Monthly Archives: October 2015

Tidy house, tidy mind?

I’ve been on something of a mission the past few weeks: a mission to finally bring order to the chaos that we live in. Or at least to tidy up the house a bit and make sure everything has a home…

It’s a job that’s been a long time coming. We first moved into this house just over four years ago. Then we had the builders in to renovate from top to bottom which took about a year and a half, with most of our stuff still in boxes and us shifting from room to room as our plans took shape around us.

During that time I was heading up an English department at a school in Plymouth, where Leigh was also based for the first two years of his med school training. Days were long and life was fast, and then I got pregnant: Arthur arrived approximately ten days after the builders finally left, bringing with him all the joy and craziness that accompanies a newborn.

The upshot of which is that, coming up for three years later, there were still boxes of stuff which had not actually been unpacked since we left London. And on top of those were more boxes delivered by my parents when they sold the family home. And one of the reasons none of them had been unpacked was that too many cupboards and drawers were full of I knew not what stuffed haphazardly in on the days when I snatched ten minutes to attempt to tidy up a bit.

And suddenly, having been saying for months that I needed to get on top if it all, I decided enough was enough: as soon as my feet touched the ground after our summer of adventures I was struck by an overwhelming desire to get organised.

And so I have.

I’m not quite there yet, but things are looking so much better: I’ve sorted Arthur’s toys and clothes and found homes for the many he’s grown out of, I’ve unpacked box after box of artefacts from my past, I’ve moved furniture around to make better use of space, I’ve sourced frames for all the pictures that needed them and have finally created the picture walls I’ve been visualising for years.

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It’s all been a bit manic, and as much as I’ve been feeling a real sense of achievement I’ve been wondering why – why on earth have I decided now to get my house in order, just at the point when I have possibly the most challenging edit yet of my novel to get my head around?

But I think that’s precisely it.

I’ve never been the tidiest of people (don’t laugh, mum), and it’s never especially bothered me before: I’ve always been pretty good at zoning out the detritus surrounding me to focus on the task in hand. But this time feels different. Maybe it’s the new level of clarity I feel I need to achieve in order to do this draft justice, maybe I’m feeling the pressure of trying to simultaneously be a full-time mum and a successful novelist. Whatever the cause, I’m pretty sure this manuscript is going to turn out a whole lot more polished if it – and I – have space to think and breathe.

I’m trying not to use the tidying thing as a procrastination tool – I am already well underway with this fourth draft, and have been fitting in an hour or two of editing every day at nap time. But yesterday I finished working through the notes I’ve been given by other readers, so this final push now needs to come from me alone.

There’s still a way to go on the mission for a truly tidy house, but my writing room is very nearly sorted. And once it is, there will be no more excuses not to get in the zone and get this novel ship shape too.

 

Muddled Manuscript

Sunday photo: 25th October 2015

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Arthur loves to wear his socks on his hands. He takes great delight in carefully peeling them off his toes and turning them into gloves. He’s not so keen on actual gloves. I think maybe the wrongness of it is part of what gives him joy.

Linking up today’s pic with Darren at One Dad 3 Girls for My Sunday Photo and Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. Check out their blogs for some fantastic photography from across the blogosphere!

Blackberries, bike rides and bravery

I’ve been mulling over how Arthur and I spend our days rather a lot lately. He’s coming up for three, and I am still almost solely responsible for his childcare. Generally I’m happy with this – I know there will be benefits he is getting from me that just aren’t accessible anywhere else – but still, sometimes I worry. Most of his friends are in nursery, and their parents naturally extol the benefits of that. Sometimes I worry that I’m just not fun enough, creative enough, hands on enough to have taken on this level of responsibility for my son’s education.

And then…

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Then I have days like the one we enjoyed on Thursday. We got up, we hung out and played for a while, Arthur napped and I wrote. And then we had lunch. And then we went exploring.

And I saw Arthur’s learning, his development, in every step he took. He’d been zooming his balance bike around the kitchen for a few days already, showing a confidence that had been lacking in months of experimentation. He was more reticent, out in the big wide world, but still he wanted to ride, pacing around the headland with barely concealed glee.

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He did get tired, eventually. But then his bravery transferred to another sphere.

All summer, we have talked to him about berries: the ones he can eat, and the ones he can’t; the ones we’ve grown in our garden, and the ones that flourish freely on the hedgerows. It is those that have been most significant over the last month or so: the inky blackberries that in my mind form the perfect snack yet for Arthur have been a concept just too unfamiliar to get his head around.

Until this week. When suddenly he wanted to try this delicious wild fruit, and having succumbed to its sweetness stood and gorged himself until his fingers and mouth were stained with black.

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Both of these things, the bike riding and the blackberry picking, represent huge steps of freedom for my little boy. I am proud of his bravery, of his confidence. But I am scared too, just a little. Because picking wild berries brings with it the danger of choosing the wrong ones, and lifting your feet from the floor when riding a bike means that you will one day surely fall.

But then these are precisely the sorts of risks that I need to be prepared to take if I am going to take on the challenge of educating my child myself.

He is still very young, but his curiosity is beginning to lead us to amazing places.

I just need to make sure I give it the space to work its magic.
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

On lightbulb moments, and cheese

I have been powering ahead with the edit this week. On balance, this is probably a good thing – but it hasn’t always felt like it.

In reality I have spent my days either hanging my head in shame or getting downright angry with myself. And then pondering, in disbelief, how it has taken me until draft number four to notice these things…

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I’m pretty sure that after the third draft I was feeling pretty confident: convinced I’d done all I could to polish my manuscript, ironed out all the niggles that had persisted up until then. And yet suddenly now so much of what I’ve written makes me cringe.

It’s the cheesiness, mostly. Even before I read my agent’s last set of notes I found myself cutting whole paragraphs I happened to cast my eye over, wondering how they could have lasted quite this long. And as I’ve worked through her (very kind) comments I have been both amused and embarrassed at the turns of phrase that at the time must have seemed appropriate.

There have been other painful moments of realisation too – things that, if nothing else, I need to remember in the hope that I might just avoid them next time round.

So, in no particular order, here are those lightbulb moments…

1) I get really lazy on my off days

There is a definite pattern to the notes I’ve received this time round, and there are certain chapters which have way more highlighted than others. In almost every case the problem is the same: instead of writing dialogue, I have described it, committing the cardinal writing sin of telling rather than showing. I think I thought I was doing this for a legitimate reason – that’s what I told myself anyway – but actually as I’ve tried to draw out the actual words from the description I’ve realised I hadn’t entirely thought through what it was that was being said. I suspect sleep deprivation had a lot to answer for – I was intent on keeping to word counts during the first draft, however depleted my brain cells were on any particular day. As a writing mum I’m not sure there’s any way I can entirely avoid that – but I’ll definitely be looking out for that off-day output next time I begin the editing process.

2) I’m a little bit too good at making excuses

The question remains, of course, why I failed to pick up all those lazy days in earlier redrafts. And I think it’s because I had done such a good job of convincing myself that everything I’d written was there for a reason. I can still hear those excuses in my head as I read the words now, but they don’t wash any more. This has to be progress, right?

3) I have a tendency to waffle…

I’ve always considered myself a fairly concise writer – not someone who’ll use ten words when one will do. But as I work through this edit there are paragraphs glaring out at me that have absolutely no business being in my manuscript at all – they’re not advancing the plot or telling the reader anything particularly interesting about characters or settings, and they’re not even especially well written. It is actually remarkably satisfying to be able to slash these sections right down and realise that I am entirely capable of expressing myself more frugally. It just might be good to lose the padding a little earlier in the process next time round…

4) I need to let my characters speak for themselves

This links in to all of the above, but I am discovering that the best way to get through tricky patches in my narrative is to stop trying to second guess what it is my characters want to say and instead just let them say it. Several scenes have evolved in (I think) way more interesting directions now that I’ve let my characters speak, and it turns out that what they actually wanted to say wasn’t quite what I thought it was after all.

5) I’m way better at writing the dark than the light

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise to me given my usual choice of reading matter, but there is no doubt that the best sections of my writing are the ones which are also the most depressing. Or unsettling, or disturbing, or angst-ridden. Just not the bits where I’m trying to convey sweetness and light. That’s where the cheese comes in.

Now I realise reading this back that it might come across as a very negative post – and it’s not supposed to. I’m over the whole frustrated with myself thing, and actually am just so incredibly relieved that this manuscript had not made its way beyond my trusted circle of beta readers to the big wide world.

I am also realising once again how important the editing process is – not just for this particular novel that I’m working on, but for everything it’s teaching me about writing, and about myself.

Writing Bubble
Mums' Days

Sunday photo: 18th October 2015

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We’re in the midst of a major sort out at our house at the moment – an ‘Autumn clean’ if you like. Arthur’s room was the first we tackled, and as a result he’s spent lots more time in there than usual this week. He’s generally been much more interested in what’s been coming out of the boxes I’ve been sorting through in my study though – and has been especially fascinated by my collection of old cameras. I can’t imagine where he gets his obsession with taking photos from…

Linking up today’s pic with Darren at One Dad 3 Girls for My Sunday Photo and Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. Check out their blogs for some fantastic photography from across the blogosphere! 

Back in the saddle

This week, I am actually editing – and it feels good!

It’s been a summer of ups and downs for the novel, with an awful lot of thinking and talking but close to no doing, and it’s a bit of a relief to discover that my writing brain still seems to function. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s in top top condition  – a fresh eye is proving a tremendous asset to what is now the fourth edit and I might just be making progress.

There was a moment at the weekend, though, when I thought the horse might have thrown me off for good…

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Scrolling through my instagram feed, as you do on a lazy Sunday morning, I was stopped in my tracks by an image of my novel waiting to be read. Of course it wasn’t actually my novel – that would have involved mine being finished and, you know, published – but the title was the very one I’d chosen as I first worked on my manuscript, and the cover design did little to allay my concerns.

A few minutes of googling later and my worst fears were realised – someone had written my novel! And had it published! And sold loads of copies!

I emailed my agent, ready to accept her verdict that there was simply no point in continuing now that someone else had got there first. I’d done my research when I first began to work on the idea, and part of what excited me about it was there was nothing out there that even touched on the concept I’d come up with. But then that was two years ago – and a lot can happen in two years.

It turns out that I might have been over-reacting. Whilst the germ of the idea is the same, the direction this other novelist has taken it in is quite different. Crucially, it is in a different genre to the one I am hoping mine will inhabit – and interestingly reading it has shown into sharp relief the elements of my novel that jar in the genre it aspires to.

So I am beginning this fourth edit with renewed focus – not just where the over-arching direction of the novel is concerned, but also in my scrutiny of the words I’m using to bring my characters to life.

And with that in mind it’s time to get back on with today’s instalment…

 

Muddled Manuscript

Sunday photo(s): 11th October 2015

You may have noticed that I’ve been a little absent from the blogosphere of late. That is mainly because we have been exploring way off the beaten track in a campervan. An adventure worthy of a post in and of itself, but in the meantime here are three of my favourite photos of Arthur to capture a little of what we’ve been up to over the past three weeks…

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Linking up today’s pics with Darren at One Dad 3 Girls for My Sunday Photo and Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. Check out their blogs for some fantastic photography from across the blogosphere!