Anna Maxted's Blog

Monday
Jul052010

hiatus

I must apologise for the long silence. I have been indulging myself researching my next novel. If you think I have neglected this blog, you might want a word with my children.... I jest... That said, the three year old was discovered, asleep, naked on the bathroom floor at 4pm today. We had wondered why it was so delightfully quiet in the house...

This next book is partly set during World War II, and there is quite a bit to read on that era... I have also had the honour of interviewing a few of those who lived through it - I feel very fortunate and I have all but lost myself in that world. And of course once I visited the Imperial War Museum and started to imagine what it must have been like, it was a struggle to surface.... So far I have written about one third of the new book... 

Rather sweetly, some of the parents and teachers at my son's school bid (in a silent raffle to raise money) to be a character in the novel! I suggested the idea, because I couldn't think of much else that I could offer (no holiday homes in Italy, damnit!) - and it was a happy surprise that anyone bid at all... One of the mothers, Charlotte Parfitt-Reid, was the winner - and I'm so pleased, because apart from anything else, her lovely smart name exactly suits one of my characters. And rather touchingly, she confessed that she didn't mind if she was good... or bad... She'll regret that, heheheh....

Anyway, I shall keep this short, because I should probably try to get to bed before midnight (never do). Oh for goodness sake, have just noticed that the other cat, Disco, is sprawled on the cream sofa, instead of on the Sponge Bob blanket. He's so handsome I could forgive him anything except, maybe, Whiskas Chicken vomit on the one item in the house that is to the casual eye, unsullied...

 

Monday
Mar012010

Future wife of many footballers

 

 

My seven-year old son is learning about punctuation.  I saw that he’d written in his textbook: ‘a bunch of banana’s.’  In a high, squeaky, panic-ridden voice, I told him: ‘There is no apostrophe in two bananas!’

He’s a smart kid, and I know he’ll get it right soon enough. He lives in a house where every time someone says ‘should’ve’, I bark: ‘Should have, not should of. Should of doesn’t make sense!’ I mean to say this so many times to my kids that they are bored out of their skulls into getting it right. 

I know I’m hateful but I also bore them (and my husband) into respecting the difference between ‘less’ and ‘fewer’. If you say ‘less sweets’, then you will receive fewer sweets than your brother.

Apart from being as mean as a snake as far as speaking and writing correctly are concerned (take that sharp knife ‘from the baby’ not off the baby- oh just TAKE IT!) I am a reasonable mother. But there is something about people who misuse the English language that makes me furious. The other week, I saw a piece of work pinned to a wall in my son’s school. The teacher had written something to the effect of ‘I should of known!’

Yes, you should have known, and perhaps you shouldn’t have become a teacher, because you are, astonishingly, ignorant of the correct construction of the past tense and it depresses me to think that the likes of you are paid to teach my children basic English. Are people lazy or stupid or both?  How did that person get through – and worryingly, pass, her teacher training course?

I worry that this disregard for language is indicative of an underlying carelessness and arrogance in society.  There is a belief among some that you can succeed with minimum effort by cheating others: misleading people about the extent of your abilities. And maybe you can.

If you look to the right of this blog, you’ll see an ad (unless they subsequently withdraw it and I hope they do, for it is lowering the tone of the site) entitled ‘PR For Authors’ – it boasts ‘a 72 Point’s book PR package.’ Plainly, these advertisers don’t understand a concept that my seven-year old is about to master: that there is NO APOSTROPHE in a plural.  It’s unlikely therefore, that any author would want to trust them with a sentence, let alone a book.

Meanwhile, if there is cause for an apostrophe, it’s invariably omitted. There was an item on the news recently, about the early sexualisation of girls. Some stores sell padded bras for 11-year olds, and one of the pieces of clothing featured was a t-shirt bearing the slogan ‘Future Footballers Wife.’

While spluttering in horror at the idea that someone would try to sell a padded bra to an 11-year old, I was as horrified by the slogan on the t-shirt. ‘They haven’t put an apostrophe in ‘Footballer’s!’ I blurted to my husband. Even if the 11 year old planned to be the future wife of more than one footballer, this would still merit an apostrophe after the ‘s’ of footballers.

I was forty last year, and have been in a bad mood ever since, so you must excuse me. Also, having three boys (the eldest is seven) has eroded my parental principles. Because I am too tired to argue from 6.30am to 9.30pm, my children often eat their dinner in front of the TV, fight each other frequently and violently, and rarely tidy up. But by heaven, they will know the correct use of the apostrophe if it kills me! It probably will.

Friday
Jan152010

Fame...

The craziest thing: BETRAYAL – aka RICH AGAIN - featured on this Monday’s EastEnders! (11th January 2010). You could have knocked me down with a feather! Fevah, I should say, because that’s how they’d say it in Walford.

EastEnders – for anyone who lives on Mars - is one of the most popular soaps in the UK and has been going for 25 years. It is broadcast four times a week on BBC1, and is repeated on Sundays and has something like 12 million viewers.  

Some of the characters had set up a book club – and BETRAYAL was their book of the week! They all walked in holding a copy – which made me giggle because, oh for goodness sake, I was, practically, on EastEnders! EastEnders! This is the Essex equivalent of sitting in the Queen’s parlour at Buckingham Palace!

One of the girls summarised it as: ‘Hollywood glamour, sex, betrayal and revenge!’ and the camera panned in on the book cover. It was all of ten seconds, and I am humbly aware that they only chose it because the title fitted the plot (one character had betrayed another) not because the scriptwriters were awed by my brilliance.

Oh never mind that! It was an unexpected thrill – like the time I saw Clive Owen trotting towards me with a grin, as I tried to persuade my 4-year old to sit in his buggy (his buggy, not Clive Owen’s...). I am silly and starstruck and really should be working on my edits.... sigh...but thank you for allowing me the moment....Here's the link, although I'm not sure if it will work after this Sunday (technology is not my talent.)

http://bbc.co.uk/i/pyl4n/



Sunday
Jan032010

Let's talk about sex

When my first novel Getting Over It was published in the US, I was invited to give a talk to the American Library Association. As if this wasn’t terrifying enough, I was introduced with the words: ‘Anna’s heroine has more sex than anyone I know.’

‘Yes,’ I bleated, trapped on the podium with hundreds of people staring accusingly up at me. ‘But it’s mostly very bad sex.’

Afterwards, I checked – and there were three occasions on which my poor heroine, Helen, got lucky (or not). The woman who introduced me must have had very chaste friends, as the novel spanned a year.

Anyway, I was surprised because when you write your first novel, everyone assumes you have transcribed from your diary. So, for that very reason, and because I knew my mother would read it, I had kept the sex to a minimum. And yet, despite taking precautions, here was I being accused of nymphomania!

Then my husband attempted to read Getting Over It and failed, announcing ‘it feels like you’re being unfaithful.’

After that bombshell, the sex in my novels dwindled. I didn’t deprive my heroines – but there was less bedroom detail. I think, at least when reading women’s fiction, people prefer to use their imagination. When confronted with a vagina on the page, I start wincing away from it. I don’t mean to be sexist – I’m not keen on anything upright and purple in my chick lit either.

But with RICH AGAIN (out as BETRAYAL by Sasha Blake in the UK) I more than made up for all those years of repression. This novel was a change of direction; a book in the tradition of Jackie Collins. And a book of that genre surely has a duty to include a bit of hanky panky – and I included more than a bit. My lead character, Innocence, uses sex to get what she wants and very much enjoys it. Now I think about it, so do most of the characters.

With this in mind, I don’t want anyone choking on their marmalade and toast, so if you, say, approved of the scene in Emma where Jane Austen draws a veil over Mr Knightley’s proposal, I suggest that you don’t read RICH AGAIN until a robust friend has made what my friends at the Daily Telegraph call a ‘breakfast table edit.’

I admit I wished for just a glimpse of a kiss between Emma and Mr Knightley to satisfy my own fluttering heart, having invested so much in their relationship. And yet (while this might not be apparent on reading RICH AGAIN) I err on the side of Austen as far as sex is concerned.

In publishing, after you submit your ‘first draft’ it bounces back with editorial comments at least three times before it’s fit to print. Anyway, each time the RICH AGAIN edits came back I thought ‘this is disgusting!’ and used up several red pens deleting upright purple business. I can’t imagine how much smut was in there to begin with, because it’s not as if the book is grandma-friendly now. (I have successfully delayed sending my grandma a copy for the past six months.)

I didn’t regret the self-censorship - a writer friend told me that his 9 year old daughter had, unpermitted, found one of his racier novels. She’d burst into tears and sobbed, ‘Daddy, why did you write those disgusting things?!’ Of course, we all laughed in horror – part of my horror was the realisation that at some point I am going to have to account to my three sons for the disgusting things I wrote.

My next novel is going to be about a nun.



Monday
Dec212009

cold-blooded murder

 

I claimed to have finished THE WISH, the other week.  As I have now received my edits, I realise this was a lie. You have a good editor if her notes make you want to cry. I think it’s the dread of confronting 12 pages of your mistakes. Or maybe it’s just the dread of all that work. There’s also the fact that in publishing, what you submit is breezily called a ‘first draft’. First draft! I spent a year and a half crafting this thing! I didn’t just bang it out in a couple of weekends!

That said, the editing process is turning out to be, in a warped way, enjoyable. Deleting great swathes of your own work is nastily cathartic – like cutting your own hair.  And after so long bouncing the story around the inside of your own head, it is a relief to get another opinion on your work (even if it is ‘chapter 14 is very slow – I suggest you look at this again.’) The editor gives you permission to do what you half know you should do but can’t quite accomplish without a push.

I’ve been prompted into cutting quite a bit of my research – which is always a good thing, because you notice when it’s all turgid and crammed in there - the poor characters barely have room to breathe for all the facts pinning them to the edges of the book. I always resist starting my research as I fear bothering people – be they friends or strangers – but they usually turn out to be so friendly and obliging that once I start questioning them I can’t stop.

Part of THE WISH’s storyline involves a crime, and I spoke to some exceptional members of Las Vegas Police Department – and LAPD – who helped me to understand what kind of a person one of my heroes might be (Harry Castillo, his name is; a homicide detective). One interviewee cut short our chat as she was about to ‘knock on the door of a house full of felons’! Nerd as I am, I was speechless with admiration. I can barely face down my 7 year old in a row over homework.

So after that, I got carried away and watched about forty episodes of The First 48 – which follows the efforts of various homicide departments around the US in solving murders. Then I read Homicide – A Year on the Killing Streets by David Simon. Then it was hard not to show off about what I’d learned (for example, that in 2009 Las Vegas was up 64 per cent in homicides since Jan 1 - but down 24.9 per cent in ‘assaults with guns’ – and while that second figure sounds optimistic it is only because, as my female officer drily remarked, ‘we’ve killed ‘em!’).

The chapter where we first meet Harry, he has been IOJ (injured on duty) and is depressed, which meant that I could have him gloomily thinking about ALL THE STUFF I’D LEARNED. Well, after reading my editor’s notes, I chopped that particular chapter in half. Even that extremely interesting and witty observation about assaults with guns: gone!

‘Kill your darlings’ said my husband, making me want to strangle him. Every writer knows that gnarly old phrase and hates hearing it applied to their precious words. But, annoyingly, it turned out that my darlings were better off dead. The chapter is now light and skips along, free of its dragging burden. I feel regret that readers will never know the full extent of my dazzling expertise regarding police procedure but, well... I suspect they won’t.