Life Is Like A Song

Lately that song is Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner.

Real life is happening all around – and let’s be frank, the reported news, in any medium, is universally grisly – and I am only a spectator, waiting at the counter for my coffee, too inconsequential to be given the full cup, and making the best of it. And it’s okay, because people watching is what people who are writers do (assuming I can still call myself such). I watch life happen to other people, until it’s time to catch the train, only I don’t know from which platform, or my destination. Out there, somewhere. Single, not return.


If it sounds like I’m moaning, I’m really not. Maybe a bit, but, don’t we all? I never was a Polly-Anna type. Having stepped back from social media, it’s become harder to fully participate again. So I lurk, non-malignantly. Leaving Facebook helped save my sense of self, although paradoxically means that I have fallen off the edge of the planet/am dead to some people. Oh well. Twitter is the stream I dangle a few toes in, and sometimes a hand. I just can’t seem to get into the swim though. Instagram is for pretty things. I like pretty things. They’re restful.


I can’t stop thinking. I can’t stop thinking long enough to do, to make, to write. And I must. I keep promising myself that I will. But, WHEN?


Oh, help.


That Monday feeling…

The holiday is over, normal life will resume shortly. Until then, I have been in a holding pattern of alternating tiredness and complete absence of brain. But the post-holiday laundry mountain has been conquered, the fridge restocked, so eveything else must fall into place shortly.

Two weeks ago today, we were taking the scenic route to Sofia after some sort of technical glitch brought Gatwick (catflap to the world) to a standstill, which meant that we missed our connecting flight from Budapest. We ended up being rerouted via Munich, arriving at Sofia nearly eight hours late. Our luggage caught up with us two days later, coincidentally when the weather improved from sullenly thundery, to clear blazing heat. The rest of the holiday went swimmingly, with good food, good company, too many mosquitoes, and plenty of good Bulgarian red wine. Dipping into Twitter occasionally via my phone, I learned that the UK was taking the fast track to Hell-in-a-Handbasket, and the Home Secretary throwing her weight about declaring all police leave cancelled. (A decision that was not hers to make, but rather the Chief Constables’, and not a decision that they backed; this amuses me.)

Apart from the food and drink thing, what did we do on our holidays? My husband spent a great deal of his time heaving the mower about the hayfield that is the garden at the house where we stay: by the time we left, there was even the suspicion of stripes. My daughter flitted about with her little cousin, or playing in her inner world of fairies, rabbits and The Hobbit; and I slept a lot, drank a lot, read a lot, and scribbled a bit. We went up the mountain, (and came down again), we caught the sun, watched the moon and stars, listened to the cicadas. In short, we relaxed. Bliss.

Next week my daughter goes back to school, and the routines will change again. My hours per week at the Bookshop will be increasing – hurrah! – and who knows, I may even begin the <whispers it> Second Draft?

Tempus fugit

I may or may not have mentioned that I recently read Jane Shilling’s memoir The Stranger in the Mirror (read an excellent review here). I felt drawn to it because the initial extract I read in one of the weekend broadsheets so exactly spoke to my own sense of trying to recognise myself. Lately I’ve been feeling that I’m not playing this Game of Life anymore, I’m actually living it; This Is It. I no longer feel like such a fraud, masquerading as a grownup. This is me, mother, wife, writer, friend. I’m on the cusp of so much, and have left so much behind me. Not that I’m menopausal – that particular shift is still in my future – but I’m not the same person that I was five years ago, or even last year. I’m trying to settle in, file off the rough edges, fit my inner skin a little more snugly. I’m not looking for answers, because I don’t think I have any specific questions to ask, and reading The Stranger in the Mirror has shown me in any case that answers are few and far between.  But this is a period of transition, and I don’t quite know what I’m about to embark upon. Some things are a given, the normal stuff, the mundane, the usual, the routine, and that’s fine, these things are the backbone of living. The rest is unexpected.

This is my last year of being a thirty-something. That gives it away, doesn’t it? Perhaps that has something to do with this feeling. Or perhaps there’s something in the air, a breeze of change, of minute alterations that accrete and accumulate so that we wake up one morning knowing we are still irreducibly ourselves, but not quite sure who that is. One of my dearest friends – and considerably younger than I am – is also experiencing this sense of being embedded into Life. Life; it’s going around, like ‘flu, or a trending Twitter hashtag. Is this a good thing? It isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

There is a side effect; I find myself frequently dwelling on fragments of my past; my sense of nostalgia is hyper-sensitive. The act of memory is not always a conscious one, so not always controllable. Sometimes I have been caught off-guard, by remembrance of things both good and bad. The fall of light, a sound, a scent, the way someone moves, a turn of phrase… all these triggers, all those memories. I feel glad that I’ll never have to be eighteen again, and sad that I can never be thirty-six again (although my daughter has suggested I can revert to being thirty-eight for a few years yet; I may need a new moisturiser…). I have a different flavour now; I am maturing into myself. I am becoming more of me.

To conclude, then. Is there a conclusion to draw? This is still an ongoing process, or event, or cycle, or whatever you may want to call it. Soon, I will recognise myself, I will know myself a little better than I have hitherto. This is it. This is me. Hello.

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.

A decision born of disappointment

I can no longer be bothered to count the number of rejections I’ve had for short story submissions. It is perfectly natural to feel demoralised, and disheartened, and I freely admit to both of these conditions. It is demoralising to receive a form rejection attachment from the editor, suggesting that I need to read more, and avoid clichés such as ‘he was a total psychopath’. (I have a first class honours in English Literature for heaven’s sake; I’ve been reading widely and avidly since I was two years old – how many two year-olds have YOU known with ‘superfluous’, and ‘soporific’ in their vocabulary? – not that they would know this. The premise of the story in question takes a what if scenario; what if Nick Bottom fathered a child on Titania – and I promise you, there’s not a psychopath in sight.) I can’t help feeling that such sweeping generalisations in rejection do writers no favours. I know editors are an overworked underpaid bunch, with more stories to read than there are hours in a day, BUT… I also know that it is – up to a point –  a numbers game, finding someone out there who thinks my writing might be worth the gamble of publishing. I know that I have a long way to go, working at writing, refining it. There are any number of articles published in print and online that tell me this; the admirable @Bubblecow tweets links to such things everyday.  Some of the advice is conflicting – it is a minefield, trying to find what to do, and what not to do, whilst trying to keep confidence in my writing. I have been told I’m good at it, BUT… I’m paying my dues, I know. I know also that there are no guarantees in what I’m attempting to achieve. BUT… there’s only so much banging my head against the wall I can take. I’m not Bart Simpson, I’m not going to keep reaching for the cake and suffer electrocution.

So. I keep writing, because how else will I learn? Writing is like living, a heuristic process. But no more short stories, since they don’t seem to be my thing. Or at least, no more short stories with a view to sending them out alone into the world. No. I’ll finish the vengeance kick story I’m writing, and then it’s back to my novel. I don’t have time to be demoralised – there’s too much to be done. And I am very determined.

(It was reading Beatrix Potter that gave me this linguistic head-start, in case you were wondering.)