(Blogging as I go. Fast stream of consciousness. To remember Arvon writing course 11-15 May and the follow on process of writing the memoir.)
It occurs to me that I’m always going on about how the process is as important as the finished outcome. As in life, living it, is really important because the goal, end thing is the same for all of us, we die!
And I’m a few days out of my Arvon at home writing retreat. Enrolled on it with a press of a few buttons and joined 15 or so others, some of whom had actually booked to go to Yorkshire and do the residential non fiction writing retreat. I was not one of them, but a late ‘do it by Zoom, from your own home’ addition, wanting help with a non fiction project I was stuck with, but not wanting to take a day to drive to Yorkshire and another to drive home, from Cornwall, and sort out all the logistics of looking after my 90 year old mother in law. Would have been another week away.
But despite Zoom not being my favourite platform during lockdown, it was a real get off your backside and just write week. Two amazing published tutors, known to me as red lipped goddess Elise and John Paul, of the home knitted woollen underpants and guest writer Louise Doughty on Wednesday evening, she of Platform 7 and Appletree Yard fame. Her writing process seemed as unorganised as mine. She writes any scene that she feels, not worrying how it will fit in. And she doesn’t write in one place, neither location or medium wise. Some of it as she travels, some of it jotted in a notebook, or on a phone, or PC. There is hope for me yet.
But as well as getting freedom. I got skills. Taught in a variety of ways. From impromptu improvisation (can improv be anything other than impromptu), writing dialogue, examining the contents pages of a variety of novels, mine the man who mistook his wife for a hat and Dishoom cookery book. Discussions about metaphor (I love metaphor, and writing dialogue, I hate writing dialogue, but was broken open by the exercise and could grow to love it.
The others on the course were witty, generous and skilful. With the widest array of non fiction writing projects you could ever dream of. From goats to sisterhood and death and dying to miscarriage and infertility. Postcards from Blexley and Beetle shawls. Some were newcomers to writing and some had done MAs in Creative Writing. At the end we all read our work out, mine a piece I wrote after the course had finished. We have an anthology, but my piece was a bit too exposing so I submitted a piece I wrote in response to an exercise where we overeager our senses. It was called I Begin. Tang Yuk Lan begins her new life in the UK with the Enock.
And now Arvon is over. And I must continue with my writing discipline. I have set myself a target to read from my first draft on 20th October 2020. My 60th birthday. When I finished the Arvon course I felt I finally had a structure to write to. Some hooks to hang all the stuff I have on. A title, The Said Child – 7 Names.
Since Arvon finished, I’ve been fighting. Fortunately no longer with Martin. He says I have softened. I say he has. We both have. I read him extracts of my work. He too is writing a book, and he read some of his to me. We have a shared endeavour. And make similar groaning noises after hours at the desk and with only 500 or so words to show for it. I understand now how writing a book is so like making a film. So much on the cutting room floor. And there’s so much on my writing room cutting room floor. Hundreds of pages. It’s the printer I’ve been fighting with. It jams. It spews forth, hundreds of pages, but lots of them blank! Aaaah. I’m trying to work out which bits of the 3 blogs Ive kept can translate into the memoir. I wish I’d organised the blog more carefully. A whole section on Vietnam is not really of any use. But it’s great to see, when the printer does play ball, how much I have actually written.
Today I’m trying to tie up to pieces of work. A new piece of writing about how the Chinese Embassy refused my application for a Chinese visa 3 times. And how it finally got resolved. And the day I finally got my HK Permanent ID card, many years later. If I’d had one of these when I wanted a Chinese Visa in 2013/14, it would have been no problem. Or if I had had my HK passport from 1961 that my not so kind adoptive Mother ‘disposed of’. All of this, as always with me, about belonging and identity, and the problem with having 7 names.
Where was I? I’m lost in my own thought process. But I know where I am right now. 2pm and I’m sitting here in Starfish Dreams (should be rented out to a holiday maker, but Covid makes that impossible) recording the process of writing my memoir. Still in my pyjamas. I’m not sure I’ve done much writing. I am easily distracted by the other stuff of life. I have played Let it Be on the temporarily erected old Yamaha keyboard, and sung nursery rhymes I’m learning to sing with Grandaughter Phoebe, and played songs from the Jungle book. Managed to stuff food into my face, written a context piece. Eased out my painful lower back (caused by too much sitting at a not ergonomically set up PC and not enough ease it out swimming), by falling onto yoga mat in Childs pose. I’ve What’s app ed lots of people. Found stapler and staples in huge box of assorted stationery articles that is exciting and needs sorting out. washed up. looked at my latest pension statement and printed it out – £10 a month when I ‘retire’ in 2027 – no more needs saying about that, but maybe I’d better spend some time reviewing all the little pension pots I’ve gathered along the way of my life that’ll probably pay me £100 a month if I’m lucky. Let’s hope the memoir’s a success and the royalties can buy me a tin of beans or two each week.
So next I will get dressed. Put in contact lenses. Wear something that will keep me reasonably warm as I head out into the cold St Ives Sea.