Thursday, 29 November 2012

Grandad's book - the everlasting project

It's been a while since I last blogged about this project, which was originally to type up the autobiography my Grandad had begun and never completed. I finished the typing some time ago, and had begun to compile some footnotes, and research some of the people and places that Grandad talked about.

It was all good practise for the meaty project of writing fiction, and what's more, it inspired me to pen the first draft of a short story (for the Year of Stories). Grandad had a big life in every way; he enlisted in the army, and passed out two days before war was declared in 1939. He travelled the world as a despatch rider, and had several near misses, even after the army years, such as when his lorry tipped up on him. He is a rich seam of stories, though he was a story-teller in the oral tradition.

My mum has now passed on two tatty boxes of photos and a broken-spined photo album to me, which I am scanning and saving to a flash-drive. I'm going to add a few of these to Grandad's book.

My hopes of self-publishing it as a gift for my Dad and sisters on in time for Christmas have already faded....I think that's two years in a row, but it might be more. One day I'll have it finished and ready to order, and I know the family will enjoy reading about Grandad's wartime and childhood exploits. Now I'm thinking of making a photo book for Grandma, too, with some of these photos. (She has dementia, and loves to look at photos, but they often disappear from albums. Her favourite album has more gaps than photographs these days).  So that's another distracting project to add to my list.

Looking at everything my Grandad saw and experienced, I was inspired by him again, to expand my own horizons. It's hard, with the delightful and unmissable clutter of four children, to do even half of what I might like to (and they are an adventure in their own right), but I must keep it as a longer term goal, when these days of having them draped around my knees has passed.

It's scary, though, how long it is taking to complete this job which Grandad had done the lion's share of; how much longer will one of my fiction books take to polish and refine for publication?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hitting a brick wall

Sometimes life conspires against aspiring writers, and that's the case this week. My uncle is having an operation tomorrow, which has repercussions on the family and our commitments; there are parties, hospital appointments, a podiatry appointment ("I'm going to see the toe-ist", says my daughter) and of course, the advent of Advent on Saturday. On top of all that, Steve is away for the week with SARAID, a search and rescue organisation he volunteers with.

His absence isn't felt the way you might imagine, with four children. There is actually less work, and I am a little too gleeful about being able to throw all his 'stuff' in his wardrobe and shut the door for a whole week....but I miss having him to talk to, and the bed is empty without him (even when the three-year old is in there instead, squirming and kicking and coughing).

As part of my Great Tidy Up today (in honour of Advent and also taking advantage of Ste not being around), I picked up the broken toilet roll holder that Steve has fixed twice. I figured out the problem, applied a screwdriver, and fixed it.

You wouldn't believe the flood of overconfidence it prompted. Merely half an hour later, I found myself wielding a borrowed drill, juggling rawlplugs, screws and a spirit level, while watching youtube videos of how to hang things. Steve has a whiteboard which has been waiting to go up for two years, and would no doubt wait another two if it were left up to him, so I decided that I would do it. After all, it's part of tidying the study, and it'll be a nice surprise when he gets home. Well, it will be a surprise.

I began to drill tentatively, waiting for the bang of an electrical cable, and a steady trickle of plaster dust streamed out from under the drillbit...and then stopped. I tried changing bits, changing settings, watching more youtube videos and googling similar problems, but no matter what I do, the drill just won't drill through whatever it has found under the plaster. I thought it was brick, but evidently it is some supernatural material that is impervious to human attempts on its integrity.

So now there is a single, large hole in the wall - I've discovered that the longer you drill, the wider the hole becomes - a generous sprinkling of plaster dust, and an unhung whiteboard. Calculate however you like; that's more mess than I started with, and I don't really know what move to make next, short of phoning my Dad to bail me out.

I think perhaps I've proved one point; Steve does have more uses than keeping the bed warm. I think he'll be less impressed by my other conclusion; I need to nag him to do the jobs before two years have passed so that I'm not tempted to pick up any more power tools which I'm unqualified to least driving a laptop falls into my skill set!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


This aspiring writer has been knuckling down to her plan for 2013, to enter a short story competition every month. So far I have an idea for each month, and I have written three stories.

The story I was most excited about had to be written first, of course; it was the twist in the tale one, and needed some planning and some careful execution. The other two didn't grip me quite as well - one of them was tricky to get down, and ended up with many scribblings out and false starts.

Tonight I've typed them up (as I've been writing longhand for a while), even though they're in a state of rough draughtiness. And the mystery is that the worst story is the one I'd done most work on, and which had behaved itself when I tried to capture it. It needs some re-writing as well as serious polishing, whereas the other two are nearly there. How strange. Sometimes the harder you try, the further you travel from your goal.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Longhand magic

I've been reading a lot lately about how beneficial it is to write longhand.  I like the clack-clack of keys, and watching the words appear like magic on the screen...but I thought it might be refreshing to pick up a pen again.  So I've been writing some stories and fragments/scenes in longhand, and trying to ignore the finger cramp (it's probably character building).

I can't say that it's given me any sort of creative rush, although it is good to have a change. I did especially like the added freedom it gave me - I found myself writing at times and in places when I might have made excuses before, like sitting at the swimming pool waiting for two little people to finish splashing through their lesson.

The worst thing about writing longhand, though, is when you want to alter what you've written. There's a self-deception if you are working on a screen - if a paragraph goes wrong, or a plotline wriggles free from your grasp and goes meandering down peaceful (yet dull) lanes, it's a simple matter to delete your words with a click and drag, and then forget they ever existed. On paper, your scribblings out remind you of all you've done wrong. For me, they muddle my thinking - the discarded plot hovers in my vision and threatens to trip me up, and every time I look at the crossings out I get that sinking feeling of all that is going wrong rather than being uplifted by all that is going right...

What works for other writers?