Posted by: pepnocephala | August 30, 2011

Sports Socks and Electric Kettles

When the riots ran through British cities like a nasty dose of diarhoea, my nephew and his family were holed up in their house in Hackney, like wartime Londoners huddled in their Andersen shelters, and my daughter was in Bristol, barricading the doors of the restaurant where she works with a cutlery trolly. But here in small town Wales nothing happened. There was one afternoon when I noticed a couple of wailing police sirens and I wondered if things might be kicking off in down-town Abergavenny, but I think it was just a couple of PCs rushing home for tea.

I’m sure there’s just as much social deprivation here as anywhere, and certainly more than enough of a social divide: take a look at the four by four drivers buying prosecco in Waitrose on a Friday night and compare them with the people coming out of Tesco metro with two bottles of cider, at the other end of town. But the thing is, it’s hard to riot in a place where people know you. I don’t mean simply that  the police round here could recognize most of the ‘usual suspects’ even if they wore balaclavas and fat suits, and round them up the next day without breaking a sweat or sounding a siren. The certainty of recognition and retribution is a factor, but more than that, when you are part of a community, where people know you, not just your face, but your life and your family, rioting is just kind of silly. People would laugh and point, (especially if the only objective of your ‘rioting’ was to nick some trainers from JLB sports. Jeez. Personally I’d riot just to stay out of the place.)

Of course that kind of recognition is exactly what’s missing from  the lives of big city inhabitants these days. Schools could be a big help in creating a sense of identity within a community, and the concomitant  sense that it’s simply not possible to get away with murder, or even smashing a window. Unfortunately, somewhere in the history of schools we decided that adolescents needed to be crowd controlled rather than educated. Whoever thought that putting a thousand or two thousand hormonally assaulted young people in a box together was a good idea? Just at the time when their brains hit the adolescent meltdown, and their sense of identity is in crisis, we put them into institutions where they are just another one of a nameless crowd. If you want a way of making teenagers into discontented, irresponsible, aimless riot fodder, it’s perfect.

So what do we do in the aftermath of that mass, urban tantrum? What we mustn’t do is over react. It was awful, people died, houses and businesses were destroyed, but it isn’t new. Riots have been happening in Britain for hundreds of years. They aren’t the end of the world or even a run up to it.  I asked my nephew what Hackney looked like the morning after the riots subsided and he said, very tellingly I think, “Sheepish!” I’d be willing to bet that the majority of young  people whose front rooms are now crammed with cheap sports socks and electric kettles are feeling a bit sheepish, a bit foolish actually, even perhaps a bit ashamed. They may still be brazening it out, like the girls we all heard on the radio drinking ‘rose wine’ at ten in the morning and blaming the government for the fact they’d just lobbed a brick through the window of Ratners, but I predict a mass outbreak of quiet blushing. Yes, of course we need to state quite clearly to the rioters that their behaviour was not OK, that we, as a society (the thing Mrs Thatcher said didn’t exist …somebody needs to remind the Tories about that one) do not approve. But just as parental violence and hysteria don’t work to cure a two year old of tantrums, so extreme measures like eviction and removal of state benefits won’t cure the dispossessed and the neglected of their desire to scream. You teach the tantruming toddler by turning away from their bad behaviour, and rewarding their good behaviour so that they learn there are other ways to get their voice heard.

One of the saddest things I heard about the riots in London was that the only shops that didn’t get their windows smashed were Waterstones. Now I’d like to believe that this was because of a kind of reverence for books, that the rioters believed that smashing a bookshop window was unthinkable, like farting in church or saying  rude words in front of your granny. But I think the people who were rioting would, at the time, have been  happy to both fart and swear on the alter at their granny’s funeral. The reason Waterstones was untouched was because none of the rioters wanted a book. I’m sure and certain we haven’t seen the last of rioting, and, ultimately I’m glad of that, because although arson, looting and violent assault are not the best methods to effect social change,  we need to keep them open as the option of last resort in the face of those who would bind our freedoms. What I hope is that when the next generation of rioters has its tantrum, the books shops are the first windows to be smashed, as an indication that finally, books are more important and desirable than lycra running shorts or hand held vacuum cleaners.

Posted by: Elen C | August 28, 2011

Frustrations and Faffing About – Paul Manship

Every Summer Holidays I try and start writing a new story. It’s often something I’ve been mulling over for the last few weeks of the Summer Term, perhaps even done some research towards. I’m not big on research.

I usually find my brain takes about a week to re-adjust from full-time teaching and a feeling of being permanently knackered to having lie-ins and the time and luxury to concentrate on writing so, more often than not, I end up accomplishing next to nothing for that initial period. I do a lot of faffing about  – watching films, going for walks, sending e-mails and Facebook messages, semi-randomly exploring the web, reading, but jumping about from book to book.

But then something magical happens and I feel like I’m a writer once again. An idea comes rolling in like a wave. And then, like buses, a few more follow on

After a bit of deliberation, I choose one of the wave-buses and get on it/ride it. Generally, the longer I ride it, the better I seem to get.

I’ve been quite fortunate in one respect this year, because there has been no shortage of ideas. They have come thick and fast. I now know what my next three stories will be  – God willing – and I’m really excited about writing them. Of course there’s no guarantee they’ll be published.

Unfortunately, I’m having a nightmare of a time with what I’m currently attempting to write. I started it a few years ago but abandoned it in frustration. Perhaps I should have left it where it was and listened to those first instincts. But something was nagging at me to return to it.

The story started with a theme rather than a character and a situation. This might have been where I went wrong. It’s not my usual approach.

Anyway, I’m having all sorts of problems. It’s a fantasy but even fantasies have to have some kind of internal logic, which I’m struggling to create. My main protagonist started off as a nice lad, then became a boy with anger management issues, and is currently a girl!

And then, a few weeks ago, I read a children’s book by Sally Nicholls called “Ways to Live Forever”. I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I thought it would be a good idea to Google her to find out more about her. I wish I hadn’t. I discovered that her second novel sounds uncomfortably similar to what I’m writing.

I’ve had strange co-incidences before when writing. A few years ago I wrote an unpublished novel called “Miasma”. Halfway through writing it, I produced what I thought was a pretty terrifying chapter about scarecrows. That Saturday, I watched the latest episode of Dr Who, which was about…terrifying scarecrows. It was weirdly close to what I’d written.

Only last week, something a bit odd happened. I don’t know if you’ve seen or heard anything in the news but recently a man walked into a local (Newport) hairdressers and opened fire with a shotgun. He then went up into some local woods and killed himself.

The story I’m currently writing is partly set in these very woods. I decided to call them Dead Man’s Woods, because there are some woods near my school with this name. In one scene, a teacher and some children are walking through them and one of the children asks about the origin of the name Dead Man’s Woods. The teacher says, “I don’t really know. I’ve lived in this area for twenty years and I don’t know of anybody dying in them.”

Cue local news. Anyway, I’ve basically got two choices:
a) re-abandon the story and possibly come back to it yet again some time in the future   OR

b) persevere (as I am always telling my pupils)

Any advice?

Posted by: Elen C | August 26, 2011

Roald Dahl and Technology – Colin Parsons

I have been an author for a number of years and I need quiet to work my craft.  I’ve always had to find somewhere ‘a make do place’ to actually do my writing, which is fine if the places you find are q-u-i-e-t.

I have two grown up sons (one in his late teens and the other in his twenties), which you probably think is a whole lot easier than having a couple of noisy toddlers around breaking the mood…wrong!  They’re both into today’s modern music and that can be a real pain if you need peace and quiet to write.  It’s not fair of me to work in the living-room all the time as my wife likes to watch the telly.  I can’t go to my bedroom when there’s loud music blasting all around, so over the years it’s been really difficult, until last year…

At the bottom of my garden was a stone and breeze-block dilapidated structure, loosely called a Shed.  To be honest I had let it go years ago.  The windows were smashed and the frames were rotten.  The roof had fallen in after years of bad weather…all in all it was knackered!

One day I decided to see if I could make it work as a study.  With a lot of help from family, and after draining my savings, we started.  We removed the old material and were left with four walls, a concrete floor and nothing else!  We put on a new roof and I found a second hand upvc window and door.  I panelled out the inside with a false wooden floor, walls and ceiling; insulating as I went along.  I got someone to run electrical wiring to it for lights and points.

I finished it in September 2010…what a difference!

I can now totally understand why Roald Dahl liked to work at the bottom of his garden.  It’s like working in another world.  The building is only 30ft from the house, but when inside, it feels so different.  There are no distractions to wrench my train of thought.  And with today’s technology, I can run my lap-top with full broadband, for emails.  I can also use my cordless phone down there too.  If I need to print anything, then I use my wireless printer in the house…its fantastic!  It’s not exactly pencil and paper by candle-light (although I do still use these for notes and an idea pad).

When writing, I really need to express myself and ‘act out’ situations.  It feels silly when I’m in the house doing this, but down in my den I can act away to my heart’s content.  I can also read my work aloud too, which I think most authors have to do at some stage or another.  I guess I’m one of the lucky ones to have a study, but I did wait years and years to get one.

Posted by: Elen C | August 23, 2011

Easy as ABC


I don’t consider myself to be an educational writer. By this, I mean, that, for me, the story and characters are the most important thing. I don’t worry too much about vocabulary or reading attainment or key stages (in fact, I don’t really know what a key stage is…) In short, I don’t worry about the reader; I just try to make the stories the best that they can be.

However.
I’ve just spend a really interesting week with my youngest brother. We went on a camping holiday. It rained a lot. He is learning to read at the moment, so while the rainclouds hid the sea, we huddled up in the tent with a big pile of beginning readers. And it was a very interesting experience.
I don’t remember the point in my own life when the black squiggles on the page turned into James and the Giant Peach, or the Little Prince, or the Railway Children. For me, it just happened and it was magic. My brother is finding it a much harder struggle.
There were loads of things I noticed about him, as a reader, that might well find their way into my own writing.
The sentence The thoroughbred sought the trough and thought of oats didn’t appear in any of his books (in fact, I fear for the sanity of any author who would use such a sentence). BUT, each of those words did. And they all had him open mouthed in disbelief. As did any homonyms; ‘But it doesn’t make sense’ he sighed at my side (see what I did there?).
There were also words that literally made him throw the book on the floor. ‘Q? Q?’, he yelled, ‘How does queue spell Q? It doesn’t make ANY sense!’ He has a point.
I tried to help him break up difficult words into smaller ones (phonemes? Or am I getting that confused with something else?). And, there were some wonderful moments where the English language seemed to take on the truth and beauty of maths. Any words ending in ‘ly’ or ‘ing’ could be broken up and reassembled like algebra; (sm)+(ugly)=smugly; (jumping) – (ing) = jump.
You often get told, as a writer, not to use repetition, outside a picture book. But, once a word had been conquered, it was a delight for my brother to meet it again – and soon. ‘Invisible’ was an implacable foe at the beginning of a paragraph; meeting it again three lines down, it was an old friend.
The foolishness of English spelling will come as no surprise to any of you. But I think, as we become bibliophiles it is easy to forget just how alien the physical words can be. It was a bit of a revelation listening to a child struggle with something I play with everyday. I’m not saying I’m going to forget about plot and character and all that jazz, but I am going to try to remember that turning squiggles into stories ain’t as easy as the Jacksons would have us believe.
P.s. the picture is of my brother in the sea during one of the few gaps in the rain!
Posted by: Elen C | August 20, 2011

Book Festivals

Before becoming a writer, I had never been to a book festival. I feel a bit guilty about admitting this. I can try to justify it by saying that the only festival I ever lived close to was the Edinburgh Book Festival and while it was on I was busy working for the Edinburgh Film Festival. A giant whopper of a book festival happened on my doorstep and I was too busy to make it to any events.

Like I said, I can try to justify it.

But, I think the reason that I never went is that my relationship with books is essentially, private. Especially if they are books I care about. I love the words on the page and the story that they create within me. But I don’t necessarily extend that love to the person who wrote the words. The author is a kind of mother-in-law – instrumental in bringing about the being you love, but not someone you need around thereafter. When I was a child reader, it was the people in the books that mattered, not their creator; Darryl Rivers was my best friend, Enid Blyton was just the signature on the front cover.

I’m thinking about this now, as I’ve just done my first solo, public event at the Edinburgh Book Festival. The event itself was lovely. A bijoux audience, but all of whom had read and loved at least one book of mine. They all listened and shared ideas and laughed at my jokes, which is all you can ask, really. But it did make we wonder why they were there. Did they want to celebrate my stories with me? Or perhaps find out about my writing habits? Or to see whether there is a real, normal person behind the work? Or were they hoping that by meeting me they would somehow be meeting Kirsty Jenkins, or Ali Ferguson or one of my other characters?

There are authors who are also wonderful entertainers in their own right, of course. Or erudite educators. Or gifted raconteurs. You know, the jammie ones. Audiences go to enjoy their company as much as anything.

I did really enjoy my time at Edinburgh, the staff were terrific and the audience was a dream. But I couldn’t help but wonder whether the children were wishing that the books could be there talking to them, rather than the book’s mothers-in-law.

Posted by: philsteele | August 17, 2011

Museum musings

Back in June, Bangor to Cardiff by rail: an erratic route that wanders this side and that of the border,  green pastures, damp woods, red brick.  That  journey always seems to take several months. A fashion student got into the carriage and started sewing an elaborate costume on the table. Those strips of lace were perilously near my Arriva Trains coffee cup… I was relieved when she dismounted at Newport with her work of art  miraculously unspoilt.

The aim of my trek to the capital was a work-related visit to  National Museum Wales  – an institution which seems to have lost a  definite article and a preposition in recent years.  Perhaps they’ve been sent back to Greece.  (‘Give us back our grammar!’).  I hadn’t visited the place for a decade or so.

I definitely approved of the  displays of the early Wales exhibits, redesigned and much improved.  The museum staff  were all incredibly helpful. One might  think that history was a fairly static subject for a writer when it came to research, but of course new discoveries, new science and new interpretations constantly change experts’ assessment of the past.

In the warren  of corridors behind the museums’ galleries were the art and photographic departments. I always love watching artists at work: one thing I missed in my move from in-house editor to freelance writer was the chance to commission artwork myself. Although some of the museum’s illustrative work is interpretive or impressionistic, most of it is a meticulous, highly skilled  recording of artefacts.  I was especially fascinated by past reconstruction drawings for the so-called Cerrigydrudion crown, probably  ceremonial headgear of bronze and hide,  about 2,400 years old. The jigsaw of  painstakingly drawn pieces was covered in notes and queries. What better way to solve historical puzzles than by setting them down on paper and trying to recreate the original processes of manufacture? Aha, so it wasn’t a hanging basket, after all! Hmmm. Perhaps try it the other way up?

I was at the museum regarding work on a book, but the visit did remind me of earlier forays into planning and writing texts for museums and galleries.  It is always very hard to keep the customer satisfied. If you provide reams of detail about exhibits, it will go unread by many. If you offer only a brief summary or an atmospheric caption, any intelligent visitor will feel cheated. The standardised proposals for readability which are included in many exhibition briefs are too mechanistic. One solution is to provide text at two levels, one to grab the visitor’s interest, the other to  provide the necessary detail.

The focus of any display in my opinion should surely  be the genuine artefact in all its glory:  a coin once handled by a Roman soldier, perhaps, or the bronze mirror used by an Iron Age queen. Electronic button-pushing and children’s games are fine in their place, if they work  – and computer modelling of an ancient site can be really informative – but none of these should detract from the object on display. The Victorian glass cabinet did have something going for it.

So: job done. Oh, and a quick tour of the museum’s  international art collection before I left reminded me what a stunning selection there  is on show in Cardiff.  Back to the station.

Museums are our treasure houses. Defend them from cuts, maintain free public access and support them to the hilt! (Actually, is that really a hilt? Or might it be a prehistoric toasting fork…? )

Posted by: David Thorpe | August 12, 2011

How I write my novels

I’m going to share with you very quickly how I write my novels.

I did a workshop on some of this in my local writers’ group and people really appreciated it so perhaps others may find it useful.

[Yes, I said novels. Okay, I know I've only had one and a half novels published, but I have written a few more, plus several unproduced screenplays and published and unpublished comics or graphic novels, and have two novels in manuscript form ready for publication. So I live in hope that at least one more will be published one day...!]

So here goes.

The idea

Firstly I come up with the ideas, which may or may not include ideas for characters at the same time. The ideas have to be gobsmackingly mindblowing, and usually there are too many ideas, because you can’t have too many ideas. Or is it that you can have too many ideas?

The idea usually involves a beginning. The problem is this means you need an end – a resolution in some form of the problem set at the beginning.

And if I don’t have an end then I don’t know where I’m going – rather like setting out on a journey without a destination in mind. I can have a nice time wandering around, but I might never get anywhere interesting.

The summary

Then I formulate the plot in four sentences. The first sentence summarises the setup (the problem which the protagonist must solve), the last sentence the resolution, and the middle two – well, I think you can guess.

For example, here’s a stab at King Lear in 4 sentences: an abdicating king separates his kingdom between two hypocritical sisters, leaving a third, who loves him the most, unrewarded. Having retired, he and his retinue seek in turn the hospitality of the two sisters but they are not so pleased to see him. Their greed and unpleasantness is reflected in civil war in the country at large and the king falls into despair and madness. He finally realises that it was the third daughter who loves him the most, but by then it’s too late and everyone dies.

As you can see, this synopsis leaves out rather a lot; it’s more like a sketch.

One thing it leaves out is subplots; actually it’s helpful to come up with the same kind of four sentence summary for each subplot.

Next, I draw a line and put the main plot points on the line. I then think of more plot points and add them to the line as well. I add as many plot points as I can fit onto the line!

Maybe I will draw another line that is longer.

The scene cards

Then, I dig out a pile of blank index cards. Each of these is going to contain a scene or plot point.

Using the line as a reference, I write all the points out, one on each scene card. This is the really fun bit.

Notice how both generating the line and the scene cards can be done non-linearly. This is great, because that’s exactly how the creative mind works. It darts all over the place like a busy bee.

I’m looking at my cards and thinking: right, if this is going to happen in this scene, then this needs to happen in a scene much earlier, and I need to add another scene in between this scene and that scene.

Maybe I need to switch these scenes around.

And so on.

I spread all of the cards on the table – or maybe the floor if I don’t have a table big enough. Now I can see the layout of the entire plot like a bird of prey scanning the landscape below!

Amazing!

I can switch the cards around, add more points as I think of them to each card.

To start with, the cards might just contain a quick summary of what happens at that point. Just scribbled notes. But if I think of a scintillating line of dialogue or a beautifully poetic descriptive phrase, I will add that to the relevant card rather than just hope I will remember it later.

Next, I will assign colours to characters, and colour appropriately every card in which a given character appears.

Usually, characters live only in particular plot strands. For example, minor characters usually hang out for the most part just in their little own sub-plot, suddenly popping up in the main plotline – most likely to knock it off kilter.

Now I can take out all of the cards that have a particular colour on, and check this particular character’s journey through my narrative to make sure that it makes sense.

I can do the same with subplots.

Alongside all this, I will create character sheets, detailing as much as I can possibly know about each character, usually by interviewing them in my head pretending to be either a cop, private dick, journalist or maybe they are on Desert Island Disc and Jenny Murray is asking the questions!

To this, I will also add what
each character thinks of each other character. That way I know, should they meet each other in the narrative, what their attitude will be to each other.

If there is a particularly important McGuffin, that might have its own colour as well, and this is recorded on the relevant cards just so that I don’t lose track of it and always know where it is. Even if my characters don’t, I need to!

The first draft

Playing with the scene cards might take some time and only when I am completely happy that everything is down there and there are no plot holes, loose strands, or undeveloped characters will I embark on the first draft.

The fact that the plot and character development are already now sorted out, means that in writing the draft, I can concentrate purely on style – which words to use to best describe what I want to say, and come up with scintillating lines of dialogue.

At this rate, I can write one or two thousand words a day, either dictating or typing. (Sometimes I dictate, as I am doing now, using a voice recognition program which is much faster than typing although the style is usually more conversational.)

On a good day, if I have more than a couple of hours free to write, I can write 5000 words. This means that a 50,000 word young adult novel can be written in a month.

But that’s only the first draft. I mustn’t get too excited! Actually, I probably think this draft is the best thing I’ve ever written. But of course it isn’t. The novel of which I have just sent the opening pages and summary to David Fickling, has been through 11 drafts. That process has taken three years.

A novel is not to be undertaken lightly – at least by me.

Editing

The editing process is the one which I find the most difficult. Seeing your work as others might see it is usually only possible after you have put aside for a while.

I try to fool myself that I haven’t seen it before. I do the basic editing on-screen. Printing it out makes it look different and I notice a different set of things to correct.

The same thing happens when reading it aloud – an essential step – new mistakes become obvious.

I give it to as many people as I can who I think will provide constructive feedback. Sometimes this produces conflicting advice and I am plagued by indecision.

Different drafts must be given to different people so that they are reading it afresh.

Even printing it out in a different typeface in a different format can force my brain to look at it in a different way.

But there really is no substitute for putting it aside for some months and then coming back to see it, as if for the first time.

That’s when I notice the really huge howlers and wonder how I could possibly have missed them the first time around.

It goes without saying that I will use a spell check, but this is a poor substitute for proper proofreading.

And it should be properly proofread after the very final draft before sending it away, and assuming that anybody could possibly have any interest in these words which I regard as vital but which in the huge ocean of words that are out there, comprise but an insignificant drop.

This is why I am never precious about my work and always open to any kind of constructive criticism and observation.

It all goes into the mix, it is all useful.

But ultimately, it is on my judgment that the strength of the finished piece finally rests.

The end – but in real life there are no endings – except the big one!

Did I say finished? That’s a joke. I don’t regard anything as ever finished. It is only the existence of the deadline enforced by the publisher that makes it so.

Why is it that musicians may keep on reinterpreting and changing a song or piece of music that they have written forever, and an artist may keep painting variations of the same image, but that even in subsequent editions, a writer is never allowed to change anything but the slightest semi-colon once it is in print?

[By the way, I'm happy to run workshops on this topic if anyone would find it helpful.)

Posted by: wendymeddour | August 9, 2011

Any Riots your Way?

Like you all, I’ve been watching the flames swirling across Britain in a state of shock. Old friends can’t leave their homes. New friends are scared and facebook statuses have changed from: “the cat kept me awake all night” to “the drone of police helicopters are doing my head in.” The world’s gone mad. And sadly, it’s for lots of entirely predictable reasons.

At times like this, I can’t help but take comfort in the ‘threads’ of my friends in the Welsh hills:

“Any riots where you are?”

“Well, I think there was a loud ‘tut’ outside the Spar last night!”

“A ‘loud tut’!! Bring it on…”

“Perhaps it’s all kicking off in Clarach?”

“No – all quiet here. Anyone want to raid the pound shop later? I can be there in 6 minutes. Just getting Mam to do some packed lunches.”

” I’m going to head over to the pier. Those two-penny machines have had it coming for a long time.”

“Right. See you there. I’ll bring ginger beer.”

“Someone’s had their toupee nicked in the high street.”

“Insane!!! Call Dai the Dog.”

“He’s already on the case. Well, he’ll be straight over when he’s finished his round of golf.”

Oh, how I long for the green, green grass of home …

(Note from author:  I’m fully aware that rural Wales is not immune to the effects of recession, unemployment, moral bankruptcy and a host of global crises – but this slightly-off-the-wall sense of humour helps people get through many a difficult time :) )

Posted by: Elen C | August 5, 2011

It Is, Quite Honestly, Hurtful – by Val Tyler

I guess we all have to learn at some time or another that the press
are a law unto themselves and that we have to put up with whatever
they decide to throw at us, but this time I feel they have ventured
utterly beyond the pale. I might be a very minor author, I might even
be slipping so far off the charts that I disappear completely, but for
no one even to try to hack my phone is, quite honestly, hurtful. All
those juicy affairs I spoke about at length, all those late night
rendezvous with Manchester United footballers and even my dodgy knee
that Prince William was so keen to hear about are clearly not good
enough for Mr Murdoch’s empire.

And what has happened to Hugh Grant? Who would have thought he was
such an erudite, right-minded and, let’s be honest, darned attractive
man? Just goes to show you cannot believe what the press has been
writing all these years.

As for me, I will not moan or whine about being invisible. I will not
bug my bra while engaging Hugh in conversation over a couple of
bottles of beer (that I will pay for), I will not even stoop so low as
to throw a slumber party for all my girlfriends. Instead, I will slide
into oblivion, with my head help high knowing that the custard pie of
shame will not be sloshed into my face.

Posted by: Yawn the Post | August 3, 2011

On Duty

I’d made myself a cup of tea, and was sitting idly in the sun. The morning is perfect, and with weeks to go until anyone expects anything of me, life is as close to perfect as it can get.

I’m in Devon, staying in a seventeenth century cottage hidden above the boating town of Salcombe. I’m a world away from my real life, my appalling habits, my petty worries. I’d been reading ‘To the Lighthouse’ and was about to return to Woolf’s fluid and haunting prose, but decided to check my phone for any texts or emails before I completely relaxed into the morning.

And there, staring up at me accusingly, was an email asking if I had forgotten about my Dragontongue post.

Which of course, I had.

I’m a fairly reliable person, or so I like to think. I take pride in being prepared, in never being caught with my trousers around my ankles. But this time, I was guilty as charged.

At first I felt embarrassed, and then cross with myself. I could not let Dragontongue down. This is an enterprise steered by busy, selfless people. I was a ninny. I would have to write something. Immediately.

I left poor Virginia sobbing in the sunshine, scampered into the cottage and cranked up an old laptop I’d brought with me for emergencies.

I would begin writing, and see what happened. Strangely, the combination of an immediate sense of duty, and of an imminent deadline dropping down from above like a breeze block tossed from an aeroplane propelled a surge of happy chemicals through my blood. This is a weird pleasure, I thought, but pleasure it is.

I like to think I have a good understanding of how people work. I watch you all very closely. Yesterday, when walking through upmarket boaty Salcombe, I listened in to conversations, noted relationships between people, nodded knowingly at children who wouldn’t do as they were told, or adults who had come here in search of something and were desperately still looking. Yes, here I was, the amateur psychologist, believing I understood how others work, but still blissfully unaware of what makes me tick.

Because despite my horror of hard work, here I am, forsaking the sun and Virginia Woolf (poor thing, she’s still sobbing) and trying to write a Dragontongue blog within the hour.

And what enormous fun it is. Watching the words tumble out, seeing that they make some sort of sense, finding my way to the end of each sentence, divining the threads of meaning in what I am trying to say, pulling the whole thing into shape. It’s what I live for.

Writing can be a chore, it can weigh us down with its demands. But nevertheless, when something has to be done, and there’s no escape, the surprise of pleasure, and the pleasure of surprise, it is quite striking.

So, there we are. A blog on getting around to writing a blog. This took me just under an hour. Someone has just made a pot of coffee. I’ll take a cup out to Virginia. Poor thing, I think she needs it more than me.

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