- Birds singing on St George’s Gardens
- My daughter passing her resit
- Walking down to the river at dawn
- Discovering Dark
- Discovering The Mandalorian
- Re-reading old favourites
- Reading Sue Grafton’s alphabet books in order
- Compiling a new collection of short stories
- Forgetting that I’d already done a huge edit on my Very Big Novel at the start of the year and that I didn’t have much more work to do to hammer it into shape
- Drinking coffee
- Having at least one person to hug
- Great Tits eating peanuts from my hand
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.
Hmmmm, I've just realised that I "forgot" (ie was too depressed to bother) to upload my coronavirus diary for July. (There wasn't one for August). So: if you're just dying to find out WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, then perhaps you can watch both! This link will take you to my YouTube Channel anyway where you'll find all my coronavirus diaries. I'm dearly looking forward to the day when the words "corona" and "covid" and "apocalypse" are no longer in our vocabularies. Though I fear that day will only come when we are all dead and the planet is a burnt-out shell of despair.
My writing isn’t going well. If I had to blame anything, then I’m going to have to say it was the pandemic. I did try. I started an Exodus Sequence story quite early in lockdown but it was a mess and didn’t work. I handwrote a short story but it was so poor I couldn’t find the will to fix it up. I spent a long time working on the Exodus Sequence story, its title changed to Enlightened, realising that I’d tried to write two stories together that didn’t work. Successfully separated, I wrote a fresh new draft, feeling quite confident at first. It soon became apparent that it was a poor effort and, once again, I haven’t got the will to edit it.
Where do I go from here? How do I get back into writing again? The depression of the summer is beginning to ease but the anxiety hasn’t. I’m back at work, wearing a mask all day, while some colleagues only wear a mask under their chin. I don’t feel safe. I don’t trust anyone. The world has gone to hell in a handbasket and I don’t want to go out.
If I’m indoors all the time, you’d think this would be prime conditions for writing. People who don’t write and have no idea how the creative process works keep saying that to me: “oh, you have SO much time to write now!” What does TIME have to do with it??
I tried to concentrate on some marketing instead. Not only has this failed utterly but I wasted £200 on a book promotion website that I realised too late is a con. I have really been burned. After all these years, you’d think I’d have some sense. I thought I had checked them out really closely. I thought I’d done my homework and my research. But really, I was just desperate.
So here I sit. It’s September and I have NOTHING to show for 2020 except a new caffeine addiction, a total loss of faith in myself, and a future that involves playing dodge-the-disease every day. How do I come back from this?
I’d like to say I have the answer but I don’t! My solution to everything is to just write. Anything. Garbage. It doesn’t matter. Just get some words on a page. I have LOADS of editing to do but haven’t worked my way up to that. So writing it is. But what do I write if I don’t believe in my ability to write anymore?! Teeny tiny writing. Small and crisp. Just an idea. No need to develop it.
After amazing myself by actually managing to write a few of these, I then googled it to see HOW to write it. Well. Bugger that. I can’t do rules. I’m already chained. I don’t need writing rules to chain myself further. If that means my microfiction is a failure, then, well, heh, so what’s new. But I like it. And I like doing it. My imagination is being exercised. And in the long run, getting my imagination operating again is more important than having time to write.
LOWTIDE is my first ever attempt at writing something huge in a tiny space.
Thirty-six years ago today, I arrived in London. It was a dream come true. It was the beginning of a new life. I was going to be a Writer.
It didn’t start well. I left home under something of a dark cloud, communication with my mother in pieces. Once embarked on the crappy Luxair plane, just before take-off, I suddenly realised that I was making a horrible mistake. I was going to a country I knew nothing about and was completely unprepared for. Without the luxury of the internet, I had no data whatsoever. It was truly a step into the unknown. And I was also going with a guy I thought I was in love with but actually didn’t like very much and who made me feel stupid. It turned out I was right, though in those days, the words “coercive control” didn’t exist.
We didn’t fly straight to the UK but stopped off first in Amsterdam where the boyfriend wanted to meet up with an old friend who had fled to the Netherlands to escape the army draft in South Africa. My mother had bought me a brand-new suitcase with wheels. Five minutes on the cobblestones and they all broke off. Later, we sat on the edge of a canal, the boyfriend and the friend and his girlfriend chatted endlessly about things I knew nothing of. Not only was I painfully shy and lacking in opinions, I’d also had a very sheltered life and was quite unworldly. Suddenly I stood up and ran. I ran away from these horrible people, this horrible guy I’d gone away with, the horrible, grey squalid country I found myself in, running and running and running until I had no breath left.
The boyfriend ran after me and reprimanded me for making a scene, for embarrassing him, for being so impolite and selfish. You’d have thought I’d realise then but I didn’t. I never did. I never realised anything. I just lurched from one bad scene to another. I got away from that boyfriend into the clutches of one much, much worse, and the one after that that almost destroyed me. I spent most of my life running. I ran away from everything until it became a metaphoric escape – nowadays I escape into dreams.
It can’t be a coincidence that I fell pregnant when I was thirty-six. I was, by that time, divorced, working full time in a bookshop, doing an astrophysics degree and still trying to get published. Twenty years later and I have a fab daughter doing an astrophysics degree, I work in a library, and I’m still trying to get published. The best I can say is that I’m still writing, writing, writing.
The first shock I had when arriving in London was the weather. I had been told (by my mother) how much colder it was, that it rained constantly, that the weather was soft and gentle. Maybe global warming had changed things since the 1960’s, but this was not the London she remembered. On the sixth of August, 1984, London was grey, sticky, humid, filthy and utterly horrible. The weather thirty-six years later is exactly the same, only much hotter. Other shocks followed.
The dream of London was a lie. I couldn’t write. I had no education. I’d like to say that in the intervening years these things have changed, that I’ve found my dream, that I’ve taught myself to write, that I’ve managed to educate myself about life; in fact, all that’s happened is that I’ve learned to live with it. I don’t care as much. The word “failure” slams into my head often and I have to pick myself up out of many dismal days and dreadful disappointments, trying to find the strength to go on.
It’s all very well wishing that things had been different. I wish I’d gone to Stellenbosch Uni after high school and read English. I wish I’d lived in Cape Town for a while, away from my parents but still in the same country, before embarking on a more successful tour of Europe. I wish I’d been able to think for myself, to make my own decisions, to find a path in life that actually led somewhere. I wish I’d grown up knowing my father, even remotely, visiting him once or twice in New York, and settling those issues. I wish I could have offered my daughter a better beginning, instead of the abject poverty I found myself in when she was born, abandoned by friends and relations, living on wishes.
Ugh. Once you go down the “I wish” path, there’s no way of finding your way back.
I ended up hating August because it was the month I arrived in the UK. It's the hottest, stickiest, greyest, filthiest month of the year, and the rain – if there is any – is just sky sweat. I’ve tried to get over this anniversary of hell. I’ve tried not to succumb to those feelings of failure every 6th of August. This year it all rolled back: the sky is full of grey, sticky sweat. It’s clammy and hot and horrible. My future is uncertain, my past a hellhole. But for the first time, I’ve decided to change it. I’m no longer the unworldly girl who couldn’t decide anything. Whatever life taught me, it at least gave me stamina.
So here it is: Instead of wishing my life away and not living it, instead of trying to SEE what’s down the road, trying to shape futures out of nothing, trying to force a life to live, I’m just going to –
I’m going to –
I’m going to enjoy it.
I've been trying to find an agent for Honeysuckle Rage and the Everlasting Tree for nearly two years now. In that time, I’ve become utterly convinced that my bright, shining, lovely novel that I thought everyone would like was a piece of trash. But reading this blog by Grant P. Hudson has made me rethink my despondency. Are agents rejecting my work because they think the story is BAD or do they just not LIKE it? Because the difference is huge. What worries me is that agents/publishers/editors only look for work that they like: they’re not judging the stories on their actual merit.
This doesn’t really change anything in the long run – I have to keep approaching agents until one of them either LIKES my work or is able to judge its merit with a cool head and decide that it’ll make mega-bucks (which is ultimately all that counts in the long run.)
But at the very least, it’s more comforting to think that my work DOES have merit that hasn’t been recognised yet than go about convinced that everything I write is rubbish.
I live in Bloomsbury.
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