Friday, 24 October 2008

Computer says no

They’re supposed to make our lives easier, aren’t they? But ever since mere mortals have been let loose in the world of IT there’s never been a bigger time waster. Tried internet banking yet? In the old days, the nice bank clerk would take my cash deposit and write my balance on a slip of paper. And smile at me. They’d set up my standing order, direct debit, whatever I like. They’d even give me a receipt for my records. Now, I have to do it all myself. Print the damn thing off using my own paper (and not, I might add, nicked from work). I am transferring this, transferring that. I am the banker in my spare, precious time.
Log on, remember the correct login name, password, keyword, passcode. I write them all down – sharp intake of breath – because how am I supposed to remember when I have ebay, paypall, facebook, egg card, googlemail, yahoo all on the go?
And as for my new best friend Norton. When he works, he’s brilliant. That little friendly green tick that tells me I am safe from ‘bad men’ on the web. But when he gets a cob on and a red tick appears – I’m terrified. What can this mean? How long have I got before my precious hard drive begins to self-destruct? And the emails from ‘support’ are no good. Every single step they tell me to take is not what appears on my screen. IT support bods must be continually rolling their eyes at the likes of me who whine: ‘I can’t work the key, you know the tab, the button, the thingy.’ Computer bods mostly just tell me to switch it off and on again. Usually does it.
But then, when it works and the whole of the web is laid before me, how great is that? Must be the best invention, ever. Sharing info, reaching people in an instant, checking the weather, checking the form. Having a bit of a nose.
As a writer, my lap top is an absolute miracle. Imagine having to type and retype every time there’s so much as a typo, messing around with carbon paper, dabbing on oceans of Tippex. I learnt to touch-type on a cranky old metal manual more years ago I care to remember right now (in the year BM - before mobiles). Blind carbon copy, anyone? I wouldn’t go back.
Computer says, all right then.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Feels like home

Two years ago – remember that long hot summer we had? – I cursed the Metropolitan line. The weather was blistering and, because the tracks were melting, the trains had to go at snail’s pace through the boiling suburbs. The only ‘air-con’ on those creaking old carriages are the pull-down windows. If I was lucky and the train got up a bit of ‘lick’ a breath of air might just puff through the throng of passengers. But now – good news – Mayor Boris is going to gift us Metroland folk with brand new air-conditioned trains. And I’m feeling a little bit put-out.
Born and bred in Harrow and commuting for twenty-three (count them) years, I have a love-hate relationship with the Tube. Missing a train by seconds due to signal/points malfunction has me spitting with rage, but sometimes, seeing that familiar silver-grey train rumbling in to the platform exactly in synch with my travel plans, it’s like greeting a long lost friend.
The pleasingly retro maroon livery and the high-backed seats get me all misty-eyed; they are trapped in another era. Think between the wars, Brief Encounter and Betjeman. I love the way I can start my journey on the Met Line in the deepest rural Chilterns, stay on all the way to Liverpool Street and emerge where the city meets the East End and plunge straight down Petticoat Lane. Whether chugging through leafy Bucks, past the semis and back gardens of Harrow or over the high Kilburn viaduct where it seems the whole of London is laid before me, I feel comforted. I’m either on my way somewhere exciting (well, most often work, but then again my work is in London, the finest city in the world) or I am on my way home.
Thing is, I feel at home on the Metropolitan Line. Air-con comfort or not, I fear Boris’s new carriages will change all that.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

End of Part One

I am feeling mildly pleased with myself: 44,ooo words are in the bag and Part One of my new novel is in the post to my agent. I want feedback, of course. I want to know I’m on the right track. I also want a reward; a pat on the back. I'm nearly halfway through the new book and am going to treat myself to a break from staring at my lap top screen.
The morning is too beautiful to ignore. This is it, everyone, our Indian summer. I haul my rusty, trusty old bike out of the shed, brush off the spider webs and hope nothing eight-legged and sinister is lurking under the seat. I pump up the tyres, fill my water bottle, put on all the gear… it takes so long! Nearly give up and think I’ll just go for a run instead. But at last I am whizzing, wheezing, out of my little home town into deep Chiltern countryside. The thing about "round here" is that it is very hilly. I have to plan my route with care to keep the tally low. Without going all "Country File" on you, it really is exquisitely beautiful. Towering hedgerows, shaded copses, glittering meadows. Scarlet rosehips, glowing blackberries, leaves on the turn.
Whenever I set out early on a Sunday morning, there are always joggers, dog walkers and horse riders who all nod and say "morning". It’s like a little smug gang up and about so early, not a hangover in sight. And, as I heave my way up a particularly brutal slope, I am guaranteed to be lapped by an old boy in his sixties, thin as a whippet, clad head to toe in lycra, zipping past on his racer like a streak of lightning.
I know I’ve probably gone too far when, instead of enjoying my surroundings, I start thinking about getting home for a cup of tea and a slice of cake. But, I keep telling myself, all this peddling is good for the mind as well as the body. When I finally reach the brow of a hill and see the lane falling away into the valley below, I know this is my reward. I lift up my feet and free wheel, whooping like a little girl. As I pick up speed and hurtle down the slope, ideas and imagination flow, and writer’s block is blown clean away, just like all those cobwebs and the odd lurking spider that decided to hitch a lift.

Monday, 8 September 2008

A Season of Leaves, week one

Hello and welcome to my first-ever blog. How exciting is this? Well, it is for me, so please bear with me. As the description on the title page of my blog explains, I am a budding author and my first novel, A Season of Leaves, has hit the shelves. How hard, is difficult to assess, and I think, as a first-time, little-known writer, it's going to be a slow burner. Let's be realistic here.
When I finally pull myself away from checking it out on Amazon, I will get on with writing novel #2. I am 31,000 words in, and counting, and have taken this week off work (ie my day job, which I shouldn't give up yet) to try to increase the amount of words to satisfy my agent, my deadline - and indeed myself.
I pull myself out of bed, make a cup of tea, and force myself to sit at the computer before day to day worryings get in the way of creative flow. Sometimes, the words and phrases - and plotlines and characters having conversations all on their own - are there, like a tenuous, barely remembered dream, just within my grasp. If I think about anything, like putting the washing on or feeding my cat, they've gone. But I write, therefore I am. So I have to do it. And it can be lonely. Joanna Trollope has said that writers often feel they are outsiders, and I agree. I sit back and absorb and remember. And scribble unintelligable notes in notebooks that invariably get left on Tube station platforms. And then, there is that moment when it all slips away. I think that's called writer's block and normally hits me around 5pm, when I save everything, put it on my 'memory stick' and go downstairs for a glass of wine. I wish I could give up my day job for this.