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Pit stop

Another week of little writing, and very little daydream. But, rather than lamenting this as I normally would (normally do), I’ve been enjoying it as much as I can. Why? Because it’s half term.

The children are home every day, more relaxed and carefree than during term, and the house has been full, busy, noisy. Very little space or time to do anything other than relish in the world of toy trains, painting and pumpkin carving competitions, (which I didn’t enter myself as I’m so horribly competitive. Last year I embarrassingly shouted “Get In!” when my daughter won a game of musical chairs. Like mother like daughter, she was as thrilled with my reaction as she was to winning. Another ace on the parenting score board there then(Oh dear.)).

But be it the hectic schedule of school holidays or the normal running of life, there is something to be said for taking a break. And yes, before you ask, I am absolutely chomping at the bit to get writing. I am desperate, quite desperate, to get back to it. But I can also see how this break has been a healthy one.

I was witness to Meg Rosoff’s fantastic talk on voice at Winchester this summer and one thing that really stuck was the idea of composting; allowing your brain the time to collect, filter and sit on ideas for a while, letting them mulch into something richer. That’s certainly happened to me this week. Whereas I haven’t consciously thought about book one or book two, I am aware that when I get back to work next week I’ll be flying. My brain has gone fizzy, fermenting rather than composting.

And, as if in proof of what I have just written, this writing-less week has given me the name for the character who is to become a woman, the name for the detective in book two, a title for book two (possibly) and a few tentative ideas for short stories.

So, there you have it. A rest is as good as…well, a rest.

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Running away from the cuts

I never used to run. Hated it, in fact. I could go on but that vile little word sums it up. In a previous life (before children) I was a gym bunny, exercising inside with a calorie counter and air conditioning.

Roll on five years and I’m almost evangelical about running, but this transition was not one born from choice. You see, I have a three-year-old. He’s gorgeous, with the energy of a young border collie, and requires the same amount of exercise. He began to run the same week he began to walk and hasn’t stopped since. And, as I don’t want him to run into the road/off a cliff/into a ditch, I give chase. Far and fast. I have become a runner.

I also used to hate editing. Mainly because I was clueless, partly because I was reluctant to cut and smidgenley because I harboured a vague hope of turning out to be a creative genius who need never cut. (Good news, everybody; there is no such thing as a creative genius who doesn’t require editing. Even Le Carre gets cuts. (And just writing that sentence has reminded me of how much I love Le Carre.))

I literally just wrote that last line so I could use a double bracket. Benefits of writing my own blog: I get to choose the edits.

Anyway…

What I have discovered recently is a love for editing.

I received the first of my agent’s track edits this week. It took me three days to muster the courage to open the file, imagining pages of scored through narrative, hundreds of notes on how I can, and must, do better. I imagined my prose, my agonized-over prose, criticised in cold, honest red pen.

Guess what…

That’s exactly what I received.

What I didn’t count on was my reaction. The main reason I waited three days was the fear I’d get downhearted, or worse, defeated, by the sheer amount of work still to do. Instead, my eyes were opened, super wide. Those scrawled through lines of text showed me how much tighter my work can become, the notes in the margin caught a glimpse of how good this book could (will) be.

The world looks different as I run through it, especially when guided by the kamikaze nature of a three-year-old. And my writing looks different thanks to the guidance of a bloody good editor, and the realisation that I’m a little more fearless than I thought.

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Reflections

I had a great piece to write week. I was asked to guest blog for the Winchester Writer’s Festival, reliving my journey from aspiring writer to represented author. Slightly longer than my normal 300-word limit, it let me go all out and appreciate how far I had come, how I have changed and who I might yet be.

And those are big, soul-searching issues. Who you are is not just a here-and-now contemplation. It encompasses your past and your future, or rather where you see yourself in the future. I’ve been writing full time (as in, I have no other job other than the other full-time role of being a parent, which pays about the same) for three years. Two years ago this month I finished the first draft of my novel, and yet most people close to me are surprised at how my career seems suddenly to be taking off.

To me, it’s been like a sloth climbing a very, very tall tree.

There are a few people, however, who get it. And, by getting “it,” kind of get me. Which is nice, considering writing is possible one of the most solitary and isolating professions. Writers at festivals, on Twitter, Facebook, all that jazzy social media I have yet to come into to contact with, are exceptionally supportive and friendly. Super friendly, because they too have spent most of their day locked in a room, on their own, trying to cover up the real world by creating a slice of a new one, and are generally happy to talk to and bolster other writers who have been doing the same.

And then I write a paragraph like the one above and I think, wow. This really is a weird profession.

But one I love.

And that, this week, I have looked back on with pride, and looked forward to with so much excitement my fingers itch.

You can read my blog for the Winchester Writer’s Association here.

 

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When discipline writes itself off…

I am normally very self-disciplined. You kind of have to be if you work by yourself in your own house. It’s very tempting to sit in your underwear all day, surfing the internet and eating Wotsits.

But you can’t do that. No, no, no. Because A) you will get Wotsits all over your keyboard and B) you will never make any money and will therefore never be able to buy Wotsits again.

And I love Wotsits. I really do.

Therefore, I am very self-disciplined and make myself work even when it’s hard and there are lots of distractions.

But this week it’s been tough. Why? Well, lots of reasons but I’ll just pick the most relevant one. I don’t know how to end my second book.

I have the whole plan laid out, the characters set, named and motivated. I have the setting, the backstory (and you know how much I hate exposition) and the entire first three quarters of the plot planned out in beautiful detail. I’ve even time-lined that bad boy.

But, when I think of exactly how to end it, I freeze. Suddenly the washing needs to be folded. I really, REALLY, need to brush my cat.

Robot is very glossy as a result.

But the end of the book is still unplanned.

In another life I would leave it there and think, screw this, I’m just going to write the damn thing and see where it takes me. And if it’s awful, which it may well be, it can just be rewritten again until it’s better. But, when you’ve set out to write a full synopsis to be sent out to people you have to have an ending.

And I will have an ending.

I will.

I just need to get this knot out of Robot’s fur first.

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Coffee, corridors and beautiful places

Some writers favour cafes, some pubs. Perhaps I’m on on the weirder side of the spectrum, becasue I like to go to hospitals. I can’t write narratives as it’s too noisy for that, but I can write plot notes, character ideas, scene settings.

I grew up around hospitals. One of my fondest memories is watching my mother cut up and examine specimens whilst I wrote stories, or made paper angels that I would force upon unsuspecting secretaries until their desks looked fancier than Christmas.

And I am delighted to say that, as book two is largely set in and around a hospital, I will have to go on many field trips to soak up the atmosphere and the smell. But beyond childhood nostalgia and sniffing linoleum floors, there is another reason I love hospitals, and that is the stories.

I was witness to something I’ve never forgotten and still, to this day, brings tears to my normally cold, heartless eyes (I’m kidding. I’m a massive crier in real life.)

I was milling around the hospital with my son when I noticed a lady, 60ish with cropped, fluffy hair, wearing slacks and a plain blue shirt. She was walking away from the oncology department. In the opposite direction was a nurse dressed in greys and greens.

The nurse stopped, raised her eyebrows, slightly parted her lips.

With a smile on her face and tears fresh on her cheeks, the lady looked at the nurse dead on, rose both arms in the air and shook her fists. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so happy. The nurse ran towards her and held her in the corridor.  They didn’t say anything, (not that I heard) but you could tell from their body language they were close, that they had been through something together, that the woman was going to be OK.

My son and I wandered off, though he kept looking over his little shoulder at the women, still hugging, behind him. He asked me who they were and I gave the two women a story and a happy ending.

Hospitals are so frequently associated with death, pain, loss that you forget they are also a place of cure, of triumph over disease, a place where people get their lives back. And a place where, if you look closely, you can see stories not ending, but unfolding.