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Distraction versus Interruption

I have often referred to my desire for total silence and lack of distraction when I write. My use of the double-world-blocker of ear plugs beneath a set of noise-cancelling headphones normally does the trick at home. But, away from home, I find I need it far less.

There is something about the gentle hum of a far-away-from-home coffee shop or restaurant that cancels out distraction by itself. The gentle, bubbling chatter of total strangers doesn’t suck at the ear, the unimposing, genial interior of such establishments offers very little to draw the eye away from one’s screen or notebook. They are fairly distraction free, despite the hubbub of people.

I discovered this during my recent trip to London. I could happily work in the hotel café without getting annoyed at the noise, the same too for the hotel bar and Bill’s restaurant beside the tube station. I realised that part of the problem is not the fear of being distracted. It is the fear of being interrupted.

At home, I lock myself indoors. I do not answer the phone unless the call comes from my children’s school, but the phone will invariably ring. I try to avoid answering the door, pray that a neighbour won’t knock and come in for tea, that the postman won’t require my signature. The coffee shops at home are lovely but small town. The result is that, within the first half an hour of sitting down to work, I am interrupted by a “hello,” from a friend. And even my best friend in the world would be unwelcome at such a time.

Whereas the city may not have the scenery that has given me such inspiration, nor the silence at a country setting, or the intensity of the clear, night sky, it does offer me a haven from this interruption. Space where niggling plot holes can be easily fixed, through sheer concentration alone, where characters can be filled out and made robust and prose can be spewed out at an alarming rate. The city is, I discovered this week, a super place to write a first draft.

A quiet Somerset living room, however, with a sofa, noise-cancelling headphones, muted phone and a locked front door, is the perfect place to polish.

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Cherry trees and train journeys…

Outside I can see a plastic watering can, child-size, lying in the middle of my lawn. My living room is cluttered with toys; a stuffed dragon beside me on the sofa, a selection of puzzles half in and half out of their boxes, a piece of white paper with a single orange felt-tip line stands proud in the centre of the carpet. A normal scene, an everyday scene. Nothing has changed, all is still.

Yet, if I look out of the other window I can see the first buds bursting into their pink blousy glory on my neighbour’s cherry tree. A birch shows the green haze promise of early leaves. The wood shed, full to bursting last September, sits empty. In other words, Spring is coming. Or the potential of it at least.

I am travelling to London today.

As a mere fact, it is nugatory. I have been many times. I shall go many times more. Yet this trip is different, feels different somehow. I shall be writing a different book on the train, for starters. The first time book two will make its public outing and be worked on outside of a quiet space. I am away for three nights, slightly longer than normal, more opportunity to write (and what is more delicious than an anonymous, distraction-free hotel room in which to work?).

But, as with the promise of change in seasons outside my living room window, the promise of change lurks in the preparations for my trip away. I’ll meet with my agent, discuss my work and career, discuss the future and perhaps that is it, the difference. For the first time, I am faced with one element of certainty in this, the most uncertain of careers. Spring is just around the corner, that season of growth, change, new beginnings; for my work as well as my garden.

We shall see, in time, which blossoms shall burst forth.

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Character Crush

I am starting to annoy myself.

Not a rarity, by any means, but I’m annoying myself in a whole new way at the moment.

You know those kids who go on a gap year and for the next decade of their lives start all their conversations with “On my gap year…”

I have a similar problem.

The reason for the current self-annoyance is my new best friend. I love her. We get on SUPER well. And, like those irritating traveller types who bang on about finding a whole new level of inner peace whilst kayaking upstream along the Nile, I am falling into the awful habit of starting the majority of my internal monologues with, “Well, X would do this.” Or “X thinks this about that.” “X would never drink instant crap if fresh filter coffee was available.”

It doesn’t help that X is a figment of my imagination. A really strong, fierce, mega-cool figment of my imagination.

And, if that wasn’t quite neurotic enough, I’m pretty sure she would hate me in real life if she was, in fact, real. And the whole while I would want her to like me so bad. I would be like the lonely girl at school, trying to catch the popular kid’s eye and then waving like a doofus when said eye was eventually caught.

See, neurotic and annoying.

Man alive, I’m a keeper.

But, in the long run, this bout of hyper-aware self-annoyance is all good. I find it far easier to write a character I know an awful lot about. When writing book one I spent most car journeys discussing the items on the news with the fictitious folk from my novel. I’ll do the same with novel two and I know the work will benefit. The fact that this particular woman has infiltrated my mind so thoroughly can only be a good thing when it comes to writing her down.

A good thing from a writers’ POV anyway.

A psychiatrist may have another label for it.

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Enjoy the view, enjoy the ride…

Life can be strange, the journey never quite as we expected, the road never as we envisaged. Yet, however hard to climb that hill is, no matter how fast we take those bends, there is always beauty to be found, always.

I took my children to Bristol this weekend. After a dozen of her friends raved about the gorge-fest that is Zaza Bazaar, my daughter was desperate to go. So, go we did.

Or at least we tried.

But (and no doubt this will surprise ALL of you) I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. I (gulp) did not book a table and that was a big fat fail.

Or, at least, it could have been.

It turned out to be the best thing ever. Instead of feasting at an all you can buffet for an allocated one hour and fifteen minutes, we rode on the Bristol Sky Ride. We watched a man dressed as a golden robot scare tourists with strange sounds, sudden movements. We watched the boats, ate ice creams dipped in blue sherbet, waved at our reflections in the Millennium Square Observatory. The restaurant we eventually ordered lunch in told us there would be an hour wait for our food. Even that didn’t spoil the day; in some stroke of amazing luck my little ones decided to be the perfect children and waited patiently. We played, coloured in, told each other stories and when the food came they actually ate it (rather than throwing it on the floor/at each other/down themselves).

It turned out to be a great day.

Life is like that. The decisions you make take you down avenues you never planned visiting and yet, sometimes, those avenues turn out to be the right ones after all.

And, as I always like to turn these blogs around and focus on writing in some shape or form (however tenuous) the same can be said for the craft. Plots you planned perfectly change once you start writing, but usually for the better. Characters develop strange, perplexing ticks you never expected but immediately love. Your career, your prospects, are always uncertain due to the industry’s very nature. Yet faith in the journey, faith in the craft, remains.

I’ve learnt to work hard, work very hard, but always take time to enjoy the ride.

Wherever it takes me.