There are at least 200 ways to dress a novel. I’m quite sure the one I’m currently writing already exists as a fully-formed, gorgeous thing glittering in the ether – yet not glittering, more shimmering, catching the light as it moves, that’s all – and my writing of it is one of many ever-changing, fallible potential attempts to grasp some grounding down of it. It’s a hot air balloon whipping around in the wind, deafening me with its mechanisms and about to leap away at any moment, but utterly mesmerising and I want to jump fully in and sail away with it, even risking a shudderous drop down into the canopy of a hardwood tree, if it comes to that. It is already a thing quite happily, thanks very much (my novel would say, if Platonic Forms could speak). As a papery manifestation it might not exist yet, but the novel in the purest sense is already exactly its own self, complete and self-satisfied (though I like to believe it needs me) and my bringing it down to earth through fingertips and the sensations (being drip-fed its relative epiphanies – but who is the character thinking of and what is the sound of their voice? But what exactly is at stake for the protagonist and what exactly do they fear?) is only the experience of leaning closer and closer in.
Percolation. The shimmering thing, which I picture hovering playfully about the air above me, now free of its weighty balloon paraphernalia but magic and light as air itself, glowing, sometimes close by, perhaps in a field I’m walking through, other times more majestically, a cosmically colourful thing in a dark universal, star-lit sky, allows itself to be revealed by a heady mix of me concentrating very hard on it and forgetting about it completely. Continue reading
If you’re bored of reading The Enormous Turnip to your nearest 2-year-old, you’re bored of life. The Read It Yourself with Ladybird, Level 1 series of books includes an absolutely stellar example of storyline: if the mouse pulls the cat, the cat pulls the dog, the dog pulls the girl, the girl pulls the boy, the boy pulls the old woman, the old woman pulls the old man and the old man pulls the enormous turnip, can it be wrenched from the ground? YOU LITERALLY ONLY FIND OUT ON THE LAST PAGE, which may or may not include gorgeous illustrations of turnip soup, pickles and jams and an absolute abundance of this exuberant but slightly wan-hued vegetable (which I personally can’t recall ever having tried, but have known since childhood that sometimes they grow enormously, and that mice think they go very well with holey cheese, if there’s a celebratory banquet going). On an early page, the old man is planting seeds, faithfully, and as such, his very old back is bent halfway so that he is completely inverted, his nose to the ground, as he delivers hope and potential to the just-raked earth (I may have invented the order of events slightly here as related to the rake, riffing off the images and, more crucially, pointing out the red-breasted robins, which I think I can take credit for my niece knowing the name of; she doesn’t need to know that I lack gardening chronology/confidence). So that sets the scene. Continue reading
I feel uniquely qualified to write about the lessons of fire: I come from a place of absolute zero, for one thing; before I moved into my new rural idyll of a cottage one week ago (complete with multiple varieties of deer who saunter past my window, foxes, rabbits… a woodland within its acres and… a woodburner), I had never lit a fire in my life.
When my move was confirmed, prior to the actual getting in (the hanging up of my Guatemalan wall hangings, the placement of my Balinese sunflower woodcarving, the consideration of the enormity of my wardrobe and the decision over exactly how ashamed I ought to be for possessing so many dresses), I mentioned this fact to everyone. Wild-eyed and frantic, I implored them – ‘not even barbecues. Not even a campfire!’ – I had lit only so much as a candle, before now, and nothing more. How could this be, for a real live human? How am I (here as in so many other instances) so ridiculous?
Anyway, I’m practically an expert now, and I can tell you: there are many lessons in fire. Some glorious, some bastardly.
It is massively fun to prod at embers with a poker, for one thing, seemingly conjuring up a dance of flames from nothing. It is frustrating when your fire stares back at you with pity, full of ennui, saying nope.
Some things I’ve learned: Continue reading
At current time of writing (point zero, all blank page ahead), I believe I’m going to write about believability. I’ve even written the blog title in the box above in advance, which I believe I never do.
I’m currently battling with believing that believability is going to be believably achieved in my novel, which is straddling the alternative paradigms of:
1. believability (by way of character motivation; why on earth would the young, beautiful girl say yes to the alarming, unlikely thing?), and
2. eyebrow-raising incredulity.
Believe me, it’s a narrow tightrope to waver across, and achieved (I suppose) by a mix of skill and faith. The problem is that what I believe, you (reader) may not.
Things I believe:
– The scariest, most offensive deadlines are the most useful.
– The brain works in mysterious ways. I.e. sometimes you find Continue reading
I’ve come to the basic conclusion that I’m better at absolutely everything when I don’t think about it. This is, of course, a surprise, utterly unsurprising and completely liberating.
I just royally effed up a piano piece by making the grave mistake of paying attention to what I was doing. It was right at the end – I literally had to freestyle an ending in an entirely different key. This happened because I started thinking about the fact that it was quite incredible that my fingers knew exactly what they were doing and if I was asked what notes I was playing I would have no particular attachment to any particular answer. Muscle memory; gets totally messed up when you notice it’s happening; when your inner voice start remarking that your brain is possibly redundant. The ego kicks off and wants some appreciation, so it slaps down the bigger part of your brain that already knows what it’s doing. Continue reading
On the long bus journey through Guatemala, I was
so tired I couldn’t keep my head
straight. Several miles and easily an hour before I plucked up the courage to ask the large, delightful Greek next to me
Throughout that journey I had snuck
furtive glances at the flesh of his shoulder.
Wide and round, firm and padded, oh it would be divine, I knew.
Heaven in my periphery, lust for his edges, I wanted
to rest my cheek against that shoulder and dream.
Hours until the next town and no pride
to lose, I asked.
He smiled and stuck it out extra
gladly, ready, his beautiful curls shining around his face.
I shuffled my bottom
for the manoeuvre of relief;
the full lean.
and nodded into my own world.
For days, I think people wondered
if we were orchestrating
some kind of romance.
And it’s true the event brought us
that sometimes we would talk about books
into the night.
That at least once more I pressed my face against his warm cotton T-shirt.
But, oh, that fat, ripe, beautiful, strong, shoulder.
Then, in Las Vegas –
I don’t believe I was drunk –
I asked a man
if he would sleep in my bed that night.
Not to do anything
(I said multiple times; important he understood)
but so I could feel contained in his arms.
He had the physique I needed
and a gambling habit I wouldn’t want.
Perfect. He thought about it
from his great height
and told me it might not be a good idea.
He was not made for single beds and he would irritate me, wanting to sleep or to act, knowing he could do neither.
Then the hand I held down an alley
in Indonesia; slipped digits, black
and white, laughing
because it made me feel magical, like a child, high, and I wanted to show him the frogs and he wanted to swim at night, in secret, under the thunderstorm.
The fresh sheets made him itch but he called me for breakfast, called me ‘fine art’, still sends photos of dinners he is making, still presses into my possibility, the rightest fit for that changing season.
- The soundtrack was this (in my own voice, though most of the lyrics forgotten to the extent that it was more a refrain of the first line, over and over):
The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the endless skies, my love Continue reading