Friday, June 29, 2007

Grasshopper mind

In my family we call it 'Grasshopper mind'* - the inability to settle on one thing for too long before we go hopping on to the next.

My paternal grandmother Granny-P had it worst. The syndrome affected her coversation so much that you stuck around just to see how she could get from A to Z in lightening time and still make no sense at all. But she made the best chicken pie of anyone, so could be forgiven her grasshopper mind and her obsession with good (= expensive) handbags and shoes, although she rarely went out.

Me, I'm all over the place these days like a demented child. Stuck in deep to my first children's novel Elsie and the Silver Rain, I soon decided it should be the first of at least two books, the second of which should feature Elsie' sidekick Scoop, thereby coming up with Scoop and the Boxcar Tourists.

So, Elsie done at 29,000 words, you'd think I'd jump right into Scoop. But what about Return of the Summer Fish, the morphing of my memoir-that-got-stalled Summer Fish - reflections of a childhood in Iraq into a children's novel?

Well, with that one outlined, and a new central character jetissoned in to provide the necessary conflict, I soon got sidetracked by an idea generated by a quick 'sighting' - you know, that spooky stuff we writers are so prone to - of a boy kneeling looking out of a window to watch a high-born lady walk down his front path. This coupled with my long interest in the Riverview lands which were home to BC's first arboretum, developed by the Scot Mr. MacDonald (he has a first name I can't recall right now) - and I have a new book Escape to the Summer House featuring 13 year-old Lionel (goodie, a historial novel for YAs with a male protaganist - agents/publishers, please take note!) .

I love them all; I know the MCs without having to dig too deep.

Elsie with her hat and her strong survival instinct when everything else is falling apart.

Scoop who hides his dyslexia with wiles and cunning and by taking to the rails, where "no one needs to read nothing."

Pauline who longs for the exotic life her sister recounted in letters - wild camel rides across the desert, tea taken in Sheiks' tents, long rides down the Shatt-al-Arab river on overloaded date boats, finding only heat and dust and a sister who's too busy with her own life to let her in.

And Lionel whose only goal is to find a way to give little sister Grace the love and security he feels he lost when his father was killed in a logging accident.

I can't decide who I love most, that's the trouble. I see their faces, hear their voices, and can't decipher who needs me soonest.

Right now I'm hooked on Lionel, and in the process discovering that history is not all dry dust and old photos. What was New Westminster like during the time that Mr. Macdonald was bringing over his first trees from Europe. How am I going to get Lionel and Mr. Macdonald together? How will The Hospital of the Mind - as it was called then - feature in the story? And how long can Lionel and Grace survive in that abandoned summer house before they are discovered. And by whom?

Meanwhile, I'm still not sure when or if Elsie's own father is going to turn up.

But until he does, her mother Peg and ne-er do well Uncle Dannell will just have to keep stagggering through the thirty-fourth day of their dance marathon, holding each other up while I stand on the sidelines, wondering whose trail I should be following this week?

So I skip from one to the other. Afraid to let any of them out of my sight unless they dispappear from view without telling me all their secrets.

Grasshoppers are agile. So maybe I can keep up.

Or break a leg trying.

* Odd connection to that grasshopper metaphor. One of the pivotal scenes in Summer Fish - and one truly taken from life - is the day the British Club in Basra, Iraq, was infested by a plague of locusts... which of course are related to grasshoppers.

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