Genies and/or sub-conscious

Unknown.jpeg  Last night, in the bath, I was listening to a Ted talk by the author of Eat, Pray, Love – a book I have still to read but was hugely put off by the glacially-long and tedious film of the same name.

Anyway, Ms Gilbert gave an engaging lecture with some great ideas and illumination to anyone facing the odd day/week/month/lifetime of artistic struggle. The part that particularly intrigued  me was the suggestion that ‘outside forces’ might be assisting with the creative process; in fact in Roman times they apparently  believed that ‘genies’ lived within the walls of an artist’s/writer/creative person’s work space and would appear, insinuating themselves into the tortured virtuoso, to help steer the work in the right direction.

Certainly when I am at my most involved it’s true that words and phrases do shuffle forth and present themselves, seemingly with me having nothing to with it, and those are often the most flowing and free sections. So, is there a genie sitting on my shoulder having materialised from behind the plaster-board  or is it just the brain shutting off all exterior influence and ‘going for it’?

At the moment one of my projects in re-writing a short story as a novel. This morning I was ambling around a paragraph of said work, stopping and starting, changing, not quite sure what I was doing. As I added in a couple of lines which were possibly more decoration than moving anything concretely forward, the genie suddenly poked me and we were off on a completely different plot line, me running behind: ‘wait . . .I’m not sure if this a good idea.’ But having looked at it a few times, it works, and I’m looking forward to continuing with this whole new tangent that I don’t think would have occurred to me if I had sat down with notebook and tried to plan ahead.

I run to the main road, catch a bus and claim the upstairs front seat. Poems are still shuffling about in my mind: stanzas, couplets, brave paragraphs and solitary dangling words. I stare out on pubs, hardware shops, hairdressers, couples arguing and couples entwined.

Miniature universes surround me, even on the seat across the aisle; that young man engrossed in reading a letter . . . his expression when he opened drew the sheet of paper from the envelope then folded it, put it away to then retrieve it again. Something he couldn’t take in the first time: love, death, revenge, hatred . . . loss?

Above, the section I was fiddling with when seized with the idea of making the young man and his letter part of the plot rather than more of an embellishment to the main storyline – a whole new direction in the book which I hadn’t planned at all . . . confusing; quite a bit of re-juggling but a new turn that I’m happily reflecting on as I go about the rest of the day’s jobs.

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Stalking the plot

Why do writers get drawn to a particular place when setting stories? Familiarity obviously, knowing your patch of earth and not writing total inaccuracies, yes, but to me its more than that. The characters have to feel alive in their placings, whether content or uneasy there; and I have to feel a connection with the environment to make the words convincing.

Not always the case totally. I’ve invented parts of deserts, the outskirts of Las Vegas, the interior of a mega-yaght, outer space and heaven; not so easy to visit as, in my case, London – my default choice.

London: place of my childhood and a large part of my adult life – I still find myself checking, (with horror-widened eyes) the price of a nine square meter box-flat in Bloomsbury every now and then . . .

I visit when I can; plan a day of galleries and museums and then find myself walking and walking, like a slightly arthritic greyhound let out from a trap in my sub-consciously chosen direction for that day.

Two nights ago I sat in my rented nine meter-squared box – (part of the wonderfully cheap and homely St Athans hotel in afore-mentioned Bloomsbury) and planned my ‘flaneur’ day. This time I had a sort of self-imposed directive: my character Smithi’s walk from Shoreditch church to the Princess of Wales pub on Lea bridge Road and back via the Hackney marshes. Although the tale is set in 2070 and everything would be no doubt somewhat different . . .  I wanted to walk the route – Google Earth is incredible but not the same thing as actually pacing the roads.

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Starting point outside the hotel

 

I left the hotel at 5.30 (insomniac writer) and walked – a lot, in the wrong direction, retraced my tracks and found all sorts of new places I’d never seen before such as St Georges gardens and a building called the Horse Hospital. I also wasted a lot of time trying to find a café that would resemble the steamy, formica interiors of my student-hood. Nope. In the hypercenter all those soul-warming places have disappeared under a tsunami of Pret a Manger and Starbucks. Sob.

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The pub, Lea Bridge Road and boats

As, these days, my legs protest at too much striding I allowed the flaneur activity to include a bus: the number 10 to Clapton pond – not quite the same process as buses tend to stick to their decreed routes and don’t veer off, distracted to then take a new and undiscovered path. There is a pond! – smallish with ducks and trees surrounded by throbbing traffic and sulking pigeons.  I walked on to the pub, which was was closed but I paced around it imagining the lama-roasting scenario I had planned – (good that works), then continued along the river lea and towards the Hackney Marshes, via an intriguing area of ancient reed beds used for filtering the water from the Lea; onwards over a metal bridge, up Millfields lane, stopped at the wonderfully-named Cooper and Wolf  café (formica and ancient stuff, great tea and buns, yes!) up Mare street, Clapton Rd, Graham Rd and onto Kingsland Rd and St Leonard’s Church where I flopped onto a pew and imagined the interior of the vestry that features largely in my series of books.

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Wilderness within London

So, the plot route was walked, photographed, sketched and is now firmly planted in my mind. Now to rewrite that section with all the colour and noise of streets and the strange tranquility of the river Lea, reed beds and the marshes.

 

 

Finished? Nah . . .

Well, possibly, or at least certainly moving in the right direction.

 

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Latest version of the manuscript being sent off with its own aged map of the East End and foreword by Jake the Prophet.

I found what I think was ‘draft six’ this morning while having a shelf clear-out – a slim-ish volume of about two hundred pages. I can just about remember thinking when I unwrapped it, fresh from ‘Aunty Lulu’, ‘Yup, reckon this is the one’ . . . then ten minutes later finding about fifteen faults and knowing the whole process will have to start again. It usually takes about a day to settle in, this realisation; a slight gloom drifting over me until the ‘sorting it out’ urge kicks in and I’m away again, happily typo-hunting and adding/subtracting needed and un-needed chunks of prose.

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  Not sure where 1,2,3,4,5 are . . . 

It’s an odd (and some would say lonely) thing, writing, not just the actual pen to paper, digit to keyboard but all the other stages: rounding up a rampaging idea, rough drafts, fairly solid-looking spiral bound manuscripts, a trial copy, re-writes, BIG edits, small edits, typo edits, adding chapters, etc. But in the later stages when people really start reading and commenting, adding useful thoughts and sometimes suggesting vast deforestation (a tad disturbing at the time but usually 99% invaluable)  it becomes less of a lonely occupation and more of a team effort. Recently I’ve had some excellent help; suggestions that made me wince a little at the thought of the amount of manuscript archaeology that would be involved, but it’s all good stuff, brain-flexing, writer-muscle building and laying down work practices for the next tome . . .

On the same dust-ridden shelf, I also found my first ever (or at least one that Mum kept) story book. Written in pencil (and coloured pencil!) in a khaki-green school exercise book, this particular tale describes a crocodile eating a small boy – with a correction by Mrs War (I still remember her, with fear) for not using the past tense of eat.

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Wirksworth festival

About twenty years ago I lived in a fascinating little town set in the Derbyshire hills – Wirksworth; place of winding little secret lanes, ancient church, many pubs, glorious countryside and eclectic mix of people – original Wirksworthians, artists, musicians, teachers, etc – many people drawn to the town for its unusually ‘genuine’feel – no chain shops or cafés . . .

After a few years, a group of friends including myself, started up an art trail to encourage people to explore the town’s very interesting architecture. A couple of seasons on the art trail became attached to the festival, which then grew each year to become what it is now – a nationally recognised and much appreciated yearly art and music event.

This year, Mark (musician husband who also worked on the festival in the early years) and myself have been invited back to participate.

Mark will be performing, ‘Resonance’ a series of piano works influenced by landscape, and I will be ‘assisting’ (not quite sure in what capacity yet) with the performance/readings of extracts from my novel Hoxton.

Londonia 2090 – extracts from Kate A. Hardy’s novel Hoxton, performed by The Sureditch Drinking House Players

DATE: TUESDAY 13TH SEPTEMBER 2016
TIME: 7.30PM
VENUE: THE TOWN HALL
EVENT TYPE: PERFORMANCE PROGRAMME

Hoxton is with an agency at the moment, so I won’t have books to sell – who knows what further edits will lie ahead . . .  but I will have copies of my short stories available – Dog, and Other Tales. And . . . I have been assured by a grammar specialist that my gut feeling about a comma after Dog was the right decision, ha! (Does anyone really know?)

Wirksworth festival starts from the 9th of September and runs for two weeks. The art trail is on the first weekend, this year showing over a hundred and fifty artists’ work.

 

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To throw or not to throw . . .

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Files and rough manuscripts of four books: Trilogy – Going Out in the Midday Sun, and Hoxton.

As I was about to consign all rough drafts of my books to the recycling, my son said – ‘but shouldn’t you hang on to all that? The memories, the work’ . . .

I reminded him that I’d already, about two years ago, disposed of about the same again in paper and files, so therefore if I was to regard it as a complete collection of all prep work I’d ever done, it was already pillaged. So . . . to the bin. But wait. Maybe just a bit of it – the actual first ideas; the first mistake-ridden file of 80,000 words; the coffee stained and dust covered tentative trial pages . . .  Oh, OK, maybe just a small shelf’s worth.

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Big yellow file holding the first draft of the first book – where it all started. Yep, I might keep that one . . . 

So, I’ve rescued a couple of items from each book, plus the actual proof copies and the rest will become an ripping up occupation while half watching a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad (for the second time around) this evening.

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Cats Like Plain Crisps

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somebody’s cat – sorry not sure whose, or whose image but we don’t at present have a cat to photo, with or without crisps

At present I’m re-editing my short stories with a view to making them into a ‘collection’.

What to call the book? one of the titles perhaps? or something random; something to encapsulate the wandering, miscellaneous subjects . . .

As sometimes happens, my brain (and I assume with most other peoples’) suddenly decided to present me with a curious phrase I haven’t recollected for about forty years. Cats Like Plain Crisps.

The whole figment came back to me – complete in every detail:  1974 or so, Mum driving round a roundabout in West London in the aged Hillman Minx; me in the back staring out on a grey, sleazy day after a school holiday spent in the Hovis-ad-like countryside of Dorset.

Mum, negotiating the rush-hour traffic and probably saying ‘bugger off’ to other motorists, failed to acknowledge this wonderment of graffiti – hand sprayed in large black letters on the blank end of a house, but I obviously logged it away for use forty years later.

Except . . . that it’s actually quite well documented. I checked on Google and there are images of the writing, not of the wall I had seen, but other walls, and on bridges, and padlocks, even. Apparently the first ever ‘Cats like plain crisps’ was scrawled on a kitchen wall in a Grosvenor Rd squat, Twickenham, and then reproduced possibly by the same wonderfully-deranged person in other areas of West London.

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Oh well, just another 40 million words/phrases to choose from . . .

Weasels Dislike Chamber Music?

 

 

Serious advice

 

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Myself – in case any search engines pick up on it. Kate A. Hardy, at the moment, reveals many images of other Kate Hardys and just occasionally one of me.

 

Self-editing is fine, even enjoyable but actual, real, serious advice from someone who knows the writing industry is invaluable.

As my finger was hovering over the ‘yes, go ahead, publish your book’ again on Lulu Publishing, this time I stopped and wondered about a different way. ‘Hoxton‘ was on its eighth or so draft. I had listened to incredibly helpful comments from many readers and acted on their suggestions in most cases. Some people, (hello Bob!), had spent many hours thinking about the way certain sections of the book were constructed and picked up on all sorts of continuity embarrassments, and for all these points I will be always grateful. But it’s easy to continue, still including favourite elements, phrases even chapters that you know are perhaps not quite working, even if friends and readers have told you as much.

So, the different way. I investigated a literary consultancy’s web site on the recommendation of a writer friend; sent off my trial chapter, was accepted and then the whole manuscript sent to an industry editor: a tad scary . . .

A month later back came the notes, and wow, what a mine of usefulness it was/is. After the initial very deep breath and following careful study of everything said, I constructed a list of points to talk over. We will meet later this month and I will start dissecting the book (already have, in fact) and piecing it back together, as I should have done if I had really listened to my misgivings and other peoples.