Wednesday, 30 March 2011

How to have the perfect holiday

How to have a perfect holiday Book a cheap flight to Malaga, hire a car and head for the hills. Book only one or two nights accommodation in advance. Once there buy a detailed map with guide to the area and take it from there. We had two nights in Ronda, two nights in Zahara and three nights in Grazalema because we found a fantastic hostel there. Climb as many high mountains as you can, see as many sights as you can fit in but still make time for siestas and reading - I still read two books.

This is part of the Abode of the Moorish King which sits above the Mira Stairway,
365 steps leading into a mine and gorge.
In the 14th Century slaves were used to
carry water up the stairs for the villager
 - their life expectancy in the mine was eight weeks.

Things I love about Andalucia: Every premises has energy saving bulbs. They have different shapes and sizes for every fitting. Everyone speaks to you, young and old - greetings of hola, buenos dias, buenas tardes, buenas noches are universal and a delight. Hardly any English speaking tourists.
The houses are painted sparkling white with fabulous tiles. Clean streets, no litter, no dogs or cats. The chickens, dogs and vegetable gardens are situated on the village fringes. I took great pleasure in seeking them out.

Just painted - 

the house painters of Zahara are a band of women 
who will never be out of work.

A well tended vegetable patch in Grazalema.
The villages seem to be self sufficient. There are hens, bread making, oranges, cheese making and large communal vegetable gardens.

Where the dogs and chickens live in Zahara.
 All the streets are beautifully cobbled and there are no potholes! Shops are unobtrusive. They look like houses, no advertising or Tescos or other big supermarkets. No boy racers, no neds. There are loads of old men, as well as old women; not something we see so much of in Scotland. And most walked everywhere with the use of only a stick. I saw no zimmers or tri walkers. It must be all that olive oil. Real chips made from real potatoes.  Small beers not whopping great pints. Fabulous vino de casa at an average price of €8. 

A tattie plot in Rhonda.  

Cactus graffiti in Zahara.

Things I didn't like about Andalusia: The mountain roads are narrow with super high verges that could seriously damage the hire car. TV Channel Toro. Ronda is the home of bull fighting and this channel was on in every bar. It is horrible to see but also compulsive to watch.

The view from Sierra de Grazalema's highest mountain - El Torreon (1654mtrs)

After the hill walk

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Got to Keep Going

For the past ten months I have been trying to get my novel The Incomers published. This is a demoralising and frustrating process and the amount of effort and motivation to keep going can not be underestimated.

Writing a novel is hard work - but it is fun. Every morning for a year or two you wake up and know you will spend the rest of the day in the company of good friends. OK maybe you created these friends yourself but they are still your friends.

The main character in The Incomers is a young black African mother, Ellie, who comes to live in Fife. I love Ellie. She is a wonderful person. I didn't ask for Ellie to be the main character, that role should have gone to a small girl called Mary. But the moment Ellie entered the story she took over and made it her own. When I finished the novel I tried to treat the process of submitting to publishers as an administration task to be fitted around my writing. I wanted to write something that was under the bed - a short story called The Mongrel that screamed to be a novel.

I tried to write the second novel but I couldn't. I couldn't let go of Ellie. I sent out submissions to publishers and agents. The responses I got back were positive. "A great idea, very interesting but not for us." Quite a number of publishers wanted to see more, but many admitted they were scared by certain aspects of the book, it didn't fit in with what the public were buying.

Each time I thought I was getting close, a rejection came back. My early readers loved the book. One impartial expert told me it ticked lots of boxes and I shouldn't give up on Ellie - she needed to be heard. And yet the rejection slips kept coming in and I still couldn't write the second novel.

Then on Boxing Day while my family were all around, I got a phone call on my mobile. It was a London number I didn't recognise so I ignored it. Then the land line rang, the same number, someone really wanted to speak to me. My heart was pounding when a voice announced she was from XXX publishing. No one phones you on Boxing Day unless it is good news. Unfortunately this particular lady must have had a bad Christmas. She began by telling me how much she loved the book and then why she was rejecting it. Meanwhile my family thought this was the phone call.

My disappointment didn't last as long as theirs. I was furious. Furious that I had let soemone spoil my family's Christmas, furious that I couldn't find a home for Ellie and furious with myself for letting eight months go by without starting novel number two. I told myself that I still had many options open to me, but I had to put Ellie behind me. I will continue to try to find a publisher, but I may have to write a book that is more commercial and The Mongrel might just be that beast.

It is a horrible lesson to learn especially when I know that The Incomers is a great book and that when it does get published the public will want to read it.

In the mean time I am now forty thousand words into my second novel and am loving it. I haven't abandoned Ellie, I still think about her every day and I still do something for her every day, but I am falling in love with my new character now and that is what is keeping me going.