Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Ups And Downs Of A Carousel

Sometimes the razamataz of the carousel hides what's really important. It's not the treadmill of achieving bigger and better. What matters is family and friends, real people in real predicaments.

Recently on visit to the city of Paris, a carousel caught my eye. Well it didn't so much as catch my eye, as hypnotise me. It was twirling at the bottom of a hill on which the Sacre Coeur stands. The flood of childhood memories at Goose Fair, the swirl of colours, the dancing horses, the lights and the music, momentarily eclipsed the majestic beauty of the basilica in the background. I paid my euros, climbed aboard and rode my horse, smiling widely, feet swinging and blouse billowing.

It was only after leaving, that I'd learned that I'd missed Place du Tertre, the artists' district at the back of the basilica. Fortunately, I had time to return a couple of days later. How could the mesmerizing carousel have made me miss the real beauty and culture of the place? I'd literally had my head turned and had missed the wider picture.

I discovered narrow cobbled alleyways, incense drifting from doorways, street artists mixing paints - vermillion and chartreuse. I drank coffee over-looking Au Lapin Agile, where the Impressionist painters socialised in another era, conjuring up a heady mix of romanticism and seediness. Place du Tertre is immortalised by the likes of Picasso, Renoir and Toulouse Lautrec as their ghosts wander the alleyways and weather-worn ancient steps. The sun shone, garlic wafted like a delicious perfume and blossoms frothed. I shared a picnic on the hill, listening to a distant violinist serenading into the evening, and stayed until the night grew dark and the city sparkled with light.

Life does have its ups and downs, like the carousel. But I suppose it's looking beyond the obvious which is what really matters. Distractions pull at us like rose thorns, but I'm learning to be patient and accept that I only have a limited amount of control. I can write a book, I can polish it until I can recite paragraphs at a time from memory. I'm in control of when to post it and to whom I send it. But then - luck, serendipity, a happy chance, a lucky break? It's out of my hands. My competition entry wins first place, one of my children stumbles in life, I win a trophy, I lose a friend, I take photographs of the basilica, I leave my camera - somewhere in Paris.

As I'm waiting to hear if a publisher wants to take on my novel, I'm keeping busy on my second book, but also taking the time to look beyond the would-be colourful book cover, the success and am I allowed to say, the pride? I'm enjoying the process. I've made new friends at writing groups and pushed myself to do things outside of my comfort zone. I've read in public, held conversations with CEOs of literary agencies, I've asked questions, travelled alone for research and learned to take notice of more than what my eyes are showing me.

I'm dizzy with anticipation and hope that I may one day be offered a thrilling ride on the literary merry-go-round. Will I remain calm! Oh no. I'll jump aboard, blouse billowing whilst I holler and whoop!

But I'll definitely keep my eye on the wider picture.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Smell That Thought!

Have you ever had a thought and suddenly a smell permeates that particular musing?
I'm sitting at my writing desk, looking out at an azure sky, leafless skeletal canopies and listening to birdsong. Ten minutes ago, whilst envisioning a hot July day for a scene in my second novel Sugar and Spite, I smelt tarmac. It passed in an instant, but not before that clawing bitter-sweet aroma invaded my reverie and gave me a helping hand.

It's not all about describing what you see, as any writer knows. Sometimes a smell can evoke a memory which can help the creative flow. The smell of tarmac took my ponderings back to the long hot summers I played French skipping on the pavements, with elastic wrapped around friend's scuffed knees. The sun would pinch our skin until it tingled and grew pink. Shiny black slugs of melted tarmac would dribble lazily into to gutters, smelling as sickly-sweet as a bag of pineapple chunks. It reminded me of lying on the spongey park grass watching aircraft drone overhead, leaving white streaks slashed across the bare blue sky - criss-crossing existing contrails. Now I'm impatient to see the first heat-haze of summer as it twitches and levitates above the broiled pavements.

Sadly my knees probably won't stand playing French skipping any more, but I now have a few ideas to jot down....

Sunday, 16 January 2011

How Fleeting Is A Life-time?

This is a piece of fiction I've written on the theme of 'ghost,' for my writing group.

It all looked the same from my vantage point. Every tree, every rock pool, each undulation of the cliff top. The sea pounding the shore, spraying waves like celebratory champagne. The thunderous grey cliffs framing the beach as Lowry figures, heads bowed against the whipping wind, trudged along the snaking muddy footpaths. Gloved hands thrust deep inside pockets and hoods pulled up over cold red ears. Storm-tossed rocks resembling ancient spines of dinosaurs, jutted into the pale sand. Jagged fragments of rock, ready to slice toes as crabs were hunted in thick soupy puddles.

The gaping entrance of a cave yawned seawards. As a child, that cave had been my castle, my wigwam, my refuge from angst. It was a safe haven from the sea dragon which lurked around the next bay. I had my first kiss in the mouth of that cave. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed until that summer's day. His name was Jude Morgan, a bronzed skinny youth I'd met in school. He'd pulled my hair and stolen my strawberry laces in previous years. Who'd have thought he'd be my love for one glorious summer? I remember how our footsteps echoed as we crunched on weathered shells underfoot. How water trickled down the walls of the cave, dribbling and gurgling through lichen and moss. We prised clinging limpets and barnacles from the damp rocks. Hour after arid hour they'd wait, until the moon drew the sea back up the beach to immerse them again. Too late for some - our thoughtless young fingers had found them first. I wondered where Jude was now.

In the distance I watched the ferry carrying visitors across the estuary, expectant, eager to reach their destination. Ready to invade the gift shops. Pennies to spend on a stick of rock, a wooden lighthouse, home-made fudge and postcards which would never be sent. The reds, blues and yellows of boat hulls reflecting dappled rainbows in the choppy water. Bunting, whipped by the breeze, flapped and flickered to the cry of the gulls which followed returning fishing boats. Sticky candy floss fingers were licked and sucked clean by pink-stained tongues.

I recall our summer wedding. A warm day full of tip-toeing bare feet, new hats and a flowing gown on the warm sand. I wore flowers in my hair and shells hung from my tanned, un-lined neck. A blessing by the sea and vows made with blissful tears. The bare sky had smiled on us that day as cousins frolicked and wine was sipped. No sulking grey clouds puckered their brows at us that day.

From high above the bustling resort, I watched fathers kneeling with sons by the quayside, catching crabs on long pieces of bacon-laden string. I recalled my husband crouching by our son's side at this very harbour's edge many years ago. Lovingly fixing scraps from breakfast onto the string as carefully as a surgeon's hands. I remember the slice-of-melon-shaped grins on their faces as crabs were slowly raised for inspection. What pink and grey claw-clad treasures they were to a five year old. Was our son now re-living his childhood adventures with his children?

I turn back to view the beach. So many picnics, so many castles decorated with pebbles, so many squeals of delight as young legs leapt over knee-high waves. How we loved to dig our toes deeply into the warm soft sand and find the cool damp grains below, or sit by the water's edge and let the bubbles tickle our feet. Summers spent with friends, sharing blankets and laughter and striped wind breaks. Bulging pocket full of pink shells. We threw driftwood for our spaniels, teasing with lengths of seaweed and digging for treasure. Remembering - long shadows, fish sizzling on a barbeque, Pimms in a jug and love in our hearts.

Sheep still silently grazed in a nearby field beneath trees bent into submission from the ocean gales. I used to love it when the wind howled along the bay. It blew troubles out into the raging seas to be swallowed and forgotten beneath its depths. The wind whisked the waves into splinters of light which sparkled in the air like Swarkovski crystals. They hushed up the damp frown-furrowed sand, carrying cart-wheeling smooth ocean-tossed pebbles.

How fleeting is a life-time? How blessed I was to have lived and loved. Mortal no more, I am the rhythm of the flowing seas. I am the whispering of the waves and the breeze in the leafy canopies. I am the soaring leaves whipped up by storms and the grains beneath your feet. I am the shimmer of a heat wave and the scent of May blossom carried on a spring breeze. I am the glow of a milky moon and the warmth of the rays on a summer day.

My ashes are whisked into whispering rushes, the surging sand dunes and dusty coastal paths. I rest in flowerbeds which burst with fresh promise each year. I nestle amongst the plump clusters of purple-beaded blackberries, waiting for careful fingers to pluck them for tea. I watch over my blood-line as they re-trace my steps, making their own memories in the crescent of the bay.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Sugar and Spite

Opening paragraph from my second novel, Sugar and Spite.

Frantic knocking disturbed Erin Forrester as she placed a bottle of Brouilly to warm next to the kitchen radiator. With heels click-clacking upon the fudge-coloured Minton tiles, she hurried down the hallway. Pulling open the front door of Magnolia House, Erin was greeted by an icy February blast which whipped around her ankles. Having listened to a few breathless words from the person standing in the doorway, the air was knocked from her lungs as a primordial howl filled the purple gloom outside.
It would only be later that she'd learn, it'd been her own voice which had wailed into the night.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Angst to Agent

I don't suppose three years is too long a time for a new writer to find an agent. It can take a much longer - if ever. So it was with delight, relief and gratitude when an agent contacted me in November 2010 to say she wanted to represent me. Thank you Juliet.

I have to say it was a hard, lonely slog. I didn't just send submissions out for three years and sit back and wait to get lucky. Initially, being a new writer with a lot to learn, I posted some submissions, crossed my fingers and waited. Of course I was rejected. Knowing what I do now, I was nowhere near ready to submit. But writing is a learning curve. I re-read my novel and was surprised by several silly mistakes I'd made. Missing speech marks, spelling mistakes etc. I'd also read that I should be indenting new paragraphs and dialogue, which I hadn't known beforehand. Can you believe that in the early days I didn't know how to number a page on my computer so on my first submission, I wrote down the page number with a pen! (I know, I know - shameful.)

And so I started learning the craft of writing. I visited The London Book Fair and attended a masterclass on How To Get Published. I also attended a workshop at Harper Collins and had a one to one chat with Jonathon Lloyd, CEO of Curtis Brown. Armed with more literary knowledge, I revised my novel over the next couple of months. I sent out a flurry of submissions once more. (Literary agent Simon Trewin from United Agency, advised me that it wasn't practical to send out only one submission at a time.) I received more rejections, but with one important difference. They were personal, hand written rejections. Agents said they'd enjoyed reading my work and it was well written, but the hook didn't grab them early enough, or my antagonist was too antagonistic! To me however, it was a giant step forwards and it didn't get me down. After all, as author Richard Ford said as I sipped my latte listening to his interview at the Literary Cafe at The London Book Fair,

"Every writer experiences rejection. We all have to take a turn in the cold shower. Ultimately, be yourself. You've got to write what you've got to write."

I gave my antagonist a conscience and made him friendlier. (Oh, to wave that particular magic wand on some drivers!) I re-wrote the first three chapters, moving the hook to the first few pages. I joined two writing groups and entered competitions.

I wrote, I read, I learned.

Monthly writing magazines dropped through my letter box and I invested in literary text books. I transferred this knowledge into improving my other chapters. I printed a hard copy and read it out loud. This really heped to ensure that the sentences ran smoothly and the dialogue flowed. I created a blog and started tweeting to other authors, agents, publishers, would-be writers. I read my work at writing group meetings, and later at a public literary event in Nottingham. I proudly won some competitions, most notably First Chapter Of An Unpublished Novel Competition, by firstwriter.com. I had my chapter published online on their website for a couple of months which was thrilling for a new writer.

In early summer 2010, I decided to spend some time researching three agents who were interested in contemporary women's fiction. One of which was Juliet Burton. I sent off my submissions and Juliet was the first to get in touch. She requested my full manuscript and having read it, Juliet out-lined areas which she was unsure about but praised my novel, which was wonderful to hear. I asked if I could send her my manuscript back once I'd made the suggested changes, and she agreed.

Having listened to and respected Juliet's professional advice, I deleted a whole chapter, merged two chapters into one and changed the work place of my heroine. Lies and Linguine was getting there! I emailed it back and Juliet agreed to represent me and my book. I had signed and returned the contract within a week and now, as they say, the hard work begins! And I'm looking forward to it.

Last Wednesday was Nottingham Writers' Club's Awards Night. Having spent a laughter-filled evening with fellow writers, I was awarded a silver rose bowl and two trophies for Lies and Linguine, a children's story and poetry. Wow! I walked back to my car with a dazed smile on my face. I'm sure the people I passed must have thought I was quite simple! (In the photo above, I'm proudly displaying my treasured awards in my writing room.)

I know nothing in life is guaranteed. Lies and Linguine still needs to find a publisher, but knowing that a professional literary agent has faith in my work is the most positive way I could have imagined starting 2011.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Flowering Redcurrant

Underneath the silver birch
They'd hang pink with pleasure,
Blushing blossoms
Full and frothing.
Beneath the birch's lolling leaves
I'd read, or sing or dream,
And look through dappled light
To pale bare skies
Where contrails paint across the blue.
Small fingers fashioning necklaces
From a constellation
Of crimson-tinged daisies
Dotted on the lawn.
The smell of earth, damp and raw,
Grass-stained knees and the tantalising
Whispers of summer on the breeze.
I'd lie beneath those verdant boughs
Embraced in their beauty.
And even today,
When years have passed,
I'll smell the flowering redcurrant
And remember,
And smile.

A childhood memory, by Angela Barton

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year.

I haven't got out of bed yet! I'm sitting propped up with a cuppa on my right, laptop on my knee and husband on my left. Sunny Cornwall seems so far away now, but it re-charged my flagging batteries. We stayed in the house in the photo, so you can see just what a delight it was. (my protagonist's parents live in this house)
Now it's time to metaphorically roll my sleeves up and get busy. I don't believe in making resolutions on new year's eve. I think you're setting yourself up for a fall if you voice huge changes to be made in your life. Instead, I just like to set myself goals which are achievable. I want to complete my second novel, eat a healthier diet, re-visit The Chelsea Flower Show, Cirque de Soleil and The London Book Fair. Last year at the LBF, so many stands were deserted because travellers couldn't fly due to the volcanic dust cloud. All that planning - then with one puff of smoke from mother nature, everything's cancelled.
One of my writing groups holds its Christmas buffet and awards night next Wednesday. Our previous attempt to hold it was blighted by the snow. (mother nature putting her oar in again) I've entered Lies and Linguine into a competition along with some other poems and prose, so I'm crossing everything that something may have won a placing. I would urge any new writer to join a writing club. I've entered competitions, attended workshops, made friends, read my work out loud for the first time, listened to constructive criticism and picked up many valuable literary tips. I wish I'd done it earlier!
Well, my tea's cold now and my husband has got up and walked the dogs on the village green whilst I've been typing. I can hear him stacking the dishwasher now, so guilt is kicking in and I'd better get up!
Oh, one more thing I'd like to achieve - find more followers for my blog.....