Archive for October, 2010

An Unusual Sunday

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

I woke up this morning and wondered what I would write about today. I’ve had a nice, but not fantastically interesting weekend. Nothing much has happened on the writing front, I’m working hard on a book proposal for Manuscript Number 2 which is consuming much of my thoughts but I have yet to see any productive output as a result. It’s all being corralled in my mind though, so it’s fine. I just need to extract it careful piece by careful piece. It may surprise some of you to know that even with one published book under your belt you still need to pitch your next manuscript to the publisher. They need to be convinced that it’s a saleable work; clearly I know this, it’s just a case of imparting the information in the strongest form possible. But this didn’t leave me with much scope for today’s blog.

So luckily for me, it was a beautiful day here in Hampshire. Equally luckily, we had nothing planned. We got up staggeringly late, ate a staggeringly unhealthy lunch and the sum of all these things combined to make it a good idea to go for a lengthy walk this afternoon. We decided to walk through our local village to the ruins of an old Abbey (where my author photo was taken) and perhaps stop for a quiet drink on the way back. It all went to plan until we reached the outskirts of the village, where there were police cars lined up and cones to prevent people parking. We live in a nice area by the way; you don’t normally find it frequented by police, so I was slightly surprised. As we walked further down into the village we saw flags hung outside every house along the road. Nice, but again, unusual. Then we saw something not only unusual but distinctly alarming. A person had made a papier-mâché – um – thing – and placed it outside their house. It looked like a dragon but the sheet hung above it declared it to be something from “NARNIA”. This dragon was accompanied by creepy music and bizarrely, printed out photos of Narnia characters with guinea-pig faces superimposed over the top.

“Is that….?” said my husband, in tones of someone who has drunk too much the night before and has fears in case they are hallucinating.

“Yes.” I replied. “I truly think it is. A person has put their pet guinea pigs faces onto those of Narnia characters.”

We don’t live in the sort of place where this is normal behaviour.

The next house we came to had a papier-mâché cake outside it, next to which was a sign saying “EAT ME” amongst other decorations.

“Ah. Alice in Wonderland,” said my husband knowledgeably. He was very quick to get into the swing of this, you see. He was being very casual and laid back about the whole thing, as if it were completely normal to try and guess which fairy-tale the house was pretending to be.

I looked at him, “Well, yes,” I said. “Clearly.  But why?” My question was swiftly answered when we came to the main thoroughfare which was populated by various stalls, a hog-roast, people selling enormous amounts of balloons, bubble mixtures and pieces of wool on sticks (yes, really). All became clear, it was the village carnival. Madness reigned. Literally.  Amongst which was a group of people from whom a huge noise emanated. Sort of aeroplane-like.

“I can’t see,” I said to my husband. “What is it?”

“Er, well,” he said peering over the crowd. “It appears to be a woman on a mobility scooter turned into an aeroplane.” One of the least safe things I’ve ever heard, if you ask me. Eventually it emerged that it was a Battle of Britain display. Of course it was. They couldn’t have depicted it better.

Enjoyable though this lunacy was, we decided nonetheless to still head for the Abbey and then spent a good twenty minutes trying to find our way out of the village. I was specific about the road I wanted to use (most direct route to the pub) but less specific about where it actually was. Which didn’t make me very popular. But no matter, because it did give us the opportunity to pass a river where a kind gentleman with a 4 litre bottle of cider and long-unwashed hair invited me to “…come and sit ‘ere wiv me darlin’,” – an invitation which social etiquette dictated I declined because I was with my husband and daughter. Obviously in any other situation it would have been lovely. Suffice to say, once we’d made it to the pub we didn’t go any further. We sat by a lovely open fire, drank some lovely wine and laughed a little about our eventful walk. Oh little did we know what was coming up……

What was coming up was the parade. We happened upon this on our way back (for which I got the blame for insisting we walk back through the village rather than along the fume-filled A27. Can’t think why I insisted that.) Anyway, precisely as we arrived at the road we needed to cross, the parade of floats along it began. Of course it did. But at least it provided us with some of the best spectacles of the day. If not my life. I’m not clear how you qualify to have a float; there were all sorts being towed by all manner of odd vehicles. Including unsuitably-attired women, and unbelievably men, singing and pretending to be Cheryl Cole. The fact that their ages meant each one of them could easily have been her grandparent didn’t seem to have put them off, which is a lovely enthusiastic attitude. There was also a float of girls dressed in tight sailor outfits and dancing to a Vengaboys track for some obscure reason. It was a cold day but it didn’t matter because they were well-insulated. And shortly after that was a group of sweet little children dressed as elves on a Christmas float, accompanied by Father Christmas himself and some adult elves, which I thought was genuinely nice. Until I spotted the cans of lager the adult elves were drinking as they marched in a parade with small children. Father Christmas was abstaining at least. The best bit however was the band of men marching in uniform. Not sure which uniform (it was navy blue with white hats) but it was very smart and EXTREMELY sexy. I nudged my husband, “Can you dress up in a uniform like that please?” I asked. “No,” he said flatly. “I am not dressing up in a uniform and marching through the village.” It wasn’t quite what I had in mind but I let it go.

And that was about it. The excitement tailed off after that. The rest of my evening will be about ironing and watching Downton Abbey, of which my husband is suspiciously fond. I thought he was enjoying the plotline but it turns out that he has fallen mildly in love with Lady Mary. You know the one, she of the tightly-corseted waist in hunting outfits with an oft-veiled face and long, dark hair. Either that or in a plunging evening dress with heaving bosoms. I can’t think what the appeal is. I may offer a deal though – I’ll be Lady Mary if he wears a uniform.

And perhaps next year we can have our own float.

To write chick-lit or not to write chick-lit?

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Chick lit is genre fiction within women’s fiction which addresses issues of modern women often humorously and lightheartedly.[1] The genre sells well, with chick lit titles topping bestseller lists and the creation of imprints devoted entirely to chick lit.[citation needed] Although sometimes it includes romantic elements, women’s fiction (including chick lit) is generally not considered a direct subcategory of the romance novel genre, because in chick lit the heroine’s relationship with her family or friends may be just as important as her romantic relationships.[2]” –

Do you write chick-lit or do you not write chick-lit? That is the question. Right up until Things He Never Knew was published, I didn’t really give the actual genre it fell into much thought, besides being happy to say that it fits comfortably into the commercial women’s fiction bracket. It was only after it was released and I started publicising it heavily and looking for reviews and things like that that the words ‘chick’ and ‘lit’ started featuring more and more often. The first time it happened was in a bookshop where I was discussing a possible book-signing and the manager asked rather guiltily if the book was “chick-lit” and then apologised profusely in case I considered that a slur. I was rather taken aback, because at that stage I did not perceive chick-lit as a bad thing. After all, a book is what it is and falls into the category that suits it best. However, this negative attitude was one that I came across again and again. Sentences often began with “I’m not saying it’s chick-lit or anything, but….” And my bemused brain would immediately shriek “But it IS!” – not audibly, thank goodness. I just couldn’t understand it, the term is not an insult as far as I’m concerned and I certainly didn’t want to attach literary pretensions to Things He Never Knew – it’s a good book, but it’s not literature (writing that word always makes me think about Educating Rita where Michael Caine enunciates the word so carefully in that scene – “…li-tar-rit-ture…”)

Anyway, after about a month of the same, recurrent situation happening, I did some in-depth research into a genre that I already thought that I knew pretty well. After all, Carmen Reid, Adele Parks, Jane Beaton and Jill Mansell are some of my favourite authors. Not to mention Jilly Cooper, Jenny Colgan and Catherine Alliott. And indeed I did know it well. The section of it that I chose to read. When I explored the available titles within the chick-lit range more fully, I discovered that the ‘chick-lit’ term refers to nothing more than a scale, and there are wild extremes at either end of that scale. In my opinion there is a trashy end, and there is a more refined end. And what’s more I think there is a distinct over-lap at that end between chick-lit and literary fiction, which is a whole other sphere.

Chick-lit is commercial women’s fiction, i.e. novels pitched at primarily younger women (the ‘chick’ bit) and usually containing a romantic element to the story. However as the Wikipedia definition at the top shows, there’s not always a romantic element; with which I wholly agree. Chick-lit as a genre was born in the 90s and much like a real child has continued to grow ever since, now encompassing many, many different types of books. Which is where the trouble comes in, because chick-lit has different associations for different people. The lady I talked about in my last blog, for example, would have refused to buy anything carrying that label, yet when she read the synopsis of my book, she was intrigued enough to buy it. Personally, I think that shows prejudice towards the genre, but why is she prejudiced? I imagine it’s because of some of the rubbish that can be found on the bookshelves of Waterstones these days. By rubbish I mean the fiction books written by people who are not authors, and furthermore haven’t actually written the book themselves; it’s been visited by the hand of a ghostwriter. That’s the bottom end of the scale in my opinion. As we move further up there’s a whole host of different titles jostling for position which in all probability can muddle along together. And then at the top of the scale, the boundaries between chick-lit and literary fiction (hereafter referred to as lit-fic to save my nails which are suffering as I type) become blurred. Like my vision after the amount of wine I drank the other night.

When I googled the term ‘literary fiction’ it brought up a list of books which have been defined as just that and whilst most weren’t familiar to me, one did leap out. It was a book called The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I read this a while ago, a year or more, and yet I recall it distinctly as one of the best books I have ever read. At the time I declared it to be my favourite book, which as any avid reader will know is a ridiculous concept. But I was so gripped, intrigued and impressed with the book (encompassing therefore the writing and the plot) that it was how I felt. I would thoroughly recommend it even now. So why is that book defined as literary fiction and not chick-lit? It’s fair to say that the appeal of that specific title does not lie in superficial storylines, i.e. girl meets boy, girl likes boy, boy does not like girl – oh oops, yes actually he does like girl but by that time girl is seeing someone entirely unsuitable – or similar. The Thirteenth Tale demanded deeper thinking and presented more challenging ideas. The point of the story appeared to be not just entertainment but to inspire deeper thought and requiring a degree of cerebral analysis. Using those criteria I would also place Kate Mosse and Kate Atkinson into the lit-fic category. Labyrinth by Kate Mosse is a stunning, intellectual and passionately researched book. It’s not an easy read, it does require concentration, but is no less enjoyable for doing so. Perhaps therefore that is one of the elements of lit-fic.

At this point the old adage of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ must be mentioned. Because whilst I don’t agree with doing that, you do actually need to read a book to judge it, it’s definitely true that a person can be lured or otherwise by the colour, composition and other details of a book cover. For example, chick-lit books usually have covers depicting variously women, shoes, handbags or all of the above. The cover of Sophie Kinsella’s “Twenties Girl” is one of my recent favourites. They are bright, cheerful and frivolous, giving an idea of the contents. My mother refuses to buy a book with a pink cover (“I Don’t Know How She Does It” by Allison Pearson being an exception) and my mother does not read chick-lit. She did however read Things He Never Knew so does that therefore mean that it is not chick-lit? Absolutely not. I would place my book directly into the chick-lit category (sorry lady who bought it at the signing) but I would also place it further up towards the lit-fic end of the scale. I don’t think the book is a superficial tale, I think it does require some thought, some exploration of morals and emotions, but at the same time it is not iconoclastic in any sense, nor a particularly demanding read. So maybe it is chick-lit for the more intellectually-inclined chicks?

There’s so much more to say on the subject, yet I think the main points have been covered. And just to be clear – I am not being derogatory towards any type of book. There are many and varied titles available on the market and each with their own degree of merit. Choosing a book is a necessarily subjective thing and I would hesitate to say that one book is ‘better’ than another. ‘Different’ is about the best and most general description that can be applied.

Here endeth the lesson 🙂

I hope everyone has a bright, cheerful and frivolous weekend!

My weekend!

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Outside the studio

Triangles have three sides. There. That is the official “Sarah Haynes theorem on triangles”. I don’t think Pythagoras has a rival in me just yet. It’s possible that from this you would think that I don’t have the wherewithal to write a book, but I promise you I do. And not only that but one book is rapidly turning into two! I have written a few thousand more words of my second manuscript and I am ever so pleased and excited with how it’s coming along. Such a great feeling to watch a manuscript unfold as it’s supposed to. I am also working on my chick-lit/lit-fic blog, which interestingly was something that came up both in my radio interview yesterday morning and at the book-signing.

First of all – book signing! Thank you very much to everyone who came along. It was a great experience and a rapid learning curve. It felt a bit surreal at first to be sitting there surrounded by copies of my book and knowing that they were just waiting to be signed by me. But I very quickly got the hang of it; the shop was quite quiet for a couple of hours so I had plenty of time to people-spot, which I LOVE. Just trying to guess from the way they look and what they’re doing what their job might be, are they married or single, happy or sad in life? It fascinates me to watch people drifting by because I am so incurably nosy. I also got the chance to read some of Mrs Fry’s Diary which I quickly realised was a bad idea because it made me laugh so much I was shaking, which is just not a good look at your own book-signing. I imagine for anyone glancing over at me then I looked like a bit of a lunatic. But when I was reading things like “…We told Stephen Junior that he was adopted tonight. He isn’t, but there was nothing on TV.” I really couldn’t help it. Great book, very funny. And I am now consumed by curiosity as to who Mrs Stephen Fry is. More about that later.

I didn’t have an easy start to the signing; the first chap who came up to talk to me spent a long time looking at the back of the book before saying to me “I can’t read, you know,” – to which I didn’t really know what to say. Short of offering to read him the entire thing I didn’t see that there was a lot that I could do. I suggested audiobooks, but he told me that he preferred to attend talks and get his information that way, so that was that. And then the second lady who came up picked up Things He Never Knew, looked at it suspiciously and said “It’s not chick-lit is it?” in tones that suggested that she equates chick-lit with pornography. Obviously I didn’t know quite what to say, as the answer is probably yes, if I’m brutally honest. To the chick-lit bit, not pornography. It’s certainly on the chick-lit scale, but as quickly as she had said that she announced that she liked the sound of it and could I sign it for her? I was quick to reassure her that it is slightly more cerebral than some of the books out there, and that I had in fact written it myself. It was interesting to watch people react to me – some stuck like glue to the shelves so that they didn’t have to come near me and some people came straight over the minute I caught their eye and smiled. I was particularly interested in why people picked up Things He Never Knew, I asked one girl and she said it was the colour of the front cover, which is nice, I’m glad I got the cover right.

And in the bits when I wasn’t signing books or chatting to people I was able to look around the shop and see all the books that I don’t have time to read, e.g. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. She is one of my absolute all-time favourite authors and I’ve been waiting for her latest book to be released for ages. But I simply don’t have the time to dedicate to reading it and I don’t want to read it in fits and starts so I have forced myself to delay buying it. The other thing that I noticed as I glanced around the shop was the calendar stand – and I was astonished. The first one that caught my eye was a 2011 calendar entitled “Beautiful Sheep”. BEAUTIFUL SHEEP???? Swiftly followed by “Girls on Chairs” – which has a slightly kinky ring to it if you ask me. Which probably no-one will after this. What extraordinary things to do calendars on. Whatever happened to naked WI members and Chesney Hawkes?

However I didn’t have time to think about it because I then had to get home and go to sleep essentially, to be up at 6:30am to read the Sunday papers ahead of being on the Nick Girdler show on BBC Radio Solent. Or I thought I had to be up at 6:30am, my mother had different ideas – she texted me from America at 5:38am and woke me up, thereby ensuring that I lost almost an hours sleep. But no matter, the interview went very well and it was lovely to meet Nick, he’s so nice. I didn’t dare listen to the show for about twelve hours in case I sounded awful, but I don’t. I don’t even sound as nervous as I was. I chose to comment on stories about fraudulent benefit claims (which nearly gave my husband a heart attack as we had agreed that I would steer clear of politics), overly thin women which I think are becoming a serious issue in terms of role models for young girls, and then the recently revived rumours that Prince William and Kate are getting married. Again. I hope they do – I think they will – it would be absolutely lovely. And Kate must be getting fed up of waiting by now. And then to my absolute delight I found a story on page 11 of the Mail on Sunday about Boris! Dear old Boris, who, according to the paper, is no longer sleeping at his family home but instead in a flat 100 yards away. But why is this????? How can Marina bear those 100 yards?????? I’m glad he is though because it meant that I was able to mention him on the radio, ending my contribution perfectly.

So all in all it was a thoroughly good weekend full of firsts for me. Oh – I was going to talk about Mrs Fry’s Diary. As I said, I read it on Saturday and that evening I sent Mrs Stephen Fry herself a tweet saying how funny I’d found it. The next thing I knew ‘she’ had replied to me and re-tweeted it and my number of followers leapt by thirty in a matter of hours! Including a follow by Mrs Stephen Fry which I’m pleased about seeing as ‘she’ has over 71,000 followers and follows less than 3,000 ‘herself’. I feel ridiculous saying ‘her’ because I’m sure it’s not. And I’m so curious now as to whom it actually is. I’m delighted to have so many new followers though; I look forward to hearing from them all.

As some of you will have seen from facebook and twitter, I have a very quiet week ahead of me this week. My eldest daughter is in Portugal and my husband is away on a course. Rather delightfully this means I can eat what I want, watch what I want on TV, go to bed when I want, get up when I want and also spend hours and hours crafting my new manuscript – which is a thrilling thought. Lucky me!

Fareham book-signing