Thursday, July 21, 2011

Click your heels and say three times: there's no such thing as writer's block

I do truly believe that.  But I have to say, I've never had this much trouble writing a story before.  This is the twelfth time I've done it and something is different.

I'm at a different desk, in a different room, in a different house, in a different country.  Could be that.  I've now got two editors, at two publishers, in two different time zones and mine makes a third.  Could be that. 
But . . . all that was true when I wrote Dandy Gilver No7. last winter. 

Since then:

I've plunged into online life, blogging, tweeting, and posting on Facebook.  Could easily be that.  This story occurred to me here not there, although the people in it belong there not here.  Sounds vaguely plausible.  But . . . there have always been distractions - estate agents' websites with virtual tours, Pet Rescue, Youtube - and I wrote DG2 in Ohio. 

So who knows?  Maybe this story is a turkey.  Maybe I should scrap it.  Maybe I've exhausted whatever it is I've been drawing on and I need to get a job now.  I'm still writing; don't get me wrong.  But usually by this stage of the game it feels as if some thermals have lifted the weight of the story off my shoulders and I'm just along for the ride.  This time it's like shovelling setting concrete just a bit too slowly so that it gets harder and harder as you go.

To turn to happier areas of life, then.  This month I've been reading Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx (house-doing-up comfort/schadenfreude), The Odds by Kathleen George (best family of kids since Noel Streatfield, with the social grit of The Wire) and Defending Jacob by William Landay (wow), and am now reading The Tommyknockers by Mr W. Block himself, Stephen King.  Book of the Month for July is going to be a tough choice.

And in the garden, all is well and all is well and all manner of things are well.  My only disasters so far this year are the chick peas.  Out of a row of fifteen, two plants are alive and they're looking pretty dodgy.

And at least I can't ever get gardener's block.  In fact, my devotion to the garden is boundless: I just drank a full half-pint of dark purple spinach water.   Here's what happened.  The beetroots needed to be thinned and couldn't wait.  Dinner tonight is being brought to us courtesy of the courgette glut and no way to incorporate a wheelbarrowful of leaf beet thinnings.  So I cooked them all up and froze them all down.  And just before  freezing comes squeezing.  And so there was half a pint of spinach juice and I thought of stock and soup and even of pouring it away, but spirit of Granny Greta McPherson moved across the kitchen and  . . . now I have the strength of Popeye and won't need any more iron for days.

Monday, July 11, 2011

An Empire State of Wallet

So.  Thrillerfest was fabulous, New York is fabulous, I have no money left now.

To deal with the first one last then.  A three dollar banana?  A sixty dollar walk-in manicure?  An extra fifty cents for ice in your club soda from a cafe?  New York has it all.  Plus tax, of course.  I'm a great fan of tax, let me say.  Paying tax is one of the privileges of living well in a civilised country, but it does drive me gently nuts that a vendor won't tell you how much money you're going to have to hand over (which is all you really care about, right?).  Instead, it's a taxi from the airport that's $50 + tolls, a hotel room that's a bargain + 8.875% sales tax, 5.875% city sales tax, $1.50 NYC hotel unit fee and $2 occupancy tax.   I'm going to a book event tomorrow.  If someone asks me how much the paperbacks are, I think I'll say they're 75 cents + a little something for the bookseller, printer and publisher.


Thrillerfest was worth it.  Thrillerfest was wonderful.  I met a crowd of inspired and inspiring writers - Kate Brady, Kathleen George, Sandra Brennan, Dani Brown (with an i), Jonathan Maberry, Jim Macomber, Matt Hilton, Steve Forman, Deb Lacy, Rick Helms, Rick Hutto, Karen Nikkel . . . and Willy.  Here are some them.

It was great to listen to the keynote speakers - John Lescroart, Karin Slaughter, Ken Follet and the incomparable RL Stine.  All were funny, charming, still grateful, still striving, apparently without a shred of ego amongst the lot of them.  RL Stine was the biggest surprise of all.  I'm going to admit that I didn't know Goosebumps was a series, didn't know Stine was a person.  I thought Goosebumps was an imprint and assumed that "RL Stine" was about twenty writers.  Nope.  He really has written 600 children's novels.  I wish I were twelve now.  Or maybe I'll just read some of them anyway.

And after the end of Thrillerfest, as an unearned treat, I get two days in one of my favourite places in the world - Manhatten.  My hotel window looks out onto this:

My publisher, St Martin's Press, is in here:

And looks out at this:

And perhaps most thrilling of all to a wee girl fae the 'Ferry, I sat next to a scary, skinny woman in a pale green suit who stabbed the buttons on her phone and snarled: 'I biked those affadavits over yesterday'.  A sentence I've never snarled in my life, and never will.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

all is forgiven in the garden

Okay, so I know I've been mumping on a bit about my new house and garden but suddenly a corner has been turned.

All twenty outlying acres are dealt with for the year: the big field - about fifteen of them - has been eaten down to ankle length by the cow lodgers, who've now gone somewhere shadier for the summer; the meadow - 3 acres - succumbed to the gentle ministrations of our midget tractor; the five paddocks  - 2 acres in all - succumbed to a combination of the midget tractor, the strimmer, a rake, the old warhorse of a push-along and some wrestling and cursing  (wrestling with hidden fence wire and cursing people who hide fence wire in long grass).

As to the garden: the digging is done; fourteen pick-up-truck-loads of muck have been applied (people get quite excited about the idea of gorgeous free compost until they hear that you have to shovel it up into your truck yourself, bring it home and shovel it out again (not me, I got my Dickies tucked into my wellies, spat on my hands and . . . met the events organiser of the Vacaville Borders who was shoveling from the same pile one day)); trees are planted - fig, pomegranate and gingko; trees are felled - sweetgum, eucalyptus and pine (all either dead or planted in the septic line) and best of all . . . the vegetables are growing.

The terraces at the back of the house that were dead and brown last August:

are now home to aubergines/eggplants, tomatillos, zinnias and marigolds for cutting, sweetcorn, courgettes/zucchini/thin-skinned summer-squash, okra, tomatoes, peppers, chillies, lettuce, rocket, beetroot and strawberries.

(sorry the before and after aren't from the same angle - I hate that too).  And there are watermelon, cantaloupe, Hallowe'en pumpkin, pattypans, butternuts and cucumber swelling up in little pots ready to go into the lower bed.

So as ever, it's Calling All Courgette Recipes time.  I used to plant six courgettes every year in Scotland and the glut nearly buried us alive.  Here, this year, I planted six green, six yellow and six crookneck.  That's eighteen courgette plants.  To feed two people.  Who're also going to be tackling what comes of the 91 sweetcorns I put in.

And it's started already.  One of them doubled in size overnight last night, but at least it was a yellow one.  It's the sneaky, green, leaf-coloured ones you have to watch for.  They can grow to the size of houseboats and the only clue is the way they snigger as you go past without noticing.

But that's what it's all about - eating what's ready to be eaten instead of what's on BOGOF in Tesco.  Here's the first pre-dinner haul, from last week.

It made me very happy.  True bliss won't come until I go out in the rain to dig up potatoes once the water's boiling, but a few courgettes, two kinds of lettuce and some rocket flowers was pretty good too.  The second best thing that's happened in the garden since we came here.

The first you ask, reluctantly, hating the manipultion?  Why of course.  It's this.

My new potting bench, the seat of garden power.  It's a dumpster-dived table, nailed to old fenceposts to give it some height (and a faint Wallace and Gromit look, to my mind), with a $2 bookcase on top and sidey-bits made of  planks from an emergency refectory table (we had to build when we invited too many people to a Burns' Supper but then dismantled when we found a better one in a yard sale) to stop the compost falling off. 

You can keep your rattan sectionals - that's my kind of garden furniture.  I love both it and the undergardener who knocked it together for me.