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Renowned in Bulgary

When I was interviewed by Bulgarian Cosmopolitan in May, I asked if they could send me one of the magazines with the free copy of Smart Casual. When I had no response, I presumed my request had drowned in the editor’s slushpile.

Then, about a month ago, I received a bulky parcel from Headline Publishing. This was extremely exciting, since I rarely get anything in the mail except second hand books from Trademe or letters from the Vinegrowers Association of Marlborough, (the snailmail version of remedies to enlarge my penis).

The parcel contained two virgin, cellophaned magazine/book packs, along with five copies of what I presume is Smart Casual. Because the cover of the book was different; and both the magazines and books were in Bulgarian. That’s one of those acrylic languages.

Bulgarian Cosmopolitan

I flicked through the magazine and couldn’t understand anything, although the article on ten ways to pleasure your man in bed was fairly clear even in acrylic. I’d sent the editor of Bulgarian Cosmo a photo of myself, but I couldn’t find it or anything that resembled my interview; she must have decided to go with Eva Longoria Parker. Hey – I’m sure I could look twice that good with some extreme photoshop.

I wasn’t even sure whether the book IS Smart Casual, but it has 63 chapters, which is consistent. Also, there were the same number of sentences per paragraph on the first page.

This is what Smart Casual looks like in Bulgarian. That might be a generic cover, but I love it; I would give a lesser limb for a set of pins like that, and I covet those shoes.

Now, when I talk about Smart Casual, I can say:

SMART CASUAL!
THE INTERNATIONAL BOOK!
TRANSLATED INTO ONE LANGUAGE!

Although that really deserves to be exclaimed.

Two weeks later, I got another parcel from Headline . . . with more packs and copies of the magazine/book.

I’d noticed there is a section in Marlborough Library which contains foreign language books. Since I don’t have many Bulgarian friends, and was now in possession of about fifteen more copies of the book than I knew what to do with, I decided to give some to the library.

I thought any more than three copies was a touch over-fervid. There was mass confusion amongst the librarians when I presented the books at the counter. It took significant time and gesticulative overhead to establish that I wasn’t either a) checking out or b) returning the books.

Then the librarian was suspicious about my handing over new books, and tried to torture me into confessing that I expected renumeration. Once she established that I was donating the books to the library’s collection – and determined the translation was Bulgarian – she became positively frisky.

“Aw, wow,” she said, “I’ll have to set up a whole new section! We don’t have a Bulgarian section,” she confided.

I successfully mastered the urge to correct ‘Bulgarian’ to ‘Bulgary’ – yes, yes, I know my geography is pure shocking.

The librarian looked as if she wanted to high-five me, but honestly, I just couldn’t get that enthused about a whole new section.

Long melancholy tragi-horror

When Little Black Dress offered me a two book deal, the contract specified only that the second book should be a ‘short, funny romance’.

At the time, I had already started another novel. However, since Revenge of the Cow is a long, melancholy tragi-horror, I postponed it and started a book that featured more boners.

That covered the romance.

‘About Time’ is a sequence of snapshots over an extended period, narrated by both the male and female protagonists.

“Oh my goodness,” said my agent, when I told him I was writing half the book from a male perspective. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. Maybe you could write his sections in omniscient pluperfect. Or . . . something..”

Indeed, for a long time I wondered whether I could pull it off. I’ve always considered my humour fundamentally female, deriving as it does from exaggeration and dramatic over-statement; and Conn’s personality was the precise opposite. Although I had a clear idea of Conn’s character (highly intelligent but pathologically incapable of normal social interaction), getting his ‘voice’ right – the clipped sentences and formal structure – was an arduous process that felt entirely unnatural at the outset.

At least my sense of humour was ideally suited to Lara’s free-spirited character with an uncanny ability to pick emotional wankers.

The story is about the concept of fate or destiny as opposed to free will/choice.

Also, of course, boners.

I’m not going to get a chance to post over the next couple of days, but in the meantime here’s an excerpt from About Time. I hope you enjoy it.

x

Nuttier than a bucket of walnuts

Crazy times here in Casa del Deadlyjelly.

By ‘crazy’, everything is relative. Husband didn’t go on the rampage with a chainsaw – although that may be just a matter of time. I have not resorted to licking the walls – most likely a matter of time too; or a natural response to Andrew coming at me with a live chainsaw. Jed is madder than a barrel of frogs, but relatively speaking? No change there.

The copyeditor came back to me with her feedback on About Time, so I’ve spent the last few days clenched onto my laptop trying not to smear it in blood, sweat and tears. Mostly tears, which are at least more sanitary than the other two.

Apart from the time pressure (not all self-inflicted – I spoke to my editor the other day and she sounded mildly panicked about getting About Time into production) I’ve actually enjoyed revising the book. Which is a first for me: reading through my own work and not thinking it sucks lemons genetically modified for extra acidity. I actually felt quite smug. Not sure I’m over it yet.

Now we’re about to embark on a little road trip to the Coromandel. Normal service will resume on Sunday.

About Time

My publishers sent through the cover for About Time recently:

Officially, OH MY GOD I LOVE IT!!!!!

Unofficially, I hate yellow. But I’m not about to bite the hand that feeds me. Just nibble the fingers a bit.

For the last few days I’ve been working on the copyeditor’s feedback. This is the last hurdle before the book goes into production (no idea whether that’s the correct terminology, but it sounds good to me), due for release at the end of April.

Not posting: the excuses

1. A walrus ate my laptop.

2. I have been frenziedly editing my second book, the aptly titled ‘About Time‘ (unlike the excuse above, this one happens to be true). Editing is a 5-stage process: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. This time around, it took only five weeks to reach Acceptance – which either means: a/ I’m getting better; or b/ my wonderful, long-suffering editor has finally attained Stage 5.

3. My parents arrived on an extended holiday from Ireland. I tell you, looking after them is a Full Time Job: the sleepless nights, the endless questions, the demands, the tidying up after them, the theft of my Auckland map and the scribbling on it. And you have to keep an eye on them all the time, or they get into everything.I never knew childhood would be so HARD.

4. For the last month, I’ve felt like I’ve been run over by a truck and dragged along behind it, then dipped in lightly whisked eggs and rolled down a hill strewn with glass before shooting off the top of a sheer cliff and plunging into a raging sea, then forced to sit and listen to Tom Cruise for four hours. (Note: this is largely speculative, since I’ve never met Tom Cruise so am not entirely sure what it’s like having to listen to him for four hours. However, I did watch Vanilla Sky i.e. I have a fair idea).

Some of the exhaustion is no doubt due to editing, parent-sitting and waging war on walruses. However, a large part is due to reasons I am not at liberty to divulge. I’m sorry; I hate being so coy. Wait, wait. I’ve just thought about that, and it turns out I don’t hate being coy at all. Au contraire, I LOVE being coy and regrettably I don’t have opportunity to exercise half enough despite having a unique talent for it.

The problem is that I hate other people being coy – especially on the Internet. While not in the same sort of league as avarice or sloth, it’s still an unattractive quality. You know like when you read someone’s blog, and they’re all: “So, I know something you don’t and – hey, guess what? I’m not going to tell you,” and you’re all, “Well, yanno, why bother saying anything at all? Why not just SHUT UP about it, you LOSER? I mean, who do you think GIVES A FRYING DUCK? I’LL TELL YOU WHO: NOBODY! YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT! AND I’LL TELL YOU SOMETHING ELSE – BECAUSE – UNLIKE SOME – I FOR ONE AM A DECENT, STRAIGHTFORWARD, CANDID TYPE OF PERSON: THAT’S THE LAST TIME I READ THIS CRAPFEST OF A BLOG.”

“COCK.”

Assuming that’s not just me, I truly hope you forgive me. Would it help if I called it ‘dramatic tension’?

No?

I will say: I’m not pregnant, no, nor suffering from some deadly or even medically recognised disease. Oh, here’s more: I haven’t been battling withdrawal symptoms from kicking my lifelong addiction to coffee – although you’d be getting closer.

Sorry, the coy crept in again there.

The two words that stand between me and literary genius

The second book should have been easier.

After all, it took seven years to complete Smart/Casual. That’s a fair apprenticeship. If I had trained as a doctor instead, I could be performing three open-heart surgeries a day by now.

That’s depressing.

Anyway, the second book. Obviously, it was going to be better – much better – than Smart/Casual. After all, I had made my mistakes. Not only that, I had LEARNED from these bitter lessons with detention and corporal punishment and the writing of hundreds of lines. My craft was honed to a fine point.

The key, I now knew, was planning.

Also, writing. (Quite important, that one.)

I would establish a routine. I favoured a Spartan model: austerity, abstinence, light diet. I would be a shining beacon of discipline.

So that went well.

Despite all my best efforts, I still swing between thinking About Time is:

a) so heinously awful it actually results in a net decrease in the amount of meaning present in the universe; or

b) a work of extraordinary literary genius, but for two words. One of which is ‘shinsplints’.

(Still can’t figure out what the other one is.)

Cosmic prank

When I completed Smart/Casual in early 2007, it was 90,443 words long and most comfortably described as ‘Chick Lit’ (or ‘Clit Lit’ as my buddy JohnO likes to call it, the cheeky spank meister).

By that stage, I was sick of the sound of my own voice. If any of my characters had walked through the door, I would have attacked them with a frozen chicken with an unseemly amount of bloody relish. 

I nearly did not submit Smart/Casual at all. Whenever I read through it, all I could see were the flaws. And after all, I had learned so much from the process of writing it; and my second book would be better. Yes, definitely.

Also, I was a little bit terrified.

But whenever friends asked how the writing was coming along and I said with as much enthusiasm as I could dredge up: ‘Well, I’ve finished my first book, and – hey! Guess what? I’ve started on the second!’, it proved to be rather a conversation stopper. People didn’t see the point – and after a while, I rather lost sight of it myself.

So I decided to submit. Good experience etc; and I might get some feedback as to the degree of my literary delusion.

One of the greatest leaps for me was to view Smart/Casual as a product and the submission as a pitch, rather than my precious baby and a personal vendetta respectively. I focussed on the first six chapters and, with the assistance of various kind members of Litopia and Bookshed, ensured they were as fabulous as possible without doing serious damage to my brain.

I did a load of reading about the submissions process: recommended layout, what agents look for, what makes them snarl. An invaluable resource was Miss Snark, a blog offering advice from a literary agent’s perspective. I read pretty much every archived entry, took note, and winced at all the mistakes I’d been planning to make.

Then I went through Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, picking out agents that specialised in chicklit/ humourous fiction/ general fiction. I prioritised agents who accepted email submissions, since I lived in Dubai at the time and organising SASEs was problematic (I actually ordered £300 worth of stamps from Royal Mail, but they got lost in the post 🙂

In most instances, the W&A Yearbook provided explicit submission guidelines. I customised each submission EXACTLY. First three chapters? Here they are count ‘em. Font Times New Roman point size 700? One letter per page, coming up. Every fourth word to be ‘ostrich’? Not a problem.

There were only seven agents who accepted email submissions in Smart/Casual’s genre. Over two years later, I am still awaiting a response from two and received form letters from another two. BUT three wrote back and asked to see the full manuscript.

Of these, one never got back to me. Another responded six months later with a rejection. However, she wrote a terrific, thoughtful email on why she passed, and asked me to bear her in mind for my next book.

The agent who offered to represent me was Peter Buckman, of the Ampersand Agency. Within two days of my query, he responded asking to see the full manuscript. Within a week of receiving the manuscript, he offered to represent me.

Although Peter requested a significant overhaul, representation was conditional only on my accepting his revision requests – i.e. he signed me before I completed the revisions. He was proactive, responsive and encouraging throughout the entire process.

I completed the ‘final’ edit in August 2007 and Peter started sending Smart/Casual to publishers. The responses trickled in; first rejection came in November, followed by . . . oh look, it’s still too depressing. One said my voice was ‘angry and caustic’, which I would have accepted as a compliment – except it was a rejection.

Most of the publishers were kind enough to give feedback on why they passed. Whilst all liked my writing/’voice’, most had issues with the plot (could see the twists a mile off when they weren’t focussed on the holes etc).

Finally, in early 2008 we got an offer from Little Black Dress Books, for a two book deal.

Although it is all tremendously exciting, there are still times I feel like the subject of a great, cosmic prank

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