As I mentioned the other day I’m going to do Nanowrimo this year, and I’m intending to use it to produce a short story collection on a theme. Competitions are very often for a themed collection and I have so many disparate stories I struggle to bring them together, so this is an opportunity to rectify that.The theme will ostensibly be Brexit but with a very big twist. I won’t say more at the moment, just tap my nose mysteriously and remain enigmatic. Right now I’m producing notes and ideas and writing them in a special notebook. I’ve also registered on the official Nanowrimo site andjoined a Leicestershire Facebook group. So we’re on the way.
To most non-writers, 50,000 words sounds like a lot – and so it is. But in fact it’s a short novel by normal standards, almost a novella.For comparison, War and Peace is ten times that length, weighing in at 585,000 and The Colour Purple comes in at66,000. Most novels in the UK are between 80-100,000 and this is considered a good length by publishers. Too short and it makes a very slim volume; too long and it could be off-putting.No such qualms for Proust – ‘A la Recherche’ weighs in at 1,267,000 words, making it one of the longest books in the world (though to be fair it is six books in one).
If you want an idea of the work involved, try filling three sides of A4 (or three pages on a word processor, double spaced.) That gives you around 1000 words. Then multiply by fifty and you’re there. Simple, ain’t it?
I shall as always be setting myself a daily target of 2,380 (50,000 divided by the number of working days in November.) Which is basically 7 pages a day.
It’s sort of fashionable nowadays to be a little bit mad. Sane people are dull but creative people are wild, eccentric, weird; a little bit gipsy, a little bit rock-n-roll, accountant on the outside and hippy on the inside. We ride the train in a suit but in our heads we’re dancing naked at Woodstock. We are all colours of the rainbow. We are free and we are brave and under our vest we have tattoos.
Well, OK. But aside from the fact that having a tattoo is now so normal it’s practically de rigueur (and I still really don’t like them)the emphasis is on the ‘little bit.’ You can dance a chakra dance so long as you do it on your own time and not in the office, and what you do at your mental Woodstock is your own affair. Just so long as you show up for work in the morning and don’t rock the boat.
But what about those of us who might desperately want to fit in and can’t? Some people seem effortlessly to belong – and OH and I just don’t know how they do it. They probably don’t know how they do it either, they just know what to say and how to behave. They talk the talk and walk the walk; they are in the swim. You get the idea.
Where is there a society for those of us who are actually insane, who don’t have tattoos because it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference and who absolutely must rock the boat because the boat is heading to the rocks and if we don’t rock it the rocks will hole the hull and the ship will sink? Where do we belong?
I guess we belong to ourselves – because let’s face it, no-one else’ll have us.
I’m starting to assemble some Grand Thoughts on the subject of Thought itself. What actually is a thought? Can you separate one thought from another? Or is that like trying to separate droplets in a river? I’ve been reading Chomsky on Anarchism and whilst I didn’t disagree with anything he said, I couldn’t help thinking ‘yes, but. There’s human nature to consider. How do you change the heart?’ and then I came across this: ‘You do not think yourself into a different way of living. You live yourself into a different way of thinking.’(Richard Rohr.)
Yet it can’t be that simple, can it? Because everything starts with a thought – even split-second decisions involve some kind of thought, albeit a non-reflective kind. Don’t they? Or are they pure reflexes? I guess some things are, like jumping out of the way of a speeding car, and yet even these survival instincts can be changed if you really dig deep. Not that there would be much point in not getting out of the way of a speeding car, but then again, suppose you wanted to lie down in front of a tank in order to save your house from being demolished or (much harder) to stop violence against others? I’d find this an incredibly hard thing to do because every cell in my body would be telling me to get up and run: I’d be overriding my most basic survival instincts.
I have a confession to make: I’m an utter wimp when it comes to demonstrating. I talk the talk but I do not lie down in front of the bulldozer. I sit around (not on) the fence but when the police come I get up and move pronto before they can even think about arresting me. Is this cowardice or is it that I’ve been brought up to do as I’m told and obey the law and I’m overriding that conditioning? Either way it’s not something I’m very happy with.
I guess it’s true about ‘living yourself into a different way of thinking.’ But how to start? Well, laughter seems as good a place as any. God knows we could all use a laugh in these dark times (as Fred and George commented when they set up their joke shop in Diagon Alley). So here’s today’s joke, which is to do with OH having a lovely new pair of DM’s and not ‘getting around to’ wearing them. They languished for months and it drove me crazy. ‘You’ll be dead before you wear those,’ I said, ‘and we’ll bury you in them. And you know what your gravestone will say?’
You can laugh now…
PS incidentally if you have trouble laughing due to depression or sadness, try saying ‘ha ha ha hee hee hee ho ho ho’ out loud. You’ll be laughing in no time.
Oh, and here’s a delightful picture of The Maze, who is so close to laughing it’s unreal.
You know when you go on holiday and all your neuroses fade away? All your usual preoccupations, worries, anxieties, hang-ups, concerns; all the stuff that oppresses you just somehow washes away in the sun and the sea (or the hills or the lakes or the ski slopes) and leaves you free? ‘Why did I bother about all that stuff?’ you ask yourself, giving a deep sigh of contentment that it’s all gone away.
Well my theory is that your neuroses are not dead, just slow to wake up. They lie around and yawn and stretch – but after a few days they realise you’re not there. ‘Hang on lads!’ they say to each other. ‘She’s gone! Who’s going to feed us now?’ So they all stand up and shade their eyes against the sun, looking this way and that – and finally they spy you on the beach. ‘There she is lads!’ they cry. ‘Off we go!’ And one by one these shadowy figures set off up the road and one by one (since some of them are slower than others) they catch up with you. But if you’re clever you can immerse yourself so deeply in the holiday that they won’t find you. They’ll scrabble about in the sand dunes or the nursery slopes and scratch their heads. ‘Where’d she go boys?’ they’ll say to each other, and shake their heads. And if you can avoid them till you go home you’ll have a nice break when you get back, until they realise you’ve outsmarted them and rush back down the road after you.
That’s how it is with me. My neuroses are like weights on my shoulders; while I was away I felt free and relaxed, but a day or two after I came back I began to feel the weights piling on again. True, it’s not so bad as before – and if you’re smart, since they come back one by one you can start to deal with them individually – but in the end they will overwhelm your resistance. Of course it’s not so bad as if you hadn’t been on holiday; the neuroses haven’t been fed so they’ve faded somewhat. But they’ve not gone away.
Mind you, I can’t help wondering if holidays are what they used to be. Most of the people I know seem to spend half the year away. At least half a dozen times a year they’ll say ‘I’m away that week,’ or ‘I’m going on holiday in November’ or ‘I won’t be here for Christmas or New Year’ or ‘don’t count on me in the summer because I’m back and forth’. So I wonder if holidays perform the same function that they used to, or whether if there are too many of them, they become a way of life that is almost work.
For me, holidays – especially foreign holidays (let’s not think about how badly Brexit is going to screw all that up) are a kind of reconnaissance, a way of finding out what life is like somewhere else. Of course I do my fair share of lying on the beach with a good book, but above all I like to get a feel for the place. What is it like to live here? How do people here think differently from us? What can I learn from this place? The idea of touring around looking at the sights and never interacting with local people is anathema to me, which is why wherever I am I always try to learn at least a few words of the language. A propos of which I learned the word ‘merse’ in Scotland (salt marsh) and that they call a bus stand a ‘bus stance.’ (This amused me with the thought of buses standing around in a variety of striking attitudes.) But my main impression of life in the Lowlands (or Southern Uplands, if you will) was that it was sensible. There seemed to be a feeling for civic and community life – free car parks, free and open public toilets, libraries etc – and a sense of open space, wide streets not enclosed by privately-owned malls. In the (free) museums people would show you round with great enthusiasm and never once try to sell you anything.
That’s it from me and the lads. So it’s goodnight from me – and it’s goodnight from them.
Having been almost completely mental (ho ho) over the last few years I am of late becoming a bit more physical. I did plenty of walking in Scotland and returned to my twice-weekly appointment with the gym to find an increased appetite for pushing, pulling, lifting and depressing, bringing together and pushing apart and of course pumping the legs to and fro and round and round on a series of metal-and-rubber contrivances. I can’t help feeling it’s overkill to have half a ton of equipment just to work on your quads, but who am I to question the workings of the gym goddess? Besides, it’s free to those of us with lifelong health conditions and I intend to make the most of my 13-week GP referral.
But in my heart I yearn to turn my back on all this machinery and return to using free weights. I used to belong to a couple of weightlifting clubs (one in Northampton, one in Leicester) and found them much more supportive than most gyms where macho guys quite literally throw their weight around and grunt and swear like Shrek on an off-day. The thing about free weights is that you get a real sense of power and achievement; it increases your physical confidence (no bad thing for a woman) and gives you a sense of being able to overcome obstacles. I know this holds true for the machines as well, but there’s something much more vital and intense about lifting. For a start, you’re focussed, unlike, say, on the running machines where people often pound away whilst listening to music and not paying attention to their body.
Machines can be boring; free weights are not. You can talk to others in the club, you can support and spot each other and when you’re going for a new challenge everyone will stand around and cheer you on. The other day I went along to one such club in Loughborough with a view to joining: sadly at the moment I can’t afford it. Maybe when I’ve finished my GP referral…
Meanwhile, here’s a brief glossary of terms:
Weight Training: developing muscles using machines or free weights and doing a series of reps of one particular movement (eg biceps curls) – as here.
Weight Lifting: lifting increasing weights using different free weights, as here.
Powerlifting: using free weights to perform three standard lifts, dead lift, bench press and overhead, as here.
If I’m honest I’m not entirely clear about the difference between weightlifting and powerlifting but hey ho, I guess all will become clear.In the meantime I’ll carry on burning the rubber and metal in the gym until my time is up and I have to come in.
At this time of year all aspiring writers of fiction gear up for the first of November when Nanowrimo starts. Nanowrimo is short for National Novel-writing Month and has spawned a number of spin-offs such as National Poetry Writing Month (Napowrimo) and Nablopomo which sounds like a member of the Soviet Politburo but is to do with blog posting. With Nanowrimo the idea is to produce a novel of 50,000 words in a month. If this sounds a tall order, that’s because it is; if you write every day including weekends you’d have to produce over a thousand words (or three pages of A4) a day. If that doesn’t seem like much just sit down and try it – and if you don’t know what 50,000 words looks like, it’s a short novel or a longish novella (or a Russian short story.)
I had already decided not to do Nano this year, seeing as how I’ve just finished a novel, but now a brilliant idea has occurred to me. What about a short story collection! There are often competitions for themed short story collections and I usually struggle to fit my disparate stories under one umbrella, so what if I were to write a collection that was themed from the start? November 1st is (in theory) the first day of our brand new bright Brexit tomorrow, so what better theme than Brexit Britain?
My dears, I have neglected you shamefully over the last few weeks but what with visiting the granddaughter, moving boxes, recycling and freecycling, putting up curtains and before all that painting a flat that was supposedly ‘already decorated’ (if you call slapping a bit of cheap white over everything ‘decorating’) it’s been a hectic few weeks, after which I was off to Scotland for a well-earned break.
The drive is quite direct and bits of it are beautiful; the A66 especially across the Pennines where I stopped near Penrith, then up the A75 nearly to Dumfries before turning off down a lonnnnnnnnnnnnng road with tractors and passing places (I got stuck behind a tractor for miles – how far can one farm vehicle go?) overshooting myself and arriving at the Wetlands centre at the end of the road and on the Solway Firth before finding my cottage in a short row of houses on the edge of the merse – the salt marsh.On this map the cottage is between the castle and the Wetlands Centre.)
It was lovely. As you walk up the lane you come to the merse where you can walk for miles along board walks; one way to Caerlaverock Castle – the only triangular castle in Britain – and the other to the Wetlands Centre where varieties of geese, ducks and birds of prey hang out as well as dragonflies and butterflies.
During the week I of course visited Dumfries, where museums have sprung up memorialising everything Robbie Burns touched, slept in, pissed on and drank in. I like the fact that they celebrate him so much; there’s a Burns trail which takes in his house, his howffs (pubs) and other places. The actor Fraser Laurie (Pte Fraser in Dad’s Army) also lived there and a painting of him hangs in the Hole in the Wa’, one of these howffs.
The most interesting day was probably when I went to Moniaive, a tiny village which is the centre of the folk scene in that area. On the day I went there was no music happening but there was a cafe and a pub or two and of course free and open public toilets. After that things went a bit haywire; hoping to find a footpath and walk for a bit, I drove off but took entirely the wrong road and ended up completely lost. This road has to go somewhere, I thought – and it did, in the sense that it went to more forests and mountains (I had no idea the Lowlands were so hilly)* but nary a sign of a public footpath. Nor was there anyone to ask; apart from a couple of distant farmhouses I saw not a soul and barely another car on that road. Eventually I came upon a solitary hiker so I stopped and asked him to show me where we were on the map. He said I was the first person he’d seen that day apart from a German woman walking barefoot in the hills.
Eventually I ended up at St John’s Town of Dalry where I got a walk along the river and had my lunch.
Prize for the most bizarre place, however, goes to Castle Douglas. This is the town time forgot, though as I pulled into the car park and headed for the Tourist Information Office I had as yet no idea of this.
‘I’m just here for a couple of hours,’ I said to the woman behind the counter. ‘What should I see?’
She seemed a little taken aback by my question. ‘Well, she said, sounding very like Janet in Dr Finlay’s Casebook, ‘we’ve got some lovely shops.’ Shops weren’t exactly what I had in mind. ‘Any monuments or museums?’ I enquired. She seemed quite flummoxed by this and eventually admitted to the existence of a loch.
‘I thought there might be a castle,’ I said.
‘Oh,’ she said, sounding shocked that anyone might want to go there, ‘but it’s a way out of town.’
There was a pause, then a bright idea occurred to her. ‘Oh, but do ye have a car?’
This was an interesting beginning and it got better. Castle Douglas must have some kind of edict banning chain stores, for there are none on the entire length of its high street; not a McDonald’s, not a Boots, not a Primark, nothing, just a small Co-op and, tucked inside another shop, a tiny Costa. The shops were indeed worth looking at and many of them seemed not to have changed since the ‘sixties.
Another day I went down to Southerness on the Solway, a long strip of ‘beach’ (mostly mud and rock but some rough sand) where it’s so flat you have to be careful not to get cut off by the tide. I walked a mile or two and saw nobody except a drowned cow. Perhaps she’d got cut off by the tide, but I thought it was odd that nobody had taken the body away. After my week in the Lowlands/Southern Uplands, I came back across the Pennines to Yorkshire to visit the granddaughter, who I have now christened The Maze; then over again to Blackburn to see Chris and Barbara (great fun) and after that down to Wales, stopping overnight at Bridgnorth.
More of this anon. I won’t bombard you with more photos today Except for this one of The Maze, looking stunning as ever.
*OH reckons this area is actually the Southern Uplands and the Lowlands are in fact the Central Belt.