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Author: lynn

Sometimes only a poem will do

12112140_10153226625268333_352631717118469064_nWrite me poem, Caron*. Write me a poem for my birthday. You said you weren’t alright with it and I’m not alright with it. I need a poem. Take the slow collapse of ash and make it spiky and bright. Only a poem can do it. Only you can do it. You have the hair. I never inhaled, you know. I never even didn’t inhale. Too smelly, too dirty, too risky, too bad, too boring, too what my parents did. And I’m not starting now. It’d probably kill me. I have blood pressure and bills and a boy. I need a poem. I thought I’d wear purple, but I don’t. Just grey, fading to greyer. And as for eating too much butter, well, the blood pressure, you know. I thought I’d rage. But I’m just too knackered. I need a poem to set things alight. I’m all about the prose. And I’m turning into one of those faded middle aged novels of navy blue and ash. I need a poem about my crimes of passion and the despair and the rage. There will be no spring; the leaves will fall upon my head and that will be it. How fucking crap is that? I need some words that will be a Festival of Lights. I’m not even excited about the cake. Stick a tombstone on it. The flavours have all gone. I need a poem with chilli and spice. I don’t want dulcet, measured, subtle, pitch perfect prose. I want a fucking poem. I’m not alright with it. I’ve built no monument. I’ve never seen the Northern Lights. I’ve never felt thin, even when I was. I’ve never been pretty. I was old before my time and now it’s my time. I’m still fucked up. I’ve not forgiven my mother. I’ve not forgiven myself. I’ve got acne and wrinkles. (It’s the fucking menopause. And I’m not alright with that.) Sod being a crone. I don’t have the wisdom for crone-dom. Or the patience. I don’t want a nip of sherry. I want a bloody great bucket of wine. But most of all I want a poem. Sometimes only a poem will do.

* a friend, teacher and proper poet.

A rage against Ratners fiction

11220095_10153209597673333_1041411994538382439_nI do not believe that real people think about moves to the country in the form of extended metaphors involving concrete floors slippery with fear. Not unless they are certain types of poet. So when a character in a novel is clearly not this type of poet, or any type of poet, why do I have to endure close third person accounts of such thoughts, page after fucking page? I find it a tiny bit annoying.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good metaphor, but they have to know their place. I have very slightly had it with self-indulgent pseudo literary crap being peddled as quality fiction. I love the sea as much as the next person. And, yep, I’ve been writing about it for years. But I don’t really expect anyone to want to read it, not on and off for a whole 60,000 words! Does the world really need another extended sea metaphor as novel? And the scent of lemons. More? Really? And don’t get me started on dust motes. It’s the same brand of crap Ratners offered. But they got found out.
I know what you’re thinking, sour grapes. Fuck, yes! I may not be George Eliot, but I can write something direct and authentic – I think (I write therefore I insecure). I’m sure I could do better. But where is my model, my inspiration, where do I look for the standard to meet if I aspire to publication. I want to get published. It is objective, ambition, dream. But there are places to which I will not go in pursuit of this. If this crap is where it’s at, I cannot and will not go there.
Let me give you an example. When I eat a croissant, flakes of soft, buttery pastry do not melt on my tongue reminding me of some fuckwit’s kiss or my childhood breakfasts with mother. My croissant gets dunked in hot chocolate that drips down my t-shirt leaving crumb-stuck stains that look a bit too much like dried breast milk. My croissant is from Pret and is eaten at the bus stop. (There is a bus stop theme in these posts. I’ll explain why one day, when I know you better.) My croissant contains calories that come to rest on my over plump belly. My croissant eating is just not… twinkly.

Rage against the grey

IMG_2598Trees are bloody lucky. Far from fading as they get old, they blaze. Streaks of yellow, patches of orange, tendrils of red. All the heat of the summer chucked back at yer with attitude.
But us, we fade til we disappear. And the hair is only the start. Mine’s going white. The hair thing matters to me because I’m a red head. People don’t even believe me when I say that now. ‘Oh, no, more strawberry blonde, I’d say’. ‘It’s not really that bright, is it?’ No, that’s because I am fucking old, alright! But it was orange and bright and loud. And I was characterised by my ginger-ness. It was what made me different, made me me. People assumed I had passion and a temper because I had fiery hair. Now, they assume that I am fading, like my hair.
But inside I have stored up fire, burning coals of thoughts and feelings, opinions and insights, and stories.
I’ll never be a bright, young debut. I’ll never be one to look out for in the future. I’ll never make one of those up and coming lists of writers under 30. I had neither the time nor the resources to write properly formed things when I was young. I was too busy being fucked up and insecure and in love with the wrong men and trying to make a living and learning to fit in. It took til now for me to be ready.
But why should that make me lesser? We oldies used to be the storytellers. And not just tellers of soft and dismal tales that drop like ash from the end of a forgotten fag. I don’t want to tell stories about middle-aged ladies pondering their pasts on the shores of an Italian lake. I don’t have racy tales from a war torn youth to tickle the fancy of babyboomers agog to discover that they didn’t invent sexual intercourse. In my head there are many different ages and many different selves.
I’m not a late bloomer. They haven’t bloomed yet. They’re lovely buds but they’re still green. I don’t want to be a ‘mature’ writer, equally indulged and ignored like some feeble-minded hobbyist. Cheese matures! Fruit ripens. I am ripe and I want to tell ripe stories. Despite my fading hair, I can still blaze.

The time machine on the corner of Suez Road

12039703_10153181053393333_8749187284471477436_nThere are time machines everywhere. There’s one on the corner of Suez Road and Radegund Road. (If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, you will know that I’m not much of a sci-fi girl so you’ll be prepared for the trip into metaphorland that’s coming. Buckle up.)
My time machine for today is a horse chestnut tree, its leaves shriveling and turning autumn brown. Just a glance and – whoosh – I’m back to the September my son started school. There’s a back way into school that is only open in the morning and at the end of school. At the start of Reception, the kids did only half a day, so they’d leave at lunchtime when the back entrance was closed. This meant walking out of the front and back home via the horse chestnut – the conker tree. We’d pick up conkers, glossy and red-brown, sticky from their prickly shells. My boy seemed so small in his new school uniform and we’d talk about the grown up playground games that could be played with these big seeds.
Now I’m further back to the trees in the park where we first collected conkers. There were so many and always just one more that could be fitted into the bottom of the pushchair. We talked about the seasons and how summer turned through autumn to winter and living things died, and then how in spring they grew back. We were a long way still from the conversations about the type of dying that is more than a season.
Off again, this time to my own childhood. My father showing me how to play conkers, but just once. Would it have been different if I’d been a boy? Would we have pickled the nuts in vinegar, baked them and competed for the ‘best conker’? Who knows? Soon came all the Septembers when he wasn’t there.
Autumn is late this year. The horse chestnut is one of the first of the trees to turn, but the conkers are still hidden in their green jackets up among the browning leaves. This is my son’s last year at primary school. Next year he will be walking the opposite way, to a new school, on his own. Conkers will be for kids. The turning of the leaves will be part of some biology homework that he probably won’t even want my help with. He’ll be growing up and away from me.
So you see, here is the now and then and tomorrow, all accessible from one place. From my place on the corner of this road, I can rollercoaster back and forth in time without care for a beginning, a middle or an end. I am simultaneously here and there and linearity is irrelevant. But that’s not true of writing. It makes you choose. What comes first and next? What line do I follow? Where lies the cause and consequence? But I’ll worry about that tomorrow. Today I’ll just take a breakneck ride through the thread veins of a tree on the corner near school.

PS The conkers are appearing now.
12046772_10153181054128333_2844726917475391243_n

Holiday reading

11902521_10153119920583333_1817372311601665677_nI’m on holiday and for me this means that, in between the usual paddling, sandcastles and family arguments, I’m reading. Two books so far this week.
The first was Ian McEwan’s cool and confident The Children Act. Very hard to find fault with it, it was engaging and thought-provoking, yet I can’t help feeling that maturity has stripped him a little of his va va boom. I miss the McEwan of the short stories and novellas. (I feel the opposite about Angela Carter. I find the early stuff compelling, like watching a confusion of fireworks shooting out from different places, but as she matured into a master sorcerer, weaving the lights and colour into perfect patterns. Imagine what she would have created if she’d lived a little longer?)
Next I read a classic and much lauded crime fiction novel by a woman. I like the crime genre. It has a pleasing plot structure and it takes you to interesting places in the human mind. I’m not going to name the author or the book because I don’t want you to think that I have anything against this specific book. It was brilliantly plotted, fast-paced, it kept the tension high, interesting and real central characters, loads of good stuff. The problem I had with it didn’t really hit me til I picked up my next book, something else in the same genre by a woman, and read the first line – another woman in pain and danger and more blood.
This isn’t a feminist complaint about female victims in crime. Sometimes, now, the perpetrators are women and the victims are men. Either way, women are in pain or in danger of suffering pain. And there’s lots of blood (often with the addition of some other bodily fluid). Why? The thing I like about crime is the puzzle, the plot puzzle and the human puzzle. Where can I get this without the blood and the women in physical pain?
And it’s not just crime. Even the usually safe ground of romance now comes with the same flavours – think vampires, Fifty Shades, domestic noir… What’s happening to us that is being reflected in our fiction? Has it always been like this and I haven’t noticed? Has it always been there but presented in a more palatable manner? Is it some reaction to the growing outward power of women? And if so, why are women embracing it, rather than fighting its imposition?
Whatever is going on, for me, it’s making very tedious reading. I’m off to the pile of holiday books to find something that doesn’t start with a strong woman made vulnerable and leaking some combination of sweat, tears, mucous or blood.

Feeling the love, baby

Heartstone I love writing. Yeah, I know, that seems obvious given the nature of this blog. But I forget sometimes, a lot of times recently. I get tangled up in all the associated ‘shoulds’ and they suffocate the wants, the love.

Language is a brilliant thing. Firstly you’ve got the words, millions of them, all with formal meanings and implied meanings and the depth of meaning that comes from usage – and sounds and rhythms and shapes on the page. And then you get to join them together in some many different ways to express every shade of thought and feeling. Love it, love it, love it.

I’ve been preoccupied with ‘works in progress’, or rather not in progress or creeping along slowly emitting that damp smell of… what? What is the right word? Failure? No, too hopeless, too easy. What’s it like? Like a mustiness that attaches to something that’s been in a cupboard for too long. You know it’s there. It’s whining quietly, like a dying puppy. Yes, really, that pathetic. I think it’s probably guilt. Yes, the damp smell of guilt. I’m picking that word from the box because if I keep looking I could be here for hours. I’ll pencil it in, like you do when you’re trying something in a crossword.

So, proper writing is not getting done and, when I pick up a pen or stroke a keyboard, a big wall of ‘you should be doing something proper’ rises up before me. I don’t have headspace right now for the sweep of my stories, so my shoulders droop and I move away. But that’s madness! Does a painter stop sketching, doodling, playing with colour because he can’t fit a canvas in his caravan? (I could muck about with lots more whimsical examples here, but that would be self indulgent because I think you get the idea.)

What have got done are a couple of Incandescent-of-Cambridge letters, some birthday messages to lovely friends and a couple of articles for the parish magazine. All fun and satisfying – how I imagine a gardener feeling when they talk about getting their hands in the earth. I’m feeling the love and I’m going to open the cupboard, feed the puppy, knock down the wall and generally frolic in a sandbox of mixed metaphors.

Wannabe?

Rock petSome people, other people, cool people, like Debbie Harry, lean in corners, or they lounge – probably louchely – but whatever they do, they do it effortlessly and everybody is impressed. They are the in-crowd and they go where the in-crowd go.

I’m not like that. I’ve tried the ‘I’m so uncool, I’m cool’ thing, but no one believes it, not even me. The cool people are slim, taut of buttock and chisel-cheeked. They smoke. Their clothes are elegantly understated or kookily creative. There will be leather involved somewhere. Even when they flout society’s rules, they do it in just the right way. It’s what makes them Cool.

This is the thinking that preoccupied me as a sat at the bus stop the other day. (Yes, I catch the bus. I know. There are no members of any in-crowd at the bus stop for the number 6.) I wasn’t leaning, rather i was perched on the ledge thing they provide instead of a seat. It was raining, obviously. I was wearing a coat that fits neatly into the genus cagoule, but less outdoorsy and more mumsy. I’d just retrieved my bag and its spilt contents from the (wet) ground: notebooks, unposted birthday cards, laminated (yep) quotes, tissues, Co-op receipts and the googly eye from a rock pet I forgot to take out of my bag (no wonder it was so heavy). And to complete this portrait of uncool, I’d just picked a spot on my nose and the blood was welling out like a oil strike in old time Texas. One of the slightly damp tissues was handy for dabbing at it.

And as my brain wandered over to the writing ambitions represented by the (damp) notebooks, I despaired. I was doomed (doomed, I tell you). According to the last rejection I received before I entered my latest long, unproductive period of pout (no coincidence), I need to be ‘fashionable’ to be publishable. That means I need to be part of some recognised in-crowd. And I’m not. I’m out of fashion or just not in fashion. Bugger.

And yes, I know, my bitterness is blatant. I’m so uncool that it matters.

But – there’s a but – I am not just uncool, I am also old(ish) and, quite slowly, as the years pass, a cloud of fuck-it is blooming in my head. I am unique and what I write is unique. And that is cool. And one day, someone will want to publish my uniqueness. And if they don’t, fuck it.
Ly

Also Vera

DSC_0209 Squeezed between the lines of the family tree. From somebody’s daughter to, if you’re lucky, someone’s mother. Did Vera get that lucky break? It seems unlikely. Born and buried as an add-on to another life.
We exist in an ocean of egos struggling for attention. The wave lifts you for a moment and then drops you and you’re yesterday’s froth. I live deluded that it’s all about me: my heritage, my legacy, my first person point of view. But that’s what you think. That’s what they think. My success is your pride. My failure, your shame.
Women get a particularly rough deal in this struggle. How many gravestones bear the epitaph, son of? The son would at least own his surname and get to keep it for all eternity. Vera simply had her Father’s name on loan. It seems she died with the space for her new brand left blank. Poor Vera. Just the daughter. Never the wife and, so, never the woman.
And God help the child of the Baby Boomer. BB ruled the world, his own space, man, cos the Empire was like so last year. He invented sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. And was keeping them all for himself. Kids had to tag along. They were just kids and this was their time. And then they got old and it’s still their time. They’re sitting pretty in the family pile, bony fingers clutched around the purse strings, demanding Care, payback for all they did for you. They’ve got the pension and the NHS. They’ve taken all the lifeboats and the kids are going down with the ship.
Vera’s never getting her own stone. She’s fucked. But not in a good way.

Colouring between the lines

11698522_10153006448063333_4658290866483854477_nI’ve been sucked in by the new craze for adult colouring. It’s so soothing. Someone else has drawn all the patterns, created neatness and order, left pretty spaces for me to fill with colour. Some of the books even colour in some of the picture for you, providing clodhopping hints as to how you should proceed. Mindfulness they call it, though it is, of course, utterly mindless.
And while I’ve been colouring in between someone else’s lines, I’ve created nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing. And – when I’m not soothed by the de-stressing activity of colouring in – I’m quite angry about this. I’m angry with myself and I’m angry with all the tossers who drew the lines.
We spend our whole childhood and, maybe, most of our lives, being commended for being Good. We agonise over the Right Thing to do, the Right Thing to wear, The Right Thing to say… Not being Good is Bad. Where’s the space to just be?
I don’t draw my own pictures because I’m no good at drawing. It doesn’t come out right. It looks bad. And I’ve not been writing because I’ve been busy being neat and good and colouring between the lines.
If you’re reading this then you will have noticed the huge gap between this post and the last. There have been other starts and mis-starts. This might be another. The only thing I can tell you is that what follows may not be neat. I’m going off piste.

My head is full of pre-fiction

In my head right now is a crowd of people clamoring for attention. No, I am not going public about some kind of personality disorder, well not a medically documented one anyway. What I mean is that my mind has presented a number of character outlines to me, some have names and some don’t, all are ghostly in their half-formed state, drifting and hard to bring properly into focus. All seem to be trying to say something. All have their own point of view on the world. Most are holding on to an unresolved pain that seeks expression and resolution. Not one has properly defined physical features.

This last point seems to chime with an idea that has been suggested to me: they are not fictional characters – not yet at least – they are parts of me.my mind is not a tangle of fictional story lines. These strands that I am struggling to unknot are not plots. It’s the raw material for fiction, but not yet fiction.

What difference does it make? It means that I’ve been handling things all wrong. I’ve been thinking about how to tell the story, how to find the right words, the right structure. All wrong. Too early. That’s why it’s been sending me mad. I’m still digging out the clay, shearing the sheep, whatever metaphor for pre-art that suits you. I need to slow down. I can’t finish before I start. I’m lucky; this is one piece of pre-writing research for which I don’t need to travel too far.