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Lost in a good book…

This weekend, I spent a reasonable amount of Saturday editing and an equivalent amount of Sunday reading. Guess which one I got more pleasure out of?

Of course, being me, there was also a lot of hmm, what’s he doing here and how can I get a similar effect going? I find it wonderful that books can both entertain and make you think, truly multi-tasking entertainment.

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I have been lucky enough to produce a book and count myself even luckier to be able to hear, directly from readers, what they thought of it…

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What you really need to be a writer…

Out of interest, I typed ‘what you need to be writer’ into Google. Any guesses as to how many results? Go on – no, up a bit. 88 million (and an odd 100k). I had a look at a few and the majority stressed the skills you needed, like good language skills; the ability to generate ideas and persistence. A number of famous writers have also opined on the subject, possibly the most famous being Virginia Woolf’s comment that a woman needs a room of her own.

Of the two, after my recent experience, I am in team Virginia. I write on a laptop while commuting. Recently, my laptop has developed a fault and no longer types the letters a, s, d, l, or one side of the shift. I’m stuck (especially as I have characters called Lorraine and Chloe).

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I once read a very clever novel Ella Minnow Pea which described the experience as a community gradually banned the use of letters, restricting language and consequently thought and action. The prose became ever more dense until life becomes a nightmare. With only a little exaggeration for effect, I am stuck in this nightmare scenario, unable to edit until I can get to buy a new laptop. I sometimes think it would be easier to go back to the days of paper and pen, until I hear a fellow-writer, who writes longhand, say that she manages 200 words on a good day. Sigh, technology – can’t write with it, can’t write without it…

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Visibility…

Today, March 31st, is transgender day of visibility, a day to celebrate the lives and achievements of transgender people. Why am I marking it? Because I believe we have a long way to go before we treat everybody equally and also believe that visibility is big step to gaining the acceptance that leads to equality. So, I’m saying I’m an ally and I am proud to say so on #TDOV.

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The need for days like these is shown by a recent UK article about whether trans women are ‘real women’ (my response Could a Real Woman step forward, please?). Well, there is a chance to really make that point. Dead Good books have launched a reader vote for favourite elements from crime books – one of the categories is for Fearless Female. My book, He’s Gone, feature DI Robyn Bailley on her first days after her transition. I’m asking for nominations for Robyn in this category – to vote, go to Dead Good Reader Awards, scroll down, then enter DI Robyn Bailley, (He’s Gone) Alex Clare. Thank you.

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Hard work? Not with a little help…

Pleased with myself this week as I finished the fourth draft of the follow-up to He’s Gone. A second book is an odd creature, standing on it’s own but holding the hand of the first book and looking towards any future works. Getting this draft done was particularly satisfying because a) it was on time and b) it came during a particularly busy period in the real world. While writing during a work-hiatus is one thing, editing requires focus and concentration, which have been in short supply recently.

One thing that kept me on track was some incredible feedback from a reader. This is one of the joys of Twitter – you are in touch with your readers. She was kind enough to point out some areas where my facts were out of date and was generous with her experiences, allowing me to use them in the next book. I have been so lucky with people who are prepared to talk to me. It both improves the story and reaffirms my enthusiasm, making even editing fun.

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So, I now intend to have a couple of weeks off and read as much as I can get my hands on. My TBR pile has already required the purchase of a new bookcase – I considered for about a micro-second not buying any more books until I had got the pile down to a more manageable size, then I had to sit down because I was laughing so much…

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Could a Real Woman step forward, please?

I read an article in the Sunday Times magazine today (05/03/17 Sunday Times). The long-time host of Women’s Hour Jenni Murray has written ‘Be trans, be proud – but don’t call yourself a “real woman”’. Her concern is that those who transition bring their privilege from a male upbringing with them.

I am a firm believer in free speech and the arguments were presented reasonably. However, as I read it again, the urge to point out a basic flaw in the reasoning became compelling.

There is a fairy story called the Princess and the Pea. A bride-hunting prince rejects lots of apparently eligible women because they are not ‘real princesses’. In the middle of a stormy night, a knock comes on the castle gates and in walks a bedraggled creature. For a reason that is never explained, the prince’s mother senses something about the wretch and gives her a luxurious bed of multiple mattresses. In the morning, the guest is asked how she slept and she complains she could not get comfortable because of a lump in the bed. The Queen admits she placed a pea under the bottom mattress. The guest is revealed as a Real Princess because of her extreme sensitivity, cue royal wedding bells.

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Even as a child, I had a number of problems with this story, which can be summed up by the feeling that anyone who was that precious about a tiny pea must have been a real pain to have around (and that she and the picky prince deserved each other). And yet here we are arguing about the concept of a real woman. I will say that I am not sure anyone can call truly themselves a “real woman” because I don’t believe such a creature exists. Or, as another way of looking at it, there is no single version – instead, there are infinite varieties of “real woman” to match the different perceptions of the role of women through time. If you take a snapshot from any one of these realities, you could exclude lots of people from being “real women” – to pick a few examples, those working; lesbians; people without children, there are lots of possible reasons.

Looking at myself, I have the obvious external biological markers of a woman but these can be put in place by surgery. If you discount these elements (which most critics of trans people do), exactly what is it that makes me so sure I am a woman? To help, I can look at examples of the women that are celebrated by the media but I certainly don’t look or act like them. What that leaves me with is just my own conviction that I am a woman. Whether I am “real” or not seems academic, another excuse to label people into ever-smaller boxes. I’m going to continue being me and I will celebrate the diversity of life with anyone who wants to be themselves, whatever you call yourself.

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Another pair of eyes…

My excuse for the distinct lack of blog posts recently has been sheer laziness being very busy finishing the third draft of my second novel ready to go to beta readers. All of a sudden, the text goes from being something I can kick around to something that has to pass muster with other eyes. All sorts of questions pop up:

– the scene based on the new bit of back-story that came to me in a flash of inspiration one evening: will it make an iota of sense to anyone else?

– am I repeating too much of book 1? Or will it make no sense unless you’ve read the first one?

As with most things, the answer will come soon enough. And one of the most interesting things about getting other views is that they are likely to be different. For everyone who thinks there is too much exposition, there will be someone who wants more detail. And the best thing is, they are all right because the joy of reading is that it is so subjective and we all take different things from books (and even from the same book on a second read).

So, for the next couple of weeks, I will be writing a play and a couple of non-fiction articles, to clear my head so that when the comments come back from the wonderful people who have offered their time to help me, I will be another pair of eyes too..

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Walking to where?

This is a painting by someone I used to know, a writer and artist. She’s dead now but her images and stories are still here and giving pleasure. She used the theme of figures walking to an unknown destination a lot – when I look at her pictures, I always want to know where they are going and why.

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One of the reason I think these images resonate we me is because you don’t know the character’s destination. It is such a contrast to life in general, where everything you do is supposed to have a purpose.

It’s a bit like this blog. You must have a blog, they* said. It’ll get you noticed they said.

* They = people who are supposed to know about how to promote yourself as an author.

Well, I found out this week that someone actually reads it (waves). I feel a sudden sense of responsibility that this has to be more entertaining / amusing / erudite (delete all of the former) than before. Unfortunately, I generally find myself writing here when something annoys me and I want to scratch it, like a scab which is why about the best I can aim for is sardonic. (Very annoyed I can’t say sardony). These ramblings are neither a cutting-edge promotional tool nor a how-to guide to writing, just the musings of somebody who is generally pretty positive and purposeful but occasional needs to give herself a talking to.

So the point of this column – I’m not sure there is one. And that is rather the point…

 

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