User Diary: Beginnings

i began my this, my first novel, properly in 2008. properly because i had been mulling over the ideas since summer 2006 but it wasn’t until early 2008 that i started putting words down and it wasn’t until summer 2008 that i realized the murder must go at the beginning [it was way down the end at the time] and everything else would follow. it did. or else it began to take on shape. it’d hard when you’ve been writing scripts for 10 years to suddenly realize that the story you currently have going around your head is something else, and then do something about it. it’s taken me a while up build the necessary confidence to persevere with fiction writing but that has come and i now know that whether or not User finds a publisher or an audience i am a better fiction writer than i was 2 years ago and perhaps that’s all i can really ask.

Unless, Carol Shields

Books sometimes come to you when you need them. I found Unless in a charity shop as I was wondering how seriously I could take myself as a writer. I read the synopsis. Interested. Turned to the first page and immediately knew this was a writer I could learn from. The story follows Reta, a middle-aged woman, who finds herself with a successful first book embarking on a second and wondering what kind of writer she is. She also wonders what kind of woman she is. Her eldest daughter Norah has dropped out of university and spends her time sitting on a street corner of their hometown. She wears a sign around her neck with the word ‘goodness’ scrawled across it. Norah lives the life of a homeless person, driven from the world by the belief, Reta conjectures, that her life ‘is doomed to miniaturism’. Reta knows what her daughter feels like. Reta suspects that as a writer, and perhaps also as a woman, she can have ‘goodness but not greatness’. The fact that she is also a woman writer concerned to write about women only reinforces her suspicions. Her feeling is illustrated perfectly by the reaction of her editor to an early draft of her second novel. He wants to make Reta’s ‘light comic’ story into something ‘significant and literary’. He proposes changing the novels’ central orbit from the female character to the male co-lead. Only then can the proposed transubstantiation take place. Reta doesn’t allow her story to get lost in translation. She sides with her daughter and chooses, for the time being at least, ‘goodness’ over ‘greatness’. the prose is open, direct and clever with an acuity and lightness of touch that manages to be both bold and subtle.  Shields has a great eye for detail. It is also a story about women living and women writing. As such, it forces me to ask questions about my self and my writing. Questions the answers to which, I expect to be working on for some time.

And This is True

This debut novel came to me via Ali Smith who presented an exciting threesome of new talent at Cambridge’s Literary Festival WordFest in April 2010. the titles grabbed me as did the author’s reading; delivered with conviction, energy and verve. the story is set in Scotland and follows a young boy who’s life is turned upside down when forced to stop living alone with his father in a van and has to consider the realities of fixed abodes and other people.  this book held me tight with its punchy, raw and wise-to-itself prose. the characters a delightfully oddball combination of as the boy denies his transition from his happy eternal present to a less appealing life where the future must be considered i too am left wondering. endings are indeed a tricky business. that said i thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to her next.

Agnes Varda’s Beaches [2009]

i love this film it is wise, clever, funny and at time plain barmy. Varda is one of the few remaining, still practising daughters of the New Wave  guides us through the journey of of her life in images. it made me cry.

Tea and Sympathy

An experiemental film about illness and sympathy articulated through a very British obsession with tea.

This footage was taken on one of my many visit to see my mother while she recovering from what they call a ‘quiet’ heart attack in the summer of 1998 which means your heart seizes but you don’t actually collapse. for nearly two months she had carried on,  slowly blowing up as she filled with water because her heart wasn’t pumping properly. while there she was diagnosed as having cardiomyopathy. which just means ‘heart isn’t working properly’. she’s been on medication ever since. i was there so often we got bored of talking about procedures and progress so conversations turned to the everyday matters  of tea. sometimes it’s these ordinary conversations that help waiting to get well pass more easily.

Tea and Sympathy [2001 3.49 mins duration]