Archive for the ‘mothering’ Category

Girls. Fun.

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

A tiny bit of writing done today – notes on the second and third chapters of book three. The first chapter is provisionally called ‘fairy cake’. The third will be called ‘bovril’s walk’. Not sure about the second one yet.

I doubt the chapters will end up with titles, but it helps me keep track. I’m really looking forward to writing ‘screwdriver’ and ‘bites down on a towel’.

The note-taking was done in my car on the back of a class 2 NI contributions bill while McTiny was sleeping. We were outside West View Leisure centre waiting for a class to start. There was a programme about The Kennel Club on Radio 4, which inspired me.

The class itself was something to write home about. I could store it in the place where I repress the rest of my trauma, but that drawer is getting full. So for your reading pleasure: the class. A kind of yoga / circuits / physio / new circle of hell type of class where you can take your progeny and be taught moves to ease your outraged abdomen back together.

I talked myself into going. Like this:

Come on Jenn, you need to get out of the house. It’ll make you feel better. Don’t be a tit, you might make friends.

I should have listened to the other Jenn, the Jenn who was quite happy being a tit and urging me to stay at home in my brown cardigan and scribble on the back of envelopes, leaning on McTiny’s back while he slept on my knee.

Picture me, if you will, running about in a circle with my arms outstretched, making little circles with my hands. Sleep deprived, shy and angry. Not owning the correct trainers either, I discovered. They played music.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (that’s all they really want).

What girls want:

not to have fun of any kind, better trainers – without having to enter a shoe-shop,
two hours more sleep, Bombay Sapphire, cake, not to walk in the sun.

I was on the brink of pretending I was nipping away for a wee and not coming back, (when you gonna live your life right?) but they had a Health Visitor on the door with a sheaf of leaflets about breast feeding and drinking and I didn’t dare.

Good Things

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

we did it!

Had a little bit of time out from the relentless editing (actually, I do about three hours a day, usually in the mornings and then have the rest of my time free so nothing to moan about) to travel to and attend a lovely family wedding, watch Small Fry do her duty as a flower girl, have a birthday and assist in the making of a birthday cake.

I forget to turn my face away from my computer sometimes: people can be kind of nice too. We are fairly anti social, keep ourselves-to-ourselves guys in this house but the last two months have seen a steady stream of supporting, helping, celebrating visitors and my misanthropy is gradually wearing down. It is sort of nice to be in a family.

In writing related but not actually writing news, I had a tricky and troublesome chapter of Cold Light given the five star reading treatment from my fiction group, who helped me see what I needed to do to fix it (tweaks rather than rewrites, which at this stage, is reassuring) and it was brilliant to have the kind of, ‘I wonder what happens next, I want to read the next bit’ response that I’m after from my talented crack-team of beta readers. I want to write suspenseful, gripping fiction. They claimed to be gripped, so I am happy.

A Kind of Intimacy has now been published in Italy – and the parcel of Italian copies arrived on my birthday. I can now say ‘that bloody sofa!’ in Italian. As well as that, news arrived that the Italian Vanity Fair has done an in-depth feature on the novel this month, and that the German rights for Cold Light have sold, and last but not least, due to my near constant feeding of him, the McTiny has put on a stupendous amount of weight.

Now allow me to digress onto Quotes From A Health Visitor –  a newly regular feature of my ranting on this blog. Took the McTiny to get weighed and measured and generally poked. The government likes to check these things now and again. We go into the waiting room, introduce ourselves but the two HVs, both older than my own mother, insist on calling us mummy and daddy, which in our sleep deprived state is nothing short of surreal. He’s bigger than he was last time. This works in our favour. So does the fact that we managed to put clothes on him – we were lavishly praised for this: oooh  – you’ve got his trousers on him! Well done! all said in a pitch only slightly lower than a dog whistle.

Do I really, really look like the sort of person who is not capable of putting trousers on a baby? Is anyone not capable of putting trousers on a baby? Who are these people? Next appointment – two weeks. I will have finished my edits on Cold Light by then and will, hopefully, be in a sweeter mood.

I Make Stuff Up

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

I’ve had a week of furious typing, post-its, scribbling in pencil and… filling in forms. With the arrival of a new person into the world comes a whole host of forms needed to prove the poor blighter’s existence to the government / NHS / my landlord. He doesn’t even have a real pair of shoes yet (we have been remiss in this, but I’ve a novel to finish and in this house if you don’t walk, you don’t get shoes) and yet we’ve had to jump through all kinds of hoops to get him a birth certificate, registered with a doctor, alert the fine people at HMRC to his existence and justify my own continuing existence to a health visitor. All activities that are accompanied by forms, questions and questionnaires.

I’m a grumpy get at the best of times (you hadn’t noticed?) but PLEASE, when I’m working to a deadline, on much less sleep than I’d like and have a bit of a 1000 piece Disney jigsaw puzzle stuck to my hair with vomited breast-milk (he’s been easy on the crap, this past few days) DON’T look at me like I’m a deluded, sorry fantasist in need of intervention when you ask me what I do for a living for your bloody FORM and I answer honestly. Think of how many books there are in the world. Someone’s got to write them, haven’t they?

My favourite quiz of the week is the one they use to check if you’re depressed or not. Tick boxes. Do you feel like harming yourself and / or others a) never b) sometimes c) on a near constant basis. I answer C, and clarify that this isn’t a post-partum thing, but is how I always feel, especially when asked invasive questions by someone I’ve never met before who invited themselves around to my house and sneered at me when I told them what I do for a living, (really? That’s nice. And what did you do for a job?.) then followed it up by asking me what my husband thought of it… (very little, I should imagine).

I’m not going to tell these people I’m a writer any more. I’m going to say I’m a detective, a spy, a magician. I’m a consultant escapologist. I’m a private eye. I’m Columbo’s wife. I’m Mrs Hudson, Sherlock Holmes’ landlady. I’m Harriet the Spy. I’m a cross between Nancy Drew and Nana Mouskouri. I make stuff up. I type very fast in two hour bursts, sometimes at night, sometimes holding the baby, sometimes while eating breakfast.

Here’s an ambivalent review of A Kind of Intimacy from L-Magazine, ‘New York City’s Local Event and Arts And Culture Guide.’

Spanner + Crap

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

The spanner in the works of my grand master plan (2-4 hours of editing a day until the end of August, fitted in around and between naps and/or achieved by foisting Offspring onto family / bystanders) is the Summer Holidays – which are fast approaching. How can I write when there’s no school during the day? How did I forget about the summer holidays? Who gets five whole weeks off?

Today and yesterday was my first taste of looking after two children at once and on my own. Cheesy Peeps! Highlights of the days include: being covered in crap at various points. Having crap (actual crap – I’m not being writerly here) in my hair. Taking a full three hours to get two children washed, fed and dressed and realising at the end of it I was neither washed, fed nor dressed myself. It will get less tricky as I do it more often, like everything does (except for driving, speaking in public, making friends, losing friends, writing books) but today I am shattered.

And need to do my 2-4 hours once Offspring are asleep.

Luckily, this quiet, painstaking, solitary type of work where the only noise is the scrape of the pencil and the clatter of my keyboard is exactly the sort of thing I want to do and just the sort of activity to soothe my frazzled nerves after my days of chaos. I also plan on devoting a tiny amount of time to preparing a speech directed at Himself – convincing him that we need to hire a wife of some kind; someone to look after us and deal with the crap (actual).

I am not good at realising I have (actual) crap in my hair, or working out how you’re supposed to take a shower when there are two small people competing for your attention, or stopping myself from unleashing a torrent of gutter-language when I realise, just as I’ve stood on a piece of Lego in my bare feet, again, that there’s crap on my bed (actual). I am not good at being able to cook / iron / drink tea with a baby under one arm AND a Small Fry demonstrating her new bubble dance.

I am good at fearsome amounts of will power and mind-over-matter type behaviour though. My self discipline is enormous. Never underestimate how much of writing well is turning up at the desk when you don’t want to. Bum in chair, every day, until the days stack up and become a novel. Joyce Carol Oates wrote in her journals that even when her ‘soul was as thin as a playing card’ and she felt she had nothing in her to put down on the page, she’d get to her desk and the act of writing sorted her out (I’m paraphrasing – too tired to go and get the book and check).

I am off to sharpen my pencils again. Wish me luck.

There and Back Again

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

I’m back now… hooray! Nice things happened while I was away. I had a new baby called McTiny (we’re both fine and fit and thank you for all the emails and messages I haven’t had chance to respond to yet) and A Kind of Intimacy was reviewed in The Boston Globe and King of The Little Magazines.

I’ve been out of the hospital a couple of days now and we’re gradually settling into things. Still managing to do a little bit of work during nap-times. It is good that I’ve been pre-trained by the Small Fry into managing interruptions, working in small bursts, sleeping in small bursts and typing, eating and loading a washing machine with a baby in the other hand because it’s not as hard as I thought it would be to settle into it again.

Gosh – hospital is depressing though, isn’t it? I’m not a people-person at the best of times and my privacy is really important to me. Spending nearly a week in a room with other people, their ugly babies and irritating visitors and having eyes touching me whenever I did anything did not do wonders for my mental health. I won’t mention the midwife who clattered between rooms at four in the morning, refusing to help me until she’d located the right colour blanket (can’t possibly wrap him in pink – who knows what would happen?) or the woman who slept all day and cried, loudly, into her mobile phone all night. Or the fact that I spent £15 quid on television. Or the whole ward being asked to confess who got the inside of the shower room wet (imagine us giggling, clutching at damaged midriffs and trying not to catch each other’s eyes). There were nice people there and good parts though. Like the midwife who stayed five hours after her shift ended, even though she had her own Small Fries and McTinies waiting for her at home – just because she wanted to make sure I was fine and settled before she went off duty.

And the over-hearings! Still time to perfect your submission to Bugged! As I was leaving, I heard one midwife say this to another one:

‘she was never the same after those incidents – you know, that series of events – last year.’

I shuddered. Steal it for a story if you wish, I’ve already got mine and my Bugged submission will be appearing on the website soon.

One last thing while I’m here: it has come to my attention that some of you are finding it tricky to subscribe to the feed for this blog. This is being sorted out, possibly as I type, but in the meantime, if you go to the front page and click on the orange button or use this address that should work. Leave a message for me in the comments if you’re still having trouble.

How it is Done

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

I have been enjoying reading Kim’s posts about the evolution of her short story The Shoes from an idea into a Loomidob (technical term).

Here’s the first post and here’s the second one. Both well worth reading for an insight into what happens when you are drafting, editing and reading-like-a-writer all at the same time. I am curious about it because it shows a writer very aware of her own process and I’m not sure if that’s the effect of writing something inside the confines of an academic course, of because that’s the way this particular writer is.

I think I’d like to write something like that for the way I worked on Cold Light but it would be all lies in retrospect and my process is so messy and trial and error that, like the insides of my cupboards, I’d be ashamed to let anyone see it. I would dearly love to know what I am doing when it goes well so that I can do it again, but it hasn’t worked out like that so far. Although it has improved slightly.

Last week when I was fretting over the impossibility of writing another novel, I remembered things about lists and diaries and time off and CALM and resting and ‘we don’t get paid much, so it’s okay to have lies in and take afternoons off when you need to’ which are all things I learned when I was being mentored, and help a lot still.

Yesterday afternoon I did CALM typed up all my notes about number three (need to call it something – I called Cold Light number two for ages, but only because that was comedy gold) and arranged them into a rough synopsis. I’m challenging myself to develop a structure – to decide about things like point of view and tense and time-scale first rather than let it evolve on it’s own. That’s because I want to do something a little bit more complicated and challenging this time and I have an idea for the sort of thing I would like to try. I have not done it before. I don’t know if I can.


I also made a list of things that I need to research. Lists are excellent.

I will spend what time I have to read and work over the summer finding out about:

Crufts. The various categories, how you enter, how much you win, what the day is like.
My two settings: Salt Lake City, Utah and Chorley, Lancashire.
Being a Post Man. Secrets and tricks of the trade.
Long term faecal incontinence caused by unresolved birth injuries.*
Heathrow Airport.

That’s about it for now. My agent needed to see my plan and hear about the next book. When I told him about it he said it sounded ‘fab’ and very ‘Ashworthian’ which is I think a good sign.

It is no wonder I am not working very well. I am a cocktail of gestation hormones. I can’t sit at my desk without a person head-butting me in the ribs. I had a bad dream last night that the Mr had touched, moved or otherwise disturbed my ludicrous pile of cot-blankets (it will be summer, and McTiny will be sleeping with me anyway… pointless blankets) and woke up so angry I had to poke him awake, shout at him and then check the blankets.

No-one can produce the great British novel under these circumstances.

*note to self – do not google this until Later This Year.

# 15 16 17 / 100

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

A ‘fossilised stone’ found in the school playground by my geologist-in-the-making-daughter who knows that birds are dinosaurs in disguise, reading and writing together, having someone who will go and buy my printer cartridges because I can’t be bothered.

# 13 14 / 100

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Small Fry, unexpected presents, roast potatoes.

Sophie Hannah at Ormskirk Library

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

I mentioned in my last post that things have been bedlam here in Preston. As well as racing to finish Cold Light (I’m on the dull parts of editing now… tweaking sentences and figuring out if it’s Woolworths or Woolworth’s or Debenhams or… you get the gist) I was out in Ormskirk Library at the weekend hosting an event with Sophie Hannah and Martin Edwards as part of the work I do putting on events for the Lancashire Writing Hub.

Martin Edwards unfortunatley found himself unable to join us, but Sophie read and talked to us all about her first four novels, her forthcoming novel and even her plans for her sixth – which sounds intriguing.

Sophie is a writer who I’ve been following for a while – I read Little Face when it first came out, and have since read the rest of her novels – as well as her short story collection (although not, to my shame, any of her poetry). I love the impossible scenarios that kick-start her plots and the way that mystery, secrecy and suspense are always the main narrative motors of her fiction. We read on because we want to find things out. As Sophie said in her talk, books that have mysteries in them are always far superior to books that don’t have mysteries in them. I also love the way she portrays motherhood in her work (truthfully, and without sentiment would be one way of putting it) and the fact that the women in her plots take centre stage without ever becoming crime-fiction stereotypes.

During the event, I got to ask Sophie questions and so did the audience. After hearing how she starts her novels – with an intriguing, mysterious situation she isn’t quite sure how to resolve… (what would happen if a woman insisted the baby lying in her daughter’s cot was not her own, and her husband insisted that it was… or this one here) I had to ask her if she’d ever concocted one of these opening conundrums and been unable to resolve it. Partly because I thought the audience would be interested in any bottom-of-the-drawer novels Sophie had not published, and because I wanted to know for my own writing. What happens when you get a great idea, but just can’t make it work?

She said no. Nope – no conundrums she’s been unable to resolve, because she doesn’t let herself consider that an option, and the rigour and limitations involved in writing a plotted crime novel that must resolve the situation evoked over the first few chapters is actually an aid to her creativity, and not a barrier to it. That struck a chord with me – both the confidence and the refusal to do failure, and the way that in my own experience of writing Cold Light and struggling, as I always do, with how to resolve the ending. Once I’d decided to jettison part of an idea that would not work, and concentrate on the characters and plot points that did make sense, resolving the whole thing became much easier and more enjoyable. I’ve given up a novel in the past – although in retrospect, this was because the characters and the theme quickly lost their appeal, rather than anything tricky about the plot getting the better of me. 

That’s all. I don’t do book reviews on this blog, or anywhere, in fact. What I do is recommendations. If you like dark, literate crime fiction, then you’ll probably like Sophie Hannah’s novels.

Blog Free

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

I’ve had a whole week on annual leave from my library job, and I’ve been able to spend lots of extra time with the small-fry.

Who told me yesterday she liked playing with me and me NOT being on the computer like I was ALWAYS not having my eyes on her but TYPING a story and she would not wait one more minute but play with me NOW.

She’s got blue eyes, and her iris goes violet when she’s pissed off. It’s a stop-typing-put-your-eyes-on-my-eyes warning. Scary. Apparently, I’ve got a look like that too.

Guilt comes with motherhood and it’s there no matter what you do, but if you’re owed email, blame her, not me. I’m off to do some dressing up for a fairy-castle tea-party with my very own enemy of promise right now.

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Preston Train Station
by Tony Worrall