Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Telling Stories: Penny Dolan

For the last weeks, I have been cowering before a fairly simple revision of a book, Worse, it is one that a publisher wants. So stupid! And why? True, there were other matters -the family events, the school & festival visits, the sorting of the sock drawer – but all along I knew the thing was waiting. So where does this anxiety about writing come from?

Kath Langrish’s last & excellent post about her writing childhood intrigued me, because mine was definitely not like that. It was clear, from a young age, that writing was not a totally good thing to do. It was “good” in the sense that my English marks redeemed appalling maths results, but it was “not good” in the sense that writing time was not time well spent. One should be doing useful things instead. Writing, and writing stories at that – rather like the Queen’s reading of fiction in Alan Bennett’s “Uncommon Reader” – was undoubtedly selfish, and also secretive, which was also a suspect trait.

Writing fitted uncomfortably into a mix of military duty, puritanical work ethics, and an avoidance of complicated thought, no doubt to quieten the family complications boiling silently away. Writing was a too-indulgent dwelling on things, and telling stories was only one step away from lying. Only much later, buoyed by the encouragement of a generous children’s author, could I deal with some of these tensions.

Heavens, it was not Angela’s Ashes territory. There were pencils and paper. I did not have to scrawl on the backyard wall. Nevertheless, that subtle condemnation still sits there. Even now, I find myself leaving the door of my workroom open, just so no one can burst in on me.

But - good news - the dreaded revision has at last begun, and is going very well . . .

No comments: