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 ( 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

The Blogfather

Yes, as I told you before (if you’ve been paying attention) Hanif Kureishi can properly be called the father of this blog, since it was his idea.  We met in Leicester Library; I asked him for one piece of advice, and quick as a flash he said, ‘Start a blog.’  I didn’t hang around; and Lizardyoga’s weblog was born the very next day.

I have to say I liked him better in the flesh than I did on TV.  The BBC’s profile did not show him in the best light; he appeared bad-tempered and defensive, particularly when asked about the direct way in which he had put his family members into his work.  He had left his wife and children; just walked out of the house – at least that was the way he told it – and then written in a very direct way about that experience.  And here’s the rub: this is a dilemma for all writers – at least those who are not Science Fiction authors or writers of preposterous romances – what do you do about the people in your life?  Do you just go ahead and put them in your novels, warts and all or, given that most disguises are easy to penetrate, do you disguise them?  Some writers don’t let it bother them: D H Lawrence didn’t, and lost friends as a result, but he seemed to regard it as an inevitable part of the process.  Kureishi, however, reacted to Alan Yentob’s questions as if he had no right to ask them; and I think this is a mistake.  Of course a work of art is what it is; stands alone and ought to be judged as such, blah blah blah, but to ignore the connection between it and a writer’s life is to leave out a vital part of the equation.  Anyway, judge for yourselves as it’s still on iplayer:

It is tempting to wonder how Jane Austen’s family reacted to the characters in her novels: who was the original for Mrs Elton?  Or Lady Catherine de Burgh?  This problem is something I wrestle with – one of the reasons I was unable to write as a child (I started a novel at the age of eight and couldn’t continue it) was that on some level I knew my parent’s marriage was in trouble and couldn’t bring myself to write about it.

I’m still struggling with this problem because, unlike Kureishi I don’t think it’s OK just to put people in your novels willy-nilly and disregard their feelings on the matter.  But neither is censoring your own life a very satisfactory answer.  So what do you do?

Answers on a postcard please…

Kirk out