Mobile writing room

I have a lot of train journeys coming up.  I could have hired a car for but why? What luxury to be seated on a train with ever-changing landscape and fascinating tail-ends of cities to observe – all those gardens, kitchens, sheds and conservatories to look out on; all those other lives to imagine. The comfort of a rattling tea trolly or bar to visit, and conversations to listen into and jot down, AND you can write, think, muse and not have to steer anything except yourself occasionally to the loo.

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Apart from walking and swimming, I’ve probably had more writing ideas on trains than anywhere else – something about the movement and the gentle hum of voices and ready material all around.

I can still recall London train journeys from my childhood: sitting on bumbling old trains with that particular itchy seat cloth, looking out on stringy suburban gardens as we took an overground to Kew, or got off at Mortlake – or some other such marvellously bizarre named station. Clapham junction, Blackhorse Road, Wapping, Gospel Oak, Turkey Street, Seven sisters, Hatch End, Bushy . . . poetry in motion.

New approaches

I’ve tried approaching agents before but a tad half-heartedly – bang off the required pages and a quick fairly standard letter but after reading some generously – ‘put out there’ stuff by established authors about their own missions I thought, yep, the way to attack this is like any other styling or art project I’ve ever done: like a brief and thoroughly.

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I’m sleuthing now, not idly flipping through a few web-site pages. I need to find out what each person really wants: friendly warm approach or to the point information; potted life history or just facts about the proposed novel, or all of that or none of that. And above all will they cast an eye over the genre I am proposing and think, ‘God, no’. No point then. Move on.

So. What to do?

I gathered things I like: an old hardback book of music that husband never plays – now my sleuthing book to be filled with agent info, letters sent, dates etc; fountain pens, ink, nice paper et al, and made a special place where everything is ready to go anytime I have the time to work up another ‘dossier’ to send off.

They take time these compilations. Every submission requires a separate and different approach, different numbers of pages/chapters, short synopsis, detailed synopsis, reference to similar books, or not, etc. But it can be viewed as a challenge, each book submission something to be sure of and confident of. I need to be ready, after all, for when I receive that computer email ‘ping’ announcing We-like-the idea-of-your-book associates’s interest in seeing the whole manuscript . . .

I’m a writer, really I am.

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A well-established author acquaintance recently told me to say this in the morning when I look in the mirror – well, often half a day passes or more before I look in a mirror, but it was nice of him to say it as he meant it.

I have ‘been published’ – short stories and a children’s book but am seeking that real affirmation that what I do currently is as good as friends and contacts have told me – and that my work could be published and put on shelves in shops.

Hoxton got as far as submission and has been turned down after I had waited in that rather comfy little bubble of hope for a considerable time. Yesterday I moped a little but soon recovered knowing I just need to find the right person at the right point.

Here’s an extract from my other working novel, developed from a short story called The 158th Book, where the main character, Hamish (at this point in hospital after falling though a floor) asks himself the question: when is it OK to say you are a writer.

The ward is quiet this morning, just the sound of the squeaky-wheeled medicine trolley and my adjacent neighbour reading a crossword out loud. He stops, exasperated by a clue.

    “Hamish?”

    I turn, wincing a little at my shoulder’s protest.

    “Leroy?”

    “Dog crossing undefined wilderness sometimes in underwear’. First letter P.”

    I look at his old black face, grey eyebrows furrowed in friendly question and wish I could help. Crosswords always elude me.

    “. . . er. Something to do with the night sky?”

    He peruses the page again: “P . . . mm. Nope. What about, ‘oves snared within foliage’? Three words starting with S.”

    “Sheep-eating plant.”

    “ . . . . S. H. E.E.P. Yes . . . man, how’d d’you know that?”

    I’m stunned myself. “I just remember feeling horrified that there is actually a plant that reaches out and grabs large animals.”

    “Not in London?”

    “No. Peru, I think. Although, apparently brambles can do the same thing.”

    “Blackberry plants can eat sheep?”

    “Not as such. It’s the thorns . . . the sheep gets stuck as it tries to free its wool from the plants, gets more stuck and eventually dies, thus nourishing the bramble bush – for ever pretty much considering the size of the animal.”

    Leroy looks impressed. “What did you say you do?”

    “I’m a writer.”

    He nods, smiles and goes back to his crossword and I sit there thinking about that phrase. ‘I’m a writer’. Do you become a writer when someone with special powers says so – like a chief editor at a major publishing house? Or are you allowed to just say, ‘I’m a writer’ if you write?