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.