I've been naughty and escaped from my isolation for an entire day to visit The Lowry - a permanent exhibition situated at The Quays, Salford. An artist who is unrated by many due to the child-like nature of his most popular work, but admired by me since childhood. I have a print of 'Going to the match' pinned beside my writing desk, so sit and ponder the figures most days.
The exhibition spanned the breath of Lowry's work from his first still-life of painted apples through to the renown mills and chimney landscapes - quite a contrast in both style and colour.
I've worked several aspects of Lowry's life and work into my next festive book, 'Christmas Wishes A The Lakeside Cottage' as a significant theme, so wanted to enjoy the prospect of having completed the book, while I can. Finger crossed, I get to celebrate on publication day!
Up-coming events will anchor me at home for many weeks, so I took full advantage of my one-day pass! Though I still had to stick to my task of avoiding covid in every instance, otherwise my op gets cancelled.
Earlier today, I spoke on-line with a couple of writers in the London Writers' Salon's 'Wednesday mingle'. One of the topics discussed was rejections and how devastating they can be for our creative-self. Before being published, I remember how it would take me at least three days to recover from a two line rejection letter. I would read it over and over again, teasing out any signs of hope that I should continue to write or simply give up!
I still have some of those rejection letters. I often say I could wallpaper a room if I'd kept every rejection I received. Some were standard and generic simply 'no thanks', one or two expressed a reason for the rejection and rarely, one might include a compliment about my style or voice.
Each one stings. They eroded my confidence until I read that 'they're simply proof that you tried' - that was it for me. My rejections became little medals proving that I had tried, and kept trying until I was published! And remember, some people never try.
I repeat it often, because it is true. My debut novel was published in August 2017.
Yay! The NHS gods have called me! My isolation days are drawing to a close as my operation date is confirmed. My hospital bag has been packed since November, I kid you not! Though I have had to replace the two Christmas books I’d stashed inside given that June seems a little early to read about snow when I was only writing about it myself a few weeks ago! I’ve opted instead for a cosy-crime murder and a biography of Charlie Chaplin to accompany me.
I’ve pre-selected a pile of reading material for when I arrive home, as I’ll be good for nothing afterwards. You know how I love a good writers’ retreat – well, I’m treating my recovery like a once-in-a-lifetime book retreat! I’m giggling as I write this, but earlier, I ran about the house hunting down twelve specific books from the numerous bookcases. I’m laughing only because:
a, I’m actually admitting it.
b, I was correct in knowing where every book was stashed.
c, I estimate there’s probably four thousand pages in the entire pile, so I doubt I’ll finish it!
In recent weeks, my own writing projects have been completed and returned to my editors enabling a few weeks grace before any copy edits for my Christmas book land in my lap. Hopefully when they do arrive, I’ll be recovered enough to work a few hours each day to complete.
As an author, I’m asked if I’d consider reading other peoples' books and manuscript for an author quote, which is used during their promotional campaign. I’ll be honest, I accept very few requests. I know there are professional readers, bloggers and reviews who can skim read a book in an hour or so - I'm not one of them, that’s for sure.
The average book takes me approximately twelve hours to read because I read as a reader, not as an industry bod. I have my reading speed and it’s served me well since I was four years of age. I’m one who lingers over the language choice, enjoys the imagery of good description and takes delight in fresh dialogue. I read for pleasure, I read to relax and I read because I love to escape within the covers of a book hiding from what appears to be 'bad or sad' in the world in which I exist.
So, when I agree, it feels like a treat to me rather than a chore. I undertake the request, much as I do with any new reading book: open-minded and eager. I have daily reading sessions so slot my reading between my writing hours. I read before breakfast, read a little with lunch and then usually finish the day with a few more pages – which all adds up over a week.
I’m not one to read a book a week, as I have other hobbies as well, but I can usually muster a requested read in a fortnight. I jot down details as I go knowing that I’ll be writing a review at the end and awarding the infamous star rating. I don’t think I’m particularly generous with my ratings, if anything I’m probably a little harsh as I know what I want and expect from a story. I want to be drawn into the fictional world, be part of the conflict and emotion, I wish to believe in the characters, good or bad, plus I want to be rooting for certain ones. And if I’ve enjoyed reading it, I also don’t want it to end! Sometimes, I think I demand a lot from a book but then I value my time so expect to be rewarded with satisfaction. All in all, first and foremost, I’m a reader - whether I'm reviewing a book or not!
As you know, I’ve been working on the structural edits of my Christmas book with a deadline of 10th May. So, I’ll set the scene to help non-writerly folk gain some context. I had a word document which contained roughly 92,000 words, when it arrived on my desk in April. Alongside my original text, the document now has an additional column, on the right hand side, in which questions, queries and comments appear highlighting potential issues in my story telling. I need to ponder each point and figure how I tackle each issue - resolving by adding details, tweaking a description or adding deeper emotion/conflict.
I’d worked through the manuscript for three weeks, slowly and methodically addressing each issue, created new ideas, reinforced themes and rounded a few characters to highlight specific traits. The deadline is nearing, at this point, I’m doing little other than living and breathing this book. I’d got to the stage where I actually know specific words and where in the manuscript they appear. I kid you not, I’d long forgotten page and chapter numbers, I was moving through the document by searching for specific dialogue as I knew scenes off by heart, the jokes were no longer funny and I was fast approaching the stage where I am ‘slightly sick’ of the story – I’d read it so many times. I was dealing with full-blown Christmas in May!
I’d planned to complete by the 9th and return it to my editor on the morning of the 10th. Perfect. In my head, I was already making plans of how to spend my free time immediately afterwards. Just like you do after sitting important exams, you need time afterwards for the mind to download certain information that you’d hauled into the exam hall. The same applies when returning a manuscript to your editor. I was looking forward to three days of ‘down time’ Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before resuming normal service on Saturday 13th. That was the plan.
The plan worked well until deadline day, Wednesday, 10th May – when I got up bright and early ready to enjoy the moment when I’d be pressing ‘send’ and be free for three days of play. Until my brain remembered the dream I’d had the night before. A flashbulb moment when I suddenly realised that I’d dreamt about the Christmas book, dreamt about two characters and damn, they hadn’t followed the script but created one of their own!!!!!!
I’m the first to say I love my creative brain, but it is a pain in the neck when it throws up an alternative at eight o’clock on deadline day. Quandary time. Stick with what I’d edited and prepared for my editor … or have a rethink and then decide. The clock was ticking, as always.
I began to tinker with a few bits and pieces. The new idea had legs but do I go with it or not? It’s certainly a moment of faith in one’s capabilities, that’s for sure. I needed to send it ‘soon’.
‘Soon’ ended up being another thirty-six hours later at ten minutes to midnight on 11th May – let’s face it, I just scraped in before the 12th began. I’d finally finished the structural edits having amended my manuscript to include the dream scenes, totalling 99,224 words.
I had a wonderful Friday filled with play and sleep, and food, and fresh air. But this morning, Saturday, I was longing for my desk so headed back to restart the project that had originally been my CampNaNo project for April that was downgraded and affected by the structural edits and proofreading arriving. Anyway, today felt wonderful to return to the creative mode - writing upon a blank page.
Realistically, I’ll have a couple of weeks without the Christmas book so know I can plough my time into the CampNaNo project using the remainder of May, as my own ‘made-up NaNo’ month.
Many followers probably haven’t realised that I’m currently living in isolation, awaiting a major operation. A temporary situation that was planned to end by 25 January 2023, except it didn’t and now, it’s May!
Apart from a few hours, once a week when I collect shopping and my regular jogging sessions, I'm at home. Like a tiny hermit crab, hiding from the rest of the world to avoid nasty bugs and infections, awaiting that hospital call. I did make an exception on my birthday and snuck out for an entire day to celebrate.
My world has become incredibly small compared to the active life I had last year, filled with social and interest groups. My computer screen has become a portal on which I rely thanks to daily zoom sessions and the internet for entertainment and escapism.
I’m grateful that my work supports such a situation otherwise I would have been in dire straits. Likewise, I’m blessed in enjoying many house-bound hobbies which have filled my time and occupied my mind since 19th December – 135 days ago!
I endured a similar but different situation some twenty-odd years ago, so not a first for me. Though I probably won’t ever encounter such a stark situation as this again, so it’ll come as no surprise to hear that my mind is brewing a story capturing the essence of isolation.
And that's the beauty of being a creative - to adapt, respond and find a workable solution to any situation.
Hopefully, later in the year, I'll be able to book and attend library talks, writers' conferences and book festivals, until then I'll be using my time wisely.
Well, my final graph says it all really - 35,576 sparkly new words in the month of April, though not the 50,000 I'd hoped for. I could grouch about it, mope about it but I won't because I also completed my proofreading and structural edits alongside. All I can do is add to the 35,576 words throughout this month and plod on! That's my secret - plodding on!
I have a plan for May ... let's begin!