24 February 2009

I'm just writing this thing...

In my on-going quest to draft a how-to-write manual and teach myself craft, on Sunday evening I surveyed a bunch of author interviews from my back catalogue of Mslexia magazines, where they run an interesting feature "100 Ways to Write... The [insert name of featured author] Method".

Much in line with the Anne Lamott bit I quoted last week, most authors did not write "linearly", starting from the beginning of The Book and writing straight on through to the end as it appears in published form. I italicize that for a reason: because I think there's an expectation that you do write from "start" to "finish". Indeed, you may well do with non-fiction but when you're making something up it is totally different. Often or even more likely than not, you don't know where the starting line is until you know where you finish.

I took he
art especially from Maggie O'Farrell's recent interview:

She had been writing steadily, but ‘I didn’t really know what I was doing,’ she says.


‘I just started writing this thing,’ O’Farrell continues, ‘and I didn’t really admit to myself or to anyone what I was doing. I was having a drink with [a friend] and he said, “I haven’t seen you for ages, what are you doing?” and I said, “Nothing much.” So he said, “What are you doing?” and I said, “Well, I’m writing this thing, I’m writing this story.” And he said, “How long is it?” and I said, “About 30,000 words.” “You’re writing a novel!” he said’ – she mimics his accusatory finger-pointing – ‘and I said, “No, no I’m not! I’m not!” and he said, “Yes, yes you are!” and I said’ – and you can sense her flustered reaction from more than a decade ago – ‘“No! No, I’m not! It just this thing, and it’s just got bigger and bigger!”’
(from Maggie O'Farrell interview Mslexia magazine Issue 40.)

I just love that. I
t is so much easier to think of it as "this thing".

Moving along....

The writers workshop members shamed me last night for not finishing things! I denied I did this, but they had evidence to back up their claim. Duly chagrined, I am determined to prove them wrong with the current project. I will post this Beryl Bainbridge quote above my PC:

Everything’s ready. You’re at the edge of the lake. The water’s murky and freezing. Once you’re in you must stay in until the book’s finished. That’s the rule: no matter how badly it’s going, you must finish what you’ve started.

Loretta's play

It's a nice feeling when something comes to fruition, and a very nice feeling indeed when this is something a friend of yours has done. Having seen this play evolve from its earliest beginnings, I am very much looking forward to seeing it performed.

EDITH blends fact and fiction in the story of Edith Cavell, a Red Cross nurse in Brussels during the First World War. She smuggled soldiers out of occupied Belgium, and was tried and executed for it by the Germans. Later she was used by the British war effort to drum up enlistments.... Now she walks the corridors of the hospital that's been named after her, and where she encounters Eva, a young woman who resolutely does not believe in ghosts.

Those of you in the Brussels area, visit the Irish Theatre Group's website for reservations and more information!

18 February 2009

If all else fails, I'll end up with a manual

I still don't know what I'm doing. I continue to amaze myself by writing myself forward, sort of like walking, one foot after another. The feet just keep on coming back up to the front. How about that!

There is no good self-help for this, no good how-to. If I was building a chair, for instance, there'd be instructions. There'd be diagrams with little arrows and the steps might even be numbered. When you learn to play an instrument, too, there are instructions. It's called method. There are many methods of course, but you pick one. And then you learn.

So why not with writing? I have a dozen how-to-write books.... and none of them are helping!

The best "how-to" I've found so far is from Teach Yourself... Writing a Novel by Nigel Watts * (from the Teach Yourself series). Nevermind that you don't know who Nigel Watts is, so how can his advice be any good. This is the advice (buried in the "Editing and Shaping" chapter):
Let yourself write what you want to write -- no holds barred.

Then this morning in Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird * I found this (on page 85 of my paperback)

My students assume that when well-respected writers sit down to write their books, they know pretty much what is going to happen because they've outlined most of the plot, and this is why their books turn out so beautifully... Well. I do not know anyone fitting that description at all. Everyone I know flails around, kvetching and growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work.

So, all right then. Flailing and kvetching. No holds barred.

I'm more determined than ever to document this process (sorry, dear Readers). But if nothing else, it must be clear that there is a way to do this and it isn't all mystic and hoo-ha... It is not exotic or esoteric.... It is art and it is craft and I'm going to figure it out and while I'm doing it, tell you about it.

* I get nothing from linking to Amazon btw, or from these authors.... the link is there for reference, clarity and your convenience only

17 February 2009

On the other other other hand

Oh, but life puts me to shame. It is the drizzliest, grayliest day in living memory. I could barely be bothered to take the children to the bus stop and when the bus didn't come for ages I thought my head would explode. Poor things, it is not their fault... they should be growing up in a world where they can walk to school on their own, and mothers aren't meant to have to worry about their children's safety for so long. No wonder we're all bonkers. Perhaps I should do as their father would and leave them more to their fate? But argh, I can't do it. Just thinking about it and I see their school-photo faces on "missing" posters.

At the same time I am trying to write something and I have no idea what I am doing. While I won't let that stop me of course (when did it ever??), I have very little time to sort it out. I'm supposed to submit something reviewable for my writers workshop by end of the day tomorrow.
I have to say that I don't know how that will happen. I probably should have skipped this round, but we're low on the ground at the moment and I felt I should take my turn. On the other hand I haven't turned in a skimpy submission since the group's been running. So it's my turn! I also rarely miss meetings even if I am sometimes late. On the other other hand, what use will the feedback be to my fledgling project? It is far too early for anything like constructive criticism.

On the other other other hand, good news! Things are looking up in my quest for the perfect chocolate cupcake. What I'm looking for is something in between brownie and chocolate cake. Not too fudgy, but with some density. At the same time, it should be cakey. I have solved the problem of cake-iness by adding leavening agents to my excellent brownie recipe, and scaling back (so slightly) the butter and the chocolate. Test Batch 1 was too brownie. Test Batch 2 was fabulous. With Test Batch 3 -- the current batch -- I am trying to see if I can duplicate Test Batch 2. We'll know more later today when the votes come back from the girls after school. (Apparently their friends beg to taste my baked goods -- score one for moi!)

13 February 2009

This post has no title

Hi Everybody. Hope you are well. No time to do much posting at the moment, something finally clicked the other day and I started a story. I have no idea how it ends or if what has come to mind is the beginning; with any luck in fact it will be the middle, not too far from the end... But anyway it keeps coming which is the most amazing feeling. And also a little manic maybe but hey, that's what I call the Payoff for weeks of "a little depression"...  and is why I once told my therapist: I need help, but please don't cure me. I'll check in later, maybe update you all with Latest Second-hand Shop Book Revuz or something with some semblance of creativity. One can only hope.

Save Your Children's Books !

The New Book Banning
Children’s books burn, courtesy of the federal government.

Only in America?? A case of well-intended lead-protection gone astray?? Read this and save your beloved editions of Nancy Drew, the Wizard of Oz, Anne of Green Gables, the Narnia series....

thanks for the tip SL

12 February 2009

Mon Petit Lapin and Mme Michelle

Martin always seems to stumble upon the most amazing stories.... He has kindly agreed to let me post this one.

Mon Petit Lapin and Mme Michelle

Last Tuesday I helped a neighbour, Mme De Smet, celebrate her ninetieth birthday. Between ourselves, but not to her face, we call her 'Mon Petit Lapin', which is what her lover, some fifty years ago, used to call her. A dapper General, he was completely infatuated with her and the adulterous relationship (for he was married) continued until he died. We know about this because Mon Petit Lapin is the tenant of a redoubtable eighty-five year-old lady, Mme Eekhout, who lives just two doors down the road (both houses are more-or-less opposite our house). Mme Eekhout is the widow of another General, a tall, distinguished, polyglot man whom we had the pleasure of knowing. He worked in military intelligence and must have had important duties. (There is a photograph in her house of the General explaining a piece of equipment to a deeply concentrated Jack Kennedy, the two of them surrounded by a gaping crowd.) His wife entertained a lot and seemed to have played an informal role as ethical overseer of the street and it was she, Mme Eekhout, who once confided in us about the shocking affair between the other General and his Petit Lapin. But though she may have been shocked, it didn't prevent her from keeping Mon Petit Lapin as a tenant for fifty-three years and now, here she was, playing host to Mon Petit Lapin's ninetieth birthday party.

It was a small living room and it would have been far too conspicuous if I had tried to take notes or record the evening, but I wish I could have done. The extraordinary thing is that the ladies were both so lucid – none of this good on older memories and bad on short-term recollections stuff, though their historical recollections were the ones that I found most interesting. Mon Petit Lapin remembered seeing the big airships that I like to try and write about. She saw, in effect, most of the twentieth century's technological developments unroll before her, from flimsy five-winged airplanes to Concorde, Jumbo Jets and the latest Airbus, from rudimentary telephones to today's mobile phones, from abacuses to PCs in classrooms. When they got onto people it was equally fascinating. Alan Bennett would have had a field day. The collective memories of these old ladies (and they were all old ladies) went back to the way our street was before the Second World War and stretched forward through everybody who had lived in it since then. On and on they went, tracing where the neighbours had gone and where their children had gone and their grandchildren and… In the UK now they pop a tape recorder under your nose and call it social history. And it is clear that a large slice of social history will indeed disappear when Mon Petit Lapin and Mme Eekhout finally pass away.

In a lull in the conversation Mon Petit Lapin suddenly sat up straight and said; 'We forgot Madame Michelle!' Madame Michelle, we learned, had lived, alone, with a small dog, in the house between the houses of Mme Eekhout and Mon Petit Lapin – just opposite our house, in fact. Before the war, she had kept herself very much to herself. She had an unpronounceable name and a miserable face. Her dog was called 'Michelle'. Having given up on the owner's name, the kids in the road ended up calling her 'Mme Michelle' and so the parents of the children ended up also calling her 'Mme Michelle'. The war came along and Brussels was occupied. But nothing could have prepared the inhabitants of rue Artan for what then occurred. All of a sudden, Mme Michelle started entertaining, and on a lavish scale. This was a shocking change in itself, and additionally shocking given the austerity of those times – for Belgians, at least, had little food and drink. Worse, though, was the fact that Mme Michelle's guests were exclusively German soldiers, and on occasion one or more of them would stay overnight. Then it was discovered that Mme Michelle was German. So that explained it! Given the circumstances, the neighbours in the rue Artan could do little more than ostracise her. She didn't seem to mind, though they crossed the street whenever she walked towards them and would never look her in the eyes. And though they continued to serve her, the shopkeepers became curt and surly.

The war ended. Brussels was liberated. Revenge, briefly, was in the air. And then the neighbours of the rue Artan found out the full truth. For the duration of the occupation Mme Michelle had been hiding a Jewish family on the third floor of her house; two adults and two children. All of that consorting with her compatriots and sleeping with the enemy had been part of an extraordinary bluff. For when the authorities came looking for Jews to round up, the last place they would ever have thought of looking was in the house of Madame Michelle. And of all of the extra food that she got from her German friends and lovers a lot must have gone up the stairs to the third floor.

What could the neighbours do? They had looked upon her as scum for almost four years. They had spat at her behind her back and taught their children to do the same and now they discovered that this small, quiet, completely unremarkable woman had done something extraordinarily courageous and almost incredibly remarkable. The entertaining had stopped and surly-faced Mme Michelle went back to keeping herself to herself. One day in the late 1940s, crossing the road outside the Post Office, she was hit by a car and died on the spot. And that was that. There was no recognition for Mme Michelle. No righteous of the nations. Just, I suppose, the inner knowledge that she had done good. Of course, me being me, I have written to the European Jewish Congress for I feel such acts should be recognised for what they are, even if posthumously. In the meantime, though, part of me is thinking 'what an extraordinary story! I could make something out of that.' For, as so often, truth on this occasion easily beats fiction.

10 February 2009

One I posted earlier (on facebook)

The tag was, tell 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about yourself.

I never do these things so I thought what the hell, why not.

I also tried to import this blog into FB, but it came through with tons of code, I think from using Word to get accents, etc because this blog programme is not exactly wonderful. Free, but inflexible and not amenable to foreign languages or poetic linebreaks. But I digress. Here is the list.

1. Fact: I ride my bike to work and lots of other places, without a helmet

2. Goal: to one day get a helmet

3. Fact: I am afraid to go fast down hills on my bike because I’m scared I won’t be able to stop

4. Random thing: The bike was given to me by Hilary who moved back to Dublin, via Linzi, who moved to Australia 3 weeks ago and I haven’t heard from her

5. Fact: I still cannot have a scale in the house because I’ll weigh myself obsessively (and maybe also compulsively)

6. Habit: coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon

7. Habit: EastEnders (baaaaad habit)

8. Goal: to write at least one book (collection of stories or poems or a novel, I’m not particular at the moment)

9. Goal: to publish or have published that book and that it will sell and people will read it

10. Random thing: the movie that always cheers me up is “About A Boy”

11. Habit: I write in bed, it is the bliss of blisses

12. Random thing: I would like to reconcile belief in God with the facts of science

13. Goal: to do the pigeon pose in full splits variation

14. Fact: I did not read any Dickens until November 2008, when I finally read Bleak House

15. Goal: to learn Hebrew

16. Random thing: I have kept a journal pretty much since I was 12 years old

17. Fact: I am vain. There, I’ve admitted it

18. Habit: having several half-read books on the go, at any given time

19. Fact: Despite my best intentions, I remain financially challenged

20. Goal: If I ever make enough money, I want to make an endowment to the Royal Oak Public Library. It saved my life

21. Fact: I am caught in a procrastination-deadline-adrenaline cycle and maybe have been for the past 20 years

22. Habit: picking up big fat rubber bands from the sidewalk whenever I see them. Talk about embarrassing one’s offspring! However they are so useful

23. Random thing: When I was about 9 years old I made my family drive 400 miles out of the way during a trip through the western US, so that I could visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder House in De Smet, South Dakota. We were the only visitors…

24. Fact: I am a late bloomer and guess what, it is worth it!

25. Goal: I would like to play something beautiful on the cello at least once before I die

Pretentious yet plausible. Can I get some help please?

I'm trying to name a character, an middle class British woman, maybe born in 1950s/1960s. Am bleary with looking at repulsive baby name sites, they all blink and bobble and flash pink and blue, and am none the better for it as no one seems to name their baby Felicity or Phyllida and I was looking for something particularly pretentious, yet plausible.... And not something that an American would think this person would be named, but would actually be named, by her own parents.

Can anyone help me?


09 February 2009

A link, a book, and some more blue dolphins

Great link alert! Why prose writers need to read poetry on storytellersunplugged.
Don't worry it's short.

Great read alert! I polished off "How I Live Now" by Meg Rosoff (great site, btw) in less than 24 hours from purchase to completion. It's a fabulous read, though I wasn't as thrilled with the ending as I was the beginning and middle... It was the last 7/8s that I wish had just been slightly... I don't know, more, but I really shouldn't complain and I am glad I wasted no time and bought one of her other books, "What I Was", when I bought the first one.

Both books are in that "I Capture the Castle" vein of the good read department and are, accordingly, in the bookshop in both the adolescent fiction section and the adult fiction section. I love that cross-over thing. In fact I had first noticed "How I Live Now" while browsing with The Eldest in one of several French bookshops. I nearly bought the French translation, "Maintenant, c'est ma vie", being on the lookout -- as I always am -- for easy French reading. (Note, I am considering
"La vie d'une autre" by Frédérique Deghelt -- any recommendations? Interesting fact I just observed: Amazon.fr is not that much cheaper than buying in the stores... €8 on Amazon and €8 .50 in the shop....)

And how's that writing thing going?
You may well ask.

Well, I did fine on Friday.

I took a lot of breaks but set the timer and did a lot of writing in short bursts too.

This morning I made it out of bed and got the girls to the bus and came home and managed to later get out, fully dressed, and go to work where I have given off the semblance of being efficient for the past few hours.

This blue dolphin sticker business is paying off!

05 February 2009

French Candlemas - La Chandeleur - Crêpe Day (a few days later....)

Did not write anything this morning. No, that's not true. I did write something, a head-clearing rambling journal entry. It does not (except obliquely in this head-clearing sort of way) contribute to the Project. Therefore it is tempting to say it doesn't count, but I'm learning to refuse to do that. Why shouldn't it count? Don't I feel better for it? Oh, right, I'm supposed to be constantly beating myself up. I forgot about that!

Translated the poem Little D. is doing in class. Quite liked that, actually. Discovered a Mystery: searched for link to Pierre Gamarra and his poem, Un enfant m'a dit. Found several sites with the poem, but none of them had a definitive version. And none of them had the last part of the poem as Little D had been given in class, i.e. (French misspellings hers):

Un enfant dirait aussi
La cr
êpe est un soleil ...

C'est bient
ôt la chandeleur*
crêpe ronde et dorée,
Dans ma poêle blonde,
Je vais te faire sauter ...

Petit soleil d'or, cher trésor de février.
Sans tarder, je vais te croquer.

Rough translation:

A child also tells me
That a pancake is a sun ...

It is almost time for Pancake Day*
Little round pancake, little gold pancake,
In my white frying pan
I am going to make you jump...
Little golden sun, February treasure,
Without waiting any longer, I am going to eat you up.

So I don't know if that's something they added in class or what.

* 2 February... According to eHow, In France, the second day of February is a religious day and celebrated like Candlemas. La Chandeleur is also day for predicting the future similar to Groundhog Day in the United States. However, it is not a furry critter that foresees your fortune - it's a crêpe! Follow the link if you want to know what Candlemas is....

"Un enfant m'a dit" (poem that Little Dancer is learning in school)

by Pierre Gamarra

A child told me that the sun

is an egg in a blue frying pan …

A child told me that the sun

is an orange in the snow …

A child told me that the sun

is a peach

in a velvet bed …

A child told me that the sun

is a jewel in a dress …

A child told me: I really want

to catch the sun …

(translation by me!)

Recent child art 1

by Daughter the Eldest
gouache and pencil on lined notebook paper

04 February 2009

Random musings on a very grey Wednesday

Wrote about 500 words this morning at the dining room table. Insert virtual blue dolphin sticker here... Am so hungry lately I'm eating sandwiches for breakfast. Bacon on toast with tomato and mayo. Ham on brioche. Whatever next? ... Also am dying for a curry but too weak at night to go out and get it. They do not deliver. And you have to wait till they open, which is at least 7. After 11 years in Europe (Belgium) I still can't understand why you cannot get the food you want whenever you want it. What's wrong with this country??? There's clearly a market for service and profit to be made from it. Case in point: the proliferation of supermarkets open on a Sunday. Of course they are not the regular supermarkets but special, smaller versions of the big chains called things like "Delhaize Proxy" or "GB Express". These are allowed to be open on a Sunday. (In the past, until about 4 years ago, god help you if you ran out of something between 8 pm on a Saturday and 9 am on a Monday.) At first there were just one or two of these about but now they are everywhere. And they are always packed. If I'd had my wits about me or any sort of business sense or capital, I'd have bought one of these franchises. And then I'd have stocked them with bagels...

Anyway I am pleased about the 500 words.

03 February 2009

In which I give myself virtual dolphin stickers

Plunging back into writing something -- anything. The idea is to follow through on previously formed ideas. Last week, I decided which idea that would be (let's call it "The Golden Manuscript" story), and took a calendar -- yes, physically picked up a calendar and looked at days and weeks -- and planned out my course of action for the next 2 weeks.

Basically I have to submit a draft of something to my writers workshop around that time, so it's as good a time as any to use as a deadline.

In order to do that, I should write, per week, 300 words a day for 5 days (Mon-Fri) which equals 1500 words, n'importe quoi (anything. just write something). On Friday, try to synthesize the week's words, into scenes or connected paragraphs.

If I do that for 2 x 5 days, I should be have about 4000 words of rough draft.

I will post my stats each day... sort of the blog equivalent of a gold star or dolphin sticker.


Monday: about 350 words, during Little Dancer's flute lesson

Tuesday (today, so far): about 150 words, on the bus to work