Thursday, 26 May 2011

Love is...

... a pair of box-fresh Nike Liberty Blazers.

I've never been one for a closet full of heels, but a kickin' pair of trainers?  Colour me happy.  I'll be sporting them at the Hay Festival this coming holiday weekend, as I sprint from the Starlight Stage (where The Etherington Brothers - aka my husband and his little bro - will be talking about the art of making comics) to The Elmley Foundation Theatre, for debut novel inspirations from the likes of Sarah Winman and Téa Obreht.  I don't know which I'm the more excited about... wearing my oh-so-pretty, veh veh limited edition trainers, or going to Hay for the first time.  I'll have to get back to you.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Just finished reading...

The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht.

Ever since I started writing with purpose, I've been reading with purpose too.  I look for books that can teach me about the art of writing; not how-to guides, or course companions, but simply the finest stories out there.  Never has learning been so enjoyable.

As soon as the Orange Prize shortlist was announced I plumped for The Tiger's Wife as my first-choice read - driven mainly by curiosity (Obreht is a dewy-cheeked twenty-five year old) and personal interest (it's set in Eastern Europe).

The Tiger's Wife is a book to devour.  Or, if you've got the self-restraint, a book to savour, sentence by beautifully-crafted sentence.  Either way I was left licking my chops and craving more.  Obreht whisks her readers away to an unnamed Balkan country, bringing to life vineyard-tracked shorelines, dark-forest villages and crumbling cities. The cast of characters takes in opportunistic bootleggers, valiant teachers, doctors, orphans, beauties and beasts.  The story slips between modern-day reality and ancient folklore, cruelty and kindness, superstition and seeming truth.  Characters come and go, details of their lives are dangled tantalizingly then whipped away, but the voice of Natalia and the figure of her grandfather guide the narrative, and never stop beguiling.  While throughout a tiger stalks...

Put simply, I loved it.  Perhaps less simply, I intend to learn from it.

The Tiger's Wife will assume its place on my bookcase between Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible and Monique Roffey's The White Woman on a Green Bicycle.  

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The first is paper...

Exactly one year ago, I was living an American Dream, cruising down the blacktop in a snow-white Mustang, with my new husband beside me.  We'd eloped and wed in Vegas, and were headed down New Mexico way.  On the road and looking for adventure, to the tune of a rock and roll song.

We wed at the top end of Las Vegas Boulevard South, where fast food joints shimmy up against tired striptease palaces and the neon blinks as though something's caught in its eye.  The ceremony cost us the grand sum of $160, a ring of giant palms as witness.  We spent the afternoon lazing by the pool with frozen cocktails.  I wonder how many other brides read a little Alice Munro on their wedding day, the pages whipped by a desert wind?

We wanted a trip of contrasts, for better or for worse.  If Vegas is easy-come-easy-go, Santa Fe is rock solid, the USA's oldest state capital.  It's set in high desert country, the beloved territories of Georgia O'Keefe, where the houses are flat-topped and pueblo style.  Native American, Hispanic and Latino cultures combine to make an intensely welcoming city, strung out on the scent of lilac trees and street carts frying fajitas.  

It's also a place that belongs to the artists.  On Canyon Road alone there are more than a hundred high-end galleries showcasing work rich in its diversity.  At The Palace of Governors, Native Americans display their intricately crafted turquoise and silver jewellery.  New Mexican cuisine was a fine art in itself, from the lashings of green chilli sauce on our breakfast burritos to the sopaipillas, puffy pillows of sweet dough at Tia Sophia's on West San Francisco Street.

I don't doubt that we'll return to America's South West; one year on, it's a place I dream of.  My 'Santa Fe' mug, bought in the Five and Dime store on East San Francisco Street, has achieved nigh talismanic status - it's the only mug I'll consider drinking coffee from while writing.  Thus it gets a lot of use.  And every day I get a little taste of Santa Fe, and remember our happy, happy days in the sun.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Why I'm here...

I love a good quote.  The kind you come across in dusty compendiums in secondhand book shops.  The ones you find in a novel you're already loving then you read that line and just have to grab a pen and jot it down.  Even the sort that pop up in hit 80s movies, delivered by a teen hero in a ropey bathrobe...

To launch my blog I wanted to pick a quote and stick by it.  One that would set the tone for future posts, and even explain why I'm blogging in the first place.  So I turned to the finest minds of this and previous generations, and... came all the way back to the kid in the bathrobe.  Ferris Bueller.

"Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, 
you could miss it."

But why choose to write a blog at all?  It's because I've reached a point in my writing where I want to remember every tiny step of the process, chart what happens next, and recall all the little things that led me here.

I spent most of last year writing a novel.  The three years before that I'd been working on it too; a little here, a little there, but last year was the big one.  The time when I decided to devote myself entirely to writing and see what happened.  As a result I finished the novel and found an agent, Rowan Lawton at PFD.

I met Rowan at her Covent Garden office.  She was inspired and inspiring and altogether lovely.  Afterwards I phoned my husband from the street.  I said, 'I think I've found my agent.'  We both yelped a little, then I hurried to the tube.  But before I got there I stopped and stood still.  Buffeted by the tides of tourists and commuters I told myself to remember this moment, and cherish it always.  It wasn't a moment where I was entertaining foolhardy notions of glittering deals and worldwide acclaim.  It was simply a moment when I thought, I am happy.  I am SO happy.  I am so very, very happy.  That's all.

Of course, as Ferris says, life started moving pretty fast after that.  I got on the tube.  I got a headache.  I got hit with a £50 fine on the train, as my ticket was off-peak and I was on a peak service.  By the time I got home to Bristol, the giddy moment on the street had passed - even if it was pretty much resurrected by my husband and his late-night offering of pizza and champagne.

You see, the road to a published novel may well be paved with uncertainty, strewn with pitfalls and even - if the naysayers are to be heeded - shaped by disappointments, but... I'm on it.  And my eyes are wide open.

This blog is about me stopping and looking around.  And hopefully not missing too much along the way.