Sharing the journey

Tonight, I finished sharing all things Middle Earth with my daughter. We watched the last half of Return Of The King together before I packed her off to bed. She is enthralled with all of it, and especially the elves, and the Rohirrim. I am thrilled that she loves it as much as I do.

The thing is, I can never seem to get over how much I love this story, and its power to transport me, and to move me. I cry at the end of the book, and the films. I cry absurd amounts, stupid amounts. My mascara is beyond reparable. And I really don’t care who knows it. Whatever the flaws in Peter Jackson’s films – and they are many – there are just as many things that to me feel utterly right. And the music… Howard Shore’s music is as important as everything else put together, in realising this fantastic world that Tolkien built. A world built out of words. Now that is magic. And that, I think, is the thing that made me want to write. Even if I never get so far, even if my words reach no one, touch no one, transport no one. Still I will try. This magic is what I want to make, ultimately. One word at a time, however long it takes, and however many knock backs, and rejections, and failures there will inevitably be.

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Taking Stock, Part II

2010 is almost done with. 2011 almost ready to begin. And what have I done with the time that has been given to me? I’ve been angry, a lot. I’ve been ridden by the black hag-bitch Depression. I’ve had rotten miserable damned inconvenient back pain. I drove a petrol car for the first – and so far only – time – my husband was terribly brave – it was our first ever brand new car! (Yes, it’s still in one piece.) I had a wonderful time at a friend’s party, drinking Cosmopolitans, and owned up to the vodka hangover the next day. (Note to self, vodka hangovers are vile horrible things, even though Cosmos are delicious.)

What else? I’ve written a lot, I’ve been rejected – and not just by editors – a lot, and I’m gearing up to go through most of all that again. I’ve watched my daughter begin to blossom from a little girl to a more sophisticated, complicated little girl, and am much amused by her frequent exasperation with me ; ‘mu-um’ is becoming a normal noise in this house. We have a lovely time together, mostly being silly, giggling a lot. I love giggling with my daughter – there will definitely be a lot more of that in 2011.

I’ve enjoyed glorious weather in Devon, and in Bulgaria. I’ve listened to music and let it take me to new places in my head. I’ve started this blog; that was pretty momentous, wondering if anyone would ever read it, and you are, and I thank you. It’s nice to know I’m not just shouting into the void. Again, I thank you.

The snow happened – I’ve had my first ever white christmas – so what if snow was not actually falling from the sky in this neck of the Cotswolds? It was still beautiful, and as long as I wear my red wellies, I don’t fall over. Perhaps they are imbued with some sort of super-power…? (Sadly the thaw has set in, and all is now sadly dank and muddy where once it was crisply gleaming white.)

I made sloe gin for the first time, and I’m drinking some now – it is truly delicious and  without the vicious nastiness of a hangover next morning. I have learned that not all friendships are equal, that not all friends are worth the wait when they say one thing and do another, make promises and consistently fail to keep them. I’m better off without them. That lesson has cost me a lot in terms of hours and days of despair; time that I’ll never get back, and can bill no one for. That makes me angry, but que sera, progress is progress, and perhaps one day I’ll achieve some sort of equanimity.

So what’s coming in 2011? Lychees. Every year begins with lychees. Otherwise the only thing I can say with any certainty is that I’ll be turning 40.

Apart from that? Who knows? Bring it on.

I want to write like music

So it’s December. At last! The rest of the country appears to be largely snowed under, while in my corner of the Cotswolds we have barely more than a few really hard frosts to contend with. It is bloody cold though – I’m typing this with two blankets over my knees, a pashmina swathed around my shoulders and head, wearing fingerless gloves while the fire blazes.

I won. By November 29th I completed 50000 words. Sadly the last 4000 words were nothing to do with the rest of the novel. Owing to a madly busy weekend of real life stuff, I lost my focus, and could not get it back. So I resorted to off the cuff stream of consciousness, a rambling, drivelling cascade of puerile rubbish. I uploaded the file for verification, achieved winner’s purple, and then deleted the whole sorry mess. So the work in progress is still a work in progress, and I’m stuck in a scene that I cannot remember the point of, or how to get to the end of, because my focus has evaporated. This is beyond frustrating, as you may imagine. So I’m conducting a little experiment. This month I intend to write as little as possible. I’ll still be thinking, and plotting, and scribbling in my notebook, but until this scene properly coalesces again, I’m not going near it. And there are plenty of other things with which I must fill my days and hours in the meantime. The Christmas shopping has begun; the cake is sitting, quietly tipsy, in its tin. The sloe gin lurks in the back of the cupboard, darkly luscious in its promise of a late night fireside tipple. There will be Christmas cards to make, parcels to wrap and post, paper stars and small felt stockings to make, the food list to compile etc etc etc. (Which reminds me, what on earth have I done with the Christmas card list?)

I have just looked out into the garden – it has been snowing. Everything is covered in a thin layer of royal icing.

During NaNoWriMo, I was listening mostly to film scores; their epic sweep helped me to focus. Thinking back over the previous month, thinking back over what I have been trying to write, the magic that I have been trying to capture, to infuse my words with, the emotions that I hope to instill, I realise that I am at an impasse.  For what I want is to be able to write like music, that seemingly effortless flow from note to note, that draws the listener into the narrative by the heart as well as the head. And  the grafting crafting side of me knows that the writing of that music was likely as filled with effortfull anguish as the words that I try to arrange into the sense that will make my story flutter. And yet, and yet… It’s all in the redrafting, and the editing. Or it will be, once I finish the first draft. And I will. But not this month.

In the meantime, I will endeavour not to burn the mince pies.

Thank you for the music

Shakespeare. I adore him, or rather I adore his way with words ( I suspect he may have been a bit smelly in person). Take the opening lines of Twelfth Night, lovelorn and sentimental though they are,

If music be the food of love, play on,

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.

(I,i, 1-3)

still they express the power of music, the sway it exerts over the imagination open to ‘shapes of fancy’ (I,i, 14).

Shakespeare, however, is not the point of this post. Music is. Music has always flavoured my moods, my thoughts, and my writing. I was quite happily struggling with a short story when the Main Character coalesced into a real person. The trigger was a song. Other songs suggested themselves, a playlist evolved – iTunes is so useful! In the old days I would have to make a mix tape – and there he is, ready, waiting, writable. The last time this happened with such – imperative fervour? force? – was when Belissa stepped forward, almost fully formed, from my imagination.

Strong characters require playlists of individual tracks, component ingredients that round out the character’s flavour. I find this works well for short stories. Novels however require certain albums; these season the mood, the scale, tone of what I write, as I’m writing it. And I already know what I’ll be listening to next month. In the meantime, I’d better open iTunes and get on with the story at hand.

 

 

That sort of a day.

I have the day to myself. Bliss. I have a stack of  things to do. And so far I have done none of them. Instead I have foozled about with a few word games on Facebook, messed about on Twitter, drunk twice my usual intake of caffeine, and stared out of the window. As I type this (something I’ve been meaning to do for a few days), I have the second episode of the BBC4 series, In Their Own Words, British Novelists on in the background for company. I find the plummy accents of Doris Lessing and A.S.Byatt strangely comforting. I also like that this episode begins with the publication of The Fellowship Of The Ring.

The day feels strange though. Not quite real. Outside alternates between clouded gloom and blinding brightness. Autumn is beginning to makes its imminence felt. The roses have given up – the only colour in the garden at the moment comes from a few deepest purple buddleia, splashes of an orange flower that isn’t hemerocallis (I can’t remember what it is, and my husband isn’t here so cannot remind me), a few late honeysuckle, and the last of the apples out of reach in the tree at the bottom of the garden. Everything feels in between; everything is waiting for the signal for the next phase to begin, waiting for the bridge between Now and Then to be completed. I saw this in the sky yesterday evening, the ending of summer, the beginning of autumn. The sky was a metalled grey, and the sinking sun had left the valley depths; the woodland directly behind my garden was in dark green shadow. But the trees on the hillside behind were bathed in warmth of the last light of the sun (I love that phrase), glowing golden green – a startling contrast to the sky. And through the sky directly above arced a perfect rainbow. And then last night, the waning moon lit up the woodland, and a few constellations hung in a sky finally clear of clouds.  And it was cold. I shall miss the warm summer evenings.

I love looking at the night sky, although most of the time I don’t really know what I’m looking at, beyond a few of the constellations. But before the recent rains came, and before the moon was full, there was a perfect night, of such clarity as I rarely see, even in my sheltered valley. I went out; the air was chilled, and it seemed that only a few stars had spread their net of light. But more and more appeared, brightly small yet sharp against the blackness. Then more appeared, and still more, as my eyes adjusted in the darkness, and the trailing clouds of the Milky Way spun webs between star clusters far from this Earth. And as two shooting stars in quick succession blazed their trails in the south-eastern sky, it occurred to me to wonder how the stars might look from the Kingdom? I really should get on with those maps.

NB: The orange flower is crocosmia, my husband has informed me.

On regenerating those little grey cells.

Every writer needs to do it at some point, just get away from the mundanities of so-called normal life – the importance of Getting Away From It All is not to be underestimated. My day-to-day process of living largely revolves around my small daughter, so to be honest anything out of the ordinary, even for half a day, can act as a tremendous stimulus to my brain. But a whole weekend away – in heavenly Devon – and in perfect weather, has been a rare and wonderful treat indeed. In recent years the only time I’ve had to myself to escape and recharge has been the occasional long walk up a particularly steep hill. It’s a worthwhile stroll though; the view is a lovely one, even in thick winter mist. In the thick of the January snows this year I went for an eerie walk after midnight – an experience I was able to use in the fantasy work-in-progress-that-has-temporarily-going-on-for-five months-now ground to a halt. But the walk helped. Seeing the valley in which I live smothered under that silent sky, while the brook rushed endlessly nearby, helped. Saying hello to trees and hills and clouds – or last weekend, the sea – blows away those cobwebs, opens up the pokier recesses of my brain to let in the light, and stimulates the creative juices. I’ve had all sorts of odd ideas in the last few days – whether they’ll amount to anything is really neither here nor there, the simple fact that new synapses are firing their random bursts of electricity is enough for me.

Music has always been a source of inspiration. Some music I find invaluable to write to – for example Howard Shore’s Complete Scores for The Lord Of The Rings are perfect whilst writing the aforementioned fantasy epic. And new music conjures new thoughts and feelings, or a new light to see them by. One character – the infamous Bellisa – even has her own playlist. If I’m going to make any headway in the task I’ve signed up for (the one that begins tomorrow – see previous post) I’d better decide which music will suit. In the meantime, I have felt moved to make a list of four letter words, scrawled so far across three pages in my current Moleskine. I know, I know, an odd response to three days away, but hey, that just goes to show the unfathomable workings of the mind. Or my mind, at any rate.

So how do YOU do it? What does it take to kick YOUR brain into gear? What gets your creative juices flowing?