I am so sad to hear that Alan Rickman has died. I interviewed him for The San Francisco Chronicle and for handbag.com at the premiere of the film Love Actually back in 2003. I'd had a few years at home to be with my son, who was having great difficulty learning to talk, and I'd been writing a bit from home, but this was the first celebrity interview I had done in ages, and I was really nervous.
Off I went into town, to The Dorchester. I had my questions ready - I was interviewing Richard Curtis too, but I wasn't so worried about talking to him. He was just another writer like me. Interviewing Alan Rickman, on the other hand, made my heart skip a beat or two. I've always thought he was sexy as hell.
Anyhow, the moment came - my name was called out, and I walked into a bedroom with view of Hyde Park and sitting there, in front of a four-poster bed was Mr Rickman. He was enormous. A tall, vast man with fingers the size of thick sausages. I said something like hello, to which he replied. 'Oh, you're not American.' 'That voice! It was utterly syrupy and my knees did actually feel weak. I sat down. 'No, I'm not American,' I said, dropping the T in the word 'not' and immediately correcting myself. He laughed lightly and it broke the ice a little.
One by one I went through my questions. I was there to talk about his role in 'Love Actually' but I'd thrown in a few about him playing Snape in the Harry Potter films.
I told him that my daughter was terrified of Snape, and he seemed genuinely surprised and upset that he should be upsetting a little girl. 'No!' he said. 'She shouldn't be.' 'Well she is!' I said. 'She's really, really terrified of him,' And that was when we went off the traditional interview route - at that moment, I was a mum not a journalist, and he was just an ordinary bloke, not an RSC or Hollywood actor .' He leant back in his chair before he spoke. 'But Snape's a good guy,' he said. 'No he isn't!' I said, full of confidence, but Mr Rickman nodded slowly at me, his eyes wide. This was four years before the final Harry Potter novel was published, [SPOILER ALERT: DON'T READ ON IF YOU HAVEN'T READ YOUR WAY THROUGH ALL THE HARRY POTTER BOOKS] - no one yet knew that Snape really was alright. At this point he was just a vindictive Slytherine potions master who had it in for Harry. 'Really?' I said. 'Snape's a good guy?' 'Yes,' said Mr Rickman. 'He is. I promise you.'
We went back to the interview questions at that point and finished up. And when I left, I shook one or two of his sausage-sized fingers (I couldn't manage the whole hand) and asked if I could have his autograph for my daughter. I handed him the blurb about him from the press packet I'd been given so that he could sign it, and he asked my daughter's name. When I got out out of the interview back down to the press room, I took at look to see what he'd written: 'To Yolanda, love from Alan Rickman (Snape, the Good Guy!') X
What a sweetie. I don't suppose Bloomsbury would have thought him a sweetie if they'd known he'd given away one of the major plot lines of what must be their bestselling novels of all time. But Mr Rickman trusted that I'd keep shtum. I told Yolanda what had happened and told her she shouldn't tell anyone else. It was a secret, and we would find out in time if it was true, or if Mr Rickman had just been having us on. But it was true. Four years later, reading that final novel, Yolanda and I marvelled that we'd known all along that Snape was indeed a good guy. And so was Alan Rickman. RIP lovely man. It was honestly a pleasure to have met you.
Here is the article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle - I think I did a good job, but I left out the all-important part, which today, I felt, finally ought to be published. And here is the autograph itself...
What is a mininovel?
You've written a novel. You're out there tweeting away, getting friends and family to review it and contacting agents, but what else can you do to help your cause? You can write a mininovel of your work of fiction and then blog it and tweet it - it'll take you about two minutes. Here's how to go about it.
How to write your mininovel
Copy and paste the first and last word of each chapter of your novel into a new document, putting each word on a fresh line so that your mininovel words form a poem shape. It's a good idea to include exclamation marks but not speech marks which just seemed to get in the way. Using an ellipsis between the opening word and end word for each chapter is a good idea. And then read it - what do you think?
What's the point of mininovels?
When I read mine I found it had a resonance and slight essence of the full novel. I work so so hard at the beginning and end of each chapter to get the sense of drama and tone right. In fact, writing my mininovel made me change the first word of one of the chapters from 'give' to 'get' as I thought 'get' was stronger.
From my mininovel I think you get a sense that there's some heavy stuff going on in part three of the full novel! I also love the product placement in part four. Without more ado, here it is. Scroll down to the bottom to find out how I came to invent the mininovel and to discover an even wilder idea. And let's fill the world with mininovels! Publish yours and send me a link to it in my comments below (or just past it below).
Not Middlemarch the mininovel by Carol Muskoron
How the idea of the mini novel was born
Okay, so there I was, uploading my novel to Kindle - and just before I clicked 'Publish', I quickly checked that all the chapters were there and that nothing had dropped off. I went through the document and wrote down the first and last word of each chapter to check against my hard copy - and what I was left with looked a bit like a poem. I read it. I liked it. It had a good rhythm and it somehow gave a flavour of the pace and feel of the novel.
THAT WILD IDEA
You could write a mininovel and then write the novel around it! Now that would be interesting. Let me know if you do it and I'll demand to be invited to the launch party!
I've just published the novel on the left here, Not Middlemarch, and it's a black comedy about a rich London girl who's rebelling against her cosy family life and is looking for trouble. She works at a centre for the homeless and meets a bloke with learning difficulties there - and she falls in love with him.
It's a worry writing about characters with learning difficulties. You want to be fair, you want to be accurate and you want to be respectful. I took such care to make sure that all three criteria there were met - I think I achieved it.
I based the character on my son, who was three when I writing the novel, and had just been diagnosed with autism. The consultant told me that he presented as severely autistic and would never go to school. My son couldn't talk at the time and it was very hard to get his attention, let alone teach him anything. I was in hell, and I set about trying to break through to Nathan and to teach him that our world was worth looking at.
I did everything that I was told to do by speech therapists, by our educational psychologist and by doctors and hospitals. And by the time Nathan was five he could say his name and his age and was out of nappies. He went to school and I prayed he'd find it interesting enough to wake up and take notice and learn. My prayers were answered. Gradually, he joined our world. He's now studying for his A levels - he's smart and kind and one of the nicest and strongest people I know. I could not be more proud of him. His autism is a point of interest to him, rather than something that gets in the way. He knows he has a slightly different take on the world - he tells me he finds everything visually interesting and that that's hard to deal with. I will be forever grateful that he can explain this to me. But whilst I was teaching Nathan to speak, he was teaching me a heck of a lot too.. And I ploughed a lot of what he taught me into Not Middlemarch
Nathan taught me that talking is actually not all its cracked up to be. Words, words, words - what are they all for? What's the point of them? Did Nathan need to tell me he loved me? No. I knew he loved me. There is much more to life than words - this is a major realisation for a writer!
He also taught me to look around the world more, and to explore it. I quite often find myself staring at things the way he used to - looking oh so deeply at leaves and mud and surfaces and analysing their textures. Nath continues to be very visual - he loves art.
But most of all he taught me to be open-minded. I wasn't horribly judgemental before this happened but knowing someone with autism has made me more understanding of people who don't talk, having learning difficulties or have autism. I'm very comfortable around deaf people or people with Asperger's
So it's been a long journey - and it's not over. But I am pleased to have published the novel I wrote back then. I don't actually say anywhere in the book that the character, Pete, has autism, but he does. It's a serious issue to plonk in a black comedy but I think it works. Comedy takes place in the real world, after all, and the real world has people with autism in it. According to the National Autistic Society, around 1 in a 100 of us are on the spectrum - quite a statistic isn't it?
Meanwhile, here are some other thought-provoking novels which include characters with learning difficulties...
Of Mice and Men - John Steinback
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Curious Incident of the the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon
Al Capone Does My Shirts - Gennifer Choldenko
The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
I think Not Middlemarch is in good company and I hope that as well as being a hilarious rollercoaster of sex and satire, it also gives some insight into what it is like to live with someone with learning difficulties. It's not all bad - Lisa and Pete have some wonderful times together...
My mum was a huge inspiration to me. I think it's not an exaggeration to say that
a) I became a writer because of her, b) everything I write, I write fo
r her and c) I have never written a novel in which she doesn't appear.
Look closely at my writing and you will always find a wild, outspoken woman who takes no shit and makes mincemeat of every waiter and shop assistant she meets. Mum is the crochety, mean old woman in my novel Philip the Dog
and the horrendous dominating mother on the phone in Hands-Free
. But I don't write about Mum fairly really - she wasn't just an old bat! She was a loving and good woman, who would have done anything for her daughters, her son-in-law and her grandchildren whom she loved deeply.
Mum passed away nearly four years ago and I think of her everyday, but Mother's Day is especially difficult. I want to buy her lunch at Golders Hill Park, to give her a gaudy bunch of flowers and to take her a box of Quality Street and let her eat all the purple ones. And I can't do any of that. But I thought I could write this blog about how much she means to me, and include in it one of my favourite Mum moments which took place in Kew Gardens...I'd taken her there
with my kids and we'd got her wheelchair so we could bomb about with her. We were sitting in the sunshine at one point, snacking on our packed lunch, and my son who was about eight at the time was playing with the wrinkles on Mum's arm (one of his favourite pastimes at that point). And then he stopped playing, looked up at Mum and said, ''You are old Nana, and you will die soon.'
I sat there holding my breath, thinking Mum was about to have a real go at her unsuspecting grandson, but her reply blew me away. 'Yes darling, that's right,' she said brightly. And with that she took another bite of her egg sarnie and asked if there were any smoked salmon ones left.
There was no telling off, no insult taken, no awkwardness at all. And I realise that whether or not this brutal comment hurt her feelings, she would never have hurt her grandson's feelings by making him think he had done anything wrong. And through her response, she set both myself and her grandchildren a fine example of love, and a fine attitude to life. It's an example I will try to follow as best I can.
Happy Mother's Day Mum. Love you always.From your Carol the Barrel (yep, that was the nickname of that fat baby pictured above, with her beautiful and inspirational mother, Anita, right by her side).
When I was a child I played the violin. I didn't really like the instrument but I had a go at school and was sent home with a note saying I had promise and that buying me a violin might be a good idea. To my surprise, my dad jumped at the idea.
I played quite well. I got a distinction at one exam, a merit in one and a pass in another, but I probably wouldn't have played if not for the sheer bliss it seemed to give my dad. Sometimes he cried when I played. He told me his sister used to play. Her name was Ann. She lived in America and he said she played at the London Palladium. I didn't really believe him.
Dad came from a poor East End Jewish family. Not all Jewish East End families were poor. My mum's family came from there too, but they were prosperous. Dad's lot were not. He and his sister and brother got rheumatic fever as kids as a result of poor housing conditions and as a direct result of that, all three later died of heart conditions. The idea of this poor, sick family being the home of a professional violinist struck me as odd. How did she manage to learn the violin with all of that going on? They wouldn't have had money for teachers. Or instruments. Or the time.
But amidst the poverty somehow two of his sisters turned out musical, Dad told me. His sister Milly was good on the piano. And Ann was professional he said. 'Yeah, yeah, yeah!' he used to say - I have always had a transparent face and I suppose my scepticism showed.
I never met my Auntie Ann - Dad was told he was too ill to fly so we never went to see her, and she was too ill to visit us. But aside from telling me that she played the violin Dad said she was very cultured, and kind and beautiful and modest. She sounded too good to be true.
I did speak to her on the phone once, mind you - this was at a time when international calls were a seriously big deal. Dad seemed to totally come to life when she called. He spoke to her for what seemed like an age and then called out, 'Come and talk to Auntie Ann!'. One by one we did as he said.
When it was my turn I heard a warm, American voice saying, 'Hello darling. I hear you play the violin. That's nice. I used to play the violin you know...' She had a very soft voice and somehow I felt that she loved me. She'd never met me but her love for my dad was so strong that it came right down through the phone to her unsuspecting little niece!
Auntie Ann died not long after that and I have never, before or since, seen a man so distraught as my dad was at the news of her passing away.
Over the years, relatives had told me that Ann was a professional violinist, but still somehow it jarred. How 'professional' was she? Maybe she played a bit but she probably hadn't been that good. Once or twice I did an internet search for 'Ann Muskoron violinist' or 'Ann Muskoron orchestra' but nothing came up.
Then when my mum died not long ago, I found these photos with 'Ann Muskoron' written on the back of each. None of them say that Ann played at the Palladium but somehow looking at them, I can see that she was professional, and I can totally believe that she played at the London Palladium. I can also believe that she was cultured and kind and beautiful and modest.
I can only imagine quite how much being musical must have meant in a family that was struggling as they struggled. And for Ann to earn her living by playing the violin must have seemed like nothing less than a miracle.
I wrote this blog so that if any body else did ever search for Ann Muskoron online, they would find something about her. RIP Auntie Ann. I also wrote it as a very late apology to my dad for not believing him. Sorry Dad. And RIP to you too.
I am going to be brave now (as the Naked Novelist almost always is) and own up to the fact that I take breaks from writing my fiction, put my clothes on, shut the curtains, turn the volume up high and listen to some of the most embarrassing vinyl tracks around.
Save this page to favourites and use the Naked Novelist's guilty pleasure songs to take breaks to when you're next writing - if enough of us do it, we will create a certain oneness, unifying writers the world over as they create fiction
inspired by Neil Sedaka??!! Oh yes...
Betcha by gollywow
Great for if you have a soppy love scene to get back to writing.
Amazing for launch party fantasising. Sod it, why not?!
Don't Turn Around
Anyone who likes reggae will find this extremely uncool. And yes, I do love Bob Marley, but something about this number gets me everytime. It's like the reggae male version of Gloria Gaynor's 'I will survive' - and no, that's not on my list of guilty song pleasures. Even I have some standards.
We've only just begun
Another great launch party fantasty song. And I know that everyone now agrees that Karen Carpenter had one of the greatest, sweetest most effortless voices of all time, but she did wear terrible dresses.
If you haven't been sick, yet, this guilty pleasure song might do the trick. Unless you turn it up really loud and intoxicate yourself with the euphoria factor (try it!)
The Whole Town's Laughing At Me
Let them laugh! With Teddy's tender voice ringing in your ears you won't hear them.
Coming to America
I don't care what anyone says, this is powerful! Come on Neil, show 'em what you've got!
Barbra is definitely not guilty song material - she is cool, but not the way I do her. We're talking fake microphone in hand, curly hair up with a few stray ringlets and my very own Kris Kristofferson blow-up doll (okay that last bit was a lie, but it might come to that).
So Far Away
Give me a break, I could have chosen, 'You've got a friend' and I didn't. And I've chosen this cool version of 'So Far Away' with James Taylor playing guitar. Oh, lord, I am such a hippy!
So I've written a novel - it's a beauty, and I'm looking for a literary agent.
I sit down to write a query letter and am tempted to start it thus:
'See this great novel? It will make you lots of money. I am a good person.
Yours sincerely (very).
Carol Muskoron (aka the Naked Novelist - and yes, I really did take my clothes off
But I know this won't cut it. And I am prepared for this because I knew I was going to have to write this letter one day. Occasionally I'd take breaks from my prose and make drafts of the letter I would one day write to a literary agent. And so I am ready with my pithy description of the novel and with my pithy description of myself. But what I am not ready for is the soul searching that's necessary to complete the letter. Let me explain...
Once I'd written about me, and the novel, and had politely said that I was looking forward to hearing from the agent, I realised that something was missing. There was something I wasn't saying. And then I realised what it was. I hadn't explained why I had written this novel, or what had led me to write it in the first place.
At this point, I found myself wishing that an angel who would reach down from the sky and pick me up and say, 'I know why you, little Carol Muskoron, have spent years writing beautiful novels and powerful short stories. There there. Don't say a word. I understand and I will make commercial sense of it all for you. Don't you worry!'
Isn't it enough to write a novel without having to explain why you've dedicated yourself to a task through which you might not earn a bean? You might as well write:
'Dear literary agent, I am mad, quite mad. Attached is evidence of my madness, plus a synopsis of my madness.
Yours sincerely (very).
Carol Muskoron (aka the Naked Novelist - and yes, I really did take my clothes off
).'Go deeper, Carol, I told myself. I sat there and pondered: where had my journey begun? And I realised that it began with my love of the novels of John Irving and Angela Carter and Richard Brautigan and Isabel Allende - written by people with nothing in common except their eccentricity, their wild characters and their love of the fabulous. And at this point I realised that in my letter to the agent I had lied. I had written that my novel was a straightforward romcom - it isn't a straightforward romcom - it is an eccentric romcom with wild characters and a fabulous plot. But guess what? I think the world is ready for
an eccentric romcom with wild characters and a fabulous plot.It's a shame literary agents aren't angels - it seems that they're business people who can spot a great story. But I reckon with each query letter you write, your understanding of your 'business' and of what you have to sell grows. Right, enough navel gazing! I've got a new short story to publish tonight and some serious search engine optimisation to do on nakednovelist.com.
Yours sincerely (very).
Carol Muskoron (aka the Naked Novelist - and yes, I really did take my clothes off
I'm not a violent person but if Anastasia Steele had walked into the room at the moment when I'd just finished Fifty Shades of Grey
I'd have tied her up and beaten her senseless myself. Yes, Christian Grey I can understand the pleasure of pain. Anastasia is such an annoying, simpering, dull creature that she deserves to be slapped.
Help me womankind, why are you loving this trash?
I know, it's because of the recession, isn't it. You're overdrawn every month and you've got no money to go out, so you get on the tube every morning and read a little something to get you going. Then after a hard day's work, you return to your partner, strip him/her naked, shackle him/her to the banisters and cook dinner while he/she wails for your attention and begs to be tied up in the living room where he/she could at least watchEastEnders
. Only in this way can you regain some of the self respect you lose each day selling your soul to a greedy multinational company which pays you just about enough to sort out the bills, but nowhere near enough for you to buy the Fornarina shoes you lust after this season.
Or is that, just like the heroine of Fifty Shades of Grey
, Anastasia Steele (oh, lord help us, could the name be more clichéd), you are a virgin who has met a millionaire pervert?
Or, hang on, I 've got it! You love this book because you yearn
to be a virgin who has met a millionare pervert - yes! How you wish that before you'd said 'I do' to your husband plumber and sold yourself into a life of washing his soiled overalls, someone like Christian Grey (oh, lord help us again: could his name be more clichéd) had come along and offered you a life of another kind of bondage altogether.
Whatever your reasons, I would like to point out how sad it is that the hero of the first vaguely raunchy novel to rock the world for a while has to be a millionaire.Why couldn't Anastasia have fallen for a nice bloke from the IT department? I also think it's sad that she has to be a virgin - and worse, a boring virgin. And why does there have to have to be a stupid bogus back story about why Christian Grey got into sadomasochism - he couldn't just like a bit of slap and tickle, could he? Oh no, he has his psychological reasons, don't you know, for being a whip connoisseur. Yawn!
I don't think I'm a literary snob. I'll read anything. I can enjoy a cornflakes packet if it's well written, but Fifty Shades of Grey
is just badly written.
Bye for now
PS There's a sadomasochism scene in my novel Twelve Hours
but there isn't a millionaire or a virgin in sight.
PPS Need examples of just how badly written Fifty Shades of Grey is? Check out The 10 worst lines from Fifty Shades of Grey on my professional blog where I can't own up to wanting to tie characters up and hit them.
I was finding chapter four of my latest novel hard to get through today. And the major distraction was a parrot costume which a work colleague had sent me the link to - she was going to a fancy dress party but she didn't opt for this costume. I couldn't for the life of my understand why not. I didn't have a fancy dress party to go to, but I'd never seen such a perfect thing. An all-in-one wonder. Step into it and you were 100 per cent parrot. I did question how you'd hold a drink with those wings, but I told myself that was a technicality. I wanted that costume!
I managed to ignore the craving for most of the week and then today, when I was supposed to be writing,I found myself thinking 'parrot costume' and clicking on the link again - but now the page said 'Hurry! Only 1 left in stock!'. Oh no! I tweeted about my craving, wondering if anyone out there would understand, and a friend said, 'Buy it now!' but I wasn't sure. Gorgeous though the thing looked, I wondered if it would flatter me. Would I look attractive in it?
I showed the link to my husband when he came in - I explained how taken I was with it, and asked if he thought I should buy it. After all, what would I wear it to? 'Oh, we've missed National Parrot Day! What a shame!' he said, which I didn't find very helpful.
And then I had an idea: if I finished Chapter Four I would reward myself by buying the parrot costume. I worked so hard - it was honestly like wading through treacle - and now that I've finally finished the chapter I'm shattered. Too shattered to make such a big fashion decision. But I treated myself to Photoshopping my head into the costume to see just how it would look on me. What do you think? I think I look kind of nice in it.
Bye for now
PS My novel, Twelve Hours was written without the inspiration of parrots, but I don't think it suffered. Buy Twelve Hours here and decide for yourself!
WRITING TIP: If you're really suffering from writer's block and are having trouble finishing a piece of writing, dangle a carrot, any carrot, in front of yourself and tell yourself that the said vegetable will be yours once your writing mission is complete. In my case the carrot was a 'parrot' but you only you can decide which carrots which work best for you!
I love giving readings from my novels. I learn a little bit more about my fiction every time I do one. If you can come out of your ivory tower and meet the public now and then, I reckon it's a very, very good idea. Here are my tips for how to make a success of doing a public reading from your novel...1) Scan your novel for a piece of writing that stands alone
- this is tricky, but it's very important. However short your reading is, your audience needs to feel that they have heard something with a beginning, a middle and an end.2) Have some cards with your novel's info on it to give out -
people came up to me after my reading and it was brilliant to hand out a card rather than relying on their vague memory to recall who I am and what my book was called when they next buy something on Kindle. And writing the wording for your business focusses you - you have to think: what is the salient info about my novel; what might make people buy it? I didn't know 'Twelve Hours
' was a heartbreaking black comedy until I had these printed!3) Write an intro to the piece and a sign off paragraph
. Even a short intro will help readers engage with you. As a sign off I always thank people for listening and tell them where they can get my book.4) Print out the piece you've chosen, read it aloud and time yourself.
You don't want to read for longer than 10 mins. Mark paragraphs and sentences that you could lose, if necessary. I always have some marked out and if I think things are dragging I do the shorter version.5) Edit your piece. There are two reasons for doing this:
Firstly, it might need editing to make it a successful standalone piece of writing - tinker to make sure that everything your audience needs to know is there for them. Secondly, it's wonderful to take the opportunity to focus on some writing that was signed, sealed and published. You will almost definitely find ways of improving it and you can add the edit to an ebook instantly. Oh the joy of Kindle publishing!
Bye for now
PS If you want to read my heartbreaking black comedy Twelve Hours, you can buy it here.