Friday, February 29, 2008

First Steps

The writing plan is taking shape - I have bought a new notebook to begin scribblings for Novel 2 and have a plan in my head of my approach. With my first novel I had a very haphazard process which was fine but on reflection I would like to try a different process. Novel one began from a tiny idea and several anecdotes and I didn't even know what final form it would take. At that stage the idea of writing a novel had never entered my head. Now that I have novel 1 complete - even though it needs a complete overhaul - I at least now understand the mechanics of 'going the distance.'

I've been reading Robert J Ray & Brett Norris' book 'The weekend novelist' which essentially guides you through a 'process' to write a first draft. I know I won't follow it to the letter but I am going to use it to get started. For this novel I know who the central characters are, what their relationship is (at least at the start of the story) and what the main theme is. I would like to write this in a more linear fashion as I got lost at times with my random writing process on N1. I suppose that I am looking to be more effective with my time and I would like to get this one finished quicker and maintain a more focused writing approach. Fingers are tightly crossed and I feel excited and scared - but more excited!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Next Steps

I've woken up today with more energy than I've had for ages. I haven't written regularly now for over 3 months due to my family situation and I feel it is time to get a routine happening again. I have been home from Australia for a week and I'm still filled with joy not to have to rummage in a suitcase for anything I want. After 3 months of living out of a suitcase it is really exciting to open a cupboard and extract what I need. I'm not that thrilled about winter clothes though - I miss the freedom of flip flops and floaty cotton dresses - bring on summer.

What I need now is a plan for my writing. Novel No 1 - Support Act needs a complete overhaul. I sent it out to one agent and had a rejection and I knew in my heart that it wasn't quite ready but I sent it anyway. Lesson Learnt - be patient. I want to start novel 2 as I feel the need to get on with it - and have decided to edit Support Act and write the new one at the same time. That's the plan.

My lovely husband returns from Italy tonight and I'm determined to make an untried dish for dinner. I'm going to have a crack at a yummy sounding Minestrone soup with bits of crumbled up bread on top which you dip in olive oil and garlic and then bake in the oven. Sounds really tasty. I feel it is the least I can do as he is bringing me a box of 100 handmade Italian chocolates and a chunk of fresh Parmesan cheese. Apparently I nearly had a gorgeous black cashmere cardigan but got the cheese instead as he was worried about the size. I love the way his brain works - from cashmere to cheese just like that!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I'm back

This is the post I didn't want to write but if I don't I'm going to stay with a big knot in my stomach. I've been avoiding it for a week but I have a strategy - write it quickly and then do another post straight after so this is not the one that stays in my mind. I thought about not writing this post but what is the point of having a writing blog if I'm not going to be honest. And holding onto this is creating a massive block for me.

My dad died in Australia five weeks ago after a short illness. He had pancreatic cancer and was given 6 months back at the end of October but he passed away almost 3months to the day after diagnosis. I got to spend 6 weeks with him and Mum from November through to early January and he was pretty good for most of that time though the morphine wiped him out. There was never any chance of treatment right from the start so we all knew what we were living with.

When I left Australia to return to the UK early in January I knew there was a strong possibility I may not see him again. I was OK with that as we had no outstanding words to share or issues to resolve but that was not really the point - saying goodbye and knowing that might be the last time we ever saw each other was unbelievable sad. There was nothing OK about it at all.

My family advised me in the middle of January to come home as he was declining faster than we had expected. I booked a ticket for Jan 22nd and my Dad died on Jan 20so I didn't get to see him again. My husband and I arrived in Australia on Jan 24 and we held the funeral the next day.

Waking up on the day of the funeral was like being in a surrealist dream. I couldn't believe I was putting lipstick on and advising my Mum on her make-up. She was in a bedroom putting it on with two of my Aunts with her. I walked in and said 'No Mum that lipstick is too pale' and she turned to my Auntie's and said 'I knew she'd be in to tell me to change it.' We all laughed. That was the unexpected aspect of the day - how much laughter there was along with the tears.

My Mum wanted myself and my two brothers to do readings but my younger brother opted not to and my other brother gave a beautiful eulogy. I was in awe of how he kept it together to read so well. I was only able to read because the words were someone else's and not about Dad. I never thought I'd be glad to have to read from the Gospel but I was grateful for the distraction of telling a story about people I had no connection with.

Various other family members undertook roles throughout the Catholic service and it was very beautiful and very busy! Always something to be done. When it finished a lone piper played Danny Boy in honour of my Father's Irish roots as the coffin was carried out by my brothers, husband, uncles and a cousin. Dad's old friends had formed a guard of honour down the steps of the church which I didn't know about. We stepped out of the gloom of the church into the mid afternoon summer sun and watched the coffin being placed in the hearse. The piper faded away and we were invited to sprinkle holy water onto the coffin before the hearse doors closed.

I couldn't believe it was my Dad in that coffin. I still don't really. It pops into my head that he has died and sometimes I question my self and ask if it's really true. One of my cousins told me that time doesn't heal the pain it just teaches you how to live with it. I liked that.

After the service at the cemetery we retired to my Dad's local watering hole the RSL (returned serviceman's league) club for drinks and snacks. It could almost have been any kind of celebration with kids running around in their 'good' clothes and everyone chatting and laughing. Later that night 40 members of my family gathered in the dinning room downstairs to have dinner. It was a great night - we played the poker machines, the kids ate chocolate and chips and feel asleep on the floor and we finished up on the snooker tables.

It was a great night and so lovely to have the comfort of family. It was like being cocooned in a familiar and happy little bubble. More than ever I was grateful to be part of an extended family who had energy and love to give in abundance. I was glad for Mum that she was enveloped in all of this as I knew the time would come when she would be on her own and have to face her grief.

Eventually the family members either returned to work or flew home to other Australian states and towns or back to America and the UK and then it was just Mum and I. My husband could only stay for a week on this second visit and I stayed on to keep Mum company for a bit longer and help with all the paperwork that comes flooding in. As my four year old niece said goodbye to Mum she said 'Who will sleep with you now that you don't have a husband Grandma?'

On Valentines day it would have been Dad's 70th birthday and Mum and I went up to the cemetery early before the heat set in. I would have liked to have gone on my own but I didn't want to tell Mum that. I wanted to go and have a good howl but wanted to be strong for Mum. As it transpired she was having the same thoughts. We arrived at Dad's grave to see a 70th candle poking put of the earth next to a handwrapped yellow rose and a 'Happy Birthday' grandpa card. That was the cue for us both to have a good howl. My brother had been up earlier and my 1year old niece had blown out the candle. She had been the one that Dad always found the energy to get out of his chair for even when we knew he didn't have the energy to give - but he always found it for her.

I came back to the UK last week and ring my Mum every second day. It is a wrench not to be there but wonderful to be back in my own home with my lovely husband. It is good to have the space to grieve. Next week would have been my parent's 46th wedding anniversary and I have no idea how my Mum will feel. I just celebrated my third and I cannot fathom losing someone you love after 46. I want to send Mum flowers and then I think that is probably to raw. I know this is Mum's journey and none of us can take it for her and there is probably nothing we can really do other than let her know we love her.

The temptation is to start organising her life for her. I would send her a plane ticket tomorrow to come and stay with us for a while but I think it is too soon and that she would probably appreciate it later in the year. I know she just wants to take it a day at a time and not make any commitments at present. We shall all just have to be patient and let her go at her own pace. I know how I feel at present - not really wanting to socialise and happy to be alone for a lot of the time - I think Mum is feeling the same from what I can tell. I console myself with knowing that we are probably able to do this because we know we are loved. It would be terrible to feel this sad and really be alone.

I had a typical relationship with my Dad given our background - he was Irish, always worked hard to look after his family and a product of an era where talking about your feelings wasn't really the thing to do. My dad would be happy to boast about you to everyone in town but would rarely deliver that kind of praise directly. I grew up in a small Australian rural town where everyone knew you and your family. It was hell being a teenager as there was always someone around who knew your parents which meant that you had to be'good'. When I left at 17 and moved to Sydney to go to Uni I was always so embarrassed when I was home to meet friends of my father's who seemed to know everything I'd been up to right down to the grades for exams.

I know my dad took great pleasure in telling people about my achievements over the years and I'm sad that when I return home and go to the RSL for a drink Dad won't be there to call me over to say hello to one of his mates who would say to me 'I've heard about all you - your Dad is always talking about you.' When I was younger that used to make me cringe, now I realise how lucky I was to have had a dad who was proud of me.