No place like om

Okay, I admit it, you caught me on the hop. I was miles away, blissed out in non-space. No, not daydreaming - a little further on from that. I was meditating. 

Sometimes, when a plot line is fragmenting before my eyes or a character refuses to do what I tell them to (and, more importantly, doesn't give me any other suggestions), I retreat within. No mountain, lotus posture (not with these hips) or kaftan required. Just stillness and the breath. It needn't take long, just a few minutes to recalibrate and remind myself what it's all really about.

Don't get me wrong, I do get through a surprising quantity of snack foods, chocolate (it's a separate category for me) and peppermint tea. And I often love the backdrop of jazz, classical or something from the sixties. But sometimes I get so tangled up and carried away by the business of writing that I forget it's a choice. And not in a good way.

So, here are a few thoughts about the benefits of meditation in the workplace - for those of us lucky enough to have that option.

1. One of the objectives of meditation is integration. No more dichotomies between how you want to behave in your own time and how you feel you need to behave in work life.

2. A mind that in clutter-free is more likely to respond well to stressful situations, difficult people (which could be the same thing), and changing priorities. You can become the still centre of the storm, regardless of what's going on around you. 

3. A clear mind is more receptive to intuition, creative inspiration and intelligent choices. Inner calm allows you to operate from a position of non-ego.

4. Stillness begets stillness and peace begets peace. Call it non-violent protest if you want! Meditation reminds us that the workplace doesn't have to be a drama stage or a battlefield.

5. Meditation reclaims the space, so that you have positive associations with work. Let's face it, if you were going to spend upwards of eight hours a day at work, a little tranquility wouldn't go amiss!

How do you keep it together when your writing is coming apart at the seams?

Quickfire questions with author Erin Kelly

Erin Kelly is the author of two acclaimed psychological thrillers, The Poison Tree and The Sick Rose. She has just finished her third novel, which is due for publication by Hodder & Stoughton in early 2013 and has started her fourth. She has worked as a journalist since 1998, writing for newspapers including The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Express and The Mirror, and magazines including Red, Psychologies, Marie Claire and Elle. She writes about health, lifestyle, women’s issues and parenting, and is a columnist at Mother and Baby magazine.
Erin lives in north London with her husband and daughter.
Her website is here

Which 3 writers, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?

Michael Frayn, Jilly Cooper and Jake Arnott.

What's your favourite writing snack?

Does coffee count?

Longhand or computer? 

Every day I’m grateful to be writing in the age of the word processor, a magic typewriter that can keep up with my brain and lets me move text around with a couple of clicks. That said, I do turn to pen and paper when I need to work my way out of a plot hole.

Win Booker prize or land Hollywood film deal? 

Booker, just to wind up the establishment 

Tabloid or broadsheet?

Broadsheets at the weekend, but I avoid newspapers if I can help it. They make me anxious. 

Independent bookshop or Amazon?

My new year’s resolution was to boycott Amazon unless the book I needed was very old or out of print. I don’t live within easy travelling distance of an indie, so I shop at Waterstone’s which is the next best thing, and go to West End Lane books or Muswell Hill when time allows.

Hacker or adder?

Adder. I’ve never written a book that got shorter during the editing process.

Plotter or panter?

A little of both. I have a skeleton plot in my head before I sit down to write, but the finer details and the twists don’t come until I’m familiar with my characters, and the only way to get to know them is to write them. That said, I’m currently working on my fourth novel and experimenting with a chapter plan for the first time. If you see me on Twitter freaking out about missing my deadline, you’ll know it didn’t work out.

Leave on a cliffhanger or tell all?

I write psychological thrillers, and part of the deal is that you at least tie up the central mystery that has driven the narrative so far. The first draft of my first novel, The Poison Tree, ended on a cliffhanger that I thought was very clever and bold. All the publishers who rejected it cited that as one of their main reasons for turning it down. I went away and rewrote an ending that felt entirely right for the book, although I didn’t tie up *all* the loose ends. Always leave them wanting more…

You really must read…

Half Broken Things by Morag Joss. Chosen by Lesley Glaister. Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne. Paradoxical Undressing by Kristen Hersh. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith… oh, just come round and look at my bookshelves, it’ll be quicker.

I get most excited by…

Holding my latest book for the first time. I know the future’s digital yada yada yada but there’s nothing like holding the trophy at the end of the race.

If I wasn’t a writer I would be…

Working in television drama. I’d love to be a location scout, driving around the country and persuading people who own interesting and amazing places to let a film crew and a bunch of actors lay waste to their property.

An author should always

Approach the book from the inside. 

Confessions of a notebook addict

I am a notebook obsessive. Anyone who knows me knows this: many of my notebooks are presents from friends who bring me them back from their travels, adding to my ever-growing collection. I love paper – there is something enticing about the blank page, the tactile joy of it, the scratching of pen over paper, that you simply can’t recreate with an empty screen. A blank screen is daunting: a blank page is exciting.

Dark Dates 2 - the first draft (and my feet)

An unused notebook jettisons me back to the ‘start of term’ feeling of my youth; it speaks of possibilities, of projects not yet started: but also of finiteness. A notebook runs out, you come to an ending – you get a sense of achievement and completion when you fill a notebook. On a computer, you can just keep typing: opening a notebook, you know that at some stage, you won’t be able to write anymore.

I write all of my fiction in longhand, a fact that continues to boggle many around me. In fact, it’s even more arduous than that first sounds, because for longer works, my progress goes like this: do ‘character notes’ and scenes in longhand (roughly: 7 notebooks’ worth). Pull all of those together into first draft, written in longhand (roughly: 10 notebooks), then do another longhand draft, tidying up and rewriting as I go (another 10 notebooks or so). Only then do I even consider starting to type: sometimes, not even then (I did 3 handwritten drafts of Dark Dates before I transferred it to a computer).
Unbelievably, this is only about half of my current stash

This is a project inherent with risk: I once had my bag stolen and the thing I was most upset about was I lost a notebook that included two weeks’ worth of work; work that, being handwritten, had no back up anywhere. But it’s also an incredibly rewarding way to work and, I think, ultimately benefits my writing. I write incredibly quickly (as anyone who attempts to read my unruly scrawl will attest), finding that nothing gets the ideas flowing faster than just sitting with a pen and letting go, but writing longhand forces me to edit slowly – a variant on Hemingway’s write drunk, edit sober theory (um, I do that too, I must admit). No matter how good I think the first draft is, I still have to type it up: it will inevitably be reread, edited and changed as I go. (I also only use one side of the paper, using the other to make notes and ask questions: as someone who struggles to maintain continuity in my plots, I need the space to go ‘why has this just happened? Where did X go?’ in the margins. )You can’t erase your mistakes, they are still there on the paper: and sometimes you come back to them and find they weren’t mistakes at all.
One of my ex-colleagues shared my love for stationery and always used to quote a teacher who said that ‘ink thinks’: that the very act of writing longhand changes the way you express yourself. I find I agree: writing on paper is a tactile pleasure in a way that using a computer, for all its marvels, never can. I love my laptop – and dear God I would hate to be back in the old days of Tipp-ex and typewriters – but there’s something about stationery that nourishes my soul.

(If you are a lover of all things stationery, let me direct you to my idea of heaven: Liberty of London's stationery hall. You may never leave.)

Author Q&A - YA Author Philip Webb

I'm delighted that Philip Webb, author of the hugely entertaining YA novel Six Days, agreed to do a Q&A for Strictly Writing. Over to you, Philip...

Philip Webb's debut novel, Six Days

Did you consciously set out to write for the YA market, or was that just the way the story developed?
It was a conscious decision to write for a YA readership. Some of my favourite books are for teenagers, like The Owl Service by Alan Garner, but also I think it's fun and challenging to write for this audience. I wanted to write a fast-paced adventure - something in the tradition of ripping yarns like Treasure Island.

Your characters speak in a very distinctive style: was that tough to come up with, and to keep up?
The voice of Cass came first, before the setting, before the plot. Her voice is something that I developed from the way different generations of women in my family speak, so it was familiar and for that reason it was relatively easy to create. Once I started writing in Cass's voice it started to get a life of its own and that really helped me to explore the plot. I would throw Cass in a certain situation and know how she would react and how she would describe it. For me, the most important thing to get right is the voice - without it, the story feels forced and hard to visualise.

One of the things I loved about Six Days is it was set in avery recognisable London, when so much dystopian fiction is either American or set in an unidentified future country. How important was the setting to you while writing?
It was really important to set it somewhere I knew well. The story is fantastical in places with alien spacecraft and Terminator-type warriors and so-on, so setting the story in a London that readers can recognise helped to ground it a bit. Also, I think it helps make it more believable when the setting is real. Creating a fantasy world from scratch is very demanding and hard to pull off, and it requires patience from the reader to learn about places and customs etc, so using an existing city is a kind of short-cut. It was great fun to set some of the key action in places I know and love like the British Museum - to visualise how these places have changed in the future...

Your novel has a very strong, engaging female protagonist.Why do you think there is a plethora of strong female characters in YA fiction when, it could be argued, there is a dearth of them in other genres?
Yes, there's a trend of strong female roles in YA, but also in sci-fi as a genre - Katniss in The Hunger Games is perhaps the latest in a long line of ass-kicking girls like Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, Ripley in Alien and Molly, the assassin for hire in Necromancer. I agree that there aren't so many in other genres and I don't know why - I think these characters often work because their struggles in male-dominated situations are what makes them interesting.

Do you tend to plot things out in advance, or do you prefer to see where the story goes?
I tend not to plot in advance. I think it would make my life easier in the long run but I find it impossible to do! I start with a character and a setting and a problem and develop from there. I have a really vague idea of things I want to happen along the way, and maybe an ending, but the ending ends up changing anyway! Plotting in advance would kill it off for me, although I'm sure it would save a lot of dead-ends and wrong turns. I think it's more fun as a writer if you explore the world as you go along (as the reader will). Also, I think the actual writing is what generates ideas going forward, and if you have a rigorous map of the plot you'll be less open to that. But I guess there are no set methods - it's just whatever works for the writer.

Who are your favourite YA writers?
Loads! Alan Garner, Philip Reeve, Philip Pullman, David Almond, Suzanne Collins. Recently, I really enjoyed My Sister Lives On The Mantlepiece by Annabel Pitcher. Also, I'm reading White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean which is fantastic.

What’s your advice for writers wanting to target the YA market?
Pacing is pretty key - YA readers aren't forgiving of slow passages where not much happens! Young readers are hungry for worlds and stories that take them out of their lives a bit. In Six Days, the children have the run of an empty ruined London - that freedom is something you yearn for as a teenager. When I think back to what I read as a teenager, I can remember the sheer excitement of discovering reading and the doors it unlocked - it's a magical time that's hard to recreate as an adult, no matter how much I enjoy reading now, but that's what I'm aiming for.

What’s next for Philip Webb?
I'm writing another YA novel - not a sequel to Six Days, something new. It should be out next year. I can't say any more than that!

Life Lessons from Social Media

Andy Social always used an alias
online so people took him seriously. 

Whether you love it or loathe it, social media is here to stay. Yes, it can suck the time out of your day like a chrono-vacuum; and yes, there are those who swear by it (opposed to at it) for promoting their wares and bringing home the bacon. However, there is another side to social media - it can teach us about life (by which I mean 'real life' away from the screen).

Here are my social media life lessons, distilled from literally minutes of contemplation.

1. You cannot please everyone. Get used to it. Once you adjust to the statistical probability of being on the receiving end of someone else's disapproval, life becomes a lot easier.

2. Everyone has an opinion and they'll happily use up oxygen to share it with you. You're not obliged to take it seriously and what you do with it afterwards is entirely up to you.

3. People only tell you what they want you to know. And it's a good policy to adopt.

4. You're not obliged to be friends with anyone just bceause they want you to. You're not in school any more, so don't allow yourself to be swayed by peer pressure.

5. Sometimes it's good to sit back and think before you act. Knee-jerk communications rarely come out well - count to thirty-seven.

6. Everyone is selling something - a product, a service, an idea or a worldview. That's what communication is - a desire to express something so that it is understood.

7. People who say, "I'm not like other people," generally are. "I'm so zany, pick me." thanks.

8. Other poeple's conversations can be addictive, but that doesn't make them beneficial to you. Dip in. Dip out. Jog on.

9. The friend of a friend is not necessarily going to make a good friend for you. Which is just some friendly advice.

10. Social media is just a tool. You don't have to play, but if you choose to do so then see it for what it is.

And my three cardinal Twitter sins, from the gospel of Derek?
1. Begging for retweets. It's like seeing a whiny Labrador craving more biscuits.
2. Auto-tweeting someone who's just followed you to visit their page or buy their book.
3. A follow from someone who has no interest in you (based on their tweet history), and who is blatantly just trying to build up numbers. (End of civilisation peeps, you know who you are.)

Fifty Shades of .....fad reading

Welcome to Part Two of my summer reading blog. Following last month's appeal for suggestions for my second holiday read, I would like to extend my thanks to all those who left comments and I'm pleased to report that I've selected The Poisonwood Bible in addition to The Submission. The two books are already tucked into the inside pocket of my red suitcase in preparation for the Family Getaway.

From experience (well, a fleeting straw poll), I reckon about 30 to 40 per cent of people read on holidays. I don't mean flicking through OK or Now magazines on the airplane, I'm referring solely to sitting down and getting through a book. Several years ago when Dan Brown was the Next Big Thing, I remember being on holiday and gazing at a row of people, men and women, lined along one side of the pool, reading The Da Vinci Code. Not one Da Vinci Code - there were multiple copies. There were even several copies, abandoned on sunloungers, sprinkled with sand. I'm curious as to whether the reading group compared views, swapped ideas or discussed the book at length in a beach style book club.

"Hello, I see you're reading The Da Vinci Code. So am I!' says Mavis, thrusting the book in a young male sunbather's face.

She hovers over him, blocking the sun's rays, threatening to spill out of her swimsuit.

'Hi there. Yes, I'm Kevin and I'm on page eighty.'

He removes his Ray Bans and smiles at Mavis.

'What do you think of it so far?' he asks.

'Well to be honest, darling, I'm only on the second page, but it looks like a lot of fun. I normally read a good Mills and Boon on holiday, but this year, I couldn't resist Dan Brown. After all everyone's reading this book."

This year with all the hype over the Fifty Shades series, I'm wondering if I'll be faced with a line of sunburnt sardines stagnating beside the pool or lined along the beach reading the novels. Now I haven't read the books, I have no desire to, and I don't want to know how the stories ends, but all I can see in front of me right now are hundreds and hundreds of book covers, obscuring faces and shielding large bosoms from the sun.

And EL James is laughing all the way to the bank.

Quickfire Questions with Meg Rosoff

Meg Rosoff was born in Boston, educated at Harvard and St Martin’s College of Art in London, and worked in New York City for ten years before moving to England permanently in 1989.  She worked in publishing, journalism, politics and advertising before writing How I Live Now (which is due to be released in 2013 as a feature film starring Saoirse Ronan). Her books have won or been shortlisted for 18 international book prizes, including the Carnegie medal and the Orange first novel prize.  Meg’s most recent book is There Is No Dog.  Picture Me Gone, her sixth novel, will be published in March, 2013.  She lives in London with her husband and daughter.

Which 3 writers, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?
Hilary Mantel, Chaucer and A. A. Milne

What's your favourite writing snack? 
The entire contents of the fridge and pantry.  I'm painfully indiscriminate. 

Longhand or computer? 
My daughter accuses me of loving my Mac more than I love her.  But that is so, so wrong.  I love her marginally more, and anyway am thinking of upgrading.  The Mac.

Win Booker prize or land Hollywood film deal? 
Booker prize, definitely.  I love the idea of a YA book winning the booker prize.  Imagine the outrage!

Tabloid or broadsheet? 
Broadsheet in theory, but I'll read the Sun with wide-eyed wonder if I find it on a bus, and recently I've given up daily newspapers for The Week, which I love.
I feel guilty abandoning The Guardian but I find reading the news every day horribly depressing.  Too much unhappiness in the world.

Independent bookshop or Amazon? 
Indies for the interesting surprising fabulous wondrous books I would never have thought of buying on my own (or the rare and wonderful, like Cowper Powys' Weymouth Sands, which I'm reading now); Amazon for Bringing Up The Bodies or the Ottolenghi Cookbook; Book People or Red House for the occasional children's book I haven't been sent but feel obliged at least to look at; and Oxfam bookshops always -- often for books I'm curious about but not enough to pay full price, or a second or third copy of something I love (to give away), or for another copy of the book I loaned and will never get back.  I can't pass a charity shop without nipping in for a look and love the element of chance.  I kept meaning to buy Skippy Dies, found it in my local Oxfam, and will start it soon.  

Hacker or adder? 
100% both.  I start with a very slight outline, pad it out, cut it back, pad it out, cut it back....  My very last act in any book is to remove a thousand or so words from the final draft.  It always helps.  And I nearly always hack as I read as well -- except for the very few writers who don't use far too many words. 

Plotter or panter? 
I can't plot my way out of a paper bag.  I depend on my characters to tell me a story and if I'm very patient and lucky, they do.
Leave on a cliffhanger or tell all? 
I certainly don't tell all. My method is to leave the ending just ambiguous enough so that the pessimists end up depressed, and the optimists say "I'm sure they'll be alright in the future".  It's my own personal little Rorschach test.
You really must read… 
I read through the entire Virago list in my 20s.  I don't think I'd have survived without them.  

I get most excited by…
Really brilliant extraordinary books that I know I couldn't have written.  It's thrilling to discover a life-changing book.

 If I wasn’t a writer I would be… 
That should be, if I weren't a writer.  I think I'd be a pedant.  Oops.  I already am.  
In that case, I'd like to be a world class dressage rider.

 An author should always…
Write fiercely.

A little heresy before bedtime

Maybe you're just a number two.

Another momentous Wimbledon has come and gone - a tale of heroism, endeavour, victory and defeat. Basically it's been like watching a writing tournament, only with tennis racquets. Hang on, I hear you shout, we don't have writing tournaments unless you mean competitions. No, I mean the whole experience of being a writer.

You train (just go with me on this), you perfect your skills and you try not to drop the ball. Some will triumph and some will fall, but sooner or later every writer - and I mean every one - will have a defining moment that gives them clarity about their approach and their ability.

It could be that short story competition where you failed to win a prize by just two judges' points. Perhaps it's that first novel rejection - in every sense - where you either cry into your beer and give up, or cry into your beer and vow to prove them wrong.*

I put it to you that it's our failures that define us. We can't all be Booker winners and from now on none of us will be Orange Fiction Pize winners. I think I can also say, with some confidence, that most of us won't get agents or bank-busting three-book deals.

So why go through the submissions mill? Why aim for the stars?

Think back, those of you who've had your work rejected in the past. If you're still writing, I'd be willing to wager that you learned important things from a good rejection - one where you learned something about your work. I guarantee that by the time you finished your next complete edit you cringed at the very idea you'd submitted the previous version. I know I have - several times!

One of my defining moments was when our writing group used to meet at Susie's. We were bemoaning the carousel of submissions, waiting and disappointment. The subject of revisions came up and Kath said that it was about producing the best work possible. That's when it came to me. I knew that I only wanted to do the minimum number of edits necessary. Not because I'm a lazy sod. Well, not exactly.

I want to enjoy the process of writing and I accept that it's a learning curve. But there comes a point where, after 'x' number of edits (and it varies according to each novel I've written), I would rather stop before I tear the heart out of the piece. I'd rather learn the lessons, set it aside and pour my passion into something new. I'm not entirely sure whether that's a victory or a failure.

What have your writing rejections and failures taught you?

* Let me say for the record that I don't much care for beer or crying. 

Can blogging actually harm your writing?

One of the things I always advise would-be writers to do is to start a blog: it’s a great way of getting into the habit of regular writing, and with writing, like any talent, practice makes perfect – so the more you do it, the better you get. But am I right? Or can blogging actually damage your writing, and stall your ambitions?

I think that one of the biggest myths about writing is that it’s all the same thing: that if you can write short stories, you can write a novel (or vice versa); that it’s just one basic skill that works across all media. While there is, of course, a degree of transferability  – if you’re a decent writer, you’re not suddenly going to lose the ability to string together a sentence if you decide to switch from business writing to blogging, or playwriting to penning a novel. There are plenty of examples where writers have ability across a range of fields – but just as many where they don’t. Talent in one area doesn’t necessarily equate to skill in another. Some of my most beloved novelists write terrible short stories, because they simply can’t contain a plot in a few thousand words; one of my favourite non-fiction writers is now publishes historical novels that are so bad they make me want to stick things in my eyes.

In part this is because we read different materials differently: for example, if you’re writing online material, you need to ‘front load’ your piece more (people may not even see more than the first paragraph, and they have less patience if you’re obscure in your opening text). While a killer opener is important for a book (or play, or short story), readers tend to be more patient – they are willing to enjoy a slow burn, to let you layer information and to take a longer route to where you’re going. With blogging, too, there is a tendency to accept a certain lack of polish: you often write quickly, and post without much re-editing, while longer prose often requires a willingness to edit, and re-edit , and to be brutal with yourself over what you keep in and what you lose.

The other issue with blogging is that you can end up running to stand still: you write and write and write without ever actually ending up with an end product you can use. I’m not saying there’s no benefit to blogging for the sake of it – I do that myself, it’s enormously enjoyable – and some blogs, depending on style and topic, can actually add up to a cohesive whole. I’m also not a snob about it – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being ‘just’ a blogger (and there are plenty of people who are very successful at this – it’s nothing to be snippy about). But it’s also tempting to tell yourself you’re moving forward in your goal to write a book, when all you’re doing is creating content for a blog.

Given all that – it’s still advice I’d stand by. Blogging is fun, it’s a great way of connecting with people (and helping build a ready-made audience if you do eventually publish a book), and getting into the habit of regular writing is a discipline that will serve you well. But as with so many other aspects of being a writer, the trick is being honest with yourself: if you’re using it as an excuse to procrastinate or put off a ‘proper’ project, then it’s not doing you any favours, and you may be better going offline.  

Guest Post: On digital publishing from an industry insider - and lapsed writer

I started my twelve year career in publishing in the heady summer of the year 2000. Working in books was the only logical career choice for me. Prior to this I wrote. I wrote all the time. I finished my first self-illustrated episodic story, about school bullying, at the age of ten. I completed a “novel” at aged fourteen, inexplicably about the mafia (I am not even Italian) and containing perhaps the most unconvincing sex scene in the history of literature. Until “Fifty Shades of Grey” was published, that is. At university I continued, writing heartfelt poems about unrequited love, frustrated intellect and bohemian stuff. Then, I got my first job in publishing and the writing stopped.

It wasn’t just seeing the brutality of the slush pile first hand that caused me to change my views. Wandering the halls of the annual book fairs, I couldn’t help but be astounded and somehow disheartened by the sheer number of books that are published every year. How, I asked myself, can my voice be heard above all this noise? And then, there are those writers, those brilliant voices, that inexplicably fail. As a publisher, you believe in the writer, you believe in the book, you promote the hell out of it and yet still the copies just don’t sell. And at the end of the day, that is what publishing is, the business of selling books. When books don’t sell, they are remaindered, they are pulped, they are listed as out of print, they are forgotten. Suddenly it seemed a bit pointless to be churning out my mediocre words into a clearly disinterested world. So rather than add to my piles of unread prose, I hid my writer’s heart away.

This is not to say that I have spent the last decade in bleak despair. Publishing is one of the most vibrant and exciting industries to work in and right now it is going through a period of immense change. For decades publishers have acted as gatekeepers for what is and isn’t read. Unpublished writers were, for the most part, unread writers. Digital publishing means that writers, instead of poring over endless rejection letters, can put their work out there - and what better way to get the attention of those distant commissioning editors than a bestselling Kindle novel? Of course, self-publishing is in no way a sure-fire way to success. If anything, the clamour of voices has become louder and harder to navigate. But the digital world has given us one thing: more opportunities to reach our readers.

So, armed with this sliver of hope and opportunity, I have slowly been starting up my writing hand again. It’s been hard. I am rusty, wracked with self-doubt and a heap of healthy cynicism, but I am doing it. I am writing.

Caroline - an industry veteran now 'jumping the fence'

About the writer:
Having spent twelve years in the publishing industry, Caroline Goldsmith has spent her life surrounded by books. She has worked in sales, publicity, marketing, rights and contracts and has spent more time at bookfairs and hauling suitcases full of hardbacks around Europe then she cares to remember. She has now left publishing to embark on a new life in the country, where she plans to rekindle her long-neglected writing habit and finally unleash that novel that has been hiding in her on an unsuspecting world. You can follow her adventures on her blog These Are My Days, or on Twitter @goldcaro

Summer's here

Summer's here, or is it? As I write this, I shiver! Where is the sun? Has anyone seen it anywhere? Please, someone, turn on the sun.

I hate to mention the weather during what's been an incredibly soggy June, but holidays are on the horizon - hurrah. I like to plan my holiday reading well in advance, just as others like to sort out which brand of suntan lotion they’ll use or how many bikinis/monokinis they’ll pack.

'Which Katie Price book should I buy at the airport's emergency shop, or which Dan Brown novel will I pluck from the bookcase?' some women will ask their husbands. While many holidaymakers revel in light reading I can be usually found clutching a chunky paperback with an obscure cover. And I don't mean to show off by doing this - I've even offered to back the books in sturdy wallpaper, like we did at primary school all those years ago to protect the covers.

I’ve not had a holiday in four years partly due to the acquisition of a cat who has ruled the roost. And as we can’t go too far with Baby, Tenerife is in the pipeline for the autumn.

Reading is an essential part of my holiday and goes hand in hand with the tropical escapism. The Secret History by Donna Tartt was a huge part of my honeymoon (*embarrassed smiley*) and I spent hours over dinner each night pondering the characters who just leapt from the pages.

I’ve already decided that the Number One read is The Submission by Amy Waldeman, a debut novel which has been hailed as 'remarkable' and 'exceptional'. It follows grief and trauma in the wake of 9/11 and focuses on a design chosen as a memorial to the victims. The Number One Read is the more intriguing of the two books I select and has the edge over the Number Two Read, well for me anyway - that's not to say it's superior.

Sadly I’ve yet to pinpoint my Number Two Read – and that’s where I need your help. My Amazon wishlist is as long as the circumference of the earth (around 25,000 miles for the nerds) and consists of everything from classics to new releases. There’s The Yips by Nicola Barker, but it has a more gritty English setting, or there’s Painter Of Silence by Georgina Harding, but I think it’s a little too depressing to take on holiday, given the Romanian setting. What about The Long Song by Andrea Levy? Too melancholy? Yes, I think so. I haven’t read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, but again it’s not what I deem a holiday read.

My themes are are broad church - I'm fascinated by the American diner and its place in history and in the past I've holidayed with my diner themed novels. I like a bit of intrigue, something off the beaten path, complex characters and a lot of style.

Help me with my holiday read.