petite anglaise

February 5, 2007

on writing

Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:20 pm

On Saturday I hopped onto a Eurostar bound for London town, my destination being the fifth floor bar of Waterstones Piccadilly, where I was meeting a group of people I’d recently got to know in cyberspace. Not just bloggers like me this time, but also published writers, or writers in the process of getting published, all of whom happen to have blogs. We met on a forum, gaily bounced messages back and forth for a couple of months, and then, finally, decided to meet face to face.

Once we’d finished ripping apart the bad literary jokes in the drinks menu (“Tequila Mockingbird” anyone? Some wine from the “Grape’s of Wrath” section?) we got down to the nitty gritty: moaning about authors having little say over jackets (far less input than, say, the buyers at Tesco), talking about how we cope with solitude, the art of procrastination (just why is it that when you find yourself doing the thing you thought you always wanted – i.e. writing for a living – suddenly, scrubbing the inside of the oven seems like the most enticing job in the world?), self-doubt and the highs and lows of the editing process (best editorial feedback story I heard began with the immortal words: “well, it’s just about salvageable”).

I came away feeling prepared for the worst (the horror stories live up to their name), but above all thinking what a nice and reassuringly normal bunch of people they all were. Not intimidating at all, the more experienced among them very willing to share their experiences and wisdom with the novices like myself.

The people whose blogs are completely divorced from their subject matter were fascinated by how I coped with using personal experiences in my writing. “But any negative criticism your book gets, you’ll feel like it is directed at you as a person!” one woman said, looking horrified on my behalf. I know. I think about this a lot, and I’m steeling myself, mentally, for this eventuality. On the other hand, I know that in order to write about events, I inevitably take one step away from them. Who tells a story without embellishing it slightly, all the better to provoke laughter or tears? Nobody can remember entire sentences word for word, so every conversation in a memoir is an artificial construction. Memories are coloured and tainted by what we know, with hindsight, came afterwards.

Later that day, a friend asked me whether I was still in touch with Jim in Rennes and I explained that no, I found it impossible. I’ve spent a fair amount of time writing about him lately, and to do so I found I needed to think of him as a fictional character. Talking on the phone, exchanging emails would have burst my fiction bubble, so I simply didn’t do it. Maybe I’ll resume contact with him one day, when this is all over. Who knows. Luckily I don’t feel this way when I write about Tadpole or Mr Frog, as that would be problematic, to say the least…

I haven’t talked much about my work in progress here, out of some sort of uncharacteristically superstitious feeling that I might jinx it, or wake up and realise the whole thing was actually just a rather pleasant dream. But here’s the deal: I’m working on chapter 25 of 30, hoping to finish the first draft by the end of this month, after which I’ll start the editing and re-writing process, with some input from my editor at Penguin, my agent, my mum, and most probably a few friends whose judgement I value and trust. I haven’t seen a cover yet, and the publication date is hovering uncertainly somewhere between January and April 2008 right now (which could make Christmas 2007 very interesting indeed).

All in all, I think I will be glad when this thing is written, so I can move onto new (most likely fictional) territory and take a much bigger step away from my own life. But as far as “petite anglaise” is concerned, as long as I derive pleasure from recording the everyday, the Tadpole stories, the navel-gazing, this blog will continue to be a part of my life, and my identity.

doodle courtesy of, and © Andre Jordan.


  1. Well, I admire the way you have been able to detach yourself from things in order to write them as they should be written. I’ve been such a slave to details, but a writer friend just told me to forget them and write them in again. That’s a challenge.

    I look forward to your book.

    Comment by the Narcissist — February 5, 2007 @ 9:41 pm

  2. all in good time. bonne chance!

    Comment by Delphine — February 5, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  3. I for one am completely in awe in of your profound and unswerving self-absorption.

    Comment by sophie — February 5, 2007 @ 9:49 pm

  4. why thank you

    Comment by petite — February 5, 2007 @ 9:53 pm

  5. You’re in London and you didn’t tell me!

    Comment by Jeremy Jacobs — February 5, 2007 @ 10:10 pm

  6. Dlet those people at Tesco try and make you wear one of their jackets – stand your ground girl, and hold out for Principles at the very least!!

    Comment by rhino75 — February 5, 2007 @ 10:19 pm

  7. Best of luck to you, I have been enjoying your writing for a long time. Your candor and honesty are refreshing, and so very real. It is about time you shared it with the rest of the world!

    Comment by Heather — February 5, 2007 @ 10:58 pm

  8. Beautfully written experience, good luck and love to you and like Emily Bronté I’m sure it’ll be you, in fact, who outshines them.

    Comment by fjl — February 5, 2007 @ 10:59 pm

  9. If you need a reader who hasn’t raked through your old blog posts, feel free to send my a few chapters now and again.

    It will be fresh for me…

    Comment by Jonathan — February 5, 2007 @ 10:59 pm

  10. Of course if I could type even a simple comment without making a huge typo, I might write a book myself :)

    Comment by Jonathan — February 5, 2007 @ 11:00 pm

  11. I love reading your blog, so I’m sure I’ll love the book. Keep up the good work! (Both blog and book, I mean.)

    Comment by Joana — February 5, 2007 @ 11:00 pm

  12. Well, it seems to me that you haven’t mastered the art of procrastination as yet!

    Comment by Choubine — February 5, 2007 @ 11:01 pm

  13. I am looking forward to the book, petite. You probably don’t remember my email to you but your blog is the reason I started blogging (I know, don’t beat yourself up about it).

    My only question is: will I be able to get a signed copy when it comes out???

    Comment by Marcos — February 5, 2007 @ 11:13 pm

  14. isn’t it strange how even ironing can seem attractive when you have another chapter to start … and why is it that beginning is so hard? maybe i should start in the middle, do the end, and go back to chapter 1 when everything else is done … or not?
    glad you got home safely. was tadpole delighted to see you back?

    Comment by mad muthas — February 5, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

  15. Well, I’ll certainly see if there isn’t some way of getting signed copies to my “regulars”, none of that stuff has been discussed yet. Nearer the time I’ll have to set up some sort of newsletter people can sign up for so they can come and support me if I do a reading, or whatever else I may be called upon to do.

    I’d like to add some stuff like that to the site, eventually, but blog tinkering definitely comes under the heading of procrastination right now…

    Comment by petite — February 5, 2007 @ 11:23 pm

  16. “Not bloggers this time, but published writers, or writers in the process of getting published, all of whom happen to have blogs.”

    Oh dear.

    Comment by Annie Rhiannon — February 6, 2007 @ 12:18 am

  17. That is so wonderful that you were able to meet face to face with experienced writers. You also have great resources for editing, although I must tell you, that’s the most “painful” part of the book writing process, especially when writing a memoir. I just finished mine and it was very hard to take a step back in order to tell the story properly. When you wander into the realm of fiction, visit Scrawl (if you need the link, drop me a line), as there are some wonderful resources and “critters” there. It’s worth the long process of getting in.

    Best of luck, and ice a bottle of bubbly for when you reach the end of that last chapter!

    Comment by Becky — February 6, 2007 @ 12:22 am

  18. Great, nice to know there are other 34 year old single mums out there following and fulfilling their passions and dreams. I am trying to do the same with 2 kids – art is my passion. I take inspiration.

    Comment by Amelia — February 6, 2007 @ 12:32 am

  19. So many of us love your blog, I have no doubt that we’ll also love the book. I’m sure that it’s going to be an interesting process and one that I hope you continue to share with us.

    Comment by Diane — February 6, 2007 @ 12:43 am

  20. You’ll have to see if you can find a friendly distributor to stock signed copies… otherwise you may find yourself licking and stamping thousands of envelopes!

    It was great to see you again, and at chapter 25 out of 30 you are definitely not getting the hang of this procrastination lark. Get back in that oven this minute.

    Comment by Clare — February 6, 2007 @ 1:52 am

  21. I’ve recently discovered your blog, petite, and I’m enjoying it quite a lot. Very refreshing and down to earth.

    Good luck with the book1

    Comment by Anna — February 6, 2007 @ 1:59 am

  22. Chapter 20 of 25 already! Did you do what some lazy readers do, start at the end and work backwards?

    This is the post I have most enjoyed since you began introducing the new and monstrously precocious Tadpole (as against the old sweetipie Tpole). I’m sure she can’t be nearly as awful as I sometimes fear she may be. But then my brood turned out ok sort of despite the oft-expressed fears of my family so why not yours too?

    Comment by andrew — February 6, 2007 @ 2:16 am

  23. Will commenting more often raise me to “regular” status? I would also love a signed copy once you are published. I admit I had only begun reading after the news of your firing hit the AP. I just had to check you out to see just what the big deal was, considering you had never even shown your face (or anything else for that matter). Like many of your readers I was hooked instantly and also read the archives. I am very busy and although I’m a bit of a news and book junkie I don’t read any other blogs at all. It’s not that they aren’t interesting, I just don’t have time for any more. You, my dear, have a wonderful gift that allows us a little levity, laughter and a comforting realization that we are all so similar in that A-type, neurotic, sometimes self-absorbed and completely normal way. Good luck and keep it coming…please :)

    Comment by California Reader — February 6, 2007 @ 3:59 am

  24. I can’t wait to read the book and look forward to coming to a reading/signing as well.

    Comment by Jules — February 6, 2007 @ 4:31 am

  25. I cam imagine the procrastination temptations. I don’t write, but do all sorts of other things and it’s amazing how easy it is to get lost in webspace when there are other things to do. The news of the country and the world has never seemed so fascinating.

    Comment by AussieGil — February 6, 2007 @ 6:55 am

  26. Annie – I didn’t mean to elevate myself to a different status with that comment, but most of the people I met were writers who had blogs on the side, not bloggers (like me) who struck it lucky and who were developing a blog story into a book.

    That’s all.

    Comment by petite — February 6, 2007 @ 8:15 am

  27. I’ve always enjoyed reading about “true life” and look forward to reading your book but I have strong reservations about “embellishing stories to provoke laughter or tears.” In the past I have discontinued reading books which were portrayed as non fictional if I have sensed that the author was using embroidery to manipulate my emotions, I’m thinking particularly of Bill Bryson in this regard, somehow it just spoils it for me. Of course it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do if the reader is aware that the story is fictionally based.

    I admire your honesty, though.

    Comment by Sue — February 6, 2007 @ 8:38 am

  28. Just curious, Petite: don’t Jim and Mr. Frog mind becoming fictional characters in a book that will be read by gazillions of total strangers?

    Here’s hoping they’re flattered rather than freaked out…

    Comment by Grande Anglaise — February 6, 2007 @ 8:45 am

  29. Sue – I think the key thing to remember is that nobody has a memory that rich, so some filling in is bound to occur. But clearly if pushed to the extreme where it jarred, that would be no good. It has to be true and 100% honest emotionally. I think my light embroidery in the blog and book really only serves to bring the whole thing to life more. I don’t always remember what I wore, what the weather was like, or exactly what was said…

    GA – I am lucky that they support me in this, and also that their own anonymity remains uncompromised. I think Mr Frog’s attitude, apart from being very excited and happy that I can support our daughter this way, is that it can’t be any worse than being on the blog. A few more strangers reading about our lives doesn’t really change anything – it’s our friends who count.

    Comment by petite — February 6, 2007 @ 9:07 am

  30. 25/30??

    My, you’re cooking.

    Comment by Meg — February 6, 2007 @ 9:23 am

  31. Petite
    Great blog, one which I may now have ample time to study. Upon your good references I “linked” to one of your favorite blogs as listed on the right hand side…..Le Blagueur à Paris. I was surprised at the speed of my own reflexes as I struggled to mouse the site closed. Not quick enough I am afraid. The “Firm’s” internet security heavies were in my office within the hour. I will keep you informed as the disciplinary proceeding progress.

    Gary “sans le travail” Ghecco

    Comment by Gary — February 6, 2007 @ 10:07 am

  32. Never let truth get in the way of a good story, that’s my view.

    Comment by Mancunian Lass — February 6, 2007 @ 10:08 am

  33. Yay! It’s great to hear that the book is progressing so well.

    Interesting that you don’t get to choose the cover
    (I’ve just written a non-fiction academic book and got to choose the cover photo – mind you, this is about the only perk). Any idea what they are putting on it? My money’s on a stylised drawing, with a very chic Petite and the Eiffel Tower in the background.

    Comment by old school friend — February 6, 2007 @ 10:12 am

  34. Here, Here! It is the friends that count.

    Comment by JNH — February 6, 2007 @ 10:18 am

  35. Hm, I made my aversion to having an Eiffel Tower on the cover very clear as my Paris is a very right bank and dare I say “working class” city, but who knows…

    Comment by petite — February 6, 2007 @ 10:26 am

  36. “Hm, I made my aversion to having an Eiffel Tower on the cover very clear as my Paris is a very right bank and dare I say “working class” city, but who knows…”

    Hopefully they’ll respect what you want, but my guess is the marketing people will want something on the cover that makes people think “Paris!” in a nanosecond. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with.

    Comment by old school friend — February 6, 2007 @ 3:04 pm

  37. You HAVE to have a blogmeet book signing. Do it at Waterstones so the book purchases register on the charts.

    As for the covers, you have more influence than you think, but they’ll make you feel otherwise. But if you really hate it, they’ll change it.

    It’s much better that you speak up early on, than feel a sting every time you see your cover. And you’re going to be seeing it a lot at your blogmeet book signing.

    Allow me to be the first to RSVP.

    When’s the date?

    Comment by Damian — February 6, 2007 @ 3:08 pm

  38. Perhaps the book cover should feature the item Petite keeps losing in the house move?
    It would certainly make it an eye-catching cover.

    Comment by Hywel Mallett — February 6, 2007 @ 4:42 pm

  39. Congratulations on the progress – can’t wait for the book!
    And I really like Andre’s drawing. Just how I felt last week when finishing my tax return.

    Comment by Pierre L — February 6, 2007 @ 9:46 pm

  40. Procrastination – I know about it! I’ve been successfully putting off getting beyond chapter 4 of my children’s novel for going on for ten years now! Then I thought I’d let myself off lightly with a blog; just the occasional paragraph – bliss. But now I find I’m doing all sorts of displacement activities to avoid even that. Perhaps I’m not cut out to be a writer after all…

    Comment by anno domini — February 7, 2007 @ 9:40 am

  41. Ooh, the fifth floor bar at Waterstones Piccadilly with the great view. An old and very dear friend was in charge of taking it over and doing it up, and I got well bladdered with quite a lot of the staff at the pre-opening night last year. Good choice for a literary get-togther!

    Comment by mike — February 7, 2007 @ 3:35 pm

  42. Having finished–one year ago almost to the day–a Ph.D. thesis of some 300 pages, I feel some of what you are going through. Keep on trucking because, if nothing else, it’s cool to be published :) Best wishes for the next (and final!) chapters!

    Comment by Kat — February 8, 2007 @ 6:15 pm

  43. Wow. Even though you can’t wait for it to be finished, once it’s done, it’ll be like your baby that you have to sent off into the world. Good luck with the current manuscript as you are a captivating writer. I can’t wait to read the fiction stuff. dawn

    Comment by dawn — February 10, 2007 @ 3:30 am

  44. Hello! Lovely to meet you at Waterstones and thanks for putting me on your blogroll (mine is very long overdue for a major overhall hence abscence of reciprocity so far…) Anyway, was just thinking what a clever thing it would be, if you were the kind of person who could never get round to cleaning their house, to start a novel with precisely the intention to procrastinate in that direction: the way I see it, it’s win win, either you end up with a clean house, or a novel, or both. I’ve got one novel in the bag, and writer’s block on the next one got me sweeping the kitchen and folding the laundry today. That’s what I call a result.

    Comment by Marie — February 11, 2007 @ 12:40 am

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