Archive | January 2010

The Dysfunctional Synapses of a Writer

I’m just coming to the end of a very busy January – both work-wise and at home. I haven’t managed much writing because I’ve been too tired to get up at 4.00 am most days.

Last weekend was manic. It was all my own fault: I should never have booked to take my grandchildren to see Aladdin on the same weekend I had to work on a Sunday on the Holocaust Memorial Day service put on by the Council. It was all a bit too much for a fifty-something body in a thirty-something mind.

In the early hours of Sunday morning I had a dream and it went like this:

I open my eyes and they fall on my mum’s old nursing chair which occupies prime position in my bedroom in the corner of the bay window. She’s sitting in the chair with my crazy Jack Russell, Sam, on her lap.

‘Sam!’ I yell as I jump out of bed, what are you doing here. You are supposed to be dead.’

Sam jumps into my arms, licking me all over my face, squirming and squeaking with excitement. I can feel his stumpy little tail wagging on my forearm.

‘My mum stands up. ‘That’s just typical of you, Anne,’ she says. ‘I haven’t seen you for three years and all you can do is make a fuss of the dog!’

I put my arm around my little, dumpy mum and give her a hug. ‘Rob,’ I shout. ‘Wake up. Sam’s come to see us with Mum’

‘That’s not Rob,’ says my mum. ‘This is not your house.’

‘Yes it is,’ I begin to argue, but mum interrupts me shaking her head in frustration.

‘It’s no good me trying to explain,’ she says. ‘You never listen to a word I say. You never did.’

I know Mum’s not annoyed with me really because she is smiling and biting her lip, trying not to laugh at me struggling to keep hold of the canine contortionist in my arms. I see her eyes glint with tears of happiness and want to tell her how much I’ve missed her, but don’t.

I suddenly get very frightened and sweep back the vertical blinds to look out of the window. There’s a grey car slewed across our driveway. Two young women are standing in the road, arguing loudly. The car engine is running, punctuating the usual quietness of our little road with the heavy breathing of a diesel engine. A man jumps out, leaving the door open. He grabs one of the girls and shoves her in the car. Her shoe falls off and he picks it up and throws it at her. There is a second or two of teenage hysteria inside the car, before the man slams it shut and it roars off at great speed into the night.

I wake up. In bed. I turn over and go back to sleep.

On Sunday morning I woke up. I asked Rob if he heard Technoson come in and he said he had. About 2.30 am, apparently. (He also said we had a visitor – Technoson had brought a friend home.)

I told Rob straight away about my dream and he said I’d been eating too much cheese. We had a little conversation about Jack Russells and almost had an argument because I want another ‘Sam’, but unfortunately Sam had only one master – me – and was possessive to the point of obsession and pleased himself for the vast majority of his long, yappy-happy life.

And that, folks, was that. Until last night when, in one of our rare conversational moments this week, caused entirely by Kettering Borough Council completely devouring every second of my life apart from when I’ve been in bed, asleep, Rob and I caught up with each other. This is what really happened on Saturday night/Sunday morning.

A new family moved into a house at the end of our road about six months ago. They have a fifteen-year old daughter. Mummy and Daddy decided that their little cherub was old enough to be left while they had a much needed weekend break. At about 2.00 am a worried J, who lives next door and had crept into the back garden in his jim-jams to investigate the wild party that appeared to be going on, decided that there was no other option but to ring his neighbours on their mobile phone. I don’t think I need to explain what happened next. Around 60 15/16 year olds were unceremoniously chucked out when a furious G and his wife arrived home, their special weekend (and their newly decorated house) completely ruined.

Apparently, livid parents were all over Barton Seagrave collecting their variously scattered offspring – and yes, according to Technoson there really was a grey car parked across our driveway, and yes, a grumpy father really did chuck his daughter into his car ……

It’s actually quite worrying that your brain can get quite so mixed up.

Ooo -errrrr ……

Anyway – I really should get to work. Two more days of craziness and then I can, perhaps, take a day off.

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Silver Linings and Frayed Edges

I always try to look for silver linings, both in people and in situations. Even the grumpiest, lugubrious of people must have something that tickles their fancy – or perhaps not!

For the last two years I’ve concentrated on my novels – I’ve still written the odd short story, but not subbed anything anywhere, apart from ‘The Yellow Balloon’ (which was accepted by My Weekly 18 months but not yet published), ‘Hypnolove’ which was published in an anthology, and a couple of other random short stories which were rejected.

I have decisions to make about my writing – two different agents have now said that I am a better saga writer than a writer of the contemporary stuff. Two unconnected professional people – two identical conclusions. The thing is, I loved writing The White Cuckoo. It was written straight from my heart. It is special and precious and it feels like I want to protect it, like a mother would a child.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed writing the sagas, too, but I was helped by a walking encyclopedia of memories of the 20s and 30s and didn’t have to do much research other than sit and talk to my Great Aunt, who sadly is no longer with us.

The White Cuckoo is a contemporary women’s fiction, with the back story set in 1910. My gut feeling is that it works as it is (and both the first and second RNA readers seemed to have the same view, so I can’t be completely out of step, can I?) One of my local readers said she felt like writing to the agents I had approached to tell them how much she loved the story and that it was refreshing to have a main character she could actually identify herself with and root for, instead of reading about criminals, misery and doom and gloom all the time. Now two agents, completely unconnected, have suggested I write the 1910 story as a family saga. The whole point of the Cuckoo is the subtle strands of connectivity between two women – one who lived in 1910 and the other who is trying to sort out the tangled mess in her life in the here and now. If I could liken the novel to a diagram, it would be like the geometry of a sphere-shaped object, with everything connected and the formulae all adding up, but with tangents and parallels going off in all directions, sometimes hidden from view, but there all the same for the reader to discover.

If I re-write the 1910 part of the story as a complete novel, I feel I will be stealing the soul from The White Cuckoo and selling it to the devil.

One agent said that people don’t want to read about your average 27 year old woman who drinks lattes, has a well-paid job and sports car and who travels half way across the country to find her estranged sister and then falls in love with a Civil Engineer. Why? I’m so confused.

There must be thousands of young women who have good jobs, a sports car and fancy the pants off a Civil Engineer. Not everyone is destitute, hard-up and living in a squat and being gang-raped by psychopathic handgun-wielding, granny-mugging thugs.

JM, the agent who has been trying to sell the trilogy of sagas, has suggested that I re-write my first novel ‘Sunlight on Broken Glass’ to make it grittier – to make the heroine really suffer, but to tone down Tom (see previous post) because publishers she approached felt his behaviour is a bit near the knuckle. I think I would rather do this than rip the heart out of the Cuckoo.

Is it really such a mortal sin for a new writer to write a book that is cross-genre – like The White Cuckoo. Apparently you can get away with it when you have a few published novels under your belt, but a new writer? No, no no!

Anyway, despite being a little frayed around the edges, I have decided to tinker around with ‘Sunlight’ and let the ‘Cuckoo’ rest for a while. I just can’t bring myself to dismantle this work of art that, I, alone, have created – it was for me and it is precious to me. I’m not going to let it go. I don’t have to, do I?

In the meantime, I’ll fray myself around the edges a little more by sticking my toe into the muddy water of short story submissions, and I might tinker around with the NaNo novel and see if I can turn it into a pocket novel (using the very successful, Sally Q’s helpful guidelines on her blog).

Right – when I get my first short story rejection, can someone please remind me that it’s just a hobby, it’s supposed to be enjoyment and that all writers have to deal with rejections.

Perhaps my frayed edges will have a silver lining, after all? Who knows.

Anyway, a Happy and successful 2010 to anyone reading this post by a very frayed and frazzled Annie.

Blog Takeover Day

THOMAS FRISBY JEFFSON (1878-1971)



Annie has tried her best to tell my story, but we have to face facts. She’s been trying to get a novel published for nearly two years now and … between you and me and the computer mouse … she need to try a darned sight harder and stop messing around. I know publishers don’t like me because I’m such a nasty piece of work, but there is a reason. I have a secret – a skeleton in my closet – and I’d like to share it with you.



Hey …. don’t go away!. Please stay and listen to what I have to say. I know it doesn’t sound too good, so far, but there is a reason I am such such a horrible character. It isn’t all my fault, you know!

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When I was sixteen, I wasn’t a bad lad. Believe me, I behaved myself and had ambitions. I respected my elderly aunt and uncle because I was grateful to them for giving me a new start in life when they rescued me from my sadistic, cruel mother and took me in. So, I suppose you are wondering where it all went wrong? This is where you hear my true story because I swear that I’ve never told a living soul about the dreadful thing that happened to me.



The year before I moved in with my aunt and uncle, a new family had arrived in the village and rented the cottage next door to them. Young Jack was my age and we became really good friends.



His mother, Mary, always made me welcome in their home. It was a lovely, wafty-walled thatched cottage with nice furniture and always very clean and tidy. She told me that she admired how I had tried to better myself and complimented me on my neat clothes and highly polished boots. Mary was well respected in the village and a regular churchgoer. She was also a very beautiful woman and turned heads wherever she went.



After a while I started to go to church and join in all the activities. I liked being around Mary because she was always so interested in me I wasn’t just the lad who lived next door. Young Jack and I joined the village cricket team and life was good. I was having the time of my life after my miserable childhood.



Mary had married her husband, Old Jack, when she was very young and, although their marriage seemed strong, she often used to confide in me that she felt her best years had slipped away without her noticing. I was really wet behind the ears when I was sixteen!



Don’t ask me to define the moment I fell in love. I always had a big crush on Mary, but I never let it show. I think most young lads about that age tend to get all fanciful about an older woman, don’t they?



Anyway, it all started in a field on a warm late-August Sunday afternoon. I was collecting blackberries for my aunt to make a pie, when I heard a voice call out to me. I looked around and Mary was hurrying across the field, a radiant smile splitting her pretty face. She was carrying a nearly full basket of blackberries.



‘Here,’ she said to me, ‘let me put my basket down and I’ll give you a hand to fill yours.’ We walked along the hedgerow, chatting away, plucking the ripe juicy fruit from the brambles.



I couldn’t take my eyes off her loose golden hair, which blew in wisps around her face and hung in waves over her narrow shoulders. She could have easily been mistaken for a woman half her age. I caught a faint scent of perfume or was it fresh laundry as she leaned in front of me and the blue and white cotton of her dress stretched enticingly over her full breasts.



After a few minutes of picking the ripe, juicy fruit together, I saw some particularly large berries that were right inside the hedge, just out of reach. I leaned into the brambles to pick them. As edged my way into the hedgerow, my foot went down a rabbit hole and I lurched and fell right into the deadly thorns. A hot rasping pain gouged the skin on the back of my hand and I cried out as I scrambled up. The bramble must have slashed through one of the veins on the back of my hand because there was blood everywhere.



Mary and I sat down on the grass; she whipped a handkerchief out of the pocket of her dress, shook it and wound it round my hand, pressing down on the cut with my hand sandwiched between hers. As the bleeding subsided I glanced up at her and was startled to see that she was looking straight into my eyes. A deep desire played around the edges of her seductive smile as we stared at each other. I could hardly contain my excitement. My heart pounded. All I could hear was the sound of her breathing and feel the warmth of her hands and thigh, which was touching mine. I was hypnotised, completely mesmerised by the smell of her, the sound of her voice and her hair tumbling over her shoulders when it should have really been pinned up, it being a Sunday. The sight of her breasts and tiny waist made her seem youthful and vibrant, and yet her maturity and experience seemed to gush from her eyes straight into the tops of my thighs and groin.



She stroked my bare forearm with one hand whilst holding my injured hand with the other and I thought I would be sure to explode. She could see how excited I was and kept looking into my eyes as her free hand effortlessly left my arm and caressed the top of my thigh. Her hand worked its way to my crotch.



‘Sorry,’ I said, after I few seconds, feeling as if I needed to apologise.



‘Never mind,’ she said almost in a whisper as her deft hand played with the buttons on my trousers. ‘When we can be somewhere more private, I’ll show you what it’s all really about!’



I looked all around to see if anyone had seen what had happened. There were people in the field only a few yards away along the hedgerows, and some children played cricket in the meadow on the other side of the hedge. I blushed crimson at the thought someone might have been looking, but a quick glance over my shoulder told me that everyone seemed to be minding their own business.



She stood up and pulled me to my feet. My face was still scarlet with embarrassment. She said, ‘don’t be ashamed, Tom, I know how you feel about me.’ Then she let go of my hand, picked up her basket and walked jauntily away across the field back to the village. Her hips swayed rhythmically, and she tossed her head as she flicked hair out of her eyes. She didn’t even look back at me.



After that Sunday, I kept away from Mary for a while. I felt guilty about the whole episode and could hardly look Young Jack in the eye because of the shame at the thought of what I had done with his mother.



One Saturday, about a month later, my aunt and uncle went out with some other relatives. I was at home on my own, polishing my boots and minding my own business, when Mary tapped on the front window like a jackdaw after a sparkly jewel.



I put down the boot I was polishing, stood up and stretched. I felt a rush of fear mixed with excitement as I opened the heavy, oak front door just a little, a waft of delicate perfume filling the hallway through the crack in the door.



‘Could I trouble you to borrow a darning needle,’ she enquired, fanning her flushed face with her hand and shooting me a seductive look under her eyelashes. I opened the door fully, and politely asked her to come in. I made her wait while I turned my back on her to rummage in my aunt’s needlework bag. I didn’t look round. I deliberately didn’t encourage her in any way. In any case, my face was red with embarrassment and I didn’t want her to notice.



As I was hunting for a needle in the bag, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle; her eyes seemed to bore into me and my cheeks burned crimson. Just as I was about to turn around, having found what I was looking for, I stopped breathing as I felt her arms encircle my waist from behind. I froze as she unbuttoned my shirt and caressed my bare chest. She laid her head against my back, pressing herself erotically against my buttocks. She was kissing the back of my neck and then licking my ear with the tip of her tongue. It was so difficult for me, a healthy young lad with normal desires and yet knowing that any sort of liaison would be inappropriate to say the very least. I did try to pull away I honestly did.

I swear to you as God is my witness, I’m telling the truth. But … well … what lad could have resisted? I certainly couldn’t. She took me by the hand and led me upstairs. She undressed me with slow, experienced hands, before taking off every item of her own clothing. We lay, naked, on top of the bed.



It was my first time.



After that Saturday, it happened about a dozen more times over the next year. It was always Mary who seduced me. At first I wanted it to stop and I tried to avoid her if I could, as I was so ashamed of myself. I was terrified that people would find out, especially Young Jack, but they never did. No one ever suspected a thing.



As time went on, I fell deeply in love with Mary. Whenever we were alone I told her how I felt about her. She told me she loved me back and was just waiting for the right time to leave her husband and for us to be together properly. I worked like a Trojan; saving every penny I could to be able to afford a nice home for us both and to have the means to support Mary and her two youngest children. I both dreaded, and yet lived for, the few times we could be together, consoling myself that the loneliness I felt when we were apart would be worth it eventually.



Just before I was seventeen, my aunt made a casual announcement at the dinner table one Sunday as we tucked into roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. She said that Mary was pregnant with her fourth child.



I was stunned.



I put down my knife and fork and took a deep breath before swigging half a glass of water. With a primitive instinct in my gut and a guilty heart tinged with pride, I knew that the child growing in her belly was probably mine.

We passed each other in the street a few days later. I didn’t think she was even going to acknowledge me. I caught her arm and asked her outright if the child was mine. She looked at me in the eye and said coldly, ‘of course it’s yours, you silly little boy! Old Jack thinks it’s his and it’s best kept that way. You just keep your mouth shut, or else you’ll be sorry!’



As she walked away she looked over her shoulder at me and then stopped. She took a step backwards and gave a condescending, unfeeling sneer. ‘Well I wanted to have another baby before it was too late, and that useless lummox couldn’t give me one!’ she said



I was panic-stricken.



I caught her arm. ‘Mary …’ I said, ‘let’s just talk about this ….’



She shook my hand off and left it suspended in mid air.



‘Please?’



I was desperate.



She pursed her lips and shook her head, before walking away, her eyes cold and hard, staring straight ahead without even a backward glance.



My life was a living hell after that day; but I couldn’t tell anyone. I can’t tell you how hurt I was. I was angry with myself, too, because I could see how stupid I had been.



With the benefit of hindsight, I believe Mary only wanted another baby so that she could be the centre of attention. Her seduction of me was well planned and clinical. What was easier than a beautiful woman ensnaring an impressionable sixteen-year-old lad? She abused me and then discarded me like a bag of rubbish.



I was broken – my heart shattered into a thousand pieces.



After he was born, she would walk around the village, pushing my son in an expensive new perambulator, with her hair pinned up in an elegant bun under a demure hat, swishing her full skirts as she swayed her hips, nodding her head, smiling and passing the time of day with everyone she met especially the men. Her tinkling laughter was so fabricated and contrived, I wondered how I could ever have been so gullible as to be taken in by her. I used to stand and watch, hiding behind a newspaper or bending down pretending to tie my shoelaces in a gateway. Her voice would change when she spoke to a man. Any man. Her head would lower slightly and she would look up at them under her eyelashes; then she would hold their gaze just a second too long. I’d wait for the trill laugh and for her to touch them gently on the arm. They’d walk away with a spring in their step, feeling on top of the world. I knew the feeling all too well and I wanted to run after them and tell them not to be such a bloody fool.



I’d watch as she and Old Jack went to church, pushing my son in front of them in his perambulator. She would march off on Old Jack’s arm, with her two little girls running along in front, looking for the entire world like a devout church-going pillar of the community.



My aunt knew there was something wrong and was worried about me. My mind was in turmoil all my dreams and aspirations knocked aside, worthless and redundant as the reality of the situation hit me like a runaway horse and left me bleeding and broken.



I had been well and truly used.



To an inexperienced sixteen year old, Mary had been the perfect woman. In the next few months I gradually came to realise that her behaviour had been ten times worse than that of my slovenly, dirty mother. In their own disparate ways they had splintered and fragmented my fragile early years, and it took me a very long time to realise that Mary’s actions had not only affected me for my entire life, but had moulded me into the bitter, nasty and unfeeling person I turned into afterwards.



Frank, they called him. I could hear his muffled cries through the wall, physically aching to hold him in my arms and be a proper father to him. I liked his name and it is one I would have chosen myself, had I had the chance. He was a lovely little chap, with bright blue eyes and fine blonde hair.

I can’t even begin to describe to you all how much I loved him. It was a hopeless situation. It was like a heavy, constant ache around my heart. I cried lonely, helpless tears, night after lonely night, over the futility of the situation, knowing I could never acknowledge that perfect little boy as my son.



Occasionally, my aunt looked after baby Frank. I felt on top of the world at such times and always willed him to wake up so that I could pick him up and hug him to me, breathing in his delicate baby smell and feeling the warmth of his body, his little heart beating against my chest. I’d gaze into his eyes and make him chuckle with silly noises, and he would reach out to touch my nose or my mouth. My eyes would fill with tears and I’d deliberately let them fall on his face before wiping them away. In some perverse way I wanted him to be baptised by my tears; to somehow know how much his real father loved him and how it was tearing me apart.



I swear I can recall each and every time I held Frank. The memories are so pure, so clear in my mind. It was like finding a patch of warm winter sun on a cold, bleak day whenever I thought of my precious first-born son.



I threw myself into work and cricket and worked myself into exhaustion most days so that I had little time to dwell on things. I stopped going to church, because Mary was always there, and I couldn’t even bear to look at her. To help ease the pain, I took just a little whisky to help me sleep through the night without having to hear my son living his life, disconnected from mine, through the few inches of the dividing wall. His cries pierced through my body right into my soul. I felt physical pain with the basic, simple need to be a proper father. Where’s the wrong in that? The tot or two of whisky before I went to bed was the only bit of comfort that helped me through that awful time.



After a year or so I took up with my lovely Liz. We married when I was nearly twenty-two. I wanted to make a fresh start but there were two things I just couldn’t do, try as I might. I couldn’t forget my perfect son and I couldn’t give up the whisky that eased the pain of knowing that he would never know that I was his real father.



I carried the scar of that hot, August Sunday afternoon on the back of my hand for the rest of my life. It was a permanent, constant reminder of Mary Haywood the woman who had stolen my innocence and damaged my heart beyond repair.



That is why I drink. That is why I am such a horrible man. You see, Frank Hayward died of the consumption at the age of twenty-two without ever knowing how much I loved him. He died without knowing that I, Tom Jeffson, was his father.



I think Annie needs to tell her readers about my secret, don’t you?