If you fancy some lunchtime conversation, tune into the Frome FM Book Club (96.6FM or online) on Friday, 27th April, at 1pm. I will be talking about An Other’s Look and how I came to write it.
I’m doubly excited about this because we’ll also be discussing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick and The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen. My book in such exalted company!
I spoke at the fabulous Bath Writing Events (@WritingEvents) the other day. It was my first outing and I wanted to make a good impression. I made notes, rehearsed against timings, hoped I wouldn’t run out of things to say. And then the night before I spotted an unusually long hair growing out of my eyebrow and I thought using a beard-trimmer would be the best way to deal with it. I showed up at the event with half of my eyebrow missing. Fortunately my hosts were too polite to mention it. This morning I went for a walk and I fell over in the mud.
I mention these two events because they are examples of things just happening, and this brings me, indirectly, to my blockage: I couldn’t get started on Novel Two (catchy title?).
I know what it’s going to be about and I know (roughly) what’s going to happen, but I wanted a loose structure in which to to start writing it – some guiderails to keep me from wandering too far from the path but loose enough to let the story grow naturally; for events to just happen which had yet to be conceived; for the writing to have room to take over. Room for someone to fall over in the mud or shave off their eyebrow, for example.
But that word Structure. It kept getting in the way. Three act, five act, seven act; set-up, conflict, resolution, inciting incident, rising arc, plot points; Plot A, Plot B, midpoint, ascending action… aaarrrgh!! Stop, stop and stop. Please. Enough with the structure. I can’t write with those things staring at me. They take away all the fun. It’s just semantics, I know, but I wanted something… less formal.
So I went back to basics. Stories start and they finish. Was that enough? But ‘once upon a time they lived happily ever‘ isn’t a gripping narrative. So, okay, I supposed I could put in a middle bit too.
‘Once upon a time there was a person who lived somewhere and everything was really good or really bad, and so they decided to do something and everything got even worse or better, and then it all changed so they did something else and lived happily or miserably ever after. The End.‘
That would do. That was as much structure as I wanted. A reusable and very loose framework. I knew that within, there lurked all the context and character introductions and themes and catalysts and climaxes and so on, but those italicised lines were all I needed to get going.
Now I’m writing scene after scene and some go in the beginning bit, and some in the middle, and some at the end. And things are happening which I never expected. It’s working for me. I even have a rough idea where the beginning ends and the end begins. Although, I don’t mind if they don’t. I’m 20,000 words into the first draft and averaging about 1500 to 2000 words a day. I have a minimum goal of 5000 words a week and I’m on target to complete draft one by mid-June, if not earlier.
At least that’s the plan. Tomorrow, before I start writing, I intend to sharpen all my kitchen knives while sitting on a unicycle… What?
It’s more than two weeks since we moved from South London to South Bath; eighteen days since we swapped the bars, restaurants and sirens for the stillness and silence that surround our new home when darkness falls.
It feels like a lifetime, or another world at least. We lived the communal life on the fifth-floor of an art-deco block of flats with views north and south over shops, streets and houses; now we live in a cottage with walls twice as thick as my head on a hill I can barely walk up.
The transition from one to the other is a blurred memory, a series of fevered images punctuated by desperate resolves …
… never again will we stay up until 5am saying goodbye to friends, especially if they are the same friends who will be helping to carry stuff the following day …
… never again will I assume it will be fun to carry a 13-inch thick double mattress that doesn’t bend, down ten-flights of stairs and then, at the other end of the move, into a tiny cottage with a narrow, sharply-turning staircase. (Note to mattress manufacturers: please put carrying handle on all four sides.) …
… never again will I hire a van that’s too small to take all our possessions …
… never again will I select a route to the new house through West London on a day when a home nation is playing at Twickenham in an international rugby tournament …
There were some positive resolves too, such as: always stop for an XL double bacon cheeseburger when you are at your lowest ebb (thank you, Joe), and when finally it’s all over and the back-door of the ludicrously small removal van has been slammed shut for the last time, always eat pizza and drink prosecco.
We still have things to collect: books, films, photographs – all the knick-knacks and miscellany that make a house a home. Such as the microwave. How could we leave that behind? And how can I make my morning porridge (porage, porrige, parritch) without it? Don’t talk to me about saucepans and hobs. It’s simply not possible. I create concrete.
And we are still unpacking, still sitting on camping chairs, still hunting through boxes, still learning that our cottage laughs in the face of level floors and right-angle corners, still appreciating that to live in and around Bath is to embrace hills, still remembering to step up from one room and down from another, still sitting up at night and listening to the utter quietness outside, and still staring at the jaw-droppingly beautiful views that make living here like being on holiday every day.
But we’ve begun to put down tenuous roots. We’ve met the neighbours (and even swapped bumper paint as we master parallel parking), been to a local wine tasting, drunk in the local pub, been to the local cinema, cycled along the canal and established a broadband connection. We know in which bins to put our rubbish, where the post-box is, and when the trains run to London.
Perhaps the thing I like most about our new life is the physical effort that’s needed to move around. My car has broken down (again) and so now I must walk or cycle to get anywhere, and because anywhere is a hill, it’s like being on a permanent resistance machine in the gym, or being in one of those dreams where your legs become leaden and useless.
Even moving from room to room in our new home requires a level of athleticism I don’t have. The garden is level with the first floor and the front door is six-feet above the pavement. But I am adapting, and I’ve learned that the best way to carry anything up any of these narrow winding steps and staircases (other than a 13-inch thick double mattress) is to walk like Groucho Marx – knees bent, back horizontal, head up.