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Niamh Meister-Leifburger

Before we married, Andrew and I agreed he would wear his wedding ring for a minimum of 6 months.

In return, I would take his surname.

Well, it wasn’t written into the marriage vows – and anyway, Andrew only wore his wedding ring for 3 months. ALSO, my ulterior motive for the request was the expectation that the band would become an extension of his finger. In the event he was involved in a terrible accident resulting in severe arm trauma and his left hand swelling alarmingly, he’d fight off the doctor advancing with motorised cutters, deliriously screaming, “Get away from my ring! You’re not having it!”

Since that situation never came to pass, it seems pretty clear to me it constitutes a breach of said agreement rendering it null and void.

However, over eight years after the happy day when we yoked ourselves to each other till death or a misunderstanding involving a transsexual called Clarabelle and secret offshore bank account do us part, I applied for a new passport.

In fairness, I always intended to change my name. One reason I didn’t was because Andrew and I thought we might be able to engage in dodgy tax fraud that somehow turns out to be legal if I were still Shaw (in retrospect, I’m not sure how we envisioned that working). Another is I never got around to it. And finally, I wasn’t gestating a crotchfruit. If The Asset weren’t imminent early in the New Year, I would have waited until my passport expired in August 2012 before I became Niamh Meister-Leifburger or whatever Andrew’s surname is. I suppose I should really look that up.

Last time I renewed my passport, all that was required was a call to the Irish Consulate asking them to make out a passport in the name of Niamh Shaw, thanks a million.

THINGS HAVE INDEED CHANGED.

Three months ago, upon my request, the Consulate General of Ireland sent me a passport application form. I knew it was for an Irish passport because, hilariously, it included an information pamphlet on how NOT to take a passport photo, with pictures of random people wearing clown noses and sticking their faces up against windows etc.

To issue a passport in my married name, I had to submit our original marriage certificate (The Consulate General of Ireland evidently doesn’t trust Notary Publics) – and my original birth certificate to verify my maiden name. If I wanted my original documents returned – along with the new passport – I had to include a self-addressed sign-on-delivery courier bag. Rather makes you wonder what the $160 fee was for – for which the only accepted payment was a bankers’ cheque.

The passport photos – four according to the application form, although the supplementary documentation stated two – had to be confirmed as a true likeness of the applicant by an authority figure, e.g. a policeman or, you know, librarian.

I have no idea what the big deal is about getting a passport. I mean, they’re not exactly rare. Pretty much everybody has one.

Anyhoo. It took a while to put the application together. Andrew took some photos and I selected the image which looked least like I was contemplating assassinating John Key. After spending an hour on MS Paint arranging it in a collage, I took it to the pharmacy to get it printed.

Then I went to the police station.

“I’m looking for someone with the appropriate authority,” I announced at reception, spreading the forms across the counter.

“Well,” said the personable Jason, “you’ve come to the right place, ma’am.”

He was required to write the application form’s unique reference number on the back of two of the passport photos, and sign them.

“Do you have a black pen?” I asked. “Because it says on the form you need to use a black pen. Oh, and if you can find a pair of scissors- no, wait. I have some here in my bag.”

“What else do you have in the bag?” he asked, suspiciously eyeing me snipping up photos.

“Nothing I wish to disclose, thanks.”

Jason got so carried away by the power vested in him that he signed all nine of my passport photos.

“Don’t want you coming back,” he said.

“Oh, come on. Are you trying to tell me I’m the dodgiest character you’ve seen all week?”

“Don’t know. You might have a bomb strapped to your waist.”

“No, no; it’s a foetus I swear.”

Policemen are MUCH more fun than Customs Officials. Except, I suppose, when they’re trying to get you to breathe into the nozzle.

Off I went to NZ Post to mail the application – which was where/when I found I’d forgotten my original passport.

Back at home, Andrew pointed out another problem.

I’m not even sure how to coherently relate this. Ok, so. Look. *sigh!* You see. On the form was a box for my signature. And I kind of panicked and put the wrong one. Well obviously it was my signature – I mean, I wrote it – only it didn’t look like it usually does. It’s like I had a fleeting personality change halfway through signing, resulting in a squirmy bit in the middle. I think I was intimidated by the stringent instruction to keep within the lines of the box, which was WAY too small to adequately express my personality.

In any case, after I had written my signature – outside the box, with a wobble in the middle – I realized it was supposed to have been witnessed by an authority figure.

So before going to the police station, I Tippexed it out.

It almost looked like I hadn’t touched it at all.

Jason hadn’t noticed anyway.

But THEN I got home and made the mistake of saying to Andrew, “Do you think it matters my signature’s blue?”

And he said, “No, but the TIPPEX MIGHT BE A PROBLEM.”

Seriously, I don’t know why I bother talking to him. It always ends in tears.

Since you can’t download the application form off the Internet, I sent off to the Consulate General of Ireland for another. Then I printed more passport photos and returned to the police.

I wasn’t looking forward to explaining The Tippex Affair to Jason – or persuading him I wasn’t stalking him. Apart from exceptional circumstances I’m not really into that and anyway, to be honest, I prefer firemen.

Thankfully Jason was off giving out speeding tickets, so I got Angela. She was evidently more clued in than Jason since she actually asked to see my ID. Although I’m glad I didn’t get her the first time around, because no doubt Angela would have detected Tippex.

However, when she went to stamp the back of my passport photo it rolled up into the stamp and, when she finally prised it out, my face was covered in blue ink.

The information pamphlet on how not to take a passport photo hadn’t mentioned anything about not having a blue face, so I licked it a bit and scrubbed it with a tissue from up Angela’s sleeve. I sent it off, even though I still looked like one of my recent ancestors was a full-blooded Smurf.

Two days later, the Consulate General of Ireland called to say our marriage certificate isn’t valid.

Public Service Announcement

For some time I’ve been struggling with existential questions. What is Deadlyjelly? Why? Is it really deadly? I mean, has anyone ACTUALLY died from reading my blog? – because if so, I’ve certainly never heard of it. And whither jelly? Why doesn’t it come in black and white? Should the definition be expanded to include other substances?

As you can see: so many unanswered questions.

Before I set up Deadlyjelly, I regularly – or at least frequently occasionally – personalised and mass-mailed up to 40 emails to friends and family. The administrative overhead was considerable. The coffee consumption was excessive. The arse spread was cheekily encroaching.

Consequently I conceived Deadlyjelly as a means of streamlining my correspondence.

To that purpose, it has failed. Of the relationships that previously existed when I set up Deadlyjelly, the only one that’s improved has been with my computer. As a communication tool, blogging is passive and largely one-way. People are more inclined to respond to an email that’s clogging up their Inbox like a gently steaming turd. I don’t have the bandwidth – either figuratively or literally – to blog and email (which kind of defeats the purpose anyway); and I’ve never embraced the concept of announcing a new blog post, which feels like advertising.

The result is that I’ve lost touch with many of my old friends – and I miss them*.

But that’s not all. Due to its public nature, I don’t blog about what’s really going on in our lives: the family feuds, the scandals, the disease and accidental murders. My blog sucks up a lot of creative energy that should be directed elsewhere. And Deadlyjelly has had little to no impact on arse spread**.

And so Deadlyjelly is going to change. Only in the regularity of posting, although I suppose that’s fairly fundamental. From now on, I will limit my posts to every Sunday, unless our week has been particularly action-packed, or Jed’s feeling photogenic.
* While being amazed and grateful for the new friends Deadlyjelly has introduced over the years.

** Still haven’t resigned myself to the inevitability of arse spread.

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.

Late breaking pics

Sitting here in Port Underwood on a sullen day, with mist shrouding the peninsula and the sea a chilly slate-grey, it is hard to believe that these photos were taken just over a month ago, in Ireland coming into summer.

All pictures are courtesy of the Wednesday Walking Group’s photographer, El Bruno.

I would like to point out that I did not buy the t-shirt, and only wear it for its sentimental value because a dear friend gave it to me. Also because I don't have any more. MarkJ, can you get me another? Preferably one that doesn't inspire strangers to approach me in the street and whisper, "I'm totally with you, that Angerlina Jolly is a slut." In fact, a t-shirt that would compel strangers to buy me coffee would be ideal. Thanks.

In addition to being a photographer, El Bruno is also a Frustrated Rock God - but then aren't we all?

 

Waterfall off the Old Kenmare Road: This is me contemplating the beauty of nature, whether my t-shirt covers my arse, and whether it matters since I'm sitting down.

  

The Wednesday Walkers (subset) L-R: Ann, Claudia, Niamh, Eileen.

I'm not sure I was on this walk, but I like this picture because you see the dude on the rock? The one with the ski-pole and two false hips? That's my dad; and I love the way he's perched up there, because that is so completely HIM.

 

L-R: Eileen, Claudia and Dad

The PR juggernaut rumbles into town

I was recently asked to do an interview for Bulgarian Cosmopolitan. I KNOW! When I was little, I thought my only chance of featuring in Cosmopolitan Magazine would be because my husband ran away with my mother, or for owning the world’s largest chihuahua. I’ve come a long way from The Limerick Leader.

And here it is pre-edit, in case anyone’s interested:-

I loved “Smart Casual”. What made you decide to write that book?
Why, thank you!

Look, to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing when I started Smart/Casual. How difficult could it be? – I could spell!

I had always been told ‘write what you know’, which is why I decided to set the story in a large corporation. I’ve always been intrigued by the workplace: every one is its own little microcosm with a unique set of politics, intrigue, villains and heroes. Office relationships are so tricky: even if you loathe them, you have to get along with your colleagues – a bit like your family, or the police.

Originally I conceived Smart/Casual as a satire of the Mills & Boon ‘she gasped as he pressed her to his glistening chest’ genre, but about five chapters in I feared that was a bit cheeky. Also, I was concerned the market for romance spoofs might be somewhat limited.

The book segued into a standard romance, until I got bored about halfway through and it turned into a kind of thriller romance supernatural murder-mystery, without the ghosts or corpses. Chick-lit if you prefer.

Don’t worry: it was edited a lot.

Has writing always been a passion of yours?
Not at all, I’d much prefer to be having sex.

I always liken writing to going to the gym: I put it off and put it off – I will vacuum rather than write. Then, when I get there, I am pleasantly surprised: hey! This isn’t so bad! And afterwards I feel all noble and worthy. In short: it’s a love/hate relationship.

However, I am passionate about making people laugh. I don’t have many talents (unless I count being able to play ‘chopsticks’ with my toes, which is difficult to work into a resume), but being able to write humour is one of them. I love having an outlet for that.

In the scheme of it, my grand passion – what makes my world go round – the one great love of my life – would have to be: coffee.

If it weren’t for caffeine, I would not be able to write and would probably have maimed and/or divorced my husband.

Do you find writing comedy difficult?
I think difficulty is relative to the type of writing you enjoy. For me, writing comedy is easier than ‘the moon rose like a silvery planet’ style of litter-chewer.

Jokes sometimes visit me at unexpected moments: driving, weeding, washing my hair. I always think I’ll remember them later, but never do. I’m convinced The World’s Best Joke Ever is one of those I thought of and forgot over the years.

I try to carry a notebook around to jot down creative brain burps. In desperate circumstances, I have pressed my hand into service, but then you have to find a pen . . . I find it easiest to record ideas on my phone, despite feeling like an arse talking to myself.

Otherwise, I write pretty much as I speak, although slightly more articulately (unbelievable as that may be). My friends who read Smart/Casual said they could hear my voice in their heads, complete with Irish pronunciation.

I can only imagine what a terrifying experience that must have been.

What is your writing process like? Do you have any special rituals or anything?
First I like to slaughter a chicken . . . oh wait, did you say special rituals for writing?

Apart from stapling myself to my desk, I don’t have a process as such. I wish I did, because it sounds much more effective than my random scattergun approach wherein I am often distracted by dolphins.

I can’t even open my laptop without a cup of coffee on emergency standby.

I like to write with my headphones on channelling Bruce Springsteen.

I prefer writing in the mornings, or just whenever I can pin myself down.

I beat myself with the guilty stick if I don’t write at least five hours a day.

I don’t believe in writers’ block. The most important thing is writing, preferably words. If stuck, I like the words ‘ficus’, ‘shinsplints’ and pretty much any swear word.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you so much for taking time to read Smart/Casual and I hope you enjoy it. My second book, About Time, was published at the end of April this year. I would be delighted if you bought it, so that no more chickens must die.

Overachiever

I admit it: I have an automatic Google search that informs me when Smart/Casual or About Time is mentioned on a website.

Mostly the alerts are about second-hand copies of my books for sale, but occasionally it is something else: The Ampersand Agency’s blog, the debut album from Kids in Glass Houses, or the Smart Casual Raiding Co. of Earthen Ring (“Someone talked to Tirion and decided we don’t need the strength of Wrynn buff – and we do not!” Don’t ask. Here. See for yourself and let me know if you have any idea what brand of mushroom they’re smoking.)

A couple of weeks ago, Google Alerts emailed me the link to this review of Smart/Casual, by Read in a Single Sitting. My critic was kind enough to award it 4 stars out of 5. That’s an A-, right? Well, it is in The University of Western Ontario, which doesn’t sound like the type of college where you can buy your degree at all.

So that would be the highest score I ever got for English Composition and, you know, I can only consider it a failing on my former English teacher’s part that she never likened my writing to:

a Jack Russell: small and with a lot of character, but once you get past the fact that it jumps all over you and tries to do the dirty with your leg, you can’t help but love it

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.

My life in a parallel universe

The last week has been a heady whirl of glamorous parties, premieres, photo shoots, and jet setting off to Monaco to sip truffle daiquiris on a super yacht with Caroline and the lads . . . No wait, that’s someone else’s life.

In mine, Husband returned and we spent the next three days making sweet sweet love when we weren’t enjoying candlelit dinners and floating candles on the balcony. Needless to say, we are not only exhausted, but also several kilos lardier! No wait, that’s not my life either – although it sounds like it should be only without the lard.

I’ve been busy writing my fifth runaway blockbuster, while engaged on an exhilarating schedule of global book tours, tv shows and – woah! Have I stumbled into a parallel universe? Hey – maybe it’s a future timeframe! Ooh, exciting. But in the meantime, I’ve been editing my second novel following feedback from my editor.

Two days after Husband arrived home, we embarked on an exciting round the world tour of many different, exotic locations to experience new things and see sights we had never seen before, like Niagara Falls.

Well, we flew down to see the Outlaws in Oamaru.

Close enough.

Today Jed and I were menaced by a herd of zombie cows.

Sadly, that one is true.

Still kicking ass in Kuala Lumpur

Smart/Casual has shot up to #9 on the best-seller list for the week ending September 2009. Ok, I’m still not sure to WHERE this best seller list applies. The whole of Malaysia? Kuala Lumpur? Seri Kembangan? The bookshop on the corner of Jelan Besar and Jelan Utama?

Oh, whatever, I don’t care. Any list in which I compete with Stephanie Myer, John Grisham and Tony Parsons has to be good (Dan Brown doesn’t count).  Never mind that I’ve beaten Sophie Kinsella into the #10 slot.

At this rate, Smart/Casual should hit #1 by 2017 (assuming optimal weather conditions and a natural decline in the popularity of vampire literature)

Ya know wha I is bein sayin iff?

I is bein da writin dis at da world wide web of da MarkJ. Dis is cos of da world wide web of Da House Of Jelly Dat Is Deadly bein in da poke, ya know wha I is bein sayin iff?

Yo may have bein noticin a degration of da grammer an da spellin, dis is because of da collabration wid da MarkJ an da Deadlyjelly. Da enproduk of dis juxtasition bein resultin in some funky Broho yo, da name of whim bein da callin of ‘Tab’ an what is bein wearin da jeans down aroun da knees da enproduk of wha is bein to stumbel aroun da place an trippin over da arm of da law wha is bein long an dough like in constancy. Ya know wha I is bein sayin iff?

Smart/Casual hits the medium time

This post is brought to you by a bestselling author. BECAUSE guess whose was the number 1 bestselling book in Malaysia for the week ending 2 August 2009?

If you guessed me, you would be wrong – but only slightly – certainly not so wrong as to be perverted.

According to – well, some obscure PR company – Smart/Casual was number 10 on the bestseller list, in like a bullet behind Stephanie Myer, Sophie Kinsella, Jodie Picoult and Dan Brown.

I’m not sure that the #10 slot qualifies me as a bestselling author, but I like to think that somewhere – Azerbaijan or Eritrea, say – Smart/Casual topped the bestselling charts even if only for a few fleeting seconds.

Hey, we all have our dreams.

Large MIG welder

Reasons I haven’t posted in the last few days:-

  1. A tragic event involving an aerial canine stunt, a loaded whisky glass and my keyboard. 

    Blame has been duly attributed to my Stepfather In Law, Agent of Death. It may have been my keyboard, but the whisky was under his supervision at the time. So, allegedly, was his dog. Looking on the bright side, there were no fatalities.

    The morning after the incident, the q, a, z, w, s, x, e, d, r, f and spacebar keys did not respond.

    Unlike my Compaq Evo, which once copped about three times as much pineapple juice, Husband’s attempts to wipe off the whisky with a squeegee were unsuccessful. Luckily, Husband had a spare keyboard and mouse in his wallet, so that I could continue . . .

  2. Finishing the second draft of ‘About Time’.

    My editor has been ridiculously patient, but I set myself a deadline to complete it by last Thursday. Since my first two deadlines were not wholly successful, I was determined to hit this one.

    I emailed the manuscript at 11:40pm after working on it all day (plus most of the previous year).

    Three seconds later, I received an out of office notifier from my editor. Bum!

    But at least I had it finished before setting off on . . .

  3. The road trip home with Husband, Dog, and a large MIG welder.

Stay tuned

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.)

Relativity

Last week I finished the first draft of About Time.

The pressure had been mounting for weeks.

At this point, it is worth bearing in mind that, everything being relative, our lives are comparatively stress-free. Right up there at the top of the Stress Scale is what to eat for breakfast, followed closely by when/where to go biking and whether I will get a flat tyre.

So I was totally unequipped for the extremes of anxiety leading up to The Deadline.

You will be glad to hear I epitomised grace under pressure. I was serene, confident and overflowing with gruntledness.

Regrettably – particularly for Husband – this physically manifested in an unpleasant shrillness of voice.

I am now waiting to hear back from my agent. Some might suggest that Peter does not pull his punches; others that he fights dirty.

I could not comment personally, since he might sue me for slander.

Also, see above.

I am, however, looking forward to his perspective (unfortunately, I misplaced mine). He will no doubt ask me to rewrite vast tracts of About Time – I’m guessing the last third, where I literally lost the plot – and it will be a better book for it.

I decided to take a week off and enjoy not having to write anything more creative than a shopping list. (Note: normally these are models of creativity with footnotes, appendices and surprising application of nouns. However, at the moment my shopping list consists of nothing more imaginative than mushrooms, ginger ale and scouring pads).

I am only just starting to feel half normal again.

Everything being relative.

Short and bitter

I would like to apologise for the trickle of blog posts lately. The reason for this is a mental cramp at the 80000 word mark on my second book.

People regularly ask how it is coming along. The most accurate response is a kind of hyperventilated scream. I suppose I’m getting there. The end is in sight. It is About Time. Not that I finish it – although I suppose you could say that if you were a particularly brusque sort of character – but the title.

Since there tends to be little creative energy left over for Deadlyjelly, I will steal from About Time and present to you, here, for the very first time, my favourite line from the entire book.

I am very proud of it and I sincerely hope you like it too.

Here it is:-

I took a moment to balance my fucking chi

Speaking of which, I’m going to go and do just that.

Please forgive me if my blog posts are short and sweet – or even short and bitter – for the next couple of weeks.

Normal reporting will commence soon.

x

Used bobcats

For the last couple of months, Deadlyjelly’s stats has averaged around 70 visits per day. I’m not sure why traffic hasn’t increased exponentially since my blog’s inception. Perhaps it’s because I don’t trawl the Internet making comments on other peoples’ websites. Maybe I need to increase the application of swearwords, or include more videos of me taking my clothes off.

Looking on the bright side: had my hits increased exponentially, the Internet would probably have blown up. So from that perspective, it’s a good thing.

A couple of days ago, the post Tractors Weekly: poor substitute attracted the following post:-

Long time lurker but felt moved to comment by this excellent post. Keep up the good work!

Now, I am a total sucker for flattery no matter how deficient of substance, but I was surprised that particular post had moved someone to express themselves. It poked some fun at my mother-in-law, which – although always entertaining although probably more for me than anyone else – is a cheap shot. Really, outside that highlight, the padding was relatively lacklustre. I didn’t feel it was my best effort.

At the same time, there’s no accounting for taste – or, for that matter, freakishness – so I spent considerable time crafting a response that was warm but not gushing, gracious without sounding needy, and grateful whilst editing out hints of desperation.

It was only after I responded that I looked at the poster’s username: ‘used_bobcats’.

Unusual, I thought.

Imaginative?

Maybe.

Then I followed the link and, er, it was a website selling – what d’you know? -used bobcats.

My official reason for deleting both comments is not my ingenuous response, but because Used Bobcats is not getting any referrals from me so there

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

How to avoid painful paper cuts

Before I started Smart/Casual, my greatest literary accomplishment was a Top Tip published by Viz.

I don’t know whether Viz claims copyright on Top Tips, but it’s not as if the bastards paid for it. In fact, all I got for my tip was an empty envelope with a Viz pen-shaped hole in the side. Since the transaction is still incomplete nine years later, one could argue that the following remains the intellectual and creative property of Niamh Shaw:-

Avoid paper cuts by carefully cutting off the sharp edges before handling

After this pinnacle of achievement I considered myself ready to move on to bigger things, so I started writing my first novel. My book was going to have it all: plots, twists, Ming the Merciless style villains, slaveringly handsome heroes, characters with depth and quivering emotion, maybe a dragon or two.

At the time, I was happily ignorant of the fact that I possessed not even half an iota of a clue what I was undertaking. I knew nothing about plot, technique, tension, pace, or the sheer scale of the project.

Smart/Casual started out as a parody of the general romance genre. Despite being a chick-lit fan, I was frustrated by the eroding quality in a market flooded with crap since the success of the original chick-lit queen, Marian Keyes. I could barely read them for all the eye-rolling they inspired. I figured I could do better than these half-dimensional characters, backfiring jokes, and wafer thin plots featuring contrived and/or implausible misunderstandings.

The first five chapters of Smart/Casual came effortlessly, possibly because they had little to no bearing on the plot, which had yet to be conceived.

Five chapters in, it struck me how arrogant it was of me – an unrepresented, unpublished, barely author – to send up the romance genre. Also, I realised there was probably only a small to non-existent market clamouring for that type of work.

At that point, the book morphed into a standard chick-lit style novel until, five years later and roughly halfway through, I felt the plot would benefit from the addition of a habanero chili or two. Whereupon it turned into a kind of comi-tragedy supernatural thriller murder-mystery without the corpses.

Kind of.

Please rest assured that the manuscript has been subjected to NUMEROUS editorial evolutions.

As has the title. It started out as ‘Memos to Self’, but there were no memos in the story. I changed the working title to ‘Plan Z’, but experienced similar issues with that (distinct lack of plans A through Y, never mind Z).

Smart/Casual was one of those 4am revelations inspired by a dinner of beans washed down with margaritas

Essay: How did you become a writer? – Discuss

When I was a little girl, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up:-

A long-distance lorry driver.

That was until I decided to follow a glamorous career as a princess. Then, at the age of 9, I realised my skill set was more suited to professional figure-skating. Unfortunately I never found the right doubles partner, so I set my heart on international espionage specialising in the termination of shady, highly placed political figures. I would have liked to have been a rock star, but I always knew that was more a sideline than a full-time career.

At no point did I consider writing as a way of life – and even less so when reality caught up with me. At school, English was not my best subject – although in fairness, neither was anything else. My annual reports gloomily chronicled my ongoing failure to achieve my potential (NB or anyone else’s). Even though teachers pronounced themselves ‘satisfied’ with my work, they never made that sound like a positive thing.

In college, I studied Applied Maths and Computing, mainly because with mathematics the answer is either right or wrong and doesn’t involve a ten page essay discussing the importance of the motive of revenge in calculating an answer.

When my application to the Irish Secret Service was rejected, I became a project manager (or if you don’t mind, I prefer frustrated rock goddess).

I moved to London in 1996 and graduated from letter writing to email, my preferred method for notifying my parents I was still alive. Occasionally I included heavily censored accounts of my life. It seemed pretty action-packed at the time, mainly because I was spectacularly self-centered. (My father had just been ordained as a priest, so it was inevitable bordering on cliche that I would hit a kind of delayed puberty at full throttle, which I celebrated by drinking inhuman amounts of alcohol.)

Two years later, I started sending friends 4000 word accounts of my experiences settling in the Middle East. Many responded suggesting that, if I had never considered writing, I really should. They might have been biased and/or delusional, but I was touched.

It was another year or two before I started taking it seriously.

In 2000, I took some time off between jobs to write. I wasn’t sure WHAT, but I had romantic notions of sitting at an antique desk in a sun-dappled room crafting a great literary work containing inspiring words like ‘shinsplints’ and ‘ficus’.

There were a number of reasons my 9 month sabbatical was a dismal failure. Mainly, it was because my writing desk was modern. But also, I underestimated how much I defined myself by my career and earning potential. I struggled with peoples’ assumption that I was dependent on Pre-Husband for financial support, and that I lay around all day snorting grapes and flirting with my muse.

It took another 7 years to complete Smart/Casual

Tractors Weekly: poor substitute

According to Amazon and my publishers, Little Black Dress, Smart/Casual came out on 2 April.

The Outlaws threw a launch party to compensate for Husband not being present to take me out for dinner. Had he been around, Husband would more likely have celebrated the grand occasion by hacking into Amazon’s website to see how many copies had been sold, and maybe agreeing to watch an episode of House instead of Top Gear. However, I was touched by Mother-In-Law’s high opinion of her progeny.

Despite the secret cake, candles and high levels of literary expectation, it was all a bit of an anticlimax. I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but the cake was slightly undercooked in the middle.

However, the main reason was the notable absence of the book. The Little Black Dress website stated Smart/Casual was ‘coming next month’, and instead of listing it as ‘This title has not yet been released’, it was ‘out of stock’ on Amazon.

We had to substitute a copy of New Zealand Tractors Weekly, but it was slightly less interesting and not as fictional. I offered to show The Outlaws the 879Kb Word document of the final manuscript on my laptop, but nobody seemed to feel that would really capture the moment

Clause prohibiting poodles in trenchcoats

Before signing with Little Black Dress, I requested of my agent that he add a clause to the contract stipulating that the cover contain no:

(a)  martini glasses
(b)  fluffy mules
(c)  female apparel in particular stilettos and/or mobile phones
(d)  poodles in raincoats

I know, I’m hard nosed.

Little Black Dress just sent through the cover for Smart/Casual, and here it is:-

0901-smart-casual-cover

I am not sure how the stray dog found its way onto the cover, but having examined it carefully I am satisfied that it is not wearing a raincoat. In retrospect, I’m rather pleased LBD ignored condition (c), since a heroine standing on the cover in the nip would probably give the wrong sort of impression.

Did you know apparel can also be applied as a verb? For example, I am often guilty of appareling the truth. I just discovered that, along with a dead spider stuck under the letter ‘g’ in my keyboard.

ISN’T THAT EXCITING? (Not the spider so much.) If you want to see the cover operating in an official capacity, here is the link to Smart/Casual on Amazon

The Seekers

When I was a kid, my parents had an LP of The Seekers, an Australian group who popularized the folk dirge. Maracas were an integral part of the group’s percussive strategy. ‘The Best of the Seekers’ featured classics such as ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’, ‘A World Of Our Own’, ‘Morningtown Ride’, and ‘Georgy Girl’:-

When I was a little girl, I used to look wistfully at the cover of this LP innocently lusting after style like Judith Durham’s. At the age of six, I thought the guy on the left was quite the fox. I used to listen to the LP over and over, and drop the needle repeatedly to the start of ‘The Carnival is Over’, the lyrics of which go:-

‘Now the harbour light is calling
This will be our last goodbye
Though the carnival is over
I will love you till I die’

I used to weep for the impossible love between the one-armed strong man and the bearded lady.

You can imagine my joy when I came across a Seekers CD on sale in Christchurch Airport last Tuesday. As soon as we got home, I put it in the stereo and turned the volume up full.

“What did I do?” asked Husband plaintively, in a quiet moment between ‘Open Up Them Pearly Gates’, and ‘Red Rubber Ball’.

“What?”

“I must have done something wrong for you to be torturing me like this. Are my ears bleeding?”

“These are CLASSIC SONGS!” I said, and I told him about my parents’ Seekers LP and Judith Durham’s dress with the bow and the frills and her satin shoes.

“I can just imagine your parents listening to this,” Husband muttered darkly.

“What’s THAT supposed to mean?”

“Just that it’s the sort of music they’d listen to.”

“Well they did, and so did your wife, and now you’re listening to it too. Ooh, I love this one!
‘But if I should lose your love, dear
I don’t know what I’d do
For I know I’ll never find another you-ooo-ooo!’

Husband stared at me in horror.

Regrettably, the Seekers declined in popularity because they weren’t raunchy enough for the seventies. This picture goes a long way towards explaining why:-

Operation Muppetation

Over two years ago, I closed my bank account with HSBC because they were not so much unhelpful as scrupulously useless. You can actually smell the apathy and unfulfilled potential from the street.

I wasn’t looking forward to persuading the bank to give me a clearance letter stating that my car loan of six years prior was closed. However, contrary to expectations, it took only minutes to make the request and sign a form. The document was ready on the appointed day; I paid Dhs 50 and left triumphantly waving my letter. Whilst marginally tedious and failing to qualify as a Kodak Moment, the whole experience was not fulsomely awful.

Until Husband told me it was the wrong letter.

Since I had agreed to transfer the car yesterday evening, there was no option but to return to HSBC. It was mid-day. I had to park the car in a tree and hike three miles on pavements that were melting in the heat. Having already spent the morning at the bank, and had my brain tortured by HSBC’s Customer Neglect Centre for ten LONG minutes, I arrived at the bank in what you might call spicy humour.

The lady who processed me was still in situ.

“My dearrr-”

“Don’t you my dear ME!” I snapped. This, it turns out, is not a prologue to constructive conversation leading to better mutual understanding and personal development.

Ten years in the Middle East has taught me that the louder one shouts, the better one is understood. Within a short period of time, the entire bank understood me pretty well – with the exception of its employees. Eventually, after working my way up the ranks of management to a dizzying level of ineptness, it turned out that the HSBC Bur Dubai branch did not issue clearance letters for car loans. For that, I had to go to a totally different building, which closed in an hour.

“Is there anything else I can assist you with, Madam?” enquired the Branch Manager as he fingered his comb over.

“Yanno, the question implies that you have already assisted me, whereas in fact all you did was charge me Dhs 50 for a useless letter and remind me EXACTLY why I closed my bank account with HSBC in the first place which, although possibly counting as significant personal achievements, did not actually ASSIST me AT ALL.”

“Please do not hesitate to call-”

“Oh like yeah and I’ll have a nice what’s-left-of-the-day, will I?”

In Deira, I arrived at the relevant office 40 minutes before closing time. At this point, I projected the personality of the Incredible Hulk in a pique or, if you prefer, a raging bitch.

“I’m here for a clearance letter. Car loan, six years ago-”

“Six year?”

“That’s correct. Here are the details: model, registration number, chassis number-”

“Sorry Madam, is closed.”

“You’re not. You shut at 3pm. It is currently 2:12pm.”

“Yes, but the letter, it take time-”

“Thirty seconds to access my record on the computer, twenty seconds to print out the letter, five seconds to sign it. I calculate that at less than a minute altogether – now, that’s what I call customer service.”

“But this file, it is old file-”

“So what?” I barked. “It’s on the computer system, isn’t it? Not as if you have to rummage around in a pile of boxes under the stairs-”

“But the man, who get the file, he is in meeting-”

“You’re telling me there’s nobody else IN THE ENTIRE BUILDING who can access my file?”

“Yes but no, the department, they are in meeting-”

“I’ll wait.”

“The meeting, is long meeting.”

“Listen,” I leaned in confidentially – although this proximity came with an inexorable urge to grab the front of his dishdash, scrunch it into a ball and staple it to his face. Repeatedly – “I’m not leaving here until I have a clearance letter clutched in my five sweaty fingers. I’m. Not. Leaving. You see that yucca over there? That’s what I will eat. You see that corner? That’s where I will sleep. You see this stapler? Don’t tempt me. For the moment, I’ll wait here. Ok?”

As I threw myself into a chair, my mobile rang. It was the HSBC Bur Dubai branch.

“Ms Niam? This morning, do you pay Dhs 50 for a clearance letter?”

“Yes.”

“There is problem. Our system will not accept this payment.”

“Woah, back up. Just- ok- would you- sorry but- could you remind me exactly why I give a toss?”

“<silence>”

“You know I paid cash, don’t you?”

“Yes. But our system, because your account it is closed, it will not take the money.”

“So you want to return it? Great! I accept cheques – with the appropriate amount of interest, of course – let’s say 8%, shall we? I’m feeling generous. You can make it out to Niamh Shaw, and mail it to One, Upyer Bum. That’s U-P-Y-E-R space B-U-M.”

“Maybe I will call you back.”

“Oh, please don’t.”

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