Wednesday, 1 July 2015


"All right, I want something beautiful and it will be done by June"
Cheever in Colm Toibin 'New Ways to Kill Your Mother'

Desert years are like dog years, I've come to think. At least looking at the passport pictures I've just had taken you'd come to that conclusion. Put it this way - next time we go through the airport I don't think they'll be mistaking my passport for my 13 year old daughter's again. 

Five and a half years sometimes feel like a lifetime. This is the time of year expats dread - too many goodbyes. This year, many, many good friends who have been here since the very beginning of our desert exile adventure are leaving - plus a quarter of my son's class, two headmasters ... Do they all know something we don't? It doesn't matter where you are, it is the people that make a place and there are going to be a lot of friends very much missed come September. 

The exodus from the desert began a couple of weeks ago. It is a tough time of the year, soaring temperatures, more restrictions than usual. Everything comes to life at night - which is great if you don't have to get up at 5.30am for the school run. A plus is that roads are empty in the morning and an hour's journey takes ten minutes.

Even though it is the children breaking up for the summer, you can't help thinking of all your own summers post exams. Endless sunny days of blonde fields and beaches, months full with time. There's a buzz, an excitement, everyone more than ready to get away from it all for a while. Even though outside the car thermometer clocked up 62 degrees one day, and the shamal (or is it El Nino?) has been blowing dust through here like a sandblaster, I've spent the last few months conjuring up a castle on the beautiful west coast of Ireland. The sense of dislocation when your mind is in mists and rain, and intense green but you step outside into a beige furnace is quite challenging. As is writing love scenes at 6.30am with a pug snoring under the desk.

But we made it - I've just done the final polish of this new synopsis and finished my first typed draft yesterday, coming in under the wire of Cheever's 'do it by June'. Oh the joys of a dirty first draft. (Remember Hemingway: 'all first drafts are sh*t'). I love the joy of it - typing as fast as you can to get the energy of the handwritten draft on the screen, breathing life into the bones of the story. You know it's working when you dream about the characters, when they are chattering in your consciousness as you take a shower or walk. It's a kind of magic, and it's a surprise (and relief) every time when you find the story has legs and it gathers its own momentum. 

One thing I've learnt is get it down, write the story. Your writing head and your editing head are two different things. Or as some people have put it: 'write drunk, edit sober', or 'write without fear, edit without mercy'. The next draft will be different - all those 'xxx' marks will be filled in painstakingly. Each one is where a character or scene took an unanticipated turn, and I need to double check my background notes or something technical. Don't break the flow to stop and go off to research facts, it can kill the momentum of the fiction. If you're worried about writing yourself off down a factually incorrect tangent, in my experience if you've done your research you know more than you think you do, and when you go back to check your fiction, the 'xxx', more often than not will tie in with the facts. Hist fic isn't history - its main job is to tell a good story, and to entertain, and that's in your hands, not the research books. The facts have to stand up, but trust your instincts, and write the best story you can. As Stephen King described it, in the first draft you are telling yourself the story. In the second you are making sure that the whole book supports that story, taking out any dead wood. There's time for editing and polishing later, just enjoy telling the tale and with luck your readers will enjoy it too.

Wishing you all good writing. Here comes summer x

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