17 Jan 2015 Leave a comment
14 Jan 2015 Leave a comment
A snippet of my work-in-progress. It’s running under several titles at the moment, and I just can’t make up my mind which is the right one. Should I be straightforward (Rose Cottage) – referential (The Briar Wood, a painting by Edward Burnes-Jones) – tangential (The Ties that Bind) ? I don’t know yet – it’s fun to leave it hanging.
Dad pulls the car in to the kerb and parks neatly in front of her front gate. ‘My front gate,’ she says to herself. The frenetic excitement of the auction has faded, and now she just feels nervous.
Over the last twenty-four hours her imagination has been working overtime – she’s pictured everything from the perfect cottage, with a lamp glowing in the window, to an enormous hole in the ground with a glimpse of wreckage at the bottom of it. She knows these extremes are ridiculous – it’s just going to be a house with a few issues. She doesn’t mind issues. She knows what she’s letting herself in for, right? After all, it’s what she’s always dreamed of doing. Not many people can say that they’re truly following their dream.
She gets the key out of her purse. She’s slightly disappointed that they won’t need the bolt cutters. The handover yesterday had been fairly straight forward. She’d read some more paperwork, written her signature several times, and handed over the money after a brief visit to the bank. Now her savings account is £12,000 poorer, and at the moment all she has in return for it is a slim receipt from the auction house and the key. It opens a huge padlock, linking two halves of a chain that holds the gates closed. They are proper industrial gates – two sheets of corrugated iron on rusty hinges. She wonders what the original gates were like. It’s a broad gateway, in keeping with the high stone wall with its flint border. Much too impressive for ‘Rose Cottage’. She wonders if she should change the name.
‘Come on, love, stop dreaming. It’s perishing out here. Let’s get in and find out what we’re dealing with, shall we?’
Dad’s the practical one in the family. She’s glad that he’s with her. Mum couldn’t come – she has a hair appointment over in the town, and anyway she says she doesn’t want to see it until it’s finished. She’s not wildly excited that Laura spent her inheritance on property. She thought Laura should get a complete makeover and maybe take an overseas holiday.
‘You’re never going to meet anyone in that office full of girls, unless one of the accountants decides he wants a bit on the side, and you know what I think about that sort of thing. You should put yourself out there, enjoy life while you’re young. It won’t last forever, you know.’
Laura is never sure whether Mum would like to see her safely married with 2.4 kids, or out there partying forever. Mum’s party life came to an abrupt end when she became pregnant at seventeen, although now that Maisie’s left home and Laura is working, she can see the fun-loving side of her Mum finding its way out again. Dad would rather stay at home and potter in the garden (he’ll be exactly the same at eighty as he is at forty-five). Mum’s the outgoing one.
It occurs to Laura as she fumbles to fit the key into the padlock that Mum would have enjoyed the suggested overseas holiday much more than Laura herself. She wonders if she can send Mum away for a few days, and if Mum would accept it. A week on a party island would put the spring back in her step. She tucks the thought away for further consideration.
The padlock snaps open and the chain tumbles to the ground. Dad gathers it up and stows it in the boot of the car. Laura waits for him. Now that it comes down to it, she doesn’t want to take her first step into the unknown by herself. Together they push on the gate. It doesn’t move. At least, it moves a little, and then springs back, as if there is something slightly yielding behind it. They try pulling it. No, that doesn’t work. It’s definitely the kind of gate that opens inward.
Laura puts her shoulder to the corrugated metal and shoves hard. Her feet skid backward on the gravel. She bends her legs slightly and really leans into the gate and, grudgingly, it moves inward a couple of inches and stops. There’s a dark mass blocking the space beyond. Laura pushes one hand into it, and jumps back, swearing. Her arm is marked by several long scratches where thorns have torn her skin. The area inside is a dense mass of brambles.
Dad leans on the gate for her, so that she can get a better look. She’s none the wiser, though. All that can be seen at the moment is ropy stems and giant thorns. There aren’t even any blackberries.
‘Get in car, love,’ says Dad. ‘We’ll go home and get t’ladder.’
In times of stress, Dad always reverts to his Yorkshire roots. Laura hugs him – he’s the best Dad in the world. In no time at all they’re back with ladder, pruning saw and two sets of secateurs and gardening gloves. She’s changed into some old clothes – there’s no point in looking like Office Girl today. There’s serious work to do.
Dad holds the ladder as she climbs to the top of the wall. As she goes, she notices that fat tendrils of bramble vine are already spilling over the top; she helps herself to a couple of blackberries that have ripened in the sun. She could have guessed there would be a bramble problem, if she’d paid more attention. At the top, she leans forward to peer into the space beyond. All she can see are brambles. Everywhere. It’s as if the whole space is filled with them. Towards the middle, the brambles rise into a sort of dome. A huge dome. If there’s a house in there, it’s massive – and completely covered in brambles. She can’t tell whether to laugh or cry.
She’s still in shock when she gets to the bottom of the ladder. She grabs it, and offers Dad the chance to climb up and take his fill. ‘Bloody Norah.’
The ladder starts shaking, and she realises that he’s laughing. He takes a minute to calm down, before making his way back to level ground. He has tears in his eyes, he’s laughed so hard, and for a moment Laura is furious. This is the end of her dream. Instead of Rose Cottage, there’s just this monumental mound of thorns and stuff. And now Nanna’s money is gone. She’ll never have another chance. Dad gathers her into his arms as she bursts into tears, and pats her lovingly as she cries into his shoulder.
‘There now, pet. It’s not so bad. Your old Dad knows how to deal with a few bramble bushes. We’ll be through them in no time.’
11 Jan 2015 Leave a comment
Martyn Bennett. I don’t think I need say any more – need I? If you’ve not heard his music yet – read on. And don’t forget to set volume to max.
Do you know the name?
If you know Scottish music, it’s a name you might know. If you know Scottish music, it’s name you should know.
His could have been a name that most all would have known, regardless of our fondness for music from Scotland. There are some names that deserve to be known. But life has a way of writing our scripts in surprising and sometimes cruel and tragic ways.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Before I tell you more about Martyn Bennett and why I’m writing about him, you need to hear him. I think we’ll start with the first track from his second album, Bothy Culture. The song is called Tongues of Kali.
Oh, and make sure you turn up the volume.
How I heard about Martyn Bennett is a bit of a story.
My wife and I were married in 1998 on New…
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03 Jan 2015 Leave a comment
There you are, writing your story, deep in the minutiae of your characters’ lives, living it along with them. You know their points of view, their weaknesses, their strengths. You’re able to explain quite a lot about the world they live in, through their actions and their words. But it’s very hard to give any real perspective on this imaginary universe, without being restricted by what your characters know or are able to explain directly.
That’s where, in a film, they use that lovely cinematographic trick of pulling back the camera, back, still further back, until the people vanish into the distance and you can see the full, panoramic sweep of their environment. All of a sudden, their small, petty stories become part of a much larger perspective, even though at the same time their importance diminishes. The onlooker might even glimpse, in the corners of the picture, some suggestion of what is coming up: storms looming on the horizon, vast obstacles that await the travellers on their journey, of which they themselves are not yet aware.
So, how do you approach this as an author? It seems to me that there are two main ways in which writers do it. One is the Jane Austen style, Dear Reader, approach, where the writer addresses the reader directly from the page, bypassing the book’s characters altogether. The other is the God Perspective.
Here’s a bit: “…far below the tiny figure of a girl laboured up the mountain-slope, bent double under its load. It skirted a vast expanse of white, trudged slowly across the gravel slope of the saddle, and made its way down the far side of the pass to the tree-line. For a moment a white face paused, turned up to the sky, then the figure shrugged its load more securely onto its shoulders and was gone, vanished into the trackless maze of the ranges…”
Whose viewpoint are we using? Who on earth has the ability to step right back from the characters in this way, and view them dispassionately as objects on a stage? Only the author, right? Writers’ manuals warn against using the god perspective – we shouldn’t be able to tell our readers stuff our characters wouldn’t know. So how do you get away with it? One way, at least the way in which I’m hoping to get away with it, is through the use of magic. If it’s plausible in your imaginary world for a distant character (one whom we, the reader, may not even have met yet) to see through the eyes of another, for instance an eagle, soaring over the mountain pass below – then we can see what the eagle sees. God perspective with a coherent explanation.
I’m liking this idea. It solves a major problem I was having with my work-in-progress. Is it a good enough excuse for using godlike perspective? Maybe. I’d be interesting to hear what you (dear Reader) think about it.