A Year of Writing: Days 141-150

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Day 141 of #ayearofwriting an I am under 10,000 words and have the Bridport firmly in my sight. I am cutting and stripping away everything that brings nothing to the story. The myth like quality of Saul’s past is therefore magnified in this process and Alphin and Alder stomp through his dreams.

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Day 142 of #ayearofwriting and the work I have achieved in the last 142 days has been a mixed bag, of blessing and ball aches. There was a time after Mausu story that I nearly faltered, afraid that the character from The Tin Grasshopper was leading me down a false path. To revisit a short story is often hard, early on in my career I wrote a detective story which owed much to Poe. In the sense that the ape did it. In this case it was a monkey and he shot the detective. It got published. It was funny. Crass. Very Americanised in parts because my Northern detective loved Humphrey Bogart, and who wouldn’t. When I was a child, my Dad, reminded me of a mix of Bogart and Buddy Holly (he was a big Buddy fan). So when I saw Bogart, I saw my Dad. However, revisiting that character nearly twenty years ago was a dead end. Dead ends to new writers can be soul destroying, is soul destroying, at that point in our career we think we have wasted our time. No time in writing is wasted, we learn from it, learn to follow the right scent. All those mistakes, all those dead ends mean that sometimes you learn to back track and find whose story it is and if there is no story, to move on. Revisiting Saul has been a series of dead ends, I could have just walked away but there was something there that would impact on my novel, I need to know the language of this world, the hierarchy, the deception, the haves and have nots. I am presently in the camp of the latter but this makes me aware of how a certain generation trusting the state to come and save them eventually descend into Lord of the Flies. I can’t help thinking of William Golding and the very underrated novel, The Inheritors, one of the first climate change novels – that is how I see it – an the work I am doing draws on that and a little Bogart.
Day 143 of #ayearofwriting and I am fashionable. My fiction is becoming fact, and they are trying to tame it by not talking about the elephant in the room, population. It is better to bring in controls by 2030 than cover up the death toll by 2050
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Day 144 of #ayearofwriting and I am looking up hanging. To be more precise, hanging mistakes and you discover a whole history of capital punishment, and how much of it was trial and error. At the start there were accidents where head and body were cleaved due to the length of the drop, or bowels that left the body, or worse still people who dangled and danced, and slowly asphyxiated. Loved ones dash forward in such stories to grab their legs, their extra weight breaking their necks but some of this is folklore, myth as most gallows where set back from crowds, not for safety but to allow everyone to get a good view. It’s a fascinating subject, it’s bread and circuses, no different from the coliseum or Saturday night television, it is entertainment, sickening, devoid of humanity and sympathy, a spectacle, a way to vent hatred and humour. There are many hanging jokes. For example, ‘What’s the difference between a drunkard and a condemned man? One takes a drop to live and the other takes a drop to die.’ So, why am I looked at it. It’s Martha’s story, her father helped hang her, they botched it and her father cut her down and banished her. I want to know if they could botch it, and history shows hanging was often a botch job.
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Day 145 of #ayearofwriting and I am down to just under 8,000 words. I cut nearly 2,000 in three pages. Long prose becomes short, tighter and repetition is cast out. The sequence in which Collins tells Saul about the death of the Wrigleys and his beloved Henny was a page and a half, now it is half a page. Nothing has been lost, just the distractions, the purple prose edges have been pried away anddeleted. Even a section that I loved is gone because sometimes you have to kill your babies (prize for guessing who said that), and though I wept to see it go, it brought nothing to the story but imagery that didn’t fit. Now Saul remembers Henny as he last saw her, like a mermaid, flapping on the floor of her home as the flames rise and the smoke kills her.
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Day 146 of #ayearofwriting and after a hectic 48 hours my back is feeling it. So, I am in my green space with a notebook drafting out ideas for a story after my Saul tale is finished. Not a bad office space, what do you think?
Day 147 of #ayearofwriting and I have spent the last hour just working on one paragraph. I wanted to avoid the word ‘blood’ or ‘murder’, I wanted it to be explicit that Saul has done something and that we can guess that he has killed to keep them safe. That in that act of killing something has gone wrong inside him, that he is burying the horror in the world around him, so the squirrels become something to get rid of because they saw it and the blood is just the dawning of a new day on his skin. I hope it works. Chip in if you wish.

I traipse beneath tha trees, silent as tha dawn that follows. Squirrels abew me, chatter as they renne, a litany of taunts, theers smoke in theer footprints an hatred in theer caals. I lost my knife. They throw nuts at me an tha shit from theer pelts. I will set traps when tha fires dwindle, I will bring them from theer drays, I will hand them to Martha, she will be in her garden, planting peas, ploughing spuds or taking stock of herbs fer winter store. Good eating can be hade off squirrel. Theer skins make warm gloves. I flex my fingers as if they wher in tha gloves, reach up to tha squirrels. Look at me, I sayst, an from behind leaves, an green boughs, theer chattering dwindles to nawthen. I will get another knife. I cross to tha cottage, Martha is in tha dowerway holding tha boy, she sees me an pushes him back into tha kitchen, closing tha dower. I am red to tha touch. I stoop to pick leaves up. I rubs tha rising red sun from my skin until it sops into tha soil beneath me. I lost my knife, I sayst. Martha stares at my red face an sayst, what haave you done, what haave you done, Saul?

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Day 148 of #ayearofwriting and as we moved to the final pages of this draft, and the words are cut, I am wary of pacing problems. Too fast and it looks like the run for goal, and that is when clumsy accidents can happen. The kind that fetch up a story around the legs allowing it to tumble and keep on tumbling until it unravels in plot holes and plot over character. That is often the problem with many stories, that the story does not flow from the character. That the character is ill defined and that means the story becomes merely plot points. I have nothing against plot, plot is a coat hanger, it is necessary and a good one will hold many coats but a weak plot, a plot that warps under the weight of a shirt is a plot full of holes. That is why I am taking time over this edit, it has to be right, this is Saul’s final song.
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Day 149 of #ayearofwriting and I will not make it with Saul to the Bridport Prize. So, I must be brave and look to my other work and as I look at word counts, one story keeps coming back to bite me, Shiggles. It has sat there on my desk for over a year, it is a tale that frightens me. It draws on images from my own childhood of Barbie dolls and Action Men, and gender stereotypes. It’s what the narrator does in the story that is born of desperation about his own sexuality, but it borders on the manic, the dangerous and the surreal. In his imagination he has created a whole medieval dungeon in Barbie’s castle. It is BDSM in doll form and for that reason, it has been left on my desk but now I must be brave and I have submitted it. No BDSM happened in my childhood but I always found Action Men to be somewhere on that spectrum.
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Day 150 of #ayearofwriting and I move into draft five of my story. It has been a hard struggle this final tale. I will not have to revisit Saul again, his story is over, he has lived with death for so long that he himself is dead, he has just been waiting for the confirmation. It is such a sad end to a character but an end that is a direct response of climate change, we are entering an age where we will cease to live and do everything to survive. We have already entered it from cheap clothing to cheap food, we are the harbingers of death.

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