The manuscript took another step towards independence today. As a (mostly) law-abiding person whose only run-in with the law came when I knocked a policeman off his motor bike, (another story, another day) I needed someone with insider police-type information to check my facts, procedure and believability. I’m a writer, if in doubt, I just make it up. But I’m not confident enough to send it out into the world if it makes me look like an idiot.
So today I met Andrew in the new Costa in Lyme Regis (sorry boycotting locals, but it was his suggestion, not mine!) We ordered bowls of coffee and got to know each other before launching into the story. It was a pleasant hour in which we sorted out politics (small p), moral stance, shared history, and talked about the book.
It was hard sharing my story with a complete stranger for the first time. The only other people who have read the mss so far are friends, and we all know that objectivity is hard when they’re feeling proud that you finished it at all. (Proud, amazed, shocked, a tad jealous)
I liked the fact that Andrew hates watching crime series on TV as he says he always spots whodunnit and gets unreasonably annoyed when they make obvious mistakes… my baby is on the hands of a natural born critic, and although we hit it off, I hope he’ll be honest, and kind, and enjoy it.
Everything was good until I set off to drive home and felt an odd wrench. It’s much easier to be an unpublished author with the whole exciting world ahead. It’s a different matter to get your work ready for people to read, and then to put it out there for the criticism that will come…
I twisted my knee walking next door’s dog last week. My welly got stuck in the mud; she carried on walking, my knee didn’t. So I’ve been bandaged up and walking gingerly for the past few days.
Which led me to looking at the way people walk and what it tells the writer about them. I am a fit, active person, yet one minor accident had me walking like an old lady. Small, tentative steps. Embarrassing wobbles when the knee gave way. Winces when I twisted it, the pain showing in gritted teeth and tight frowns. The key for me was the care I took to avoid anything which might cause me to swerve or stop suddenly.
Young people, fit people, walk carelessly. There may be a swagger or a slouch or a quick nimbleness to their movements but they don’t think about getting around- they just do it. Some people walk on the balls of their feet, bouncing along. These days many people use their phones as they walk, only the push and sway of the walking mob keeping them from accident. Others trudge with their heads down and shoulders slumped, but what I saw was that we reveal our attitudes and our fears through our walk. Useful? Oh, yes.
So I had a think about the protagonist in a short story I have just started. She’s heavily pregnant at twenty and finding life difficult. I sat in the window of a coffee shop in Taunton for an hour and watched pregnant people (and other people too). The slightly backwards leaning gait, legs apart (to provide balance?), the stroking , clutching and patting of the belly; the pushing back of the hair and fanning of the too hot face; the slowness of the walk so at odds with the youth and beauty in the face. Yes – the hope and fear is clearly written when we think we are not being observed. I think I can write her now.
Most writers, and certainly us newly-minted ones, love the words we write. After all, we have slaved over them, used thesauruses to check the usage of them, spell-checked them and sometimes even replaced them. Our creative imaginations have worked flat out, often over months or years to make something that could, one day, be a bowl.
Finally we think we have reached the end, and hold up our creation for inspection – and it’s not good enough. Of course this isn’t the end. We walk away from it for a few weeks, pretend we are not writers, go for walks, see friends or get on with the rest of what life brings. But it haunts us, that unfinished thing. And one day, we go back to it.
It is the beginning of the next phase- the crafting of the prototype bowl of words and character and plot into a thing of beauty. There is no quick way to learn this craft. Doing it teaches us how to do it. We have to cut, chop, re-write, discard, re-mould, add colour, slice away redundant frills and find the heart of the story we are trying to tell. We have to smooth the rough and decorate the plain and never lose sight of the simple beauty that of the first idea.
And maybe then we will have a bowl fit for purpose, and a beautiful object of which we can feel proud. At least that’s what I believe will happen if I just keep working at it.
So it’s back to the editing pen, and learning me my language, to misquote Caliban.