Monday, 19 October 2009

Talk to the Post

It's best to draw a veil over the early part of the evening but by nine o' clock, ruffled feathers soothed, we were ready to leave the restaurant. One of our party of three middle-aged ladies about town was uncertain where she'd parked her car. After twenty questions, we guessed it was in the Highcross Rooftop car park and insisted on walking there with her. Confused and in denial about the exact meaning of the gate across the entrance, we turned back to try and find our way into the car park from the mall. The doors were locked. We rattled them but they remained locked. Did you know the Highcross closes at 8.30 pm? I thought these places never closed. Well, we know now.
Still convinced that there must be a solution, we walked right around the outside of the Highcross (a long way if you're used to walking through it) and into the service yard for Debenhams, where we could see the exit ramp for the Rooftop car park, tantalisingly out of reach. I was convinced there must be a way up.
A voice boomed out of the darkness, 'Can I help you?' We stopped and turned, mouths open. No one was there. The voice came again, 'Can I help you?', with the resonance of Gandalf except with a Leicester accent. The voice seemed to come from a yellow post that supported the barrier to the service yard.
I had no option but to speak to the post. 'Yes, it could help us. My friend's car was in the car park. Could she have it back now please?'
'Has she got a sleeping bag?' the post quipped. I had to explain, sotto voce, that this wasn't the best time for jokes.
I will now share something with you that only a few hand-picked others know: there is a secret way into the Highcross Rooftop car park after it's closed. You can collect your car AND drive out. We got this nugget from the yellow post, once it had realised that murder was a definite possibility. First, you have to find the Hand Made Burger Company (no mean feat) and beside it there is (no, we didn't believe it either) a little, grey door. Through this door there is a long shiny, empty corridor and at the end of the corridor there are lifts, which eerily and anonymously whisk you up to the car park. It wasn't over for us; my friend had forgotten where exactly her car was . It was creepy, searching the deserted levels, trying to remember the layout and knowing that we were almost certainly being followed on security cameras. The evening finally ended. We found her car amongst others, similarly abandoned, on the second level outside the entrance to Debenhams. We all returned safely home to our beds but this isn't 2009, the date is 1984.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Small World

Last night the South Knighton Book Group met to discuss Jenn Ashworth's A Kind of Intimacy. In an ironic 'homage' to Annie we were served with a cheese and pickled onion porcupine, fairy cakes and toffee popcorn. If you haven't read the book, you won't know how deliciously funny that was. It was a reflection of the complexity of the novel that we had one of our longest discussions, as we have an ill-deserved reputation for not being sensible and concentrating more on the wine than the book. One of our group said that A Kind of Intimacy was a study of anger and this thought has stayed with me and grown and I now think this judgement is perceptive and answers many of the questions I have had about Annie's personality. I was a student with Jenn at Manchester University, on the same creative writing course, so I felt I had some personal connection with the novel having heard some early drafts in our critique seminars.
This is the second 'first' novel we have read as a group. The previous novel was The Ghosts of Eden by Andrew Sharp, who is married to one of our members and is my former next door neighbour. Andrew came to part of the meeting and it certainly focused our discussion to have the author there, to answer our questions and discuss the writing process. Unlike a fictional account of this situation, Andrew didn't have to stay upstairs in a bedroom and listen to the discussion on a baby monitor.
I have since learned that both Jenn and Andrew are short listed for the Waverton Good Read Award, hosted by Waverton Village in Cheshire and sponsored by Borders. Jenn has recently read to the group and Andrew is reading in November. Small world!
If you haven't read these novels yet, they're very different but both outstanding. Jenn and Andrew are on their Cheshire?

Monday, 12 October 2009

This Writing Thing

My blog has been silent for some time, in parallel with my struggle to start another novel while there are still no takers for the last two. The start of term has been unusually busy but that's an excuse not a reason. I wouldn't say I've had writer's block; I haven't been stuck at my computer chewing a pencil. It's been more like writer's 'ennui' or apathy, a 'what's the point' feeling. My usual self-deluding trick of 'give it up then' worked in the end but what was also helpful was a discussion at Leicester Writers' Club, on a poorly attended evening, about the writing process. The usual advice to write every day and get into a routine is sound but I was finding that my writing in the evening was of poor quality compared to my writing at weekends. I have also discovered that now I am serious about publication, organisation of work to send out, preparing entries for competitions and self-promotion at writer's events is almost another job.
So instead of thinking about what to write, I decided to solve how I write. Having a full-time job, I will always be short of time, so it's essential I make the best use of whatever time is available. I no longer write in the evenings when I'm tired but use that time for the business side and perhaps some editing or research. All my creative writing now happens at the weekends and so far I've managed four hours every weekend and have four chapters of the latest novel at first draft stage. It helps that I'm reworking parts of an early, unfinished first novel, so progress is faster than normal.
What's good is that I don't feel under pressure. My first complete novel, Twenty-One Days, was written as part of my M.A. in Novel Writing and I felt I had to finish it within the year. The duress was self-inflicted, partly because I was returning to my demanding job but also to justify the year out. The second novel, The Hunting Party, was written while I was still with literary agents Mulcahy and Viney. They didn't want Twenty-One Days but asked me to write another novel, historical fiction. It was a mistake, I should have spent time shaping up Twenty-One days and it was madness to try writing historical fiction when I don't read the genre. I was delighted and flattered to be asked but felt under time pressure to produce a novel within a year. Since then, I've spent another year editing both novels to send out to agents. This time, I'm writing for myself and the novel will take shape in its own time. It's a good feeling.
I'm also writing some new poetry and have rescued some short stories I wrote before I decided to be a novelist. I'm no poet but writing and thinking poetically helps everything else I do.
Cyril Connolly said that the enemy of good art was 'the pram in the hall'. Here are my personal enemies: the internet (especially Facebook), T.V., wine, friends, children and weekends away. Normal life really!