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Spring Cleaning

There are drawers I don’t open

Stuffed with ancient bills and

Outdated bank statements.

But to throw them away

I risk finding

That photo of us

lying on the grass

in a park

in Paris.

So there are drawers I don’t open.

‘You can’t criticise the book unless you have read it,’ said Mum.

‘But I tried,’ I whined. ‘I couldn’t get past the first chapter, I was so bored.’

‘Well then you can’t criticise it.’

‘Alright. I would like to criticise it. I will sit down tomorrow, I will read that book, and then you will have to listen to me when I say that it is not good.’

Dear Mum,

A Small Selection Of Reasons Why

I Will Never Finish This Reading Book And No One Can Make Me Ever:

Live Reactions

Page Quote Reaction
p1 ‘I scowl at myself in the mirror.’ Starting with the biggest cliché of them all: the first-person narrator examining him/herself in the mirror, so the reader gets a physical description immediately. Then nothing happens for a million years. No inciting incident on this first page. Or the second page. Or the third… or ever.
p5 God, this is boring. Repeat for every line.
p10 (ish) OK, we get it: Gray is attractive and good looking and attractive and good looking and attractive and good looking. Oh, and good looking. And his trousers hang from his hips. Like everybody’s trousers.
p26 Gray is buying rope, cable ties and masking tape. And he has found out where she works. He sounds like a serial killer to me.
p26 Seriously. He found out where she works (how?) and drove from Seattle to Vancouver to buy some things in the hardware store she works in. This isn’t romantic, this is TERRIFYING STALKER BEHAVIOUR.
P26 Why is he here at Clayton’s? And from a very tiny, underused part of my brain – probably located at the base of my medulla oblongata near where my subconscious dwells – comes the thought: He’s here to see you. And from a very tiny, unused part of my stomach, I vomited with boredom and frustration that this book is so popular when it is so ridiculous.
P31 Okay – I like him. There, I’ve admitted it to myself. I cannot hide from my feelings anymore. I’ve never felt like this before. I find him attractive, very attractive.’ I hope he is a serial killer, and he murders this boring boring boring girl, and the book ends now.
P36 ‘No one has ever held my hand.’ Because this character spent her entire life before this moment in a box in a cupboard on a shelf in the dark.
P37 The only way I am getting through this terrible, terrible novel is by imagining on every page that Christian Grey is a serial killer and he is going to kill our narrator very soon. Hopefully.
P38 [She blushes. She nods. She shakes her head. She] ‘stares down at her knotted hands’. Her scalp prickles. I fall asleep and fall off my chair, sliding onto the floor because I am so bored.
P42 ‘I surreptitiously gaze at him from beneath my lashes.’ All the readers close their lashes and die of boredom.
P43 ‘I find you intimidating.’ I flush scarlet, and gaze at my hands again. [and again and again.]‘You should find me intimidating.’ He nods. He is definitely a serial killer.
P47 ‘Oh my.’ Lions and tigers and bears….oh my.
P50 ‘vaguely amazed.’ WTF?
P54 ‘I’ve never been drunk before.’ That’s what happens when you live in a box in a cupboard for the first part of your life.
P54 P54 – She receives an anonymous package with a terrifying note:‘Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against because they read novels that tell them of these tricks.’ Not only does he know where she works, but now he knows where she lives and is sending creepy anonymous gifts. Serial killer.
P57-58 Ana gets drunk and calls Grey, and then he decides that she is in immediate danger because she has had a couple of cocktails and he decides he is coming to get her. From Seattle. Because she has had a drink. Because he is a serial killer.
P60 ‘Vomiting profusely is exhausting.’ I am learning SO MUCH from this book.
P62 I can’t believe we’re at page sixty-one and no one has had sex yet. This is ridiculous.
P62 ‘How did you find me?”I tracked your cell phone, Anastasia.’ Psycho stalker. Oooh, and Ana agrees:Stalker, my subconscious whispers at me through the cloud of tequila that’s still floating in my brain, but somehow, because it’s him, I don’t mind.’Oh yes, stalkers are fine if they’re good looking. And attractive. And their trousers… hang from their hips… good-lookingly.
P65 ‘He’s in grey sweatpants that hang – in that way – off his hips.’ In what way?! Why is wearing trousers around his hips, like every other human being, so special?
P68 ‘Well, if you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week after the stunt you pulled yesterday.’ I stopped reading.

Alright, I tried. But this book is awful and I can’t waste my time with it any more. I can’t bear it. The narration is boring and almost entirely made up of clichés, repetition and the endless outlining of mundane unnecessary shite which does nothing to advance the plot, like the fact that orange juice is ‘thirst-quenching’ (REALLY?!).

I stand by what I said before I tried to read it: this is not a romantic outline of a relationship which embraces S&M sex as part of their sexual life. This is a novel with a main character who is domineering and controlling to a scary degree, masquerading as a ‘romance’. It is not a positive thing that swathes of readers will read this book and think that the interaction between Steele and Grey is acceptable.  A man who insists on knowing where you are and turns up uninvited when you have had a few drinks with your friends and proceeds to tell you that you deserve to be punished for having a drink too many, and who takes you away from your friends, ostensibly to ‘rescue’ you: this is domineering, stalking, and controlling behaviour, not romance.

And also the whole first seventy pages are insipid, dull dishwater SHITE and I am never going to finish reading this waste of paper. And I didn’t even get to a sex scene!

 

 

It’s Happening

Three years ago, I read and wrote about a book which concerned itself with the process of planning and drafting a screenplay, Syd Field’s Screenplay. At the time, I read it with an eye to plotting in a novel in a regimented three-act structure just like a film. I had decided that this was the key to my first novel: if it’s a regimented structure, planned in advance meticulously, there is less possibility of failure or non-completion.

Between then and now, I have completed a Creative Writing MSc, and I finished the 25,000-word dissertation which accompanied that, along with a number of short stories. But after the MSc, life got in the way for a while. After agonising and mentally beating myself up, I gave myself a reprieve, and carried on plotting and planning and intending. 

I have not finished a novel yet. Emphasis on the ‘yet’, because a novel is what I am working on right now. In April this year, something happened in my life which seemed to push a ‘RESET’ button in my brain. Suddenly, I wanted to spend more time on my own. I was happy to stay home and miss out on a party every now and again. I wanted to write.

I re-read Syd Field, and plotted a novel from beginning to end, resulting in an 8,000-word chapter plan, one which is so exhaustive that I hopefully have no excuse but to continue until it is written. And then I started to write.

It’s been a slow process, and I’m nowhere near the end, but I’ve got a 20,000-word draft so far and I’m still going. I’m writing blind: typing madly, not re-reading, aware that if I look back and see the trail of terrible sentences I have scattered in my wake, I’m doomed. As long as I get the first draft on paper, I can fix it later.

For now, it’s write, write, write. I’ve set myself a deadline: first draft by November 20th. It’s a bit ambitious, so I might need to try harder to say no to the fun parties, and ask some friends to nag at me a little more (I respond well to nagging).

Here’s the great thing: it’s happening. I’m doing it.

Dear Future Me

Five years ago, I found a website which enabled you to send an email at some predetermined point in the future. Fully immersed in an early-twenties ‘what-am-I-doing-with-my-life’ panic (which some people call a ‘Quarter Life Crisis’), I wrote an email and released it into limbo for five years, and then promptly forgot about it.

Until last month, when this arrived in my inbox:

Subject: Hello to the Me of the Future

The following is an e-mail from the past, composed 4 years and 12 months ago, on June 18, 2008. It is being delivered from the past through FutureMe.org

Dear FutureMe,

Don’t forget all the things you need to do. Don’t get bogged down in the same job for years and years – there are things out there which need doing and experiencing.

If you’re bored – hand in your notice in your job. Go travelling, explore your own country, learn to drive, write a book (for God’s sake, write a book if you haven’t already. Go on a Creative Writing Course or something).

This is the best age you can be – the opportunities available are endless and it is stupid not to take advantage of them. Don’t settle down, don’t buy a house, don’t have kids – not yet. There’s too much to do. Whatever you do, don’t get to 50 and feel resentful and bitter. It would be no one’s fault but your own.

I hope that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you’re happy and you haven’t forgotten how promising life is. I hope you’ve had excellent experiences and realised who you are.

Feel comfortable in yourself.

I don’t know what it is I am trying to say to you – there’s too much. I guess the message is:

Don’t lose yourself in trying to find yourself. Make sure you don’t look up from your desk one day to realise that all the thinks you were “going to do” have become things you “could have done”.

You wanted to be a writer, an actor, an artist, an ecologist, an explorer, a traveller, a musician, a gardener, a historian, a buildings conservation officer, a museum curator, a psychologist and so many other things.

You’ve always had that itch to produce something – that feeling that something wonderful is bubbling inside you just waiting to explode from you in a fountain of creative greatness. Don’t forget.

You’re vivacious and interesting, exciting and fun. You’re friendly, kind and nice. This is your identity. I hope you’ve realised and remembered.

Don’t forget who you are,

Love from you,

Aged 21

On the day I received this email, I was on a trip to Skye, seeing more of the beautiful country in which I live. I’d handed in my notice at my job, because it felt like time for a change, and I’d started writing a novel, because the time felt right. I haven’t bought anything bigger or more expensive than a fridge, and I don’t yet intend to, because I still believe that it’s not yet time to settle down.

And at this moment in my life I know, infinitely more than I did when I wrote that email, that I’m okay with the person I am and the decisions I’ve made. But I’m very pleased that 21-year old Rosie popped up out of the blue to remind me I’m on the right track.

 

Over Christmas, in the normal lazy Christmas traditions, I was lolling around in my pyjamas watching wonderful films and drinking excessive amounts of wine, as one does. About halfway through When Harry Met Sally, during the scene where Harry and Sally are singing ‘Surrey with a Fringe on Top’ into a karaoke machine, I had a minor revelation:

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

I am probably stating something really obvious, but if it’s obvious to others, it’s not something I’ve thought about extensively before. There’s the scene with the karaoke machine, when Harry bumps into his ex-wife and her new partner. The purpose of this scene is to show the audience that Harry isn’t over his ex-wife, and that he’s embarrassed to be seen with Sally in this situation.

This scene could have taken place at any time and in any place: Harry could have been walking down the street, alone, on any nondescript evening. But, no: he’s having  a great day with his best friend, and he’s doing something which is a lot of fun, until he sees himself through his ex’s eyes and shrivels up with embarrassment. What’s more, the sheer contrast between the mood at the beginning of the scene and at the end is striking.

The writers have put the characters in a situation which is doing as much work to push the story forward as possible: we learn so much about Harry’s feelings for Sally, his feelings for Helen (and Ira), and the friendship between Sally and Harry, all because the scene takes place within a situation which can draw out these revelations, and showing not telling the audience.

At no point does Harry need to say ‘Gosh, I feel so awkward that Helen has a new partner and I am still messing about on karaoke machines with my mates.’  He doesn’t need to say this because the audience see it perfectly, mainly because of the choices made by the writers.

I think that’s very clever, and I hope to use this little lesson in my writing. Any other examples you can think of?

A friend of mine sent me a text today which read as follows:

“So your theme for the week is ‘_____’. I would like two brothers and a sister called J___, J____ and J____, everything happens in one afternoon and it cannot be more than two pages. How is that?”

And that, to me, sounds like quite a nice way to get back into the swing of writing. So I wrote a story based on those parameters, then I’ll send it back to him and he’ll respond to it in some way: maybe a song, or a poem, or a photograph. And perhaps we’ll carry on. It sounds like fun.

“Do you fancy a pint?”

“Okay!”

“What are you doing tonight?”

“Not much, how come?”

The two exchanges above are typical for me. Particularly the “what are you doing tonight?” question. Frequently, I try to set aside time for writing. And equally frequently, when someone asks me what my plans are, my answer is “not much” or “nothing”, despite the fact that I set aside time for writing, or reading, or just sitting quietly on my own and watching a film.

Strangely, it often seems to me that saying “I’m busy” feels like a lie if my plans just revolve around me. If my plans revolve around another individual, I am a lot more likely to stick to them then if it’s just me who is getting railroaded if things change. It feels almost rude to say “Actually, I am busy. I was planning on staying in.” I worry that people hear “I’d rather do nothing than hang out with you,” or “I’m washing my hair.”

But equally, I have observed a common trait in a lot of successful writers: steel. I can’t find another way to put it. It’s in the eyes, just look at AL Kennedy:

Image

There’s a determination there, right?

A lot of writers seem to be able to lock themselves away, work hard, and, most importantly (for the purposes of this post), they’re probably quite able to say ‘no’. It’s not a harsh trait, and it’s certainly not a negative one, but it’s an ability to see your own needs and goals as just as important as those of someone else. It’s an awareness that you can say  no, and that ‘I’m busy’ is not a lie, even if ‘busy’ = pyjamas and ice cream straight out of the tub with a spoon (some of us have to do this as part of the creative process. Honest.)

There is also often a ferocious defence of space, alongside time: an awareness that he or she needs certain conditions in which to write best, and a dedication to maintaining that.

Being away in Belfast for a couple of months certainly taught me that staying in can be very very restorative and actually a lot of fun, and that you’re not necessarily ‘missing out’ if you don’t attend absolutely every possible social engagement.

Perhaps this steely determination doesn’t come naturally to me. It might be hard work. But also, maybe sometimes now I’ll feel like it’s OK to say no once in a while, and that being ‘busy’ can mean anything; it’s not a lie.

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