Category Archives: novels and longer works

The Horror! The Horror!

What a grizzly and unpleasant occupation writing is!  How many other jobs could you have where you go to work, slave for six solid hours and come home feeling that you’ve sweated blood and achieved nothing?  True, today – my first day back after a break – I did write a few spoof headlines for ‘Newsjack’ (they’re looking for contributions) but then I discovered that I’d missed the deadline for my headlines so now I have to scan the real headlines so that I can make more spoof headlines ahead of the deadline.  It’s making lines in my forehead…

Contenders for next week include the Trump ‘wall’ story latest and the ongoing Brexit saga.  Watch this space…

I find it difficult working in the library because of the other people coming and going and because I don’t have a space that is mine.  Unreasonably I regard the table at the far end as my space and get irritated if someone else bags it first: it’s also quite limiting that you only get three hours a day up to a total of seven a week on the computers.  But when I work from home, is it any better?  I get distracted by phone calls; I go in the kitchen to make a drink and end up loading the dishwasher.  It’s hopeless.  And when people say to me, as they sometimes do, how wonderful it must be to have a creative gift etc etc, I want to jump up and down and scream and say, ‘have you any idea what hell you go through to produce even the minutest piece of perfect prose?’  As Michael Caine used to say to people, if you wanted to do it, you’d be doing it.  If you really wanted to be an actor you’d be out there doing it; working in rep, am-dram, street theatre – whatever, just so you could act.  So if you want to be a writer, write.  After all it costs next to nothing: what could prevent you?

Anyway, even though I got entangled once more in the impenetrable thicket that is my novel, the day wasn’t entirely wasted.  After all, at the end of it I got to write this blog post…

Kirk out

 

 

 

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Filed under drama, friends and family, my magnum hopeless, novels and longer works, radio

Lay Your Head on the Writer’s Block

I’m never quite sure what writer’s block is.  I know it refers to an inability to write, but what actually counts as writer’s block?  If you sit staring at a screen for hours without writing a word, does that count?  Or is that too short a time?  Does it have to last at least a few days or weeks before you can call it writer’s block?  And when I wasn’t writing at all between the ages of eight and twenty-four, was that writer’s block?  Or was it a crisis of identity?

Aside from the question of how long it lasts, what kind of thing is writer’s block?  Is it the complete inability to write a single word?  Or does it mean you don’t write anything you’re remotely satisfied with?  If it’s the latter, I’m in trouble – because ‘not remotely satisfied’ describes nearly every day’s work for me.  But if it’s the former I’m OK because most days I manage to write something, even if it’s only a blog post.  Which is why I’m so glad I have this blog, because on really bad days where I can’t string two morphemes together, I can at least manacle a blog post into position, run it up the flag and see if anyone salutes it.  A blog post is usually less than 500 words; it’s achievable and, with the click of a button, it’s published and ready to read.

OH has an interesting view on overcoming writer’s block.  In the same way that Michelangelo saw the sculpture as being hidden within the stone

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/michelange386296.html

you could regard writing as ‘taking away’ everything which is not the story.  I’m not sure how cutting things away works when faced with a blank page rather than a lump of rock, but it’s worth thinking about. *

In ‘His Dark Materials’, Phillip Pullman wrote of the subtle knife which cuts windows between different worlds, ‘you may have intentions but the knife has its own intentions.’

http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/the-subtle-knife

This is an idea I try to bear in mind when writing a poem; that when writing I may have intentions, but the poem has its own intentions too.  Nevertheless, the blank page can be a very intimidating thing to overcome, so when I have a bad day and think all my thoughts are worthless, I try just to write, believing that anything is better than nothing and reminding myself without a first draft there can be no second draft, no finished version.

I guess the process of writing is hard to fathom, else there would be no such thing as writer’s block.  But it’s clear that writing begins with thought.  Thoughts occur in the mind, and the writer selects which of them to commit to paper: so maybe writer’s block begins here, at the level of thought.  When the mind is a blank, the page will be a blank.  However, in my experience what is more likely going on is that the mind is not producing anything your critical self deems worthy of using; hence a good exercise when blocked is to write whatever comes into your mind, no matter how nonsensical or seemingly worthless.  James Joyce did this, and look what he managed to produce just listening to the babbling of his mind!

Interesting things happen when we let go of controlling our thoughts.  And out of this arises poetry.

And I know it’s not the day for linking to it, but I’m going to link here to the Insecure Writers Support Group because this post is relevant.

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

Kirk out

*Sounds like some bizarre version of scissors, paper, stone…

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Filed under language and grammar, my magnum hopeless, novels and longer works, poems, short stories

There’s Novel!

IMAG0022[1]

I can’t claim to be much affected by the Welsh language in this borderland village, since practically everyone I’ve met is (or sounds) English.  Actually that’s not entirely true: the pub boasts a landlady from New Zealand and a Latvian cook, but apart from them you only hear English accents.  Of course Welsh is written everywhere, whether it’s necessary or not; most public notices are posted in both languages and the street signs are also in English and Welsh, so that if you care to, you can pick up quite a few words.  I happen to know that dref means town and canol means centre; I am equally intrigued by the spelling of Eglwys (church) and the variations on Cymru arising from the confusing tendency of Welsh to change the beginnings rather than the endings of words.

I quite like Welsh.  It looks like a bundle of unpronounceable consonants, but once you understand that w and y are actually vowels (cue Zerothly telling everyone that y is a vowel in English too) and get to grips with how to say them, it’s quite straightforward.  Well, except that is pronounced v and ff is f and oh, a dozen other rules I can’t quite remember and about which zerothly will no doubt inform us, it is.  Once you get into it.  Of course it helps to hear it spoken which you don’t, hereabouts.

On the other hand, you can’t help wondering how necessary it is to have everything in two languages, especially when, as in one case, the place is called ‘Pandy’ in English and ‘Andy’ in Welsh.  Both signs are placed solemnly side by side as you come into the village: it makes me smile.

But if I’m not careful I’ll miss out the whole point of this post, which is the progress of my novel.  It’s going quite blindingly well; I have rushed at it like several bulls at a succession of gates and have last week passed the 50,000 word mark.  It’s in three sections and I’m currently feeling my way through the third; I shan’t finish before I go home at the weekend but the raw material is there for an excellent novel.

Hm.  I wonder what is the Welsh for ‘novel’?

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

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Insecure Wednesday

Yes, it’s the first Wednesday of the month and time to be insecure again – and this month the question we insecure writers are asked to consider is, ‘What is your favourite aspect of being a writer?’

http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com

Well I guess for me, my favourite aspect is the tremendous sense of liberation which comes from ‘unpacking the heart.’  That phrase is used rather disparagingly by Hamlet, but for me it’s an opening, a freedom; not so much a road as a river that you follow, never knowing where it may lead you.  Each day is a surprise and although it is often hard, just as following the course of a river is hard and can lead you into ravines and over rugged rocks; when you finally break through, the experience is stunning.

I never know where I’m going and I like it that way.  Looking back you find a sense of rhythm and purpose but at the time it often makes no sense: all you can do is pursue that infuriating river that twists and winds, falls and rises, expands to a sea and contracts almost to nothing.  It’s like Leonard Cohen once said: it starts off easy but then you’re on your hands and knees at 3 am trying to pursue a lyric.

OK so now I realise I’m getting away from the good stuff and talking about the difficulties.  But you can’t have one without the other folks!

Speaking of Hamlet, there was a guy on the radio the other day who claimed that the supposed universality of Shakespeare was all down to a conspiracy by the RSC.  Sounds a bit far-fetched to me…

Happy (and hard) writing!

Kirk out

 

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Rectory Towers: The Work Situation

I’m getting into a routine now that I’ve been here a week or so.  The first few days were taken up with other people; sister was here till Friday and from Friday to Monday the house was taken over by a horde of thirty-somethings celebrating nephew’s birthday.  As hordes go they were very gentle and caring; they chatted to me, stacked the dishwasher and put their empty bottles and cans in the recycling, but by Sunday they were all distinctly bleary-eyed and headed off to their respective lives, leaving me to begin mine here, in this house.

I’m settling in to Rectory Towers now, finding a groove that fits with my usual routine.  I do my best writing in the mornings so the hours after breakfast are devoted to the new novel.  I don’t want to say too much about it but the theme is gender and like the TV series it’s called ‘Boy Meets Girl.’  At least that’s the working title.  For the first time I can see myself actually finishing a novel, as opposed to ending it, if you see what I mean.  Previous novels have been forced to a conclusion by sheer marathon efforts, sometimes using NaNoWriMo (http://nanowrimo.org) as a spur, sometimes giving myself a time-limit.  Last year’s novel was written in about 2 1/2 months and though it was valuable no-one could say it was finished.  I got satisfaction from bits of it, but not from the thing as a whole.

This time it’s different.  I don’t know how many novels most writers have to complete before they get one they’re happy with, but I suspect it’s a few.  I’ve written maybe seven or eight over the years – I can’t remember now – some for NaNoWriMo and some not.  If you want to write a novel and can’t quite begin, I recommend NaNo – the time is coming up soon, so get with it.  The thing is to just write, get the words down, without thinking about what you’re writing and (above all) whether it’s any good.

I know I’ve said this before about poetry but I think it holds good for prose too – you don’t want the critical voice in there when you’re writing.  When you’re revising, fine – but when you’re doing the first draft, it needs to butt out.

So the first novel I ever wrote – as you’re probably tired of hearing – was about a woman stuck in a nuclear bunker.  She imagines there has been a nuclear apocalypse (it was written in the late ’80’s) and that other people will soon come.  When no-one does she believes they are all dead.  In order to survive the boredom and loneliness she begins to write what are basically her memoirs – and in coming to the most recent past, realises that the apocalypse was not real at all but the product of a mental event (there’s more to this but I won’t go into it now).  The novel is called Seven Days because she’s in the bunker for seven days; creating (or re-creating) herself; and on the seventh day she realises that the bunker isn’t real.

I wanted the story to parallel the timeline of life on earth, which I read somewhere began 300 million years ago.  In order to give myself some idea of what 300 million years was like I began to rule strips of paper into a timeline broken up into spans of a hundred years.  I started to paste them round my wall.  Progress was very slow, and in the end I worked out that if I did this for eight hours a day, seven days a week it would take me three years to complete.

So I guess you could say I got an idea of an idea of what 300 million years is like.  But no more than that.

But enough of this: so far, ‘Boy Meets Girl’ is going well; I’ve written the first few chapters already and I’m ready to plan the next lot.  Each day I put the words from the day before onto the computer and then write another section.  When I’ve done that it’s usually lunchtime; then after lunch I write a blog post or some thoughts in my diary.  Then about three-ish I take the dogs for a walk; then when we come back it’s time to suss out the fuel and wood situation and think about lighting the range.  Once I’ve got the range going I read or write some more for a while and then it’s time for dinner, over which I usually listen to whatever’s on at 6.30 followed by The Archers.  Yes, I’ve got back into the Archers again.

There’s TV in the evenings, or pub; and so to bed, having let the dogs out, checked the gas obsessively, given the dogs their bedtime treat and tucked them in.

Kirk out

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On the Border

So: here I am in fairly Welsh Wales, the South not the North and so near the border that you can practically spit across it; in an area planted with ancient castles marking the place where the English (us) were fired on if they attempted to invade; half a mile from a pub called the Bridge whose sign shows a man on one side of the river and a devil on the other (us again: I’ll try to take a pic while I’m here) – a place positively seeping with history and dripping with culture.  The natives are a lot friendlier than they were 10 centuries ago and everyone is very welcoming.  I’ve already met the man from the shop who doubles as the church organist (all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order) and visits from neighbours are imminent.

So far I have been initiated into the mysteries of a reciprocating saw (sort of a milder but still fairly lethal version of a chain-saw); I have comprehensively checked out the fuel and wood situation and I have fired up the Aga.  I have also watched my sister feed the bees (I’ll post a pic of her later in beekeeping suit).  It’s all go here; lots to suss out before sister departs tomorrow for Mexico.

My plans are, besides walking dogs and firing up Agas, to write the beginning of a novel which I have planned.  It’s about gender, unsurprisingly.  So I’ll keep you posted.  Meanwhile here is a picture of Grosmont Castle:

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And here’s some Al Stewart to keep you going:

Kirk out

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It’s Time to be Insecure Again

Yes, it’s that time of the month when insecure writers of the world unite and state that they have nothing to lose but their fears…  This month I am feeling insecure about politics.  There’s so much hostility flying around in the political arena, what with post-Brexit recriminations (and racism), Labour Party factionalism, Donald Trump ghastliness (and Hillarious beastliness) that it’s hard to know where to turn.  It’s tempting, in fact, to turn right off and say nothing whatever about anything as the fear of being shot down in flames is too great.

But when you feel passionate about something you can’t just shut up and go away.  And there’s the rub: because in expressing passionate opinions you lay yourself open to all kinds of responses, from the enthusiastic to the Eeyore-ish, from the respectfully disagreeing to the abusive.  So whereas I feel more secure than I did about, say, my poetry, and I don’t mind so much if people don’t like it, I do tend to feel insecure when I express political opinions.

Aaand talking of a range of reactions, get a load of this then:

your profile photo

Yes, it’s my latest haircut (well, not so much a haircut, more a close shave.)  The other day I was lamenting the lack of dosh to visit the hairdresser’s.  Then I reflected that I didn’t really know what sort of haircut I wanted anyway.  So I got out the clippers, intending to cut a bit off the bottom and maybe shave the underside to cool off a bit.  And I just got carried away.  It feels great, as if a weight has been taken off my mind (!) but what’s interesting is the range of reactions I’ve had from people, from outright enthusiasm (Wow!  It looks great!) to a somewhat more wary (gosh, isn’t it short!) to the frankly scared.  Drastic changes do tend to evoke strong reactions in people and you can’t always predict who will react in what way.

But I digress.  This month we Insecure Writers are asked to blog about our first writing project: what was it, when was it and, most crucially, where is it now?

Well, I’ve blogged about this before, but here goes.  My first serious writing project began in about 1981.  It was a novel called ‘Seven Days’ and concerned a woman trapped in a nuclear bunker (remember, this is pre-glasnost.)  When no-one else comes, she concludes that they are all dead and that she is trapped alone in the bunker until it’s safe to go out.  To prevent herself from going mad she starts to write her memories.  Each day she recalls a different stage in her life, leading up to the recent past when the plot-twist happens and on the last day, Sunday, she leaves the bunker.  Sadly this novel has remained unpublished as I haven’t been able to do enough with it.  But I haven’t given up…

Happy Insecure Wednesday, fellow-writers!  And here’s the obligatory link to the blog:
http://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/

Kirk out

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