Monthly Archives: July 2012

Finding an old friend

A few years ago, I was wandering through the library at the school where I work, and there was a book seller vending his wares. Just on the spur of the moment, I asked him if he had Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton.

And he did. Wow. Nostalgia trip! It was like finding an old childhood teddy bear in a forgotten cupboard.

You see, B&B was one of the first books I read independently when I was about six, and I devoured it. The plot was simple, the characters easy to grasp and I loved that book. I still love it, and sometimes still even quote it (“It’s cheaper to spit in a bus”, “Pale hands, my heart is singing…”). I read it over and over, and it soaked into me.

I was utterly transported by it, carried away for the first time I could remember. My love of books and writing is all down to this. Thank you Mary Norton, thank you more than I could ever tell you.

As a result, B&B is part of who I am today. It got me into reading, and there’s been nothing I’ve ever read since that has given me such simple pleasure. Flicking through it again years later, I was still captivated by it, like finding a childhood toy that can still transport your imagination to another world. It was like stepping back to being six years old again.

I was swept away by it again when I reread it, and that’s something every book should do to you. Take you away from where you are and drop you somewhere else, whether it’s by magical bed like in B&B or Platform 9-3/4 of Harry Potter.

There’s an elemental power in the first book we remember reading, something that stops with us for the rest of our lives. One of the reasons I love reading – and one of the reasons I love writing – is to write something like this: Something that doesn’t leave you, but becomes part of who you are as you go through life.

I haven’t come close to writing anything as elegant as B&B yet, which is why I keep trying. But I don’t think I’ll ever come close to anything like this wonderful and powerfully simple little story that captured my imagination and then set it free again.

 

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On losing a story

A few months ago, I’d just finished another novel, and was wondering (maybe dreaming would be a better word) what would happen if I was suddenly granted my wish…to be a full time writer and at that a famous full time writer. Kind of suddenly discovered like JK Rowling, people everywhere reading one of my books.

What would my life be like? Imagine that…never having to leave for work in the morning and never having to drive through snow or rain or rush hour traffic. To sit at my desk all day and (to quote Steven Spielberg) ‘to dream for a living’.

But it wouldn’t be all regular royalty cheques and a quiet home. I know I’d get easily distracted, sitting there in an empty house. I’d be forever checking my Goodreads reviews, my Facebook friends. There’d be constant pressure to Tweet my every move. Not to mention the endless meetings and flying to Hollywood to meet with Mr Spielberg for the movie deal, and the endless parties and other things I’m sure I’d hate. Would be tough, I’m sure, having to fly to the Caribbean and lie on a beach.

I digress into my fantasy there, but thinking about how my life would change set me thinking about a story, as such things do. I imagined a housewife, bored with her life and her three children. She has everything she ever wanted: beautiful home, devoted husband and adorable kids. But still she’s bored. She’s always defined by how other people see how she relates to her family. She’s always a wife, or a mother…never just her.
Finally, she starts writing one day, just to slay the boredom and the incipient feeling that life has more to offer her. She writes, and she writes, telling no one – this is something just for her. Eventually she writes a novel and sends it to an agent, and they accept it, but still she tells no one what she’s doing.

Which is where the story starts: she’s sitting at her kitchen table, looking at an advance from an agent and a publication deal that would free her from her domestic life forever. All she has to do is cash the cheque and make it to the airport, and her life is her own. The story is about how trapped she feels, and whether she’d be more free if she was suddenly flung into the spotlight.

I loved that story. I really felt for that woman and what she was going through. It might have been realistic if she just told her family what she was doing when they came home, but I wasn’t interested in that; I wanted to go through what she was going through.

But here’s the really terrible thing: I lost that story.
I thought I had it saved on at least ONE of the computers I use, or the memory sticks that hold my work, but I can’t find it. I must have saved it somewhere because (being the tech guy I am) I always hit save before I print. And I printed two copies: one for me and one for a writing friend.
I can’t find my printed copy, and I NEVER throw my work away. I have hopes my writing friend can find it and I can re-type it. I’ve even tried a file recovery…but nothing.

Why not recreate it? You might ask. That’s a hard one to explain…stories are ephemeral, flighty things, gone with a breeze. If I re-write it, it won’t be the same story. I know I won’t be able to recreate the same…intimacy…with the woman in the story, I won’t get into her head the way I did when I wrote it on a whim. I won’t know who she is as well as I did before.

I’ve never lost a story before, and it’s gone as though it never existed. And I feel bereft. I’ve lost a story and it feels like I lost a friend as well, and they’re such hard things to grasp at the best of times. I know all the arguments: hit save, hit save, then hit save again. I did. I do.
But this time it wasn’t enough. Farewell, lonely housewife.

I’ll miss you.

(Stop Press 18th June 2012: My writing friend found my story! Thanks Portia!)