Thursday, March 22, 2007

56,190 Words

This has been sitting in Wordpad for a couple of days, waiting for me to get back online.

I've been reading about hyperfiction; its proponents apparently believe that readers are oppressed by the traditional beginning-middle-end structure of the novel and would prefer to navigate our own way through the story, altering the line of the narrative and perhaps even switching between alternative universes (presumably the result of making some different choice at any particular crossroads in the plot) and changing the 'main voice' of the story or its narrator. It occurs to me that the author of the essay (Susan Sontag), who disliked the idea of the hypernovel and did not believe it would catch on, has missed a glaringly obvious point: the hypernovel exists - in fact I would go so far as to call it ubiquitous - and may be found on every playstation and x-box in the world. They hypernovel has snuck up on us literary types, unawares, and any who would dismiss modern computer games as having no real story have obviously never tried them. I, personally, am not a great fan of these infinte wasters of time and mental capacity but I do appreciate their cleverness.

For me, it has to be the traditional novel structure, for now at least, although I have been seriously considering doing a Scooby-Doo ending. There are precedents in literature: A Portrait of a Lady, The Story of O, and others. I think they are a class above the cliffhanger ending, in that you are left with two or more distinct possibilities for the conclusion of the tale, rather than being left with nothing. The author may even be pointing you firmly in one particular direction but he at least leaves open the possibility that Isabelle might just change her mind - and you can believe that she did, if it makes you feel better.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

54,493 Words

Anybody want to send me a spring-themed haiku? Your own work or just something you read and enjoyed. You send it as a 'comment' by clicking below, or as a private email message. Please say if you don't want me to post it on the blog.

There are three lines, the syllables go 5,7,5 and it really ought to be concerned with nature, an emotion, a season and (in the last line) a contrast of some kind.

This is one of my favourite poems, it's by Wendy Cope, from the book If I Don't Know (2001, Faber & Faber):


What's that amazing
new lemon-yellow flower?
Oh yes, a football.

Love A

Saturday, March 10, 2007

54,019 Words

Saturday morning:
When I write for a long time and then am called upon to return, suddenly, to the real world by a crying child or ringing telephone, I experience an unpleasant inverse vertigo. As I descend into the rest of the house I feel dizzy. I have difficulty knowing that it is real. I am disconnected and everything is smaller and slightly out of focus. It takes me a few minutes to acclimatise. To others it probably looks like I have just woken up: not writing but napping.

I'm in a love/hate phase with the book at the moment. When I'm sitting working on it, the time flies by and yet I find it hard to make myself sit down in the first place. It's like putting off doing your homework. First I trim my nails, then I notice how dusty the bedroom is beginning to look in the daylight, so I get a cloth... and so on. I feel resentful towards the book itself; I feel like it should be less laborious to get the story out of my head and on to the page.

As I go, I'm making two lists on pieces of scrap paper beside the computer: words I think I've probably over-used and need to check, and words I like and would like to use if possible (portent, lacerate, denigrate, scowl).

A poem:

Looking Forward

Crisp, bright October Sunday
Alone in my garden -
I breathe in deeply.

Each pale, waxy bulb
Bedded in cool receptive earth.
I mulch in silence.

Soft warm wool
Envelops my own skin -
I am in heaven.


The cycle of my fertility swings around and around as V's belly grows.

I make new curtains for every room of the house.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

53,625 Words

I'm still just going over old ground but I'm quite enjoying it and I'm having lots of new and unexpected ideas about where to take the story after p.184.

In Writers' Rooms, they always describe/explain the items on their desk and what else is visible in the room. If you could have a tour of my surroundings, they would look like this:

I live in a terraced house that was once two back-to-backs (a style of two-up, two-down housing that I have been told is particular to industrial Yorkshire, although I'm sure people will point out if this is incorrect). This old stone terrace is surrounded on three sides by 1950s council semis, from which the noise, especially on summer nights, can be horrendous. The garden, however, is 120 feet long and the road in front is so quiet the kids can play out on it all day long unless some local idiot is riding one of those high-pitched, improbably loud motorbikes around the streets, in which case they know to keep well clear.

We share the garden with the next-door-neighbours for a bit of extra width but it can be problematic: the wife especially gets very grumpy if there is any noticeable wear and tear on 'her side', despite the fact that she seems never to sit in the garden or take any share in maintaining it. I'm thinking of fencing it off when we can afford it but her husband is such a lovely, kind man and adores having the place teeming with children (their grandchildren play very well with our girls and the other kids on the terrace).

Inside, we live on four floors, including a cellar kitchen and loft conversion. The loft is our bedroom and that's where I write, on the desk that my neighbour made for me. The low walls and sloping ceilings are cream with amazingly solid, bulky old timbers exposed and polished. My neighbour told me that the mill-owner who built the terrace of back-to-backs in 1900 salvaged the timbers from ships being broken up in Hull. I love the idea that these timbers, under which I sleep and work, have been all around the world on unimaginable adventures. I like looking at their marks and scars and dreaming of the hands that might have made them.
The floor is polished wood and there is a low, wooden king-sized bed, also made by my neighbour, from whose daughter we bought the house (bed included). We have a big leather armchair that we bought secondhand from a guy a work, which has white cushions and a dark grey fleece blanket on it with a little round side table and that's where I curl up to read my printouts. We have white fairtrade rag-rugs on the floor to break up all the dark wood and two square-framed prints rest on top of the enormous horizontal beam that serves as a headboard: they are japanese in style, mostly white, blue and green with a hint of mustard and an even tinier hint of pink on one of them. Andy's shows a mountain and storks; mine, blossom trees and people in traditional dress. My parents bought them for us for Christmas a few years ago. We couldn't agree on a single picture in the gallery so we compromised on these and I love them more every time I look at them.

We have bookshelves built into the walls of the winding staircase that brings you up here and more low bookcases along one wall of the room. My desk is in quite a dark corner but I have a pretty lamp that was a wedding present from the aforementioned (pregnant) V. The desk has holes to tidy away the wires of my laptop but I keep having to cart it downstairs to the phone socket every time someone else needs it so they're still unused. I sit in a worn, gold-painted Lloyd Loom chair (a real one) with cushions embroidered by my mum. Behind my computer, leaning against the wall is a big pinboard, covered all over with fishscales of post-its in various brightnesses of yellow, ranging from full-on headache to a dull custardy tone. I have the obligatory dictionary, thesaurus, Writer's Handbook and Writers' & Artists Yearbook, although these last pair are from 2003 and 2004 respectively, so I don't know how much use they are. My mum rescued them from a library stock cull a couple of years ago. I also have, close at hand, A Writer's Guide to Police Organization and Crime Investigation and Detection, which is useful but contradictory at times and a How To... guide called Writing a Children's Book, which is pretty pants.

Also on my desk, I have a little statue of a Native American 'story-lady' with her mouth open, singing her stories and tiny little figures swarming all over her body and in her hair - these are her characters. My parents brought it back from Arizona for me. I have a cuboid, copper pencil pot, which I was given when my great uncle died - I believe he made it - and a small, deep, green bowl I brought back from my honeymoon in Crete, which is full of drawing pins. A red Oxfam cocoa tin is also full of pins, paperclips, tiny little bulldog clips and several small keys, of whose purpose I have no idea and yet I daren't throw them out. I have a two-inch cross-section of a tree branch, stripped of its bark and beautifully polished, with a flat-bottomed hole drilled in the top, that was made for me by my neighbour Odd (from when I lived in Norway, the name means 'the point of a knife'). He says the hole is for storing toothpicks but I've never seen the point of them. I occasionally put earring studs in it if I'm taking them off and afraid of losing them. I mostly just keep it because it's pretty. He also made me a set of a necklace and earrings out of varnished elk-dung (I kid ye not!).

Well, that's me really. A few photographs, jewellery boxes, stacks of cds, six blue and gold tea glasses from Morocco (where I visited a university friend who was studying arabic), dark yellow curtains I made for the velux windows because the blinds were too expensive (we didn't do the loft conversion, it was like this when we bought the house). The bedding is IKEA: white cotton with narrow stripes of beige, black and duck-egg blue. The lamps have the same blue in their ceramic bases and plain cream coolie shades. It's all very neutral but I find it peaceful, especially the way that the small touches of colour all come from the prints over the bed. The strange thing is that we didn't buy anything new for the bedroom when we moved here - different pieces came out of different boxes, just because they served a purpose, not chosen for their colour scheme - most of these things were in different rooms in our previous house and yet, when I finished unpacking and sat back and looked at the whole, everything seemed to just fit. It's the same in the lounge. I feel like we are meant to be here, despite everything.

Love A

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

53,029 Words


It's eight songs isn't it? I realise that now. Well, my eighth song would have to be Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen because that's my funeral song. It's not that the lyrics mean anything special to me, it's just the sound of it I love. It's so mournful and beautiful.

I've been daydreaming again, only this time it's purely material. I read last week in the Guardian Review about a blogger being paid £70K for a book and my mind keeps wandering off at inconvenient moments, like when I ought to be concentrating on NOT going onto autopilot at the roundabout down the road and heading off towards junction 40 when I need to take any one of the alternative exits (I can't tell you how many times I've done that!).

I would buy:

  • a new computer, just for me, so I don't have to share it with people checking their email and little ones playing on the cbeebies website. Maybe I'd have one with a vertical screen. I saw one like that in a 'writers' rooms' feature a few weeks ago.
  • two mornings a week of childcare instead of just one. (I'm still waiting to hear about that bloody job! For a scale 4 job, that's about £14,000 a year full-time to those not familiar with local authority payscales, I've had an interview, an aptitude test, given two initial referees plus one extra that they asked for and now they want me back in a week for a 2nd interview. I used to be on scale SO2 when I worked full time, which is four whole scales higher, and it didn't take this much effort to get that job!)
  • a landscape gardening co. to move my shed, which is currently halfway down my long, narrow garden, to a position right at the bottom, facing up to the house. That way I'll be able to see the kids wherever they're playing and I can have a patio where it used to be.
  • a downstairs loo! Perhaps that should have been no.1 (pardon the semi-pun there) we're really desperate for one so that we can take hosting Christmas off my mum's hands. We've got enough bedrooms if the girls squidge in together but the bathroom situation would be horrendous.
  • I'd go on one of those plastic surgery holidays and have my mummy-tummy done. Honestly, I'm alright in magic knickers but let's just say we don't leave the light on anymore.
  • a family holiday somewhere sunny, somewhere we can do some voluntary work. I love going to Wales and Scotland with my parents but, like Karen Blixen, I have a dream of Africa.


I love my new desk, by the way. I was so eager to get to work on it that I've only put one coat of beeswax on the top and the rest is still bare. It has a series of built-in bookends in the back left-hand corner where I can store my most frequently used reference books within arm's reach and, although the lovely smell of the beeswax faded within a couple of days, I get a fresh, spring-cleaning whiff of it every time I lift a volume.


PM now:

In the book I'm really beginning to see the refugee thread of the story coming to the fore. I think the plot is going to end up hanging fairly heavily on it. The rest of it ties in well too, I think: families that work, families that don't, people who feel like strangers within their own families, people who are separated from their families and really are surrounded by strangers, teenagers just finding their own identities, juxtaposed with the loss of identity experienced by a refugee - not just national identity but that deep-down, certain knowledge of who you are that allows you to relate to other people and to function in the outside world.

I do have some refugees whom I can count as close friends, in case anyone was wondering, so I have had many of these experiences straight from the horse's mouth and I have, of course, asked their permission before fictionalising their experiences. One beloved friend, M, said that she thought as many people as possible ought to know how hard it is to leave your country, to lose your family ties and possessions, to lose so much time out of your life in the arduous process of starting from scratch. She wants the world to know that no one would make such a decision unless it was LIFE OR DEATH.

Love A