Sunday, 19 August 2012

Down to Earth with a bump

It was inevitable, really.  Post-holiday & Marathon excitement, returning to work and organising a sleepover for no 2's birthday. Face it, I wasn't going to get much done this week. On the upside, nothing too terrible waited for me in the office, and as you can see from the previous post, Brave was an excellent choice for birthday film. On the downside, Monday and Tuesday was a bombardment of meetings, emails and colleagues trying to bend my ear. Whilst Tuesday and Wednesday was filled with entertaining hyper twelve years, and trying to create the perfect Dr Who cake. It wasn't a complete disaster,  the icing was Tardis blue and it was sufficiently Tardis-like to be recognisable. But I mismanaged the building blocks so the sides bulged with crumbling sponge, and it ended up somewhat spherical. Luckily no 2 is easily pleased (even more so with the Fez I managed to get in my lunchbreak on Monday), but mother was totally exhausted by Wednesday evening, certainly too tired to write. With another full on work day on Thursday, it wasn't till Friday that I had a chance to look at Parts 2 and 4, before it was time to lighten my bank account by the annual trip to buy school uniform.

The good news is that Part 2 is actually beginning to work in parts. The narrative flow is strong enough and there are certainly sections where I feel I am almost translating my imaginary novel onto the page in the way I intend. The bad news is that not only is Part 4 a lot lighter on the word count then I imagined ( it needs another 10,000 at least), but oh dear, the words I wrote 2 summers ago, look a lot poorer today then they did back then. There's a LOT of work to do clearly.

With a little bit of application of the weekend, I've added 1,000 words to the first chapter, definitely is an improvement on the original. It's progress, but not enough. I have three weeks to go before the York Festival of Writing, and at this rate, I'm way off target.

Ever the optimist I'm aiming to pick up the pace this week. You never know I just might surprise myself.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Rave Review - Brave

It's ages since I've done a rave review, and usually I reserve them for books, but Brave was such a brilliant, brilliant film that I just have to, well, rave about it.

To be honest, I wasn't really expecting much. Pixar releases often coincide with no 2's birthday, and the last two we've seen at the cinema, Wall-E and Up, were only partly brilliant. The review I'd read in the Guardian suggested the film was bland and didn't have much of a feminist message. I've been beginning to wonder whether the glory days of A Bug's Life, Toy Story, Finding Nemo etc were well behind them. But no 2 was determined to see it, so that was that.

I needn't have worried. Within ten minutes, I knew a) they hadn't lost their magic touch and b) this was a REAL women's movie and one that passes the Bechdel Test triumphantly. I didn't need the credits to tell me that it was written by women (though with male involvement), and was pleased to see it was also directed and produced by women, which is not something you see very often.

Anyway, back to the movie. The story follows the travails of Princess Merida, daughter of the King Fergus and Queen Elinor. The film starts with Merida being given a bow and arrow by her father when she is small. She loves it, but her mother instantly disapproves. A bear attacks them, and whilst King Fergus defends them, Queen Elinor and Merida flee. Ten years later, Merida is a lively and opinionated teenager, her father has lost his leg to the bear and regales the tale incessantly. Her mother, casts Merida into the role of perfect princess, whilst her naughty triplet brothers infuriate her because they get away with everything. All Merida wants to do is shoot arrows and climb mountains, but the Queen wants her to sew, wear pretty dresses, and get ready for marriage. Much to Merida's disgust, the Queen organises the other three Lords of Scotland to bring their sons to compete for her hand. When Merida manages to outwit her mother chaos ensues, and the pair have a terrible argument. Merida flees to the forest where she meets a witch who provides her with the chance of a spell to change her mother. Like all good fairy stories, we know this is going to end badly and sure enough her mother does change, but into a bear. (How's that for a metaphor for what being a mother sometimes feels like!) Not only is this a terrible humiliation for such a feminine and delicate woman, but she is now in danger from her husband who has sworn to kill all bears in revenge for his injury. And like all good fairy tales, in order to save her mother, Merida must revert the spell before sun down in two days time, or the Queen will be a bear for ever.

It's a brilliant reworking of traditional fairy stories. We've had brave princesses before, of course, but miraculously on this occasion, the story DOESN'T end with Merida finding a prince she likes and getting married. Hallelujah. Instead, the narrative concentrates on the relationship she has with her mother - and they do it very well. The teenage strops and yearning for the simplicity of childhood will be familiar with mothers and daughters everywhere. The complexity of the relationship is enhanced by the fact that Merida isn't always right, Elinor isn't always wrong. We sympathise with Merida for the way her mother unintentionally smothers her and cheer when she literally breaks free of the overtight and hideously girly dress to outshoot her suitors. Yet we also love Elinor when she realises to her horror that she is naked, a bear and in big trouble. We love her even more when still manages to control her unruly triplets when escaping from the castle.

The story rattles along at breakneck speed, with Elinor and Merida racing to and from the castle in an attempt to break the spell, pursued by the King and his fellow Lords who think they're chasing a real bear. There's not as much humour as in previous Pixar movies, but is still funny enough. My only quibble is that the comedy element is mainly provided by the men, which is a bit of a shame. I don't mind the men being funny, but apart from King Fergus, they are all fighting buffoons, who need a good woman to keep them in hand. It would have enhanced the film a little, if they were a bit more rounded than that. That aside, the drinking, fighting, bear chasing scenes are fun, and whenever the naughty triplets appear they steal the show. Still Elinor and Merida's relationship is both the heart and resolution to this film and rightly so. Both mother and daughter have to be incredibly brave if they are going to put things right, and both have to be prepared to change to make that happen. I happened to be sitting next to my thirteen year old, at the climax and, well, let's just say, my face was more than a little wet.

So well done Pixar. Another excellent movie, with excellent role models for daughters AND their mothers. So much so that when I had a heart to heart with no 1 two days later, she asked if I'd been taking parenting lessons from Brave. I hadn't, but I'm humble enough to admit, it wouldn't be such a bad thing if I did.

Sunday, 12 August 2012


It was all going so well wasn't it? I really thought last time I wrote that I'd polish off the end of this section by last week, giving me a week to really get going on Part 4. As if...

Well, I have been on holiday, so I can't be expected to work that hard. But there has also been the distraction of the Olympics which has rather interfered with my sitting around and writing time. Friday 3rd  and Saturday 4th was all about British medals in rowing, cycling, swimming and astonishingly 3 golds for athletics in 40 mins on Super Saturday. Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford, Mo Farah - simply awesome. Sunday morning should have been an ideal time to get tapping at the keyboard as the family were out at a car boot sale. But the lure of the women's marathon was just too much and I soon put my laptop down drawn into the fascinating race, where Kenyan Mary Keitany the front runner and favourite, ended up fading to fourth,  an unexpected surge from a Russian Archipova spoilt the usual Ethiopian/Kenyan 123 (though Tiki Gelani of Ethiopia got gold and Kenyan Prischa Jeptoo silver).

With all that excitement, our annual trip to Caldey Island, and a surprise outing to the Doctor Who Experience (highly recommended, preferably without vomity child), by Wednesday I was getting twitchy...I'd hardly written a word since the weekend, and my goal to finish part 3 was running away from me. Luckily Wednesday was quiet, and this time when the family went out, I kept away from the Olympics and just typed. It worked like a charm. I raced through my final chapter, finishing it triumphantly on Thursday morning. Well I say finished, I mean the narrative bit was completed. It needs a lot of fine tuning, the writing needs to be better, the pacing is off (4 deaths in about ten pages is going some), and still not sure about the "voice" for the whole section. But, it's enough for now. And although I have to start on Part 4, I do believe I  have a novel that's 2/3 of the way there.

So I felt I deserved 2 days on a beach swimming and reading an acclaimed novel by a famous author who will remain nameless as it didn't do anything for me. The holiday has rounded off nicely with Shakespeare at Pembroke Castle as the sun set making me fall in love with The Tempest, chips on Tenby beach. And with the Olympics coming to an end, decided to extend the writing break to watch another stunning Farah gold, and two fabulous relay races (Womens 4x400 won by US, Mens 4x100 by Jamaica, both world records. Yesterday I decided I  needed a bit of Olympic action myself and had a wonderful day at the Mall with my middle daughter, front row place without needing to pay. Last night's closing ceremony was a bit of a waste (particularly after the marvellous opening) but it kind of felt like it was important to see it through. (And my daughter and I did get a thrill out of the last medal ceremony and the chance to say "We were  THERE!")

Today, I go back to work. My brother is coming this evening, my daughter's birthday sleepover will  occupy tomorrow and Wednesday. My laptop is broken, and I will have to fight hard for writing time and headspace. But I'm in the latter stages of the race. With focus and determination, I should make it to the finish.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Leaping in the Dark

It was asking for trouble really, to start my writing challenge before my holidays had begun. I should never ever do that. The spirit was really willing, but I should know what I'm like when leaving the office for a fortnight. After my last post I was filled with enthusiasm. I went to bed on Monday night with my characters making conversations in my head. I rose on Tuesday and they were still at it. Alas, I was up too late to write any of it down, and as I got on the bus, work thoughts began to obtrude. By the time I was half way down the Cowley  Road my imaginary friends were smothered in an avalanche of concerns about spreadsheets, deadlines and letters to be sent by Wednesday. After two days of full on activity in the office, I was too worn out to do anything more than slob in front of the telly at night. And although I managed the odd hundred words here and there, it wasn't till we finally got away on Saturday that the writing began to flow.

Thankfully, it's been flowing since. We're staying in our usual holiday venue near Tenby, always  a great place for my writing. We've been coming ever since 2008. That year I nearly abandoned this novel. In fact I nearly gave up writing all together following a painful experience in a writing tutorial. (The moral of that particular story being, Never EVER enter a novel segment as a writing assignment...) I was exhausted and disheartened and spent the first few days sleeping. But as I sat in the sunshine with a notebook and pen, I remembered I loved to write. And Ann Gregson and Jo Davies' marvellous paintings in the on-site gallery on site soothed and inspired me to keep going. I love Ann's work so much that we bought a print home. "Leap in the Dark" is an abstract of reds, blues, oranges,greens that seems to me to form a cross that is alive and energetic. The colours jump in four directions, filling the dark edges with light and life. The painting sits above my writing desk as a reminder to me, that no matter how tough it gets, no matter what criticism I receive, I need to trust in my creative processes and keep leaping.

We've been here four days, and so far, so good.  I've been getting up relatively early and while the rest of the family have been sleeping I've been tapping away. I've managed 6,000 words and have three chapters left to go in this section. If I can keep up this pace, I will have filled in the big gaps that were missing from last year's draft, and may, just may ,be able to start editing Part 4, which is in slightly better shape.And my word count is hovering on 90,000  which means I've added another 30,000 words this year, and can definitely claim novel status. I still have a way to go before every word works as well as it should do, but I can feel the narrative strengthening, the character's behaviours becoming less inexplicable, and I'm leaping through the darkness making connections I've never made before
Leaping in the Dark - it works for me, perhaps it should be an Olympic sport.