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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Recycling: Good for the Planet, Good for Authors

by Michelle Cunnah

As I rewrite and edit ruthlessly what I hope will be the sixth book that I sell and have published, I got to thinking about my writing process. And has it changed over the last decade since I sold my first published novel?
 
The answer I had to give myself was no, it has not. The technology has moved on considerably, but I still find ideas and character quirks in the same ways. And characters are of prime importance to me — I love character-driven stories.
 
Some years ago I was chatting to a very famous and successful author in America (I’m not at liberty to say who!), and she told me that she recycles ideas or characters constantly that didn’t originally make it into a published novel, and even some that did. A good tip to any writer: why not reuse something that works for you? I have to confess that I do exactly the same thing.
 
So here is something I wrote a few years ago when we lived in America. Things haven’t changed that much, just the location. And the technology. . .
 
Diary of a Glamorous Writer in Cyberspace
 
Well maybe not so glamorous…
 
6.30 a.m. Monday morning. I’ve already been up for more than an hour because for some strange reason my body clock has adjusted itself and I cannot sleep far beyond 5 a.m. these days (possibly panic due to impending deadline?).
 
In that time I have (a) tidied the downstairs, (b) thrown some disinfectant into the downstairs toilet in my half-hearted quest for germ annihilation, and (c) washed and put away the dishes. Despite the fact that I bribed The Teenagers (as I collectively refer to my two children) to wash the dishes after dinner last night, the dirty crockery pile has once again mysteriously bred like crazy overnight. Where do they come from? Where?
 
I really must get the dishwasher fixed…soon.
 
But whilst in that state of half-awake limbo where actions are performed on autopilot, I have had an epiphany moment for the new book. It will include the theft of garden gnomes, superglue and…dishwashers! I just don’t know the how, yet…
 
I ignore the layer of dust on the hardwood floor and the unvacuumed rugs, and make a mental note to remind The Teenagers about the function of (a) the vacuum cleaner, and (b) dusters.
I wake up The Teenagers, reminding Teenager #2 that yes, he does have to take a shower before school. But, he explains, Teenager #1 is now in the shower and she will be ages and ages.
 
I sigh, and go back downstairs to make tea for myself and for Oh Patient One, my husband. I also make toast. I will eat breakfast whilst checking Internet news sites for interesting stories which I might be able to use in the book, thereby killing two birds with one stone. Excellent plan!
 
Teenager #1 has beaten me to the Internet computer, but at least Teenager #2 will have time for that shower…
 
7.45 a.m. The Teenagers leave for school, but not before we solved the Panic of the Missing Homework (Teenager #2), and the Panic of the I Need a Check for $25 for the School Trip Right Now (Teenager #1). Plus, Teenager #1 doesn’t feel too good. She tells me that she’ll be okay — she doesn’t want to miss school. Oh Patient One kisses me, bids me to write many pages (he lives in hope of early retirement) and trundles off to work.
 
I take my shower and pull on comfy old sweats. No one is going to see me, anyway. I scrape back my still-wet hair, and diligently apply face cream. "Wrinkle" is not a word I want to talk about any time soon…
 
9.30 a.m. 3 pages so far. Hurrah! Today is going to be a good one! Think I’ll just try for one more page before I put a load in the washing machine…oddly, my next scene includes (a) garden gnomes, and (b) a dishwasher. I’m still working on the Superglue Angle…
 
9.35 a.m. Telephone rings. I reach for the wireless phone in my office, but then remember that one of The Teenagers borrowed it a while ago, and it is now lost forever. I dash downstairs to the kitchen phone. It’s a telemarketer, of course.
 
Distracted by bronze donations of fifteen dollars, I remember my earlier intention to check for possible Internet articles. I find an old story about a Mrs. Layne (89), who passed away childless and left her entire estate, worth approximately a million dollars, to her cat Tinker (circa eight). I read another story about a cat that reached the ripe old age of 33. This cheers me enormously, and as I wish Tinker a long and happy life I wonder how I can use it…
 
10.15 a.m. I head back upstairs to work. Two paragraphs later, the telephone rings again. So again, I dash down to the kitchen to answer it because, of course, I forgot to bring it upstairs with me. It is the school nurse. Teenager #1 feels sick and can I collect her right now? Instant feelings of bad-motherly guilt for having let her go to school in the first place. Fortunately, it is winter. This means that all I have to do to make myself presentable is to put a hat over my hair, a long coat over my shabby sweats…and a bit of lipstick on my mouth.
 
11 a.m. Teenager #1 now ensconced on sofa with comforter, pillows, TV remote and hot drink. I am back in my office working on The Superglue Angle.
 
12.30 p.m. Teenager #1 is feeling worse. I call the doctor and, thank goodness, there is a free appointment if we can be there in half an hour. I change my sweats for proper clothes, and bundle Teenager #1 into the car. Doctor diagnoses strep throat. Next stop the pharmacy.
 
2 p.m. Arrive home and apply TLC to Teenager #1, before I go back to work.
 
2.30 p.m. My mother calls me to remind me that it is Mother’s Day in England on Sunday. Why it can’t be Mother’s Day on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time is a mystery to me, but I make a mental note to buy cards.
 
3.15 p.m. There is a knock at my office door, and it is Teenager #2. "What?" I ask him, totally distracted, because I’m right in the middle of a scene. He has brought me a cup of tea. I push my keyboard aside and we chat about his day.
 
4 p.m. Another knock at my office door. Teenager #2 has Jujitsu practice and cannot find a clean outfit to wear…
 
From 5 until 6.30 I devote myself to slapdash domesticity as I (a) transport Teenager #2 to and from dojo, (b) go to the supermarket for luxury items such as bread and milk, (c) call past the garage to pump air into one of my tires...suspect I have a slow flat…
 
8.00 p.m. Dinner is over. Teenager #1 is feeling a bit better, which is good news. Teenager #2 offers to wash dishes, which is lovely. Oh Patient One had his usual busy day at work and is just arriving home. As he eats dinner we chat and catch up on the day, and I whine about my latest sticky plot point. He solves it for me instantly!
 
9.00 p.m. I still haven’t caught up on e-mail, but Teenager #2 is doing vital homework research on the Internet computer and will be at least another hour…at least he’s not playing Internet war games.
 
Oh Patient One and I retire to the living room with a glass of Shiraz, and a Lord of the Rings DVD.
 
10 p.m. Am so tired I cannot keep my eyes open even to watch Orlando Bloom killing Orcs, so Oh Patient One and I retire upstairs.
 
Just as I am on the verge of sleep, I realize that I forgot to buy those Mother’s Day cards. Tomorrow, I’ll do it tomorrow…right after I get the slow flat fixed, and make an appointment to get my dishwasher mended…
 
But in between everything, I wrote ten pages. And I also know how I’m going to solve the Superglue Angle. I also know how Tinker the millionaire cat will fit in…
 
All in all, not a bad day.

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