Yvonne Spence has done a lot of good recently, having been the instigator, with Lizzi Rogers of the 1000 Voices of Compassion #1000speak initiative. Just before this all kicked off, Yvonne tagged me in an Author’s Blog Tour to explain my writing process and coupled this with a second element – why I write. Thanks Yvonne; most of my kind readers will already know you but if not please visit Yvonne’s blog here and follow her. I came across her last year when she was a lone voice spouting wisdom and good sense about the Scottish referendum so I can’t wait for her take on the upcoming General Election – all I can say is the political parties should be dragging her into their think tanks because they’d all have a better chance if they did.
Since I’ve been blogging (ten months) I’ve read a few of these blog tour hoppty thingamies and some of them are a trifle worthy. That’s a bit snotty, I know, but in those I’m thinking about, I haven’t taken away a lot about the writing process generally that has added to my store of knowledge.
But where they do succeed is when they echo my how I reached this point in my writing story. And that’s because, as with most pursuits at which you lack a certain confidence, it is good when you find your uncertainties repeated in the words of those you rate. A modesty shared – the man is modest but then he has a lot to be modest about, to misquote Winston C.
So, begging Yvonne’s pardon but I’d like to rummage in my little bag of memories and just tell you how come I’m sitting here today, pushing out verbiage and badinage and sempiternal nonsense.
It goes back to my Dad. How much, in addition to my male chromosome goes back to my Dad? My dad was the family scribe; ever since I was conscious of his lopsided moustache and wobbly pipe tooth I knew he did the writing in the family. On birthdays and special occasions he’d trot out another rhyme. Some humble. Take my 27th Birthday:
I’m sure you will agree with me
To waste your time today would be
So on this special day of days
I trust the part sobriety plays
And some quite grand. When I was admitted to the Roll (which is the formal nonsense when you become a qualified solicitor, though it sounds a bit like using toilet paper to advertise your services) he penned this.
A PAEN OF PRAISE
From the woods of the New Forest to the moors of Scotia’s Hills,
Lift your voices now in humble adulation;
From Norfolk’s marshy Fens to the craggy coasts of Wales,
Let joy be unconfined throughout the nation.
In exultation sing his name over seas and over land,
With laurel crowns his noble brow adorn;
From the mountains of the North to the South Coast’s golden sands
Honour, praise and laud him on this auspicious morn.
For Geoffrey has ‘arrived’ and it’s all now quite official
And confirmed by no less person than Lord D*,
That his views on matters legal are no longer superficial
But worthy of respect – and, of course, a handsome fee.
* Lord D was Lord Denning the then Master of the Rolls and the dear old gent who shook my hand and welcomed me to the law.
It never occurred to me that I could, or indeed should, write anything beyond the vast reams of words my profession required of me. And those words: legal, interminable, repetitive, and, let’s be honest BORING, flowed in a tsunami, though by the end of my career I was more famous (or perhaps notorious would better describe me) for my notes leaving others to do the detailed drafting.
Which is odd because I can remember the joy of flicking through the family dictionary – a tan coloured bible much revered by one and all – and finding new words. Rude, long, ridiculous. But especially rude. Priapic. Callipygous. Two of my favourites. I
enjoyed enjoy long words – sesquipedalian, that’s me.
I never hankered for a role as scribe, poet, author, writer. Indeed I didn’t see myself as any sort of artist – and after I forswore the demon drink in 1989, even a p*** artist was a moniker too far.
Then he died, damn him. That sounds terribly selfish and it is. I miss the old bugger something chronic. Who do I ring after the rugby has finished to debrief the game with the passion he would bring to it? What about the cricket? What would he have to say about Cameron, Farage, and the rest? It wouldn’t be polite and it would be witty.
But something happened. Not that I spotted it – the credit goes to the Textiliste. For several years she and the Lawyer and the Vet went to a summer school, at Marlborough College for the first week or so of the school summer holidays doing different courses and all having a whale of a time. I stayed at home, working and feeding the cat(s) and tortoise – this was pre dog days.
Dad died in March 2005. In the spring of 2006 I was talking to Mum about moving house and somewhere along the way the Textiliste suggested she might like to join the family at the summer school – Mum loves courses that involve learning new crafts. ‘What about you?’ This aimed at me. ‘Have a look at the brochure.’
I did and I chose ‘Write a radio play in a week’. A writing course for beginners. I was very unsure. Why hadn’t I chosen some history course, or politics or sport? What was I thinking?
The woman who ran it was ancient – a sort of Methuselah in tweed and pearls – with a penchant for using her published writings to illustrate her point. But she had us all scribbling and thinking. We wrote, between us, five plays – mine was The Light At The End Of The Tunnel, a railway based drama.
The week following we went to Devon. Something nagged at me. I didn’t want to write another play; I had no confidence in any attempts I might make at poetry. No, I wanted to write a book. A proper novel. July 2006 I typed ‘Right To Roam’ at the top of a new Word document and began the story of Chris, Martin and Pete – three friends who set out on a walk following Diane’s (Chris’ wife’s) tragic death. We follow them as they walk the Cotswolds Way, about 100 miles from Chipping Camden to Bath learning more about their complex friendship and the circumstances of the death through their interaction interwoven with flashbacks.
It was huge – about 130,000 words – but I loved writing it. The first draft took me three months squirrelling away little bits of writing around being a City Lawyer and Dad. How on earth did I do it? Love for the joy of seeing my characters grow and become real; excitement as their story took shape; even less sleep than usual. I had found a little missing piece of my personality jigsaw, trapped in the back of that comfortable sofa called life. Putting it back in from where it had fallen out one English class in 1972 was painful. It hadn’t been polished and worn away like the rest of me; it rubbed, inflamed my imagination and infected my viscera. It was like having a thorn in my finger; it itched, it ached, it infected me. I had to write.
I read about writing in books of my late Dad. He had dozens. Leave the first draft in a drawer for three months. I did and I wrote a second book – A Patchwork of Lies, a thriller about trafficking East European girls into the UK – to while away the time.
Those two books still sit in my electronic bottom drawer. I love them to bits but they are grossly overwritten things in need a ferocious haircut and restructure. One day perhaps.
I haven’t looked back. A year later I went back to Marlborough and took a poetry appreciation class. I wrote my first two sonnets – I adore sonnets. I now write poetry when I’m feeling sufficiently emotional. Maybe that is tied back to how I feel about Dad too.
Blogging brought me to Flash. Doing an MA exposed me, properly, to script (hmm, really not sure). And blogging brought me to an audience. And feedback. And support
And for that thank you.
You may wonder what happened in 1972. My English master, Mr Doubleday set us to write the opening chapter of a book. I was 15. I was so excited. Unlike some I knew immediately what my story was. A thriller set in the Carribbean, as murder and mayhem followed the English cricket team on their tour of the Carribbean. I’d never been abroad at that point, not even to Wales or Scotland but I’d read masses about cricket tours and I waxed lyrical (with the help of Neville Cardus and Alan Ross – two fabulous cricket writers) about the start of my imaginary tour.
I expected Mr Doubleday to be boiling over with excitement. He panned it. My first critical review and it hurt. No, it killed me. But you know what, I’m grateful. You see the way I view it I’m writing with the passion and commitment of a twenty year old but with the knowledge and life experiences of a crusty 58 year old. If only I knew then what I know now. Isn’t that the cliche we use about so many things? Well, with my writing, with the torrential outpouring it really does feel like that. So, Mr Doubleday you may well have been an utter wangdoodle but thank you.
And if you’re interested here is my first sonnet (of course I have worked on it a bit since then!).
Only skin deep (after Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130)
The azure of the wide Pacific seas
Has depth, unlike your bland insipid eyes.
A dancer’s legs are shaped by art to please
But yours are not for show, they need disguise.
My tongue, whose form can change to suit all tastes,
From gentle probe to pert, priapic beast,
Becomes a dry and flaccid thing, all chaste,
If suffocated by your doggy breath’s release.
Facial engineers, who can craft Kate Moss
From Quasimodo, turn and run a mile:
I’d give my soul to Satan, bear any loss
If they’d mould Venus from your Cubist smile.
Let’s face it, love, on me you’ve placed a hex:
It’s not your looks that bind us, just the sex.
The thing with these blog tours, like the awards you see, is you are expected to nominate others. I always find that a bit tricky. It’s the reason I don’t do awards. Yvonne graciously asked each of us if we would like to participate and, yes that worked nicely. But still I have the suspicion that some of my blogging friends might say yes because it is me, they don’t want to say no, in case ‘ no’ offends (no one could be offended by Yvonne). So excuse me if I leave that aspect alone. I will give it some thought but, well, don’t hold your breathe.