Oh my. What a difference a ms (or two) make(s)…

Well, well. It appears that when I wrote my first, greatest story, I was not writing as well as I could have been. To be polite.

It’s as if I decide a character feels a particular emotion in a scene and I say so, but then I keep saying the character has that emotion, just in case the reader missed it the first (seven) times.

Help me. It hurts.

Other things are wrong too. Harder to identify things, but it feels as if the writing wanders, as if everyone is emoting everywhere all the time (and these are different emotions, not just the ones I mention twenty-four times on one page), and (whisper it) I don’t like the character as much as I did.

I worked on this manuscript for A THOUSAND YEARS (give or take), and I rewrote it approximately thirty times, and it was critted all over the place, and I even paid a developmental editor (not Teresa) to edit it.

And it’s still bad.

My conclusion (and, yes, there is one! Who’d have guessed?) is that in the two years since I abandoned querying this ms and decided to work on other things, writing other manuscripts has taught me so much more about writing than editing and re-editing the same thing in a constant loop.

It makes a difference to write something new from scratch. It makes a difference to see the world through the eyes of a different character.

Really, though, I am so grateful I can see these flaws. I’m sure there are lots I can’t see, because I haven’t yet reached that level, but I must have learned something in the last two years, and re-reading this manuscript makes that quite obvious. Yey!

 

What Next?

This blog post is supposed to hold me to my plan. If I write it out and make it (semi-)public, then I should stick to it.

So.

I’ve just finished a wip. Soon, I’ll submit to to my lovely agent. Now I need to decide what to work on next.

I have a number of things in progress, and they’re all quite fun and I could work on them (except that One We Don’t Mention, which was the unfortunate result of a Nanowrimo and demonstrated for me quite clearly that writing 50,000 words in a month is a good way for me to write total gibberish).

I’m reminding myself of that character in Old Hat, New Hat going, “too big, too small, too crooked, too tall”, only I’m going, “too depressing, too dystopian, too messed up in terms of love affair…”

https://berenstainbears.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/old-hat-new-hat-final21.jpg

So I wondered about the first ms I wrote.

Not quite the first, obviously. That one depended heavily on the word “suddenly” and on the narrator turning into a cat. The first one I wrote (and finished) when I was over the age of eight.

It was a lovely invented world full of evil magicians and smoke and revolution and confusion and a handsome, tortured hero and… but, you know, it was my learning book. I started writing it about (cough) seven years ago, and I think my writing is stronger now. Quite a lot stronger.

Instead of faffing with it and trying to edit, I’m going to make a chapter plan and rewrite from scratch. What could possibly go wrong…?

Right. I said it here. Now I have to do it.

What I didn’t know about bone marrow (almost everything)

I was hanging out in the soft play the other day while my four-year old played with his friends from nursery, and I got chatting to another mother. She’s lovely but I don’t know her very well, and her two boys — one who’s 6, the other who’s just turned 4 — are very sweet. They live just round the corner from us and I’ve had my eye on them for a little while as possible playdates where the kids wouldn’t have to cross a road (in fact, they could probably climb through the gardens in between the houses, not that I’d encourage trespass… Ahem).

What I hadn’t known before is that both her sons had bone marrow transplants when they were babies. What I also didn’t know is that it can be really difficult to find an appropriate donor, so there was only one matching donor in the whole of the UK for her older son.

I also didn’t know (yes, okay, I didn’t know anything) that transplants don’t necessarily last forever. Her six-year old is going to need another soon (he’s been ill again — he was in a wheelchair over the summer) and she’s terrified that they won’t be able to find that one donor again, the one who saved his life when he was a baby.

I’m a bit of a wuss about needles (also, spiders, craneflies, heights…) but donating bone marrow only happens when there’s a match (so you’re only asked if you’re needed) AND they take it like blood, not by extracting it straight from the bone (although that’s an option too).

One final thing that I didn’t know: in Scotland we have no facility for saving umbilical cords — all those free stem cells that could save people’s lives get thrown away. I’m happy we have a separate health system, but that seems really mad.

I don’t have any proper way to finish this post. I’m not going to say: go out and sign up for the bone marrow registry next time you give blood, because that’s up to you.

But I guess I properly appreciate that all my worries — about whether my husband will have a job next year, about my son still limping a bit on the leg-that-was-broken, about whether my kids watch too much TV, and of course how on earth I’m going to lose weight and still drink wine, are actually nothing very serious — they’re good worries to have over Christmas.

Review: The Queen’s Necklace — Teresa Edgerton (beware! spoilers!)

I’ve lazily copied my review from Goodreads! That’s efficiency for you…

The Queen's NecklaceThe Queen’s Necklace by Teresa Edgerton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So, now I’m at the end, I need to gather my thoughts…

I really enjoyed the book. I liked the rich and complicated world and characters and I loved the idea of the goblin machines that were needed to support the existence of life. The frozen society that had been created as perfect and held that way was an excellent background to the characters — few of whom were actually what they seemed to be, and none of whom did what they were told.

Continue reading

Fractured boy

About ten days ago, I went to pick my son up from Fencing and he was sitting at the side, white and shaking with his leg propped up. He wouldn’t put any weight on the injured leg, so I carried him home and then took him to Accident and Emergency.

The doctor who saw him manipulated his leg and chatted to him. He winced when she moved it, but told her it didn’t hurt too much. She suggested that it didn’t really hurt all that much at all, that he was mainly scared it was going to hurt, and he agreed.

He agreed, and she spent the rest of the time demonstrating to us that he wasn’t really injured, and it was exaggeration. She even got him to stand on the foot.

We went home, and he wouldn’t put any weight on the leg. The next day, he wouldn’t even get out of bed. He was always cold, and when he accidentally put weight on his foot, he screamed.

I phoned our doctor, who told us we wouldn’t expect to see any change overnight, and that he might be better the day after, and he was — he was up, and hopping around on his good foot. But he still wouldn’t put weight on the sore leg.

When we took him back to A&E that evening, it was mainly because we were worried he was going to fall if he insisted on hopping everywhere, and we were hoping they’d give us crutches, but this time we saw a nurse and she sent him for an X-ray.

And guess what? He’d broken the leg.

It’s not a major break — it’s a small fracture of the femur, called a “buckle” fracture because the bone bends instead of breaking. He’s in a thigh to ankle cast and he’s got crutches and is feeling much better.

But.

He agreed with the first doctor when she told him it was in his head, because he has been brought up to agree with adults, especially adults in positions of authority, because he is (thankfully, often) a polite child and he didn’t like to contradict someone who seemed so certain.

I rarely berate myself for teaching my children to respect and defer to adults, but it seems I need to. And I would never have guessed that my articulate seven-year-old would be so vulnerable to adult suggestion.

 

 

Whose responsibility?

Actually, I was wrong yesterday. Lord Ashcroft did say this on Twitter:

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(I checked at about 9pm on 20/09/2014 and the tweet above had been deleted — it has been replaced with one that was much more reasonable, showing that 51% of 16-24 year olds voted “Yes” (*). Because my ranting doesn’t make sense without the original tweet, I put a copy of the original above).
And was retweeted almost 900 times, spreading the totally unfounded idea of radical teenagers.

I don’t know how many 16-17 year olds voted for independence because no one does. I do know that research before the referendum suggested that 16-17 year olds were actually the group most likely to vote “no” after the 60+ group, so this would be a surprising turnabout, though not impossible if turnout was skewed/ people changed their minds.

I’m sure someone will do the research and bring out more accurate figures, but what are the chances that anyone will believe those now?

What’s bothering me today is whose responsibility is it that hundreds (at least) of people now believe this story. Should Lord Ashcroft have made the claim above (especially without telling anyone his margin of error)? Should everyone who retweeted have waited for the full data to be released? Should everyone who makes these claims be able to calculate what the figures really mean?

Presumably Lord Ashcroft knows how polling works, and knows that 14 is too small a sample to make those claims about. So why did he make them?

And now, apparently, an SNP chap is citing this data on TV so even more people will believe it. Argh.

This makes me sad :(

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But just because I can’t let something go, the 16-24 year old group was 98 people, which is an error margin of 10%, which makes a 49%/51% split almost completely meaningless anyway…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Won’t somebody think of the numbers…?

(Note: I don’t have an official position on the referendum but ageism and dodgy counting annoy me)

There’s just been a bit of a Twitter fuss about a poll produced by Lord Ashcroft, which suggested that support for “Yes” in the Scottish independence referendum was highest among 16-17 year olds (at 71%), and lowest among people over 60 (at 27%).

The table released on Twitter

Cue a lot of bile directed at older people who have apparently snatched independence away from the adventurous young with their aged conservatism. How dare they vote! You’d almost think people over 60 were human, or something.

So many angry tweets.

And when Lord Ashcroft released the data it turned out this bile and fury was based on the responses of 14 (I’ll write that out so it’s more obvious: FOURTEEN) 16-17 year olds. Ten of them voted “Yes” and four of them voted “No”.

I’m not sure what his selection methods were, but even if they were as pure and perfect as it’s possible to be, you can’t draw conclusions on a polled sample of fourteen people.

Calculating things hurts my brain, but this is important and so let’s do counting:

You have margins of error. One way of calculating margin of error is:

The margin of error in a sample = 1 divided by the square root of the number of people in the sample

The square root of 14 is 3.74, so 1 divided by 3.74 is 0.267, or 26.7%.

So, what we can say with something approaching something like confidence is that (probably) between 98% and 44% of 16-17 voted “Yes”. Maybe.

I could probably have told you that anyway.

To be fair to Lord Ashcroft, he hasn’t made any claims based on this figure, he just released the table.

So, Twitter, stop fussing.

Where DO you get your ideas? — guest post by E.J. Tett

Here’s a guest post by one of my fabulous writing friends, E.J. Tett, who (as Emma Jane Tett) has two (!) novels coming out in 2014: Otherworld (co-authored with Liz Powell) from Torquere Press (November), and Shuttered from Dreamspinner Press (December).

She has also published many, many, many short stories — here’s a link to her blog, which contains a full bibliography.

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Whenever people find out that I’m a writer, I often get the question, “how do you think of all those stories?” I usually just shrug and say (very eloquently) “I dunno.”

Because I don’t know. How do I think of stories? They just seem to appear in my mind – it starts as a feeling usually, an itch to write something. Sometimes I’ll sit down and start writing with only that itch and let the first words which come into my mind out on the page. Other times, the feeling will develop into a personality for a character. It’s like somebody’s pushing to take me over and wants me to move out the way so they can get to the keyboard and write their story down. With Otherworld, all I could see was a character vomiting into a toilet but I had a sense of his personality and a feel for how he spoke and moved. This was my posh boy Liam, and for a while, he was very loud. And so the opening to Otherworld starts with Liam throwing up. Why is he throwing up? You’ll have to buy the book and find out.

Sometimes, I’ll get an idea from a dream. I’m of the opinion that our dreams are always more interesting to ourselves than they are to other people, but I have plenty of odd ones (most of which are too odd to turn into anything) but sometimes you can get a little snippet out of it which can be used in a story. I once dreamt of fighting skeletal creatures on a ship and I took these creatures and used them in The Kingdom of Malinas. I left the ship.

I guess I’m influenced by things I’ve seen, too. TV shows, films, real-life events. Other things I’ve written. For example, I have a story called My Life and the Pigeon (published in Static Movement’s Literary Foray anthology) where the MC could communicate with a pigeon. I liked the character’s voice and I liked the idea of being able to talk to just one animal but not really knowing why, or if it was really happening. It inspired me to write Shuttered where my MC, Daniel, can communicate telepathically with his dog.

Once I have a vague notion of what I want to write, I just start. Sometimes it goes somewhere and sometimes it doesn’t. Usually, fairly soon after starting (if it’s a goer), I’ll get the end scene come into my head so, even though I make it all up as I go along, I do have an end goal in mind. Though this isn’t always the case – I have no idea how my current work in progress is going to end.

I’ve always loved reading, and telling stories and being told them. I want to tell stories so that people can feel what I’m feeling, I want to share the experience.

How do I think of all those stories? I dunno. It’s just the way my synapses fire.

Nostalgia and parental guilt and all that

Parenting is wonderful — all those opportunities for guilt. Here’s one that’s been worrying me recently:

My boys don’t get a chance to run wild with their friends in the afternoons after school like my sister and I did. When we came home from school (in the 70s — when the sun always shone etc etc) we’d pretty much go straight back out to play with the kids on our street; we’d be in and out of each others’ houses and we wouldn’t stop playing until someone’s mum (normally ours) called us in for supper.

It wasn’t like this — we played in glorious technicolour…

When my boys come home (after the after-school clubs like Judo and Fencing and Swimming etc), they might have a friend or two from school or nursery over — and they always have each other to play with — but (a) it’s not casual and normal, it has to be arranged between parents, (b) it’s always the same friends, (c) there’s always a parent in the background and when things get shouty/ tearful, we normally get involved.

Which is all good. I like my boys’ friends and right now (especially for the four-year old) I’m happy to be involved when the playing goes a bit awry. BUT I have been nostalgic for my own kind of experience as a child, and this hasn’t been helped by a course I’m doing (because I’m That Kind of Parent) called Raising Confident Children. It has only just started but there is an emphasis on allowing children space to play with others — not always those they go to school with — in parent-free (or parent-lite) environments so that they can learn about how kids interact when they’re free to do and say what they want, not when someone’s mum is in the next room listening for signs of discontent.

Anyway. I need to do something about it — I just don’t know what yet.

Related to all this is that I recently re-met one of the boys we used to play with in our street (his daughter now goes to the same nursery as my youngest). He was three years older than us and wonderful — funny and wild and truly insane. We were utterly in love with him and convinced he was invulnerable (he needed to be — he did really crazy things like lying down in the road and only scrambling up when a car got really close). He was a major part of our (remembered) freedom to do exceptionally stupid things in the name of being kids.

So, we were talking and remembering the stuff we did, and he asked me if I remembered that our next door neighbour had used to beat his son (another of the boys we played with) with a switch or sometimes a belt unless he instantly obeyed him. I hadn’t known — or I hadn’t remembered. It always happened when they were inside. And then we talked about the other boys on the street — turns out there wasn’t one in the group of kids we played with whose father didn’t hit him regularly, and sometimes it was proper, alcohol-fueled beatings.

It makes me sad that the funny, wild boys we played with had such a grim thing to go home to, and that we never knew. It makes me sad that all that energy and imagination ended up in trouble with the police, dropping out of school early, in one case even with a prison term.

So. I guess that while I am nostalgic for the 70s, and for all the freedom we had, there’s a lot that has improved since then.

 

 

Not dyslexia…?

So I wrote a little while ago about how my son’s teacher wanted to get him assessed for visual difficulties and dyslexia because his vocabulary is quite divorced from his reading ability.

Cue me hitting the roof and panicking about what was wrong. My friends nobly endured me, and if they quietly slunk into doorways/ dropped down drains etc when they saw me coming, they were generous enough not to let me see them doing it.

And then we got a cancellation appointment with the optometrist.She wasn’t a people person. Nor was she — slightly ironically since she’s a pediatric optometrist — someone who liked children (“Sit still! You’ll decalibrate the equipment.” “What does decalibrate mean?” [silence]) but she was very efficient.

Turns out poor S has a binocular convergence problem, which essentially means that although both his eyes are fine, he has problems getting them to work together, especially when he’s looking at things closely. Like reading.

He thought it was normal that when he brought something close to his face, it disappeared.

So all those times he was fidgeting and staring out the window or looking at the ceiling and I was telling him to concentrate… Turns out his eyes were uncomfortable and he couldn’t really see the letters anyway. Gah. Parental guilt.

Explains, too, why he stumbles over small words but not big ones (he isn’t seeing the small words).

So much for all that. We got a set of exercises which are supposed to solve the problem in “97% of cases” — so effectively, indeed, that the Scottish Government doesn’t think it’s worth having a follow-up optometrist appointment to check whether they have worked.

I desperately hope that by exercising his eyes appropriately for 2 months, S will be able to sort the visual difficulty and see like “normal” kids do. What makes me slightly unhappy, however, is that I can find no research to support this, and the figure of 97% doesn’t appear anywhere (how could it, I suppose, since there are no follow-ups?). Indeed the research I have found suggests that the exercises we have are not actually that effective.

Gah.