Saturday, 12 February 2011

Silence is Golden

After a couple of tries (and fails) to write a blog this past week I felt sure I was onto a winner when I came across the above title stored away in the lists of posts I had "prepared earlier". I was only thinking today when the Off-Spring were masquerading as marauding tigers and gazelles, just how true the adage is - Silence is Golden. And as rare...

Imagine my disappointment to find that all I had done previously with said draft blog was type the title  - there was nothing in the body of the post at all. No doubt - knowing only too well my own sense of humour and terrible memory for certain details - I would have left it blank like that to amuse my future self when she, as I did tonight, retrieved the draft and sought to update it. Or perhaps in a more relaxed and perhaps sardonic moment, back in October 2010, I intended to post only the title and let the empty blog speak for itself.  

I have some sympathy with that.

There is too much being said these days. Too much opinion and too much editorial. And all of it is too widely accessible. While wordy, I am also a "less is more" sort of person in many ways. So I do find myself pulled hither and thither in this age of tell all, say all, speak all and share all. I'm not great at tweeting my latest banal thought, or sharing or "liking" my latest meal - how interesting can fruit with Special K get, after all? But the world has moved on and my pre 1995 sensitivities really have no place in the digital age.

And searching for topics to write about, it's always tempting to descend into the banal and obvious, so many columnists (earning great salaries) do. I could go on at length about my sore throat, bickering children, the weather, TV (check out Hawaii 5-0), some new film (Rabbit Hole is on my list), the cost of petrol and groceries (every item I buy at Waitrose has increased in price since 1 January by an average of 15 p with the exception of Agave Syrup which they studiously match to Tesco and bananas and a couple of other fruits. There seems to be a view that anything slightly pleasant or indulgent should be charged at extortionate boutique luxury prices - dark chocolate is  not a Luxury Mr W. Rose!). While I'm on the topic I should just let you know that a certain retailer will sell you 100grams of crystallised violet petals for the very affordable £14.99. Thankfully one needs only one such petal to feel truly ill, but there you are. Even feeling sick is an expensive pursuit these days. 

So where were we going with all of this? Oh yes - silence.

I blogged a little while ago about having a rural idyll to which One might escape, to write and muse and take stock. I still feel a "room of one's own" at home ought to do the trick but ideally it needs to be soundproofed and lockable.

I manage to create a virtual "room of my own" in the later hours of the evening when Off-Spring slumber and Mr Spring-Girl is abroad. It was here in tranquil yet studious concentration that I finished my second novel last week. It's a doozy!

It's all about a woman called Verity - once a high flying ad exec - who struggles with parenting - a bit of perfectionist, desperate to keep up with the other mothers, she throws everything into creating the ideal home and ideal children, all the time neglecting husband and self, but convinced - most of the time - she is onto an amazing and sustaining life calling. Until one day the wheels fall off and a Betty Draper ("Mad Men") look alike threatens to lure her husband away to goodness knows what or where and all those hours in yoga classes and on the PTA amount to nothing. It's a very funny tale - obviously I amuse myself with my writing but I'll give you a little flavour so you can see for yourself. Here is a precis:

Between yoga and the gym, charity morning teas and book club, night classes and helping out at school, Verity is stretched. Jumping (or wearily clambering) on the self-help bandwagons and struggling to keep abreast of the latest trends in parenting has left her lost, alone and confused. To find a fresh perspective, Verity starts an “Inner Child Journal”.  But what use is a diary, Chicken Soup or the Secret if your child is average, potty training doesn’t work, your mother thinks you’re a sell-out and your husband goes AWOL to find himself.

Distracted, desperate and deeply in denial, Verity is forced to confront her own demons – loss of control, ballet mums and bad coffee – with nothing to call upon but instincts (oh and pride, a gruelling fitness regime and a killer sense of humour).

While her husband searches for meaning in the soup kitchens of Asia, Verity makes a few discoveries of her own. Like, pride does go before a fall, there is such a thing as being too thin and too rich and playing to one’s strengths beats playing around. Lone parenting has never been this much fun.


In this extract Verity is moaning about the school PTA president:
"Her latest ploy was to set up a Facebook page for the Mortimer Montessori Parents’ Association (PAMM). Now she only communicates to parents through this medium. This is perverse. First, not everyone uses Facebook so it excludes and marginalises people. Second, she posts meaningless self-serving drivel about herself and her daughters and almost nothing about school or the Association or its events. Generally, anything we need to know is printed in the school newsletter and handed out each week by Mrs Blythe, in any case. It’s obvious the Facebook thing is another self promotion tactic. I finally signed up with a false name in order to “Like” the bloody PAMM when Helen kept talking about the fantastic recipes her chums were posting there. I refuse to use Facebook legitimately because I know Kate and several women from the gym and yoga have all “Friended” each other and would find me to friend too. It’s bad enough running into some of them socially or at the shops, without having to see pictures of them all over my laptop and hear about their kids’ first day at school/swimming/karate/juvenile lock up ad nauseum. Anyway, I had to laugh when Wendy accepted my friend request under the alias “Loosy Lude”. In fact Loosy has over 47 friends, no profile, nor photos and no personal info. But she likes PAMM and “The Good Wife”. Go figure.
I’ll admit that I enjoy certain elements of getting involved at school, like meeting new people and rolling my sleeves up to help, but it seems contrived, if not desperate, to see the school as a complete occupation. Admittedly, I don’t have a role of the gravitas and responsibility that Wendy holds (voluntarily, mind you, since no one wanted to do it when Jeff stepped down), but I wonder if I lack the perseverance, tenacity and political will to do it well, in the first place.Note to self: sign up at Gracie’s next school for important political role before alienating any parents."

So, there are 75,000 words in a similar vein.

Not convinced that silence is golden when promoting a novel, I joined a writers' forum last week and uploaded some blogs for review. So far I have 10 messages begging me to review other people's work and one (more intelligent and subtle) message endorsing mine. Thanks "Liz" whoever you are - you get my vote right back!

You see - what one doesn't know until one writes a book and purports to have it published, is that there are very few books that actually get published in any year, unless the author is a celebrity, a chef or a previous best-selling writer. I guess I knew it would be hard, but the statistics are anything but encouraging. My first book was a personal story and one that I was committed to seeing into print under my own stream as I believed it encapsulated some humour and wisdom that needed to be shared. 

Verity's tale, however, is pure fiction, and thus far more commercial and marketable. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is pretty much coincidental, only occasionally accidental and in one case very much deliberate (she begged to be in there under her own name and I couldn't turn down the promise of one reader, could I?). Best of all I discovered a capacity I didn't know I had. Writing fiction was an absolute delight. One that I had convinced myself was not in my repertoire.  Original ideas - a story? No, I told myself - my domain was more the social commentary, self-effacing-critique-of-everyone-else-style. Until one day out came this character who had to be given life. She and her quest for answers had to be shared - just in a longer form than all those people on Twitter seem to like. 

But in terms of getting it "out there"? Well, I sometimes think I would have more luck making a screenplay about Verity - or even getting fly on the wall mockumentary made about middle class women and their angst and worries - than I will have of getting my novel into the hands of any serious publisher.

Not that that is a bad thing - self-publishing is a great option - and in a couple of months you can all buy it or download it and tell all your friends about it. And "Like" it on Facebook too... Oh and retweet this on Twitter.

BTW - don't any of you steal that mockumentary idea! I said it first!

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