Monthly Archives: August 2012

Weariness… and the Weekend

So, Friday has rolled around again.  Even though my life has changed completely over recent weeks, and I no longer have the same ‘working week’ that I used to have, my body is having a hard time keeping up with my brain; I am exhausted today.  As well as that, though, I’m starting to wonder whether I’ve been a bit too enthusiastic, a little too early in play, about my new project – i.e. The Novel.  I’ve managed to deplete my energy levels to the point where thinking is painful.

I have written nearly 40,000 words.  My desk is covered in scribbled post-it notes.  I have one full notebook and one partially full one glaring at me, accusing me of being a bad plotter. I have a print-out of my work to date covered in various colours of felt-tip pen (Revision 1 – purple; Revision 2-red; Revision 3-green).  How do other people do this?  I’m hoping that it’s a case of ‘learning on the job’, and that as time goes by it will get easier.  I don’t find motivation a problem, but I do find getting past the fear a bit difficult – and, by ‘the fear’ I don’t even mean ‘will I succeed?  Will anyone besides me ever read this?  Can I do this?’, but I mean ‘am I doing this the right way?  Does everyone feel like this at the beginning?  Am I making stupid mistakes, that if I had a bit more common sense, I could avoid?’  However, I’ve lived enough at this point, and I’ve done enough long writing projects, to realise that peaks and troughs are inevitable, and I hope that experience will see me through.

It’s exciting at the beginning of a project like this, when your faith in your Big Idea is burnished and bright, and you start writing with all the enthusiasm of a small child faced with a colouring book.  Then, the longer you scratch away at the idea, almost without you noticing, its sheen starts to dull.  What seemed clever during the planning phase now seems silly, and you realise that no matter how detailed your plotting, you start running into difficulties when you factor in your characters, who bring to bear on your story their thought processes, personalities, aspirations, and all the rest of it.  Characters – goshdarnit – they complicate things, with their quirks and their individuality, and your sudden realisations that ‘hang on, there’s no way that character would say/do something like that.’  I’ve done everything I was supposed to do and I’m still finding the process, right now, akin to being locked in a box.  The biggest challenge, at the moment, is not in putting one word behind another, but in trying to keep the panic at bay.

But, as I said – it’s Friday.  This weekend, I hope I’ll have a chance to replenish my energy levels, and come back to my work with renewed optimism.  I hope that by keeping my faith in my idea alive (and remembering to take a rest, now and then) that I’ll manage to work myself through these thorny patches and come out the other side, bloodied and torn, but – hopefully – clutching the finished product.

And, of course, I hope your weekend is a time of relaxation for you, too.  I know I can get very careless about allowing myself time to recuperate and recover, so I hope you’re cleverer than me, and that you’re going to make the most of your down-time.  Have a good one, y’all.

Music, and all that Jazz

Today, I’ve got music on my mind.  I’m wondering why, or how, certain types of music affect (or, sometimes even effect) whatever you’re doing while you listen. There are types of music which really suit different things – despite, or maybe even because of, the fact that it might not be the ‘best’ music, according to the ever-fluctuating thermometer of ‘cool’.  I find The Darkness’ first album pretty good for doing housework, or walking, for example, because it’s upbeat – but I don’t exactly sit down to listen to it for leisure, or appreciate it as a work of art.  (It also probably says a lot about my house, and the state of my fitness, that I currently have no idea where my copy of this album is).

I’m also the kind of person who finds an album that they love, and who plays it over and over until they find their next music obsession.  I’m fully aware, and fully understanding of the fact, that this sort of listening drives most people round the twist, which is why I try only to do it when I’m on my own.  (I don’t know, however, if my husband would agree with that – I think if I put on Sigur Rós one more time, he might pack his bags.  So, that’s definitely off the menu at home, for the moment at least).  I remember being so enamoured with Neil Young’s ‘On the Beach’ that I practically learned it by heart, and for a four-year period in my early twenties, I listened to Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’ at least once every day, including weekends.  Yes, I’m aware this is weird.  There hasn’t been an album with which I’ve had such an intense love affair for some time, though I am currently enjoying Wallis Bird’s eponymous release, and I’m finding it easy to work while listening to a CD I received from my brother for Christmas last year, which is a collection of John Martyn covers recorded by a variety of different vocalists and musicians.  It’s a restful, reflective album which I love very much.  Every so often though, I have to stick on some Led Zep or something like that, to get the blood moving again.

Music was my first language, and I have my dad to thank for this, more than anyone else.  He began my musical life with John Denver and Kris Kristofferson, and my brother and I were weaned onto Neil Young at the earliest possible age.  This was followed by Procol Harum, Cream, Herman’s Hermits, Manfred Mann, The Animals, and a host of others.  My brother and I were often quizzed as we listened to the radio at home – ‘Who’s that playing, now?’, ‘I’ll give you ten pence if you can tell me who played lead guitar on that song,’ or ‘What were the real names of the Righteous Brothers?’ (I could only ever remember Bill Medley; I could never get the other one).   Dad still does this, even now, and he’s always pleased when we get the answers right; he feels like he has trained us well.  And – he has.  His little music quizzes helped my brother and I to retain information, to think quickly, and to cope well with disappointment – we were never rewarded with the promised ‘ten pence’, to my knowledge!  He also gave us a wonderful grounding in music appreciation, which ranges from Bob Seger and AC/DC to the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, and I know my life has been enriched by this. I’ve made friends through music, I gained my first real appreciation of the arts through being involved in music from an early age and – because my CD cabinet is full of my best friends – I’ve never known a lonely moment.

Thanks, Dad.  I love you.

On Wuv – Twu Wuv

As my husband and I woke up this morning, and started readying ourselves for the day ahead, I remembered it was the 29th of the month.  So, we wished one another a ‘happy month-iversary’, as we are prone to doing.  (Bear with us, we’re only newly married; this sort of nonsense is bound to wear off eventually).  One of us made a remark about our ‘fairytale wedding’, and – of course – it got me thinking.

Fairytale.  Wedding.  Hmm.

If we’d actually had a fairytale wedding, here’s how I think it would have gone down:

One of us would have had to deny their father and renounce their name, be forced into a rudderless boat, and be cast out upon the stormy sea – only, of course, to turn up at the shore of the kingdom of our beloved.  The other would probably have had to sacrifice a body part, or lose the power of speech in battle, or perform three – it’s always three – impossible tasks.  Then, when we’d finally managed to Win Out over All Adversity, if we were getting married in a fairytale I reckon we’d have this guy as our celebrant:

That part might not be so bad, actually.

We’d probably have to put up with the fact that most of our guests were goats in disguise, or that they were dead (but we wouldn’t find out until it was too late), or agents of a malevolent witch intent on poisoning the wedding cake; we’d also probably have to deal with our rings turning into wood and our best man transforming into a frog, either of his own volition or against his will.  Our bridesmaid would, no doubt, have turned out Evil, and her sole purpose in our whole day would be to attempt to bring the whole thing to a crashing end.  Then, naturally, when it came to the bit where objections are supposed to be voiced, a magician who has me under a spell, and/or my ogre lover, and/or a giant with the wrong idea, would burst into the church and snatch me away, while my husband-to-be either turned into an eagle in an attempt to save me, transformed himself into a weeping willow in sorrow, and/or started hacking at anything that moved with his unfeasibly bejewelled broadsword.  All this would happen before one of us realised that we had actually been swapped with our identical twin at birth, and said twin (evil, invariably) would suddenly reappear, claiming the almost-spouse as their own, just at the point where we’re about to exchange rings.  Then, just as all seems lost, a talking dog, or previously uninvolved minor character who turns out to be the king, or an elf of some sort would appear, sort the whole mess out, and send us all home laughing – of course, with everyone married to the right person, and all body parts intact.

So – phew.  All in all, I’m glad we didn’t have a ‘fairytale’ wedding day, in that sense.  We did, however, have a wonderful day, complete with sunshine, music, dancing and cake.  Also, we had a car that broke down at an inopportune moment – but that became part of the fun.  Nobody poisoned anyone, nobody changed shape (unless you count the drunken gambolling, that is), and there weren’t any evil stepmothers or jealous ugly sisters or curses, that we know of.  It’s nice to take a moment to remember it, and to feel grateful all over again for the joy we felt on that day, and how much ‘wuv – twu wuv’ was shown to us.

Enough of the soppy stuff.  Have a happy Wednesday, y’all.

A Blog on Inspiration, with some Chaucer

‘O lady myn, that called art Cleo,     Thow be my speed fro this forth, and my Muse,/ To ryme wel this book til I haue do;     Me nedeth here noon othere art to use.’ (Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, Book II, ll. 8-11)

This morning I woke up with no idea what to write here.  My muse, such as she is, had decided to take a morning off, without giving me notice first; it was a strange sensation.  I thought ‘maybe I’ll write about baking’, another of my interests.  Or, ‘maybe I should write a bit about happiness.’  But I didn’t think they sounded all that interesting.  I mean, I find baking fascinating when I’m engaged in it – there are few things in life I like more than to be covered in flour.  Happiness, too, is best enjoyed when you’re covered in it.  But nothing really concrete about either of those topics decided to make itself known to me.  This, I thought, could be a good thing – I can save them for another day.  But that still left me stuck.  After a few moments’ thought, I considered, perhaps:

‘Thanne [was] it wysdom, as it thynketh me,
To maken vertu of necessitee’ (Chaucer, The Knight’s Tale, ll. 3041-2)

I decided, as Chaucer advises, to ‘make the best of it’, and write something about inspiration.

I hope you’ll indulge my quoting from Chaucer, one of my favourite writers; I can’t apologise for it, because he’s my touchstone.  Where other people go straight to Shakespeare, or Keats, if they’re stuck for words or they need comfort, I go to Chaucer.  There’s nothing he hasn’t written about, nothing he hasn’t experienced (in words, at least), he created some of the most moving and beautiful poetry ever written in English (and yes, despite appearances, it is written in English!) – yet, even he suffered from bouts of writer’s block.  He is invoking Cleo, one of the Muses, in the first extract, asking her to help him ‘ryme wel,’ and he tells her that she is the only inspiration he needs; Cleo must perhaps be a jealous Muse.  Perhaps she wouldn’t wish to share inspiration duties with any of her sisters, or indeed anyone or anything else in Creation.  Clearly, whatever Chaucer said, it worked!  He had a gift when it came to sweet-talking, maybe.  It gives me hope to know that even a creative master like Chaucer suffered droughts of inspiration, because when I’m going through one, it makes me feel as though I have something in common with one of my heroes.

Perhaps it’s even true to say that occasional lapses in inspiration are necessary, because there has to be a time when you need to replenish your store of ideas.  You can’t continually deplete your well – it has to have time to refill, every so often.

I’m trying to bear this in mind as I look around inside my brain and realise it resembles the inside of a ping-pong ball this morning.  Only one thing for it – I’ll get out into the air, take some deep breaths (inspiration/inhalation), invoke Chaucer, and hope for the best.  Wish me luck!

Exploration

I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Neil Armstrong this weekend.  I was a little behind the times, though – I only heard about it on Sunday (yesterday), by which time everyone else in the world, probably, already knew about it.  It made me sad, but also proud that such a man had lived at all, and it set me off thinking about exploration, and the thrill of the new.

This thought process dovetailed neatly with the wonderful trip I took this weekend to the Dublin Tall Ships festival, in the company of my husband and in-laws – it was so enjoyable, and made me feel just like a little girl again.  I giggled unashamedly at the 21-gun salute at Poolbeg as the first ship sailed out of Dublin port, and clapped and waved at some of the passing vessels, despite being well aware the sailors on board could neither hear nor see me.  Unfortunately the wind was light as the flotilla passed our vantage point, so they were not in full sail, but, even so, something about their grace and majesty, their soft undulations on the sun-dappled water, their sheer size and the craftsmanship required to bring them to life stirred my emotions and made me feel a pure, raw joy that I have not felt in a long time. The sight of them got me thinking about Susan Cooper’s magnificent novel ‘Victory’, which made me weep as I read it due to the poignant descriptions of life on board ship in the early nineteenth century, and how it might have been to have fought alongside Admiral Lord Nelson during his last battle.  It also made me think of one of my favourite pieces of poetry (John Masefield’s evocative ‘Sea Fever’): ‘I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky;/And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…’

I began to wonder what it was about the sight of these proud vessels that touched me in such a profound way, because I am not a sailor and have no experience whatsoever of being on board ship.  I have never felt the sting of salt spray in my face, I have never hauled a sail or scrubbed a deck, and I only have a vague idea of what a boom is.  But I don’t think it matters that I don’t know exactly what it’s like to make a ship work; I think the feeling of the new, of the exciting, of the thrill of exploration is common to everyone.  Neil Armstrong and his crewmates felt it as their vessel sailed into worlds unknown, and anyone who trod the boards during the Golden Age of sail surely felt it.  I’m feeling it at the moment, despite the fact that my ‘vessel’ is nothing more exciting than my person, and my undiscovered seas are all inside my mind.  No matter, though – I can hear the whipping of the sea-wind through my hair, the screech of seagulls wheeling in the bright air, the crack of the sails above my head, the groaning and creaking of the ropes and the straining timbers, and the sheer joy of chasing the horizon, just as clearly in my imagination as I would do if it were real.  And, this way, I also get the unadulterated joy of writing about it.

‘Sometimes you must Leap…’

Today, I’m thinking about friends, and connections between people.  My thought process has, I suspect, been sparked by starting this blog; one of the most interesting features it has is a map showing me the various countries people are in when they happen to click onto this little site of mine.  My heart starts to race when I realise people in Australia, Canada, the US and the UK, among other places, have taken the time to have a look at what I’m doing here, and I wondered – what brought them here?  How did they even hear of this blog?  (Thank you all so much for having a look, by the way).

In many ways, I’m still quite an old-fashioned type.  To me, the concept of something I’ve written being visible, immediately, to the entire world via the magic of the internet is just that – magic.  I like the thought that I’ve retained a bit of that fascination, that amazement that goes with something you don’t truly understand; it makes every day a smidge more exciting.

Just as exciting, though, is the type of writing that only the writer, and the person written to, ever get to see: I’m talking here about ‘private correspondence’ (does anyone else remember that?)  At the same time as I’ve been feeling so connected to the wider world, via the medium of this little blog, I’ve been realising how wonderful it is to have friends, of the flesh-and-blood variety.  Since I began this journey I’ve been so lucky to have found huge support, from so many people.  Sort of like the Rhinestone Cowboy, I’ve been getting cards and letters – but they’re from people I most definitely know.  I’m looking at a card sent to me by one of my dearest friends as I write – it bears the wonderfully inspirational message ‘Sometimes you must leap… and grow your wings on the way down,’ and I have placed it beside my computer, along with several other beautiful ‘Good Luck!’ cards I’ve been lucky enough to get.  I’m sure I’m going to have days when I’ll feel like I’m plummeting down into the abyss of Crazy Stupid Decisions, and I’ll wonder whether my wings will ever grow strong enough to bear me back up again, but for the moment, I’m leaping – and, thanks to my social networks, both real and virtual, I have a feeling things will be just fine.

Have a wonderful Saturday, everyone.  Remember the Neil Young classic: ‘One of these days, I’m going to sit down and write a long letter/to all the good friends I’ve known’ – maybe today should be that day.

About Patience, and Books (of course)

Today, my thoughts are turning to August 30th – not too far away now, of course.  But I have been waiting for August 30th for several months at this point.  I know, in a manner of speaking, we’ve all been waiting for it – nobody (that we know of) has a shortcut to get them from, say, March to October in the blink of an eye, just in case they don’t feel like living through all the days in between.  The reason I can’t wait for this specific day, though, is because there’s something in particular happening then, the thoughts of which have been tickling around inside my skull since before the summer.

I’ve been looking forward to it in much the same way I used to look forward to Christmas, or my birthday, as a kid.  The waiting is all part of the experience, I think.  It adds something to the eventual pleasure of having your expectations fulfilled; it makes the whole thing feel somehow greater.  I wonder, though, if this mind-set is something I have because I’m a child of a certain era, an era in which we had no choice but to wait if we wanted something.  There was no ‘instant-download’ this, no ‘one-click purchase’ that.  I think, and I know it’s not a new thought by any means, that humanity lost something important when it jettisoned its ability to wait, to anticipate, to look forward to the unexpected, or uncontrollable, arrival of something which is desired.  Soon, if our entertainment purveyors can’t download happy experiences directly into our brain before we’ve even thought of what we’d like to do, or see, or hear, we’ll consider it a travesty of justice.  As my mother would say: God forbid.

So here I am, the soul of patience.

The event on August 30th?  The new novel by my lifelong hero, Alan Garner, entitled ‘Boneland’, will be published.  I have it on order, from an actual bricks-and-mortar bookshop.  I can’t wait.