White Midnight

It is almost a quarter to two in the morning, and I’m sitting at my desk with a cup of peppermint tea, and the fire blazing merrily. I am very aware of my ears.

I am aware of my ears because they are still cold. It is snowing in my part of the Cotswolds, and I have been out for a midnight walk.

There is something peacefully exhilarating about wandering out into the darkness, leaving the lights of the little town behind me. For in the snow of course, the darkness is never quite complete (and I take a torch with me). All is cold and clear and calm, beneath a heavily blank sky. The only sounds are the wind in the trees, the crystalline stutter of falling snow, and the brook deep in the valley below. And my footsteps, crunching in the crisp blue-white blanket. When I turn to look back the way I have come, my footprints stride back beyond the bend in the road, already blurred by the fresh fallings, and crossed here and there by the tracks of a fox following the line of the road before he skulks down into the fields.

I stay beside the road, for the undulating valley is treacherous when you can’t see clearly how to place your feet, and I am known for being clumsy. I have no wish to be stranded in the freezing shadows with a sprained ankle. It is enough to share the valley with the fox, and the trees, and the few sleeping houses. It is enough to pause beside the blanketed camber of a dry stone wall, and stare across to the rising slope, the outlines of fields and trees marked black against the wide white covering. I stop often to stare, to drink it all in. I am well wrapped against the cold, and the wet, and my long coat swirls with the wind, and billows behind me with a pleasing sense of drama. (I know.) I am sure footed in my sturdy boots, and stride in a comfortable rhythm.

I walk, and I walk, and I stop, and I stare. The cold pushes thin fingers past my coat collar turned up to half cover my face, and the steady breeze blows through me. I feel as clear as glass, and wildly happy.

I walk to the next village. It isn’t far, but it’s far enough.

Returning, the path always seems shorter. Walking back towards the lights, away from the small freedom of being alone in the darkness, it is tempting to take a slower pace, to stand and stare some more. But my returning stride matches my outward bound pace, as I can tell by the faint indents where my feet trod before. The cold is penetrating deeper beneath my layers of warmth,  searching for my skin. Snowflakes are catching in my lashes, and matting on my shoulders. And my ears, I am very aware of my ears, even beneath the woollen protection of my hat.

If the snow lasts – and if it deepens – then I will venture out at midnight again.


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.

The year turns, and I have things still to do before I sleep.

I am a fraught person. I seem to have lost a day somewhere this week – what on earth have I done with it?! – but then, staying up until 4am trying to get things done (including ironing, ffs), can seriously alter one’s perception of time. Quite detrimentally too.  And I have lists. I have lists in various pockets, in various rooms, in varying states of nearing completion. Perhaps I need a Master List? It can’t hurt. Much. As for the lost time, I’ll get it back somehow; the year has turned, the Longest Night has passed in silent darkness ( I missed the Lunar Eclipse) and soon the hours of lengthened light will slowly make themselves felt.

We’ve finally had Real Snow here. Very pretty, bloody cold, and more than a little irritating. Oh well. The art of being sanguine is a fine thing to cultivate. We can’t usefully do anything about the weather except learn to live with it and get on with it. At least we’re not snowed in here, unlike other unfortunate souls elsewhere.

Thinking about it, I do believe this will be the first White Christmas I will have ever experienced. My daughter is terribly excited at the prospect. And talking of first experiences, I took her to see her first film at the cinema, The Voyage of the Dawntreader. She loved it, although the sea serpent was jolly scary – thank goodness we saw it in 2D. And it was a lovely film, moving and magical, and exciting, just as it should be. The adaptation for the screen was tremendously effective too; I’m not going to go into the tired debate about whether the book is better than the film, or vice versa. A book is a book, a film is a film; different structures apply to the narrative and its effective presentation/communication with its respective audiences. But in adapting one into the other, choices have to made as to what stays and what is changed. The fine details must be relevant to the altered narrative to justify keeping them. So, given how the Dawntreader’s story has been altered (I won’t spoil it for you) I found it strange that what, in the book, is a small but deeply felt moment of faith and love answered in the darkness, when Lucy calls to Aslan to help them escape Dark Island, becomes, in the film, sadly pointless. The great white seabird appears, but to what purpose? They aren’t trying to escape the Dark at that point, but are having to confront it. I can only hope that this apparent blip is the result of choices made in the cutting room, and that it will regain something of its emotional power and resonance in the eventual release of a director’s cut dvd/blu-ray. So if anyone knows Michael Apted, could they sweetly mention this to him? I’d appreciate it!  ;  )

Right. Back to the pursuit of making Christmas happen. There are presents yet to wrap, cakes to ice, paper stars to make. Here are some I made earlier.

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.

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?