I am sorry I have neglected my blog. I have been writing non-stop, but have become so immersed in it that a great many other things have fallen by the wayside. I haven't read as many books as I would have liked, although I have loved Instructions For A Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, The Friday Gospels by Jenn Ashworth, The Pre-War House by Alison Moore, One Day by David Nicholls and an old favourite, After Julius by Elizabeth Jane Howard. That is quite a few, but covers the last three months.
And when it comes to sorting out our garden, which resembles Passchendaele at the moment, I have been burying my head in the sand, or in the wasteland to be more precise.
It is in dire need of some tender loving care. In fact, it is in need of total rescue. We were keeping chickens, but sadly a fox came one night and managed to wrench the catch off the coop. We have decided not to keep chickens anymore. We had already replaced several of them and made the coop more secure. But it is impossible to outsmart this fox. His lurking presence (I have come face to face with him at dawn) and his arrogance - digging a lair under our neighbour's tree where he calmly washed himself after his midnight banquet - make him too much of a threat. And our cats are terrified of him so it makes no sense to present him with an open invitation to a chicken-dinner.
Our chickens were free-range and uprooted every single blade of grass, leaving us with a huge sea of mud. In this quagmire we have some quite beautiful tall and elegant flowering things that my husband calls weeds. And the bane of our life - trillions of baby ash-trees. As soon as we pull one out, another thirty grow in its place.
However, I have not picked up a rake or a hoe yet. I have ignored the problem and stayed indoors writing instead. I have been writing novels and one is making its way around agents at the moment. I have had some encouraging comments, but no takers yet. One agent asked to see the full MS and was very excited about it. You can imagine how overjoyed I was. But she decided in the end that it was not right for her list. However, she did say she was sure she would see it on the shelves of the bookshops and would be looking forward to that day. That was massively exciting for me, one of those really helpful sorts of rejection that gives you a ray of hope despite the fact that you're being told no.
Another agent liked it, but did say it read like a threaded-together collection of short stories. And that was helpful advice too, because I could see exactly what she meant. It really is the hardest aspect of novel-writing to get right for me. I need to establish a stronger narrative drive that thrusts through the entire book, rather than treat each chapter as a separate story. I don't believe I've got the hang of it yet, but I'm trying my best.
In the meantime, I have won the local prize in the Bath Short Story Award, which was a huge surprise and a lovely reward for the hard-working story I submitted. It had already been rejected several times, but I couldn't quite lay it to rest. It was lying on the ground, battered and bruised, but with its legs still kicking in the air. So it went to Bath and that was the result. There's always hope for everything. If it hadn't done well there, I would have continued picking it up, dusting it down and giving it another push out of the door.
I was also overjoyed to achieve both a second place and also a runner-up place in the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition. William Trevor is my favourite author, so I couldn't resist it. Once again, one of those stories was a perennial wallflower that someone has finally asked to dance.
Two of my very short pieces are included in Scraps, an anthology of flash fiction masterminded by Calum Kerr. His book, Lost Property is a wonderful collection of eighty-three stories and he will be my guest on this blog on 27th July.
I have temporarily called a halt to writing my long short stories for Woman's Weekly Fiction Special. I have truly loved writing those. Seeing them in print with those gorgeous illustrations they always provide has been the most wonderful experience and also a dream come true. From the moment I started reading my mother's magazines when I was still very young, I was burning to write a story and see it published in those pages. Sometimes I can't quite believe I have managed to achieve it. But each one takes quite a long time to create and edit. I lose my way with the novel if I break off for a couple of weeks to write short stories again. But I really do miss writing them and hopefully I'll go back to them soon.
I have finished a novella which is currently in a competition and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for it. And I'm now halfway through a new novel. But it's reached a stage where I can see flaws appearing. I thought I'd avoided them, but they are coming back to haunt me, like those stains on the carpet that you think you've rubbed out, but you've actually rubbed them in. And they work their way back up through the pile. You walk into the room and there they are again. They have just been in hiding, lurking there all the time. Rather like that fox, expectant and patient. Or those stubborn little ash trees in the garden.
And as for me, I'm not at all patient and I'm not really all that expectant. I am just hopeful. x