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BIRTH PANGS OF WRITING A BOOK June 15, 2009

Posted by janehaynes in : Uncategorized, Writing a book , trackback

My first blog entry is being written on a TGV from Avignon to St Pancras, which is bringing me back to London and to work. Except, it’s hard to call something you feel so passionate about ‘work’ but it is and of an intense kind, else I should be full of misgivings about returning to the city. Except, ever since the July 2005 terrorist attacks I’ve realized how much I love London, and how I dread more harm to her. I was in the centre of the city when it happened and heard the serial explosions. In fact I was so close to King’s Cross that I could not get home except by walking and for hours there was too much dread in the air to do that. Now there is a delay in getting my blog online because my web designer, Darius is Iranian and his impromptu website has become a principal organ for communicating samizdat information across terror stricken Iran and this blog is not high on his priorities. It happens that I have young patients who have recently come here from Iran to conduct research who reminded me - before the violence began - that behind many of the foreboding and closed forecourt doors, men and beautiful bare-shouldered women still dance, swirl, drink and abandon themselves to the elegance of their glorious and sensual Esfahan, which means ‘half the world’s ancestry.’

I’ve decided to accompany the travails of writing my new book with an attempt to blog its journey from conception to publication. Travelling towards Lille we are already delayed and will probably miss our Eurostar connection. (I like the name, Eurostar and begin to wonder what the person is like that created it.) French Rail’s efficiency is no longer what it used to be and it is becoming more like South Eastern Network, by the week, which must be a sure sign of France’s self predicted social decline. Her inhabitants now seem to do very little else than moan about their services, and are in crisis at the thought of any changes to their health provision.  On the way out our TGV was without any refreshments, due its manager said morosely, ‘To a lack of takers’. Everybody is moaning about EDF, so why have they now become my London electricity supplier, I wonder.

It’s a blazing day and Avignon’s TGV station was hot, 40 C and without air conditioning, or any distractions and our train so delayed that I thought I’d get a panic attack, or perhaps I mean that I thought I’d overheat, and there was nowhere to escape to.  Scary, when only yesterday morning we woke up in our hill village to what felt like a Siberian chill. Next time, I find myself muttering, it will have to be the car. I even begin to think of Victoria’s drafts and plurality of grubby alternative distractions with affection

Last time I went to our house in France – the autumn of 2008 – I decided to write a novel whose two central characters have haunted me since childhood. The blank page petrified but by the end of three weeks I had produced forty thousand words and was even beginning to fantasize that my oblique, and elliptical ‘symbolist’ prose might turn out to be a Booker. I’m rarely tempted to read the Booker winners; I’m not too keen on the requisite plot, or page turning pace that usually harnesses a winner, although this year I have the highest hopes that Hilary Mantel - who wrote the forward to my last book - Who is it that can tell me who I am? The journal of a psychotherapist, and who astonished me when she dedicated Beyond Black to me (perhaps because she couldn’t think of anybody who was more temperamentally suited to its blackness) - will be short-listed and win this year’s Booker for her astonishing Wolf Hall. There is nobody that I can think of who writes English prose with more refinement and sensibility than Hilary, or with more subtle wit. I would like to say ‘will’ but it won’t fit in as it does when thinking about Will’s sonnets, which have become a daily alternative food for me. Sedation, if you like from the presence of Time’s sickle hour, and fickle glass. I’m convinced that Shakespeare would have approved of Hilary’s fiendish will and werewolf imagination.

I write long letters to Hilary, although we don’t manage to meet that often; the reason that my letters are long is because I permit myself the luxury of not reading them through, but just writing out my mind, and that’s what I intend, unlike in my book, to do with this blog. I want to write spontaneously. I have to warn whoever reads it that I type like one of Hilary’s fiends. In fact, when I left school that’s all my mother thought I was good for, to become a secretary and I was force-fed to learn to type. I never became a secretary, well I did become a temporary medical secretary but that came to a terminal ending when I was dispatched to Bart’s Hospital’s Department of Morbid Anatomy; I had no idea what that meant until I found I was typing up post mortem reports in the morgue. I had nightmares for months and months about a little boy who was born it seemed, from his post mortem, without anything being in the right place. I’ve never forgotten the jigsaw of his perverse body.

I have matured into an Olympian typist, and I feel sorry for my friends because my words tumble onto the page at an alarming rate. When my then fifteen year old grandson, Dan, about whom you may be hearing a great deal more, depending on whether we are talking or not, told me two years ago that he wanted to become a writer, I sent him off with his grandfather - who was in the process of changing from being a theatre photographer who had spent his ‘developing’ life in a toxic darkroom, to digital production - on a week’s typing course in the Tottenham Court Road. Dan wasn’t pleased then, but he is now; in fact he’s the only person that I know who types faster than me and uses ten fingers.

I’ve gone off the point - or become ‘anacoluthon’ - to use an obscure Proustian term, which I adore and which I understand to mean: to write long and discursive sentences whereby the person reading them will be drawn away from their initial intent only to lose their way down all sorts of cul de sacs; some of which might be spurious. It can also be used as a form of sophistry.

The novel I began last autumn now seems a long time ago, although I did manage to write three thousand words every day, sitting at an open window and looking beyond the Southern Rhone vines into the horizon of the distant alps, with a patch-worked kaleidoscope of birdsong and