The Mistress of Nothing

Digital Mentor

28 January 2009 | Comments (0)

When I was working for the Royal Literary Fund I used to have the thrilling job title of Virtual Fellow. ‘Royal Literary Fund Virtual Fellow’ - a kind of dignified, literary version of Keanu Reeves in ‘The Matrix’. I stopped being a Virtual Fellow when I took the post at DMU; there my job title is Reader in Creative Writing and New Media, which is also cool, as it suggests that what I do is lie on a sofa and read stuff off my laptop all day everyday.

But now I’ve had a request from a poet, asking if I will do some work for her as a Digital Mentor.  This is even better than being a Virtual Fellow.  So, if anyone out there needs a bit of digital mentoring, I’m your girl!!  katepullinger (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) uk.

Proofs of The Mistress of Nothing

27 January 2009 | Comments (0)

Today the proofs of my new book arrived in the post!  This is the stage where the book has been typeset by the printers (totally out of date terminology, but you get my drift).  The writer receives a sheaf of loose A4 sheets, with the book laid out as it will be once it is bound - font, page numbers, etc.  You need to read through the book, looking for typographical errors.  The proofs are also read by one or two other people who are looking for the same kinds of mistakes.

Writers can make more substantial changes to the text at this stage, but this is expensive for the publisher; contracts tend to stipulate that above a certain percentage of pages (10% usually, sometimes less), the writer will need to pick up the cost of resetting the type. It strikes me that, in the digital age, this is probably a hangover from times past, and that resetting a book should be much easier now, but I could be wrong - I guess someone, somewhere, has to input the changes. At any rate, extensive changes at this stage are frowned upon, though I do have writer friends who have decided that their book does need substantial changes at proof stage, which they have gone ahead and paid to have done.

In my own experience, reading proofs is both pleasurable and profoundly queasy-making - this is it, this is really it, this is the book, take it or leave it.  In the past I’ve tended to make only a few tiny changes to the text - a word or phrase here or there, no more - alongside of correcting any typographical errors. But maybe this time will be different and I’ll go completely crazy and feel a desperate urge to rewrite the entire thing from beginning to end.

I won’t know until I read it.  Yikes.

Look away, while I boast

12 January 2009 | Comments (0)

This came in from my editor just now, about my final rewrite of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’:

‘What a superb job of rewriting you’ve done!  I’m terrifically impressed with how your changes/ new dialogue has fleshed out the whole, and added immeasurably to the characters, and the dynamics between them.  I’ve had to read a speed and have about 40 pages to go before taking it to the copy-editor in Muswell Hill this afternoon.  But I much enjoyed living with Sally and Omar and Lady D this w/e.  So - give yourself a massive pat on the back!!’

I’m aware that this sounds like something I wrote myself, but it really did come from Ruth Petrie, my editor at Serpent’s Tail.  Yippee!!!  Does this mean I can stop worrying now, fourteen years after embarking on writing this book?  Probably not, but still, it’s a relief.

Finished - again!

6 January 2009 | Comments (0)

I finished my novel, again!  This time, I think it really is finished - I sent it off to my agents and publishers, so let’s hope they agree with me.  At Serpent’s Tail they’ve started to work on the cover - I’ve tried to upload the image here but wordpress won’t let me for the time being. I will have one more opportunity to read it, and make changes, when I get the proofs sometime this spring, but the book is pretty much done and dusted now.  I started working on it in 1995, which is 14 years ago now.  Getting it right, or, at least, getting it to work as a readable text, has taken me… some time.  The fact that it took me so long to write isn’t a virtue, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing either - for the book itself, of course, not my bank balance.  I lost all objectivity and sense of proportion over it years ago; I alternate between thinking it’s sad that someone could spend so long on something that’s so crap, and thinking that it’s a work of genius that will win prizes and sell mountains of copies.

So the next phase with this book, ‘The Mistress of Nothing’, involves a lot of waiting.  Waiting for the cover, waiting for the proofs, waiting to hear what my publishers want me to do to help publicise it, trying to come up with publicity ideas myself, waiting to find out if I’ll be giving readings from it… Publication dates are July in the UK, October in Canada; haven’t made any other territorial sales yet, so we’ll see. Publishing a book is such a weird anti-climatic but nail-biting thing to do - so much time and hope invested in those pages.  I’m very glad I have such a huge juicy pile other stuff on my plate, especially the on-going digital projects which are, in a fundamental way, so much more immediately rewarding in terms of reader-writer interaction, so much less loaded with literary expectation. It still surprises me to find that most aspiring writers focus entirely on the book and don’t look toward the digital or the electronic in any meaningful way.  Our literary book culture is horribly complex and, in many ways, debased now.  But many many people - and I meet them on writing courses all over the country, in many countries in fact - still feel that having a book published represents a solid, unassailable achievement.

Still, I was cheered up yesterday by reading in the paper Clay Shirkey’s simple maxim for the future of publishing - print on demand, with one ‘browsing copy’ of a book available in the bookshop, for those among us who still like to browse an actual shelf.  Bring it on, soon please.

Writing in 2009

5 January 2009 | Comments (0)

I’m not very good at New Year’s Eve but I do try to spend some time thinking through my hopes and plans for the forthcoming year.  I don’t come up with resolutions but I do have ideas about what I do want and don’t want to have happen… sounds vague, and it is.  This year I’m going to spend more time on my own creative projects - writing - and less time on administration.  I’ve got a couple of immediate deadlines to meet.  Here’s a little list of what I’ll be working on over the next few months:

  • the final final draft of my new novel, ‘The Mistress of Nothing’, which is due on Thursday
  • the final final draft of a short story called ‘Public Image Ltd’, which is due yesterday
  • a new draft of my children’s book, ‘Daisy’, due end of the month
  • five story hotspots for ‘Flight Paths’ which I meant to do before Christmas

Chris and I are hoping to get a big commission for a series of multimedia stories which will require lots of work over the forthcoming year; we will know whether or not that’s going ahead by the end of the month.

I’m in discussion with a software artist called James Coupe about a new project for an LED installation in Seattle; that would be fun.

There is more stuff, but this list is making me start to panic about everything I need to get done!

Any my colleague Sue Thomas is off to California for four months.  We shall miss her!

I and me

16 December 2008 | Comments (0)

I know I said I was finished revising my novel, but it turns out not to be true.

Anyway, at the moment I’m obsessed with when is the right time to use ‘Omar and me’, and when is the right time to use ‘Omar and I’.  I was always confused about this, but I’ve become more confused because people use ‘Omar and I’ when they are trying to talk proper, when in fact, the correct usage is ‘Omar and me’.  ‘People’ in this case means my main character Sally, who is a Lady’s maid (I can’t believe I wrote a whole novel about a Lady’s maid, but that’s another story), and she likes to talk proper, so she’d be the type of person who would confuse ‘Omar and me’, with ‘Omar and I’ and use it incorrectly.  But in a novel where, generally, the rest of her English usage is perfectly fine, trying to get away with an incorrect ‘Omar and I’ to show that she doesn’t really talk proper, but just thinks she does, can’t work.  So now I’m completely confused about the whole thing, and will have to rely on a patient copy-editor to help me sort out the mess.

Happy days!

Mistress of Nothing rewrites

4 December 2008 | Comments (0)

I’ve managed to get through the rewrite of my new novel, ‘The Mistress of Nothing’.  My editor, Ruth Petrie, had gone through the manuscript and made a series of excellent comments and suggestions, both large and small.  Nothing too large, thankfully, nothing structural; it’s the structure and voice and point of view of this novel that has given me such grief over the past 13 years or so. Luckily, by the time Ruthie saw it, I had solved most of those problems and am left with tightening things up, elaborating some points, adding dialogue, clarifying, making minor cuts and adjustments.  I hadn’t read the novel since Feb of this year, and having had a good long break away from it has enabled me to come back to it with a degree of freshness I wasn’t expecting.

At the moment I am typing in the corrections to the manuscript, having made all my changes to it with red, black, and blue pens on the printed manuscript.  Once I’ve done that, I’ll print it out once again and read it through one more time before sending it off to Serpent’s Tail here in the UK, and McArthur & Co in Canada.

Let the foreign sales pour in!  Let the prizes and accolades rain down! Let the supermarkets place mass orders!

Yes indeed.

The Mistress of Nothing cover blurb

25 November 2008 | Comments (0)

Week before last Serpent’s Tail sent me the cover image they are going to adapt for my novel, ‘The Mistress of Nothing’, which will come out in the UK in July next year, Canada in the autumn.  It’s a lovely old photograph of sailing boats on the Nile.  I’ll post a preview once it is ready.  These past two days I’ve been discussing the blurb for the back of the book, the catalogue, etc with Niamh Murray from Serpent’ Tail - here’s a draft:

“Lady Duff Gordon is the toast of Victorian London.  But when her debilitating tuberculosis means exile, she sets sail for Egypt with her devoted lady’?s maid, Sally, as her sole companion.  It is Sally who describes, with a mixture of wonder and trepidation, the odd ménage marshalled by the resourceful Omar, as they travel down the Nile to a new life in Luxor.  When Lady Duff Gordon undoes her stays and takes to native dress, throwing herself into village life, language lessons, and excursions to
the tombs, Sally too adapts to a new world, gaining heady and heartfelt freedoms she has never known before.

But freedom is a luxury that a maid can ill-afford, and when Sally grasps more than her status entitles her to, she is brutally reminded that she is mistress of nothing. “

Does this make you want to read it?

Hello world!

20 October 2008 | Comments (2)

Hello.  My plan is to write a blog for a year.  During this year, I’ll be working on a number of fiction projects, including ‘Inanimate Alice’, ‘Flight Paths’ and ‘Lifelines’; as well as this, my new book, ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ will be published - July 09 in the UK, autumn 09 in Canada.  I’ll continue to teach on the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media at De Montfort University; I’ll continue to mentor students privately; I’ll continue occasional one-off speaking and teaching and reading gigs.  I’ll also attempt to stay abreast of the discussions around the current state as well as the future of reading and writing and publishing. I don’t plan to post anything personal - just a collection of things to do with writing.

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