As a writer, you’re constantly challenging yourself to try new things. New formats, new styles, new concepts. Pushing yourself out of the comfort zone you’ve built for yourself. It’s how we grow as writers – the risks we take either improve us, or show us where our weaknesses lie (arguably, that’s also a form of self-improvement: identifying what we’re not so good at is as valuable as honing our existing skills.)
Anyway, the point is: I finished the bloody novella.
I had no idea how difficult something like this could be. You’re aiming for balance: you can’t cram in a novels’ worth of story (which was why my first draft was terrible) but you have to have enough content to keep the story moving, and the pace regular. It was a huge challenge for me, having never written a novella before (in fact, I have never actually completed a novel. I’ve come close, but I always let myself get discouraged. Pushing through the ‘oh god this is irredeemable rubbish’ phase was another hard lesson to learn – a great many sleepless nights and moments in which throwing the laptop through the window seemed like a good idea.)
Now, the most terrifying step of all: critique. Picking up plotholes, inconsistencies and things which just don’t work. I’m hoping very hard that there won’t be too many of these, because I’ve spent so long fretting about this project that I can’t justifiably spend too much more time polishing it up. Months of editing has found me in a place where I can read back over what I’ve written and think ‘well, this isn’t too bad at all.’ I just hope that’s not wishful thinking and overconfidence on my part!
Some people write with music, some people need dead silence. I also know people who can work happily with the TV on. For me, some kind of sound is necessary – although if it’s a playlist full of songs I know very well, I’ll inevitably end up singing along.
Whilst writing the novella, I’ve had a very particular playlist to hand – most of it is comprised of soundtrack/instrumental music, and occasionally songs in a foreign language – although I still have a habit of making up words to fit. My compulsion to sing along to music is unstoppable. For the curious, a snippet of the playlist is as follows (links to Youtube where I was able to find the song) – feel free to check them out if you’re the kind of person who writes to music, or even if you’re just interested in hearing some nice tunes:
– In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth 3 – Vitamin String Quartet
– Adagio in D Minor (Sunshine OST) – John Murphy
– Will You Follow Me? – Rob Dougan
– A Warm Place – Nine Inch Nails
– Capa Meets The Sun (To Heal) (Sunshine OST) – Underworld/John Murphy
– Time (Inception OST) – Hans Zimmer
– Welcome To Lunar Industries (Moon OST) – Clint Mansell
– Fisherman’s Horizon (Piano) (FFVIII OST) – Nobuo Uematsu
– Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása – Sigur Rós
– Baba Yetu (Civilisation 4 OST) – Crouch End Festival Chorus & Slovak National Orchestra
– Mombasa (Inception OST) – Hans Zimmer
– Vaka – Sigur Rós (watch the video if you can – inspiring, in a terribly sad kind of way)
– FFVII Main Theme – Nobuo Uematsu
The playlist goes on and on, but this is a good idea of the sort of thing I tend to listen to. I’ve been told to check out the OST for Interstellar so that’s likely to find its way to the list sooner or later…
A bit of my heart belongs by the sea. I can’t explain why this is. I was born and raised in Elephant and Castle, where the closest thing to the seaside experience is the nasal squawk of seagulls fighting over the remnants of a Perfect Fried Chicken box meal. Childhood trips to the seaside feature among my strongest memories – the caravan at Selsey Bill, and long walks down the beach with my granddad, trips to Brighton and Hastings and occasional holidays on the Isle of Wight. I remember these vividly. I remember scraping my knee on slime-covered rocks as we traversed the coast around Ventnor (my granddad was a big fan of long, wandering walks.) I remember standing on a cliff in Malta beside a church approximately the size of a garden shed, staring out at the thin margin between rock and air, beyond which stood the ocean, wide and calm and beautiful. It wasn’t blue. The sea rarely is. It was a pale green, almost the colour of a marble when you hold it up to the light.
We didn’t have the seaside in Southwark, but we had the Thames. Every other Sunday, I would go to my grandparents for Sunday lunch, and, if the weather was good – and sometimes even if it wasn’t – we’d go walking with my granddad to the South Bank. It’s the stretch of riverside roughly between Blackfriar’s Bridge and Westminster. It’s changed a lot now – tourist attractions and landscaped gardens, trendy restaurants and twinkling lights. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much there. Kids with skateboards in the hollow space beneath the Southbank Centre, the clack of wheels on concrete. An assortment of hand-carved rocking horses fashioned out of driftwood, some of them in the shape of ducks – these were usually beside Waterloo bridge, but occasionally adjacent to Gabriel’s wharf and the Oxo tower. A park between Waterloo and Westminster lined with tall hedges where you could play hide and seek, or climb the big spider’s web so you could see the river. And then later, on the way home, we’d get ice-cream from Antonio, the Italian ice cream man who’d always stop to chat with granddad for a while.
My granddad passed away in June. Most of my memories of him are either by the sea, or at the riverside. They are all good memories. A bit of my heart belongs to the sea, to the warm, bloodstained bronze of waves in the sunset and the gravel-throated roar of pebbles swallowed by the surf. I feel peaceful there. It’s important to know that, when you suffer with anxiety; that there’s a place where you can breathe, exhale until there’s nothing left inside you and start over. And you might think this is all pretentious shite and maybe it is, but the fact remains. I think when my business in London is done, it might be time for me to find a way to live beside the sea. Move to Hove, maybe – these pictures are all from the weekend I spent in Hove this past week, sitting on the beach, watching the sun go down. (They were taken by my friend Sarah, whose Instagram can be found here.)