Just a quickie to say that my niece is a blogger too. She’s only just taken the plunge and will take a while to get used to doing this but take a look and see a strong talent forming before your eyes.
Monthly Archives: January 2012
I used to be one of those women who said, ‘I’m not a feminist but.’ Now, after nearly thirty years of doing what’s traditionally thought of as a man’s job, I tend not to beat around the bush. Yes, I am a feminist. I don’t hate women who aren’t and I don’t hate men. I just want to do what I want to do. We’re all trying to get along and I respect that.
My sister is a single mum. For years she’s been Mum and Dad to her two kids. She is also a feminist. I don’t know if that’s how she thinks of herself, but she is. Not many women would be thrilled to get a chainsaw for Christmas, but she was. In return, she got me an electric sander. (I am so chuffed!) We are not skilled D.I.Y-ers, we’re more Bodge It and Run but hey, we’ll have a go.
Unfortunately, despite our macho attitude, my nephew has grown up in a house full of women and is not best pleased about it. He needs a man. He needs man input and man work. Well, we can’t magic up a man at the moment so I thought I might try to fill the gap by getting him to do some work with me around the house. First up, I let him have the first use of my sander. He worked away, sanding the front gate for all of ten minutes, then went off to play on his Xbox.
Today, when he came home from school, he found me painting the gate.
‘I thought that was my job,’ he said.
‘Don’t worry,’ I replied. ‘I’m just doing the gateposts. You can do the gate, if you’d like.’ He did like. This time he managed fifteen minutes before handing me his brush and going off to ride his scooter. It took me twenty minutes to brush out the drips, mop the excess off the path and clean his brush. And the gate is only done on one side. He says he’ll finish it tomorrow. I can’t wait! But you know what? If he does want to have another go tomorrow, I’ll let him. And I’ll let him help me paint the wood shed because it’s all part of life, it’s all a learning curve. And it makes him feel like a proper bloke.
Meanwhile, in the back garden, my niece is sawing up wood. I wonder if she feels like a proper bloke too.
I am not sleeping well. Anxiety has me by the throat and slaps me if I show signs of fatigue. ‘Must work on dissertation, must increase word count,’ circles through my brain without let up. Consequently, I don’t turn my laptop off much before 3a.m. I admit, there are a few games of Spider Solitaire thrown into the mix, but they’re to help me think. Honest.
Back at the beginning of the summer, my supervisor told me that I had a lot of good stuff but… (Oh there’s always a but) I was lacking narrative drive. Since November, I’ve been working on that and just the other day, I emailed my work to a friend for her opinion.
‘I can see what your supervisor meant,’ she replied. And that was on the re-drafted version. Sod it. Then, when I turned off Hellspawn and lay down with my book for a bit of a read, I had a Doh! moment.
I am a Stephen King fan and my current read is his latest hardback ‘11.22.63’ Tell me how I could have read almost everything he’s ever written and not learned how to keep a story building towards its’ climax? Especially as I’m reading one of his novels whilst working on my story! Whether you like his stuff or not, you can’t argue that Steve has been at the top of his game for a very long time and his book ‘On Writing’ is on the uni’s recommended reading list. Unfortunately my copy is in the loft just now, so it’s not within easy reach. Never mind, I awoke this morning with a new outlook and an idea of how to solve my problem.
I was blissfully alone in the house so I reached for Hellspawn and brought him to life. Then there was a knock at the door. Someone had come to collect a wrongly delivered parcel. OK, sorted that, back to writing. Urgent email from a friend, a successful crime novelist. Could two people take a medium-sized motor yacht from northern France to the east coast of UK on their own, and how long would it take, etc? I spend next hour looking at nautical distance tables, working out the speed of said boat and probable courses for it to follow. I wasn’t sure of the cruising speed of a semi-planing hull that’s capable of 28 knots, so I texted a captain I work with. He rings me and bang goes another half hour of my morning.
Don’t think for a moment that I wasn’t enjoying these diversions, because I was, but it wasn’t moving my work along. Back to Hellspawn. Concentrate!
I did get a lot of work done, in the end. Despite the sound of gunfire and explosions on a nearby hillside as the Royal Marines practised killing each other and a low flying helicopter that swooped over the garden and frightened the bejesus out of me. I only gave up for the day when the dog jumped up and stood on my keyboard sending the cursor flying across the screen trailing a long line of gobbledygook.
The kids came home from school and I emerged, blinking, from my inner landscape to hear the news of their day. Nephew wanted to either, go out on his scooter, or play on his Xbox, so he wasn’t in the mood for a long chat. Niece, however, was happy to talk. I learned who did what to whom, who got on her nerves, who made her laugh, and so on. Then, she casually dropped into the conversation that she’d received her best-ever mark for the story she wrote at the end of the Christmas holidays.
‘What’s a normal mark?’ I asked.
‘Oh, about 5.2 or something,’ she answered.
‘What did you get?’
‘Wow, 6.8! That’s fantastic!’ I was thrilled. I’m still thrilled.
‘And I got two commendations,’ she added.
Two commendations! I told you she’s talented. A chip off the old block, and all that. What’s the betting that if my story ever sees the light of day and someone says, ‘Hey, I really liked that bit.’ I’ll look at where they’re pointing and discover it was the bit the dog did.
Ten years ago, yesterday, I received a phone call from my (now ex) brother-in-law.
‘Are you going to come and see this baby, then?’ he asked. This was his way of saying that my nephew had arrived and that I should get myself up to the hospital.
My niece, aged two, was fast asleep on the sofa and I took the opportunity to rush around checking that the open fire was safe behind the fire-guard, that I had her car seat ready for the taxi and that the dog had been out for a wee in the garden. Unfortunately, niece woke up and screamed the house down on finding that she was alone in the front room. So, to make her feel safe, I sat her on my hip while I carried out these chores. She wailed and howled non-stop and I could not calm her down. Then, the taxi arrived. It was a woman driver and as soon as she spotted her, my niece changed mood. Suddenly, she was all chatty and cheerful, telling about how we were going to meet her baby brother who’d just been born. I sat back and let her chat. The driver responded and the two of them were best pals by the time we got to the hospital. The car pulled into the car park. I sat forward, ready to pay the fare and get out. My niece said to the driver,
‘I’ve seen my daddy naked.’
There was a moment’s silence and then the driver and I burst out laughing.
They were expecting us at the maternity unity. My niece led the way like a visiting dignitary. How did the staff know who she was? I have no idea but I have become used to her effect on people. She is a VIP. Even when you don’t know who she is, she’s still a VIP.
In the delivery room, the excited parents looked up as we entered. Cradled in my sister’s arms was our newest family member. Two hours old and he had the most direct gaze I’ve ever met. Blue/grey eyes that shouldn’t even be able to focus yet bored into me. My niece had competition, she had a brother who was every bit as striking as she was.
They are different, my niece and nephew, but not that different. Stormy and talented and full of attitude, they rule the world. Or at least, our bit of it. And I am so glad that I am a part of their lives. I wanted to take this chance to say happy birthday to my nephew and to his sister, I want to say, you are both VIPs to me.
24,000 words. 24,000 words! That was my niece’s last word count on her story.
‘How come you’re only up to 13000?’ she asked me.
Hah! Is all I can say. Then she casually mentions that she has to write a story for homework before the end of the Christmas break. This is on Monday. She was due back at school on Thursday.
‘Oh, I’ve got it all down in notes,’ she says. ‘All I’ve got to do is write it.’
Fast forward to a worried Mum telling her, the night before term starts, ‘Get on with it. Your auntie will help you.’
I have a double bed. I share it with the dog, sometimes the cats and, on the night before school, with my niece. She has my net book, I have dear old Hellspawn. My sister comes in to say goodnight to us both and falls about laughing. Apparently we look like a 21st century version of Morecambe and Wise. I put my glasses on crooked and say,
I am playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.’
‘What are you on about?’ my niece asks.
My niece came home from school and told us that her English teacher quite liked the first page of her story. Don’t I just know that by Monday, teacher will be full of praise. I am. It was a damn good story. And it actually owes very little to my help. I’m more of a spell-checker than anything.
Mum asked if she could read it. ‘Of course,’ said my niece. ‘Fill your boots.’ Ten minutes later, my sister is in tears. My niece comes to tell me.
‘Well that’s a good sign,’ I say.
‘Snuffle,’ says my sister.
Am I jealous of my niece’s talent? Bloody right I am! I’ve tried to bribe, threaten and force her into writing my dissertation for me but she won’t do it. Now, I’m wondering, should I just give up because it seems that the next generation is streets ahead of me. Oh pants!
Good, clean Devon air. The babble of the river and the rustle of squirrels rooting about in the fallen leaves help me to clear my head. Our little lane leads to a nature reserve where the river meets the sea on a pebble beach. When we had a Doberman, I’d walk him down to the reserve and back up the other riverbank to the village. Our current dog has much shorter legs so I only go half that distance to where a bridge crosses the river. But, by the time I get back to the village and, most importantly, the mill, I usually have an idea of where to go next in my dissertation. I have only my notebook for entertainment and, as I don’t do boredom, I will have to write my ideas down while I’m in the mill drinking my latte.
My last walk was the day before New Year’s Eve. I went dog-less because there were so many other dog walkers passing our house and I knew the mill would be busy. Our dog is the nicest possible pet – inside the house. Take him out , though and he turns into the Hound of the Baskervilles so it was a choice between him and concentrating on my writing. The writing won. Don’t worry on his behalf, though, because my niece took him for a nice run up the hill instead.
Nature rewarded me for getting off my bum and burning some calories with the sight of a jay sitting in a tree near to where I was walking. Usually, I get a glimpse of white rump as jays flash away in the opposite direction but this one allowed me to admire it for a couple of minutes before it swooped off through the trees. After he’d gone his way, I went mine and as I strode along, inadvertently scaring squirrels, the problems of ‘new chapter, blank page’ began to dissolve. I had plenty to jot down when I got to the coffee drinking stage of my journey. It took an hour and two lattes to empty my head and when I finally closed my notebook and headed up the hill to home, I felt invigorated. I was going to kick off my wellies at the front door, fire up Hellspawn, my laptop, and get stuck in. I panted up the hill, heaved myself out of my boots, threw open the front door and my sister said,
‘Hey, look what they’re showing on the telly.’ I peered around the door. I looked at the television and lo! The Ladykillers was just starting. Not the remake, either, but the original with Alec Guinness and Herbert Lom. ‘I must not watch,’ I told myself whilst getting comfy on the sofa. ‘I’ll go and turn on Hellspawn in the first ad break,’ I said. But the problem is, this is one of my all time favourite films. Yes, I have it on DVD but… ‘I know, I’ll just watch up to where Mrs Lopsided collects the lolly from the station. Oh, and the bit where all her friends come to tea…’ You can guess the rest.
I would like to be able to say that I walked away from the TV and got down to business. I’d like to give myself all sorts of excuses but when it comes down to it, I am weak. I have no will power. Dear old Mrs Lopsided derailed me. Oh well, new year, new start…