Tuesday: It’s a very odd experience this nanowrimo thing. 50,000 words is beyond me, that’s for sure. Am on 20,000. Managed to get down 6000 words yesterday. Don’t really know how, but the truth is, now that I’ve got them down, ideas are burgeoning, flocking. To my utmost surprise I appear to be writing a religious allegory. How on earth? Maybe some force is working through me. It is refreshing though just to write and write hardly going back to correct even typos.
Maybe I will give you some more pictures of Tabby’s faces today as we all need cheering up because the weather is bloody awful. I found them on her wall. Ben of postcard fame – (only one though come to think of it. Come on Ben surely you can manage another?) took them. He he, they were too good to languish on a lonely wall.
He he, here they are: Enjoy. This one is: ‘Smiling at a Passer-by.’ (These are all named by Ben.)
This one is: ‘Just chillin in the car.’
This one is ‘Making an effort for a day out’:
This one is: ‘Appreciating an artist’s work’:
I am writing some comic sketches which I am hoping Tabby will do for me in the holidays. Will have to bribe her obv. She is not one to give of her more revolting talents for free.
I met Janet for lunch at a Mexican near Trafalgar Square. They mash the avocados up with the chilli and coriander at your table. Janet had a couple of lovely friends with her from her MA in Book Art. Book Art is a huge thing now apparently. You make art out of old books, take inspiration from them, explore the concept of them. It’s all about connecting with people and connecting with the past and future, or something! We wandered up Charing Cross Road and browsed in a second-hand bookshop. I could have stayed in there for hours, just for the crackly smell of ideas.
We were talking about writing. One of Janet’s friends says that when they are seeking a narrator for their novel, they audition different narrators in their mind. I have been doing this ever since with various characters. I have decided to rewrite the tits book from the point of view of one of the crusty factory workers, because she absolutely beasted her audition. And omnipresent third-person narration does seem more artificial than first person which is so simple, direct, richer in tone. Only thing is, first person crucially limits the point of view so that, in the case of the tits book for example, my readers will not see inside the baddie’s head, which is why authors then turn to multi-first-person, a chapter-each-type-thing, which I don’t really like because just as you are getting into one narrator you then have to get used to another.
Something NOT GOOD: on the way back, going up a tube escalator, I saw a poster that said, ‘He fathered 533 kids!’ with a picture of a surprised-looking dad. It’s a film called ‘Starbuck’ that was made in Canada. Bollox. Of course, my sperm book has been done. Still, everyone is saying to me ‘there are many ways to skin a cat.’ Hate that expression but you can see what it means. And it’s all in the delivery, the setting, the tone, I know, I know. Of course it would be arrogant to think that you can own an original idea these days wot with all the peeps in the world. And of course all those blokes going into the sperm banks and wanking into their little pots, they must have given plenty of thought over the years to the zillions of varying plots based upon the whole weird business.
Another problem with my sperm book was, (and this is what many authors find after a few weeks of struggle) the bloody characters have started rebelling and doing their own thing. The leader of the Heavenly Throng Sperm Gang, Holy Sebastian, only went and got himself shot! Silly boy. It’s really messed up the plot now. He was crucial to its development. However, tussling with a novel is really to be recommended if you don’t mind your head being done in.
All this week it has been the Hockerill Festival of World Literature. I went to see Andy Mulligan talk about his books. He went to work in Manila in the Philippines. He told us the islands were most beautiful place and that you should definitely go there if you ever go on your honeymoon. But he said Manila itself has the hugest, stinkiest rubbish dump he had ever seen. You look into it and think you can spot rats moving about. Then you think maybe it’s pigs. Then, with a dawning awareness, you see it’s children, squirming about in the rubbish trying to find tiny pieces of useful things they can sell. This was the inspiration for his children’s thriller ‘Trash’, which has been translated into 25 languages and is being made into a film. He showed us photos of the dumps and sad cement coffins piled high in the streets. ‘If dead Pablo’s family can’t find the 100 dollars to keep his remains in there, they will just be scraped out and dumped in the puddles,’ he told us.
Later the same day I went to ‘Creating life-long learners,’ by Marilyn Brocklehurst, a librarian who is, to put it mildly, doolally about children’s books. She showed us some of the comically dreadful books that people send to her, and read us some of the wonderful ones. She said that when she was doing a postgrad in ‘Library’, she discovered, in the corner, a selection of the best ever children’s books. She had a look and realised she had read hardly any of them. Her mum had never read her a single book. Her dad had read her two books, Kidnapped when she was seven and Treasure Island when she was eight and that only because she was ill. So she set to and read all of the selection. She was so fascinated by them that she changed all her modules to focus entirely on children’s literature. Now people flock to her library in Norfolk asking for advice in how to get children to read. Of course, it’s about letting them choose, letting them be led by enjoyment, by the excitement in the story. She also said that if you see a little boy who is reading the Financial Times when he is four, don’t ever believe the parents who say, ‘Oh, we don’t know how he became such a reader, he just seemed to pick it up.’ No, she said, readers like that are created from being read to, from an interested adult bringing the books alive for them, bringing the story off the page.
OMG it was just so interesting. I’m going to another talk now: an evening of poetry and drama with Daljit Nagra. Whoop whoop. Gotta go, byeee!
Well that was also fascinating. Poems about identity. A really funny one about being embarrassed about your mum looking different from all the other mums. And poems written by the Creative Writing Club at Hockerill. I was astounded at the confidence they showed in their work. Three dancers interpreted the writing with swift, curving explorations of space.
Wed: Fred is off being Principal for the day! I know, it’s so quiet round here. Bizarre. Normally he is mooching around making tea. However, a good opportunity to keep at the parrots with my ‘Get a Job, Fred!’ Ha ha I bet it’s a laugh being a headmaster. Lucky Fred. He went off with a purple tie and a suit, looking incredibly smart and shaven.
Have just made bread. Three loaves. One for Meg over the road who has been ill, one for Karen at the ponies who has just moved house and one for us. Have also hand-washed the three lovely agnes b beanies that my cousin Kate sent. I am sending them back to her. It’s funny thinking that I don’t need them any more. When I had the cancer somehow I thought it was permanent. My friend Sam (Alfie’s friend Brandon’s mum) kept saying ‘You’ll get through this, soon it will all be over and you’ll be through it.’ She kept repeating it like a mantra and it was as if I couldn’t hear it. It’s like when you have lots of little children you can’t see how they will ever grow up. Eventually they do of course and then they’re suddenly gone.
A headhunter phoned Fred about a job in Abu-dabi. Mmm. Don’t know if can do. Twenty percent tax though. Could maybe pay off the house? But at what cost? Could wait for Chloe and Tabby to get back for the holidays and scarper to visit Fred. Or could hit the ponies over the head with a hammer, leave Alfie in boarding (as he’s halfway through his GCSEs), rent out the house and scarper with the dogs and cats and Bashi. But we love our school. We love our fwends. We love the ponies.
Don’t be silly: I wouldn’t really hit them with a hammer. I would get the vet to do the dirty.
It’s horrible having a pony put down. We had to do it with little Rocky. The knacker people were there with their van hovering like vultures. They kept offering to shoot him in the head. We said ‘No, the vet’s coming.’ They sat there silent, full of deadly purpose. Ugh. Amy, Rocky’s little pony friend came in to the stable and massaged Rocky on the neck with her teeth. Karen-at-the-ponies and I burst into tears and chucked back the Rescue Remedy. We gave Rocky Rescue Remedy too and massaged him til the vet came. ‘Lucky he’s already down,’ said Karen. ‘It’s worse if they have to fall. That horrible thud.’ (She had been through it before.)
When my little flute pupils heard that Rocky had died they were incredibly, disproportionately upset. They wept and wailed and gnashed their teeth. Inez’s sister wrote a blotchy tear-stained letter to Rocky. It said, ‘You were the best pony ever. I loved you so much. I loved riding you and brushing you. You were so sweet.’ The letter rather hilariously ended, ‘Gotta go now! Byeeee!’ The farmer and his wife buried the letter with Rocky’s ashes.
I am reluctant to put Princey down before the time is right. He still seems quite chuffed with his life of escapism and mutual scratchy time with Siffo. Have to go out now in lashing rain to meet the vet for his third anti-lice injection.
Thursday: Today it was Barney’s mum’s funeral. The small church in Barton is unbelievable. My granny Emmeline and her mother Eleanor are buried there. 14th Century painted pictures on the stone walls. A beautiful carved and worn pulpit. Barney’s brother Alexander, who is a conductor in Brussels, had flown over a soprano from the opera. She sang Pie Jesu. Everyone cried it was just so moving. We went outside to see the coffin lowered into the ground beneath a pretty tree where Ann’s husband Patrick is buried. As the vicar said ‘Dust to dust, Ashes to ashes,’ I kid you not, there came a biblical mighty rushing wind. Gale force. The vicar had to shout to be heard. Golden leaves fled past and the sun broke through the clouds. Since reading Dennis’ book and talking lots to Dennis I have become much more likely to recognise the work of spirits. And even Barney, who is a stiff-upper lip sort of chap, realised that it was all coordinated by the mighty firmament. Fred just said, ‘Yes, it was very windy,’ but he never gets things like that.
You know, once, years ago, Barney came in for a drink at my mum’s house. My mum served nuts in a bowl with soft blue-grey swirls on it. Barney said, ‘My mum made that bowl.’ He looked under to check and there were her initials. Coincidences can be so odd. My friend Sue-over-the-fence told me years ago that she was going to St Albans for the day to visit a friend. I said I had a friend in St Albans too. Blow me if her friend was not the mother of my friend!
Anyway, so on Thursday evening, I went to see Diego Morani, this charismatic Italian, do a talk on Europe and Language. It was music to my ears, the whole thing. He is an interpreter for the European Commission and writes speeches for the commissioners. He said: ‘I am not a politician. I am not a historian. I am just a very creative explorer who is obsessed with language.’ Speaking in a heavy Italian accent but in exquisite English, he talked about how language is on the move. This phrase always reminds me of the beavers in Narnia saying that Aslan is on the move, and before you even know who Aslan is you get the shivers. Diego said that, in his view, there is no point in trying to resurrect old languages forcibly. You would have to do things with them to reimbue them with meaning, you’d have to work in them, do business and science in them. He said Latin is still alive in its evolved forms in no less than six European languages. He reminded us that a language goes on before us and after us. He talked about being defined by the languages we use, how we put on masks to switch languages. He said even our faces are shaped by our language. He said ‘Look, I have a very Italian face.’ He told us that at his work, they speak so many languages that every person in the group can speak their own language yet understand everyone else. Being a bit of a joker, he has created a new language called Europanto. It is like Franglais but with all the European languages, or at least all the ones you happen to know, all muddled in. The only rule, he said, is that it should be understood. If the person you are speaking to does not understand, you have got it wrong. He spoke to us in it. It was amazingly easy to understand. The effect was to do with the boundaries of different languages becoming smudged. About a rejection of purity maybe. A celebration of being part of a confusing, disparate whole. About Europe becoming one? I guess we’ll have to read his books to understand more. The blurring of boundaries reminded me of Janet’s current work where she is engaged in merging letters from the Arabic alphabet with letters from our alphabet.
Back on my Pure Synergy, I feel that everything is fitting together. I felt like he spoke only to me. This is being high. Ferg used to try to explain what being on a high was like. He almost could not bear the beauty of the lights of the fairground on the Downs. When we used to get stoned we felt like that. Still, party tonight to drink the barrel of beer won at auction! Seventy two pints of ale, here we come.
Ps. this is a picture of how Fred found the kitchen the morning after the last gin club! (Tidying up does not seem to be one of the ladies’ strengths during or after gin.) Oops. Don’t show Gwanny.