So how was your week? Half term here so little writing but a lot of research and preparation. The decks are clear, the house is in a vague state of order for once and I'm raring to go on the new book, characters waiting in the wings to tell their story. I've been thinking a lot about ways to simplify things this week. Maybe you're the same - I've had a sneaking suspicion for a while things should be easier than this, particularly in relation to writing. Perhaps it's not a question of working harder but working smarter.
Where we walk the hound, the fields are filled with buttercups at the moment - clear blue skies, shifting sea of yellow below. Some dear college friends came down from London for the day yesterday - as we talked and walked catching up with each other and how different our lives are now, my friend paused looking out across the watermeadows sparkling in the sun, said how incredible this place is. Sometimes it's good to see where you are through fresh eyes.
'Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,Luxe, calme et volupté'. (There, all is order and beauty only, Splendor, peace, and pleasure) is one of the few quotes I remember easily from college. It's a famous passage from Baudelaire's 'Invitation to the Voyage'. Would you want a life that was only order and beauty? As I tidied up the house last night after a day with two wet dogs, three children and all the debris from a lunch party I wondered whether I'd swap this for my 'old' life in London - exhibitions, travel, ease and luxury (and sleep - don't forget lie-ins). With the exception of more sleep I wouldn't. Maybe the ideal for a writer is a mix of the city (stimulating, full of life) and the peace of the country. Writers need solitude to work but they need stimulus to 'fill the well' as Julia Cameron put it.
There is so much I love about this life - the things I find hard to deal with are the inability to think in a straight line and the constant chaos (does this sound familiar - tidy one room and while your back's turned the next door room is devastated?). Too much 'stuff' bothers me, but I've had to learn to live with it because that's family life. To me, simple is beautiful - think of blue jeans, Shaker style, perfect pop (like Lenka's 'The Story' in today's clip), Rodin's drawings or a classic pair of white sneakers. Small things can make you feel contented and happy (today, the smell of stargazer lilies in a sunlit kitchen, the taste of a cool melon at breakfast). What do you think are the magic ingredients that make some things appeal to a huge audience? Every other new built house in the UK is 'Neo Georgian' because the 'simple' dolls house proportions appeal to a lot of people. When you look at the hash a lot of developers make of this it makes you appreciate the grace and proportions of authentic Georgian even more.
Authenticity, grace - maybe the best things in life are deceptively simple. My benchmark in writing is Anne Tyler - Pulitzer prize winning but incredibly popular. Because she is so popular some critics are pretty sniffy about her work but Nick Hornby and Roddy Doyle nominated her 'the greatest living novelist writing in English'. She once said 'It seems to me that since I've had children, I've grown richer and deeper. They may have slowed down my writing for a while, but when I did write, I had more of a self to speak from'. She's also talked about celebrating the 'mystery of ordinary life' in her novels. That sums it up for me - life is ordinary right now with sleepovers and waterslides, teatimes and tantrums but it's just as mysterious and challenging as the years I was flying round the world selling beautiful art. Tyler's right - there is something about the simple routines and daily challenges of family life that bring strength, richness and stability. She also talks a lot about the importance of writing without thinking about publication - not until the final draft should you think about the effect it might have on the reader. That's what I'm hoping to do with this book - write something simple and true that I love (like blue jeans). Right now I'm going to forget about the things I can't do anything about and concentrate on what I can do. As they say 'success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get'.
TODAY'S PROMPT: What do you think makes one writer 'popular' while another equally good writer slides into obscurity? Is it enough for a book to simply be good enough for publication anymore? The clip of Debbie Macomber (150 novels, 6m sales), doing the rounds on Twitter's book threads this week brought some interesting reactions from writers. Her books come with knitting patterns. What do you make of that? It got me thinking. Debbie's readers obviously do a lot of knitting. She has a very loyal readership comprised of (I imagine mainly), women who identify with her. If you were going to have a 'giveaway' with your book what would it be? The knitting patterns are I guess a bit like the adult version of the plastic toys taped to every kids comic. Have a little fun - it makes you think about your work in a very physical way when you try and identify what 'personifies' it. Why not grab a pen and paper and draw yourself a mindmap with your book at the centre, and quickly mark out all the options? One of these might just be your usp like those knitting patterns ...
Hope everyone on the six week challenge has had a good week - let's check in on everyone's progress in the comments.