Well, here we are in that strange limbo between Christmas and New Year: the seasonal festivities over, but not yet arrived at that surge of hopefulness and resolution which marks the beginning of the new calendar year.
I remember as a child (I was about nine or ten) making a single resolution: “I will have more stick-to-it-iveness”. I wrote it down, even then, at that age. And I suppose it’s one I renew every year, without much confidence!
However, I have another two resolutions, which I really do intend to stick to.
First, I am going to edit the rough draft produced during NaNoWriMo. I’ve now read it right through for the first time and I was astonished to find that it wasn’t as awful as I had expected. In fact, it’s perfectly acceptable as a first draft, which is a thought-provoking situation. Perhaps I should always write my first drafts that fast. There are typos, of course, and there are passages and scenes which I have hurried past and which need further development. In one or two cases a whole new scene needs to be written. But really it is perfectly possible to build on this draft to create a finished version. So I’ll work away at it and aim to send it to my agent around February, if there are no major interruptions. I still haven’t found a good title. A comment which reminds me of the running joke in Shakespeare in Love, when the writers and actors either say ‘Good title’ or else look very dubious and say nothing! I will aim for something better than Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter!
In the second place, I’m planning to start a blog. Originally I felt I would just manage a monthly newsletter, but what I’m thinking of now is a blog going out roughly once a week and dealing with specific topics, while I retain this newsletter for a general summary of the month’s activities. At the moment I’m thinking of alternating topics for the blog between reviews of books and discussions of specific writerly topics, like structure or character development. They’ll be relatively short, probably no more than 500 words or so. That’s the general idea at the moment, anyway. It remains to be seen whether I can manage to keep up a weekly blog as well as the newsletter and my novel writing. In any case, this newsletter will certainly continue.
My reading this month has been restricted by all the Christmas preparations, but I did finish Silas Marner. I also managed to read, with great admiration, Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture. And I have reread Middlemarch for about the tenth time!
I was moved to read The Secret Scripture after hearing Sebastian Barry talking about it on James Naughtie’s Book Club on BBC Radio 4. The Secret Scripture has nothing to do with ‘scripture’ in the sense of religious writing, but is a quote from a first World War poem, referring to ‘the secret scripture of the poor’, that is, the hidden narrative of the lives of the poor. The novel consists of two narratives, secretly kept by the two central characters: Roseanne McNulty and the psychiatrist Dr Grene. Roseanne, now nearly a hundred years old and living in an Irish psychiatric hospital to which she was unjustly committed many years before, writes an account of her life, hiding it away as she does so under the floorboards in her room. She has lived through the Irish troubles in the early twentieth century and become a victim of sectarian and misogynistic prejudice. Dr Grene, an Irish orphan brought up by English adoptive parents, is recording his day-to-day experiences: his estrangement from his wife, her death and his guilty regret, his fondness for his patient Roseanne despite his frustration in trying to get to know her. There is a marvellous twist at the end, when their stories merge. I saw it coming, and was beginning to think ‘slightly unbelievable coincidence’, when the author turned the tables on me and revealed an unexpected manipulator behind the scenes. I’m not going to say anything about the ending, as I don’t want to spoil it for you. It is a most beautifully written book, and I can’t recommend it too highly.
Silas Marner has long been a favourite. It demonstrates how George Eliot could work on a small canvas as well as a large one. She devotes as much skill and care to portraying the lives of these poor villagers as she does to the more striking lives found in some of her other novels. There is, of course, much humour in the manifestations of public opinion, something which characterises many of her books, but there is also a loving evocation of country life in the days of her own childhood, which has sent me back to George Bourne’s seminal study Change in the Village, which is sitting in my current ‘to read’ pile of books. And as in many of her longer novels, selfishness and unkindness redound upon characters to their regret, when it is too late to make reparation for what they have done.
Middlemarch? Well, I have a lot to say about Middlemarch, all eight hundred pages of it, which I have regarded since my teens as one of the great novels of all time. So much to say, in fact, that it will need to wait for another occasion or this will never be finished. We’ll keep that in abeyance for the moment, but I will definitely come back to it. What a novel! What a writer!
It’s been a strange month for weather, here in Scotland – remarkably mild for December, but with wild gales from time to time. A few days ago we had gusts over the river of 106 mph, reminding one of the storm at this time of year when the first Tay rail bridge blew down, taking with it a train and all the passengers and crew. Now, as I write this, it is snowing.
The Great Christmas Present-Making Marathon was finished (just) in time. There were two more products from the scarf factory. This one (there are different colour combinations in the various striped scarves):
And this one, made in a soft pom-pom yarn:
The green dragon took a long time (all those separate spikes and claws). Here he is admiring his hoard of treasure:
And showing off his profile. I was very sad to see him leave.
Then I made this lion. I regret to say that I fell in love with him, and couldn’t part with him:
So I had to make another to give away:
They were briefly together:
The three Red Riding-Hood cloaks were eventually finished, and here they are being modelled:
Although the middle-sized LRRH looks a bit pensive in the photograph, she loved it so much she wouldn’t take it off for the rest of Christmas Day and wore it for the whole of Boxing Day too, which made it worth all the effort!
May 2012 be a happy, successful and prosperous year for you and yours!
You can receive this column as a monthly newsletter by going to the Contact page of this website.