baby S is a snaffling, snuffler with more than just a touch of the hedgehog about her…
mind you, am still on some faurly heavy pain relief which perhaps explains my obsession with hedgehoggery.
In an effort to get things rumbling I stumbled round town this afternoon looking for last minute crucial things and worrying shopkeepers who all clearly thought I was going to ‘pop’ in their aisles. In a lovely little bookshop called Badgers Books I got an excellent hoard of 2nd hand books the whole lot for less than £12:
Anthony Trollope – first of the Palliser novels – Can you Forgive Her?
PG Wodehouse – Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves and The Code of the Woosters.
Nancy Mitford – Love in Cold Climate and Noblesse Oblige
Vita Sackville-West – All Passion Spent
The nice, bookshoppy woman with floaty clothes who sold them to me looked at my distented belly and said ‘are these books for when you won’t be going out for a while?’. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘books for the breast feeding era.’ She laughed and said, ‘well I think they are an excellent choice of books.’ ‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘with my first baby I tried to read ‘The Russians’ whilst breastfeeding but it didn’t work.’
She laughed again. I’m glad I’ve found a nice bookshop. I also bought The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. It’s like a version of the cold war. Instead of filling my larder with tinned spam I am obsessively buying books.
Now, though, I have the CRUCIAL decision: what to read next? Because, whatever I read next – unless it’s something very short, which I could do – is the book that will come to hospital with me. Whether I’ll be in any state to read is another matter, I’m guessing not, but it wouldn’t do not to have something in the bag. God. What a decision. It’s worse than what to take on flights/holidays/long weekends.
I’m thinking I should save all the 20s/30s frippery and maybe indulge in Wolf Hall, get lost in the Tudors. Perhaps imminent childbirth horrors/operations could be countered by Henry VIII? Or is that just optimistic thinking?
Reading Nancy Mitford has got me through these last few days of uncertaintly and anxiety. Today, after visit to the Docs, we at least have a deadline and know where we are a bit more. Only a few more days of leaving it up to Mother Nature, after that, it’s over to the science side for baby and me. I feel a lot calmer, but aware that time is now supremely limited. The Pursuit of Love is absolutely hilarious. I think I’m going to order everything else she’s written immediately.
I have to accept that I am not going to be able to edit my novel before baby comes, and so there will be an inevitable gap. I’m trying to get to a place – writing lots of notes to myself referring to documents and page numbers – that will enable me to pick up again once I get something remotely like a night’s sleep (whenever in the distant, nappy-filled future that might be).
I’ve been reading Emma Darwin’s blog post on structure and have downloaded her ‘novel plot grid’ which she has kindly put up for anyone to use. It’s interesting to look at her process. I have always been inclined (naively, I know) to think of stories as organic structures…something like this:
I suppose I thought of the process of incident, complication, crisis, climax, resolution and so on as being fundamental and somehow natural (coming from myths and normal rhythms of our life, birth, marriage, death etc) and in a general way have always believed that an organic story is more ‘real’; offering up these structures in a cohesive way, with the characters, the nature of the story, the vibe, the flow (and other such hippy-ninkynonkness).
The idea of format, formula and tied-down-plot has generally not appealed. And I know, I could quote Virginia Woolf and all the Difficult Modernists on the downfall of the plot, but I realise, now, that one has to be a little (if not a lot) calculated about these things.
I did in fact work that out early in my drafts, and have what is for me a pretty solid plot, but I think I need to be even more instrumental in formatting the whole manuscript a la Emma Darwin. The most reassuring thing about reading her post is that it is entirely normal for an editor to suggest major changes (“I had to re-write the modern strand”….”revisions get structural”…. “Faced with the need to come up with a completely new story and plot for the modern strand, with a much smaller cast…”). My feedback suggested that I ‘re-lay the foundation of the structure’ of one of my strands.
Which means there is no way around it: time for a chart!
I have a horror of spreadsheets and charts (I once had a job where we had to log our time on a spreadsheet and I used to pay the receptionist a tenner each week to do mine for me!). Time to get over it and pin down that detail. My preferred ‘process’ is big scrapbooks full of felt-tips and lists and swirling arrows and repeats of timescales. This is new terrain for me.
Maybe I will just have time to do this before baby…maybe not. Either way – DON’T PANIC – it’s good to know that all writers are asked to revise and re-write. I know, I know… this is where the art is, actually. This is where the skill is. I’ve heard all that many times. Funny how you can know a thing in theory but it takes practice to really knock it into the skull.
Editing hurts. I knew it would, but, I mean…it really hurts. I thought I’d edited before. I have, of course, but this time it’s a major rehaul,a complete re-structure and a total relaying of foundations. Part of me resists it, but when I go downstairs for a Gaviscon and some milk to fend off the baba inside causing terrible heartburn in the middle of the night, I stand at the fridge for a moment in the dark with the stomach acid gurgling in my throat and know that it is true: the narrative does lag there, the tension does need to be tighter, the drive needs to sharpen.
Ouch. Painstaking. Moving through. Nodding. Amazing how the bits for the chop are so often the loveliest bits of writing (why is that?). I’ve done it myself to another person’s text. I’ve hollered ‘Off with the head!’ and known with complete conviction that what’s left is better, all the better for it. But to thyne own self it’s trickier.
Though I like it. One step closer to the perfect book – that I know will never be written – but at least has to be aimed for.
Baba is now 2 days overdue and I am officially a heffalump-a-rama. It’s difficult to concentrate in such circumstances, and the joy is, it’ll only get harder when baba is here. Hurrah. If I drink Alice’s DRINK ME drink will I be big enough and clever enough to do it all??
I’ve finished Regeneration and am taking a break from WW1 before reading the Eye in the Door, indulging instead in a bit of light-weight hilarious and un-PC Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love.
The Docs told us yesterday would be the day but here we still are…waiting. Baby is clearly not ready. And so my house-bound status must continue as I can’t walk very far, or do very much. In this waiting-game I go through different stages from claustrophobia, exhaustion and extreme fed-up-ness, to calm and an embrace of the strangeness of not working, not rushing about, of legitimately taking naps in the afternoon (and not feeling guilty about it). Houseboundness. I don’t altogether mind it. It’s a state of mind, I suppose. Looking it up led me to Emily Dickinson, Queen of the Housebound,
and to the lovely Persephone Books website, where they publish a book called House-Bound by Winifred Peck. I think I’ve heard of her – sort of – and I quite fancy reading the book now. The list of neglected 20thC women writers is a handy one for thinking about girls names I’ve discovered (Esther, Winifed, Norah….and you know what, weirdly, I quite like Cicely).
Being house-bound means focusing on the internal and the domestic, which is often frowned upon or dissed, but look at this beautiful dining room at Virginia Woolf’s residence, Monk’s House:
Now that is inspiration for nesting. I think I’m going to visit to get further ideas. Vanessa Bell & co spent an inordinate amount of time rearranging, painting and designing their internal domestic space. As a person who has generally lived in ‘love and squalor’ with a pile of books next to my bed, maybe I should get painting.
As well as House-Bound, another current word that is floating behind my eyelids is peripeteia. A new one for me, I didn’t know it (and very hard to find an image for). Aristotle invented the term: it’s the turnaround. When what you thought was going to happen doesn’t; what seemed good is in fact bad; true is false; what is right is in fact wrong. It’s the intense part of the plot – the moment of peripetia. After that moment, nothing is the same and the protagonist can’t go back to how she was. I’m working on it in my editing at the moment. And I guess once baby girl arrives, that’s it, she’s the turnaround, I will never be able to go back.
Would she appreciate the name Cicely Peripetia Turnaround Ethel I wonder?
The Junior World Encyclopedia Book 9 L-M (Labour to Matches) is currently my 2 year old’s favourite book and so we are learning a lot about light, Leningrad, lighthouses, latitude and longitude, leather, larva and some biggies such as Life, Law and Literature. Mostly we get stuck on Locomotives, though, and stay there for a while. Eventually we get to M which is where I get excited because of MAPS.
How I love maps. There is a map at the centre of my current book (w.i.p) and a 19th Century Missionary Map (see below) is the central theme. Important to instil in W a love of maps from a young age, I feel, although will it inspire wanderlust and itchy feet? Those things are not necessarily conducive to a happy life.
I have a wonderful book called Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination and the best maps in it are the work of someone called Adolf Wolfli, who was Swiss, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 31:
I’m drawn to the idea of personal geographies and would love to know what W’s internal geography of the world looks like in this head. Trippy madness I should imagine. He likes our globe, so there’s hope he’ll become a map-lover, but mostly he likes to swizzle it as fast as he can until it lights up bright blue and makes a squeeee noise, which is fair enough, I guess.