Friday, 7 January 2011

The Cat's Pyjamas

Apologies - due to time constraints, the Pirelli style annual WKDN writers' calendar is taking a breather this year, but here is a shot from my WW2 research files for 'The Beauty Chorus'. Utility underwear doesn't quite match Ewan McGregor in his kilt from 2008, but
Happy New Year, ladies.

Happy New Year – how are you all? The holidays are over, and it’s time for ‘porridge and hair shirts’ as my Scottish Great-Aunt used to say. I feel a bit ahead of the game this year for once as I’ve been working non-stop. After years of wanting to be A Writer, I still can’t quite believe it is happening - a paid up member of the Society of Authors, the Romantic Novelists' Association … ‘The Beauty Chorus’ is on Amazon … and I’m on Youtube. Today’s clip is the launch video,(excuse me while I hide behind the sofa). The film is beautifully shot, but omg seeing yourself … ack. How are your resolutions holding up? My immediate reaction – to go on a bootcamp health jag – is on hold, because I’m writing every spare moment I have.

Anyway, some things don’t change. I was reminiscing with the pilot how I started writing my first novel fourteen years ago, balancing my keyboard on his sock drawer for a couple of hours before and after work in London. ‘Life’ happened between there and now – babies, working, supporting the pilot while he trained, moving eight or nine times, twice overseas … He laughed and said ‘what’s changed?’ There is still no ‘room of one’s own’, let alone a room with a view. Now, when everyone is at home, with two children you will find me hot-desking around the apartment with my laptop from kitchen table to bed to balcony … wherever there is five minutes peace.

I’m boondoggling tonight – the pilot is in Guangzhou, the children are sleeping, and Momo and Milo the newly adopted Siamese kittens from the animal shelter are (naturally), flaked out on the most comfortable seat in the house. When I say ‘Siamese’ it is in the loosest possible 'where did I leave my pedigree' sense – Momo was dumped with 14 siblings seven months ago at the shelter. When he was going down the celestial conveyor belt to have his chocolate marking put on, he must have turned his head at just the wrong moment. He does have blue eyes that Frank Sinatra would have killed for, and all the sass and chat of a Siamese. Milo … well, we were just going to the vet to pick up kitten food for Momo, and I had the children with me. There was a cage of kittens which had been dropped off for euthanasia. You can picture the rest. He is the Charles Dance of Siamese – a flame point, big old apricot ears, racoon tail and cobalt eyes, and was so tiny when we got him he tried to suckle Momo. Big mistake. Momo is Mr Shawshank Redemption – 7 months in a cat home, covered with scars. Fur flew. A few weeks in and they are curled up on the armchair like a yin yang sign. After several years with the Hound, a couple of Siamese are a cakewalk – but I’m back to writing with neurotic, beautiful four-legged company, so the world is on a more even keel. They are the cat’s pyjamas, and this place feels – a bit – more like home.

Today has been a day off – a birthday party for a bunch of the five year old’s friends up on the Corniche, but I’ve been writing, writing, writing the last couple of months, (hence the blog/Twitter/Facebook ban). The research for this one has been devastating, and it’s quite a relief to have words streaming out rather than in, because (especially in this place), it has been - and is - intense. There's no let up here, no old friends who you don't have to put on a brave face with. Still, stiff upper lip etc etc. When a remarkable man who single-handedly managed to get Spain to overturn the 'pact of forgetting' about the Civil War, and exhumed the remains of his grandfather from a mass grave is helping you with your research, it is humbling. It's a book, not life or death - no matter how it feels when you are writing it. It has felt – as someone once said – like balancing a house of cards on one finger, but it is taking shape.

Here’s a question for you today – not quite up to a ‘prompt’ for once :) Where does inspiration come from? Post-Christmas clearout, I was poised over the trash, flicking through all the papers I haven’t had time to read (as usual). In the New York Times, they reviewed a book by a couple of philosophers which explored the modern world through the Greco-Roman idea of many gods affecting every walk of life. They talked about Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea of inspiration at a Muse – of something external that gifts you with an idea, that spark, that moment that has you reaching for your pen. Maybe you’ve had that experience of inspiration striking just as you are changing a nappy/filling the car with petrol/cleaning the oven? If you don’t pin that idea down, it goes. Where? To someone who is listening, pen poised? What do you think? Is writing all hard graft, applying your seat to the seat and not moving until you have 2000 words? Or is it divinely inspired? Answers in the comment box … and may 2011 (and your Muse), be good to you.

PS The Wall Street Journal’s arts pages had a ‘word cloud’ based on interviewing around thirty writers, thinkers, performers about the New Year. These were the most frequent words: art make need think book work finish love big world work music life. What sentence would you make of those for 2011? Well, I guess that is a prompt of sorts x
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