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After 9 months maternity leave I am now back to work. It’s official. It was a shakey start with my first week being taken up balancing child illness and the subsequent childcare issues that land on a womans’ shoulders as a result. I can now happily report my desk has been sat at work e-mails dealt with and the new teaching semester [nearly] prepared for. It’s great actually. Although I miss my darling wee one, Orin seems perfectly happy with my friend childminder – the beautiful, warm and charming Lotus [yes that is her real name – fab isn’t it?]. I’ve had most of teh welcome back conversations too. It’s been nice catching up and even though all those coversations have meant i haven’t quite got everything done today that i wanted it’s been fine. Productive enough. And as a recent mother of two finding their feet again in the world of work again that’s enough. I’ve even had time to discover bloglovin’ and so I slowly grow myself outwards – onward and upward [or outward].
Reflections on a novel in progress: The story so far.
I have been working on User, a novel about friendship, betrayal and the internet within a close knit group of young people set in Cambridge, for a long time. I first had the idea for the story back in 2007. A story about a girl called Rubi who is forced to turn internet detective when she discovers a girl murdered in her home town. I wrote a scene where she discovers the body in a flurry of inspiration and did nothing more about it until 2009 when I submitted the idea to Gold Dust mentoring scheme and won an Arts Council Grant to support the development of the idea into a novel. My main character Rubi had fleshed out a little in my mind [not on paper] in the meantime started alchemizing with an interest in emerging issues surrounding the then burgeoning phenomenon of FB and some stories bubbling up about fake identities . increasingly concern about the indelibility of the data we store online emerged. [+] I really felt I was on to something. And so did my mentor who was pleased with my progress and my confidence grew as my skills developed in writing it. At the end of the mentoring period I submitted the manuscript to a couple of agents and was accepted by A. M. Heath – on to their children + YA’s agent list. The feedback was that this novel was not – they suggested kindly – a coming of age novel as I had pitched in my cover letter but it would work very well as a YA novel. My first reaction was disappointment. This wouldn’t be the ‘Great Novel’ that I had envisioned I was writing while writing it. It would ‘just be a YA thing commanding a small fee and small audience. My first lesson in modesty – and book business reality. I’ve learned a bit since then. I’ve learned that YA is a growing, thriving market with lot’s of excellent writing and many titles achieving high levels of critical and financial success. I’ve learned that to write for YA is a gret lesson in Good Writing. YA demands strong narrative lines, authentic characters and direct communication. There is no room for obscfucating language. YA and older ones who also read it will not tolerate it. These things do not mean YA is any less engaged with ideas, emotive. In fact it is often more so. Many YA novels engage directy with ideas of all sorts from death, meaning of life, immigration, examples. Then life got in the way.
I gave birth to my first son in March 2011 – following 3 miscarriages – and my second in April 2014, following another baby loss. I said ‘got in the way’ but of course this has been the most exciting and challenging time of my life. I am now a mother. My world has changed. I count my blessings for my two gorgeous boys – and even though they limit my writing time [I also have a lecturing post ] they inspire me to be a better person – a better writer.
It is now 2015. I have not touched the ms since November 2013 when I sent it off to my copy editor. She returned it in good time. I thanked her, read her insightful comments and then didn’t open it again until last month. But I am opening it again and again now. Progress is being made. I have renewed enthusiasm for this story. I love Rubi. I want her to breathe. I want her and Cyd, and Rhid and Aleesha and Pete all to have a life of their own, in the minds and I hope hearts of readers. I have some new ideas. I read more, know better how to write this story that seems at times so often to evade me.
A little late to the party with reading this one but John Green’s best seller of 2012 is enough of a good book to get excited about off trend. The tale of terminally ill cancer patients Hazel and Augustus is more than just a love story. It is a story about how to face death and what to make of life. We might expect teenagers to grapple with the question of the purpose of life – I certainly did – but the question of how to face death is one that most teenagers wont find themselves spending too much time on. You remember, don’t you? When life stretched out ahead of you – the future, a seeming forever? Not so for Hazel and Augustus. They don’t know the exact day of their ending but they know it’s soon. They know they will not get old, not have children, that they will leave their parents missing a crucial part of their happiness. But Hazel finds meaning not in the call to perform some heroic act of charity or superhuman strength like many suffering from cancer do. She is not driven to leave some legacy to be remembered by, unlike Augustus. She finds her meaning in the everyday. Observations of the natural world and how we humans fit in to it. Noticing the universe that seemingly needs to be noticed and seeing her place in it as just that. In it. Not the other way around. An insight that perhaps only someone who has nature set against her in the most unsolicited of ways – more than once she describes her self as her cancer and ‘ a mutation’. She is evolution in action. There is, arguably, no harder way to learn the lesson of life than to know this by experience.
Anyone wrestling with an illness should read this book. It’ll banish self-pity and if it’s not already been entered – open a door to a new kind of strength via an acceptance of what cannot be altered. It is also a book for anyone who is wrestling with someone they love with an illness or may have one themselves one day [yep so that’s everyone].
I may have a look at the film – but I wont go out of my way. The book of course says everything the story needs to. And I expect the film will only subtract not add to the experience.
For some Wes Andersons’ films may be a bit like marmite. You either love them or hate them. Anderson has a distinctive style. They are immediately recognizable. They are films of the rarest kind these day: auteur in every aspect of their production but which attract big name actors and command enough of an audience to justify distribution deals within mainstream circuits. I’ve wanted to see The Grand Budapest Hotel [TGBH] for a while. Its recent slew of BAFTA nominations spurred me on to finally doing so. It’s madcap, whimsical, stylish and thoughtful. There are outstanding performances from everyone – bit player to key role, from A-lister to a child on a screen debut with a tight plot line that revels in farce – royally served by pin sharp performances and moment after moment of meticulously enacted screen action. TGBH simultaneously evokes a melancholy backward gaze to a Europe of old. A Fin de siecle Europe of manners and grandeur already in passing – of wistful, poetic time as we might perceive it, handed down through literature, politics, manners, music, art and war. And much of this is personified in the main character of M. Gustave played with acrobatic precision by Ralph Fiennes. Gustave is a man of contradictions: a refined, etiquette obsessed concierge who slips into coarse language under pressure; a self interested hedonist in daily life but in the exceptional circumstances of the plot displays courage, kindness, nobility and charity. Throughout he is a man of wit, humour and poetry. Not unilke Anderson himself. Perhaps the trick they are performing is not so disimilar either. Smuggling some old world values into what can often seems to be a more compromised contemporary experience. TGBH will appeal to anyone who’s allowed themselves to be romanced by European culture from a time different from our own. Who’s ever fallen in love with a Europe of old seen through the dream life of stories.
Read and watch this Today News article about how Instagram and Facebook have removed pictures of fourth trimester [post natal] women and their children. To me it’s a depressing reminder of how our attitudes and responses to real women and children are becoming completely skewed with the avalanche of images produced and carried around by the web. We need more images like the ones this photographer and her project are creating. More images of real women and children in family groups, intimate in a non-sexualized way. Refreshing, celebratory and a moving reminder of the role the bonds safe, happy, functioning families play on our group and individual well being.
I love this project from Scottish artist Katie Paterson: Future Library Project. What an honour it would be to be one of the invited authors. Margaret Atwood is such a fitting first contributor and even such an established literary figure as her feels delighted to be taking part. The idea of commissioning an author a year to write a novel that will then only be seen in 2114 when it is published on paper made from trees planted a few months ago is simple and prompts the ‘that’s an obvious idea’ response when first heard that all great ideas do. Of course someone should do this. It’s a creative and almost magical celebration of the imaginative life of books and the power of libraries as exquisiste collections of all that the human mind is capable. A perfect artwork as its form matches it concept ‘deliciously’ – a word Atwood uses herself to describe her involvement. I only wish I could be around to see it’s realization. But the fact I’m wont somehow only heightens the project’s allure.