start small with positive thinking, and see if it doesn’t bloom throughout your whole life. It’s worth a try! I’m by no means there yet – positive thinking is still a conscious choice for me, a conscious turning away from the downward-pulling power of the negative. I hope eventually it will be instinctual.

When the knocks really start rolling in, and the challenges start mounting up, we’ll see how much progress I’ve made. I’m going to practise as much as I can in the meantime! And, of course, if I can do it, so can you.

Life/Time Management

Another new week is beginning, and the sun is shining here. It looks (fingers crossed) like it’ll be a lovely day. The weekend was more or less restful – I was attacked by an idea on Saturday lunchtime, which is currently languishing in scribbles on the back of an envelope, and my husband and I had a Serious Discussion about the opening chapters of ‘Eldritch’ yesterday. So, I almost had a break from the words that like to linger in the corners of my mind.

Not, of course, that I’d like them to give me a complete break. That would be like the bereft, cold feeling of having the blankets pulled off you in the middle of the night. It’s just – sometimes – I wish there was more space in my brain. Space into which I could put, for instance, all the other things I have to do. Space to remember everything I need to remember, and arrange my life in the most time-effective and efficient way.

So, not like this guy. Image: smallbizmodo.com

So, not like this guy.
Image: smallbizmodo.com

Now, normally I’m not too bad. I’m usually pretty well organised. I get up early, I attack the day long before most people (I think anyone who does the sort of work I do would do the same), and I generally know what’s on the schedule from one day to the next. But there are times when I slip up, and that’s a real pain. I’ve been entering competitions, as you know, and trying to submit work to as many places as possible in the hope it might be suitable for publication. And I’ve mentioned before that there are lots of places to submit. So, it’s inevitable that, at times, stuff is going to slip through the cracks. I realised on Friday, for instance, that I’d allowed time to slip away from me, and that a competition deadline was approaching – and that, even if I acted fast, chances were I’d miss it.

This was a shame, because it was a competition I really wanted to enter. I’d noticed the call for submissions a few weeks ago, and I’d had an idea. I kept this idea on a particular shelf in my brain, ripening like a fine cheese; every so often I’d turn it, tend it, and check how it was getting on. Unlike a good cheesemaker, though, I allowed too much time to go by – I left it too long on the shelf. By the time I hurried it out into the light, I fear not only did I spoil it, but also left myself too little time to get it out into the world. The competition is in the UK, and the closing date is early this week. I sent my entry, but I have a feeling it will be too late. I also know that I should have spent more time on the story, if I’d had time to spend.

I got very side-tracked with ‘Eldritch’ last week; I really allowed it to take over all the space I had in my head. So, other things (like checking up on a contact I hadn’t heard from, sending a few emails re. an upcoming publication, and – of course – sorting myself out for upcoming competitions) fell by the wayside. I don’t want this to happen again, because it makes me stressed. There are, of course, a few simple steps that can be taken to avoid a recurrence – first among these is ‘not relying on your holey brain to remember everything, and getting a calendar’; second would be ‘not forgetting to take a big red marker and write the stuff you need to remember on the calendar.’ I’ll probably end up writing notes on my hand to remind me to write on my calendar, which will devolve into tying pieces of string onto various extremities and leaving myself Post-It notes all over the house… I can see it turning into a total disaster, but it’s better than nothing. At the moment, I normally put reminders on my phone to help with time management and organisation, but I think the poor device is going to raise the white flag shortly and beg for parlay. Plus, if I lose the phone, my whole life goes with it. That, naturally, would be a disaster.

Whatever way I choose to do it, there’s a job to be done. It’s (besides the physical action of putting words on pages) the most important job I have to do, which is making the most of the time I have, and doing as much as possible in every working day. I have a lot of ground to cover in a reasonably short space of time, and so every second is important. So, today’s agenda looks like this: my (wonderful) husband gave me some interesting and useful feedback on the first 10,000 words of ‘Eldritch’ yesterday, so I’m off to rethink the opening sections. I’m still determined to get the book submitted to agents, but this time I want to make sure I don’t send it until it’s as ripe, tasty and perfect as I can make it. If I’m to keep to my schedule, then, I’m going to need to have the most efficient working week I’ve ever had!

Determination, organisation, motivation… and a lot of perspiration! Hope your week is shaping up to be fun, creative and (happily) busy, too.

A Milestone Note, and a Book Review

Good morning!

So, this morning I awoke to find that my blog had ticked over the 10,000 hit mark while I slept. Also, I’d gained a few new followers on Twitter, bringing me to over 600.

Image: last.fm

Image: last.fm

Of course, I am aware that Twitter is a nebulous and quicksilver thing, wherein you lose followers as quickly as you gain them (more quickly, in some cases); I’m pleased to have reached another milestone, all the same. I’m happier, though, to know that my blog has had north of 10,000 hits since it first came online last August, and for that I have nobody but you guys – my lovely readers – to thank.

Image: gulfshoressteven.wordpress.com

Image: gulfshoressteven.wordpress.com

It’s amazing to think how frightened I was of beginning this blog. I was excited and happy about it, too, but mainly I was terrified. I could never have imagined how much happiness it has brought me, and how useful it has been, in so many ways. Thank you to everyone who’s helped it, and me, to go from strength to strength.

And now, as I am wont to do on Saturdays, shall we have a little book review? Let’s.

I’ve been wondering whether or not to do a review of the following book. I wondered if I was brave enough. Then, of course, I woke up and saw all the wonderful milestone-y stuff I mentioned above, and realised: Yes. I can do this. For this book, friends, is the one I mentioned a few posts ago, the one which took as its core concept an idea which I had also had, many years ago, and hadn’t been clever enough to put out into the world.

That book is ‘Crewel’, by Gennifer Albin.

Image: wordchasing.com

Image: wordchasing.com

I’ll say at the outset that I liked this book, but there were some problems with it. The idea at its heart – that the whole world (Arras) can be ‘woven’, the threads of its matter and time manipulated as though they were fabric being woven on a loom – is the idea I also had, many years ago, and had started writing a story about. The world I’d imagined differed vastly from the one Albin imagines here, and it was fascinating for me to see where she took the idea. Her world is one in which the sexes are segregated until the late teens, at which time most people are expected to marry (without any real ‘courtship’ or any sort of gentle introduction to adult life), where there are particular jobs for men and women (I don’t need to tell you which gender gets short shrift!), where women have to conform to both purity and aesthetic standards, and life in general is very circumscribed.

Then, there are women like Adelice Lewys, Albin’s protagonist. Adelice is a girl who is gifted with the ability to see the weave, and to manipulate it. She has been coached all her life by her parents to hide this ability, because they do not want her to be taken away and trained as a Spinster (the name given to a girl or woman with this ability to see the weave), never to come home to them again. The life of a Spinster is painted as a good one, full of comfort, luxury and freedom – most girls strive for it – but, of course, it’s not as straightforward as that. Adelice messes up her test, passes it by mistake, and gets abducted in the middle of the night. She gets taken to the Coventry, the training ground for future Spinsters, and thrust straight into the intrigue at the heart of her world.

There’s lots to like about this book. I loved the title, for a start – a play on the word ‘cruel’, and a reference to a type of weaving technique (crewelling). I liked Adelice, I liked her family – especially her bubble-headed, lovable, cutely childish sister Amie – and I liked the idea of the Coventry (or ‘Coventries’, as there are four of them), a cross between a convent, as Spinsters are expected to be (officially) celibate, and a quasi-military command centre. I (obviously) love the central idea of the matter of a world being woven, and the weaver having ultimate control over the ‘threads’ of life, able to rip people out of the pattern if they misbehave, or weave in new life wherever they wish. I enjoyed the way Albin uses this idea to examine notions of power, freedom and cruelty, and how easy it can be for those in power to misuse that power.

I liked, also, that she explored ideas of ‘otherness’ – there are a pair of instructors in Adelice’s Coventry who have an unconventional and (in this world) illegal relationship. One of them is ‘remapped’, or has her memory and personality wiped, in order to quell her feelings for her partner, which leads to heartache and horror. The relationships between the girls in the Coventry is interesting; we see bullying and cliques forming, and we notice how easy it is for people who are disenfranchised to start turning on one another, exerting whatever control they can within the straitened reality of their lives. One of these characters, Pryana, is a little too simplistic for my liking; some of her actions and thought processes seem completely irrational and silly, and that annoyed me. But, perhaps there are women like her in institutions like the Coventry, with minds driven mad by fear and a desire to please, and the need to survive.

Now, for the things I didn’t enjoy so much. Firstly, the idea of Adelice’s kidnapping in the middle of the night, and the damage done to her family in the attempt to extract her. If being a Spinster is such a prestigious thing, and every family in the world wants their daughter to have this life of privilege, why do they come in the middle of the night to abduct the girls and bring them to the Coventries? I thought that was strange. I also found Albin’s descriptions of the weave, and the ways in which the Spinsters can manipulate it, very hard to imagine – and I’m speaking as a person who spent years visualising a very similar world! I understand the concept she’s using, and I get the idea of people and buildings and places and lives being akin to threads, vulnerable and prone to damage or ‘ripping’ by a Spinster, and totally under the control of the one who weaves; but in that case, how do Adelice’s parents harbour rebellious thoughts? How does anyone, if they’re all being ‘woven’, including their thought processes and minds? Perhaps this will be explained in a future book. I also found the end of the book confusing and hard to visualise; it also felt ‘rushed’ and a little too convenient.

I’m not even going to start on the love triangle between Adelice, Jost and Erik, and the relationship between the two boys (which I saw coming a mile off); that whole thing really irritated me. I felt it was unnecessary – unless, of course, it’s going to become a vital plot thread (no pun intended) in a future book in the series. Please, YA authors – enough with the love triangles, the instant attraction, the floppy fringes and the lopsided grins. Please?

So, overall, I’d recommend ‘Crewel’ as a good read. It’s quick and enjoyable and interesting, and sets itself up well for its sequel. It’s not perfect, but then what book is?

That’s a good question, actually. Is there such a thing as a perfect book?

Tune in next week to find out… Happy weekend, everyone!

The First 10,000 Words

I’m almost finished with my edits for ‘Eldritch’. I thought, yesterday, that I was completely done and dusted, but then I remembered that there was another important job to do.

That job? Polish the book’s beginning with such vigour and vim that it shines.

Now, of course, the whole novel has to be written as well as I can write it, and the entire story has to shine as much as possible. This, without doubt, I know. But I think it’s worthwhile going back over the manuscript and focusing on the opening sections, the first few chapters, the source from which the river of the story flows. The reason I’m focusing on ‘the first 10,000 words’ is because those words are the ones which will be looked at by agents and/or publishers during the querying process; those are the words that really need to be catchy, compelling, interesting and fresh. Those are the words, in short, which have the power to sell, make or break your book. For some obscene and devilish reason, they’re also often the hardest words to produce. They’re easy to write, first time round – you’re enthusiastic for your story, and you want to get stuck into it, so you dive right in and get going – but they’re hard, very hard, to come back to and spruce up.

At least, that’s what I’m finding at the moment.

Not all agents are the same, of course; they don’t all request the same things from prospective clients. But, from the research I’ve been doing over the past few days, one thing seems to be fairly common among them, which is that they like to receive 10,000 words, or three chapters, whichever comes first, from querying authors. This puts me in mind of a job interview, or meeting a new person for the first time, and how important it is to put the best of yourself forward; it also reminds me how socially awkward I am. I am that person who goes in for a cheek kiss and ends up giving a smacker on the lips instead. I am the person who laughs at all the wrong moments. I’m the person who puts their hand out to shake at just the wrong angle and ends up whacking someone across the face. So my 10,000 words – my equivalent of a first meeting – is really going to take some work.

Sometimes, I remind myself of this guy. Image: suchsmallportions.com

Sometimes, I remind myself of this guy.
Image: suchsmallportions.com

I’m a nice person when you get to know me. But I hate to think of the amount of people who’ve come away from their first meeting with me wondering what on earth just happened. I’m sure there are plenty. I hope the same isn’t true of ‘Eldritch’ – in other words, everything from Chapter 4 onwards is fine, but the opening sections are completely off the wall.

It’s hard to find a ‘hook’ – something which will hint at the wonderful story to come, which sounds different (but not too different), fresh (but not completely out of left field) and interesting (not in that raised-eyebrow way, the one which is just ‘weird’ in a fancy coat). It’s hard to know whether your idea is flabbergastingly good, one which will make an agent’s heart start to beat a little faster, and one which will make them start sending you an email to request the rest of your manuscript before they’ve even finished reading your query, or whether it’s just plain crazy. Or, worse than these – perhaps your idea is so bland, so boring, so porridge-y that it makes the agent stop reading before they’ve even reached the end of the first page. The first 10,000 words have a lot of hurdles to leap over, and a lot of sinkholes to avoid.

I’ve made a choice with the narration style of ‘Eldritch’ and the structure of the story that I’ve never come across before in any book I’ve read – certainly not one aimed at this age group – so this might explain my trepidation. I’m not sure if I’ve taken a sensible risk, or if I’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater altogether.

And this is important to me because, of course, I’m hoping to start making query submissions within the week. Within the week.

Image: buzzle.com

Image: buzzle.com

I reckon the only thing I can do is have the courage to stick to my convictions, and have faith in my choices. There’s no point being half-hearted about it; if you make a choice with regard to narrative style, then go for it one hundred percent. Make it snappy, fast-moving, interesting, fun and exciting; make it new, unique and ‘you’. Make it good. Write it well.

So, no problem then.

Recommended Books (Vol. 1)

The other day on Twitter, a very kind lady named Steph asked me if I’d ever blogged a list of books I’d recommend. I thought about it, and realised that I hadn’t, really, ever written a post like that. I do random book reviews, and I’ve talked a bit about why I buy certain books and not others (which, no doubt, you’re aware of if you’ve been hanging out here for a while), but I’ve never put together an actual list of books I would recommend to others.

It’s been on my mind for a few days now, and I think I’ll give it a go.

It’s a bit scary, though, in some ways. It’s sort of like opening the door to your mind and showing people around, hoping they won’t turn their nose up at your choice of curtains or finger your upholstery in a derisory way, going ‘Really? This fabric? Couldn’t she afford anything better?’

'Well, I never! How *could* she choose that colour for the walls? Has she *no* decorum? You wouldn't see that at one of my candlelight suppers!' Image: politicsworldwide.com

‘Well, I never! How *could* she choose that colour for the walls? Has she *no* decorum? You wouldn’t see that at one of my candlelight suppers!’
Image: politicsworldwide.com

Anyway.

So, the list of books below are some of those which I found world-enhancing, life-changing, utterly wonderful in every way, and which I’d recommend everyone reads as soon as possible. Here goes. Be gentle.

The Silver SwordIan Seraillier. I first read this book in first class at primary school (so, I was about seven or eight); we were going through a World War II phase, wherein we read this book, ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank, and another book I adore called I Am David by Anne Holm.  Everyone in the world has heard of Anne Frank, but not everyone has heard of the others. So, that’s why these ones are recommended.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l’Engle. I brought this book on a family holiday when I was about ten, and I lost it. I almost lost my reason, too. The strop was almighty and unmerciful, and nobody escaped my wrath. I actually found it again years later, after I’d already bought myself two replacement copies, but I didn’t apologise to my family for the temper tantrum. So it goes.

Speaking of l’Engle, though – as much as I adore A Wrinkle in Time, I’m not completely sold on the other books in the series of which this book is the first volume. As they go on, they get a bit less interesting and a bit more ‘preachy’. But Wrinkle is definitely worth reading.

I’ve already wittered on about The Little Prince and Elidor before, so I won’t do it again.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath, and The Owl Service, all by Alan Garner, are so amazing that I don’t have a word to describe them. Just read them, as soon as possible, and then read everything Alan Garner has ever written, including Boneland, Strandloper, Thursbitch, The Stone Book Quartet, The Voice that Thundersand anything else I may have forgotten.

I need to go and have a lie-down now, after thinking about Alan Garner’s books. They’re that good.

Right. Next, move on to Susan Cooper, and her magnificent The Dark is Rising sequence of books; once you’ve read them, try Victory for size, a story which links the modern day to the Battle of Trafalgar, and which is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever read. I read the last fifty pages of it through a veil of tears. Just a fair warning.

Then, there’s Jenny Nimmo, and her Snow-Spider Trilogy, which is fabulous.

There’s also John Connolly, who has written for children (beautifully), but who also has the marvellous Charlie Parker detective novels, all of which are worth reading; my favourite is Bad Men.

I’ve spoken before on this blog about Jeanette Winterson. To be honest, I’d find it impossible to recommend one of her books above any of the others, but if I had to, it’d be Sexing the Cherry. Or The Passion. Or The Power Book. Or Written on the Body. Gah! I can’t choose. Read them all, and you decide.

Margaret Atwood. What can I say about her? Read The Edible Woman, and follow it up with Surfacing, and then let me know if your mind is blown. Because mine was when I first read these books. I was the same age as Atwood had been when she’d written them, and I went into a funk of ‘what on earth am I doing with my life?’ that lasted about four years.

It’s pretty unfashionable not to read and love Neil Gaiman these days; I’m no exception to the rule. Pick anything he’s written and give it a go, and I’m pretty sure you’ll love it. I recommend all his novels (perhaps not Anansi Boys as much as the others, for some reason), but my absolute favourite Gaiman is Sandman, his graphic novel. Genius.

I love Garth Nix. I read The Abhorsen Trilogy several years ago, and was astounded. Those books inspired me to write more than (I think) any other young adult/children’s book I’ve ever read. Give them a whirl, if you haven’t already.

When it comes to Ursula le Guin, everyone recommends The Earthsea Quartet. Of course, I do, too. But there’s so much more to her than that. The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lathe of Heaven, and The Word for World is Forest are also amazing.

I’ve just finished reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, and I couldn’t recommend it more highly, either. I took a chance on it, as I’d never read anything by the author before, and I was richly rewarded for it. A beautiful, completely unique book, it’s great and should be widely read.

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando changed my life when I first read it. It showed me what a novel can do, by breaking every single narrative rule in the universe and then making a brilliant story out of the shards. Incredible.

Also, Sylvia Plath’s Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, which isn’t a novel (it’s a collection of stories). This book left a lasting impression on me. Everyone has read The Bell Jar (also wonderful), but not as many people have read Plath’s stories. So, do it.

I reckon that’s enough for one day. I have a feeling I’ll revisit this topic, because I’ve really enjoyed taking a stroll through my bookish memories.

Have you read any/all of the books I mention here? What did you think? Would you agree that they’re worth recommending to others, or am I off my trolley?

Wednesday Write-In #36

This week’s words were:

on the ledge  ::  fingerprint  ::  subtitle  ::  just a cigar  ::  birthday

Meet on the Ledge

She wakes to singing, gentle and under his breath. Barely there at all, it’s more of a vibration in his chest than anything. He’s warm beside her.

‘Morning,’ she whispers, curling herself into the hollow under his arm. They’re lying on the couch in the living room, and the curtains are askew. The light falls across her face like the blade of a sword.

‘Morning, you,’ he says, between verses. He sings her awake, making her feel like a snake being charmed out of a basket. Wineglasses cluster around overflowing ashtrays like workers around water coolers. The air in the room is heavy with remembered crowds. Laughter lingers in every corner.

‘It was a great party, wasn’t it?’ he says, when the song comes to an end. ‘Very, I don’t know – decadent, maybe. Bohemian.’ She feels him smiling.

‘They don’t throw ‘em like that any more, that’s for sure,’ she agrees. There’s a thickness in her voice, and a strange taste in her mouth. She rolls her tongue around, feeling all her teeth, trying to get her bearings. Everything feels upended. She tastes wrong, she feels wrong. Her head spins. ‘Where is everyone?’

‘Well, the birthday girl is in bed – I’m not sure who with,’ he says, archly. Her eyes fall on the birthday card they all clubbed together to make for her – it has a picture of Sigmund Freud on the front. Captioned ‘Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar…’, she grins as she remembers the messages they put inside. ‘I think there are a few marooned souls on the floor, too. Little islands of drunken solitude.’

‘You’re such a poetic fool,’ she teases, laying her hand flat on the skin of his chest. She stretches out her fingers. They feel like rivers, flowing down her arm and out under her nails, covering him from head to toe, dripping onto the carpet. She begins to feel light-headed. As if he can sense her beginning to float away, he lays his hand on top of hers. He circles her knuckles gently. Beneath her ear, his heart thuds, steady as the oceans.

‘You know, skin can take a fingerprint,’ he says. ‘So, if I become a crime scene, they’ll dust me. They’ll try to pin it on you.’ His voice takes on a noirish tinge. ‘You gotta make a run for it, sister. You gotta never let ‘em catch you!’

‘Idiot,’ she smiles. ‘I’m too clever for that. Don’t you think this is all part of my master plan?’

‘I never doubted you for a second,’ he says, chuckling. She feels his other hand start to play with her hair. She wonders if she stinks of sweat, or smoke, or worse.

‘What were you singing?’ she asks, covering her sudden shyness. She wants to ask him a different question, but she’s not brave enough to form the words.

‘Just now? It was Meet on the Ledge. Fairport Convention. Do you know it?’ She desperately wants to lie, to pretend she’s on his level, but instead she shakes her head.

‘Shame,’ he says. ‘It’s a great tune.’ The melody beneath her ear starts up again. She listens, and her mind fills up with images of high places, blown lives, waste. Lost friends. She finds it depressing.

‘A bit sad, isn’t it?’ she says. He’s silent for several minutes, but his heartbeat fills her mind.

‘No way,’ he replies eventually. ‘They knew how to write a song, back in the day.’ He hums a bit more, like he’s fast-forwarding a tape. Eventually, he gets to the part he wants. ‘“If you really mean it, it all comes round again,”’ he sings, so softly that only she can hear. ‘This isn’t the end, you know what I mean? It’s all a cycle. We’re meaningless.’ He pauses, takes a deep breath. ‘What’s the point of any of it?’ he says, his voice soft and far away. She can’t say why, but something about his words makes her feel uncomfortable. She swallows a sudden mouthful of hurt.

‘Sometimes I wish you came with subtitles,’ she jokes after a few minutes, looking up at him. His eyes are bright green in the morning light. They search her face for a long time, as if looking for a foothold. Then he blinks, and looks away.

Much later, she’ll remember this moment, and wonder what she missed. Every time this date that was once just a birthday, and which became so much more, rolls around, she’ll listen to the song. She still won’t understand, and she’ll wonder if her fingerprints are still on his skin. Between the notes of the song she’ll tell herself she can hear his heartbeat, and she’ll cry a little less with every passing year.

Starting Early

Did you see this wonderful news story yesterday?

For those who don’t do clicking, or who can’t click on links, I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. Yesterday on Twitter someone linked to a story about a novelist who has just published his second book, and who is writing the final part in his trilogy about a pair of magician brothers. The books explore dark magic and the twisty intrigue of secret magical societies, as well as the complicated relationship between the brothers. The stories sounded amazing enough as they were, but when it emerged that the author is nine years of age (yes – nine), well. You could’ve knocked me down with a feather.

Joe Prendergast, for it is he, is far from being the only author who has been published at a tender age. Irish author Claire Hennessy, for instance, was first published while she was still at school, and Catherine Webb had written five books by the time she turned twenty – and all of them were brilliant.

Both Claire Hennessy and Catherine Webb are still writing, and have carved out successful careers for themselves in the literary world. Hopefully, then, if young Mr. Prendergast wants a career as a writer when he grows older, he should have no problem achieving that aim.

The young and talented Mr. Prendergast himself! Image: independent.ie

The young and talented Mr. Prendergast himself!
Image: independent.ie

It’s wonderful to see this young author meeting with the support and encouragement he needed to finish his series of books, and not only that, but to see them through to publication too. It goes to show the brilliant things that can happen when a person with talent, determination and a great idea for a book meets the technology to get it out into the world; Joe was first spotted by an online publisher, who championed him and made his books available through their website. There are also fantastic sites like Wattpad, used by millions of young people all over the world, allowing them to write for the sheer joy of it and share stories with one another with ease. Sometimes I wish these things had been available when I was young and at school. I’m not saying that anything I was writing at that stage was worth reading (not by a long shot!) but it would have been such a thrill to be able to publish work to a website, to see your words somewhere outside your own head, and to imagine what it might be like to be a published author.

Then again, I was a terribly shy and awkward teenager. I’m not sure that I’d have availed of a service like Wattpad, or even WordPress, as a young person; the very idea that other people might be able to read what I’d written might have thrown me into a fit of nerves so serious as to be life-threatening. I was certainly writing – prolifically – as a nine-year-old and all the way through my teens, but it’s probably a good thing that nobody ever saw a word that fell out of my fevered brain. Then, on the other hand, if I’d had the chance to share my words with the world via the internet as a younger person, perhaps I’d be winning literary prizes right now and be working on my thirty-fifth book – the earlier you start to get feedback, the stronger your work will become, of course. It’s a bit of a pain to be only beginning the whole process now, as a person in her *cough* thirties. I can only imagine how much stronger my writing would be if I’d been doing it seriously for twenty years or more at this stage.

Then, I guess it’s better late than never. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make up for lost time in the years that I have left to me. And if you’re a person who wants to write (no matter what age you are), then let this story be a lesson. You’re never too young, or too old, to get your ideas out there and share your words with the story of the world. There’s no excuse these days!

Today, April 23rd, is also an important day in the world of books, in case you didn’t know already. As well as being the birth (and death) day of Shakespeare, and the birthday of Cervantes, it’s also World Book Night tonight.

Image: mediabistro.com

Image: mediabistro.com

Designed to encourage and foster a love of reading among people who may not otherwise take up an opportunity to pick up a book, World Book Night is a fantastic endeavour. For, of course, if we’re going to encourage people to write, we’ll need to recruit a whole new batch of readers, too. I don’t think there’s anything more valuable that we can give to our children than a love of reading and a desire to create, share and consume stories. I’d love to see a world where reading, and a love of reading, came to people as naturally as breathing. I have a suspicion the world would be a happier place if this could be a reality.

So – start early, whether you’re reading or writing; ideally, do both. It’s never too late to start, and it’s always worth giving it a go.

Happy World Book Night! May your words flow.