A Year of Writing: Days 41-50

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Day 41 of #ayearofwriting and I am on goofy pills because of bum back. A decade ago I was offered spinal surgery to fuse it, see image, scary as hell. Never took it because anyone who says, ‘We need to go through your stomach’ shouldn’t be welcomed with open arms. A decade of physio and it still flares up now and again. So on goofy pills writing goofy things.

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Day 42 of #ayearofwriting and I move from draft five to six. I the idea of a doll’s house image becomes suburbia. It also becomes the impossible choice, the choice of fate, as is in the Ibsen play of the same name. It becomes how hatred consumes through fear and my character becomes self-inflated. He is the money lender in Ibsen, a sense of self-satisfaction as he sees himself as a colossus, a bringer of life or death over a model of suburbia. For some reason, I think of Sisyphus again as I finish the fifth draft and open the sixth.

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Day 43 of #ayearofwriting and goofy pills for back pain can create some weird imagery in your writing. I have been asked how I go from draft to draft, the mechanics of it. I do not stop, that is the answer. Where I can, I do not afford myself the pleasure and pain of going back over a draft as I am writing it. As I have stated before, I make notes and when I get to the end of the story, I save it as DRAFT ONE, and changes occur in the next drafts but again, I do not go back. The simple reason for this is I want to get to the end of each change, each draft can have some massive changes, then alterations go in to my notes. This means if you read my drafts they are often disjointed as new ideas come later in the story. They are like old analogue radios, you are trying to tune in that station so it is clear. That is the same with my writing. I tune in slowly on the sound and images of the story. Early drafts are an explosion of white noise, then you hear a voice, faint and sometimes when you tune in you realise you’re on the wrong station and tune back out. If I kept going back over the same spot time after time I would lose the plot, the character, the images, the sounds and the story. My best advice for writing, keep on going, use a notebook for any new ideas that need foreshadowing, you know your story so you know where that has to go. If you go back, you could just lose the rest of it.


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Day 44 of #ayearofwriting and I move from the flooding of the Thames and the folding of the barrier to moths. The story of a five year old and his mother, the fact that he has been blamed for this father’s death and the legacy that lives with them both. Sometimes writers draw on experiences from their own lives, in this story I am. I draw on the fact that the house is falling to pieces, the problems of having no money, the feeling of hopelessness when facing contractors who do not do the job. In this story I want to even up the score, I want George to find his moth.

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Day 45 of #ayearofwriting and George Mole is writing himself and in third person. This oddity of going of first to third person makes me think of the telling of fairy tales and myths. There is something of the myth in this story and after two days I am up to 4212 words, some of them good, some of them odd, but I am struck by the imagery in the house and the rain coat like an elephant. The absence of the father and it strikes me that in many of my stories the father is absent. For the record, my father wasn’t absent but there is something in my psyche that has recorded this fear. This is not Oedipal, it is merely the hole that can open up in a family.

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Day 46 of #ayearofwriting and I move through this story with a tiny editor beside me, telling me to not forget to check the spelling or whether the story is finished now, and why the boy likes moths. Yes, my son has wandered in and lies in bed beside me commenting on how fast I type and where do the ideas come from. Yes, one of those questions…I tell him I get my ideas from this shop.

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Day 47 of #ayearofwriting and my character finds his elephant hawk moth at a moment of release for his Mother and him. It is an odd moment, a magical moment when it is revealed and goes out into the world. I particularly like the kitchen fitter whose van is nearly flattened by a falling tree and when he complains the Mother points out every dent on her oven and fridge that he has done whilst fitting the kitchen. This draws on our heating engineers from many years ago, who couldn’t move around the house without damaging something. We should have fired them on the spot but back then when you are broke, you feel you don’t have a voice, that is the true horror of being poor, being voiceless and powerless to make changes because the wriggle room is non-existent.

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Day 48 of #ayearofwriting and we have a complete draft of my moth, mother and son story. I move slowly to the next draft, picking out moments that are redundant, mainly back story. There is a fine line in back story of telling too much. Back story is largely for the writer and not the reader, sometimes a little can go far at the start of a story but too much and you end up just telling rather than showing though part of me likes the experience of timeshifts. However, too many of those and the reader is forever confused and in a short story that is nigh on impossible to achieve. Leave timeshifts for novels, there’s more space to get that structure right. Anyway, back to back story, it’s for you as the writer, it makes you see why the character is the way they are. There tends to be very few things in a back story that are a great reveal. For example, take Oliver Twist, we know Oliver has had a hard life, how? We see the work house, we see the people who supposedly care for him, we see him at the bottom of the pile but when we meet Oliver we know he has had this from day one. We didn’t need to see the days that have gone before, we just need to see the moment that changes it. It’s a common mistake to think in fiction that we have tell the reader everything about that character because we did all that work to make them, in reality the reader picks up very quickly what kind of character they have before them so why tell them their life’s story when you should be telling them how their life changes? It’s like walking through a ginnel, what is ahead is often more important than what lies behind unless it’s Jack the Ripper.


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Day 49 of #ayearofwriting and between hen bathing, it’s a rural thing, and getting to grips with my old printer I have managed to sit down with my reader and give them a stack of reading, all in that old fashioned hard copy way. She is over the moon, and sits beside me in bed at night — it’s okay, we’re married and have been with each other for more than 49 days, we’re on day 7300+ — with a pencil correcting things and laughing at parts where I want the reader to laugh and gasping where I want the reader to gasp. Over the years I have learnt not to keep asking her questions as she reads, to not sit there eye balling her as she reads. To trust her judgement and her knowledge, she’s a reader, she does it for fun; go out and find one of your own. A problem with writers who get people, including loved ones, to read for them is that they often think when the reader doesn’t get it, it’s the reader’s fault. Nothing is further from the case unless you have been daft enough to select someone who never, never reads because who wants to read? Yes, those ones. Find a reader, a real reader, who enjoys books and has read more than the back end of a bus. If a reader doesn’t get it at the draft stage, they’re not going to get it later on. You will never be there when an editor reads your work and thinks, ‘I don’t get it’. You won’t be there to explain and yell at them that it’s really simple, that the robot is a metaphor for an evil political party and the sausage being eaten is all of us. That crap doesn’t go far with your loved ones or with readers and editors who just don’t get it. A golden rule of writing, make sure that the reader gets it, even if you think it is clear because sometimes you are too close to the story to realise that your ideas are as clear as crap being washed off a chicken’s backside. So, when your reader gives you feedback, say nothing, do not defend your work, you’re not at that stage in the writing. Take notes. Sure, doodle evil things if you wish that involves your reader but make sure that you also write down where they say they are confused, why they are confused (you can ask that question) and then go away and make improvements.

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Day 50 and the curse of past tense invades#ayearofwriting I have noticed that I have distanced myself again in third person, and that has resulted in sections of the story being in past tense. That is passive tense. Why? I hear you ask. Past tense is so comforting, so reliable, so lovely to wrap around you. Sadly, past tense does one thing and one thing only, it tells your reader that your characters got out of this story alive and that they haven’t changed because the prose is so damn comforting. That is the curse of past tense. Beware the past tense!


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