Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Sunday, 12 December 2010
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
Sunday, 5 December 2010
Saturday, 4 December 2010
Friday, 3 December 2010
2. It's Saturday tomorrow, and I get to have a lie-in, stay warm, and spend all day writing.
3. The most delicious dilemma of them all: what to read next?
Thursday, 2 December 2010
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Monday, 22 November 2010
An Abundance of Katherines opens with a very ordinary tale of adolescent heartbreak. But Colin is not ordinary, and neither is his predicament: his nineteenth Katherine has just dumped him. Him! Him, who is destined for greatness, if he could just work out how to make that difficult transition from child prodigy to adult genius. Him, who can make a dozen anagrams out of any given set of words. Him, who can speak far more languages than anyone will ever need to.
Enter Hassan, the loyal best friend who cares enough about Colin to tell him when his conversational tangents are Not Interesting. He drags Colin away from home so that he can forget about Katherine XIX, and together they can engage on the American rite of passage par excellence: a road trip. But they never make it past Gutshot, Tennessee – here they meet some new friends, find a job, and Colin works on his Important Project: a mathematical equation that will predict the success of a relationship.
Colin is a collector of useless facts, and shares many of them with us. By the end of this book, you will not only have spent time with some lovable characters and learned more than you ever thought you wanted to about maths, you will also know which President was so fat that he once got stuck in the bath and why the shower curtain always seems drawn towards you.
Think of this book as Adrian Mole meets the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, with a dash of social commentary thrown in.
Warm, witty, and engaging, this is a “Young Adult” novel with an appeal far broader than the genre would suggest. Lovable, self-confessed geeks like Colin and Hassan are particularly likely to enjoy it.
Sunday, 21 November 2010
Saturday, 20 November 2010
Saturday, 13 November 2010
Friday, 12 November 2010
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
First, there were the famed scones from my host: while not (of course) the same as British scones, they are reminiscent of them, and were a great start to the day. Then I wandered down to Union Station to meet up with a Twitter friend - who turned out to be exceptionally kind, generous and encouraging. We prayed for each other right there in the station. Very cool.
I made my way to Dupont Circle, where in a misguided fit of excitement at having found the house where Donna lives in the episode of the West Wing where Josh throws snowballs at her window, I asked a passing stranger to take a million photos. A task she undertook with gusto and flair, but alas, all in vain, because although the houses are very similar in style, it wasn't the right one.
Still, it made me happy at the time. And under the blue, blue sky I made my way to Embassy Row, where after making admiring noises at posh buildings I eventually struck up conversation with yet another kind and knowledgeable stranger who pointed me in the direction of Georgetown. I'm not normally a walker, but my unusual physical exertions were amply rewarded when, somewhere on Q street, I passed a box marked with my two favourite words: Free Books. Among which was Hilary Clinton's autobiography, which I've been thinking of buying. Much happiness ensued. I continued my path through the beautiful Georgetown streets with the houses that are all so different yet somehow form a coherent whole. I could have photographed every single house; they all had character, and colourful charm.
Georgetown University was nice, too, and I love listening into students' conversations and imagining that I am still one of them. I walked and walked and walked, it seemed, in pursuit of a cafe that my guide book had recommended, but instead I passed one that called itself the "cutest in Georgetown" and it lured me with its outside patio and old issues of Time Magazine, and I'm glad, because although the coffee was terrible, the crepe with banana and Nutella was so enjoyable that I didn't even get cross at the article in Time about the alleged benefits of being an only child.
And in the evening, after much getting lost, I finallly ended up at Busboys and Poets, for an authentic DC experience listening to a Very Famous Man I've never heard of talk about the Death of the Liberal. Really interesting, and great food at the same time. Should I ever move here, this will become one of my favourite places.
Tomorrow, Eastern Market, Library of Congress, Hawk and Dove, and Politics and Prose, although that seems a lot to manage in a morning, so I may have to let one of them go. I love this place.
Friday, 22 October 2010
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Saturday, 9 October 2010
Sunday, 3 October 2010
Saturday, 2 October 2010
Many of the other characters had been around in the past, but they were all dormant, so much to my chagrin I wasn't able to interact with them. Consequently, aside from the odd political comment or random observation there wasn't much I could do with the account. Then, oh happy day! I did a search one day and found that my man was on twitter too. There'd previously been several incarnations of him, but they'd all stopped tweeting a year or so back.
And this guy was, is, good. He's totally in character, very witty, well-informed about all the things that his character knows about.
We started bantering.
We were good together.
At least, I thought so. Judging by both our follower counts and various re-tweets, other people thought so too. It lasted about five months. I was perhaps ever so slighlty addicted, but it was a lot of fun; it was summer and work was scarce.
Then one day, from out of nowhere, he blocked me.
After much protest from me, and some intervention from other characters - who by now had jumped on board after seeing how much fun we were having - he unblocked me but said he wanted to uncouple the accounts.
Now, if you've ever watched the TV programme I'm talking about, you'll know that breaking these two up would possibly cause the universe to implode. So while that might have been the obvious solution, it wasn't an option here - particularly as we had been the cyber-picture of romantic almost-bliss.
All the characters that we were interacting with follow the two of us together, tweet about the two of us, stick up for this version of me when another one asserts herself. Our cyber-lives are intertwined ,but he wants me to pretend he doesn't exist. It's like dating a co-worker then breeaking up with them and seeing them every day and having to remove their email address before clicking reply-all.
It is, in fact, a lot like breaking up with someone. It's been a month and I'm still sad and cross, in particular because he never explained to me what the problem was. In particular, too, because this show, and especially these characters, always made me smile, and now that has soured. They inspired me to write, too, and it's probably not a coincidence that my novel has been taking up less and less of my thinking time lately.
I could slink away quietly. Probably, I should do that. But I have 630ish followers, and my pride, not to mention the impulse of the only child: "But I was here first!" And, also, we had built a universe I kind of fell in love with, and I'd be sad to leave that behind.
That said, that universe has kind of died already, and my account has become increasigly insipid, because I can't initiate any talk about domestic life, or about him and his work, which he might then contradict, intentionally or not. Everything has become complicated. It's almost no fun at all. Everytime I open twitter I feel sad.
He, of course, continues to soar in popularity. I can only watch miserably from the sidelines and wonder what I did wrong. And then kick myself for caring.
Thursday, 30 September 2010
Monday, 27 September 2010
Saturday, 4 September 2010
When she's offered a job by Leo, she babbles incoherently (in iambic pentameter, because she's being written by Aaron Sorkin) where the rest of us might be speechless. "Ainsley," he says, "don't you want to work at the White House?"
"Only since I was three," she replies. "It has to be this White House?"
In other words, wow. This is my dream. I just didn't think it would look like this.
And now I'm being offered this position, and it's exactly what I want, but it's exactly not what I want, all at the same time, and so I'm confused.
I think many of us can relate to that. Take me, for example.
Claire, asks God gently, don't you want to be in leadership?
Oh, only all of my adult like.
I just didn't think it woud look like this.
Really? In this White House?
Not married to a Church leader who grew up being discipled by David Stroud and going to Stoneleigh Bible Week? Not married at all, in fact, not with three kids, the fourth on the way, maybe even twins?
Not in a Newfrontiers Church where I'm clear on the vision and embrace the values, where I know what is meant by "church", where I'm comfortable with the way things are done, where I understand what is expected of me and roughly how I should be going about it?
Yes. In this White House. In this capital city. In this Church. At this time in history.
"Appeal to her sense of duty," the President tells Leo. In other words, remind her that what unites us is bigger and deeper than what differenciates us. We all long for great things for our nation.
Ainsley, of course, takes the job. Sadly, Aaron Sorkin then forgets about her and she wastes away in the Steam Pipe Distribution Venue, to be replaced later by the very dishy Joe Quincy, played by none other than Matthew Perry, but I digress.
Since my life is not being written by Aaron Sorkin, I need not worry that such a fate awaits me. I am called by God, here and now, for such a time as this. And while the way my new Church does things is not the same as what I grew up with, while it is not always what I would choose, it is also not as radical a departure from my values as Ainsley Hayes' serving under a Democratic President. And what unites us is far, far deeper than what differentiates us.
Yes, Claire, really. In this White House.
I serve at the pleasure of the King.
Friday, 27 August 2010
Sunday, 22 August 2010
Firstly, and because no blogpost of mine would be complete without a mention of Bradley Whitford, I must quote the great man himself, with apologies to those of you who have read this a million times before on this very blog.
(Pause here for a few minutes while I use this as an excuse to distract myself by googling him, in the interests, you understand, of journalistic integrity. Or something.)
"... Want to write more than you want to be a writer. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey."
My point being, not just that Bradley Whitford is very wise, on top of all his many other qualities, but also that number one on my list of things I love about writing ought to be this:
The process itself. Sitting down with my coffee and my writing music (a mixture of classical music, easy listening Norah Jones type stuff and jazz) and entering another world. And that high you get. You know the one? Nothing else does that for me, though I'm told runners experience this. Is that an external reward? Probably. When I meet Brad I will get him to clarify. (Or he could comment right here...)
I feel like when I'm writing I'm doing what I was born to do. To paraphrase Eric Liddle, "God made me to love words, and I feel his pleasure when I write."
And when you feel you're doing it well, forming beautiful sentences and bringing characters to life, it's exhilerating. Really.
2. It's an excuse for doing all the other things I love, namely:
- Reading voraciously
- Learning new words
- Watching the West Wing (seriously - it inspires me! Plus, it so happens that two of my characters, Brad and Kate, are West Wing fans...)
- Listening to jazz (Brad is a jazz pianist, so...)
- Keeping up to date with American politics (Kate is a Senator, so...)
- Travelling (for research, and also because being in a new place seems to seriously inspire me.)
3, Escaping to another world.
Reality sometimes feels over-rated. My love life is non-existent, and has been for so long I prefer not to keep tabs on it anymore. In the world of my novel, I get to be someone else and be in love with a beautiful man (though I do get my heart broken, which is perhaps not so great).
I admit that this part of it can be unhealthy and that my head-in-the-sand tendencies which were already considerable are now insurmountable. But still, it's a lot of fun.
It's brilliant to create characters and see them come to life on the page, go and hang out with them for a few hours a day.
4. I am never bored.
There is always something to observe, a conversation to "accidentally overhear", a detail to scribble in my notebook.
5. There is the vague hope that one day I might be a published author. Maybe even a famous one.
Yes, yes, Bradley, I heard you when you said the joy was in the journey. However, I can't say that any of these things would be unpleasant:
- Having a fan page on Facebook with more than two members. (It's here, if you're interested.)
- Seeing my name (well, my pen name) in print
- Reading positive reviews about myself
- Maybe making some money
6. Apart from the world of my book, it also allows me to indulge some other fantasies, like:
- Sending it to Brad, and to Janel Moloney (who, in my head, are two of the actors on screen when it's a film) and hearing back from them that they love it.
- Brad saying he wants to write the screenplay
- Generally getting to meet loads of cool, famous people (Yes, yes. They are just people. I know. But.)
I know you're judging me for that right now. The fact is, though, I'd be willing to bet that all writers have those fantasies. It's just that only some of us admit it. Also, some of us allow them to develop further than others do.
7. Bringing other people pleasure
The first (and so far, only) person to have read a draft of Inevitable from beginning to end loved it. She cried! She wanted more! She couldn't stop reading even though she was getting up early the next day! I want to do that for people. I want them to laugh and cry and miss their stop on the tube because they got so caught up in the book. This probably ought to have been nearer the top of the list, but there you go, it's late, I'm tired and if I moved it further up, having only just thought of it, I would feel hypocritical.
8. It allows me to develop all my other interests
This might sound like I'm repeating point 2, but allow me to expand. I'm one of those people for whom the following book was written: "The Renaissance Soul: life design for people with too many passions to pick just one". I am such a person. And I've always felt as a result that life felt a bit messy (although, possibly the, erm, mess in my life also contributes to this). Writing gives me a framework, a reason for all those passions: they can be articles! Ideas for novels! Short stories! They all meet in that one goal and that is oddly satisfying. Anyone else feel like that?
9. It allows me to meet really interesting people
Writers are great people to be around. Possibly because they love Scrabble.
10. A tangeible result
Sometimes life can feel a bit plod, that you're doing the same thing day in, day out, that your business is not particularly growing, that nothing new is happening, that you have no answer to that dreaded question: "what's new?". This is particularly true when all your friends have a nice two-year cycle of Exciting News going: I've met a guy! I'm engaged! I'm married! I'm pregnant! I'm pregnant again! etc.
These days, when people ask me what I'm doing with my life, I acutually have an answer, and although this novel has had a longer gestation period than human babies, it is growing, and doing many of the other things that babies do, like taking over my life and messing with my sleep patterns. And at the end of it, I will have a real, physical thing and I will be able to say I DID IT! And that's quite exciting.
So, there you are. There are some of my reasons, and I've probably missed many out. What are yours?
Thursday, 12 August 2010
- My birthday started a few hours early with a noisy but fun trip to Pizza Hut with my adopted big sis and her family. Apart from the delights of Pizza Hut itself, too many to name here, there were also a couple of waiters who weren't unpleasant to look at - including one of them who entertained us with a brief but spirited rant about the noisy Germans on the table next door. There was also a baby to cuddle and a niece who, out of nowhere, suddenly I feel a lot closer to.
- It was not dignified, but I begged: on Facebook I asked some of my heroes to come and sign my page in honour of my birthday. One of them responded within minutes, which made my day, and the next within hours: "Happy birthday Claire (from everyone ever associated with The West Wing, except Brad Whitford)!" You can probably guess who that was. But it made me smile. As for Brad himself, he is still hiding, and frankly I don't blame him.
- Unrelatedly to my birthday, and yet delightfully timed, was a comment from the first person ever to have read the second draft of "Inevitable", the novel I've been harping on about for about a year now. She loved it! She couldn't stop reading! She said her heart was breaking! She even cried! This was the high point of my day. Possibly I need to get out more, or possibly I've found my passion in life and that is something to be celebrated... Later on she emailed me detailed comments which will be so helpful in writing up the next draft. Amazing.
- I opened my birthday presents, and shouted "Yes!" when the Studio 60-shaped present in fact turned out to be Studio 60. Only one thing better than Bradley Whitford and Aaron Sorkin: the two of them plus Matthew Perry. (Who, by the way, always reminds me of Brad and vice versa, but apparently that's just me.) I was also really chuffed to get books from my mum and step-dad: they seem no longer to buy me what they thought I should want, but to go, as directed, to my Amazon wish list. It's a ridiculous length, which means that when I get a parcel I really have no idea what it's going to be - and this time it was an intelligent-looking book about the West Wing from my step dad, and two books about writing from my mum, which may be her way of saying she believes in me. More books from another friend, too. Which is useful, since I've promised myself I'm not buying any more till I've read all the ones I've got. (Hmmm. Not sure how long that will last.)
- Time with my dad was great. It's so nice to have such a chilled, and normal, relationship with him. Also, the Chinese restaurant we went to was great. And, he's bought me a coffee machine (useful after staying up till 2 am rewatching my favourite Season 7 episodes). So all is well with the world.
- CQ Politics ran a headline that should not have pleased me, but did: apparently aides are now burned out and leaving the White House in droves. Today I have been asking the birthday fairy for a job in the White House. Coincidence? Didn't think so.
Plus, I'm now back in even numbers of years, which pleases me. I'm a little odd, I know - but I think you'd picked that up by now...
Thursday, 5 August 2010
I used to have no fear that my English would be, well, corrupted. I lived in England; read British novels; watched so few films that there was no way American would creep into my speech, much less my spelling - perish the thought.
These days, I spend a lot of time communicating online with Americans and click through to links on US websites. I read American novels. I listen to seemingly endless podcasts about American politics. My internet browser is stuck on "US English" spellcheck. I'm writing a book with two dishy Americans in it. (Take that, Safari spellcheck. Dishy is more or less what you guys would call hot.) I even hang out, face to face, with a few real life Americans. And then, of course, there is the West Wing.
This morning, I was thinking about the month of January (who knows why - this was in the not-quite-awake stage of my day) and I suddenly realised: why am I pronouncing it JanuAry? What has happened in my brain? Eek. This invasion must be halted.
And then a friend of mine sent me a link to this fab, if somewhat grumpy, piece by a newspaper editor, and for the first and hopefully last time ever I found myself nodding vigorously when reading a Daily Telegraph article. (I hope you will not judge me.)
"Some Americanisms keep slipping in, usually when we are given agency copy to re-write and do an inadequate job on it. There is no such verb as “impacted”, and other American-style usages of nouns as verbs should be avoided (authored, gifted etc). Maneuver is not spelt that way in Britain. We do not have lawmakers: we might just about have legislators, but better still we have parliament. People do not live in their hometown; they live in their home town, or even better the place where they were born."
Here's the thing: we all know about words like pants. (Even though in the episode when Josh asks Donna is she's wearing the same pants as yesterday, my first instinct is always to wince in disgust.) But there are other, way more insidious phrases and grammar differences that creep in. There was one, right there: way more. And another: right there. I'm not sure I would have written either of those before my West Wing obsession.
So I'm starting a little blogpost, to be updated as I go along, probably more for my own benefit than anyone else's, so that in ten years' time when I'm married to Bradley Whitford and living in California I will remember how I used to speak.
I guess - I suppose
A couple people - a couple OF people
I just saw him - no, no, no! I spend hours bashing my students over the head with the difference between the past simple and the present perfect. By definition, if you've just seen him, then you've just seen him. Present prefect.
Way to... - okay, I love that expression, and I don't think we have an equivalent, do we, unless it's "what a great way to..."
movie - film, people! If you're British, it's a film!
I could care less - I think, surely, you mean "I couldn't care less"? If you could care less, then surely you care a little bit to start with, which is the opposite of what you're trying to say, isn't it? And yet if even Aaron Sorkin makes this mistake, it can't be a mistake at all. It must be an Americanism.
Gotten - you'd have thought I would never, ever say that. And yet, I heard myself, loud and clear.
Monday, 2 August 2010
Sunday, 1 August 2010
Friday, 30 July 2010
Sunday, 18 July 2010
I was missing the point. The unexpected means you can't anticipate it because you don't know what it's going to be. You can't conceive of it, a bit like those verses in - 1 Corinthians, is it?: no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has ever conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. If no mind has ever conceived, then it's going to be something unexpected.
At this year's conference the unexpected was this: what God did in my heart through relationships. Relationships? At Brighton? Dashing from one meeting to the other with barely enough time to peg it up the hill in between for yet another Costa latté? Yes. Strange. I know. But I reconnected with some people from my past - from my eighteen-year-old past, back when Impact was called FYP and my heart was filled with dreams of changing the world and hopes of church planting, and also pain that God would graciously come and minister to, in large part through the wonderful family that I lived with.
Every year at Brighton I see them again and every year it's special, but this year it was different. We got some real, quality time together, sitting on the beach in the sun, and we really talked, and prayed, in particular about some hurts and unforgiveness I have been carrying around for years. You know how preachers always say that when you don't forgive it's really you that you are hurting? Well, turns out it's true. Even if the other person does know about your unforgiveness. Which, as it turns out, sometimes they do. And sometimes you have to go and say sorry for that. It's humbling. It's embarrassing. Turns out that it also has incredible power.
It was emotionally exhausting and I had a headache and puffy eyes for what feels like a lot of the time. (Thank goodness for Boot's cucumber eye gel: it should be standard issue at Christian conferences.) I'd forgotten (somehow) how tiring it is when God deals with stuff in your heart. I didn't really know if much was happening but since coming home I've realised what God has been doing, and I'm so thankful. He's been softening and healing my heart, and if I let him, if i pursue him, this could transform me.
There were some other things, too. Some of them less unexpected. Ever since Stoneleigh days (yes, I'm that old) I've been underlining David Stroud's seminars in my programme and making sure I get to them. Something about his style really connects with my spirit and he always seem to speak into what I'm passionate about: whether it's the prophetic, church planting (yes, that again), and, more recently, the concept of "Everything": the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, so part of our mandate as Christians is to transform culture. I was buzzing when I came out of his seminar, having realised that my book is not just a soppy love story but actually does challenge an idol in our culture: the idea that girl + getting the guy = ultimate happiness. The next day, in Matt Hatch's seminar, part of the same training track, my eyes kept filling with tears as I listened to inspiring story after inspiring story, and as I talked afterwards with two other teachers I gained fresh vision for my job: being an excellent teacher, and building good rapport with my students is not just "something I should do 'cause I'm a Christian, hrmph", but part of the mandate to transform culture! Suddently it's exciting again!
Another thing I love in Brighton is this: for one week it feels like anything is possible. God might call you anywhere, and He will be with you as you go, and with you as you stay. Madrid? Back to London? Could the US stuff, the politics, the writing, any or all of it, really be God? After all, the writing is in part a product of another unexpected Brighton moment on the last morning in 2008. And... ooooh... did anyone else notice Brussels being mentioned from the stage? So who knows where to from here. But I know this with new-found certainty: there is a cup-bearer in heaven, and He has not forgotten me.
And also, next year I will take a swimsuit.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
So you get through a book a week? This, this, is why I think you should be on Twitter. I would like to know what's on your bookshelf right now; what your favourite novels are; whether you ever well up when you read Barack Obama.
I'd like to know if you've read Let the Great World Spin and, like me, paused on page two, and then many, many more times, to think that if your writing ever gets sent out there into the great spinning world, this is what you would like it to sound like.
Come and join us.
Or you can write to me. That would be fine too.
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
Sunday, 6 June 2010
Saturday, 22 May 2010
Sunday, 16 May 2010
Saturday, 15 May 2010
My life would never be the same again.
For the non-Brits and the desperately young, let me explain: it was (and, unbelievably, still is) an Australian soap opera based on one street, Ramsay Street, in the fictional Melbourne suburb of Erinsborough. And back then, it was incredibly tame, discounting the haircuts, which were horrendous. It starred the then-unknown Kylie Minogue and her on-screen boyfriend, Jason Donovan.
Except, oh happy day! My ever-knowledgeable friend Philippa came to stay with me and told me "they're married in real life, you know". The fairy tale was coming true! The on-off romance was permanently on, off screen. So exciting.
I was ten. It was forgivable.
Also forgivable was the fact that Philippa had got a little confused and Jason and Kylie never were actually married as such. But they were together - or at least, according to Between the Lines, Jason's recentish autobiography whose terrible ghostwriter has a predilection for the word "for". "Because" will do fine most of the time! Anyway, that's beside the point.
I owed it to myself to read it, you see. Because twelve-year-old me (yes, this obsession lasted a while) was in love with Jason. I even prayed semi-regularly for him to become a Christian so that I could marry him. (Since there was obviously nothing else standing in the way.)
Luckily for my mental health and my mother's phone bill, there was no twitter or facebook or livejournal, there were no yahoo groups, not even any internet to speak of.
Twelve-year-old me spent several years desperate to visit Australia and learning everything she could about Jason and Kylie and Melbourne and Neighbours. She may even have dreamed of living there herself, being on the show, who knows what went on in her head.
Ahem. Of course since I am now all grown up I do not indulge in any such behaviour.
Okay. Some of it I do. But I do not expect, say, Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney to be together in real life just because they had amazing chemistry on the West Wing. Had I known that Janel was married (and few people did until recently; she's got to be one of the most elusive famous people in the world), I would certainly not have entertained the thought for even a hundredth of a second, despite the photos of them together as real people and the quotes that are still kicking around the internet suggesting that they were never exactly repulsed by the idea of having to kiss each other. I'm glad that Janel is seemingly so happy and I really do hope that Brad will be again one day, too. Heck, I'd even be willing to help him out with that one. Even despite the moustache.
(On a serious note, this interview of his now ex-wife Jane Kaczmarek made me sincerely wish they could work things out. I was so impressed with her - such dignity, grace and kindness.)