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Tuesday, 11 February 2014

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

First blog post of 2014! (Okay, so my new year’s resolution to update this blog at least once a week really hasn’t worked out so far, but let’s not focus on the negative.)

One of the reasons I haven’t had a chance to update the blog (apart from the usual work madness, attempting to learn how to run 10k, trying to get our new place into shape etc.) is that I’ve been writing. Although not for the blog. Obviously.

Other writing. Creative writing. Fiction. Yes, I am a walking cliché: an editor who really wants to write (and in case anyone work-related has stumbled onto my blog, don’t worry, I also want to keep editing!).

But I do write. I write a lot. So I can’t say that I really want to write, or even that I really want to be a writer because I guess, technically, I already am. So what I really mean is that I want to be a published writer.

It probably sounds straightforward. I work in publishing. I’m an editor. I know a lot of editors, agents, and publishers. Surely I have the inside knowledge to get my own work, if not published, then at least in front of an editor.

And there’s the problem.  I think I have too much inside knowledge. Just like Dorothy in Oz, I’ve looked behind the curtain. Then I wandered behind the curtain. And started working there. I know how editors work and the idea of putting my own work out there is pretty darn scary. I think I would prefer it if I could be a would-be author with no experience of the publishing industry, believing that editors spend their time reading manuscripts and having long, leisurely lunches with their newly-discovered literary talent.

Erm…not exactly. Reading speculative proposals usually falls to the bottom of my to-do list. Yes, I do have a constant nagging fear that I could be missing the Next Big Thing but what’s an editor to do when there are already manuscripts to edit, catalogue copy to write, sales launches to prepare for, and contract queries to deal with? And that’s before you add in the project management dimension that seems to make up a large chunk of editorial roles.

When I finally do have a chance to read through new proposals, I read quickly and, to be completely honest, I reject quickly. Sometimes I’ll read the proposal itself, other times I don’t even make it to the end of the cover letter if it’s obvious that it isn’t right for my list of titles.

I hope that my rejection notes are polite. I know that it takes a fair bit of nerve to send your work to a publisher (more nerve than I’ve shown so far!), to allow someone else to judge your work. But my rejection notes are short. I don’t have time to give feedback. I don’t have time to critique the writing style. I have time to say thanks but no thanks and that’s about it.

How would I feel if that were my work? If my email sat unopened in an editor’s inbox for weeks or months and was then glanced at and rejected in less than five minutes. I guess I would understand that the editor was extremely busy. I would know that the shortness of the email wasn’t meant to be dismissive or rude. But I think it would still sting.

And I have quite a small list of non-fiction titles so I can only imagine how many more proposals land on the desk of an agent or fiction editor!

What’s an editor-writer to do? There is, of course, self-publishing and while I know that has worked well for many people, it’s not something I want to try myself. Again, maybe it’s because I work in publishing and so I’m massively biased (and don’t want to see editors lose their jobs!) but, if I’m going to be published, I want to go down the traditional route. I want my own editor.  I want the validation that, for me, would come with a contract with a publishing company, the knowledge that an editor believed in my work and was willing to push for its publication. 

And, if I’m going to find an editor, the first step has to be actually sending my work out to some agents.

I suppose at this point I should make a big declaration and promise that this will be the year I finally publish something. But that feels a bit unrealistic. Instead I’ll go for: this will be the year when I finally let someone else – an independent, doesn’t-know-me-at-all someone else – take a look at my writing and let me know what they think.

And so, back to re-editing and drafting the perfect cover letter!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Running with(out) music

I love music.
Listening to my ipod, going to concerts, practicing my harp, playing in a folk group, singing along to Bob Dylan while I’m doing the ironing (a habit picked up from my dad) – music is, and always has been, a huge part of my life.
My earphones go in as soon as I leave the house in the morning and they stay in until I get to the office. They go in again when I leave to get my lunch and yet again when I head home. Am I missing out on the sounds around me? Well, yes, obviously. But this is central London. Do I really need to hear horns blaring, motorists and cyclists yelling at one another, and other commuters on the bus having the most inane conversations on their phones as loudly as possible? I don’t think I’m missing out on anything.
It won’t be any surprise to know that when I run, yep, I listen to music. Until a few weeks ago, it hadn’t even occurred to me that this might be considered a bad idea (yes, I already knew that some people don’t listen to music while running but I figured it was just down to personal preference). Then, at running club, our instructor mentioned that she had recently given some advice to a beginner runner who was keen to run a half-marathon in the next year or so (good luck to that person. I’m simply aiming for a sub 1-hour 10k!). One piece of advice was “stop running with your headphones in”.
Er, what?
All around me the other women in the group were nodding and mumbling agreement. Was I the only one out of the loop on this one? How had I missed the no-music message? I tried to imagine it: running without my music. Surely, it would be harder to run with nothing to distract me from that fact that I was, y’know, running.
Now, maybe it really is just me. Maybe my own thoughts are really boring. Here are my thoughts while running without music (i.e. at running club when I’m not talking to someone else!).

“I’m running. Running. Still running. Yep, still running. My legs hurt. Run. Run. Run. Am I at the back? Running. Yep, definitely at the back. Running. Have been overtaken by everyone. Running. Even that OAP who isn’t part of the running group and is in fact just walking along the street. Still running. Can I stop soon? Running. Running. Running.
Riveting stuff. So, at the risk of looking like the running-novice I still am, I had to ask:
“But why? Why is music bad? And how can you run without music without becoming completely bored?”
First up, here’s why it’s bad:
-You can’t hear your feet hitting the ground so you don’t have any sense of how well you’re running.
-You can’t hear your breathing.
Then there are the (im)practicalities:
-some races don’t let you run while listening to music (I’ll be avoiding these I think!)
-Ipods and MP3 players are unreliable – what if you run out of battery power? What if it’s raining and your Ipod gets wet and breaks?
-when you’re training outside, you can’t hear anything apart from your music so you’re unaware of your surroundings, which is pretty darn unsafe.
As to avoiding the boredom:
-Count your steps, give yourself your own internal rhythm rather than relying on music
-Run with a friend
I decided to give it ago and, this week, left my trusty ipod at home and went for a run.
Um. Yeah.
It didn’t go so well.
I was quite bored after about five minutes. Completely bored after ten minutes. I called it a day and stopped running somewhere around twelve minutes.
I came back home. I grabbed my ipod. I set off again. I ran for my planned 40 minutes no problem.
What does it all mean? Am I worryingly addicted to my ipod? Will I ever be able to run without music? As ever, when faced with difficult questions I turned to the oracle that is the Internet to ask “running with music – yes or no?”
Turns out I really had missed the boat on this one as it seems to be one of the most popular debates about running. And, as with all Internet debates, calmness and rationality go out the window and it’s all about picking a side, digging your heels in and slinging some mud at anyone who disagrees with you.
According to the all-knowing Internet, if you listen to music while running you’re just a wannabee runner, a plodding, rude pavement pounder who wants to shut out the world and ignore those around you. If you don’t listen to music while running, you’re a self-righteous, holier-than-thou type who likes making other people feel bad because they can’t run as well as you.
See, a typical Internet debate.
My own take for the moment is that my need for music has something to do with the fact that (*whisper it*) I don’t love running. Sure, I like it a lot more than I ever expected to when I first joined my running group. I’m running pretty regularly and I’ve even given up a few Saturday mornings to the Hampstead Heath Parkrun. But the “runner’s high” so far remains pretty darn elusive. I definitely don’t hate running and I’m not going to give up but for the moment I still need to be distracted by something I do love while I’m finding my running feet.
And surely running with music is better than not running at all…

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

QQ reviews...The Daily Fail

*Disclaimer: Yes, my brother was in this play as a member of the ensemble. No, I didn’t get free tickets, a free drink, or anything else to influence my review!
Another trip to theatre-land for QQ this weekend, following my youngest brother as he makes his London stage debut.
The Daily Fail: The Musical was performed at Waterloo East Theatre from 15th – 20th October. A new production from The Untold Theatre Company, the musical is based on the recent hacking scandal and Leveson Inquiry, and tells the story of two Essex girls who want to become rich and famous even though they have no discernible talents.

The play has a strong cast, with standout performances from Charlotte Mitchell and Samuel Haughton. Mitchell brings a vulnerability and sweetness to Dim Trashtrashian so that you end up caring about the character, rather than simply laughing at her stupidity. She also displays excellent comic timing and her disastrous attempt to make a sex tape was, for this reviewer, the funniest scene in the play. As “fairy godmother” Rupert Murdoch, Haughton steals every scene, and cleverly suggests the true streak of malevolence and self-interest lurking below the character’s fake smiles and high-camp façade.
Mitchell and Haughton were also two of the strongest singers in a talented cast. Kate Hume was another standout singer, performing as Dim’s best friend London Clinton. The two lead actresses complemented each other well and showcased some impressive harmonies in their duets. Performing without mics, the entire cast projected their voices very well, although occasionally the backing track was simply too loud and it was difficult to hear some of the solos (this was particularly true during Stephanie Hockley’s first solo as junior writer Anna Prentice. Hockley has a sweet, appealing voice, and the lyrics in this piece [or what I could hear of them] were some of the sharpest and smartest in the play, but it was very difficult to hear her over the backing track).
Special mention has to go to Rachel Kelly’s superb choreography. This was complex, clever, and brilliantly delivered by all the cast members. The opening number – Extra, Extra – was a high point, with the cast executing with aplomb a challenging routine in a limited space.
As the character names above no doubt suggest, subtlety isn’t this play’s strong point. Characters are drawn with broad brushstrokes and generally don’t develop (the dumb blonde London Clinton, the idealistic and naïve journalist Anna Prentice, her evil, power-mad editor Rebekah Brooks [sorry, I mean “Anna Fender”], and her morally dubious colleagues Gail Force and Holly Wood).
The plot and writing starts strongly with a great opening number neatly problematising the cult of celebrity and its effects on the general public. London and Dim’s early scenes and songs also showcase writer Fiona O’Malley’s talent for lampooning the current celebrity age, when becoming famous simply for being famous appears to be a legitimate “ambition” for many people and mass-produced reality TV shows offer a fast-track route to “celebrity” status. O’Malley uses the first act to highlight the hidden dangers of the fame game, particularly in Anna Prentice’s first song, in which the lyrics deftly highlight the virgin/whore rhetoric that so often characterises that mass media’s depiction of women in general, whether famous or not. 
In the second half, the plot loses its way somewhat and it’s difficult to know what message O’Malley is trying to get across. As the media turns on the manipulated London and Dim, there is an odd scene in the Daily Fail offices in which Rupert Murdoch appears to regret the part he has played in the girls’ current plight, while Anna Fender admonishes him for being weak, berating him for being afraid of his true character. What are we to make of this scene? It’s particularly confusing given the inconsistency in characterization: the Rupert Murdoch character has his name unchanged but is transformed into a magical “fairy godmother”, while Anna Fender is simply Rebekah Brooks with a different name, her character following the media’s depiction of Brooks as a hard-nosed, power-hungry media player.
Further confusion is caused by the abrupt ending. From the somewhat incoherent scene described above, we move to London receiving a visit from Anna Prentice, who tells her that Dim didn’t sell stories about London to the press, the truth was that her phone had been hacked by unscrupulous journalists. The best friends are reunited and, together with Anna Prentice, they decide to write a play about the hacking scandal. They’ll call it The Daily Fail. Cue the final number.
Now, I’m all for leaving things open-ended and letting the audience come to their own conclusions, but this takes it a little too far. What does O’Malley want to say about the press, about celebrity culture, about our role as consumers of mass media? She touches on all of these themes in the play and it would be great to see her develop them further.

Quirk-o-meter rating: ***
The Quirk-o-meter:
***** = Quintessentially Quirky
****= Really rather wonderfully quirky
*** = Quite quirky
** = Brief moments of quirkiness
* = Not very quirky at all

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Lauren vs. Nature

Oh September. I was so looking forward to this month. Why? Well, September meant my first proper holiday this year. Two sunshine-filled weeks in Brazil consisting of a few days in Sao Paulo and then onto the famous beaches of Rio. Bliss.

And, my plan was to look as awesome as possible on said beaches (having convinced myself that all Brazilian women look like Gisele). To help with this, I had upped my gym sessions, I was attending yoga regularly and I had even joined a running club.

Now, I had my reservations about this whole running outside malarkey from the outset (see this post for more info) but I’d been giving running club my best shot. I’d even been doing my homework practice runs outside, rather than merrily trundling along on the treadmill at the gym.

Until running club week five.

At week five’s club I came up against a formidable opponent. I was prepared for bad weather. I was becoming adept at dodging slow-moving pedestrians and pavement-hogging pram-pushers (you don’t own the path just because you have a baby. Yes, yummy mummies of Hampstead, I’m talking to you).  I was even learning not to panic every time I saw a dog. But I had forgotten about the insects.

At week five’s running club something bit me. Something nasty. A mosquito is the prime suspect. Below is a dramatic reconstruction of the incident (note: have opted not to wear running gear for dramatic reconstruction).   

(Also note: obviously, the mosquito isn’t actual size. The one that attacked me was considerably larger.)

I wasn’t all that bothered about the bite at first. Bugs love me. Every time I go on holiday I end up covered in bug bites no matter how much repellent I put on.

I came home. I cleaned the bite. I carried on as normal.

The same thing the next day.

And the day after that. (Oh, and just to heighten the drama and sense of impending disaster let’s note that on this day my boyfriend toddled off to Brazil. Off he went to his conference. I would join him just a few days later).

The next day the bite itched and as the day went on, it started to swell.

By the end of the day my foot was twice its normal size and very painful. That evening I was planning to meet my boyfriend’s mum and show her around our new house.

Instead we took a trip to A&E, where a trainee doctor took a quick look at my puffed-up foot, declared it to be an allergic reaction and sent me home with some penicillin to take ‘just in case’ (she didn’t really make clear just what this was in case of).

We trundled home. The next day I got up, hobbled into work and starting taking the penicillin ‘just in case.’

It made no difference. If anything, my foot got worse.

The next day, my boyfriend’s mum (who was now stuck in London, looking after me as I couldn’t actually walk) and I went back to A&E. A nurse looked at my foot. I told her I was supposed to be flying to Brazil in two days. She laughed. Then she got a doctor.

Cellulitis. *

The fully qualified, non-trainee doctor took one look at my foot, declared it to be a bad case of cellulitis and promptly started me on IV antibiotics.

Oh, and I wasn’t flying anywhere.

I tried really hard to live up to my credentials as a mind, body, spirit editor. I tried to be Zen. I tried to accept the universe’s great cosmic plan. I tried to simply ‘be in the moment’ and accept the present as it was.


Sod ‘being in the moment.’
There was no Zen.
And why did the universe have an issue with me going to Brazil?

But there was nothing I could do. No walking. No running. And no Brazil.

Fortunately, after three days of IV antibiotics my foot started to show some signs of improving and I was given the okay to fly (even more fortunately, I’d been able to rearrange my flights and travel a week later than planned).

My week in Rio was amazing, and I’m sure that relaxing on Ipanema beach did more to heal my foot than the industrial-strength quantities of penicillin I had to take.

So, at this point, I guess it would be totally understandable if I just gave up on the whole outdoor running thing. After all, I’ve been proved right (and I love it when I’m right!): running outdoors really is bad for your health. And yet, this week, after a three-week break, I found myself lacing up my trainers and joining my running group for week eight’s session.

Yes, I was slow. Yes, I was paranoid that I was going to be bitten again. Yes, I may have been the first person to run around north London while covered in tropical strength insect repellent. But I was there. And I was running.

There are only two weeks of running group left. After that, our fabulous instructor Laura is setting up an intermediate group that will take us from 5k to 10k…and I’m seriously considering joining.

It sounds as if the running bug may also have left its mark on me!

*I had never heard of this (and it’s just a wee bit different to ‘cellulite,’ which is what I thought the doctor said at first). It’s an infection of the skin’s deeper layers and underlying tissue, usually caused by bacteria that get in following a small cut, scratch or, in this case, a bug bite.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

QQ's on the move...

...for one week only. The lovely Jen over at TwoItchyFeet invited me to write a guest blog all about my first time at running club. Read all about it here.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Big 3-0

I am now 30.
It’s hard to believe (especially looking at the photo below. I don’t think I look a day over…um…two.)

I’d like to say that I’ve dealt with the start of a new decade with style, grace and general good humour, but that would be a lie.
My online search history since about mid-June has mainly consisted of:
‘Is 30 old?’
‘Are women past it at 30?’
‘Blogs about turning 30’
‘Help! Soon I will be 30.’
I was not happy. At all. At one point, I seriously considered bribing all the people who know my real date of birth. I would ask them to conveniently replace ’83 with ’85 (see, I’m not greedy. It’s just two years.) However, the list of those ‘in the know’ was longer than I thought, and I don’t have enough resources to bribe everyone!
There was no getting away from it – the start of July rolled around and I officially entered a month of 30-induced birthday blues. I don’t like birthdays at the best of times, and ‘milestone’ birthdays are a bit of a nightmare. For the past month, my (long-suffering) boyfriend has had to deal with the following comments, questions and random mutterings on an almost daily basis:
'Do you think I look old?'
'Is 30 the right age to start thinking about Botox?'
'Do you think I’m a failure?'
'I haven’t achieved anything in my life. Ever.'
'When I turn 30, are you going to leave me for a skinny blonde 20-something?'
My family and friends have had to put with similar queries (minus the whole ‘leaving me for a skinny blonde 20-something’ issue).
For me, approaching a new decade threw into sharp relief all the things that I felt I'd failed to achieve, and made it impossible to think about some of the fairly awesome stuff that has already happened to me. Fortunately, I have amazing friends and family, plus a very understanding boyfriend, who were able to point out some very useful home truths.
Yes, there are still things that I want to achieve. And that’s a good thing. How boring would it be if I hit 30 and realised that there was nothing left that I wanted to do with my life?!
Plus, there was a lot of good advice on offer and it all points to my thirties being a pretty amazing decade. According to some very wise friends, I can look forward to feeling more comfortable and confident about who I am, more certain of what I want, and more driven to achieve it. That all sounds good to me. My favorite pearls of wisdom came from one of my colleagues who, to paraphrase slightly, told me that being in your thirties is great because:
“…you just stop giving a shit about what other people think of you. In your twenties, you spend a huge amount of time worrying about what other people think. In your thirties, you stop caring. You realise that some people don’t like you and there’s nothing you can do about that. You’re more interested in working out who you are and what you think, than dwelling on whether such-and-such a person likes you.”
I really hope that this turns out to be true for me because it sounds brilliant. Looking back over my twenties I realised that I really have spent a ridiculous amount of time worrying about other people’s opinions of me. If I thought someone didn’t like me, I would do everything I could to convince them that I was lovely and that we should be friends (without stopping to ask myself if I really wanted to be friends with them anyway!). I was forever replaying conversations in my head, fretting that I had said the wrong thing, or that my comments had been misinterpreted (yes, I know I’m a worrier!). I could ruminate for weeks on a simple, throwaway comment, panicking that it had been the wrong thing to say, or that I had unintentionally caused offence.
I know it won’t be an overnight change. I’ll probably always be a bit of a worrier. But I’m going to try to be more relaxed about things. It’s quite exciting to think about all the things I could actually do (write, play my harp, actually update this blog more than once every two months!) if I spent less energy worrying about what other people are thinking, and starting spending more time on things that I actually enjoy.
Or, as my boyfriend’s mother put it:

“Your thirties are great. You’re still young, but considerably less stupid than you were in your twenties.”

So there you have it. 

Here’s to not giving a shit. 
Here’s to still being young, but not being stupid. 
Here’s to grabbing 30 by the scruff of the neck and making the most of it.

I am now in my thirties.

I think it’s going to be a pretty awesome decade.