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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An Admission of Failure

Annoying, isn’t it, and frustrating, when just as you think you’re beginning to get a handle on things, beginning to get the hang of things again, something happens to derail you, and you’re left feeling like utter rubbish. A Failure.

I haven’t attempted NaNoWriMo since 2011. This year I felt ready, in the zone, itching to fling a constant stream of words at the screen. And I began, and it was enjoyable. The story is utterly ridiculous, but it’s growing out of an idea I’ve had in my head, and various notebooks for a while now. And having spent most of this year editing and redrafting stuff, rather than writing from scratch, it felt so bloody GOOD to be flying free again.

And then I was ill. Felled for the best part of three days by a sore throat and a headache I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I fell behind. Not just on NaNo, but on everything. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Just as I’d finally found that tenuous balance, all the spinning plates came crashing down. Because, you see, owing to circumstances of Life, I am now operating as a single mother. And that’s fine, and as it needs to be. But, if things aren’t done, they remain not done until I do them. There is no one to pick up the day to day slack. And now I’m back on my feet, but setting all those plates spinning again is… hard. I feel paralysed. All I want to do is sleep. After years of not sleeping at all well, now I’ve gone the other way. And there are all those things to be done, waiting for me. Something’s got to give. Preferably not me. Not again. So NaNoWriMo, adieu, for this year. I know it’s all there, my writing, waiting for me. But oh, the frustration. There’s nothing like kicking yourself when you’re down, to compound the knowledge that you’re useless.

 

By the time you read this…

By the time you read this, I will have decided absolutely, categorically, whether or not I will be doing NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve been umming and ahhing for the last three weeks, veering crazily between bring it on, and hell no.

The last time I did it was November 2011, an important transitional month, in which I turned 40, went to Paris in the middle, and fell down the rabbit hole of depression. Turning 40 was actually pretty good, and I fell in love with Paris. But I’m still somewhere down that rabbit hole. And a lot has changed very recently, that means LIFE is just too big and complicated, and important to put to one side right now, in favour of churning out 50000 words. Besides, I still haven’t got to where I want to be with the stories – and the WIP – that I already have in progress. (And the same can be said of Life, right now, too.)

But, on the other hand, there is something rather seductive about the madness that can set in, with that need to find at least 1667 words each day. Some days the words will come, will flow, will flood, a racing spate of inspiration. And some days the words will hide, just out of view, out of reach, and the overload of caffeine does nothing more than jangle the nerves, makes me hideously irritable, and sets tremors in my hands.

12.04 a.m. What will it be? Yes? Or no?

 

Eeny meeny miney mo…

So that was November…

It’s been a long 30 days and nights. Some of them have been quiet, some of them have been odd. Some have been really rather wonderful, in unexpected ways. Some have been productive, and some have been sad. And then there have been nights in Paris, and nights of partying too.

NaNoWriMo I have had to let fall by the wayside this year. There has simply been too much going on, in my head and in my world, and too many nights have been taken up with other things, largely of a celebratory nature. I managed to scrape together more than 38000 words, which isn’t too shabby. Plenty of material to be mined at a later date for any small gems that might therein be lurking. Or not. We’ll see…

In the middle of the month I went to Paris, for the first time. It certainly will not be the last! This just happened to coincide with my 40th birthday, a coincidence charmingly contrived by my husband. Being 40 is actually ok (much less traumatic than 30!) and Paris… oh but I fell head over heels in love with Paris. In fact I should very much like to run away there, and sooner rather than later… The weekend after my Parisian adventure, there was a sort of gathering chez moi, involving much chat, laughter, and booze. Friends whom I had not seen in an age came and made merry with me, and things did get a bit silly. There was also much worshipping of shoes

But then there was the sad news that Anne McCaffrey had died. She was my gateway into Science Fiction, as Tolkien was my gateway into epic Fantasy. I first read Dragonsong when I was 8 or 9 years old, and that was it; I was in thrall to the idea of a world where love could bind people and dragons into a bond so deep that only death could sever it (the fire lizards were also particularly appealing). From Pern to her other novels – Restoree, and The Ship Who Sang in particular – these were a formative part of my reading experience, and my emotional development in the transition from little girl to early adolescence. I wrote to Anne when I was 14, I think, asking her all sorts of questions – I cannot remember them now – and she wrote back. We developed a small correspondence; she was incredibly generous in that way, and it is my lasting regret that her letters disappeared somewhere during the peregrinations of my early twenties. I cried, bitterly, over her death. She was a wise and warm human being, and she is missed.

And now it is December, and beyond knowing that for the first time in years I am not going to be called upon to provide a huge lunch on the 25th, I really haven’t begun to get organised yet. Time to start making lists then. And a Master List.

Random Wednesday

It’s Wednesday. Not only is it Wednesday, but it is the second day of November (All Souls’) which means that NaNoWriMo is once more under way. Yes, I am in its caffeine-kicked, sleep depriving thrall. And loving it, as always.

The other significance of this particular Wednesday, is that it means there are only sixteen days to go until I go to Paris. Having never been before, I must confess to being beyond excited. I’ve been planning what to do, where to go, what to see. I’ve been trying to remember the little French still left in my brain – which considering I haven’t had to speak the language since I was 16, isn’t very much. At all. (Don’t worry, I have a cd and book to remind me.) I have a fabulously dramatic pair of new shoes, new clothes, and a new haircut. The new haircut feels particularly good, because I hadn’t got around to having it done for 2 years. In fact the last time I felt so sleekly chic was for a wedding (my husband’s cousin’s) at Bovey Castle. It was an entirely splendid affair, where the champagne did not stop flowing. Every time I turned around, there was an attentive sommelier refilling my glass. Consequently I have no idea how much I drank. Then of course, there was a fine Barolo with dinner, then more champagne for the toasts. And then, during the lull between dinner and the dancing, I made my way to the bar and asked for a Cosmopolitan, and a cigar. The Cosmo was delicious, the cigar was decadent fun, and I loved every minute of it.The next morning I had acquired a vicious bitch of a hangover (vodka cocktails are very heaven; vodka hangovers are vile) and a series of bruises at mid-thigh level – at occasional table height. Clearly, I had been caroming into furniture. Suffice to say, I shall (mostly) be behaving myself in Paris …

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.