First Draft

Oh man, I have been re-reading my last post with a deep sense of embarrassment. I feel almost protective of my former self, those few weeks ago, all enthusiastic and sincere. I really did think that I was done writing my first novel. I really did. Of course, I had heard that no one writes a good novel from scratch – that novels take time and work and effort. But I thought I was different. Special, even. Different and special and maybe gifted. Like, this novel-writing lark is quite FUN! I should do it again! But wait – first – let’s share this work of comic genius to a few first readers…. WHAT FUN.

And so off that manuscript went, to various people. I was just waiting for the love to come crashing down ‘pon my frizzy lockdowned head.

We got back, quickly, a very carefully considered and not unkind piece of constructive criticism that basically said WHOA THERE. Back that literary truck up, hold your horses, STOP, FOR THE LOVE OF BOOKS AND WORDS AND YOUR VERY SELF-RESPECT! A well-known writer (gah…) gave us the sage advice that what we had produced was an extremely first draft kind of first draft and that, sure, for people who weren’t writers (argh…) it was a stellar effort, etc, etc… but the real work had not even begun. The prologue was boring, there was no real hero, the premise of the whole story was a little ‘off’ and the sub plots were tired. Then it was suggested we read a book on how to write a novel so that we could salvage it rather than rewrite the whole thing.

I died, quite a bit. And what made me die the most was that she was right. It was good advice. Advice that burned my heart and shrivelled up my ego and made me realise I have so much more work to do. I read the book she recommended and rethought everything and now, if you need me, I’ll be at my kitchen table with post-it notes working out a structure. Figuring out a proper Act 3. Working out quite why my main character is so lacking in confidence. Rolling my eyes at my misplaced and enormously premature boasty pride in a job well done.

Let it be a warning to you, my novel-curious friends. You have to read a book about it first, OK? Read the bloody manual.

What else in this new, cold, boring, restrictive new world we call currently? It has been very cold – here is a photo of the fountain in the playground behind Waitrose:

There has been lots of fleeting snow and residual ice which has made the usual early morning runs in the dark quite impossible. Well, impossible if you don’t love falling over and breaking your old lady bones, that is. I have still gone running, but slowly and much later, coming home fiery pink and with itchy extremities. I have to run because lockdown and mid-winter means I barely move all day otherwise. And even though I am back on the intermittent fasting, if you don’t move all day and you use your non-novel-fixing time to bake cakes to both warm the flat up and to make people feel like there is something to look forward to at the end of the day, and if you make your way though impressive quantities of Aldi’s very impressive sparkling wine offerings every evening, then you just get fatter.

Fatter and fatter and fatter, so that your upper arms don’t fit the Isabel Marant denim shirt that acts as my trusty Weight Gain Monitor. It is a very nice light blue shirt that either fits or it doesn’t, because I am either a bit fat or I am not. Right now, as soon as I put it on, the upper arms feel tight. Not as bad as 2011 tight – it fitted like a tightly packed sausage back in 2011 – but fitting my arms now like….like a badly packed sausage. Tight, but not entirely filled to capacity. But on its way there. You know? I know.

So in between weighing myself (a twice-weekly habit that tends to make me mutter loudly to myself about the weirdness of numbers and the likelihood of the scales being broken) I just try the shirt on sporadically to see how things are in that specific department. And so – running four times a week, ice or no ice, snow be damned, it has to be. I know I should also cut out cake and wine, but answer me this: if I did exorcise all the fun joyful things like cake and wine, then WHY even get out of bed right now? Why indeed? The children, I guess, are sometimes joy-making and so is TV – collectively quite good reasons to stay alive – but really, we could be enjoying kids, TV, wine and cake anywhere in the world. Why battle on in a small flat in London if London is semi-permanently closed for business? Why stay if we can’t even leave this borough without potentially incurring a fine?

Anyway. We had two more birthdays which were certainly joyful and, sure, featured cake and wine. Ned turned 11. He got Lego, a laser pointer for cats that he uses on the baby, a label-maker and a box of chocolates. All this made him happy but clearly not in this photo. Casper was quickly shoved out of shot because he was intent on fighting someone, and this is all we have. One for the family album of forced jollity and EXISTENTIAL DESPAIR, obvs:

Cute curls on that baby, though, eh? And some nice footage of the two teenagers having a chat. Everyone needs a haircut but whaddya do?

Here’s the baby out on one of our daily walks to glean as much vitamin D that we both can. He has marshmallow on his face and a very nice new birthday coat from his little friend Maisie, sassy velour trousers and leather boots like someone who is really owns his Outfit Of The Day:

While in late January, the eldest – my love, my heart, the source of my pain when he says withering things – turned 16. He had a glass of champagne and declared it a bit gross and gave the rest to me. His brother (on the left) wore a onesie all day and we ate Nigella’s brownies with fresh raspberries and extra thick chunks of chocolate swirled through. Mark wore the same shirt he seems to wear for every birthday photograph, going back to 2018.

Here’s the baby on another daily Vitamin D walk, this time in his baby bonnet. He likes to visit the Modernist estate next to our square and walk up and down the staircases and along the balconies until I feel like we are definitely trespassing and I have to drag him screaming back down the stairs.

I know, I know. It’s all about the baby. But there it is. He tried Ned’s tummy rolling trick and while it could do with some finessing, it’s a very good start. Better than my novel has turned out to be, in any case:

Lastly a photograph of my soon-to-be-picked-up new glasses. There is much to unpick in this photo. I am having trouble with my hair right now because the bits that all fell out after the baby was born have grown back quite fiercely and now I have an undeniable and increasingly thick undercurrent of short greyish hairs. Like a middle-aged man might have. Helmet-like, but buried underneath so as to give body but not volume. On top of that I have long, frizzy, formerly wavy hair that desperately needs a cut and a colour. There are perhaps three hairstyles existing all at the same time upon the same head. It is very hard to style out, but then, no one is looking because everyone has been persuaded to stay inside and to therefore not make judgements about other people’s hair.

I am also in my eBay Batsheva dress here which has a bit of a Jane Austen/Bridgerton vibe, all ditsy floral print, empire-line and lamb’o’mutton sleeves. It is almost a great dress but verges on just being quite ‘passably Amish’. Modest to the point of religious cult. So I’ve gone for these ironic glasses (ten years late for that particular train) to make me look fashionably knowing. My eyes look different-sized in this photo too but I’m assuming that’s just because I was about to wink suggestively. Who can really tell?

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3 Responses to First Draft

  1. Steph says:

    I’m glad you’ve had some constructive (not destructive) criticism. Would you mind sharing the “how to” boom that was recommended to you? I’ve always thought about writing (not been brave enough to put it on paper like you yet) and it sounds like a sensible first step.

    Can empathise with the weight thing. Currently losing the 3 stone (!) I’ve accrued since this all began…

  2. rose says:

    I was in need and YOU HAD WRITTEN!!!! HURRAH. Also Thank You.
    I hope you do realize that actually that was giant praise for you as a writer and the book. Most writers get zip nada responses. This person thought you needed some help and structure but also clearly thought you could really write and publish a book! THAT IS MAJOR WIN. (Also discouraging and lots of work to follow etc etc etc. It is why writers have editors and talk so much about them in the acknowledgements… even Louise Penny.) I am certain you can do this.
    Love the birthday pictures. Such grown up young adults in your house. All good looking too.
    Love the baby photos and stories. Just what I needed to remember decades back when mine were that age…. even my grands are quite grown children and teens now. Babyhood and pre-school happens so fast and then disappears.
    The icy fountain is such a reminder of the reality of winters with snow and ice. IMPORTANT REMINDER: be super careful to not slid and fall on ice. The breakage after healing is NOT THE SAME as before. AVOID. Or the ancient years are really nastier than I advise.
    I think you will get lots of pleasure from your glasses. They look fun.
    AND AGAIN: THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING. Such a fabulous difference you make in my life!

    • theharridan says:

      Yes, I think that it is best I take the criticism as a win, really. It was kind of her to point out where we can fix it, and once my bruised ego got over itself, the advice was easier to swallow. Sort of! Thank you again for your encouragement to write…as soon as our lockdown lifts, I will hopefully have something to write about again! Our lives are pretty shrunken these days…xx

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