I’m cutting it fine this month, squeaking in before June, but if you can’t mess around with timelines during a pandemic, when can you?
In the early days of lockdown, I had fond ideas of how I was going to spend it. I wasn’t going to learn a new language, or sharpen up my technological skills. Mine were more modest aspirations, like ‘doing things previously put off.’ Some of that stuff got done this month, like sorting out dozens of photographs, which was a rubbish idea because it made me sad. The garden had more attention than it’s accustomed to. I finally learnt to play ‘Moonlight Sonata’ without cocking it up. I ran (around the garden like a Teddy Bear) and I skipped, which nearly killed me. I worked my way through a ton of screen viewing, including the gloriously black humoured ‘White Lines,’ featuring Daniel Mays, the first two seasons of ‘Rogue’ with Thandie Newton and, another celebration of ‘girl power,’ ‘Queen of the South.’ So refreshing to see (in screen terms only) strong women running cartels. On the film front, I snapped up Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentlemen.’ Who knew that Hugh Grant could break from his usual stereotype and talk like Michael Caine? Rich in story and with an all-star cast, it’s not to be missed. The highlight for me, though, was 1917. Powerful and poignant, it reminds us of the nightmare of war and the sacrifice of those who fought in unspeakable conditions. Cinematography was absolutely stunning. Some landscape shots were bathed in a dull yellow. I wondered if this reflected the mustard gas unleashed on British troops. And books, you might ask? I didn’t reach for my reading pile because I didn’t think I’d be able to concentrate and I was nose-deep in edits for my latest novel.
To put you in the picture, I wrote and sent my latest draft pre-pandemic. Mid-pandemic, it came back with notes. In the meantime the world had shifted mightily and I seriously wondered how I was going to settle down and tackle those vitally important revisions.
As most writers recognise, receiving notes from your editor can be like listening to a weather forecast. Initially, the sun shines, (phew, he/she really likes it). Next, you notice a bit of cloud on the horizon, (he likes it but could X,Y and Z be changed?) If that cloud unleashes a downpour, (my vision for the story is so-and-so) a hurricane breaks loose. Happily, it turned out my editor and me occupied the same climate zone. But it still left me feeling a little strange about knuckling down. Asked whether my creative juices were flowing, I committed authorial suicide, the honest answer shamefully, ‘No, not really.’ A deadline, however, had a transformative effect. Mind over matter was required and I told myself that, if I didn’t feel it, I’d blag it, and if I blagged it long enough, it would be fine. Which, after a bit of going around the houses, or ‘thinking time’ is exactly what happened.
A wise bod told me years’ ago that, in draft form, a story is like jam that isn’t set. Essentially, the basic structure is in place, but there is freedom to shift events and characters around, no need to get too hung up on it. This stage, when you can be radical and ruthless, is the most creative part of writing for me. Uncertainties regarding the trajectory of the pandemic aside, (not at all easy) I actually enjoyed revision and refining the story, and the way it opened up possibilities for more depth and characterisation. One weird discovery: (bearing in mind the original draft was written last year) one of my minor characters stockpiles food ‘as if in preparation for a pandemic’. This has been chopped!
Having sent in the revised draft a couple of days ago, ‘Joe Country’ by Mick Herron is about to get my full attention. The month of May might not be merry, but it wasn’t as awful as it could have been. I’m hoping June will see an improvement.