Sunday, 15 August 2010


It's obviously the year of reading brilliant books I've missed. First Mockingbird and now Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.  I picked it up in the excellent Bromley House Library, £60 a year and worth every penny, and read it straight through.  A true account of what happened to one man and his family in New Orleans during Katrina.  Brilliant. Below is an excellent article from the Guardian that puts it into context.

Monday, 9 August 2010

To Kill a Mocking Bird

I thought I'd read Mockingbird at school. I was convinced I'd seen the film. Anyway after hearing a programme about the book on Radio 4 I thought I'd read it again and I discovered I hadn't read it before at all.  Or seen the film.  And isn't it good?  I love the structure. I love the way at the end it sends you back to the beginning again like A La Recherche... and yes, I have read it.  So much understanding, so much humanity, so many surprises. Hardly a single character is as you expect them to be, they are full of contradictions, the liberal are prejudiced, the rejected show compassion, just like real people, oh, it's so good.  I appreciate that gushing doesn't constitute a reasoned response but I don't care. If it hadn't been the 50th anniversary I might have gone through the rest of my life thinking I'd read it and there it would have been floating around in my head as a worthy novel about a white lawyer who opposes racism.  Thank you Radio 4.
I've just finished another book that impressed me - Before the Earthquake by Maria Allen. I know Maria, we are both members of the Nottingham Writers' Studio and she suggested that I send my attempt at a novel off to an agent friend of hers who was very kind but by the time I got his response I'd decided that I'd be better off sticking to the day job.
I put off reading her book because of the cover. It's yellow, with a peasant woman wandering through some fields in front of a hillside village and that was enough to put me off.  I immediately pigeon holed with all the other novels about Italy and peasants that have yellow covers, and I didn't want to read it because I thought I wouldn't like it.  Because I might have to say something to Maria if she knew I'd read it.  Like having to go back after a dodgy show and trying to find something encouraging to say to a friend in the cast. I'm hopeless at it.  My lack of enthusiasm can be seen through in a minute. But, I picked it up, flicked through it, saw I was wrong, bought it, read it, loved it. A really good book.  Again about memories, and again wonderfully structured, with characters that surprise you, and themselves sometimes, and at the end sending you back to the beginning.
I used to find reading stuff that makes my teeth ache it's so good very discouraging, but now I give a cheer and think right, you buggers, time to try and raise the game.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Housework is good. Let's hear it for boredom.

You get stuck.  You sit and stare at the screen.  You play spider solitaire until your wrist threatens repetitive strain injury.  You make coffee. You make toast.  You do housework. I cleaned the kitchen, the toilet, the stairs, the landing, the front room and then I got out the hoover and I got it.  Suddenly, from nowhere, I got it, everything I needed came in a big rush as I watched the dog hairs from under the chest whirl round and round in the cleaner. 
Everytime I get stuck the idea always comes when I'm doing something so boring that I can't even be bothered to think.
Got the go ahead on an idea at the end of last week.  Some juggling needed as I have three commissions on the go. This one needs a first draft by next march so plenty of time to think. And research.  I was listening to Front Row in the Harrogate Crime Writing festival and one writer said that you only use about 10% of any research.  I'm not sure as much as that surfaces in the final piece.  You absorb all this stuff, try to forget it, and start writing. And what you hope is that little details will pop up when you need them to give the world you're creating its authenticity.  That happened too this week shortly after my breakthrough moment with the hoover.  I had requested a document when I went to the Natural History Museum for the Buckland research only to find it wasn't what I expected and forget all about it. And then, there it is, nudging it's way up to the surface wanting to be used.
It's a bloody mysterious business, writing.  Nothing to do with waiting for inspiration and all to do with hard graft, but two things I do know.  When I don't feel like writing and have to force myself to sit down and start I often do my best work, and when I can't think of what I have to do next, the solution comes as soon as I stop thinking.