Thursday, June 20, 2013

Butlers and wise guys need not apply.

There's three categories of books I can't read while I'm writing.  (Writing meaning first-drafting; chipping the virgin story out of the ground.)

1. Books similar to mine that I want to be able to say I didn't read and haven't stolen from even if we've both got retired burlesque dancers who fly the first air ambulances in Worcestershire and killed their twin brothers with a grapefruit spoon.

So that's Jacqueline Winspear and Rhys Bowen - the other two blonde Brits who live in northen California and write amateur detective stories set in the UK in the 1920s.  And Carola Dunn (as above except it's Oregon) and Kerry Greenwood too.  Which is a lot of great books to not read.  Moof.

2. Books in the wider genre so breathtakingly, heartbreakingly fantabulous that I'd get a case of the why-bothers only Ben, Jerry and Sheldon Cooper could cure.  This sees off Dennis Lehane, Ruth Rendell and Ann Cleeves.  There are more but I need to stop now because even listing them is dispiriting. 

3.  Books by writers whose style is insidiously contagious (and who are too famous to hyperlink).

Raymond Chandler is just about the worst of these.  I was reading him once while writing and decided that Dandy Gilver's tea frock could fit her like a mermaid's scales.  Why not?  (I caught it in the edit.)

Ernest Heningway isn't worth the risk either.  Nick and the fish and the big two-hearted river?  Hugh Gilver sometimes poddles off with his rods hoping to catch a salmon but it's not the same.

But pipping them both at the post (or poking them both smartly in the second waistcoat button, as he would say) is PG Wodehouse.  Some of Wodehouse's lines make me laugh out loud no matter how many times I've heard them.  When Bertie Wooster had a hangover and "a cat stamped into the room".  Or when Mr Beach is displeased but says nothing and PW describes it thus -  "ice formed on the butler's upper slopes".  Genius.  Or when  . . . I think it's Bingo Little . . .  sends a telegram that begins - "I say Bertie old boy stop yes Bertie stop I wonder old chap if I might have a word stop"  The narrative goes on - "The telegram is not Bingo's natural form."

So part of the joy of getting that first draft done is to be able to read absolutely anything again.  Mystic River or Right Ho, Jeeves.  The world's my TBR pile.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Catriona McPherson: Private Eye

I'm the wrong person to ask about day jobs because I've so rarely had a day job I either a. liked or b. was any good at.  For sure, I've never had a day job that c. was going to make my fortune.

I tried banking.  Hah.  Fifty-pound-notes got bundled into hundreds.  Which was four notes, right?  After they searched my bag and and my pockets and recounted my stash and looked down the back of the couch, a very honest wages clerk came back to the bank and returned the extra.

I tried being a university lecturer.  Hah.  I was one of four lonely linguists in an English literature department, teaching phonetics and syntax to kids who wanted to learn Jack Kerouac.  When one of my colleagues asked me what I read for pleasure I said I only read the TV Guide to see what time Star Trek was on.  I forgot to wink; he believed me; I was the talk of the senior common room.

I worked in a pub serving food but my portion control was non-existent and just before the place went bankrupt I was demoted to cleaning.

I worked in the Fine Art and Local History departments of Edinburgh City Library.  That, I loved.  That, I could do.  That, was between university courses.

So giving up a full-time day job in 2000 to try this writing lark wasn't as difficult a decision as it might have been.  I did part-time tutoring to make some money and also had a number in my head: if I ever got an advance of *this* amount, I said to myself, I'd give up even the tutoring and write really full-time.  That took five years and it was scary when it came.

This is year thirteen of writing stories and I feel as if I'm just about to get a day-job again in a funny kind of way, because I'm about to start renting an office in town and going back to having a commute instead of working in my house.  It'll be a big change - no more jammies, no more leftovers for lunch, no more chats with Joe the UPS guy . . .

My one regret is that my office doesn't have a half-window of bumpy glass on which I can put my name in gold paint like Philip Marlowe.  That would have been something.  But learning to smoke those unfiltered cigarettes might have been tough and a raincoat and fedora in this climate would have killed me.

Oh and also:  AS SHE LEFT IT comes out on Saturday.  Yeay!