Just sitting here watching the snow. Too sick to do much else. It's slightly ironic that just when I decided to stop doing my coronavirus diary I should actually go and catch coronavirus. It's bloody horrible. I feel horrible. But the snow is pretty. Makes the endlessly bleak concrete views from my window marginally less ugly. I've tried to take a picture of it but unless you've got some way of actually slowing down the snow, it just looks like, well, nothing really. Although I suspect my poor picture has more to do with the poor view more than anything.
My new year’s resolution for 2021 is to be a writer.
Now hang on a sec – aren’t I already a writer? Am I not self-published? Have I not been writing for years and years and years? Am I not known for being a writer? Novels, novellas, short stories, microfiction, some poetry (a long time ago), even a few screenplays?? Blogs, diaries, articles?? Editor, proofreader, manuscript construction??
Well, yes. But here’s the thing: my beingness as a writer was eaten away during the events of 2020. Anxiety levels as a result of the pandemic eroded my imagination until it felt as if I couldn’t write anything except the dingiest, greyest, grimmest stuff with no space or scope or life in it at all. My creativity, it seemed, was in its own period of lockdown. Another factor that affected my creativity badly was working from home. Don’t get me wrong – I actually liked working from home! I found the admin work, which I hardly got time for when in the library, quite relaxing in its own boring, repetitive sort of way. But in order not to be glued to my computer for eight hours a day, I arranged my work hours differently, which ended up eating into my writing schedule. Also, I found myself checking work emails every single day, not just when I was strictly “at work.” Add to this a whole world of other problems I had to deal with: my eyes, my daughter’s uni problems, the stupendously awful heatwave that hit central London in August, returning to a customer-facing job while others were still working from home, then the shock of redeployment…..
At the end of this, it felt as if the writer part of me had all but expired. It was rising to the enormous challenge of editing a difficult novel that got me back on track. Some time over Christmas to relax a bit helped me to work out how to reconstruct my life around working from home. And how to Be A Writer again.
This is what I’ve come up with so far:
The third point has turned out to be quite important. I’ve been using Moleskin diaries for years, usually the small one with a week-per-view. Then I got a big one, also a week-per-view, but with more space, which I liked. This year I went for something different: it’s a big one again but with a full page-per-day. NO WFH stuff is allowed on these pages. All library work has been relegated to pages near the front of the dairy which show a month-per-page, the days divided up into little blocks. That’s it. That’s all the WFH job gets! The new big pages are my life, my writing, notes, ideas, microfiction, single lines of writing……absolutely anything that is part of my creative life.
Compartmentalising my life, creating a beautiful workspace, and encouraging myself to write down ideas will, I hope, help me on the road to recovery. I want to BE a writer. I don’t want to just “have written.” There is a whole beingness involved in creativity.
That’s what I’m aiming for.
My last video diary for the year. And probably for always. Thank you for listening. Go well and stay safe.
This is not a definitive list and it's not in any particular order, but these are the tracks I kept coming back to all year. I also listen to a lot of "wallpaper" YouTube channels and have listed my three favourite ones. The Blade Runner soundtrack turns up on every list I'll ever do. I've probably listened to it more than any other piece of music. It helps me to get through those boiling hot summers that lay waste to my soul.
If you want to listen to any of these, just copy and paste into YouTube. Or Google. Or Spotify. Or whatever. I mean, you know, it's not rocket science and all that.
If I had to pick one, it would be Rebel Heart. I had the misfortune to suffer a fangirl crush at the start of the year and this song glued itself to my synapses, particularly the line "Why do I keep dreaming of you." (Because you're super sexy and gorgeous, perchance?!) The pandemic pretty much killed off any romantic dreamings but the memory of it is still very sweet.
Today I begin the brand new edit of a gigantic novel I have edited several times. I’ve written about this novel here many, many times. In another blog, I might even go and have a look at all those old posts to see what I’ve written!
But today I want to pat myself on the back – not because I’m starting a major piece of work, but because I’ve done more this year than I’d thought. I’d quite forgotten that at the start of the year, I did a HUGE edit of this novel. I chopped and chopped and pared down and whittled and rewrote bits and rethought Part 3 and gave it more life and really, really worked my arse off. I even made notes for what was to be the last edit – not a proofreading-type edit, but an actual rewrite-type edit, in which I sit down and rewrite the whole novel (with the most recent draft open next to me) so that the words feel fresh and new on the page as they come out my fingers, so to speak. I even made notes. I made pages of notes. I told myself what to do.
I even gave it a name: The Killer Edit.
And then I did what I needed to do: I walked away from the novel so that when I came back to this killer edit, I’d feel fresh and raring to go. Which, amazingly, is just how I feel! This is a HUGE project. I’ve been working on this novel, on and off, for bloody years. After the year I’ve had with writing failures, I feel ready for this enormous challenge. I want to be consumed by its problems and find ways of fixing it up!
What gets me is when I last worked on this novel: it was March. Yep. March this year. Just as Covid19 began to raise its head. Just as this new word was added to our vocabulary. I last modified the notes for my Killer Edit on the 6th of March. It doesn’t seem that long ago. But it also feels like a whole lifetime.
I love The Mandalorian! It’s just absolutely the best tonic for the pandemic, working on so many different levels, for so many different age groups. I’m quite sure I’m only one of billions who thinks it’s utterly brilliant!
I love that cowboy feel to it – every planet is a desert, every town a mongrel outback. One town even has a rectangular entrance arch, reminiscent of every cowboy movie you ever saw. And the theme tune is a split second away from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Humanoids and droids of all kinds live on the edge, both literally and figuratively. We’re back in the familiar territory of the original Star Wars trilogy, a world that I first discovered in my youth (I was 14 when Star Wars: A New Hope came out) and now seems long lost. The Empire struck back and lost but things aren’t exactly peachy.
Throw into this the Mandalorian himself. I know nothing about Mandalorians or Mandalor as I’ve not watched the animated series, The Clone Wars. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. You get fed enough information to work it out. Remembering bits and pieces from Star Wars movies gives the story resonance but I’m quite sure you’d be able to watch this without knowing anything – I’m thinking particularly of younger kids here, who may not (how?!) have ever seen a Star Wars movie. I can’t get over the fact how much you love the main character, the Mandalorian himself, played by Pedro Pascal, because YOU NEVER SEE HIS FACE. What does the actor have left to act with? His voice (gruff and sexy), his body, his armour, but mostly his stillness. Even hidden behind a helmet, his emotions are plain to see.
The main story arc has been unfolding slowly (I’m currently halfway through the second series) and what a brilliant story it is. I’d be quite happy for this tale to go on for 100 episodes. As it is, it gets eked out in only eight episodes per series, which is a killer. And sometimes those episodes are very short, barely over half an hour. Yet every episode is packed with plot, with action, with humour, with fantastic characters, and also quite a lot of beasties. I could probably do without the monster-of-the-week (those spiders aaaargh) and does food always have to be alive in sci-fi stuff these days?! I love that it can be REALLY funny without anyone cracking a joke.
There really is something for everyone. Thoughtful moments as well as big action sequences, without ever resorting to swearing or gore (both of which have been done to death and lack imagination). There are moments of terror, of great sadness (“I have spoken!) and air-punching joy. The delight I feel in watching each episode has been a tonic during lockdown2.
Now hang a sec. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.
As if the rest of this show isn’t wonderful enough, we get a small green alien child of unknown origin, about whom nothing is known except that we know he’s the same species as Yoda. And oh dear God, he’s the cutest thing ever invented. I’ve been a diehard fan since the first moment I saw him in endless clips on YouTube. When I finally got around to watching the first series, it occurred to me that his darling sweetness might be, well, a bit saccharin. But I needn’t have worried. There’s nothing sentimental in this series. Unlike another sci-fi TV series that continues to disappoint (Star Trek: Discovery), there is no dripping, gushing sentiment at work. The Child does not take over the story at all, though it is basically at the heart of the story arc. And there’s no deliberate cuteness. There’s no cutesy babyness. He’s adorable, he’s funny, but he also pukes up blue biscuits.
There’s just one thing I’ve wondered about though (other than what Din Djarin looks like after a bath) is why the Child has not been named. People have an innate desire to name things. Even a stray dog gets a name, or a cat who visits you once a week, or a squirrel you see regularly in the park (oh, okay, only me, then). If you are going to have a small child-creature with you for any length of time, wouldn’t you name it?
(The drawing is by my daughter)
I finished a short story! That doesn’t sound particularly amazing but considering the year I’ve had with writing, just to say I’ve FINISHED something feels like quite an achievement.
I never expected to write this particular short story. The idea was quite unbelievably grim, describing the abuse of a preadolescent, all the way into her twenties. This is not my usual style, nor was it something I was comfortable with. The story’s saving grace was the beauty of the setting: a wild, windy coastline, with an eerie quicksand beach. There was a hint of magic – the heroine (or should I say victim?) was accused frequently of inverting her witchery (hence the abuse). But otherwise the predominant colour of the story was grey.
I thought I might have come up with this idea very early this year, but I’ve just checked the creation date of the Word document in which I wrote up the notes I’d made, and I can’t believe it was last year in September. When I finished the notes, I had a pretty good idea that I would never write it. It was too grim. No one would want to read it. The fact that it had a fantastically happy ending wasn’t good enough – no one would ever get that far. And, quite frankly, I didn’t want to write it either! It was just too miserable!
But with my writing going so badly this year, suddenly I was in the mood to write something relentlessly grim. Once the year had settled into its new routine – daughter back at uni, me back work, new lockdown on the horizon – I began The Winds of Witching. I handwrote it as this gives me the greatest pleasure. When you handwrite, you think you are creating the most wonderful piece of writing. You are convinced that it’s going brilliantly, that jewels are dripping out the nib of your Bic. Handwriting is great for your confidence! I also noticed how calm I felt after a writing session. Every rape scene took monumental confront but when I was done, I felt almost peaceful. Anxiety slipped away. I felt like myself again.
I remember mentioning this to my hairdresser who, in her great wisdom, said that the process of writing this grim tale was one of catharsis, given the difficult year we’ve just had. Okay, she didn’t use those exact words but that’s what she meant!
When I came to type up the story, however, I realised how BAD it was. Badly written, badly conceived, badly plotted. But I gritted my teeth and did that thing that 95% of writing is about: I edited. I rewrote, changed stuff, put stuff in, took it out again, and by the time I got to the final draft, I stripped it down as much as I could. When I was done, I was satisfied. The satisfaction was enough that I could walk away from it and feel that it was, for the moment, finished.
I suspect no one will ever read it. So what was the point? When I get the blues (and I’m calling them the blues when it should really be called black-hole-blackness), the one word that leaps into my mind a lot is “pointless.” Everything feels pointless. My life, my writing, the world, the whole universe (I tend to be dramatic in my thinking when I’m down). I was determined that this short story WOULD have some point, even if it wasn’t to be read.
It was, basically, an exercise in self-discipline. Because if I’m going to get myself to the other end of this pandemic in one piece, I have to get back on the writing train. I can’t just hang around the rail tracks. With this project, I pushed myself hard. I edited that damn piece of rubbish writing until it work, finally achieving something, only a very small thing, but better than nothing. Confronting a difficult piece of work seems to be the way to go.
My next project is to edit – yet again! – that monstrous novel that I have, in hilarious moments, called my Prizewinning Novel. I’m determined to attack the thing until it too works, until the words leap off the page so freshly the ink could still be wet.
I may have to gird my loins for this.
In which I shout and swear a lot at my phone.
My coronavirus video diary continues. This month I rant and rage a lot and you get to look up both my nostrils.
I live in Bloomsbury.
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