30 December 2013

A novel resolution

I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, so 2014 will be an exception. I've only made one, but it's significant, as it will test my perfectionism to the limit: I'm going to self-publish my novel.

In spite of the increased legitimacy of self-publishing, I've resisted this until now. Partly because, like most authors, I'd hoped for the validation of a traditional publishing deal. Mainly, though, because the wealth of choices surrounding the self-publishing process is overwhelming. The fact that I will have to make all of the decisions is both an advantage and a disadvantage of taking this route to publication. 

The first, and possibly hardest, decision will be which company to use out of the many currently operating.

This won't be easy, given that I always research everything to the nth degree, whether household goods, holidays or a car, to ensure I select the best possible product. For something as important as my novel, it's imperative I get it right.

Photo: Peter Gettins Photography
I'll also need to decide which of my chosen provider's packages is most appropriate: they all offer a wide range of services, from which authors can pick and mix. This will be determined both by my budget (as yet unknown) and by whether I have the time and expertise to tackle any elements myself - or with a little help from my friends. 

The next biggest hurdle will be letting go of the manuscript. Saying, once and for all, that it's 'good enough' will be extraordinarily hard, even after a professional copy edit and proofread. Knowing when to stop tinkering and checking is a problem I've written about before.

There are so many other choices to be made, too. I had trouble finalising the design of this blog and that isn't even set in stone. A hard copy book is an altogether different matter: I have no idea how I'll ever agree to a cover.

I plan to read as much about the process as I can - though I'll have to be careful not to turn that into never-ending procrastination - and to seek advice from existing self-published authors. Word-of-mouth recommendations and others' experience should help me to avoid some of the pitfalls.

The prospect of self-publication, and the many decisions it will entail, is daunting. It's also very exciting. Much more so than the alternative, of adding to my collection of rejections from agents and publishers: 45, if you include the 8 who never replied. 

I also have enough positive feedback to encourage me: from professionals, readers and, indeed, many of you who follow this blog. 

If I can accept, from the outset, that my novel won't be perfect - are any, after all? - I think I might just make it.

* * *

I'd love to hear your recommendations, tips or advice on self-publishing, if you've had experience of this.

23 December 2013

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

It's that time of year again: time for the battle between my need for symmetry and perfection and the realities of putting up, and decorating, a Christmas tree.

My tree is artificial, but by no means symmetrical, and the decorations are a motley collection from which no patterns can be contrived.

All I can do is fall back on a set of rules I've developed that enable me to create as aesthetically pleasing a look as possible out of an unavoidable asymmetry:
Photos: Peter Gettins Photography

  • Cover the entire length of the fairy light wires with tinsel.
  • Ensure baubles of the same colour and/or design don't hang close to one another.
  • Hang each decoration at a different height to those adjacent to it.
  • Put larger decorations lower down the tree.
  • Make sure decorations depicting the same festive character/item aren't next to one another (this has the bonus of preventing any of the Santas from discovering - like Buzz Lightyear - that they're not the only one).

The lights make the process even harder. I have two strings of them and, whichever way I twist them around the tree, the same colours end up together. Last year, I tried to resolve this by moving some bulbs around, but that simply resulted in different clashes - there are only five colours and it's a small tree. 

This year, I decided to reinstate the default light order on each string - red, orange, blue, pink, green - to guarantee at least one pattern...even if it did lead to clashes on the tree. Which was fine until I got to the end of the strings and realised I'd previously had to replace a number of dead bulbs with spares of the wrong colour. Pattern aborted. 

It can take hours to achieve a look I'm satisfied with, although the moveable branches do help. Two baubles hanging at the same height?: twist one branch up and the problem's solved. 

The job isn't done then, though. For days afterwards, I'll keep spotting badly placed decorations and be compelled to drop what I'm doing to fix them. 

The evening of the day I put the tree up, my boyfriend, Pete, and I watched Die Hard yet again - it's almost compulsory at Christmas. Even Bruce Willis in a vest wasn't enough to stop me noticing wonky angels and wayward tinsel. I had to make mental notes of what to move during the ad breaks, rather than drive Pete potty by repeatedly leaping up and down from the sofa.

There is, nevertheless, some pleasure to be had from this difficult task. 

My decorations include a number of gifts and holiday souvenirs. As I hang each of these, I think of the person who gave them to me, or the associated trip. Those happy memories keep me going through the challenge.

Souvenirs (left to right) from the Peak District in England, Reykjavik in Iceland, and Longyearbyen on Svalbard (the Arctic archipelago also know as Spitsbergen) and. below, a gift from Pete

And, actually, I like the final, 'chaotic' result better than those trees that are themed with one colour and one type of bauble, and which ought to appeal to my OCD. My tree makes for a homely corner in an otherwise regimented environment.

Wishing you all happy holidays.

16 December 2013

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

One of the hardest things to explain about OCD is its contradictory nature.

How can a man with severe contamination issues have multiple tattoos? How can another, with the same problem, share his home with a cat? I've seen both examples in recent documentaries.

Photos: Peter Gettins Photography
The explanation is, actually, quite simple: OCD makes up its own rules. It dictates what is, or is not, acceptable.

This can confuse and upset friends and family, and may lead them to believe a sufferer is putting the condition on when it suits them. 

Some of my behaviours exhibit the same illogicality.

Whilst my OCD is mainly about order and symmetry, I also have a number of contamination-related compulsions.

For example, I won't eat anything that falls off my plate onto an uncovered table in a café or restaurant - or even a covered one if the tablecloth is less than pristine. However, I'll happily eat food that has fallen on the floor at home...providing it happens in the living room, rather than the kitchen. My OCD tells me that the carpet is clean, but the tiles aren't, in spite of the fact they get cleaned with the same (in)frequency.

And, as mentioned in a previous post, I wash the cutlery and crockery in holiday rental properties before using it, yet have no concerns about the silverware and plates when eating out.

Such contradictions are epitomised in my relationship with my boyfriend's cat, Bandit (pictured above and below, with me). 

I'm happy to have her sit on my lap, and to stroke her, but will then be compelled to wash my hands before I touch anything else. My clothes don't feel contaminated - although they're covered in fur - yet my hands do.

I also love to receive her damp, velvety nose rubs, but have no urge to wash my face afterwards. Incidentally, this is a form of greeting between cats who are friends, so is a real honour. 

Stranger still is the pleasure I take in burying my face in her fur, given that this is groomed by a tongue that regularly wraps itself around cat food (and mice and bugs). Without the aid of any fancy products, her fur is wonderfully soft and smells lovely.

I don't understand why I have to wash my hands after contact with Bandit, but not my face or my clothes. Or why I don't worry about 'germs' when I'm rubbing my nose and mouth over her fur. If I don't understand, I can't expect anyone else to.

What I do know, is that the rules and boundaries are different for each and every one of us with OCD.

* * *

If you have OCD, do you exhibit any contradictory behaviours? Or, if you know someone with the condition, perhaps you've witnessed this?

9 December 2013

A mark of disgrace

The first time I went to Winchester Writers' Conference was the first time I'd shared my novel with anyone. In the course of the event, I engaged in several 1 to 1s, including one with an agent, who had reviewed the synopsis and first chapter of my manuscript.

Her opening words were less than promising.

'I don't get this,' she said, scowling at me.

'I'm sorry, what do you mean?'

'Why hasn't she told her boyfriend she has obsessive-compulsive disorder?'

'Oh, I see. Well, because there's stigma around mental health conditions.'

'I don't think so, not these days,' she said. 'And why hasn't he asked her about it?'

'He's not aware of it. She hides what she does.'

This time her only response was a snort of disbelief. 

Image courtesy of Time to Change
My protestations that the story was based on my own experience - and knowledge - of OCD were to no avail. 

She did go on, however, to pass a number of compliments on the sample chapter and suggested I rewrite the novel to explore OCD in a different way.

'If you take that approach, I'd like to see it,' she encouraged me.

The trouble was, her initial comments had put me off. I'd like to think that she simply hadn't had any experience of this kind of stigma. She might not even have had any direct experience of mental health disorders. Or she might have just been an open-minded woman, who didn't entertain discriminatory thoughts, and couldn't imagine anyone else doing so. 

It was hard to see, though, how she could be oblivious to the existence of such stigma. 

The online Oxford Dictionary even uses mental health as an example in its definition of the word:

'A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. "the stigma of mental disorder".'

I decided not to rework my manuscript to her requirements, as I felt her view of any revised novel would always be coloured by a rather naïve perspective.

That was five years ago, and there is still, undoubtedly, stigma around mental health conditions, in spite of an increasing openness by sufferers, including many high-profile celebrities.

Across the media, I see reports from people experiencing discrimination. Ill-informed or tasteless comments, found everywhere from Twitter and Facebook to online news articles, serve only to prove the point.
Image courtesy of Time to Change

The Time to Change movement certainly wouldn't exist, if mental health stigma had been eradicated. You may have seen their television campaign earlier this year, encouraging people to talk about their conditions. Led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, they have the backing of tens of thousands of people, including numerous big names: from Gok Wan and Gary Lineker, to Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry.

Hopefully, with the help of such campaigns, generations to come will be able to look back on mental health stigma as a thing of the past.

2 December 2013

I don't want to miss a thing

Not only do I have a reading compulsion, but also a listening one, which means I go to great lengths to ensure I don't miss a word of conversation or dialogue. As with my reading and eating compulsions, it's all about a need for wholeness.

Face to face, I might ask people to repeat things, if I wasn't concentrating; even if what they said wasn't important and I've already caught the gist of it. 

It's trickier if I miss part of a lecture or talk, perhaps because I lose focus, or because, say, someone behind me coughs. I can hardly keep putting my hand up to interrupt the speaker.

It's equally important to me not to miss dialogue on screen. Modern technology renders television an easy medium to manipulate - and so makes it almost impossible to resist this aural compulsion. 

With the facility to pause and rewind even live television broadcasts, I find myself going back over the same short section of programme again and again, trying to catch exactly what was said. 

Sometimes even this doesn't help. Increasingly, actors seem to mumble, and if they also have an accent, I might as well be listening to Swahili. Regional accents can be hard enough, but I also watch a lot of American series, which only compounds the problem.

Frasier Crane in Frasier: Motor Skills (Season 8, Episode 11)
Photo: Peter Gettins Photography

That's where technology comes in once more; with subtitles. If a couple of re-runs of a scene don't help, I switch on the subtitles, rewind and have another go. Often, though, they're slow to kick in and I reach the sticking point before the words appear on screen. I have to rewind yet again, a bit further, to reveal the mystery dialogue.

At which point, I often discover that this has:

1. Contributed nothing to the plot (or the comedy, if the show has a comic element), or
2. Is still incomprehensible, as the words are an Americanism, a made-up science-fiction term, or specialist terminology in a subject I know nothing about.

This happened recently during an old episode of Frasier, where the scrambled words transpired to be 'shoulder noogie'. From an internet search, my best guess is that a 'noogie' is a painful poke or jab. Perhaps one of my readers Stateside can confirm?

Inevitably, this habit drags out the time it takes to watch anything and also ruins a story's momentum. So, lately, I've been trying to resist this urge and just pick up what I miss as the story unfolds.

Besides, it's only television: how much of it is really of any importance? No doubt I'm better off spending the time I reclaim in the real world.

* * *

I haven't encountered another OCD sufferer with this compulsion. If you have OCD, is this something you can relate to?