Camp Nano progress

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There be words! Despite, as ever with Nano, it being a crazy month, I have actually managed to make progress towards my modest 30k goal. I’m running quite a bit behind but I’m not at all worried about this. How could I be worried when this is the most new words I’ve written in some years? I will be surprised if I make it to 30 k, but even if I don’t I shall push forward to the end of a first draft. I feel better in so many ways for having written this month and am relieved to know that a story I had the first glimmers of a few years ago now, is still there. In fact I’d say that, given the composting time since coming up with the initial idea, it has improved. Ripened, as someone once called it.

In other things, yesterday me and my little family took a trip to the seaside with the church. I may post a photo or two in the coming days. There were castles – real and sand varieties, ice-cream, fudge and picnics, japes, larks and very steep hills. The littlest member of our family is still busy catching up on sleep. I think we got the last of the sand out of his ears…

Now, before he wakes up to tell me it’s supper time, I am going to attempt to squeeze a few more words out of the day.

 

The privacy of faith

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Today was busy. I played matins this morning and then joined the choir for mass. With this weekend being our Well Dressing festival I was then involved in serving ploughman’s lunches and cream teas to holiday makers and locals. Afterwards, with my husband and parents in law looking after my little boy, I went back to church in the late afternoon sunshine to play evensong.

I took someone with me who on occasion joins me for mass or special services. She’d never been to evensong before and it is a real contrast to the high ceremony of the morning services. A quiet and reflective service, this evening it was presided over by our curate whose smooth, educated tones stilled our racing minds and brought us into an altogether more introspective place. It is, I suppose, a solemn sort of service and one that is now rare. With ever increasing demands on the time of clergy we are one of the few churches in the diocese that continues to offer it.

The person who joined me tonight is not someone who has outwardly confessed the faith and I have to admit to some surprise each time she takes up my offer of attending. Surprise and a deep satisfaction and growing excitement as she appears to be brought ever closer to Our Lord’s loving family on earth. I haven’t yet asked her about how she feels and why she attends. Sometimes I think it is in solidarity with me – a jobbing church musician who sometimes feels under-appreciated. But the more time passes the more I wonder whether she is nursing a new and very private faith.

I know how fragile the blossoming of faith can make one feel. It can be as though one is being opened up and laid bare – as though everyone around can see just how vulnerable you have been made by drawing close to the Lord. It reminds me a little of adolescence, when one thinks that everyone can see in hugely magnified detail all the changing aspects of one’s body and awareness of the world. In reality of course, no one really notices much at all initially. Growth is gradual and goes mostly unnoticed.

There have been times – there still are – when I feel embarrassed to admit to my faith. I will never deny that I am a Christian and will happily share the fact, but faith – that intimate relationship with God – is private and sometimes I feel bashful about it. Had someone probed too deeply in the early days of that belief I wonder if it would have made me back off, too embarrassed at how I felt to continue down the path.

For now I will tread softly with my friend and pray that I will  be guided as to the right time to ask questions and help her explore things a little more deeply. And I will rejoice that, whatever else I may have done in my life, I have at least been a light on the path for someone.

Maria Lactans

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It has been a long while since my last post and it can be difficult to return to a blog or other internet project after such an absence, but return I have.

Since my last post I have become a mother to a little boy who is now four and a half months old. In many ways it is fair to say that my life and that of my husband has changed irreversibly. We are blessed with a beautiful child who is growing and developing at an alarming speed but who is charming in every way and our true delight.

At various points throughout my challenging pregnancy, I found that I questioned how being a mother would affect my sense of self and whether I would actually become a different person after giving birth. Although it can feel like that has happened, it is not really the case. I am as ever I was, with the same interests and worries, but straight in the middle of all that old me, there is a new element which glares like a spotlight and demands to be given full attention. That light shines on everything else and makes me see those old bits of myself from a new angle. It has been alarming at times, but not unwelcome. Becoming a mother feels very much like the next natural step to have taken and I am deeply grateful for my beautiful boy and rejoice in him.

But this last few weeks has been challenging. A young friend of mine recently died following complications arising from an uncommon illness called Behcets. This is not the post in which to write about Ruth – she deserves her own spot – but the grief we have felt at her passing has had knock on effects for all of us. Personally, my hormone levels changed as a response to her death and currently my boy is refusing to breastfeed. This is also causing me to grieve as I miss the intimacy of our feeding times together. Knowing that Our Lady comes to us in many guises I have begun to seek gentle counsel from Maria Lactans, The Nursing Mother of God in the hope that if it is time for me to end this part of my journey through motherhood, she will ease the way. Likewise, if there is still hope that I may continue with breastfeeding for a little time yet, then I pray that by her grace my boy will find the transition back to me an easy one.

Maria Lactans

Maria Lactans

In other news I have found my way along the path to Camp NaNoWriMo along with Veronica Laurence who is hiking the trail with me. This Nano ‘Lite’ is the first attempt I’ve made at high speed noveling for some time now and despite a few interruptions along the way, I am pleased with how things are going. I have made a tentative goal of 30,000 words by the end of this month towards finishing the first draft of my other significant project, Jude. I shall update with how it all turns out in due course.

E

x

Ian Rankin – Imagine BBC1

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Last night I watched Ian Rankin talk about his writing process on BBC 1’s Imagine with Alan Yentob.

Ian Rankin isn’t an author I’ve spent a lot of time reading. He writes the type of crime that is a bit tougher and grittier than I am used to – I’m a bit more traditional in my tastes and easily disturbed by too much reality and terror. It wasn’t an obvious documentary for me to watch, then, but I am thrilled I did.

Ian talks honestly about his writing method and we see his journey from the beginning of the year where he starts out writing his new book, a revisit to Rebus, to the submission of his final draft to the publishers.

As a musician I find it immensely frustrating when people tell me that I’m ‘lucky’ to play the piano. There is no luck in it, only hard graft over many years. All other art forms, sports and academic disciplines are the same. Ian Rankin is indeed lucky to be a successful and well off author, but his luck is created by many years of sitting at his computer and working, accepting criticism from editors and publishers, redrafting and trying again. To reduce that process to mere ‘luck’ is doing Ian Rankin and every other author a disservice.

I think that with art, music, literature, dance and sport so readily accessible to the consumer and with something new on the scene every week of the year, it must seem as though the practitioners of these disciplines just churn things out in a few days. It is so valuable for us to really witness and understand the effort that goes into creating a novel or a symphony or a pop record. Only then do we start to truly value the people who create it and consider their time worth spending money on as a society.

With arts education being squeezed in schools – the arts are not going to be represented in the English Baccalaureate when it is introduced – it is more important than ever that creators show just how hard they really work and open up their process to others. Hopefully by doing so we can bring an end to the sort of ‘talent show’ where people with often many years work behind their skill are chewed up and spat out by judges and the general public because for some reason they’re unacceptable.

Imagine is available on BBC iPlayer for the next few weeks and is well worth catching, even just for the reassuring images of Ian Rankin tearing at his hair and looking as though he hasn’t slept for a week!

Ian Rankin, writer

The Go-Between

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Just wanted to say a quick congratulations to all the writers, cast, musicians and crew and everyone involved in creating the fabulous The Go-Between last year. A well deserved win at the Theatre Awards UK for Best New Musical will, I hope, herald a longer run in other parts of the country or even in the West End.

Thank you also to Richard Taylor, composer/lyricist of the Go-Between, for sharing some of the sheet music with me so that I could pass it on as a gift to a departing student this summer. It was very much appreciated by both of us.

The Go-Between & The Fairy Queen

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Last week was a theatrical week with a trip to see Perfect Pitch’s musical adaptation of The Go-Between at Derby Theatre and English Touring Opera’s production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen at Buxton Opera House.

I have been waiting to see The Go-Between since I first saw it advertised and finally ended up doing so on a weekday matinee. The theatre was a quarter full of retired people and me and Ed were the youngest there by some measure. It’s not unusual of course, especially for a matinee, but it made me sad that there weren’t more young people there able to see what was for me a beautiful, nostalgic, aching piece of theatre.

The music was something else entirely and to call the piece a musical is to misrepresent it. All the accompaniment was provided by Jonathan Gill who played a grand piano on stage which served as part of the set. It was a performance of stamina and beauty the like of which one doesn’t often get the opportunity to hear. The music was sometimes challenging and indeed one of my pupils found it a bit ‘weird’ for his tastes. For me it evoked the period the play portrayed and kept me spell-bound in Leo’s world for the entire performance.  I hope this musical doesn’t sink without trace and that it gets a longer run across more than the three theatres it has seen this time round and a better reception than the paltry applause given by the audience at Derby on Wednesday last.

As for the Fairy Queen, this was a last minute treat provided by some friends of mine, one of whom had done technical drawings for the set. Set in the mental asylum where Richard Dadd was a patient we were treated to an imaginative and gentle treatment of this theatrical oddity. I had entered expecting to see some of the darker elements of life in an asylum, but found instead that the doctors and nurses treated their charges like their own children. We saw puppet shows and dances and songs performed as though they were entertainment for the patients. The performers themselves were quite beautifully in touch with the characters they portrayed and the whole thing rang with an emotional truth which is sometimes hard to get to in music of this period.

I really hate giving reviews – I’m no critic – but I loved both of these performances very much and they have served to fill the creative well a little. Next theatre trip is to see Journey’s End, currently on tour and coming to

Henry Purcell, by John Closterman (died 1711)....

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Nottingham before long.

Tyme’s End

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I don’t normally post book reviews as I’m really quite awful at them. I think it’s because what entrances me about a book so often fades away as soon as the covers close. However, I thought I’d give it a bit of a go this time as I really enjoyed this and I think that the author is one to watch out for.

Tyme’s End is a daring sort of novel in that its structure is unusual for a book aimed at the YA market. It consists of three distinct sections going backwards in time, each linked by the house of the title, Tyme’s End. Not only that, but it’s written with three separate narrators; Bibi – a teenage girl, adopted and feeling as though she doesn’t fit in; Oliver, a teenage boy whose relationship with his grandfather is strained as he struggles to find out the truth about his father; Oliver – Oliver Jr’s grandfather, a young Cambridge student in the thrall of an exciting, intoxicating man, the owner of Tyme’s End – H.J. Martin.

If it sounds complex, it is and it isn’t. B.R Collins is a skilled writer, able to wield three narrators and three eras in time separately and yet weave them together so that the reader is in no doubt how the house, deserted and strange, has ended up as we see it in the opening chapters.

In the 1936 portion of the book we see that the house belongs to H.J Martin, a war hero celebrity not unlike T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia). By 2006, when Bibi is telling her story, Martin has become a local legend with a slew of biographies written about him and tourists visiting his haunts. As we creep backwards in time though, we understand that Martin is less hero and more psychopath. I confess to being genuinely shocked during the last third of the book. It raised so many questions for me about war, about hero-worship and even madness.

Collins handled Martin’s character well, and I can’t imagine that he was easy to write. He has a way of existing beyond the confines of the book in a strange manner that I find rather disconcerting. She also writes Bibi and both Olivers so beautifully, each voice distinct and each telling their own emotional story. In my mind I can imagine another section written later in time with Bibi revisiting Tyme’s End, passing on another part of the story of that strange place. It’s a remarkable construction that I think works so well – so cleverly.

There are so many bits of this story I loved; the atmosphere, the descriptions of summer and endless, perfect afternoons and the way they turn sour and strange in the shadow of Tyme’s End. I hope that B.R. Collins keeps turning out books because I could read her prose til my eyes won’t focus any more.

So….there you are….a book review. Don’t get used to it…

In other news….Raffle Mojo has returned. Out for a curry tonight with the boy following a spectacular win at local concert. (Little Treble still sporting his gorgeous voice…fear we’re on borrowed time though…)

Private Passions

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When I am struggling to write I often find myself musing on the process of writing and creation. I find myself poring over interviews with authors and searching between the covers of creative writing manuals to find the secret key which might help me open the door to flow again. But, although there are tantalising glimpses of what might be going on with these authors, there is never anything concrete. There’s nothing to really show the way it is to be done. Often you’ll find that authors choose to write in a particular place – in a study, in a cafe, in a shed. Sometimes it’ll be a particular writing instrument which helps – fancy Mac, grumbling ancient PC, three pence biros from WH Smith or sleek moleskine notebooks. Others might need a certain time of day.

Right now I’m facing a considerable overhaul of my manuscript. It is daunting to say the least and I feel completely overwhelmed. I don’t know whether to start again from scratch, to shoehorn in the new things I need and shave off the bits I don’t. I don’t know if I should start immediately or leave it for sixth months until things are a bit less raw.

In pondering all of these things I have found myself looking, wondering, at the blogs of authors whose books are in print. I see their smiling faces as they receive a prize or meet a reader. And I go onto their FAQ section and read about how they write, how they find their ideas. But there is little to be found there as it seems that even authors don’t really know how they do it. Though some create lists of things you should do to be a writer, most rarely expose the particular kind of neurosis it takes to line words up one after the other to create a story. And even if they did talk about those things – about the way that in writing they tackle an almost unbearable anxiety before starting, or a gut-wrenching fear at the end that everything they’ve written is terrible – maybe if they did talk about them it wouldn’t really help. Perhaps it would just convince us even more that the path is an impossible one to climb.

Of course, there are those such as Jude Deveraux who make the entire process sound like a casual stroll through the hat section of a department store. Either she’s kidding here or she doesn’t actually write her own books. Either way she does the art of writing a disservice. It is difficult and I’d like to meet another author who thinks it isn’t.

 

 

Humph

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The key as symbol of St. Peter

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Well, first time in a while I didn’t win a raffle prize at church. I’m disgruntled now!

And so I’m approaching the end of nearly a month’s worth of organ playing across three churches. I’m totally worn out by it. Only a funeral and evensong left to do now. Of course, just because the organist returns from holiday next week doesn’t mean I’m totally off the hook. There’s plenty to do in my regular playing schedule, not least a wedding in a couple of weeks time.

Anyway, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. A couple of weeks ago I finally summoned up the requisite courage and cash to send off my boy Peter to someone for a manuscript appraisal. The author who looked at it for me turned it round in ten days and a couple of days back – right before a very intense two hour Requiem Mass – it arrived in my inbox. I didn’t open it straight away, partly because the funeral required such an amount of concentration, but also because I was a scaredy cat. It’s hard reading criticism about your work, even when you’ve sent it off exactly for that.

I could say lots about what was included in the report, and even a bit about the author who very kindly took it on for me, but I think I will leave that until it’s a bit less raw. I’ve not quite absorbed everything he had to say yet. However, I do know that it’s going to be ok. Whatever else is required of me at least I know I can supply the hard work needed.