Sunday, February 22, 2009

Not ski-ing, but reading

I'm home after a week in France, in the Alps. I don't ski but those with whom I travelled did - and with a vengeance. While I made an unfeasibly expensive coffee last for as long as I could, they were hauled to the top of mountains, only to fling themselves off again. We'd meet for meals of vast quantities of carbohydrates and they'd discuss near misses and new bruising, before they'd head off again, ready to do it all again.

At 4.12am on the day we left, I received a text from my nephew asking me to bring books. I was delighted to do so of course, but didn't imagine that he'd find any time, with all that ski-ing, to read them. But I was wrong. By the time we got back, he'd read the lot.

It was Damian Kelleher's new novel, Life Interrupted, that had him laughing out loud on occasion. The football-mad younger sibling rang several bells, obviously. There's a lot of sadness in that book too, and he admitted to feeling it - though he didn't cry as I had. Fourteen year-old boys don't, he told me.

His 16 year-old sister, taking a break from a fairly stressful school year, took the week to read Chris Higgins' Love Ya Babe. She's not such a fast and furious reader, but when I heard her say, 'Yes, I'll eat/I'll come/I'll help - once I've finished this chapter,' I was reassured that she too was enjoying herself.

It is magical to be surrounded by all that snow and the astonishing Alpine peaks set against bright blue cloudless skies. My lungs felt like whistles. It was certainly good to have a break from work. But it was also good to be reminded what the work is all about - finding books for readers and readers for books.

It isn't always the case, but on this occasion, I felt I'd done a good job.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It's been a while, but today I decided I'd revisit this long-neglected shelf of my computer.

Today's thoughts whilst walking the dog in driving rain and freezing winds followed a slightly unsettling evening with a group of published and unpublished writers. It was an interesting event, but unsettling because once again, I was reminded of the mismatch between the art of writing and the industry of publishing. Here was a group of apparently well-informed, enthusiastic and committed writers - but when faced with the realities of the industry which offers them the ultimate accolade - a publishing contract - some of them were almost resentful.

Questions from the floor shed little pools of light, brighter to some in the audience than to others. The panel of agents agreed on most things - largely from the baseline assumption that each writer's career, each book, each stage of the manuscript differs from person to person.

But still, these writers wanted a formula for success in finding an agent - some believing that in securing representation, publishing contracts would follow thick and fast. There was a great deal of misinformation and inappropriate expectation in the air. But there were also stout hearts amongst the optimists, and I don't doubt that there will be success stories to come.

Interestingly, many of those present were already published, but often by a small publisher, and for no financial gain. But for some reason that seemed not to count. They were dismayed to discover that contracts with large publishers don't often come with much financial gain either.

I felt that we were shattering some dreams, if gently, and I left feeling heavy-hearted about that. I'd love to be able to persuade writers that success isn't only measured in terms of a publishing contract, in seeing your books in a bookshop promotion, in reading reviews in the more respectable press. Surely writing for its own sake is important, and in so many ways.

But of course that kinds of writing doesn't pay the bills - for either me or the writer.

So I suppose today's walking thoughts were all to do with responsibilities.

They're weighing rather heavily at the moment.

Monday, October 02, 2006

2nd October 2006

Well, it would be a lie to suggest that it hasn't rained since my last blog. But it's also been lovely - sunny and bright - so it hasn't felt like a rainy spell.

On our walk at the weekend, I noticed the leaves beginning to turn - autumn is moving in, taking things over and dictating the colour scheme. It's probably my favourite time of year.

The dog is at his most chipper when it's crisp and dry. He hasn't much enjoyed the heat of the summer, seeking out dark shady spots in the flat, behind the sofa, underneath the desk or behind the rocking chair. This requires some fancy footwork, as the floor here is littered with manuscripts awaiting consideration or return, review copies of books, and screeds of correspondence which may - or may not - require attention.

He picks his way across the piles, occasionally giving a package particularly close attention - I assume that the sender was eating a biscuit just prior to licking the envelope. Snuffling done, he continues on his way until he finds the space he's been looking for, and he thumps down, as if to emphasise the difficulty of the journey, looking balefully at me from his resting place.

Regular breathing indicates that he's fallen sound asleep, but it only takes a delivery, movement from the flat below or the tell tale whistle of Barney's owner to rouse him from his neuk and head for the door, barking more deeply than a dog of his size should.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

19th September 2006

More heavy rain today, coinciding with one of our outings.

This morning I saw the lady with the limp leave in her car. I think she lives in the housing association flats, and understand from some of our brief conversations that she is only allowed her dog - a 15 year-old Westie - as some kind of special dispensation. But during the summer, she has occasionally appeared with a new dog - a rickety little skinnymalink of a dog, about half the size of your average cat. She - the dog, not the lady with the limp - wears a diamante halter, sometimes blue, and sometimes pink, and she only appears under cover of darkness.

Last night, during our Last Lampost of the Night outing, the lady told me that she had to be up early this morning - she was due at the vet for 8.30am as she'd arranged for her new dog to be neutered. We agreed that it was all for the best.

But while she was there, she was also going to ask the vet about her Westie. 'His back end's going', she explained, 'and I'm worried about his quality of life.' She was quite matter of fact.

As somebody who is already busy trying to work out what on earth I'm going to do when my boy shuffles off his mortal coil (he's not yet 2) I was taken aback by her stoicism. I heard myself say, 'Well, maybe the vet will have some ideas...' but it's clear that the lady was way beyond good ideas of the desperate kind.

We parted, heading for our respective beds.

This morning, as her car passed me, I couldn't bring myself to meet her eyes and wave, or to look for what I imagine will be the final time at her Westie. I just walked on, hood up against the drizzle, poo bag at the ready.

I'm hoping to be a better friend when I see her next.

Monday, September 18, 2006

18th September 2006

It's just begin to rain on the skylight under which I work, so I feel obliged to keep to my intention of blogging on rainy days. Which, because I live in Scotland and we're sliding into autumn could turn out to be a full-time job.

The dog is not yet aware of the pitter patter of tiny raindrops. A beach walk at lunch time has left him quite exhausted and he's sound asleep at my feet, groaning gently with every intake of breath.

The beach walk wasn't one of our better ones. The tide was up which meant that there was no way of distracting him from the intrepid picnickers or the other dogs. I kept him on the lead for a while, but the sight of the dog straining elicits a uniform response - head to one side, fellow dog walkers, all of whom have dogs whose sole purpose in life is to obey their owners' every whim, remark, 'He only wants to play.'

So - to save them making the call to the canine equivalent of Childline - I let him go. They smile indulgently at me - Told you! - as my dog streaks towards the nearest dog/picnic/crawling toddler with the express intention of making their day.

He mastered cornering earlier this summer, but braking still isn't a strong point. I brace myself. Today, we were lucky, the toddler was whisked into the arms of a smiling Dad; the picnickers had their own dog who gave mine short shrift - enabling him to put his swerving tactics to good use; but the other dogs proved ideal bundling companions and I could only stand and watch.

Time passed. Other owners called their dogs, perhaps three or four times, before leaving to continue with their day. Mine ignored my increasingly shrill cries - indeed he ignored me. He has perfected a 'Never seen you before in my life!' look.

Eventually, he gives in, and ambles towards me - a few sniffing detours en route to emphasise the fact that his return to the lead is entirely his idea.

We head for the car and continue with our day.

It's been worse. I once shouted so hard that my nose bled.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Today it's raining heavily. A tupperware coloured sky chucking heavy raindrops all over Edinburgh and, presumably, beyond.
My dog is unimpressed.
But if you have a dog, you have to take him for walks, so I'm having none of the eye-rolling, faint groaning or wilful neck stiffening that he's trying out as he stands at the front door looking disgusted and outraged.
Outsize umbrella in one hand, dog lead in the other, we set out for a walk in the park.
I even hear myself say to him, 'You'll feel the better of this...'
But 100 yards later, he's already done everything he needs to do to make him feel better and he's ready to turn right back round and head for home.
I persevere for a while, but he does a lot of sitting down and glaring. People are looking at us.
I turn round and he canters ahead of me, all jolly and pleased with himself, a bit like Alfie in Alfie Gets in First.
And he's right.
Unless you're a duck, this isn't a day for a routemarch round the park.