Wednesday, 14 April 2021

WORK IN PROGRESS by LYNNE BENTON

 It’s that time of the month again! No, not that time of the month, I mean the time when I have to come up with something wise and witty about writing for my monthly Blog for Abba. And once again the muse has deserted me.

Possibly because I’ve been so busy writing! Or in my case, rewriting.

Earlier this year I finished my current Work In Progress, sent it to a few trusted writer friends for their opinions/suggestions, took those on board and,  if I was happy with them, amended the manuscript accordingly. Then, when I was satisfied that it was as good as I could get it, I sent it out to a selection of suitable agents. (I am currently unagented since my last agent gave up her agency, so I have decided it’s time I found another.)

Three responses were encouraging – they really liked it but were “not quite sufficiently passionate about it” to take it on. The others rejected it by default (ie “if you haven’t heard from us within 4/6/8 weeks, we don’t want it”). So I had another look at the manuscript, took some more advice, and eventually decided I had two options: I could either

  1. leave it as it was and send it out to more agents in its original state (given that three had really liked it, even if they didn’t like it enough to take it on) OR

  2. I could “beef up” the opening three chapters before sending it out again – given that most agents only want to see the first three chapters before deciding if they want to see the rest.

After much dithering I decided to go for option 2, which felt more pro-active. So I had another look at the first three chapters and realised it was maybe a bit slow to start. So that was one thing I could do right away: I could go in with a bang!

1883 eruption of Krakatoa - Wikipedia

This is what so many books do, and usually it works well in putting the reader slap in the middle of the action right away and makes them want to read on.

Except that my book isn’t a full-on action-adventure sort of book – although there’s plenty of tension and drama throughout the book, it’s rather more quiet in style, especially at the beginning. So I thought again.

Then I came up with another idea, which involved adding another aspect and then having to change other elements of the book, but I felt this would improve it. So I rewrote the first three chapters, using this idea. And I think it will work.

Only it definitely means rewriting the rest of the book too. Which I don’t mind – I really like the new idea, and I think the book will be better for it. Only now all the chapters, which were originally roughly the same length, are out of sinc, with one new chapter ending half way through the next one. So in order to get them right, and also end each one on something of a cliffhanger, I have to do a bit of reorganising.


File:Cliffhanger.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Which again, I don’t mind – but it does take a long time, and I do want to get the book out there again sooner rather than later.

And I know that before I send it out again, I will also have to have another go at the synopsis, always the most difficult part, and make it more tempting to a potential agent!

So that’s why I haven’t come up with a new idea for my monthly Blog.

I hope this will do instead. It may not be wise or witty, but it’s certainly about writing!

 Lynne Benton



Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Grand! by Sheena Wilkinson

On Saturday 10th April 2021, Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore made history by becoming the first female rider to win the English Grand National. As a racing fan, I've followed Rachael's career ever since watching her ride at Ballinrobe in County Mayo, one August evening. Last Saturday  I watched her ride a beautiful race on Minella Times, with the sensitivity, courage and judgement that are so characteristic of her style.  It's a race where anything can happen, and though it was looking increasingly positive for Minella Times and Rachael, I hardly dared breathe until they were over the last, and even then it was a long run to the line. I've often screamed a horse home, but never as fervently as I did on Saturday; I don't mind admitting that I was ugly-crying and hyperventilating. Rachael plays down her gender, but in that moment she crossed the line, she must have known that she was carrying the dreams and beliefs of so many pony-mad girls.


I'm no longer a pony-mad girl. I'm 51; it's eight years since I've owned a horse, and about the same time since my last horse-themed book (Too Many Ponies) was published. But as I screamed for Rachael I was eleven again, scraping up pocket money to pay for occasional riding lessons and covering exercise book after exercise book with blue-inked pony stories. Because my two dreams were to have a pony and to be a writer. The girls in my stories had everything I didn't -- houses in the country, knowledgeable parents, and ponies, ponies, ponies. When I did come to have pony books published they were very much at the gritty, rescued-horse and modest dreams end of the spectrum: nobody in my books wins the Grand National.




Of course I'd ridden the National many times, in my reading. And won it too, thanks to Enid Bagnold and K. M. Peyton. Most of the pony books I read were set in the more prosaic worlds of county shows and village gymkhanas, but to eleven-year-old me, stuck in a Belfast housing estate, these were as out of reach and exotic as Aintree. More so in fact: the racing was on TV in my granda's house every Saturday; in a way, Becher's Brook and the Canal Turn were more part of our lives than Chatton Show where Jill's ambition was to win the Grade C jumping or Finmory, where Jinny rode her chestnut Arab over the Scottish moors.




National Velvet  I found an eccentric, challenging read -- I wanted to love it more than I did, and came to appreciate it more as an adult.


I was an adult too when K. M. Peyton's Blind Beauty, the ultimate rags-to-riches, heartbreaking horse story, was published; that book too climaxes in a (spoiler alert) Grand National win. 


But the ultimate Grand National novel for me is K.M. Peyton's The Last Ditch which came out when I was sixteen. The premise is, on the surface, as preposterous as most racing stories -- but then the sport, in real life, is full of such stories too -- two eighteen-year-old boys, Jonathan and Peter, are drifting/ running away with nothing more than an old hearse and a racehorse that's in training for the Grand National. There's a love triangle, a baby and a lot of drama, and the story culminates in -- but that's a spoiler I'd never share. Enough to say that when you think K.M. Peyton has wrung the last bit of emotion out of her readers, she hits you with more. 

I still reread these books, fence by fence, even though I know what's going to happen. When I watched the Grand National on Saturday I had no idea what would happen, and though I've already watched the replay several times, I know that nothing will ever compare to the moment when I -- a 51-year-old author, but also an eleven-year-old pony-mad kid, roared for Rachael and Minella Times. 




Monday, 12 April 2021

Remembering The Third Inkling - My interview with Grevel Lindop by Steve Gladwin

 

Within a few months, a series of incidents occur and coincide which have made this series of interviews not just possible but entirely synchronititous. Firstly John Garth follows up his acclaimed book on Tolkien in the Second World War, with a book which explores the landscape of Middle Earth and how Tolkien created and built it. Then, quite unexpectedly, I find myself back in Narnia after finding out about Kath Langrish's forthcoming book 'From Spare Oom to War Drobe :Travels in Narnia with my nine-year-old self.'

For a long time I have also always wanted to interview Brian Sibley because - amongst many other things to be proud of - he was one of those responsible for the first and entirely wonderful, radio dramatisation of The Lord of the Rings in 1981. Brian kindly provides me with a whole world of wonder and memories during Part One of our interview. Only afterwards do I realise that that first broadcast was on Sunday March 8th 1981.

That leaves Charles Williams, the third of the Inklings and too often forgotten in the wake of the success of his friends C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. I've always meant to read him, but as so often occurs, have never grabbed the opportunity. Luckily in March I am interviewing my friend John Matthews, who immediately introduces me to Grevel Lindop, whose 2017 biography of Williams 'The Third Inkling' was widely acclaimed. John's own interview included a quick 'coming soon' for Grevel, with whom he collaborated on the last edition of Charles Williams's Arthurian Poems.

I'm delighted to be talking to Kath, Brian and John Garth in the next couple of months, but it's a pleasure to begin with Grevel.


 

Grevel, First of all thank you very much for agreeing to talk to us at 'An Awfully Big Blog Adventure', and starting the ball rolling on this series of interviews about the Inklings.

It's a pleasure. Thank you for the invitation.

You were introduced to me a few weeks ago by our mutual friend John Matthews, who knew I needed to talk to someone about Charles Williams. Having written a recent biography about him, 'The Third Inkling', it was clear you were the ideal person to talk to. What I didn't expect was that my taking a crash course in Charles Williams, would end up being such a wonderful and unexpectedly enriching experience. I had only ever heard of Charles Williams in relation to his two more famous friends, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, but - to coin a phrase - I really had been missing out. Why is that?

You're not alone, Steve. Charles Williams has been very much overlooked. As we might discuss later, he fell into neglect partly through an accident of timing. But also his work doesn't easily fall into any of the categories by which literature is marketed. His novels - they might be called 'spiritual thrillers' - cross genres between action thriller and fantasy. They're not like any other books; they're hard to place. And his poetry, though great, is also often obscure. I'm sure we'll come back to those topics later.

Now Charles Williams- as John has already expressed in last month's interview - was an extraordinary man by any standards. His sight was severely compromised so that he had no distance viewing, he had a permanent shake, and decidedly humble beginnings. All that has to be impressive on its own, don't you think - considering what he achieved and how much of it? 

In a way, yes. Williams came from a very poor family, was largely self-educated, and worked his way up via a humble job in publishing and also as an evening class lecturer, to become a well-known author, playwright and broadcaster, and a hugely influential lecturer at Oxford University. He was also an important figure in the worlds of both occultism and mainstream Church of England. He was fascinating, charming and charismatic, and after his relatively early death, (at 58), he left disciples. I met many of them and they all said he had changed their lives profoundly for the better.

 


 

 

Grevel, exploring your highly varied life and enthusiasms via your website, I was struck just how recently your biography of Charles Williams came in comparison to everything else  - after your work on Thomas De Quincey for example, and your salsa tour of Central America for example! Would I be right in thinking that yours is an enthusiasm that goes back much farther than that? Perhaps you could sketch in for us how he fits into the rest of your life and career?

Charles Williams was recommended to me back in the 1970's by my Buddhist meditation teacher - who was himself something of a magician. So I read Williams's novels, which I loved, and some of his poetry - which I found difficult but fascinating. I came back to Williams from time to time, (being also a big fan of Tolkien, Lewis, and the Inkling philosopher, Owen Barfield - an important thinker who is still shamefully overlooked); and I went deeper into him when I briefly taught a 'Special Subject' course on the 'Inklings' at Manchester University in the 1990's. I've been interested in occult fiction - I started Dennis Wheatley as a teenager in the 1960's.

I quite understand, Grevel. I was doing the same thing a decade later!

I'm also keen on the novels of Dion Fortune, who like Williams had a background in the Order of the Golden Dawn.

But the deciding factor was when the magazine PN Review sent me to interview the poet Anne Ridler in the early 1990's, and I discovered that she had been mentored by Charles Williams. She had a wealth of memories of him, and also many of his letters. I realised that there was just time to gather material for a life on this amazing man, before those who had known him were gone. He was about to go over the horizon of memory, you might say. So I began interviewing everyone I could find who had known him. And I went on from there.

 

T
  
The poet Anne Ridler - who helped to modernise CW's poetry

 

 

 

And yet, here we are, about to enthusiatically discuss Charles Williams and his quite incredible poetry and novels, and yet he gets left outside in the cold in the wake of his friends Lewis and Tolkien. He seems to have been a very modest man, but he certainly was by no means short of contacts through his work for Oxford University Press. He was clearly revered in his own time, so what did happen to his reputation when he died? 

Partly, it was unlucky timing. Williams died during the last days of World War two: news of his death and assessment of his work, were swamped by more important global matters. Second, the war left a paper shortage, and his books went out of print. Thirdly, his marriage had been difficult; his widow had no idea of how to market his books, she didn't get on with his 'disciples', and she wouldn't allow a biography because it would have turned up uncomfortable facts. So many of the avenues to discussion of a recently- deceased author were closed off. New readers couldn't discover him.

One of the many interesting things about Charles Williams was that when he talked and wrote about magic and the spiritual world, he really did know what he was talking about because he was there at a time of a great flowering of English Magic and spiritual matters. This is abundantly clear in many of his novels, where - as John has previously stated - he describes ritual and the objects used from an insider's point of view. He really does know what he's talking about.

Exactly. Through his publishing work he got to know A. E. Waite in 1917, and joined Waite's 'Fellowship of the Rosy Cross', a mystical Rosicrucian Order. But he also came to know D.H.A. Nicholson and A.H.E. Lee, both of them 'Golden Dawn' initiates who were still running a small branch of 'Stella Matutina', the magical order that survived from the original 'Golden Dawn'. So as well as being a committed Christian, Charles Williams was an initiate of two occult groups. The FRC was more contemplative and mystical: the SM aimed at more practical magic. So he knew a bit about both, and could introduce both magical and mystical material into his fiction with an insider's knowledge. 

 


Camelot

 

 

Being already a great enthusiast of the poetry of Taliesin, and his mythical connection with King Arthur and the Arthurian stories, I found it easier than most to cope with some of the incredibly complex poetry in Charles Williams's two most famous cycles, 'Taliessin in Logres' and 'The Region of the Summer Stars'. The novels are much easier - if both religious and spiritual in fairly equal measure. But truly, the two books I've read - 'War in Heaven'- his Grail novel, and especially 'All Hallows Eve' - which has an incredible and often dark power - well its true that you'll never read anything like them. Yes, there one or two bits that don't work, or else are a bit overblown, but you forgive that because they are incredibly powerful.

I think it's partly that they start from the everyday world. And although they deal with spirtual matters, they  don't assume that either the characters or the reader are either 'spiritual' or 'religious'. Williams understood that most people didn't see themselves as religious, and so he draws you in gradually by means of mystery and suspense, amd allows the weirdly powerful occult and mystical elements to unfold stage by stage. You don't have to accept some fantasy world in order to read a Williams novel. He shows you that the strangeness and weirdness are all around us in daily life.

And yet, Grevel, he clearly had a strong faith. Like his friend Lewis he later became famous for his religious writings - and like Tolkien - a practicing Catholic since birth, it was something which completely shaped his life. You can't really read the novels, can you, without being constantly aware of his faith and where's he coming from, even if he doesn't hammer it home all the time?

As I say, the 'faith' - I would rather call it a world-view actually, because it's completely matter-of-fact and down-to-earth, despite its strangeness - is there throughout; the characters discover it in the course of the story, and so does the reader.

 

CW in the snow outside Southfiled House, Oxford - the war-time headquarters of OUP.

 

 

Your book, 'The Third Inkling' begins quite wonderfully when Charles Williams - in many ways an unimpressive figure, tall and stooping and bespectacled- is escorted on to the lecture platform, with his friends Tolkien and Lewis on either side of him. There isn't a large audience, or initially at least, any particular enthusiasm. And then he begins to speak and his pretty strong working class London accent emerges, so strong and alien to his audience. You also describe how years later at his first lecture in Oxford in the first year of the war, a few of the audience, used only to a well-spoken Oxbridge kind of English, immediately turn off and wait for the lecture to end. But Williams has the last laugh in both cases, doesn't he?

He does, because although repelled at first by this very harsh London-Hertfordshire accent, after a few moments people were charmed, fascinated, even hypnotised by his intelligence and the brilliant perceptivness of what he had to say. I mentioned in the book that he was probably the only person who maintained equally close friendships with T.S.Eliot and C.S. Lewis - who couldn't stand each other. They both loved his company. Lewis thought he was a great man. Eliot thought he was possibly a saint. In that context, the rough accent was forgotten!

Charles Williams produced several poetry collections, but the two which gave him his reputation were the two Arthurian collections; the first - much longer - collection 'Taliessin Through Logres', and the later, pamplet-sized collection of eight further poems in the sequence, 'The Region of the Summer Stars'. Now we've already heard from John Matthews about the ancient Welsh bard Taliesin, (CW always spelt it with an additional 's'), but it's probably fair to say that Taliesin is a pretty obscure figure who you might not have heard of unless you delve fairly deeply into Welsh myth. How might Williams have discovered him?

 


 

 

I'm sure Williams first found Taliessin in Alfred Lord Tennyson's, 'Idylls of the King', his Victorian sequence of Arthurian poems.. Indeed it is Tennyson's spelling, with the two 'S', that Williams follows. But then from a very early age he was planning an Arthurian epic, and he read everything he could find on the subject, including Malory and the Mabinogion, in Lady Charlotte Guest's translation.

In the collection of Charles Williams's Arthurian poems on which you and John collaborated, you carefully prepare the reader for the odd complexity of the poetry and some of the themes and ways of reading them. They feel to me rather like a forest - just when you see a familiar landmark, you get pulled off on another route.

That's right. In that respect, it's a bit like reading 'The White Goddess' by Robert Graves. When I edited that book, I also compared it to an 'enchanted forest'. The key to reading books like those is NOT to try to  understand them at first reading. Just let them flow through you like a dream. Don't try to make sense of everything. Let the magic do its work! As you come back and read again, which you also need to do from time to time, bits and pieces will fall into place. It will make more and more sense. But you have to let the unconscious do its work. These writings are addressed to deep levels of the mind, which don't operate with the same logic as the surface thinking we are used to.

 



 

 

We cannot talk about Charles Williams's life without bringing up the many women in his life, and their influence. Leaving aside the several instances of a mild level of sado-masochism with several of his muses, he appears to have been someone who inspired great loyalty - and in many cases love - from the women who knew him. His books and poetry would have been completely different had he not known, learned from and in many cases collaborated with those women, don't you think?

Definitely. Like Graves, Yeats and many other famous poets, he needed a female 'Muse' to fire up his deespest creativity. I met - I think - five of his 'Muses'; all of them appear as characters in his poems at various points. All of them challenged them, debated with them, and in some cases went over his poems and helped edit them. Anne Ridler in particular, as a young Modernist, helped him to find the new style which made his Taliessin poems so successful. She would go over his poems word by word and criticise them; and he had the good sense to listen to her.

 

Chief among Charles Williams's many muses - Phyllis Jones

 

What about his place as a poet in the twentieth century? Where do you think he stands amongst his other and more famous colleagues like T.S.Eliot, W.H. Auden and Dylan Thomas?

He's not as great as Eliot, (though Eliot did confess he got that bit about 'the still point of the turning world' from Williams's novel 'The Greater Trumps'. He's not as readable as Auden. On the other hand many of Dylan Thomas's poems are even more obscure than Williams's. I think he will always be something of a minority taste; but those who discover him and love him will keep coming back. He is certainly - as Lewis said - the greatest Arthurian poet of the twentieth century.

Finally, Grevel, having had such a long enthusiasm for Charles Williams, there must be questions you'd like to ask him, were he around to answer them. If you had the chance to meet him, what would they be?

All sorts of things! I'd like to ask him if, as a prominent reviewer of crime fiction, he ever met Agatha Christie; and if so, whether he agrees with me that she probably based the composer 'The Mysterious Mr Quinn', on Williams. More seriously I'd like to ask him to tell me about the novel he planned to write, but never did, based entirely on the world of the dead. And is it true, (as one of his poems seems to say), that he once lifted his disciple Anne Scott on to the altar of St Cross Church in Oxford? I half believe he did, but would love to know. But would he tell me?

I guess those three questions give some idea of the strangeness of Williams - and his life. I hope they'll whet people's appetite to know more.

I do hope they will, and you've certainly done your bit this month to encourage them. Many thanks, Grevel.

Many thanks to you, Steve, for asking me. 

 

Finally, and most importantly, there follow links to both Grevel's website, and to easy purchase of his book 'The Third Inkling', which I will say again, is an excelellent and at times compelling read.

 Website first

www.grevel.co.uk

Copies of 'The Third Inkling' are available from Amazon

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Charles-Williams-Inkling-Grevel-Lindop/dp/0198806434/ref=sr_1_1?crid=RG0EZNTUV1CB&dchild=1&keywords=grevel+lindop&qid=1618149056&sprefix=Grevel%2Caps%2C151&sr=8-1 

It's been a pleasure to begin my summer with the Inklings. On Friday, in my regular slot, I will be burrowing back through the wardrobe into Narnia with Kath Langrish. See you then!



 




 

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Do I have to start hugging people again? - Kelly McCaughrain

Well, I got my vaccine on Friday night, which was brilliant! I'll be able to lick people by Monday! (Not really.) Unforts I also spent most of yesterday feeling a bit rubbish so I haven't done a blog post. 

So as a total (but also quite useful) cop out, instead I will point you in the direction of a brilliant website, Writing.ie where you can spend hours reading very interesting stuff. 

They've got interviews with writers, guides on publication/contracts/agents/self-publishing etc, articles on writing craft, news, lists of writing competitions, blogs, and loads more. If you're looking for advice on anything, it's probably there.

Check it out on your next tea break and I hope you all get your vaccines soon too! I'm going back to bed with a hot water bottle. 

 
 
 

Kelly McCaughrain is the author of the Children's Books Ireland Book of the Year,
Flying Tips for Flightless Birds

She is the Children's Writing Fellow for Northern Ireland #CWFNI

She also blogs at The Blank Page

@KMcCaughrain




Friday, 9 April 2021

Goldilocks and the three chairs (Anne Rooney)

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin...

Once upon a time there was a little blonde woman who wrote books. Everyday she went to the University Library and wrote her books. Then one evening, the Library sent her an email saying it would be closed in the morning and for the forseeable future. No, she could not take her things out of her locker or cross the threshhold for any other reason. We've all been in this story, one way or another, for more than a year now. The stuff is still in the locker, but this is about a different bit of furniture.

The week before the library closed, the finance director of one of my publishers cancelled all commissioning. Another cancelled two books I was writing for them. Otheres went AWOL silently. This meant not going to the Library wasn't a particularly big  problem. I spent the summer gardening, moping and writing a few bits for which commissions did still come through, including You Wouldn't Want to be in a Virus Pandemic. The minor backache I'd had for a while slowly cleared up to be replaced by a few gardening aches and strains.

 

Then, around October, bits of work trickled in. Some was immediately cancelled again with the November lockdown, but I was working about half-time and it was still warm so I was doing it in the sunroom, a light, airy, but cold-in-winter room where I have my best desk and office chair, a fine Herman Miller specimen because when you work from home (as I did for years before settling in the University Library) you know money spent on a good chair is well spent. But you forget.

The weather got colder and the sunroom was too cold to work in without turning the heating up to planet- and finance-destroying levels, so I moved upstairs to a desk and chair abandoned by a long-moved-out daughter.  With the early spring, work came back properly. Publishers came out of hibernation, blinked in the strange light of the new world, and went on a commissioning binge, presumably realising they had nothing to sell after all that cancelling. I started to get hip pains, just in one hip. At first I thought it was another gardening injury, or at least a tree-felling injury as I'd been climbing in one tree to cut bits of a neighbouring tree blown down in a storm. Through March, the hip got worse rather than better. I feared I'd become old and would be needing a hip replacement. Perhaps I shouldn't have cut my walking down over the winter. But, well, it was cold. And pandemicky still. Maybe I should age gracefully and buy a patterned stick. Maybe if the shops ever opened...

Then it was Easter. I wanted to go on holiday, but that's not allowed. Part of my house is usually let to a lodger and he'd moved out two days before. This would do: a home from home. I moved in (that is, walked through the connecting door) and started working on a small desk and old office chair. After a few days I had shoulder pains, but the hip was slightly better. The internet connection was dodgy this far from the router, though, so I moved to a folding chair at the dining table. Then I had childcare duties for a few days and stopped working. 

Suddenly, the pieces fell into place. Chairs. Or at least, chair-and-desk combos. The chairs at the University Library had given me backache. The chair in the bedroom hurt my hip. The chair in the annexe hurt my shoulder (wrong height for the desk — it had been adjusted by my tall lodger and got jammed at its new height). The dining table hurt everything.  But the Herman Miller chair is Just Right. As the weather gets warmer, I'll move back to the sunroom. Problem solved, I hope, for now. And if we're still doing this next winter I'll move the chair upstairs.

The moral is if you're working from home and have new aches and pains, look at where you're working. I would have noticed if this had followed straight after Library closed, but because I didn't have any work then it didn't materialise until much later. There's a good reason that employers who have people working at home are supposed to check the safety and suitability of their equipment. Those of us who employ ourselves shouldn't neglect it. Do an audit of your body and your workspace. A few months of aches and pains is a nuisance, but if it goes on for too long, perhaps we could do permanent damage. So don't settle in the chair that is too big, too soft or too small — look for the one that's Just Right.

 Anne Rooney

Website



Thursday, 8 April 2021

The elephant in the Zoom by Keren David

 I’m at the planning stage of a few new books, and I’m coming up against a problem.  Yes. That problem. The pandemic.

For those of us who write contemporary fiction, it’s a real issue. Do we mention it? Do we pretend it never happened? Do we jump from life in 2019 to life in an imagined 2022, with a big blurry don't-mention-the-virus gap in between?

I really don’t know. And it is bothering me, because it is hard to imagine myself into the head of my characters without thinking how they would have reacted to a year of home-schooling, the possibility of older adults dying, and all the other important things that arise from everything that has happened.

If this was a war – surely we’d be including it in our books?  How can we ignore things like Zoom and home-schooling and masks in the classroom? For those of us who write YA all those cancelled exams change the whole architecture of the teenage years. 

I don’t know the answer to any of this. But as I work on my outlines, as I put my stories together, I’m thinking -  is this then, or now, or sometime in the future?  Are all my books going to be forever 2019?  What  do I do about the elephant in the Zoom? 

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Bean soup, by Dawn Finch

I won’t lie – it’s been a difficult year. I know that has been the same for everyone but when your career vanishes and you haven’t seen your folks since 2019 and you can’t see your child… it’s hard not to take things personally. I went into the Pandemic as a writer and library worker and am coming out the other side as a food writer and owner of a food social enterprise. When my income disappeared I had to find a way to make a new living, and had to do this. I've seen lots of people struggling over the last year and in my role as CWIG Chair there have been lots of conversations about how to adapt, and about grants and financial support. I have many times tried to answer heartbreaking emails from people who feel that nothing will ever be the same again.

I am lucky, and I know that, and at times I’ve felt very guilty for that. I’ve often felt as if I’m not entitled to moan about the other stuff - the loss, the loneliness, the separation, the cold acceptance of a a career in ruins. I had the skills a local food project needed and was given a chance to take up a new career and to start over from scratch. Not something I'd ever pictured doing again (especially not in my 50s) but needs must etc.. There have been many times when I’ve felt I shouldn’t be sharing things about my new little business because of the ongoing struggles of others. This has been a year when we’ve all looked at the lives of others and felt we should be feeling as if our problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

We're all a bit Rick these days...


But our problems are a hill of beans, and that hill of beans is something that we all have to deal with in our own way. I had to take that hill of beans and make cassoulet (…literally…) but we all had to tackle our hills of beans in our own ways and it’s absolutely fine to feel as if we struggle with the climb. The ability of others to clamber over hills far bigger than ours does not diminish our struggle.

In that closing scene in Casablanca, when Rick says that to Ilsa, they both know he’s lying. They both know that this hill of beans is agony and that their suffering is very real. In this sacrifice, as he lets her go for the greater good, he isn’t diminishing their personal loss but accepting it.

I’m going to allow myself to slowly tackle the hill of beans. We have lived this moment in history and we are adapting to life with Covid. This new landscape is different, but not ruined. I’m not as bad off as some people, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that for me everything has changed. I know I'm not alone and that's important too. To move forward we need to plant those beans in this new land and see what grows.

The sun is coming over the hill, and there’s always bean soup.


Dawn Finch is a poet, food writer, allotmenteer and cook. As well as being current chair of the Society of Author's Children's Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG), Dawn is the owner of Neep&Okra in Huntly, Aberdeenshire.

www.neepokra.co.uk