A Year of Writing: Days 81-90

Day 81 of #ayearofwriting and I am nearly a quarter of the way through this project, a mere 10 1/2 days more and a quarter of the year will have elapsed since I threw my hat in the ring. I’d like to say it’s been easy but there have been days when the fingers have been willing to type but the brain has been running on empty. I have worked hard to sometimes write a paragraph and reminded myself that even a paragraph is writing, and not to beat myself up about it. I have worked to understand that it is not the act of writing that is the most vital part of writing, it is the moment of rewriting and drafting that breathes life into something, the initial writing is just the spark. That illusion is often better than reality.


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Day 82 of #ayearofwriting and I am considering how the death of a society, all the things that go with it, including health care, will impact on people. In The Tin Grasshopper, cholera came back but in my new story, seventy years later and the UK is nothing more than groups of people clinging to life in villages in the North, surrounded by bogs and rising waters. I wonder where the young have gone, where have they fled to and why? Why leave the old behind? Then something calls to me from the 14th century….

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Day 83 of #ayearofwriting and I have come to the hardest part of the story. The death of my narrator.

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Day 84 of #ayearofwriting and I draft out the end of the story, the crucifixion, the mud slide, the end of the town, the saints and the sinners all spiraling up to God’s arse. Original sin, ten fold.

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Day 85 of #ayearofwriting and I am on the third draft of my story. It in a rare turn of events I want to dedicate it to the late Kate Wilhelm, who in our brief correspondence, was so supportive, so kind and so interested in my desire to answer the Anthropocene age. Something she feared in the 1970s coming to pass within her and my lifetime. So, last night I laid awake considering whether in this new world there would be new bugs, gone are the grasshoppers but what of cicadas? Warm enough now, wet enough now, stupid enough now for us to consider them as food and import them, only for them to escape. Swimming up out of it all is St Mary’s in Bideford, mentioned in the story where we met our protagonist as a teenager and now we meet him again as a blind old man, he is Greek prophet, he is Milton, he is the sinner fallen. So, briefly I toy with calling the story Where Late the Cicadas Sing. For Katie. For kindness. For the hope that we will start to consider the possibility of cutting down our population now, within two generations to save a planet, our home.


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Day 86 of #ayearofwriting and my narrator keeps talking about the river head, and I realise he is talking about Ashway Gap, which for them is in constant flow.

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Day 87 of #ayearofwriting and I wonder how my narrator has become more educated since we last met him in The Tin Grasshopper. It’s been seventy years since we last saw him and forty years since he lost his wife and son, a story I never wrote because it is now being recanted by a man at the end of his life, and maybe there is enough space for him to be able to tell us what happened — but the pain remains. From the start he skirts around a ship with a red sail, which becomes a key point in the story.

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Day 88 of #ayearofwriting and the dialect in my story is more subtle than in The Tin Grasshopper. There are still traces of his Cornish twang and he even mentions it, that it has taken him forty years to learn their tongue and be understood. I remember a story about when Coleridge met Wordsworth, and Coleridge spent the day with him and the story goes that he had a wonderful time but could only understand one out of three words Wordsworth said due to his broad Northern accent. I don’t know if that is true but the idea that we find dialect hard hasn’t gone away, and in an age after television, how much harder will that be? Now, at the end of someone’s life, how hard will it be to keep the ghosts out?

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Day 89 of #ayearofwriting and my blind narrator says that he tried to forget the past but the only sight he has is behind him. As get older I find myself looking back, not for nostalgia but for patterns, for things that make me think how much I missed in the moment. Is this the wisdom of getting older or the realisation that we are never in the moment.

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Day 90 of #ayearofwriting and I am reminded of working with Michele Roberts at an Arvon course years ago. We discussed bad sex scenes, in the sense that they are written badly rather than them being just two people who aren’t very good at it. I remember us writing a scene in which two people have sex but in which all gratuitous or flowery language became nonsense words, as in: ‘She took his quibble in her hand, stroking back and forth until it became something moogle in her soft billibs’. The idea was simple, to take the stupid language out of sex scenes, to substitute something else until you realised that some sex scenes are just there to show that two people love each other, and often there are better ways to show this that don’t last for two pages around page 126 (this was an old joke about Mills and Boon books, turn to page 126 or 79 and they’re getting it on. If it was Black Lace book then it was page 1 onwards). Most sex scenes are pointless in fiction, see 50 Shades, it’s not about sex or love, just master and slave nonsense. It’s mild titillation often with tits that bounce like willow in a May breeze (see what I mean) or cocks like steeples, and oh how it did crow, dear reader. So, I have come to my sex scene, my moment where I can show two old people getting it on and there is a moment I could become flowery or just do what the old Hollywood movies did, look out the window and listen to the song of the cicadas and leave enough of a gap for you to fill it in. No pun intended. No comedy needed, which seems to proliferate writing on sex in those over 40.


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