Third time lucky

I haven’t managed to write my blog for a month or so, because I’ve been busy being a mum – looking after my two kids while on school holidays, my cats, the house, etc – oh… and plotting my third novel. I could go into a big rant about how I think the summer holidays are far too long, not just because we child-carers can’t get any work done, but also because our kids are tearing each other’s hair out and ready to be challenged again. But I won’t, because I’m trying to turn over a new leaf, in my attitude (which sometimes stinks) and my working practice.

I haven’t had much time off over the past couple of months, but I have been making a kind of magic with what I’ve had, partly because I’ve decided to start taking my writing career a little more seriously. It’s not that writing my second novel has been frivolous: I certainly haven’t been laughing each time I’ve sat down at my keyboard over the past three years. It’s more that it’s been so painful in parts – no time, extreme brain focus on a drip of little sleep, tainted by guilt (leaving my two beloved kids who at the start were both under the age of four), no exercise, no family time… or, indeed, me time; surviving on a diet of Matzos crackers and Marmite. It’s more that if I’m going to carry on writing novels (which I really want to do), I need to find a way of doing it that won’t destroy me.

So, I have approached number three differently. Both SHADOWING THE SUN and THE GROWING YEAR were books that evolved organically, sprouting from a small seed of an idea and slowly, gradually growing. I didn’t thoroughly plot either novel until I was nearing the end of a first draft. I relied on my characters to take me on their own journeys. This was magical, at times, but also scary. It left me with a strange sense of insecurity that at any point I could forget and the moment would be lost; that if I didn’t just hang on. For a few years I was absent the evening before a writing day, short tempered, insular and mute. Like a Buddhist embarking on a retreat, I was protective of my internal world, and was frightened that if I opened my mouth it would fall out. In the precious time I had, I sat poised at my desk and typed in frenzy; hours would pass and I would barely look up. When my husband got home I could talk about little else, other than my self doubt, my worries about the length of time it was taking, at the money it was costing, at the sense that I wasn’t doing anything well enough – starved of time with my kids, overly fraught while writing.

In short, it wasn’t much fun to be me… or my husband, or perhaps even my children (or friends, or mum, or the milkman, when I threw something at him once for making too much noise at four in the morning).

There were times when I thought: NEVER AGAIN. But it’s a little like giving birth – you’re pushing and the pain is bad, and you’re so fucking exhausted and you think how did I get here? What was I thinking? But then, you’ve made this beautiful thing, and the moment it leaves your body, your hands, you want to be back there again: big breasted and bellied, aching, eating copious ice cream… discovering a new language, a new way of looking at the world. So, you do it again. Only, I’m not doing that again, because I’m embarking on another novel. And this time it’s going to be different.

For the first time in my writing career I have come up with the plot first, a tight twisty number that got my agent all goose-pimply when she read the synopsis. I also have my title, my genre and most importantly it seems these days – my USP. This is new to me, honestly. I feel a lot more organised, a little more mature.

I hope, above all, that with further plotting I’ll be able to work clearly in my allocated time, and relax the rest of the time with the knowledge that nothing will be lost, or indeed, some things might even be better. I listened to A L Kennedy speak recently about how ill she became sitting in the same chair every day, from morning to night, not daring to move should she miss a word, a sentence, a sensation. And it got me thinking, what if this tension translated into one’s work as a kind of fragility, an unease – dis-ease. What if our prose reflects this, in its tight spikes and rigidity? Perhaps real maturity comes with letting go, trusting in our choices, enjoying them even. Who knows, in the process I might get to write something even more beautiful.

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