Second Time Around

You know that adage about clouds and silver linings?

One side effect of rain and of confining illness is productivity.

I have been sporadically working on ‘that difficult second novel’ for several years, blocked at times, stuck at times, making excuses, indulging in displacement activity and generally procrastinating. I have taken the almost finished first draft away with me more times than I’ve cared to admit.

When I finished writing the first novel, ‘The Year of Familiar Strangers’

I experienced a euphoria. I had written a book, and not just any book, but one that had rattled around in my head for years, niggling away at the edges of consciousness and invading my dreams. The euphoria that accompanies the completion of a novel lasts until the first rejection letter/email appears, or at the first, coldly polite ‘You’ve written a book? Well done!’ from friends and family.

The finishing of a second novel is tempered by your experience of how your first has been received. There is a satisfaction at having got to the end. There is a wry anticipation of the huge mountain to climb that is editing. There is a reluctance, this time, to confess to having produced another tome.

But alongside all this doubt there is a satisfaction and a steely, stubborn streak of determination to have another go. To this end I’ve bought a new copy of this:

P1070552

Which must be the first, actual, real, paper copy of a book I’ve bought for a number of years [since becoming a Kindle convert]. The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook has to be a paper copy in order for scribbling, highlighting, asterisking and tearing out of pages to be undertaken.

When I dip into this writer’s Bible I note that some articles remain from my last copy, as do many of the agents and publishers whose stinging rejections I was handed last time. But there are new, useful chapters. For starters, I’ve learned that my new novel’s genre is known as ‘speculative fiction’. This is useful because I’ve been thinking of it either as science fiction-a genre that appears to be reviled by many agents, judging by their preferences, or as an ‘eco-thriller’; this being a term invented purely by the writer [ie myself] and thus unlikely to score any pints with the publishing business.

Speculative fiction is a genre I’ve been reading for some years, including such novels as the brilliant Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, several books by Barbara Kingsolver such as ‘Flight Behaviour’ and most recently, John Lanchester’s ‘The Wall’. ‘The Wall’ is a chilling forecast of what could occur in the not-too-distant future if we in the UK continue to pursue current paths and neglect issues like climate change. When I read examples of speculative fiction I am both encouraged by the ideas-some of which are addressed in my own work, and dismayed at how much better written their novels are.

So it’s back to The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, with my highlighter pen in hand. Because you never know…

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The Power

Last month, while away, I read ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman, winner of the 2017 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.

This is an imagined world in which the tables are turned when teenage girls develop an ability that puts them in the position of becoming the more powerful gender. It is a fast-paced thriller with many twists and turns and is both gripping and thought-provoking. The real shame is that it will only get read by those who understand and believe the message it conveys.

The press is awash with current revelations of sexual harassment and worse, brought about by abuse of power. It set me to recalling incidents in my life that made me feel, at best uncomfortable; at worst degraded and humiliated.

Having grown up in an era that was supposed to have been sexually enlightened and having embraced the hippy values of ‘free love’ at an early age did nothing to alleviate the feelings of shame and misery after I’d unwisely and naively believed a man who’d claimed he was a photographer and wanted some ‘head and shoulder’ shots of me during one long, summer vacation from college.

Then there was the young man who kindly offered to give me a lift home from a party and expected much more than thanks when we arrived at my door. His outrage at my refusal was astonishing, even then.

At school my clarinet teacher felt it was his right to touch and grope. So frightened was I that I got my friend to walk down the corridor and wait outside the door every week. I was also scared to tell my father I didn’t want to learn clarinet, because as he constantly told me, he’d invested so much money in the lessons and the instrument. I was never tempted by musical instruments again.

It’s good that incidents of abuse are getting an airing. Nobody should underestimate the terrible feelings of victims. In recent times I’ve heard casual remarks from intelligent, educated males about the Savile era abuse, remarks such as ‘the young girls must have liked to have been paid the attention by the DJs’. This type of comment shocks me. How would anyone who has not experienced such abuse know how they felt?

In the comments section of the Guardian website, in response to an article about the recent Harvey Weinstein abuse there is a sewer full of outraged, invective laden protest from men who feel their entitlement is threatened.

I’m older now and more confident to tell someone when they are out of order, like a neighbour who persisted in saying to me ‘Give me a nice smile’; although I still seek to avoid contact with him since his manner is no less creepy.

Yes-I know that men can also suffer hideous treatment-this is not in contention. But I’m weary of waiting for gender equality to arrive. However compelling ‘The Power’ may be it will only be preaching to the converted.