Sunday, 22 February 2009

Beginnings, Middles and Ends

A story should always have a beginning, a middle and and end.

Or so we were all told at primary school. Actually, it's a lot more complicated than that in real life (or on the MA Professional Writing course), but that will do for starters.

I love beginnings. It probably says a lot about me (and my inner thrill-seeking tendencies). I'm addicted to the buzz of starting something new. A fresh idea always gets me excited, and this is the reason I often find myself burning both ends of the candle.

Alongside Waiting for Spring, the novel I'm writing for part of my course, I've also decided to resurrect my teenage fantasy novel Earthwitch, which has been sadly languishing untouched for several months.

Although this may seem like utter madness, there are perfectly logical reasons for this:
1. I'm stuck on Waiting for Spring. Having planned it all out in detail, I can't seem to get anything else down on paper. It will come, but in the meantime, perhaps writing something else will help.
2.While lying awake in the middle of the night going over plot outlines (doesn't everyone do this?), I came across the solution to the problem I'd had with Earthwitch. I'd been trying to figure that one out for months, and then BAM - inspiration strikes when you least expect it.

The middle part of any project is always the toughest. There's nothing else for it but to keep on going. It's a little like walking up a mountain - worth it when you get to the top for the amazing views and the sense of achievement of how far you've come - but a bloody hard slog getting there.

With that in mind, I'm going to plod on. Perhaps I'll try out some visualisation techniques. Athletes use them all the time. It's been scientifically proven that by imagining not just winning the race, but the entire process athletes can actually increase their performance.

I wonder if it works for novelists?


Thursday, 19 February 2009

Eternal Light

The Rambert Dance Company's Eternal Light Tour came to Truro's Hall for Cornwall earlier this week.

The title piece, Eternal Light: A Requiem sent a shiver down my spine; it has left a lasting impression upon me. The combination of the choreography, dramatic lighting and live choral music came together to create an experience that was elegiac, poignant and utterly mesmerising.

A requiem is usually based on the Mass for the Dead, which dates back to medieval times, and is made up of a series of movements sung in Latin. Eternal Light echoes that structure. Composer Howard Goodall has used the traditional requiem as a starting point to create something which acknowledges the past but is also fitting for the 21st century. The focus of the requiem has also shifted to providing solace for the living that mourn, evoking the theme that life goes on. Goodall has kept some of the choral accompaniment in Latin, but has also woven in English poetry.

Each movement had a very different feel to it, but every piece was an enchantment woven through movement. A range of emotions unfolded upon stage, enhanced by the careful use of lighting and costume. I loved the intense green light of the first piece, Requiem - Kyrie, performed by the whole company in what appeared to be effortless, organic symmetry. The dark red glow which lit the stage during the sixth piece, Dies Irae, combined with John McCrae's poetry of the poppy fields in Flanders conjured up the image of fierce avenging angels.

As I was watching the performance, I began thinking about my novel, Waiting for Spring and how to develop the central theme of life and death. Towards the end of the story, one of the main characters encounters an angel. After seeing the different movements unfold on the stage, it occurred to me that I needed to create something which would echo the fluidity of the dance, and the interplay between light and darkness.

I got home and started to write.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The Great American Novel

There are certain books that stay with you long after reading. The power of a compelling, well written story is haunting.

Sometimes you come across one of these books quite by accident. A serendipitous meeting of story and reader in the right place, at the right time. It's interesting how some novels have a greater or lesser effect on you, depending on the age or stage of life you are at during the time of reading. Rereading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar recently, I was disappointed to find that it didn't have nearly the same impact as it did when I read it initially in my teens. I'd outgrown it.

I'd recently be given not just one but two recommendations to read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I'd been toying with the idea of writing a post-apocalyptic teen novel. I also have a slightly strange fascination with the idea of the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. This may have started after reading The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, which remains one of my all time favourite novels.

McCarthy's bleak future is perfectly captured in sparse prose and minimal, often repetitive dialogue. It's a perfect example of the power of what is left unsaid. Interestingly, McCarthy leaves the reader to speculate about what has happened. The land is charred and essentially lifeless, forcing the few survivors to plunder the remnants of civilisation for sustenance - or resort to cannibalism.

Incredibly sad, yet beautiful, it encapsulates themes of love, self-sacrifice - and hope. The relationship between the father and son is tender; reading The Road you find yourself hoping against all the odds that they will find a way out.

The Road is due for cinema release later this year, starring Viggo 'Aragorn' Mortensen as 'The Man.' It will be interesting to see how the poignant minimalism of the novel translates to the big screen.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Snow day

The world has gone slightly crazy, myself included.

There's something about the sight of snow falling that brings out the child in most people. The others just whinge about it being a nuisance, and dash our igloo-building dreams by telling us that actually there's only 3 inches of snow or that it will rain by lunchtime. Perhaps we should feel sorry for them, because they probably lead rather sad and unfulfilled lives.

There's something almost magical about being the first one to walk across an untouched area of snow. It's thrilling when you're six, no less so when you're twenty-six (and then some). The pristine whiteness is just so inviting.....

Today at campus, students living in the halls of residence were building snowmen and sliding down the hills on any materials to hand. This being Cornwall, there were a fair number of body boards being pressed into service, plus the inspired use of a canoe.

At Truro railway station, a snowman had made his way up onto the platform. He may just have been a trainspotter, as he seemed content to sit and watch the world go by. I tried to strike up a conversation, but he didn't seem to be in a particularly talkative frame of mind. Or perhaps it was my rendition of Frosty the Snowman that put him off.