Only Connect. But what if you can’t?

When the super-duper lovely agent I’ve been talking to came back with a no, I took a deep breath and pushed it away. I knew from the first line of the email. ‘Thanks for sending in your revisions…’

After a deep breath, I went back to my phone and read the whole email which was generous and fair. But still a no.

I closed it, turned back to my child and had a lively chat about Halloween. It wasn’t unexpected.  A few weeks had gone by. The lack of enthusiasm was clear. I apologised at tea-time for being tense lately and told the family my book wasn’t accepted.

‘Why don’t you write something else?’ said number two son, ‘something we can read?’

He’s never been keen on a psychological thriller about stalking. With swearing.

‘It’s a good idea,’ I said. ‘Maybe I will.’

‘That’s a shame. Can you fix it?’ said number one, ever optimistic.

‘I’ll try.’ I said.

It hasn’t all been bad news this year. I’ve had some success with short story competitions. The writing I’ve done recently is better than it used to be. Even I can see that.

‘How do you feel?’ said husband.

I explained to him how I was going to rip out the middle and restructure the whole thing, which would allow me to show great parts of the story I hadn’t shown before. I was really looking forward to it.

But two days later, after a long chat with a trusted reader, I’m bawling my eyes out. It feels like a real loss. It’s not just the scale of the task ahead, though having done one major rewrite over the summer, I’m in no doubt it will be HARD. It’s the thought that this book might never get there.

I LOVE my characters. I love their courage  and madness and strength and self-delusion. I love the depths of their despair and the wild solutions they come up with. I just can’t seem to make them come alive, believably, on paper. I don’t want to give up on them. Where will they go? What will they do? I can’t just leave them in the lurch! I’ll miss them. Is that the problem? I can’t round them off and let them go free, out into the world, to be who they are? I question my sanity. I think it’s still there.

On the one hand, I’m maybe gaining stripes as a writer, because so many of my writing heroes have gone through this and maybe I need to, to learn the craft. But in the meantime, years are going by when I could be doing something else useful. There’s no point persevering, if the writing’s just not cutting the mustard. Is it all a waste of time?

Deep down, this feels like a misfire. Or my aim is off. Or I’ve not committed to the act of killing. Writing! The act of writing. Maybe there’s a similar sort of focus required to properly see the target, read the moment, wait for the fatal move.

Maybe I’m not there yet because on some level, I’m not ready. I hope so. Either way, I’m not able to stop.

Ambition

This arrived in the post today from the lovely people at Momaya Press. They do great work helping new writers get their voice heard. Delighted to be in this annual anthology with smashing company for my honourably mentioned Leap In The Dark.

https://www.momayapress.com

Momaya Short Story Review 2016 – Ambition: Volume 13 (Momaya Short Story Annual Review) https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1539121054/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_KKsxybSZKE349

Helen is still not free

Something's not right here...

‘The whole world knows what you are now Rob.’

‘I still can’t take my eyes off you.’

And there it was; the reality check. I almost breathed a sigh of relief.

The verdicts on the Archers last night were met with great rejoicing by half the country and most of Twitter as the right result. But the truth is, for many women in Helen’s position, this is not the end.

Domestic violence continues to be poorly managed by the justice system to the extent that two women a week are killed by their partners or exes in the UK, all too often with a history of abuse*. The danger is not understood, the escalation of violence missed. It’s a hard crime to recognise even for the victim, hard to explain to friends and family who cannot match the victim’s account with the charming man they know. But it has terrifying results.

The Archers storyline has gripped the nation because it has played out in real time, coming into people’s homes and work places on the radio, Rob’s voice whispering into our ears as he whispered into hers. The drip-feed of toxic incidents  tells its own story. Maybe today, more people have a grasp of what it is to lose your confidence and sense of self because of this kind of bullying. Which is why this was too important an opportunity for the writers to pretend that the end of the trial was Helen’s Happy Ever After. Justice is often elusive for women in her position.

After the too-good-to-be-true verdicts, the final exchange between Helen and Rob brought us back down to earth. Rob is not going away. He’s been convicted of nothing because it wasn’t him on trial. The verdicts won’t slow him down or affect his behaviour in the least. She’ll have to deal with him in the custody battle which will follow now and he’ll try to worm his way back into her life.

It will maybe help Helen, that she’s had a chance to tell her story and has been believed. She’ll have the support of her parents and some of the wider community. But as the jury deliberations showed, she hasn’t been believed by everyone.

Which makes me think that the writers are setting us up for trial no.2. It could be either of them on trial. This storyline has the potential to run and run. If it continues to mimic real life, it could last for years.

I wonder which of them will be alive by the end. But I already think I know the answer.

*Office for National Statistics, Home Office