Today on my blog I have a guest post for The Glass Diplomat by S. R. Wilsher
In 1973 Chile, as General Augusto Pinochet seizes power, thirteen-year-old English schoolboy Charlie Norton watches his father walk into the night and never return. Taken in by diplomat, Tomas Abrego, his life becomes intricately linked to the family.
Despite his love for the Abrego sisters, he’s unable to prevent Maria falling under the spell of a left-wing revolutionary, or Sophia from marrying the right-wing Minister of Justice.
His connection to the family is complicated by the growing impression that Tomas Abrego was somehow involved in his father’s disappearance.
As the conflict of a family divided by politics comes to a head on the night of the 1989 student riots, Charlie has to act to save the sisters from an enemy they cannot see.
It didn’t occur to me to write until I was twenty-two, prompted by reading a disappointing book by an author I’d previously liked. I wrote thirty pages of a story I abandoned because it didn’t work on any level. I moved on to a thriller about lost treasure in Central America; which I finished, but never showed to anyone. Two more went the way of the first, and I forgave the author.
After that I became more interested in people-centric stories. I also decided I needed to get some help with my writing, and studied for a degree with the OU. I chose Psychology partly because it was an easier sell to my family than Creative Writing. But mainly because it suited the changing tastes of my writing. When I look back, so many of my choices have been about my writing.
I’ve been writing all my adult life, but nine years ago I had a kidney transplant which interrupted my career, to everyone’s relief. It did mean my output increased, and I developed a work plan that sees me with two projects on the go at any one time. Although that has taken a hit in recent months as I’m currently renovating a house and getting to know my very new granddaughter.
I write for no other reason than I enjoy it deeply. I like the challenge of making a story work. I get a thrill from tinkering with the structure, of creating characters that I care about, and of manipulating a plot that unravels unpredictably, yet logically. I like to write myself into a corner and then see how I can escape. To me, writing is a puzzle I like to spend my time trying to solve.
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A Day in the Life
I’m drawn to fiction because my daily life is fairly mundane. Although I do like my fiction based on reality. I’m not a fan of sci-fi or fantasy, and I certainly don’t like biographies. I find most biographers can’t avoid imposing themselves on the lives of their subjects, and auto-biographers dress up their lives. I can’t remember what I did when I was three years old, or most of my life before I was ten. So I tend not to believe those who have memories of being in a pram. At best, they’ve probably seen a photograph. At worst, it’s a set-up for a dubious anecdote. I believe fiction is the most honest medium – it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
What has this to do with a day in my life, you may be asking? Very little in truth. It’s simply my way of leading into my very dull life.
Because if you spend your day writing, it means that you’re doing nothing more than sitting at a computer inventing worlds, breaking for too much coffee, and trying to think of original fillings for sandwiches (mashed potato and salad cream is no longer suitable even for my naive taste buds, but cheese, beans and mayo works. Or marmite instead of the mayo. Maybe together even? I might try that today). All you have to talk about is the fiction inside your head, and unedited that’s as satisfying as overhearing a dull conversation in a supermarket queue.
A day in my life no longer involves a proper job. Nine years ago I had a renal transplant which changed my view on the time I had ahead.
When I was an employee, I used to snatch moments of the day to write, never really knowing when they would come. Notes in a meeting, or typing up at lunchtime, and I lurched along with writing as a guilty secret and those snatched moments at odd times of the day.
But a few years ago I decided I didn’t want to be a nominal employee anymore and would live my life renovating property and making stuff. Yesterday I hung new guttering, painted the garage door, and cut the template for a copper poppy I want to make from a water tank salvaged from my current project. And topped and tailed my day with writing. This way every day is different and I’m answerable to no-one. Because the best part about no more morning meetings, or interminable sales figure discussions, or colleague squabbles, I can now rise in the morning and write for a couple of hours, before doing some work that might pay until the evening, and then sitting down to write again.
I think about an idea for a long time first to see if it takes root, although the thinking generally takes place away from a desk – mowing the lawn and driving both work well. If I keep coming back to it then I’ll jot down ideas that form into something resembling an outline and will work on that to see if the idea is something that appeals to me. If I intend living with something that will take a year and end up at 80,000+ words then it has to take a hold.
I don’t work to a daily word count as I wouldn’t want to keep checking to see where I was on any schedule; it should be about the quality of what’s been written not how much. But I do give myself a monthly target so that I don’t subside into inactivity.
After that, I always let it stew, and I do it more than once. I probably spend as much time rewriting as I do writing, believing there is nothing that can’t be improved. All of my stories have been rewritten multiple times and, after each rewrite, I put the story away and work on something else for a few months. When I return to the original story, I see it in a different light and either recognize solutions I couldn’t before, or issues I was denying previously.
If I work on more than one project at a time, when I sit down each day, I have something to work with. There’s nothing more disheartening than being unable to start a blank page.
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