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!