Where’s me brainy specs?

Little old me – I could never imagine how anyone would be interested in what I get up to on dark winter evenings (don’t even go down that mucky alley…). So imagine my surprise when I was asked to be the subject of a feature for the Saturday supplement of the local newspaper, The Sentinel. That’s not to say that I wasn’t hugely flattered too – who wouldn’t be?

Although I have guested on a couple of local radio shows, I’ve never done a newspaper interview about being a writer and it’s not something I had ever thought about before, so I didn’t really know how I felt about it. It was lucky that I wasn’t given too much time to dwell on what to expect, or I would probably have locked myself in the garden shed. I used to sing in public as a teenager, and was told that I had a decent voice, but I got so ridiculously nervous before a performance that I wouldn’t eat for days. Regular readers of my blog will recall the same happening when I went to the premiere of Colin Morgan’s (of Merlin fame) film ‘Island’ at the mere thought that I might speak to him. Or, more accurately, that I would try to speak to him but would actually just declare my undying love in a monosyllabic stutter and then throw up over his shoes.

So, the features writer from the newspaper was due to phone me at seven that very evening and the photographer was booked for the following morning. I spent the day at one of my many jobs not really being able to tell anyone what my name was. On top of that, true to form, even the smell of food had me retching. I got home around six o’clock starving and dished a bowl of stew out, determined that I would force some down. One spoonful later it was given to hubby for his seconds. Then I sat by the phone biting my nails.

Of course, when the journalist phoned me she was really lovely and within five minutes I would have told her my deepest darkest secrets – where I keep my Toblerone stash, the time I got that injunction for stealing Morten Harket’s Y-fronts – that sort of thing. Luckily she wasn’t after information on eighties band-stalking exploits, just about my writing. Although it did become apparent as she quizzed me over the plot of each book and story that had received any kind of recognition that I may just have a slightly unhealthy obsession with writing about teenage boys. I do write girls too. Honest. Once she had wrung every detail of my life out of me I had only to worry about the photographer’s visit. Surely I could stand in front of a camera without turning into a sobbing jelly? Yeah.

The morning came and I thought I had successfully planned out the photographer’s visit to the last detail so that nothing could go wrong. But the top I had intended to wear had somehow slid into that parallel dimension where my money and a great deal of my sanity goes. I quickly realised that anything else remotely suitable was in a pile of ironing that dates back to the Pliocene era. And I had half an hour to get dressed, do make-up (which quite often goes so badly wrong that I end up looking like a walking Picasso) wash dishes, tidy toys away, spread manuscripts around the place and don a smoking jacket and pipe (well, what does a writer look like?). The notion of sweeping the floors had been dumped way before that. Once my bed was covered in the entire (and sorry looking) contents of my wardrobe, I hurriedly pulled on the best option and was dismayed to find it crinkled from being in storage for so long. No time to get the ironing board out, I grabbed the iron and ironed the blouse whilst wearing it (I really wish I could say that last admission was an attempt at humour but, alas, dear reader, it actually happened). And as I was doing this, congratulating myself on the fact that once I had finished I still had five minutes to throw all the dirty dishes into the understair cupboard, there was a knock at the front door and I opened it to find the photographer’s depressingly prompt arrival.

I don’t mind saying that I giggled through the entire session like a village idiot. The photographer gave me simple enough instructions such as: ‘can you get a pile of books together so we can do a shot with them?’
‘Books?’ I queried with a vacant stare like a caveman who had just been shown a wheel.

The poor man left half an hour later telling me that he had an infant school to visit next. I suspect he got more sophisticated responses to his requests there than he had done from me. I suspect he would have got more sophisticated responses from the twinkles in the mummies’ eyes than from me that day.

But at least he didn’t get to find out where my Toblerone stash is.

Neither Mickling nor Muckling

Neither Mickling nor Muckling was the weird saying that my late mother-in-law used to utter every now and again.  At the time I wondered what it meant (Billy Liar fans feel free to get rancid tomatoes at the ready) but I think I have a pretty good idea these days.

This week I handed out three different manuscripts to three good friends. None of the manuscripts was remotely like any of the others. I’m one of those annoying, mercurial types who can’t stay focused on one thing for long; instead, I dip into pools of knowledge and interest all over the place – science, history, archaeology, literature, philosophy – a little of everything and mastery of none.  And I’m moody too, so while I seem to be my usual cheery self every day, underneath that I’m sometimes melancholy, some days introspective, some days just plain vacant. So I suppose it’s only natural that my writing brain functions in the same way. The project I work on today might be a quirky romance, but next week I might start a horror story. Sometimes it will be a big cross-genre mash or completely defy classification at all. And often, something that I thought was amazing when I wrote it will annoy the hell out of me and end up deleted the following week.

Which got me thinking. By writing this way am I actively scuppering any chances of actually writing for a living? The publishing world is so fond of genres and pigeon holing and people in general seem to like things where they can say: yes, this fits just here. I recently read a tweet from another writer saying that she wondered if she was unsellable because her work was cross-genre, and although I can think of lots of successful examples of work in that vein, I can probably think of more where it represented problems getting the work accepted for a long time.

If you write lots of stories in lots of genres, do you risk alienating readers too? If someone loves your quirky romance (just let me dream for a moment, will you) and they go looking for more (ok, I know it’s a stretch – indulge me) and they download your next book to find it is some paranormal weep-fest, will they be so disappointed that they will never read anything you present to them again? Can you build a following of loyal readers like that? Can you sell books like that?

But then, can you change what you do?  Are you a slave to your writing brain, the one that won’t stop nagging you when that ghost story pops into your head, even though you’re in the middle of a kids’ book? I’m certain I can’t be alone in this confusing camp.

So, I suppose what I’m really asking is this: is there is a choice to be made here? Do I slap the metaphorical bottom of my writing brain and tell it to start behaving itself, or do carry on doing what I do and I accept that I’m destined to annoy the hell out of people for evermore?