Monthly Archives: June 2014

Which Character Are You?

Today’s post is an homage, if you will, to this oneThe Loony Teen Writer‘s wonderful list of fictional characters with whom she identifies, which I read with a smile and a nod this morning. I’ve long had a similar post in the planning, but – as always happens when you sit on a good idea for too long – someone else beats you to the post.

Let that be a lesson, writers. And, indeed, everyone.

In any case, it’s a wonderful sunny Monday morning here, so what better time could there be for picking apart your soul and examining it for traces of literary-ness? None. Exactly.

So, out of all the characters I’ve read, which ones do I identify with most? Or, perhaps, if I could choose to be a character in a book, which one would I pick?

Top of this list, for me, would have to be Alexandra Bergson, who is a character I’ve mentioned already in a post about my important literary moments. She features in Willa Cather’s O, Pioneers! and I love her because she’s hard-working, full of deep-seated (and, sadly, too often unexpressed) passions, and at one with the land on which she lives. At the time I first ‘met’ her, I didn’t think I’d ever read a character which described me to myself quite as well as she did, for loads of reasons.

But then of course there’s the absolutely fabulous Tiffany Aching, who is a character in Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels – or, a subset of them, at least. She first appears in the book The Wee Free Men, which benefits from being absolutely hilarious (due to the presence of the titular wee free men, and also because it’s written by Terry Pratchett – obviously), and I loved her from the very first word.

Image: thebooksmugglers.com

Image: thebooksmugglers.com

The second youngest of six children, Tiffany lives a quiet life of duty, largely being ignored by her family and trying to keep her sticky, sweet-obsessed younger brother Wentworth out of trouble. When, one day, she sees a load of tiny, blue-skinned, kilt wearing men who tell her that Wentworth is in danger from a green monster who lives in the river near their home, she quickly uses her brother as bait to lure the monster out of the water and hit it, squarely, with her sturdy frying pan.

I mean, come on. What’s not to love?

Tiffany goes on to have a range of amazing adventures in the four books which feature her as a central character. From the outset, she is single-minded, sensible, intelligent, and resolutely determined to get the job (whatever ‘the job’ happens to be at the time) done, no matter what it takes. I, too, have a younger brother who was always getting me in trouble as a kid (though not the sort of trouble that required me to use household implements to fend off river monsters, unfortunately), and I am a sensible, resolute and ‘no-nonsense’ kind of person. Tiffany, and her grandmother – who is a very important character in the series, despite being dead the whole way through – were characters who seemed to fit exactly with my conception of myself. Perhaps a slightly idealised conception of myself, but no matter.

I also adore The Dog Woman, who is a character in Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry. Unfeasibly large, covered in smallpox scars, and with a mouth large enough to hold a dozen oranges at once, The Dog Woman is mostly mythical but also very strongly corporeal. She dreams of being a mother, but knows it will never happen because she will never meet a man who is a match for her; however, when she finds her beloved son Jordan floating in the Thames, she raises him as her own until, as is inevitable, he leaves her to discover his own dreams. Her story slips between her own day, seventeenth-century London, and our own, and she is a character of fierce passion, loving devotion, loyalty, intelligence and integrity. She is fabulously realised, and central to an utterly engrossing story.

There are many characters I love in the Harry Potter universe, but I think the one I love the most is Mrs Weasley.

Actress Julie Walters as Mrs Weasley. Image: battleroyalewithcheese.com

Actress Julie Walters as Mrs Weasley.
Image: battleroyalewithcheese.com

Of course, there’s bits of me in Hermione (the infuriating know-it-all swot who’s swallowed a dictionary, mainly), but I always latched on to Mrs Weasley as a character. The core of her family, the large-hearted woman who ‘adopts’ the orphaned Harry, who helps without question no matter what the personal cost to her and who is brave beyond measure, the definition of love, Mrs Weasley is probably not a character in whom I see myself, but in whom I wish to see myself.

In fact, I think all the characters I’ve mentioned so far have sort of been characters I wish I was like, as opposed to characters I really am like. But then, perhaps there’s no difference? I think coming across fictional characters who mean something to you tells you something not only about who you are, but also who you want to be, and what sort of personality traits and values are important to you. They can help you to uncover what you want in life and what your priorities are. If there are fictional characters you love – perhaps even without knowing why, on a conscious level – maybe it’s because something in them has chimed deeply with something in you. Not only is this an excellent reason to read (as if you needed a reason to read), but also a great way to get to know yourself a little better.

So – unless you identify strongly with Hannibal Lecter or Patrick Bateman or someone like that – do you fancy delving into your favourite characters and sharing who they are, and why you love them? Go on. You might surprise yourself.

 

Book Review Saturday – ‘Cuckoo Song’

When you read as many books as I do, sometimes it can feel like you’ve read everything before. It takes a rare book to stun me and shake me by the shoulders and say ‘look! I am full of wonders you’ve never ever seen, nor even dreamt of, in all your life.’

Frances Hardinge’s newest masterpiece, Cuckoo Song, is one of those books.

Image: panmacmillan.com

Image: panmacmillan.com

Frances Hardinge’s work is consistently excellent. She is in a league of her own when it comes to language; her sentences are full and fragrant, like rivers bubbling over with words sleek and plump as otters. Simply reading her work is an experience in itself, leaving aside the fact that she can create characters who feel more real than you do and plots which make you actually want to live inside the book you’re reading – even when (mostly when) what’s happening is terrifying. I’ve been in mourning for this book ever since I finished it. I forced myself to linger over it because I knew I didn’t want it to end, even though the end, when it came, was unbearably beautiful.

Stylistically, Cuckoo Song is similar to Verdigris Deep, another of Hardinge’s books set in the contemporary (or near-contemporary) world. Dealing with ancient magic which disrupts the lives of ordinary children, Verdigris Deep is every bit as luscious and beautiful as Hardinge’s other books, set in alternate realities (check out my review of A Face Like Glass for more on how excellent her world-building skills are), but its familiar setting takes away nothing from its power. Cuckoo Song is similar in that it is also set in a recognisable world, the Britain of the 1920s, which is reeling in the wake of the Great War and attempting to deal with the giant psychological wound at the heart of society by covering it over and carrying on as though nothing was amiss. This idea – that of reality being ripped to pieces and there being no other way to deal with it than by ignoring it – is one of the central concerns of the story, as is the idea of what makes a family; is it the people who form it, or the bonds which bind them? Is it the roles they play and the house in which they live, or is it the love they have for one another? Is it whether disruption to their unit – in the form of a lost member or an unexpectedly gained one – brings them closer together or drives them further apart?

Triss Crescent is eleven, and her younger sister Pen is nine. They live with their parents in a beautiful home in Ellchester, where they reside in some luxury with a household staff and a genteel car. Mr Crescent is a civil engineer involved with the design and building of the bridges and railway stations and homes in the city, as more and more of the wild countryside is tamed, mapped, charted and brought under control. Unmentioned by name is the girls’ older brother Sebastian, who fell in battle in 1918, and whose room has remained untouched ever since. Mrs Crescent drinks restorative, medicinal ‘wine’ to keep her calm of an afternoon, and the girls do not always get on, to say the least. Mr Crescent buries himself in his work and the esteem in which he is held by the members of his community. They survive.

And then Triss has an accident one day, and wakes up different.

She has an insatiable appetite – and not just for food items. Her sister Pen seems to hate and fear her. Her parents try to keep her ‘safe’, locked away, resting. Her memories are scattered and fragmented, and everywhere she goes there are dried leaves and flecks of dirt, as though she has been dragging herself through the soil of the garden without realising or remembering it.

Gradually, she begins to put together what has happened to her. Bravely intercepting a frightening creature who is doing inexplicable things in the bedroom of her dead brother, she discovers who, or what, she has become – and she finds out where she needs to go to get the answers which can unlock not only her own fate, but that of everyone she loves. Her sister is in danger, but her brother is in an even more perilous situation, and only Triss has the means by which to restore her family, no matter what it takes.

The astonishing Frances Hardinge. Image: thebooksmugglers.com

The astonishing Frances Hardinge.
Image: thebooksmugglers.com

It’s impossible to synopsise this book without giving away too much about it, but the title is a huge clue as to what has befallen Triss. The story draws on folklore and ancient belief, using traditional wisdom and superstition like iron thread through the fabric of the text. Every single character Hardinge draws, particularly Pen (the small sister whose angry and heartbroken decision at the beginning of the book draws Triss into a mess her father had already started while trying to navigate the fog of his own grief) is a flesh-and-blood, psychologically complex individual. Every decision made, every deed done, every reaction, every piece of dialogue, every moment of the action, is as real and true as if it had actually happened. Cuckoo Song is one of the most perfectly formed and beautifully realised pieces of fiction I’ve ever read, in any genre. I wouldn’t change so much as a syllable, and it is not even a word too long or short.

Cuckoo Song is plangent and moving; it is poignant and meaningful. It has plenty to say about the nature of memory, about monstrosity, about family and nation and loyalty. It deals with the passing away of an old system and set of values and its rapid, messy and painful replacement with another. It is about finding what is real and true amid a sea of things which look real and true, but which are impostors. It is about what happens when you find what is authentic in an unexpected place, the last place you’d have thought to look for it. It’s about grief and loss and love, and the final terrible necessity of letting go.

It’s perfect. I can’t say more than that. If you haven’t read it yet, you really should.

 

It’s the Apocalypse! (But it’s not all bad…)

Image: Nuclear Winter Recon, CC Photo by Paul Hocksenar, sourced via flashfriday.wordpress.com

Image: Nuclear Winter Recon, CC Photo by Paul Hocksenar, sourced via flashfriday.wordpress.com

once-Earth

The Elders said this day would come. As he tended their tanks, monitoring their cryo-levels and checking their blood purity, he thought of their words: EVENTUALLY, THEY WILL DESTROY THEMSELVES. WHEN THEY DO, WE WILL BE WAITING.

Over generations, the creatures of the blue planet had revelled in their own filth. Again and again, The Elders thought their time had come, but they were thwarted; some of the creatures fought, hard, against the dying of their planet.

But they knew – they all knew – it was doomed from the start.

Then, nuclear war had wiped the blue planet white, and The Elders had begun their long wait for it to heal. In their circling ship, they watched in semi-stasis.

GO, they finally told him. MAKE THE WAY FOR US.

And so he walked once-Earth’s surface, testing every inch. Finally, he removed his mask and faced the yellow sun, breathing the air of a free world. Yes. They would be happy here.

 

**

So much for the ‘apocalypse’ of today’s title; now, what about the ‘it’s not all bad’ part? Well, work on my newest WiP went rather okay yesterday. I ripped the story back to its last ‘good’ place, like it was a knitting pattern, and reworked from there. I’m not sure what effect the changes I made will have on the story as it goes forward – for, like dropping a stone into a pool, every tiny change has huge repercussions and echoes – but I hope it will be for the best. Wish me luck as I step into the unknown today! Oh, and happy Friday, while I have you here. Try to take care of your little bit of still-Earth, while we have it.

Writing 101

My own writing is going – but very slowly. I’m struggling these days with tiredness and low motivation; ‘Web’ is still something that’s burning in me to complete, but I’m really finding it hard to see my way around some of the issues I’m encountering with the story. So, because you’ve all heard me whining about how ‘writing is hard’ and ‘plotting is complicated’, I really didn’t want to write another blog post like that. Instead, I’m going to take part in WordPress’s Daily Prompts exercise, a Writing 101 designed to help you hone your point of view.

Here’s the story seed: The neighbourhood has seen better days, but Mrs. Pauley has lived there since before anyone can remember. She raised a family of six boys, who’ve all grown up and moved away. Since Mr. Pauley died three months ago, she’d had no income. She’s fallen behind in the rent. The landlord, accompanied by the police, have come to evict Mrs. Pauley from the house she’s lived in for forty years. Write this scene from a 12-year-old observer’s point of view.

Image: bondedbuilders.com

Image: bondedbuilders.com

True Crime

Mom’s just left for the store when I start to hear weird noises across the street. She gave me strict (and I’m talking strict, like no-TV-for-a-month strict) instructions not to leave the house – but if there’s going to be some sort of shakedown, like, just outside my front door, I want to know about it.

She also told me not to eat the last popsicle, but hey. She can’t have everything her own way, right?

So I slide out onto the front porch, and there’s a ton of cars out in the street. I see flashing lights and guys with uniforms, and in the middle of it my neighbour, old Mrs Pauley, looking like a tiny piece of crumpled paper. They’re surrounding her like she’s some sort of FBI Most Wanted, and I can see her shaking from here. I wonder where Jo-jo is: I wouldn’t like anyone treating my mom like this, and Jo-jo – well. He’s a big guy. I don’t think the police, if that’s what these guys are, would be too thrilled to see him.

Maybe that’s why they’re doing this now, in the middle of the day, I think. Jo-jo’s the only Pauley boy left in town, and he’s got to be at work now. His brothers are scattered all over. I don’t remember ‘em, besides as big shadows and booming voices. They left years ago, before I was able to control my own drool. I don’t even know their names any more.

The Pauley’s’ve lived here forever. Like, way longer than my mom and me.

I’m trying to figure out what’s happening – is her house on fire? Is she in some sort of danger, or what? I don’t see any smoke, or anything, and I’m pretty sure she’s not, like, some sort of criminal on the run or whatever. Maybe Mr Pauley was, though? Maybe since he died a few months back his shady underworld has started to crumble, or something, and it’s all falling on his poor innocent wife…

But that’s stupid. Mr P. was awesome. I miss the old guy; he liked to tell jokes so bad that they should’ve come with a federal health warning, but because he laughed so hard you couldn’t help but join in. Mom said he’d fought in some war, but she never told me the details. I wish I’d asked him about it, while I had the chance.

One of the cop-guys is taking Mrs P. out of her house. There’s another one handing her a bag. I hear some weird banging, and then I see some other guy’s hammered a huge padlock right across Mrs P.’s front door. He slaps up a piece of paper, which somehow sticks itself to the peeling old wood, and I squint real hard: Eviction, I can just about read.

Eviction. No way!

I can’t move fast enough. All I can do is get to the porch steps and shout, and Mrs P. looks up. She smiles, but I can see she’s crying, and she raises a skinny old arm to wave at me. I blink real hard (something’s in my eye, y’know, makes it hard to see).

I wish, not for the first time, that we’d had money to get me a proper ramp. It’d take too long for me to go out through the back – by the time I got around, Mrs. P would be long gone. So, I watch as they bundle her into the back of a cop car, and I shout that I’ll get her some help, and the cops yell at me to get inside and mind my own, and I have to struggle real hard not to shout right back.

And as soon as they’ve all gone, I turn and wheel myself inside. The phone is technically out of bounds to me, too, but I’m sure this time Mom will understand.

‘Hello. Hello? Could you connect me to Miller Automotive, please? I need to speak with Jo-jo… I mean, Joseph Pauley. He works there. Thank you.’

I hear a click, and a buzz, and then I’m through.

Writerish Wednesday

Image: birds by nandadevieast on flickr; pinned to 1000 words' Pinterest board

Image: birds by nandadevieast on flickr; pinned to 1000 words’ Pinterest board

Duty

When the birds came, they hid the sky. The streams were endless, a liquid black flow of flesh and feathers, all converging on the horizon. It was the sign we had been waiting for, but we watched for two whole days and nights before the choice was made.

Like all the other girls of my age, I was ready to leave, but when my name was called the sigh of relief from every other mouth was a warm wind, and I felt light-headed as it passed me.

Being chosen was a huge honour; this, I knew.

I returned home to collect my pack. I could bring one small loaf and one water-skin, as well as my tinderbox and a spare pair of sandals. The empty golden box weighed more than everything I owned, but it had to be carried, too.

‘Go quickly, by night,’ advised my father.

‘Take care where you place every footstep,’ muttered my brother, holding me close.

I bowed to my mother’s picture, asking her blessing, and left while my family slept.

The way was hard, and the further I went the colder it got. I shivered in my thin robes, walking hard to keep warm. For three nights and days I travelled, resting only during the brightest hours of the day. I kept away from the main paths, and spoke to nobody. I kept the pulsating, beating darkness in my sights, training my ears for the cries of the ravens.

Then, one day, I was forced to loosen some of my robe and place it over my face; my breaths became shallow and fast. The air smelled hot and foul and full, and my steps fumbled their way across the rocky ground. It was drawing near.

On the eighth morning, I found the first of them. Pecked almost clean, his armour still shining despite his violent end, I touched his bones and wished his soul free. The next lay a spear-length from him, and the next, and the next… Again and again, my own bones and blood aching with exhaustion as I bent and stooped and prayed.

The birds hissed, circling. I ignored them.

I rested amid the battlefield that night. All around me unquiet souls tossed and turned in their pained sleep, like children lost in a crowded place. I could sense their fear and confusion, and in my dreams they plucked at my clothes, their eyes hollow. Do you know the way? Where is the light? Bring us home, they whispered.

I am sworn to do it, I told them, but they didn’t seem to hear.

The birds attacked midway through the following day, beating me with their wings and snapping at me with their sharp, bloodied beaks. I did not have time to do anything besides cover my head as best I could and carry on, bending and praying and releasing, one by one by one. My arms ran with my own blood and my ears rang with raucous calls.

I hid beneath a shield that second night, the spirit of its former owner gallantly defending me against all comers despite the fact that he was no more substantial than a thought, now.

He was the first I released the following morning. I had no other means of thanking him.

In the deepest part of the battle, where bodies lay ten-deep, I found myself drowning in death. I had to continue, because there was no other choice. The birds screamed overhead, wheeling and striking like lightning, forcing me to take up the weapons of the fallen to stop them from adding me to the sacrificial pile.

Throughout it all I bent, and stooped, and prayed.

Finally, I found a body without armour, bearing a short and notched blade and a simple helm, and I knew. Weeping, I searched his wounds as I said the prayers of release, and finally I slid the ring from his finger.

The birds fell like battering rams as I took my tinderbox from my pack. I set the sacred fire as I had been taught, using the lost king’s hair and sinew as fuel, cleansing his ring in the flame before placing it carefully in the heavy golden box I’d carried all this way. Then, with a word, the flames leapt from man to man, and I ran in terror even though I was beyond their power.

The birds wailed in rage as the conflagration claimed their prize.

I limped into the village ten days later. My father had been watching for me since they’d seen the smoke rising, and he alone had not given up hope.

Three children had been born while I was away, and they were brought before me without delay. One slept throughout, another laughed without cease, and the third – a girl – grasped the ring with eager fingers when I showed it to her. She brought it to her tiny lips as though to kiss it.

She gazed into my eyes as I held her, frowning up at me as though trying to place where she’d seen me before. I smoothed her softly wrinkled brow and laid her down, hoping she would never remember.

Content Warning

I am currently reading a book so brilliant that it’s actually a painful effort to put it down and get on with the rest of the stuff I have to do, like sleeping and eating and writing. It’s a book written for older children/young teenagers (its heroine is eleven – sort of); it involves magic and baddies and scary things happening in dark rooms and the terrifying power of scissors. It features a creature who cries cobwebs.

It’s fantastic.

Of course, it won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that, no matter how hard I try to be young in spirit and wrinkle-free of face, I am far more aged than the average reader of a book like this. In recent weeks there was a small furore about adults reading books written for children or teenagers and how we should all be ashamed of our juvenile tastes (I’m sure you can all guess what I thought of that). However, what’s on my mind this morning is something similar: are the themes in children’s books becoming more suited to adult readers?

Image: stevewhibley.blogspot.com

Image: stevewhibley.blogspot.com

As well as creatures made of twigs and strange messengers from Other places and magical upside-down worlds, the book I’m currently reading takes the Great War as a backdrop for part of its story: bereaved parents of fallen soldiers, left-behind fiancées whose beloved boys never came home, young men broken and hollow-eyed as a result of what they experienced in the trenches, present in person but absent forever in spirit, are all over it. The story is suffused with the sensibilities of a passing age, a turning from innocence to experience, a shattering of the traditions that had once bound society together and the beginnings of a new and uncharted way of life, one in which women expected to work and the paterfamilias in all its senses was starting to become less relevant. In one way, of course, nothing could be more important to a children’s story; those feelings of change and transformation and turning define a person’s life when they’re on the cusp of becoming an adult. In another, though, I can’t help thinking that while the general feeling created by all this tragic historical detail will add to a child’s reading experience, that in truth it’s designed to appeal to older readers, ones who will understand the symbolism in a deeper way.

I’ve blogged before on the absurd notion that certain topics are ‘unsuitable’ for children (including dark themes, death, good and evil, frightening things, ghosts and loss and challenges to identity, among plenty of others), and these same topics (albeit in different concentrations, perhaps) turn up regularly in adult books too. It’s probably natural, then, that there’ll be ‘bleeding’ between them; children need to read what they want to read, and these fictional explorations of change and discovery, courageous resistance in the face of evil and self-sacrifice in order to save a loved one are as important for young readers as they are for older ones. It’s also true that an adult reader will bring a different mental focus to a book than a child will, and themes will be read and understood differently depending on the age and experience of the reader; the same story might mean one thing to a child reader and something entirely different, something more, to an adult.

Perhaps it has always been this way. Charlotte’s Web, for instance,features sacrifice and the threat of slaughter and the overwhelming power of friendship. Children might get a message of love and unity from it, where adults might bring their own sense of nostalgia and their greater awareness of the passing of time to the story. The poignancy of Charlotte’s struggle might mean more to them, for they know, from the beginning, that Charlotte cannot live forever. Perhaps the mastery in the book I’m currently reading lies in the fact that it works on a multitude of levels: it’s a story about the encroachment of magic into a family and the struggles of two young girls to outsmart it, but it’s also a story of the increasing industrialisation of society, particularly after the slaughter of the Great War. It’s a tale of the machinery which ate huge chunks out of the countryside and the people who lived in it – and the traditional creatures and stories and legends who were also driven out. It’s a story about parental love for their daughters, but the hints of a darker reality are there too – an entitled class with more money than compassion, a woman who loves her own children but who has contempt for those of others. It’s a story of two girls who miss their big brother, a soldier who was lost in France in 1918, but it’s also the story of his lost life, the wife he never married and the children he never had.

Perhaps the books I love – the rich, textured, multi-layered, story-within-a-story books – haven’t started to incorporate ‘adult’ themes so much as I, the reader, have started to notice them. Perhaps, in reality, there are no ‘adult’ themes: good children’s books are as full of life and death and vitality as their adult counterparts. They are not lesser, not by any means, and no adult should be ashamed of reading anything which brings them pleasure, certainly not the masterpieces of children’s literature which contain more truth and beauty than shelf-loads full of the narcissistic nonsense which sometimes passes for ‘serious literature’. I love the idea that a child reader might love a book for reasons they can’t put their finger on; they might know there’s more to a story than they can grasp at a particular point in their reading life, but they resolve to come back to it later and read it again, gaining more and more from each re-read. I did this regularly as a kid, and (weird as I am) I’m sure I’m not alone. Those are the books we love at every stage of life, the ones which become part of our DNA. Adults coming to them can get the immeasurable joy of reading the story on all its levels at once, which is an experience like no other; children will treasure them all their lives.

Image: childrens-books-and-reading.com

Image: childrens-books-and-reading.com

Perhaps we should worry more about our intense need to police what people are reading than our desire to categorise books as ‘for one sector of society only.’ Of course there are books which are not suitable for children, and from which they should be kept, but I hate the thought that so many adults would be reluctant to open their minds to a wonderful story for children just because they feel it’s inappropriate for them to want to read it.

Read outside the box a little, is my advice. You might be surprised by what you find.

Creaking into Monday

Boy, oh boy. It has been a slow old morning this morning.

It seems almost too cruel to be under the weather on a Monday – as if the day wasn’t hard enough, you have to carry the extra burden of ill-health, too? – but one cannot choose these things, of course. I’m exhausted, and shaky, and my head is doing that weird swooshy thing that makes you feel like you’re on a roller-coaster*, and I’d love to be able to press ctrl+alt+del and begin again, but it ain’t happenin’.

So, what are you gonna do? Keep on keepin’ on, of course.

I was away from my desk this weekend, off doing happy things with my family, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have words on my mind. (Perish the thought!) I made contingency plans and arranged my work around my life – which, were I to be engaged in anything besides writing a book, would be a dreadfully bad idea, of course.

I'm not normally an advocate of bringing your work with you, but...

I’m not normally an advocate of bringing your work with you, but…

On Friday, before I embarked upon my weekend road-trip, I printed out my WiP, equipped myself with an array of writing implements and got myself ready to carry out an edit. I knew I’d have a few empty hours which I needed to fill, and I couldn’t think of a better way to occupy myself than ripping the guts out of my own work. I felt the book (even though it’s only partially completed) was substantial enough to stand a touch of dissection, and luckily I was right.

On this point, though, it’s useful to print out your WiP for several reasons; one of them, of course, is that you can bring your red pen out and slash it to ribbons (tough love, and all that), but another is that printing your book-in-progress allows you to see how much work you’ve actually done. It does a lot for your self-belief when you feel a little like you’ve run out of steam. My WiP – ‘Web’ – is only a little over halfway written, but I had been wondering whether what I’d managed to do had any value, or held together as a story. Printing and reading it as a whole allowed me to see it as one ‘thing’ instead of a random string of disconnected chapters (which is how a book appears when you’re creating it); it’s far from perfect or ready, of course, and most of it will probably end up either being junked or changed beyond all recognition before I’d consider it ready to submit to anyone, but at least now I know it does have a reasonable flow and it’s pretty much functioning as it should.

Which is more than can be said for my brain, today.

Another benefit of reading your work as a whole is that it can help you to sort out, even in outline, where you want the rest of the story to go. I was having a slight problem with ‘Web’ insofar as I knew, broadly, where I wanted the story to end up but the practicalities of getting things from A to Z weren’t entirely clear. Having an opportunity to read it through without interruption gave me a chance to map out a loose plan for the rest of the story; it reminded me of the small details and hints I’d planted in the tale’s foundations – little sparkling shards of story designed to flower into larger things as the book went on – which I’d forgotten about or had lost track of. So, in teeny-tiny handwriting, I now have a Plan for the rest of the story which I will begin as soon as I can. (Handy tip: perhaps make sure to use a different coloured ink for your planning notes in order to distinguish them from your editing notes. I know that in the heat of the moment, inspiration-wise, you don’t always pause to check your tools are present and correct, but it really is a good idea).

So, it’s shaping up to be a busy week; nothing for it but to creak on and get stuck in, I guess. Good luck with whatever’s on your plate today – I hope it goes smoothly, successfully and well.

Image: curiousweekends.blogspot.com

Image: curiousweekends.blogspot.com

*speaking of which, did you check out my story ‘Tiger and Turtle‘ which was published on Saturday as part of Flash Flood 2014? Feel free to share it around and/or leave a comment, if the mood strikes you…