Thursday, 28 April 2011

Guilty Secret?

I still find it hard to say aloud, I'm an aspiring writer.  It sounds so pretentious.  I keep trying different ways of saying it  - 'I'm trying to write a novel', 'I've always wanted to be an author', 'I'd like to write a book one day' - I don't feel comfortable with any of it.  In fact, I think it might be easier to confess to being a naturist. (No, I'm not.)

For a start, people look at you as if you're a strange beast.  They clearly don't know how to react.  It's so much easier to tell them I'm a teacher, and there's so much I can say about that, none of which transgresses into the highly personal or intimate.  Writing fiction isn't like that.  You invest a lot of yourself in a story or novel: it does make you feel vulnerable and unmasked.

And then there's the gentle questions.  I don't blame them, and maybe they're only trying to be polite and show an interest anyway.  When a practical, no-nonsense mother asked me in the school playground how I'd got on at the publishing event I'd gone to, I was quite stumped how to answer.  I could see that any in depth answer would bore her;  I had the unnerving feeling that any talk that strayed too far into the creative realm would be viewed as if I'd admitted to an alien abduction.  So I mumbled a half-hearted, 'It was good, thanks,' and fudged a change of subject.  No doubt she thinks  I'm socially inept, or a monosyllabic moron.  Oh, well.  Maybe that's better than her thinking I'm a deluded aspiring writer.

On holiday with the in-laws, I felt equally self-conscious, setting up my sister-in-law's lap top and typing away on it.  When my lovely father-in-law passed by on his way to make me a cup of tea, and tried to read over my shoulder, with a patronising, 'What are you writing, anyway?', I slammed the screen closed so fast it trapped my finger.  Biting back a howl of pain, I gave a bit of a sheepish grin, and tried to explain the received wisdoms about not sharing plots, or showing drafts that were too tatty.  He gave me a look that made it very clear he thought that a/ I was ungrateful about the tea-making service, b/ I was somewhat mentally unhinged and c/ I must be writing something erotic.

I tried to argue with myself that it wouldn't have hurt to let him read over my shoulder (even though I don't ever like people reading over my shoulder). It's not as though I feel superstitious that talking about the plot, or sharing too much might jinx the whole creative flow.  But I can't shake the conviction that if I stop for a moment and allow myself to see these early drafts through judgmental eyes, I might stop and never start again.  The project might be aborted before it has had chance to grow and breathe and be.  I want to protect it from that;  I want to nurture it for a while longer, till it's ready, and until I'm ready, too.

And one day, maybe I'll be able to say with a straight face and a sense of pride, 'I'm a writer, you know.  Yes, I have had a book published....'

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

I need a notebook habit

Why is it that my best writing seems to be done while walking, when I never have a pen to hand? And why is it that when I get back to my desk, I've either forgotten my sizzling ideas and perfect prose or it turns out it doesn't 'sound' quite so good on paper..?

Whisked away

Today the older two children have been whisked away by my super-hero parents (if two retired people in a  battered old Peugeot can 'whisk') to explore the bluebell woods.  The children were as excited about putting their Wellingtons on as some people are by a pair of Jimmy Choos. The simplicity of these early years is beautiful. The little one isn't so well - he has a high temperature, and is now sleeping, though it may be brief.

So, the dilemma - do I get ahead with my planning ready for work next week (which will stand me in good stead for having time to prepare for the interview I have the week after, and which will also make it possible for me to go to a writing workshop in two weeks' time)? Or, do I knuckle down to writing instead?

(Or have I inadvertantly chosen secret option three   -    facebook and blogging..?)

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Sticky Lollies and Sunshine

Nobody else caught the lurgy before our holiday. In fact, it worked out well, as I lost a couple of pounds, feeling queasy while looking after the four-year old.  Surely I don't need to explain why that's a good thing - but it certainly is when your mother-in-law is a closet 'feeder' and served up enormous, fattening, delicious meals, then added ice-creams and chocolate in for snacks, just to keep us all going.      

We got back yesterday, slightly sunburnt (me) after some incredibly sunny weather; a little cranky and tired (the four-year old); and ready for a rest to recover from it all (me again).  We made it to the beach every day, creating memories for old age.  We played Taboo and Boggle while the kids slept, and I realised anew how much time the television steals from me every day, with my full cooperation and complicity.  I read Sebastian Faulks's latest book  - I love the way he writes, the rhythms of his sentences, the marriages of words - but have to admit I'm finding the subject matter less gripping.  I paddled in the sea, and flew a kite that went so high it made me dizzy to look at it. I cuddled my children, and wormed my toes down to the cooler, wetter sand.  We visited a Welsh hospital when the two-year old dived from a chair onto a ceramic floor and needed his head glueing.  I had melted ice lolly dripped down the back of my neck by a sticky child.  I had to sit through a Punch and Judy show, with my jaw ajar as the children laughed at a baby being thrown down the stairs, the arrival of the Devil, and a man being hung on a gallows. I scooped the four year old up as he cried through the Punch and Judy show, thinking, 'I'm not surprised', until I found out he was only crying because he'd laughed so hard he'd banged his nose on the tarmac.  We climbed the Great Orme and basked on rocks at the top.   I got on fine with all the family, although my brother-in-law and I squirmed a bit on the last night when Steve's mum had a sherry or two, and spoke her mind, but I won't dwell on that. 

And I ironed out what I thought was a large plot wrinkle, that close up was only a soft crease.  Then I patched together some other pre-written scenes into the whole, which was less satisfying, but was better than standing on a squashed strawberry.  I could have got used to having so many extra pairs of hands to help out with the children.

Another week before I have to go back to 'real' work!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

High alert

Life keeps getting in the way.  If it's not writing a job application (a writing task I shy from with the best of them), it's handling the four year old's second stomach bug in two months.  I don't think that's fair.  If I ruled the world, I'd make it illegal for any child to be sick more than once a year.  Anything more is cruel.

It was fairly short lived, but has meant no pre-school sessions for the past two days, which means no daily writing time (and evenings are for cleaning and packing this week).  Now I'm frantically checking the other children for any tell-tale signs that they may vomit in the next twelve hours.  Cranky? Maybe they're falling ill.  Don't fancy dinner? Even though it's only slightly burned? Must be coming down with the lurgy.  Crying because her brother told her she ought to eat her apple with peel on (and she was just about to do that very thing)? Well, that's got to be a sign she's sickening for something.  Or maybe that she's a bit of a diva. I'm on tenterhooks waiting to find out.  

Meanwhile, I'm tackling the packing and cleaning lists, and feeling thankful that so far  the Super Hero parents, and Ever-ready Auntie J have succumbed rather than the six year old or the two year old.  Is that heartless and ungrateful? I suppose so.  But at least they have a chance of finding a bucket in the dark on their own, and I get some sleep.  Hope they're better soon, though.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Five sleeps to go

The grand get-away to Rhyl with my in-laws is looming.  I'm watching hopes of writing this week dwindle, as one of my usual baby-sitters has a tummy bug, I'm applying for a new job that came up out of the blue last week, and there's the packing and pre-holiday cleaning to get through. (Is it only me who cleans like a dervish before I go away so I can come back to a tidy home?)

All is not lost - I am fondly imagining myself sitting at a table in a holiday home, tapping away on my sister-in-law's laptop, while the sound of my children enjoying themselves in the garden with Ste's side of the family reaches me through an opened window....and there is chocolate and tea by my side.  
The power of visualisation remains to be seen...!

Friday, 8 April 2011

Keeping on

The ghost story I'd submitted to a competition came back this week, with a blank little compliments slip! I didn't reel from it as badly as I might have, as I had had realistic expectations.

Having said that, I was disappointed. Who doesn't want confirmation that they have done a good job? Also I had entered, in part, because I had heard that entering comps is a good way to get feedback, yet there was none.  Did I miss by a mile? Was it liked, but not enough? Did it lack originality? What flaws were in the writing?   I tried to divine meaning from the fact it was away for nearly four weeks - is that significant?  Had it escaped the first purge, or is that just standard?  I was left feeling frustrated.

Even a setback like that, I want to improve my writing.  That's the whole point, surely? I can't imagine ever not writing; it is the most absorbing, satisfying thing I do in life, and the highs are intoxicating. It makes me squirm to think of it as just a hobby, but if I don't meet any success, I suppose that's what it will be to me - urgh! Before I resign myself to that, though, I want to have really tried.  I want to improve my skills and push myself to new limits and use the talents and gifts I have. How can I improve without feedback?

I wonder, do people just keep sending work out into the void, and one day it mysteriously improves enough to please the right person at the right time? That seems hit and miss.  I want to trim the sail as I go until I only need slight nudges here and there to stay on course. I don't want anyone to shoot my dreams down, but when do you ever find out if the hours you spend and the passion you put in are worth anything to anyone else but you?

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Storm in a blog

I was led by Sally Quilford's blog to the unwise rant of poor Jacqueline Howett after her novel, The Greek Seaman was given a two-star review, and the general uproar from other writers about it.

Sally Quilford lends a measured, calm perspective to the whole embarrassing episode;  I feel sure there's little left to be said on the subject.

It reminded me though, how much I will have to work on thickening my own skin so that I can have the humility and honesty to learn from constructive criticism instead of ignoring it...but since the rejections I've had so far have only been standard, I will await something more personal with bated breath!

The general consensus appears to be that she has committed career suicide, and in one respect, I'm sure that's true. While there are many people who would not read her work now, they probably wouldn't even have come across it anyway.

If only Ms Howett had read this fascinating post by Elizabeth Fama she might have been able to look on the bright side...but perhaps there is still hope anyway. The furore has made me curious and amused enough that I would consider buying the book, and I expect I'm not the only one.  You learn most from mistakes - and it's far less painful learning from someone else's mistakes.   I wouldn't be surprised to find that other people are curious, too, and that The Greek Seaman exceeds sales expectations.   Had Ms Howett retained a dignified silence, I wouldn't have heard of her, and I'm willing to bet the thousands of others who now know her name wouldn't either.

One thing's for sure; even if it boosts her sales, I promise I won't be following suit.

Mother's Day

I was woken by a six-year old who 'gets' mother's day this year and wanted to surprise me with her handmade card and gift.  I'm thinking that chocolates and flowers in twenty years' time will be a disappointment in comparison.  

Remembered to be thankful for my armful of children, but am sparing a thought for all those people who find today hard: those who have lost their mothers, women who have lost a child, women who yearn to be a mother. Bracketed and braced by my own wonderful Mum, and three children who have fulfilled a need I didn't know I had,  my cup is running over.