Archive for the ‘middle’ Category

Hard At It

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

I had a day off yesterday – because it was my birthday! Top Banana!

I spent most of the day playing Supermarkets with the Small Fry, and a fairly large portion of it in a bubble bath with a new book. It’s nice to be able to take the odd Monday off, but I’ll be paying for it on Sunday.

One of the treats I gave myself for my birthday was to turn the computer and telephone off for a full twenty-four hours. I highly recommend it. Although what a nice surprise it was to come back and find this nice review of A Kind of Intimacy on the It’s a Crime! blog and the fact that the Annie-book has garnered more than a vote from my mum on the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize voting. The voting is open for another few days, and with 46 books on the list there is bound to be something that takes your fancy.

But no more blogging. The first session with the mentor went excellently well – we talked about managing time, and how to approach a task as unwieldy as finishing a novel. I have a feeling being mentored is going to be good for me. I now have a list of tasks booked into my diary all to do with getting Cold Light neat and tidy. And one of these appointments starts now, with the final editing of a scene I’ve been avoiding for ages because I am lazy, and it looks like its going to be a tricky one. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Novel number 2

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

I don’t normally do this, but here is a bit of novel number 2. I will probably read it tonight at the Manchester Blog Awards.

Novel number 2 is going well. I think I am going to be ready to let other people see it by Christmas. This is the first unveiling. A mini unveiling.

Ta da.

Once John and I got down from the roof, I let him into my flat. He went into the kitchen and started making noises with my cupboard doors. I perched on the edge of the couch with my coat on and used the remote control to turn on the television. I heard the static on the curved screen fizz as the picture warmed up, and waited to be proved right.

The man reading the news was the usual one. Gordon Best. He’s semi famous in the local area because he always wears a suit jacket and a pink shirt. Various ties, often seasonal. But always, always the pink shirt.

Sometimes his fans send him in different coloured shirts for Christmas and urge him to ring the changes, but he is never seen wearing anything but pink. He might only have one shirt, or five hundred that are all the same.

Woolworth’s sell pink shirts and they did a special promotion for them in the window with a big poster of Gordon. It didn’t say it in so many words but it strongly suggested that Gordon Best bought his shirts from Woolworth’s. The management of the news programme he presents complained and told them to take it down.

There’s a postcard you can buy in the bus-station kiosk – him, with his thumbs up to the camera. The caption along the bottom, which is in the same kind of glowing green writing that the Twin Peaks opening credits are done in (although I don’t think many people will have noticed that) says: REAL MEN WEAR PINK. That’s never been banned, mainly because it isn’t advertising anything except for Gordon himself, and because, I think, even though Gordon is a celebrity and a local hero who people really look up to around here, he’s still down to earth and doesn’t mind poking fun at himself.

Most of the people who live in this city have a story about seeing him getting on a bus, complaining about the wait at the post-office, carrying a rolled up towel into the swimming baths. I’ve seen him once before, or at least, I think it was him, suit jacket, pink shirt – hauling a heavy looking bin-bag from the back of his car, and dumping it on a verge by the side of the road. I told Lorraine about it, and she got all breathless and asked me what was inside the bag. When I said I’d never checked, she refused to give me any overtime for a month.

People like to see him – customers mention it a lot at the supermarket. ‘You’ll never guess who I saw today,’ they say, and you always shake your head, even though you know they’re about to say ‘Gordon Best, Face of the North West!’ which is the catchphrase he uses at the end of the news bulletin every night, unless the thing he’s just read out is too sad. In that case, he just stares solemnly at the screen until they fade him out.

He isn’t a regular at the supermarket, but apparently he’s been in before, one afternoon when I was at home in bed. No-one will confirm it, but there’s a rumour doing the rounds in the staffroom that Lorraine wanted to give him the staff discount, messed up putting her card number into the till, and ended up just giving him the whole trolley full for free. She didn’t even ask for a picture to put near the revolving doors.

It is hard to explain how important Gordon is for people who don’t live round here. Without noticeably aging or changing his shirt, he has presented the local news bulletin every evening for about twenty years which means he has been a part of most of the important things that have ever happened in this area.

Every time the river flooded. The time they tried to do a music festival in the park. That pub riot they had, and the ongoing debate about the multi-storey car-park on top of the bus-station. He’s opened the new markets, welcomes in the Whitsun fair and turns on the Christmas lights every year. He presents the book club certificates at the library, and he guest speaks at the AGM of the Real Ale Society. Gordon’s more of a fixture in some people’s lives than their families are, because whatever happens, good or bad – he’s there. If you were expecting bad news, Gordon would be the one you’d want to tell you.

Gordon is on the telly looking unflustered and dignified. He’s talking about a stabbing that happened two nights ago at the train station. It is old news now, but he is still appealing for witnesses, and cuts to a picture of the steps down to the platform, the police tape and browning heaps of garage carnations.

‘Anything on?’ John shouts from the kitchen. I can tell by the noise he is making that he’s got into my carrier bag drawer. I can hear the sound of sticky tape being peeled off the roll.


Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I am nearly nearly nearly nearly done with my first draft.

I am very excited. Starting is not the hardest bit. I start lots of things. Two or three days after I start is the hardest thing. I have thought of something else to start. I have to do something else like washing up or ironing trousers. I read what I have done so far back to myself and feel discouraged.

That’s the hardest thing. When I get over that hardest thing part completely I will be a writing genius. I decided to take myself in hand while feeling the hardest thing and think some positive thoughts.

Here are some of them.

1. You stood on a bull-dog clip once in your bare feet and it really, really hurt, and that was worse than this.
2. It is all right to pack it in if you really hate it. It won’t make a difference to the world. But you might feel bad.
3. This is better than the hot air balloon one.
4. You like doing this really, it is just the hardest bit, and after a bit you will be on the middle bit and that bit is a better bit.
5. You have done childbirth and labour. There can be no complaining after that.
6. You are a real person and should get on with this.
7. You do want to know how this ends, don’t you?

Then I got onto the middle. The middle is quite a hard bit too. You think, this is not how I planned it. And I have come too far to stop now but there is still quite a long way to go. And this is stupid I could be sleeping or watching telly or ironing trousers instead. You say, aha! I will not be a novelist anymore, I will be something else. I will refuse to do this terrible thing. Then you sober up and get yourself together and feel a bit ridiculous for complaining about something that no-one actually asked you to do anyway.

Then you get onto the nearly there bit. This is another good bit. You have lots of ideas for improvements for the second draft. You write those kinds of ideas down in a blue notebook with a picture of a fish on the front of it, and carry on anyway. You know when you read it back it is going to be disappointing and still need a lot of work. Like seven more drafts, if the last one is anything to go by. You click word count and feel pleased. You double space it and you do a spell check. You are nearly there!
You think fast and type fast and feel like a million trillions.

I have to think of a present that I will give myself when I finish the first draft. Because then I am going to take a week off and think about something else and look over my notes for improvements the second time round and read some good books. This treat should be quite a good treat, but not an excellent treat. The excellent treat is for when the last draft is done.

Fish Book Update

Monday, March 17th, 2008

I am up to Chapter Five now. According to my plan there are going to be fourteen chapters and a kind of extra bit at the end. Like a short story, for free. A coda. Not an epilogue. Right now my narrator is running down a hill very fast, and it is frosty. I might let her fall down, or not, depending on what mood I am in tomorrow. That part isn’t in the plan. I am glad I left enough blank spaces in the plan for me to still have some surprises when I am doing the writing.

Because I’ve decided to not do any tinkering until I’ve got it all down, I have decided to write some parts of it with my own fountain pen instead of on the computer. So I can’t give word-count updates. I think I’ve probably got about 20k words on the computer and another 4 or 5 k in my big blue and green stripy notebook which one of my friends gave to me for the express purpose of planning a presentation I am due to give at a library conference in a couple of months.

One of the scenes in the library-presentation book is about an old fridge dumped by the side of the river that has got lots of flies and maggots inside. There are also pink flowers on the river bank: Fireweed, or Rosebay-willow herb. Fireweed is a kind of nickname for it. It grows very quickly in asky soil and it was the first plant to grow in the ruins of the bombed out houses during the Second World War. The Fish Book is set in winter when there is no Fireweed so this scene will have to be a flashback or I will keep it for something else. It wasn’t in the plan.

I think real writers go to secret parties in each others houses and when they are drunk they put their books on the table and measure them, and say, that’s a million words, that, and it only took me three months. Then someone else says, oh, mine’s fifteen thousand words but it took me all of my life including my puberty years, and no-one knows who is the hardest.

Really Excellent Writing

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

I have been doing some top banana writing the past few days. Maybe it was because I Went Crazy For Three Days and while I Was Crazy new circuits were made in my brain.

I think it might be because I have not done any smoking or drinking or caffeine for ages. I have been taking vitamins and brushing my teeth more than usual. I cleaned my room and washed all my bed linen and scrubbed the toilet because I didn’t want to get ill again.

I think I am probably rancid with health. I am brimming with good ideas and intentions. I think I am probably going to live to be a hundred and write a gaggle of wonderful novels. Which will all be rejected by everyone who is anyone.

I have to move house soon. I have been preparing for this by throwing my things away. I have almost no things now. I really like what that feels like.

I have been working on my new novel and I have also been writing a short story. There’s a certain place I want to submit this story so if they take it you will be able to read it. If they don’t take it I will put it on here and you can read it for free. It is going to be called something like ‘a plan for going to work’ or ‘my job: the plan’ or something like that. I am not good at titles. You could name this story if you liked.

You can name my novel too. It should have something about Deep Sea Fish in the title. The main characters are called Lola and Chloe. There are two murders in it, but not gory ones. I want it to be a bit like a Greek Tragedy. I am not sure exactly what that means. What I mean is, I want to feel the feelings I felt when I first read about the House of Atreus when I read this thing I am writing. I am getting there.

Soapbox #1845

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

I have been doing lots of writing seeing as I have taken a week off to do writing. Mainly because if I don’t do writing, I will go back to work and be annoyed and my borrowers will not get the impeccable customer service I have led them to expect. For example:

Borrower No. 1: I don’t know how you can serve them! (he’s talking about the Vulnerable Prisoners, or VP’s – he thinks they must all be paedophiles, but most of the time, they’re not)
Jenn: I do the books, I’ll chat to anyone about books.
Borrower No 2: She’s saying we’re all the same to her.
Borrower No 1: You think we’re all scum, don’t you?
Jenn: No, I don’t think you’re all scum. If you like Martina Cole, you might be interested to know she’s just got a new one out. Shall I order it for you? Might be a bit of a wait (smiles)
Borrower No 1: She said we’re all scum! I’ve got RIGHTS!

Writing is much harder than this: there is much less conversation, and I like a conversation every now and again. Of course I talk to myself, and for me writing is nothing more than talking to myself, at length, to find out what I think about things. Except it is more dishonest than that. Writing is about rewriting – I don’t know what do to with a blank page (except to write about my borrowers for a little while to fill up some of the space until I can get going) but give me a few thousand words of my quickly-typed thoughts and I can spend a happy few evenings trying to hammer it into a story.

Which is what I have been doing. Ask me how many words I’ve got on my long thing that isn’t a novel. Go on, ask me. Okay – it is…. 13,651. Ta Da!

Editing, rewriting, drafting, or whatever you call it in your part of the world, is my almost favourite thing. It is not beginning, but you don’t need to think about the end either. I’m hardly at middle yet, but I’m just going, making sure it all makes sense. Checking the product for bad writing and taking it out, and thinking of good writing to put in.

Bad writing is description, similes, dialogue that doesn’t sound like real people, things that aren’t true, scenes or images or events that are ‘charming’ or ‘enchanting’, anything that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing I think about, anything that sounds like the sort of thing I put in because I was imagining who would read it, or because of a book I might have been reading at the time. It is ‘chilling’ or ‘disarming’ or ‘wise beyond it’s years.’

Good writing is short, and when it is not short it is no longer than it needs to be, it contains not many describing words, no cliches of expression or emotion, no sentiment, not too soppy but not too dark, says what I imagine I think about things, embarrassing if someone else read it, clear, conveys the image or the idea or the person, doesn’t have a purpose other than to tell the things it tells, isn’t like someone else I’ve read recently, doesn’t lie but is more truthful than telling the truth. It is mixed up with real life and things or people that exist outside typing, but the real things and the made-up things can no longer be separated. In good writing there is so much space between the lines and letters that the reader does as much of the work as I have done. Good writing is designed to be incomplete until it is read: it is collaborative. It might have swear-words in it, but it doesn’t have to.

Today I have written about a chemist’s shop, a yoga class, an angler fish, a rock thrown at a Down’s Syndrome boy, a Christmas tree, a very expensive cashmere wrap, a new camera and a man who licks his thumb whenever he thinks about Suko.

The Middle

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Getting to the end might be a fantasy, but being stuck in the middle is something close to a nightmare (slightly less of a nightmare than being at the beginning, or in the prebeginning blur, which is nothing short of terrifying, but that’s for another day).

Not so bad for short stories, because I’ve a brain competent enough to hold the span of one of those in my head, and the guilt about leaving them unfinished is significantly less. But novels are horrible.

The middle bit is just nasty. I’ve forgotten how I started and I don’t remember how I wanted it to end. Or I know how I want it to end – The End has been the target I have been writing at for the past however long, but not a clue how to get there. Or I’ve changed my mind about the end, or the beginning, or about wanting to do writing at all. (If you are reading this out loud you should do the last paragraph in a voice of rising panic.)

The middle has a voice all of its own. It says: ‘no-one’s ever going to give you a hot air balloon for this!’ It says: ‘you can’t say that, people will laugh at you, people will know what you think about when you are sitting still on trains.’ It says: ‘people expect a person with an English Degree to be able to punctuate and construct attractive sentences, and you’re about to reveal that you can’t!’ and it says: ‘you do realise this whole idea is quite daft?’

I say, ‘you’re absolutely right,’ and try to carry on anyway. When it asks me why I am doing what I am doing (the kidney punch, the low blow, fighting dirty) I ignore the question because I cannot lie well enough to invent a plausible answer.

Managing to continue has (so far) relied on not being good at anything else. I can cook, but no-one ever kept themselves company in the evenings doing that.

Sometimes there are forty or fifty thousand words on my computer which represents a lot of child and friend neglect, a lot of wine and smoking, a lot of ranting and scrawling on buses and obsessing. The fantasy ending is not yet in sight, but I’ve come too far along to be able to jack it in either. Even though I want to, every day.

But I lie every day too, which is how, I imagine, these things eventually do get finished.

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