Friday, 26 March 2010

MA creative writing

I have an unconditional offer to do an MA! Not my favourite choice geographically, though it looks like a very good course. I'm waiting to see what no. 1 and 2 on my list say. It is lovely, though, having handed over samples of my work, then be accepted. Now all I have to do is take out a hefty loan, find an affordable house to rent, get both boys on their courses and pack up family life here into boxes. I haven't even counted the cost of being away from home and husband, though I imagine that will be the biggest cost for me.

The lifewriting is painful still, but I'm moving on it - it is difficult because the drama is ongoing, with the head of E. Hampshire's social services personally telling me she is her own worst enemy, she's fired/cancelled everyone who could help her stay in her own home and we should step back. It's her legal right (just about, a bit more batty and we can intervene) to lie at the bottom of her staircase and die. Should she wish that. And she would prefer that to going in a home. All the people who care about her now phone or email each other daily and are letting her deal with her problems herself. Basically, she'll end up back in hospital and then maybe we can persuade her to accept carers. It's not that she doesn't want them, but she wants them to do her shopping and wash up, do laundry rather than the personal care like help washing and dressing, which she desperately needs. So the dilemma is in my thoughts, in my work and has spread to my blog.

I have two comps to do, both short stories, both by post for 31st March, so that's this morning's work. Not to mention, I have written quite a few words for 'Borrowed Time' (young adults novel)which keeps me writing while I let the other story sit and fester. I have already thought of some loose ends to tie up.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Lifewriting seems to be all about me.

I'm finding that no matter how much I'm trying to describe my mother in law, so much of me creeps in. My anger and frustration at her, for a start. But also our shared history. We loved the same people, and shared the same losses. This was my first description of her.

I had to take the quote out while it's marked by my tutor!

I just don't know what to do with it. I'm so emotional right now it's hard to write without it becoming a rant or maudlin. She's refusing all help, sitting in her dirty clothes and saying 'I don't want help' but then complaining that no-one is there for her. I don't very often feel completely helpless, like I can't think of something that will help. But she's sometimes confused and sometimes not, and isn't quite at the point when she needs to be taken down the vet and put down, or at the very least rehomed. And no, I've never been in favour of euthanasia...until now.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Old words

I've been looking at stuff I wrote two years ago and it's better than I thought it was. Like Chancel Hall, I lose faith in the process after 50,000 words or so, and start to wonder what I'm waffling about. So it's nearly time to wrap it up and put it on ice until the summer.

The old book, Silent Obsession, grew as almost as fast as this one. I was juggling all the balls in my head which is fine for 10, maybe 20k but then you lose track of what you were going to say, and what you actually wrote. Plus I was going back and rewriting sections - which I'm starting to do now with Chancel Hall. Time to stop meddling and let it rest for a while.

So, for the Debut Dagger competition, I did go back and substantially move Silent Obsession (dreadful title, I'm terrible at titles) around. I 'knew' the lead characters at the beginning but basically they evolved, they grew and took on a different shape by the end. Caroline may be neurotic and have PTSD but she's no faded flower, she needs to deal with the man who attacked her and make him pay.

So: here is a sample of Silent Obsession - new titles suggestions very gratefully received!

Chapter One: Friday 6th November

I remember that night like it was yesterday, I can drop back into the memory when it’s cold or I’m outside in the dark. She was so small, so light. I had rehearsed it exactly in my mind, dozens of times. Get behind her, hand over her face, knife cleanly across the throat, drop. She was perfect, I lifted her clean off the path, the bones of her face dug into my hand, she was so shocked she didn’t even struggle. The knife went in but it was harder than I thought, people are rubbery, the knife gets caught up in the skin and muscle, stretches rather than cuts. Still, her throat gaped open and a black spray spurted over the path, her coat, her breath coughing out of the wound. I dropped her away from me, but she threw her hands up, a few drops were flicked onto my sleeve. I had to burn the coat, shame, but you can’t wash DNA off pure wool. The rasping stopped within thirty seconds, so I heaved her over with my foot. The streetlight glinted in her open eyes, she was still, the blood just oozing.
I was completely certain she was dead.

* * * * *

‘What makes you think you are being stalked?’
She hadn’t even sat down. He looked at her over his glasses, reminding her of her old maths teacher. She pulled the chair back, sat down carefully so she wouldn’t jar her neck, and put her bag against her left boot within reach. He was younger than she had expected, maybe early forties, his dark hair had a touch of grey around the temples. The office was a jumble of files, piles of paper, the desk circled with cup rings.
‘I don’t know for certain. That’s why I came to see you.’ Despite months of speech therapy, her voice was still hoarse.
He rested one hand on the desk in front of him, thick fingers sprinkled with dark hairs. She followed its movements, felt her breath frozen in her chest. When the fingers stopped moving, she breathed out, tried to loosen the tension in her shoulders.
‘Why do you think you are being stalked?’
She lifted her bag onto her lap, took out the tin of caviar in its plastic bag. ‘This is going to sound very stupid. This appeared in my flat.’
He didn’t say anything to her, but leaned forward and shouted over her shoulder at the open door to the shop front of Hammond and Jansen. ‘Bridget!’
She flinched, hands clenching.
The receptionist, a strongly built redhead who had taken her address and credit card details, pulled up another chair and smiled at Caroline.
‘Well, Miss Evans here is actually Miss Caroline Forster, victim of an assault eleventh November 2007. The police thought it was likely she was a victim of James Telford, convicted of three murders blah blah April 2008, acquitted of Caroline’s assault and attempted murder October last year. She lives at 117 Campion Gardens flat 3, as far as I can see, alone. She was born on the seventeenth of January 1984 which makes her twenty-six years old. The credit card was real.’ Her smile was sunny, teeth white in her tanned face, eyes green as they looked Caroline over.
‘Shall we start again?’ He smiled crookedly at her, lines around his dark eyes crinkling. ‘I understand that you are cautious, Miss Forster. But you need to trust us.’
She realised she had stiffened against the back of her chair, a prickling of sweat on her forehead and neck. ‘I have post traumatic stress disorder.’ His eyes slid to the hand painted batik scarf wound around her neck. She touched a finger to it nervously.
‘I can see you are nervous.’ His voice was deep, sounded sympathetic. ‘Bridget and I are former police officers, we have both seen people who act like you, victims of violence. Some of them feel like they are being followed, even threatened, sometimes for years after the attack.’
‘You mean paranoid.’ Caroline’s voice sounded harsher than usual, even in her own ears.
‘I mean naturally defensive. Now, why would a tin of caviar in your flat make you think you were being stalked?’
She put the bag with the tin in it on the desk. It looked innocuous, and she felt foolish for a moment, but its presence annoyed her.
‘A week ago, I went to the cupboard where I keep my cat food, and a tin of caviar was there behind a tin of Whiskas. Three weeks ago I completely ran out of cat food, it wasn’t there then, the cupboard completely empty. I asked my parents, and the few friends who have been in my flat in the last couple of months, but no-one put it there. My conclusion is someone put a tin of caviar in my cupboard when I wasn’t there.’
Bridget was making notes at her side, the pad on her lap. Caroline noticed she had tiny ankles on her rather thick legs, above bright red stilettos. She missed wearing heels.
He leaned back in his chair into a bar of sunlight slanting through the dusty windows at the back of the shop he was using as an office.
‘So you put the tin in a plastic bag and brought it to us. After phoning everyone you know.’
Her breath huffed out of her in frustration.
‘So, you think I’m barking mad as well.’ She put her hand out for the tin but Bridget stopped her.
‘Let me check it over, at least.’ Bridget picked up the bag and stood.
‘Why bother?’ Caroline crossed her arms, staring up at the tall woman, who wasn’t much older than herself.
‘Well, if you are murdered in your bed, we’ll be able to assist the police.’ Bridget’s rich contralto was full of laughter, disarming Caroline. ‘On the plus side, if you have a stalker at least you aren’t paranoid.’ She left the room with the tin.
He leaned forward again, the half smile creeping out again. ‘Oh, I haven’t ruled out the possibility that you are both. Even people with paranoia get stalked.’
‘It’s not just the can.’ She looked at his dark eyes, saw something there, some interest, maybe kindness. Taking a deep breath, she told them. ‘I have a feeling I’m being followed by a man in a car. It’s a dark colour, an old estate car. I’ve seen it several times.’
‘Tell me about the first time you noticed it.’
‘I…I think the first time was about six or seven weeks ago. I was coming home from my parents’ house after my Dad’s birthday. That was the sixteenth, and when I got to my front door I noticed a car going slowly, as if he was looking for something. Then he drove off fast, I think because he noticed me looking at him. I’ve seen the same car, behaving the same way twice since.’
‘Oh, I don’t know. Maybe a week after the first time, and again last Sunday.’
‘Bridget’s got a computer programme that will help you sort out the model of the car, at least to narrow it down to make and model if not year. You thought it was old?’
‘The numberplate said N213 or N218, I think.’
He started making notes, for the first time. Bridget poked her head around the door, into the small office, making Caroline jump, her heart start racing.
‘Sorry.’ She didn’t sound sorry. ‘I’ve tracked down the make of caviar, it’s very pricy, mostly sold in luxury hampers. No prints except a few ridges around the rim, which is weird.’
Caroline craned her neck to look at her. ‘Why weird?’
‘Well, apart from paranoid people, who avoids leaving fingerprints on a tin of caviar? The distributor, packer, the person it was delivered to, all have left a mark of some sort. Now smell it.’
Caroline cautiously sniffed the bag containing the tin. It was acrid, and made her jump back. ‘What is that? Bleach?’
‘Exactly. Easy way to remove DNA. Someone was trying to leave it without leaving any identifying clues. Did you clean it in any way?’ Caroline shook her head, feeling lost.
The man leaned forward, hand extended.
‘I’m Jack Hammond, this is Bridget Jansen. We’ll look into it for you. How are you off for money? We have to keep the agency running.’
‘I have some money.’ She felt strangely elated. It was a relief not to be imagining things, even though the thought of a stalker turned to ice in her stomach.
‘It’s probably someone who followed the case in the papers, so you may just need us to identify them, and let the police warn them off. Now, you have to change your locks immediately. Do not leave any windows open, ever, when you are not in the room. Shred all your personal papers before you throw them away, and preferably hand the bags to the bin men. Bridget will help you identify the make and model of the car.’

* * * * *

The interview room at the prison was stark; scuffed paint, stained furniture, four flimsy chairs and a plastic table. James Telford had seen a lot of them over the years, police stations, prisons. He stared ahead as one of the four prison officers fumbled with the key to his restraints. He could see the man’s pulse racing in his neck, his body language giving away his discomfort in touching the larger man. Telford looked around the large, grey conference room with detached interest. Exits, glass observation window. A chair for a prison officer outside, within view but not earshot. A six pack of cheap bottled water. Having assessed the room, Telford allowed his gaze to stop at the man sitting at the table. He let his superior height and weight register before staring straight at the psychologist he knew from the back of several books. He catalogued the features of the man who gazed quietly up at him. Slim, maybe fifty or a little younger, soft hands, weak wrists. Older than the book jacket photographs. More used to wielding a pencil than tools. Longish, greying hair, cool green eyes.
‘You’re McIntyre. You looked bigger at the trial. You look bigger on TV.’
The psychologist smiled slightly as he looked up at Telford. ‘People do. Thank you for agreeing to help me with my research, Mr. Telford.’ McIntyre’s hand tapped once, twice on the table and Telford looked involuntarily, seeing a tiny release of nerves. He let his gaze wander to the skin, untanned, hairless, on the throat of the younger man. When that got no obvious reaction, he lifted his eyes to lock them with McIntyre. He knew how threatening that was, especially if he didn’t blink. He stood for a little longer, to overshadow McIntyre for another precious few seconds of power, then sat down. The chair creaked under his weight.
Telford knew what was on the forms in front of McIntyre. It must have taken all weekend, even at the home office’s request, to get the prison to agree to the format of the interview. The disclaimer declared that Robert Alexander MacIntyre – they had spelled it wrong, he noticed from his side of the table – would not hold the home office or any branch of Her Majesty’s government responsible should he be harmed while in the prison. He had to acknowledge that he had studied the records of Telford (prisoner) and was aware that he had committed crimes of violence while in prison as well as the three murders he had been found guilty of the previous May. He further would have to confirm that he had brought no drugs, weapons, intoxicating liquors or otherwise proscribed items or substances into the prison.
Telford had a similar sheet, giving consent to the interview. They signed in silence. The door, when it closed behind the prison officers, clicked shut, not the clang Telford was used to. The whole walk through the prison had been metallic clanks and squeaks, grinding of hinges and keys in locks, hard shoes on concrete and tiles. Telford rested his hands on the table, and looked across, dark eyes focused on McIntyre’s own. McIntyre smiled a little, one side of his mouth twitching upwards.
‘It’s good to finally meet you in person.’
Telford tilted his head slightly, unblinking, stretching the silence out until he felt he had the upper hand. McIntyre waited calmly and Telford wondered if he was quietly counting. The idea took him back to his childhood kitchen, his mother counting breathlessly as his father raged over her head.
‘Do you know why I agreed to this interview?’
‘Tell me.’ McIntyre’s pencil was sharp, poised over the page.
‘He had me down for all three murders. He wouldn’t listen to a fucking word I said. I’m going to be banged up, fair and square, for the ones I might have actually done. But that Bristol girl, I never went near her. And somehow, she’s the one with my DNA on her. Not a scratch on me, mind. Doesn’t that sound just a little suspicious?’ He leaned forward, his breath just disturbing the blank papers in front of McIntyre, touching a few hairs on his forehead. The psychologist smelled of soap, coffee. ‘I know why you’re here, you want to “understand” me, learn about people like me. I get that, I do, I’ve got three daughters of my own. I don’t want some bastard like me walking the streets snuffing them, either. But you’ve got to know, I didn’t do the Bristol girl. Some bastard’s out there laughing at me. They have to be part of the investigating team, one of the coppers. Put that in your book.’ Telford studied the smaller man, trying to get a sense of him. McIntyre gazed back calmly, hands folded on the notes in front of him.
‘I’m not writing a book, it’s a report for the home office.’ McIntyre appeared relaxed.
Telford allowed himself a small smile, to see if he would play the game. ‘Well, in that case, tell them I didn’t do it. Any of them. Fucking choir boy, me.’ He stared straight into McIntyre’s right eye, unblinking. ‘Never even thought about making me into a bestselling book, then? I’ve had offers, you know. Books, newspapers, all sorts. I get fan mail, from all sorts of nutters. And they call me the psycho.’
McIntyre stared right back and smiled. ‘Well, I did think maybe a paperback deal. Serialised in the Daily Mail, made into a film with me played by David Tennant, maybe. Who do you want to play you?’
Telford finally blinked, laughed, a short cough of humour. He didn’t laugh often or long, was a bit rusty. ‘I’ll let you know. So, where do you want to start?’
McIntyre’s eyes narrowed, as he took the top off his pen. ‘At the beginning. Your family.’
Telford tapped his hand sharply against his knee, once, twice. It amused him that McIntyre, for all his rumpled suit and floppy dark hair and the way he sprawled in the chair, was watching and trying to interpret every move.
‘My Mum was a crazy bitch. I mean, she was fun, everyone liked her, but get a few martinis down her and she was mad, a real party animal. I liked being around her, it was always interesting, but she didn’t notice us kids most of the time.’ McIntyre narrowed his eyes and Telford realised he was hesitating momentarily before each question, trying to phrase them without being confrontational. Looking sharply across at McIntyre, he caught him looking away, tightly controlled. Telford took a deep breath, leaned forward on the edge of the table.
‘My Dad was just nasty. Violent with everyone, always having fights, accusing half the local blokes of shagging my Mum.’
‘How was he with you?’ The cool, analytical gaze was back, boring into Telford.
‘I already said.’
‘Violent to everyone. Yes, sorry.’ McIntyre waited quietly.
‘He belted us all around, my brother more than me. I was big, could look after myself, but Billy was smaller, used to cry.’ McIntyre looked down at his notes, possibly for dramatic effect, as he must have known what was in them.
Telford reached forward suddenly, enough to startle McIntyre into freezing, his jaw tightening. The big man picked up a plastic bottle and opened it, the plastic slowly giving way with deliberate cracks, loud in the suddenly tense atmosphere.
‘You’re scared of me.’ Telford took a small sip, then a larger one. Resealing the bottle, he put it carefully down in front of him, never taking his unblinking stare off McIntyre.
‘You’re bigger than me.’
After a moment, the convicted killer gave another cough of laughter. ‘Good answer. Look, I’ve been over this stuff. I can’t see how Billy’s death is relevant.’
‘No?’ McIntyre sat further back, relaxed his shoulders and hands a little.
‘I was already getting into trouble, setting fires, torturing animals. I have read the books. I know what I am.’
‘Tell me about the fires.’
‘No, the animals are more interesting.’ Take control, Jimmy. ‘I never understood it but I could get so fucking furious at everyone, then have to kick something to death, you know?’ He blinked once. ‘I never fought with my Dad. He didn’t touch me once I got taller than him. But nothing else was safe around me. Not even Billy, the stupid little prick.’
‘So – what happened to Billy?’
There was a long silence. Telford clenched his fists slowly, seeing tendons straining, his knuckles whitening through the pale skin. He released the tension gradually, seeing the skin pucker and wrinkle, aged by a lifetime of working with mortar and lime.
‘He just - died.’

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Sent off examples of work to University of Southampton

OK, that was yesterday, picking over a few bits of work (in a hurry) to send to Southampton for the MA application. I just want them to see some potential, something that can be nurtured and moulded into better writing. It's not the best material, I'm still working on my newest stuff, but I hope it will be well received.

At 67,300 on the book, flagging a bit as I'm not writing the big stuff, just some backstory and a few loose ends to tie up, then hopefully I can put it away for a few months to ferment or set or dry or whatever it does. Then I will be able to look at it as if it were written by someone else, and can hack away at it with impunity. I do want to play with it now, really, but I am taking Stephen King as an example and will get on with Borrowed Time instead.

Oh, and I need to put my final assignment for the OCA together - an extract from a novel with a commentary and a short synopsis. I was thinking about rewriting the beginning of the last novel (Silent Obsession) but think that actually, something based on this novel might be better. I shall miss the support and help I get from my tutor there, she is brilliant. If anyone's looking for an excellent course in writing, consider the Open College of the Arts. they have CATS pointed courses, you can study for a degree if you want to, and the OU allows some transferred credit.

I've just started the editing section with A215 and it's brilliant, making me look at my work from different angles. I think there's a really big difference between editing the whole story and looking at the language. In the past I have tried to do both at the same time, but it's a bit like trying to thin saplings in a forest leaf by leaf, you can't see the forest, the bigger picture. When I've done this section I'll be ready to play with the book again. I have learned loads from thrashing out a novel in so few weeks, it's kept its momentum and pace, and it's an outline on which to write a proper book, I think. I now know and understand the characters much better, and can write Emma's story with more conviction. Now I need to look at it from a reader's perspective, have I given them enough information to get into the story, draw them in?

I've been reading people's comments of Facebook and realised I have been really lucky with my tutor, and hope she does other courses! She draws ideas out of me, and is uncompromising on her criticism, constructive though it is. Although I'm getting good marks, I still get lots of ideas and the same level of advice as someone with less experience. But I don't think my marks will shine in the lifewriting, which will be a shame as I'm getting distinction grades up until now. But I'm very happy with the TMA05 piece and the ECA piece, so I'm not going to worry too much about it, just polish it up with section 5, and send it in. Enough distractions - I have to do my words!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Competition angst

This is what I always do - send off something to a competition and then the agony starts.

First I'm realistic - lots of people sent work in for this competition, and many of them are already experienced and published and brilliant. I'm just a student, even if I am superannuated, I don't have to be brilliant, but it's a good thing to do, makes you work harder.

Then I go through the buts, but I am doing really well on my course, but I was published before, but I was shortlisted for a small competition in Writer's news last year...

Then the weeks roll round until the time when the 'winners will be notified'. Now the endless checking my emails begins, I wonder if my entries are any good, are being laughed over, even didn't get there at all. They say the middle of March, is that the 14th or 15th or 16th or do they mean not the beginning or end, but the three weeks in the middle? Or are they snowed under by all the brilliant stuff they received, and won't even know until April?

Of course, the real question is, is my story and good or not, and does it matter if one person on one day though it good enough to puit it on the 'possible' pile? One thing this writing lark is about, it's dealing with rejection. I need to have a world weary contempt for the whole process, but somehow while my body has aged my enthusiasm for writing is scarily positive and youthful. I'm just going to have to look at the work I sent in, and enjoy it for what it is - good enough for me.

Monday, 15 March 2010

65,000 words and new life in the story

I'm onto the third chapter of 'backstory' and can clearly see how it will fit within the book, as reflection on the past anchored by the objects in the house and landscape. Emma lives within this frame full of the past, in one sense her real task is to break free from the hold it has over her and to find her own life. I've left Charlotte's voice as an internal dialogue that may - or may not - also be a creepy, ghostly voice. I just think Emma has absorbed Charlotte, and what becomes clear to Emma during the story is that she has grown up, while Charlotte remains seventeen. I've realised that during the last 6 weeks, I have written 65k of this book, 11k of the second novel, about three thousand of activities from the BRB and about 3k for the lifewriting assignment. That's the difference between this year and say, last year. I've got a writing habit back and am approaching it like work, again. Like a writer.

The lifewriting is so hard, even now, looking at the short piece I wrote for TMA04, I'm uncomfortable with it. I don't like talking about myself but as the BRB said, when you write about other people you do reveal yourself as well. My son,. who is my main critic, also doesn't like the piece, even though it's mostly well written (we think) but he doesn't entirely recognise either me nor his grandmother from the writing. I think that's largely because I haven't shared my feelings entirely with him (don't want to bad mouth Grandma!) but also because I don't recognise that she is always always angry at me. I feel stressed, I react as if she is, but I don't see it, I look for a failing in me. (I don't like her, she's always bossing me around...) when really, she just endlessly snaps at me, puts me down, makes up silly things to make me feel small. My favourite this week was that I 'had to have' a TV in my room when I was in hospital in case I missed 'Blue Peter'. ? The occasion was the six weeks I spent alone, on bed rest, with pre-eclampsia, knowing my baby would almost certainly die whatever I did but fighting for him anyway. We didn't own a TV, but out of pity, my father in law lent me their portable black and white TV from his study. That and a box of old books from a junk shop were all I had to entertain me over the six long weeks I was in. I'm fairly sure, at 21, that 'Blue Peter' was not a priority, but she threw it at me this week as if I was as demanding, difficult and childish - as she is. My baby died. He would be 28 this year. I'm starting to see that her anger (and mine) are the core of our relationship, and so the lifewriting can reflect that.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

59,800 and very tired lifewriting

My drafted lifewriting is shaping up, but I'm uncomfortable with switching between past and present too much, making it disjointed. I wrote a freewrite when I first saw my ex mother-in-law in hospital. She's always hated me, partly because I seduced her little boy away and then because he died of leukaemia and I didn't. I also think she's a difficult person who has alienated most of the people in her life. I hung in because I loved her husband, he was a sweet man very like his son; and she was the grandmother of my children. After more than a week of concentrated games and hostility, I must admit to feeling some dislike, even hatred of the woman who is still putting me down and criticising me. The two trips we have made to Hampshire in the last week and a half have made me realise I actually hold these angry, hate-filled feelings towards her. I don't think of myself as a person who hates anyone. Dislikes a few maybe, but it's hard to think of anybody I didn't like something about. But reading my freewrite and the lifewriting piece - it seems so bitter. One thing the course mentioned was about revealing yourself, as narrator, through writing about someone else. I feel exposed by it. This is an uncomfortable feeling for me, because although you are revealed in fiction the reader isn't sure what is you and what is made up. They may suspect something... And they will know that I am capable of hating a vulnerable, dying old woman.

The book has been stalled by my absence, which I hate, because I'm worried I will lose momentum. I managed to make up 2,600 words today, as well as catch up with a lot of laundry. I needed to wash everything we had worn in Hilda's house, as it stank of smoke and rotten food. She keeps everything closed up, even the blinds and curtains, and smokes continuously, and even a few minutes leaves you smelling like an ash tray. Her lap top was full of ash, Russell had to shake it out before he could fix it for her. I feel so tired, just of dealing with the phone calls and messages.

I'm writing my character's backstory at the moment, rich stuff, even if it all seems to be about hospitals (I wonder why?). I'm going to try and get stuck into reviewing a short story I wrote for my OCA tutor for the biscuit short story competition. I did manage to send off an entry into another comp. while we were away, a ghost story that was fun to write.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

55,500 words and some lifewriting

Well, I've alternated between family phone calls and talking to the hospital. In the in between bits, I've managed to write a few words here and there but they do add up. I've started the backstory to Emma's strange, lonely experience running a B&B now. I think that the backstory will make about 25-30k and then, maybe, I can weave it through the contemporary, linear narrative. I hate those books where you jump about all the time, so I'll look at a more natural way to do it. through memory or dialogue, maybe.

This is a very first draft bit of backstory:

Emma opened her eyes. She was lying in a pool of very dim light, just enough to obscure the rest of the room. She moved her arm a fraction, to reach for Charlotte, who would, of course, be there. Her arm was heavy, and turning her head she could see the snowy plaster that covered her arm from hand to shoulder. She lifted the other arm, twisting it a little. It had black bruises on it, and a drip, but was otherwise still there. The chair by her bed was occupied by her father, his eyes black in the dim light, grey hair and eyebrows bushy, his mouth moving. She strained to hear what he was saying, before she realised he was crying.
‘Emma.’ His hand, strong and dry, clutched hers. The skin on his palm and fingers always felt as if it had been polished, buffed smooth on thousands of pages a week. ‘Emma, don’t try and talk, just go back to sleep. You’ll be better in the morning.’
As Emma closed her eyes, her mind started to search for Charlotte. She hadn’t seen her, maybe she was looking after Mother. She could feel Charlotte there, somewhere nearby. ‘N’night, Char.’ The whispered words drifted around her own head, maybe reached Dad as he squeezed her hand. N’night, Em.
Emma was awakened for what seemed like the tenth time by a nurse shining a light into her eyes. The room was bright, sunshine slanting in onto the shrunken shape of her father, asleep, his face almost as grey as his hair in the morning light.
He jerked like a marionette, and opened his eyes. The nurse’s cool fingers touched her wrist. ‘How is she?’
‘Improving. I’ll leave you to talk.’ Her gaze seemed full of meaning as she locked eyes with him.
‘Where’s Char?’ Emma’s first word had been Char. Charlotte’s first word had been an approximation of biscuit.
‘Charlotte was in the accident too.’ Of course. Charlotte couldn’t let Emma have an accident and not have one too. Emma’s lips stretched tight skin on her face as they tried to smile.
Her father took her hand in both of his, squeezing, his hands shaking a little. Emma stared at them. They looked so wrinkled and stringy in the light from the window. These hands had once lifted her onto windowsills, to see out of high windows. They looked like they could barely hold their own weight. ‘My dear, dear Emma.’
Charlotte’s thoughts drifted up from the back of her brain. What have you done now?
‘When can I see Charlotte?’
He spoke, but the words were fizzing and popping like lemonade in a glass, they didn’t make any sense. The words made him cry, his head bowed as if he was ashamed, as if he was hurt inside. Maybe Dad had been in the accident too.
Emma let her head fall back on the pillow, let him cry. She was very sleepy, very tired and confused, and he was getting annoying, sobbing into her hand. She pulled her hand away and let the sleepiness wash over her. It was strange without Charlotte, but if she wriggled the fingers out of the end of the cast she could still feel her there.

It's keeping my imagination going, anyway. I have also managed a bit of lifewriting, around 1200 words, towards the TMA. All in all, a productive weekend.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

53,000 words and running out of plot

Well, I can't be live I've written anything this week, it's been so difficult. On Tuesday my mother-in-law was rushed into hospital with general decrepitude and possible pancreatitis and we hurtled down there, a five hour drive, to sort her out, on Thursday. She's making ground, but at eighty and very unsure of herself, it's difficult to be sure she's going to be able to go back home. So for two days, I couldn't write the book. I did manage to do a little lifewriting, though. And it did occur to me that having to do lifewriting for the next TMA at least I could write about this that's going on, intense and painful and powerful, as it happens.

Then I got back to the book, for relaxation really, and wrote what I think is the final paragraph of the book. No good to me really, since I have so many loose ends to tie up. One thing that 2 days away really gave me was perspective on the rewrite. I've written about this co-dependant relationship between two twins, yet I located it so far away from the death of one of them, I haven't really explored that relationship enough to show how spooky it is. I think chapters exist that grow out of Emma's adjustment to her father's death when she has to cope with either extreme loneliness or the madness of keeping the connection with her sister going.

So the final encounter between Emma and her friend is written and good and is the end point of the book. Now I just have to get from a to b. One way would be to cut between the past and the present, but I hate it when that happens in books in a very disjointed way. Hmm. More thinking. I'll probably have to go to Hampshire again (lots) so more thinking time.

Meanwhile, I have applied to 3 universities to do writing MA's. I must be mad. The application forms are so fiendishly difficult that, honestly, I began to worry that I just wouldn't be clever enough to apply. I have less doubts about the course, fortunately. Or rather, I did before I thought that I now have a sick old lady to keep an eye on. And the Open University are pulling the diploma I'm working towards, so if I want to do it, I have to complete it next year... alongside the MA. Hmm. I suppose I can do the course work after A215, I do already have the coursebook so I could make a start. And of course, two kids at Uni and two at college and Rosie's only 11... 2012 may well be the year when I lay down and have my breakdown, learn to make balloon animals, learn to sleep again.