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Tag: story

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.

Getting back to the bish bosh – and a question of personality

Yesterday two fabulous women helped me chip away at the wall currently standing between me and the blank page. With their help, this is what I discovered…

I need to write like I bake. I am no Nigella, but I make good cakes. I find the process so easy that I am genuinely shocked if someone tells me that they can’t make a cake or I taste the evidence of their ineptitude in a particularly dry piece of sponge. How can you not bake a cake? Chuck in a few ingredients according to a very basic recipe, mix it up, shove it in the oven, bish bosh, a plate of lovely fairy cakes, crisp on the top, moist and full of vanillary loveliness on the inside. Yum. I made bread for the first time the other day. Dodgy recipe meant a slightly false start when I added all the ingredients according to the instruction in the first line and then read the second line about mixing before adding the water. Water is an ingredient! Still my son and I carried on and the result was some beautifully risen, soft, tasty and a little bit misshapen buns. I take the same approach to making jam and sewing – felt badges, bunting, tea cosies, cuddly toys… The point is that I have no training in any of these creative practices but I love doing them and the results are fine, perfectly acceptable, sometimes even bloody good.

So why don’t I write in the same way? Why do I see a blank page as a threat, not an opportunity, and the idea in my head as a deformed swamp monster? Because I am a fool, that’s why. I need to stop worrying about the perfect first line and the details and what the best friend should be called and whether people will sympathise with my character and what point of view I need and my tone and and and, and write the bloody story. Unlike with a cake, I can edit a story. Writing was a lot more fun when I knew less about how to do it! I need to get back to the bish bosh.

And the second discovery is related to the first. I’m new to this. I am allowed not to be perfect. I can hear you. Of course I’m allowed not to be perfect. There’s no one out there telling me any different. But it’s what I’m telling myself that’s the problem. Writing this was my first step. My challenge to myself now is to start writing my story.

But first a question. I needed to talk to other people to reach a fairly duh conclusion. I think that makes me an extrovert. Is that a problem for a writer? Would other writers out there consider themselves extrovert or introvert, and does it matter?

I see roses and thorns

Rose I have to decide on the tone I want for my writing. I’m not sure I know what that means. I do conceptually, but not practically. I have a sad need to define things so that sends me to the Dictionary of Literary Terms. It defines tone as ‘The reflection of a writer’s attitude (especially towards his readers), manner, mood and moral outlook in his work; even, perhaps, the way his personality pervades the work.’ Blimey. This suggests I need an analyst, not a writing mentor. It’s tricky (obviously) because I don’t think I have or want a tone that is straightforward (obviously). My attitude and mood is neither totally black nor fluffy and light. I’m looking for informal, without too much familiarity. I need to communicate layers, rather than absolutes. In my novel I want to laugh at the darker side of life, enjoy the absurdities – but not as an expression of nihilism. The novel must have heart, a positive heart.
John Mullan (How Novels Work) says: ‘’Tone’ is entirely separate from story.’ I sort of agree and sort of don’t. I can see that the basic characters and sequence of events I have in my head could be presented very differently depending on the tone I wish to use. The elements of the supernatural could be made frightening. There are characters who could be genuinely threatening. However, my story is more than this. What am I talking about? Let’s say the theme. The theme is one of positive growth from acceptance of genuine self and connection with others. The story is essentially a happy one that accepts the darker sides of life. (I have another story in my head that is far darker but still has a positive impetus at its heart.) I believe in love and family and community and all that stuff, but I don’t see any of it as very picture book perfect. It’s like my cakes – they usually taste good but they could look a little misshapen and eccentric.
If you are reading this I must apologise for the muddled thinking. I am using the blog to write things out in search of greater understanding. As you can see, I am far from defining clearly the quality of tone I wish to achieve. Even when/if I achieve this, I still need to work out how to adopt this tone in my writing, consistently. This may lie at the crux of my writing challenge. I tend to write without thinking too much. It seems that this will only get me so far. I am going to need to be more conscious, thoughtful, deliberate (like choosing the one exact word that say what I mean rather than going for two or three that are in the right arena). I am going to need to work at it. Sigh.

From the gloom

Blood leaves Something is emerging through the gloom. And it’s a surprise. I was expecting, looking for, words. In fact, it’s pictures. And now I remember. Writing involves pictures in my head. I don’t make up the sentences, I simply write about what I see in my head and what I feel about what I see. That’s what makes the writing part easy and that’s what’s been missing. I think it started when we went for a walk in the woods. Have you noticed how what you’re thinking about makes you not just see things differently, but see different things. Clearly my mood was dark because a scattering of red leaves among green looked like splashes of blood and the roots of trees seemed to reach out like coils of pythons. The gloom I remembered a story I started once. It involved a boy watching a couple out on a walk in the woods. He lurks in the darkness of the trees in the car park watching them argue. Of course something bad happens. The story came from that darkness and spooled into my head like a film. I didn’t look for a character and a motivation. I had to work those out based on what I saw. It wasn’t about finding the words that would sound good, but about finding the ones that would communicate what was in my head. Perhaps I should finish that story and see what other pictures come to take its place.