Thursday 31 December 2009

An Extraordinary Woman: The Muse At My Shoulder

On New Year’s Eve I take a Celtic delight in the pagan celebration of the end of one year and the anticipative celebration promise of the year to come. This day also was (is?) my mother Barbara’s birthday and I think of her. She was an extraordinary woman.Barbara With Grahame

Although we were (are?) very different personalities, I have inherited many things from Barbara . There is this desire to run away, expressed in the delight in travel. For her, with a family of four to bring up on her own and no resources, this was confined to books, maps and the globe of the world. Then things became just a bit easier and in her fifties she went to Denmark on her own. After that, year by year, she travelled further and further.

I was in my thirties when I started. Paris first. Then Moscow, Then different parts of America. Then Italy. Then the far East. Then New Zealand. Then Poland. Then back to France. Always France.

Being imbued with the Puritan work ethic Barbara would have approved of the fact that much of my travelling has been about the writing of novels. Evidence for this would be the working titles for some of my novels: for example, The Russian Novel (The Self Made Woman) ; the Singapore Novel (Long Journey Home); The Polish Novel (The Woman Who Drew Buildings); The London Novel (The Lavender House). Honesty’s Daughter was, for a time ‘The American Novel’. And my new novel for 2010 is The French Novel (Title still brewing…)

Sadly, Barbara was only here on earth to read my first novel Lizza in printer’s proofs. But in all these travels - in all this writing – she has been at my shoulder.

Although it is fiction, Lizza is based on a fragile sliver of Barbara’s young life.

‘I stayed up all night reading it, love,’ she said, when she read the proofs. ‘Couldn’t stop. Do you know that foreman? Well his real name was …’

It seemed that much of my pure invention was real. Which brings me to another of my bequests from Barbara: some kind of psychic acuity. Her oldest sister was a full blown medium but Barbara herself was highly sensitive. This psychic acuity probably explains why - as I write - I hear my characters talking, see them walking. It could explain the fact that when I’ve written about a place – even a place thousands of miles away - and checked it out later, I find that it’s already there, in my drafting book.

This psychic predisposition is there as a kind of ‘sleeper’ in many of my novels, but with my new ‘French Novel’ I have come out and centred the narrative on the psychic predispositions of my character Starr and the way she relates to space and time. New departure! It’s been great to write.

I’ve benefitted from other bequests from Barbara –a love of the realities of history, a cherishing of the resonance of the spoken word, an innate story telling gene – all these would merit further stories here.

But an important bequest worth mentioning has been Barbara’s role model as a Barbara in Uniform working mother with little regard for the domestic side of life. This has allowed me to write rather than dust, to make stories rather than make the bed. It has stood me in good stead all my working life and been instrumental in the production of so many novels.

However for now the greatest bequest to me is her continuing presence around me and her pleasure, through time, at what has happened in my life – my new novels, my good teaching, my extraordinary family.

Happy Birthday Barbara, dear Mum and extraordinary muse.


PS After I wrote this, I found the Ernest Hemingway quote for my Inspirations (left). Seems to fit.

Thursday 10 December 2009

The Over-Wound Clock

Apologies to good blogging friends for not being around lately. So many things DSCN1107have been crowding in!

I’ve been dealing with the aftermath of our Room To Write week-end conference.  Full of good writers, goodwill and good cheer, it took a lot of planning, preparation and doing -  but was all worthwhile . It seemed that they got a lot out of it .Already some of the participants have signed up for our booster day in the spring. Must be a good sign.

And then – along with Avril – I have been very busy with the final writing stages of the wonderful Easington Tall Tales Project. At the very beginning of this project I said it would be wonderful if we could have ten pieces of work from each of the eight writers. Looking at the final edited haul I see we have eighty items for the book which at l east, means that the average is ten, although some have done more and some less than ten. Styles and times differ.

This is no mean feat. We have funny stories, serious stories, short pieces and great poems from these talented writers: sixty thousand words in all. As well as this we have wonderful photographs, an amazing map drawn by Mavis Farrell, one of the writers, and fabulous drawings by Fiona Naughton whose paintings have featured here on this blog. All this will make a substantial and satisfying book which will illuminate life in this unique place.

We are now deep in the final editing and anthologising process (hard work, that!), then after Christmas the book will be off the printers, being shepherded through the printing process by Gillian Wales, who knows much more than me about these things, having produced several much admired books of her own. By February we will have this lovely book in our hands and will be launching it in this special by the sea. That will be a good gig.

More about that`at the time.

And finally in these last weeks I’ve been buried in the last stages of my French novel which is now at last there. (Hooray!)

Ending a novel is the hardest thing! When do you know it is finished and the story is ended? You go through it so many times and it is still wobbling about,  like a building held together with soft cement. Then there comes a time when you go there again and it’s firm and immoveable, as though this is  what it always was and always will be. There may be things to tinker with and fix, but the novel is sturdy and solid. there. (In the building world here they call this tinkering and fixing snagging. I like that thought.,,)

So this is how I ended up as tight as an over-wound clock, incapable of thinking any fresh thoughts. Certainly not able to write a post for my much loved blog.

But tick-tock, the hands are moving again. This mend has been helped by a few days here in London with Debora and Sean and Barney (dog) and Liberty(cat) and I’m loosening off - something to do with lovely meals, lots of kindly conversation, benevolent barking and lots of purring.

To top it all I’ve just had lunch with my lovely agent, J, who has read my novel and gets it, likes it.  It has its go-ahead: just a very little bit of snagging and my baby will be there adventuring out in the world strutting her stuff.

Now I really am ticking over.

Back soon



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