Monday 31 August 2009

The View From the Shoe: Stephie Tan

I met Stephie Tan on twitter when I was doing one of my sporadic searches for people who were tweeting about Haruki Murakami, and became intrigued by her blogs. Not only does she have an incredible eye for fashion. She also does a mean line in writing about noodles. In her own words:

My name is Stephie and I wear many hats. I run an online shop, Stephie's Shop, which focuses on quality basics for your wardrobe and quirky vintage items to jazz it up a little.
I write on a couple of websites daily:
Stephie Says (, which is a wonderland for me to share my inane thoughts on Singapore, where I live, as well as my travel anecdotes like my frequent shopping trips to Thailand, Vietnam and Japan.
Fashion Nation (, which I started with a friend to record our adventures about shopping in Singapore.
Apart from all that, I write articles on a freelance basis on shopping, travelling and retail. I also have a weekly fashion column running on a huge Singapore telecommunications web portal.
Oh, and I tweet a lot here: @stephietan (

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?

I'll go with Converse. I'm out daily to suss out the latest retail news in Singapore and abroad.
On top of that, I travel almost every month for work and I make sure to shop for gems to share with my readers on Stephie's Shop. So being comfortable is very important to me.

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?

I think there are a lot of people out there who wants to do something they love, but they rank financial security much higher in their priority list.
For me, I threw caution to the winds and simply chased my desire to only spend time on what I love: writing and shopping.
I'm fortunate to be able to carve out a career in these aspects.

What do you really, really love about it?

I love that I have free reign in whatever that I do. This is something that I will not have if I were to work in a company.

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?

Definitely a bit more money in the bank. It helps that when I earn my money, every cent is earned from doing something that I am passionate about. Every dollar means more when you are happy while earning it.

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.

I will have my breakfast at one of the local kopitiams in Singapore. This is basically a hawker-run stall with half-boiled eggs, toast and local coffee. I grew up with this and will not trade it for the world.
In a perfect world, after breakfast, I will continue to conquer the world by working on different projects, all to do with writing, fashion and the Internet.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?

I'm very particular about quality and comfort in a pair of shoes. I think you can find that in any label, luxury or high street, as long as you have an eye for detail.

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.I don't have fans!

I'd say that the last time I felt really happy with my work was when I met Rei, a street style photographer whose work I love and whose personal style I adore. She reads my writing and now I can count her as a good friend.
This is what delights me about my work, that I can bridge physical distance and meet people I'd originially be able to only admire from afar.

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?

I always believe that the harder you work, the luckier you get. So there's no need to choose between being independent or under a contract. If you love your work and you work hard, it will definitely pay off.

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?

I wouldn't choose anyone.
I think you need to be the best person to speak about your work. For example, there is a local designer in Singapore, her name is Jo Soh and she wears only items from her own label. That's a very loud action and statement to make about your work.
I think that's very important, to believe in your work. So I would choose myself to stand for my own work.

Frocks or socks?
Definitely frocks (: Being well dressed everyday make me so happy.

Saturday 29 August 2009

Year Zero is here: So What?

Next Tuesday, the first three books from the Year Zero Writers collective will hit the world with a vengeance. The three of us writers are obviously excited - we finally get to see if anyone's interested in our books. The other 19 members of Year Zero Writers are pretty excited. If we do well, then they're next. And there are a few writers sitting on the periphery thinking about whether to join us or not (and a couple I'm desperately hoping to persuade to join in). They'll be watching with more than passing interest.

But does what we're doing actually matter to anyone else, and why? Well, we're not the first people to self-publish, and we're not the first people to have formed a collective, so I suppose you could say we join the miasma of projects deemed interesting if they poke their noses above the parapets but not until then.

So let me try and explain, in the course of a couple of hundred words, why you should care about whether we succeed or fail.


The simple reason why our success or failure matters to writers is this: you can learn from what we do right - and what we do wrong. We have set out a clear manifesto, and a clear set of conditions explaining what we are and are not. We are committed to trying a wide range of strategies to promote our work (we are a marketing collective, not a publishing collective). We set out with a clear expectation of what we would like to achieve.

And we intend to report back openly on what works, and what doesn't work. On September 1st, I will issue a projection for my own book, Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, and on the first of every month thereafter I will issue an interim report explaining what's happened over the preceding month, giving figures for sales and downloads, and providing a commentary and analysis.

Perhaps most important of all, if our works gain the commercial and critical success we believe they deserve, we may do something to break down the barriers that exist amongst the gatekeepers of the book world - the reviewers. And tehnext tmie they are approached with a self-published book, they might look before saying no. That matters to all writers, self-published or not (because if we can do it, we will raise the question in many writers' minds: why do we need a publisher?).


What we're doing matter to readers deeply for a number of reasons - and these are the real reasons we set up the collective.

1. We're new authors, writing quality literary fiction. These are books you will not find through mainstream publishers, because they are simply not a viable commercial proposition. I prposed one way the industry could make them viable last week. E-BOOK ONLY CONTRACTS FOR NEW WRITERS. Whether the industry adopts this model remains to be seen. As it stands, there is no room for books like ours, and no room for talent to be nurtured without pressure for sales. Books like ours would be lost without collectives like this.

2. We are NOT self-publishing because our books aren't good enough for the mainstream. We want our books to look and feel like something you would be proud to pick up in a bookstore. Well-designed, and free of the vast quantities of typos that dog many self-published books. We are self-publishing because that's the only way to get our books into print and into your hands. An agent told me, after reading Songs... that she loved the book, and would love to represent me, but it just wasn't enough of a "big splash" book for a new writer. We don't want to write "big splash" books. we want to write quality, gentle, beautiful, challenging, original books, and we believe readers want to have the option of reading them. If we succeed, then we will have proved to readers they don't have to go to Waterstone's or teh Booker longlist the next time they want a quality read.

3. We fundamentally believe in giving our work away in electronic format for free. We believe it makes business sense, because we will gain fans who will pay for our books. And we believe it gives readers the opportunity to read and decide without having to commit their money to somthing they have no idea about. We took the decision to produce an anthology of writing by 13 of our members, Brief Objects of Beauty and despair, which is, and always will be, free. I am releasing the whole of my novel for free. We've met a lot of resistance to the idea from people who say it devalues culture, and that free means rubbish, but we believe the chance to sample new writers' work for free is fundamental to giving readers choice.

The wider public

There's a bigger reason why our success or failure matters. I've blogged about culture and social exclusion before. Of course we're not going to change the world, and of course our success or failure won't see the perpetuation or the end of vast sectors of our population having their voices silenced by the culture industry. But every time something outside of the mainstream succeeds - in showing that it has a voice worthy of being heard; a product for whihc people are prepared to pay; means of getting the message out there that are not in themselves exclusive - the general assumption that culture is to be found only through recognised channels is undermined a little more. And it becomes a little easier for the next voices who come along to be heard.
So now it's up to you. We launch on Tuesday. I'll put my money where my mouth is with some predictions - and give you a little intro to each book. If you can't wait, you can buy them now:
Benny Platonov (£15.27)
Or if you want to read them over the bank holiday, you can download them in all e-book formats:

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Chutzpah, cheekiness, and Chance

The secret to making it as an online writer.

I wasn't expecting to write something about, essentially, online journalism, and how to break into the field. It's something I know very little about. I've always thought of myself as a bit of a hack who just happens to have an axe to grind about the importance of culture. But a few things coincided and here I am. First, I've found myself writing some Indie music articles for The Indie Handbook. Second, I spent some time talking about how to get into journalism to a real bright star in the journalistic firmament, Stephie Tan, who writes some amazing pieces about the Singapore style scene. And third, I found myself taking part in a webchat about careers in online journalism run by The Guardian.

All of which made me realise I've actually come a lot further than I thought down the road, and am probably in a position to offer some observations. More anecdotes. Hopefully with a bit of instruction.


I've written a couple of posts about luck recently, here, and here. Chance, luck, happenstance - whatever you want to call it - is a strange thing. On the one hand by definition, there's nothing you can do to create it. On the other hand, you can do things to put yourself in the right place when chance strikes. You can put tags on your blog, for example. Several years ago, I did just that, writing a few columns about mental health and debt - it just so happened that someone from the Royal College of Psychiatrists was googling debt and mental health, and stumbled on my blog. We've been working together ever since. That he happened to be googling around at the time was chance. That I decided to write down some of my experiences and tag them wasn't.


Everyone loves a bit of P T Barnum. We writers are terrible at it, and most of us would rather eat curdled guano than play the exhibitionist. And yes, there IS something terrible about blind self-promotion. REALLY terrible. It's like those schoolboys who are so desperate for a girlfriend their tongues hang out when their sisters friends come round.

On the other hand, everyone loves pizzazz. And not just in the arts. My wife pointed out this morning that Richard Wiseman's research has shown that the most important factor in getting a job at interview is your likability. Which doesn't mean being an exhibitionist (just because I'm a media tart who'll cross the road if there's a sniff of a camera - yes it WAS me on Athens local TV talking about the price of restaurant food when I'd been in the city half an hour - doesn't mean you have to be). It means comporting yourself a certain way. Having the online equivalent of your own unique style (like a handkerchief in the top pocket).

Most of all, it means being memorable (in a good way). It's something I find easier in real life (beard and bright braces plus hat tend to get me photographed regularly even at fairly outrageous festivals ("sure you can take my picture - oh, and do go read my book" *hands out a flyer*). Online it's partly about branding and avatars and special colour combos on your blog. But most of all it's about voice. It's about saying it the way only you can. Be you. Really you. Then turn up the amp!


Thsi is what I really want to talk about, because more than anything it's what's got me the little success I've had. And I think it's the number one piece of advice I'd give anyone. Always be polite, always be helpful, and never be afraid to ask with a touch of self-deprecation and a cheeky grin on your face.

My motto is that it costs nothing to ask except a bit of embarrassment. And the more you do it, the less of THAT you feel. If you want to interview someone - ask. But do it right (in a way, this is part of the chutzpah above). "I don't suppose" is a great way to start a sentence - the reader can almost see you biting your lip coyly.

There's a very fine line between cheeky and arrogant. Both start from the same premise - behave as though you belong. But whereas arrogance has the attitude "of course you'll do it, because it's my God-given right. Don't you know who I am!" cheekiness has the attitude "wouldn't it be rather fun to do it? Eh? Don't you think?"

Cheekiness is the schoolkid who stands with you at the orchard fence and says "what say we go scrumping". Arrogance is the schoolkid who stand there and says "Come on, my parents own the place".

Just ask and if that doesn't work, just do

To conclude, the best way to get a break is to ask. When I was writing my first piece for The Indie Handbook, I wanted some basic info about my favourite band, The Boxer Rebellion. I e-mailed them for a press pack, and ended up with a half-hour interview. At work, people often ask me how come I seem to get on so many committees. Simple. I ask. If you do it right, it's amazing how rarely people will say no.

Oh, and the very best thing to ask? "Can I help?" You'd be amazed how many doors that one opens. Plus it's the most rewarding thing of all actually to do.

So if you want action points, I guess they'd be these:

1. keep your ear to the ground

2. make sure you put yourself in the places where things happen (leading blogs and forums in your field, for example)

3. look inside, find "your" voice (using twitter a lot, and letting yourself emerge, is a great way to do this), and turn up the volume

4. when an opportunity comes along, ask!

5. be courteous to everyone; be helpful to everyone; act like you belong; never be arrogant; don't take yourself too seriously.

Go on, see what you can do today if you ask nicely!

Monday 24 August 2009

The View From the Shoe: Sarah E Melville

I didn't meet Sarah E Melville through twitter, but in the guise of @carlottafantino she is an active part of the twitter community. I actually met her as a writer, before discovering her talent for art. I liked her art so much I asked her to design the cover for my novel, Songs From the Other Side of the Wall, which you can see on the previous post.

So, what does Sarah do? (Sarah has asked em not to quote her verbatim because seh thinks what she says is too rambly. Personally, I like it, so it stays :-))

I am a writer of tragic, depressing, atmospheric literary novels set in the past or the post-apocalyptic future. Ninety percent of this work deals with the dark corners of human relationship, especially sexual relationships Also, I write weird stream-of-consciousness vignettes and poetry from the point of view of my alter ego, Paulie, a young man who is very much in love, but also very sad. His is the work in one of my current literary and artistic projects, Beautiful Things that happen to Ugly People.

I also make all kinds of art. I paint and draw and have an odd obsession with illuminated manuscripts and mediaeval and Byzantine art, as well as altered books. While portraiture is my favourite style of art, the art I actually do is quite different. Some of it's photo-realism, some of it I do with my left hand without any forethought, kind of like stream-of-consciousness painting, some of it's illustrations of things no one else knows about.

Mostly, though, I just draw naked people.

As a way to spread my love of vintage, I recently opened a vintage store on Etsy called Charlotte Fantino (another alter ego, though she makes films). I sell a little bit of my hand-embroidery there as well, though you're not likely to see much of it up at once as it takes hours upon hours to just embroider something, nevermind sewing it!

You can find me all over the place online,
AND I have a new writing blog, which is going to be insanely great. I have a bunch of stuff already written for it and I'm psyched. It's called S Melville

So, without further ado:

Louboutin or Converse?

I'm taking this question literally, and my answer is Louboutin. I've never really been into the Converse. They're sexy on indie guys, but not me. For not liking them much I do have two pair, though one is for work and the man makes me wear his kind of shoes. I've not worn them in over a year, which is really great because that means I'm free from the machine, but also sad because that means I'm poor.

Why is there no one in the world that does it quite like you?

Well, that's easy. Because there's no one else like me. Trite, but true! There are so many strange influences that make all of my work what it is -- from my love of dead languages to stormtroopers, platform heels to the Tudor dynasty -- it all amalgamates into this very odd world that has notes and tints from everywhere. I think that's why it's so different, and so hard for me to explain.

What do you really, really love about it?

I love the freedom of having so many different outlets, and the freedom I give myself to be contradictory and go in opposite directions. For instance, my favourite art form is classic portraiture (think Gainsborough), and my goal is to someday be able to paint like that. But I'm not afraid to I let myself embrace whatever it is I feel like doing, whether it's making paintings and drawings with my left hand (my natural's my right) that look like they were drawn by monkeys, or spending my creative coins on historical embroidery.

If I stayed within the parameters set on me by any title -- painter or literary fiction writer or college student, even -- I'd do nothing but freeze up when these glittering impulses from outside the supported realm pop up. I wouldn't get anything done. For instance, I've been a prose writer and poetry hater all my life, but in this past month I've started seriously writing poetry. I could've held on to my disdain for poetry and self-imposed label of Fiction Writer, but why would I deny myself the experience of poetry? Do you know what I mean?

The most important thing, I find, and this goes beyond the creative world, is allowing yourself to be free and expressive in any way that strikes you.

Remember, you learn the rules only so you know how to best break them!

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?

Oh, I couldn't have any more time in the day. I don't work, and though I do go to college, it's a very laid-back sort of thing. I've had all 24 hours to myself, and I'm less productive than if I have other things going on. The lack of money is just a lack of means -- not in writing, of course, but certainly in art. I've not had certain essential supplies in months, which is why I haven't painted in so long.

Imagine you "make it". You wake up and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.

I don't see too many things changing as a result of any sort of success. Yes, I will still eat breakfast and it will still probably be chocolate whipped yoghurt.

What's your Jimmy Choo? and what's just Cobblers?

Literally, my Jimmy Choos are Betsey Johnsons (sorry Jimmy, you're not my favourite flavour) and my cobblers are . . . goodness, what are the lowest of the low-end I own? How about those slippers I inherited from my little brother when he outgrew them? They're too small for me, but I don't care. They're comfortable and, well, I do what I want.

Metaphorically, Jimmy Choo would be Lady Chatterley's Lover; something absolutely adored and dreamt about. Cobblers would be? Well, I could go at this from a lot of angles: cheap, only used around the house, not anything worth looking at, the bottom o' the barrel . . . how about a dish sponge? Then again, if we are looking at cobblers from the 'often used' point of view, it would still be Lady Chatterley's Lover. It's the best piece of fiction ever written. Now there's a man who was free.

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.

Hmm, my fan-base is a little sparse. But everything you do really makes me feel good. I think it was when you asked me to design a book cover for Songs -- that was the best thing that's happened to me so far, fan-wise, art-wise [ed: *blushes deeply*].

For my writing, it was a true highlight when someone started a thread praising my collection Husbands and Portraits of their Wives on a writing site that shall go unnamed. I've copied-pasted all the comments for when I'm down. It really made me feel grand for a few days.

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?

Uhm, this is hard. I'm going to say . . . goodness, I don't know. Half of me wants to be rich and half of me wants to be free. I'm going to go with independent and poor.

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?

Okay, so I've thought about this one long and hard, and my choice is the Gorillaz (that's Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett &co.) Man, that would be nuts! I was totally obsessed with them in high school. I'd have Damon write a song about me or my art or whatever, and I'd get a small melodica part, all toot-toot-too!, and Passion Pictures would put together this insane music-video thing that'd be playing on a huge screen behind us, and it would be my work and Jamie Hewlett's work mashed together with zombies and thigh high stockings and Murdoc Niccals everywhere. And Damon would be singing in falsetto and then Daft Punk would smash in through the wall with an insane techno bridge, and -- shi-zam!Nuts, man! Read my freaking books!

Frocks or socks?

Frocks, no hesitation. "Thou shalt not eat the fruit of the sock tree"

Saturday 22 August 2009

Bookbuzzr: a writer's essential tool

Dan Holloway
Songs From the Other Side of the Wall
Read Now -

I'm not going to do a long "how to" with this, because that's been done (I wish I hadn't forgotten the link, but it was recommended by the lovely Danny Gillan). I will, though, tell you a little bit about this fantastic device.

The Bookbuzzr is, in essence, a small virtual copy of your book (you can see mine for Songs from the Other Side of the Wall above), that you can embed in your blog, your Facebook page, as your e-mail signature, all over the place in fact. You can use it wherever you'd normally use a picture of your cover. Furthermore, anyone else can do the same, simply by visiting your Bookbuzzr homepage and clicking share.

The widget allows people to turn the pages of your book (my only quibble is that in the quest for authenticity, they've used shading that can make some of the pages a bit tricky to read) and read it (you can choose exactly how many pages they can read - from only a few, to the whole book) without leaving your web page.

It's also a great way to store all kinds of information about your book - where it's available to buy, for example; and people can leave reviews and ratings.

The Bookbuzzr is the brainchild of Vikram Narayan, along with the website Freado, where readers can go and read all the books (or as much as you have allowed to be read) for which Bookbuzzrs have been created. what's so great about Bookbuzzr, Freado, and, indeed, Vikram, is that not only do they care about writers - they listen to writers. They respond swiftly to feedback - they will even try to make changes. They actually want to give writers a tool that works for them. And they've succeeded. Bookbuzzr is the best widget I've ever found on the web. And would go on my essential top 10 web toolkit for writers.

Talking of which, you can follow @bookbuzzr on another essential, twitter. And unlike many, they will gladly @ reply you. They represent, in fact, everythng that's positive about writing on the web. 10/10

Thursday 20 August 2009

You Make You Own Luck. If You Want it Badly Enough You'll Succeed...

...and other posionous lies the books will tell you

As an author, I'm always looking for tips on how to "make it". Writing's no different from most walks of life like that. And in writing as in regular life, these are two things I come across all the time. Almost as much as I hear it on sports commentary ("she won because she wanted it more").

Of course it's baloney. I won't say why here, because I've promised that post to How Publishing Really Works' Bad Science series (suffice to say it's to do with a basic misunderstanding of causation and correlation).

What I want to say here is something more serious. This kind of motivational mumbo-jumbo is plain dangerous. It ruins lives, and if I hear or read you pddling it, I WILL call you out on it.

OK, so why? Surely we all need a good kick up the backside. We all need to be inspired! Well, yessirree of course we do. When I read about Einstein beavering away in his patent office on relativity, Catherine O'Flynn sitting typing away in the shopping mall and coming up with What Was Lost, I get inspired, and I think, well yes, there's hope for me yet.

There is nothing - repeat, nothing - so inspiring as a role-model. Someone like us. A nobody who shares our uncertainties and our frailties, and overcomes them to triumph. They can push us to persevere just that little bit longer, to work just that little bit harder.

But suppose we don't make it after all the work and the perseverance. What happened? Why did we fail? Well, the answer's simple if you believe the self-helpers. If those who want it enough succeed, then if we don't succeed it's because we didn't want it. If you make your own luck, then if you get unlucky it's your fault.

Nice, eh?

I'm sure it's all well-meaning. "Yeah, but I didn't mean it like that," is an answer I often get from the well-meaners when I pick them up. But if you don't mean the sucky flipsdide, then the fluffy upside's worth precisely zero.

One of the hardest lessons we can ever learn, is the importance of drawing a line and saying "I will NEVER succeed at this." I'm never going to beat Usain Bolt in a sprint. No matter how hard I try and how much I want it. My legs are just too short. And it's the same with writing. Millions of people want to be writers. but not everyone has got what it takes to make it. Ever. Whcih doesn't mean they should stop writing - just like my inability to outbolt Bolt doesn't mean I should stop jogging. It DOES mean it's just plain cruel for friends, family, and so-called help books to carry on telling them "of course you'll make it, just try a little bit harder". So they try and they try and devote their whole life to it and one day they wake up and they're 80 and disappointed, and they realise that actually if they'd tried to make it as a cross-stitcher instead they might have done it. Only they were too busy being encouraged to flog a dead horse.

So now it's my turn to play guru. Before you decide you want to make it as a writer, do the following:

1. Decide what you mean by "make it"
2. Give yourself a timeframe in which to achieve this. Make it realistic. It WILL take time. If you want to have something published it may take a year or so of hard work; if you want to give up your day job it's more likely to take 5-10.
3. Set milestones for yourself so you can see if you're on track.
4. Get going, and be a human sponge (more on this next week)

So what do you do if you're not meeting those milestones? Well, it might be that you're not working hard enough - of course it might - but when you set the milestones you should work out how much time you realistically have and set them accordingly. Nonetheless, experience might mean you have to tinker. Carry on, workl hard, and find you're still struggling? OK, maybe the answer is you're not doing it smart enough. Maybe you've got a great blog but no one's reading it. Or you're writing amazing books on a subject no one wants to read about. Experiment, change your approach, try and be smarter.

Get to the end of your 5 years of hard, smart work, and still nothing? You know what? Keep writing, keep loving your writing, but DRAW THE LINE and see if there isn't something else you CAN make a go of.

Put it like this. If you saw someone who's five foot nothing slogging themselves to death in the park for 6 hours every day; pushing themselves to tears every time you see them; and someone standing there telling them to damn well try harder, what would you do? Ball them out or call the police? So why, when roomfuls of struggling writers undergo the same treatment, resulting in the same tears, is it called self-help?

Monday 17 August 2009

The View From the Shoe: Hatastic

Hatastic make the most incredible hats and fascinators from everyday objects. You can find them at:

You can WIN the Eclipse Fascinator made exclusively for Eclipse Magazine!

So without further ado:

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?

Why it’s a pleasure to be asked! I would say converse. My head would love to say Louboutin, but in actual fact, I feel much more comfy in my sneakers – its all the walking backwards and forwards to choose a sequin, fabric or bead…

What do you do?

I make hats / fascinators and other hair accessories.

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?

I use whatever I find in secondhand shops, junk shops, remnant bins or in my attic! Every piece is unique because if I run out of a particular type of bead or sequin, I can’t get it anymore – I have to be inventive with what I have to hand.

What do you really, really love about it?

The fact that when I am making stock or even when I have a bespoke commission, I still have full reign to do what I think looks really goddamned gorgeous! It’s really hard to let go of my pieces sometimes…

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?

A bit of both would be fab!

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.

Oooo…it would have to be homemade coffee from the cafetiere and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes – love em!

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?

My Jimmy Choo HAS to be a find of gorgeous, luscious silk! Cobblers? Discovering it’s polyester.
Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
All my gorgeous clients are so thankful when I have made their bespoke piece, or they have received their ‘made to wear’ in my shop. I always get an email from them to say they have received the piece (which is always a relief thanks to the relenting postal strikes we are having). But they always say such kind things in their emails too. One girl recently said, ‘I received my fascinator today….am delighted with it, I really am. You have done a wonderful job. I will tell everyone where I got it and hope you get some more work from it! I will be bringing my business back to you again (hopefully I will get a few wedding invites!)’
Isn’t that sweet?

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?

Currently Hatastic! Is independent and currently my husband and I are poor in finances, but that was the reason for the kick start to the business. I have a day job, but my husbands’ freelance work fell into nothingness for approx 5 months, and it wasn’t fun having to use up all my savings on his two hefty tax bills. This climate that the UK has been forced into, has really affected us all. It seemed a ‘no brainer’ to start my own business incase something happened to my 9 to 5! So we are slowly but surely getting back on track, but it’s taking its time…however, I am not sure why it took me so long to start Hatastic! All my friends and family have passed on my details to their friends, and I have had such excellent feedback – it’s so exciting to think of the future as being Hatastic! rather than the latter.

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?

Oh I’d defo have Will Ferrell – he’d make me sound entertaining and zany when I thought I was…but actually wasn’t.

Frocks or socks?

FROCKS!!!! I am desperately choosing my nexy one now for a VIP wedding reception in Home House…what is a girl to do?!

Sunday 16 August 2009

Whose (Hi)story is it Anyway

I remember Chris Haigh best as the man whose job it was to have concerned words with me whenever my college parties displayed too much, er, party spirit. To much of the academic world, though, and beyond, he is best known as the man behind what is broadly known as Revisionist History. His work on Tudor England asked a simple question: sure, that’s what happened in parliament; that’s what the “great and good” of England did; but what actually happened to everyday people?

And the answer is in many cases we just don’t know. What we do know we have pieced together from oblique sources and inferences, from places historians never previously thought to look. But whatever evidence we have; there’s a whole lot more we don’t. There is a vast black hole at the heart of England’s history from which nothing of the details of everyday life escapes. Millions of voices have been forever silenced.

I came across the same as a theologian. You’d think if you did a little reading that women had been absent from the life of the church for over a thousand years. They weren’t, of course, they just have no voice with which to speak to us across the centuries.

Which leads me to a continuation from last week’s blog on social exclusion. I argued there that the publishing industry perpetuates its own segregation. I want to look very briefly here at what that means. What does it mean that the majority of society is unrepresented in literature; or rather is represented by people who do not come from the sectors of society about which they write?

It means that today’s silent class have been silenced just the same as yesterday’s. The books we choose to publish are the voice with which we speak to future generations. When we decide that swathes of society have nothing worth publishing, we are making the decision to whitewash them from history. We are leaving historians of the future as skewed a view of our society as the Tudors left us. We are relying on a Chris Haigh of the future to uncover from the oblique abyss any trace of our hidden history.

But we have lots of books about the homeless and the dispossessed. Of course, and the Tudors wrote lots about peasants. The Church wrote lots about women. What makes us so different? Why are we unable to learn from the propagandist lies of the past that there is something inherently slanted and propagandist about the portrayal of our own dispossessed.

But. Yes, but! We DO have a record. We have, should it be preserved in an aspic of the ether, the internet! With its blogs and videos and Facebook walls outlining the lives of our modern dispossessed.

Fantastic. Our future historians may have first hand accounts after all. They will not have to be Sherlock Holmeses like Chris Haigh. They will have two histories. They will have our books, with their privileged portrayals of the classes considered unpublishable. And they will have the screaming voices of the voiceless to place alongside.

What a healthy, pretty picture those historians will have to see of our society. Of the things we value. Of the voices we allow to be heard. And what do they say, these YouTube archives chattering away at our Booker lists? Ils nous accusent!

Only they don’t. There is no “nous”, because I am fortunate enough to be a member of the silenced masses too. So my voice can scream back across history as loudly as theirs.

(proud to be associated with, amongst other things, the literary manifesto of the Word Nerd Army)

Friday 14 August 2009

Into Print

OK, this post is basically a plug. BUY MY BOOK, Songs From the Other Side of the Wall.
The day the Berlin Wall came down, Jennifer returned to England, leaving her week-old daughter, Szandi, to grow up on a Hungarian vineyard with 300 years of history. Now 18, Szandi is part of Budapest’s cosmopolitan art scene, sharing a flat and a bohemian lifestyle with her lover and fellow sculptress, Yang. She has finally found her place in the world. Then a letter arrives that threatens everything, and forces her to choose once and for all: between the past and the present; between East and West; between her family and her lover.
Songs from the Other Side of the Wall is a coming of age story that inhabits anti-capitalist chatrooms and ancient wine cellars, seedy bars and dreaming spires; and takes us on a remarkable journey across Europe and cyberspace in the company of rock stars and dropouts, diaries that appear from nowhere, a telepathic fashion mogul, and the talking statue of a bull.
There, that's the pluggy bit. Now I'll try and make the rest of the post as helpful as I can for a plug asking you to BUY MY BOOK.

So I’m going to offer a little bit of an insight about what I did to get Songs From the Other Side of the Wall to print (in the widest possible sense. You can also download it to you Kindergarten or Eyeball or any other kind of device you may have). It’s strictly technical stuff as practical advice. I’m always talking about marketing and abstract stuff, so this is a pure hands on of what I did, where I went, and what I thought of it.

First, the electronica. The book has been available as a simple pdf on my website for a little while, and remains so, but this week I made it available for all sorts of e-formats on the Smashwords website . You can download the book as a pdf, as rich text, or in special formats for Kindle, Sony e-reader, and through Stanza, the app used for iPhones. It took me about half an hour to get the Word document ready for this. There’s a Smashwords Style Guide you can download for free that tells you exactly what to do, but it basically involves removing tabs and similar formatting. Then you upload the document, and it takes about an hour for it to become available on the site.
You can set the price at any level. The most commonly downloaded books are, of course, the free ones. I’ve deliberately gone for the “set your own price” option, although I’ll probably experiment with several different variations and see what gets most downloads. The advantage is that if someone wants to pay they can (I want people to read it, and I want price not to be a barrier, but I really WOULD like to be paid :-) so how about downloading it for free, and if you read it and like it, downloading it again and paying?), and you don’t have to give out details of how to get to your Paypal. But no one has to. This disadvantage is that although most people will download your book for free, it doesn’t show up in the free downloads search. Next week I’ll offer it for free for a few days and see how much difference it makes.

The only issue I have with the Smashwords site is the classification of the book. You have to either declare it universally suitable, or over 18 which makes a book like mine (it isn’t young adult, but I imagine a lot of YA books would have the same problem), that deals with adult themes but would suit a teenage readership, awkward to classify.

The paperback is printed through Lulu. If I explained why I chose Lulu I’d be here all day, so I will just outline my experience after I made the choice. Getting your book ready for printing involves two main steps: preparing the inside, and preparing the cover. The inside can be uploaded as a pdf or converted from your own Word document. I could not, whatever I did, get the site to accept my pdf, because of non-embedded fonts (my pdf maker, Primo, doesn’t allow me to embed fonts after production, and seems to unembed those I embed in Word). I had several problems with Word as well, again because of unembedded fonts (the site insisted I’d used Helvetica somewhere, which I know I didn’t – strictly Garamond everywhere except for the name and title headers, which were Verdana. It turned out to be a result of using insert symbol for diacritic marks in Romanian names). But this was eventually remediable by discovering how to embed fonts (through the MS button, and “Word options” at the bottom of the window, clicking “save” and then checking the “embed all fonts” box).

If you do run into problems, there are plenty of onsite forums to help, and Lulu help-bots frequently come along and answer your questions.

The cover was slightly easier because my designer, Sarah E Melville did the hard work. You can either do an all in one cover like mine, or use Lulu’s wizard to do it in three parts, but you need to be very careful that the size of your file (the all-in-one has to be a pdf; the wizard will take jpegs) pic is exactly right (the site does give you very clear instructions on spine size, based on the number of pages in your book). Be warned when using the wizard – the picture you see is NOT what you get – they will crop the file based on its size even though it looks like it’s been shrunk to fit.

Anyway, after one mishap with the cover when I used the wizard, now that I’ve got the all in one, I have to say I’m seriously impressed how accurate the spine printing is, and how good the inside of the book is. I am also very impressed by the speed of service – from uploading the file through two proof copies to being totally happy took two weeks.

You can either leave the book just for sale on Lulu, or buy a package of ISBNs and admin that will get you listed on Amazon et al. I opted for a package called “published by you” which means the book doesn’t come festooned with Lulu logos, which isn’t suitable given that it’s being released through the Year Zero Writers collective. I must say I haven’t been as impressed by this add-on as by the basic service – I was given a maximum time for getting the ISBNs of 14 working days, and it’s now been 16. It will be worth it for the benefits of being on Amazon – the main one of which is getting cross-linked to similar but more famous books.

Finally, the pricing. I was always told self-published books were too expensive for the public. Songs From the Other Side of the Wall is £7.98, a whole penny cheaper than a standard paperback, and I make the same as I would had I been published in the mainstream.

I realise I’ve rambled too much, but I will happily answer any questions in the comments section. Oh, and BUY MY BOOK :-)

Monday 10 August 2009

The View From the Shoe: The Squid Ink Kollective

Not only does the Squid Ink Kollective embody the independent spirit beloved to The View From the Shoe, the combo of Brian and Lynnea design and make some of the finest, most original T-shirts, bags and accessories you'll ever find. All that and the consistently best representations of narwhals in art. Ever.

You can find them and their things here:
Find us at or
Twitter name: @squidinkie.

Without further ado:

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
Luba-wha? It’s extremely ironic that we now work in the fashion industry. Neither of us could be farther from fashion oriented – but as everyone knows, it’s those people that are the frontrunners of trends.

What do you do?
We design and screen print apparel and posters, using a manual screen press with eco-friendly inks, and sell on Etsy ( Etsy is a site for sellers of handmade items, food to furniture, it’s a great way to buy directly from the makers(books too!).
Brian: I am an artist, moreover a printmaker that has a firm commitment to not taking myself too seriously while constantly working too hard. I’m a regular guy.
Lynnea: I picked up sewing because it seemed like a good skill to have when the apocalypse comes. I also take care of practical things like our website and finances.

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
There are lots of people trying to do what we’re doing, which is great. We just provide an eclectic stock to make an interesting cup of soup.

What do you really, really love about it?
Brian: Everything, the struggle, obsession, frustration and accomplishment. I love to have something to work very hard on, I feel like it’s a blessing just to know what I want these days.
Lynnea: Making our own hours. Going swimming when we feel like it. Working in my pyjamas. And customer appreciation goes to us, and no one else.

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
Brian: Time. That’s a no brainer.
Lynnea: Scrilla. Cause I love what I do to make money.

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
Brian: I don’t think much would change, black coffee, toast with Norwegian cheese and cherry jam, a cigarette and back to work.
Lynnea: The only reason I’ve ever wanted to make big bucks was to spread it around. Although breakfast would definitely be eaten in our self-designed kitchen, which would be a combination container house/cob house.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
Is that ironic because Jimmy Choo is a cobbler? We’re confused here.

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
We recently had a customer who found us after a long search – he had bought one of our shirts at a small boutique, fell in love with it, and spent the next year trying to figure out where it came from (that boutique wasn’t very on top of their consignments). He contacted us, wanting to buy a lifetime supply of shirts, just in case the laundromat eats his shirt, he gets attacked by a giant squid, “or some sort of benny hill type chase occurs and [he] ends up in a vat of shirt-destroying liquid surrounded by also shirt-destroying 70’s type girls.” That guy rules.

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
Poor indies for now. We’re gonna make it!

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?
Brian: Some sort of dancing cat, who doesn’t like a dancing cat, that’s amazing!
Lynnea: Hell no. We’re from Texas! Thank Jeebus for YouTube. Also, I think we did that in Girl Scouts. I’d say David Cross and Amy Sedaris, cause they’re nuts and so is life.

Frocks or socks?
Brian: socks.
Lynnea: frocks.

Saturday 8 August 2009

From Pitch to Perpetuationof Privilege: why publishing MUST change its application procedures

The pitch is the publishing Industry’s equivalent of the University Entrance exam, a selection system that perpetuates disenfranchisement, and serves to narrow the pool of available applicants to a point where the literary world becomes nothing more than the chattering classes talking among themselves. As was the case for hundreds of years in our universities, no one has really noticed this until now, because the people the literary industry marginalise had been marginalised from other forms of communication. Worst of all, they have gone unnoticed because they have until now had no expectation or belief that literature is their world.

But as wider and wider portions of society become cultural consumers, so their hunger for stories by and about people like them grows. Television, through initiatives like the BBC’s My Story, is beginning to take notice, but the publishing industry is standing back and does not, it is my firm belief, even realise there is a problem.

This is just another example of an introspection that will in the not too distant future kill the industry off if it doesn’t do something. The fact is the internet is making culture by and for previously unrepresented voices (be they inner city teenagers, battered sex workers, refugees fleeing from, and would-be refugees trapped in, the world’s war zones, or the women of the world’s shanty towns) widely available. And it’s great. Millions of voices are being heard that would never have been heard before – hope that “I am not alone” is being offered to millions more who never heard culture spoken in their own voice before.

It’s a WONDERFUL thing.

And it’s a phenomenon that is going to kill publishing dead. Or rather, pass it by on the road whilst publishing kills itself. Unless the industry does something serious and soon.

There are many thins the publishing industry needs to look at if its isolation from the consumers of the majority world is not to prove fatal, and I’ve got time to talk about them all eventually. But today I want to focus on the flagship ridiculosity: the query.

This is NOT a piece about higher education. I am merely referring, in passing, to an allegation levelled at the entrance exam (because it IS true of publishing, and it’s a good analogy). The problem with the university entrance exam, the argument goes, like the problem with the 11+, is that you do better if you’re coached for it. Which means you do better if your parents have the money AND the inclination to pay for a tutor. Which means two children of equal “ability” will finish with very different marks. Which means, finally, that if selection is based on entrance exam performance alone children whose parents lack either the money or the inclination to pay for coaching will be disadvantaged when it comes to getting a university place. And to add to all this, the privilege this perpetuates means that those from marginalised backgrounds expect not to get places, so they don’t apply, furthering the divide.

That may or may not be true of universities, but I’m sure you get the logic. And if you don’t get where I’m going, then frankly, well, I can’t say in polite company.

At the moment (and especially in the US where you don’t submit ANY script with your query), whether you get an agent depends on the quality of your query, and a huge part of that is the synopsis and, even more, the query letter. There are many wonderful websites and books devoted to polishing your pitch, and I have benefited immensely from them (and still do). But the system reinforces the status quo in a way that is both shocking, and seemingly invisible to the industry.

How are those who do not currently read their voice in books, written by people like them, and who have stories to tell, and a talent for telling them, get published? They must submit a query – for which they have no training – not just because they have no access to the great query sites and books out there (they may well HAVE the internet), but because they are not surrounded by people who know about sites like this. They may not even know what the “application” method is. It is a mystery. So what happens? They don’t send off their stories – “people like them don’t write books”. And the divide is reinforced.

So what? Well one, it’s just wrong that people be denied a voice for their story – and the notion that the vast swathes of people underrepresented in publishing are underrepresented because there is no talent is just nonsense. Systemic barriers are wrong. Full stop.

Two, these are groups of society for whom the internet allows, more and more, instant access to the consumption and production of culture by and about “people like them”. Whole groups are realising that culture is for them. But books aren’t – and THAT is the problem for the publishing industry. A vast swathe of ever more powerful cultural consumer is ignoring books because books are irrelevant to them.

So what does publishing need to do? Well, more than anything else, what it needs to do is what the “Russell Group” of universities (the UK’s “old elite”) sort of tries to pay lip-service to doing. It needs to stop talking to itself. It needs to stop telling would be writers about “show not tell”. It needs to stop focusing on how to write a query letter. Stop focusing, mind, not stop doing – there is, and always will be, a very large, commercially and culturally important group who like books done that way. What publishers need to wake up to is the fact that this is a segment of the population – a segment whose share of wealth, purchasing power, and access to culture, is shrinking.

What the publishing industry needs to do is not try and “help” people on the “outside” to get to the “inside”. People don’t need it. They have other ways of telling their stories. IT needs THEM. And that is something I have NEVER heard someone on the “inside” admit. So what SHOULD the industry do? It needs to find ways to convince the new generation of storytellers that books are a good medium through which to tell those stories. It needs to think like an “outsider”.

Sadly, I really don’t think it can. Which is why more and more of us who would, ten years ago, have been part of the “trying to get inside” crowd, are ignoring it, letting it slowly eat itself to death, whilst we get on and enjoy the exciting future.

Half of me thinks it’s a tragedy. The more so because, like an animal walking to the abattoir, or a patient slipping gently from a coma, I really think most of the industry doesn’t recognise it. But half of me thinks that systems which perpetuate divide and exclusion SHOULD perish, and wonders if we shouldn’t offer a helping hand.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

All in the Past: Why I'm Getting Tense about my New Project

“You’ve gotta come see it, Szandi,” says Yang. I slam the phone down but it misses the base. I hit the clock instead, which flashes 03.00.

I put the handset on the pillow and turn over so I’m looking at it. The white plastic appears faintly red in the clock’s LCD glow. “Szandi?” I hear. The black dots of the speaker seem to wink in the dark as she talks.

Those are the opening words of my last novel, Songs From the Other Side of the Wall. So what? They’re OK – apparently it’s unfashionable to mention time in the opening paragraph, but as it’s a reference to the KLF’s 3 a.m. Eternal, I figured why not. So, perfectly passable and uneventful, right?

Well no. These two brief paragraphs turned my writing world upside down. You see, they just came out like that, natural as anything, and it was only much later – pages later, in fact that I noticed: THEY’RE IN THE PRESENT TENSE.

Half of you are probably still saying so what? But the other half probably winced the moment you read “says”. And when I wrote the words, I was one of them. I hated present tense. With a vengeance. So much so that I stopped reading Patricia Cornwell’s The Last precinct after 5 pages, and haven’t picked up a Scarpetta novel since. It feels contrived, showy (exactly the reasons outlined when I held a straw poll on twitter yesterday) – as though it’s there to keep the reader guessing what’s going to happen. We’re always aware of the author, and never quite lose ourselves in the story.

Furthermore, my favourite agent’s reader, Jodi Meadows, made the very good point that it is very hard to maintain the present tense without letting the POV slip. And as Miss Pitch pointed out, the incessant battering of first person present tense can actually get rather dull (and, I would add, a little bit shouty).

So imagine my horror when I found I was writing in the present tense. Only then the horror started to subside. I found myself reading a whole slew of books where the present tense seemed not to get in the way of the narrative but to enhance it. After Dark by Murakami and Less Than Zero by Brett Easton Ellis are the two that stick most in the mind. They just couldn’t be written any other way.

So why does it work so well for these authors, and so badly for Cornwell? It might seem at first glance that it’s a question of first person against third person, which would in itself be strange because the objections I encountered (single POV, maintenance of a sustained character, claustrophobia) all seemed to apply to the first person. But I have a feeling it may be more to do with genre. I think in a thriller (I have the same issue with Simon Kernick) it feels as though you’re using it as a trick – a “will the character pull through?” or “keep the reader in the moment” kind of thing.

What Ellis does – and this sounds arty nonsense, the very opposite of everything I mean to convey – is perfectly reflect the throwaway lives and casual violence of teenage rich kids in The Valley. The tense is part of that “yeah, so what” voice he has, and that makes it work.

With Murakami, it’s something different, something specific to that kind of literary fiction that I can only describe as poetry. The other day I tried to analyse it, just why the present tense used well sounds so exquisite, and all I could come up with is that the sound “d” is ugly and “s” is elegant. Which is rubbish. Only it isn’t because we so often forget as prose-writers the absolute importance of the way words sound – and poets so often remember.

So I became happier in my present tense. It suits the loose, liquid style I like to write in, where sound matters more than strict meaning – no, where sound often IS the meaning (I write magical realism so I can get away with saying nonsense like that!). AND I write about teenagers.
Now I can’t imagine writing in anything BUT the present tense. It just seems so natural, so flowing, so loose and easy (not, I hope, floppy, stream of consciousness, but it’s not my place to say). Indeed my current novel, The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes, is written in the present tense from three separate POVs, one third person, and two first person (one of them plural).

NOW imagine my horror as I sit at the keyboard, tingling with excitement to begin tapping out the opening of my new novel, “Life Drawn Freehand”:

I remember the phone was cold in my hand when they called to tell me Simon was dead. I thought, it’s summer and I’m holding slick, plastic ice, and it’s talking.

The voice was Andrew’s. He said “Mrs Hart?” and I said yes, once, and his voice kept saying “Mrs Hart?” and I thought isn’t it strange this cold thing in my hand keeps repeating my name. Then there was another voice, not Andrew’s, not anyone’s I knew, and it said “Mrs Hart I’m afraid there’s been a terrible accident” and I said “Oh” and for a few seconds I thought the frozen thing in my fingers was Simon’s skin.

Then I put it down while it was still repeating “Mrs Hart” in the other voice, the one I didn’t know, and it was just a hot summer day, and I was staring at the telephone, and my son was dead.

My deepest thanks to @jodimeadows @pitchparlour @pattyjansen @brennig @triplecherry @tommyjaybooks @George9writer @remittancegirl and @vpynchon for their helpful input on twitter

Monday 3 August 2009

The View From the Shoe: Clare Grant

Clare Grant's Three Beautiful Things blog is based one of the simplest ideas imaginable, but like the very best simple ideas, it sends your mind in unlimited directions. It should eb a compulsory way to start everyone's day.

Clare is also a wonderful writer in search of editorial work, so if you like her style and think you could help, contact her through

So, over to Clare.

My name is Clare Grant. I write some blogs. One is called Three Beautiful Things in which I write briefly about the things that gave me pleasure each day; and one is called Once Around the Park in which I write 30 words on most days about the same short walk. I’m also very proud of my stories inspired by paintings, 12 Old Masters.

Thank you so much for your time. So, Louboutin or Converse?
I had to Google Louboutin, so Converse – I don’t own a pair, but I would rather like one.

Why is there no one in the world who does it quite like you?
The feedback on 3BT is: “This ought to be teeth hurtingly saccharine, but it’s not.” I’m doing something right, but I don’t know what, and I’m scared that it’ll stop working at any moment. It’s a lot like riding a bike down a hill that turned out to be steeper than it looked. I’m holding on tight, whooping with joy and hoping there’ll be something soft to land on.

What do you really, really love about it?
I just enjoy putting one word in front of the other. And people reading it and then saying that they like it.

A bit more time in the day, or a bit more money in the bank?
Time I have plenty of, as I lost my (paid) job in June. I still have a job because I’m a writer, but a regular income makes me feel like a proper person. I’m not saying other people should feel that way -- but this is how I am wired up.

Imagine you “make it”. You wake up, and imagine the day ahead. Tell us about breakfast.
Breakfast, taken in our spacious steampunk-style kitchen, would be a glass of Mole End apple juice, a glass of hot water and lemon, a mug of organic Fair-trade coffee and a bowl of muesli. I would then go swimming, or have a one-to-one yoga lesson.

What’s your Jimmy Choo? And what’s just cobblers?
My Jimmy Choo is our weekly veggie box from Able and Cole; and cobblers would be the meat from our local supermarket.

Tell us about the last time a fan made you feel 100 feet tall.
Well it could be having the Three Beautiful Things book published by Long Barn Books – which is Susan Hill’s publishing company. She’s a writer I really admire and I thoroughly enjoy her work. The book is due out in the spring.
And I’m touched by the stories from people who are feeling down but have been cheered up by 3BT, or by writing their own beautiful things.
Or whenever anyone mentions that they’ve read my stuff. The other evening I took a bunch of home-grown spring onions round to a friend. She took them from me and said: ‘Oh they _are_ just like pearls’ – which is what I’d put when I wrote about them a few days before.

Independent and poor, or under contract and rich?
If I had to have a contract to earn some money, right now, I would take it with both hands.

Do you remember that bit on Play Away where Brian Cant stood behind people and did the actions whilst they spoke? If you could choose anyone to stand behind you and do the actions to your sales pitch, who would it be and why?
I think my fiancé Nick – we’re still at the stage where we want to be standing as close as possible to each other all the time.

Frocks or socks?
Putting on a frock is such a pick-me-up – I’m not capable of feeling desolate when I’m wearing a frock. But socks have their place, too. I get a lot of story ideas when I’m sorting socks on washday – Nick wanted to know last week: “What is it with all the philosophical questions when we’re folding laundry?”