Saturday, July 28, 2007

Any questions?

I just saw a section on another writer's website called Frequently Asked Questions, in which she listed questions that readers often ask her, along with her answers. Readers of this blog are rather reticent, I know, but if you'd like to ask me a question, why don't you post it in the comments section, and I'll do my best to answer.

How Jane and I wrote Plotting for Beginners

This is for new readers of this blog (as the post has already appeared in the December archives)...

Sue’s View

When I suggested to Jane that we should write a book together, we weren’t even friends. We attended the same writing group and never saw each other outside the meetings, but we emailed often, sending each other work to critique.

In our first emails we discussed creative writing and how to get published, but soon our correspondence became a daily one with humorous descriptions of domestic and family trivia. Many of Jane’s emails made me laugh out loud, and I thought they were wasted just sitting in my Inbox. I wanted to have them in a book I'd started to plan. That’s how the partnership began.

I did 80% of the actual writing in terms of arranging words on the page. Sally Howe is the first person narrator and I wrote in Sally’s voice: it was vital to keep her voice clear and distinctive. Jane wrote Gus's letters, and Kate Wensley's emails in different voices.

But obviously, the work and creativity involved in writing a novel is so much more than what the reader sees. Some people assume that because I wrote Sally’s voice, the book is really mine with Jane helping out. NOT TRUE. It was a fifty fifty creative project. We plotted the book together and developed the characters together and agreed on themes, texture and style. I see us as a comedy writing duo, with two people throwing out jokes and material and ideas but only one able to sit at the keyboard at any one time.

Writing a novel with someone else is a bit like a marriage. It needs commitment from both sides – and if one flags, the other needs to support her and carry on. Also like being in a relationship, you can have double the fun. But the price is a willingness to compromise.

Galton and Simpson once argued for three days about one line in a Hancock episode. Jane and I both love the other’s writing, and we rarely argued about how to express something. But there was one expression I wanted to use - “the great Wen” (meaning London) – which Jane, as editor-in-chief, kept cutting. Next time I sent her a draft I would put it back in, and she would cut it again. This went on for months. She won in the end. She is a fine editor, ruthless and strict with impeccable taste. (But if she dies before me and we have a second edition, I shall re-instate the great Wen.)

We did sometimes argue about the actual material. I might want to include something and she would say it was “yawnsville” (her ultimate put-down.)

I loved developing our characters with Jane. We find the same things funny. When she suggested a trait for a character I often laughed in delight and recognition. We brainstormed by email. When we were in the middle of the book I couldn’t wait to see her latest suggestions and I would rush to read her email before getting dressed in the morning.

I love living in a fictional world. Living there with someone else who shares your sense of humour is even better.

Writing a novel is very hard work – even when you love to write - and it can be lonely. When I wrote Plotting for Beginners with Jane it didn’t seem like work, and I only found it lonely when the huge demands of her normal life enveloped her. But co-writing spoils you. Jane injected such a lot of fun and sparky creativity into our book that when I first embarked alone on my next novel, Zuzu's Petals, I felt as if I was rowing the Atlantic solo.

An email from Jane’s kitchen

hi sue

re twosome piece

don’t forget to mention that

you have placed loads of pieces in the nationals whereas I have poems in a box file (which I am usually too busy to send off)

you have one husband to look after and hours to write whereas I have three teenagers, a hairy dog, four cats, a horse and a rabbit (not yet fed today incidentally) plus a couple of businesses, so when writing have to make do with hit and run snatches

you are entirely driven and I am a complete lazy arse

I work in the chaos of the kitchen on the family computer (“bloody hell, mother – sue hepworth’s sent you seven emails today”) whereas you enjoy the luxury of a study area, albeit one which doubles as a corridor and is in danger of being re-designated as an en-suite

you nearly dumped me after you sent me the first page and I emailed you back to say it was rubbish and I learned to precede any criticism with at least five points of effusive praise (you didn't know that did you?)

we both think the other's writing is fab

I can never remember who the characters are (my excuse - they change their names so often) so when you say is it all right for keith to like jelly? - I invariably email to ask - who the hell is keith?

you obsess about plot points and midpoints and I like to visualise the plot as a structural framework we hang things from

I love to pare things down – record so far cutting 15,000 words in one morning

you are the definitive keeper of the main text - which means that you can slip things back in which I cut out

we are symbiotic

we couldn't write this sort of book if the process wasn't fun - I want to capture the enjoyment we have and roll it onto the page for the reader (omigod - what does that sound like?)

you are well more pushy than I am and incredibly tenacious in a way which always astonishes me and which I totally admire you for

you would like to be a best-selling author and have a national newspaper column (which I know you would hate after two weeks) whereas I aspire to work on a shopping page

best first thoughts

love jane

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The irrepressible Sally Howe

She's back from her op and she begged to be allowed to do a few postings on her blog, so what could I say? Click here for the first.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hello America!

Plotting for Beginners was published in the US at the beginning of July. The US edition contains a glossary at the back for American readers. This is to explain the English phrases in the book which some of my American friends didn't understand. As I know that some of you live in the States and yet bought an English edition, I thought I'd post the American glossary here. If any British readers have any comments on my definitions, I'd love to hear them.

Glossary for American readers

p.12 Jon Snow a liberal, widely respected television news anchor

p. 17 "poxy" local paper sub-standard/ poor quality (poxy is not a polite term)

p. 19 Badedas bubbles on the aubretia bubble bath on a rockery plant

p. 19 VSO Voluntary Service Overseas - like the Peace Corps but work done overseas in developing countries

hot flushes hot flashes

p. 25 tartan trews trousers made of Scottish plaid fabric – (shows poor dress sense to wear them - in Sally’s eyes. )

p. 26 off-piste the term is a European ski-ing term – which means off the normal designated area

p. 29 John Lewis a department store found in big cities – good quality products and customer service and after care…possibly like Macy’s

spaghetti hoops are like "loops" or circles, canned spaghetti in sauce

p. 34 "Barbour" jacket a hard wearing waxed cotton waterproof jacket with lots of pockets - originally for country wear - such as for farming or shooting. Barbour is the original brand and is now the generic name for such waxed cotton coats.

p. 40 Mary Wesley a bestselling popular novelist who was first published at the age of 70

p. 71 mammoth "trug" A trug is a shallow basket for holding flowers when you're actually picking them in the garden.

p. 81 hot slog hard work

noughties refers to the first ten years of the century

p. 99 titivating making very small adjustments to improve appearance

p. 145 plumped for vouchers chose a gift certificate

p. 153 crack on continue on

p. 154 Toffos A brand of toffees/sweets

swot work hard at learning something - cram. Wendy was swotting up on her astrology for her astrology exam.

p. 155 stottie cake This is a regional type of bread - made in the north east of England. It's flat and round.

p. 156 Quilts far too much "tog" Tog is a rating of insulation

P. 165 mugging up Learning about

p. 170 jammy dodger type of cookie - round and sweet, with jam (jelly) in a hole in the middle

Corr A member of The Corrs - a band of glamorous girls who sing folk rock music

P. 175 whinge whine

p. 220 piffy on a rock bun very, very obscure north of England expression (which I adore, so I've used it in my next book Zuzu's Petals, as well.) It means "superfluous" or "out of place" - piffy is icing sugar and it's unnecessary on a rock bun.

P. 233 clobber stuff

p. 236 naff In this instance it means "in poor taste"

p. 245 Mariella Frostrup journalist and broadcaster who hosts a Radio 4 programme called Open Book

p. 251 Carol Vorderman a highly intelligent and glamorous presenter of a television programme with anagrams and maths puzzles

p. 271 Swarfega This is a well known (in England) brand of gas-based green gel which mechanics and other manual workers use to clean oil off their hands. American equivalent is Fast Orange.

p. 297 Charlotte Green a well-spoken Radio 4 newsreader with a sexy voice

p. 307 tannoy loudspeaker

p. 309 John Prescott a much lampooned politician from Hull who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time of writing.

p. 318 cossie abbreviation derived from bathing costume - i.e. swimsuit

p. 320 rammel clutter

p. 332 blagged a column Blagged means persuaded (often by bullshitting or just good salesmanship). In this case, persuaded the editor to let her write a column in the newspaper.

doddle Something that's very easy

p. 344 Tony Benn widely respected and venerable left wing Labour politician

Clare Short left wing Labour rebel, who resigned over her opposition to the Iraq war.