Hello, and welcome back to Drifting Astray! A lot has been happening in my life of late, which doesn’t excuse, but perhaps explains the long hiatus.

I started my new job at Waitrose, quickly took on lots of overtime and spent my hours at home watching Bad TV instead of writing much. Bad TV is only enjoyable for so long before you start to crave something richer. Books, then, have also been filling my time, and Better TV. I’m currently reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which is enjoyably dark and subtle so far.

I’ve also been reading (although I’m yet to finish) Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, which has further opened my eyes to the possibilities of magical-realism and omniscient voice (which you can also find in the wonderful One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez).

I’m still toiling away at the WIP-novel, which is trickling along merrily, if slowly. I’m thankful for the fact that I seem to still be writing something, instead of nothing. A couple of years ago I might have abandoned writing completely, for several long months, after starting a new job. So I think I can say that although I’m nowhere near perfection just yet, I’m a better writer than I was back then. 🙂

I have a lot of people to thank, actually, for keeping me on the writerly straight-and-narrow. Twitter has been the safety net which has prevented me from falling off the edge of the communicating world completely, and I must give thanks to @squeakattack, @jenku70 and @atrinza in particular.

Your encouragement and wisdom has been of invaluable help, guys. 🙂

Now, in penance for neglecting you all, I offer up this short story for your entertainment …

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Sunlight on the Snow

The snow falls every year, here in the north. Winter comes with a sombre promise to take and give nothing back. But we are stubborn people. We hold on to our homes, even when it costs us dear.

South of us the valleys stretch out, welcoming warmth, sheltering it in a cradle of trees and soft grasses. But we have the mountains and the spaces in between, the small cracks where we find what warmth we can.

In the summer the frozen rivers melt and flow again in the deep ravines. The water filters through the rocks until it’s pure and sparkling – the best water you ever tasted. It nourishes the roots of the trees, and the deer drink from the streams. We kill the deer, and the snow hares, and the mountain lions. We eat them and we take their pelts for warmth.

We survive in our mountain home.

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Chihiro and the beleaguered river spirit in Spirited Away

2010. It’s the beginning of a whole new decade. I want to start this decade by being more like Chihiro, the young heroine of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece, Spirited Away. There are many points I could draw from the film – especially as an example of fantasy that has reality, truth and humanity at its heart – but I’ll be content with just one, for now.

Forced to work in a bath house run by Yubaba the witch, Chihiro has to undergo many trials in the hope of rescuing her parents, who greedily ate the food of the spirits and were turned into pigs as a result. On one particular occasion, a stinking monster comes into the bath house. He wants a bath, and he has lots of gold to offer in return. Greedy Yubaba likes the colour of his money enough to ignore the foul sludge which oozes from him, filling the bath house and scaring off the other customers.

Chihiro is given the rather daunting task of making the guest feel welcome and escorting him to his bath, which she does with heroic determination. As the monster soaks in the hot water, Chihiro realises that something is stuck in his side, and it won’t budge.

With the help of Yubaba and the other bath house attendants, Chihiro succeeds in tying a rope around the mysterious object. Then she pulls. And pulls. And pulls …

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Taken in Winter '08, looking over the garden of our house in Somerset and the hills behind.

Here I sit on a cold winter day in Somerset. The sun, which in winter never gets very high above the hills, has lowered behind them again. The clouds in the southwest are a wonderful pale soufflé-orange tinged with wintry blue at the top and – oh – the sky is now dropping crumbs of snow onto the cold flagstones of our patio, and the frozen pond.

Many other parts of Britain have already seen snow, which makes me more hopeful for a White Christmas. It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

It’s been a while since I updated this blog, so here’s a run down of what’s new.

My dad recently retired, and my immediate family (that is, my mum, my dad, my sister and I) has now relocated to a hamlet called Blackmoor which sits at the feet of the Blackdown Hills. The countryside round here is stunning, and since I’ve always found landscapes inspiring, I find that it nurtures my motivation to write on an almost daily basis.

I also accepted a job offer this week, and I’ll be starting a part time job at Waitrose, a supermarket chain owned by the John Lewis Partnership, in January. Being unemployed has not been boring, because over the last few months I’ve spent a lot of time both writing and working on a dressmaking project, at the same time as jobhunting. But I feel relief at knowing I’m out of the woods. It’ll be nice to earn money again. Also, my hours are fantastic, and will allow me time to write in the late afternoon. Success!

I’m working on the first draft of a novel. The novel. The one I’ve been charting on and off in this blog for a few months now. Something for the writer’s confessional: about two weeks ago I was ready to pack it in, convinced that there was no point in finishing a first draft which has become so wildly different to what it started as. For instance, whole characters might have to be excised or relocated in the second draft. Whole settings, scenes and conversations. We’re talking about renovations on the grand scale. I feel especially guilty about one of my former main protagonists, who in plot terms has become slightly redundant.

The long and short is that I might have to cut her completely! But isn’t that a more definitive, honest way of writing than orphaning my first draft and its protagonists and starting afresh? If I did that now I’d be back at square one. I’d be kidding myself if I thought that it would be any easier to chuck out all of the very real progress I’ve made and start from the beginning.

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The novel is going well, and I’m over the 50,000 word mark, climbing steadily towards 60,000. The story arc is starting to plateau, and I can nearly see the endgame ahead of me. Nearly.

But there is a problem.

The main character and I are having a bit of an argument. An altercation, if you will. Sky, being wilful, has just dumped me in the middle of a writing situation that I’m not entirely sure how to get out of. It happens, sometimes.

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Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, a fact which my Mum alerted me to this morning as we were driving to Sainsburys. We discussed Carol Ann Duffy, poet laureate, who has written a poem for the occasion entitled Atlas. You can send it as an e-card on the National Poetry Day website.

Duffy’s poem definitely captures the theme of this year’s National Poetry Day, which is Heroes and Heroines. When I set out to write a poem once we got back from shopping I didn’t know there was a theme. I sat on a bench in the garden and felt autumn all around. I thought about the changes of the season and the changes my family is going through at the moment.

Specifically, we are moving from Surrey to Somerset, something which has been on the cards for more than two years, ever since my parents bought Perry House in the Blackdown Hills. Now that I’m back from Spain and living with my parents again, I’m right in the middle of this change. I’ll be moving to Perry House, for a while at least, until I set down my own roots and independence again. This move though, it has the feeling of ‘no going back’ about it. The house I’ve lived in since I was ten is being sold, and my family is moving down here for good.

All change!

Change envelops me and envelops the whole landscape at the moment. I wrote Changing Season with this in mind, and I’ve copied it below.

Finally, in the spirit of the occasion, here’s a link to one of my favourite poems, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost.

Happy National Poetry Day, everyone!

 

Changing Season

Autumn air, packed full of earth,
woodsmoke and falling hedgerow harvest
raining, death and life all at once. 

Life, warm within seeds, hidden hearts
that lie in the earth,
dormant –
waiting to burst into life,
struggling to stay alive.

The fight goes out of some.
Time to go, quietly
as the broken branches of
a crippled buddleia lean, haphazard,
marked for amputation.
To lose a limb,
marked for death?
A butterfly bush in its last blooming –
a flotilla of coloured souls vanish.

Cold Autumn scours the soft
and dampens the hardy,
slow rot sets in.

Time to change
as the chill wraps up your skin,
prickling.

The air turns rich and damp as
mist billows in the valley,
the time of year speaking in tongues
of rain and soil.
A new bloom opens,
a dark flower with the scent
of smoke and cloves
and blackberries,
warming you to your
chilly bones.
The beating of your heart,
warm like a bulb
planted in rich, wet earth
and decorated.
Fallen leaves,
red and ochre, blazing orange.
The epitaph of Autmn:
to be reborn,
change.

I said I’d let you know what was happening with my novel work-in-progress. Well, I still haven’t come up with a decent title for it, although it currently lives in a folder in my hard drive entitled ‘Guardian’. This was my first idea for a title (I won’t say why – this is a strictly spoiler-free post ;)), but ever since then I haven’t been able to look at it without thinking of the English broadsheet newspaper which my parents buy every week. I now think of it almost like a code word for my novel.

Hah! My novel has code words.

Since my last post on the subject (the previous post in this blog, in fact – proving that I am consistent in my subjects, if not in regularity of updating), I have written every day. This is immensely satisfying, not only because I’m finally creating good writing habits and sticking to them, but because it proves that the writing techniques I learned last year during NaNoWriMo were not just flashes in the pan of inspiration: what I learned back then has stuck with me over a whole year, and I am applying it to my writing outside the NaNo zone.

Which means – *drum roll* – that I may actually have it in me to finish a novel this time around. Touch wood.

In between feverish bouts of writing, which average at around 1,000-2,000 new words not-all-in-one-go per day, I have found several ways of distracting myself from the task – opportunities to break off and do something else for five minutes. Or several hours. This is admittedly dangerous – if I find the perfect distraction, who knows when I might get back to writing the actual novel? But since I’ve managed to pull myself back from each of these distractions in turn, I think I can safely say that I’m not in danger of abandoning my story just yet. Still, to give them their due, here’s what I’ve been doing in between writing (on top of the obvious things like making unnecessary cups of tea or coffee) …

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