A realisation:

I’m currently reading – and very near to finishing – David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. To say that I’m loving it is an epic understatement. I’m finding it strange, and wonderful, and gripping, and beguiling. Hilarious  in places, the literary scene leg pulling; laugh out loud hilarious. And delightful too, from a writerly, rather than readerly, perspective. When David Mitchell plays with language, he really plays; poetic writing that riots across the page, teasing  with rhythm, with balance, with alliteration, with semantic strings of meanings and oppositions. In my opinion – humble or otherwise – he is a writer’s writer: fearlessly, genre bendingly, inventive.

It’s not overstating the case to say, that whilst reading The Bone Clocks, I arrived at an epiphany. A moment of clarity, if you will. A reference is made, in the novel, to a piece of music I had not come across before. I’m not particularly au fait with Sibelius, but for some reason I had to stop reading to google The Swan of Tuonela. A rewarding hiatus in reading, for it gave me a thing of beauty, and an inspiration, a way back into the story I began in my aborted NaNoWrimo effort. And it gave me the realisation that all stories are maps. They show us the way – if we are receptive to seeing – the way into other stories, and the stories of others. They show us ways into ourselves, and the way through our own stories. They show us the path behind us, that brought us to here, to now. And they show us all the ways forward. This may already have been blindingly obvious to you. Intellectually, I knew it. But, listening to the music, I felt it. Epiphanic. And, ecstatic.

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Things that are Epic

I’ve been away from social media quite a lot lately. And that’s okay. I have decided to treat this year as one of transition, rather in the manner of AD69 (the year of the four emperors), although considerably less bloody. Hopefully, less bloody.

I haven’t written anything new this year, yet. I have been editing, polishing, tweaking. I will be submitting again, too. I have been having some seriously odd dreams. And I am LOVING being the mother of an eleven-and-a-half year old girl when there is so much excellent stuff by Joss Whedon to show her. We’re up to Season 5 of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and have been to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, twice. The other night I showed her the first Iron Man flick. And she loves it, and she gets it, and it’s all brilliant, and to use her word, EPIC. I’m smiling as I type this, just thinking about what she has yet to see, and how much she is going to love it.

The other thing I have been doing, is reading. I recently finished The Waterborne Blade, by my very good friend Susan Murray (Angry Robot Books, 9780857664358) Once upon a time, before I had my daughter, and could still burn the candle at both ends without serious repercussions (so about 12 years ago…) I would have devoured this book in one night, and then kicked myself for not drawing it out longer because the next instalment will not be published for another year. As it was, I managed to eke out the reading of it, even deliberately slowing down, in order to prolong the enjoyment of it. For this is fast-paced fantasy of the highest order. The reader is plunged headfirst into court politics, and danger. There is no omniscient narration, so no sense of Destiny hooded and cloaked walking the land signposting all the important things that haven’t happened yet. We see the land – and the situations – as and when the main characters see them, depending on whose head we’re in at the time. Any references to the past are momentary and incomplete, acts of memory triggered by scene, or scenario: a nice touch of realism that prevents heavy info-dumping, and keeps the pace going. Not once does it slow down. Because the chapters are short, the level of tension is consistently maintained – rather like a steady hand turning the rack (can’t think why I thought of that simile!). The plot is anything but predictable, and the characters properly rounded. There is mystery, and magic, and the practicalities of life on the open road (people actually need to pee). I found that I cared a good deal about Alwenna, alternately infuriated and worried by her, and by Ranald Weaver, the Kingsman whose loyalty is tested and divided and tested again. In short, this is epic, intelligent fantasy that doesn’t rely on excessive sex and violence to pad it out. Read it! But don’t rush it – there’s at least a year to wait for the sequel.

An evening just after Midsummer

Lose some, lose some. After rewriting the thing I was rewriting, it has been rejected by a different editor from the same zine. This editor didn’t get the beginning, although she says my writing is ‘ambitious in a good way, but…’ <head desk>… Ah well. I’ve already sent it on elsewhere, more for the sake of something to do, than in any real hope. Moving on.

It occurred to me recently that my writing seems to involve shoes a great deal. Not a conscious decision, they just seem somehow to become important to the narrative they find themselves in. I even wrote a poem about shoes, way back in 2006 – a golden year when I discovered that I could write, although I’m certainly no poet. Am I a shoe fetishist? I’d certainly like to be! I have been known to while away the time gently browsing Manolos on the Neiman Marcus website, especially these… One day I will own a pair, preferably while I’m still able to walk in them – it’s important to have dreams, yes?

After some umming and ahhhing over whether to have a bash or not, I have decided to at least attempt something for the Terry Pratchett Prize. I have a little something emerging from the echoing caverns at the back of my head. Even if I decide not to submit it, it will at least be another iron in the fire, and will have got something out of my head and onto screen/paper that has been niggling me for nearly a year. So, another week or so to percolate, and then writing in earnest will begin in July. In which case I may as well do this. In for a penny, etc.

The weather has been rather lovely here this month. Last night I had the pleasure of listening to the blackbird’s evensong; he was perched on the top most branch of the ash tree behind our garden, and above him rose the golden moon, three-quarters full. The scent of philadelphus wafts from other gardens, and mingles with the honeysuckle and roses in ours. Midsummer is one of my favourite parts of the year. It was in Midsummer, back in 1979, that I first read The Wind in the Willows. And it is at this time of year that my favourite romantic novelist, Katie Fforde, annually brings out a new book. I am lucky enough to know her, to count her as a friend – she is truly lovely – and, in my bookselling capacity, I get to run the Stroud Bookshop stall at the Farmers’ Market, where Katie signs her latest hardback. We had a particularly good event this year; the advance publicity was excellent; the weather was good, so plenty of shoppers and fans were out and about, and this year Katie’s husband Desmond was also signing the book he’s edited. (And my small daughter helped me to set up the stall, then quietly drew some lovely pictures until it was time to pack up the stall again, in between hugging me whilst no-one was looking. We had a lovely lovely time.)

And finally, to bring this rather long post to an end, this week I finished reading Alison Weir’s excellent biography of Katherine Swynford, and Katie’s latest, A Perfect Proposal. The former is a fascinating account of 14th Century romance, politics and intrigue; the latter a delightful romp set in the West Country, New York and Connecticut (with shoes), that exactly hits the right spot for an enjoyable light read with some laugh-out-loud lines. And now I must fetch in the laundry.

Beginnings and Endings

Things have been a little slow here lately, largely owing to the ongoing battle with my own head. A combination of stress and poor sleep has culminated in a rather ugly migraine, which is still doing its best to linger. I am winning however, and damn me if I don’t prevail!

Before my head started doing its best to beat me up, I managed to finish my little unexpected foray into the genre of Horror. It still needs a proper title, and a major editorial overhaul at a later stage, but it was jolly good fun to write. I’ve shown it to a couple of people – and even though horror isn’t their thing, either – they loved it. This one might have legs…

I will be reworking the story that is currently on its 8th life, as soon as the new printer cartridge arrives. This one needs editing on the page in order to be effectively rewritten. And of course, the play-list will need reviving too; I’ll be listening to a lot of Muse, later this week; I need to, to get the right feeling for the Main Character. She’s a whole year old, born of listening to Muse after seeing The Watchmen at the cinema, last February. And recently I changed her name, just a little. The prospect of revisiting her, and her first story, makes me rather happy.

What else? I finally finished reading The Pregnant Widow. I have to say that I quite liked it. Bits of it – chunks of it – I found quite puerile. But then to take the meaning literally, perhaps that is Amis’ intent? Of course, I have not the experience of having been a confused young man trying to get laid – and more – during the sexual revolution; given that this is sold as an autobiographical novel, then I pity the poor sod. I seriously doubt that to have been his intent however. And the rest of it? Once into the swing of it, I rather enjoyed the reading of it. Interesting, thought provoking, even at times, arresting. I can’t say that I’m inclined to rush out and read his back-list though; too many books, too little time! So what will it be next? China Miéville’s The City and The City? Or Marina Lewycka’s We Are All Made of Glue? Or perhaps a change of pace, another foray into historical biography? Decisions…

Another thing which makes me inordinately happy is that the apple tree is about to firework into blossom – gloriously heady scented white blossom, and then the aquilegias will be out, and the wisteria will acquire fatly swelling buds, and then it all rushes together, this lovely season we call Spring.

Creatively rearranging my environment

Having decided to branch out further into the blogging world, I hereby own up to cheating a little. My first post here, is the most recent blog entry on my website – tweaked a bit here and there. (if you would like to look at my site, click here, it’s quite pretty really, and it has some examples of my writing, as well as the blog.) I’ve gone with WordPress for various reasons, including the fact that the RSS feed won’t work for my site – some glitch I can’t figure out – but also because it feels more visible, somehow. But enough self-indulgent self-justification, and on with the bloggery.

I have a new short story – a complete first draft – and another well on the way. As soon as the second is finished I’ll be going back to polish and reshape the first. Happiness is story shaped, oh yes. And the novel, still biding patiently in the wings…

The greasy beast insomnia has recently been rearing its head, so earlier nights have been called for – ah! the seduction of crisp white bedding, a mug of tea, and a bloody good book… or three. I’ve caught up on a lot of sleep, and a lot of reading. Over the last weekend – whilst wondering what to blog – I devoured Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winning blockbuster, Wolf Hall, and Lindsey Davis’ Roman detective fiction, Alexandria. Both are what I call pungent writers. Lindsey Davis immerses her readers in the Roman world; you can smell the heat, the sweat, the olive oil and the herbs, the fish sauce and the wood smoke. She writes with vivacious wit, and humour. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for years – well, how could I not be a fan of a woman who once rehearsed a knife fight with a friend, in the middle of a restaurant? – she has created a wealth of characters of whom I have become rather fond. And she presents an older world with a modern sensibility – but I wonder, sometimes, if what we call a modern sensibility is so modern after all? However you want to put it, the Roman world is rendered a recognisable place, even down to the nasal quality of the accent of a particular British tribe, located in what we know now as Birmingham.

Hilary Mantel too, immerses the reader, in the danger and intrigue of sixteenth century England. The canvas she paints is not so broad, but it is intimate. The historian Rosalind Miles once described Tudor political life as a series of conversations and crises taking place in small panelled rooms, the sound of running feet in the panelled corridors heralding the next news. So it is in Wolf Hall. Following the ebb and flow in Thomas Cromwell’s fortunes, from Cardinal Wolsey’s service to becoming Henry VIII’s fixer, the narrative is always immediate; intimate conversations between two or a few people, and every utterance, while laden with foreknowledge, foreshadowing what we know to be historically inevitable, reads as fresh, spontaneous, and could only have been spoken by that particular personage. Holbein’s portraits – and he also has a few lines, in a few scenes – are brought to life; blood, sweat and tears. And there is real humour to be found, as well as suffering. I laughed out loud, and yes, I cried, just a little bit. I ditched almost everything else that I was supposed to be doing in order to read this, and it’s only half the story. God knows when the second half will be finished, polished, published. Plus the additional year’s wait for the paperback. Anticipating a future delight.

Okay. So with the fruitcake I made today, that about counts for the miscellany. And now – drumroll please – the schoolboy error, and the third book. That feels as if it should be in capitals: the Third Book. The third book – and I am still reading it, not sure yet if I’m liking it – is Martin Amis’ The Pregnant Widow, published by Jonathan Cape. I’ve not read Amis before, so had no preconceptions. But I would have thought, that a writer of his  – if I believe the media – eminence, and with such a big hitting publisher, would notice a glaring misuse of apostrophe. Judge for yourself:

…an animal birthday is when you’re body happens to you…

(Amis, 2010, p.79)

Failure in copy-editing, failure in proof-reading… come on! It leaps out of the page to assault the reader in the eye.

And now this blog has gone on for far too long.