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Indelible

I wrote this as an exercise for my fiction workshop (though it’s really memoir, and not fiction at all), after I’d read The Buddha in The Attic, in which Julie Otsuka masterfully uses the “we” point of view and anaphora (a repeated phrase at the beginning of a sentence) to tell the story of the Japanese picture brides. My subject matter is completely different, though. 

On the road we sang Jean-Jacques Goldman. We sang about love. We sang about dark grey and light grey. We sang about the lure of communism and anarchy and the dream of flying away from responsibilities. We sang about Jewish children in the war. We sang about a woman who leaves breadcrumbs on her balcony for the pigeons, who lives her life vicariously, though we had no idea what vicariously meant. We sang, improbably, about women having babies without men. We sang about the indelible footprints that people leave on our lives when they go.

We sang though we should have been sleeping. At four a.m. we had been up, the countdown over at last, school out for two glorious months, all the maths and the Latin and the Dutch lessons done until September, which was an eternity away, so far away that there was no point thinking about it, because it did not exist. At four thirty we had picked up our heavy duffle bags, tried again to squeeze our sleeping bags into their covers, failed, and told ourselves it didn’t matter, that we would just fold them up and sit on them all the way down to the South of France. And at five there we had been, in a pre-ordained car park on the outskirts of an ugly Belgian industrial city which we loved because it had come to symbolise tea towel fights and midnight snacks, whispered secrets and campfires.

On the road it was dark and cold. On the road it was warmer and lighter and then almost unbearably hot as we drove south through France into the heat of the day. On the road it was mostly monotonous motorways until it was windy and nauseating, but we didn’t care about any of that because we had landed a space in the Mahieu family van, and that was the only place in the world we wanted to be. Singing to the same 80s pop cassette. Sharing out sweets and biscuits. Unwrapping sandwiches that had been lovingly wrapped in tin foil by our mothers. Poking small cartons of orange juice with straws and spilling the sticky drink onto our laps. Laughing with Marianne, who sat in the front rubbing her belly, pregnant for the fifth time, dispensing instructions on driving and life to her long-suffering husband.

The first night we slept in beds in the stone house. It was late and we had earned it with all that sitting, and no one had the energy to pitch tents. We wriggled into our sleeping bags and whispered about who would be in which team for the week’s competitions. We thought about the boys we had crushes on. We wondered who would be new this year and hoped they would fit in and not mess with the well-established order of long-held friendships. And in the morning, we waited.

We waited for the others to arrive, cars and vans full of Belgian adolescents. We waited, feeling as though we were the owners of this paradise, preparing to welcome guests to our home. We waited, slightly smug that we knew already who was going to be on washing up duty tomorrow.

We put on suncream. We put on shorts. We put on t-shirts, and the boys took theirs off again by lunchtime. We put on the blue and red scarves that said we belonged together. We put up the big blue tent and chose our sleeping spots, rolling out our sleeping bags over our airbeds and saving a space for Hélène next to us. And we waited.

The vans arrived and tired families tumbled out, families whose parents were leading the camp and had all of their children in tow, from the eldest who was one of us to the baby in a carseat. The cars arrived and holdalls and rucksacks were lugged to the tent. The cars arrived and we kissed  everybody’s cheeks three times, Belgian-style, introduced new people, and the sounds of anticipation and welcome echoed throughout the grounds, from the stone house to the back of the field where the next day we would play handball and chase each other with water pistols.

In the girls’ tent, all was order. In the girls’ tent, we put our bags at the foot of our airbeds and took out our torches and maybe our Bibles for the morning. In the girls’ tent, we lay facing each other in two rows of eight. In the girls’ tent we inwardly cheered that we had made it this time, that at last we were in the inner sanctum, right by the people we most wanted to be close to, the people everyone wanted to be close to, not like the last year’s camp when we had been put in a room with all the other misfits and new girls. This time we were next to Hélène and across from Anne-Laure and this was the way life should be. In the girls’ tent, we giggled until we saw the flashlight against the canvas in the darkness, and knew that it was time to be quiet because we did not want to be told off on the very first morning. We did not want to be told off ever, because we were good girls who wanted everyone to like us.

In the mornings, we listened to the crickets from our airbeds, our airbeds which made us all smell faintly of rubber. In the mornings, we ate bread and chocolate spread for breakfast. In the mornings, we lined up, waiting for our turn to have our hair French plaited. In the mornings, we sat in the chapel and sang again, not Jean-Jacques Goldman this time but our favourite church songs about days of joy and days of victory and about God being love and listening to us when we called. In the mornings, we sat under the shade of the tree across form the tent and talked. We played volleyball. We were called in for potato peeling duty. We were told to chop vegetables and were too scared to say that we never did it at home and didn’t know which way to cut an onion.

We sang in the mornings. We sang in the afternoons. We sang in the evenings, in the chapel again, but different songs this time. We sang about the story of a sock with holes weeping on the edge of a bin. We sang about spending the night walking around the Champs-Elysées. We sang campfire songs that made no sense but whose sole purpose was to get louder and louder until we almost lost our voices.

We didn’t have mobile phones. There was no phone at all, or maybe one, but long-distance calls were expensive and unnecessary unless someone was dying, which of course no one was, because we were young and invincible. There was no post, even, because our parents would have had to write to us two weeks before we left so that we got the letters on time. There was no Facebook. There was no Twitter. Some of us had cameras but not a lot of pocket money for films or to have our films developed, and so we took twenty, maybe thirty, photos in total over ten days and we hoped for the best and later we were excited when the photo of our favourite family came put well enough to be blown up and framed and hung on a bedroom wall in memory of the perfect summer. We lived in the moment and years later we marvelled that our memory had taken its own photographs. This, too, Jean-Jacques Goldman had sung about, so we should have known.

We had crushes on each other. We had crushes on the same two or three boys, the same two or three girls. We had crushes, some of us, on the unexpected people. Someone had a crush on us and we didn’t quite know what to do about it, but he was nice and so we became friends with him. We hoped nothing would happen. We hoped something might. We hoped that if it did we would know what to do.

Our junior leaders had crushes on each other too and we knew it, or we thought we knew, or we longed to know. Our junior leaders were old and wise but they were also somehow fun because they were, in fact, only twenty or so. Our junior leaders were enigmas. Our junior leaders strummed guitars and we sat next to them in the shade of the tree, listening, and wished we could be like them. They were everything we wanted to be when we grew up and we could not even quite say why. Our junior leaders knew how to do macramé and we left ours with them for them to finish for us on the day we went swimming in the river. Our junior leaders were the big brothers and the big sisters we wanted or had left behind in Belgium and missed already. 

We all wanted to be friends with the same girl. Mostly we were, because the reason we all wanted to be friends with that she was super sympa. Those of us who were bilingual never used the English word, because nice is so insipid and she was not insipid. Nobody could be accused of insipidness on this camp. Nobody could be accused of anything bad, ever. Years later when we would talk about these memories and people who had not been there would say “it couldn’t have been that perfect”, we would smile to ourselves and try to remember that only those who had been there could ever believe that it was. We would not argue because to argue would be to sully the inviolable.

On the seventh of the seventh one of us celebrated his birthday. He would always celebrate his birthday at camp until the end his life because of when he had been born, a beautifully symmetric day: seventh of the seventh seventy-seven, and we would always remember him on that date even when it turned out that we had, in fact, stopped going to camps after all. On the seventh of the seventh we would forever be able to taste the butter icing from the cake that Marianne had made for him.

All that talk of sevens made us think of forgiveness, the story of Jesus saying that was how often we had to forgive, seven times seventy-seven times, which hurt our brains because the seven-times table had been the hardest one to memorise at primary school and we had never got further than seven times twelve. The maths required thinking about the kinds of things we had resolved not to think about until way ahead in the future when we were back behind our desks for our second or third or fourth year of secondary school. Back where our lives were regimented, governed by a timetable and a mother who demanded that we never get less than eight out of ten for any piece of homework. Back where we were the only Christian in our class and people looked at us strangely even though we had not quite the reached the age for the endless discussions of what you should or should not do with your boyfriend before marriage. And so we did not think about those things, they were gone, poof. It was as if they had never existed, as is they never would. Our brains were full of sunshine instead, and of plots of pushing one of the boys into the fountain.

The days ran into each other. The days ran into each other as we took hikes in the mountain, condensed milk and other essentials in our rucksacks, ready to sleep in a mountain refuge, five of us huddled together on an enormous bunk. The days ran into each other as showers broke down and we washed each other’s hair in the fountain. The days ran into each other as we ate meal after meal of chicken and chips or the leaders thought they would try to feed us something new, quenelle, and we did not approve and some of us threw up and laughed about it later.

And then, inevitably, the end. Sleeping bags were rolled up. Tents were pulled down and tidied away until only the rectangle of squished and yellow grass attested to the fact that we had made it our home for the last ten days, that a part of us would always think of it as our home. Plates were washed up and tidied away for the last time, tea towels thrown into a bag together for washing rather than hung out to dry.

We slept outside on the last night so that we could leave early the next day: à la belle étoile, and the poetry of the language matched the melancholy of the mood. We did not sleep much at all. We looked at the ink-blue sky and felt already the pangs of the awful thing that is le cafard, that perhaps only French-speaking children truly feel because the English do not have a word for it.

Le cafard is nostalgia, but it’s so much more than that. Le cafard is mourning for what once was, and will never be again. Le cafard is the deep wistful longing that it would be again nonetheless, and the fear that it never can.  It’s a leaden weight in the pit of your stomach. It’s the sharp sting of absence. Of silence. Le cafard is waking up in your own comfortable bed after the first good night’s sleep in days, and finding no-one invading your space. No-one to sing grace with before breakfast. No one to make you laugh so hard that yoghurt comes out of your nose. Le cafard is the word for a cockroach, and like a cockroach it is big and black and threatening and indestructible. Le cafard fades to gentler blues eventually, around the time that the first letters start arriving and the photos comes back from the developer. And le cafard recedes, like the tide, but that too is painful in its way, because you feel you are letting go, and you don’t want to let go.

But life goes on. Life goes on and school starts again and maths isn’t so terrible after all. Life goes on and there are flute lessons and Latin declensions. Life goes on and before the next July there are letters and sleepovers and dreams of the boy whom you still sometimes thing about.

We sent letters to each other, long and multi-coloured. We slept over at each other’s houses though the sleeping part was mostly theoretical. We recorded ourselves talking into the night on both sides of a cassette, knowing we would want to listen to our younger selves in years to come, not knowing that cassettes were a passing, fleeting fad, that one day music would come from a tiny rectangular machine, much smaller even than a Walkman.  We looked at photographs and told the same stories over and over again. We played Jean-Jacques Goldman on the piano and sang his new album. We sang about life’s chances and what suffering can do for us. We sang about our mistakes. We sang about what love was not, though we did not yet know what it was.

We wrote our own words to his tunes. We wrote his lyrics out and next to them a commentary, convinced that these songs were for us, that they had been prescient of our lives, of the family we’d chosen for ourselves. We wrote, eventually, our own poems, angsty and never-ending, and we dreamed of being novelists.

We gathered, after a few weeks, to see the slides. We gathered, after many months, at a wedding. We gathered, after a decade, at a surprise birthday party. We gathered, two decades later, at a funeral, when we were still much too young but apparently no longer invincible. Just when we thought we had lost sight of each other, we gathered online.  Some of us gathered in foreign countries when one of us had moved there and another was passing through.

One of us moved to England and was never the same again. One of us moved across an ocean and became American.  One of us refused to fit into the narrative we had built for her and married someone entirely unexpected. One of us joined the army. One of us became a doctor. Some of us were fervent and devoted in our faith. Some of us went through the motions with a lukewarm heart. And some of us slipped away, too often unchallenged by people who would have considered themselves our close friends.

That era is gone. The innocence is gone. The stone house where we ate breakfast on wooden trays has been transformed beyond recognition: gone. Our ability to just be, for ten days, to let ourselves live, to slip away from the world and allow it to go on without us, gone. Gone.

And yet. And yet.

Those indelible footprints.

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Plotting my Novel with Post-Its: obsessive compulsive much?

I’ve been pondering how best to plot my second novel for a while now. Not as in what the story should be but as in how, physically, to write down what should happen. Some authors use index cards. Some use computer programs like Scrivener.

Some, of course, don’t write anything like that down at all: those authors are known in the trade as “pantsers”, as in “fly by the seat of”. That was how I wrote my first draft, which consisted mainly of one plot line: Louisa, who’s an evangelical Christian, falls for Aaron, who isn’t, and whom she consequently is not advised to date. There were occasional references to the primary campaign they were working on – mainly to move them from place to place and give them temptations like beds in hotel rooms – but that was it.

But I called it Primary Season for a reason. (Apologies for the terrible and unintentional rhyme there.) I didn’t want to write just another doomed love story, fun as those are. I wanted to explore what it might be like to work on a primary campaign in the – gasp! – Democratic Party as an evangelical Christian, and I wanted to do that from several angles. I also wanted to write a book that the kind of women who miss The West Wing might enjoy.

This means that I need more than one plot line. (Every novel does, in any case.) I need to weave in various scandals and debates and ad campaigns and press leaks. And I am not (yet?) skilled enough to be able to hold all those things in my head and mesh them together without the use of coloured Post-It notes.

Not only are there the plot lines to bear in mind, there’s also the timeline. Aaron and Louisa’s non-relationship needs to move along at a realistic pace, and needs to somehow fit into the schedule of primaries and caucuses and town hall meetings. It all becomes a delicate balancing act.

I also want some kind of system that shows me clearly which scenes I have already written, and which scenes I still need to write.

I could not come up with a system that did all of those things at the same time, in a clear, visual way, preferably not involving a computer. The nearest I’d come was this graph-like structure:

 

 

That works quite well as a general outline, and I may still use it, to show the main plot points and the fluctuations in the Candidate’s numbers as well as in Aaron and Louisa’s non-relationship (which would be in a different colour, just above the yellow Post-Its.). But it doesn’t help me with the kind of detailed outline that I need – scene by scene – and it also doesn’t provide a way for me to easily see which scenes still need to be written.

 

Cue a Google search of “planning my novel with Post-Its”. I discovered Julie Cohen’s blog, and her solution seemed to work well for me. Best of all, she was doing it with Post-Its and paper. But she didn’t have a timeline that I could see – and she didn’t have the issue of needing to separate finished and unfinished scenes.

 

Then – possibly in a midnight epiphany – I remembered this pin I’d liked on Pinterest. (The idea, and the picture, comes from jenhewett.blogspot.com.) If I adapted the model a little, I could use a left hand page for scenes written, and the facing right hand page for scenes yet to be done. Once I’ve written a scene, I move the corresponding Post-It from the right hand side to the left hand side.

 

 

 

And as for the timeline, each set of 2 facing pages of my Atoma notebook can be used per month of the campaign. Why an Atoma notebook, I hear you ask? Because you can move the pages around. So if it turns out that I have more scenes in August than will fit on the two pages, then hey presto, I just add a page to August (without having to calculate how many pages I think I might need and then panic when the system threatens to break down). Plotting needs to be flexible – which is why I like Post-Its; they’re so easy to move.

 

Obsessive compulsive much?

 

I had fun tonight. Step 1 is to take each plot strand and break it down into scenes (and believe it or not, this whole process helps me think up new scenes, too, since it helps me to see a logical sequence of events). So, below, we have one of the storylines that I will be threading through the novel. Mostly, it’s a campaign-based storyline – hence the blue (for Democrat!), but there’s also a bit of Aaron-and-Louisa (in purple), and Louisa-on-the-campaign (in light green). And where there are two Post-Its (thank you, Julie Cohen), it’s to show that two of the plot strands are being developed at once in a scene.

 

 

 

 

When I’ve done this for all the various strands (assuming Viking Direct Belgium get their act together and finally deliver the next lot of Post-It notes, since I need more colours), the fun (and the headaches) will really begin: threading them together and pacing the various stories so they fill the months required.

 

If you’re really lucky, I’ll write another post, complete with a photo or six to show off my efforts.

 

Oh, and then, all I need to do is write the thing.

 

 

 

 

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“What’s happening with your book?”

It makes me happy when people ask me what’s happening with my book. It also bemuses me a little, since I often assume that by now my entire entourage know that if I had any kind of news, I would be plastering it all over the internet.

But in any case, if you missed the excitement in my tweets and Facebook profile a few weeks back, here are the three main things happening at the moment.

– Inevitable is now at number 4 on Authonomy.

This, theoretically at least, means that it will make the top five on 1st May, after a year on the site and many more hours faffing around on it than I care to count. Every month, the five at the top of the list get whisked away to the desk of a HarperCollins editor (at least, we all hope it’s an editor and not a junior editorial assistant in her first week of work experience), and several weeks or sometimes months later an extensive comment is received. We all hope it’ll be accompanied by the instant offer of a publishing contract, but it hardly ever is.

Still, though, reviews can be very useful if you are seeking to make changes prior to self-publication, or if you want to write to agents with soundbites like “HarperCollins said this book had an interesting premise.” And I just want to get there now. (Which, by the way, you can help me with, if you go here, take thirty seconds or so to register, and then click “back the book”. Thank you!)

– Meanwhile, I’ve also paid to have a couple of professional reviews done. The first from the London Writers’ Club, which is run by two literary agents who offer to report back on your first 50 pages, plus – crucially – the query letter and synopsis that have, in my case, failed to enthuse anyone in the publishing world so far. That one was kind of devastating – mainly because I felt as if they hadn’t “got” my book, but had tried to pigeonhole it into something it isn’t, and doesn’t want to be – but it did contain nuggets of helpfulness. The second was much more useful – it’s a wonderful scheme for new writers run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association, in which you get an in-depth critique of the whole novel from an experienced writer. I got a detailed six-page report which was encouraging but not pandering and gave me many useful pointers.

– The most exciting thing to happen so far has been that through a connection with an author whose work I love, I got to send Inevitable to an editor at a major New York publishing house. (You don’t usually get to do that except through an agent, and I haven’t managed to snag one of those yet.) I haven’t heard anything back, and in a way I’m not surprised – but the set of circumstances which led to this were fairytale-like and inspired the plot for my third novel, so that’s good enough for me. Well, almost.

So now I have a choice. Either way, I am going to work on it some more, but then what? Self-publishing? I was dead against this a year ago, but am coming round to the idea. Most importantly, it gets your work out there rather than keeping it sitting in a draw. It’s so cheap, so easy, and people I know are making decent money at it. But should that be the main consideration? No, it shouldn’t. In a way, I wish I’d never looked into the world of publishing. I deliberately avoided all of that in my first 18 months of serious writing because I wanted to write for the pleasure of writing. And that childlike innocence is not something I’ll ever be able to recover.

Since I’m hopefully about to spend two years working on my writing – and, crucially, getting coaching – I am thinking I should probably hold off in any case. If, by the time I have my MFA from American University (sorry, I just have to keep saying that!) and have reworkedInevitable and met several agents, there is still no interest, then I probably will take the plunge. Or, by then, I’ll be wise enough to know not to bother. Either way, though,Inevitable will always have a place in my heart and I think I’ll always be proud of it.

Meanwhile, I’m working on my second novel. Primary Season tells the story of an evangelical Christian named Louisa Perry who works in Democratic politics. It’s not always easy, let me tell you, and it’s not made any easier by her crush on the maddeningly attractive Aaron Rosenberg. A lighter read? Welllll, maybe. Hopefully not a predictable one, though.

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Book Review: Come to the Edge, by Christina Haag

 Every once in a while, a book casts a spell on me. In 2010, it was The Song Is You, and you know that, because I still talk about it, I still recommend it, I still insist that it deserves to be better known. In 2012  – is it too soon to say? – it will be Come To The Edge.
 The elegance of the writing, the beauty of the story: “haunting” is how I have seen it described, and that was the word I would have used too. I don’t remember the last time a book kept me awake and away from even Twitter for two hours at a stretch.
Christina reminds me – perhaps inevitably – of Kate, the heroine in my first novel. “I did not know,” she says, “how long it took to get over such a love, and that even when you did, when you loved again, you would always carry a sliver of it in your stitched-together heart”.
I want this quote at the front of my book. I want to show it to people who read a chapter ofInevitable and say, “yeah, see, I just don’t buy that after all these years she would still be thinking of him”. I knew it! I knew that it happened like that sometimes. Because I am a hopeless romantic too. Maybe that’s why I was tempted (but only tempted) to rush past the background, the childhood, the descriptions, to get to the wooing, to get to the romance. And maybe that’s why I felt something like a twinge of pain in my belly on so many pages: yes, my heart broke for Bradley Whitford when they split up. But it broke for Christina then too, and then time and time again afterwards. (And I want to call her by her first name. Although I know it’s an illusion, I feel, after she has shared her soul with me, that we are friends.)
Come To The Edge is a book full of emotion, not in a trite, schmaltzy way, but the way it’s supposed to be, the way that people tell you to do it at writing workshops: show, don’t tell. Christina takes us by the hand and she shows us what it means to be her, what it means to be John, what it means to be with John, what it means to no longer be with him. She makes me want to travel to places in America that I’ve never heard of. Her writing is quite simply superb, her vocabulary varied – it sounds like a small thing, but it’s one of the small things that makes a book worth staying up until two a.m. to finish: when was the last time you came across the word “epiphyte”? On almost every page there was a turn of phrase I wish I could have written.
So, her writing: study it, aspiring authors. Particularly aspiring memoirists. Study it for colour and depth and how to bring the past back to life and how to convey the magic of childhood and of love. Study it to learn description and how to draw out character. Study it for the poetry of the language.
If you follow this blog, chances are you’ll know what led me to this book: it wasn’t the main story. It was a subplot about a man Christina dated for three years. You know the one. But I’m glad my endless fascination with him led me there. I’m glad that, after telling myself that it was a ridiculous reason to buy an overpriced hardback book and that it was probably really badly written anyway, I travelled to America when Amazon had it on special offer and I read some reviews that praised the prose. I thought, you know what, beautifully written tragic love stories set against a political backdrop are my thing. They’re what I write. I should read it for research.
But the stories I write are made up. This one, this heartbreaking one, is real. It can’t have been easy to reach into the past for these memories, to draw them out and have the emotions rush back. But if I ever get to meet Christina Haag, I will thank her, because this is a story that needed to be told, and that it’s told so deftly means that it will reach the kind of people who don’t read celebrity biography. Literary snobs, if you will. People like me.
And then I will ask her to please keep writing. I’ll tell her that I go to a Monday Night Writers’ Group too. I don’t know why I’ll tell her that. Probably because I babble when I meet people I admire.
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Life after the novel

Nobody prepares you for life after the novel.

Nobody prepares you for the emptiness.
I have an idea for my next one. That’s all it is for now: a gem of an idea. But that’s all Inevitable was until I sat down with exercises from the Five Minute Writer and my characters leapt to life. I could do it again. I could sit down and flesh them out.
But I’m not ready.
I’m not ready, partly, because I’m scared.
What if the next one isn’t as good?
What if the voice I found for Kate only works for Kate, and I can’t find a different one which is also still me?
What if all my characters are carbon copies of Kate, with her love of books and coffee and grammar and politics?
What if I don’t know enough about the themes I want to explore, and I make a fool of myself, or worse, offend people?
But those aren’t the main reasons. The main reason is that I can’t let go of my first novel.
And that is partly a good thing. Although I have proclaimed it finished, posted it on Authonomy, drank numerous glasses of pinot grigio blush in its honour, I know it is not, actually, finished. There is tweaking to be done. There may be scenes to rewrite, or – oh, the pain – to delete.
And how can I immerse myself in that world again to make those changes if part of me has moved on to another one already?
I may be walking down the street or listening to a political podcast or reading a book, and a new idea may present itself that would work well as a sub-plot or an extra scene. Granted, this hasn’t happened in a while, which was one of the signs to me that it was, in fact, finished. But I don’t know how to have an idea and not make it part of Inevitable.
And I miss it.
I miss looking forward to a Saturday which starts with coffee and a writing prompt and ends in new pages or better sentences.
I miss the process, and I miss the writer’s high.
I miss hanging out with my characters, and I am afraid of being unfaithful to them if – as I must – I fall in love with a new cast.
But how to move on? And how to keep writing? And what to keep writing, when I’m not ready to let go of my first novel?
Nobody prepares you for this. I really wish they would.

Apostrophes: a basic guide

It’s National Grammar Day in the US, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a related blogpost (and a plea to my fellow countrymen to institute such a thing on our shores).

I’ve noticed a few of my Facebook friends have issues with using apostrophe’s* and so in a spirit of helpfulness (and not at all because a misplaced punctuation mark reminds me of the sound of nails on blackboard) I thought I would write a no-nonsense guide to using them. I’m still trying to decide if I should tag the culprits in a you-need-to-read-this kind of way. What is the etiquette? Has anyone found a way of gently, lovingly yet a little forcefully pointing out that the person in question really does need to have a quick read of this helpful little blogpost?
I’m not going to go into all the complexities. There are three main points you need to remember.
1) APOSTROPHES ARE USED WHERE A LETTER IS MISSING.
For example, he can’t, instead of he cannot. I don’t, instead of I do not.
2) APOSTROPHES ARE USED TO SHOW POSSESSION.
The king’s speech.
The girl’s bicycle.
If the thing you are talking about is plural, ie if there are two girls and two bicycles, the apostrophe goes after the s, like this:
The girls’ bicycles

Sometimes, it’s not massively clear that there is a possession, for example in two weeks’ notice or last month’s meeting. In cases like this, substitute one: one week notice doesn’t sound right; even with one there is an s; so the s is not a plural. That means you put an apostrophe there.
3) APOSTROPHES ARE NEVER, EVER USED TO PLURALISE ANYTHING.
If you need to say there is more than one of something, you never, ever (unless you’re writing in Dutch) add an apostrophe. Sometimes, you have to change the spelling a little:
When something ends in a vowel, like potato, you need to add an e: potatoes.

If a word ends in a y, like country, you have to change the spelling thus: countries.
4) APOSTROPHES ARE IMPORTANT
But you knew that already, didn’t you?
(*this is me attempting to be funny. Because we never pluralise with apostrophes. Never!)

Writing and sacrifice: a (Christian) writer’s dilemma

All the books on writing that I’ve read lately have said so, and my experience would certainly concur: if you really want to be a writer, it takes time. You will have to sacrifice hobbies. Other things may have to fall by the wayside. It’s also been said many times that to be an expert at anything takes 10,000 hours: that’s 10,000 hours spent not doing something else.

How does that work, when you believe your primary purpose on earth is to build the Church? If writing a novel really *did* take a year, or a few months, then maybe, maybe you could take a few months out of the teams you’re serving on: after all, the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, and having quality fiction written by Christians is an important aspect of our being salt and light. But it doesn’t take a year. It takes, like, forever, and during that forever, you eat, sleep and breathe it. And are you not making an idol of your writing if you put it first?
Or, and yes, I know you’re all getting tired of the pregnancy analogy, but is it a “season of life” thing – stepping back for several years to give yourself to something worthwhile? Great. (Except that it’s quite possibly not just a “season”. You’re probably a gonner forever.) But everyone understands that babies are important and time-consuming and take over your life. I think most non-writers don’t really understand that novels also do that. That they almost have to, if they’re going to be any good. Does it matter what others think, whether they understand? No, of course it doesn’t – if you have rock-solid self-confidence and a mandate written across the sky. For the rest of us, it matters hugely.
If you have a baby, everyone understands that you are busy, not sleeping much, and that any conversation with you is going to involve the kind of minutiae that others, in particular non-parents, are not necessarily enthralled by. But can you really say, well, I’m taking time out from such-and-such for a few months while I get my novel written? Or, worse, I’m really sorry, I don’t have much spare time to meet up, and I probably won’t for the next few months, since whenever I have a chunk of uninterrupted time I sit down and write, and that’s what I’m prioritising? I mean, it sounds so cold, so callous. Not to mention a little dysfunctional.
All the books give you permission to do that. More than permission – they seem to require it of you. But the problem is, writing is a less common occupation than having babies, so most people probably don’t get it. So you risk offending people. You risk people thinking you don’t care about their friendship. You risk people misunderstanding you, or judging you, or thinking that building Church is not supremely important to you. You risk worrying that yourself.
If you’ve met me in the last couple of years, you could be forgiven for thinking that I’m some kind of introverted hermit, uninterested in friendships, and obsessed with spending as much time at home with my West Wing DVDs as possible. But ask people who’ve lived with me: believe it or not, before I remembered I was a writer, I would panic at the thought of an evening in by myself. I would hang around at Church till the very last person had gone. I would meet up with as many people as possible for lunch and coffee and dinner.
It’s just that my priorities are different for now. I don’t know how that works long-term. I keep hoping for the rich husband or the lottery win that will enable me to quit my job, so I have time to write and be sociable and serve on all the teams I can shake a stick at and engage meaningfully wtih the country I live in and help my friend check his thesis for grammar errors, but short of that something has to give. And that something is not going to be, cannot be, my writing, not because it’s an idol, but because it’s what I was made for. To paraphrase Eric Liddle, God made me to love words, and I feel His pleasure when I write.

Vingt ans plus tard…

T’as des enfants? Des cheveux gris?
Tu as connu beaucoup de filles?
Tu deviens quoi? Beaucoup changé?
Et tu fais quoi comme métier?

Tu penses a moi… c’est évident.
Et pourtant ça fait si longtemps…
Retrouverait-on notre amitié
Ou faut-il tout recommencer?

On n’est plus les mêmes enfants
(On est même adultes maintenant!)
En fin de compte, vaudrait-il mieux
Ne rien attendre de nous deux?

Garder intacte le souvenir?
Si on n’avait rien à se dire?
Laisser tout ca dans le passé…
Ou bien au cas où… tout risquer?

Me revoilà…

Alors, voilà. Je l’ai, mon nouvel ordinateur, qui « parle » français. Plus d’excuse. Vous devriez pouvoir revenir tous les jours voir mon blog et, en principe, y trouver quelque chose de nouveau, d’original ou au moins de bien écrit.

Pourtant… reste le syndrome de la page blanche et de la petite panique quand on se retrouve seul avec le stylo métaphorique qu’est le clavier. J’ai les moyens, maintenant, non pas financièrement parlant – si seulement je pouvais me permettre de vivre de ma plume ! Un jour, peut-être, mais ce n’est pas pour demain – mais du moins, les matériaux (et la maitrise du français) qu’il me faut pour écrire plus régulièrement. Et pourtant… l’inspiration vient-elle plus facilement lorsqu’il est plus aisé d’écrire ? Il me semble que non. Sinon, comment expliquer le phénomène connus par tous les écrivains, ou les idées se bousculent au moment de se coucher, quand la lumière est éteinte et le carnet hors de portée ?

Je reviendrai donc peut-être à ces fameux cahiers-brouillon en provenance du GB. On verra. Pour le moment, je voulais ressusciter mon blog avant que vous ne vous endormiez tout à fait…

Prologue à mon prochain roman..

“Elle s’appelle Keziah” , me sourit maman, en me tendant ma petite soeur flambant neuve. Flambant, c’était d’ailleurs le cas de le dire – elle était toute rouge, même si, côté neuve, elle n’en avait pas tout à fait l’air: fripée, comme une vieille dame.

“Keziah” , répétai-je, en la prenant dans mes bras, mes yeux débordant d’admiration pour maman et d’émerveillement, d’affection, pour cette minuscule créature, à qui je promis en silence de toujours l’aimer et de m’avérer la meilleure grande soeur du monde.

“C’est quand même un drôle de nom…” , m’aventurai-je encore. Maman m’indiqua la Bible à son chevet, m’énuméra les versets à chercher, dans le livre de Job:


Le Seigneur combla Job de ses bénédictions, plus encore qu’il ne l’avait fait auparavant. … Il eut aussi sept fils et trois filles. Il nomma la première Yemima, la seconde Keziah* et la troisième Quéren-Happouk. Dans tout le pays, on ne trouvait pas de femmes aussi belles que les filles de Job. Leur père leur réserva une part d’héritage au même titre qu’à leurs frèr
es.

C’est vrai, elle ne s’en était quand même pas trop mal tirée. Je la voyais mal écrire “Quéren-Happouk van der Kindere” dans ses cahiers de première primaire, alors qu’une petite veinarde aurait le temps de gribouiller trois fois “Claire Martin” ou “Lydie Icks”.

“Et Emilie, demandai-je pour la enième fois, ça veut dire quoi?”
Maman se contenta de me sourire. Je connaissais la réponse plus que suffisamment. Rien de spécial… d’où le deuxième prénom duquel on m’avait affublée, Désirée, que je n’étais pas sur d’aimer en lui-même, mais qui exprimait si bien les sentiments de mes parents lors de mon arrivée qu’il m’était véritablement précieux.

Je continuais à contempler Keziah, savourant l’émotion du moment. Une petite soeur, enfin ! Il était grand temps, malgré l’amour que je portais å mes deux frères. Mais huit ans d’écart, c’est quand même beaucoup. On ne partagerait pas tant que ça. Lorsque Keziah aurait mon âge de l’époque, je serais déjà presqu’adulte (du moins à mes yeux). Mais voilà, dans mon imagination, elle grandissait plus vite que moi, devenait presque ma jumelle. Il faut dire que, de jumelle, j’en avais une, jusqu’au jour où…

Enfin, je lui laisse la plume, puisque c’est d’abord elle qui se veut écrivain. Même si je m’en mêlerai de temps en temps, puisque c’est quand même de moi aussi qu’il est question…

* Keziah est l’orthographe anglaise de Quessia.