Monday, 23 September 2019

Oxygen for the Writing Process

Sometimes it's the smallest thing that spurs me on, that adds fire to my writing belly, that makes me want to carry on. Here is one of those moments.

This weekend I was in London and met up with a friend who I went to college with far too many years ago to remember. We had lunch and swapped tales of children, life and work. It was a lovely lunch and so good to catch up. During our time together I mentioned that I had written a manuscript although it wasn't yet finished and I wasn't sure it ever would be. It was a throw away comment, not expecting any particular reaction, merely a statement of fact. That's something I had done since we last met so I threw it into the conversation.

I was stunned by her reaction. She was so excited and enthusiastic about my achievement, wanting to know more, asking questions about how I planned to publish and so on. She also told me how proud she was of me. All the air vanished from me and I sat back. Someone was proud of me. Someone who is not family. Someone cared enough to tell me that.

After we went our separate ways I had some time to kill so I went for a coffee and thought about what she had said. And it occurred to me that I had never felt proud of myself. Is that even something that people do? But I had done something pretty amazing, I have written a manuscript which with a bit of work could be a fully fledged book. So I sat back and dwelt on that and the lovely warm fuzzy feeling it gave me.

Then something rather wonderful happened. I felt energised to carry on writing, to try my best to make something of the manuscript I had fallen out of love with and send it off into the world in whichever format I decided suited it.

And there it was. Oxygen for my writing process. A blast of the good stuff that is spurring me on, keeping me going, firing me up. I hope it lasts.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Always Something Else to Worry About

It seems to me that being a writer means spending an awful lot of time worrying about writing rather than actually writing.
The typos have been corrected in my manuscript, helpful and insightful comments received from my first reader. I have digested these suggestions and decided how I intend to act on them - they were most helpful so I'd be a fool to do otherwise. Now the worrying begins.

Do I add to the manuscript as it stands, including missing/misleading information, adding a chapter here and deleting one there to polish what I already have?
Or do I write the whole thing fresh, using what I now know to construct a new manuscript?

I have read accounts of both approaches but I have no idea which one will suit me best. I lay awake last night trying to construct a new story from the bones of the old one and feeling very dissatisfied by what my addled and tired brain came up with. 

It seems to me that there is no 'right' way to do this but I'm worried that I don't know the 'right' way for me. So again I start stressing and worrying rather than getting on and doing anything. Just more procrastination!

With my sensible writer head on I know that the solution is just to get on and write. Everything can be tidied up later after all.

But my worry-wart head isn't convinced that I have the tools or skills to amend or re-write and at the moment she is winning and I'm stuck, paralysed by indecision. If I don't get on and do something I fear I will lose all confidence in this manuscript and it will fade away on the hard drive of broken dreams.

Now if only I could make some sort of decision ...

Thursday, 18 July 2019

I Hope It Brings You Peace - A Short Story

I haven't put much of my writing up here lately so I thought I'd remedy that with a little something I wrote the other day. Feel free to comment and I hope you enjoy it.

I Hope It Brings You Peace

I stand in a plume of smoke watching you sip the bitterest of gin and bitter lemons, your squinty eyes watching him. He leans into the girl as they twirl around the dance floor, his hand resting on the rise of  young buttocks. You purse your lips, push the glass across the table and the last melting ice cubes clink together. The music ends, the trio take a bow and the dancers leave the floor. he escorts the girl to the bar, helps her onto a tall stool and nods at you. You grip the edge of the table, reach for the glass and drain it in one.

I glide across to join you, sit on the vinyl bench and stare closely at you. Time has not been kind. Close cropped iron grey hair, deep wrinkles around your eyes and mouth, complexion sallow. You look worn out, worn down, burnt out.

He approaches, leans in and a cloud of sickly aftershave engulfs you. I am pulled back to another party, Christmas and the same aftershave. A kiss beneath the mistletoe that lasted a heartbeat too long, a hand held behind a back, blushing and sweating over the whiskey and gin.

You blink away the tears, his hand clasps your elbow and he breathes in your ear. 'Contacts', 'business', 'jealousy'. You slump against the back of the bench and sigh. As he heads to the bar you tap your glass. Without a glance at you he gestures to the barman and your glass is refreshed.

I remember another you, a younger more vibrant woman in tailored suits with raven curls that tossed as you spoke. You laughed and everyone looked at you, alive and vivacious. Afternoons sprawled on sunny lawns as our children played and we chattered about everything and nothing. Chilled wine, brought back from your holidays in France where you recharged your batteries and spoke your native language, returning to sprinkle your conversations with 'd'accord' and 'peut etre'. Now you sit silently, a shade of that woman, monochrome and sad.

The band return, a slightly off-key piano, a skinny youth with bass guitar and an octogenarian who wheezes Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin standards. Some dancers fill the floor and you scan them. But he isn't there, neither is he at the bar. You clutch your drink, a cold tear teeters on your lashes and you grind it away. He is gone.

I smoke him out in the car park. leaning on a maroon Mercedes, cigar clamped between his teeth.
An angular man whose head juts out alarmingly is telling lewd jokes and he is laughing, slapping his thighs. He pulls the cigar from his mouth, a string of spittle joining them together for an instant. The angular man points towards the golf course where several pairs are plodding from tee to green tugging carts behind them. He stares at the taut linen backside of one woman who is pushing a plastic tee into the ground, a bead of sweat glistening on his brow. I notice how his hair is cut close to his pink scalp, smooth and shiny where the hair is long gone. I recall the younger man, raking his fingers through his hair, pushing it from his eyes, his wedding ring glinting in the sunshine. Nothing glints now as he runs a liver spotted claw across his sweating head. He pulls once more on the cigar, grunts at the angular man and moves through my smoke with an awkward, halting gait. When in the privacy of the club house he pulls the straining fabric from his crotch and rejoins you at the bar.

He plonks himself next to you, your gazes never meeting as the band crash their way through 'It's Not Unusual'. Together you watch the last few dancers stagger around the floor, the barman laughing as he polishes a wine glass, leaning in to the young girl and nodding in your direction. He waves at the barman, gesticulating drinking and grunts as he pulls a tatty leather wallet from his hip pocket. You move away a fraction, lips bloodless, a gin soaked sweat on your upper lip. Together yet alone.

I watch you during the afternoon, you drinking and judging, he wheeling and dealing, neither acknowledging the coldness that surrounds you. He pulls a picture from his wallet and shows it to a couple standing at the bar, You catch the mumbled phrases 'My children', 'very proud', 'doing well'. I know that you don't see them anymore, that they are embarrassed by what you have become. I smile knowing that for all you  have and all you both took from us you are lonely, tethered to a man and lifestyle you now despise. You took it all, you and him, left us with nothing but poisoned memories. Yet it is you who have nothing, while I have it all. And now I pull the smoke closer to me, wrap myself up ready to depart. I brush my fingers across your face, watch you shiver and grow pale. My short time here is over and I leave you both behind. Leave you to your sadness, your regret. I hope it brings you peace but I think it only brought you pain and loneliness.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Book Review - The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

I realised the other day that I hadn't posted a book review for a while. I suppose that this must mean that most of the books I have read recently haven't sparked enough enthusiasm to get reviewed.
However, I have just finished a wonderful read and felt that I had to put down my thoughts here.

I confess that this book has languished on my desk for a while, being passed over as I picked up other books, always thinking that I would get round to it. And eventually I did pick it up and settle down to read. Thank goodness I did for it is a wonderful, inspiring uplifting story of love, fortitude and the endless power of the human spirit. I confess to being in tears at the end of the second chapter and was worried that I would be unable to carry on. But this is not a sad or weepy book. So don't let my emotional response put you off!

Raynor Winn and her husband Moth find themselves homeless after a business deal goes bad and they fail to save it through the courts. The decide to use this 'freedom' to walk the South West Coast Path, initially from Minehead to Land's End but with the option to walk on. This book chronicles their journey, sharing the wonderous wildlife they see, the landscape they pass through and the interesting characters they meet.

Underplaying this travelogue is Moth's terminal diagnosis, delivered just as they decided to set off on their epic walk. The love that binds Moth and Raynor together is beautiful and strong. Without each other I think they would have soon fell apart as their safe lives unravelled. Moth finds the walk arduous at first but as the miles tick off he begins to gain strength and we are left optimistic about his fate. No spoilers here!

I loved getting to know Moth and Raynor, a pair of 'old walkers' who embrace an opportunity and learn so much about themselves through adversity. I was reminded of the saying 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger'. This journey in this book is a living illustration of this and I loved ever bit of it.