Time For Some Serious Dreaming #3

Read Part One here and Part Two here.

We continue down the towpath. My feet are getting sore in the wellies, though, and when we reach the common, I let Aristotle run around without a lead, and I sit on the stile for a while. I’d briefly forgotten about my exam, and now I’ve remembered, my stomach starts to flip about like a fish.

Why am I so nervous? It’s only an exam. My life doesn’t depend on it (no matter how much the teachers make us feel it does). I could not show up for it, and the world wouldn’t end.

Once the idea is in my head, it’s hard to shake it.

I could miss the exam. I could disappear for the day. Yes.

I have about half an hour before Dad and Clare will get up for work. I make a plan in my head: get dressed, find some money, and get a bus into town. I’ll hide for the day. I could find a quiet spot in the central library, and read. I could sit on the common all day. The sun’s shining. Come to think of it, a few hours of Vitamin D seems like a better use of my life than sweating it in an exam hall.

Yet Dad’s voice keeps shouting down these thoughts. Even in my wildest, silly moments, his voice is always there. He’d be saying something about sixth form entrance requirements, or UCAS, or my CV. All things that sound far too grown up to actually apply to me. It’s the tone of voice that gets my attention. The tone of disappointment.

So maybe I should take the stupid exam. It’s English Lit revision in the afternoon… I could also bunk that. After all, everyone needs their Vitamin D.

Time For Some Serious Dreaming // #2

(Read the first part of this narrative here.)

canal houseboat.PNG

I slip on Aristotle’s lead and he pulls me to the end of the crescent, then up the familiar snicket towards the water. The air smells of impending summer. Full of promise.

Aristotle took his usual route down the canal tow path, tail in the air, nose close to the ground. I followed him, passing the usual hotchpotch of houseboats. I noticed Greg already on his deck, smoking, eyes on a book. He’s wearing two jumpers, both with holes in them. He looks such a mess that I barely think about the fact that I’m in pyjamas.

Everyone on Moseley Crescent knows Greg. Dad pays him for maintaining our garden, and other odd jobs. He’s handy. There’s a sculpture on the roof of his houseboat, a fox; he made it himself out of scrap metal. It sits among troughs of homegrown veg: carrots, turnips, potatoes.

‘Morning, Miss Murphy,’ he says. I think he me calls this because he can’t remember my first name. ‘A bit early for dog walking, isn’t it?’

‘A bit early for reading, too,’ I say. ‘Hey! Aristotle! No – drop it!’

Aristotle is trying to eat a cigarette end he’s found on the tow path. I rush over and prise it out of his teeth.

‘Ugh. So disgusting. Is this you, leaving fag ends everywhere?’

Greg shrugs. ‘Sorry, Miss Murphy.’

I have no idea how old Greg is. He hides behind a beard and a layer of dirt. He could be in his twenties – he could be much older. Something about him makes me feel like he’s not a proper grown-up.

We continue down the towpath. My feet are getting sore in the wellies, though, and when we reach the common, I let Aristotle run around without a lead, and I sit on the stile for a while. I’d briefly forgotten about my exam, and now I’ve remembered, my stomach starts to flip about like a fish.


Writing Confidence

I can vividly remember the first time I managed to write for a whole day. It was the first week of the summer holidays, I was about fifteen, and I shut myself away in my bedroom, pouring words onto a slow, ancient computer my parents had purchased second-hand for £50. You could type on it, and that was about it. No internet connection, no games, just Microsoft Word and an ancient, dusty keyboard. It was perfect.

I was writing Harry Potter fan fiction. I was obsessed. I’d write for a couple of hours and then print it, and put it in a folder, chapter by chapter. I didn’t do much editing, and I didn’t look back. I wish I had this confidence now, to just keeping driving the narrative forward. I wrote about 70,000 words that year, and it’s still the longest thing I’ve ever written.

When you’re first writing, you think you can write anything, and there’s a wonderful freedom in that. You can get up one day and decide to write a murder mystery, an epic poem, a western – and it doesn’t matter if you’ve never tried it before. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never even read one before.

I suppose it’s a case of the old cliché: the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. As you read more, you realise there are so many possibilities… so many ways of twisting language, turning out a plot, spinning a character. You lose confidence.

I’ve gone through a few stages in my writing where I think I’ve finally figured out what I’m doing, only to discover a whole new level of the craft and to lose my way. I suppose this is the case with any skill… I see it in my life as an English teacher. Take a student who has coasted their way through the first five years of secondary school, someone who understood the basics of the study of literature when they were 11 or 12, and that stood them through until GCSE. Said student achieves an A* with minimal effort. Said student signs up for ‘A’ Level English Lit, and bam, it suddenly gets hard. Read Shakespeare? On my own? Lit theory – what’s that, then? It’s so common with sixth formers, in any subject – the blind panic of realising the next level up from GCSE is actually, well, hard. I remember this feeling from my own time at school – feeling out of your depth, losing confidence, feeling shame at failing for the first time. As a straight A student, getting my first D in a mock exam was mortifying.

I suppose I’ve built up some kind of resilience as a writer. After all, I’m still doing it. I’ve studied writing, been told I’m not doing it right (lots). I think I’ve been reasonably good at taking advice, without taking it to heart. I probably will never write again with the free abandon I did as a kid, but I don’t feel crushed by a lack of confidence. I know I can write. I’m no Hilary Mantel, but I can string a few words together. I can tell a tale. I’ve just got to remember that when it gets tough, and keep going.

So much about writing is about confidence… I think I understand that better now. You’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to believe your own stories are good enough in order to finish them. If you don’t believe they’re good, no one else will.


Writing in Coffee Shops – Pretentious or Productive?!

I write to you today from a branch of Caffe Nero, large hot chocolate at my side (with cream, naturally. I don’t  believe in starving myself in January). I’ve decided to try to get on with The Novel. I need to stop moaning about not doing it. And just do it. I can. And I will. Yet 2015 be the year of The Novel. Wouldn’t that be something wonderful?

I love writing in coffee shops. I’ve mentioned this in creative writing classes, somewhat embarrassed, knowing how pretentious it sounds. Yes, I like to write with an expensive drink at my side. I like the murmur of people around me. I actually find it less distracting than a quiet room at home. I’m not tempted to start doing the ironing, or check out Netflix. I feel I have purpose here. It’s nice to see other people with their laptops, even if they’re just watching videos of cats, or stalking their ex-girlfriends on Facebook. I can pretend they’re fellow creative types. Maybe I do like being a part of that tribe… You see them in cities, with their big geek glasses, their Macs, their trendy Urban Outfitters garb. Maybe they’ve plonked a hefty tome next to them, a heavily-thumbed copy of Dostoevsky or Sartre or the complete works of Coleridge. What a fashion statement.  I don’t look nearly so cool, but then I’m in a quiet suburbany backwater, so nobody else does either. We can pretend.

Leave my silly aspirations of life as a trendy intellectual aside. I’M GETTING STUFF DONE. This happens so rarely! I have IDEAS and everything. It’s wonderful. Definitely worth the price of a large hot chocolate. So, without further ado, I’m going to get the hell on with it.