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Monthly Archives: April 2013

After long months of bitter cold and constant rain today spring has arrived. When Hoover and I went out this morning I left my jacket behind as I have done several optimistic times before. This time I did not shiver and we headed further afield to make the most of the sun before returning to work.

Fresh green emerging

Fresh green emerging

All around us spring was bursting out. Fat chestnut buds were stickily opening and buried in the undergrowth below them fiddle headed ferns were starting to unfurl their necks. There was a definite shift to green pushing its way through the brown coat of winter. The pale winter fields have a green blush that promises better than the winter wheat that sank into the sodden earth and refused sprout last autumn. It really lifts the spirits and both Hoover and I stepped out cheerfully.

Around us larks laughed in the clear blue. A flash of yellow caught my eye and Hoover darted over to check the yellow finch we haven’t seen for many months. A hidden wren’s burst of rowdy song almost stopped us in out tracks and we bent to watch the insects out collecting nectar from the first dandelions.

Dew sparkles on the grass after shy insects hide

Dew sparkles on the grass after shy insects hide

I have just completed a rewrite of the Baggage Stories. Now they are Me and My Boy, told entirely from Baggage’s point of view. I’ve been testing them on willing readers, collecting comments and criticism. It is hard to get across to family that criticism must be honest. My mother is my mother. I am a mother too: I am constantly amazed by the outstanding quality of my children’s output. She is a staunch supporter and wonderfully encouraging. But when my children laugh and tell me it is good then I am more convinced. And when a publisher asks me to send it to her as it sound so interesting then I am even more encouraged.

Now is the time to put my work out there; to look for the serious, non family criticism. The trouble is I know what a rejection letter looks like and it doesn’t offer any criticism, just a polite and blank no thank you. It is hard to build from that.

Fresh green of hawthorn

Fresh green of hawthorn

The hedge is sending out new leaves. Fresh hawthorn is brightest green and reminds me that it used to be called poor man’s bread and cheese. Apparently it is delicious, but I am more glad to see it on the black twigs than I am tempted to eat it. I suppose it depends on how hungry you are. The children in one of my stories forage for food and I now am catching glimpses of some of the food that they found. Fresh green stinging nettles are already sprouting, and this year I have promised Jay that I will make stinging nettle soup. I still wince at the thought.

The Wayfarer’s tree, hacked back by harsh flailers in the autumn is holding up it’s new heads of flowers. Still tightly closed against the late frosts they stand tall and pale against the blue of the sky. Mingled alongside them are the opening leaves of the elder. It won’t be long now ’til the hedgerows are covered in blossom and we can make cordial again.

Promises of things to come

Promises of things to come

Back at home two hard jobs are lurking. The first is the writing of the cover letter that I need to send out to my chosen agent, probably the hardest writing task I can think of. At The London Book Fair I was struck even more strongly by the two main categories of books that publishers are putting out for junior school aged children at the moment – the chick lit for children books, and the street cred town-based books. My writing doesn’t fit into either of those categories. One publisher, who hadn’t read any of my work, called it ‘slightly old fashioned’ because that’s what the country is. And yet there are lots of people living out here in the country, and even more that wish that they lived here, and consequently take their holidays here.

And the other daunting task – starting the next story. A blank page is waiting.

New lambs enjoying the first warmth

New lambs enjoying the first warmth

If nature can do it again and again every year, then so can I.

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I constantly hear it said that writing is a solitary occupation. People on the radio spend ages telling us what a lonely business it is.

I suppose, given the choice, I would choose to be in a room on my own, but all too often that is a rare treat.

A place to work

The quiet Zone – a regular writing place

I have spent a lot of time writing on trains, my fingers pattering away on the keyboard with strangers looking over my shoulder.
“You’re writing a book,” they tell me. “I couldn’t write a book; leastways, not on a train.”
Or if they are less keen that I should think that they have been reading over my shoulder “Is that a book you’re writing?” I suppose the lack of subject headings, charts and the frequency of speech marks is a bit of a give away.

Sometimes they are considerate people.
“I can see you’re busy; I won’t disturb you.” That usually means I’ve got a few minutes before they launch into a long explanation of the journey so far, or an impassioned description of the joys of train spotting – I have genuinely been on the receiving end of that monologue. Often I am glad that they want to talk; they are interesting people and their stories intrigue me, like the woman whose family had lived in Jamaica for the past 400 years… or the Director of The Dorset Steam Fair, who wasn’t a train spotter.

As I usually have Hoover with me on trains the other icebreaker is “Oh my goodness, that’s a dog!” After which I have been shown photographs of dogs, cats, horses and a variety of other well-loved, and all too frequently dead, animals. How much we love our animal companions. Even the naughty one. There are huge smiles from the owners who tell me how their dogs would cause mayhem on a train. I thank heaven they have been left at home.

All that said – trains are great places to write. I settle into my seat, Hoover rests her head on my lap and off we rattle for a few hours of focused work. Lots gets written and the journey flashes by.

Standing tall on its own

Standing tall on its own

Ideas never seem to come on their own. They may be outstanding, but ‘they come not solitary spies’. It is never one idea that comes into my head, but a flock of them, bustling in and swarming around, begging to be written. I keep a note book of them and should I have another hundred years of writing I would not run out of stories. Everywhere I walk, in town or out on the hills with Hoover I see things that beg to be slotted into the note book: overheard conversations, a sudden flash of colour, a vibrant shape or a sound that echoes in my mind. Why is that girl accosting all those elderly people with dogs? Where is the parent? What is the story? Why is the bored chef, who never speaks, still propped behind the bar pretending not to watch the door? Who leaves the hefty stones on the grassy footpath? That one I now know the answer to – they are left by The Stone Rollers Of Cheselbourne.
Some ideas stand out, others cluster together waiting for more detail. I may know that Stone Rollers are responsible for the flints, but why do they put them on the paths?

20130202_152902 And then the editing; checking and rechecking , changing a word for a better one, refining and then refining again. Always seeking to make it better, throwing away the dross whilst making sure that the essence remains and nothing vital is lost. And in all that coming back into contact with the people of the story; some that I like others, some that I love, some I know so well and others who slip in and out of the telling. There are the ones who make me wince or shudder, and others who make me smile in greeting.

Do other all writers laugh with delight when a word or idea fits like a perfect, soft glove, or cry when a character suffers? When big emotions hit the page I take myself off for a refreshing walk afterwards.

But solitary?

Solitary I am not. At the end of a writing session I am amazed not to find the people in whose company I have been not still sitting beside me when I look up from the page. My day has been filled with them, in and out of rooms, battling with their problems, winning out in the end. I have run along beside them, tripped and fallen, fought their demons and cheered when they triumph. I know every crease of each smile, what makes them tick, what makes them sad and I long for others to know them too.

So I can’t really say that it is a solitary business, and it certainly isn’t lonely. It’s hard work and can be frustrating, but I am surrounded by companions through it all.

And when I do emerge, then I’m very lucky. I have wonderful family and friends around me, who stand close, me helping my work grow, ready to stand tall.
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