Tuesday, 9 February 2016


Over on ABBA today, with a truffle-hunting pig and Evernote. If you don't use Evernote, you should!

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Grim and gruel

I have pleurisy. Doesn't that sound Victorian? Not quite as good as consumption in that regard, perhaps, but also not fatal, so it has its advantages. I feel I should be chopping up the furniture for firewood, but (a) the axe is somewhere at the top of the garden and (b) not much of the furniture is actually flammable, most of it being, according to the labels, treated with flame-resistant substances so that it can legally be sold. Clearly whoever regulates the flammability of furniture is not aware of the needs of starving, consumptive writers in garrets.

To be fair, I'm not starving. I can drive to Waitrose to buy gruel or, if things get really bad, have gruel delivered by Ocado. Though I am lying in bed in an unheated garret, so I'm halfway there. The unheated garret is my normal bedroom at the moment, as I've sub-let more sumptuous and comfortable parts of the house to people who seem to be strangely unafflcted by pleurisy. Perhaps next year I should sub-let the garret instead.

What's all this got to do with writing, I hear you grumble, while locating your axe and gruel-supply just in case. Well, it has a bit to do with it. I have deadlines - of course - and deadlines don't go with death or gruel. Usually, I don't tell editors I'm ill or inconvenienced unless the problem will definitely have an impact on their work, or I know them very well and trust they know that I won't let the problems have an impact on their work. It can go wrong otherwise, I've found. Warn an editor you might be a bit late delivering because of a health/family problem and they panic and take your decisions for you. 'I thought it would be helpful...' No, it's not. I will suggest what is helpful, thank you. You just deal with your end of things and trust me to deal with my end of things and decide what I can - and want - to do.  

You can see their point. They have a book to deliver to a schedule. (A schedule which is usually screwed up by people other than the author, but we'll leave that for now.) If you are going to miss the deadline, or might miss the deadline, it's professional to give them good warning so that they can put things in place to limit the damage. But it's important for editors to realise, too, that if we are acting professionally and doing that, they have to trust our continued professionalism and not panic. So I have told the editor who is expecting 60,000 words on 16th February that the book is likely to be a week late, and why. I have told him what else might happen - I might get worse, and the book will be later; I might get better quickly and it will be only a few days late. I trust him. He will tell the copy editor not to leave time immediately to deal with this book, so the slip won't mess up another person's work schedule. And we will, between us, win the time back on the schedule later because I'll turn the editorial queries around quickly. We will meet the print deadline. All will be well.

That's how a professional relationship works. Trust and openness and discussion. Editors sacrifice the right to be kept informed if they panic and act unilaterally when given early notification of possible difficulties. If they do that, next time they won't learn anything until the project is definitely in some trouble. If I ask an editor to work with me to avoid a problem, and they see that problem as already existing and needing their immediate action, without consultation, they won't get the same opportunity next time.

Authors might be mavericks in that they work in their pyjamas all day and don't see the need to attend meetings. And they might look like mavericks to editors if they turn down the chance to work on boring books with one-week deadlines for a paltry fee. But they are, mostly, proper professionals who want to deliver a good book on time and work with their editors again. So, editors, if we have pleurisy or sick relatives or our house has flooded, please listen to our suggestions for solving or avoiding problems before cancelling the project or fleeing to Cuba. And please tell us before doing it, too.

Of course, if I cut my arm off with an axe while hacking up non-flammable furniture, the schedule will not be so easily fixed. But I probably won't care then about remaining professional. At least not until I have sourced a decent prosthetic arm. So - off to the Ocado page for gruel and axes. And I'll bookmark the prosthetic arms page.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A view from the bridge

Lava in Lake Nyiragong 
You could be forgiven for assuming I'd died or gone over to the dark side - maybe become a banker or something else that dare not lift its head in the booky corner of the web. But no. I've been that iconic squeezed middle that is pressed as thin as air by the needs of generations above and below. But enough of that. I miss being here. It's all too easy for the years to slip by that way. They will still all have my support. But somehow the days and minutes must be prised apart for other things, too.

The things I do all day matter and I have freely chosen to do them. But other things matter, too, and it's time to find a way to do some of them. So Stroppy is open for business again. Writing matters to me, and the fate of writers matters to me, and that children have access to books - good books. And these books don't write themselves, you know.

This year I am Chair of the Educational Writers' Group in the Society of Authors. There will be events (for EWG, I mean - I rarely do events-as-writer since the carbon dioxide of publicity chokes me). This year I will write all the books I'm contracted to write and I might even make real progress on one or two non-contracted projects. Because if I don't do it now, I will regret and resent that I didn't.

It's difficult to draw a line around what to do for others, and how far to let short-term demands compromise long-term aims or needs. I would rather have loved and cared for people dear to me than have written 250 books instead of 200 books. No one will miss those 50 books; even I will only miss two or three of them. I am a firm believer in sorting out what matters to you and prioritising it, regardless of what other people think should matter or what they want you to do. I would rather spend a day looking after MicroBint than doing a school visit, so that's what I'll do. But there must be balance, too. It's important to seek out those two or three books I'd miss and make sure I write them. And, of course, write enough books to pay for sticks to keep the wolf from the door. It would be nice if they could be the same books, but that's asking a lot.

Legend tells that Empedocles threw himself into the volcanic crater of Mount Etna, keen to prove his immortality (or to be turned into a god). I'm not going that far. But  I feel it's time to do a bit of prising apart of those dark wodges of time and let the red-hot ooze come out, fiery and enthusiastic to run downhill. Move aside, dark wodges....