Wednesday, 26 September 2012
Sunday, 8 July 2012
I realise I may be alone in thinking this, but that first card was better than its successor, the Nectar Card, and here's how: you could use it for air miles. And air miles were straight forward, tax-free, and generously allocated.
After a term's worth of (basically) cheddar, bread, tea bags and milk, I was able to treat myself to a flight back to Guernsey to see much-loved, much-missed friends from my gap year. I'd eaten at least one meal in college per day during that time, but I'd been savvy and always chosen the make of bread or cheddar or tea bags that carried extra reward points (and there were many of those back then), and so basically one term's worth of lunchtime cheese toasties had been sufficient to carry me home. I know Guernsey isn't far, but still, that's some achievement. And my brilliance at collecting reward points was, now that I think about it, something of a legend among my group of friends. (Maybe not a legend; I exaggerate for the sake of poetry. But it was nonetheless mentioned from time to time.)
Now that I'm about to start the whole university thing again (though it will be called "school") I have picked up this obsession where it left off. America loves reward points. It loves them! And most beloved of all, as far as I can tell, are the frequent flyer miles. Unlike the Air Miles of old (wistful sigh), each airline has its own scheme, which makes it more complex, and a lot harder work to figure out. I'm flying to DC with British Airways, who are an American Airlines partner, so I've opened an account with them, though I've opened several others too. I plan at some point to spend a substantial amount of time looking through the web site of each scheme and collating information on exactly which restaurant, which credit card, which hotel, earns me how many points with which airline. Maybe even doing a nifty thing involving a giant map and colour coding. Because it's not just flights - you can earn them on everything. I mean, everything. You can spend them on everything too, but I won't be doing that - mine are for seeing the world. Well, Colorado and California, anyway.
My air miles collecting will be legendary once more.
Tuesday, 3 July 2012
Monday, 25 June 2012
1. Bradley Whitford would have made a great Will McAvoy. The initial scene seemed to have been written for him. Sigh.
2. Aaron Sorkin has the courage to tell the truth about America. And about the fact that it's not the only country with freedom, thereby elliciting whoops from those of us who nod furiously when played the clip where Obama says he believes in American exceptionalism the way, for example, Brits believe in British exceptionalism. It's the kind of thing that may have riled some Americans, but won hearts in other countries. Because it's true! and refreshing to hear!
3. Aaron Sorkin has a thing about Belgium. I've always suspected this, but to get a mention within five minutes of the pilot episode is quite something. Well done him.
4. Also, he called the UK the UK, and not England. This is unusual for an American, and to be applauded.
5. MacKenzie did not need to be British. But if she was going to be British, she should have been called Fleur, or Sophie, or Fiona. British parents do not name their little girls Mackenzie, especially posh diplomat types. This unnecessary plot complication and unnecessary accent and ridiculously chosen name is likely to irritate me throughout.
5. Until the last scene, I worried that Mackenzie/Will had as much chemistry as Josh/Mandy. Which isn't a problem, except we are clearly meant to be shipping them. Oh well - maybe another meant-to-be-minor character will steal one of their hearts. The best ships are organic anyway. But then, oddly, I found myself welling up at the end. So who knows?
6. But Aaron Sorkin is clearly a romantic. More than that, he believes romantic love to be the motivation behind excellence, the thing that causes us to rise higher than we thought possible. Viz Studio 60 and the Social Network, though not the West Wing in quite the same way.
7. He's chosen to set this show not in a parallel universe, but in our real world - maybe the real world of a couple of years ago, complete with Barack Obama and BP oil spills. Interesting concept. And one which I think I Iike - it should make for some interesting social commentary, and means his creative energy will be devoted to characters and internal plot, rather than coming up with external plot.
8. That episode was really long. Are they all going to be this long?
9. Recognisable Sorkin characters all over the place - most notably Maggie (whose name Mackenzie pronounces with an American accent for no discernible reason). She reminded me of Matt's assistant in Studio 60. In fact, she's basically the same character. Or am I wrong?
10. Aesthetically speaking (and in many other ways), it's no West Wing. And it is certainly no Studio 60. (I doubt the Bradley Whitford/Matt Perry combination can be equalled or surpassed by anything other than Bradley Whitford/Rob Lowe). But John Gallagher, Jr, has grown into a hottie since he was last seen dropping Josh, Donna and Toby off at a station so they could get a train going the wrong way. Maybe it's time I crushed on someone more age-appropriate. Think I can charm him with my British accent (and my genuine British name)?
Sunday, 24 June 2012
Friday, 22 June 2012
I've also had a conversation today about the things we say we should be doing but feel bad for not doing and instead wallowing on the sofa, thinking "I can't be bothered".
So, here we go.
One of the best places to be in the early-evening yet still stifling heat of Belgrade is by the river. And the river is helpfully lined with cafés. We chose one towards the end of the row, because we had a pushchair with us and this particular one offered reasonable access, and also because my friend had been there before and knew they did good crepes.
There was a table free right by the water's edge: a good sign from the start. I feel terrible assuming that people away from home naturally speak my language, but was chuffed when it turned out that they had a menu in English. I went for a Rafaello - the white chocolate, almond and something. The reason I don't remember the something is that I asked for it to be replaced with Nutella - although it's not called Nutella here. My friend pulled a face and said "that'll be really sweet" - and it was, but it was also delicious, and plenty big enough too. I rounded off my mini-meal with my second fresh pink grapefruit juice and enjoyed the view and the relative cool of the evening air. Recommended.
Service: 9/10 - polite, efficient, multi-lingual but not over-eager
Food and drink: 8.5/10 - the bonus .5 point is for their being obliging in modifying my order! (Always important for me, since I tend to "know what I want" - as parents say of stubborn toddlers.)
Surroundings: 9/10 - looking out onto the river
Overall experience: 9/10 - not too touristy, not too busy, good atmosphere, non-intrusive music, and a welcome evening breeze. Great place to savour a dessert.
Thursday, 14 June 2012
I was trying to remember the name of a Spanish grammar book we used at university, and in desperation emailed the languages faculty at Cambridge - not expecting for one minute to hear back from the secretary who was there when we started in 1997. I remember her really fondly, so I exchanged a few emails with her, as well as another lecturer. I had a quick look on the homepage - most of whose contents would not have been online "back then". I found, among other things, my own exam papers from 1999 and several well-known names among the staff.
All of this reminded me that I loved university - I often think about the social side, and the picturesque surroundings, but I had forgotten how much I enjoyed learning. I'm giving my notice to my landlady today, which is more or less going to break my heart, so that was just what I needed as I set off for another two years of study. Now I'm excited...
(Apologies to Barry Cooper for the mildly plagiaristic title of this post...)
Monday, 11 June 2012
Friday, 8 June 2012
Friday, 25 May 2012
1. The poppies on the disused train platform seem to come alive in the early morning sunshine.
2. The people at the American Embassy were not as scary as I had been led to believe by the website.
3. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden all smiled at me from the wall of the waiting room, seemingly genuine welcome-to-America smiles.
4. My visa got approved after not that many scary questions!
5. Fresh orange juice, almond croissant, and a coffee to celebrate.
6. Politico's Senior Editor is in town for a lecture on the American election. I overcome my fear and speak to him about internships, and start to dream.
7. The Brussels metro is, randomly, playing a song by one of my favourite Spanish bands.
Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Tuesday, 8 May 2012
2. All the way home I hope that the new edition of The Writer magazine is waiting for me in my postbox, and it is.
3. Seeing "The Iron Lady" a while back sent shivers through me but also made me realise that the 80s were a fascinating decade, whose magnitude I was too young to understand but would now like to. It turns out that next term I get to study 80s literature as one of my options.
3. A brand new photo of my brand new goddaughter smiles up at me from my iPad.
Sunday, 29 April 2012
Friday, 20 April 2012
It makes me happy when people ask me what's happening with my book. It also bemuses me a little, since I often assume that by now my entire entourage know that if I had any kind of news, I would be plastering it all over the internet.
But in any case, if you missed the excitement in my tweets and Facebook profile a few weeks back, here are the three main things happening at the moment.
- Inevitable is now at number 4 on Authonomy.
This, theoretically at least, means that it will make the top five on 1st May, after a year on the site and many more hours faffing around on it than I care to count. Every month, the five at the top of the list get whisked away to the desk of a HarperCollins editor (at least, we all hope it's an editor and not a junior editorial assistant in her first week of work experience), and several weeks or sometimes months later an extensive comment is received. We all hope it'll be accompanied by the instant offer of a publishing contract, but it hardly ever is.
Still, though, reviews can be very useful if you are seeking to make changes prior to self-publication, or if you want to write to agents with soundbites like "HarperCollins said this book had an interesting premise." And I just want to get there now. (Which, by the way, you can help me with, if you go here, take thirty seconds or so to register, and then click "back the book". Thank you!)
- Meanwhile, I've also paid to have a couple of professional reviews done. The first from the London Writers' Club, which is run by two literary agents who offer to report back on your first 50 pages, plus - crucially - the query letter and synopsis that have, in my case, failed to enthuse anyone in the publishing world so far. That one was kind of devastating - mainly because I felt as if they hadn't "got" my book, but had tried to pigeonhole it into something it isn't, and doesn't want to be - but it did contain nuggets of helpfulness. The second was much more useful - it's a wonderful scheme for new writers run by the Romantic Novelists' Association, in which you get an in-depth critique of the whole novel from an experienced writer. I got a detailed six-page report which was encouraging but not pandering and gave me many useful pointers.
- The most exciting thing to happen so far has been that through a connection with an author whose work I love, I got to send Inevitable to an editor at a major New York publishing house. (You don't usually get to do that except through an agent, and I haven't managed to snag one of those yet.) I haven't heard anything back, and in a way I'm not surprised - but the set of circumstances which led to this were fairytale-like and inspired the plot for my third novel, so that's good enough for me. Well, almost.
So now I have a choice. Either way, I am going to work on it some more, but then what? Self-publishing? I was dead against this a year ago, but am coming round to the idea. Most importantly, it gets your work out there rather than keeping it sitting in a draw. It's so cheap, so easy, and people I know are making decent money at it. But should that be the main consideration? No, it shouldn't. In a way, I wish I'd never looked into the world of publishing. I deliberately avoided all of that in my first 18 months of serious writing because I wanted to write for the pleasure of writing. And that childlike innocence is not something I'll ever be able to recover.
Since I'm hopefully about to spend two years working on my writing - and, crucially, getting coaching - I am thinking I should probably hold off in any case. If, by the time I have my MFA from American University (sorry, I just have to keep saying that!) and have reworked Inevitable and met several agents, there is still no interest, then I probably will take the plunge. Or, by then, I'll be wise enough to know not to bother. Either way, though, Inevitable will always have a place in my heart and I think I'll always be proud of it.
Meanwhile, I'm working on my second novel. Primary Season tells the story of an evangelical Christian named Louisa Perry who works in Democratic politics. It's not always easy, let me tell you, and it's not made any easier by her crush on the maddeningly attractive Aaron Rosenberg. A lighter read? Welllll, maybe. Hopefully not a predictable one, though.
Saturday, 10 March 2012
1. I slept for almost nine hours. I have not felt this physically well in a long time.
2. Beautiful new notebooks and The Three a.m. Epiphany make for new enthusiasm about working on my writing.
3. A long overdue cuppa with a friend, and some nice Facebook chats with others. This is what I feel the Internet ought to have been invented for: real contact with actual people.
Thursday, 8 March 2012
2. Is there anything more satisfying than the swift and efficient arrival of a large Amazon parcel?
3. I embrace the expat lifestyle and head out to a quiz in an Irish pub, where the service is friendly, and they even give me a pint of iced tap water without my having to grovel, as well as a free round of drinks for being too slow. Now that's service.
Monday, 5 March 2012
Some of these things may seem tiny, insignificant, irrelevant, or pointless, but it all adds up. All of them will take under a minute. I would so appreciate it if you could take a minute or so out for this.
1. Go to this link for Amazon.com, or this one for Amazon.co.uk and click "like" next to the title.
2. While you're there, scroll down to "tags customers associate with this product" and click on "agree with these tags".
3. If you're on Twitter, copy and paste this and tweet it:
Want to learn a language? This eBook tells you how: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Conquering-Babel-Practical-Learning-ebook/dp/B005LBRBAA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330987826&sr=8-1 (Twitter will automatically shorten the link.)
That's for the UK - for the US use this one instead:
Want to learn a language? This eBook tells you how: http://www.amazon.com/Conquering-Babel-Practical-Learning-ebook/dp/B005LBRBAA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330988079&sr=8-1
4. If you're on GoodReads, click on this link and add to your "to-read" shelf.
5. While you're there, scroll down to "recommend to my friends" and click those people you think might like it.
6, If you're on Pinterest, repin this onto a board that works for you, like "books worth reading" or "friends" or "books my friends have written" or "learning a language".
Isn't social networking fun?!
If you've done all those things and you're still, say, waiting for the kettle to boil, or the bus to arrive, or the bank to answer your phone call, you can also try these:
7. Add a comment to Amazon (and an honest star-rating). (If you haven't read it, you can find extracts on Authonomy )
8. Add a comment to GoodReads (and an honest star-rating).
9. Add the link to your Facebook profile.
10. Email friends you know who might enjoy it.
Thank you so, so much!
Saturday, 3 March 2012
But for the first four episodes of season four, I think it holds up okay. There are still some great lines; Josh and Amy still have amazing chemistry (fear not, dear reader, I am Josh and Donna shipper through and through, but these things deserve to be acknowledged) and are completely in character, and Donna continues to look wistfully at Josh and make us wish he would hurry up and kiss her.
But then it starts annoying me. It's episode 5 when I notice it, "Disaster Relief". Firstly, Donna acts as if she doesn't know what Schadenfreude meant. Come on, of course she does. She's way smarter than that.
Then, I don't know. Everyone seems to be speaking slower than they used to.
Then there's Leo. Suddenly he's being mean to everyone: mean to CJ and mean to Josh. The Josh-and-the-slippery-Senator storyline I don't object to in itself, though I hate to see Josh sad. But Leo just seems out of character. And CJ - I dunno. There is something out of character there too - I can't quite place it.
So, time to skip ahead to the Supremes and then Gaza? Maybe. I don't much like the beginning of Season Six either, and Season Seven is fine - no, brilliant from Duck and Cover on - except I desperately miss Donna for those first six episodes. Hmm. I don't think I will ever understand the network's decision to stab Aaron Sorkin in the back. You are dismissed, Mr President was one of the last lines he wrote. Too bad there wasn't a letter reinstating him.
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
1. I finally make it to a café I've been meaning to try, and it turns out that they know how to make a latté. And they have wifi. This may be my new favourite place.
2. The student I am teaching there says something to the effect of, "well, if you're going to have a French tutor, it should probably be someone who likes The West Wing. Then we spend a good few minutes on the pavement debating Aaron Sorkin's dialogue style.
3. When I get off the train, I am handed two chocolate hearts in a small plastic wrapper and a happy Valentine's message from my town.
Thursday, 9 February 2012
Friday, 27 January 2012
2. I've been craving stir fry from the pre-prepared veggie packs since the beginning of the year and consequently thinking wistful thoughts about Sainsbury's Market in Pimlico... Sigh. But today I walk into my little local Delhaize and discover they've decided to honour Chinese New Year by stocking the "Wok" range, including those veggies.
3. I discover Scramble with Friends, and it's a lot of fun. I particularly like the encouraging automatic voice which ups its enthusiasm according to word length: good! Excellent! Amazing!
Monday, 23 January 2012
(Since I haven't 3BTed in ages, I hope you'll forgive me for having six today.)
1. I feel so inspired after my dailyish writing exercise that I decide to skive work and type up chapter one of my current WIP (work in progress), Primary Season. I'm not behind on my work, so I don't even need to feel guilty.
2. My favourite thing about Twitter is being able to communicate with authors whose book I enjoy. In the last couple of days, I've tweeted with three who are important to me, because I love their books and in some ways want to write like them, and in odd ways perhaps have things in common with them too, things that make me feel a kind of kinship with them. This makes me happier than I can begin to explain.
3. I am on time to orchestra for once, and I walk in to see two teenage girls messing around on the piano, playing and singing "In the jungle, the mighty jungle", or rather "dans la jungle, la terrible jungle"... There is something of an unadulterated simple pleasure in this, of their joy in each other and in music and in being young.
4. It's long and complicated to explain, but I have hope again that Inevitable may yet be published, when yesterday I felt nothing but despair and an irresistible urge to go the Kindle route.
5. When I buy my train ticket, the lady behind the counter spots the Guernsey sticker that has been on my flute case since 1996 (!) and we agree it's a lovely place. Such great memories, too...
6. Picking out my book for tomorrow, since I've almost finished the one I'm currently reading, I spot a notebook on the shelf. And yes - it's my blue writing prompts notebook, the one with half written fan fic and scenes for the new novel and generally lots of useful, useable stuff. I thought I'd lost it. I am relieved and ecstatic that I haven't.
Wednesday, 18 January 2012
Friday, 13 January 2012
It did nothing to convince me of the appeal of the Republican Party, though I was reassured that at least one person was calling them out for their increasing radicalisation and homogenisation. But really, I'm not sure it was meant to. It was easy to read, engaging and honest - what you see is what you get with Meghan, and that is one of only a very few traits we share - and you know what? To my shame I almost welled up when John McCain lost.
And it also gave me a lot of useful background information for my second novel, Primary Season, the first draft of which I wrote for NaNoWriMo. For all its brilliance, The Audacity to Win wasn't very helpful on how tough it is to be a woman in politics, or on those authentic details - bag calls, weight gain, ephemeral relationships, the impossibility of having clean clothes - which I need to make Aaron and Louisa and their world seem real.
So thanks, Meghan. Your book was just what I needed.
Still, though, I'm going to give it a go with tonight's episode, "Guns not Butter". I love this one, because Donna is my favourite, and she is brilliant here, when she tries - and almost succeeds - to find a Senator to whom the President urgently wants to speak.
In doing so, she walks straight into the baggage claims area of National (Washington National Airport, known by some people as Ronald Reagan Airport, though never by anyone on the West Wing, firstly because Reagan didn't exist in their world and secondly, I would guess, because Democrats only refer to it as "National"). Walk straight into baggage claim! With no passport! No flight to catch! Everywhere I've ever been you go through baggage claim before customs, and only then do you get to come out and meet your enthusiastic placard-holding greeters.
But not on American internal flights. I was very confused by this when I flew into LAX from Dulles. (Sorry, that's me showing off with my "I'm so knowledgeable about America" insider speak. LAX is Los Angeles' main airport and Dulles is one of Washington's.) Baggage claim is a bit of a free for all. Anyone can walk in. Which is one of the many things I found disorientating over there.
At one point, she also tries to call "Dirksen". This is a reference to one of the three buildings where Senators have their offices - Russell and Hart being the other one. And as for Will being an Eaton valedictorian, that means he gave the speech at high school graduation and was probably the highest ranked student in his year. And it's nothing to do with Eton College - it wouldn't have surprised me if Will had been educated there, but I'm glad Aaron Sorkin did not make the mistake of placing an American tradition in a venerable British education.
All clear now? Good.