All posts filed under: writing

The capacity to work feeds on itself

My children were at that time six, three and one. Their care came first. Doctors’ appointments, reading to them, rocking the baby to sleep, car pools — all that had to be done, and done as well as I could, before I could turn to myself. Confronted by this situation, I made two major decisions. The first was to invest in myself, as needed, the money I had inherited from my family. I simply poured my capital into my work […] The second major decision was to increase my energy output and use it as wisely and as fully as I could. Again fortunately, during the years from 1948 to 1961 I had formed the habit of working in my studio almost every single day. Rain or shine, eager or dragging my feet, I just plain forced myself to work. This habitual discipline came up under me to support my revved-up schedule. I simply got up early every morning and worked straight through the day in one way or another, either in my household or …

On rituals (or, what is enough?)

I always believe that the next week is going to be a ‘normal’ week. A week with nothing out of the ordinary about it. A week when the rhythm will be just so. When things will run pretty much as they did the week before. When I nail everything kid related with grace and precision, including the swimming lesson torture, and the ballet night sting-in-the-tail that ends our week.

How writing gathers everything into itself

I was a writer and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t writing. The answer was, I think, that I hadn’t understood how writing gathers everything into itself to make a satisfactory piece. My story, someone else’s story, a place, an idea, a dream, human anatomy, the mind acting on the world, vice versa, some or all and more yet unthought of, had to be combined in the right amounts in order to make a book, an essay, fiction, non-fiction, history, comedy, whatever, work. from ‘A Diagnosis’, Jenny Diski I quote scientific studies and an eighteenth century moral philosopher; I don’t offer them as intellectual accessories so much as I deploy them as tools: how can these other sources of light illuminate my own story better? This is one of the central imperatives of combining personal material with history or criticism or reportage: each thread must do some work that isn’t being done by another; that can’t be done by another…Sometimes I imagine history and science and memory are puppets, and I’m pushing them onto the …

Things I Don’t Want To Know

  Now that we were mothers we were all shadows of our former selves, chased by the women we used to be before we had children. We didn’t really know what to do with her, this fierce, independent young woman who followed us about, shouting and pointing the finger while we wheeled our buggies in the English rain. We tried to answer her back but we did not have the language to explain that we were not women who had merely ‘acquired’ some children – we had metamorphosed  (new heavy bodies, milk in our breasts, hormonally-programmed to run to our babies when they cried) in to someone we did not entirely understand. Things I Don’t Want To Know, Deborah Levy We’re speeding now, towards the summer holidays. Two weeks and two days to go. And yet, there’s so much to be fitted in. Sports day, the school summer fair, the Moose’s visits to T’s school which he will start in September. Play dates and picnics and holiday preparations. It’s all fun, but it has the …

Literary Mothers

“Don’t have a kid until you have a book published,” she says. “Your life changes, you stop caring so much. Get a book out before, when you still think art is the most important thing.” Helen Phillips on Jenny Offill It’s half-term. The little ones are off school and it’s raining in an endless grey drizzle, a fine mist of water. We’re still having adventures (simple ones), and have had two picnics (coats on). Afternoon readings of Mrs Pepperpot are going down well. T, who had the stories read to her a couple of years ago and has now read them hundreds of times herself, calls out which story I should read next (‘The hospital one!’, ‘The one where she goes ski-ing, it’s right at the back of the book!’). The boys sit one on either side of me, until the Pip-Pop gets bored & wanders off to read his own books, and T sits at the end of the sofa knitting. Yes, really knitting! (It’s a scarf for Dog. There’s sometimes a sigh when …

Following the light

From painting I learned something else of infinite value to me. Most young poets have bad working habits. They write their poems in fits and starts, by feast or famine. But painters follow the light. They wait for it and do their work by it. They combine artisan practicality with vision. In a house with small children, with no time to waste, I gradually reformed my working habits. I learned that if I could not write a poem, I could make an image, and if I could not make an image, I could take out a word, savor it and store it. From Eavan Boland’s essay “The Woman Poet: her dilemma” quoted in The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long [underlining mine]. The start of another week. My twenty-first consecutive day of writing (something small, every day – I started on the last day of December). The pages of black ink an unbroken thread through my days. Mostly I feel like I’m just spilling out the detritus of my mind: snippets of dreams, stray thoughts & …

Density & speed

I watched the ever-sparkling Kirsty Wark interview Donna Tartt one evening just before Christmas as I was preparing dinner. Soon I was watching, cooking and taking notes. I just love what she has to say about the qualities that she looks for in a book: Reading’s no good unless it’s fun. But what I always want is…that childhood quality of just that gleeful, greedy reading, can’t get enough of it, what’s happening to these people, the breathless turning of the pages, that’s what I want in a book. But I also want something that’s well constructed too. I like to be able to drop down. Dickens goes so fast, he goes like lightning, but at the same time, any sentence you can lift up and it’s a marvel and a miracle. So to me, I want those two qualities, the two qualities of any great art: density and speed, density and speed. I stood stirring dinner and having one of those light-bulb moments: yes, that’s what I want, to be swallowed whole, totally consumed by …

Resolve

It’s been sparkly and bright. Full of family, food, togetherness & love, and crammed with nearly all of the Christmassy delights we could have wished for. We’ve had a fortnight of near-total bliss and I feel so very lucky. Today the older two little ones are back at school & nursery, B is back at work, and it feels a little like the real first day of the new year. It’s bittersweet: the sadness that we’re not all hanging out together anymore, but the excitement of new projects & plans. The whole year ahead, it’s shape yet to unfold. And all that I wish for, really, is that we’re all healthy, all happy (on balance), all still here next year. Which is, perhaps, a lot. I haven’t made resolutions or chosen a word for the year. Instead I’m following Austin Kleon’s wise advice: something small, every day. Which in this case is fifteen minutes of writing (truly small), every day (truly terrifying). Somewhere, somehow, the commitment to just fifteen minutes. It’s a test of my …

All I want for Christmas

is my own book blog. Six years & thirteen posts doesn’t seem like the best of track records. But, in a spirit of early self-gifting, here we go again. Is there anyone else out there who’s waiting for an invitation in the post to join this most democratic of publishing mediums? I just need to remember that if you’re bored, you’ll go away. I’m not forcing anyone to read, let alone share, my opinion. Also, you’re not even there. Simple.

Slow/fast

There’s one apple left on the tree at the bottom of my neighbour’s garden. Each morning I open the blind and peer out of the back window to check that it’s still there. Somehow while it clings on surrounded by yellowing leaves it must still be autumn, not yet winter. The biscuit turned six months last week on a clear November morning when the first frost was scraped from the car windscreens and the gas supply to our whole street was turned off for the day. Six months since the afternoon we brought her home cocooned in a white Peter Rabbit jacket and lay her on the red bedspread. How could we ever not have known her? May/November: it seems like both forever & just one long amazing moment. Time is still a big issue. There’s so much more now, but somehow I seem to ‘waste’ it. Not surprisingly, the biscuit is happier watching her mummy busy about in the kitchen than read a book. I’m still not good enough at grabbing the moment, at …