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.