Routine – the nemesis of creativity

I recently read somewhere that routine hinders the creative process. To really be creative, we need to let go of organisation, routine and any kind of rigid preconceptions or framework, to allow ourselves freedom to explore in any direction and form that appeals to us.

I couldn’t disagree more strongly. If you think that routine is a hindrance and obstacle to being truly creative, I’d like to invite you to reconsider.

I suggest that it is routine that brings freedom and that freedom is often to be found within boundaries, not outside of them. Because parameters do one great thing for us, yes, even us creative types. They give security. And if you feel secure, you have the freedom to be creative.

All art is created within boundaries. Or a framework of conventions, if you prefer to call it that. Mozart created wonderful music. Yes, undeniably, he was incredibly creative and had a flair for genius. But. Musical composition is, in many ways, one of the most rigidly ‘controlled’ art forms in that very deeply-held conventions dictate the agreed (not necessarily explicitly agreed) common elements that must be adhered to, in order to create any form of music. Sonatas have a specific set of rules, if you like. All sonatas have common elements that make them what they are. Similarly, concertos, arias, opuses and symphonies all have elements which dictate how they are created and underpin the very stylistic identity of a given piece of music.

Now I am tempted to take a long detour at this point and show that this is exactly the same as the genre conventions in writing, but I won’t, as I’ve already waffled quite a bit, and I want to keep this blog fairly to-the-point (wow, who’d have thought it?).

Sometimes, I just go with the flow, letting words pour onto the page. There’s nothing actually wrong with that, but it doesn’t make for good reading, it rarely fits neatly into a novel, and I am a novelist, so that is what I need to write. Unfocussed, meandering writing is great fun, very cathartic and can help you to improve your writing overall. But for ‘everyday’ working writing, you need focus, not indulgence.

Within a framework, we have the freedom to be creative. Routine can be just such a framework. I’m actually not a very organised person with regard to my writing. But I have discovered that an established routine is my friend when it comes to cracking on with my WIP and meeting deadlines.

Why?

If you are organised, you can relax and focus on the job in hand. You make the most of your time, and have something concrete to show for it, so productivity is improved and you feel good about what you’ve achieved. Which makes it more likely you’ll do it again tomorrow. In addition, good output leads to increased confidence and positivity, and as many writers know, these are commodities that can be hard to come by.

Planned routine is anticipated, your subconscious inner writer is actually hard at work long before you sit down at your desk. You know what is expected, and what your intentions are. This means you ‘hit the ground running’ and are ready to go straight away with no need for warming up or getting yourself in the mood.

As I’ve said already, routine planned writing leads to increased output and measurable results, you see the word count piling up and you see that you are moving towards your deadline or goal. This gives you the impetus you need to write through the tough sections of your book, those tricky little scenes and the mid-book blues.

For me, one of the main advantages to this type of organised approach to work is that I remain ‘current’ with my WIP. I literally don’t lose the plot. By that I mean I don’t lose track of characters and plot strands the way I do when I’m here and there and all over the place writing whatever takes my fancy. The resulting draft is more seamless, the scenes transition more smoothly, and small details are less likely to be overlooked.

They say it takes six weeks to develop a new routine: three weeks to break old habits, and another three to establish new ones. Give yourself six weeks, starting today. Who knows, by the time we reach mid-April, you may be firmly in the Routine is my Friend camp.

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Journals: and where to find them

DSCF0369Writing tutors always advocate keeping a journal or writing diary. I keep one sporadically, writing an entry a couple of times a week, then maybe not for a month, then four times in one day. It depends entirely on what is going on in my life.

Why is it useful?

Well, to begin with it’s therapeutic. You can use it to de-stress your life, like a best friend, it won’t tattle on you. You can pour out your heart and soul and love and bile into a journal, and no one will slap your face or lecture you. If you keep it private, you can say and do whatever you please, and know that your dodgy experiments and weak efforts, your anxieties and temper tantrums will never see the light of day, and your loved ones will be unscathed by the trauma that exists inside the average writer. So it’s a safe place to try new stuff or give a voice to things that are bothering you, or to learn how to do new stuff by practising and honing your skills.

It is a great way to keep track of what happens when in your life – all too often, especially once you reach ‘a certain age’, you can forget what happens in your life and how it affects you. Later you can look back and think, Oh I was writing such-and-such when Great Aunt Jemima had her hip replacement. It’s useful more often than you’d think.

I also use mine as a way of noting down odd things I see. I often write a blog post based on a journal entry about people watching. Title or character ideas can also be quickly noted down, or I might write something along the lines of ‘a funny thing happened on the way to the supermarket’. I also make notes of ideas – either for a story that is already part of my life, or a new idea that has just come to me or that I’m playing around with to see if it has enough oomph in it to create a whole novel from.

I write to-do lists along the lines of ‘Tues: finish chapter three, do blog post, tweet, Facebook, and emails to X, Y and Z. Wed: chapter four and think about a flash fiction or poem. Thurs: more social media; create graphic for marketing.’

I make notes about the technical side of writing and self-publishing – keywords to try, niches and genres, blurbs, other books to read, ‘how-to’ tips and ideas.

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AND the main thing I use it for – to write rough drafts of chapters for ongoing work. On top of all these, if I have an epiphany on the bus into town, I can haul out my notebook and scribble away. I often add sticky notes to the page edges so I can find something important later.

I don’t use fancy-schmancy notebooks, I just use an ordinary lines A5 notebook. Okay so big confession: I am a bit of a sucker for a pretty cover. And I like thickish paper, otherwise ink just blobs through flimsy pages and ruins the next page or two. But I still don’t spend a fortune on them. Not individually at least, though I do buy them often and in quantity, but that’s our little secret. I’ve got stacks of them in drawers and on shelves and in boxes. I love to go through them sometimes, perhaps even many years later, and often get a fresh insight into an old problem, or find a forgotten piece that I can use in my writing or on my blog. Sometimes it’s just nice to look back and see a mention of a hope or cherished dream and think, ‘well I’ve done that now’.

Journals can be a gold mine, as a writer you really can’t be without one.

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All change!

I decided on the spur of the moment to change the covers on my murderous journal-style trilogy. I’d had the same covers for books two and three for a few years, and I’d only changed the cover to book one within a month or so of its original publication four years ago. I just felt it was time for a face-lift for the set. I also changed the subtitle of the trilogy which has been ‘The Posh Hits murder mysteries’ up to now. At

the time, I wanted a descriptive subtitle to give potential readers a bit of an idea what the books were about, but I’m not sure Posh Hits ever really worked, but at the time I was a bit short of ideas!

Now I’m using the byline from the cover of the three-in-one version of the book. So the books are now going to be tagged with ‘Friendship can be murder: book 1’ etc in addition to the name of each volume.

I feel quite pleased with the results, hopefully the books now look a bit fresher and have more colour and eye-appeal. I kept the cocktail glasses motif on the covers, as in book one, my main character is quite a socialite and is often knocking back a colourful drink laden with fruit and stirrers. As the story progresses, she becomes less ‘posh’ and a bit more of a down-to-earth mum and family-oriented woman. So I was tempted to put a cup of hot chocolate on the cover of book two and maybe a herbal tea on book three, but in the end they just didn’t look quite right. So I kept the cocktail glasses theme going.

If you would like to know more about this series, please click this link:

The Friendship Can Be Murder trilogy

A little bit about the books:

Spoilt society girl Cressida Barker-Powell confides to her journal that she plans to murder her unbearable mother-in-law. But when she arrives at the scene, she finds the old woman already dead. Obviously her Hitchcock-Movie-loving best pal, Monica, has carried out the deed for her!  Taking the murder-switch idea from the movie Strangers on a Train, Cressida decides the only proper way to show her gratitude is by killing off Monica’s philandering husband and his bimbo girlfriend.  After all, Monica of all people should appreciate the idea of swapping murders? That’s what she wants, right?

Wrong! Cressida quickly discovers that unfortunately this was not what her friend had in mind, and now Monica is devastated and planning to exact a terrible revenge. Which means their friendship is definitely over. Isn’t it?

 

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Thoughts on a blank page

 

The first, new, blank page.

Blank from the French blanc

Meaning white. Also blench/

Blanche meaning to lose

Colour or to grow pale.

But no longer whitely paling

No longer a threatening void

Or waiting gap, a vacuum,

Gulping me down.

Unfillable space.

Look! I’ve written on it.

 

The ‘fear’ of the blank page is a common problem for writers. I guess perhaps less so now we can fill our screens with formatting and editing marks. But still, for some it’s an excruciating obstacle, for others a brief gulp and pause before pushing onward. It’s useful to have a coping mechanism if this is something you can relate to. I write my first draft longhand, and that’s where the blank page seems to become an in surmountable fence between me and my creativity. So I always write my ongoing word count in the margin at the top and bottom of each page, and I write dates, titles, or chapter headings as required at the top of each new page. These small scrawlings help to break up the expanse of white paper and make the page seem already ‘inhabited’, thereby solving my problem. If I’m going through a dry patch, having trouble getting down to writing, I might even make notes in pencil on the ext page for the following days work. So if you sometimes struggle, maybe give these a try and see if they work for you too. Drop me a line if they do!

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Know your stuff – for historical writing

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Huge numbers of people still love to read fiction set in the past. Consequently, many modern authors seek to write works set in bygone eras. The first thing you notice when you read books written by Jane Austen for example, is the difference in language. If I compare a contemporary novel to Pride and Prejudice, for example, then yes, clearly they are both written in the same language, and use hundreds, if not thousands, of the same words. But they don’t always use them in the same way.

Language is a living thing, and it changes and evolves, just like us. Our attitudes change, and as the years go by, we learn, we develop, we change. And as we change, the language we use also changes.

For a writer it can be difficult to find the right words to express what you want to say. If your writing is set in the past it can be really tough. You want your prose to read like it could have been written by Austen, but you don’t want it to be dull, dense or overly complicated for twenty-first century readers who are less used to reading a style full of long sentences and descriptive passages.

My advice is, keep it simple. Write in a slightly more formal, grammatically correct style than you usually do, but don’t overdo it. Keep your sentence structure modern in the sense of being shorter, clearer and to the point, and avoid being too ‘wordy’. Then examine your writing for modern phrases and sayings, or modern concepts and allusions that have sneaked into your work. Make sure your work is carefully positioned in the world you are writing about. Don’t use words, phrases and ideas that would have been alien to your chosen era. To use Jane Austen again to illustrate an example, don’t refer to objects and things as stuff; stuff was another word for fabric or material. Many words have changed their meaning so make sure you use language consciously.

If you’re not sure about something, and research and interest groups haven’t helped you, then my suggestion would be to leave it out if you possibly can. Never underestimate the knowledge of your reader – if you have introduced an anachronism – something from the wrong time period – you can bet your reader will notice!

For research and guidance, check out these sites:

A glossary of Regency terms: http://www.linoreburkard.com/resources_glossary.html#t

The London season: http://www.logicmgmt.com/1876/season.htm

A great writing blog: https://maggiemackeever.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/writing-regency/

An introduction to the world of Jane Austen’s novels: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2007/10/01/jane-austens-language/

 

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Alliteration and her sisters

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Round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran. (rock not included)

We all know that one, don’t we. Though I usually get rugged and ragged back to front. I have to remind myself that whilst a rascal can be rugged or ragged, a rock can pretty much only be rugged.

As we learned in junior school, alliteration is putting together words with the same initial letter. In the case of the above phrase, R, the pirate’s favourite letter.

This can be a useful literary device when writing, and like most literary devices, it is used to make the reader feel, view or interpret your writing in a particular way by creating a mood or appearance. But use it sparingly. The problem with any literary device, is that all too easily it can draw attention away from what you’re writing and turn the focus on itself, distracting your reader from you’re story in the same way you can sometimes fail to see the puppet-show because you’re focusing on the strings.

Sibilance is the repeated use of an S sound, or a hissing sound. You put together words with lots of s, sh and soft c sounds: Sid’s silly scented snake slithered smoothly across the shiny façade. Unlike with Alliteration, the repeated sounds don’t have to be confined to the beginning of the word.

Assonance is the repeated use of vowel sounds: cut jug, heed beat,   or the same or similar consonants with different vowels: jiggle juggle, dilly-dally.

Consonance is the repetition of matching consonant sounds: ruthless cutthroats, repeated reports. It can quickly descend into Alliteration if only the initial letter(s) are repeated!

These can all be useful for creating a certain mood, or an attitude, or making the reader see a character or setting in a particular way. It can also imbue your writing with a poetic or lyrical quality. In fact most poetry contains some or more than one of these devices. Think of Wordworth’s I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud, with all the repeated Ls, the Hs, the Ds, the long vowels of wandered, lonely and cloud.

It can also have a unifying effect, making all parts fit together with a repetition of shared letters and sounds. But like all good things, in prose it needs to be used in moderation.

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Don’t forget to write!

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I have a lot of books. I don’t just mean books that I love to read or browse through for pleasure. I’ve also got a massive number of books on the ‘how-to’ side of writing – books on techniques, style, language. On genre, on creativity, on editing, on how to plot, on how not to plot. On self-publishing, on marketing, on blogging, on research, on building my brand, on building social media contacts, on building a website, on forensics, poisons, weapons, costume, history and psychology. A lot of books. I’ve also got dictionaries, thesauruseseses and THAT yearbook which comes out usually about a month after I bought the previous one.

The thing is, with all this pressure on me to ‘perform’, it’s really easy to forget to do any actual writing.

When I was working outside the home, my writing time was more or less built in to my working schedule automatically. I had a long commute to work on public transport, a whole hour for lunch, and a long commute home again. I could pretty much count on two to three hours per day of writing time, without even impacting on my evenings or weekends. Little did I know back then I was spoiled rotten!

Not any more. Now I have a ten-second commute to my ‘office’ just behind the kitchen. I sometimes have a lunchbreak, and when I do, that’s when I concentrate on my media-frenzy.

So I realise now I’m going to have to get tough with myself. I hate that rather overused phrase ‘carve out some time’, but I have to admit the truth of needing to do exactly that. I’ve got to write it down on my daily schedule and stick to it – nothing can interfere with this special time that I must ‘fence in’ to achieve some new writing every day. Otherwise, when will I ever get round to doing it? And what’s the point of planning and plotting and researching and marketing if I don’t write anything?

Looking back – over my shoulder…

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I am a self-doubter and a self-regulator. I am not confident in my own abilities but contrarily I do trust my own instincts. I know a good story when I see it, it’s just that I doubt my ability to execute it to its finest, best, most beautiful incarnation, which makes me depressed. And I constantly question myself about whether I’m doing my best, and if I am lacking some vital skill or technique.

A few days ago I read on LinkedIn where someone said they had no patience with writer’s block, that it didn’t really exist, not in the case of ‘real’ writers, ‘real’ writers ignore such collywobbles and just get on with it. Yes, said all their friends, so true, Writer’s block just isn’t a real thing, it’s just a poor excuse. I say poo! of course it’s real, maybe ‘real’ writers have learned techniques to help them overcome or cope with self-doubt and plough on, but many, many very ‘real’ very talented writer’s struggle with issues of self-doubt and difficulty getting started, or with continuing a project.

I found this today when I was browsing through some old computer files. I wrote it in 2011, about my book Criss Cross that came out in 2013. I’d like to say it’s an insight into the writing process (how grand and exotic that sounds!) but really it’s just an insight into my processes – thought and writing.

5/2/11

For the last couple or three or four months I’ve been working on a novel called Criss Cross, it’s about a woman who appears quite nice in an arrogant, posh-person way, but who really sees no reason why she shouldn’t just kill people who annoy her or get in her way, or at the behest of a friend (as in Criss Cross, a phrase from the film, Strangers on a Train).  Anyway it’s slow work because I’m not very disciplined at the moment, but it’s up to about 35,000 words and I’m worried the whole story will be finished by the time I reach 50,000. I’m trying to think of how to make it longer without just padding, so I’ve started rereading it from the beginning to see places where I could put in a new incident or elaborate on what I’ve already said.  The other thing that hampers the situation is that I’ve written it as diary entries, so of course you only ever get the protagonist‘s viewpoint, or what she thinks is her viewpoint, sometimes you have to read between the lines a bit, and sometimes she will go through and carefully reproduce a whole scene, other times it’s just a few sentences summing something up.  And when her husband – very much loved by her – is killed by her friend as revenge for the killing of the friend’s own husband, you get a long silence and no real clue (except if she chooses to discuss it later) what happened in that time – so the death is very much ′off camera‘ as is all the procedure surrounding it.  And I would have liked to have other people’s reaction to her grief, but I didn’t really see how that could happen unless someone else wrote in her diary – which I did consider briefly.  So, to recap – epistolic writing is not without it’s own peculiar problems and limitations, but I like using the 1st person, and this seemed like a good way, and it is a good way for the protagonist to tell what happened and what they think and what they know without any interruptions or repercussions. And also of course, they tell from their own point of view, which may not be true.

On Friday and Saturday (it’s Monday now) I did rewrites of 2 short stories – Martin Kaminski Comes Home and The Neverending Wife.  Martin Kam I reduced by around 200 words, but Neverending Wife was a bit more complex.  First of all it was 7795 words to begin with.  Then I cut it to about 6500.  And I saved that on here as a separate file.  Then I really got my teeth into it – it’s true what someone or other said ( I can’t remember who – Patricia Highsmith?  Or the other one I always get her muddled with?) – you can cut at least two thirds away and still be left with something reasonable.  I was a bit scared, ludicrously, but I ended up reducing the whole story to 1450 words, and I feel I have still retained the essential elements of the story.   Actually, I feel a sense of achievement.  And obviously I’ve saved that too.  The short version of the story, not the sense of achievement!  lol. Maybe I should save that!

11/4/11

And I’ve got to finish Criss Cross – I keep saying that, but where’s the action? – I can’t leave it stranded at 43,000 words.

And on top of all this, I’m trying not to worry about things too much and especially trying not to worry about money too much, and I’m wondering if I ought to try to find another full-time job, and I’m quite stressed enough with the one I’ve already got as it is…

The worries of the world … 

22/6/11

It’s quite nice in a way to look back and see that I’ve actually done something!  I’ve finished the first draft of Criss Cross (last week actually)  – it ended up being quite short at around 58,000 words, but it is only the first draft and I’ve already thought of several things to change or enhance or do completely differently.

And alongside that, I’ve been transcribing the first (and only, as it turns out) draft of Dolly – almost 14 years old!  It’s not great writing, I’m sad to say, but I hope to rewrite it and make something good out of it.  Again will have to make huge changes throughout to make it any good.

So it’s not an easy process, is it guys? We just have to do the best we can, soldier on, and ignore the people who say that because we worry, because we struggle, we’re not ‘real’ writers.

 

Catch up from end of book 2…

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I am so happy–and maybe ever so slightly relieved–to announce that book 3 of my trilogy will be released on February 11 2016. It is currently available to pre-order. I set out to write a murder mystery, but it’s actually more of a murder not-very-mysterious, as like in Columbo, you see quite a bit from the point of view of the killer (spoiler alert!), Cressida, who writes everything down in her journal. Even the stuff she probably should keep secret.

In a few days I will be posting a ‘sneak peek’ from book 3, but in the meantime, here’s a teeny snippet from the end of book 2 to remind us all where we had got to:

Friday 31 October – 11.10pm

What a f*****g nightmare! I can’t decide if I’m furiously, furiously angry, or if I’m desperately, desperately frightened. Probably I’m both.

Mavis and Henrietta came to collect the little ones for their evening of fun at half past four on the dot.

Paddy was dressed as a cowboy with dinosaur persuasions – green claw hands, and an intermittent growl – and Billy went as a fairy slash ballerina in a cute little baby-pink tutu borrowed from Sara – Millie has outgrown it (unfortunately she’s quite the little dumpling). Lill and I made the wings and the wand this afternoon. Billy was so excited. In fact, we were too.

I asked Sara if she was taking her kids out but it turned out she was taking them to her mother’s, and they were all staying overnight.

Anyway…

So the children looked gorgeous and I took a quick few pics just before they went out.

By six o’clock I was eagerly awaiting their home-coming, excited to hear how it went.

By a quarter past, with no sign, I was a bit edgy, a bit put-out.

Just before half past six, Henrietta, sobbing, along with Stephen and Madison, pounded on the door.

I feel sick just remembering. As soon as I saw them there, I knew something bad had happened. In my mind I saw an accident and their little bodies broken.  It was worse than that.

The old biddies had got talking to a friend they met in the lane.  They didn’t notice that Billy and Paddy weren’t there – that they were gone.

They looked around, checking back down the part of the lane they had already covered, asked a couple of people they saw – no one had noticed anything. The lanes were empty. No sign of two small children in the dark.

At first Henrietta and Mavis were too scared to come and tell us, so they kept trying to find the children, and they enlisted a few friends to help them comb the village, but then Madison and Stephen together had managed to persuade them to come back and let us know what had happened.

While Henrietta was telling us this, and sobbing as she did so, Matt was swearing and pulling on his trainers, Lill was trying not to cry, and Sid was on the phone trying to get through to the police. And I – I was just numb, sitting on the bottom stair, just staring at Henrietta. It couldn’t be true?

She kept saying she was sorry as we made our way back down the lane to where she and Mavis had last seen them. As we reached the spot, a couple of other people were coming just coming out of a garden gate.

“Anything?” Henrietta called out, almost falling into Mavis’s arms but reaching out to the other people.

“Nothing,” they said, shaking their heads.

Mavis tsked and said, “naughty little buggers, wandering off.”

I just managed to stop Matt from losing his temper completely – not that I was far behind – but it wouldn’t help matters if he punched an eighty-year-old. I was fighting back tears to hear someone I thought of as a friend talking about my children like that.

But I just said, “where have you already checked?” She waved her hand about her vaguely and said, “that way and over there, and your end. Pretty much everywhere.”

“If you’d looked everywhere,” I growled, “you would have found them.”

“Well really, there’s no need…”

“There’s every need,” I said, “have there been any cars through the village? Any cars or people you didn’t recognise?”

“There was a white Renault Clio parked down the hill a bit, maybe half an hour ago,” a woman I didn’t know said. At that moment, a few houses away, a firework went off and made me half jump out of my skin; I tasted blood and knew I’d bitten my lip in shock. Of course. It was only a few days from Guy Fawkes’ Night and there were always a few idiots with more money than sense letting off a stray rocket or something.

I shivered. I had to find them. Wewe had to find them. They’d be cold and scared by now. More than that I refused to even think about.

Matt and I headed off down the hill at a run, even though we could see at that distance there were no cars, white or otherwise, parked down there now. Mavis called something after us but I couldn’t hear what it was and I ignored her, still furious. That woman was no longer my friend.

The hill was one of those long, meandering ones. I had a vague recollection of an old, overgrown children’s play area near the bottom of the hill. Hardly anybody goes there any more as the equipment is largely broken and rusted, the site is up for redevelopment. The older kids go there to hang out sometimes and smoke cigarettes without their parents finding out. But I clutched at Matt’s arm,

“The playground.” I panted. Somehow I knew that was the place. Mercifully he didn’t ask me for an explanation, he just gave me a look and raced off ahead, leaving me to lumber along as quickly as I could. All those hot chocolates with all the trimmings were finally taking their toll on my fitness.

I was almost at the gate, he was already inside and running across the grass, I could hear voices, children’s and his. I was gasping “ohmygodohmygodohmygod,” as I was running, and as I pushed through the gate I managed to claw back sufficient air to call out, “have you got them? Are they okay?”

He yelled back a simple, “yes!” and at the same time I heard both the children break into overwrought sobs. The sudden deafening sound was more reassuring than anything I could have expected at that moment. I reasoned, if they could make that much noise, they must be okay. I blundered forward in the dark guided by the noise and bumped into all three of them.

For a few frantic moments we simply hugged the children and each other and reassured ourselves everyone was safe.

Then, “what happened?” Matt was asking.

“That lady brung us here.” Paddy said.

“What lady? Mavis?”

“No not Mavis, a new lady. She told us to stay here until Mummy and Daddy came to get us. She said it was a game and when you winned to give you the prize.”

In the dark he held something out to me, something small and thin and pointy and cold. I couldn’t see it clearly, but I knew what it was.

It was a photo. 

Monica had stolen my children.

 

I waited until the police had gone and the children were home safely and tucked up in bed in their fluffy PJs and with their teddies next to them before I came downstairs and fell apart.

The photo was from one of those old instant cameras, like the other photos I had been sent. It showed Paddy and Billy sitting on the step of the broken down old roundabout, side by side, in their cute little costumes, looking blatantly terrified, and Billy was sucking her forefinger, which she hasn’t done for weeks now.

That was when I threw up.

Lill made me some cocoa but I couldn’t drink it. I couldn’t calm down. Lill looked at me.

“We’ve got to get the bitch that did this.” She said. We all agreed with that.

A little while ago, at half past ten, just as we were all just beginning to calm down, the phone rang. I think I’d assumed it would be Monica finally calling to enjoy the fall-out of her little prank, and I grabbed the receiver, ready to scream a stream of invective down the wire to her crazed brain. But it was Henrietta.

She sounded so broken, so defeated, so frail, I felt awful. She apologised over and over again. I spoke to her for a few minutes but it was clear I needed to speak to her face to face – her and Mavis. I knew I’d been too harsh on them, and they were too old to be left to stew in their own juices with that much guilt.

So I’m just getting dressed again to pop back out. Hopefully I’ll only be half an hour or so as I’m absolutely shattered. Matt is coming with me, I think he wants to see them too, and in any case, he doesn’t want me going out on my own after what happened this evening.

 

 

Wed 12 Nov – 2.25am

Matt here. This is the first time I’ve written in this journal since I gave it to her. She loves it. But now it’s me that needs to get things of my chest. I never imagined I’d be sitting here beside Cressida’s bed. She’s got a private room in the hospital – a bit too bloody private, if you ask me, it’s like a morgue in here.

I brought this journal in so I could leave it on the shelf by her bed. I thought she might suddenly wake up one night and see it there, and she’d be pleased to see it, a familiar thing from home.

But now it’s been twelve days.

The doctors say she is “making satisfactory progress”. That means f**k all to me. All I know is, my wife – the woman I love – is lying in bed in a coma. I want her to be okay, of course I do, but mainly all I want is for her to be at home with us, reading to the kids, talking to her friends, doing what she always does, just – f*****g – being – there.

They keep telling me it’s going to take time, but they can’t tell me how long. They tell me she’s lucky to be alive and that I should be encouraged that she’s held on this long. But I’m scared. What if she never wakes up? What will we all do without her?

I know she’s killed people, I’m not saying she’s perfect. But none of us are, are we?

That night. We just came out of the house, on our way to Henrietta’s. Cressida just felt she had to go down and see them and let them know the children was all right and make sure Mavis and Henrietta weren’t too upset, and I think she wanted to say sorry for being so angry too. And I knew I had to apologise, because if Cressida hadn’t been there I know I could of hit Mavis, I was that bloody furious.

There was a car coming along the lane, slowly. I didn’t think anything of it. There wasn’t anything weird about it. And we was just walking along in the road – you’ve got to, the roads round our way are too narrow for pavements – but we were keeping in, there was room for the car to get by, so I wasn’t worried.

Then suddenly – I didn’t even have time to call out or do anything – suddenly the car just came at us, the engine was roaring and before I had a chance to shout or to grab her, she was flying through the air, there was a massive bang as she bounced off the bumper and onto the car roof then she was there lying in a ditch at the side of the road and the car was gone. People say things like that happen in slow-motion, but that’s not true, they happen so quick your mind can’t figure out what’s going on.

It was too dark to see more than that it was a small white car, and a woman with longish hair driving it. I think it was that Clio that woman said she saw. And last time we saw her, Monica had long hair. I think it was Monica, in fact I’m sure it was. I told the police it was her.

But none of that mattered.  As soon as I realised what had happened, as soon as I kind of came to life again, I ran to Cressida. I had my phone in my pocket and I was scrambling down into the ditch and can remember I was almost crying and I was practically praying, just saying please God, please God, over and over again, and yet I was sure, I was so sure she would be dead when I got there, and none of it seemed like it was really happening and I just couldn’t take it in.

I was too scared to move her in case I might hurt her worse and I was trying to explain to the emergency operator and I was trying to find a pulse. The operator was telling me what to do and I had to keep wiping my eyes because I couldn’t see what I was doing, and she kept saying, ‘they’re on their way, they’ll be there soon, just hang on.’

It seemed to take hours for the ambulance to arrive, and then there were problems with them trying to get her out of the ditch so that took a while.

Then she was taken straight into theatre.

By the time they let me see her it was almost four in the morning and she was in a coma. They knew the damage by then. Smashed kneecap, broken pelvis, broken arm and wrist, grazes, cuts, bruises, broken jaw, fractured skull, brain swelling.

But the baby – I couldn’t believe it – he’s all right. They say he’s fine.  Because she was hit from behind, all the injuries are on the back and right side of the body, or on her knees and hands as she fell, that’s what took all the impact. I thought for sure we’d lost the baby.

I rang my Mum, she was crying, I was crying. It was a good thing Leanne was at the house. First time ever she’s been useful, but it meant Dad could bring Mum to the hospital and leave Leanne to look after the children.

The three of us sat in the room with Cressida the last few hours of that first night, hoping she’d wake up. She didn’t. She still hasn’t. But we just keep hoping.

Please wake up, Cressida, I can’t do this without you.

Love Matt.

 

So I hope that’s served as a reminder for those of you wonderful people who’ve read the first two books, and if you haven’t read them, I do hope you’ll give me a try. Tune in next week for another episode!

The Anti-Social Writer

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This is what I overheard in a café in town today: “I find that writers aren’t very nice to work with. One or two are okay, but most of them…well, they very much like to keep to themselves, don’t they. And they don’t like the competition either. It would be nice to have a chat, you know, but most of them just won’t. You get the odd one who will say ‘Hi’, but that’s about it.”

Needless to say, my ears were flapping as I tried (surreptitiously) to hear every word and quickly write it down as I knew I would forget it, and at the same time I’m trying to look casual and eat a caramel doughnut, and hoping they won’t turn round and see me writing down their every word. I think Lady Number One must work in a theatre or something – she went on to talk about how some of the actresses had been very moved by the speeches they had to deliver. Lady Number Two was her friend-from-another-workplace and just kept nodding and agreeing. Now I freely admit that we are all entitled to our opinions…

But…

I apologise on behalf of all writers everywhere if we aren’t as good at chatting as you would like us to be. It’s not always easy talking to someone you don’t really know too well. Just give us another chance…

Quite often it can be difficult to shut a writer up; once you get them started, they can talk for hours – all that time spent alone with a notebook or word-processor means they rarely see actual humans, let alone enjoy conversation. But it’s also often said that a writer is busy with an internal life others are not privy to, working away at the coal-face of a tricky plot or puzzling over the intransigence of a character.

But maybe, like everyone else, sometimes writers are just rude. Or shy. Or nervous. Or feeling out of their depth. Or worried. Tired. Or maybe even wondering if their wife is having an affair, or if the kids are in trouble, or yes, if their plot is shallow and their characters wooden. maybe they are looking at you and thinking, ‘Wow he/she would be the perfect victim in my next book’. Or an arch-villain.

Do we hear people complaining about dentists not being chatty enough? No. all too often, anecdotal evidence – and TV comedies – tell us that dentists love to talk and only ever require an answer if your mouth is full of putty, fingers, sharp objects, or that scary sucky gadget.

And no one complains that hairdressers don’t talk. Or lawyers. Or retail assistants. Or window cleaners. Usually lack of conversation is a bonus in everyday situations. So why do writers have to be so chatty?

Is it because we’re ‘wordsmiths’?

(I hate that word – so pretentious! Imagine me up all night filing and drilling and smoothing then peering myopically through a loupe at my carefully crafted, gleaming word. congratulations, it’s a pronoun!)

But I can’t deny that words are my – our – profession. Does that mean I have to share them constantly? Does a banker hand out free cash to all their friends and acquaintances? If only! Do my marketing and publishing contacts promise me freebies to help me sell my books? Nope! Again – if only!

No. We all inhabit our little solitary worlds. It’s not because I’m a writer that I’m rubbish at making conversation with a total stranger. It’s because I’m a human being. There’s loads of stuff I’m rubbish at.