Sunday, 20 March 2011

Things I learned on the Writers' Retreat.

1. I need an iPhone.

Not only for all the obvious reasons, like the fact that with the Boggle app, you can shake it and all the letters move around just like in the real game. Not even just, though I am very excited about this, for the app that allows you to listen to any radio station live. (This mean that instead of podcasts, which I love but are invariably out of date by the time I listen to them, I can listen to Radio Four and MSNBC live. As it happens. Imagine that.)

No - as a Writer it is essential that I have one because of the amazing Dragon Dictation app. Once the stuff of science fiction, it really works. I spoke to it, said "I don't really believe this will work," and it typed it out, word for word, apostrophe and all. No more digging around in my bag for a pen and my ubiquitous notebook when my characters start talking to me on the bus. (Yours do that too, don't they?)

2. Many grown adults are umable to sit still and quietly for ten minutes at a time.

Seriously. These are people who are supposed to be able to spend hours, locked away, writing. I'm hardly brilliant the silence thing myself - ask anyone who has ever been to the cinema with me - but really? Ten minutes, to allow other people's imaginations to carry them to that Other Place writers know and love? You can't manage that?

3. I just want my book to be finished.

This is no surprise; I've been saying it for a while now. I've decided - though I'll call it an epiphany, since that's harder for other people to argue with - that at some point soon I am going to declare my book to be finished. I am going to stop faffing with it. I am going to stop changing everything so that my latest readers are happy with it. I am going to add the small elements of subplot that are still missing; I am going to delete or find some synonyms for some of my instances of suddenly, gently, slightly, and beautiful; I am going to infuse it with a little more of a sense of place; then I'm going to declare it finished, and start down the path of being rejected by a hundred agents. Because who doesn't look forward to that part?

4. I have an NPR name.

You do, too: take the first letter of your middle name and insert it somewhere in your first name. Your surname is the name of the smallest foreign town you've ever visited. This makes me Clairea St Bertrand de Comminges, which I can't say I'm wild about.

I'm getting used to my pen name - Claire Lyman - though I still seem unable to say it without cringing, and after a couple of my writer friends wrinkled their noses I came up with an alternative: Amy Whitford. I like this one a lot - and so did they - but I'm not sure the cringe factor is any less. It may, in fact, be more. The jury is still out.

(And if you want to contribute to said jury, feel free to vote in the following poll:

5. Self-publishing is cheaper and less hassle than I thought.

I'm too much of a literature snob to consider self-publishing Inevitable, though ask me again after ten years of soul-destroying attempts to have it accepted by one of those elusive agents. But I have had an idea for a non-fiction book trotting round in my head for a good few months now, and it's quite possible that I could not only make the money back but also actually make a profit on it. Maybe that prophecy about diversifying and being a rich woman one day is, in fact, a little closer to being fulfilled than I thought it might be.

6. I do a mean Californian accent.

Then again, it's possible that Nathan was just being nice, though after an hour of two girls trying to imitate his pronunciation of words like "hawrible" and "awrnch juice" it's difficult to see why anyone would want to do that. Still, though, apparently I'd fit right in in Pasadena, which could come in handy one day.

7. I should go to the Waterstones on Boulevard Adolphe Max more often.

They sell Terry's chocolate oranges and cream crackers. The Guardian wasn't as expensive as I thought; neither was Hello (please don't judge me). Plus, I still have vouchers from a couple of birthdays ago, and the view from the till is not unpleasant.

8. The best thing about Writers' Retreats is the new friends you make on them.

Which is more than just a cheesy note to end on; it also happens to be true.

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