I’ve been quiet of late as I’ve been moving house. We’d been in the old place for 14 years so as you can imagine, we’d amassed a huge amount of stuff. Pint glasses, CDs, a huge stash of Manic Street Preachers posters that I’m saving for when I have my own study, and notebooks. So many notebooks. There is a packing crate filled with nothing but blank notebooks. It is embarassing.
I wish I could say that I’d been bought them by well meaning relatives who know I’m a writer and thought that they might be useful. I can’t though. I bought the vast majority of them myself. Bit by bit I have filled a whole box of notebooks that I don’t write in. Even knowing I have possibly literally a lifetime’s supply, I am still tempted when I walk past Paperchase.
I like the idea of writing in notebooks. It sounds like the kind of thing that a writer should do. When I was still at school I went to see the poet Simon Armitage speak (he’s a very good speaker, by the way). He said he always wrote on paper, never on computer, because otherwise he wouldn’t have piles of first drafts to sell to American universities.
Poetry is a different beast to writing a novel though. It’s one thing to re-write twenty lines in longhand, quite another when you are tipping 100,000 words. Many writers do write longhand to begin with a treat the typing up as a first edit. I can’t. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I’m terribly disorganised. I have a tendancy to be working on several things at once, and without a system of tagging I can never remember where I’ve put something. I plotted something out in a notebook once, then spent half a day looking high and low for the book. When I found it it was less of a plot and more of a series of disjointed phrases – school, argument, ferry incident? – I realised I had no idea what the hell I’d “plotted”. The second is I have really awful handwriting. It’s terrible. While this means I don’t have to worry about anyone reading over my shoulder and nicking my ideas, it means that there are frequent occasions where I genuinely cannot decipher what I’ve written. Even my neatest handwriting is a mystery to others, when I’m in full flow it’s just a page full of squiggles.
What do I write on then? For short bursts I use my tablet – an Asus Transformer with a built in keyboard. I’ve even managed to write blog posts and short stories on my phone although I have to be careful of autocorrect. The huge majority of Mighty Like a Rose was written on an elderly laptop running Ubuntu, on the dining table. The laptop is soon to be replaced but I still don’t have my own desk at home, I write where there is space for me. I keep a small notepad in my handbag for noting things down: overheard conversations, sudden flashes of inspiration, shopping lists.
How am I going to fill the box of notebooks then? I really don’t know. I have been dabbling in poetry, but not to the point of filling pagess and pages. I’ve done a few zentangles which was calming, but each only fills one page!
At some point I’m going to have to bite the bullet and give them away, in the hope that others will be inspired to write in them. And try and get myself banned from Paperchase.
I had a lovely present from my mum over the weekend, a card and mug from the Bronte Parsonage gift shop. The Brontes have always been part of my life. I was named after Catherine Earnshaw, wilful and stubborn heroine of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. As a child visits to Howarth were a regular family trip, as well as the Parsonage museum we would go on the steam trains on the Worth Valley railway and walk on the moors.
I don’t know how old I was when I first read Wuthering Heights. I had a child’s version of the book (which simplified the story and cut the framing device of Mr Lockwood listening to Ellen Dean. At some point I graduated to the full version and then worked my way through Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Villette… everything. The poetry and even the juvenilia. The three sisters, and their ill-fated brother Branwell, produced a huge body of work, written in tiny handwriting in tiny, hand-made notebooks. What began as playing games with their toy soldiers evolved into complex sagas of imagined lands.
Emily Bronte only wrote one novel. She would die soon after her brother. Part of the enduring appeal of the Brontes is that the family story itself is so compelling and tragic. Like many female novelists there are continuous background rumblings that she could not have written Wuthering Heights herself. Most rumours suggest Branwell wrote it. One piece of “evidence” that keeps coming up is that Wuthering Heights is a dark, passionate story – how could a sheltered parson’s daughter write something so emotionally intense and darkly passionate? Well let me explain how fiction works. You make stuff up then write it down! It’s not autobiography. The Brontes were very well read, and their life was less sheltered than many imagine (Emily and Charlotte went to school for a time in Brussels, where Charlotte fell in love (unrequited) with the married professor of the school). While Charlotte did use experiences from her own life (Lowood school in Jane Eyre, her obsession with her married teacher in Villette and The Professor) in her books, as did Anne (her time as a governess inspired Agnes Grey and Branwell’s drinking influenced The Tenant of Wildfell Hall), where is no reason to think that Wuthering Heights is grounded in reality any more than Emily’s imagined kingdom of Gondal, the setting for her early work.
It seems to me that it is women writers who are assumed to write from life, whether it’s prose, poetry or songwriting. There are a lot of women (and men) writers who do write from their life, but many (including me) who don’t. People seem a bit disappointed when I tell them Mighty Like a Rose is from imagination, as if they’d prefer it if I’d gone through some of the traumas Mary has. I should take this as a compliment – something must be ringing true with people. But for the record – none of it is autobiographical.
Mighty Like a Rose begins 31 years ago to the day, on Valentine’s Day 1984. I didn’t particularly mean for the story to start on Valentine’s Day, the more important thing for me was that it was the day it was announced that Princess Di was pregnant with Harry. The fact that it was also the day Torvill and Dean won gold at Sarejevo with their “Bolero” (possibly one of the most 80s moments of the 80s) and it gave me a chance to show that all was not well in the Ryder household was a nice bit of serendipity, and felt like the story trying to write itself.
Valentine’s Day has run away with itself over recent years, back in ’84 Mary could just be mildly disgruntled that Nigel hadn’t bought her a card (it’s not the worst thing he does) but now I know for a fact that tomorrow Facebook and Twitter will be a tidal wave of pictures of flowers and chocolates, and meals in skyscrapers, and #loveyoubabe, and it’s all got a bit competitive.
I’ll admit, I’ve been very grumpy at my partner for forgetting Valentine’s Day on more than one occasion (including our first Valentine’s Day together). His initial defence was (not unreasonably) “I didn’t think you’d care about that crap”, but after a few tantrums he’s got the message that I do care about that crap. It’s no guarantee of a card though. He’s not great with dates, or with shopping. As I’ve got older I care a lot less. A well-chosen card on a very commercialised day is less important to me than what happens every day. One thing I hope that comes across in the book is that big, expensive gestures alone are meaningless, or worse. What is important is a mutual respect, a willingness to support each other and respect each other. I probably don’t tell my partner enough (and he doesn’t read the blog) how much I value his support, his understanding and all the things he does for me.
I still want some chocolates though.
The Wakefield Express has a special place in my heart, as many years ago I used to do casual work on a Thursday evening inserting the sports and what’s on sections into the main paper. A great job for just standing around chatting and best of all, if the presses stopped working we’d get sent next door to The Spaniard pub (now called The New Union) while they sorted it out! The idea evening (for us) was a couple of breakdowns, so a couple of halves at the Spaniard, then if they kept us working past midnight we got paid extra. Happy times!
My piece on writers circles for Laura Wilkinson’s blog
Lewis Evans was born on 25th January 1963, which would make him 52 today. Today is also St Dwynwen’s day.
St Dwynwen’s day is usually described as “the Welsh St Valentine’s day”. Although it is not well celebrated outside of Wales (and not all that well-known inside Wales, either), it is increasing in popularity as Wales asserts its language and cultural heritage more.
Like most Celtic myths, the myth of St Dwynwen has several variants and one of those variants involves rape. Dwynwen was the daughter of Brychan, a man who had somewhere between thirty-five and fifty children. She fell in love with Maelon. Depending on which version you are following she did not marry Maelon either because he raped her, or because her father refused them permission (either because he didn’t like Maelon, or because she was betrothed to another). At this point, quite naturally, she flees into the woods where she meets an angel. The angel gives her a potion that will erase her memories of love for Maelon, and also freeze him in a block of ice.
Dynwen drinks the potion, then the angel grants her three wishes. She wishes that Maelon be thawed, that God will fulfil the hopes and dreams of true lovers, and that she should never marry. She then becomes a nun and devotes her life to God.
It’s an unsatisfying myth, by modern standards. If we believe the rape version then we want Maelon to remain as a block of ice, the bastard. If we believe it was only Brychan preventing the marriage then why didn’t she ask the angel to change her father’s mind?
You can visit St Dynwyn’s church on Anglesey, at Llanddwyn. Legend has it that there is a sacred fish that live in the well there, that can predict the fortunes of couples.
In 2003 the Bwrdd Yr Iaith (Welsh Language Board) joined forces with Tesco to promote St Dynwen’s day (and maybe sell a few bunches of flowers to amorous Welshmen). One of their suggestions for how to celebrate was to write a love poem to read out at the pub. Which is rather sweet. But if you don’t have time to write a love poem, or you are not planning on going to the pub, here’s some other suggestions:
- Make some Welshcakes, they are delicious! You could cut them out with a heart shaped cutter for extra romance.
- Have a cwts (pronounced cutch). If you’ve finished the book you’ll know that cwts is Welsh for cuddle. It often tops the list of “favourite Welsh words”
- Call someone you love “cariad” – it means “darling” although it can refer to anything between a lover and a platonic friend depending on how you say it!
- Be kind to someone. Actually, you could do that every day!
Thornethorpe is loosely based (geographically at least) on my home town of Ossett, in West Yorkshire. Ossett is part of the “five towns” that surround Wakefield, and each has a subtly different accent.
I have avoided typing dialogue phonetically where possible, because I find it really tiring to read (I’m looking at you, Emily Bronte) so you’ll have to imagine the accent in. There is a very thorough and rather academic look at yammer (speech) on wikipedia, but for the accent of Ossett/Thornethorpe the main thing you need to know is that we generally drop our aitches, our vowels are flat, and where possible we avoid the word “the”. The stereotypical Yorkshireman says “There’s trouble at t’mill”, we would say “There’s trouble at mill.” (This is an “incredibly complex phonetic process” according to the British Library.) There’s an adorable video of a little Yorkshire girl talking about her dad if you want to get an idea. The rock band The Cribs come from nearby Netherton, but they’ve gone a bit posh in my opinion.
The dialect of the area isn’t particularly broad, especially compared to parts of south Yorkshire, but there are a few words that might confuse international readers.
There’s not many unusual words used in the book, the two that sick out to me are “ginnel” (an alleyway between houses) and “laik” (to play – from the old Norse). Other unusual uses of words are “right” to mean “very” (“I’m right pleased”); using “us” in place of “me”, and “me” (pronounced “mi”) in place of my (“pass us me pen”); and (not in the book unless I mis-typed) switching of “was” and “were”. If there’s any bit of dialogue that doesn’t make sense then drop me a line, if there’s enough I’ll do a glossary.
*I have never heard anyone use “yammer” for “talk” in seriousness. People do say “Stop yammering on” though.
You can buy the e-book from Amazon, and the paperback or large print paperback from Createspace. The physical books will be coming to Amazon very soon.
If you are a reviewer and would like a review copy, drop me a line at [email protected]
I am very excited to announce that my début novel – Mighty Like a Rose – will be coming soon to Amazon. A tale of love, friendship and solidarity, set against the backdrop of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, Mighty Like a Rose follows Mary on her journey from neat detached house to the front line of the UK’s longest-running industrial dispute.
Watch this space for more details!
Cover design by the very talented Jhinuk Sarkar – see more of her work at http://cargocollective.com/paperfig