Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Halfway there

Sun is shining,
Weather is sweet...
...come to the rescue...

So said the great Bob Marley. And so say I.
How to write when the weather is perfect, the sea also, when swimming in the early morning, the ocean flat calm, the fishing boats dotting the horizon, the Cham Islands clear, on that long stretch of sand that is a short stroll from my's torture!

Then again, swimming and aqua aerobics, yoga, tai chi, anything that stretches the spine is essential to someone who spends hours crouched over a keyboard.

And the weather is affecting the book. Somehow, I've conjured up those few perfect summers in the Highlands when the novelty of heat remain etched into my brain. From this distance, cynicism reminds me that they were probably only days at a time, or hours. Perhaps a few days 'between weathers' as they say in Shetland, but there were days of perfect beauty.

The main difference between then and now, here and there, is in the sea temperature. Swimming in the North Sea is a form of masochism only attempted by the foolhardy and children. Here it is a balmy 26C.  There -- I shudder to think. Blue feet after a short paddle is what I recall from the summer of 2011 when I ventured ankle deep into the Moray Firth.

And yes, I'm halfway there - 44,861 words. Phew!

Aa' the best.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thoughts at 3.27 am

Yes, 3.27 AM.

When in the midst - or at least 40,764 words into a new manuscript, I reach the point when I am consumed, inhabited, overwhelmed, totally in the clutches of the muse.
Now we all have a muse --mine is an oh-so-cynical- Scotsman, who says, "Is that it?"Often.
But at 3.27?

Nothing for it but to get up, make a cup of tea, (toast and marmalade helps too - fooling the body into thinking it's breakfast time) then write down the thoughts.
Problem is between the making of the tea, and writing down the idea, you've forgotten what brilliant notion awoke you. So better to write first, then make the tea.
Problem with that is, in the morning, 6.03AM, you can't read the hen's scrawl that is 3.27AM writing.

Next joy at being at 40,764 words. The Doldrums.
An Aside: I remember learning about the Doldrums in geography - or was it history? Probably both as the history of world exploration was dictated by the wind and being stuck in the Doldrums stopped many a sailing ship - before and after Columbus- from reaching parts unknown.

The Doldrums is the place where a writer can become stuck in what is technically known as "the soggy middle". This Wednesday past, stuck, about to waffle on in the hope the characters might point me to something exciting, I thought I might re-read the original outline - the one usually  abandoned when the story takes on it's own momentum.
So I did. Then shouted at myself, "The idea you wrote six months back is perfect."

That should teach me to re-read synopsis, scribbled notes, voice memos on my phone, the backs of envelopes, the  phrase written in lipstick on the inside of a diary no other writing implement being at hand. I mean, what's the point of making notes if you never read them later?

Here endeth the lesson to self (and anyone else who does the same)

Aa' the best.

Monday, July 1, 2013 what you write, write what you love.

"Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.    ~ Ray Bradbury

Recently, at a literary night in Bar Luna, in Ubud, Bali, I was the guest speaker. The 

 This is the hardest lesson --to love what I write. To love what I do is easy. But that voice of self- doubt, or the voice of John Knox or whatever deity bewitches or curses us Celts, is loud and clear.

My school reports - all those "could do better" remarks --how do the teachers decide you could do better when you wrote your heart out,  thinking your 'composition' (the word for essay in my day) was pretty good. Over imaginative perhaps, but that was what writing was about, so I thought, making up stories  that were weird and wonderful and nothing like ordinary life. 

So there was seldom a - well done, seldom a nice wee tick, or a gold star as later became the fashion, for my stories. A miserly 'B or 'A-'  was the best I could hope for in English composition.

Maybe it was a nineteen-fifties thing; an 'A' would swell a child's brain. To give praise  was probably an infringement of some educational theory taught in pre WW11 teacher training colleges. 
To punish, to instil fear, through liberal use of the belt - a length of extremely hard leather - that was thought to be the way to educate children aged five and upwards.

I remember clearly being taken from my classroom - I must have been about 8 - to help calm down my sister who would have been 6. She had to be punished, I was told, and she wouldn't hold out her hand to be hit with this medieval instrument of pain.  I was supposed to tell her "it was for her own good." All I can remember is being equally terrified and saying, "You'll have to ask my Mum."
What happened after that I don't recall but if it didn't scar my sister for life, it certainly scarred me.  

interlocutor, a wonderful writer and woman, Cat Wheeler, asked why my books are based in the nineteen fifties. I can't recall exactly what I said. It was a light, fun evening. I certainly didn't relate the story of my sister.
Maybe I should have, because a partial answer is, "Nothing since has been as cruel as some of the events of my childhood." 

The 1950s: the crucible of us baby-boomers; corporal punishment, polio, rationing, the fear of nuclear war. And as the decade ran out towards the sixties, television, and telephones in the home - if you could afford them - Elvis on the wireless, occasionally clothes bought in shops and not made by your mother or granny, holidays further than Nairn 17 miles away, all signs of changing times. 

And a never to be forgotten change in my worldview was a book,  borrowed from the library inadvertently, and probably because it had a lurid cover, the "The Martian Chronicles". 
Ray Bradbury changed my life; he showed me that in your imagination, anything is possible. Even other worlds. Worlds outside of the Highlands of Scotland. 

And that led me to Iain M Banks. A worthwhile man is ever there was one. And sorely missed.

Aa' the best.