Category Archives: inevitable

Please allow me a tiny bit of bragging…

I’ve been kicking around the addictive world of Authonomy for a couple of months now, and my book is currently hovering at number 101. People seem to like it, even guys, and here’s an eloquent, thoughtful and positive comment I got today, from someone whose book is highly ranked, and deservedly so.

Pretty chuffed!

What initially attracted me to this was the languages aspect, and the teaching thereof. Being a language teacher myself and an avid learner, I have a soft spot for any book that deals with foreign tongues. Inevitable certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front. Not only is there an entertaining representation of the language learning process but there is also an exploration of that sometimes strangely intimate relationship that develops between teacher and student during one to one lessons, where the teacher veers unexpectedly into the waters of friend and psychologist. It’s an idea I’ve often thought about exploring in a novel myself so it’s both interesting and satisfying to see it so well realized here with Kate and Brad.

That being said, this is not something I would necessarily read were I to find it in a book shop, the chick lit tag marking it as something outside of my usual comfort zone. That I enjoyed reading this as much as I did then speaks to the quality of the writing and the story. This is very ambitious storytelling, moving as it does from past to future, from relative obscurity in Belgium to the corridors of power in Washington. From the pitch, I might have thought this too ambitious but any such fears are quickly allayed by the very authentic feel that the future political aspect has. The relationships between Kate the politician and her aides feels well researched yet natural and her recounting of her political career is incredibly interesting. And I very much enjoyed the idea of looking back from the future to the present. It gives an interesting slant to the POV. Given that The West Wing features in the story I had to wonder whether another US TV show, How I met Your Mother, was at all an influence in this particular regard.

What else? This very up-to-date in a way that I can’t remember many other books feeling. Ipods, The West Wing, Obama etc. This definitely struck me as a keen use of observation. It may not seem a particularly remarkable achievement at first but I’m often irritated by TV shows and books that seem to ignore the contemporary world to suit their storylines, e.g., a set of characters tries desperately to get hold of another character but not a one of them has a mobile phone for some reason. So the contemporary observations were something I enjoyed. My only slight worry for the book as a whole, however, stems from the same issue. Will setting a lot of it so much in the here and now, with contemporary references, make it date quicker than most books? I hope not and it’s certainly not a major fear since so much of the story takes place in the future. This is more just me thinking aloud and nitpicking at something since there seems nothing else for me to crit.
Hmm, so not much useful in this here comment I imagine. If this is chick-lit then the sometimes snidey pronunciation utilized when invoking the genre should be removed for Inevitable is a very classy, innovative and mature piece of work.

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Could it be that the book is finished?

I’ve written before about how I don’t believe in writers’ block. I may have spoken too soon.

For almost two years now, scenes for my novel, Inevitable, have been popping into my head. Sometimes with frightening regularity. Sometimes sporadically. And even when they have not, usually if I have sat down with paper and pen for long enough, an idea has come. Not always a great one. Sometimes one I have later cut. But an idea, nonetheless.

But here is the thing now: I brainstorm. I write from prompts. I read about DC. I teach the guy who is the inspiration for my main character. I mostly still take the long train/tram journeys during which scenes used to come to me, randomly but often. I do all the things that used to work – though admittedly I haven’t watched any West Wing in a few weeks – and yet inspiration does not strike.
I spent yesterday depressed about this: I’ve been so looking forward to six whole days hanging out with my novel. And then it occurred to me – the reason might well be a good one. The reason might be that there’s nothing more to say. That the book is finished. So instead I am reading through, editing bits and pieces, cutting scenes, finding synonyms for beautiful and deleting instances of the word “suddenly”.
And getting ready to post a triumphant Facebook status update.

What I love about Writing

Today’s topic for the weekly Sunday evening #writechat on Twitter is: what do you love about writing? Well, I decided that 140 characters were not really enough to answer that, and I know I have a few faithful readers out there who must be wondering if I am still alive, so I put two and two together and came up with the radical concept of a new blogpost, possibly partly motivated by slight panic at the thought that I might otherwise actually be in bed before midnight on a Sunday.

Firstly, and because no blogpost of mine would be complete without a mention of Bradley Whitford, I must quote the great man himself, with apologies to those of you who have read this a million times before on this very blog.

(Pause here for a few minutes while I use this as an excuse to distract myself by googling him, in the interests, you understand, of journalistic integrity. Or something.)

“… Want to write more than you want to be a writer. Life is too challenging for external rewards to sustain us. The joy is in the journey.”

My point being, not just that Bradley Whitford is very wise, on top of all his many other qualities, but also that number one on my list of things I love about writing ought to be this:

1. Writing

The process itself. Sitting down with my coffee and my writing music (a mixture of classical music, easy listening Norah Jones type stuff and jazz) and entering another world. And that high you get. You know the one? Nothing else does that for me, though I’m told runners experience this. Is that an external reward? Probably. When I meet Brad I will get him to clarify. (Or he could comment right here…)

I feel like when I’m writing I’m doing what I was born to do. To paraphrase Eric Liddle, “God made me to love words, and I feel his pleasure when I write.”

And when you feel you’re doing it well, forming beautiful sentences and bringing characters to life, it’s exhilerating. Really.

2. It’s an excuse for doing all the other things I love, namely:

– Reading voraciously
– Learning new words
– Watching the West Wing (seriously – it inspires me! Plus, it so happens that two of my characters, Brad and Kate, are West Wing fans…)
– Listening to jazz (Brad is a jazz pianist, so…)
– Keeping up to date with American politics (Kate is a Senator, so…)
– Travelling (for research, and also because being in a new place seems to seriously inspire me.)

3, Escaping to another world.

Reality sometimes feels over-rated. My love life is non-existent, and has been for so long I prefer not to keep tabs on it anymore. In the world of my novel, I get to be someone else and be in love with a beautiful man (though I do get my heart broken, which is perhaps not so great).

I admit that this part of it can be unhealthy and that my head-in-the-sand tendencies which were already considerable are now insurmountable. But still, it’s a lot of fun.

It’s brilliant to create characters and see them come to life on the page, go and hang out with them for a few hours a day.

4. I am never bored.

There is always something to observe, a conversation to “accidentally overhear”, a detail to scribble in my notebook.

5. There is the vague hope that one day I might be a published author. Maybe even a famous one.

Yes, yes, Bradley, I heard you when you said the joy was in the journey. However, I can’t say that any of these things would be unpleasant:

– Having a fan page on Facebook with more than two members. (It’s here, if you’re interested.)
– Seeing my name (well, my pen name) in print
– Reading positive reviews about myself
– Maybe making some money

6. Apart from the world of my book, it also allows me to indulge some other fantasies, like:

– Sending it to Brad, and to Janel Moloney (who, in my head, are two of the actors on screen when it’s a film) and hearing back from them that they love it.
– Brad saying he wants to write the screenplay
– Generally getting to meet loads of cool, famous people (Yes, yes. They are just people. I know. But.)

I know you’re judging me for that right now. The fact is, though, I’d be willing to bet that all writers have those fantasies. It’s just that only some of us admit it. Also, some of us allow them to develop further than others do.

7. Bringing other people pleasure

The first (and so far, only) person to have read a draft of Inevitable from beginning to end loved it. She cried! She wanted more! She couldn’t stop reading even though she was getting up early the next day! I want to do that for people. I want them to laugh and cry and miss their stop on the tube because they got so caught up in the book. This probably ought to have been nearer the top of the list, but there you go, it’s late, I’m tired and if I moved it further up, having only just thought of it, I would feel hypocritical.

8. It allows me to develop all my other interests

This might sound like I’m repeating point 2, but allow me to expand. I’m one of those people for whom the following book was written: “The Renaissance Soul: life design for people with too many passions to pick just one”. I am such a person. And I’ve always felt as a result that life felt a bit messy (although, possibly the, erm, mess in my life also contributes to this). Writing gives me a framework, a reason for all those passions: they can be articles! Ideas for novels! Short stories! They all meet in that one goal and that is oddly satisfying. Anyone else feel like that?

9. It allows me to meet really interesting people

Writers are great people to be around. Possibly because they love Scrabble.

10. A tangeible result

Sometimes life can feel a bit plod, that you’re doing the same thing day in, day out, that your business is not particularly growing, that nothing new is happening, that you have no answer to that dreaded question: “what’s new?”. This is particularly true when all your friends have a nice two-year cycle of Exciting News going: I’ve met a guy! I’m engaged! I’m married! I’m pregnant! I’m pregnant again! etc.

These days, when people ask me what I’m doing with my life, I acutually have an answer, and although this novel has had a longer gestation period than human babies, it is growing, and doing many of the other things that babies do, like taking over my life and messing with my sleep patterns. And at the end of it, I will have a real, physical thing and I will be able to say I DID IT! And that’s quite exciting.

So, there you are. There are some of my reasons, and I’ve probably missed many out. What are yours?

The reasons for "Inevitable", part two

So, now we’ve dealt with the motivation of fame – or at least, a book in Waterstone’s bearing my pen name – time to answer another of Jack Heffron’s questions:

Are you exploring an issue that interests you?

Several, actually. Politics and romance and the love of reading and writing.
But mostly, Inevitable seeks to challenge that timeless assumption that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. As an author, I am unconvinced: I’ve had no heartbreak to deal with in the last year, which leads me to agree with – oh dear, I think it might be Will Young: if I lose the highs, at least I’m spared the lows
My character, however, draws a different conclusion: meeting Brad changes her priorities, redirects her life towards a greater adventure than “just” falling in love, towards significance. Because she’s known him, in other words, she has been changed for good. And that may be enough to make the heartbreak worth it.
Significance is not only to be found in relationships; even happiness isn’t. Shocking as it may sound even in our enlightened times, it is possible to have a fulfilled and meaningful life as a single woman. Jane Austen was born a few decades too early to fully conceive of it, though not to long for it; Henry James hinted at it with his own Catherine in Washington Square.
My Catherine would want you to know that there are many other happy endings than getting the guy, and that, actually, getting the guy may turn out to be anything but happy. Or, in fact, an ending.
Don’t settle! She would want to tell you. Find your adventure! Maybe that man is an adventure, or maybe a partner in the adventure – on the other hand, maybe he’s a distraction. Make sure you know which it is before you throw yourself in.

I don’t know if I agree with her. But I have heard it said that if there is a book you want to read which doesn’t exist, that is the one you should write. I long for novels which suggest, unlike otherwise excellent films like Up in the Air, that you don’t necessarily die sad and alone, or happy and married. Those are not the only options, because a relationship is not the only path to fulfillment.
And that’s why I want to tell Catherine’s story. That, and the whole Waterstone’s thing.

The reasons for "Inevitable", part one

Jack Heffron, author of The Writer’s Idea Book, wants to know why I am writing “Inevitable”. Well, this may be overstating his interest a little. Mainly, being unaware of my existence other than just as one of the faceless, nameless authors to whom he is addressing his unspeakably useful book, he is challenging me: what’s at stake for the author in the telling of this story?
Are you exploring an issue that interests you? He asks. Are these characters running around in your head, begging to be put on the page? Are you looking for a byline or publication credit?

Of course, nothing as shallow as the final point has crossed my mind. I have never once thought about what it would be like to walk into Waterstone’s on Piccadilly and to spot, on the front three-for-two table, my pen-name, on the front cover of a shiny new novel, spine unbroken, corners unruffled, surrounded by the latest Eleanor Catton or Zadie Smith or Jonathan Franzen offerings.
I’ve never once imagined that someone would pick it up, brow furrowed in intrigue, turn it over to scan the back copy, open it, and carrying it straight to the till, so distracted they forget to use their Waterstone’s card. (Which would be a shame.)
I’ve never once thought about who I’m dedicating the book to, or how I am going to get a copy to him, and convince him to write the screenplay with me. I’ve never once daydreamed about how this might lead to our falling in love. Especially since this would in itself make a great story, given that the hero is named after and perhaps slightly modelled on him.
I’ve never pictured sitting on the Tube and noticing the person next to me so deeply engrossed that, when they finally look up at the end of a chapter to check they have not missed their stop, they mouth a gentle expletive.
Never. Not once.

"Inevitable", by Claire Lyman – what’s it about?

What’s it about? I usually get asked when I apologise for my recent lack of social engagement with the excuse that “I’m writing a book, and I’m living eating sleeping breathing nothing else at the moment.” So, for those of you who’ve wondered…

Catherine is bored. It’s not that she doesn’t love her books and her West Wing DVD collection, and the passion and excitement they stir in her. But she’d like something to happen in her real life for a change.

In search of adventure, or at the very least some existential angst she can use to finally do some of that writing she’s always secretly wished she had the heartbreaking past to fuel, she moves back to her native Belgium.

Yes, Belgium. Things happen there too, you know, as she discovers when she begins teaching French to Brad, an American diplomat, who, looking as he does like Bradley Whitford circa 1999 and minus the disproportionately controversial moustache, is not hard to fall in love with.

All well and good, but Brad’s ambiguous friendship with the beautiful Lucy (think Janel Moloney), back home in the US, seems to be getting in the way of the perfect Pride and Prejudice ending she’d like for her autobiography.

If heartbreak is the price for adventure, is it worth it? Should she fight for Brad? Should she settle for his best friend, who just happens to be another attractive American? Or should she retreat back into the world of fiction, living vicariously and free from gut-wrenching pain?

Come with her and help her decide…

Delusions of Grandeur – on writing, part 3

I have this ridiculous recurring fantasy of what happens after my first novel, “Inevitable”, gets published to critical acclaim in both the UK and the US. Well, a girl can dream. After all, dreaming is what turns us into writers to start off with, isn’t it?

Of course, if I actually put this much effort into writing the thing, it’d be a best-seller by now. But anyway.

So, in this daydream, I’m being interviewed on a TV show, preferably by Parkinson, who has come out of retirement for the occasion, and definitely not by Jonathan Ross.

We spend some time discussing the novel, its themes, whether it is in any way autobiographical. (The main character is a French teacher in Brussels who falls for someone who looks a lot like a young Bradley Whitford, and is slightly obsessed with the West Wing, so no – it’s not autobiographical at all. Cough.)

Then he comes to the subject of my name:

“So, your name’s Claire Lyman. Are in you in any way related to Josh Lyman?”
“Well,” I weigh my answer carefully, “It would be kind of difficult to be related to him, since he’s, you know, fictional.”
“But Claire Lyman is a fictional name, isn’t it?”
“A pen name, yes.”
“So you could be related to him.”
“In my craziest moments I like to imagine myself to be his cousin.” (Laughter from the audience. Phew. I was hoping they wouldn’t think I actually imagined the West Wing to be, well, real.)
“Not his wife?” He plays along. “I would have thought most women would prefer to imagine themselves to be his wife.”
“Well, no, because he and Donna are living happily ever after. The ship’s kind of sailed on that one.” (It should be noted that I have, by the time my novel comes out, mastered the art of making people laugh with me, instead of at me as they used to. Kind of like Matthew Perry. Or maybe Brad Whitford. Yep, there’s a theme here. Sorry.)
“Okay. So you’ve met them before?”
“Erm… are we back in reality now?” I’m increasingly unsure. Even in my daydream this is becoming slightly surreal.
“If you like.”
“Well,” I explain very slowly, “they are fictional, so it would be difficult to meet them.”
“So you wouldn’t like to meet Mr Lyman and Ms Moss?”
“You’re joking,” I squeak. That’s it – he’s played me long enough. I can’t hold back my childlike enthusiasm one more second. “I’d absolutely love to.”
“That’s a relief, because they’d have been terribly disappointed if you hadn’t. They’ve flown a long way to be here.”

Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney join me on the sofa.

I can’t wipe the grin off my face.

And of course, during the course of the interview, Brad agrees to write the screenplay with me, as well as star in the film (we’ll address the issue of how he is going to look 35 later…) and Janel, with that beautiful smile of hers, tells me she’d love the part that was written with her in mind.

I go out for dinner with them afterwards and we spend many happy hours discussing not only the best TV show in history, but plenty of other things it turns out we have in common. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Well, two, really.

Look, I told you it was a ridiculous fantasy.

But, just in case, you read it here first.

And in the meantime, it is inspiring me no end.

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