where the writers are
Getting to grips with the novel, a satisfying critique and hospital miscommunication


Have spent some of today attempting to get more to grip withHallsfoot's Battle. Much to my relief, I've finally finished the scene with Johan's battle preparations that was giving me so much trauma. Thank the Lord. I think part of the problem for me is that the battle training scenes bring in a fresh supply of new characters as they can't all just be faceless Gathandrians - I have to give some of them a personality and a voice, otherwise the whole scene is dead in the water before it even sets sail. And to me, too many characters can be overwhelming - much as in my own life, I find it sooooo hard to deal with more than four or five people at once. Most of my novels have a very narrow stage with only a few people able to stand on it - that's how I work best and where I'm happiest. Even in The Gifting (of which more later), the character numbers aren't huge as most of that novel is a journey from one place to the other. Now in the second of the trilogy (trilogy - God help me!), they're staying in one place - and, worse, of necessity the novel is set in two countries - so the character numbers have to mount. Doubly. Help! All this makes me feel rather out of control and is giving me the heeby-jeebies, which is thus causing me to view Hallsfoot as a great, unwieldy solid mass of stone tumbling down on me from a great height. And I'm unable to jump out of the way. Lordy, what an exciting hobby writing is, eh ... Still, at least it's a chance to learn new ways of writing. Ho ho. Anyway, I'm now scraping in at 38,000 words and I've put some titles for additional scenes in the few blank pages ahead of where I'm at, so there's hope, Carruthers, hope. Possibly.

I was also hugely thrilled (if you can be hugely thrilled - you're probably either thrilled or you're not, really) by one item of today's post, which contained a very satisfying critique of my short story, "Connections", from the Winchester Writers' Conference. This meant such a lot as, originally, when I took the story to my former writers' group, they disliked it so much that when I'd finished reading it out, there was a terrible, terrible silence in which I felt utterly crushed. The silence was so long and so terrible that I was forced to break it myself and apologise for the tone and subject matter of the story. Dammit. Which brings me to the subject of writers' group etiquette: please, please, please, people - if you're ever giving verbal critique in a public setting, never let a silence of more than two seconds go by after the author has finished reading out. It's soul-destroying. When I was a member of the group, I always tried to say something positive once the reader had stopped, even if I hated the piece with my whole heart. It just breaks that terrible tension. Mind you - good comes out of bad, they say - and at least that experience confirmed my decision to leave the group and not to look for a replacement. Not that I'm saying that writers' groups are a bad idea - they're just not helpful for me, I think. I get my writing kicked more effectively into shape via online groups and professional criticism.

Anyway, here's the critique of the story:

"A very 'cool' and well-controlled account of a sexual encounter. I felt the extremely clear, focused and steady nature of the prose reinforced the slightly detached, almost meditative quality of the woman's retelling. This slightly distanced and objective feel adds considerably to the power of the story; the reader has the sense that the energies flowing through this encounter are part of the wider lives of these two people. The writer manages somehow to convey a strong sense that this encounter - in its urgency and inevitability - is part of a wider rhythm, a bigger picture. To make the reader look beyond this immediate scene into a wider context is a rare achievement."

Thank you, Mr/Mrs/Ms Adjudicator - that means a lot. Even though it wasn't placed in the competition (you can't win 'em all, you know!), it means a huge amount. Thank you.

However, in any day, there's good and bad, double dammit. I had a letter from the hospital today, which told me that as well as the laparoscopy and the ablation (thanks for all the notes about my appalling spelling, people, btw! - though I have to say I still prefer oblation ...!), the scary consultant also thinks I ought to have a hysteroscopy as well. Ye gods, at this rate, I shall be tied up with operations between now and Christmas. If I have any bits at all left by 2009, it will be a bloody miracle (buy my books now while I still have fingers to sign them with, hint hint ...!). I was also rather pissed off by the huge numbers of inaccuracies in the letter (which has also gone to my GP) so I sat down and typed out a two-sided reply correcting them all. Which I have posted to the hospital consultant, the Surrey Park Clinic consultant and to my GP. Honestly, I fear the scary hospital consultant didn't really listen to a word I was saying during that appointment (not that I was able to say very much at all, as there wasn't much space left for replies ...). Deep deep sigh ... Well, this time, I'm not bloody taking it lying down (as it were - though I suspect once they've got their instruments poking round in my essentials I will be lying down - and possibly regretting that letter too), and I want them to know my side of it. Plus I want my medical notes to be as near to the truth as possible, rather than a web of fanciful fiction. It would be nice to get a reply of some kind, and it would be nice to feel listened to in the middle of all this, but my family have in the past had horrendous dealings with the medical profession (after all it took years for them to work out that my father had diabetes - diagnosed at last by a locum on a week's holiday cover by the simple measure of sniffing the breath - and by then the poor bloke was all but dead anyway), so I'm not holding out much hope. Though, unlike my poor father, I have every intention of being alive after the doctors have had their way ...

Harrumph!

Anyway, after all that, I've had a much-needed nap. Bliss. Tonight, I might look at Hallsfoot a little more, and then there's Mock the Week and 8 out of 10 Cats on TV, hurrah. Talking of which, I am loving Lost in Austen, which I watched last night. Elliot Cowan is the best Mr Darcy I've seen. Hot stuff and sharp, focused characterisation - well done, sir! That first almost-kissing scene was far sexier than Colin F's wet shirt moment, and indeed better than Elliot's wet shirt moment. Here's a picture of the man, just to cheer us all up:

And here's a picture below of the man in character as Mr Darcy. Also cheery!

Ooh, and I've decided to make a daily total of the time spent waiting for The Gifting to get a reaction. Today I'll add in a few extra facts about the process of being a writer that you may not have realised - just for the fun of it, eh!:

Time since The Gifting submission to publishers: 3 months, 4 weeks and 1 day.
Number of responses: 0 out of 11
Number of times publishers have been reminded by agent: 1
Number of times author has been in tears about the process: 5
Number of times author has felt like crying: c20, but it's hard to be accurate here. It might be more - probably is, really.
Number of times author has felt remotely hopeful: 2.

Ah well, we struggle on in the silence, eh ...

Today's nice things:

1. Writing some of Hallsfoot
2. The story critique
3. Cowan's version of Mr D
4. TV.

Anne Brooke
Anne's website