The Gently-Turning Mind

Years ago (I mean, years ago), I wrote a book. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it on the blog before – it’s the one that has languished ever since in an envelope, currently gathering dust on top of my bookshelves in the living room – but it still counts as my first attempt at writing a full-length book. I had thought of it as being so bad that it wasn’t worth revisiting, and that there was absolutely nothing of any value in its pages. I actually felt revolted by the very thought of it, like reading it would be humiliating; I couldn’t bear to touch it, let alone face it.

Over the past few days, though, I’ve felt my thoughts start to turn, gently, and I’m realising something interesting: this book is not bad enough to evoke such a visceral response in me. Something else was tied up with my memory of writing it, and I’ve been carefully unpicking this for the past while. Here’s what I’ve concluded: the very existence of this book reminded me of a painful time in my life, a time when I thought I’d never be happy again. Even though it’s a children’s story about good overcoming evil and bravery overcoming tyranny, I wrote it during a very dark time. I know that this story took shape in my mind at a time when joy seemed very far away.

I’m beginning to wonder if this is the reason I’ve never revisited the book, and not its lack of literary merit. I’m not saying it’s the new C.S. Lewis, but the story had an arc, and it had characters, and it had an epic conclusion. It worked. There’s a story there, waiting to be properly told.

Hey! I think I found the story... Image:

Hey! I think I found the story…

Writing is such an emotional process. You can’t help but bring a little of yourself to everything you write, and – of course – the circumstances of your own life are going to have an effect on what you write, and how you remember it once years have passed. This book – I had called it ‘Emoriel’ all those years ago, but perhaps I’ll rename it – is so closely tied up in my personal darkness that it has taken me this long to even consider blowing the dust off it and having a look. I haven’t done it yet – as I write, the book is still in its wrappings, high on a shelf, lying quietly, waiting – but something tells me I will be doing it soon.

At the weekend, my husband and I started talking about this old book of mine. He has, of course, never read it, and sometimes mentions it in passing, probably in the hope that I’ll let him take a look at it if he drops a few hints here and there. Out of the blue, I told him: ‘You know – I think I might revisit it. I actually think I will have a look at rewriting it, once draft one of Tider is done.’ As he is wont, my husband smiled supportively at me, told me that would be a brilliant idea, and then we moved on with our evening.

I say this came ‘out of the blue’, but I wonder if it did, really. I’m sure this is something my brain has been working up to for a long time.

If you have enough drops, you'll eventually fill yourself to overflowing. Image:

If you gather enough drops, you’ll eventually fill yourself to overflowing.

As the book stands at the moment, from what I remember, it needs a lot of work. In fact, it needs so much work that a total rewrite is really my only option. It’s written in a style I loved at the time, one born out of the fact that, back then, I didn’t really read a lot of children’s books; my vocabulary and style was like something out of the 1930s. I based my ‘voice’ on the books I’d read as a kid – we’re talking Enid Blyton here – which, I’m pretty sure, would have most modern children weeping with laughter before they’d even finished the first paragraph. The only problem with that is, of course, that they’d be laughing at, rather than with, the story. There’s no mention of mobile phones, the internet, even video games; I think the most technological the book gets is when I mention ‘the radio’ (luckily, I didn’t call it ‘the wireless’), and our heroine gets to wear ‘galoshes and a sou’wester’. I’m wondering if I wrote this book in order to immerse myself in the joy of my own childhood reading, as a way to escape the reality of my life at the time; perhaps that’s why it has more in common with books of my grandparents’ generation than the current one.

All that can be fixed, though. I can bring what I’ve learned from ‘Eldritch’ and ‘Tider’ to bear on my old story, and I can cover the framework I built more than ten years ago with a bright new canvas, one which will hopefully be up-to-date and sparky, fun and good to read. I have already written this story to completion, so I know it can be done again; I have already created characters that I love, and I can easily breathe life into them again.

And – of course – I’m glad to think that, very soon, I’ll be able to take this book down again and face it once more. Opening the envelope in which it has stayed, quietly ruminating, for over a decade is far more than it seems. In opening that seal, I will be facing my own self, my own past, and laying to rest a lot of pain.

It couldn’t have happened any sooner than this.

4 thoughts on “The Gently-Turning Mind

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Oh, I was in my early twenties. The book’s language, though, sounded like it was taken from the nineteen-twenties, hence the need for a rewrite!

      I’m glad you liked the post. 🙂

  1. anna3101

    But there’s no need for video games in there, you know. I’m a die-hard fan of computer games, and all the new gadgets and stuff, and I honestly do not think I could live without the Internet but don’t we have enough of that in our lives already? Isn’t it good to escape into a book without any of that? 🙂 There are plenty of books without a trace of technology in there, and people still love them. You shouldn’t feel obliged to mention ipads and facebook just for the sake of it. The world needs a fresh breath in the YA genre. Take this from someone who reads a lot of that stuff lately 🙂 I’m so horribly sick and tired of the same old things, over and over and over again, in each single book!!! I wrote about a very nice novel on my blog (you were even kind enough to like that post :)) – “Delirium”. I was so happy with it. Until I got to the second book in the series, and what do I find there? Yet another – ANOTHER – stupid love triangle. I can’t bear it anymore. Honestly. If some UFO came here and would start reading YA genre, they would be convinced that our whole world is made up of the selected few young girls that are being pursued by a whole crowd of guys each, and that the basis for our society is constant whining and sighing about which guy to choose or which girl to stalk. Seriously, what’s wrong with all those writers? It’s like there’s one plot available in the whole universe, and we go over and over it, again and again.

    Sorry for the rant – I just had to complain to someone. I really like Lauren Oliver’s writing but she just killed me all that stereotypical teenage stuff. If I were a young girl and I didn’t have a crowd of admirers, I’d have to think I was seriously flawed in a very, very serious way because each and every book features a girl everyone goes head over heels about. Doesn’t matter if she’s pretty or clever or interesting (and very often she’s actually none of those things, so the reason for the mass male hysteria is a mystery). Arrgh.

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      That’s exactly my problem with YA novels, too! I can’t stand any more of the unrealistic ‘love-triangle’ plots. I think, to be fair, there’s a huge backlash among readers and bloggers against the love-triangle theme, but it will never go away entirely, I think.

      There are some intriguing writers, like Laura Lam, who are writing about intersex characters and someone else (whose name I forget! Arrgh) who writes about an asexual character. I haven’t read their books yet but I plan to, as I think they sound like such a refreshing break from the norm.

      Thanks for your feedback re. technology. I know exactly what you mean (and you’re right!) but really, the book I’m talking about sounds like it was written by someone who grew up in the nineteenth century. 😀 There does have to be a happy medium somewhere! 🙂


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