I had some short stories, poems and photographs to share ... and so here I am

Tis the Season For Writing, Whining or Wining?

Before you all get well and truly swept up in Christmas and New Year madness, I'd like to get in now and send out a HAPPY FESTIVE SEASON message! I hope it turns out to be exactly as you want it to be. Spare a thought for me as I work some night shifts in the days before Christmas! Sniff sniff. (Thanks to my mum, by the way, for the cool flashing Christmas pictures in this post, which are her own creations!)

What I was wondering though, as I do my best to forget the fact that yet another year is coming to a close, was how many writers will be sticking to their writing regime over this period? Who will be locking themselves away in their writing cages, despite the jingle of bells around them? Is it healthy to keep up the daily word count, no matter what? Should we insist on giving ourselves a break during this festive time? I'm not talking about blog writing, which some people no doubt have to suspend as they'll be away from computers, etc. I also know that it's sometimes just too busy a time for a writer to get any intelligent phrases down!

What also comes to mind at this time of the year is the reminder that more months have gone by and I'm still waiting, waiting, waiting for responses. Forget the festive wine, I want a good long whine instead. I want a good grizzle. I want to throw all of my dummies out of the cot! The little clock is ticking by and all of the outfits that consider manuscripts now seem to want to be given three-month windows before giving responses. Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright.

The other thing, as January the 1st approaches, is what to come up with as a feasible New Year's resolution. Write more? Start sleeping with publishing house people? Publish myself? Give the whole "want to get published" thing up so I can have an anxiety free life? Change genres and start writing crime or sci-fi novels? Truth is, I will probably just maintain the status quo. A sucker for punishment?

On one feasible level, I've decided to reduce the time I spend sitting down in front of a screen. My day job involves a lot of this and it's becoming all too common at home as well. I am going to try to plan my "in front of screen" time. I am also doing daily exercise now. I am walking every morning before breakfast, for 45 minutes - that's when I'm not doing a dreadful 0730 start at work! I am also doing 20 push-ups after the walk. Superman in three months? Just call me Clark.

Yes, I have been spending far too much time slouching down in front of all you lot, forgetting to keep all of my bits and pieces moving. Don't get me wrong though, I do like connecting with you! It's not about cutting back on the blog or the writing, it's about working out a more productive and efficient schedule. Well, that's the resolution; we'll see how it all goes in January.

Also, is it true that people read a "festive season book"? Do people actually go out and choose a book that is especially appropriate for this time of year? I have never done this. My reading choices go unchanged. I'm currently reading The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It has nothing to do with Christmas or this festive season. All the newspapers are full of advice about what we should read at this time, yet - and remember that there are not many who actually have extended holidays right now - I really can't believe that people rush out and buy books for reading beside the holly and punch. Of course, there are books for presents, but they wouldn't necessarily have the festive theme, would they?

Well, that's my festive wondering out of the way. Now, where's the wine? I need to turn my attention to greater thoughts about how much I'm going to enjoy my Christmas dinner (it's hard being a vegetarian in France during these times, by the way, but I have managed to find good alternatives). I also need to think about how I'm going to celebrate on New Year's eve.

Oh, and before I forget, Jessica Schneider has an interesting pre-Christmas review of what sounds like a great movie, one that I really must get round to watching. Could this be good for any festive season cynics?

The Balls!

Dave Hill liked the blue ones, but politely turned down my offer for the red and white ones (See comments on this post). Others, however, have been screaming out for them, so here they are! The Balls! Why not post them on your blog or website, just as Dave did, as a way of marking the end of the year in blogland? (To maintain the quality, save the pics to your computer once you've clicked on them to make them bigger). Post the balls and spread the word! Let's make this a huge blogland project for Christmas and the New Year! For your caption - I snapped these at Lyon's Festival of Lights, Dec 9, 2006.

A Shameless Review

I have never really been one for fantasy, supernatural or science fiction novels, even as a child; I've always preferred going for real life drama, something that I can relate to. That is why I was a little hesitant when I began Coven of One by Kate Bousfield (aka Inner Minx in the blogosphere). A story about a witch? A story about spells? A story with words like scrying, athame, Akashic, Samhain, and grimoire? I worried that it would take more than a spell for me to fall for this kind of book.

Then along came Dorcas Fleming!

I instantly fell in love with this character, relieved to find that she was a "down to earth" protagonist in a world that was very easy to relate to: the witch in this story is not often on a broomstick and not often wearing a pointed hat, and the book is not saturated with hocus-pocus. This is a story about a strong, likeable woman who just happens to be a witch. The world created by the author is totally accessible.

What made this tale so adorable for me were the universal themes that a reader is looking for when they want an escape: it's a love story (the witch even has sex!); it's a story about good and evil; it's also about the battle to be accepted, and the struggle to belong somewhere and find a raison d'être.

This is a fun and easy read that runs to 247 pages. The author, in my opinion, hasn't made the mistake of delving too deeply into witchcraft and black magic, the detail of which might have turned out to be too heavy. I believe the balance is just right, with very little getting in the way of what in essence is a feel-good story about Dorcas Fleming and her mission to save a small, remote town from a deadly curse. There is humour too, which gives Dorcas an air of mischief. The talking with cats is fantastic!

It has to be said though that the editing was disconcerting in parts, with commas missing before the closing speech mark at the end of much of the dialogue. Example: 'I miss her' he said. Some full stops were also AWOL. I wondered if this was deliberate, except that the commas were in place in other sections. Was it a problem at the printers? This is a minor grumble, however, as it didn't distract me from enjoying the book.

I look forward to the next adventure of Dorcas Fleming. I also look forward to recommending it to people who have always been suckers for fairies, gremlins and witches - my mother included. People like me will also love it. I have the sneaky feeling that this character is going to work her magic far and wide!

The Razzle-Dazzle of New York!

I've finally got my best images of NY sorted out! I've put them together with one of my original piano compositions, an improvisation on a standard jazz, bass riff.
Make sure your volume is turned up, click the play button (sometimes twice) and then sit back and enjoy!

Please feel free to send a link for this video to your family and friends. You can also embed this video on your own blogs by getting the code off the YouTube page, or you can email me - see contacts - and I will email you the code with an explanation on how to do it.

A Book Contract With The Devil

Something I read a few days ago has really got me thinking - and got my blood boiling - and I can't help but think that we may have been denied a wonderful novel. Come to think of it, we may have been/are being denied many good novels for what I consider to be very silly reasons.

Did anyone else read a piece on the book blog of the Guardian website titled Le Diable is in the detail ? Maxim Jakubowski - former publisher, author, reviewer of crime fiction - wrote about sloppy attention to detail in fiction. He was actually talking about the latest Hannibal novel, complaining that Thomas Harris often gets the French and setting wrong. (The devil in the detail, when we're talking about Hannibal? Lovely.) But he then goes on to reveal something that I find extraordinary:

"Fifteen years or so ago, when I was still an acquiring editor in publishing, I was offered a very promising manuscript, a first thriller by a Canadian author. I liked the book and felt the author had much talent. But a key sequence of the book was a frantic car chase in which the protagonist was chased along the Boulevard Sebastopol in Paris, from the Grands Boulevards to the Seine. Only one small problem: the Boulevard Sebastopol is one way and traffic runs in the opposite direction. It just spoiled the book for me."

Come again? Did this former acquiring editor just say he turned down a book because the traffic wasn't flowing in the right direction? He liked it, but the chase scene spoiled it for him? I really hope this wasn't the only reason he turned down the book - if that is indeed what happened. It would've been very easy to choose another street, wouldn't it? If he really liked this book and thought there was talent, why couldn't he just ask the writer to change the offending detail? Are there really editors out there who are just as hard? And if there are, how many great books are we being denied just because a writer has not verified all of what could be considered as unimportant detail?

I also really hate to point out to Mr Jakubowski that he himself has failed to take his own advice about paying attention to detail. The name of the Paris road he refers to is actually Boulevard de Sébastopol, with a very important "de" between the two words and an accent on the "e". These are only small details in the wider scheme of things, yes, but they become big elephants in the room when they pop up in a piece by a former acquiring editor who's complaining about writers not paying enough attention to detail! It's true that Boulevard de Sébastopol is shortened to Boulevard Sébastopol on at least one sign in Paris - I used to live on this road, by the way - but the official name, if we're worrying about the fact that the devil is in the detail, is with the "de". Just because a council roading department shortens the name so it can fit on a sign does not mean the name of the road has changed. Surely the accent should also be respected, even in English.

Now, I only point out the missing "de" and the accent because it's a good example of how difficult all of this can become. Can you imagine what life would be like for a writer if they had to check every little thing out, no matter how minor or relevant to the story? You can pay good money to go to Paris and stand under the sign that reads "Boulevard Sébastopol" and think you've got it right, when in fact you need to go down to the city council and actually check that it hasn't been shortened for practical reasons by the man who prints the signs. You then need to check with the government printing office to double-check that the city council has got the correct name, with the correct accent, because there are acquiring editors who may just have a bee in their bonnet about devils and detail! To prove that I have a heart, can I just say that if the blog entry Le diable is in the detail had in fact been a book proposal from Mr Jakubowski, I wouldn't have worried about the missing "de" or accent. I would have offered him a contract.

There is, of course, the whole thing about artistic licence. I personally believe there has to be a certain amount of freedom to let the imagination reach its full potential. I have read many books that seem to be ruined by the author's militant and obsessive approach to detail. I don't want to read encyclopaedia-style novels. I don't want to read something where it's obvious the author has been totally restrained by the details of something. I think even some of our more famous novelists tend to do it; Ian McEwan springs to mind with his recent book Saturday.

The book I'm working on at the moment is set in Dublin. Some of the opening scenes take place in D'Olier Street. I have taken the liberty of booking my protagonist into a little hotel, which doesn't actually exist in reality. It suits my story. I certainly don't expect that an acquiring editor like Mr Jakubowski is going to reject the novel because he happens to know that D'Olier Street is void of any cute little hotels. Should I be reconsidering? Have I totally missed the boat here?

Oh, by the way, the devil at the beginning of this post is an original photograph. It's part of the glorious door that graces the entrance to my building here in the centre of Lyon. Don't forget to click on the photographs to make them bigger!

The Festival of Lights

As I wasn't able to get over to London to get all energised with good vibes at the blogmoot organised by Skint, Debi and Minx, I had to find some other trick. Luckily, Lyon has been hosting its annual Fête des Lumières over the past four days. This has become famous, attracting people from afar. Historic buildings and churches are lit up in spectacular fashion!

The light shows that were projected on the façades of two churches in the city were absolutely amazing, but because the images were moving it was impossible to capture them on camera. These other shots give you a general taste of what we saw though.

The festival of lights takes place every year, with its roots in religion. On the first day of the festival residents put little candles in their windows, traditionally to give thanks to the virgin Mary. Our flat doesn't have a view out onto the street, so we don't tend to put up any candles. We overlook an internal courtyard, the historic site of Lyon's first ever hospital.

I find this festival is perfect to get people into the festive mood, just weeks away from Xmas. The roads are closed off to traffic, which gives the city a wonderful ambience of freedom and good humour. You go home feeling absolutely psyched up!

Now, it's true that I would've had a much better time at the London blogmoot. I would've seen light on a different level, the luminosity that only our favourite blogs can provide. But when it came to trying to be satisfied with the next best thing, this festival kept me smiling. Also, sometimes it's good to get out into the world, away from the computer and all of those letters!

The Lions of Lyon (24)

(Click on this beauty to see a bigger size)

This is the latest in my series of lions from Lyon. It's hard to believe that I'm up to number 24! This has been close to my heart and soon it will be over - I reckon we'll probably get to about 30!

Don't forget to look back over previous posts to see the lions that have already made an appearance. All of my posts are accessible on this same page. You don't need to go digging through the archives, just scroll down and keep going! (For those who don't know about the lions, they featured in an expo in Lyon a few years back, and I happily went around and caught them all on camera).

I've often wondered about this whole thing of having regular series or features on blogs. Do they work? Do people like to come back to see familiar "columns" and attractions? What will I have to replace the lions once they're gone? I am going to have a think and see what I can come up with. I could just post regular shots of Lyon, which is a beautiful city, and one that tourists don't always come to.

I want to resurrect some other regular features I started a while back. One was a literary quiz, with clues given about famous authors. The other was "A Shameless Titbit", which will now be dedicated to strange anecdotes of things that I have experienced or am experiencing. I will try to find peculiar things that spark your emotions. Of course there will always be the odd short story and poem. And music and video will now be a regular feature. Coming soon is a video of memories from my recent trip to New York, with some original piano music to boot.

Re the lions though, don't forget that I will be having a contest to find out which is the best of those presented on this blog. I am going to create a video parade, with all the lions making an appearance to some fitting music - would there be a copyright issue if I played my own version of "The lion sleeps tonight" on the piano? Is it traditional or will it be covered by copyright? I feel a google coming on! But if anyone knows about these things, do let me know.

Anyway, with or without that music, the lions will be all brought together and then you will be asked to vote for your favourite three. So, start having a look back through them now. Try to see which ones you will vote for. In the meantime, enjoy beauty number 24!

Out Into The Bloglight?

Do we really want to meet the flesh behind the blogs we love? Do we really want to put our real selves out there? Have you met your blogging fraternity in person? Were you happy or disappointed when you met your very own version of MadHenGoesBananas? Are an increasing number of blogs choosing not to be anonymous? Or will it remain the trend to stay, as I am, a shadow in cyberspace?

I ask all of these questions as I draw your attention to two 'in-the-flesh' blogging events taking place in London this Saturday. Are we in the middle of some kind of transformation in blogland? The British Blog Directory/Britblog has announced a Christmas Blogmeet . But that's not all! There's also another literary Blogmoot taking place in London on the same day - married up with the London launch of Kate Bousfield's book A Coven of One (Kate is also known as the inimitable Inner Minx).

This is all wonderful news, which gives you the sense that blogs are branching out, organising their own events, giving people the chance to hook up, share ideas and promote blogging solidarity. These events could become huge, with a new era of the information age developing before our eyes.

The problem with this - and I'm not in any way wanting to pour cold water on these events, as I think they are great initiatives - is that it is making anonymous bloggers reassess why their sites maintain their black cloaks. It makes us ask ourselves whether we should be ready to go and let people match our faces up with our blogs. For me, this is a good question to be asking right now. I've already been busted a few times: by an old friend, a workmate, a fellow blogger. So far though, I've kept myself shameless and nameless. I have been weighing up the pros and the cons for months. I have almost let loose with my real identity on several occasions, usually late at night when I'm feeling rash, but then something always holds me back. Of course, I have to remember that a blog could be a complication when it comes to my main job in journalism. Or maybe it wouldn't pose a problem. I haven't worked that one out yet.

(It's the mask here that makes my head look bigger than it is, by the way! I love the message though: anonymous freedom!)

What I do know is that one of the reasons why I wanted to blog was to get my creative writing out there - and yes, it is very different to news writing and journalism! (It's amazing how many people think that a journalist should automatically be good at creative writing. We are taught from day one to boil everything down. Prune. Trim. Simplify. Unless we're writing features, daily news is all fact and no "frills".) However, at the end of the day, if I ever manage to get my first or second book published, I would want to get my name out there, and it would make sense to make my blog public, to shed the mysterious black cloak. So, why not do that now? Why not already start building up a profile?

I think many writers who are blogging are probably facing exactly the same questions. Many will happily go along to the events like those being organised in London this weekend, and they will benefit massively from the exposure to others who are like-minded. There are many more, however, who will prefer to keep their names secret, who will prefer to take things nice and slowly, until the day when they feel they are absolutely ready to come out into the bloglight.