Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Gifts of ivory and gold

It is in those bewitching hours of 3-5am that I have most of my greatest blog posts written.

Unfortunately, I am writing them in my brain, not wishing to leave the warmth of my bed even if I have left the satisfaction of sleep. By 9am, when I have the time and space to type, they have vanished, blown away in the gale of preparation for school.

Last night (or, technically, this morning) I recall planning to write about my mother and grandmother, who died 24 and 1 year(s) ago respectively. I recall wondering about the problems of mental health, and society's attitude towards it. I remember thinking about my recent nightmare in which I had a maths exam looming but could not bring myself to revise any of the relevant subject matter.

Maybe all these will become a blog post at some point. Maybe.

I cogitated the merits of blogging, the decline in comments (my own fault, for not visiting others' blogs often enough), the speed of reaction to twitter. I thought about my children and how they make me laugh so much, yet I find it more and more difficult to write stories about them on the blog. Is it just too intrusive on their privacy? I wondered whether it was interesting to write about school plays and trombone exams and concerts, all of which dominate my life and mind but are hardly unique to my family. Or I could be more topical - debate the NHS, or the Eurozone crisis, or write about Advent and Christmas, or give my take on Strictly and The X-Factor. Would anyone really be interested in all this?

But then I thought about how lovely it would be to write a post about my wonderful husband; how much I love him; how much I depend on him and how - even after 14 years of marriage - it is a privilege to know him. He has given me two wonderful children and a life with more adventures than I could possibly have foreseen, but more laughter and joy than I could ever have hoped for. 

Happy Wedding Anniversary!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The Coco Pops effect

We have a family tradition that when it is your birthday, you can choose a new breakfast cereal to have.

This doesn't sound like much of a treat, I know, but it truly is something to look forward to. The rest of the year we eat Weetabix. Or Cornflakes, Rice Crispies, Muesli or Bran Flakes. Nothing very exciting; high in fibre and (most importantly) low in chocolate and sugar.

Once a year, we each get to choose Choco Hoops or Frosties or Coco Pops or Crunchy Nut or... blimey, I'm almost salivating at the thought!

So imagine the scene when my daughter came downstairs (late!) for breakfast and discovered an empty box. It had been her birthday: her choice. "What's happened to all the-?" she whined.

My son stopped with his spoon halfway to his mouth. We all knew the guilty culprit. Before I could say anything he said, "I'll go and sit at the bottom of the stairs."

And he did!

Now that's the most effective parental discipline I've had for a long time!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Five things I've noticed in editing my book

This is at least my fourth complete edit of my book, In the shade of the Mulberry Tree, which tells the first year of my family's adventures living in Zambia. Every time I finish I think, 'Great! It's ready!' Then I find more things to correct and re-write. Is an author's work ever truly complete? Here are some things that have astonished me about my writing this time.
  1. Though I pride myself in my correct use of grammar (I blame years of repetitive practice at primary school), there was a run of chapters where I repeatedly used its incorrectly. Its = belongs to it; It's = It is or it has. I know this...but there are gaps between knowledge and application...
  2. I have a propensity to write sentences without verbs. So, not really sentences at all, I suppose.
  3. Certain words repeat many times. I removed a lot of 'somewhat's before this edit; now I have replaced a lot of showing with revealing. Sadly, I don't think I've managed to squeeze the word indubitably in anywhere.
  4. I write a lot of lists with no 'and' to hold them together. Lovely commas, no conjunctive.
  5. There is no room for sentimentality. I cut 1000 words by just hitting the delete button, but I'd really enjoyed writing that chapter! I would just like the Broccoli family to know that if any James Bond film hits our screens which is set in Zambia, my husband and I retain the copyright. (Or at least the bottle of wine that created such a fantastic film!)

And so, to end. My final chapter ought to be an epilogue. But then my penultimate chapter would be my final chapter and it has a really miserable ending. My final edit stage is to split the final chapter into two: a new final chapter and an epilogue. I hope it works!

Then edits done, all I need to do is send it off to publishers or agents. As a meerkat might say, 'Simples!'

(Oh, the irony: blogger spellcheck wants to correct meerkat to market...!)

Monday, 7 November 2011

In which I notice a big change

Sometimes you know that the season has changed.

It could be the colours of the leaves on the tree: the bright green buds of spring or the russets of autumn. 

It could be the produce of the land: glorious flowers in the summer or barren earth in winter.

It could be the TV schedule: the return of Strictly, X-factor and Merlin from September or the plethora of sport in June and July.

Or you could be me. 
I know that winter is coming. 

Today I had to wear socks.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Water for Elephants

Writing Wednesday

There are some books I look at and want to read immediately. Their cover attracts; the blurb on the back entices; the title is intriguing. None of this applied to Water for Elephants. The cover is ok, but not spectacular. The story is to be about a man who found love when he jumped on a circus train, and I have no particular interest in circuses. The title has most intrigue, but is not sufficient on its own.

Here lies the benefit of a book group. Being 'forced' to read the book was the only way I would pick it up. And it was magnificent.

Water for Elephants is a novel about Jacob Jankowski, a Polish American who is orphaned just as he is about to complete vet school. Penniless and confused, he jumps a freight train in the dark, to find he is on a circus train. By the end of the next day he has a job with Benzini Brothers and has fallen in love. Neither is straightforward.

Sara Gruen clearly spent a lot of time researching the details of circuses in the depression era and her efforts paid off. Her descriptions were light yet alive: I could feel myself on the train, against the horse blanket, being chased by mobs, feeding the animals. The whole circus atmosphere was realistically portrayed, showing the outward glamour and the behind-the-scenes chaos and rivalries.

It is a love story; but it is so much more. The circus is the majority of the book, but in flashback, being told by a 93-year-old man from his nursing home. One of the cleverest aspects of the book was the ability to intertwine these two stories, using the characters of Rosie and Rosemary, to have the contrast of keeping animals and keeping old people, and to call for the vet or the doctor.

I have not seen the film, though others at my book group had and said the book was better. The writing incorporates different levels of personalities and administration within the circus and, as I said above, it is much more than a love story. It is an expedition into the life of a second-rate circus in 1930s America.

If you wish to find out more about the book you can visit Sara Gruen's website. I would thoroughly recommend reading it!

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