Monday, 26 November 2007

Picture a pancake waddling down Oxford Street...

So I spent the weekend in London, bravely Christmas shopping. Some of you may scoff at the idea of doing your shopping in November; some of you may be wondering why the hell I left it so late. Considering I was squashed as flat as a pancake by the crowds at Oxford Circus, I think I'd agree with the second group. You have to be rather assertive (Londoner-speak for rude) - I got trapped behind one girl who stood there squeaking, Harrods bags raised plaintively in the air, waiting for the hordes coming in the other direction to part and let her through. "'Scuse me!" shouted one local, overtaking us both and moving through the crowd in a way that was strangely reminiscent of American football player William "The Fridge" Perry.

I've had to put down novel number two over the last couple of weeks and focus again on Twisted Wing, taking care of the dreaded rewrites for the final draft. A lot of the first section's ended up in the writing profession's equivalent of the cutting room floor (I've just pictured a limbo land where edited-out words float around - sounds like a Stephen King story), and hopefully what it's been replaced with is much tighter and will do a better job of grabbing the reader's attention. Decapitations and disembowellments still intact, however.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Thought some of you writers out there might be interested in Channel 4's new competition, PILOT - but hurry, you've only got about a month to get your work in!

PILOT is an opportunity for drama screenwriters to win the chance to have their work produced and screened on Channel 4.

We're inviting exciting, talented writers to submit a treatment for a six-part drama series, an outline for a pilot episode for that series, and a script for a sample scene from that episode.

12 writers will be selected to take part in a packed weekend of industry workshops and masterclasses. They will then be hot-housed in one of three Scottish independent production companies, where mentoring producers and Channel 4 script editors will help them develop their series idea and complete a first draft script. After eight weeks of paid training, each writer will pitch to a selection panel. Only one idea from each production team will be selected. These three writers, along with their producers, will hotfoot it down to Channel 4's HQ in London to pitch to 4Talent and the Channel's Commissioning Editor for Drama, Sophie Gardiner.

One creative team will head home with a £90,000 commission to produce a pilot episode of their drama series, including a fee for the winning writer to complete a final draft script.

Find out more on the Channel 4 website »

Monday, 15 October 2007

It's been an eventful couple of weekends. A week ago I went with a few friends to Thorpe Park, to partake of their lovely rollercoasters, though I did get a bit stroppy when we didn't go on the biggest, scariest one straightaway. I can highly recommend both "Colossus" and "Nemesis", but the best by far was "Stealth", which is 205 ft high and accelerates from 0 to 80mph in 2.3 seconds. You can see for yourself what it's like, here:

There are cameras on each ride to take your pic at the scariest moment. On each of mine my friend Tom is grinning like an idiot whilst I look like someone's stabbing me in the eye with a pencil.

We'd been very sensible and brought a change of clothes, which was good because we got absolutely DRENCHED on "Tidal Wave" (do you think anyone ever regrets these names after various disasters?), which is basically like having God tip a bucket of water over you. It runs down your cleavage, so you lean forward and it runs down the back of your pants. There's a photo of us afterwards looking like drowned rats.

This weekend I was at my Dad's for his 61st birthday, along with my brother and his wife. We spent the day in Kew Gardens, which is just starting to turn autumnal. The trees were beautiful, but I think we enjoyed their aquarium most of all. My brother was most taken with a hermit crab that seemed determined to communicate with him, and my sister-in-law fell for a puffer fish that hid in a swirl of coral and gazed out at us shyly. Well, there's some anthromorphism going on there. Given that puffer fish are one of the deadliest species in the ocean, he was probably thinking how easily he could kill us if he could just get out of this damn tank. Dad then insisted on heading back to watch the rugby, so we got out his game of Trivial Pursuit that he bought back in the 80s, which has a lot of questions about Daley Thompson and Bucks Fizz. We didn't get out for his birthday meal till around half ten, at which point I picked their brains for what makes a good chase story and ate too much tiramisu.

What do you think are the elements of a successful chase scene/story? Comments please!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Help! Now I'm published, what are my tax liabilities?

One thing you realise when you finally manage to get something published is that there's a huge wealth of material out there about how to write, how to find an agent, etc., and very little about what to do after you get published!

For example, I found it very hard to find much information about my tax situation - and let's face it, it's not like the Inland Revenue takes "I'm sorry, I didn't know" as a reasonable excuse for tax evasion. So here's a hopefully helpful guide to your tax liability as an author. It's just a guide based on my own personal experience, and my number 1 tip is to get an accountant, as I'm no expert and wouldn't want anyone relying on this as a definitive "this will cover all bases" instruction manual.

Income Tax
Firstly, basic income tax. You'll probably already have a job, and probably will want to hang onto it (hardly anyone makes a living out of writing, published or not). This will probably mean that you're already paying tax at 22%. The current point at which you start paying tax at the 40% rate is £34,600. So say your regular job pays you £25,000, and you're earning £100,000 (let's go crazy) from your book deal.

For starters, discount the 10% or whatever fee your agent is taking - this is tax deductible. So after fees, you've got £90K. There's £9,600 left in your 22% tax band (i.e. £34,600 minus £25,000). That equals £2,112 tax.

So once you've deducted the £9,600 that you pay at the lower tax rate from your £90,000, you're left with £80,400. This gets paid at the 40% tax rate, which equals tax of £32,160.

Your taxable total is therefore £34,272. Now, my accountant tells me that not only do you need to pay for this tax year, you also have to prepay 50% of your tax liability towards next year's tax bill. So don't just put aside £34,272 - err on the side of caution and put aside £51,408. If you don't make any money in the next tax year, you can always claim it back. (Note: authors can also benefit from averaging their income over two years, which means that if you earn a smaller amount than we're using in this example that you might be able to get all your book deal money taxed at 22% instead of just some of it; it may also have benefits in terms of this "paying half in advance" lark, in that you wouldn't be having to put aside so much money).

Income tax total = £51,408

National Insurance Contributions
So now we move onto self-employment. The minute you discover you're getting published, you're effectively self-employed and need to register as such. You can do this online - there's a useful guide to the process on the Business Link website. As a self-employed person, you will need to pay both Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance contributions. Class 2 contributions are currently £2.20 a week, which you will generally pay monthly by direct debit. (£2.20 x 52 weeks = £114.40).

Class 4 contributions are currently charged at 8% of profits between £5,225 and £34,840. If you're also employed, then you're probably already paying Class 1 contributions, and these count towards this upper limit of £34,840. In our example, you're earning a work salary of £25,000, so you will actually only need to pay 8% on the difference between £25,000 and £34,840 (i.e. 8% of £9,840, which is £787.20). (This involves applying for a deferment of Class 4 contributions, i.e. showing that you're already paying a lot via Class 1 contributions). Any profit after that upper limit of £34,840 involves paying Class 4 contributions at a rate of 1% (in our example, this is £90,000 minus £34,840, i.e. £55,160, of which 1% is £551.60).

Total NI contributions = £1,453.20

Total after tax/NI = £35,725, or £52,861 if including tax pre-payment for the following year

Which leaves you, after that lovely £100K has had tax, agent's fees and NI contributions deducted from it, with a slightly less impressive £37,139 that's yours to spend on whatever your little heart desires.

Other things to remember, such as ...


You also need to remember VAT registration, which again you can do online, or via a downloadable form. It basically involves charging publishers your advance plus 8%. You then need to give the 8% to Customs & Excise. The publishers can then claim it back. Crazy, eh? (n.b. even if most of your book advance comes from abroad, you should still register, even though you won't be charging these foreign publishers VAT). The benefit to you of registering for VAT (weighed against the downside of working out how much more to charge your publishers - though if you've got an agent they should be able to help with this), is that you can claim back VAT on various expenses. Which brings us to...

Tax deductibles
Keep a spreadsheet with details of all the things you buy in the course of your writing career that you think you might be able to claim back for (as well as receipts of course). These expenses can be things like laptops, stationery, travel (to meet with your publisher, your agent, going to book signings, etc.), research (though any trips to the Bahamas to research a setting for your new novel will have to include lots of evidence of you actually doing research - and probably evidence that you were there on your own and not with your love bunny), phone calls (to publishers, etc.), electricity (to heat your office and power up your laptop) and so on. All the expenses should, when all's said and done, be up to 48% cheaper to you than to some who's not paying 40% income tax and VAT.

Fines for late registration
Self-employment registration: You need to register as self-employed within three months of first being told by a publisher that they were going to publish your book.

VAT registration: You'll be fined by HM Revenue & Customs if you don't alert them to the fact you believe your turnover will exceed £64,000 within the next 30 days (or, if your advances from book deals are more gradual, that you've hit a turnover of £64K or over). They count this date from when you first heard what your advance would be.

Business bank accounts
Apparently banks can get shirty if they realise you're using your current account to store your business profits, so it's best to set up an account purely for your profits (and then any writing-related purchases can come out of it, as can NI contributions, etc.) Few banks offer free banking services for business, and those that do seem to only offer this for the first year. Abbey National was one I found that doesn't charge you for its services so long as you stay within certain limits (e.g. only cashing X amount of cheques a month), which should be fine for almost any writer.

Well I hope this helps someone out there. Feel free to post any questions, or correct my maths! (And if anyone can spot an error that will increase my net profit, there's a Creme Egg in it for 'em).

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Under construction by Polish builders

For some reason I thought the publishers wrote the blurb that goes on the back of the book (you know the kind of thing: "Jack Devlin is a maverick cop who treats his suspects tough and his women tougher. Yet he finds himself thrown off-kilter by the edgy beauty of Rachel Gold, the only surviving victim of serial killer The Slice'n'Dicer. As he tries to keep her safe on the mean streets of San Francisco, he finds his life in danger from the psycho and his heart in danger from her.") Turns out it's the author's responsibility. Cue panic!

My reaction to this was to email lots of lovely friends with a choice of four blurbs that mention Cambridge, blood'n'guts and psychopaths to varying degrees. I've already got some very useful feedback, which just leaves me with the author bio. This may be even more difficult. My publisher, Susan, sent me an amusing example of what not to write - "Ruth Newman was born. She's pretty happy about that. She has a Mum and Dad who were too. Nowadays she lives in Cambridge NOT in Ariel College, with her cat Olivia and her boyfriend Zane, who is pretty cool about her being a published author. She likes swordfish, tuna melt and takes her coffee neat. Her website is under construction by Polish Builders." Ignoring how Susan knows I take my coffee neat and have a boyfriend called Zane, I think this is a good example of my natural instinct to take the piss, but I've managed to limit myself to one silly line in an otherwise sensible bio...

In other news, around 150 students arrived at the department last week and the mad rush of work began. Luckily they seem like a really lovely bunch - I've been reading their profiles as I've been shifting them from one online community to another, and they come across as funny, talented and sweet. Maybe I should get them to write my author bio for me!

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Adventures in Morocco

Sorry no posts for a while - work's been incredibly busy, and me and pater have just got back from five days in Marrakech. What a place - about the most hectic, hot and colourful city I've ever been to. We were staying at a fab hotel (Les Borjs de la Kasbah, highly recommended) in the kasbah, which is the residential bit of Marrakech. Most hotels are in the new bit, which is basically just sand, palm trees, and other hotels. There's a lot of development going on here, so I guess the country's doing well in terms of tourism. They're expanding the airport too, and the posters they had up to promote this were absolutely hilarious - but more of that later.

Walking through the kasbah involves getting approached by random people who either want to a) guide you somewhere (often somewhere you don't want to go) or b) recommend a shop (which they either own or get commission from). The key is to say "no thank you" in a very smiley, polite way. Sometimes you trust them despite yourself, and end up in a carpet shop. This is where I bought a lovely handmade rug (dyed with poppy petals, apparently) for £80, having bartered the guy down from £240. The other guys in the shop thought Dad was my husband, and clapped him on the back to congratulate him on choosing a wife who was so tight with the pursestrings ("you will have a good life with this woman").

My bartering skills were otherwise pretty rubbish (when your host's shop is basically a cupboard on the street, you feel really stingey trying to save £10 when that's not really a lot of money to you, but might be to them) - if I'd pay that much in the UK for something made in a factory, I'd happily pay the same for a handmade version. Feeling like a rich Westerner was not a very pleasant experience though.

To get to Jemaa el Fna, the main square, we would walk through the winding streets of the local market, pungent with the aroma of mint, cooking meat, smoke and coriander. Some women sold nothing but mint, sitting on the street with a tea towel full of leaves. The butchers were a bit much for a vegetarian girl like me - unidentifiable skinned animals with their tails still attached swing in your face as you walk past, alongside rows of dried and dessicated animal heads.

The souks were more appealing, full of gaudy mirrors and delicately patterned metal lamps, and reams and reams of shocking pink, turquoise and purple fabric. The main square itself really comes alive at night, when it's packed with food stalls, orange juice sellers, snake charmers and storytellers, and smoke billows up into the sky.

Back at the airport, suffering from a joyous bout of food poisoning, I entertained myself by playing "recognise the celeb" on the posters promoting the new terminal. Someone's obviously had fun with a few copies of Heat and Photoshop - I'm not sure if the celebrities are actually famous in Morocco or not, but my guess is not!

Gwyneth Paltrow: "hey! I'm over here! just calling a cab."

Robert De Niro: "come with me, I know a great rug shop"

Katie Holmes: "Hey, isn't that Luke Wilson?"
Liz Hurley: "Hey, isn't that Katie Holmes?"


Monday, 13 August 2007

Trick photography

Another weekend, another (semi-)productive writing session. 2,000 words at a sitting seems to be about my average at the moment. I've just had my main character torture someone, and I have to say, I think I might need to read it back in the context of the story to make sure I haven't lost my audience! It might be different if the main character was a bloke, or an anti-hero, but it's a woman that ideally the reader should be empathising with, so she can't suddenly go all unsympathetic. We'll see - at least I didn't have her puncture someone's eyeball or anything too Dario Argento.

The lovely boyfriend and I watched Stranger Than Fiction on DVD. I highly recommend it. If you haven't seen it, it's like a Charlie Kaufman film but only 80% as weird. Will Ferrell is a tax auditor who starts to hear a woman's voice in his head, narrating his life story. He plays it dead straight, but because it's Will Ferrell it's very funny anyway. It got me thinking though: could you write a book about the process of making a film? And the answer's got to be no, at least in the same way that this film is about the process of writing a book. Sometimes I think the movie makers are jammy - they've got the advantage of being able to use music to scare you or make you sad, or to use certain shots (like Michael Myers sitting up, or Carrie's hand thrusting out of the grave) to make you jump. I suppose as a book writer though, you have the very advantageous advantage of not needing a mega budget to blow up fifty Ferraris in a bizarre mineshaft explosion.

My favourite scene in Adaptation, which is a film written by Charlie Kaufman about a character called Charlie Kaufman who's hired to adapt a New Yorker magazine article about an orchid thief, is when his twin brother Donald tells him about the plot of his new script. There's a cop, a kidnap victim, and a serial killer. The twist is, all three are the same person, who has multiple personality disorder. Charlie points out the obvious problem with this scenario:

The other thing is, there's no way to write this. Did you consider that? I mean, how exactly would you show a character holding himself hostage?

Trick photography?


Monday, 6 August 2007

Lunar landing pod spiders

As promised by the BBC weather forecast, we woke up to a cobalt blue sky on Saturday. There's no shade in our garden till around 4pm, so I recently bought a set of garden furniture so I could write outdoors without so much glare bouncing off the laptop screen that I was blinded. Last time I opened up the parasol there was a little spider skeleton in it, so - being a complete arachnophobe - I thought I'd better check before I spread it open over my head.

Inside it were three of the biggest f*cking spiders I have ever seen. One of them had little pads on the end of his legs, like some kind of NASA landing craft. I shrieked and chucked the parasol onto the lawn, at which point the laundry-laden washing line snapped. Holding the end of it up so our clothes didn't get wiped all over the patio, I yelled for the lovely boyfriend. The poor thing was Cuprinol-ing the reverse side of the garden fence (such a picture of domestic bliss I'm painting here), and came running round to help. We sorted out the laundry, then I hid in the living room and watched through the patio doors whilst the brave lad (in a large pair of gardening gloves) deported the giant spiders out of the parasol and onto the lawn. The third spider turned out to be a skeleton/shed skin thing.

I was left with many questions. Were the two spiders lovers, or family? Do spiders happily co-exist in each other's territory, or are there turf wars? What had prompted the spiders to leave their little den in the corner of the garage, near the garage door where the flies come in, and travel up into my parasol? Did they think they were going on holiday? Were they hoping they could fulfil their evil spider destinies by dive bombing me while I sat under the parasol that I thought would protect me (at least from the sun)? Had the lovely boyfriend found all of them, or was there one that had mastered the art of camouflage, and was sitting there still, white and blue striped, lurking?

I sat down to do some writing, jumping out of my skin every time a thunderbug tickled my skin, or a dandelion fluff ball brushed my arm, shooting wary glances up at the parasol every few minutes.

It was a productive weekend though - got about 8,000 words done, which brings my total to 50,000, or round about half of a pretty standard-length novel. Only another 50,000 to go!

Friday, 3 August 2007

A sunny weekend ahead

Finished off Harry Potter (the book, not the wizard - don't blame me!) on Sunday afternoon. What a great ending! J.K.'s so talented at writing extended climaxes (ooer missus), unlike say Patricia Cornwell, whose recent Scarpetta books seem to end pretty abruptly over only two pages. The parents went for a nap and I desperately speedread in their absence in the hope I'd finish it before they resurfaced and distracted me with offers of cups of coffee and lyric-murdering singing, but alas I was too slow. I tried using the universal "talk to the hand" sign to alert them to my disinterest in their witterings, but had to resort to locking myself in my bedroom so I could get teary-eyed and lumpy-throated in peace.

On Monday my stepdad hired a van and we ferried a great big piece of furniture over to his place in Tottenham. A spare tyre in the back of the van tried to break through the thin piece of plyboard protecting the passengers and decapitate myself and my mother, like some death scene in Final Destination. Once at his house we had to get the piece of furniture up the stairs, which involved lots of sweat and swearing, and another near-death experience as I narrowly avoided plummeting down the staircase followed by a huge wardrobe intent on crushing me.

I met my agent V for lunch, who brought along agent G (who looks after foreign rights) and agent S (who sells film and/or television rights). They were all uniformly lovely, and great company. G and I had Bellinis followed by wine, and I ended up a bit squiffy. I'm such a lightweight (despite my recent brave attempts to increase my tolerance levels by drinking massive amounts of champagne). We chatted about our favourite books, and I learnt some good tips on how not to impress an agent - that's the last time I handwrite a novel on Basildon Bond stationery in my own blood, I can tell you.

Back to Cambridge and the lovely boyfriend after that, and then work on Tuesday. I'm employed by one of the University departments, and this is the time of year when all the students have finished and all the faculty are bunking off working from home on important research. It's like a ghost town in here and has been all week. Colleague Tim has become my tax advisor and we work out how much of my new income is going to be taxed. I'm happy paying tax, being a big believer in the welfare state, but the leap from 22 to 40% is a bit of shock, having never earnt in that tax bracket before! There are worse positions to be in though, I'm well aware. Having pushed thoughts of a Cayman Islands account to the back of my mind, I'm now trying to decide which is a more attractive proposition: paying a lump sum off the mortgage or buggering off to the Maldives for the rest of the summer.

At least the sun has finally arrived in East Anglia. I think I'll get the garden furniture out and spend the weekend writing book no.2 in the sunshine. It's a hard life...

Monday, 30 July 2007

Mole sauce

Spent a great afternoon with some old school friends at a cafe in Newington Green ("That Place on the Corner" - a kid-friendly cafe - we had a seven year old, a two year old and a four month old with us!) Some of us kept in touch during university and afterwards, but we only got together as a group a couple of years back. I don't think any of us have changed much (apart from Adi, who is about 500% more glamorous!), but one of us is a mum now, one is a lawyer, one is doing medical training, and the other is personal assistant to a very famous architect.

We caught up with news of early stage pregnancies, upcoming trials (the lawyer is involved in the prosecution of those guys last year who wanted to blow up planes using liquid explosives, i.e. the reason why you can't have contact lens solution in your cabin luggage anymore, the bastards) and forthcoming books. They were genuinely excited for me, having spent many hours in the common room at school being ignored by me as I wrote stories about serial killers. Nothing ever changes, hey?

We went to Clissold Park in Stokey N. afterwards, played on the swings (I wanted to go down the fireman's pole, but adults were selfishly banned from using the equipment) and ate ice cream. Then it was just me and Mandy left, and we sat in my Mum's back garden drinking fizzy pink wine and stuffing our faces with chocolate-covered florentines.

To celebrate Twisted Wing being accepted for publication, I took the oldsters to our local Mexican restaurant for dinner. It's painted in bright colours and fairy lights are strewn around mirrors and windows - very atmospheric. I had enchiladas covered in mole poblano sauce, which luckily isn't made out of moles but chocolate and spices. Quite hot, but very tasty. We polished off another bottle of bubbly too. My poor liver.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Blind Light

I'm spending the weekend in London, which is great as it means I get to combine a visit to my Mum's with seeing some old friends from school and meeting my new agent for lunch.

I recently went to Venice, and whilst there saw a fab lampshade at a stall. It was quite sixties looking, like a giant white globe made of petals, and I thought Mum would love it. I should have realised, but when they handed over a flat pack I was too dumb to guess that that's exactly what it was - a flatpacked lampshade that I would have to construct myself. That's why I spent the first hour of my evening at Mum's - a woman I haven't seen since March - painstakingly weaving thirty bloody bits of identical plastic into an approximation of the shape I'd seen in Italy. The instructions were in Italian, with a handy English translation on the back - sample instruction: "when fissing the lost pieces, make sure leaf gap for light cord". Thanks for the help, manual guys.

My stepdad came over on the Friday and we had a great day in central London. First on our itinerary was a visit to the latest Anthony Gormley exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. If you live in London you might have seen the lifesize figures dotted on the skyline on various buildings around the South Bank. Watchers or invaders? Guardian angels or Gort from The Day The Earth Stood Still?

Inside, the most interactive part of the exhibition was his "Blind Light" creation - an 8x10m glass box full of mist illuminated by a bright white light. 25 people only are allowed in at a time. It's a completely disorienting experience - once you're in there, you can only see a couple of feet in front of you. I couldn't see past my waist. People suddenly loom out at you from the fog. Sometimes you hear a familiar voice and realise you're only a couple of steps from your own mother, but just can't see her. The kids there loved it, and every so often you'd hear "bang - ow!" as one of them ran into a wall. I found myself rooted to the spot, unwilling to venture a step in any direction in case I walked into someone. When you're in there it's a bit like a Tardis - from the outside you know it's a finite box, but on the inside you could be in the middle of an icy tundra. Very useful stuff if you're a writer - one of those experiences you make a mental note of, just in case one of your characters is ever caught in one of those notorious Antarctic glowing fog scenarios.

After the exhibition we grabbed a sandwich and ate it in a nice park near the river with a jazz band, and "keep off the grass" signs which kept the emerald lawn was pristine and empty, and forced all the office workers to jam themselves into the side bits of grass, with the pigeon poo and the snoring Special Brew guy.

Going to see each Harry Potter as it comes out is a bit of a family tradition, and Order of the Phoenix was on at the Odeon on Tottenham Court Road. With each film the reviews say "darker and more grown-up than the last one", and it's really true of this latest. The whimsy and light-hearted elements have gone completely out the window. Having read the book, which is extremely long, watching the film was a bit like seeing snapshots of the whole plot, but the oldsters seem to know what was going on, and they just watch the films (as the lights dimmed before Chamber of Secrets started, I suddenly remembered - and whispered a warning to my folks - "this is the one with the giant spiders". They thought I meant 'this is the cinema with the giant spiders', and sat there shitting themselves until the spiders appeared in the movie and the idiots realised what I'd meant - as if I'd go anywhere near a place famed for its huge spiders!)

Bought the last Harry Potter book afterwards, which I've already nearly finished. Pretty high body count so far - I'm impressed.

Thursday, 26 July 2007


Just reading about some controversy in America about celebs getting airbrushed. Just go to this site - - and take a look at the "Portfolio" section. Click on a celeb's pic to see the before and after versions. So scary! No wonder so much of the population suffers from low self esteem when it comes to their appearance. I used to feel sorry for actresses who were papped with cellulite and rolls of tummy fat - well, no more.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Celebratory lunch

Went for lunch today with some friends to celebrate getting Twisted Wing published. We had some champagne in the office first (from plastic cups - classy), and then wine in the restaurant, so I was a bit squiffy. I have a tendency to go pink when I've been drinking - thank God this wasn't something my Mum realised during my teenage years - and my friend Tim had to waft me with a menu.

Had a great time, and staggered back to work. Friend and colleague Tracey was somewhat perturbed to discover my first appointment after lunch was to learn how to edit file permissions on the web server - think she had visions of me drunkenly whacking away at the keyboard and deleting our website, but I'm a girl who can handle her liquor. Hic!

Really looking forward to the weekend - I'm going back to London to meet up with some old school friends that I've known for about twenty years now (they haven't heard the news - I'm saving it for when I see them!), so I'll get to see my mum and stepdad too, which I'm v. excited about. We'll have the traditional family outing to see the latest Harry Potter films. (I haven't read the last one yet, so I'm intently avoiding reviews because I have a feeling I'm going to get spoiled at some point). Then on Monday I'm going for lunch with the guys from the agency - really looking forward to meeting them in person. I think we'll be discussing what comes next. There's another serial killer novel that's already finished but needs a polish, or a thriller with 60,000 words left to write. Would be very happy to go ahead with either, so at the moment everything's tickety-boo, though I must admit at some point I'm sure a publisher will propose we develop a series of detective novels set in Cambridge (what the boyfriend - who shall be given the nickname of "Gurney" in order to protect his privacy - is already calling my "Inspector Gorse" series).

Roll on the weekend.

Monday, 23 July 2007


It's strange being back at work, getting phone calls and emails from your agent. In fact, just using the phrase "my agent" is a bit weird - I keep thinking I'm going to end up saying things like "get your people to call my people, and we'll do lunch at Spago's". I think I may be turning into Ari "Hug it out bitch" Gold.

Twisted Wing has now sold in Germany and Holland, which is fantastic. I always thought our European cousins had taste. Apparently publishers in the US are a bit turned off by the violence, which some might find a bit ironic. I'm a bit torn in the 'violence in fiction' debate. On the one hand, why add more violence and horribleness to the world, even if just in fiction form? On the other hand we can't always write about happy fluffy things, and if you're writing about violence, you should at least be realistic. Serial killers tend to be sadistic, angry people - their method of killing is unlikely to be getting their kitten to lick you to death. (Although maybe I should suggest we run with that amendment and resubmit to the American market?)

I'm keeping the news hush-hush at the moment, which is driving my colleague T mad as she wants to run round the building with a megaphone. So far I've only told the friends that have either read the book, or that I've chatted to about writing in the past. It was great telling my mate Paul (who sent me the competition link in the first place) that I'd won - he went bright pink and had to sit down for a bit. People have been very generous, with bottles of champagne and bouquets of gorgeous roses and lilies appearing on my desk. At some point I'll be a bit more open about it, but when the most common reaction you get to the news is "hey, you'll be the next J.K. Rowling!", you feel that perhaps there are some expectation management issues to handle...

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Back home

Back in the UK now, and I've got a day at home before I have to go back to work. I get on the internet and read up on the Long Barn Books competition.

Helen Slavin's "The Extra Large Medium" won the competition in 2006, with Chris Ewan's "The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam" published this year (2007). I order them from Amazon - they both sound like my kind of book, which I take a good sign!

I read that Susan has decided that she won't be running the competition again next year - you can find out why in this post from her blog. It's a real shame, as there aren't many opportunities like this, but that's the kind of thing that happens when someone trying to do a good thing finds all they get is flak!

I have one of those crazy days where things seem to be happening very quickly, and by the end of the day I've not only got a publisher, I've got an agent, and a bloody good one too. I need to sort stuff out today, like unpacking and laundry, but am too busy skipping round the house like Fotherington-Thomas. It's time to ring my Dad, whose main response to the exciting news is just "bloody hell! bloody hell!" I think he's happy.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Twisted Wing

I owe it all to my good friend Paul T. He sent me the link to the competition webpage when a mate of his told him that the deadline had been extended. Twisted Wing had been finished a few months back, and I was at the stage of writing synopses and drafting letters to agencies. It seemed like a great opportunity, and I sent it off with my fingers crossed.

I've been writing since I was a little kid. Short stories to start with, then the ideas for novels kicked in. Stephen King reckons you should write first thing in the morning, last thing at night; any chance you get. "Easy for you to say," I thought. "You're a multi-millionaire, mate." Then I read that before he sold Carrie he was working two jobs and writing at 3am before going to bed, and I felt bad.

I like to have at least a few hours free before I even sit down to my laptop, so I mainly write at weekends. Sometimes I'm lucky to get a thousand words out, but sometimes you have one of those magical days when it just rushes out of you and you find it hard to keep up with the words in your head. Writing the last two chapters of Twisted Wing was like that - I meant to shut down the computer at 7pm and have some dinner, but it was half eleven before I stopped typing!

Twisted Wing is set in Cambridge, where I live and where I went to Uni. I love Morse, but this isn't your standard police procedural - the story's mainly told from the point of view of the students who find themselves being picked off one by one. It's nice and violent too (I don't do genteel poisonings), though we're not in Bret Easton Ellis territory just yet! Here's the synopsis that was used in the Long Barn Books press release:

The claustrophobic environment of Ariel College, Cambridge has become the hunting ground of a serial killer.

For the students, a siege mentality has developed following weeks of media interest in "the Cambridge Butcher". College life has become not about surviving their exams, but about surviving full stop.

Forensic psychiatrist Matthew Denison is sure that his traumatised patient, student Olivia Corscadden, has the killer's identity locked up in her memory. That within the little clique she belonged to lurks someone with a grudge. Someone who thought: 'what's a little decapitation between friends?' And that someone is just getting started...

Oh. My. God.

We get back to our hotel room on Thursday evening and I rest my weary touristed-out bones in a nice hot bath. The boyfriend takes a shower as I switch on the TV, and instead of CNN find I'm given a thrilling menu of choices other than telly. Opting for internet access over adult movies, I tell my newly clean boyf that 6 Euros for an hour's worth of browsing is good value for money and go straight for my inbox.

And there's the email from Susan Hill: "YOU HAVE WON". I nearly fall off of the hotel bed. I'm wearing just a big white towel and squeaking like an idiot. I must look like some kind of albino bat. The boyf scoots to the end of the bed to see what's got me in a flap, and gives me a big hug. "I think you deserve a Campari," Susan writes. "Or three," I write back, and ring my Mum. (I get home to discover that ten minute call cost 18 quid, but it was worth it). Mum immediately starts making mental lists of all the people she's gonna tell. At the end of the call I tell her "I bet when I said I had news, you thought I was going to say I was pregnant." "I would have been just as proud," she tells me. "Though it doesn't take as much skill." (She's obviously never attempted the 'broken ladder' position).

The rest of the holiday is a bit of a daze. It's strange that this big thing has happened, and so far only my Mum and my boyf know about it, but I don't want to tell people over the phone. That would just spoil the fun :-)

Wednesday, 4 July 2007


So I'm sitting in an Internet cafe in Rome - really just a few PCs in the back room of a Chinese laundrette - when I read the email from Susan Hill telling me I'd been shortlisted for the Long Barn Books first novel competition.

Most of you will know Susan Hill as an author - nearly everyone I've spoken to about the competition has been to see "The Woman In Black" or has read "I'm The King Of The Castle". I first saw the former, adapted from Susan's original novel, when I was at school. My Mum took me, and laughed when I nearly wet myself. It's one of the scariest experiences of my life, and I've been to Slough. Anyway, Susan and her husband set up a publishing company called Long Barn Books back in 1997, and started the first novel competition a few years ago. She didn't set it up to make money - most first novels apparently don't - but wanted to give unpublished authors a chance to break into a notoriously difficult industry.

I manage to draft a reply to Susan, though I'm completely thrown by the weird keyboard (what's the @ sign doing on the number 2 key?! where have the double quotes gone?!). The boyfriend and I pay the laundry guy a few Euros for the ten mins of web access, and then we're off to explore the Colosseum and the Forum, in a very good mood!