Claire King

Author

Archive for December, 2010

A River of Stones

Posted on: December 28th, 2010 by Claire - 4 Comments

I came across this today and it strikes me as a perfect way to start the new year.

The child narrator of my debut novel ‘The Night Rainbow’ is very much centred in the moment. She pays attention to things that adults skim over or take for granted. This is one of the things I love about her character and something I wish I were more adept at myself.

I heard about ‘The River of Stones’ project which aimed to get people doing just that –  noticing one thing properly every day (a bird eating berries, a child playing in the street) and writing it down. Although at the end of the project a book will be put together which you can contribute to and buy, there’s no obligation to do that. People from across the world will be joining in, just for the experience.

31/01/11 Update:

I really enjoyed my month of small stones. Looking back – over a period of time which can often seem to fly by leaving me wondering where the days went – these stones remind me of the moments we often brush past. Time slows a little.

Here are my small stones:


 

January 1st 2011

 

 

 

 

An e-mail arrives: “When you said the risk would always be there does that mean you definitely won’t leave (him) and we should just keep going as we are as long as it lasts?” Somewhere another Claire King is cheating. I feel sad for these strangers. I do not reply.
*


 

January 2nd 2011
January 2nd 2011

 

 

 

After two weeks under low, white skies, we are woken by luminous blue. Through open windows a kindly warmth rides in on the back of winter. Our eyes stretch up and out towards infinity as though waking from a cramped sleep.
*
January 3rd 2011
Out in the ink-black of 6am, under a scattering of stars, a woman brings firewood. She will warm her tiny corner of Earth.
*

January 4th 2011
Beatrix is allowed to wear her party shoes to school. When teachers and children ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’ she closes her eyes so no-one can see her smile.
*
January 5th 2011
White roses and peonies, my past and my future, arrive to mark the passing of time. As I bow into their scent my mother calls. She is worried to find me crying. I explain it’s because I’m not alone.
*
January 6th 2011
The soporific blow of the gas fire, the Doppler effect of an ambulance passing the house, the echoes of my inbox which does not ping.
*
January 7th 2011
A damp-dog walk in white mist, by verges ragged with dried-out dock and russet branches of leafless vines. I try to be present and concentrate on their beauty but instead am filled with the desire to see springtime poppies bloom.
*
The best pain au chocolat pic I ever saw! By www.rkhooks.net
January 8th 2011
Three of us in pyjamas around the wooden table, because there’s no hurry today. Pops and cracks from blazing logs in the hearth. Hot, hot tea to drink in my own time. Silence from the children, intent on mining the warm chocolate from its soft pastry bed. Buttery flakes tumble onto the tiles and are investigated by purring cats.
*
January 9th 2011
The eve of a trip away from home to work. Moments spent with family are amplified and heavy with love.
*
January 10th 2011
I stare out of the window, squinting into the morning sunlight as we scrape and rumble along the tracks. Flamingos graze in the lagoon by La Franqui. From behind the glass I conjure the salt smells of the étangs and the sun-warmed pines. I think of my children’s faces this morning as we kissed goodbye, trying to recall which emotion filled their eyes.  There is no good answer.
*
January 11th 2011
Built to look like a kindly faced whale, one hundred and fifty tonnes of metal sail through the sky. The Beluga comes in to land, soft as snow.
*
January 12th 2011
With the click of the brown glass door I close myself into the small, parched box. I want to breathe the cedar-smell deeply but swallowing scorches my throat.  I curl, foetal on the burning bench and wait for the blurring of boundaries between steam and skin.
*
January 13th 2011
I say, “Bonsoir.”
The manageress of the café looks down at my book and says, “Good evening, Madam.”
Cogs turn as I juggle linguistics and social niceties. I opt for, “Good evening.”
“Vous desirez à manger?”
Oh. I back pedal, revert to French, stumble over my words. “Er, ah, oui, je veux bien.”
“What would you like?”
I stare at the manageress and she smiles an enquiring smile.
*
January 14th 2011
At Carcassonne we sigh to a halt where the tracks cut through higher ground. I lift my head to see gravestones slipping sideways, mossy tombs. The thought of bones suspended in the earth above me brings a shudder of vitality.
*
January 15th 2011
Cast as the evil and stupid witch, because Amélie is a princess, Beatrix is a fairy and “…every story needs to have a baddy, Mummy, so she can get beaten. And it has to be you.”
I cast my best spell, putting them to sleep for a thousand years. There’s no need to worry. Later Daddy will wake them with a kiss.
*
January 16th 2011
We go to bed late. ‘I can’t sleep here,’ I say, ‘the bedclothes smell of lamb.’
‘That can be your small stone tomorrow,’ says my husband.
We laugh like teenagers.
*

January 17th 2011
One minute’s silence for Vincent and Antoine, a colleague and his childhood friend murdered in Niger.  I stand at the window. Beyond the concrete and glass where we in our thousands work on, cars speed through my reflection. On the wall is a photo of a sandcastle. I had put it up to remind clients that everything we achieve risks being short lived.
Death is visited upon my day. I spend the afternoon in the long shadow of worry.
*
Photo by Richard Heeks http://www.flickr.com/photos/11164709@N06/
January 18th 2011
I have blown this bubble, slowly, carefully, taking care not to burst it. But today its time is here to become something else. A word, a keystroke, changes physics forever.
Pop, pop, pop, a ring of rainbow-lit daughter bubbles are born.
Pop, pop, pop, grand-daughter bubbles, one hundred, probably more. Shifting, bursting, spreading.
I am elated.
*
January 19th 2011
Dangly knickers. The smell of grilled cheese. Leopard skin leggings pegged high. The entire back wall taken by a photograph of Venice. Students with thin moustaches and insouciant scarves. A child’s T-shirt, with spangly fish swimming across the front. A harried waitress. A pair of socks. Railway Pizzeria.
*
January 20th 2011
A champagne moon, a wolf moon, fat and benevolent in the half-awake sky, hangs low over scurrying cars and yawning office blocks.  The woman-worker walks slowly, enjoying her insignificance, reluctant to assume the importance that waits beyond walls.
*
January 21st 2011
Her skin is soft and lemon-sweet. Her breath is slow and warm. I smooth her hair back from her cheek and curl close as long as I dare.
*
January 22nd 2011
Outside an icy wind blows down from the mountains. Inside we flop like a pile of puppies on a giant beanbag, sharing warm popcorn and wondering if Alice will ever find her way home.
*
January 23rd 2011
Sunny morning meadow. Cow bells tongka-tonk and the stream gulish-a-loshes. A small soft hand in mine and whinnies from Amélie’s imaginary horse. January would have us think it’s spring.
*
January 24th 2011
Moscow bomb recalls years gone by. There but for a fluke of timing go I.
*
January 25th 2011
Standing in the chill air, naked, waiting for the shower to run hot, I feel absurdly present.  Here I am on the fourth floor of the hotel. Below me others are standing naked in showers, to the left and to the right, behind partition walls we are cleaning ourselves.

In apartment blocks down the street, hundreds of naked people in showers. All across the city. Across France. Across Europe. We are naked, we are washing.
Some are not washing in showers. Some cannot move for grief. Some have babies that won’t stop crying. Some have no water at all. Others have decided to call in sick to work and spend the morning in bed making love.
The water runs hot and the thought is lost.
*
January 26th 2011
On the pavement there is a woman’s shoe – soft black leather, a ballerina pump with a tiny bow. It looks almost new.
People are hurrying, stepping around the discarded footwear that litters their path to work.
But where is this Cinderella now? Is her foot cold? Is she waiting for her prince?
*
January 27th 2011
His familiar face welcomes us to the red lights where our impatient cars bunch together, idling. Spidery biro on the torn cardboard he holds tells drivers of his plight. Three children and no home. Please spare a coin. I have seen him here at rush hour in every season for three years. His clothes are clean and warm, his hair is brushed. Through my closed car window I smile at him and he smiles back. What do they mean, our smiles?
*
January 28th 2011
Beatrix, aged three, likes to fasten her mummy’s coat. Her small, determined fingers reach up, grasping the toggles – shiny, brown and not brown – concentrating hard on their pointy ends. She pushes them precisely through the loops. When she has finished she looks over her work. It is pleasing.
‘There,’ she says, patting the last toggle. ‘You’re all set.’
*
January 29th 2011
I wake in the night, finding myself in the comfort of my own bed, wrapped in warm arms and soft duvet. I turn my pillow over, rest my cheek on the cool side, and sink back into dreams. There are still hours left to sleep.
*
January 30th 2011
Finally, after months of missing each other, we manage to catch up with friends over Sunday lunch. I apologise for the house, which borders on slovenly. Michelle looks past the unkept sofas and unswept floors and out of the window.
‘The mountain looks beautiful today,’ she says.
*
January 31st 2011
The doctor peers suspiciously at my arm. Pokes it.
‘Ow!’
‘You fell on it when?’
‘Four weeks ago.’
‘You need an x-ray, it’s probably broken.’
I regard the sulky bruise that has not healed. I have not paid attention to myself.
***

Books given and received

Posted on: December 26th, 2010 by Claire - 3 Comments

Santa has been kind in 2010. Amongst a truly treasure filled Christmas I was lucky enough to be given lots of lovely literature. Choosing books as gifts takes a lot of thought, so I thought I would share with you what my relatives think of me. Here are the books that I received this year:

The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson

Whatever You Love – Louise Doughty

At Home – Bill Bryson

Chocolat – Joanne Harris

The Daily Coyote – Shreve Stockton

Nothing To Envy – Barbara Demick

Thoughts on The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco

Real Fast Food – Nigel Slater

Ice Cream & Sadness (Cyanide & Happiness Volume 2)

‘Keep Calm and Carry on’  (Also noting that my husband received ‘Now Freak Out and Panic’)

It’s very interesting to see my friends’ and relatives’ impressions of me reflected back in their choice of books. This lovely little pile of books hits the nail on the head for me. All these novels are perfectly to my taste and It was hard to decide which one to open first. I’ve plumped for Howard Jacobson, a new discovery.

Mustn’t forget the Metazen Christmas e-book, a charity publication from Metazen featuring amazing festive writing from Marcus Speh, xTx, Roxane Gay, Kirsty Logan, Susan Tepper and many, many more, and including a rare poem from myself.

I now wish I’d written a ‘Books Given’ post. Here are some of those I can remember (and I may update the blog post when there are fewer demands to build lego helicopters):

  • The Flavour Thesaurus – Niki Segnit (2 copies given)
  • Across The Blood Red Skies, Under an English Heaven &  Upon Dark Waters – Robert Radcliffe (all three given as one gift)
  • The White Road and Other Stories – Tania Hershman
  • The Angel’s Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • How To Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog – Chad Orzel
  • Calm Down Boris
  • Rapunzel

What books have you given and received this year? Any you’re particularly delighted with?

PS: I have also been given a Kindle, which I’m very excited about. Although I am very much a paper girl, I read recently that many of those who use e-readers to read books are extremely loyal to this format and, if a particular book is not available for an e-reader, will choose a different book rather than buy the paper version. So I’m going to be asking for e-books for my upcoming birthday and blogging about the Kindle in the near future.

A very cool shortlisting

Posted on: December 15th, 2010 by Claire - 4 Comments

Along with 700 or so other entrants, I tried my hand at the New Scientist Forgotten futures flash fiction competition this year and guess what, I made the shortlist!

Which means my story was then read and judged by Neil Gaiman himself.

Now that is cool.

I think this might have made my husband love me a little bit more.

The story, along with other shortlisted entries, can be found here.

What are you if you don’t win?

Posted on: December 12th, 2010 by Claire - 13 Comments

<<<<< Not This.

I like putting my writing ‘out there’ to see what happens, so when a competition organiser recently said that they discouraged those who had not done well in the competition from saying so publicly because it would be “detrimental to their credibility as writers.” It got me thinking about our responses to a lack of success.  And I do mean that, and not ‘failure’ because – for me – failure would be if you never entered the competition in the first place. Or if you didn’t bother to write the piece at all.

This is what I think:

If you enter a competition and don’t win, it means that someone else did. Maybe their writing was better than yours, or perhaps just more to the taste of the judges, who knows?

If you get a rejection from an agent (or indeed several) it does not mean your novel is shit. Your novel might be shit or it might be fabulous. It could just be part of the numbers game. We can all hold our hands up and proudly say ‘I have been rejected.’ Can’t we?

If your manuscript is turned down by a publisher (or indeed several) it does not mean you are unpublishable. Again, it could just be part of the numbers game, or a quirk of timing, a matter of taste or being pipped to the post for that particular list.

I’m not suggesting we should arrogantly assume we are literary geniuses (ii?) and that all of these judges and agents and publishing houses are crazy-mad to have not seen our pure talent. Just that, statistically speaking, you can’t win ’em all. Dust it off, brush up if necessary, send it out again.

This applies also to:

Sports; Job Promotions; Love; Twitter Followers.

But not to:

Lottery Tickets; Bingo; Slot Machines.

So, if you have recently entered a competition, and not won, you can tell us here. We’ll still think you’re incredible.

Too Good to be True?

Posted on: December 3rd, 2010 by Claire - 49 Comments

I received an email today from the Brit Writers Awards, essentially inviting authors of completed fiction novels (sic) to apply for their Publishing Programme:

We are looking to work with 15 unpublished authors over the next 12 months on an intensive one-to-one basis, who we guarantee will be published with a top publisher before Christmas 2011.

These 15 writers will be sharing their progress on the BWA website, while at the same time, behind the scenes film footage will document their journey to getting published.

What will this programme include?

  • Guaranteed to get your work published with a top publisher within 12 months or your money back.
  • A senior personal consultant with you throughout the process, who will act as your agent, mentor and will be on-call for you to provide support and guidance until you are published.
  • Formal fortnightly planning and review meetings with you until you are published.
  • Facilitation of meetings and advice from a range of top experts from the publishing arena for you.
  • Developing you, the author as ‘The Brand’
  • Critiquing and developing your concept
  • Editing (prior to publishing)
  • Production of the book including cover design
  • Sales and marketing strategy
  • Promotion through our networks, partners and recognition at the next BWA gala awards event.
  • All legal, ISBN, copyright services as required

· All of the above for a one off fee of £1,795. This is fully guaranteed and fully refundable if you are not published within 12 months.

OK. This troubles me. How many aspiring novelists are there in the UK that would spend that kind of money for ‘guaranteed publication within a year’? I imagine there are thousands.

I have put my main questions to the Brit Writers. Thanks to Zareen for her replies which you can see below. See what you think:

Questions to the Brit Writers Awards:

1) What do you mean by a top publisher?

BWA:The BWA works with a number of traditional publishers and many imprints. This will not be a self-publishing route.”


2) It often takes more than 12 months for a novel to go from being contracted by a publisher to hitting the shelves. How can you bypass this length of time and still have an effective book/career launch?

BWA: “This is why we have specified that the draft needs to be complete or almost complete. We are working with some fantastic experts from the publishing industry who are all confident that this can be achieved and we will obviously only select/take on books that we think we can succeed with.”


3) Would the 15 chosen novelists have any further expenditure before their ‘guaranteed publication’?

BWA: “Only their travel to meetings, gatherings and phone bills.”


4) What kind of publication contract can they expect?

“A traditional type of publishing deal.

We believe that this will work and that’s why we’re offering a full refund if we fail. We have even committed to document the progress with a behind the scenes film – so everything will be completely transparent.”

UPDATE OCTOBER 2011: Brit Writers now apparently has an ‘agents division’. Please see this post for the discussions.

Feeling all emotional

Posted on: December 3rd, 2010 by Claire - 4 Comments

What emotions do you most love to tackle in your writing? What emotions are difficult?”

I thought I’d share this question with you, because I’ve been ruminating on it for a few days. It’s a wonderful question that has been asked of me in an interview (coming in January, more on this soon), and it really got me thinking. What emotions do I lean towards in my writing? My first reaction was – Love, Fear, Anger, Sadness, Joy, Pleasure, Confusion. That doesn’t seem like many emotions for quite a few thousand words of fiction in the last year. Which ones am I missing? I did a quick google for inspiration and here is a selection:

Affection, Amusement, Anger, 
Annoyance, 
Angst, Anticipation, Apathy, Anxiety, Awe, Contempt, Contentment, Curiosity, Depression, Desire, Despair, Disappointment, Disgust, Ecstasy, Excitement, Empathy, 
Envy, Embarrassment, Euphoria, Fear, Frustration, Gratitude, Grief, Guilt, Happiness, Hatred, Hope, Horror, Hostility, Hysteria, Interest, Jealousy, Joy, Loathing, Longing, Love, Lust, Misery, Optimism, Pity, Pride, Rage, Regret, Relief, Remorse, Sadness, Satisfaction, Scorn, Sensory pleasure, Shame, Shyness, Sorrow, Suffering, Surprise, Wonder, Worry.

That’s a rich seam of character building potential right there. Are there any that take your fancy?

One that stands out for me is Contempt. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink he talks about researcher John Gottman, who, after watching couples interact briefly, can predict with extraordinary accuracy the durability of their marriage. And the killer emotion – contempt.

Gottman has found, in fact, that the presence of contempt in a marriage can even predict such things as how many colds a husband or a wife gets; in other words, having someone you love express contempt toward you is so stressful that it begins to affect the functioning of your immune system.”

Isn’t that an extraordinary discovery?

So, I’ve decided that I’ve been neglecting my emotional side. So in the next few short stories I write I’m going to get to grips with emotions one by one. I think I’ll start with ecstasy. How about you?

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