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Sunday, 27 August 2017

RIP Mum

Those of you who follow me closely (although not too closely please, if you are standing near enough to dip your HobNob in my tea then you probably want to go back a few paces.

And a few more.

I can still see you.

That's better)

will know that it's been a bit of a sad time for me just lately. My lovely mum (although I can't take entire ownership rights, my brother has part shares in her too) died this week.  We knew it was coming, so the end was not as much of a shock as it otherwise would have been, but even though I was prepared, I still didn't account for how 'adrift' one feels when the last parent goes.  My dad died nine years ago, so I've had a little practice though. 

I suddenly realised that there is now nobody who remembers me as a newborn baby (my brother is younger. And anyway has a terrible memory and would probably invent some stuff about me being awful and unmanageable. Or something), or my first steps, or my first word.

And then I think, 'hang on. Why does it matter anyway? I clearly learned to walk and talk, although shutting up is more of a challenge, so why do I need corroborating evidence? And why should her death have to be felt purely as it related to me?' 

Someone is gone who was once here. More lives are impacted than mine, she will be missed by my brother and his wife, who cared for her in her last years. By the nine grandchildren and three great grandchildren, by the step grandchildren and great grandchildren.

So there's now a Betty-shaped hole in the world.  One that she filled for 86 years, so she gave it a good go and, hopefully, achieved a lot of the things she wanted to. She certainly gave a lot of sit-coms a good thrashing, and also enjoyed murder mysteries rather a lot. She could pronounce 'there's been a muurrrrrrderrrrr' with more Glaswegian emphasis than even Taggart managed, despite having been born and brought up in Windsor.
Never knowingly overfaced
She will be well and fondly remembered.

Now I inexplicably want to go and eat a giant dessert...


Sunday, 2 July 2017

How to know what you don't know...

Write what you know.

That's what they say, isn't it? And, as long as you've led a jet-setting life, with frequent space flights interspersed with cattle ranching in the Peruvian uplands and occasional bouts as an angst-ridden rock star, then that's great. You've got enough material, go, write!

But what if you've never been further than Uttoxeter? What if you've never even met a rock star (hard to imagine, I know, but there must be some people out there who've never been hauled aboard a tour bus) and your day job involves pencilling tick boxes on a council form for compost bins?  What then?

(Wanders off to imagine book about Uttoxeter-dwelling council worker...)

OK. So I'm going to tell you how to write about what you don't know.
I don't fancy yours much
Emotions translate. That's all you need to know.  You may never have been widowed, but remember that time your cat died when you were nine? Remember that feeling that you'd never see them again and how hard it was and how you missed them? Hold that feeling...

You may never have decided to up sticks and move to Spain to get over your loss. But remember that school exchange visit to France, when you spent the first three weeks feeling desperately homesick and missing your mum and then you discovered you loved cycling along the lanes in the sunshine? Hold that feeling.

You may never have suffered from a life changing illness. But remember when you had that flu that time? And you couldn't get out of bed for a week even to answer the phone and you felt so awful that you were sort of afraid you'd die? And how it took you six weeks before you could stay up past nine o clock and how you felt as if you were about a hundred years old for ages?  That...

Because we all know so much more than we think we do, but none of us can have lived all the lives we write about (at least, not if you want to write more than one or two books, or recycle the same plot). But emotions translate. Loss is loss, whether it's your husband, father or dog, grief is the same. Its severity and duration vary depending on the relationship, but the sheer gut-pulling, hunched-over-crying, inability to function shock remains the same.  Fear is fear, whether it's your child straying out of your sight on the beach or a noise behind you in a dark forest, your mouth dries the same way, your heart thunders, your body freezes...And love, whether it's a partner, your dog or Aiden Turner, you still feel that warm smile on your face when you think of them (unless you've got a dog like mine, in which case your jaw sort of clenches at the same time).

You know so much more than you think you know.
Except space travel. You're on your own with that one.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The Rocky Road to story telling

I've not written much lately.

Not because I haven't got any ideas, but because I've got too many.  What should I write next? Should it be the one with the llamas in? Or the 'quiet man in the caravan' story? Or should I finish that vampire novella that's half done and sitting on my desktop like a big accusatory finger wagging at me whenever I start my machine?
Yes, I'm inclining towards the llamas myself

It's like...you know when you fancy a bar of chocolate?  You just think 'mmmm, I want some chocolate,' so you go to the shop and you stand in front of the 'chocolate' section and... do you want milk, plain or white? Do you want ordinary chocolate, or chocolate with bits in? Posh chocolate, which you tell yourself you will only eat a little bit of because it's so rich, or cheap chocolate where you know you will scoff the whole bar in seconds? Or would you rather have something covered in chocolate, like peanuts or raisins?  Or even a pack of chocolate biscuits, because they are chocolate and you can also dunk them in your tea?
Choose fast, choose wisely
Too much choice, you see?  I sometimes wish the inside of my brain was like Soviet-era Russia, no choice, one item and you have to queue for a fortnight to get it. If I had to work for ideas I wonder if I would value them more and feel more inclined to work on them - rather than discarding them if they seem to have too many nuts in in and not enough toffee.

And then I have the tendency for my ideas to become like Rocky Road - llamas, plus quiet man in caravan, with a few vampires floating around for good measure.
But, whereas nobody ever said 'what that Rocky Road needed was a few less cherries and not quite so many marshmallow pieces', a book CAN have too many elements in it for proper storytelling.  Too much going on and you can't focus on the characters.

I think I'll go and stare at the chocolate section again for a bit. Warning: my next story may contain nuts.