Ch-ch-ch-changes.

Change. It’s not my favourite thing, unless it is a change for the better. And this new year brings change with it. Changes to the domestic routine, now that my daughter has moved to a different school and we no longer have to get up quite so early. Or pay fees for that matter, so a financial change too.

Routine is important and I need to re-evaluate mine. With the end of the Christmas holiday I must rebuild my writing routine. The hours I have available to spend at my desk are precious to me, but have been eroded by external pressures. And insomnia. Insomnia corrodes everything, as well as my temper. I spend long hours looking at the dark. I’m sure it looks back at me with a sardonic smile, waiting for the punchline of sleep arriving a scant two hours or so before I should be getting up again. There are days when I don’t absolutely need to be a functioning human being first thing in the morning, then I get to catch up with sleep. Unfortunately the corollary of this is loss of desk time. And no matter how I try to juggle my sleep pattern, nothing, at the moment, works. It will pass – after all, it always has before. But it’s awfully frustrating in the meantime. So the change from insomniac to not-being-one is a change I am very much looking forward to.

I don’t believe in making resolutions because the number designating the year changes, so don’t ask me what I’ve chosen to do/stop doing. I want to carry on doing the things that make me happy, all other things permitting. The things that make me not happy, have to be put up with, worked around, got on with, because they also happen to be necessary. Believe me, if they weren’t, then I wouldn’t bother!

One of the things that makes me happy is my ongoing personal revamping project. Over the last year or so I (like to think) that I have acquired a little more polish in the personal style stakes. There have been changes in my skin care routine (see? Changes in routine can be a good thing; this has proved it), in what I wear and how I wear it. Getting my hair cut has become a regular thing (routine again) rather than an event that might happen twice a year. Soon I will be in the market for a new pair of glasses; the frames I currently wear have seen nearly seven years of service, so a new look is definitely called for (the lenses of course have been changed several times). And perfume. I need a new signature scent, one that I can wear everyday. My old favourite, Truth by Calvin Klein, has been discontinued, and I have yet to find the perfect replacement. Beauty is not Truth, in this case. Lanvin’s Arpege is old-school gorgeous/glamorous – and in keeping with the vamp in revamping –  and I love it, but, I’m not sure yet if it is absolutely me. Time will tell…

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Why I write.

There’s an abyss opening beneath my feet. This time however I’m prepared. I may be about to go down the rabbit hole of depression, but I’m taking a lamp, and a good strong rope with me. This time I’ll not be left lightless at the bottom. Third time’s the charm…

The darkness and doubt that depression entails cause me to question everything I think, and feel, and do. It’s exhausting, but I know that given time, I will return to the light, and to myself.

It occurred to me then that I’ve never really quantified why I write, even to myself. And I’ve thought about it, long and hard, when sleep has refused to be my friend. So. Why do I write?

For the longest time, when I was a lot younger, I had a feeling that I would do it, one day. There was of course, the obligatory bad teenage poetry, and a few short stories. I did not show them to anyone. Later, I burned them. They were a false start, I thought then.

By my mid-twenties, when I began to be happier, after my first – and worst – encounter with the abyss – I began to feel as if I was marking time, waiting for something else to happen first. I got the idea – I’ve no idea from where – that perhaps, after I’d had a child, I might begin to feel free to write. I mentioned this to several of my friends at the time; they urged me not to waste time, that having a child was only ever a complication for creativity. I did not believe them. I still don’t. Perhaps I only ever needed to give myself permission to write, but I honestly think that I simply was not ready, then.

When my daughter was two years old, I began to write. I was in the middle of studying for my degree, and the Open University was running a new course, a creative writing course. I did it, of course. And I found within me the fire of writing. Nothing compares to it. (Well, maybe one or two other things compare, but we won’t go into that here…)

Now I have to write. Have to. If I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, no matter what else I may appear to be doing. (Again, there are one or two exceptions, but… you get the point. I don’t need to draw diagrams, or to spell it out.) Being in a position to write, and yet being unable to do so, is absolute hell. It’s like being stifled, unable to breathe.

Does that make any kind of real sense? It doesn’t feel rational, but it does feel vital, necessary. Writing, like love, is a form of divine madness. Not writing, is… unthinkable. Writing, like love, is an obsession. And when it goes well, it’s the best kind of fun, flying, not falling.

There are plenty of blogs out there, by better writers than me, on the connections between creativity, depression and madness. This one, for example.  And I am tremendously lucky in the friends I have, fellow travellers on the  writer’s road. We keep each other company, cheer each other on, commiserate, empathise, understand. If you want, you can visit some of their blogs – just scroll through the blogroll here. You will be amply rewarded.  So I’ll leave it there, I think, before I start spiralling.

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.