A Year of Writing: Days 151-160

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Day 151 of #ayearofwriting and the great thing about later drafts in writing is that you are really hammering the word count down. Everything that is superfluous to the story is cut, every little aside, every little image, every little thing that brings nothing to pushing the story forward is cut. It is like sewing two pieces of material together, you simply remove the gaps, make the story wearable. Holes are darned. The thing becomes one rather than many parts. Cloth becomes clothes. Words become story. Character becomes real. It is easy to let your characters blather and in drafts you give them every chance to do so because sometimes they need to blather to reveal what the story is really about. No, what the story is REALLY ABOUT (ah, echoes of my mentor Simon Van de Borgh from an earlier time there). I was fortunate to be taught by Michele Roberts, she gave me some good advice about fiction when I was writing a story based in America. I hadn’t at that point been there. She simply looked at me and said, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s your America’. She was right, you can never capture an entire culture and people who generalise about cultures are frankly dumb. You can make any place your place because it is you who is looking at it, and that means you bring a part of you to the work. Writer as writer. Writer as editor. Writer as chooser of worlds. As much as the debate rages about taking the writer out of the work, the work still comes from the writer. The real question that people than ask is where does that inspiration come from, and the answer is in today’s photo.
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Day 152 of #ayearofwriting and I started this draft with just over 10,000 words, probably in the whole life of the story I have generated around 30,000 words, and I am halfway through this draft an I am down to 5,604 words. I am ruthless. That is part of being a writer, or wanting to be a writer, to keep focused on what the story is and what it isn’t. A story is not a shopping list that you deviate from, it is not an impulse purchase in the latter stages of drafting and editing. It is not wandering around a supermarket picking things off the shelves because they’re on offer. It is often heartbreaking, cruel and brutal as ideas are cut to the bone, paragraphs are chucked out (but there’s no baby with the bath water by this point) and every word is questioned. Some stories deserve this treatment and so does Saul. Yes, he does come from The Tin Grasshopper but this story needs to stand alone, so all reference to that story is buried in the subtext and sound of his voice, it needs to stand alone for a reader. These stories may bookmark the two ends of his life but this is not a novel, these are short stories and may never be printed together. So I am ruthless and make old Saul stand on his own without the aid of his teenage self.
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Day 153 of #ayearofwriting and I have a naked old man being righteous with religion. It’s the penny knockers scene and what was once long, no pun intended, becomes to the point to reveal only Lilith’s fears, of how she is seen, how she has done things and how desperate the whole community was after being cut off from the world. When the lights go off what will we do? It is an interesting idea but if all communication goes down will we willingly walk out into the world to find out what has happened? Some will. If they don’t come back, what will happen to those left behind? They will not walk away from relative safety to something unknown and then religion becomes a form of hope, a prayer by the forest edge, a piece of scripture to ward off evil and when the only person to arrive in the village is blind, faithless and ranting about floods, death and bombs. You will think the earth cursed on all sides, and your own little village the chosen land.
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Day 154 of #ayearofwriting and the poet is still in my prose. It had been over a year since I wrote poetry, sometimes I miss it, I do not miss the poetry world. I started out as a poet as many teenagers do, I had enough to burn when I was a grown man, poems that often revolved around love or lust. Teenage poetry full of angst. I wrote a collection. I wrote many poems that where published but fiction always pulled me back. It is the scope, the immensity of it all that sometimes cannot be caught in a poem. Poetry is so fucked up, in the way we discuss it, approach it and often use it to make sense of something that is insensible. Fiction does that too, in an equally fucked up way, but there is something in fiction that is more contemporary in a way that poetry has yet to achieve. For all it’s experimentation, it fails and continues to fail and I think a part of that is we cannot divide the poet from the work. This is the same in fiction but in poetry it has been weighed down with the idea of emotion, of rawness, of the idea that anyone can write it. That is shitty, wrong and I admire poets who can claim this battle for themselves.
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Day 155 of #ayearofwriting and as I end draft five I am at 5,300 words. More will go as the ending changed. In the last draft we know that Saul dies, and we still know he dies, but the ending fits the imagery more within the story. The tree in the flood breaks loose and Saul sails once more, sails towards his son that he lost so long ago at sea. It is more fitting, even for what he did, there is a sense of forgiveness in a world turned upside down.
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Day 156 of #ayearofwriting and I am more than a third way through this project. I am nearly halfway there and Saul’s story is nearly complete. The lines become tighter, like the warp and weft of cloth on a machine.
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Day 157 of #ayearofwriting and Saul’s story is at the reading stage. I will print out and let my reader look at it. Then it will be time to move onto another story, to let this story go cold and then return to it for one final edit. Bye, bye, Saul, the story has been like wading through mud or being lost in a forest, two images that made it into the final tale.
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Day 158 of #ayearofwriting What are the difficult questions of climate change? How hot will it be? No, we will acclimatise to it, deaths from heat exposure will become normal, as accepted as death by diarrhoea was at the turn of the 19th century. How many of us will there be? Again, highly populated areas suggest that we become used to living cheek by jowl, and no matter how worldly we think we are we tend to live on the same few streets, take the same journeys week in, week out. Will the question more likely be what will climate change do to us? Will it modify behaviour? Will heat exposure lead to higher waves of violence? Rape? Abuse? Anger? Hatred? Lust? Lethargy? Will it become a landscape of the seven deadly sins or will something else happen to us through inaction? Do we seek to go out with a whimper? The rain falls and we complain? When the displaced arrive will it reveal our fears?
Day 159 of #ayearofwriting and people must think writers spend all their days at a desk just pumping out words. Or else they think we stand musing or compare us to sponges. I think we’re more like giant sea turtles, we swim around, we go with the currents, we return home, we breed and leave our brood to make their way in the world. Time for the sick bag and the weak ass image, our brood is our work. Christ, I threw up in my mouth then. I suspect we’re more like cockroaches, when you switch the light on we all scurry under the fridge. Either way, part of this whole writing business are moments that we appear inactive, this is called research, the search for story. The search for the questions https://www.theguardian.com/…/a-judge-asks-basic-questions-…

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Day 160 of #ayearofwriting and I am beginning to frame an idea through a climate change disaster. We saw the affect of a civilian organisation that becomes corrupt and brutalised in the water men of The Tin Grasshopper but what if the national policy for climate change sees it as an act of terrorism, that survivors of floods etc will be treated as potential terrorists or worse, rounded up and placed into concentration camps to weed out any that are radicalised? Think I’m mad? See the recent article on Australia’s viewpoint on this, taking their lead from the USA, where environmentalists and the military are all on the same hymn sheet https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/04/dont-turn-to-the-military-to-solve-the-climate-change-crisis

. A little known fact is that after Katrina, one of the first advocated disasters linked to climate change by politicians, the National Guard fired on flood survivors – this may have had more to do with ingrained racism within the south but in future events will this become such a norm that we won’t even blink? That this image from the second world war of Auschwitz will become bubble gum media?

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