So, here we are at 2013. No more procrastinating. Those of you who follow my blog will know that I’m now about to face some really big questions about my future direction. Do I go independent with my next book? Should I rely on Amazon, given their questionable moral leanings? How far am I prepared to go to promote and market myself? What about an agent? Do I join the ranks of Twitterers or do I not? That kind of thing.
Now, I have to admit, I’m in the top league when it comes to self-criticism. I always think I could and should have done better – with pretty much everything I do. And all the stories of Olympic success this past year seemed to highlight my own mediocrity, so towards the end of 2012 I confess I was feeling rather underwhelmed by my prowess in the literary stakes. But then I gave myself a severe talking to, and decided I should leave dubious emotional response on one side, and apply cold clear logic to the task of analysing where I’m at, before thinking about where I want to be, and a possible route there.
And that’s how I came to be looking back over 2012 at the opportunities that came my way, and I was actually surprised by the number of invitations that arrived on my doormat (or desktop) that recognised the niche I’m trying to fill. Guest blogging. Sitting on panels. Chairing debates. Leading workshops. Visiting reading groups or society meetings. Speaking to students. Challenging, stimulating, and rewarding experiences all. Oh, and fun.
However, an agent I approached in the summer (in a kind of last ditch approach) didn’t respond (their way of saying no). Spirits plummetted. Ahah! Emotional response again. Dispassionate logic though reminds me that JK Rowling‘s Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury bought it. (How sick must they be?) Did JKR, I wonder, get a sinking feeling?
Moral of the tale? Don’t give up. Think positive. Look forward. New year: new opportunities. There’s a horrible tendency with most of us to home in on the negative – massacres, wars, murders, abuses, rejections, failures. But in truth there’s lots to be cheerful about. As The Spectator put it in its leader a couple of weeks ago, viewed objectively, 2012 was the best year ever to be a human being! Here’s hoping that 2013 is even better for you all.
Commiserations to all of you who’ve pre-ordered Saving Sebastian from Amazon but still not received it. I’ve done my best to find out what the delay is but action hasn’t followed promises, I’m afraid. It’s available from The Book Depository and Luath Press but somehow has only this morning been processed at Amazon. Believe me, I’ve been grinding my teeth on your behalf.
Frustrating to say the least, so I’ve been immersing myself in other things – writing, reviewing, interviewing, reading, partying, preparing workshops …
And in between vaguely debating within myself : Shall/should I go to see the film about Margaret Thatcher or shall/should I not?
Pros: My long-standing interest in and involvement with dementia. I spend time most weeks with people whose lives are affected by it. My own mother developed it. I’ve written a book about it, Remember Remember. I’ve read piles of other books about it – fiction and factual. I care very much about the way people with dementia are treated.
Cons: an instinctive concern about the ethics of the film being made while Baroness Thatcher is still alive. Is it morally right? Would she agree if she were able to give properly informed consent? Plenty of people have been quick to criticise.
But this week I overcame my reservations and went to see it. My thinking and rationale: I should make up my own mind about the wisdom and rightness of it all, based on the reality, not judge it without a hearing.
I came away surprised by my own conclusion.
Meryl Streep is superb as The Iron Lady herself. Brilliant acting, brilliant makeup, brilliant screenwriting. How someone can inhabit a character to that extent, and be as much Mrs T in her eighties as in her forties, is a mystery to me. She richly deserves all the plaudits and honours coming her way.
Some of the supporting cast are less credibly the big political and family names of the time, but that was a minor distraction. One can readjust without losing too much most of the time.
The depiction of dementia is gentle and sensitive. The reality can be a hundred times worse. The ageing MT/The Boss Lady/Mrs T may be muddled about what’s real, and talk to Dennis (whom she can still see), and struggle to keep up with conversations, but she remains dignified and decently clothed and largely independent. It’s probably sanitised; I don’t know how badly affected the real Lady Thatcher is, but it is altogether appropriate and respectful. And yet a believable portrayal of dementia. The repetition, the confusion, the delusion, the focus on the past, the haunting fear.
Curious and unexpected, though, was the effect on my feelings about the woman herself. Yes, as the Prime Minister she was shown at her most strident and dictatorial, convinced of her rightness both at home and on the world stage. But because we were seeing her power years through the soft focus lens of her dementia, they were somehow muted. Perceiving her as vulnerable, doubting, fearful, unsure of her role in the past as well as the present – well, I felt a huge warmth and concern for her. How good to extend that sympathy now while she is still alive.
I wanted to reassure her when she quaveringly wonders if Dennis had been happy, when she faces the fact that her adored son is not coming to see her, when she packs the last pair of her husband’s shoes in a black bag and says yet another last farewell. You did what you thought was right at the time. You had the courage to stand up for your principles. You made your mark when the opportunity presented. Now let it rest, concentrate on today. Savour each lucid moment, every happy thought. While you still can.
Another realisation came to me as I watched. Somehow the hallucinations and fluctuating memories make a perfect vehicle for conveying an extraordinary life in 105 minutes. I couldn’t have borne an hour and a half of political posturing and unflinching dogmatism. I had no difficulty staying with the meanderings of an old lady clinging to the past; the riots, the war scenes, the speeches, the lectures, brief glimpses through the fog of a clouded mind.
Would I feel the same if I were Carol Thatcher? I don’t know. But that’s more to do with what the film says about family relationships within the Thatcher household than about portraying her mother’s dementia.
So, contrary to all expectations, I personally think the film has the potential to do positive things for those affected by this illness, as well as for the lady herself. Not my favourite film of all time but I’m glad I went to see it.
It’s a bit like buses. After waiting ages for a book to come out, two come out in one week! Yes, Saving Sebastian is actually in my hand. Looking beautiful too. A rousing cheer for Tom Bee the cover designer.
Dr Justin Blaydon-Green has his hands full. Three teenage daughters at home, one of whom is mixing in some dubious circles. A brilliant colleague at work antagonising the staff in his lab and dabbling in dangerous experiments. A cheery technician in the lab constantly quoting Oscar Wilde. A Nigerian couple, treated for infertility nine months ago, who’ve just given birth to twins, one of whom can’t possibly be their biological child. And now a beautiful young woman appealing for help to save her four year old son dying from a rare blood disorder. Just how far is Justin prepared to go before his world disintegrates?
Read all about it!
My publisher decided to give this book a sticker saying If you like Jodi Picoult you’ll love Hazel McHaffie. (Hmmm.) And a challenging strapline: How far would you go to save the life of your child? I’ve just finished reading two other books from the States which adopt a similar tactic (more of that in a later blog), so my mind has been toying with the implications. But I’d love feedback from you as to whether it helps or hinders in my case. You know about my personal ambivalence when it comes to Picoult.
The second book is an extremely limited print run: Professor Devine’s Emporium.
No Amazon links for this one! Thanks to DJ burning many candles into the night, the children’s story was ready for our self-imposed deadline, the first family birthday of 2012 – today! Happy Birthday, Lauren!
It runs to 119 pages and includes 151 pictures, so it’s a totally different production from the 355 pages with no pictures of Saving Sebastian. But I’m just as delighted to see it completed. And I know this one will be well received by every single person who gets a copy!
Wahey! It’s official. McHaffie novels have now launched into the ether!
Yes, as promised, an update on the ebook saga. (For any newcomers to this site I’m in the process of converting books from my backlist into electronic versions, and some of my visitors have requested information on the nitty gritty of a writer’s life.)
The first stage was surprisingly painless. Following advice from various people in the Society of Authors, I (with DJ’s invaluable assistance) duly researched Smashwords and set about applying their format to my Word documents. Everything went swimmingly and the three books duly went through the vetting process with flying colours. Here’s the evidence. So far so encouraging.
Then … of course, there was bound to be a ‘then’. Smashwords informed us that they wouldn’t be able to issue the Kindle version until December at the earliest. So readers who use Sony or Apple or Kobo or Barnes & Noble or Diesel or Aldiko or Stanza machines can access them, but not Kindle people. Ahhhh. Pretty much every e-reader I know uses a Kindle.
OK. Never say die. We’ll convert it ourselves via Amazon. More careful research, and off we go, full of confidence after our breeze through Smashwords.
Except that the theory didn’t quite match the practice. Most things worked in the main, but weird illogical aberrations cropped up without rhyme or reason – with indentation and formatting and pictures. Only detectable in the downloaded version too, not on preview. (So what exactly is the point of a preview facility, then?) DJ, bless his cotton socks and unlimited patience, spent many solid hours plumbing the depths of each problem, and putting it right. And this week we’ve FINALLY cracked it. Vacant Possession, Paternity and Double Trouble are all now available to Kindle users.
We’ve learned a lot in the process, and hopefully future conversions will be less troublesome. And there’s a silver lining: I shan’t now be so sniffy about errors in the books I download in future, but spare a passing sympathetic thought for the poor unfortunate who had neither the time nor inclination to check every last page.
Oh, and if you find an error in one of mine, do let me know. One of the advantages of having the process in my control.
As I briefly mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m a recent pilgrim to the review blogosphere.
Now, I freely confess it, I’ve been overtly sceptical about social networking sites. Come on! Get out into the real world, make flesh-and-blood friends, explore life in all its richness. That kind of reaction. But since I joined Facebook myself, (on the solemn advice of those-who-know in the literary world, I hasten to add) I have revised my opinion: the two are not mutually exclusive. You can have warm touchy-feely actual relationships and still have meaningful contact with geographically distant friends or link up with folk from the past electronically.
The same goes for reviews. There’s more than one way to skin a rabbit. Time was when authors relied on newspapers, magazines, radio shows, etc to bring their books to public attention. A good review in a broadsheet? Extend the house; book that exotic holiday. A bad review? Reach for the whisky; stick pins in an effigy. No review? Empty the Prozac; steal into the nearest burrow, leaving a note. But with the decline of literary editors, the rise of the celebrity cult, and the increasing struggle of small independent publishers, times have changed. So it’s good news for non-celebrity authors hovering somewhat below the plimsoll line of bestseller. There’s a whole new review world out there accessible by the touch of a computer key!
And I’m not just talking about Amazon reviews. Everyone knows they can be written by proud parents, press-ganged friends, and even by unscrupulous authors themselves. No, I’m thinking of very readable blogs written by well-read, articulate bookaholics who give measured and honest appraisals of a vast range of books. Some of them have huge followings of equally avid booklovers, ready to pick up on the books that appeal to them, even occasionally add their own tuppence-worth. Great stuff for authors. As you can see, I’m full of the zeal of the newly converted!
But don’t take my word for it. Have a look for yourselves. A good place to start is with an exceptionally good example … or two … or four … or … Well, a few of my personal favourites are Cornflower Books, Dovegreyreader Scribbles, Farm Lane Books, Meandmybigmouth and Vulpes Libris (alphabetical to avoid playground squabbles).
But be warned … you could be gone some time!