Life’s rarely predictable. Just when you get used to a routine, everything seems to change and it’s all systems go on several fronts at once.
Back in 2007, when me and the wife gave up ‘normal’ life to go off and be teachers in Portugal, we rented out our house in Cornwall. Since returning to the UK last September, we’ve been renting a flat in Hampshire – roughly four hours drive away.
Didn’t take us long to realise that the only people profiting from this situation are the rental agents and the taxman. (Being self-employed, I have to declare my income from renting out my house – regardless of the fact that all it’s doing is paying my rent up here and if I lived in the house myself I’d be no better but would pay no tax!)
Also, we’ve got intention of returning to Cornwall in the near future – we’re much closer to family here and there’s a lot more work to be had. So, we’ve decided to sell our house and I took five days at the end of April to go down to Cornwall and do some painting and decorating before putting the house on the market.
I’d thought it might be a sad experience but we haven’t lived in the house for more than six years so the emotional attachment is long gone. Plus, having spent the entire time in Cornwall lost in either cloud or sea fog, my desire to linger wasn’t that strong.
I must have found a good estate agent (realtor), though, as within four days of the first viewing we got an offer of the asking price! (Who said the property market was in the doldrums?)
Of course, that means we’re now busy scouring property listings in the Bournemouth area wondering what to buy up here.
On top of that, spring has finally arrived. Big sighs of relief all round. However, apart from making life generally much more pleasant, it also means more work. Apart from being an English teacher and a writer, I’m also a gardener and, now that things are finally growing, my phone’s starting to ring with people wanting work done.
Good in many ways: more work equals more money and you can’t really beat getting paid to do something that you also do for pleasure.
Trouble is, I haven’t done any more work on White Rabbits for over a week and I’m getting so close to the end too!
It’s been a three-day weekend here but that hasn’t helped. I look out of the window, see the sunshine and the prospect of sitting down in front of a keyboard suddenly palls: which is why we spent today riding through the New Forest on our tandem, admiring spring flowers, trees bursting into life and just generally appreciating the strange feeling of warmth on our skins.
Things are unlikely to improve radically in the near future either. Next week I’ve got pretty much a full gardening schedule. Then we’re off on holiday to Slovenia for two weeks (I’m not complaining about that!) and when we come back I’ve got a six week teaching contract that, combined with keeping on top of the gardening work, is unlikely to leave me much free time.
Oh well, plenty of time for those plot lines and characters to ferment further…
Why is it the best ideas always come when it’s impossible to write them down?
In the past I used to take an MP3 player when I went running or to the gym. Like many people, I found something fast, with a good rhythm – and sometimes a dash of aggression – helped spur me on when otherwise I might have given up.
These days, for some reason, I seem to have fallen out of the habit of having a music player with me. Now when I go running, cycling or walking I find my mind wandering with no music on which to concentrate.
My ‘forebrain’ is busy with the basic stuff like where to put my feet and which way to turn, leaving the rest of my head free to go where it pleases. Sometimes the mental ramblings are inconsequential stuff about work/life/food etc. Quite often, though, I’m thinking about plot lines for my writing and inspiration seems to strike frequently enough to make the process quite productive. Many times, I can run through entire scenes – dialogue and all – in my head.
But I never have any paper or a pen with me! The trouble is, I know that I have good ideas for my stories and sometimes I remember them. My fear is that I can’t remember them all or in their entirety.
And if I don’t remember everything, what happens to my great ideas? Will all those neat solutions for plot twists that have been bothering me just evaporate and go back into the ether? Or will they re-emerge as ‘new’ ideas another day?
I think I’m going to have to get a Dictaphone. That way I might not lose so many ideas. Or do I need to learn some new memory techniques for recalling my thoughts?
Taking a Dictaphone out running might seem a bit odd. Once upon a time the locals might have thought me mad if they saw me running the local paths talking to myself, nowadays they’ll probably just think I’m some sad individual who can’t live without their mobile phone. (Not sure which scenario is worse.)
It’s amazing how one person – Margaret Thatcher – can cause such division in death as in life.
On the other, the song Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead is soaring up the charts and may reach the No 1 slot by the weekend thanks to a Facebook campaign by some of those who still loathe the woman and everything she did to this country.
I was a teenager when Thatcher became prime minister and it’s fair to say that the British economy was not in a good state, the unions had too much power (and weren’t using it responsibly) and that the previous Labour government hadn’t exactly done a great job of running the country.
There was so much media coverage from politicians and others glorifying what a great leader she was and how she fundamentally changed this country.
I think too many people have short memories. By the time she was kicked out – by her own political party – Thatcher had very few supporters. The majority of the British public hated her and everything she stood for.
Remember the ‘poll tax’, the destruction of our mining industry (as a way of defeating the unions), selling off our nationalised industries, getting rid of council housing, savage cuts to education and health budgets, etc, etc.
Yes, she transformed this country but for the better? I’d be fascinated to see a balanced study that looks at things like how much – in real terms – we pay now for our water, gas, electricity and phones compared to when we had nationalised industries. We should also include a comparison of how efficient/effective the supply of these services is/was and the number of people they employed.
Any study should also look at where the profits now go. One of Thatcher’s mantras was to do with distributing shares in the privatised industries to the whole country. But how many people now own (or benefit from) shares in BT or the water companies? Who benefits from the revenue from these companies now – the British taxpayer, private individuals, foreign companies…?
She did play a major role in supporting Mikhail Gorbachev and thereby bringing about the break-up of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. She did stick up for the people of the Falklands against Argentine aggression.
But she was also the person who did most to destroy old notions of public service and society, replacing it with the ‘what’s in it for me’ ethos. The gap between rich and poor widened enormously under Maggie Thatcher.
Some might point to her ‘landslide’ election victory in 1983. But that’s a fallacy. Our ‘first past the post’ electoral system is not always democratic. Thatcher won even more seats in 1983 than in 1979 – but she actually got less votes. Far more people voted against Thatcher than voted for her.
So is the campaign to make Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead a good thing? Yes, because as Adam Jung writes here in the Huffington Post, it’s one way to counterbalance the revisionist tirade from the rest of the media who are too busy eulogising Thatcher to remember what her legacy really is.
On Wednesday, when the British House of Commons was recalled to debate her legacy, the MP Glenda Jackson went against convention with a spirited and detailed reminder of what she felt Thatcher had done:
I’ve got a little bit of respect for Maggie on the basis that she at least had convictions. But… Ding Dong… I’m one of many who won’t be mourning her passing.
Some very sad news today – Scottish author Iain Banks has announced he has terminal cancer and is unlikely to live for another year.
I first discovered Iain Banks in 1984 when I picked up his debut literary novel The Wasp Factory in my local library. What drew my attention were all the reviews quoted inside the front cover.
Normally, publishers pick out all the best bits to persuade people how good a book is. Not with The Wasp Factory. The reviews alternated: one saying this was the best thing in decades, the next saying how terrible it was.
I don’t have a copy but I seem to remember that one review summed it all up. It went something like: “This is a wonderful book but enjoy it I did not.”
After that warning, I couldn’t fail to pick it up. I did enjoy the book – although some some of it was fairly disturbing and there’s one moment that is quite stomach-churning. But all written with wonderful panache and just the right level of black humour to appeal to my own slightly warped sense of what’s amusing.
I went on to read practically everything else produced by Iain Banks – including the sweeping sci-fi epics written under the name of Iain M Banks.
He’s probably one of the writers who has most inspired my own attempts to be an author and if I could produce just one book to stand next to all of his I’d be a proud man.
Iain Banks is a hugely talented writer and will be sorely missed.
Oh yes, if you’re wondering about the title of this post, it’s a quote from Banks’s own announcement and a reflection of his wonderful dark humour. Apparently, having learnt that what he thought was backache is in fact terminal cancer, he proposed to his partner, asking her to do him the honour of becoming his widow.
As the man himself said, sometimes a bit of ghoulish humour helps to deal with those things that can’t be laughed away.
I was on the train all morning today – coming home after a long Easter weekend spent with my parents up in Canterbury.
The journey gave me some time for a bit of writing and rough editing but my eye was also caught by a story that’s appeared in a number of the newspapers today. (Like this version from The Telegraph.)
Apparently, a survey of British attitudes has shown that many people get really irritated by complete strangers – particularly those trying to sell us something – using our first names as if we’re old friends. One example that appears to really get up the nose of many is when baristas at Starbucks write our first names on the cups.
So I was wondering, is it really just us Brits being all stuffy or do other people also value a spot of old world courtesy – giving strangers a bit of respect by calling them Mr or Mrs or Ms or… whatever?
Personally, I think ‘British reserve’ is a bit of a stereotype. Yes, there’s truth in it but it’s not universal nor are we the only ones who like to be treated with respect.
A couple of years ago my wife and I were on a trip across the States and we visited Eastland, Texas, to give a talk at the local primary school. One of the pupils was our host’s daughter and she was the sweetest, politest little girl you could imagine. Whenever she spoke to Carolyn it was ‘yes ma’am’ or ‘no ma’am’ – said in a wonderful Southern accent!
Now I can’t imagine many British schoolchildren being quite so polite. I’m also one of those dinosaurs that hold doors open for others (men as well as women). I don’t even really think about it – I was brought up to believe in manners.
I know the survey has already been done but I’d be interested to know what others think. Particularly thoughts from around the world and across the ages! Or are there other things that get your goat?
I wonder also – whether we like it or not – how much attitudes are changing. Are these kind of changes and the loss of formality inevitable, particularly when our personal data is so much more readily available?
And – as a writer – how much do these changes in patterns affect our writing? If you’re writing a book set in the 18th century then obviously, to be historically accurate, the author needs to know how people addressed each other in the day and place involved. What about other eras? Technology changes have been radical but how different will the dialogue be for a novel set in the 1980s as one set now?
So many questions! Now that I’ve posed them I need to get back to work – writing dialogue for the next book involving characters ranging in age from five to seventy-five. Another challenge yet again.
Sometimes I do worry what’s going on in my head. My dreams are often vivid and usually a bit surreal but last night’s was a corker.
I dreamt that I was at a place where crocodiles were being taught how to use typewriters. It all seemed quite logical at the time – one of the crocs was lying on a beach busy typing while some kids were running past.
But where on earth did that come from? I hadn’t consumed anything I shouldn’t have – not even any alcohol. I hadn’t watched any wildlife documentaries or read anything about any kind of dangerous animals. It does make me wonder what’s going on inside my brain!
The inspiration for my books does come from all sorts of places: Thin Ice is based on a particularly lucid dream I had – but more on that tomorrow when it goes on promotion.
Findo Gask was inspired by a road sign, The Vault started as a single line about a night-time kidnapping attempt and the idea behind Pagan’s Sphinx came from a TV documentary about the origins of the Great Sphinx at Giza.
But typewriting crocodiles? Not sure I’ll get a book out of that one!