I never really understand it when people say they don’t have time to read. To me, it’s like saying: I don’t have time to breathe. Although, actually, people say that as well, don’t they? Anyway, my point is that books are as important to me as oxygen. I read, read, read. That means I always have another author’s voice chattering away in my head, which is fine, except for when I sit down to write. Then I need that other author to be quiet, so I can remember my own voice. Otherwise, I automatically start to imitate their style.
For example, I recently read a book by an author who has a habit of using long, lilting sentences, with numerous commas, and all of a sudden that seemed like the cool way to write, and my sentences began meandering on, like this, all over the computer screen, and part of me was thinking, wow, would you look at my long, elegant sentences, while another part of me was thinking, this isn’t you, it’s her, stop that!
Anne Tyler is one of my favourite authors and even when I’m not reading one of her books I find myself channelling her style. My characters start to speak like they live in Baltimore, and I use italics everywhere because she does it so beautifully, whereas I just sound like a lunatic.
I recently read the ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ series and I didn’t think Stieg Larsson’s voice was creeping into my writing at all, until my character got up one morning and dressed herself in a short-sleeved turquoise cotton shirt, a black cardigan with silver buttons and blue denim jeans and sat down to eat a poached egg with black pepper, two pieces of crispy bacon and half a slice of buttered multigrain toast. Larsson describes every outfit and every meal in weirdly compelling detail. I can’t get away with it. Who wears a short sleeved turquoise shirt? Also, it makes me hungry.
It takes at least half an hour of writing before I manage to exorcise the current book I’m reading from my head. Then I need a cup of tea and perhaps half a slice of buttered multigrain toast to celebrate. Then I think I’ll just quickly check my email. Then the batteries in my mouse die and I walk around the house swearing and pulling apart appliances looking for another pair. Then the phone rings and I have a good chat about how lucky I am that the baby is sleeping while my toddler is off with the babysitter, so I have time to write. Then I just quickly check my email again. Then I need another cup of tea. And then, I start writing, and it’s going beautifully, and I’m writing like me, and oh, I love being a writer!, this is the life!, and the words are clickity-clacking across the page, and this novel might actually be going somewhere and then…the baby cries. Right on cue. Every time.
So if you’re wondering why it’s taking me so long to write my next novel, that’s why. It’s the baby’s fault. She keeps me so busy I barely have time to breathe.
During my gym class on Saturday morning the teacher shouted, “This class is all about ordinary people doing extraordinary things!”
Which, I don’t know, really? We all sort of blinked at her. It was an 11.30am class. We didn’t even have to get out of bed that early to be there. And it was a sunny day.
Although there is something a little extraordinary about this particular class because it’s all about pretending to hit invisible opponents. We do a right hook to his jaw! And an upper cut! And then a back kick! There is one move where you pretend to hold someone down with one hand and smash their face to a bloody pulp with the other. When I first started I got the giggles doing this, but now I take it completely seriously. It’s strangely satisfying.
I don’t even laugh when the teacher yells, “Now, put on your cage fighting face!” I just grit my teeth and narrow my eyes. (Although I make sure I never accidentally catch sight of myself in the mirror. I suspect my cage fighting face might not be quite as impressive as it feels.)
The teacher also likes us to make grunting sounds when we kick. Like this: HAAA! We always start off shyly: Ha! And then when she’s disappointed, we try harder: HAAAAA!
Then at the end of the class, when we’ve finished grunting and kicking and bashing, and it’s time for ‘abs’, we all line up politely to get a mat from the pile in the corner. You’d think we’d be elbowing each other out of the way, slamming fists into jaws, but no, it’s all, “You first!” and “Oh sorry, here you go!”
I do another class with weights, where you have to put a bar on the ‘meaty part of your shoulders’ (you would think there would be a more pleasant way to describe this) and then you squat up and down. My nose always starts to itch. I try to use it as a test of character. I think, ‘Your country depends on you not scratching your nose!’ And then I IMMEDIATELY drop the bar to scratch my nose. It’s disappointing. I appear to have no strength of character whatsoever. Still, I do have an excellent right hook.
What Alice Forgot was released in the UK this month and to celebrate I’m running a competition.
Hooray! I feel nervous about it, which is why I’m using too many overexcited exclamation marks. I’m worried no one will enter. Please enter!
I myself rarely bother to enter competitions, although when I do, I always have a strong feeling that I’m going to win.
This feeling only proved to be correct on one occasion. It was during my ‘corporate years’ in the late eighties. I was wearing pale pink lipstick, orange hoop earrings and a jacket with enormous shoulder pads to attend an ‘Institute of Chartered Accountants’ cocktail party in Sydney. I was meant to be networking and handing out my business card but I was always too shy to network. Instead I stood in the corner drinking champagne and trying to discreetly adjust my shoulder pads. (They were stuck on with Velcro and they were always sliding off at weird angles.) The only thing I did with my business card was put it into a big glass bowl for the chance to win two airline tickets. When they were doing the draw the thought crossed my mind: ‘I’m going to win’. And I did! I remember that my hands flew to my mouth when they called out my name. They really did. I think it’s the only time in my life that my hands have flown to my mouth.
The tickets were to anywhere in Australia. Two weeks later, while I was still deciding where to go on holidays, that particular airline collapsed.
It’s remarkable the power I have over the universe. Here is another example: The first time I ever bought shares, the stock market crashed within three days. I heard about it on the radio on my way to work. As far as I knew they’d never even mentioned the stock market on the radio until that moment. The 1987 stock market crash: completely my fault. I’m sorry if you lost money because of me.
OK, so this is the way my competition will work! Any reader from the UK who leaves a comment on this Blog before 1 August will go into the draw to win a signed copy of my first novel, Three Wishes.
Your comment should be friendly, but apart from that, it doesn’t matter what you say, you will be in with a chance.
If you’re a reader from the UK and you’ve stumbled on this blog, please enter. You may be the only UK reader to comment in which case you will have an excellent chance of winning. Your hands could be flying to your mouth!
You will notice that I haven’t done a competition for Australian readers. I guess this is because you are like family and I take you for granted. I promise to do another competition for you later in the year. You could always put on a British accent in your comment and try to fool me, but then you’d also have to go to the trouble of setting up a fake address in the UK for me to send the book. Actually, if you went to that much effort you would probably deserve to win.
On Sunday I went to my sister-in-law’s baby shower.
My mother gave me directions for how to get there. She believes all her children to be hopeless navigators (it’s true, most of us are) and whenever we’re driving anywhere different she likes to meticulously plan out our routes for us, avoiding right hand turns. (She believes right hand turns to be extremely dangerous.)
If you tell Mum that you’ve got a satellite navigator, or that you plan to google the directions, or refer to your own street directory, or remind her that you’re a grown-up now, she just giggles, and gives you the directions anyway.
So Mum left a message on my phone with the directions. She finished with, “And then you’re in the street, and you’ll see the house straight away, because there will be balloons out the front.”
So I got there without any problem (apart from that right hand turn phobia, her directions are excellent). Except I was running late because the morning had somehow slipped right through my fingers. I saw the house with the balloons. I parked and yanked the baby capsule out of the car, slung the nappy bag over my shoulder, put the present under my arm and hobbled into the house.
Everyone was already eating lunch. I was starved.
“Oh, how cute!” said a teenage girl, looking down at Anna.
“Thank you,” I mumbled, because I had the stem of my sunglasses gripped between my teeth. I asked her where my sister-in-law was, and where should I put the present? I was anxious not to miss out on the food.
The girl got a careful blank expression on her face because I wasn’t making any sense. I put down the baby capsule, took my glasses out of my mouth and spoke properly. She still looked at me blankly.
We eventually worked out that I was at the wrong house and the wrong party. I’d been just seconds away from helping myself to a sausage roll.
A nice lady led me out, laughing merrily but I noticed she locked the front door firmly behind me.
I walked around the corner and saw another house with balloons and my mother coming down the driveway to take the capsule off me. She wasn’t at all surprised when she heard I’d walked into the wrong house. She’d really prefer to still drive me everywhere.
My sister-in-law’s sister gave me a necklace to wear. “If someone hears you say the word ‘baby’ you’ve got to give them your necklace,” she explained. “The person with the most necklaces wins a prize.”
“OK, hand it over,” I said.
“Your necklace – you just said the word baby.”
She started taking it off, looking sad, “But I had to explain the rules to you!”
“No, no, I was only joking,” I said. “Look! I’ve got a baby! OK, now we’re even.”
I was trying to be jaunty.
Once, when I was ten, I tried to be jaunty at the corner shop on the way home from school. There was a teenage girl who worked there who I greatly admired. After I ordered my bag of mixed lollies, I thought I would toss my coin to her, in a sort of flippant, cool move. Except the girl misunderstood my intentions and snarled “How rude!” Well. I was crushed. Devastated. In floods of tears. Later that day my mother drove me back to the corner shop so we could both explain that I hadn’t meant to be rude – the opposite in fact! “She was just trying to be funny,” my mother said to the man who owned the shop. I can still see his baffled face. The girl I’d offended had gone home. He had no idea what we were talking about.
Never take a sausage roll until you’ve confirmed you’re at the right party.
Be careful when you’re being jaunty.
These are the lessons I will try to pass on to my children.
It’s a strange thing to write your very first Blog entry. I feel like somebody should introduce me. I can’t just walk into cyberspace and start talking, can I? It’s like walking into a crowded party and suddenly launching into a monologue without even waiting for someone to make eye contact.
I hate walking into parties on my own.
I’m addicted to Blogs. I have about a dozen I read on a regular basis. I’m a ‘lurker.’ That’s what people like me are called, people who read without leaving comments. Sometimes Bloggers try to convince lurkers to come out of the shadows. “Leave a comment, you lurkers!” they say, and I think about it, I really do, my fingers hover over the keyboard, but then I snatch them away, overcome with shyness. Once I very nearly wrote a comment to a woman in Canada who had a new baby. She wasn’t getting enough sleep and she was exhausted. I had such a lot to say to her. For example, I thought she should get her nice husband (he seemed nice) to take the baby for a walk around the block in the morning while she got some extra sleep. I started to write a chatty comment, but then I lost my nerve. It just seemed too weird, writing to a stranger on the other side of the world.
Also, what if I accidentally offended her? I have noticed that the Internet is full of people being offended with each other.
Fortunately, her baby is sleeping much better now.
My favourite Bloggers don’t hold anything back. They say whatever is on their mind and they share the most wonderfully trivial details of their lives. I love that.
So here are some trivial details of my life:
There, I’m a Blogger.
Feel free to comment or to lurk. I don’t mind. I understand.
My new baby girl Anna is now ten weeks old. She has a big goofy, gummy smile and she has discovered her thumb. She curls her tiny fingers around her nose and sucks contentedly and noisily. “Oh no!” people say, and tell me horror stories about thumb-sucking cousins whose teeth grew out horizontally.
“Smart girl,” says my sister, who was also a thumb-sucker and still remembers how good hers tasted. “Maybe you have a particularly delicious-tasting thumb,” I say. “Maybe I do,” agrees my sister. She holds out her thumb. “Want to try it?”
I decline her kind offer.
Anna’s big brother George, who is two, laughs when he sees the baby sucking her thumb. “That’s not a biscuit,” he tells her fondly. He thinks his sister is lovable but sort of dopey. “Oh little one,” he says, shaking his head in exasperation when she loses her thumb and becomes infuriated, banging her fist against her mouth. Where is it? I know it was just here!
“What’s Anna saying?” George asks me.
“She’s saying, ‘I’m so angry and sad! If only I could eat vegetables like George! They look delicious.”
George gives me a look, and thinks about it.
Finally he says decidedly, “No, she’s not.”
I often wonder what Anna really is thinking and what it must be like to be a baby experiencing all those new sensations and seeing my big moon-like face suddenly looming over her cot. I imagine it’s something like this:
Oh! I’m awake! I’m HUNGRY! I’m absolutely STARVED! Where is the Looming Moon Face? Here she is! About time! No need to look so bleary-eyed! Feed me! Now, now, now! What is the hold-up? It’s unacceptable! I’m starving! I’m –
Mmmm. Good. Very good. Food. Lovely. Yes. Delightful! Wonderful!
Wait a minute! I don’t feel so well. It’s unpleasant. It’s horrible! Why is the Looming Moon Face thumping me on the back? That’s not helping!
OK, that’s a bit better. Now I’m happy. Actually, I’m EXTREMELY happy! Oh, and now the Funny Man with the Deep Voice is holding me. He’s hilarious! I love him! I can hear the Looming Moon Face complaining that she’s the one who gets up in the middle of the night and why doesn’t she get smiles like that? Whatever.
Now here comes the Small Noisy One. He’s banging me on the head with a sticky hand and everybody is saying, “Gentle! Gentle!” I admire the Small Noisy One and feel he has much to teach me, but maybe you could take him away, please?
Oh! I’m tired! I don’t like it! In fact it’s making me extremely angry! No, putting me back in the cot won’t help! Are you crazy? Why can’t I just sleep on the Funny Man’s shoulder all night? What? You’re just walking out of the room? Fine, fine. I’ll sleep. For a little while.
Oh! I’m awake! I’m HUNGRY!
And so on…
Whenever I’m looking for something new to read, I try to find authors who have written lots of books. That way if I love their book I know I can look forward to reading more.
A few years ago, when I had a broken heart, I moved to a new area by the beach. I went to my new local library and I discovered a writer with a whole row of books to her name: Elizabeth Berg. Every morning I would take my latest Elizabeth Berg book to a café where I could see the sun shining on the water. A girl called Lorraine, who had the sunniest smile you’ve ever seen, would bring me a bowl of fruit salad with yoghurt and muesli.
By the time I’d finished reading the last Elizabeth Berg book on the shelf my broken heart had just about healed. I was so grateful to her for writing so many books.
When I got my first book published I had grand plans of being the sort of author I loved: the sort who writes a book every year. I have a horrible feeling I may have even said the following pompous words out loud: “I plan to be prolific.”
It turns out that I’m not the sort of author who can write a book every year. I’ve had to add it to the list of things I’ve had to regretfully accept about myself: eg. I am not the sort of person who grows fresh herbs in a little row of terracotta pots on my windowsill (the coriander dies first – every single time), I am not the sort of person who keeps the sticky tape, the scissors and the wrapping paper in the same convenient spot, I am not the sort of person who goes for a brisk walk before breakfast, etc etc
I have a recurring dream where I suddenly remember a spare, unpublished novel I’ve written that I’d completely forgotten about. It’s a wonderful dream. This non-existent novel is an exquisite love story. I always wake up just before the reviews come out.
That’s why I’m always pleased when a new edition of one of my books comes out because it feels like I’ve written an entirely new book.
I have just received my copies of the new edition of What Alice Forgot. It’s exactly the same as the first edition, just a smaller size (fits conveniently into your handbag!) but it gives me such a nice satisfied feeling.
This deluded feeling is even greater when a translated edition comes out. It’s like I’ve written a book in another language! Even though I don’t speak any other languages. Even though a translator did all the actual work.
I’m a fast, greedy reader myself. If I love a book I will stay up late into the night until it’s finished and then I’m always cross with myself for not making it last longer. Somebody spent months and months slaving over every sentence and then I just sat down and gobbled it all up.
My next novel is about hypnosis. I’ve been reading recently about self-hypnosis. Perhaps I can hypnotise myself into becoming a faster writer, a slower reader, an early-rising herb-growing sort of person who never stomps around the house, wailing, “Where is the sticky tape?”
I’ll let you know if it works.