Wednesday 24 February 2021

Writing and not writing: Day 7

Supposedly the final day of writing this — at least it's all I committed to. I might keep going for a bit, as it's a useful record for me of how this pandemic became such a juggling act.

Up at 5:30 to make coffee and start work as I have only six hours between now and MB coming. She will be here, I think, till Wednesday morning, or possibly about 9 pm Tuesday. I start by tidying up and uploading Day 6, then go back to the comic-strip outline. I realise there are two chapter 4s. I had planned six chapters and now there are seven. This comes from splitting the task into micro-chunks in a fragmented work week. I very rarely do chapter headings without auto-numbering the style. This is why. I set about moving and cutting, and wonder whether to take up the editor's offer of making it a 128-page book. No. I will regret that further down the line if I do it just to speed up sending in the outline! I work till 8 and then go to Waitrose.When I get back, a book finally comes from Waterstones that I needed for an outline that has now been sent in, accepted and the book passed on to the illustrator for roughs so there will be no input from that book now. This is happening a lot; book orders are taking forever. I can see why people use Amazon, but I'm not giving in. Back to the recalcitrant outline.

I stop at 11:10 to make coffee and then do the daily dadly Zoom call; MB arrives as soon as I finish. We play with Playmobil for half an hour and then cycle to school to pick up her work pack for the week. Back home, we have some lunch and do part of one of the tasks. Her class Teams meeting is cancelled, so we watch the prescribed maths vidoe for the day, fast forwarding through the painfully slow bits. There are constant requests to 'use your interactive white board'. I don't know what they expect us to have, but a Macbook Air clearly isn't good enough. 

We go to the post office, which she grumbles about being boring as we have to stand outside in a queue for some incredibly long time, like about 8 minutes, and then on the way home she falls off her scooter, so a good deal of time goes into tending to grazes and bruises and hurt pride. I do a bit more of the dreaded outline while she does something — I'm not sure what — and then it's the bed, bath, story routine which takes until nearly 10pm. Nothing much has been done, besides terrorising some badgers. I determine to get up early and try to catch up a bit.

Monday 22 February 2021

Writing and not writing: Day 6

Up early because MB is turning up at 7:20 this morning. After coffee and replying to a reader's email I start straight off with the comic-strip outline. In this story, I need three unrelated children to spend the night in the same house. This would have been easy before the pandemic, as they could do a sleepover. The current generation of children this is aimed at has never had a sleepover. How quickly will sleepovers come back? Will it just look weird? I'm saved from the problem after half an hour by the arrival of MB in a slightly subdued whirlwind of activity. 

I give her mum blister plasters, take delivery of MB's bicycle and other bits and pieces from her dad, and they go off to work. MB and I sit on the sofa to discuss what we will do today and she asks me to read her favourite page of Dinosaur Atlas, which is about the mass extinction meteor.  We then read about the internal structure of Earth and talk about continental drift, tectonics and the flood basalt of the Siberian Traps. We decide to make a marzipan model of Earth, with the layers in different colours, and possibly some tectonic models in marzipan. This takes over from llamas as the most-wanted marzipan project. 

But first we go outside to feed the chickens, and get distracted into playing on the swing for ages. And then, since we now have our coats and wellies on, she wants to go on a hunt for badger toilets in the field, so we do that. It soon turns into a full-blown badger safari and we're off hunting for sets and footprints and are three fields away laying a sand trap outside a set so we can see the footprints tomorrow. We run round the field (well, she runs and I walk fast as it's far too hummocky to be safe for running on a slope in wellies for big feet). I teach her how to work out how old the badger poo is so she can tell when the badger was last there and she spends happy minutes poking badger poo with a stick. We look for footprints of badger and fox and try to work out the details at a crime scene: scattered feathers that look like owl, but what eats owls? We see the first skylarks of the spring and I get wet feet in a bog, showing the £12 I spent on stuff to fix my wellies was wasted. She discovers what she is convinced is a badger prison and we make up stories about the imprisoned badger. It's actually a grating over the outlet from the rain drains so people (and badgers) don't clamber long the underground pipes as I used to at her age. 

By the time we get home it's nearly 11 and time for the dadly Zoom call. She has a strop because the laptop she uses while I'm doing the Zoom call is doing a slow update and she can't watch YouTube. I give her the iPad and a hot cross bun and go off to talk to the elderly one. Doing so, I spot an email query from an editor but don't have time to deal with it. We go in the garden for a bit and I offer to pay her £4 an hour to help with gardening so she can buy more Playmobil mermaids. After ten minutes she goes back inside. Feckless young won't stick with agricultural labour. Huh!

She doesn't want any lunch so I have a toasted sandwich and then we do the last important outstanding bit of her last lot of school work before the new half term starts tomorrow. Although she makes a fuss about doing it, she actually writes a whole page of A4 ('sprisingly' as she would spell it). I spend the next hour trying to scan and upload the work from the two weeks before half term using the intractable system the school has, and struggling with the nearly 50 pages they give us each week that have neither dates nor page numbers on. I give up and dump the entire lot of spare bits on a day picked at random. I immediately find another page that I haven't done, but it won't let me upload extras. I hate this system. I am extremely tech competent and I struggle with it because of the terrible design of both the interface and the paper pages. I add a note to say that I'm not uploading any more pages of 'rainbow writing' but she is doing them. It's just not worth my time. OK, so she hasn't made and video'd a puppet-show version of a story (of their choosing) but she has learned how to track badgers and worked out for herself that lava and magma are the same thing in different places.

At about 5:30 pm her dad takes her home, after we've had a good grumble together. They will go out again at 9 pm to pick up her mum from work and she will be back tomorrow morning, but not till about 11:30. Monday's work will be done 6-12 and some odd snatched moments later on. I go and deal with the editor's dinosaur queries (the number of queries has now increased) before heating up some left-over aubergine parmiggiana, but can't face doing any more of the comic-strip outline.

Sunday 21 February 2021

Writing and not writing: Day 5

I wake at 5 but stay in bed looking at Facebook till 6 because the heating hasn't come on and I don't want to get up in the cold. Bad start. I could just turn the heating on — I can even do it from my phone lying in bed. I get up, make coffee, faff about with this blog, move a few things around the house that MB has displaced — and suddenly it's nearly 8. Aaargh. Today I have to get lots done as MB is back tomorrow. It's very obvious which task is most urgent: the one I least want to do. Isn't that always the case? Today's opera from the Met is Don Giovanni. I will have to work through it at least four times. 

Biting the bullet, I try writing sample material for the book I've left too long. Within half an hour I realise how seriously I've misjudged this project. It's in a format I'm not used to, comic strips. I'd struggled to fill my very, very rough outline of the plot with enough detail to fill 96 pages. Now as I draft scamps* and dialogues for the first pages, I can see I've tried to get about three times as much into each spread as will fit. My first scamp is hopelessly optimisitc. I opt for just writing the dialogue and scamping from that. My response to the editor saying the book could be 96 or 128 pages, whichever I liked, reverses. I'd been keen to get away with 96 as I thought even that would be a stretch. Now, 128 looks like a squeeze. This might take a big re-think. I decide to stop for breakfast. Greek yoghurt, raspberries, seeds and nuts. I'd like to walk to Waitrose to buy some marzipan and make marzipan llamas, but this is clearly displacement activity. Back to the scamps.

More scamps, then Zoom call to elderly dad who has somehow managed to break Zoom so there's no sound. We end up talking on the phone while looking at each other on screen. After a bit of faffing about on Facebook I go back to the scamping. Just before stopping for lunch I realise I've planned the wrong number of pages in some chapters anyway. I always mess up the number of spreads in a book. Even in picture books sometimes, and they only have 12-14, depending on the publisher. I can't fathom why this is. I can definitely count to 96 and even to 128.

By 1:30 it seems as though the comic-strip book is do-able and the outline sortable — preferably today, but I can't be sure of that. I stop to answer a dino query and then decide, as it's sunny, to go outside for a bit. Too much sitting at the desk has given me a bit of a hip problem so some walking around will be good. 

I move logs around to allow the snowdrops space. Then I spot a suspicioius looking character wandering around the field next to my house so I fix him with a steely glare until he comes over to talk to me. He is an officer from the council, checking up on their. I fail to persuade him to plant a community orchard there, and go back inside to answer some dino queries. Instead, I start Googling 'guerilla orchard' to see if there is any advice on planting a community orchard without permission. Dino queries done, it's a trip to Waitrose, dinner, and to bed early as MB has been rescheduled for 7:20 am and I need to work before she gets here. Not done as much work as I should have done by a long way, but at least the naughty outline is starting to take shape.

Achievements: answered dino queries, begun to conquer the comic-strip outline, collected many dead leaves and snapped up some dead wood, cleared logs out of the way of the snowdrops, blocked a rat hole

Disachievements: most of the work I should have done today; and I didn't make any marzipan llamas

*A scamp is a very rough sketch of a page layout, showing where the blocks of text go and the very rough content of illustrations.

Saturday 20 February 2021

Writing and not writing: Day 4

MB's been here overnight so I have to make an early start to get some work done before she gets up. I check a dino spread I wrote yesterday, correct a few things and send it off. Then she's up. It's 7am. I persuade her to get into my bed with her toy panda so I can do a bit more work (and so she doesn't get too grouchy as she's only had 9 hours' sleep and usually has has 10), but she just lies there talking to me. We discuss a book I'm working on and she gives her opinion of the publishing schedule, which would be very sensible except that it doesn't take account of the different times of summer and winter in the northern and southern hemispheres. We briefly discuss the complexities this adds to international publishing: the books will come out in north and south at the same time, so her suggestion that the titles connected with cold weather come out in winter doesn't quite work. But she does say one thing that I pass on to the publisher later and we agree to take into account. Cutting-edge market research/customer consultation in children's publishing takes place with your key consultant snuggled under a duvet with a cuddly panda. All business should be done like this.

Ptero-girl and her pterosaur
Ptera-girl and her pterosaur
Eventually I give up and we go downstairs to have breakfast and build her Playmobil ambulance. That takes an hour. We had an agreement for the morning: ambulance, school work, play with ambulance, Zoom call to my dad, lunch, her Zoom play date with her friend. But instead we play with the ambulance and other Playmobil until it's time for the dadly Zoom call. We invent a super-hero called Ptera-girl who rides a giant pterosaur and rescues people, a surprising number of whom need to go in an ambulance. My super-hero boy gets demoted because his eagle loses to the pterosaur in a battle. I spend at least half an hour adding hair to all the Playmobil people who have been scalped over a period of promiscuous, hair-swappping, pandemic months.

After the Zoom call I sneak in some time to answer emails before going downstairs. She is allowed to watch Minecraft videos on YouTube while I do the Zoom call so she's happy if I extend the time by 15 minutes. We have lunch and finally do the bit of left-over schoolwork, with much grumbling, before her Zoom play date. Then I go upstairs and work, just fielding occasional requests to print mermaid colouring sheets, reach her unicorn dressing gown from the hook, and other such essentials. Her friend's mum is a lawyer. We are both using the play date to get work done. This is the usual pandemic juggling act. I've had three straight days of work before this day, which is probably the first time since the start of the current lockdown. A good chunk of time goes on a chat with the bank to sort out some irritating banking issue, and then an hour on working out my working hours and schedule for the next two weeks now I know everyone's shifts. I send the schedule to the dinosaur editor so we can try to make the to-ing and fro-ing all work as pages move between me, the editor, the artwork team, the designer and the consultant. 

The hospital has an over-crowded out-building

Then I flit unproductively between projects, keeping them all going but settling on none. I work on a picture book for a while, but immediately have to email the editor as I can't remember if we agreed a word count and the information, if I have it, is on the computer MB is using. I add a few bits to an outline. The stream of little interruptions, and the times I interrupt myself to check the loud noises from downstairs are OK noises, makes it hard to settle on something and do it properly. With her Zoom ended, at 4pm, we play more before her dad comes to take her away. It's 5.30 before I can get back to work, and I've not been out of the house all day. I work till 6:30, but rather unproductively, and then walk up to Waitrose to get some fresh air before a Zoom dinner at 8 pm.

Achievements: built an ambulance; helped design a super-hero; tweaked series concept to accommodate MB's insight into how readers might use the books; very slight progress on two outlines; some useful emails

Disachievements: omitting to upload Day 3 until late in the day; failing to make required fancy meal for Zoom dinner and keeping my food out of shot (at least that's possible); not getting enough of MB's school work done. We don't have much half-term left for catching up before the whole lot starts piling up again

Friday 19 February 2021

Writing and not-writing: Day 3

 Off to a mixed start today. Worrying about having agreed to the latest lot of presentation materials, I decide to make a start on them. They are not urgent (yet) so technically the lowest priority task but I needed to get an idea of how long they might take. I write a complete draft in 30 minutes and realise it will only take another 30 at most to polish it. This is easy money, and reassuring. No sooner am I at the end of it, at 7:30, when MB and her dad turn up. I have to drive them home so I can drop the car off for MOT at the garage near my house. I do that, stopping at the garden centre to buy compost while I have a car — but don't get any as they offer to deliver it, which is even easier. Yoghurt and raspberries and back to work: but now 2 hours have passed and the high of virtually finishing the presentation materials gives way to gloom about other projects. Start with a dinosaur. Dinosaurs are a good way of easing into work.

One dinosaur done and daily Zoom call to the elderly one finished. I read a publishing contract and send an email asking for the changes I want. Suddenly it looks a bit late to be starting anything new before lunch. I realise I don't actually know how many pages/words are supposed to be in the book I was about to start, so delay that till after lunch. I decide to watch London Zoo's cub-cam recordings of baby tigers playing. This is actually work. Yes, I know. I get paid to watch videos of tiger cubs. There are some up-sides to this job! I make notes and wonder if the local zoo is open (they have tigers) or if they are a victim of lockdown. They are not open, it appears.

Nor is lunch; well,  carrots and hummus seems to be all I have. No bread, no cheese, nothing else remotely quick to make. Mental note to self: buy food before tonight as MB is here and will play merry hell if there is no food tomorrow. I read the Atlantic online and water the lemon tree in an attempt to put off the evil moment of actually tackling some real work, but it has to be done. The garage phones to say the car has failed its MoT and I tell them to fix it without asking what it will cost.

I work most of the afternoon, doing a chunk of an outline for a book on the history of science and a bit of admin. Then I walk to the vaccination clinic, just in case (closed) and to Waitrose where I buy a load of reduced stuff including a nice curry for my daughter who's been at work since 7:15 this morning and won't finish till 9pm. I stop off at the garage and beg them for the car, which they have finished but not cleaned, and they give it to me in exchange for many ££s. I go home and eat some of the unnecessary apricot frangipane tart I bought and write a dino spread, then drive over to pick up MB for the night. End of any useful work. I refuse to let her start building the Playmobil ambulance at 8pm. I feed her and read Mrs Pepperpot and we both go to sleep. 

Achievements: cars MoT'd, 1; spreads on dinosaurs, 2; outlines tinkered with (relatively unproductively), 2; rough drafts of sample material completed, 1

Disachievements: most of the day...