Sunday, 29 May 2011

3BT: Rob Lowe, encouraging writers, and more on my book

1. I wake up still grinning about my Rob Lowe encounter yesterday. The buzz lasts all day, and is rekindled when I see that the Telegraph quoted him answering my question.

2. I wanted to go to a talk by a certain author; it's sold out, but turns out she is doing another one, straight afterwards. It's free, and much more relaxed, with far fewer people there. She's metres away and answers my questions. When I ask her to sign my book, she asks me why I have been taking notes. I explain I've just finished a novel of my own. She takes the time to ask me how it feels and ask me to email her. I don't know if she has any idea how exciting that is for me, especially given that hers is a book I've wanted to read since it came out last summer.

3. My book continues to climb the Authonomy chart; I'm now safely inside the top 250.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Rob Lowe: so much more than a pretty face

After I have stopped grinning, after the buzz of today has waned, here's, I think, what I will remember about Rob Lowe at Hay. Yes, the blue eyes. Of course. But it was the honesty that I didn't expect.

'I walk out and you guys laugh and I feel great, and I don't know what that's about,' he said.

I don't know either, but there was something winsome about his admitting that, straight up. It made me sit up and listen. (Okay, I was already sitting up and listening pretty closely.) It made me identify with him on some level: I was also the equivalent of the nerdy kid in school who didn't get picked for the soccer team.

He talked about how his fame gives him a sense of communicating, of being heard, of control, all of which were lacking from his childhood. He talked, too, about the freedom of being sober and how he no longer worries what other people think of him, and that freedom is what enables him to be funny.

He mentioned his love of literature and language, passed on to him by his mother; he talked too of his crafting his book. I was a little skeptical about his having written it himself, but I no longer am, and now I get to feel a kinship with him as I do with all other authors. Oh, to be in a room with him and get to chat about all of this stuff at length.

He talked, too, about the hurt he felt as a young man when he saw a star he admired throw away a lollipop he had passed on to him - the contempt it showed. I knew then that I would see a different attitude, a willingness to engage with his fans, that I haven't really seen in any of the four other West Wingers that I've met (or failed to meet) so far. I was right: he was gracious, and fun. He posed for cameras; at the book signing, he joked, he winked, he made eye contact.

And he was also realistic about what adulation often is: he knows somewhere deep inside him that that adulation can't be all about him, or who he is, or his work. Often it's objectification - young people, especially, using him, in some way, to work through their own issues. Things like that show a depth of thought that I hadn't necessarily expected to see in him.

Predictably, I also loved what he said about us West Wing fans: he said that in the end, the actors were just in it, but the show belongs to us now, that it's part of us. I think on some level that shows a special kind of humility, of being willing to give a gift and let go of it. I was suitably impressed.

3BT: happy Hay moments

1. 'No, you can't meet him,' says the well-spoken young man at the registration desk as I glide into my question about whether or not speaking to Rob Lowe was going to be a possibility. He's smiling. 'I know he has an army of hard core fans...'

'But at something like Hay, I mean surely...'

'You'd be surprised.' He rolls his eyes. 'People lose all sense of decorum.'

'But,' I persist, not one to be deterred so easily, 'some of those people might have come all the way from other countries to meet him.'

'Then ' he says, 'I suggest those people take a long, hard look at what they're reading.'

I redeem myself with a not entirely true claim that it's really just the West Wing that I'm obsessed with, and he just happens to be a West Winger, and I walk away happy, having enjoyed the banter.

2. Books and board games: two of my favourite things. Turns out the two have been combined into one - kind of a cross between Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, incredibly clever, and a lot of fun.Turns out, too, that the guy I spend a contented half hour playing it with invented the whole thing, and is the designer behind those funky Penguin mugs and notebooks. I come over all starstruck, not for the last time this weekend, and full of admiration. I even consider appointing myself his assistant, Donna Moss style. I really do think he may find me valuable.

3. The talk on the making of the King James Bible is fascinating, inspiring, and unexpectedly funny. Since Adam Nicolson is signing his book afterwards, I decide to buy two copies - one for me, and one for my step dad, who's interested in this kind of issue. We have a brief exchange about how mystery and simplicity meet in the King James, and how important that is to understanding the character of God.

I'm holding Rob Lowe's book, too, as well as my Hay programme with a rather dashing picture of him. Adam Nicholson asks me how Rob was.

'Not till this afternoon,' I say.

He signs my book, then the other one.

'To Roger,' I say, 'he's my stepdad.'

'Not your boyfriend, 'because obviously that's Rob Lowe.'

He writes 'to Roger,' then pretends to add, 'you're no Rob Lowe.'

I walk away smiling again after more enjoyable banter, and of course anticipation. Which, as it turns out, was well-founded.

Mission accomplished: on meeting Rob Lowe...

I'm not proud of it, but I should probably feel worse about it than I do. Which is, let's face it, not even a little bit. Although I do feel a little bad about not feeling bad, if that means anything at all.

Yes. I queue jumped.

Rob Lowe's talk had just ended; I had been one of the lucky few endowed with a microphone and had asked him a relatively coherent question, without breaking into a fake American accent. Then, like all the other hundreds of people, I pegged it to the bookshop to get his autobiography signed. I snaked in and out of courtyards, though I don't think I elbowed or pushed anyone. In the meantime, I made a new friend, who was doing the same.

But oh, the size of the queue.

You have to understand, I had come all the way from Belgium for this.

I had also almost lost my chance to seize the microphone, out of uncharacteristic graciousness, when I let someone else go first, and then it was taken from me and I had to fight to get it back.

My new friend said, 'I'm here with someone who's disabled, and I'm going to ask if we can go to the front. Come with us.' I found out both their names and, feeling like a fraud, I followed them to the front. Someone saw, and told me off, and I am still British enough for that to fill me with shame. I hung back. I gave my book to my new friends. But, bless them, they persuaded me they needed me. And then took pictures of Rob signing me book.

I did not lose all sense of propriety, and stammer 'I loved you in the West Wing' as I had with Stockard Channing (which is not, in fact, strictly true, though I do love the West Wing, and she was in it). I was not momentarily paralysed as I had been with Richard Schiff. In fact, I think it's fair to say I have nothing to be embarrassed about at all, though in the photographs ot does look, inexplicably, as though his publicist is trying to restrain me. He looked straight at me - and oh, those eyes - and he winked at one friend and joked with the other.

And, my word, the man is beautiful.

Location:Hay Literary Festival

Thursday, 26 May 2011

3BT: technology, rain, and more technology

1. Breaking news: the UK based Writing Magazine that I've been dithering about subscribing to has just launched an app for iPad, less than a week after the arrival of mine. It's almost as if they knew.

2. The smell of the pavement after springtime rain.

3. "This train is really quick," says the well-dressed youngish man in the seat across from me on the Eurostar. He's right, of course, and in a time where we have lost our capacity to be wowed, it's refreshing to hear someone pause and acknowledge techonology.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

3BT: a friend, a park, and sleep

1. I have lunch with a friend I haven't seen in far too long.

2. My friend tells me about a little park I didn't know existed. It's noisy because of the busy road running alongside it, but some of that is masked by the fountain, and it's a great place to sit in the sunshine and finish my book.

3. My early(ish) lesson tomorrow is cancelled. After twitter-induced silliness and ensuing sleep deprivation last night, I badly need the lie-in.

Monday, 23 May 2011

3BT: a squirming toddler, an unexpected gift, and the return of an essential website

1. "Mikael," I say to my toddler nephew, "look at me". But I'm hiding behind my iPad to take the photo and he wriggles and squirms to see me and giggles when my head pops out from behind the camera.

2. "I have something for you," says my sister. It's not my birthday or Christmas so I'm not expecting anything. It's a mug with a scrabbler's player: God grant me the serenity to accept the words I cannot change, courage to play the tiles I can, and the wisdom to use the triple word score.

3. The much-missed is back up online after a sudden, mysterious absences of a few weeks. This may not sounds noteworthy, but in the world of Claire, these things matter.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Life after the novel

Nobody prepares you for life after the novel.

Nobody prepares you for the emptiness.

I have an idea for my next one. That's all it is for now: a gem of an idea. But that's all Inevitable was until I sat down with exercises from the Five Minute Writer and my characters leapt to life. I could do it again. I could sit down and flesh them out.

But I'm not ready.

I'm not ready, partly, because I'm scared.

What if the next one isn't as good?

What if the voice I found for Kate only works for Kate, and I can't find a different one which is also still me?

What if all my characters are carbon copies of Kate, with her love of books and coffee and grammar and politics?

What if I don't know enough about the themes I want to explore, and I make a fool of myself, or worse, offend people?

But those aren't the main reasons. The main reason is that I can't let go of my first novel.

And that is partly a good thing. Although I have proclaimed it finished, posted it on Authonomy, drank numerous glasses of pinot grigio blush in its honour, I know it is not, actually, finished. There is tweaking to be done. There may be scenes to rewrite, or - oh, the pain - to delete.

And how can I immerse myself in that world again to make those changes if part of me has moved on to another one already?

I may be walking down the street or listening to a political podcast or reading a book, and a new idea may present itself that would work well as a sub-plot or an extra scene. Granted, this hasn't happened in a while, which was one of the signs to me that it was, in fact, finished. But I don't know how to have an idea and not make it part of Inevitable.

And I miss it.

I miss looking forward to a Saturday which starts with coffee and a writing prompt and ends in new pages or better sentences.

I miss the process, and I miss the writer's high.

I miss hanging out with my characters, and I am afraid of being unfaithful to them if - as I must - I fall in love with a new cast.

But how to move on? And how to keep writing? And what to keep writing, when I'm not ready to let go of my first novel?

Nobody prepares you for this. I really wish they would.

Ah, Belgium.

Am I the only one who finds this a little ironic?

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

3BT: novels and iPods and magazines

1. In my inbox sit four versions of the cover for my novel. I love them, and I'm so grateful to a Twitter friend whom I've never met, who took the time to design them.

2. I ask another taxi driver if he's found an iPod. It's the fourth time I've mentioned it since I remembered leaving it in his car this time last week, but I wasn't ready to give up. "No," he says, "we've checked." Then, "hang on, what does it look like exactly? It is a thing with earphones?" He pulls out my little pink nano from his glove compartment. Hooray! I can now catch up on political geekery to my heart's content.

3. My Writing Magazine awaits me in my postbox. The May issue took forever to arrive, so I'm delighted to be receiving this one just a few days after it comes out: the same day, in fact, that it arrives in American "stores". Three cheers for globalisation.

Monday, 9 May 2011

A survey on books and personality types...

I would like to conduct my own little non-scientific survey.

Well, actually, if we're talking wishes, I'd like to spend three years being funded to study this scientifically, but since that is -sigh - unlikely, I'm going to need you to help me out by answering the following questions:

1. Do you know your Myers Briggs personality type? What is it?
2. What are five books that you really, really like?
3. Do you have a favourite "genre" of books?
4. What do you think of the idea of someone never quite getting over someone, to the point where they are never able to be happy in any other relationship? Is it unrealistic?

I'll outline my theories in a later post...

3BT: a Belgian supermarket, spring, and a two-year-old.

1. The local supermarket (think Tesco Metro) is celebrating its third birthday. There is cake laid out on the table: individual slices on paper plates, with plastic spoons, all free for customers so they can share in the celebrations.

2. I do a French lesson on Skype, with a guy whom I started teaching as winter was arriving. Now, it's spring; he's sitting on his balcony and the birds are singing at me through the computer screen.

3. He tells me his two-year-old has been picking up some French: "oh la la," she says, and "je ne suis pas contente". I imagine that's unbelievably cute.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

3BT: an unexpected pleasure, reading in the sunshine, and a train journey

1. Shaving my legs is pure pleasure with my new Venus Breeze razor. (And no, they are not sponsoring my blog.) It's purple, and it smells nice, and my legs are soft and uncut.

2. I sit in the sunshine, all stillness aside from the birdsongs, reading The Book Thief.

3. Just enough time on the train journey for an unexpected Scrabble game.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

3BT: old friends, and a new friend, and magazines

1. Two emails from ex-students -both very excited to hear from me - and with them memories: of Costa Coffee on Thursday mornings with one, of posh meeting rooms with beautiful views over the river in Canary Wharf with the other, and of good times together, learning, laughing, being friends.

2. Clare from the original 3BT website follows me on twitter. She's inspired me, made my life better in a small but not insignificant way. Plus, with the name thing, I feel a kinship.

3. My back issues of the Writer Magazine arrive from America. A writing magazine. From America. Really, that should be two beautiful things.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

3BT: the book, unexpected music, and my fantastic job

1. Oh, so many wonderful comments about my novel, and the admittedly ephemeral pleasure of being Number One on the Authonomy site... "I want another chapter... I need another chapter!" says one guy - yes, a guy - and then four hours later he reiterates, "I need another chapter! I want to know what happens next!"

2. On Avenue Louise, a man in a dinner jacket plays the trumpet from the inside of a car, with the window wound down. He addresses his music to a woman walking along the street. She laughs in flattered pleasure.

3. I spend part of a lesson flicking through OK! and discussing Kate Middleton's wedding dress in a mixture of French and English. Sometimes I can't believe my job isn't a hobby.

Monday, 2 May 2011

How you can help me get published...

You know the novel I've been yabbering on about for months? Well, a sneak preview of is now available!

If you wanted to drop by and read anything from a paragraph to 15,000 words - please feel free!

If you want to comment, back, or rate me, it could help me get published too, so needless to say I'd really appreciate that... and if you're feeling like you want to be super helpful you could post the link to your Facebook wall too.

The site is run by publishers HarperCollins, so it's totally legit - no worries there! They ask you to register but it only takes a minute, and you don't get spam.

Advert over!