Saturday, 22 May 2010

Alphabet tweets

How, I wonder, does a Twitter trending topic start?

I loved last week's #lesserbooks thread, where people suggested titles like Harry Potter and the Chamber of Commerce, The Prunes of Irritation, or Modesty and Open-mindedness. It was a great Friday afternoon chuckle until the spammers got hold of it and clogged the thread. Grrr.

Anyway, who started it? Does anyone know?

And does anyone know how I can start my own? Because here is a game I think we can all play. Today, in the middle of Gent, I mentally updated my Facebook status to "Claire is aching for American adventure". Then I thought - wow, look at that alliteration. Maybe I should go through the alphabet. Creative writing prompt, or something. Mostly, just a bit of fun.

So, if you want to join in, add a comment to this post, or perhaps tweet with the hashtag #alphabettweet... How are you feeling? Your aim is to tell us with at least three words that all start with the same letter, and you're allowed an extra one in there for good measure.

Aching for American Adventure
Buzzing with Belgian Battiness
Crazy about Colin's Co-star
Dreaming of Dating a Dude
Eternally, endlessly elegant (okay, a little poetic licence there...)
Fearful of foreseen failure
Garrulously Googling the Gorgeous Good Guys
Healthily Hopeful about Her Holidays
Inquistive about Important Issues

And all the way to Zzzzzzz .... I'm too tired for this right now. Will finish another day though. Night all.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Want to help with my book?

Dear readers of my blog,

I wondered if you'd be able to help me out with something. As you can't fail to have noticed, I'm writing a novel. I'd love to exchange emails or have coffee with any of the following people:

- a Brit in a relationship with an American
- someone who has worked or is working at an American Embassy (if it could be the one in Brussels, that would be fantastic), or really any Embassy; don't worry, I'm not going to ask you for state secrets!
- a jazz pianist
- someone who has sacrificed themselves in some way for love
- Brits who live in Brussels
- Americans who live in Brussels
- People who have a different nationality to their parents', and feel fine about that
- Belgians who have lived in the UK all their life (that may be like finding that proverbial needle, but anyway...)
- non-Americans who feel drawn to live in the US (though, I can probably just talk to myself on that one!)

Thank you!

Claire :)

Dilemmas of a writer: pen names

I have a dilemma.

I'm soon to start entering short stories for competitions. I already have a writer's blog, and a Facebook page. This is not because I am spending more time thinking about being published than I am about working on my novel. No. Because that would be disobeying the wisdom of Bradley Whitford:

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.

And also because, I do actually love writing. I don't always love it when I sit down. There are moments when I fling my pen down in frustration; sentences I start over and over again; things I just can't work out how to describe so they come alive; characters who refuse to be distinctive; emotions that are hard to put into words.

But usually about thirty minutes in, sometimes a lot more, and sometimes never, there comes that moment: the writer' high. It stays with me all day. Runners are probably best placed to understand what it is. It makes me want to continue writing, and it inspires me to come back again and again.

So mostly I think about writing. But at some point, I'm going to have to settle the issue of my pen name. (I've never been that happy with my own surname, not least because it's difficult to spell correctly.) I currently have one that consists of my own first name and a borrowed surname. I'm happy with it. But recently I've been pondering using a different first name - something that might flow better. Something like Anna or Melissa. (Donna may be taking certain obsessions a little far.)

Here's the thing, though. If people know me as, say, Amy Scott (which was my pen name in my teens, but I'm ditching that one, or at least for now), then Amy is the name that I'll have to respond to, assuming there are things like interviews and book signings,, and that would feel odd, because I'm not used to doing that. I would feel a fraud. Just changing my surname wouldn't do that; I've spent half my life imagining myself with different ones anyway. But somehow changing my first name feels like changing the essence of me, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that.

Although, in a way, it's no different from acting, is it? I can re-invent myself, slip into a new persona, which could be fun. Oddly, I would have no qualms whatsoever about replying to an email under a different name. But face to face? I don't know.

Any writers out there? What do you do about this?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Reality check

Back in the eighties, yes, the eighties, a little TV programme called Neighbours arrived on the BBC.

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.)

I am not confused. Well, not about this: Bradley Whitford is not Josh Lyman. But I will admit that this piece comparing the two may have been the initial trigger to the transfer of my affections from Josh, who is a fictional character, to Brad, who may as well be, because let's face it, I don't know what he's really like.

Or do I? If sites like eHarmony insist you can get to know people through reading profiles and exchanging emails, then surely reading interview after interview, and speaking to people who have met him, gives me some idea of the kind of person he is. Don't they? Who knows? I feel I know him a little. I feel I certainly know him enough to accept the offer of coffee should it ever be forthcoming.

So when I talk about Brad, I'm not talking about Josh. (Nor, incidentally, am I being disrespectful or implying close personal friendship by using his first name. It seems kinder and warmer to me, and when people use just my surname, it makes me want to smack them; I'm not sure why.) I'm talking about the Bradley Whitford I feel I know something about. When I say I want to marry him, it's shorthand for I'd like to meet him, I'd like us to become friends, I'd like us to fall in love, then, if all of those things work out and he shaves off his moustache, I'd like to marry him. What can I say, I love fairy stories. You know, ordinary girl marries handsome actor and lives happily ever after. Writes a book about it called "Find Me Valuable".

But of course that's all it is. A fairy story.

It's just that I'm not ten anymore, so perhaps it's less forgivable.

The moustache, part 2 of no-doubt-many

It's time I was honest with myself.

This moustache thing. You know, the thing that people can't help asking Bradley Whitford about. The thing that even he is starting to sound perhaps a little bored of, unless I've misread it.

The thing with the moustache is this: it makes him look old. Not like, old old, but too old to be my future husband. Too old to be Josh Lyman. Definitely too old to be the hero in my novel. It makes him look like other people with moustaches who remind me of dad figures rather than boyfriend figures.

If you listen very carefully you can hear the sound of a bubble popping.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Quirky things about Belgium, #832

Please humour me while I engage in the tiniest of moans.

Imagine you run a newsagent's at Bruxelles Midi, the busyish international train station. You store a more-than-reasonable number of foreign newspapers. But times are hard for everyone, so you need to cut back. When do you think it is best to cut back on British publications: two months before a potentially historic election, or two month afterwards, when the excitement has died down, the country (perhaps) has a government again, and expats have stopped feeling guilty for deserting their homeland in its hour of need?

And then, once you've made this critical decision, which newspaper will you keep? I am not asking for The Observer, which is not to everybody's taste, and which I have in any case vowed to boycott forever more. (Though they've printed a letter from me this week, so I would quite like to see it.) But perhaps the Sunday Times, which is moderate enough that some Labour voters have been known to buy it, admittedly mainly for its Style section?

No. You go for the Sunday Telegraph. Because most British expats living in the capital of Europe, many of them working for one of its institutions, would not, I'm sure, be in any way opposed to Mr Cameron's views on the EU or to any of his other policies.

But then, although Belgium has many strengths, I have long since discovered that good business sense is not one of them.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

My name is Claire, and I'm a Liberal Democrat. I think.

The biggest surprise of this election for me will not be the result: I think its sheer unpredictability has robbed it of its ability to shock. (Though I hope I'm wrong - thank you Guardian for reminding me of that Portillo moment from 1997. Moments like that are worth staying up for!)

No, the biggest surprise is that I appear to be a Liberal Democrat.

Maybe it was the TV debates and how Nick Clegg was so inspiring. Or maybe it was the nausea that David Cameron's shiny face triggers in the pit of my stomach, and the thought that it's unlikely Gordon will be able to beat him.

Or maybe it's the following...

1) I'm a Liberal Democrat for all the reasons I used to be Labour. And I've been Labour since I was 16 and began to understand politics thanks to A Level Sociology (thank you Mrs Garrod and Mr Archer of Kirkley High School). I've been a paying member on and off (too disorganised for much more than that) and even at times an active one, if by active you mean going along to monthly consituency meetings. I wish I'd known then I'd be writing novels, because the characters I met there could populate them. But that's another, erm, story.

My main reason for having been Labour was this: I believe in a more equal distribution of wealth, and I believe the Government should facilitate this, including and perhaps primarily through a progressive tax system. So when Nick Clegg says he wants to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000, that pushes my buttons a little more than, say, Labour abolishing the 10p tax rate or David Cameron letting the rich off estate tax.

That's my main reason.

But, also.

2) I believe in proportional representation. I can't see what could possibly be fairer. I don't think there should be such a thing as a wasted vote; if there wasn't, perhaps turnout would be higher; perhaps people would be more engaged. Which, surely, in a democracy, are all good things.

3) Those who haven't yet unfollowed me on twitter in disgust will no doubt close this blog right now. But the thing is, I'm pro Europe. Well, someone has to be. I dislike our isolationist attitude, and I'm not sure about allying ourselves less with our closest neighbours than we do with the US with all their talk (albeit historial) of "freedom from the British".

So there you go. I'm posting this early on 7th May, and still no one knows what's going to happen. And there's one constituency I'd really rather the Lib Dems had not taken, so now I'm confused, all over again.

Perhaps I'm still Labour after all.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Would like to meet...

After doing a Spanish lesson on personal ads with one of my favourite students this morning, I was inspired to write mine. If you know anyone who fits the bill send them in my direction... ;)

Vivacious, word-loving brunette seeks church-planter (dimples and leftie tendencies desirable) with whom she can share re-watches and discussions of the West Wing. And perhaps other things too.

Monday, 3 May 2010

I think I missed my destiny

Torture. Pure torture. There's just no other word for it.

I'd left my flat, all hot and bothered, as is my tradition when I have a cross-Channel train to catch, and so irritated with my editor for massacring my article on the Good Guys that I wasn't thinking straight and left my West Wing DVDs behind. Not that I could really have watched them anyway, despite my desperate need for some cheering up by the sight of some beautiful men: I've arrived at the end of series one, which, as aficionados will know, means there is no option but to watch three episodes in a row, without pausing for so much as a tweet. And the disadvantage of the Eurostar journey having been shortened by 30 minutes since November 2007 is that it no longer leaves you enough time to watch Josh get shot and Donna fall in love with him just in time for his recovery. An oversight on the part of Eurotunnel if ever there was one.

You have books and magazines, I told myself. Not to mention more sulking to do about how misunderstood and under-appreciated you are as a writer. You do not need the West Wing. Just go and get yourself a cup of tea, take a deep breath, and enjoy the fact that you are not on a Ryanair flight and can therefore feel your legs.

But on the way back from the cup of tea purchase, I saw something on a screen. Or rather, someone. I'm not even sure that my brain registered it on a conscious level: I just knew I couldn't walk straight past the guy with the laptop. Yes. Yes, it looked suspiciously like Martin Sheen. That's okay, though, I mean Martin Sheen is in lots of things. It could be - oh. Now there are people waving placards that say "four more years". And "Bartlet for America".

No, I almost said to the attractive man. (Was he attractive? Or was I engaging in misdirection?) You can't do this to me. This is not even "just" the West Wing. This is 2o Hours In America, which may be my favourite episode ever (discounting everything from The Cold onwards because I like to think there is more to my devotion to the West Wing than the romance side of things). Do you have any idea how painful this is for me? Do you realise how hard it is not to tap you on the shoulder and ask if I can sit in that empty seat right there?

In one of my novels, of course, the character (let's call her Claire) would do just that, and the nice man would turn out to be her soulmate, and she would forget all thoughts of Bradley Whitford, if such a thing were possible. Or perhaps she's slip him a note, Donna-style: "this is a good one". He'd look up, she'd flick her hair in that blonde way that seems to elude me, be transfixed by the sparkle in her eyes, so that when she pulled out her earphones from her pocket and said, "do you mind?" he'd shuffle over and make room for her. And then she'd notice that actually he wasn't bad looking, more Sam Seaborn than Josh Lyman, but those blue eyes make up for a lot.

He would not look at her strangely, or pretend not to hear, in an effort to remind her that they are British and that kind of thing just isn't done. And she certainly wouldn't walk past him over and over again in a desperate attempt to catch his eye. She definitely would not just go back to her seat, put on her West Wing soundtrack and draft a blogpost about the whole thing.

Not if she had any sense of adventure whatsoever.

A leftie's take on Philippa Stroud

I’ve known Philippa Stroud all of my adult life, and it’s no secret to my friends that she has been something of a role model to me. Yes, you read that right, and yes, I am talking about the same Philippa Stroud who was vilified in yesterday’s Observer.

Highly intelligent, capable, and articulate, deeply compassionate, she longs to see people be all they can be. And she wants this country to be a better place. We may disagree politically on how to get there, or even what it looks like, but I’ve never once doubted her sincerity or her motives.

It’s tempting to go through the article line by line and rebut each inaccuracy.

But instead, I want to ask this:

The authors clearly did their homework, for example picking apart her book God’s Heart for the Poor. I wonder if at any point they noticed the time, energy and effort that she tirelessly poured into working to help others. The sacrifices she made. And the big heart with which she did it. Did they notice any of that, or were they too busy skim-reading for words like “gay” and “demons”?

Have they met Philippa, spoken to her, heard the stories of the hundreds of people she has inspired or helped or counselled or to whom she has helped restore confidence and dignity?

I am a leftie, and a proud one. I do not want a Conservative government. But I would be more than happy to live in a country run by people like Philippa Stroud.