When I worked as a TV presenter, I often got calls today from local papers asking me for my New Year Resolutions. What a dilemma!
As a newspaper reporter forever ago, I had been there myself – on the skeleton staff, trying to put the New Year paper together with a few quotes to use with photos of “local faces”.
The problem is that I am rubbish at New Year resolutions – and hence tend not to bother with them.
But back in those TV days, I would always try to come up with something for the reporter on the line. You know – get back in touch with old friends. Get fit – blah , blah.
The problem would then be the evidence in print. A few weeks later, I would see the cutting hanging around and think – gawd. Did I really say that?
Now, of course, with my telly days behind me – I am off the hook. So I make no apologies in deciding NOT to list my New Year promises for this blog.
All I will say is that if you have your own list, then – I genuinely wish you all the very best in sticking to it.
For myself, I will simply be putting a large leg of lamb in the oven later for when my husband finally gets off shift. Oh – and I am also popping on my L plates.
For I am starting 2013, not with a resolution but learning a new skill :How to format for Kindle.
The very idea of this terrified me initially – but no longer. Thanks to so many fab “how to” videos on You tube and lots of other helpful blogs, I am surprising myself by mastering a Table of Contents ( think – bookmarks and hyperlinks) even as I write this.
The raison d’etre is putting together a collection of my (previously published) short stories as an ebook. The thinking here is simple. I have already been paid for these stories ( published across the last decade in various magazines) so why not put them together for a second outing? Publishers famously say that short story collections don’t sell. But this does not worry me. I’ve sold these stories already – so I see no harm/loss in giving them a second chance for people who may be interested. And for anyone who is developing their own career as a short-story writer, I hope they will be helpful in showing what seems to catch the eye of fiction editors and readers.
Quite apart from anything else, it’s all rather fun… And our writing life – given all the ups and downs of rejection, must have some fun in it too.
So – leg of lamb on the table tonight.
Table of Contents on the agenda today.
Wish me luck and I will update you very soon with all the lessons I learn along the way.
Meantime I wish you all a Very Happy New Year and the very best of luck with your writing in 2013.
There are many moments that I will treasure from this Christmas. I am one of those who loves the festive season. I love the preparation. I love the traditions. I love the memories stirred from the past. And I love most of all being in the bosom of my family wearing silly paper hats and squabbling over scrabble.
But this year there is a moment that stands out for me.
My elder son is 19 – on a gap year before reading English Lit ( yup - very much his parents’ child; the hubby is also a journalist). Like all mothers and sons we have our ups and we have our downs but I am terribly aware that everything is very soon to change. That I have had my chance to help shape who he is and that now it is time for him to step away and to shape his own future.
This year my husband had to work Boxing Day (the downside of a journalist’s lot) and so our traditional Xmas beach trip was in jeopardy. This so saddened me. Whatever the weather, I always cherish the privilege of living close enough to the sea to share a flask of great coffee and mince pies on the beach on Boxing Day.
So this year – no hubby. The younger son wasn’t keen either (it was pouring with rain, in fairness) and so I toyed with the idea of giving the tradition a miss – or playing Billy-no-mates and going alone. But then my elder son completely floored me by saying that he would absolutely love to come.
And so with me just a little bit dazed, we made the coffee together , we packed up the biscuits, mince pies and some chocolates and set out in the rain with our wet weather gear, our hats and our gloves.
And – my goodness. What a memorable trip not only because there was just the two of us and we ran out of petrol ( making it back on fumes alone- phew!) but mostly because this unexpected dynamic meant we talked so much.
Undeterred by the howling wind and rain, we made it to a bench with a breathtaking view of the raging sea with furious white horses reminding us all just who is boss around here. And yes.
We talked and talked and talked.
We talked books – especially the Life of Pi ( a favourite for both of us). We talked about our expectations of the film. We talked also about his expectations of the new life ahead of him. We talked and we talked … and somewhere along the way he gave me, unprompted, a spectacular bear hug.
As he prepares to leave home, other mothers will understand just how much this little window means to me.
It was a moment.
Yes. A little window in time with so much back story and so much hope for the future. A little rubber stamp of who we are, where we are now as mother and son and where we are both going. And in the end it made me smile to my core because I had been agonising over the title for a collection of short stories (previously published by a range of national magazines) which I am to release as an ebook in 2013.
So – no more agonising.
“ Moments” is to be the title. (More details in future blogs.)
So I sign off today with special thanks for my blessings, my lovely Christmas, for the patience of my family as I steal so many hours away to write and for the unexpected bonus of …
a bench, a beach, a boy.
(And a book.)
I write in a slight state of shock today for I am very merrily on high. This is not just from the copious amount of brandy that I have added to my mince meat this year ( I make my own not on the grounds of any kind of culinary martyrdom but on the, ahem, spiritual grounds that I get to determine the quantities of brandy in my mince pies).
The giddy state is to report a first – namely the sale of two short stories in one day. Excuse me? You are buying not just one, but two stories. At the same time? Check email for mistake. Check eyes in mirror for brandy.
Nope. No mistake. My lovely fiction editor is sending me a cheque for two stories…
I have, of course, mentally spent the money already.
Well. It is Christmas.
Ps for mincemeat recipe I strongly recommend the Delia classic. The tip is admittedly a tad late for this year perhaps but there is always next year and once you have made your own I promise that you will never, hic, look back. Not so very different from short stories – come to think of it.
Pester power. Mmmmm
As parents, it’s hard – isn’t it? Especially at this time of year. I remember when my children were little, wanting on the one hand to meet their wish list for Christmas, but wanting also to teach them that too much pestering doesn’t pay.
And yet – the hypocrisy. I got my first job in journalism through pester power of a kind.
I remember so clearly sitting in the office of the first editor who took me on. I had written to him many times throughout my journalism course – enclosing cuttings and updates on my progress. Pestering? I preferred to call it enthusiasm. I saw the door as ajar because although there was no advertised vacancy for a trainee, he hadn’t said “go away”. So what did I have to lose?
At the end of my course he agreed to see me. I remember he opened a drawer, bulging with application letters from wannabe writers. Oh gawd...“And then, these are all yours….” So I had my own file! “ And I’m thinking that if you are half as persistent getting me stories, Teresa…”
He then asked me a tricky legal question – in effect, a contempt- of-court riddle. Thankfully I got it right (phew) – and that was that. Foot in the door.
So when people ask me about a career in journalism, I check the eyes for determination. Sorry - but it’s so very competitive these days that only those who are absolutely determined are going to succeed. It’s not enough to want it. You have almost to smell the “need” in the person. It’s the ones who are reading every paper they can find, watching every news channel and digging out their own stories. Their own tips. Their own contacts. The ones who are willing to put in the flying hours – and learn. They’re the ones that make me think – ah yes. You’ve got it. Good luck.
And I guess in fiction, it’s not so very different. From submitting my first short stories to pitching for an agent, I’ve always had to dig deep for determination (and to bounce back from the set-backs).
So my best tip for pitching? Stand out from the crowd. Keep it short and punchy. Perfect grammar and spelling obviously (she now checks blog nervously for mistakes!). Show enthusiasm and a willingness to learn and grow. Believe in yourself by all means but know the line.
When the answer is a “no” – there's no point trying to tell them they are wrong.
Just try somewhere else.
* Good luck and a very Happy Christmas!
Tap, tap, tap….ping. Tap, tap, tap…ping.
Oh but I cannot begin to describe the walk down memory lane it has stirred for me – the end credits, confirmed recently as the final British typewriter rolled off the production line.
On the basis of “use it or lose it” I make no case for complaint. Haven’t used a typewriter in years. Don’t even have one in my house (sadly). But the memories, folks.
When I first started in newspapers, I couldn’t believe the noise. It really was - tap, tap, tap… Ping. Tap, tap, tap… Ping. ALL DAY! Most of us had manual typewriters with the snazzy electric models reserved for the copytakers on headphones (taking dictation from reporters in the field).
Back then most newspaper journalists were pretty nifty on the ol' keys too. Classes in touch typing were a compulsory part of my pre-entry course in journalism and - thank heavens. Forget writer’s block. On a deadline, you need to get the words down fast.
We had to turn in several copies of each story and so the Kent Messenger newspaper group (where I trained) bought in huge rolls of multi-sheet paper with continuous carbon woven through. You just threaded the end of the giant roll into your typewriter and ripped the story off when you’d finished. One copy to your newseditor. One to the group newseditor and one onto your “spike” for reference. (Yes. Health and safety – you heard me. We had proper sharp spikes on our desk...)
It wasn’t until I transferred to Thames TV that the first computer system appeared in the 80s. It was called BASYS. How the yoof would roar. Big, chunky system which at the time we considered the bee’s knees. You should have seen me – tap, tapping at my giant computer, then rushing out with a HUGE shoulder pack to charge my not-so-mobile phone.
Then when I transferred to the BBC in 1990, there was a techno time-slip. To my horror they were still on typewriters in Plymouth so for a time it was back to hand -typed autocue with corrections by tippex (I kid you not).
All this personal history means I am genuinely staggered when other writers and authors say they write by hand. Pen and paper? Seriously? Having tap, tapped away my whole writing career – it just wouldn’t occur to me. Quite apart from anything else shorthand completely ruined my handwriting. Pitman New Era was also a compulsory part of my training (100 words per minute or you couldn’t get your Proficiency Certificate) and once I learned to notate that fast, I never had the patience with longhand. Sadly my handwriting, so lovingly nurtured through my schooling, paid a terrible price.
Now, of course, I am wedded to my laptop. Love the convenience. Love that I can store all my work on a tiny pen. Love that I can email an entire MS to my agent and love that I can so easily transfer material from one computer to another.
But for all the neatness and convenience of a computer manuscript, I still feel a sad pang at the thought of a typed one. The letters ever so slightly out of alignment. The slow fade as the ribbon wears down. And come to think of it, I realise now that I owe much of my discipline as a writer (ipso facto my tendency to get cracking first and edit later) to those early years as a journalist when it was so darn infuriating to make corrections.
Whenever new and aspiring writers ask me for advice, I always remember that lesson; that the most important thing is to get going. To trust your “voice” and to get the words down as they flow. Don’t make the mistake of talking too much about your writing, I say. Don’t overthink it, either.
I find this especially important when starting something new. A big mistake to spend hours and hours honing the first paragraph just because a computer makes it easy to do so. That’s just a recipe to lose confidence. I prefer to write a good chunk first. Honing is for later.
If it helps, pretend you are back there in the ol’ days with a typewriter which will leave a record of every single crossing out. The solution? Don’t cross everything out.
Write now. Today. Lots.
Let it flow.
(PS And by a timely coincidence, I now find myself assigned to the role of copy typist for my younger son who has trapped his hand in a door! Tap, tap, tap.....Are you sure they set this as homework??)
Teresa Driscoll - journalist, author, mother of two and lover of great coffee.