Monday, 27 April 2015


Oh dear, I thought it was three weeks since my last confession - I mean blog post - but it appears to be four. Health issues have held me up a bit, including a bout of debilitating back pain from which I still haven't fully recovered. Back pain is an issue for many writers, so it's possibly worth talking about for a moment before I move on to my writing progress. We all know we're supposed to get up and move around every 20 to 30 minutes, but how many of us do? It can take me an hour to get myself into 'the zone', so the last thing on my mind once I'm there is getting up and breaking the spell.

My son set up a clever little system on my PC where reminders to take a break flash up on my screen. It worked for the first day or two, then it got on my nerves and I turned it off. I always thought I was doing the right thing by 'sitting up straight', but my physiotherapist told me that was part of the problem – I was sitting up so straight all day that I was going to bed with my back locked. He recommended a good exercise for this: sit deliberately slumped, then with your right hand on your left shoulder and left hand on your right shoulder, rotate from the waist as far as you can go in each direction. Repeat a few times.

I do 'core stability' exercises too, but as soon as my back improves, I forget to do the exercises and it gets bad again. I clearly need to change the way I work. I've been looking into the idea of standing desks. At the moment, I'm improvising and have my laptop wedged on a high-ish, wide windowsill. I can't to do much typing like this, because I have RSI in both arms, but I use voice recognition software so I can dictate and use the keyboard occasionally while standing rather than sitting. So far, so good. You forget you're standing after a few minutes, and I certainly feel it's better for my back.

And so to the novel. Regular readers will know I'm having terrible problems with this one, particularly in terms of structure. Over the last few weeks, I have spent many hours staring at the screen until my eyes hurt, trying to figure out a way to put the whole thing together.

Rearranging slips of paper always helps!
It's one particular character's story, that of the mother, that's causing me the most problems. We need to see her past story from her viewpoint, but her present from the point of view of her daughter, who is the central character and whose own stories, both past and present, are told from her viewpoint.

In the end, I was feeling so despondent about finding a way to do this that I decided to temporarily abandon the mother's story and just concentrate on how I was going to structure the daughters past/present stories. So I wrote a list of scenes, using a different colour for the scenes set in the past, then I cut them up and spent ages rearranging them into what I hoped would be a workable structure. Only then did I go back to the mother's past story. I typed out the scenes I wanted to include – there are fewer of these than of the other two strands – changed them to a third colour, then cut them up and tried to intersperse them among the daughter's past and present scenes.

I found I was feeling mildly less stressed simply by being able to see those scenes laid out roughly where I want them to be in terms of how I want the story to unfold. The problem I have now is finding a way of weaving them smoothly into the other narrative. I think I've come up with a way of doing that, but don't really want to reveal it here. If it works, hopefully you'll read it in the finished novel; if it doesn't, I'll be moaning on here and telling you all about it over the next few weeks!

I'm really struggling at the moment with lack of time, even though I'm virtually a full-time novelist. I  teach as well, but it's very part-time – one evening class a week and some one-to-one sessions with MA students, so it shouldn't dominate my time. Nevertheless, I seem to need a 36-hour day and a nine-day week, and I suspect my days would be quite full even without the teaching. Non-writers often imagine that authors sit at their desks for seven or eight hours a day just churning out words, but there are lots of other things we have to do. (I must blog specifically about this one day!)

Today, I've spent quite a while on emails, for example, and I often find answering an email will simply bring forth another email which will also need to be answered. Today, I've dealt with a query about an author event, questions on pronunciation from the American narrator of the audiobook version of The Secrets We Left Behind, an email from my accountant, and emails from three different writer friends (all on writing matters!) I regard Tweeting and Facebook-ing (can Facebook be a verb?) as part of my job, too, though I've been woefully inadequate in that area over the last few weeks.

Although it seems a rather bizarre thing to say, I'm looking forward to going on holiday for a week in May so that I can spend a bit more time on this novel!

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  1. It does feel as if you have too much Life around at the moment - do hope you can be kind to yourself.

    1. Thank you, Jo. I don't know where the days go. I worry that if time continues to go faster as we get older, in ten years from now, by the time I've got up and had breakfast, it'll be time to go back to bed again!