That’s my mum, bless her. I tend to disagree with my mum on most things: sensible career choices (Me: ‘something creative’; Her: ‘anything lucrative’); the optimal time to procreate (Me: ‘Just as soon as I’ve finished the novel/travelled the world/learned to play ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ on the ukelele’; Her: ‘No time like the present. I want grandchildren – and your ovaries are shrivelling’); absolutely anything to do with politics.
Even our pre-Christmas family meal at an unassuming neighbourhood Italian quickly degenerated into a heated debate on the merits (or, in my case, very much otherwise) of Nigel Farage. However, on one point I have to concede that my mother is correct: It does seem to be taking me an inordinately long time to finish my novel.
A little over two years ago I left a perfectly respectable full-time teaching job in order to start an MA in Creative Writing and finally tackle the children’s book I’d long dreamed of writing. Having had her usual mantra of “You’ll live to regret this, you know!” fall on deaf ears, Mother Superior finally accepted my decision and set about telling all her friends that her daughter would soon be a celebrated, Carnegie Medal-winning novelist.
And two years on? Well, there’s no Carnegie Medal as yet. And, to Mum’s continuing disappointment, no J.K. Rowling-style Scottish castle either – I fear it’ll be quite a while before she gets her subscription to Highland Living magazine.
So what have I achieved in that time – all twenty-seven lost months of it?
Well, I managed a distinction in the MA, which was pretty grand – except that now people keep asking me what I’m intending to do with it, as if it were an MBA or an accounting qualification or something similarly vocational and, well, useful. Jobwise I’ve done a bit of supply teaching (and come to the conclusion that I really dislike supply teaching), some tutoring and a few other bits and pieces. Other than that? Well, I’ve read an awful lot of books, and listened to an awful lot of music. Done a bit of travelling. And – a result of the MA and the novel combined – I’ve become quite an authority on gender politics in children’s literature and all matters medieval (albeit, as far as the latter is concerned, principally through watching Game of Thrones – well, it’s research, innit?).
So, with the dust settling on the new year and the last morsel of stale Christmas cheese eaten – what next? I’d like to claim that I’ve been galvanised into writerly action by the inexorable march of time; the annual stock-take that marks the turn of the year. But while the advent of 2014 has inspired me to sign up to Twitter and to resurrect this blog, and while I’m not doing too badly so far on the exercising/healthy eating/mostly not drinking front (it’s been renamed ‘Dryish January’ in our house), the novel remains at a virtual standstill.
I could make any number of excuses for my inertia, but I won’t – the only important ones are sheer laziness and complacency on my part. And the thing that has ultimately inspired me to get going again – to properly get going, rather than ‘reading around the subject’, or researching other writers’ techniques, or editing, or cleaning out the fridge, or any of the million and one other things I can find to do instead of actually writing the darned thing – turned out to be a book.
I’ve just finished reading Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys. It’s a devastating novel – poetic and atmospheric, by turns bleak and darkly comic. Not the obvious choice, you would think, for a dull, grey January. Except that, for me, it absolutely was. Following its heroine, Sophia Jansen, as she drifts around 1930s Paris in a fog of whisky fumes and cigarette smoke, filling empty days with a string of unnecessary haircuts and window shopping in the Galeries Lafayette, I became increasingly determined not to follow the same aimless path.* As readers, we inhabit Sasha’s consciousness – and it isn’t a pretty sight. Isolated, bitter and essentially washed up in early middle-age, she cuts a tragic figure, flitting between seedy cafes and cheap hotel rooms as she tries to recapture the happiness and exorcise the pain of her previous life in the city. (I did mention that it wasn’t exactly an uplifting read!)
There’s nothing like a thoroughly depressing book to shake you out of your comfort zone and, for me, Good Morning, Midnight has done just that. It has reinforces the idea that life, while at times slippery and chaotic, is ultimately what we make of it. It certainly isn’t for wasting. And so, this year it’s down with the procrastinating and full steam ahead with the novel – carpe diem, and all that.
* That said, I’m off to Paris in April, and am highly unlikely to turn down a spot of the aforementioned window-shopping (or better still, actual shopping…)