So. 2016. Last time I dropped by here it was September. Four months have passed since I gave a brief update on August. I was about to go on a writing retreat – this I did, and in retrospect it was part of what caused me to withdraw from my blog. From writing in general. From the world, to a certain degree, though many factors contributed to that.
I continued to drop by other blogs, though I chose rarely to comment. My introversion reached a peak; I barely left the house or spoke to anyone outside of my immediate family. I put up a bright, breezy front on Facebook.
I didn’t read. For the first time since I joined Goodreads I failed to make my yearly target of 50 books – despite having more time than ever on my hands to read. I just couldn’t interest myself in anything. I felt like an abject failure, and I didn’t want to share that with the world.
I did participate in an online community where I could retain my anonymity. This led to the site publishing two articles I’d written- an unexpected highlight. However, I then ate myself up with worry about the quality of my work and subsequently haven’t submitted anything else. Madness.
In December we lost the light of our world. Our beautiful old dog Sally passed away suddenly, but peacefully, with us both holding her and telling her what a brilliant, sweet being she was. She deserves a better eulogy than a few short lines, but I’m not yet able to tell her tale in a way that does her justice. I’ll come back to it.
She’d been fading for a few months and I’d been unable to leave her for longer than an hour without her becoming distressed, which contributed to my self imposed isolation. Not that I ever begrudged her the time; I’m glad I was able to make her final year one of comfort and companionship. That gentle little dog made my life happy.
So, 2016. I have to find a focus. Find a zest for life, for learning that I lost somewhere along the way last year. Start to write again for the pure joy of it. On my retreat my very perceptive tutors gave me much excellent general advice – but one day took me aside to have a pretty serious talk with me. Specifically, to tell me that I was trying too hard. They were spot on. I was trying to be someone I’m not. I’m not going to be Pat Barker or Sebastian Faulks. I don’t want to be. I can only be me. They suspected I was writing in a specific way for specific people who I wanted to please – again they were right. The words on the page were dull; plodding muddy paragraphs of worthiness. They didn’t remotely connect with who I am. And that is not the kind of writer I wish to be.
It horrified many people when I admitted on my returned that I’d junked the lot. A year’s work, people gasped. Well, not really. Much of that time was research – and that I’ll always retain. I just want to use it in a different way, building in a supernatural element that was missing from the first. And characters that skip off the page instead of transparent facsimiles of life.
On the course we did several excellent exercises. One of them involved telling a historical narrative through fiction. I was given Elizabeth of York, reflecting on the impact of Mad Uncle Richard on her family, and her subsequent marriage to King Henry. I stuck her in the bath, with a glass of wine the night before her wedding to ponder the vagrancies of life. I had fun with it. I wrote something that sparkled off the pages of my notebook (when I could translate my own handwriting!). It reminded me of how I want every page to be written. It should be the benchmark – not the exception. That is the feeling I seek as I pick up the pen again this January.
Starting to blog again seems like a good place to begin. It makes me focus on the words and engage with my writing synapses. I’m blocking out the distractions – taking a break from Facebook, taking myself into a new place to work that involves my actively engaging with the outside world in a very beautiful old library that my lovely Husband Underfoot bought me membership of for Christmas. Not expecting too much of myself, but following the thought patterns and occasional follies of an interesting new central character, Sidonie.
I’m picking up the books again – dipping a toe in classic children’s literature with Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies which is nothing like what I expected, having moments of utter grimness hidden beneath the engaging language. I suspect I spent too much time in 2015 with research tomes – I need to read something fun, so I’ve treat myself to several graphic novels, and kicking off the reading with the first in the Harley Quinn series (though Netflix’s Jessica Jones is claiming large portions of time right about now!).
So, enough introspection. I hope to make gentle progress as the year goes on and to return to the Bat Fit family in a more meaningful way. Enjoy the fresh air on my face, free archives and museums in my home town, and a beautiful new working space full of curiosities.
I also wish anyone stopping by here a happy and healthy new year. Thanks for being here.