June Journals #14 ~ Silent Uncertainty

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Competition Novel

When I decided to stop working on my novels for a bit, and concentrate on my blog and the garden instead, it was with a sense of relief.

It isn’t the writing that’s hard – well, some days it is – but more it’s the silent uncertainty.

When I write a blog post, even a mediocre one, I know if somebody reads it. And generally at least one or two people do.  If I’m lucky I’ll get a like or even comment. It’s a lovely feeling.

As I have been fortunate enough to stay below the internet troll radar by being boring, unknown, and uncontroversial, the comments are supportive and encouraging.

Not so with books.

I can spend a year writing a novel which even my family won’t read and feed back on, because they’re too close for constructive criticism.

Without Beta Readers, my only sources of feedback are agents and reviewers. They’re not exactly a chatty bunch. If you hear back from an agent at all, it’s a polite, “this is not for me” message, after weeks and weeks of painful silence. Reviews, which are even harder to get, are all or nothing. Black and white. Fulsome praise or scathing disgust. I have come to dread them.

AlfieStanton

Out with Agents

As someone driven by external validation, despite years of trying not to be, this lack of feedback on my efforts saps all motivation. Currently I have one novel in a competition, and two with agents, and the rest, as Hamlet would say, is silence.

It paralyses me.

Do I work on a current book, without knowing what’s wrong with it? Do I write another one, without knowing which bits I’m getting right, or whether anyone will ever actually read it. Should it matter?

How do novelists slog at a book for ten years, true only to themselves and their story? Where do they bury their self-doubt?

I should really join a writer’s group, although I’m currently a little thin-skinned for that. I’d probably weep at the first unkind word and give up writing forever.

Except I miss writing.

I miss producing books, discovering characters, creating. Filling that blank page.

So I’ll pour those words into my blog for now and try for patience.

Thank you for being listening voices in the void!

Thankful Tuesday: 2013 365 Challenge #86

Remembering Summer

Remembering Summer

Today I am thankful.

Grateful to my husband for getting the kids dressed this morning while I had a shower. Appreciative of the lovely ladies at No. 1 – a drop-in centre run by the Oundle Baptist Church – who entertained my children while I had a chance to catch up with my Mummy friends. I’m grateful to the library for letting my kids run riot and read books loudly, without once saying shush. I’m happy with myself for packing lunch boxes and with my children for eating their sandwiches. I’m immensely thankful for the amazing ladies at Rainbow for another 90 minutes of marvelous craft. And for their assistance in the creation of painted flower pots, woolly sheep, decorated bunny biscuits, easter bonnets and pretty eggs.

Finally, I am grateful to the lovely agent who rejected me today with this email:

You and your book sound absolutely marvellous and, though unfortunately we are unable to represent you ourselves, I think other agents will be interested and I do wish you the best of luck elsewhere.

I’m not sure I would have been happier if it had been an email telling me to send the full manuscript. In fact I can safely say I am happy that it wasn’t. The rejection (even if it’s all lies) has given me a spring in my step whereas a request for the full manuscript would have spun me into despair, as I’m well aware the remaining 200 pages are not as polished as the first fifty read by the agent.

Feel the warm sun

Feel the warm sun

At the end of my carefully planned and perfectly executed day I feel more positive than I have in weeks. The kids have had fun, I’ve had a nice chat and hubbie came home in time for baths so I could walk the dog. During my walk I made a plan to sharpen Dragon Wraiths and hopefully elevate its position in the Slush pile. I feel rejuvenated.

After today I understand why parents sign up to things like baby yoga, swimming, tumble tots, musical minis and so on. I’ve always felt we cover most of those activities at home, or the kids do it at nursery, and therefore I don’t need to spend more money on expensive classes. But now I get it. It’s structure. My day today was structured. I didn’t ask the kids what they wanted to do (as I do normally), I TOLD them what we were going to do, with a caveat that we’d review the schedule at lunchtime if we were tired.

I used to think giving them choice was good parenting because they were learning to make decisions and it meant if they later didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t take full responsibility. Now I see they like knowing what’s going on as much as I do. Maybe not all the time. But starting the day with a plan and a motivated Mummy occasionally might make all our lives easier.

Now what the hell am I going to do with them tomorrow?

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“Mummy, Lucas pushed me.”

“Lucas, we don’t push. Say sorry please. Sophie, don’t provoke your brother. I saw you snatch his Transformer. Give it back and apologise.”

“No! Won’t! It’s my turn. Lucas isn’t sharing. You said we had to share our toys.”

The younger child stood with her arms wrapped around her chest, bottom lip stuck out like a shelf, while her brother glared and held his hand out for the stolen toy.

“Share, yes, but we don’t snatch. That’s not acceptable behaviour. Give the toy back to Lucas or you will get a timeout.”

Claire watched the domestic drama unfolding before her with something akin to horror. She shivered as the scene dragged out memories of her own siblings. Being the youngest she realised she must have sat, as Lily was doing now, on her Mother’s lap, watching as Ruth and Robert yelled and fought. I’m glad I don’t remember. With only two years between them, she and Ruth had mostly been allies. Robert — six years older than Claire — considered himself above childish games by the time she was old enough to join in.

Too busy being the school swot and doing his flute practice. Teacher’s Pet.

Claire considered Josh’s children, with their sun-bleached surfer hair and nut-brown skin, and thought they were far too like him to worry overly about homework. Except Josh is a doctor, so he must have tried hard at some point. And what does it mean anyway? I worked my butt off at school and now I’m facing the sack and reading kids’ books to kill the time.

The two children were still squabbling but quietly enough that Fiona chose not to intervene. Claire listened closely, hoping to glean some nuggets of parenting insight for her two weeks with Sky.

“They’re not normally this bad. They’re bored. We’re used to chucking them outside to run off their fidgets. I didn’t pack for this kind of weather though: We don’t really get snow.”

Claire jerked her head up and gazed at the other woman. It was the first time she had said anything voluntarily to her since they’d met up in the hostel, despite them all sitting down to dinner together. Josh had manfully kept up a stream of anecdotes and idle observations while Fiona stared at Claire through tired eyes.

Searching her brain for a sensible response, Claire cleared her throat and replied, “it’s not normal this late in the year. Last March we were in t-shirts and cracking out the barbeques. Then it started raining at Easter and didn’t stop until autumn.”

“We don’t get much rain either. No wonder you Poms talk about the weather all the time. You get so much of it.” The corners of her mouth raised in a tiny smile before her attention was dragged back to peace-making between her eldest children.

Claire became aware of the tremble in her hands. Fiona intimidated her. She was so poised, and beautiful, and always calmly in control of her gaggle of kids. The prospect of having one small person under her care for a couple of weeks had Claire waking in terror.

“Does it come naturally? Being great with kids?” Claire heard the words and was shocked to find she had spoken them. Fiona looked surprised too, but not offended.

“I wouldn’t say I’m great with them. It’s different with your own anyway. They’re not ‘kids’ they’re your kids. They have personalities, ones that are infuriatingly close to your own. So you understand them and love them for it. It means you clash too — they know how to press your buttons, that’s for sure. And no, I’m sorry to say, being a parent doesn’t come naturally. You have to work at it, like anything else.”

Fiona’s words surprised Claire. Ruth always makes out like being a Mother is the most natural thing. How she wanted kids more than anything and loved Sky from the minute she popped screaming into the world.

“How did you know you were ready for kids? You and Josh?”

“Ah, there’s never a right time to have kids. If you’re in a relationship you think will last, and you both want kids, then you just take the plunge. No one is really ready to be a parent. You learn on the job.”

“Did you give up your career? I think Josh mentioned you’re a doctor?”

“I haven’t given it up, no. On the other hand I have been on maternity leave three years out of the last six, so I’m not legging it up the career ladder. I have the rest of my life to do that, but they’re only little once.” She looked at Lucas and Sophie, who were running round the sofas screaming and giggling and occasionally wrestling each other to the ground. She smiled and caught Claire’s eye.

“Thank goodness.”

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