Wednesday, 26 October 2011


Monday will see me beginning to write a novel. Now I've posted this fact, I cannot change it. I aim to write between 500 and 1000 words a day, using the afternoons. Mornings are reserved for short stories. I'm usually all written out by evening, but I might consider burning the midnight oil sometimes.

I can imagine that, halfway through the novel, I shall find it hard to let it go to bed. It will have a human shape by then. It will be breathing. Asking questions. Having tantrums. Saying why? Maybe panting and sweating. Attempting to resume unfinished conversations with me. Making me laugh. Making me sing. Making me cry. (Hopefully.)

I know vaguely what it will be about and I know three characters and some of the setting. I know the kind of language I want to use. I know I want to be sparing with the vocabulary, less wordy and pompous than I can be. I like Susan Hill's style of writing. Fresh and clean, but with the occasional metaphor that takes your breath away. I would like parts of it to be poetic, delicate, beautiful, and for these to be threaded in. I want to write in my own voice, but for it to work at its best all the time, every word.

It's no wonder I've put this off. I might be far too lazy to achieve all that. I want rather a lot. But I know what I don't want. I don't want to go into it half-heartedly or treat it like an elongated short story. This is different and I hope I'm ready for it. I have the time and I definitely have the inclination.

I might need some stronger contact lenses (too much hunching and peering like an old crone again) and I might need to clean out the Ryvita crumbs from my keyboard. And then I'll be more than ready.

All last night, especially at around 4am, I kept seeing scenes, imagining the setting. It's about a family with secrets. And I love the fact that all the secrets are in my own imagination. I only know one of them. That unlocked itself yesterday on a train from Cardiff to Cheltenham, with my daughter and I sitting unlawfully in First Class. (There were only three carriages and it was vertical sardines everywhere. Didn't they realise it's half-term? We were very tired and wanted to read our new books. And there was this empty and rather nice First Class carriage and a very cross guard who shook his head at us, but let us stay put until some of the sardines peeled off at Newport and we hot-footed it into an empty pair of seats in the normal carriage - the one with the rain leaking through the ceiling panels...) The rest of the secrets will emerge today (even without the marvellously atmospheric Great Western train to inspire me) and tonight. I can feel it...

I promise the novel won't have any parentheses.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Bringing On The Extras

Sometimes, when things are going wrong and life is hurling a new dilemma at me, it is a relief to see a friendly face, even fleetingly. It can make all the difference to the day. It could be a chatty assistant in the supermarket. Or a kind driver who lets me out in front of him during rush-hour, when he's probably in just as much of a hurry as I am. Or, best of all, my eldest daughter's beautiful smile when she comes home from uni for a visit. These people can put life back on track again and make a major difference to the course of the day.

And it's the same with writing short stories. My latest one was veering towards a dead-end. I could see it coming and wanted to turn it round and head in the right direction again. But I didn't know how. I stopped, stared at the brick wall, then stared into space, then paced the room. Nothing came. I couldn't manoeuvre at all without the dead-end sign looming up at me again and again. I racked my brains for solutions. Curled up and went to sleep at the foot of the sign, tossing and turning, my brain still in overdrive.

And then it came. Bring in a new character. Ask for directions, opinions, a sweet smile of sympathy to spur me on. Let him show me the way out. Transfer my dilemma into his capable hands. It works every time.

Now I have this lovely young farmer in a tractor, who has driven into the first paragraph and breathed new life, and a strong waft of cow-pats, into my beleaguered story. He adds weight to both the other main characters in the way that a minor character does so efficiently. He has improved the plot and strengthened the structure. And the twist that seemed rather convoluted is now workable.

So I'm on the highway now and picking up speed again. Let's hope the dead-end stays behind me. It's amazing what a fresh face can do to help you on your way. It's like a fictional hitch-hiker adding a new dimension to your journey.

And, off on another tangent again, it also somehow reminds me of backing singers. I'm sure Frankie Valli would have flopped without his Four Seasons. And Smokey Robinson would have smouldered into ash without his Miracles.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Fish Out Of Water

My youngest daughter, my husband and I are hooked on the TV series, Pretty Little Liars. I can't believe my husband, not a fan of American TV, (particularly far-fetched, lip-gloss-coated, poorly-acted mystery dramas), has become hooked. And there are some scary bits which I thought might have proved too much for my thirteen-year-old. (Although she is the coolest and most stoical person we know.) I am slightly surprised that I take time out to watch it too, since I don't really have much interest in television and don't know how to work the remote control at all. I do watch good films and the occasional good series if the family are keen to watch too. But I would never think of turning on the TV when I'm on my own.

However, Pretty Little Liars has everything a good short story needs. Conflict, tension, movement, fascinating characters (and I'm not thinking at all of Toby or Caleb's six-packs here) and good settings. There is humour as well as tragedy, plus lots of those everyday 'kitchen-sink' moments speeding the plot along.

Quite simply, it hooks you from the first, The three of us are dangling on the line with no wish to be set free. We've given up being cynical about impossibly glamorous people (the sort who wake up with perfect hair and false eyelashes in place) and absurdly unrealistic life-styles. We just wriggle contentedly on those hooks and gaze, wide-eyed, at this pretty little fabricated realm.

We gasp from time to time and say "What?" at the twists and turns, then spend ages trying to unravel it all afterwards. We even hope that not all the loose ends are tied up when it finishes, so we can keep on pontificating and wondering forever.

So although TV is not my thing, and this kind of programme is far removed from my husband's kind of thing, it just shows how we all like to be a fish out of water sometimes, just for forty minutes here and there. Especially when there's a damn good story (underneath the lip-gloss) to follow.