Monday, 14 June 2010

The madness of perfection

“Were I to await perfection, my book would never be finished” Chinese Proverb

There's no doubt about the fact that I am a perfectionist. I have always been quite driven in the things that I have done, and perfectionism has motivated me to a number of accomplishments. (none of them very useful though, unfortunately..) My perfectionism can help me in my writing too, as I constantly strive to express myself in the way in which I do in my imagination. My quest for the perfect sentence or image is ongoing. And that can be a good thing for my writing. Even now I'm thinking as I write this that I am not quite saying exactly what I want to convey and that there must be a better way...

However, one of the negative aspects of perfectionism is procrastination, and I believe I have blogged about that at least once before. (although don't ask me where because I haven't tagged all my posts like I should have....) Anxiety about creating has prevented me from writing at all. Faced with the possibility of not writing well, historically I have preferred not to try.

Julia Cameron writes about perfectionism in her book The Artist's Way. She says that, instead of being a quest for the best, perfectionism can turn into a paralysing hyper-critical state which can turn creativity into a reductionist approach that lacks passion. In her view perfectionism is '....a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough...' And that is why rejection can be so catastrophic for me at times, because my confidence is inversely proportional to my perfectionism! When I send some writing out into the world and it is rejected, I just want to give up. I ask myself why I am putting myself through it all, and it is easy to be propelled into a general low-level depression about writing. I think to myself, 'Well, if you can't do it well, then don't do it at all. Try canoeing or flower arranging instead.'

But, of course, that is exactly the wrong approach. Because, as Voltaire said,
'Perfection is attained by degrees; it requires the slow hand of time.'

I think you could substitute the word 'meaning' for 'perfection' in that Voltaire quotation and come close to what writing is about for me. It is about casting about (blindly) to try to make some meaning and find some sense of the life I have chosen and the time and place in which I am living it. I suppose that is a life's work, really. I can't see myself suddenly waking up one morning and going 'Oh!! So that's what it's all about! Well, I can relax now.' Giving up writing is not an option. But I suppose that exposing my writing to public scrutiny might well be. I guess that all depends on why I am writing in the first place; for me or for others? So maybe I should just relax and take it easy for a while. Write only for myself. Nurture my writerly self.

And I guess the following quotation is true:
'Have no fear of perfection- you'll never reach it.' Salvador Dali

That is, if there is any such thing as 'perfection'! It must be true that anything that is worth striving for happens incrementally, as a result of silted layers of trial, error, blood, sweat and tears. It is probably only in retrospect that most artists see a pattern in their work. When you are in the thick of it, it is very much a wood and trees scenario. So I suppose what I am saying is that I muddle on. That I have to. And I try to move out of my (critical) head and into creative action.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

I'm just not that into you....

I haven't been that into words recently. They can be overrated, and coming from someone who loves text and everything it does, that might sound a bit strong. But I am pretty sure my love affair with words waxes and wanes just like the changes of the natural world. Sometimes words just don't have the power for me to express my emotions, and then I look to other pleasures.

So, what have I been doing? I have been really into my music recently, and have been playing my cello until my fingers have been quite sore. And then I just wanted to be outdoors, and when the weather changed for the better I just had to get out and get soil under my fingernails. And we went walking to the Brecon Beacons with some friends. That was wonderful. As you can see from the photo above, we actually walked behind a waterfall on part of our route. It was fantastic, if slippery!

And so writing has taken a bit of a back seat. And also the other day a rejection come through for something I was (probably a bit too) fond of, and so that pushed me a little further away from the keyboard too. As much as I try to pretend I'm thick-skinned, every 'no' is a little barb.

But I know that I will fall back in love with writing again, the way I always do. Writing's like that rakish, good-for-nothing, devilishly attractive man that turns up like a bad penny, and that you just can't resist!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

This morning

It is a really lovely day here today. And I have seen some wonderful things already:

Waking up next to angelic sleeping Small Son. A flock of sparrows surfing along the hedge. A family of starlings worm-charming on the lawn. A field of yellow oilseed flowers lighting up like a beacon when the sun hits it. Explosions of blossom in every colour on almost every tree. A long-necked heron lazily flying south. The smiling face of a newly-pregnant friend. My germinated seedlings.

Have a good day.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Boss of Colour

I was just watching Modern Masters on BBC1, presented by Alistair Sooke. Tonight's episode was about the painter Henri Matisse. It told the story of his life and work, and the influence that his paintings have had on other artists, fashion and interior designers. I found it an incredibly moving programme. Matisse had so much humility, so much humanity. He strived throughout his life for artistic expression, and produced work right up until his death in his eighties. The beautiful cut-outs, like the one above that he is so famous for, were produced from his sickbed using a pair of shears.

His very last 'work', though, was not a painting. It was a chapel, designed fully by Matisse, with murals painted by him. The chapel was near Matisse's home, in Vence, and is called La Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. When Alistair Sooke, the narrator of the programme, went into the chapel, he was visibly moved. And I have to say, I felt the same. The light and serenity and peace of the place was astonishing, even seeing it on a TV screen. The photo below does not begin to do it justice; I would love to visit it some day.

If you get a chance, and you're UK based, you can watch the programme, Modern Masters, on iplayer. It's well worth a look. As the designer, Paul Smith, put it, Matisse really was the 'Boss of Colour'.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Header Photo

I've been feeling the need for a bit of a calming influence on the blog, so I dug around in my photo files and found the above for the header.

It is a place in the Pyrenees in France called Lac d'Oo. You have to get there on foot, as it is a glacial lake up in the mountains. It takes a couple of hours to walk up from the car park which is doen in the village, but it is worth the climb. It is stunningly beautiful. The lake is crystal clear glacial water, and the waterfall you can see in the photo is about 270m high. The snow line is visible, even in the heat of the summer, when we last visited. A truly magical place.

Enjoy the photo.

What a shambles!

Last night I stayed up until 2am in the hope of getting a feel for the way the election might go. But, as my eyes were closing with tiredness, we were none the wiser, as the declarations began to only trickle in. Worse than that was the steady flow of stories about the organisation of the polling stations, with people queueing for hours only to be locked out and unable to vote. I remember when I was at university, one of my tutors went to Georgia as an independent observer to oversee their election. I wonder what he is making of last night's shenanigans.

And here we are, the morning after the night before, and no-one seems to be any the wiser. The results have been highly individualised, and have not really followed any discernable pattern, with surprise results happening all over the country.

My feeling is that maybe there is a pattern. If you shade in all the constituencies in their respective political colours, the geographical results might form into the shape of a single-finger salute pointing in the direction of Westminster, in a public act of collective unconscious, the like we have never seen.

Anyway, it's looking like we might be doing this all again fairly soon, so we might stand a chance of getting it right next time. Here's hoping...

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Vote Vegetable!

I've been trying to explain the forthcoming election to Dear Daughter and Small Son. There are a lot of blank looks when I ask them if they know who the Prime Minister is. Gordon Brown rings no bells with my 4 and 5 year old. And then I say that there are three main parties, and their faces light up.
'And can we go to these parties?'
'No, not that kind of party. It means when people get together in a group. There are the Labour party, the Conservatives and the Liberals. Who sounds the best to you?'
'I think the Label party sounds best.' says Dear Daughter. 'What do they do?'

I ask them if they know what the government is. Dear Daughter hazards a guess.
'Is it the man that tells us what to do?'
'Like the king?', Small Son adds.
'Well, kind of.' I say. 'And do you know where they work?'
I'm hopeful about the answer, as when we had a trip to London I took them to see Big Ben. I start to prompt them,
'The Houses of Par.....?'
'The Houses of Parsnips!' shouts Small Son triumphantly.

Hmmm. This could take some time...

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Work in progress

The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that the word count on my progress meter has finally risen again. I haven't been working much on my long project in the recent past. I'm not quite sure why. I just stopped one day and then found it really hard to restart. I think it seemed like it was too hard. Well, it is hard. There's no doubt about that. And the longer it gets and the more complex, the more I wonder sometimes what the hell I'm doing and why. But I have restarted finally. I've picked up where I left off and hope to get back into my routine of 1000 words a day on each of my writing days.

And this is just the first draft. God help me....

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Just breathing...

I meditate. Not as often as I should, but I sit down fairly regularly and just breathe. It is good for me to meditate. As someone who is into words, who is into finding exactly the right sequence of them to express a thought or an image, (alright, who is maybe a little obsessed with them!?) it is beneficial to get away from words sometimes.

Sometimes the voice in my head is simply unstoppable; a ticker tape of words constantly rolling across my consciousness, like the scrolling news reports on News 24. Sometimes though, slowly, I manage to focus gently on the breathing, even though I snap back to that internal voice intermittently. Occasionally, the voice fades away for a few moments and I just 'am'. In the moment, in the breath, not thinking. It is wonderful, but happens far too little, mainly because I don't practise enough!

Once, though, I had what I can only describe as a vision of some sort. Or perhaps a vivid daydream. I was just breathing and the voice in my head was quiet. And then suddenly I saw bright green foliage, and in the foreground a stream of golden coins pouring from above onto an intricately, colourfully, tiled floor. And then it was gone. It must have lasted a second, maybe two. And I can't explain or forget it. It was so strange. I have never had anything like that happen since.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Action or apathy?

I've just had an interesting conversation with my best friend about social responsibility. She is a new mum of a 15 month old and expecting her second child at the end of the year. I have two children of 4 and 5. My friend works part time as a hospital doctor.

We began talking about her life. As I said, she is a doctor and her husband is training to be a vicar in the Anglican church, and they are considering going to Africa to work. I think they feel like their efforts perhaps fall on stony ground here in the UK. And perhaps they feel like there is more 'real' need in the developing world, more that they can do to help. I do understand that view, although I remain convinced that there is real need in the UK as well, which is deep-rooted and insidiously tied up with social and political issues of all kinds. It is certainly the case that the gap between rich and poor in the UK is ever-widening, which is deeply concerning for 13 years of a Labour government...

But the question we came to was - where does your responsibility lie? Is it to your own family or is it to the wider community? If everyone took their family responsibilities seriously, then would society be in a better position? If we do have a wider responsibility, then where is the line drawn between putting your family first and helping others? For example, would you put your own children at risk, for example by moving to a politically unstable country, in order to help others? Would you move around the world, going where the need is greatest, and take your children with you? And if the answer to those questions is 'no', then are you just complacent and selfish?

Maybe one of the answers is about apathy. My friend sees direct action as the answer. I agree that direct action can be effective, but I see the long-term solution as being a political one. The risk that I run, from my position, is that it is easy to sit there and say, 'This is nothing to do with me, it's a political matter. I'll vote, but beyond that, it's not my problem.' There is no direct personal responsibility being taken. If I do nothing, that could be seen as apathetic or uncaring. But, if I bake a cake for the homeless centre or volunteer occasionally, is that enough? Or is that just a 'box-ticking' exercise to assuage my guilt?

I, and my friend, are hugely lucky. We have both been born in the developed world. We were born into affluent (by world standards) homes. We have been educated. We have access to health services. We are incredibly fortunate, but should we feel guilty about it or empowered by it to effect change? Where do our responsibilities, and the answers, lie?

With the general election coming up, these questions are running in my mind at the moment. How can my vote be used wisely? Where does personal responsibility end and social responsibility start?

Any ideas?

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Great British Cuppa

'If you are cold, tea will warm you.
If you are too heated, it will cool you.
If you are depressed, it will cheer you.
If you are excited, it will calm you.'

.....And if you have had an eighteen hour journey back home, and if the only milk you had for that whole two weeks in France was horrible long-life stuff, then that first cup of tea with fresh milk that you drank sitting on your own sofa in your own living room might just taste like the nectar of the gods....

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Naughty Fairy

Small Son is not only acing the skiing, but he is rapidly outdoing us all in the imagination stakes. I can't believe some of the things this kid comes out with.

Today, after a telling off from me for unraveling all the toilet roll yet again, he came out with this:-

'But Mummy, there's a naughty fairy that lives in my head.'

'Oh yes?'

''She gets in through a little door in the back of my head, and then she presses all the buttons in there, and my hand just shoots out and rolls the toilet roll holder.'

I mean, there's just no answer to that, is there....?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Learning to Ski

So we're back in France now, having spent an amazing week in Spain. We rented a little chalet and drove up to the slopes every day. The weather was brilliant, considering it was the last week of the season. It snowed at night three times and we had lovely white, fresh, powdery, unmarked snow to ski on in the mornings.... It was also not too busy. My worry was that because it was Easter week, it would be overwhelmingly crowded with skiiers. But all in all it was fine. There was only one afternoon that we came down early, as it had started to snow and was getting quite cold. So we skiied for 8 days solid! The only thing is that my legs do hurt. Quite a lot... (Note to self - get that pre-ski fitness regime in place for next year..!) I also caught an edge of my left ski on about Day 3 and twisted my knee, so that has been aching a bit since, especially at the end of the day.

I love skiing in Spain, mainly because the children have such a grand time. It is so true that the Spanish love children, and the chair lift and cable car operaters lifted both of mine on and off with the utmost gentleness and handed out sweets and stickers freely! My two thought it was excellent!

And here's something that's given me pause for thought. Small Son (he turned 4 while we were there) began the week unable to ski and ended the week racing all of us down the blue runs... He has turned into a complete thrill seeker! It was incredible to see him learning so quickly, without fear or judgment. It did make me wonder what we adults could achieve if we approached new things with such verve and enthusiasm, combined with no prejudices or preconceived ideas. And most importantly, with no fear.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Spring forward...

Daylight saving begins tomorrow! I love those light nights. We have escaped the doubtful Spring and forecast sleet of the UK, and have hot-footed it down to my parents' farm in South-West France. A day to recover from our long drive and tomorrow we're off to Spain to ski for a week. That's assuming the snow stays. It has been hotting up quite a bit down here and things are looking somewhat slushy. Either way, we'll hopefully get some sun and and a bit of rest and recuperation. So things are looking up.

I am so looking forward to this Easter break. I feel like I have been on a bit of a downer in recent weeks, and have lost some of my enthusiasm for life, so hopefully this time will see me right. In retrospect, I think I may have been a bit tired and a bit ill, but these things tend to creep up on you, don't they, without you realising?

Am going to try to work on a short story while I'm here, as well as do my morning pages obviously. It's hard to commit to anything more than that on holiday! So we'll see how it goes... I will post again when we are back from skiing, as will be without internet for a week. Bye for now and here's hoping nothing gets broken....

Monday, 22 March 2010

Safety First

The Roman philosopher, Tacitus, said,

'the desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.'

It was an astute observation, as the natural instinct of every person is to protect themselves, whether it is throwing up your arm against an incoming punch, or putting on a persona so you can face the world. The problem with writing is that it involves an exposure of self, an opening and revealing, to a greater or lesser extent, of the person. It is a common difficulty suffered by writers that they throw up blocks to writing, either conscious or subconscious ones, to protect themselves against the vulnerability that writing creates. So although writing is something they deeply want to do, it can be very difficult to actually allow themselves to undertake it.

I mean, really, why would anyone spill out their deepest feelings onto paper, expose their view of the world, then let other people read and criticise it?! The ego is made vulnerable by this and so tries to protect itself by using tactics to prevent you from doing it! All that stuff about not feeling good enough, not having enough time, it not being the right time, the work being rubbish, other people distracting you, being too tired/ill/lonely/happy to write. All these are diversionary tactics by your ego.

Because putting yourself out there on paper is risky, no doubt about it. So really, when people ask what you need to be a good writer, the answer has got to be - courage! And also, the presence of mind to start small and slow and work up. You have to almost creep up on your ego, nip by on the inside when it's obsessing about the size of your thighs, or something. A lot of people worry that they will never achieve their true potential (yet another ego avoidance tactic!), and of course they never will, unless they start at the bottom and work up. They, and we, only have this present moment, so there is no point worrying about achieving a goal sometime in the future or castigating ourselves for the mistakes of our past. All we can do is act now. And with any luck those small acts made in the moment will build into a bigger picture that we can understand.

But none of this is easy, and that is is why books such as The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, have been so very popular and helped so many people. Because they help you to bypass that inner critic, get a handle on your ego, and deal with the blocks that prevent so many of us from writing.

I did laugh (or was it cry?!) the other day. A friend asked how the writing was going. 'I'm a bit concerned' he said, 'because all you seem to blog about is how hard it is, and why you're not doing it!' And he was right. But it is hard, and some of the time I'm not doing it. I find it hard to maintain my confidence. I have fallen off the writing wagon, and seen it trundle off into the distance, more times than I care to remember. But I guess what is important is that every time, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep going. One way or another I keep going. And I do this because ultimately I know that writing is good for me. I am a better person if I am doing it and thinking about it. Regardless of whether I ever write anything that anyone else will read, it is very good for me. And a lot cheaper than therapy!!

So writers have to release that safety belt and take a few risks. It's frightening, but the rewards are worth it. Here's another Roman quotation to end with -

'Fortes fortuna adiuvat'
'Fortune favours the brave'

Monday, 8 March 2010

Am I fit?

My balance hasn't been so good lately. I was on the Wii Fit and The Consultant persuaded me to do the body test and sign up to the exercise programme. Apart from working our your BMI using your height, age and weight, it tested your balance as a key indicator of aging. I won't tell you exactly how old that stupid machine said I was, but it was considerably different to my biological age... I knew I shouldn't have had that glass of wine before I started...

Anyway, it got me thinking about maintaining my balancing act in other areas. I haven't been brilliant, it has to be said. I looked at my diary for the last few weeks, and it has been full. But very full of things that are just stuff. Not full of all the creative things that I swore I was going to create more time and head space for. I have been spending a lot of time at my children's school. Doing necessary things, I suppose, but not things that someone else couldn't do, if you see what I mean...

At the beginning of the year I promised myself that I wouldn't let myself get over-committed, and that I would have focus this year on my own creative work. But I haven't been very successful. One of the reasons is clearly that I find it hard to say no when I am asked to do something. On three days last week I found myself at school doing something or other. But perhaps a more truthful reason is that I find it hard to put my writing first because it does not come under the category of either wage-earning, or looking after the family, and therefore comes low down on the list of perceived priorities. The fact that if I don't write, it affects my mental health, doesn't seem to come into the equation!

So, again, I find myself readjusting, pushing back those commitments, trying to carve out time for myself, striving for balance again. It ain't easy.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

World Book Day

I spent this afternoon at school helping with a second-hand book sale, held to celebrate World Book Day. It was lovely to be able to observe the children choosing their books, right from the tinies at Kindergarten, up to the unfeasibly tall Year 6's and beyond. They were all very enthusiastic, and I had some great conversations with them about why they liked or disliked certain books. It was interesting to see what drew them to books (great covers and TV/film spin-offs!) and what put them off (old-fashioned or boring design, or 'too many words...'!!).

The little ones were funny, if predictable - the girls wanted books about fairies, princesses and horses, and the boys about diggers, cars and knights! One of the older boys bought a copy of Stevenson's 'Treasure Island'. Great classic but I wonder what he will make of it?! I did have to smile at the choices of one the teachers - she bought a whole armful of self-improvement books with titles such as 'Change your Life for the Better' and 'How to Get Rich'!! Perhaps she's decided teaching isn't for her!

All in all, it was just good to see that books still do hold excitement for children. In this technological age we're living in, we're led to believe that kids are not interested in books any more. But my experience today shows that it is simply not true. It brought back childhood memories of rummaging through the second hand book stall at any fete or fair in search of a new story to get lost in. What new worlds have been opened up today.... and all for the princely sum of 20p!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The pram in the hall

'There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.'

So spake Cyril Connolly, the English intellectual. But was he right? And if he was, does that mean that the creative work of mothers is relegated to some kind of second tier? Clearly not, as the works of many famous writers who are also parents show. Writers such as Margaret Atwood, Anne Enright, Sylvia Plath, Barbara Trapido, Alice Walker - all mothers. The other shining example of the victory of creativity over domestic circumstance is actually the experience of a father - JG Ballard, who brought up his three children after the death of his wife, and still managed to write Empire of the Sun. Here he is talking about it in the Observer. (I'm definitely going to take up his habit of starting the day with a large scotch and soda..!)

But he did have something, did Cyril. There is something about becoming a mother that is all-encompassing, and threatening.

It is not so much a risk to creativity itself, in my view. I have never felt as creative as since I have had my children, and they most definitely foster and inform my creativity. Being a parent has also allowed me to experience a range of emotion that I would have not had access to without that experience. I actually think that having children has concentrated my mind and forced me to discipline myself and my creative priorities, instead of drifting about, waiting for the muse to alight on my shoulder.

Becoming a mother more a threat to productivity and output; both from a practical time perspective, and to the head space, to the mental energy that is needed to produce a piece of creative work. The problem with being a mother is that it is eternal, twenty four hours a day and forever. And, here's the kicker, being the archetype that it is, it nearly always takes precedence over every other role that a woman can assume. So there is no doubt that the mother and the writer (or artist/musician etc) will be constantly warring for supremacy. So how did those famous writing mothers (and fathers) do it, and how do we do it now? How do we do the right thing by our children, and the right thing by ourselves as writers and creative people?

There is no doubt, in my view, that what children need is to be with their parents or at the very least a one-to-on carer such as a nanny or grandparent during the first two years of their lives. Research into child develpoment is pretty conclusive on this subject. So how do you as a mother and a writer square that circle? I'm not sure if you can. Most women's CVs have a kind of hiatus that coincides with the birth of children. In some ways you have to resign yourself to it. If you want children, that is the sacrifice you have to make. There is something about especially the first year of any baby's life, when writing becomes some strange far-off thing, somewhere way down on the list of priorities, of which the number one is sleep! Some writers, such as Michele Roberts, are not prepared to make that sacrifice and take a deliberate decision not to have children. Some days I wish I'd joined them, especially on reading 'This Be the Verse', by Philip Larkin, and 'They F**k You Up', by psychologist Oliver James.

However, it is also true that children are happiest when their family life and parents are happy too. This means that there is no point in sacrificing yourself on the altar of your children's needs. All you will end up with is bitterness and resentment. When you emerge from the baby stage of your children's life, it does get a little easier. Then it becomes more of a practical challenge of working out how to manage the enormous amount of work involved in looking after children, how to manage your working life (if you are back in the workplace) and still carve out time for your creative work! It ain't easy, that's for sure. Throwing money at the problem does help, as does letting go of guilt (ha!) and many writers are grateful for the help of legions of child-minders, after-school clubs, cleaners, housekeepers (oh, I wish!!). That's not to mention all those wonderful partners/husbands and grandparents who take on their fair share of the work.

That's a lot of effort and organisation - as sure as eggs are eggs, you'll be the one with the overview of which child is where when, and what they need to have with them, what they need to have for breakfast, lunch and tea, and every other little detail. This can just fill your head up with admin. It's not so much organising it all, it's the thinking about organising it all that gets you....

The bottom line is that if you want to succeed as a writer-mother, you have to have written through your core, like a stick of Blackpool rock - Writing is important and I am determined to find a way. You have to stop wasting time. You can be as productive as your single male counterparts. Just think how much time they waste 'playing the writer' in Starbucks, posing with their Moleskine notebooks/laptop!!

And you have to stop using motherhood as an excuse not to write. You have to look inside your heart and really think about what is stopping you. If it is practicalities, you will always find a way. If it is something else....then you have to face up to those demons.

So. You need the organsational efficiency of a major general, the stamina of an downhill skier (sorry, been watching the Winter Olympics!) , Margaret Thatcher's need for sleep and the focused mind of a zen buddhist. Not much then, but as Confucius said,
'The greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.'

And there is time. When you're in the grip of life with young children, it is easy to feel like your own life is slipping away. But that stage, like all others, doesn't last. There is, and will be, time for writing.

Good luck and don't give up.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Half Term

This week the kids are around as it's half term. This, although great fun, tends to reduce the writing to furtive scribbling in any spare moment or two. The other day, Dear Daughter came into my room, saw me with my notebook, promptly turned around and went out again. I heard her saying to her brother, 'There's no point, she's doing that writing again.' Of course, I then felt guilty, so I have resolved to try and give them a bit of attention this week, rather than have them jostling at my elbow, as they're doing as I write this on the laptop at my parent's-in-law! Today we had a lovely walk at Wyming Brook in Sheffield. The walk runs along a valley with a babbling brook in the bottom that tumbles over huge mossy rocks, with pine trees and beech trees growing on the surrounds. It is really very beautiful.

I'm always interested in women who write and have children and have to juggle the opposing demands on their time and attention. The novelist Sophie Hannah, has always been quite open about putting her children into nursery in order to give herself time to write. Others seem to manage writing at the kitchen table while the children play aroung their feet, although I do remember reading, I think, that Fay Weldon said she hardly wrote anything for the ten years that her three children were small! She did however publish at least one novel during this time, so she can't have entirely been concentrating on child-rearing!

So how does everyone else do it?! Is it just a matter of compromise, like a lot of other things in family life? (I'm multi-tasking as I write this - brokering a peace agreement between Small Son and his little cousin!) Will have to close now, as am being kicked off the dining table so we can all have tea....!

Friday, 12 February 2010


I have a lot on my mind at the moment. Mainly choice of schools or otherwise for the kids. It's an agonising decision process that has led me to question my attitudes to education, society, money, parenting, aspiration, risk-taking and control, amongst other things... There have been tears and sleepless nights. Maybe I would be better off if I didn't think about things so much, indeed some might say that I am prone to over-analysis. But I can't help it. I am a thinker. That is what I do. I can't not think, and I can't not be passionate about the things I believe in.

Here is not the place to enter into a discussion about the politics and ideologies of education and my views and emotions on it all. Suffice to say, it has distracted me from my writing, and I have achieved half of what I normally would this week, mainly because my time has been taken up with school visits and meetings. However, we have a limited time in which to make our decisions, and I think I will feel better once it is done and we can move on.

Life does sometimes get in the way of writing, but I am hopeful that no experience is wasted, and can be mined for inspiration later on!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Back in the saddle!

Picking up my notebook and writing my 1000 words was really hard this morning. I avoided and procastinated, until I couldn't put it off any longer.

I wrote rubbish, no doubt of that, but the engine is clearing and hopefully good things will come, eventually.

The thought of how hard it is going to be is so much worse than the reality of just sitting down and getting on with it. But I think that ploughing on with it, even when you would far rather be doing something else, is what it takes to get a novel written, even a novel of dubious literary merit, such as mine.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Well, he can fly a sleigh, can't he....?!

This blog occasionally has the tendency to slip into becoming a record of funny things my kids say. Here's a cracker:

5 Year old Daughter has a tendency to embark on deep and meaningful conversations over breakfast when The Consultant and I are just struggling to wakefulness with the aid of caffeine. The other day she started quizzing us about gravity. I just looked the other way in a 'that's not my area' kind of fashion, so she zoned in on her dad.

First of all, she tells him what she knows about gravity; that everything has it and that it is what holds everything down. Then she pipes up,

'But what exactly is gravity?'

The Consultant gives what I think is a very coherent answer for that time in the morning,

'Well, no-one really knows. There are a group of scientists in Switzerland who are doing experiments to see if they can find out the answer.'

She ponders this for a moment. Then,

'But why don't they just ask Father Christmas?'

Friday, 5 February 2010


I'm feeling a bit better today. The antibiotics have clearly started working. However, I feel like I haven't slept for a week, even though that's all I've been doing for most of it. I've had the stuffing knocked out of me, as my mother used to say.

Anyway, on the mend now and will just have to write this week up to experience. It has certainly reminded me what having a fever is like. Could come in handy sometime.

Although I haven't done much writing on the long project this week, I have still written my morning pages, and on here, so it hasn't been an entirely barren writing week. I do still have this sense of not wanting to let the engine stall for fear of it not starting again. I'm already a bit anxious about the thought of going back to my long project notebook on Monday. But I do want to get that word count on this first draft up a bit, so will be there bright and early to knuckle down to it.

I think I'm concerned because I've been writing this long project almost every day and the story has been flowing and now I have stopped for nearly a week, I'm worried about picking up the threads again. This is when you start wishing you had planned a bit and made notes...

But this is an experiment just for me, to see how I get on with producing something more spontaneously than usual. So we shall see how the week's interruption affects it all. More next week, undoubtedly...

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Take up thy bed and dance...

Music has the power to heal the sick. Honest, it really does.

Go to Youtube and listen to this, and I defy you not to be uplifted! At the very least you should be dancing around your laptop. If you ever get a chance to see these guys play live, GO! They are just brilliant. Totally and utterly life-affirming.

I feel better already...

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


So my week isn't going so well. After my resolution to keep on keeping on, I have been struck down by tonsillitis. I haven't had this since I was a student and just goes to show that I have perhaps been a little under stress in the last few weeks. I've got some stuff I'm worried about and I have been going over and over it in my mind, to the extent to which I'm even boring myself, so I won't subject you to it here.

I feel horrible, hence I'm up blogging at 3am. My body clock is all over the place as I have spent the last day and night sleeping and waking and sweating and shivering. My throat feels like it's full of slimy razor blades, and my head is hurting like you would not believe. I have maxed out on the number of paracetemol and ibuprofen tablets I can take in one day, so here I am, trying to take my mind off it all. I've started on some penicillin so I'm just hoping and praying that it will start working soon and make me feel better.

I guess sometimes we just have to stop. We don't get a choice in the matter. And maybe it's for the best. Maybe I just need to rest and get myself well and concentrate on the basics. And I could probably find the good in it if I really had to... But it is just so damned inconvenient when your life slides to a standstill and you stumble out of the wreckage completely askew.

Is it time to try for some sleep again? Would probably be a good idea. At least I might stand a chance of making it through tomorrow. Goodnight!

Monday, 1 February 2010

That's life.

You have all these commitments, plans and good intentions. On a normal week you can just about squeeze in under the wire, having contorted yourself physically and mentally, to manage all the tasks you have set yourself for that allotted time. It's like a very complex juggling routine. Like the ones where the man in the leotard stands on a barrel and rolls it at the same time as juggling flaming torches and holding a bunch of flowers in his teeth.

The problem is that if one single element goes wrong, then the whole thing goes spectacularly, badly, disastrously wrong, and no-one wants to see a man in a leotard lying spread-eagled across a barrel with a flaming torch stuck in a sensitive place. (I think I've taken this man in a leotard metaphor as far as I can without it threatening to become the most interesting thing about this post...)

So, last week I was ill thanks to the generosity of my best friend and her cold virus, and this week Small Son is streaming with cold and looking a bit pitiful. He is presently ensconced in the spare room watching Fireman Sam DVDs. So what happens? All the writing and all the other stuff planned while everyone is out of the house is seriously threatened. What can you do? Well, just your best really. I have started to realise that despite my best efforts, the wheels will just come off sometimes and there's not a lot I can do about it. So I will perhaps pick up my notebook and get a few minutes in which to scribble things down. I can even try for my 1000 words, but in all likelihood, it ain't going to be happening.

I could get all antsy about it. That is my usual technique - to crash about in a horrible mood if I don't get time to myself. But that takes a lot of energy. And I'm a bit over unnecessary effort. So I shall just do my best, and keep on keeping on.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

J.D. Salinger died today.

Catcher in the Rye is one of the books that made me want to be a writer. If ever a book had 'voice' this is IT! Holden Caulfield has to be one of the most convincing teenagers ever created.
Check this out for an opening -

'If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.'

I'll see your Dickens, and I'll raise you...

You just know it's going to be good from that first sentence.

So thanks, J.D., and goodnight. Perhaps Holden could end for me -

'I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in the goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on a Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody.'


So here's the thing.....

I am working on what I have coyly and somewhat euphemistically titled my 'longer project'. My plan has been to write 1000 words on each day I have free time and so far it has been working pretty well. Although today I am somewhat avoiding the page.

I am writing longhand into a notebook. I am just simply writing a story as it comes to me. I don't know if it will be a long short story or a novella or a novel, I am just writing what comes. This is in pretty much stark contrast to my other writing which has been very planned out. The problem is that when I have tried to plan novels, I have become so obsessed with researching, with planning every detail in every chapter, and I have thought about the characters so much, that actually writing it has become an insurmountable obstacle, so daunting that I don't even start.

So I have decided to try something different. A change is as good as a rest, so they say. And let's face it, it can't be any more disastrous a result than failing to actually write anything at all.

One thing I have found is that if I miss a day for any reason, even if I write double one day because I know I won't have time the next, it is really hard to get back into it again. I think that's my problem today. Which is why I'm blogging about it, not doing it. So I think the answer to that is - don't stop. Ever. No days off!! It's like my car, which is fine once you get it going, but if it stalls, you're done for as it won't start again.

So shall quit stalling!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Why I haven't always written...

Funnily enough, the reason I haven't always maintained my creative writing through my life is related to memory too.

I have always written diaries, or letters or poems or little stories, ever since I was a child. In my teens though, things changed. Firstly I became self-conscious about myself and therefore my writing, and this worsened as I became a lover of books, of other peoples' writing. This translated into studying other peoples' writing, at A Level, Degree level and Masters. Consequently, my own writing became a source of shame when compared to the masters and mistresses of literature that I was reading. Also, I was a young woman, unconfident and trained out of my creative aspects by my traditional academic education. I suspect this is not an uncommon story for your thirty-something middle-class woman. I certainly know a lot of people who would have followed a more creative path had it not been for the expectations of their parents and schools.

So it took a long time, probably near enough ten years, after studying literature, for me to be able to pick up a pen again. I needed to give myself time to forget. And time to live a little. And even so, it has been, and continues to be, a epic struggle against a strong internal critic, who picks apart everything to find the weaknesses.

But things are slowly improving. I find it easier these days just to get something down and worry about the quality later. I feel happier about it not being good. I feel more instinctively that writing is all about the process. I feel about my writing pretty much the way I do about my life:- It's ok to make mistakes because who cares? I care a lot less about what other people think than I used to. I am prepared to take more risks because there is only today, and everything else is a promise or a memory.

Today I will write.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Why I write

I was chopping some carrots for tea tonight with a small red paring knife and I suddenly thought to myself; where did this knife come from? I had absolutely no idea whether I had bought it or been given it by someone, and when this might have happened. The same thing has started to happen with clothes. I get a t-shirt out and I think, I can't remember where I got this or when. I used to know exactly where everything in my house came from. Who had bought it for me or where I bought it, what I was thinking that day and who was with me, even sensations felt whilst using/wearing that item. Like my very first pair of drainpipe jeans I was wearing when I had my first kiss on that draughty staircase. But now things are starting to slip. I don't have perfect recall. There's just too many things to keep track of now that I'm sharing a house and a lot of headspace with three other people. And because my life is so full, I can't possibly remember everything all the time. I have to make lists just to get through the week.

And that brings me to writing. The other day I was wondering why I write, why I spend such a lot of time either doing it or thinking about doing it. And I think it is because everything is so fragile and precious and passes so quickly and I really want for time to stand still sometimes, which I know it can't, and so I try to get it down, capture it before it is gone forever. But I am quite bad at doing this. There are so many things; ideas, quotations, overheard remarks, observations, that never make it too the page because life just gets in the way. So that is why I write; for me. To help me remember/allow me to forget/place in order/accept there is no order to/ this life.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Back to normality

After all the snow and ice, things are finally starting to return to normal with the melting slush. This is the bit about the snow I hate. I love love love the proper white stuff, but when it starts going all mushy and brown, I can take or leave it. The kids are back at school for the start of what I hope is a normal week. And I am finally able to put into practice my New Years resolution of committing to writing on a daily basis.

I have been writing morning pages for a few months now. I can't believe how beneficial this has become for me. There is something about splurging onto paper your conscious niggly worries, things that have been keeping you awake, scraps of dreams and strange semi-conscious thoughts. There is something about those few minutes of dream-like state after waking that enables you to almost cross the rubicon into your subconscious. And knowing you never have to read anything you have written ever again is a liberation. I'm sure that a lot of what comes out of me is absolute rubbish, stuff and nonsense. But it doesn't matter. It is the act of doing it that is important.

So, I have been writing three or four pages daily in the mornings, but I want to build on that by embarking on a longer project, on which I will work every day. Ideally I would like to get 1000 words down every day that I have free time (that's 4 days a week) so 4000 words a week.

That's the goal.

This is the first day.

Let's see what happens....

Monday, 4 January 2010

New Year's here...

I have been neglecting this blog terribly. In fact, I've been neglecting a lot of things terribly, particularly when it comes to my own creative work. Somehow, being a mum of small kids, and not working, being quite well-organised and quite busy, all adds up to people asking you to do things for them. All the time. So since September I have been really quite bad at saying no, bad at prioritising my tasks, bad at treating my own creative work with the seriousness it deserves. I have been good at being occupied with lots of tasks for other people, but who wants that on their headstone - ''She was always busy".

So, my resolution to myself this New Year is to cut down my outside commitments, and bulk up my inside ones - the ones to my writing and music and creative things.
Because they are commitments in the truest sense and if they are not met, then the balance of life is not right. And resentment and discontentment creep in. And no-one wants that.

So let's raise a glass to acknowledging those deepest commitments, and stepping towards meeting them in 2010.