while waiting #am reading

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I’d thought by now that I’d be regaling you every day with stories of offers pouring in from agents, but apart from a few immediate rejections, there has basically been complete radio silence from the seven or eight agents currently considering my Bath Novel Award shortlisted manuscript, even from those who expressed initial enthusiasm. Maybe they’re all on holiday. Let’s hope so.

So in the absence of any writing news (except to say that I’m still plodding on with the next novel in the gaps between work, afternoon naps, and the Kardashians), let me tell you what I’m reading. The “bedside pile” has been a staple of my blog posts over the years; it’s been pretty small recently (it used to be enormous) as I do most of my reading on my Kindle these days, but above is a photo of the current pile. Starting from the bottom, there’s a rather out-of-date Bangkok guide book and then a teach-yourself-Thai book, both hand-me-downs from two colleagues who recently left Thailand, my current home, and probably my least favourite of all the Asian countries I’ve lived in (for reasons that I might share with you one day in another blog post), which is why they sit unopened at the bottom. The next two, Dear Life and The Buried Giant were both presents from my mum; I read one of the Dear Life short stories a while back but I’m not really in an Alice Munro mood at the mo (and I’m rarely in a short story mood; reading for me is escaping into another world and you can’t really escape for long in a short story). I started The Buried Giant last week and although dystopia is not my thing, I was immediately drawn in by the protagonist couple, but then yesterday I found myself in town with a few hours to kill and nothing to read so I went to the wonderful Kinokuniya bookshop intending to buy one book and came out with the three that now grace the top of the pile. The Lisa McInerney book I’ve seen touted a lot on Twitter (so it does work!)—had a quick flick through and really liked the voice. The Finkler Question I bought because the aforementioned colleagues who gave me the Thai books also bequeathed me Howard Jacobson’s The Mighty Walzer which is very funny, even though it’s about table tennis. And at the top of the pile is The Rachel Papers which I’ve been reading since yesterday and is hilarious and brilliant even though the casually sexist seventies language (“I spoke to key tarts in the University Administration complex and finally got on to the Tutors”) makes me flinch a bit. But my love for Martin Amis has already been documented. Kazuo Ishiguro will just have to wait.

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reader’s block

Yup, got that too. As with my previously documented ailments, blogger’s block and writer’s block, it’s not that I’m not reading at all. Ever since I was old enough to read by myself and started working my way through the entire Enid Blyton catalogue, I’ve always had a book on the go. But it feels like a long time since I haven’t been able to put a book down, or since I went to bed early because I couldn’t wait to get back to the world of the book I was reading. I’ve read some books this year that I know objectively to be good, like Anne Enright’s The Green Road and Lauren Goff’s The Fates and the Furies, and I did enjoy them but not in a wholehearted way, if that doesn’t sound too ridiculous. Perhaps my own struggle to get an agent and a book deal has made me self-conscious not just in my writing but in my reading: unable to take simple pleasure in someone else’s writing without that little nagging voice in my head telling me I’ll never be as good as them so why am I even bothering to write? Or perhaps it’s something else—I once read an interview with someone, someone famous I think but whose name I can’t recall, who said now that he is in his seventies he doesn’t bother listening to the news any more because he’s heard it all before. In other words, once you get to a certain age, there is nothing new in the world. Is it the same for reading? Have I reached the age where I am so jaded that there is nothing in a book that could excite or move or enthrall me again? That would be awful. So I am battling on.

At the moment I’m reading Independence Day by someone called Richard Ford, which I came across when browsing on Amazon. It’s oldish, written in the mid-nineties and set in 1988, and I guess I was hoping for one of those resurrected classics like Revolutionary Road or Stoner, but its miniaturist account of a few days in the life of a man in the throes of midlife crisis trying to repair his relationship with his teenage son hasn’t really resonated with me although the writing is nice. I have kept going though—for what seems like months—and today my Kindle tells me I have at last read 96% of it—hoorah! I’m looking forward to starting Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible next; a modern version of Pride and Prejudice apparently. This may not be the best choice to cure the reader’s block as I really don’t like Jane Austen, but I do like a bit of Curtis and I loved American Wife, so fingers crossed.

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writer’s block

For the last week, “writer’s block” is the title I’ve had in mind for my next blog post. It follows on thematically from the previous post, and I have sort of being suffering from it—for the last few years, if I’m honest. It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I’ve written almost 50,000 words of the current novel-in-progess. And I’ve been tinkering away as always on older stuff. But I just don’t seem to have a regular daily writing routine any more. I had one once, I know I did. But now weeks—sometimes months—go by without me sitting down to write. Blame my nomadic lifestyle: moving from Borneo to Singapore to Thailand in the space of the last three years. Blame social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all fairly recent additions to my life and I allow them to suck up ridiculous amounts of time. Blame the Kardashians and my platinum cable TV subscription. And now we can also blame my success in the Bath Novel Award, and the posting online of the first three chapters of my novel You’re Beautiful for anyone to read, which has made me feel all self-conscious.

Funnily enough though, apart from those lovely supportive Bath Novel Award people, hardly anyone seems to have read that online extract. So maybe there’s no need to feel so self-conscious after all. Although wouldn’t you  know it, one of the very few people who contacted me to say they’d read and enjoyed it was my mother, which made me go back and reread the extract through her eyes. All I could see was sex scene after sex scene. I had no idea I’d put so much sex in the book. When I mentioned this to my colleague Joey, she quickly became another of the very small handful of friends and family to have read those first chapters. “Yes,” she confirmed, the next day. “There was a lot of sex, wasn’t there?”

Anyhoo, all of the above notwithstanding (particularly the horror of your own mother reading sex things you have written), I should like to report that this weekend I managed to write 1,402 words on Saturday, and 744 words on Sunday.

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blogger’s block

A few years ago I melodramatically threatened to kill this blog if I didn’t get anywhere in my quest to find an agent and a publisher. It ended up being more of a slow death than a killing, until a couple of weeks ago when my novel You’re Beautiful made the top four of the Bath Novel Award, out of more than one thousand entries. The wonderful Caroline Ambrose, founder of the award, is doing an amazing job of introducing me to agents, and this is the closest I’ve been to getting representation since my former agent passed away.  So ten days ago, I boldly announced that the blog would live again. Agents and publishers like an online presence, and my millions of future fans will be able enjoy my wit and wisdom on a regular basis. Also, I actually like blogging. I like the discipline of writing quickly and (hopefully) entertainingly. And I love talking about myself.

But I’ve been finding it incredibly hard to put finger to keyboard. I think I’m suffering from be-careful-what-you-wish-for syndrome. As I say in my interview for the Bath Novel Award (featuring one of the largest, warts-and-all-iest photos ever seen online), one of the biggest shocks about coming in the top four was that the first three chapters* of the novel were posted on the award website. For more than ten years now I’ve been telling myself and anyone else who’ll listen that my biggest goal in life is to become a published novelist, but finding an agent had become such a fruitless struggle that I’d stopped thinking about my writing as something that would one day be read by others. And now that day has come and it’s pretty terrifying. (*But see how brave I’m being.)

It’s kind of the same with the blog. I wrote for a couple of years about my journey to become a published novelist and I was followed by a handful of supportive friends. It was rather cosy. But now I have joined Twitter—because that is how writers network—and I am going to post links to all my blogs there, and who knows who will end up reading this? Maybe no one. But if you are a new random reader, please stick with me, and I’ll do my best to entertain you. The next few months could be a lot more exciting than the last few years have been.

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remember me?

I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t. Two years and four months have elapsed since my last post. I guess it just got too hard and too boring—for both me and you—to keep documenting my seemingly futile quest for literary fame and fortune. But even though I wasn’t blogging, I hadn’t given up. Still writing, still garnering rejections, and still entering competitions. And guess what? Finally, FINALLY, I actually achieved something of note!!

https://bathnovelaward.co.uk

And the blog shall live again.

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birthdays, ageing, and martin amis

This post is going to be long winded, I can feel it. So, anyway, you know, if you’ve stuck with me on this most sporadic of blogs, that there are two things going on in my reading life at the moment. I’m spending the commute to work reading all the free classics that I downloaded onto my Kindle in a fit of enthusiasm four years ago when I first acquired the device, and my bedtime reading is devoted to working my way through the huge pile of paperbacks that has accumulated on my bedside table over the last few years, most of them handed down from other people. This dual task I’ve set myself is killing me. Reading has become a chore rather than an escapist pleasure. I’ve told myself that once I’ve finished the bedside pile I can read anything I want. And then I thought of another reading “challenge” (what’s wrong with me? why can’t I just read?) but not really a challenge because it will be enjoyable rather than a chore — I will start patronising my local bookshop where they have the most fabulous, beautifully displayed collection of contemporary literature, and every time I go there I will buy myself a book, and I will work my way through an alphabet of contemporary authors, starting with A.

Once I’d thought of this challenge I couldn’t summon up any interest in the last three books in my bedside pile (Life of Pi, Everything Is Illuminated, The Interrogative Mood). Last weekend I went to the bookshop and I bought The Information by Martin Amis. Never read any Martin Amis before. Why? I have no idea. He always struck me as curmudgeonly, sexist, one of those very male writers. But I absolutely loved this book. And then I downloaded The Pregnant Widow which I’m reading now. On the train. Instead of Trollope. It is such a joy to read such hilariously funny, beautiful writing. I never want to leave the worlds he describes.

I met him once. In London, back in the mid 1990s. Well, not really met him. We were at the same party, and someone said look, there’s Martin Amis, and I looked and there he was, walking past. The party was a launch for a friend who’d just had his first book published, a young Anglo-Indian novelist at a time when there were several new Anglo-Indian voices appearing on the literary scene and causing quite a stir, so much so that John Updike wrote an article about them in the New Yorker and reviewed my friend’s book  Can you imagine. I digress. Anyway, if I’d read any of Martin Amis’s books then, I don’t think I would have been able to stop myself from going up to him and telling him I loved him.

Amis is obsessed with age, or rather with ageing. Today is my fifty-first birthday, so it’s a topic much on my mind too. He’s got wonderful things to say, which don’t necessarily make you feel any better about the ageing process, but are still somehow comforting. How about this:

As the fiftieth birthday approaches, you get the sense that your life is thinning out, and will continue to thin out, until it thins out into nothing. And you sometimes say to yourself: That went a bit quick. In certain moods you may want to put it rather more forcefully. As in OY!! THAT WENT A BIT FUCKING QUICK!!! Then fifty comes and goes, and fifty-one, and fifty-two. And life thickens out again. Because there is now an enormous and unsuspected presence within your being, like an undiscovered continent. This is the past.

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arboretum

Do you have a favourite word? For me, favourite words are like favourite books or favourite songs, they change over time. Right now my favourite word is arboretum, because it sounds nice and it conjures up  exotic, well-tended greenery (which is in short supply here in the most expensive city in the world). The word is in my head a lot at the moment because at work this week I’m in the process of acquiring a children’s book about a little Japanese bonsai that was tended by the same Japanese family for 300 years, surviving the atomic blast at Hiroshima before being donated to the National Arboretum in Washington DC. It is also the title of a song I’m very fond of.

Today was the first time I looked at my blog stats to see a big fat 0 for recent numbers of readers. I don’t blame you. But I’d love a slew of comments now from people all eager to share their favourite word.

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