A Plot, a Pen and some Peace

I’ve spent this week working on a pitch and outline for a new WIP which I’d started to write blind a few months ago and for which I needed focus.

Now, finally, I have the shortest pitch I’ve ever written (!!) and am therefore thrilled to announce my retirement to the Den to write the book.

There’s no internet access in there. It’s above the garage, away from the house, and cannot pick up the WiFi. It’s also brick-built and heavily insulated so neither can I pick up the free BT Fon which floats in the air throughout town.

In short, my Den is quiet, comfy and appropriately cut off… no excuse for distraction.

The new WIP is called The Town That Danced and, for anyone remotely interested, my Shortest Ever (!!) Pitch is:

A barmaid’s curse, experimental ice-cream flavours and a glut of Chinese lanterns – what exactly is causing the mass insanity in sleepy Mardow-by-Sea? A prophetic vagrant and a rebellious owl seem to know, but can Aelita – hired to promote the resort – decipher their clues and save the town before she too succumbs to the madness?

It’s a story of human excess – what happens when this is totally unchecked. How far will people go? It’s a serious story but with (I hope!) lots of dark humour… I haven’t been this excited about writing something in a long, long time. The basic premise began as one of a town going mad – that was what I wanted to write: people, en masse, indulging their inner voices. I’ve since read about medieval dancing plagues (thanks to Freddie for the pointer, as I’d never heard of them) which I found fascinating and which fit my story, so I’ve incorporated elements of those phenomena into the plot and am really pleased with how it’s all come together.

Got to go… 5k words down, only another 75k to go..!


Words, Wide Night ~ Carol Ann Duffy

Somewhere on the other side of this wide night and the distance between us, I am thinking of you.
The room is turning slowly away from the moon.
This is pleasurable. Or shall I cross that out and say it is sad?
In one of the tenses I singing an impossible song of desire that you cannot hear.
La la la la. See? I close my eyes and imagine the dark hills I would have to cross to reach you.
For I am in love with you and this is what it is like or what it is like in words.

The land over which the song passes

Sluggish and sedentary peoples, such as the Ancient Egyptians– with their concept of an afterlife journey through the Field of Reeds– project on to the next world the journeys they failed to make in this one. 
– Bruce Chatwin (The Songlines)

The mountain in the picture is Maroma, a 2065mt beast which sits above the village of Sedella in Southern Spain. My dad’s rented a place there for the summer and invited me out for some ‘bonding’. 

He lived in this part of Spain for a couple of decades and conducted guided tours up this mountain – which is how he met his Dutch girlfriend, triggering a move to Amsterdam where he’s been for about 15 years. He’s increasingly missed the Spanish landscape.
It’s two decades since I did any serious walking or climbing, and it wouldn’t have occurred to me to undertake anything other than a couple of medium-effort walks had my dad not said: the area has many good walks at a lower level for all ages, so I am hoping I may be able to tempt you on one or two.  
Red rag to a bull! Does he think I can’t manage the whole thing?
So now I’m determined to do all 2065mt of it and shall report back in due course with smug looking shot of Me Perched At Summit. I have thrown back the red rag: actually I’d like to climb to the top, but I’ll understand if you don’t feel up to it…
My dad has always explored – he’s canoed, climbed and hiked his way around the world, from the Sahara to the polar regions. He’s in pretty good shape for a guy of 72 or 73, whatever he is (we don’t do birthdays). I was always surprised, given how alike we are, to have not inherited his wanderlust. I figured maybe I just did it via my imagination, in my writing; that travel doesn’t have to be a physical thing – it’s a concept, a state of mind, a way of thinking… it’s a curiosity.
Now I look at the Chatwin quote above and I wonder… is that enough? 

Perhaps writers are also sluggish and sedentary people at heart, projecting into our fiction the journeys and adventures we fail to take for real. Perhaps we think we’re more open-minded than we are. Perhaps we feel we’re achieving more than we are. Perhaps we’re so lost in the pretence, we can’t even see it for what it is.
Is it enough, that armchair curiosity? I always thought so… now I’m not sure.  
I am a woman with Missions. But I’ll start with that mountain…

Balls in the air…

There’s a juggler in the park here almost every day practising his craft alone.

‘Here’ is a medieval town with a high tourism draw and a long history of street performances. 

We no longer have bear baiting or hookers hanging out on Grope Lane, but the jugglers and fire-eaters will be here in force all summer, just as they’ve been for hundreds of years. And they must jostle it out with each other, with singers and actors and musicians – all of them trying to earn a living. It looks like play but it isn’t – it’s vital economics.

Last November this particular guy was struggling to keep three balls in the air longer than a few seconds. Now, five months on, he’s effortlessly juggling six whilst riding a unicycle backwards.

I walk past every day and have watched admiringly as he’s improved – despite the constant interruptions of other park-goers, despite the weather, despite those fumbling failings of his early weeks… he’s persisted, he’s practised, he’s just kept going, and now here he is: a plausible professional on the season’s cusp.

And I wonder whether somewhere there’s a Jugglers’ Group, where they meet and debate technique, form and style. Where they spend most of each day exchanging brief – often incompetent – displays, congratulating or criticising each other’s efforts. Where they discuss the rules of juggling until dusk, each sticking rigidly to the point with which they entered the debate. Where they never actually get around to practising, so busy are they talking balls…

Will those jugglers be ready for the streets this summer? No. Of course not. They’ll still be arguing the toss over whether red looks better than blue when tossed six feet into the air.

I’m off. I have a craft to hone…  😉

3.30 a.m.

… is as good a time as any to write a book review.

I was awake, thinking how ugly things become when past their best. How there is nothing attractive about rot. And then I remembered Jim Crace‘s excellent book Being Dead in which he creates a poetic beauty from the clinical account of two bodies decomposing on a beach. 

It’s one of my favourite novels – one of the few to make the elite list of Books To Read Again

It begins with a middle-aged couple – long-married academics, filled with quiet disappointment, subdued resentment and love – who are mugged and killed on a remote stretch of beach and left to die in the sand dunes. The story splits into several strands – one is forward-moving, taking us through the process of decomposition, the others move backwards and recount events, over three decades, which led them to this particular reminiscent walk along the beach. 

Crace writes about two ordinary people, dulled with age and conformity, scarred from events in their shared past – and does it beautifully, gently drawing Reality, all its quirks and contradictions. But it’s the secondary story, that of the decomposing bodies on the beach and the tiny world they create and sustain as they rot, which utterly compels and which works as a poetic drawn-out metaphor for the main narrative itself. 

From a purely writerly perspective, having strands running in opposite directions from one key point is a masterful conceit and has danced in my mind as an aspiration since I read the book a few years ago. I just hadn’t found the story to fit the technique… but perhaps now I have.

I’ve just been outside with a cup of tea, staring at the stars. We all look at the same sky. It’s possibly one of the only ways in which we are truly connected. In the distance, somewhere up the street, a drunk is shouting random thoughts into the night… pained noises of disappointment, disillusion and despair, aimed at nobody in particular. 

It’s probably as much as any of us ever do.