Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Photo: Spa treatment

No, those are not my hairy legs... but Husband's.

The fish come and eat away all the dead skin... Apparently, the stinkier the feet, the more the fish like them.


I can't wait to try it though.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I had an assignation today.

With someone I’ve never met. We had been put in touch by a mutual contact. I'd offered to take a package from the UK to Bangkok, arrange a rendezvous and to deliver it. It was carefully wrapped in an innocuous WHSmiths bag. This product, I was told, wasn't available in Thailand...

I nearly left home in dark glasses and the collar on my mac turned up; then I remembered I didn’t have a mac, and even if I had got one it would be hot and sweaty in the Bangkok heat.

We arranged to meet at Starbucks on Thonglor. I pushed the parcel over the table to her.

Inside was ‘Heaven Can Wait’ by Cally Taylor.

Then we had coffee and a good old natter.

When I left her I had to go to Emporium and I can’t go to Empo without also going to Kinokuniya the big beautiful bookshop. I walked in through the door and this is what I saw:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Today was marked in the diary some four weeks ago as ‘the great hat making day.’ In truth, I don’t think any of us actually wrote that in our diaries because that would have been a bit, well, silly, wouldn’t it? I wrote something more like ‘S & C coming over to help make hats’ but the fact is that it’s taken on epic proportions in my head as one of the problems that I might, possibly, conceivably, hopefully, be able to solve.

(Aging parents who refuse to accept they could do with a spot of help: no, I can’t crack that one.)

But I can make the hats for the Melbourne Cup. Hmmm, I haven’t yet been able to work out how to hide the bits that we don’t want to see… so actually I haven’t resolved this problem either but three heads, when S & C turn up, are likely to be better than my jetlagged and under par one.

But it’s another day not writing, and the woolly one is banging out those words… I have, over the last few weeks of fretting about the folks who refuse help, also been worrying about the dénouement of the novel. Mostly I’ve been agonizing over the location and whether removing the characters from the setting – which is pretty important to the novel - will weaken the story or not.

In the end, I’ve decided to remove them… for the truth of their characters; inside the house they will not tell the truth. Therefore they must be removed. In order to have them elsewhere, I need to research something and a couple of days ago I heard back from a friend I was at art college with. She’s willing to answer some questions and so now, after the hat making, I can crack on with the last 10-15k of words.

Better watch out woolly one; I can still put you in the hot wash…

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Presence and Presents

My homecoming was lovely.

There were hugs (lots of them); a Welcome Home banner and, as I’d been in the UK for my birthday, a pile of presents and cards to open. (And then it was right back into Mummy work - sorting out some homework that was due the next day! It was almost as though I’d never been away…)

The presents were thoughtful and lovely and I shouldn’t single out any… but… during half term Son had been to Borneo to climb Mount Kinabalu as part of his Silver International Award (I’m sure you remember the dramas I made of his first trip: it’s odd, but Son and Husband didn’t make nearly such a big fuss about organising this leg!) Any way, look what Son brought me back:

Camellia Sinensis Black Tea from the foothills of Mount Kinabalu! Yum. Very lovely tea it is too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Letter to Brain

The Towers

Dear Brain

When I said to Susan ‘I don’t need to worry about the Melbourne Cup hats until I get back to Bangkok’ I didn’t mean the very first night I got back. I had just done a long haul flight and could really have done with the sleep. You, Brain, would have benefitted from said sleep. And, there were after all, only a few hours left on the Sunday; worrying could have waited until Monday. You know, daylight hours? Then I could have done something practical about the worrying.

I didn’t mean you to think that waking me at 1.30am after two hours sleep on the very first day I got home, and keeping me conscious and worrying about design and technical putting together of hat until 5.30am was necessary: particularly not when the alarm goes off at 5.45am.

See, Brain, it's now 9.20am on Monday and I need a night's sleep already.

They are just hats; how hard can they be? Don’t answer that. I know that you think assembling and subsequently hiding the feathers’ join seems a similar challenge to splitting the atom… but you know, I don’t think it will be. We have a glue gun, UHU, staplers and a needle and thread. I've even purchased some of those eyelet things. You do, after all, in your dim and distant past have a degree in sculpture: I reckon we can do this, you and I. We can put together a fascinator/hat thingummyjig - alright, thirteen fascinator/hat thingummyjigs to make everyone happy.

Anyway, Brain, I just wanted to send you this message to let you know that if I spend some of today working on the design (that’s if I can stay awake) I would really appreciate some sleep tonight. Okay?

Love JJx

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Synopsis of Industry Day:

• Meet the technical requirements of the publisher.
• Spend time on your covering letter and synopsis. Do lots of research on what to write, but in the end it might be something personal that heightens an agent’s interest.
• Pause for Thought: Raymond Chandler called it ‘brewing.’ Put your novel away in a drawer and return to it fresh.
• Make the novel as good as it can be.
• Research the right people to approach.
• In your covering letter, make comparisons to published authors without saying you’re going to be the next JKR (or whoever.)
• If you sub to several agents at once and someone is interested, let the others know. They’re people; be courteous.
• Spend time in bookshops: browsing what is selling, what titles are around, how your book fits in, and understanding your market.
• Charm doesn’t go amiss, but don’t suck up.
• Put thought into which agents to approach. Sending a mass mail out to fifty agents wastes everyone’s time.
• Consider how to hook an agent’s interest: make your sub compelling and dazzling.
• Avoid clichés in your sub just as you did with your novel.
Ellah advised us to check out our personal bookshelves; look at the agents representing the authors we like to read.
Euan said that he wouldn’t offer to represent someone without first meeting them. It’s essential that you get on; like and trust each other. Editor/author and agent/author relationships are very intimate.
• It’s a job – you have to be professional.
• You need staying power and to recognise that there’s grafting to be done. You need a hunger to succeed as well as talent.

I suspect that nothing in that list has surprised anyone. Those of us reading ‘writing’ blogs, articles, books and blogs by agents and editors are already mostly aware of these ‘rules.’ I still find it desperately hard to believe that someone might go to the effort of writing a 100,000 word manuscript and not bother to find out how to format it, how to present it, who to send it to and so on. Apparently they do, so that’s why I’ve repeated everything above.

I think there is a feeling of desperation sometimes in the Blog World of Want To Be Writers. We’re told we have to be all singing, all dancing; a multifaceted expert in many fields even to get noticed. (I’m not negating the fact that we need to take responsibility for spreading the word and I do believe that we have to produce the best book we can) but I did come away, feeling that there are agents and editors out there looking for good writers. Yes, it’s competitive but it should be hard. These same editors and agents aren’t looking for perfect subs; all the examples I saw were different (hell, there was even a spelling error in one of them) but if your book is good enough and your writing engages… there is hope.

I hope.

In the meantime it’s back to my novel - well maybe when I get back to Bangkok next week - because that is the thing: I want to make it the best I can.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Industry Day

The Saturday before last was my Industry Day with The Literary Consultancy. This is part of the Chapter & Verse mentoring scheme which I began about a year ago.

The industry day gives mentees a chance to gain further insight into the publishing industry and getting published. It was the first one to be held at TLC’s new premises, the Free Word Centre; a gorgeous wordy, booky space – that’s the technical description. The day started with Becky and Caroline from TLC, talking about the scheme and the mentees introducing themselves and their writing.

The first outside visitor was Will Atkins from Macmillan New Writing. MNW was started to keep new fiction alive in a time when it was being strangled because of the heightened risk that new writers present to publishers. MNW take submissions direct from writers and Will talked about how to make an approach. He brought five or six books with him that they had published and the covering letter that each of those writers had sent with their original enquiry. I loved this. There’s information available about the theory of your covering letter but rarely do you have the chance to see the letter that scored the deal! (Coincidentally, if you’re searching for an example, Novel Racers, Fia and Cally, enable you to see just that as part of Cally’s blog tour for her new novel, Heaven Can Wait.)

One of Will Atkins’ authors said that he had spent about fifty hours on the putting together his covering letter. He said he had considered his novel for thousands of hours so it made sense to spend plenty of time on the letter that would go with the manuscript.

After lunch Becky chaired a conversation with Euan Thorneycroft, an agent from AM Heath Literary Agency; Ellah Allfrey, Deputy Editor of Granta Magazine, though recently a senior editor at Jonathan Cape; Will Atkins, see above and Caroline McCarthy, TLC Mentoring Co-ordinator and Literary Scout. After their discussion, it was opened up for questions. Imagine, all that expertise and we could ask anything.

Tomorrow I will condense roughly what was said.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Laughing out loud

I’m not big on laughing out loud at books. It makes me a bit nervous when I see ‘I laughed out loud’ proclaimed across a review or on the book itself. I have got a sense of humour, honest, but I think sometimes it’s buried a bit deep. I can’t always quite locate it.

Bill Bryson, James Herriot and Lynne Truss do it for me but other writers, that make other people laugh, well, not so much for me.

Anyway, I went into Maidstone yesterday to pick up some books for my Dad who’s horribly bored (and in hospital still…) and I was very good and only purchased one more book for myself. I took this to Marks and Spencer’s café for a cup of tea before setting off to see my Dad. I got my new book out.

By page eight I’d laughed right out loud and then again almost immediately at the follow up to the punch line. Before I left (at page fifteen) I’d laughed aloud again. I finished my tea and got up. A woman with a small child opposite me, said “Excuse me, I heard you laughing; is that book good then?” I got it out and showed her the book. “I just bought it,” I said, “in WHSmiths. It’s really funny.” I showed her the book again, “You should go and buy it,” I said, “books never make me laugh out loud.” I resisted writing down the title and author, or telling her that it was number 45 on the shelf but I shoved it under her nose again - just to be sure she’d seen it.

Anyway, if any of you are interested, this is where to find the book in WHSmiths in Maidstone…

Heaven Can Wait by Cally Taylor.

It made me laugh out loud: that's no mean feat!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Books, books and more books

I've done my usual trick and bought too many books while I've been in the UK.

From the top, 'Writing a Children's Book' by Pamela Cleaver was a prize from Tam's blog. Hoo Rah. Very pleased to win that and thanks for sending it to me Tam.

'Rosemary's Baby' by Ira Levin: a first edition appears in my story. I want to quote a line from it (I think obtaining permission can cause all kinds of problems, but that's not a problem to worry about now.)

Three more Daphne Du Maurier books because I loved 'Rebecca.' I can't buy them in Bangkok so I had to buy them here! Honest.

'Incendiary' by Chris Cleave: because I so loved 'The Other Hand' and I saw the film of Incendiary without connecting them and that too was totally brilliant.

'The Reinvention of Ivy Brown' by Roberta Taylor. I picked this up 'blind.' I read the blurb and thought I'd like it.

'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' by Suzanne Collins is for Son. Haven't been able to buy it in Bangkok.

'The Beacon' by Susan Hill. Because I like her.

'Thin Blue Smoke' by Doug Worgul: I admired the cover at my Industry Day. Will Atkins of Macmillan New Writing said I could take it. He told me he's 'evangelical' about the book. I thanked him and told him in exchange I would review it on my blog.

'Small Wars' by Sadie Jones: I loved 'The Outcast' so I bought this without reading the blurb.

And I'm off to Waterstones again today to get some reading material for my Dad, so who knows what I'll come home with!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hero worship and a blog tour to Bangkok

Cally, thanks for coming all the way to Bangkok as part of your new book’s blog tour. Come and have a seat out on the balcony... It's almost cool enough at this time of year.

When I heard you’d got a publishing deal, it was a defining moment for me. It was one of those moments in my writing life that I’ll always remember. It wasn’t bitter envy as some might expect; it wasn’t even gentle jealousy. My reaction was pure joy for you at having your efforts rewarded. You’d worked hard, persevered, studied books, blogs, rewritten and rewritten and then rewritten some more. I recognised that I hadn’t come close to the effort you’d put in and it completely changed my attitude to my own work. If I wanted a chance at what you'd achieved, I realised then that I had to do the same kind of hard work that you’d done.

Right now, on with the questions:

How did you start writing? Or taking your writing more seriously? Was there ever a defining moment for you?

I started writing 'books' when I was eight. I know that sounds really cliched but I loved reading as a child and Enid Blyton really inspired me - particularly "The Magic Faraway Tree" stories (I still love them).

As I grew older I continued to write on and off (mostly off), until 2003 when I joined a year-long creative writing evening class and found myself writing every week. The moment I decided to take writing more seriously was when my tutor handed my final assignment back to me and said, "You're a great writer, Cally." No one had ever said that to me before and it gave me the confidence to start sending my short stories out to magazines and competitions.

My second defining moment (I am allowed two aren't I?) was when I was awarded the Runner-up prize in the Woman's Own short story competition in 2006. I didn't think people like me (without a journalism/creative writing degree or contacts in the publishing industry) stood a chance in national competitions so it was a huge surprise. When my story was printed in the magazine a couple of months later I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could get a novel published one day.

At the risk of sounded like some sort of demented hero worshipper… you’ve got a full time job too. How do you manage it all?

With difficulty! I stay up very late (something my
Facebook friends will be aware of!) and I put a lot of hours in on the weekend too. I set myself a rough schedule - a certain number of words a week for example - and try and balance that with having a social life. When I sit down to work I try and do as many words as possible. That way, if I write double the amount I'd planned, I free up a day! Sometimes it works, sometimes life gets in the way.

You cut your teeth on the short story, but a novel’s not like a shortie. When times got tough during the writing of ‘Heaven Can Wait,’ what did you do? How did you find the impetus to carry on?

Not a lot of people know this but I've got two unfinished novels under my bed. When I started writing 'Heaven Can Wait' I was determined to actually finish a novel this time. It's bloody hard to write a novel and not many people manage it. I was determined to be one of the people that did.

Whenever I got stuck or blocked or hated every word I was writing I'd force myself to continue - telling myself that no one other than me was ever going to read it so it didn't matter if it was rubbish. That attitude really helped! Whenever I got stuck or blocked or hated every word I was writing I'd force myself to continue - telling myself that no one other than me was ever going to read it so it didn't matter if it was rubbish. That attitude really helped!

Once you’d done all that rewriting and rewriting, did you get feedback from anywhere or anyone once you’d finished?

did! The lovely Sally Quilford and the artist formerly known as A.Writer read my synopsis! I also posted the first five chapters in the Women's Fiction group on The feedback was terrifically helpful, particularly Sally's ruthless chopping of my lengthy synopsis!

Finally, how different is the experience of writing your second book?

Nggghhnnh! That's the sound of an author struggling with her second novel! The motivation to write my second novel isn't the same as the first. I've also structured it very differently. Neither of which make the process any easier! I'm also feeling a lot more pressure - mostly internal. It's fantastic when people say wonderful things about your first novel but it does make you worry that you'll never write anything as good. I've definitely written a very different novel this time but I'll have to wait until after 1st December - when I deliver it to my editor - to find out if it's worked. THAT'S scary!

Well, I've heard that Heaven Can Wait is flying off the shelves, so I have no doubts that your second book will be just as good.

Thanks so much for coming all the way to Tea Stains for your interview. While you're here, stay on the balcony and enjoy the warmth for a bit.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Get on with it...

I think it’s time to pull myself together and return to cyber life again so I’m taking a swipe at the white noise, and getting on with stuff.

Firstly I’ve got to say thank you to everyone who texted, facebooked, emailed, telephoned or even plain wished me happy birthday in their heads. It was lovely to have so many good wishes for my birthday yesterday. I had a wicked chocolate cake; so thick was the top layer of chocolate that it refused to be cut. It just broke in big, unruly chunks of its own.

Secondly, thank you to all who left thoughtful messages on here after my last post!

Next, Liz awarded me 'The Lovely Blog' award last week, for the way I “enjoy expat life and struggle with writing.” I really appreciated it since I have struggled all over again with writing, life, you name it, I reckon I've probably struggled with it during the last week.

The rules are simple:
1) Accept the award, and don’t forget to post a link back to the awarding person.
2) Pass the award on.
3) Notify the award winners.

I’m going to pass it on to Crystal Jigsaw for keeping up a regular stream of quality posting – always thoughtful and often funny (see the one about the rams!)

I shared my birthday yesterday with Lane, fellow novel racer, but yesterday was a triple celebration, being with the publication day for Cally Taylor’s debut novel, Heaven Can Wait. Cally’s also a novel racer and she's going to be here at Tea Stains on Sunday as part of her blog tour so please make sure you check back to read the interview.

I will update you on my industry day too, as soon as I’ve time to write it up.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

White Noise

Tea Stains is experiencing some problems with service. Postings are subject to interference from life and may be intermittent for some time.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday catch up

Today is Sunday. I expect you know that… and instead of staying in London until Thursday, I am leaving to go home to Kent because my mother has also (in addition to my Dad who broke his pelvis a few weeks ago) had a funny turn and a fall. She is fine; her confidence is shaken but she’s not broken physically.

What else?

Oh yes. I had my industry day yesterday with the Literary Consultancy. I think this deserves a full post so I will do that tomorrow.

It only remains to say that words this week were only 1498. I am rather pleased with any words at all. But once settled at my parents, I think I shall be able to get on again. I look forward to hearing Sheepish's words... there'll be no threats about putting her in the hot wash from me today... just a feeble arm raised to toast her wordcount win and thank her for keeping my nose to the grindstone.

Friday, October 09, 2009


Did I mention to you that I was going to see Othello?


He was wonderful and I think I am a bit in love.

The whole cast was excellent but Iago deserves a special mention because he was bloody marvellous; what a part. He was played by an actor called Conrad Nelson, who, according to his biography is all round talented.

But then so is Mr LH. I don’t think I would have known it was Lenny Henry if … you know, I hadn’t known. There wasn’t a shred of ‘Lenny Henry-ness’ at all until the end of the curtain call when he asked us to sing happy birthday to one of the cast members. Then you saw twinkly Lenny…

Anyway, pulling myself together, it was a tiny bit overshadowed for me by some personal news I received just before it started, which I am not ready to blog about. It could be amusing if it weren’t so bloody awful. It may help things in the long run but it doesn’t much feel like that yet.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Just been released

I was nodding off in the departure lounge on Tuesday night. Anyone who knows me – actually anyone who’s read my profile – will know that sleeping tops the list as one of my favourite pastimes. A midnight flight, when it’s on time, is a challenge to me. But one that’s delayed causes me consternation: will I make the flight? Will I be curled up in a corner of the airport, sleeping?

So it was delayed and I really was nodding off in the departure lounge but when at last I did get on the ‘plane, I wrapped myself in my blanket, I buckled up, put my eye patches and ear plugs in and I went to sleep. I was unconscious before take off.

Not so nice was waking with a migraine the following morning, which beggared me all day yesterday. During landing I got my ear thing. (One out of ten flights, I can’t equalise my ears and I’m in rocking pain until they ‘pop’ themselves.)

My room is tiny but in an achingly trendy part of London and I am entertaining fantasies of a pied-à-terre here. That is what fantasies are all about.

Landing in my own (home) country is so odd. It never fails to surprise me how strange it feels to be in a place where I am likely to be understood. Still there is the feeling that I don’t understand the place, as though I’ve just been let out of prison and am not familiar with how things work. I had to buy a coat yesterday because it’s cold and I didn’t have one. My wrap wasn’t sufficient. I forgot to put my card into the machine – I tried to hand it to the cashier and he motioned to the machine as though I’m a bit retarded. “Do you want to wear it now?” he asks, and I think he thinks I’ve just been released too.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Paul Theroux

It's jolly difficult to believe that last night the Board at the Neilson Hays Library were welcoming Paul Theroux and this morning I'm sitting in a little hotel room in overcast London.

We had a wonderful night. It was a great coup to get him to come and talk and members and non members alike turned out in their droves to come and listen.
He was wonderful, funny, charming, and generous. I'm a bit fuzzy headed to give you a report so I'm just going to leave you with some pictures. (Yes, that's me meeting Paul Theroux!)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


I fly tonight and I haven’t packed yet.
I had book club today to discuss The Little Stranger. It was an excellent meeting.
I wasn’t going to stay for lunch because I hadn’t packed yet, but I changed my mind, saying ‘well, I’ve got to eat…’
I’ve come home to pack now.
And here I am blogging.
I have to go out in one hour because Paul Theroux is coming to talk at Neilson Hays Library. He is in Bangkok for the Sea Write Awards.
And now I must go and pack.

See you in the UK.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Bits and pieces

So here's a bitty post.

I fly tomorrow night. I have stuff in London to do first but it's a blessing that I'm going to the UK, because I can stay longer (thanks to half term and a lovely Husband) and go down to see my folks once I'm done with stuff in London. (My Dad's been moved to a cottage hospital but is moving a bit more now, though still in lots of pain.)

'Stuff' includes, among other things, the gorgeous and talented Lenny Henry in Othello (oh be still my beating heart) as well as my industry day with The Literary Consultancy.

And this is the final picture in the Pratunam series: the ladies who make the costumes.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Oh buggerty bottoms

I wasn’t trying to lull Sheepish into a false sense of security… I had a dire week. Really, horribly busy and more shopping for those damn costumes! I even picked up some extra tasks on the way.

In order not to hand in a pitiful word count, I’ve been indulging in some illicit Sunday writing. It’s only illicit according to the Woolly One, but Saturday and Sunday writing has always been part of my routine. The rest of the family are out during the week at work and school and so come the weekend, they want to stay home and play with their toys.

This week’s word count is 3265 words. (Oh bugger, I’ve just seen Sheepish’s word count…and she’s beaten me again. I am trying to remember that getting my words written makes me a winner too, but bah, pah, and other annoyed noises.)

*Sigh* And I’ve another bad week coming up with my flying to London, corresponding jetlag and my TLC Industry Day – for which I haven’t yet got an elevator speech prepared.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Friday Photo(s)

And Pratunam market sells all the accessories any self respecting ladyboy or exotic dancer might need:

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Pratunam Pussy Cats

Pratunam Market is where the ladyboys get their costumes made. I was looking for feathers... for the Melbourne Cup.

I was meant to be shopping but I got distracted.

The bottom cat is my favourite; he's finished his bowl of soup and he was so full, he just couldn't move too far... Oh, here looks like a good place to sleep.

Which one is your favourite?