Some good news on the fiction front! Not for me, but my friend Melissa Harrison. I think of Mel as one of my closer pals – she’s the person I’ve spoken to most about writing fiction – and she found out today that her fiction project has been accepted by a publisher. I’ve never met her though.

Even though we connected on Facebook, I wouldn’t call her a ‘Facebook friend’. I first came across her in, oh, crikey, 2008? When she set up an FB group called The Official Top 100 Words Ever. It was an attempt to whittle down a list of the best words in the English language and was populated by a bunch of journalists, sub-editors and general nerds who all started sending their suggestions in to Mel, who would then mercilessly shred their ideas like some literary Maggie Thatcher – or occasionally switch into approving matron mode, handing out Web 2.0 versions of gold stars and pats on the back.

It was very funny and quite distracting. Mel was running the whole schebang from London, while journos that I knew from NZ and OZ, plus a whole bunch I didn’t know from the UK and elsewhere were fiercely debating whether ‘quim’ had a pleasant ‘mouthfeel’ and whether ‘kiosk’, despite describing something dull, could have a place on the list because “it makes you feel like climbing a mountain for the first half of the word, then skiing down it for the second”.

Eventually the workload got too much for Mel (we were all doing this while at our real jobs), and she appointed a couple of deputies (group admins, in Facebook parlance), of which I was one. I think I made the Mel cut on the basis of rustling ‘susurrus’ into the list, and of my stubborn championing of ‘cudgel’ as a nice meaty word that sounded like what it did.

So we bonded over words, and then found that we were each nervously working on fiction projects of our own. Moreover, she lived in Streatham in South London, and my book was set in the next neighbourhood over – Brixton – where I’d lived for several years. Though totally different in style, both of our proto-books had nature-in-the-city themes, and we both had a similar earnest intensity about getting the damned things done.

So we became sort of pen friends. It’s an enormous help to know that someone has the same embarrassing hobby as yourself, and it’s a great support to talk over problems, send chapters back and forth for feedback, and vent private frustration over questions from well-meaning people such as “what’s it about?”, “how many pages is it?’ and the worst of the worst: “when is it coming out?”

It’s been a very fruitful friendship. In between the literariness there’s been a lot of amusing banter via Facebook, email, and Twitter. There’s been much discussion of favourite South London pubs and places. We’ve both finished our manuscripts; Mel’s gotten married – written blogs and bought a dog. And I very much look forward to actually meeting one day.

In the meantime, though, I can look forward to MY THANK-YOU MENTION ON THE DUSTJACKET, MEL! And I’m really impressed that she now has an answer to that most tooth-grinding of questions: so when is it coming out?

It’ll be 2012, via Bloomsbury.

Find her on Twitter: @The_Z_Factor

Read “The *Official* 100 Best Ever Words in the World… Ever!” list here


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