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...