Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Is This 'The End'?

Alternative title, ‘Round The U-bend’, Home Thoughts from a would-be plumber with a serious writing habit.

Nearly ten months ago I received the email that CHANGED MY LIFE! Oh, sorry, I was missing Masterchef for a minute there. Anyway, this email was from the agent who only a few days earlier had rejected the first draft of ‘Fighting The Tide’. Having reconsidered, the agent generously gave me copious advice about how I might turn FTT into a book with shelf life longer than a loaf of bread before supermarkets stuffed loaves full of preservatives.

My initial thought was that I could polish off the amendments within three months – despite the fact that the agent herself had advised me that the process ‘would be a big job’ (moral: ‘listen to Beeny’ – see ‘Proceed With Care’ posted 20/09/07).
So September became December, January became February and here we are at the end of April and at long, long last I have finished a book that only took me seven months to write (give or take the two year gestation period before I treated writing seriously) in the first place!

Or have I? Well, there’s a wait whilst FTT rests, I was going to say like a turkey but maybe that’s not such a great analogy but you get the picture. Then I look at it afresh and carve it up if necessary and then, when I’m certain it’s looking its best, I’ll send it off to the agent. Oh, and did I mention there are no guarantees, no contract, no publishing deals, just the hope that what I’ve written is good/timely enough – because I believe that timing not luck plays a role – to hit the spot?

The thing about it is, like buying a house really, there’s always another book. Whatever happens I’ll continue writing because that’s what I’ve always done and it’s all I ever really want to do. Long, antisocial hours, your other half wondering aloud if you’ve heard a word they’ve said (alas, probably not), sometimes, often actually, resenting ordinary life because it gets in the way. It’s not normal, is it? But it’s what I love.

Still, just in case, it’s always sensible to think about alternative careers. There’s a Romantic Novelists’ joke, a response, if you like, especially from those gifted writers who make category romance look effortless and easy, to all those people who on hearing what you do, inform you that they too are going to write a book when they have some ‘spare time’. The writer then replies, ‘Well, good for you! I’m going to be a brain surgeon when I’ve got some spare time.’

I probably won’t make a brain surgeon – even with zoology as one of my A levels especially when I tell you that the water fleas in my practical went to Hell – or at least up my pipette – and back because my hands were shaking so much. So I’ve had another think about what I’m good for. A couple of days ago a man turned up to look at the drains which had mysteriously blocked across the street – there are three new house opposite and four new babies. Not that I’m making any connections, by the way, but neither, apparently, were the drains.

Now the little man stood there picking his nose, scratching his bum, staring at a deep dark void and sharing the contents of his radio with the rest of us all day long – and getting paid for it! So it strikes me that I have the transferable skills to do just that – except, of course, I wouldn’t be so rude as to inflict my music on everyone (btw, Nick Cave, that wasn’t your best performance on Jonathan Ross, was it?). I wouldn’t like fishing for dirty nappies but there are aspects of writing, like being rejected, which make me feel weak and pale too.

Well, perhaps I won’t do anything about my other life as a plumber just yet; for now I’m letting go of the characters from FTT, which, crazy as it sounds, is always a sad time for me. Then it’s time to recharge my creative batteries… and get on with the next book.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Post of the Week

Post of the Week
My previous post, 'Life with Ma', was nominated for Post of the Week by Zinnia Cyclamen If you've never read Zinnia's moving and understated blogs about her work as a non-religious funeral celebrant then you really should... but take your hankies! Zinnia's blogs were recently picked up by the Guardian - deservedly so. Anyway, don't take my word for it go and read them!

'Life with Ma' was shortlisted but the winning post this week was John's Blog 'Talking about grief...'
I won't do John the disservice of trying to summarise his post, you should read it for yourself by going to ''

(Apologies to both John and Zinnia but I can't make any of the links work today.)

Thank you to Zinnia - if you follow my 'Novel Racers' link you will find her there and to those of you who were kind enough to support my nomination.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Life with Ma

If there is any lesson to be taken from losing one parent it’s to cherish the other, the survivor. I was fortunate and very privileged to be able to spend a lot of time with my dad during his final illness and when he died we were at completely at peace with each other. But Ma? Well, mums go on forever… don’t they?

I guess it’s taken me a while to learn my own lesson because Ma’s been like the Teflon Woman; nothing sticks, nothing damages the surface and she just carries on no matter what life throws at her. Or so it seems.

Red-haired, with the most amazingly beautiful dark blue eyes, my mum was physically strong and pretty fearless. As a very little girl I remember cringing and cowering at the shallow end of a chilly outdoor swimming pool (it later turned out I was cooking chicken pox) whilst mum powered up and down like an Olympian, stopping occasionally to cast pitying ‘I-can’t-believe-you’re-my-child’ looks, or so it felt at the time, in my direction. It was even worse when we went to the coast; Ma would be straight in the sea, diving through giant waves like a dolphin whilst I took fifty millions years to get in and was afraid of getting out of my depth!

Parties were another nightmare; in addition to her striking looks Ma was a snappy dresser. All eyes would be on her as she erupted into a room then they’d slide over me and my sister. Nearly six years younger than me, my sister could always get away with being cute leaving me hideously exposed as the geeky one with thick glasses, bad skin and buck teeth. Even being brainy wasn’t always enough – my sister and I always joked that if we came home with 99%, Ma would look unimpressed and remark, casually, ‘Well, next time you can do better’!

So there she was; shining, resilient Ma. Even when Dad died she refused help and went straight home to an empty house. The trouble is that lately I’ve been wondering if it’s suited me to see her that way, proud and independent. What if she’s just being brave?

Ma learned to be brave as a child. The sixth of eight surviving children, Ma had a particularly tough time of it. It’s doubtful that the man she knew as her dad was her real father; maybe that explained the real cruelty she suffered at her parent’s hands. Some children would have been broken by the violence she endured but Ma’s reaction was to dust herself off and carry on as if nothing had happened. What both angers and moves me when, occasionally, she might refer to being lifted up by her plaits, or being boxed round the head until her ears were raw is that she still talks about her parents with love and respect. I wonder that she can be so forgiving.

However, Ma’s childhood experiences are not foremost on my mind when we bring her back for a ten-day stay with us. In fact, I’m wondering if I can ‘park’ her with a good book whilst I finish FTT. I’m also dreading her shopping obsession – if there’s a bargain, she’ll find it, no matter where it’s hiding, her fascination with what my neighbours are doing – I don’t give a flying fart about what they’re up to and her morbid interest in ghastly medical programmes – me being a cultural snob. And then something else kicks in, thank goodness, and I see a seventy-four year old woman with a crumbling back and a bad hip who’s almost single-handedly renovated her house in four months. Jeez, who else is going to make Ma feel special?

So for ten days I spend time with Ma. We cut out new curtains for the boat and she patiently takes over and unpicks when I eff and blind at a bad seam. We garden – or at least Ma refuses to listen to my petulant ‘Nothing grows up here!’ and uses her considerable skills and love of gardening to transform my bleak, wind-battered plot into something that does actually look like a garden. We talk about Dad and laugh about memories both good and bad. We do the things that mothers and daughters are supposed to do and I’m grateful to get a second chance to appreciate her.

And so Tom and I drive her to the station to catch her coach and a tiny crack appears and Teflon Woman breaks a little bit. ‘I’ll be back at Victoria in the rush hour, ‘she muses, ‘last time a young woman tried to push past me and I nearly fell down the escalator.’
‘Stand your ground and push back’ I fume, full of anger towards this thoughtless commuter.
‘And the men open their papers and hold their arms in front of my face as if I’m not there.’
‘Bite them!’ I order, wanting to race down and take on the whole of the southeast.

Ma’s coach arrives and I’m despatched to deal with her bag so that she can get a good seat.
‘And go to the doctor’s about that hip!’ I yell, seeing the way she’s been limping.
‘Oh, I will when it hurts,’ she assures me.
Then she’s a face at the window, smiling, blowing kisses, brave again.
The coach pulls away and I cry.

Paiting is 'Co Cork' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Ross, Radiohead and Rellies

Wednesday 2 April
With only a gnat’s crotchet between me and the words ‘The End’, life has got in the way again. We are heading south to see Stepson Two’s band, Clocks, supporting Scouting For Girls at Shepherd’s Bush Empire and whilst we’re away we’re doing our usual round of friends and family.
By the time we arrive we have two problems: Tom has man flu and the lead singer of Scouting For Girls has lost his voice so this week’s gigs are cancelled. Doh!
Ah well, the wheel of social engagements is turning so on we go first to meet Rose and her new man who has bravely agreed to meet us – and very charming he is too. Then it’s off to catch up with our dear friends Jill and Martin. We end up at Ma’s where we’ll be staying. What a woman! In four months she has transformed her run-down flat into a boutique hotel so we are taking her back home with us for a well-deserved rest.

Thursday 3 April
To cut a long story short we have been invited by the lovely director, Mick, to be his guests at this week’s ‘Friday Night With Jonathan Ross’. I am in seventh heaven – not because of Nigel Marven, John Hurt or David Tennant and Catherine Tate who are on the show – but because the band I would most like to see in the whole world after Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (oh, and Clocks, of course) are appearing. Yes, it’s the fabulous Radiohead! I can’t believe my luck!

Meanwhile there is plenty to entertain me. As guests we have been invited to schmooze in the Green Room and I am intrigued to find that there are several Green Rooms. No sign of Radiohead in ours but we have Mick to look after us and I do spot a couple of actors whose names I can’t remember.

After being plied with wine and nibbles we are ushered to the studio and ‘warmed up’ by a stand up comic. He’s good but not nearly as funny (or rude!) as Jonathan Ross who comes across both as being superb at his job and very nice man too. As you would expect the show is a highly professional operation and there are very few retakes; the whole evening is pure entertainment.

At last the moment I’ve been waiting for! Radiohead are so close it’s almost like having them in my front room! The sound quality, unlike most gigs, is amazing and there’s none of that old moshpit malarkey. They peform ‘Nude’ – not in the nude, that is, but the single – then ‘15 Step’ and then, not quite satisfied with what seems to me an outstanding set – they ask if it’s all right if they do it again! I am a truly happy bunny!

My happiness is only slightly dented when Jonathan Ross announces that the band on the next show will be… Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds! Drat! However, I am so loved-up with Radiohead that when we pile out the studio to find the band coming off stage at the same time I have a terrible urge to touch one! Thom Yorke isn’t there yet but I am pretty close to the big one, Colin, and if I just stretch out… ah, but no, the thought disgracing myself and being escorted from the building makes me decide that discretion is the better part of valour and I keep my hands to myself.

Friday 4 April
Off to meet Stepson One and Girlf for lunch then it’s over to collect Stepson Two who’s been doing a round of interviews at Universal. We take him over to Ma’s who hugs him and tells him how skinny he’s looking. We sit him down and beam at him in his v. skinny jeans and leather jacket and bombard him with our usual onslaught of questions both Clocks related (‘Have you got a date for the album yet?’ A. ‘No.’) and non (‘What are Scouting For Girls Like?’ A. ‘Really nice guys.’). Then it’s out for dinner with Ma, Rose, New Man and my sister and family.

Saturday 5 April
As well as being my best friend from school days, Jill is my optometrist and a jolly good one too, which is lucky for me as I am very short-sighted (minus seven). We boggle at the fact that my new friend Jonathan Ross is a self-confessed minus nine before Jill has a tour of the back of my eyes and pronounces all to be well, phew!

Sunday 6 April
Whilst packing the car, the southeast disappears under a carpet of snow. Intrepid travellers that we are we head back to Wales, stopping briefly for a cup of tea with Lily who is about to start her new job. Ma is staying with me for ten days; she’s proved herself to be quite a handywoman so I’ll see if I can sort out a few odd jobs for her like landscaping the garden. No, only joking. As for me, I’ve got a book to finish… and I’m almost there!

Painting is 'Midnight Garden' by Tom Tomos