Monthly Archives: January 2016

On the edge

I am so nearly ready to take the plunge into this first draft.

I’m teetering on the edge at the moment, peering tentatively into the deep, pulling gently on the multiple strands of the safety harness I’ve constructed with my plan just to test their firmness and wondering whether it’s safe to dive in.

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My plot and characters are so much stronger now than they were a week ago. Every time I sit down to add to my notes I find new links, new dimensions to shore things up just that little bit further.

I’ve made a decision, I think, about how I’m going to approach the writing of this story (if not the telling): a chronological approach is making more and more sense. Even though I envisage the final structure to be considerably less linear, I think I need to let the characters grow as organically as possible. I don’t have reams and reams of notes about them, only pointers – and as their futures will inevitably depend on their pasts it seems logical that I should start somewhere near the beginning.

Even as I write that though I’m having doubts… There are some moments later in my characters’ lives that are so vivid to me, maybe by writing those I will get a clearer idea of the journey that brought them there?

Hmmm… Not quite ready yet, it seems.

Then there are the questions: the little white index cards that are rapidly getting filled up with things I feel I need to know. At least half of the story takes place in the seven years around the year of my birth. I have a bank of research and cultural references that I’ve built up from my own and others’ experiences, but I’ve found myself doubting this week whether I’ve got enough to draw on.

It’s in those moments that I’ve stepped back from the edge and retreated into something that will enrich my sense of the time I need to immerse myself in – movies and music, mainly. Only snapshots of course but something still that will anchor my prose when I finally dare to jump.

It’s a familiar sensation, this excitement and anticipation. But each time it’s new, too – a bit like how I imagine it might feel to have another child.

I’ve been here before, I know I can do this. As much as I can plan and research it will never be quite enough to fully prepare me for what’s ahead – and besides, its the new things I will discover that will make the journey most worthwhile.

I just need to work out where to start writing.

Or maybe I just need to start writing.

Maybe I just need to write.

And there it is again, that little piece of advice I keep finding myself coming back to:

Just write.

 

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

To have a beach – Arthur’s beach – on the way home from town is probably the reason I love living here the most.

He is so completely at ease there – could spend hours throwing and climbing and sitting and looking. At this time of year it’s particularly special, because more often than not there is no-one else around.

Just me and my Arthur, the stones and the sea.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

On puzzles and perseverance

The unschooling diaries: week two

This week, we have been building LOTS of train tracks, making an impressive amount of mess with kinetic sand, and getting increasingly confident on the scooter. We have been counting fingers and toes, being a doctor like daddy, and finding out which stones make the biggest splash in the sea.

There’s been more too, but rather than just run through all of the things we’ve done, I want to focus in this week on just one little bit of learning – what Arthur (and I) discovered when we put together a puzzle.

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Arthur has a bit of a love-hate relationship with jigsaw puzzles. He’s drawn to them initially, but gets quite frustrated if he can’t work out how all the pieces fit right away. For my part, it’s tempting to help. To give him a strategy – like starting with the corners, and lining up all the straight edges. To show him how it works, how much quicker and easier he’d find it if he just did it that way.

I’m not really sure where that approach to putting puzzles together came from, for me. I’ve always found them a bit boring, and I wonder whether partly that might be because I’ve been approaching it wrong all along.

When I stopped myself from interfering, and started listening to Arthur and watching how he was making decisions about what bits went where, I realised that actually his approach was far more fun. He was focusing in on the characters first, on the trains he loves from his stories, and seeking out all the bits that made them. Then he looked for bridges, and flowers. It was all a bit haphazard at first, but it all started to come together.

There were moments when he got frustrated – I could see him fighting the urge to smash it all up and cast the pieces to the wind. I intervened a little then, but not to tell him how to do it. I asked him questions instead: why was he getting annoyed? What was he looking for? What was he trying to do? And through articulating his answers he calmed down, and refocused, and persevered.

It was only a short period of time (though longer than it would have been if I had made him do it my way), but it was so much more rewarding for me to step back and let him work it out himself. It was more rewarding for him too.

The process of putting that puzzle together reminded me a lot about learning in general. It might be possible to get to the end of a task quicker someone tells you how to do it, but so rarely is the completion of that particular task the most valuable goal. If you take your time, do it your way, find a way through the challenges that works for you, then not only do you have that sense of satisfaction of having succeeded by yourself but you are also laying down the foundations for deeper learning in the future.

Worth bearing in mind, I think, as we continue on our unschooling journey…

 

Bringing order to the chaos

After months of not quite managing to get focused for one reason or another, I finally sat down last night with a pile of index cards to make sense of my latest novel idea. The length of its gestation so far meant that my thoughts were somewhat scattered: some had made it into Scrivener, others were caught up in ramblings in this blog, most were in a scribbled stream of consciousness in the notebook I bought for this project many moons ago (and took TWO DAYS trying to find this week, finally discovering it beneath a pile of clothes under my dressing table just as I was about to give up hope).

Part of me felt like I was being a little unfaithful to my second novel. It is, after all, not yet finished. I mean – it is finished, but it still has a way to go to complete its journey. Grace and I have spent so much time together that I feel I owe her that sense of closure; but it is, for the moment at least, out of my hands.

And actually mostly it felt fantastic to be pulling together all the strands of this next project. Terrifying too – an idea that seems strongly formed when it exists only in your mind can dissolve into smoke and mirrors when you try to hold it up to scrutiny. But there was plenty there to work with, so work with it I did.

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I knew from the start that the narrative for this project was going to be more ambitious than anything I’ve attempted before: different voices, different times, all telling the same story from different directions. And before I work out exactly what those directions are going to be I want to make sure I’m clear on what the story is – the bare bones of it at least.

And that’s where the index cards come in. The pink ones are for the past, the blue ones for the present. Yellow for characters, green for settings, and white (a late addition to the mix) for questions. There are quite a lot of those.

I think I have collated most of what’s written down elsewhere. It ranges from really specific scenes to more general periods in time, as well as the people and places I think are going to be important. I want to spend a bit more time with my cards this week – noting down the thoughts that haven’t yet made it out of my head, filling in some gaps. And I guess I’ll see where that takes me.

I haven’t planned like this before – but then I haven’t attempted anything so non-linear. I think it’s going to really help, having those physical cards, when I come to the next stage of working out how it all fits together – both in terms of how the story happened, and how I want to tell it.

The final decision is going to be how I want to write it. In the past I’ve always written things ‘in order’ – but that could mean so many things this time round it’s not so clear cut.

So there’s still, if I’m honest, quite a lot of chaos.

But at least I’ve made a start.

 

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The unschooling diaries: week one

The past week or so has been somewhat dominated by potty training. I say ‘training’… My approach to this has been as much led by Arthur as anything else – hence why perhaps it has taken so long! I think it was about a year ago that we last broached the idea – let him sit on the potty from time to time, hung around naked if he felt like it (which wasn’t very often). We had sort of decided that last summer was going to be when we cracked it, but he had other ideas. And if there’s one bit of advice that seems to crop up again and again when it comes to potty training it’s don’t rush it. So we waited.

And suddenly he seems to be up for it. Which is great. But a little all consuming too… We haven’t quite worked out the logistics of wearing trousers, or leaving the house. And I need to make sure I’m paying attention as things are all pretty time dependent at the moment. But, you know, we’re getting there.

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As well as learning to use the potty, Arthur is really enjoying creating worlds with his cars at the moment. And trucks, and nee naws, and planes. He’ll start them on his road mat but their adventures often take them all over the house. We’ve been experimenting with road signs, too. He always wants to know what different signs mean when we’re out and about, and having these little toy signs is adding another dimension to his play.

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It’s not just signs he’s interested in – he wants to know what letters and numbers mean too. He likes the challenge of his alphabet puzzle, and loves the song that we’ve decided goes with it. It’s going to be a while before he really understands what it’s all about, but we’re having lots of fun with it in the mean time.

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He’s been interested in another puzzle too, one we’ve had for ages but hasn’t kept his focus until now. I like it because it isn’t exactly clear how you’re ‘meant’ to organise it – so there’s plenty of opportunity for interesting chat whilst we’re thinking about how its pieces might group together.

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Exploring options for grouping things has been fun with the sorting pie too. Up until now we’ve mainly done it by colour, but now that Arthur’s mastered that he’s been trying it by different types of fruit instead. It was clear at first that he really didn’t like putting the green bananas with the yellow ones but he’s been getting the hang of it…

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We’ve had the playdoh out this week too – just for playing, really, rather than making anything in particular. Though Arthur did fashion a rather fetching moustache!

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And for more mushy creative fun there was SUSHI! One of this household’s hands down favourite foods, and one we will definitely be making more of in the future.

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We haven’t managed to get out and about that much (potty training and WEATHER), but when we have it has mainly involved Arthur’s new scooter. He’s definitely getting the hang of it, but I’ve been very grateful for his helmet!

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We’ve been out to Arthur’s various groups too, drama and singing at Project Performers, and his gymnastics class where he has really impressed me by holding his own in a new group without me by his side. Last weekend he went to his first Rugby Cub’s session too – I’m not entirely convinced about rugby as he gets older, but whilst it’s just ball play I reckon we might as well make the most of it!

And today we went for a family swim – our first in ages. Arthur loved it so much I think we’re going to need to make that a regular thing too. I’m still toying with the idea of lessons, but he’s getting on so well in his float suit we might just keep having fun with it for now.

Finally there are of course the drums. There’s a strong sense of rhythm there, that’s for sure. And I’ve invested in some practice pads, so hopefully it’s not proving too unbearable for the neighbours…

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

The box started out as a robot costume, and soon became a spaceship.

Arthur loves all things space at the moment: he dreams of flying to the moon and floating amongst the stars.

And on his way he loves to listen to his stories.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Broken beginnings

broken beginnings

I have been trying to get started on my third novel for what feels like forever.

The idea began to germinate almost two years ago, inspired by a dedication on a local bench. Since then I’ve written various scenes and character studies, carried out a fair amount of research, and even began to think about how the novel might be structured.

But it seems that every time I’ve been close to actually starting to WRITE something else has got in the way. Novel number two, mainly: I hadn’t anticipated quite how many redrafts that would need, and I’m pretty sure I’m still not done on that front. I don’t begrudge that, though. I’m not writing these novels for them to sit on my hard drive after all – and I know it is getting better and better with each wave of work I do.

I’d thought I might be able to get stuck in to this new idea in the gaps between rewrites. I don’t think I could manage to juggle both concurrently, but I could probably have managed to get a fair amount of writing under my belt whilst waiting for feedback and allowing it to sink in. Naturally, though, life had other ideas.

Like successfully standing for election to my local council. Something which has satisfied a lifelong urge to become more actively engaged in my community, but hasn’t left much time in the day (or in my head) to birth a new novel.

I’ve found it impossible not to worry about what this all means in relation to my ambition to be a successful novelist. Surely I need to be able to knuckle down and focus, to actually write rather than just think about it, to move between projects in different stages of development? But then, as a new window of writing opportunity opens up in front of me, I wonder whether this novel might actually benefit from being so long in gestation.

My first novel was swimming around in my mind for several years before I was finally able to thrash out a first draft, and by that point I knew the characters so well that everything fell into place pretty seamlessly. There were a few niggles, of course, that needed ironing out – but so much of the novel had essentially written itself in my head that often it was just a matter of sitting down at the computer and the words would flow through the keyboard and onto the screen.

There is, after all, so much about writing that happens when you’re not actually writing. I’ve found myself in idle moments mulling over certain turns of phrase, deciding which is most apt for the voices of my two main characters. And there’s the plot too – the story I’ve been telling and retelling myself as I’ve been yearning for the time to write it down. Each time it has got a little more detailed, a little more interesting. And hopefully that will be borne out in the draft to come.

Despite all this, I do need to get writing soon. My plan this week is to use the index cards I bought months ago to note down all my different ideas for scenes, characters and settings and begin to map out how the story unfolds. I know its structure isn’t straightforward, and whilst I haven’t decided yet exactly what order I’m going to write it in it would be nice to have some sense of how it will all hang together in the end.

 

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