Monday, April 23, 2007

Recreating the past?

I grew up with books.

I remember my father reading Winnie the Pooh with us each evening in front of the fire while my mother counted our chickenpox spots.

Every time my mother went on a big shopping trip, she'd be sure to bring me a new book by Malcolm Saville. I even wrote him a fan letter once, and got one back in his own handwriting!

One night when my grandmother had to cook supper for Mrs. McLean, the lady for whom she worked as housekeeper, I went along. There I was treated to a full roast pheasant dinner in front of the telly in what had been Mrs. McLean's children's nursery. Ranged around the room, was the complete collection of Enid Blyton's Adventure series. I Iwas hooked, but had to hide them if my father was around. He didn't approve of EB's work.

Within a year at boarding school, I'd read every book on the overflowing shelves in the study, and all they could think to do with me the next year was get me to 'catalogue' them. One of the books that stayed with me from that time was Ian Serallier's book The Silver Sword; when I reread it forty years later the story of Jan was as resonant as my memory of it.

None of this really explains why, in the past few weeks, I got an idea for a kids' novel, started in as if I'd been thinking about it for months, and yesterday hit the 14,000-word mark. And arrived, without much planning or foresight, at the dramatic mid-point of the story. I'm half way there.

While it may not be the 'shitty first draft' that many of us pass off as our early stabs at new ideas, I'm not worried about how perfect it is.


Right now Elsie and the Silver Rain seems to have a momentum of its own, so I'll take advantage of that and ride the wave as long as it takes.

I'm getting attached to the characters, have become more and more intrigued about how it will all turn out, and am feeling a real sense of achievement that in the past 14 days I've come up with an average of 1,400 new words a day.

I'm getting some good feedback from my writing buddy Elaine and some postivie feedback - and a brilliant suggestion for a plot point - at my Friday evening writer's group.

And in the process, for the first time in years I've been reading children's novels, and admiring the craft that so many writers bring to this important genre.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Multitasking was meant for me

Not many writers I know are single-project types. Surrey International Writer's Conference coordinator KC Dyer is up to her neck in the huge job of planning this year's conference while tootling off to a book fair in Toronto and reworking one book while she waits for another to come out.

Julie Ferguson must be working on something new, while she continues to train teachers how to eliicit great writing from their students, and teeach adult courses of her own.

Kate Austin published - or had accepted - ten books in the last two years, and I bet she didn't set aside each new idea until the last one was off the press, or at least in her editor's hands.

Me? I spent much of the Easter weekend working with instructors to put together the fall schedule of courses and workshops in the Surrey Creative Writing Diploma Program, signed off on another big writing and editing project for the Public Library Services Branch, talked myself into giving a fundraising workshop for the local Arts Council, and wrote another account of my long distance hiking trip along the South Downs Way - and sent it out to the Globe and Mail's travel section.

And how's the work on Who Do You Wish Was With Us going? you might ask. Or not.

Slowly, Painfully. Reluctantly. I still believe that if I keep writing a small spark will finally - soon? - start to generate a little heat. I know it won't if I don't. But the past few days I've avoided the damn thing like the plague and am drivelling on here in an effort to distract myself even further.

But - aha! I have one more assignment to put to bed before I can get back to the novel tonight. The deadline for the May issue of the Arts Council of Surrey's Spotlight is fast approaching. This issue will include a lovely Mother's Day poem by a local writer Cristy Watson - and now I have to write up a brief author's bio to go with the piece.

Whew. Caro and Fan and Adam and Adele and Joss will have to wait. Maybe tomorrow night they will finally take a step in the right direction, and start to rise up off the page right in front of me.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


... by Canada Council. Turns out I'm not the only one, but it still hurts. I thought I had a good project, appropriate samples of work, a good resume, etc. etc. But they still said no.

I'll show them, I thought - after a couple of days ineffective sulking. So I can't cut my work week down to five - or even four days - like a lot of other working stiffs. So I'll quit almost everything else to get this novel moving, and so I can start on the next one which won't let go of me.

My goal is to write 1,000 words every second day; the intervening day I have to go in and nip and tuck what I wrote the previous day. The idea being that once I'm in there it will be hard not to just keep going. And it works. Since April 1 which was my clear the desk and really get down to it date - I've written 11,000. Sure, not very good ones. Some days it's like dragging a dead weight up a steep flight of stairs.

But I know that any words on the page are better than none, and you can't make them better if they're not there to start with.

But I've fallen out of love with the story - perhaps not fatally, but let's say the relationship has gone lukewarm. And just like real life, if you act like you love tapioca or your boss, you have a better chance of getting along with them than if you don't pretend. So I may be rejected by Canada Council - and in good company. But right now I'm not dumping anyone - even if they're only in my head and on the page, and don't really exist.

Inside my April folder on my desktop is a journal - a day by day account of how many words I wrote - how hard or easy they were, the file name, brief notes on where I might go next, or later. Reading the journal or writing in it does not count, but at least it might keep me honest.

Speaking of which - it's an even day and I've got 1,000 words to find somewhere and stick on the page, anywhere they will fit.