I have now finished the first draft of Fred. I cried when I reached the end. I took a moment in the summerhouse to be alone and to feel sad that this part was over. Writing can be really hard, it can be frustrating but it also one of the greatest pleasures in life – or in my life anyway.
Writing endings are different to writing beginnings or middles. The story and characters are set up, and the reader has been on a journey for two or three hundred pages and has built up her own vision. By the end, I want to allow my reader to fill in the spaces between the words. I don’t mean leave an ‘open ending’ in terms of story, but allow the reader room to imagine things herself and be able to fill in the blanks. I think it is more emotionally resonant this way.
In case this seems all rather vague, I’m going to turn to my usual guru: Jane Austen, and in this instance the obsequious Mr Collins. In this scene, Mr Collins is taking Elizabeth Bennet round Rosings Park, and describing the scene in front of them:
“Here, leading the way through every walk and cross walk, and scarcely allowing them an interval to utter the praises he asked for, every view was pointed out with a minuteness which left beauty entirely behind. He could number the fields in every direction, and could tell how many trees there were in the most distant clump.”
‘Pride and Prejudice’ chapter 28.
Mr Collins is not allowing any space between the words. He is describing the scene (which they can see anyway as it’s right there in front of them) in such detail that he ruins it. As a writer, I think one of the hardest thing is knowing how and when to evoke places, people and reactions, and when one needs to leave it to the reader’s imagination and trust them to fill the spaces. As Keats (almost) said ‘hear words are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter’.
Me in a stripey hat.
Beattie’s book blog said lovely things about Mr R: http://beattiesbookblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/mr.html
I’ve been having one of those days… so close to finishing this draft of Fred… and part of me doesn’t want to. Feeling a little melancholy* so this made me smile.
*(interestingly, a word I used with a creative spelling in a story aged nine and was told off by my teacher for being pretentious – when asked what that meant, I was told ‘if you don’t know ‘pretentious’ you can’t possibly be melancholy’).
I feel slightly odd, like I’m actually living in two parallel worlds; or, at the very least, jet-lagged and trying to zoom between two time zones. Only rather than London/ Los Angeles, the zones are 2010 and 1941. I disappear to write and vanish into wartime Tyneford, then return to the kitchen for a cup of tea, a chat with Mr S and to make a phone call or two, and I feel very discombobulated. Time-lagged.
When I approach the end of a draft the story takes over and I start to think incessantly about it. I don’t sleep very well and, when I do, I dream of Dorset long ago. Out walking with Mr S, he complains that I’m quiet, but it’s not quiet in my mind, or at leas they’re not quiet, since they are chattering very loudly in my head. Before you start to panic, and think you need to send Mr S or Jocasta or Agent Stan concerned e-mails, let me assure you that this is a hazard of the job. Many writers talk about hearing snatches of conversation between their characters, and that part of getting into a story is learning to listen to them.
When that first draft is finished and set aside for a few weeks to rest and simmer, it will become peaceful again. My noisy characters will be held inside the manuscript, waiting to be read so that they can talk again. For now, I might go out to the summerhouse and hide, but somehow I expect they’ll be waiting for me there, impatient to get on with the story.
counting sheep to fall asleep... (and it's snowy)
It’s so good to be back in Dorset. Within a week I start to pine for green fields. The snow has almost gone here, just a smattering of white across the high ground. I think I timed it very well, carefully avoiding the evil slush.
Emails are flying back and forth as Sceptre (and my mum) try to organise the launch of Mr R and begin to arrange events for the book group tour. (If you want me to visit your book group, click on the link at the top of the page and leave a message – or email me at: mrrosenblum AT hotmail DOT co DOT uk). I’ll be very well behaved and will even bring my own biscuits.
Yet, while all this is going on, I’m hurtling towards the end of Fred. She even has a title. I can’t sleep for Elise and Mr Rivers wandering through my dreams. All I want to do at the moment is write. I have notebooks and files and scraps of paper, all filled with scribbles for the last few chapters and these are slowly making their way into the story. If only they could all stroll off into a sunset as lovely as this one…
Durdle Door sunset
I’ve got used to telling people that my book’s coming out next year. Only now it’s this year. I’m excited and nervous in equal measure. Little snippets are starting to appear, like here:
Where the fab book blogger Simon Savidge picks ‘Mr R’ as one of his books to watch in 2010…
I’m also speaking at my first event – Jewish Book Week on the 2nd of March. So, do come along. It’s my very first Mr R talk, so I might be rather nervous…
It’s quite strange, as we get closer to the release of Mr R, I am busily writing Fred. In fact, I’m hurtling towards the end. I’ve enjoyed writing her so much that part of me really doesn’t want to finish. But, I know it’s alright. It will only be the first draft and I’ll have Mr S’s notes and then agent Stan’s and then Jocasta’s. So, Fred and I will spend a lot more time together yet. But this is a good thing – I really don’t get tired of the stories or the characters. I’m looking forward to seeing Jack and Sadie once again. Only this time, they won’t just be mine, but will belong to other readers too.
I’ve been in London again for a few days. Actually it was my birthday and I decided to celebrate in the big city with my friends. My mum came too and baked me a Baumtorte – a traditional German cake which literally means ‘tree-cake’. Rather than being baked in the oven, it is made by whipping up a vanilla flavoured batter which is then cooked in layers under the grill – like an enormous stash of very thin pancakes placed on top of the other. When it’s sliced, the layers look like the rings of a tree.
The recipe comes from my grandmother, Margot, a champion, if eccentric, baker. Each layer represents a memory or a thought, so it’s very appropriate for a birthday cake. The cake features rather prominantly in Mr R – Sadie bakes it whenever she needs to remember something or someone. So, I saved a piece for Jocasta (my editor) who had never tried it before. I felt almost guilty at giving her rather stingy slice. Almost.
Today, Mr S and I finished off the last slice and I couldn’t help but feel a little melancholy. The last of this year’s birthday Baumtorte. There’ll be another layer on next year’s. It’s like the thaw. I love snow. It transforms the most stoic grown-up into a sledging six-year-old. We’re all transported back to a childhood in Narnia and a land of hot chocolate and stories before bedtime. But, with the thaw, the magic disappears. As the snow drips from the trees and turns into grey slush oil stained by car-tyres, we all grow up again in an instant. I don’t mind it once the snow has gone, but the act of watching it fade from perfect whiteness into sludge, I can’t bear. I’m tempted to hide in London until it’s gone.
And, yes, I switch off the Narnia movie, the moment that the snow begins to melt.
I couldn’t resist posting this picture of my grandparents’, Paul and Margot, looking so chic after a country snowstorm in the 1950s. My grandmother looks particularly fetching in her blouse and slacks.
Dorset in the snow - 50s