Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cat's character types

With some inspiration from Joss Whedon (yes, again).

Okay, you know those character archetypes? The hero, princess, blah blah, all this stuff about Threshold Guardians. Apparently it's all represented in Star Wars, but since I was too young for the first three and too old (and cynical) for the last three, I've never really watched them and so couldn't rightly say. But I do remember reading a review of Serenity that compared it to the work of George Lucas. Flashy special effects, the review said, are no substitute for strong characters, smart writing and a good plot.

So. When I talk about character types, I'm going to use the Joss Whedon model. It's not a definitive list. I noticed when I started watching Firefly that some of the characters have a lot in common with characters from Buffy. There's a leader, and a joker, and a father figure--in these respects, it's fairly similar to the Star Wars model, whose archetypes seem to be (ironically) designed to drive the plot. That old Threshold Guardian, for instance, who is there to propel the Hero on his journey. They tend to relate to a story about a hero on his journey--a journey with a beginning and an end. JW's character models tend to be set up for the long run, stories that don't have neat beginnings, middles, and endings; but do have strong character dynamics.

Here are the character types as I see them. They apply to quite a few ensemble pieces, although it might not be immediately obvious. Not all types apply to all ensembles, and sometimes one character can be more than one character type at a time, or can change from one to the other.

(Note: I'm going to pick a pronoun and stick to it for each character type, but that doesn't at all mean that the type can't be the opposite sex).

The Leader Often eponymous, ie. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Richard Sharpe, Robin Hood. This is the character we focus on. In books, he's often the one who tells most of the story. Sam Vimes from the Discworld series is a great example: big chunks of the City Watch books are in his POV; in fact Night Watch is almost exclusively so. The Leader isn't always the boss or the captain in the world as he sees it--like Sharpe, he might have layers and layers of commanders above him--but in the world we're looking at, and to his men, he's the man in charge.

The Faithful Sidekick Again, a pretty familiar character type. Zoe from Firefly is a prime example. Loyal to Captain Mal with every bone in her body, she has her own life, her own relationships and her own thoughts and feelings, but out of all the crew, she's the one who's going to do what Mal says with the least amount of questions. The Sidekick is the one the Leader trusts above everyone else. In the BBC's Robin Hood, Much the Miller's Son is the epitome of Sidekickness. For Richard Sharpe, it's Sergeant Harper. The Sidekick isn't interested in leading the crew by herself--in fact that's the last thing she wants. But if the Leader is having trouble, guess who steps into the breach?

The Sidekick is often a double role. In Buffy, the Sidekick is variously Xander, who is also the Joker, and Willow, who is also the Fixer.

The Fixer The one who gets things done. The one who finds things out. The one who answers the question, "So what are we up against?" The Fixer knows people. He knows how to make things, or break them. He's the one who hacks into the computer system or decodes the puzzle or devises the escape plan. In Buffy, the Fixer is Willow. Whether it's casting a spell, slogging through a demonology, or researching on the net, she's your gal. For Robin Hood, the Fixer is the resourceful Will Scarlett, who knows everything about everybody and can make anything from anything, so long as it's wood. In the BBC's Hustle it's Ash (they even introduce him as the Fixer). In Firefly, the Fixers are Kaylee and Simon--but in the film Serenity, it's Mr. Universe.

The Fixer can also be a fluid role, and sometimes coincides with the Joker or Sidekick.

The Wise Counsellor Like the Sidekick, this is usually an easy one to spot. The Wise Counsellor is usually, although not always, an older figure, a father figure. Buffy's watcher Giles is a prime example. But in Angel, the Counsellor is Wesley--similar in age to the rest of the crew (and much younger than Angel!). The Counsellor is often fairly close to the Fixer, and can sometimes be mistaken for him. The difference is that no one goes to the Fixer for emotional advice. Even the Leader sometimes needs to know they're on the right track, and it's the Counsellor who provides the reassurance. This is clearly seen in Firefly, with Shepherd Book.

In the sixth and seven seasons of Buffy, Giles was a part-time character. During his absence, the gang suffered the lack of a Counsellor. While Willow was able to provide the gang with the exposition, there wasn't anyone around to help and guide the gang, which showed in their bad decisions and unfortunate character arcs.

The Joker Easy to spot. The Joker often coincides with the Sidekick--for instance Xander in Buffy fulfills both roles. In Firefly, the Joker is Wash, who is married to Zoe, the Sidekick. The Joker might not have the smarts or the skill that the other members of the team have, but he does have wit, and he's not afraid to use it. He's one of the most likeable characters, who can lighten any dark and gloomy scene with a well-timed comic punch. Joss Whedon invariably writes a Joker into his ensembles, and says that these are the characters he most identifies with.

The Lover Can often be confused with other characters. For instance, I was pretty sure Spike was the Lover in the latter seasons of Buffy, but he stubbornly refused it. The Lover is usually the least useful member of the team, and a terrible distraction to the Leader (whose lover she usually is). She might not actually be his physical lover, like Inara in Firefly, but she's definitely tyhe object of his affection, even if he doesn't know it. But, like the Counsellor, she's the one the Leader goes to for emotional healing. Without the Lover, the Leader isn't half the man he could be.

The Lover can be another character type too, or can change from one to another: for instance Cordelia goes from Sidekick to Lover in Angel, and Spike from AntiHero to Lover in Buffy. The Lover should not, however, be confused with the Damsel.

The Damsel Probably the least PC of the character types, but pretty necessary. The Damsel is usually the youngest member of the team, like Buffy's sister Dawn. The Damsel is, rather obviously, the one who gets kidnapped, the one who needs rescuing. However, the problem with an ongoing series is that pretty soon, the Damsel gets tired of being tied to the train tracks and starts taking care of herself. Willow was an excellent Damsel until she became a wickedly powerful witch, so Dawn stepped in. And when Dawn grew up, the Potential Slayers arrived, confused and helpless and in constant need of rescuing. The Damsel needn't be totally clueless: Kaylee in Firefly makes an excellent Damsel, although she's also a decent Fixer. In Robin Hood, the Damsel is not Marian, but the collective villagers, always being rescued by Robin and the gang.

The Anti-hero Usually my favourite character, the Anti-hero is the one who doesn't really want to be a member of the team; and if he does, it's not for the same save-the-world, good-of-mankind reasons as the rest of them. He could be Firefly's Jayne, the hired muscle who doesn't always see eye-to-eye with Mal's humanitarian missions, but goes along with them because he gets paid to--and because Zoe would kick his ass if he didn't. Spike is my favourite Antihero: he doesn't want to be in the Scooby Gang at all, but since he can't hurt humans and he can kill demons, he tags along and stirs up trouble. The Anti-hero isn't always sure about the cause the team is fighting for, he's not really willing to die for it, and he's perfectly willing to argue the Leader to death about it. Quite often, he doesn't want to be part of the team at all, but he doesn't have much option.

The Anti-hero isn't the same as the villain (who, not being part of my warm-and-fuzzy family of a team, doesn't feature in the ensemble), although he may have been, at one point, like Spike. The Anti-hero is, at heart, selfish, and he's not likely to risk his own skin for anyone else's. But since he's become a member of the team, he can't help but feel a little softhearted towards various members every now and then, and might actually surprise himself by helping out occasionally. In some circumstances, like in Buffy, the Anti-hero can morph into someone else entirely: in this case, the Lover.

So there you have it, the Cat Marsters guide to character types. Try and analyse some of your favourite ensemble pieces, and see if the group dynamic fits.

Friday, November 24, 2006

How to lose ten years

Have a little...patience.

It's the weirdest thing. But you know, in 1996 or thereabouts, Oasis was in the charts, and there was this girlband called the All Saints who were pretty big. And of course Take That, still suffering the loss of dear Robbie.

And yet...


Of course, you can use Madonna as your barometer, but if you did, you'd be stuck in the 1980s.

James Bond is making a comeback. That means it's 1995, right?

Well, uh, no. But, you know, I don't mind so much. Okay, so I haven't really listened to the Oasis track, but that's no real difference from 1995. Plus, now I can appreciate the Lowry vibe of their new video. All Saints do not, rather, spookily, appear to have aged very much.

Take That, however--the defining British boyband of the 90s--have changed. And you know? Back when I was fourteen, I didn't really see the point. Just a bunch of pretty boys with kind of decent songs. I was still into the Beatles then (yes, I was weird, deal with it). But now...well, these boys have got to be pushing thirty. Maybe past it (gasp!).

And you know, they look damn good on it. The one with the stubble and the curly hair? I think his name might be Jason, or possibly Howard. Yum. He looks good now. The band sounds good. Lyrics are kinda grown up. Poor Robbie sounds...like..um...he's lost the plot a bit. Looks like a Nucking Futter. Any minute he's going to be sponsoring the Ford Focus. The We Were Cutting Edge Ten Years Ago brigade.

Well, look. Ten years ago, I was the target demographic for this new brand of teenager. And I didn't give a fuck. But now I've grown up, maybe it's a second childhood. But I actually like Take That's song. Well, hell, it's called Patience.

And James Bond is looking really good.

Being 14 seems more and more attractive.

Oh, and,

You're Ulysses!

by James Joyce

Most people are convinced that you don't make any sense, but compared
to what else you could say, what you're saying now makes tons of sense. What people do
understand about you is your vulgarity, which has convinced people that you are at once
brilliant and repugnant. Meanwhile you are content to wander around aimlessly, taking in
the sights and sounds of the city. What you see is vast, almost limitless, and brings you
additional fame. When no one is looking, you dream of being a Greek folk hero.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance

There's an episode of Scrubs where the gang attend Carla's mother's funeral. Afterwards, standing around in the hospital lobby in their respectful black, Carla says to them all, "Thank you all for coming, I know you're busy." And they all turn away, fading as they do from black funeral clothes to ordinary hospital scrubs. JD explains, "The toughest part about working in a hospital is that, no matter what else is going on in your life, you have to dive right back into the middle of things."

Well, not just in a hospital. Today I went to Sheila Innes' funeral and the little church was packed with students both current and ex. Some of them paid a tribute with Shakespeare lines--Sheila was a big Shakespeare fan--and when they took their seats again, not one had dry eyes. A guy who had just left the school when I started played a few musical pieces for her. I saw two girls from my year--from my Theatre Studies class--and one said how hard it had been to convince her boss to let her come. She had to leave the reception afterwards to get back to work.

I left, went into town, visited the bank, got some shopping done, came home and had lunch. And now I'm here. And when I'm done writing this post, I'll be opening up the file with my latest story in it--the one due in at the end of the month--and trying to write some hot vampire sex. What I'd like to do is eat lots of food composed mostly of butter and sugar, listen to sad music, cuddle the cats and think some more about how bloody unfair it is that someone so smart, so kind, so enthusiastic, someone with a husband and children and grandchildren who loved her, someone who has touched and inspired students for longer than I've been alive, how bloody unfair it is that she's just not here any more, and that I can't tell her how much I appreciated her.

But life goes on. I wanted Sheila to be proud of me, and I don't think she'd be impressed if I missed a deadline because I just didn't feel like writing. And hey. I'm remembering her, and so is everyone else at that funeral. She goes on.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Christmas cards

My God, it comes around fast! I went into town on Saturday and it was manic. Christmas shopping, I thought, then realised it was 18th November. In a week or two's time it'll be impossible to park. Well, more impossible, that is: after tearing down the town's multi-storey car park last spring and building apartments there instead, there's hardly anywhere to park midweek in summer, let alone a Saturday near Christmas. Apparently there'll be a new car park in time for the festive season, but I have a feeling the Powers That Be think this starts around 20th Dec, not October as we all know.

Anyway. The purpose of this post was a random Christmas musing. I can't remember if I mentioned that a month or so ago I went to a Diamond Wedding Anniversary celebration. My dad's uncle and his wife--sixty years, isn't that something? And, like a 100th birthday, a 60th wedding merits a message from the Queen. A rather grand greetings card with her picture on the front, a congratulatory message inside, and--a feat in itself--timely delivery.

Which made me think. A card with your picture on the front! I have a vague recollection of some acquaintance who'd done some work for the Prince's Trust getting a card with a photo of ol' Charlie-boy on the front. What a fantastic idea, thinks I! Now, whenever anyone looks at your tasteful greeting, hanging above the mantel (I typed mental there, heh), they'll know instantly who it's from, and what's more, be reminded of who you are (for years my parents, whose names are Barbara and Keith, received cards addressed to Kath and Richard. Each year, the return card clearly stated their names, in my mother's neat schooteacher print, but of course, the senders never matched them up).

Of course, HM has the best photographers, makeup artists, couturiers, decorators etc. to make her seasonal greeting look all twinkly and nice. But with the best will in the world, I'm afraid her son's greetings cards will never be the prettiest of the bunch. Perhaps he ought to send photos of his boys, because then working for the Prince's Trust would mean you'd get a gratis picture of Prince William, and I bet he'd have hundreds of volunteers.

I digress (how unusual for me!). While I'll never be as photogenic as the lovely Wills, I could still send out tasteful, twinkly Christmas cards with my own mug on the front. Christmas tree in the background. Soft-focus glow of fairy lights. Seasons Greetings from Queen Kate. Corgi or two--okay, fluffy white cat on my lap. Mr Bond is being lasered to death in the other room.

Maybe not.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I could do naughty things to this man

This man being Richard Armitage, shown here as Guy of Gisborne in the BBC's Robin Hood. Now, this series has come under a lot of criticism for offences ranging from being boring, to badly-written, to historically innaccurate, to silly. Well, I've hardly noticed. Sir Guy here is a fine example of why.

Vain, brutal, ambitious, loyal, practical, unemotional, single-minded, boastful, frustrated, he's a selfish bully. Gisborne is capable of tremendous cruelty in his overwhelming pursuit of heritage and position, yet beyond this drive for recognition is his one hope for redemption: Marian.
That's what the BBC Robin Hood page has to say about him, anyway. You should see their Robin. And Alan a-Dale. In fact, none of the Merry Men are what might be called difficult on the eye.

See? In fact, I'm using dear Mr. Hood here as the template for my next hero--well, one of them--in Unholy Trinity. I have a sneaking suspicion I may end up creating one in the near future based on the delicious Sir Guy...

Friday, November 17, 2006

One for you, nineteen for me

(another rant brought to you by the combined Cat Marsters and Kate Johnson broadcasting services. Tax professionals may wish to look away now. Those in a position to change the Government's view on taxation, please--snort--read)

In my favour, I no longer have to work with pounds, shillings, and pence. But I do have to work with people who believe tax is a privilege...for people with No Fucking Lives.

Sorry for the language. But after being hounded and persecuted for taking an internal flight with no previous intentions to blow anyone up (although by the time I got home I was feeling pretty murderous), and now learning of all the hoops I have to jump through just for being honest enough to pay tax...I'm wondering if it's such a bright idea to be honest.

If you are a British citizen over the age of sixteen and have one or more children, you can earn shitloads of Tax Credits and other benefits, whether you work or not. If you have no children but earn under £15,000 a year, you can also claim credits. But only if you're over 25. Which does lead me to wonder if those bright sparks in the Treasury really do have their heads up their own bottoms. By being honest and sensible and not sprogging before you can afford it, financially or mentally, you're losing out. By being such a loser that by 25 you haven't even earned enough to pay basic rent and utilities, you get money back from the government. And, rather crucially, I feel, by being 16 and having a baby, you get all your bills paid, a place to live, and actual cash in the bank.

So here am I, using my brain like a sucker.

After attending a seminar on tax for writers, I'm left with the feeling I ought to go back eight years, flunk my A levels, and get pregnant at 16. Because as it stands, I have to fill out three forms, every year, for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs Service, and one for the IRS of the USA. And I don't even earn enough to pay tax. Not even close. Unless, by close, you mean 18% of the lowest annual tax threshold (yes, that's really my income for the tax year so far. buy more of my books. Save an impoverished author). And yet...

There are these forms. Which employ a whole new language. I thought I knew what words like 'determination', 'income' and 'honest bloody citizen' meant. Okay, maybe not the last one, but I'm starting to see Robin Hood's point of view.

If tax is a privilege, could you make it more fun? How about making it bearable? How about making it a little more pleasant than having bamboo shoots planted under your fingernails? Because right now, shovelling cow dung sounds like more of a privilege. Pretending I've never heard of HMRC sounds like utter bliss.

I'm not sure I can fully convey how persecuting it is to be an author too poor to afford an accountant--and believe me, there are very, very many of us--with so many intimidating things to worry about. If I get this wrong I can be fined, or I can actually be legally persecuted. And until I earn more (taxable) money, I can't afford anyone to explain it to me. Is this really the state of a modern Western economy? Apart from the rather patchy services of the NHS, I'm struggling to see what my taxes might be paying for. Childcare for teenage mothers? A pension which the government freely admits will never support me? The road outside my door that's full of holes? The war I'd have voted against if I'd been offered the choice? How about the education that left me unable to fill in a tax return?

Although I see Mr Blair is wearing some mighty fine suits these days. And I note he doesn't travel with Ryanair.

Sherwood Forest. It's looking mighty fine to me.

I need to be patient, and I need to be brave; need to discover how I need to behave. I'll find out the answers when I know how to ask--but I speak a different language, and everybody's talking too fast!--KT Tunstall

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Christmas present, anyone?

Cheap at half price. Shipping only. But seeing as he weighs more than me, that's a lot of shipping.

Hmm. He's giving me evils. Better not sell him, then.

Monday, November 13, 2006

To save thy fame

I got the call today, I didn't wanna hear
But I knew that it would come
An old, true friend of ours was talkin' on the phone
He said one of our favourite teachers died two days ago.

I actually heard she was ill a week or two ago. Sent an email out to various people from school whose email addresses I still have. Didn't get a reply from any of them, which was pretty sad. Well, maybe they don't use those addresses any more. Or maybe they didn't care.

I care. Sheila Innes was a great teacher. Got me my highest A level grade. Gave me the invaluable advice, "It's not a problem, it's a challenge." Inspired such affection in the class that we called her 'Auntie Sheila'. She was smart--she knew everything. She was funny. She was kind. She took an interest in us and inspired us to be interested. She organised theatre trips to see Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Jude Law, Nigel Hawthorne, Imogen Stubbs, Anna Chancellor, Jennifer Ehle, Cate Blanchett; plays by Shakespeare and Ford and Stoppard and Hare and Pinter. She gave me an understanding of theatre, of space, of words, of silence. She gave me a lot.

I'll miss her.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Remembrance Day

Just a few thoughts from watching the service this morning.

Is the the only occasion on which the Queen bows, and is not bowed to? She doesn't curtsey, but after she lays the first wreath on the Cenotaph, she does bow, like Granny Weatherwax. I find that incredibly touching, that someone who is bowed to a million times a day affords the same courtesy--even stepping backwards so as not to turn her back--to the Cenotaph.

How weird must it be to be the Queen and hear everyone singing God Save The Queen, even your husband?

How come, as Commander in Chief of the British forces, she doesn't wear a military uniform? and why does she carry a handbag?

The inscription on the Cenotaph reads 'The Glorious Dead'. I bet they didn't feel particularly glorious when they died.

The service is C of E, yet attended by religious leaders from a dozen or so other faiths. I wonder what they think about during the Lord's Prayer?

The other week, my dad was asked by a Belgian colleague why he wore a red poppy. My mum was astonished and disgusted that he didn't know its significance, until I pointed out that the poppy is a symbol used by the Royal British Legion, and therefore unlikely to be recogniseable to anyone outside Britain. But it did make me wonder what sort of services, symbols and rituals are observed in places like Belgium and France, where so much of the WWI fighting took place, and where, after all, the poppy fields are.

Wednesday, I'll be heading to the RNA Winter Party in Birdcage Walk, just around the corner from Whitehall. If I take the Tube to Westminster, I'll walk right past. Perhaps, I'll pop down to the Cenotaph and pay my respects.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bored now

Internet flame wars are like boybands. They're equally boring and annoying. Abby Godwin has a pretty funny post on them.

And I have a new cover! (see, I told you normal service would resume. My rants are like coughing fits, just have to clear it all out and them I'm much better). Now, isn't my cover prettyful? Don't you all want to go and buy the book, make up your own mind about how much you do or don't like it, and start an internet discussion on the subject?

{hysterical giggle}

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing

So Katie Melua tells me. There are six billion people in the world. That's almost enough for everyone to have a pound each of JK Rowling's money. Okay, that's an exaggeration. Maybe a penny each.

Warning: what follows may insult those of a thick-skinned, straight-talkin', don't-call-me-a-bitch-like-it's-a-bad-thing nature. That's right. This rant is brought to you by the Cat Marsters Broadcasting Corporation. Normal service--talking about kittens, and promoing my very pretty new cover--will resume shortly.

I was reading over a vitriolic spew of hatred against writers (came up when I Googled myself, filthy habit, am trying to cut down) and was amazed at the vicious attacks coming from all corners. From the original poster (because you already knew this was on a reader's blog. There's not much point in telling you which blog, you could pick one of dozens. Probably hundreds) to the forty-some comments that came after. Writers and readers alike lining up with swords, machetes, Kalashnikovs, ready to hack pieces off each other and decorate their helmets with them. Look! I took a chunk out of MaryJanice Davidson! Go me!

Well, look. MJD makes lots of money. Lots and lots. She probably doesn't care if you don't like her. It'd be like Madonna worrying that some little pop upstart said she wasn't all that (yes, I'm looking at you, Lily Allen). But the thing is, even if MJD lost 50% of her readers because they thought she was too up herself, she'd still be making piles of cash. And anyway, anyone who's ever read a page or two of her books is probably aware that they're founded on the biggest don't-give-a-shit attitude I've seen since...oh, Ghengis Khan or someone. Go, MJD! Write what you want! The snarky among us will approve any bursts of retaliation, because that's what we buy your books for.

There's a hell of a double standard at work here. Readers can say what they want about writers, but we can't say what we want about them. Well, there's a double standard for writers, too. It's not half as satisfying, but here it is: thank the people who say nice things about your books. Ignore the ones who hate them. At least, in public. It's voodoo dolls all 'round in private.

The underlying thread of that hate-filled post--Okay, I'm sorry, I can't finish that sentence. The overwhelming, rammed-down-my-throat, spewing with red-hot molten angst point, and I use the word point in its fullest sense, of that post, was that writers are too ungrateful for their readers' attentions, and shouldn't be putting their opinions out there, because it hurts the reader, who has after all paid the writer for their hour's entertainment. Writers, the poster told us in no uncertain terms, are the servants of their readers. We are here to entertain, not to have opinions, and certainly not to have feelings. Readers are entitled to any and all opinions about writers (and their books and covers), and the writer must meekly sit by and take all abuse heaped upon them. Or else, the mighty wrath of the Collective Readership will descend and that writer will Never Work In This Town Again!

It's all so playground, isn't it? So teenager-with-a-blog. Have Opinion, Will Post. Look, here's my take on it, for anyone who's still reading by now. JKR and MJD aside, writers are slaves to their reading public. My God, I've earned less in one month from my writing than I did in one day working at Blockbuster Video a couple of years ago. I don't write for money (although some money would be nice). I don't know anyone who writes for money. You do it because you have to. It's like having children--I read the other day it costs about £180,000 to raise a child from birth these days. Children are expensive, noisy, smelly, exhausting, ruin your social life, ruin your working life, ruin your house and your figure and basically everything you have. And yet people are constantly having babies. They go to massive lengths--and massive expense--to get impregnated or adopt Chinese orphans. Why? Well, maybe for the same reason I write. It sure as shootin' ain't for money.

I probably spend 25% of my time writing and the other 75% thinking up ways to kiss the public's ass. I, basically, can't afford to go around mouthing off and offending readers. But that doesn't mean I don't want to. Whenever I read a spew of anger towards writers and their art it makes me incandescantly angry. The only person I'm a slave to is my muse. When she says WRITE, BITCH, WRITE, then you betcha-by-golly-wow I sit on my ass in front of this keyboard and forget mealtimes to get the words out. She doesn't care what the readers will think. She doesn't even know they exist. And if one of them says, "My God, that cover is so ugly, I'm never going to buy one of her books again!" then the muse will hear it as a faint buzz, like a wasp trapped in a Coke can.

But you see, I'm not my muse. I'm a sensitive soul. Writers tend to be--the thick-skinned are not known for their creativity. If I may compare writing to having children again, it's a damn insulting thing when someone tells you your child is ugly. I think if they did, you'd tell them to fuck off. So if someone tells me my book sucks, then fine, it's their opinion, and maybe they're right. But I'm still going to tell them to fuck off. Unless I'm feeling classy, in which case I'll ignore them. But I'm not going to actually thank them and I'm sure as hell not going to waste any more time sucking up to them. I might be poor, but I'm not going to prostitute myself.

To put it another way: sprawled out behind me on my old desk chair is my 8-month old cat, Spike. I consider him to be my pet, which isn't a very respectful term. But which of the two of us feeds the other, pays for the other, and rearranges housework schedules to accommodate the other's sleeping times? Yep, you're right. It's me. I even give up my favourite chair for him. So who is whose servant here? And who, if the services stopped coming, would just find another servant?

Writers aren't like dogs. We're not totally dependant on our readers' love. We're more like cats: you stop loving me, and I'll find someone else. There are, after all, six billion of you.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's like the most beautiful bathroom floor there ever was

Look! We have a bathroom! It has a floor, and a shower, and everything!

Okay, maybe I'm getting a little hysterical, but it's been about eight months since we had a shower that worked properly, and for the last couple of weeks there was no shower at all. And look! It's all so pretty...

And, just in case bathrooms don't do it for you, here's a kitlet update.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

American English

As an English author writing for American publishers, I sometimes feel I spend far too much of my time changing Britishisms to Americanisms. Long are the arguments and explanations I have had with my editors over whether my British character may remove his pants or not (of course he may, but only after he's taken off his trousers, unless he's Superman and wears them the wrong way round); or whether he's gotten mad or got angry; or if he can justifiably be mardy (after he's spent so long on the trousers debate, of course he can).

Lindsey Davis's rant on the subject was recently brought to my attention. She writes:
But the underlying assumption that British books have to be modified for the American market needs to be rethought. It's loathsome. Nobody would ask for this to be done in reverse. Britons accept faucets and such, and tackle US books written in a strong argot because that's an essential part of their flavour. (Come to that, we accept Ian Rankin and Christopher Brookmyre being indelibly Scottish, even impenetrably Scottish...)

She's right, you know. I like reading American books about Americans in America. I like the flavour of speech and the turn of phrase. When I first started on Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, I hardly understood half the words. Why did she say 'couple days' instead of 'couple of days'? What the hell was a Twinkie? What on earth was Stephanie driving? I had to figure all this out. But I had fun doing it.

Now, I have several American friends, happy to advise me on words they do and don't understand. Yeah, you all know that we call a sidewalk a pavement and an elevator a lift. Just like we know that you put your shopping in the trunk, not the boot, of your car, and wear a vest over your shirt, not under it. So I've learned that the Britishisms I use every day (because I, er, am British) are not completely inpenetrable to American readers. And if they're really words you don't understand, you can jolly well figure them out with those big clever American brains of yours.

A point Lindsey touches upon is that American novels are not altered for the British market. And as I said, I don't think I'd want them to be. However. One place I'd really like to see American publishers make more of an effort is with historicals set in England. Why do Regency characters persist in using the word 'gotten'? It hasn't been commonly used in England since before the days of Chaucer. If your reader is expected to know what a lace fichu is, and what a curricle and a coming-out party is (clue: it's not the kind you'd get in San Francisco), then they can damn well work out what Autumn is. Fall is what happens to a title in the bestseller lists when readers get cheesed off with inaccuracies.

Lindsey's rant, and those of several other British authors I know writing for the American market, has led me to wonder if we're not trying too hard to make things understandable. 'Dumbing down' is a phrase used a lot these days, and I think it applies here. I think it's being rather condescending to assume the average American reader can't understand a handful of Britishisms. Romance readers, as we know, are not stupid. Romantic novels aren't, either. So why this dumbing down?

Readers, tell me what you think. Do American-written, English-set books give you a headache? Do English-written books with American characters and settings make you cry? Do you have any idea what it means to be brassed off?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Random bollocks

"Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing." –Margaret Chittenden

Got that from Linnea Sinclair's MySpace. I love Linnea, because not only did she write a brilliant book that I absolutely loved reading, but she also loves cats. Oh, and when I reviewed her book for my newsletter, she emailed me to say thank you, and that she'd like to use the quote on her website. What a thoroughly, bloody nice chap. Er, chappess.

Also, today is my parents' 35th wedding anniversary. It really doesn't seem like five minutes since their 30th, or even that long since their 25th. Thirty-five years--pretty impressive, huh?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

November News

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November. For that's when the latest issue of Cat's News is available! Yeah, I know, it's not the greatest of rhymes. Did I say I was a poet?

With book recommendations, author interviews, jokes, anecdotes and trivia, Cat's news is an incendiary as any fireworks display! Well, not really, but I'm trying out this marketing thing. How'm I doing?

Oh...and the picture is Guy Fawkes, if you were wondering. Ask any British schoolkid.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A new game

Invented by me, because I'm bored and procrastinating. It's called Think-of-a-quote-from-your-favourite-movie-book-song-and-TV-show-and-have-people-guess-them.

I may need to work on that title. Anyway, you get the idea. This time, however, I want you to tell me the character who said the line, the person who sang it, or the author who wrote it.

1. "We have got no money going down the mountain."
2. "They tell me to fight it; well, they can bloody well just try it."
3. "You'll really like him. Well, nobody really likes him. I don't even really like him." Something Blue, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kendra Clark.
4. "Walk a mile on these paws."

Think ya know? Tell me!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Normal service will resume shortly

I.e., when I've got rid of this crappy cold that's making me feel like some evil little gnome has stuffed my head full of steaming compost, lined my throat with sandpaper and dropped me on a cakewalk. A cakewalk on a merry-go-round. With a hangover.

How is it that we can vaccinate against smallpox, yet can't cure the common cold? It's a daily catalogue of woes: last Wednesday I couldn't breathe or tilt my head more than five degrees forward; by the weekend I was feeling travel-sick while standing still; and now I've got the sandpaper throat, while at the same time still trying to show the sinus crap out the door.

Ugh. Enough whining about that. Let's whine about something else. I'm looking forward very much to being able to take a proper shower (as opposed to a bath, yes, I do wash). While the new one is plumbed in, it's still useless because it needs wiring up properly (water pressure here=zero. Do not feel guilty about wasting water by using power shower, as live in country wetter than some planets consisting entirely of water). I have no idea why my house, which is about forty years old, has worse electrics than my best friend's, which is 400 years old. Still. The new shower looks great. Goes very nicely with the tiling.

Got first draft of a cover for Twelve Lies today. Should be fantastic. Remind me to put details of that on my website. I can probably do that during the day, assuming I can get past the toolbox, sawhorse and ladders outside the bathroom door.