What am I doing at the moment? I’m glad you asked. I’m rewriting a story I first wrote years ago for Woman’s Weekly magazine. Why? Because women’s magazines pay squoodles of dosh for a story and I thought it was worth a bash. I had several bashes at it in fact and I did ‘study’ the magazine as you’re supposed to before submitting, the conclusions of my study being that I should make the story as bland as possible. Now, things have moved on since then and it may be that Woman’s Weekly is as raunchy these days as Cosmo once was, but in those days the stories were so gentle as to be practically soporific. Well, I gave it my best shot (of valium)and when one story was rejected I wrote another, even blander one. Of course there’s no way of knowing why a story has been rejected so I might have been completely on the wrong track, but I couldn’t help thinking of Goodness Gracious Me and the guys who get hammered and ‘go for an English.’
I guess blandness isn’t in my nature… but it can be problematic to find out what is in your nature and other people’s guidelines are a very blunt instrument for doing so; sometimes they help and sometimes they don’t. If I’m feeling secure, I just sweep the unhelpful ones aside. But today I discovered Colm Toibin’s rules for writing and they made me feel thoroughly inadequate. He suggests writing all day with a short break for lunch and then another for the news, then writing until bedtime. No sex, alcohol or drugs while writing (yes, I agree with that) but not much of anything else either. I know I can’t work like that, and I ended up feeling quite inadequate. ‘I’m not doing enough! I’m not dedicated enough!’ And underneath it all the sly whisper of conditioning, is this because I’m a not a man? Am I actually the blandest thing on the menu?
But what’s missing here is context. From the tone of these rules I suspect that he wrote them for himself rather than for others; I also suspect that he has periods of writing and periods of rest as no-one could keep up such a schedule 24/7/365. In any case other writers’ rules are very hit-and-miss, and when they miss we should give them a wide berth.
Mark has made it! 69.1 kilos this morning, which means he’s hit his target of 70 kg. He really looks different – slim instead of a bit paunchy; and in honour of the occasion he’s going to cook a thali from scratch. That means a whole smorgasbord on a tray; 2 different curries, a sauce, puris or chappattis, rice, salad, yoghurt and a sweet which will be gulab jamun.
Challenging! But perhaps not as challenging as losing 10 kilos…
Alas! I am not losing any weight; so I am going to look at a bike this morning, in the hope that I’ll be able to get it fixed and start cycling again. I’m clearly not getting enough aerobic exercise: I do my yoga in the morning and I go for a walk later but neither of those things is aerobic, and the rest of the day I’m seated. Unless I do a bit of gardening, that is.
So, what have I been reading this week? The Colm Toibin novella, ‘The Testament of Mary’ was highly evocative and compelling; alas, I have problems with atheist versions of religious stories, not because I’m anti-atheist but because they always seem to have an axe to grind. This even extends to the other book I’m reading – however, the imaginative power of ‘The Amber Spyglass’ more than compensates for these issues as the story-telling is quite incredible. When you first read these books you are utterly mesmerised; it’s a feeling similar to reading the Narnia books for the first time, except that there’s a lot more to figure out. He doesn’t give the reader much; no explanation or back-story; you just have to work it out for yourself. So if you haven’t yet caught up with ‘His Dark Materials,’ do so. It’s a brilliant read, and the film is great too – it’s just sad that they didn’t finish the trilogy. I’d swap that for the bloody Hobbit any day:
So, what have I been reading this week? Having demolished the Hamish Macbeth like the literary sponge-cake it was, I was left with ‘Petite Mort’, a crime novel set in Victorian Paris *. Alas, though the evocation of the city in 1900 was haunting (the Paris of the Hunchback of Notre Dame), though the characters were well-drawn and the authorial voice authentic, the story jumped between three sets of people and three time-frames so often that I lost track of everything and eventually returned it to the library whence it came. I have now exhausted the library’s stock of interesting crime fiction: the only two Ian Rankins they have are ones I practically known by heart; ditto the Val McDermids and Kathy Reichs – -and nothing else really grabs me. So the only excitement at the library came from being issued with a new card that had an interesting and different picture on it; and being told that two people have signed up for my ‘I Hate Poetry’ workshop on 28th Sept, for Everybody’s Reading week:
Daniel did the poster – do you like it? You should come along – it’ll be fun – and it’s free!
I also picked up a Colm Toibin novella about the Virgin Mary – but more on that next week. I will just leave you with the plans for Richard III’s new tomb in the cathedral. Simple and dignified – or a bit of a mish-mash?
Like my week, really…
*and yes, I know that it wasn’t really Victorian Paris but I don’t know what else to call it because I don’t know which republic it was.
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