Wednesday 23 February 2011

Ginger Buzz

A few weeks ago I decided to give up alcohol.
I’ve often set myself the challenge but have never gone through with it.
A month without a drink has always seemed too cruel on my social life.
But this time I opted for just two measly weeks.
We drink a lot in Britain. Every occasion is an excuse for a beverage.
A long day at work is reason enough.
A short day at work is too. Well you may as well celebrate getting out early.
I wanted to see how I would feel without it.
I anticipated more energy and a clearer head.
The cravings began almost immediately.
On day 3 I had a dinner party to go to and I couldn’t consolidate the idea of bringing a bottle of wine and not drinking any of it.
I felt grumpy on the tube.
It was embarrassing how my mind was obsessed with the idea.
Why are you giving up anyway? The voice whined. Just forget about it. One glass won’t hurt.
I survived the dinner party without a drop.
In fact I didn’t survive it, I had a good time.
But the hard bit wasn’t over. The weekend was yet to come and the more I craved a drink, the more I realised I had to complete the challenge.
I didn’t drink on the weekend. I slurped (non alcoholic) ginger beer and considered taking up smoking instead.
Did I feel more energetic? Nope.
Was I getting up any earlier? Nope.
It wasn’t until the second week that I began to feel the benefits.
After a day of intensive writing I would finish with my mind still buzzing.
Instead of reaching for a glass of wine to numb the mad feeling that comes with being immersed in fiction all day, I felt driven to look for new writing opportunities.
There suddenly seemed to be so many exciting options out there; short story competitions, job openings and callings for magazine submissions.
On Valentine’s Day, the Fiancé took me to an Ethiopian restaurant.
I scanned the wine list hopefully then asked for a Guava juice.
The first sip of that exotic juice transported me straight back to a moment in Cuba three years ago.
It made me feel so happy.
I wouldn't have experienced that if I’d automatically ordered wine.
That’s what this challenge has been about: making drinking more enjoyable and less automatic.
Unfortunately, on the 14th day, sick of ginger beer and the rain, I succumbed to a beer.
In one sense I failed the challenge.
On the other hand I feel suddenly protective about my mental energy.
I can do so much more than I thought and until the first draft of my novel is written, I’m determined to be in control.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Cry-Baby on the Radio

I was on Woman’s Hour.
BBC Radio 4.
Stardom, it wasn’t.
The show was with Joe Brand and it was about crying.
I’d responded to the Woman’s Hour tweet: Does everything have you in floods of tears or do you find it hard to cry?
I replied honestly that most things moved me to tears, including episodes of MasterChef.
They asked me to call them directly and feeling there was nothing to lose, I did.
Two days later I was waiting on the phone and listening to the show in the background.
I was a caller without a surname.
I was a nobody who was inexplicably nervous.
“Mention your book,” said the Fiancé. “Say you cry when other people do well but you didn’t cry at your book launch of Shop Girl Diaries.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Yes you can.”
This was a potentially miraculous moment to commit some widespread publicity.
“Good morning Emily,” the presenter said, and I tripped up on my tongue.
It took me five seconds to confess I was a cry-baby and then I was tossed off the phone line.
Goodbye BBC.
The Fiancé sniggered on the sofa where he’d been listening with huge headphones on.
He’d recorded the moment because he’s high tech.
This meant I was able to listen to myself mumbling that though I didn’t follow Reality TV shows I only needed to be watching them for 30 seconds before my tears were flowing.
If I hadn’t been an amateur with 5 seconds to ruin, I would have explained myself a lot better.
I would’ve articulately described how I identify with all the contestants.
Whether they are cooking a bowl of lentil soup or dancing a tango, I get caught up in their story.
In an instant I think of all the hard work they must’ve done to get where they are.
I feel their passion and their hunger to be able to do what they love for a living and their drive that has pushed them to work at it while juggling a full-time job or school or while looking after five children and a severely disabled mother.
I feel their bitter struggle as if it were my own struggle to succeed as a writer.
When they succeed, I can’t control the tears welling up.
If they can do it then so can I!
Yet today I received a rejection e-mail from the literary agent I’d written to.
It was a standard letter of rejection which surprised me because we had met in person and I’d expected a more personalised rejection.
I’d been on a roll with my novel but after that e-mail I felt out of sorts.
For a couple of hours I fiddled about on the internet because I couldn’t face a new chapter. When I got round to it, it was at a sluggish pace.
Got to Dance was on the telly and I watched the semi-final as I worked through a sorry bowl of pasta.
It didn’t take long before I was moved.
Their passion was so inspiring, their excitement so genuine and their performances were brilliant.
One dancer who impressed the judges hadn’t even had the full support of her mother while she was training. At least my parents encouraged me to keep going.
They LOVED it and that’s what it’s all about.
Loving it and living it.
No I won’t stop trying.
One day I’ll be on BBC Woman’s Hour talking about a novel I’ve written.
I’ll have a surname and at least 30 seconds.
And I won’t cry.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Lazy Bride?

My wedding planning has been going very smoothly.
Mostly because I haven’t done any.
I don’t think I really like it.
Now I bet you’re wondering if I’ve got cold feet.
I haven’t.
My feet are under a cosy duvet because I’m in bed early.
Early because I’d rather snooze than examine the wedding menu that’s just been sent to me.
I catch myself worrying that I’m not obsessing enough about my big day.
I think I should be doodling designs for place names, gluing crystals to table decorations, flicking through catalogues of colossal cakes.
But I just picture all my friends and family eating outside in the sun and I feel satisfied.
The problem is they won’t be eating if I don’t sort out the food.
At least I have a venue and a church.
I even have a dress.
I walked into the shop, tried on four, and bought one.
Done and dusted far too efficiently. Even though it’s the perfect dress, surely I should’ve been traipsing around London for months looking for it.
This evening I told myself that wedding planning is like packing for a holiday.
I’m obviously excited about the holiday but I’m much less enthusiastic about the hard bit, the
choosing what to wear for more than one day in a row or in this case, deciding what menu, flowers, ribbons, readings perfectly reflect our true characters.
Then there’s the music.
I’ve just received a reply from a band which I contacted about playing at the wedding.
I press play and it’s like I switch on again.
I feel the enthusiasm tickling my toes.
The sun is setting over the coast and my family, who have finished eating the food that did arrive, are getting up to dance.
Panic over.
I’ve still got time to obsess.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

A Novel and 12 Guinea Pigs

So now that I’m not a Shop Girl I’m working at being a novelist.
Last week I sent off my first five chapters to an agent.
I’d met up with her last May after I’d won a Blog Award.
“I was actually thinking you might be good at teenage novels,” she said, after reading my synopsis.
I thought of snogging and slang and my mind went blank.
I said I’d try it out but instead I continued with my original plan.
The chapters I’ve sent are not for a teenage novel. This might prove problematic.
I’m hoping she miraculously finds some hidden genius in it worth pursuing.
I assume, being a pessimist, that she will give it a half-hearted tick and write, ‘better luck next time,’ at the bottom in pencil.
I rang her up before I sent them.
Sending off submissions without phoning first is for cowards. It’s what I’ve always done.
“Is today a good day?” I said, sitting on the dusty stairs of my shop, feeling butterflies in my stomach.
“I might take a while to get back to you,” she said.
“Take as long as you like,” I heard myself say and cringed.
She only takes one new client on a year which sounds far too discerning if you ask me.
The thing is not to believe that Agents are Gods with the power to make or break you.
They need writers as much as we need them, right?
I’ve got to play my part and get it written regardless.
So here goes.
I bought a half-price calendar covered in guinea pigs on the weekend to mark out my aims. (It was guinea pigs or nothing).
The difference between a writer and a successful writer is the first spends a lot of time buying stationary and talking about writing and the latter actually writes.
I will endeavour for this next crucial month not to get distracted by the usual temptations or the twelve guinea pigs.
So the blurb: Once upon a time in a land far away (depending on where you), there was a boy (well, he starts as a boy then becomes a man) who in a moment of incredible coincidence discovers that in a land far, far away (again, depending on your current geographical position) there is a girl he needs to meet....
Haha, look, the guinea pig is hiding under a book!
Is it tea time yet?