Tag Archives: novels

My Son the Genius

Look what my 12-year-old son made for me:

We’re now thinking of doing the next book on my backlist.

Who knew that when the children grew up they’d be so useful!





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House Renovating for Writers

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We bought a house. We plunked down a fortune and signed an IOU in blood to our local bank. We received keys and a pile of bricks. We are wildly happy.

But today I stand in the hallway overwhelmed. Renovation, even the mildest, most superficial, is not for sissies.

The first couple of days I was so excited. I sat, pleased as purple punch, deciding paint colors. I obsessively poured over magazine pictures which had no bearing on my house but which I had turned to as a template for my future home. I was determined to create something beautiful, awe-inspiring, Zowie-invoking.

But after a week I have hit a wall. The hallway has taken the life out of me. Two coats primer. Two coats white paint. Endless painting of the molding around the ceiling edge and the two roses above the hanging lights. My excitement has turned to a slight depression.

Will this ever get finished.? Paint drips down the walls and splatters all over the floor. Cans of sticky paint and even sticker brushes lie underfoot. I am now realizing why painters get the big bucks: They deserve every penny.

I am also struck by how much renovating is like writing a novel.

You get an idea. You are so excited. You jump in, words flying here and there, until about a week into it you grind to a halt, words dripping down the page, surrounded by sticky platitudes. And you realize why the professional story tellers get the big bucks….

I smile as I reach out and return to painting. The key, of course, is to paint one wall after the other. Write one sentence after the other. Until you reach the end. And then you get to look back and say Ooooh! Or, as with most feats of creativity, see how different your feat is from what you had envisioned. But still you have done it. And you’ve done it the best you can.

Take a bow.

Take a shower.

Start again.




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Monkey Business

Summer is truly over.

The sun has scampered away. The little dears are off to school. And all that remains is me and silence and my computer.

Because it’s just down to that, isn’t it?

This humming blank screen and my thoughts.

And if my thoughts were all about my book, well, it would be a match made in heaven. But unfortunately, my thoughts are flying all over the place and rarely have anything to do with my book.

Financial worries, chocolate urges, children’s schedules, school trips, gray hairs appearing, wrinkles deepening, yes.

But novel? No.

I’ve been reading about Chinese sayings for this novel set in Singapore that I’m working on and I read a doozy yesterday:

To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders. Lao Tzu

And I realized that I have absolutely no control over my thoughts. They swing like a bunch of monkeys through my brain, breaking all the dishes, eating all the chocolate and making one hell of a mess.

So I’m trying really hard to learn to control them.

I’ve learned an approach that is working for me. And I thought I’d share it.

In my mind’s eye I lure the grinning, arm-pit-scratching beasts with bars of chocolate. (Lindt’s milk chocolate with hazelnut, if you care to know–and those, I admit, are not in my mind’s eye, they’re in my stomach). Then I grab the monkeys by the neck, open wide each one’s jabbering mouth and place a sock in it.

It’s a zen-like ritual: Open mouth. Insert sock. Open mouth. Insert sock.

And you should see the looks on their little hairy faces.

Of course, there is a lot of mumbling and thumping going on but I’m usually able to ignore that and finally get some actually writing done.

So tell me, how do you deal with your jabbering monkeys?

photo by  棟樑‧Harry‧黃基峰‧Taiwan (flickr)


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Weaving my Web

There’s a spider who lives right outside our front door. We’ll call him Fred. And every morning we have to apologize to Fred as we dismantle his web because he has yet again woven it from the hedge on one side of the front path clear across to the other.

On occasion, in our usual desperate dash out of the door, we forget his presence and end up flapping around in a crazy dance, slapping our cheeks and flicking our hair around trying to dislodge Fred who we imagine is crawling up our necks.

But he just watches us from where he hangs by a thread to the destroyed remains of his nightly work.

What on earth does this have to do with writing?

Well, the thing is, he’s become a bit of a guru to me.

Mainly because he doesn’t charge much. But also because after every destruction, he takes a deep breath and he reweaves his web.

So I admire his resilience. (While also questioning the number of brain cells in his head. Why doesn’t he just reweave somewhere else, someplace that doesn’t become a runway 8 o’clock every weekday morning?)

But I do try and keep him in mind whenever I waver in my writing. Because some days I end up deleting more than I write, dismantling my own web with great efficiency. And on those days when I look at the mess I call my latest novel and wish to throw up my hands in despair I try and take a deep breath and think, What would Fred do?

And I gamely gather the broken gauze of my web and start at the beginning, waving my bottom around and producing just a little more silk.

photo by photoholic1 (flickr)


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Writers’ Group

writers-groupI love my writers’ group. But it’s a wee bit different from others.

We don’t read each other’s works. We don’t critique. We don’t network.

We just encourage. As in, to inspire with courage, spirit or hope. To spur on.

There are just four us: A woman working on her first novel, an academic working on a non-fiction work, a screenwriter-turning-teacher, and me. We are two Americans, two South Africans. Our children are different ages. We are all north Londoners.

We get together once a month and laugh together at our foibles. We take in interest in each other’s work, not as critics but as nurturers. We go around the table and talk about what we’ve been working on, our obstacles and hopes. Over cups of tea and nibbling on nuts or biscuits or fruit, we wander off on tangents about life and love, and being mothers, our children.

We finish by doing an exercise from the Observation Deck.

Exercises can range from writing 10 first sentences to thinking about our characters’ visions of success to deciding on the architecture of our novel or book (claustrophobic, wide open spaces, community space?)

We leave energized, relaxed and well, encouraged.

We still have to face the page the next day but we feel less alone.

photo by MollaSpace (flickr)

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