It continues to surprise me how much I can suck at this job after all these years. I’m blogging because this morning’s writing session was so frickin demoralising. Roughly speaking, everything I write of late goes like this:
Here is a setting. Look at this detail. There are people here. They say things to each other. Everybody thinks for a while. The sun sets.
Two Ducks. Swimming.
I am dyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyying. Shouldn’t this be easy by now? I’ve written 21 books. I don’t often let myself think about that fact. TWENTY-ONE of the suckers. Sure, some of them were short, but some were really long. Those 21 books represent just over 1.9 million words, all in the right order. So don’t be saying to me, “What would you tell your students in this situation?” because my students are usually working on their first or second books. Not their twenty-second. I have no advice for somebody writing their twenty-second book, except maybe, “Dude, if it’s not working by now, perhaps you should take up topiary.”
This book is too important to me. It’s not just that 22 is kind of a favourite number. My birthday is 22/12, my husband’s is 22/10 (and if you add the 12 and the 10 together, you get another 22). And the bingo call for 22 is two ducks swimming, and I really like ducks. And also, it’s just such a pretty, buttercup yellow number. But ducks and buttercups aside, this book is just special because it is and because I’ve fallen in love with the setting and the characters and now I’m in charge of them, I can do nothing with them except make them have tedious bouts of longing then occasionally shout at each other. I feel like a bad mother who realises she should relinquish her child to somebody more responsible. Somebody else come write this book for me! Robin Hobb could do a good job of it, or Guy Gavriel Kay, or Kate Elliott. Meanwhile, I’d best dig out my hedging shears and look for a hedge to turn into a giant panda.
I have a love hate relationship with travel. On the one hand, I love seeing new things and soaking up new places. I love the way travelling makes you think and feel differently, if only for a little while. But I also hate travelling. I hate the organisation, the packing, the remembering of a billion little things and knowing I’ll inevitably forget something, the rushing to airports worrying about traffic and the sitting around waiting for delayed flights. I’m writing this from the departure lounge of Melbourne airport (I’ve been down here for a medievalism conference), waiting for a delayed flight, and contemplating the preparations for my trip to the UK in a couple of days. I do believe it’s my particular curse to experience excitement as a form of dread. As my friend Charlotte said, it’s like the blue wire gets hooked up to the red wire.
Thing is, I haven’t done a research trip since 2001, when I went to Germany, Norway, and Russia to research for my Europa suite (ie. The Autumn Castle, Giants of the Frost, Rosa and the Veil of Gold). Then I had children, and they kind of cramp your travel style unless you’re super-bold (which I am not). But my mad love for Anglo-Saxon stuff has a hold on me, and we’re off to see Sutton Hoo with our very own eyes. Kids love ancient burial grounds that look like big empty fields! Honest! They’re mad keen for them! And they’ll totally love that Santa won’t come to Oxford and will leave their presents at home instead. Kids and delayed gratification are practically synonymous!
But I need this fuel for my creative fire (sorry, should have issued a wankery alert before that sentence). I’m both dying to be in England and also dying from the anxiety of going to England. Either way I die, so I may as well go and take this damned book seriously.
I am at home. I am not in Tasmania, where I was supposed to be. Instead, I am stealing a few minutes while the children watch a Yo Gabba Gabba DVD, to catch my thoughts.
Astrid came down midway through the week with a violent gastro bug, and Mirko and I have been cleaning up vomit and diarrhoea pretty much around the clock for a few nights (they are all starting to blur into each other, so don’t ask me to be any more precise than that). She was certainly not fit to travel, so we have cancelled the whole trip. (Can I just say that I was mightily impressed by Virgin Blue who bent the rules to save us losing our entire fare, and to Europcar and Curringa Farmstay, who were so bloody understanding and didn’t charge us any cancellation fees whatsoever: so rare for companies to show such good will). The cancelled trip means that my crucial research will not get done; this means that my plans for my novel are in turmoil.
Between bouts of irrational fury (for surely it was some careless parent who sent their still-sick child to daycare who is to blame for my work being disrupted) and teary despair (now the book will never get written), there is one hugely important lesson in this for me. I have a sick little zombie girl, who’s all floppy and still, and all that matters is that she gets better on her own time, with lots of cuddles and love (and a mattress on the floor in front of the television). My current predicament is the embodiment of those wise words by Stephen King in On Writing: life is not a support system for art; it’s the other way around.
Workwise, I’ll try to turn this week into a positive. Ordinarily it’s impossible for me to write out of order, but perhaps I’ll just have to do that, and save the scenes that need the most research until a time when I can get away to Tassie. I’ve pulled out my notebook, and I’m going to break the story down, scene by scene, and see if I can set myself the goal of writing 15000 words this week (thus reaching 40000) by just plugging away with what I can do, rather than moaning about what I can’t.
I can hear a little squeaky laugh from the other room; she’s getting better. What is there to be miserable about?