- I want to write a story about the last days of a writer, but I am preoccupied with hats. . . . Of all the things people wear, nothing is more expressive of character than a hat, perhaps because it is so close to the wearer's face, or even to his mind. This dead man's hat is small, light and jaunty, with an impish tilt in the brim. It makes the random ending of his life seem more outrageous. -
- In the end, real people are nearly harder to like than fictional characters. Is it fair to weave fictions out of the lives of people? How else are fictions to be made? All fiction is the factual refracted. Is the degree of refraction, that is, the extent to which the factual is distorted, the mark of accomplishment? -
- It is interesting that we do not often think of figures or landscapes frozen in words. -
- 'All the books in our library are lost in their own way,' she says, 'but the sorriest of all, in my opinion, are those that were talked away by their authors. -
- Not writing is always a relief and sometimes a pleasure. Writing about what cannot be written, by contrast, is the devil's own job. Yet words on a page make all things possible. Any line, even this one, may be a place to begin. -
If she writes about a non-Western country; see if you can find a dead white guy to quote. It will help orientate any readers who are feeling panicked. Here’s a helpful guide:
- India: Walt Whitman or Rudyard Kipling
- China: W. Somerset Maugham
- The Caribbean: Graham Greene
- Africa the country: Joseph Conrad or Winston Churchill
- So this is how it ends, she thought, when the call was over, and she was soothed by the banality of it. You get a phone call in a foreign country, and just like that the man with whom you once thought you'd grow old has departed from this earth. -
- And there are moments - at parties in Toronto, in Los Angeles, in New York - when he'll be telling people about Delano Island and he'll notice a certain look on their faces, interested but a little incredulous, like he's describing and upbringing on the surface of Mars. . . When he tells people in Toronto that he's from British Columbia, they'll invariably say something about how they like Vancouver, as though that glass city four hours and two ferries to the southeast of his childhood home has anything to do with the island where he grew up. . . An allegedly well-educated New Yorker once listened carefully to his explanation of where he's from...and then asked, apparently in all seriousness, if this means he grew up near Main. -
- "You don't have to understand it," she said. "It's mine." -
- "See, that illustrates the whole problem," Dieter said. "The best Shakespearean actress in the territory, and her favourite line of text is from Star Trek." -
- "The thing with the new world," the tuba had said once, "is it's just horrifically short on elegance." -
Today I am 37, or so my husband says. Last week I started to believe I was turning 38, which led Husband to inquire what exactly were in those drugs the doctor had put me on to deal with the most recent injury.
Been a funny year, good things and terrible things. The book being published was – undeniably – a good thing. Yesterday a piece I'd written for The Spark was published on Books Live. The writer is required to explain what sparked the idea of the novel. Yesterday, I sat there reading it and thought, How far I've come.
I'm no longer the person who wrote This Day. It isn't that I'm better. (I'm writing this wearing two wrist braces, my neck is taped to prevent my jaw from dislocating after an incident and there is even more tape on my shoulders and back. The back brace is sitting at my feet – ever ready - should I have to put it back on, which I've had to do from time to time over the last two weeks.) The difference is I'm armed with knowledge on how to cope. The difference is that I'm no longer flaying in the deep. The difference is that I no longer have the fear: I know what it is and it can't kill me.
I'm also better. – You just said you're not better. – I know. I am, yet not. The Fibromyalgia, managed with meds and a slight change in diet – is no longer causing parts of my body to simply not work, while the burn races along unchecked. Little breakouts occur and I now have tricks, which allow me to stamp it out before it runs rampant. Hypermobility Syndrome has also been helped in numerous ways. We've sorted out nutritional deficiencies (my body doesn't seem to believe making vitamin D is its job, nor is it interested in absorbing B vits from food). Exercises – based on where I am at on that day - improves stability and keeps me strong-ish (I can now cut my food and turn the car on without feeling like a hero). I now know which braces provide support or prevent over extension of joints, without over restricting me and causing knock on problems. My nearly magical tape eases muscle spasms while, often, doing what a brace can more comfortably with less bulk.
The most useful tool, however, has been learning to read pain. The most serious signal doesn't even hurt – a tightness in the body if left ignored, eventually results in serious injury. I had one very bad 'whoops', and now know if I ever feel that again it means 'Call the physiso, now!' at we nip it in the bud before it becomes a major incident. Some pain, however, I simply put in its place and work through. Other bits tell my diet has gotten out of whack. Another – rest more. Another – rested too much. Some pain signals injury. Some is simply the body complaining that it was built (mostly) for 33 years of living-the-life-I-had, and I've gone past it. Overuse: too much, too much, too much. Should have led a gentler life. Ah, hindsight, you always arrive too late.
Now is better. Life is no longer spiralling ever downwards. It is a series of ups and downs, much like owning a jalopy. My 'front bumper' might become too loose, so we work on fixing that; meanwhile a tire goes flat, so we patch it up, only to have the rear bumper fall off, so we strap that on, then my rear viewer mirror cracks. I won't claim to be a cheery person. But I am, as my physio wished, now living my life. It is a good place to be. Here is to 37 years: some jalopies don't quit; they simply gather a bit of rust.
Originally appeared on Books Live
‘If your story had a soundtrack, what would it be?’
I commonly ask fellow writers this question. Writing – good writing – moves to a rhythm and flows in the same manner as music. This staging of words is most easily witnessed in movies, where the pacing of the tale is echoed by both the lens and musical score. Thus action lovers steer clear of flicks full of scenes filmed in soft focus and set to Pachelbel Canon in D.
I write best to silence. But before I begin laying down the words, I must listen to what my characters have to say. These imaginary souls begin whispering while cooking dinner, exercising and taking a shower. As their stories unfold and shift, their actions begin attaching to music. The songs are played while the research gathers.
We hear how we feel. Empathy is strung along the notes. This is what I hope to achieve in words: the tone, the tempo, of the writing portraying the mood of the character and the emotion of the storyline. But my mornings begin with the clutter of the everyday: feeding a dog, taking kids to school and working through my physio routine. When I do reach my desk, I am greeted by a plethora of cyber duties. By the time the e-noise has been damped, my brain is far from the awaiting manuscript. It often requires another cup of coffee (or three) and music in order to sink back into the words. When my head is in the right space, the music is turned off and I begin to type.
The songs I played during the course of creating This Day shifted with the hours of the tale. The music put in me in Ella’s head. It helped me connect with Bart – he, who, by the time the reader meets him, is closed off to the world, even to his wife. It would be cumbersome to mention every song I used over the three years between idea and publication. But if I were to pluck a chunk of the music and try to arrange them along the storyline they’d go something like this: Tracy Chapman’s At This Point In My Life, P!nk’s Try, Florence and The Machine’s Shake it Out, Pentatonix’s Say Something, Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Billie Myers’ Kiss the Rain, Bastille’s Overjoyed (Acapella).
The song list tells the narrative well enough, in its own abstract way. But there is one song that sums up the heart of the tale better than the rest. Oddly enough, I didn’t come across Bastille’s Flaws (Acoustic) until well after the first draft was written. It altered how I viewed my work. When I began working on This Day I thought I was writing to the mantra: pick yourself up and try, try again. Which Ella does, in her own way – try. And yes, the story is, very much, about that. But after listening to Bastille’s pleading ode, I realised there is an underlying theme to all the music I’d been gravitating towards. The song made see that underneath the words was a simple portrait of two deeply damaged souls – Ella and Bart – who, despite their privilege, have suffered through a tragedy. An experience that left them both deeply changed. Flawed. The days of covering up their faults or putting a positive spin on their failings, are over. Yet, these two characters are still reaching out to each other, in their own dysfunctional way. I didn’t set out to write a love story. But, upon reflection, I may have accidentally done exactly that.
- Alia's room was one of messy beginnings. -
- But this was his farewell performance and he was speechifying towards a legacy. The pleasure and engagement of his audience was fleeting, but the reproduction of the full text in the school magazine was forever. -
- But then, you can't put a price on overseas. Even if the fabric is poor quality, people go nuts for an import. -
- Samoosas and mind games. -
- No, she hated all sports. She didn't mind that they happened, out there, in the world, but she failed to understand why her home should be taken over by them and all their grim accompaniments: the ceaseless televisual drone of the commentators, the wasted Saturdays, the interminable post-match analysis. -
- He didn't tell Rashaad that he hoped never to stop being angry, not because he wanted to live in a state of perpetual rage, but because the anger was a way of remembering. -