Briefly random post, with added Meteorites (they’re sparkly)

So, yes, it’s been a little while since the last post. This last month has been particularly mishmashy for all sorts of reasons. And I’ve been ill, which was rather trying. Then there was a brief jolly to London, and just now the school holidays for Easter. So the whole what-passes-for-normal routine has been well and truly skewed. Things don’t feel connected to other things. Perhaps they shouldn’t be. But certain things – very small things really – happened, or were thought, and seem to have some significance in my head.

For example, the purchase of a rather lovely sparkly face powder, Guerlain’s Meteorites (teinte rose, if you’re curious) led to the analogy that good short fiction should be like a meteorite. It’s not about the twist in the tale, although a twist can add to it: the best short stories  – and especially flash fiction – should, like a meteorite, have an impact disproportionate to its size. It should pack a punch like a ten mile wide crater. That’s what I think. Find some excellent flash fiction and tell me I’m wrong. The face powder too has an impact disproportionate etc… rendering even my tired visage fresh-faced and springlike. (Two people said this. It happened. Ergo, Meteorites = miracle workers.)

The second thing I was going to mention has now slipped my mind – the perils of blogging with a glass of something convivial for company. It may or may not return. I suspect it doesn’t matter.

The third thing was going to be the crux of this post when I started thinking about it. About art, and people watching, and how people behave whilst looking at art, and does the art look back? But the more I thought about it, the better it seemed to fit into a sort of story. So I’m doing that with it instead.

And I think I’ll stop here.

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Dr Johnson

Dr Johnson’s dictum that if one is tired of London, one is tired of life, always springs to mind whenever I visit the city of my birth. It is an exhausting place, but I never tire of it; there is simply too much to see, and to do. And it always gives me something new to think about, especially when I get to visit without my daughter in tow. But of course, it is wonderful to be able to show the city to her, and see it afresh through her eyes, and remember how I too was taken around town as a child. And she will do the same with her children, one day. And so it goes.

But this weekend is about being the me who is not the mother. And today I have had the pleasure of going to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, the hottest ticket in town this spring. I must confess to feeling indescribably smug as I walked past the hideously long queue, my ticket nonchalant in my fingertips… And the crowds inside were a fearful crush. But it was worth it. I was occasionally treated to a prolonged view of the side of a random stranger’s head, and there were of course, the usual personal space invaders (not to mention the chap who apparently came only for as prolonged a view of my cleavage as he could get away with. A charming smile and a flicked V-sign told him he’d been rumbled), and the ones who came, not to admire, or even appreciate the paintings, the sketches, the films, but rather to make loud display of their indifference. A good exhibition is worth the crush not only for the art, but for the opportunity of people-watching en masse. Call me cynical? That’s fine by me.

The landscapes were quite beautiful; the same lane, the same trees, visited and revisited through each seasonal change. The fall of light, the depth of shadows as they alter according to the time of day as well as the year’s progression; the changing tones of green, and the changing colours of the wildflowers of each season, all recorded and presented in the artist’s fearless way. The films made using 9 cameras mounted together on a grill and attached to a Land Rover were quite strangely powerful, particularly the winter films. The bare trees, the brilliant cold clear cleanness of the snow, and the pale blue blazing sky above, had a magic quite separate from the verdant glamour of the other seasons. And more than any other image, it made me long to be able to walk into it, and keep on walking. And that feeling was worth the crush alone.

Tomorrow I may possibly venture north of the city, to Highgate Cemetary. We’ll see…

Short Fiction

March has been an unsettling month. It began with the incredible high of having my first short story published. It ends in confusion, and uncertainty, and doubt. But not, strangely enough, concerning my writing. This is not to say that I have become recklessly overconfident (or even confident), but I am beginning to have better faith in my ability to string sentences together in a meaningful way. Which is quite a leap when you consider that not so long ago I was seriously considering giving up writing short fiction altogether.

Consequently, in light of having been published (published!) and the supposed renaissance that the form is currently enjoying, I have become obsessed with all things short fiction, to the detriment of both my reading pile and the WIP. The reading pile has doubled in height with a selection of short story collections, and the WIP has ground to a halt somewhere in the middle of chapter six. On the other hand I am currently working on two (TWO!) new short stories, which may, possibly, have some potential. Or not. We shall see…

One of the collections I finished reading recently (devoured, in fact), is Etgar Keret’s Suddenly, A Knock At The DoorApart from wondering how it is that I’d not come across him before, his stories have made me think, and think hard, about writing. I won’t bore you with my inchoate philosophical ramblings on the matter; they’re too tangled up with everything else in my head. But, his stories make you think, and make you think about how you feel. And he is not afraid to break your heart a little. Or a lot. One story in particular has stayed with me; What Do We Have In Our Pockets? is a little heartbreak of hopefulness that packs an emotional punch disproportionate to its size. And that is a part of the beauty of good short fiction.

Today I saw a superhero walking down the street

It’s one of those days, a good day that feels ever so slightly at an angle to so called ‘normal’ days. Real things feel more real somehow, and unreal things feel slightly surreal. Superman walked down the High Street, his muscle suit bulging, although the cape action was hampered by the insufficient breeze. All the people sitting outside Costa stopped talking to watch him as he passed. You see? One of those days.

So. April has been, and gone; the appleblossom is done with, the lilac is almost over. I had bunches of it scenting the whole house for days; heavenly! There are still some Easter eggs yet to be consumed; we’re working our way through those… and my daughter has at last gone back to school  – she had a very long Easter holiday, which explains why my self-imposed deadline has  been missed. Yes, the WIP is still in its formative first draft stage. BUT there are only three chapters left to write, including the one I’m writing at the moment. ALSO, I have had several moments of clarity, epiphanies if you will, those bolts of open-jawed whydidn’tIseethatbefore inspiration so invaluable to seat-of-the-pants plotters like me. So not only do I now know how it will end, but also when it will end. And I have an additional plot device to enrich the narrative detail with when it comes to the Second Draft. So you have before you a basically happy neophyte novelist.

There have been other matters that have contributed to the curtailment of writerly effort, family matters on a par with the Life stuff that scuppered writing last July. But these are now mercifully in abeyance, and that’s all that needs to be said about that. And while I’ve been writing this I have come upon a happy secret – somebody let something slip – but it isn’t mine to tell, and I promised to be discreet, but it is a truly happy secret, and just goes to show that today really is one of those days.

While I haven’t been writing, I have been reading; Lionel Shriver’s So Much For That, and now David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.  If you’re looking for something new to read you could do a great deal worse than to pick up either of these titles. Both are tremendously good writers, and I have loved and am loving reading them. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Summer is rushing upon us for lack of rain and a surfeit of sunshine. And next weekend we’re off to glorious Devon again. Life is good.

And now, the end is near… possibly, we’ll see how it goes…

It’s a beautiful day here. The sun is brilliging – even though it is not yet the time for broiling things – everyone is in a mostly good mood, apart from a friend I bumped into who is seriously peeved with her garden contractor. I have seen bees, and ladybirds, the azalea is unfolding itself, and the apple tree is so imminently ready to fling open its blossom that it almost hurts. The smell will be amazing… and the magnolias along the front gardens of Slad Road are waiting for their cue. I do wish that our garden was big enough for a magnolia tree, but we have to make do with a small magnolia stellata: it is very pretty though, or will be when its small white stars come out to glimmer in the sunlight. In short, spring is springing about like anything in my part of the Cotswolds.

It is always easier to feel hopeful when the sun shines, but I really do have cause, as far as the WIP goes. There has been much progress made on the Big Battle chapter – I managed over a thousand words on Tuesday, and look to be repeating that small feat tomorrow. The end of the first draft is so very near – and about time too! But I still don’t know how it will end… oh! The joys of making it up as one goes along! And only a month until Easter… we shall see.

I cannot seem to stop eating almonds today – although obviously I will have to once this little box is empty. I wonder if I’ll  see any toves, later…?

(Clearly, Lewis Carroll has a lot to answer for.)

There Just Aren’t Enough Hours In The Day, or Why I Don’t Want To Be A Zombie…

Once upon a time, I was able to do it all. Once upon a time, I didn’t need as much sleep. Now I find myself pulled in so many directions – too many directions. I can’t do it all. Last night for instance; I got into a good flow of writing, and I would dearly have loved to have just carried on. But no. I had to be up very early again this morning (Very Early), so I had to give in to my body’s unreasonable need for sleep. Once upon a time, I could race through my reading list, gallop and cavort through several volumes at a time. Now, I have to juggle my reading time with writing, and sleeping (never mind everything else, the non-negotiables that come with being a mother and a wife). Maybe it’s an age thing; that has a ring of inevitability about it. I can no longer burn the candle at both ends; not if I want to be taken seriously as a decent-looking, well behaved human being. Zombiedom does not appeal!

But the main reason my brain has wandered down this particular path is the issue of reading. I’m still ploughing through – and digesting – The Seven Basic Plots (Booker, 2005), and I’m still dipping into and loving The Legacy (Bedford, 2005). But the waiting to be consumed pile never seems to go down, and already I have more to add to it. Under Heaven (Kay, 2010) is the hardback treat I have promised to myself for when  the First Draft is completed – so a sort of non-chocolate easter egg. Then there are two new paperbacks, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (Mitchell, 2011), and So Much For That (Shriver, 2011). I won’t go on, because if I do, I won’t know where to stop; working in a bookshop is a tremendous source of pleasure, but also frustration! And if I had a penny for every customer who has looked round at the laden shelves and told me that they suppose I spend all my time reading… I gave up trying to read at work when Cold Mountain was published, back in 1997. There are only so many times I can cope with rereading the same page and then being interrupted. I’m not there to read, but to assist, to sort out, to make presentable. The shop can be quieter than a really quiet thing, and I promise you, the moment I think about picking up a book, someone will ask me something. I never did finish Cold Mountain, either… so many books, and not enough hours in the day.

But the sun shines more and more, with increasing strength. I’ve seen celandines, little golden glossy stars that twinkle in the verge. And the washing line once more billows with laundry, while the apple tree promises to unfurl its blossom in a few more weeks. Spring is bouncing around like a bouncy thing in spring, and the WIP is gathering pace. So I’m not complaining, not really.

Thursday again already

I’ve been busy. I don’t have much to show for it, beyond the normal minimum of the day-to-day mundanities that make life tick along nicely and keep everyone happily fed and clean and comfortable. I have been reading – and arguing with, sometimes aloud – Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots. This is a fascinating, and sometimes frustrating, but nevertheless invaluable (to my mind) read, with the concommitant effect of making me question whether I really do know what it is that I am doing with the WIP. But then, Christopher Booker has made so many silly mistakes – even getting a major plot point in Star Wars wrong; unforgivable! – that I doubt his reason too. (Read a review here ).  On balance, despite the niggles, I think it will be a greater help in the long run, when the time to comes to completely overhaul my novel and pull it to bits and restructure it. As I move closer and closer to the end I find that I am already trying to work out how the story will have to be rearranged. And the closer I get to the end of the first draft, the more I am trying not to think about the likelihood that it will all be a load of unmitigated rubbish. The odds are not in my favour I think, as far as first novels go. Even so, it has to be done; one word at a time, one tale at a time.

And yet…  there is something strangely exciting in Booker’s ideas that is infusing me with more than the will to write, with the need to write. And so I have given myself a deadline; I have until Easter to get this thing, this baggy bizarre monster of a first draft, done. Now if I can just work out how it’s all supposed to end…

When I start the next novel, later this year, I will be doing things very differently.