Monday, 26 January 2015

Points of View

Sacha Ferrier's Transcience exhibition
‘I know you’ve worked really hard on this,’ Tom begins cautiously, ‘but I prefer the first version…’. Tom’s always the first person to read my work, usually when it’s finished, so it’s rare to run anything past him at this early stage. The thing is, having finished my first chapter of the new novel, I keep having a mental ‘tickle’ that has to be scratched; what if I write this in the first person? 

We’re inclined to trust first person narratives and are often seduced by their immediacy, that sense of having direct access to a character’s thoughts, but I also liked the idea that first-person narrators are unreliable; memories change every time we retrieve them, or we may gloss over events and deceive ourselves about what really happened.

The re-write proves to be an interesting experiment; I learn a great deal more about my protagonist, but I can’t quite tell why the story isn’t quite working until Tom gives me his reasons for preferring my initial draft, saying that the second makes him feel boxed-in and he misses seeing the broader picture. I’ve mentioned before that my stories, long or short, always begin with something like a ‘still’ from a film, then, very slowly, the frame unfreezes. As it starts to roll I learn who the characters are and what problems they’re trying to solve, consequently there’s a strong visual element to the way I work. As for viewpoint, I like to use ‘deep’ third, trying to accomplish what first-person narration does with ‘I’ using ‘he’ or ‘she’. I write each scene from one character’s point of view, showing it through his or her eyes and filtering it through his or her emotions. (Note: one scene, one character, and despite one claim to the contrary – grrr! - no ‘head-hopping’ ever!). So it’s back to what I think I do best and even though a small part of me mourns for the chapter I’m now discarding, I’m back on secure foundations and will hopefully build from here.

It’s been a busy time here with lots of visitors, so we decide a change of scene is in order with restorative trip to Aberystwyth. After lunch at the Arts Centre we wander round an exhibition there, a fascinating, beautiful and profoundly moving series of photographs by Sacha Ferrier, then round the day off for quick look at a different beach and more lovely views…

Looking down across Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Looking towards the Creative Studios with their distinctive 'puffer' jackets!

At the beach.

Monday, 12 January 2015

When Words Fail Me

‘But, Chris,’ Si, my son-in-law, tells me gently, ‘it’s only you who thinks that way.’ We’re sitting at the kitchen table where I’ve been moaning away about my professional disappointments in 2014 and awarding myself a Could Do Better grade for my efforts. ‘Anyone else would be pleased to have just one novel published - ever – you’re just comparing yourself to others in a very small circle.’

I’ve thought about our ‘turning of the year’ conversation a lot since then because it helped me to see that the only person giving me a hard time, is me. Some of it’s due to panic; I’ve had several writing projects in mind and started them only for my Inner Critic to rise up and savage them. Some of it’s due to a sudden urge to put everything in order, a frenzied outbreak of cupboard tidying as if I’m trying to create a sense of calm so I can concentrate in peace. And a lot of it’s because I’ve been ill, in pain, busy with other commitments, worried about other people, irritable and feeling generally burn-out.

What to do? I hate anything I perceive as wasting time, but even I’ve had to admit that sometimes you just have to stop and refill the well. Firstly I’ve tried not to think about writing, but to do lots of reading. And while I’m on the subject of books, two I particularly enjoyed at the tail end of last year, were Helen Macdonald’s beautiful, obsessive H is for Hawk and Henry Marsh’s troubling and unflinching Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery. I’ve listened to new (to me) music including Ben Howard and Grey Reverend. I’ve been able to go out running again (hurray) and we’ve also taken time simply soaking up the views along this quiet, unique coastal strip.

The first sign that I might not entirely have forgotten how to write came when my publishers asked for volunteers to contribute to a series of very short stories, based on the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas, to be given away as post-Christmas treats. After several days of wringing my hands over ‘Four Calling Birds’, the alchemy suddenly happened and my characters came to me as if I was watching a film. And then one of the projects I’ve had in mind started interrupting my sleep and demanding attention. In some ways I dread the hard work, the long hours, the madness of characters taking over my head, but the compensation is a visceral thrill, which I can’t compare with anything else, when the first stirrings of a novel feel right. So now to the long road ahead and brave new words!

Many thanks, Amey, for the inspirational glass pictured above.  I look forwards to reaching The End!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Climb Every Mountain

A view from the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path
After our mountain of visitors – nine over two weeks, eight of us altogether at peak times and, believe me, we have a dormer bungalow not a country mansion – I have a few mountains to climb (washing, ironing and putting bedding back in store) before I’m back in the swing of blogging. However, I also have heaps of very happy memories to treasure; like the sight of Ma’s face when she discovered that Santa had left a Christmas stocking on the end of her bed.

We had a sharp reminder of how very precious moments with family are at the end of December when we heard about a very bright light going out in this world. Her story is not mine to tell, but it certainly made me hold my loved ones closer. 

 But there was good news too; a reprieve, hopefully, even, an ‘all clear’ for my mother-in-law, new jobs, new plans and lots to look forwards to in this fresh new year. And after The Bad Back from Hell that drove me to the doctor, I even managed to join Rose, Si and Tom for some coastal path walking where the ups and downs are equally lovely.

Si, Rose and Tom brave the cold wind!

Me and Him