Dither and Delay Tactics VIII and XI

How do you put off writing? Get yourself a young rescue dog! One week ago Dave and I and Isla, the eight year old small kelpie, welcomed a long-legged 2 year old male kelpie called Simba into the house. We have not sat down yet during the daylight hours. He is a happy and sweet dog but busy busy busy. Fortunately he likes to fetch balls, likes the long walks and he wishes to please, he adores Dave, so we are making lots of progress but by the end of the evening we are TIRED. Image may contain: dog

 

And then there are the Christmas cards. When I pick up a pen it is to write a few words to old and true friends – to pause and remember good times. It takes ages because it also involves trotting over to Dave remind/ask him and we fall into conversation about ‘that was when/where’.

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A couple of fragments

 

Fragment I

Jeff paused before he plugged in his shaver into the socket beside the basin in his hotel. His hand trembled as the memory ambushed him; maybe the smell of the Lily of the Valley soap had triggered this vivid tumble into childhood.

He had been staying with his grandmother. Steering his toy truck in rapid turns around the sitting room carpet to avoid her brisk thrusts with the soft bagged, hard edged upright vacuum cleaner. She had been wrapped in a thick apron and had a Players cigarette firmly lodged in the corner of her mouth. The musty dusty monster had roared as it chased him around the old Kidderminster carpet sucking at his fingers and the laces of his shoes. Finally the din ceased and Jeff watched as she levered the two-pin plug out of the wall with a nail file which fell out of her pinny pocket as she escorted the cleaning machine back to its cupboard.

Jeff had appropriated that file in a flash. It was made of a tough thin metal and the hook at the end was ideal for tinkering with wheels of his truck. He imagined his tin truck into a tram which travelled for a while on the tracks created by the carpet design until the whole scenario led him to the electric socket and the file became the electric connector.

Jeff had been thrown across the room. His grandmother had thumped and shaken him back to life, lathered the burn on his hand with honey and wrapped it in strips of cloth. His head had throbbed for days.

Jeff shook himself into the present like a wet dog. He pressed the fingers on one hand onto the dark scar in the palm of the other. He rubbed the stubble on his face several times and carefully put the shaver back in its case.

 

Fragment II

Cara fumbled the change into the mean-mouthed cslot of the parking meter. One coin dropped onto the paving stones and her nails rasped on the rough surface as she scrabbled for it. Once the ticket was on the dash and with her briefcase in hand she walked briskly to the Town Map positioned near the entrance. The angle of the sunlight blurred symbols and the names of streets and she spent fretful moments bobbing or craning her head until she was able to elicit how to proceed to her destination.

Cara headed uphill on a narrow pedestrian path almost touching closed doors and rough sandstone walls. She was unpleasantly aware of the constant rush of cars and gusts of exhaust fumes. She hurried and held to such a fast pace by the time she reached the brow of the hill and the Town Square she was panting. She stopped and rested her hot hand on the cool black twist of a lamppost until her breathing eased. A few steps further and, screwed onto an old tudor building, the name of the street she was seeking glared at her. Just a bit further down the street she could see the elaborate lettering which spelled the name of the shop in which she had a vital appointment. Cara straightened her back and walked forward. Halfway there she had to give way to a large splay-footed man in a duffle coat as most of the footpath was occupied by an enormous flower filled urn. She brushed her fingers through a small bush of lavender and she could still smell its sweet sharp scent when she pushed open the door.

 

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Dither and Delay Tactics VII

Well, well, well, I have taken putting off to a whole new level; I am astonished to see it is more than eighteen months since I last wrote here which is symptomatic of ‘since I last wrote at all’.

Of course, one does have to define writing. I have written letters to friends and family in Australia which are long with family and local news and indulge in a swipe or two at the state of the nation. I have written minutes for the Science-Fiction Group, Oswestry Library Friends and Leaf by Leaf Press. I have written to my MP, despite my conviction he is too one-eyed to consider any other position, cleverly constructed missives to which he must reply in person and not brush me of with a photocopy of party policy which I can easily access on my computer. I have written to media organizations complaining about a doubtful presentation of information and amid all of the bland and unsatisfactory replies have received one apology and action plan to improve which I have framed – it is worth the effort. I have written reviews and commentaries and, in large print, the talk I delivered on the History of Australian Immigration between the Wars. I have written notes to focus my learning on a MOOC about the Law of the Sea (currently studying Dangerous Questions. Why Academic Freedom Matters University of Oslo) I have written in my journals about ‘stuff’; lots of moans and groans and the occasional literary effort.

And there’s the rub! The real writing, molding words into functional, stirring stories and poems has stalled.

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Dither and Delay Tactics VII

Not writing this blog for a long time fits in with all my other delays on writing projects.  I wouldn’t say I hit a writer’s block so much as lost interest in writing at all.  The here and now has been so intense there as been little time for reflection.  Writing is about having the space to turn and ponder on stuff and reshape it.  I haven’t had the mind space and I certainly have not been able to make it into something else.  And, until recently, I am not sure I believed in my writing any more.  Given the choice, and I did have choices, for the last few months I would rather read.

But today is a day to record my joy in walking the dog was moderated by having to negotiate nettles more than six feet high; to celebrate a garden full of butterflies and a red kite investigating the harvested field beyond our hedge; to ponder on how the sun encouraged me to take off my shirt bask in the rays but the attention of horse flies made me put it back on again.  The roses are blooming.  The hens have no more idea than we do and make a dive for the remnants of chocolate cake before sullenly turning their attention to the mixed grain. Is it a positive sign that the wasps like my Brewdog Nanny State non-alcoholic beer as much as I do?

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The Wannabe Writer.

When we founded Leaf by Leaf Press I had plenty of time to write but since then I’ve managed to construct a huge scaffold of excuses. I got a full time job, (which I like), a four hour train commute, (which I sleep through) and recent bouts of ill health, (which I moan about). So instead of being a writer I’ve turned into more of a facilitator. I deal with the website, the typesetting, the Kindle formatting, the accounts and of course I encourage our brave authors to persevere with their excellent writing whilst quietly, deceitfully, neglecting my own.

I use the word ‘brave’ purposefully. It’s a brave thing to be an author. Authors put themselves into their writing and, whilst they want to be read, it’s no small thing to open oneself up to such close scrutiny and criticism.

It can also be lonely, just you and the often obstinately blank page. No one can write those words for you, they are your words. No one can help until those words are committed, saying here I am, this is all I’ve got.

But are those words good enough? Are they the best words you have? Are you sure you’re a writer?

Yes, it’s a brave thing to be an author.

 

Eleven years ago I was a wannabe writer taking classes at the Gateway in Shrewsbury. As an assignment we were asked to write a small piece on a place that we’re familiar with using the ‘first thoughts’ technique.

The place I chose was my office up in the loft. I had always dreamed of having the luxury of both the time to write and a place set aside to do it. I thought I loved going upstairs every day but the writing somewhat belies this and it seems even back then I had my doubts.

Now, being an obsessive editor, I cannot guarantee these were my ‘first thoughts’ but they are close.

 

My Office.

I am sat on my wife’s grandfather’s chair. Not a small chair. This chair, a nineteen thirties, straight-backed, straight-laced, work-ethical, upright chair. A chair whose meagre leather padding punishes a lack of motion with numb limbs, stifling the life-blood.

My desk. Had it for years. Blinded in the white heat of IKEA furnishings, my company bought a load in the nineties. They worked, they were big enough and they looked the part. They helped us sell out. Now in a post dot com bubble vacuum it has a position less glamorous, surrounded by an off grey emulsion that barely covers the loose-tongued and not-so-groovy cladding of my office in the loft.

But still it faces south and someday I will put in a window.

A big desk, but computer stuff dwarfs it and alongside the electrics is a three layered in-tray. No out-tray for me.  Three levels. The top, my work, programming projects. The middle, my writing, details of competitions, missed deadlines, drafts and yet more drafts. The bottom holds climbing stuff, logbooks, mountaineering journals, my escape to fresher air and more heroic deeds. But the triptych spills over my desk, scattering it with books, flowcharts, maps, and even some rope, which like a set of worry beads I find myself knotting and un-knotting repeatedly.

Throughout the day, I sometimes hear dogs barking and on a Thursday wheelie bins rolling, but I can always hear the church clock. Chiming its way through my life. A peaceful pastoral evangelical plot, reminding me quietly that I now have fifteen minutes less to live. I should get over there now and repent.

To the left are two pin boards once the earnest destination of lists, notes and dates, now largely covered with photographs of loved ones, past expeditions and postcards. The one list remaining looks down on me with contempt, it’s never pleased, never satisfied, it watches me attempt to ignore it.

This is my office, this is my space. It’s strange how a dream can feel like a prison.

The clock chimes again, fifteen minutes less.

 

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Dither and Delay Tactics VI

Almost six months since I wrote in this blog – I am astonished; this length of time is my most impressive delay but it does reflect my ambivalent relationship to my writing at the moment.  After the publication of my collection of short stories, Here and There, I came to a halt.  I wasn’t sure what to write next and as a result I have a number of half finished stories, a few poems and two incomplete novels.  I resorted to writing a few reviews for the blog wenlowdwhisperswordpress.com  and made sure I wrote in my journal in the hope these writing activities would jump start my fiction writing again.  Meetings with my fellow Oswestry writers is always positive.

I think though the lift will come from travelling.  A couple of weeks away in a completely different place is just refreshing.

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Dither and Delay Tactics VI

Well, a record!  A whole summer where my fiction writing didn’t run in conjunction with other activities – travelling on the narrow boat, walking the dog, gardening, cooking, swimming – it just disappeared.  When I had any time to write it was spent on concrete and sensible projects: appraising, editing and commenting on other people’s writing; writing presentations on WWI poets, Australia and WWI and Assisted Passage to Australia; and letters – lots of letters.  A lot of writing was devoted to filling in forms which involved surviving wobbles in digital competence and collapses in technical comprehension.  And, of course, I published my book, Here and There A Collection of Short Stories.  Now available on Kindle!

There is a degree of complacency and relaxation which arrives with the printed volumes and sighs of joy, relief and satisfaction after the launch.

It takes a while for the urgent need to pick up a pen and write to kick in again. And then something comes along and it is just so important to write.

 

 

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Here and There A Collection of Short Stories

I have sent my book to the printers, Clays, and expect a few boxes from them in time for the launch on 21st June at The Willow Gallery.  Very excited!

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Dither and Delay Tactics VII

 

I have rediscovered an effective way to avoid serious writing is to go on holiday; and to take that holiday in Ireland is to make it particularly difficult. It was rained, there was mist but enough bright sunlight for the green hills and drama of the coast to insist on personal attendance. I paddled in the Atlantic. I cycled a few kilometres along quiet roads looking onto the bay in Galway from which Columbus set sail. I scrabbled over the klasts of limestone which characterise County Clare. I visited ruins: church, bothy and castle. In the evenings I ate wonderful sea food and drank whiskey (Green Spot or Redbreast); I let my husband have all the Guinness. And in Ireland I was so busy being immersed in stories; from yesterday, from the last century and from the boggy experiences of the bronze age, I don’t have much time to spare for my own.
I thought I would have time on this holiday to use the absence from the duties of home to reflect, refine and write up rough rhymes and lines. I did not.

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Dither and Delay Tactics VI

The Journal. I keep a journal in which, unlike a log or a diary, I make intermittent comments. Sometimes I write a paragraph and at other times a page or even two. I stick in ticket stubs and newspaper cuttings. Sometimes I divert from recording my opinion of events to sketch in an outline for a story or poem.  Given this is the easiest form of writing whereby I can simply smear words around with no real regard for structure or vocabulary you would think I would write often. However, I do not.
This week I have not opened the journal to scribble a line because I have been painting a bedroom. Preparation, purchase of paint and application of the paint has taken much much more time and effort than I anticipated. Painting does give a person time to reflect but I did not unstick myself from the paint brush to pick up a pen. The labour required to wash paint off my hands and brush, close the tin and fold over the dust covers makes me push on and stay painting walls for much longer than is sensible.
I did think about my Uncle Reg, who taught me how to drive, and about his truncated career as a painter and decorator. World War 2 made him a soldier. After his experiences he could never return to painting and in the end returned to the busyness of the army. I can understand why as painting a wall with one colour leaves too much leeway for the thoughts to skitter around and lodge firmly in the depressing corner. I ended up using the radio to drown out uncomfortable musings but then it quashes any productive thinking as well.
I was going to paint the hallway as well this month but instead I am going to write in my journal. Well, that’s the plan anyway.

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selling my books 2

This time I have a stall at a craft fair. It is in a big hall which is light and airy but warm. Some of the other stall holders are already there when I arrive. I hurry to set up my stall. A trestle table is supplied and I have a table cloth to cover it. I arrange my posters and books carefully. I check that they look good then sit down and wait. The customers arrive and I wait. Someone comes to chat. We have a good talk and I tell him about my book, he tells me about his childhood (we are about the same age).
“Nice chatting to you. I’ll buy one.”
A woman comes up next but no sooner has she arrived than she turns and leaves walking away quickly to the opposite side of the hall. It’s then I hear voices drifting over to me.
“I love the colour.”
“How many pockets are there?”
“Is there a bigger one?”
“How many pockets? How many zips?”
“You can never have enough can you?”
I look up and see a handbag stall opposite me. It’s full to overflowing with handbags of all colours. Some are spotted some and are striped but all are selling like hot cakes.
At the end of the afternoon I have sold several books but I have an idea. Next time I could do better if I sold handbags at a slightly increased price with one of my books tucked inside!

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Dither and Delay Tactics V

The weather over Easter has been grim; has it been anything else this year. Okay, Easter Sunday showed us sun and rainbows but it was water and mud underfoot. Most of this week I have walked the dog in horizontal rain! After which I have spent almost as much time drying her and then drying myself before we could re-enter the house as I had spent on the head down squelching walk. So as soon as I was inside I sought the comfort of a hot drink and a jigsaw.
A jigsaw is a marvellous waste of time. While I am engaged in searching for those elusive pieces, from of the 1000, to perfectly fit a particular spot I am completely unaware of how many minutes, hours, have disappeared. I like it also because in is one of the few times when I can multi-task; have a conversation at the same time. I like it because I ponder on the meaning and context of the picture. I have decided that it could, in my case, be considered a form of meditation or I am simply dithering.

 

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