Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Inspiration and Persistence

Or, how late it is, how late. With hindsight it sounds a bit pretentious to talk about a new ‘writing project’ when what I mean is that I’ve started a new novel. Sorry about that. It’s not even that new since I had the idea for it two years ago.

One of the downsides of writing a regular blog is that it’s all there; the hopes, the dreams, the plans - all laid out and ready to come back to bite you, especially when you realise how much time has gone by. What I hadn’t foreseen, when I originally said I’d started some new work, was that I would then do two rewrites of ‘Fighting the Tide’, turning it from a ‘light lunch’ to the ‘substantial meal’ an agent suggested, and then trimming 10,000 words out of it at the suggestion of an editor. Whilst there’s a danger in chopping and changing, the suggestions I was advised to make made sense and I’m happy with the version that’s out there. It’s now a question of waiting.

I’ve also completed the first year of a Diploma in Creative Writing with the OU and have signed up for the second and final year. What the course has done for me is to push me way outside my comfort zone and prove to me that I can produce good work even when the subject doesn’t especially inspire me or is so difficult that I want to walk away from it. By sticking with it I’ve produced all kinds of material; short stories, poetry, some life writing and surprised myself with the results.

I suppose what that demonstrates is that it’s not really about the initial spark for a piece of writing, but the keeping going. I don’t really have any problem thinking about what to write - ideas just arrive - the hardest part is choosing one and sticking with it. That’s not to say you should just start any old thing because if you don’t care about it you won’t want to write 100,000 words about it.

In October I’ll be back on my course and, no doubt, drawing on dark and difficult stuff and stretching myself again. But, until then, rather than agonising over which idea might be ‘best’, or trying to second guess what the market wants, I’ve decided to have some fun. I’ve launched into ‘Make, Do and Mend’, a novel with two female leads, Coralie, who makes green oak garden furniture, and Alys, who owns a small garden centre. It’s about making mistakes, doing something else and mending in the process. I’m going to see how far I can get by October. For now, it starts like this...

Chapter One.
Things to do in June.

That’ll be the one that got away then, thought Coralie Dempsey as the bride faltered in her progression down the aisle to cast a doe-eyed and melting glance at the man at the end of the row. Coralie didn’t know the bride; she didn’t know the groom either. Attending the wedding of a couple she’d met only fleetingly wasn’t high on her ‘to do’ list. She was only there because the bride’s proud parents had insisted and declining their invitation would have been hurtful after all their kindness.

Being tucked away beneath a leaded clear-glass window at the back of the church suited Coralie just fine. But if the man at the other end of the pew had also been hoping to avoid drawing attention to himself, his plan had backfired the minute the bride had her moment of doubt right beside him. Square-shouldered and stubble-jawed with the kind of rugged good looks that would have made every Brontë hero seem positively girly, he looked as if he’d had every woman in the church – except, possibly, the vicar.

© Christine Stovell

Stop press!
Oh feck! The postman has just delivered a rejected short story. Well that's ruined the good mood! Bum and ten bums in a row!

Stop press 2!!
Oh feck!! What is this? National reject Chris day!! I've just had another short story rejected by email... do you think I should step away from the short stories now? No, it's all right. You don't need to say anything!

Paiting is 'Camaes Head' by Tom Tomos

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Back Home

This is what I did last week:
a.m. Run off steam before packing for trip to South. Leave home. Stop at Sarn Park retail outlet to visit M&S. Replenish underwear after knicker cull and world shortage of my bra size in west Wales. A really snazzy pair of yellow peep-toed wedges call out to me and say they want to go home with me. How can I resist?
p.m. Arrive at Worthing, Mil and Dil’s. Eat Chinese takeaway. Sleep fitfully in the Marshmallow Bed which flings me in the air every time Tom turns over.

a.m. Mil & Dil, in their new car (‘nuff said), follow us to deepest Surrey and Best Optometrist In The World aka my dear friend, Jill, as Mil is in need of a second opinion. Have lunch with BOITW. Bid farewell to Mil and Dil. Proceed to Ma’s. Inspect Ma for signs of wear and tear.
p.m. Over dinner, (Ma’s homemade steak pie) catch up with Kid Sister, Bil, and two nieces.

a.m. & p.m. Burst with prideiosity all day (see previous post).

a.m. Collect Stepson Two and Girlf, drive over to meet Stepson One and Girlf for coffee. Take Stepson Two home. Take Stepson Two’s Girlf to old folks home where she is currently working, bless her.
p.m. Arrive Fareham, lovely friends J & R who crack open first bottle. Much later, retire to bed a little fuzzy-headed and sleep like log.

a.m. To Port Solent, and J&R’s boat. Across to Cowes for lunch (how swanky is that?).
p.m. Ditto as above from ‘Much later... etc.’

a.m. Thank J & R for having us. Head back to Wales via Halfords at Salisbury so that Tom can buy new tyres for bike. Realise we are too shattered to attend concert we had hoped to go to that evening. Make appropriate phone calls.
p.m. Arrive Cardiff Bay to see Lily and Russ. Russ makes us a lovely comfort-food risotto. Drag ourselves off Lily and Russ’s sofa. Head back home.

This is what I did yesterday:

I picked Bethan Darwin's book from my Honno prize pile and sat down to read it with a cup of tea... and I just kept reading. 'Back Home' is a beautifully-written, engaging story with a strong cast of likeable well-drawn characters. Well done to Honno, yet again, for spotting a little gem.

And finally...
I've got that lovely frisson of excitement that accompanies a new writing project and I can't wait to start. It was lovely seeing everyone last week, but now it's lovely to be back home.

Image is 'Beach' a print by Tom Tomos

Monday, 15 June 2009

Going for Gold

Crack of doom. Tom and I meet Rose and Si at the station for our trek up to St James’s Palace where Rose is due to receive her Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. To add a little challenge to the day there is a tube strike, but Tom, bless him, has brought a rucksack to carry our ‘car to bar’ shoes. The socks and trainers don’t do much for my outfit, but at least I can get round London without breaking a heel.

Arrive Victoria in record time. Typical. It’s pouring down with rain. Double typical. Si shields Rose with a golfing umbrella and we hoof it to Maccy D’s for a McWee and some essential nutrients like coffee, doughnuts and McMuffins. Greatly restored we head for St James’s Palace, spotting Seb Coe along the way... Perhaps he’s the person dishing out the awards? Arrive St James’s Palace. Hop around changing shoes and part company with the men. Only one guest per young person, sadly. We’ve been told to bring two forms of ID but Rose and I have a collection between us, just in case someone finds an excuse not to let us in. Si, who is very laid back, thinks we are hilarious. Much shuffling and queuing follows. After a slight worry about hats I only spot one hat in the queue and its owner looks a tad self-conscious.

We’re in! Hordes of young people are here to collect their Gold Awards today and we’ve been directed to the Waterloo Room which has rather tired red flocked wallpaper and some dreary oils of battle scenes. The young people sit in four groups of about twenty-five whilst the adoring parents are placed opposite. It soon becomes apparent that the biggest part of this award presentation is about getting the right bums on the right seats with no distractions like refreshments to make sure they stay there. A quick glance around shows that this is Stiff Upper Lip territory full of serious mothers in sensible clothes... Thank God, I reigned in my inner WAG and wore my multi-purpose smart occasion outfit! Whilst waiting for the action I have a quiet moment of prideiosity and admire my beautiful, talented daughter (one of a pair of beautiful, talented daughters, I might add). I then make the mistake of asking the woman on my right who her child is. Rose recalled afterwards, seeing the other mother’s mouth move for a very long time and watching me slowly glaze over. Honestly, some people have no control over their prideiosity!

Our celeb, who will present the awards, is announced, and there are a few puzzled faces. Undeterred, Blue’s Antony Costa (exactly!) presses the flesh, winks and says ‘Well done, you guys!’ a lot, before a flunkey gives us the two minute warning that the Duke of Edinburgh is about to arrive. It’s his 88th birthday but we are given strict instructions not to mention it, nor, horror, are we to give presents (sadly, I forgot mine). Then a small, slight man enters with room with a couple of security guards (in case any of us lunge at him with a birthday kiss, I suppose) and a flurry of cameras. He booms ‘Anyone get lorst?’ at each group in turn and exchanges a few pleasantries and then it’s all over.

Rose and I squeeze the most from our visit by trotting off to the Ladies (I don’t think they were the ones the Queen uses) and lurking about for a bit in case one of the other groups got a better celeb (sorry, Antony). Last year Ben Fogle was about so we feel duty bound to make sure he’s not here today. At the very least we are hoping for a fine figure of a rugby player and feel Olly Barkley would have made a good choice. Fortunately we have our own hunks outside who have been amusing themselves with a trip to the National Portrait Gallery. Reunited, we pose for photos and then walk to Greek Street to mark the occasion at L’Escargot. I love L’Escargot, the food’s sublime, the atmosphere is so relaxed and the staff are incredibly professional. My happiness levels soar even higher as we sit down and raise a glass to Rose. Well done, my lovely daughter!

And finally...
In addition to my two daughters, I am privileged to have two stepsons and it’s Stepson Two’s birthday today. Happy birthday, dear Tom, may your dreams come true.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Call of the Wild

Three years ago we moved into a large, attractive house on the edge of a village, close to the coast and with beautiful views of the Preseli hills (and Preseli Mags of course!). We’d escaped to the country, but didn’t want our friends and family to feel we’d abandoned them. ‘Come whenever you like,’ we said. And they did!

The last three years have been a brilliant, sociable time with many visitors and lots of laughs. Considering we live in a quiet close, our neighbours are a very convivial bunch too. We’ve got to know more people here and had more invitations than when we lived in a Victorian end-terrace on a busy street in the middle of a Surrey town.

Sooner or later all parties come to an end and lately we’ve been feeling a bit restless. We’ve found our feet here, in this lovely location, but now we’re ready for the next adventure. ‘Hotel’ H is on the market and we’re looking for something a bit more remote. ‘More remote!’ is the usual retort from anyone visiting us from the South, but yes, the plan is to try for rural isolation whilst we’re both still up for it. A place to write, to paint, to dream and yes, to entertain... but not on such a large scale! Oh well, we’ll see what the future brings.

The immediate future brings a trip to the South to check up on the Aged Ps who all need a bit of an inspection and some tlc. And then, on Wednesday, I’m off to St James Palace as my daughter Rose’s guest to see her receive her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. Rose has also got an interview with a major publishing company on Tuesday so she’s got quite a week ahead. Stop worrying about it all, Rose. Just be your lovely self and you’ll be fine!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Ode to a LLama

Alas, I didn't win the mystery prize in the llamarama 'Write an ode to a LLama' competition so I shall never know if I missed out on a llama on the lawn or - sigh - an N-Dubz hat, but, hey!, I was one of three runners-up singled out for a 'special mention' - hurray! Congratulations to the winner, Kim Hall. For a special performance of my own effort, please click above.

PS, That word my actress is slurring is 'cria', a baby llama... Honestly, where's Kate Winslet when you need her?