Of storytellers and shock decisions

If you had asked me when I was eighteen years old and on the cusp of the rest of my life, farming would never have come up high on my list of What To Do After School. Throughout my entire school life, I only had one concrete goal: I wanted to write. It was all I was ever interested in doing: I would consume books at an alarming rate (and my mother thought I read so fast I couldn’t possibly take it all in, which is likely true – I try to slow down a bit now but sometimes I get greedy with the story), sit in classes daydreaming, and, in between doing homework as fast as I could and working shifts at the local pub, I would sit at my computer on my corner of the settee and hammer the keyboard until there were no letters on the buttons. At one parents’ evening my English teacher, who I adored and whose respect I craved, told me that I needed to go to University because my little life of waitressing in a pub and sitting in a house wouldn’t give me the experience I needed to become a good writer. So I randomly applied for universities because I thought I wasn’t very good at school – after my AS levels I realised I was actually quite good at school and so changed all my choices.

In the end I could choose between Hull and York, and through a bit of bad marketing was influenced to go to the University of York. It wasn’t far from home so I could go back whenever I wanted, or get my parents to come see me. I was homesick a lot, and at the beginnings of both my second and third years I spent a lot of time at home after we lost greatly missed family members. Even at uni I didn’t know what else I wanted to do other than write, but I had jobs lined up after graduation, and getting a ‘graduate job’ seemed like a lot of hassle and I couldn’t summon the energy to pretend to be interested in a big faceless corporation. So I floated from job to job: I trained as an English language teacher, I worked in recruitment, I did the first term of a PGCE in Secondary English, I went back to recruitment, and got the job at the place I thought would tide me over forever: the University of York. I did that for ever so many months, in which time we lost my Grandad, and that changed my priorities again. All I ever wanted to do was write, and here I was doing the 9 to 5, doing a basic admin job but with colleagues to whom our little niche was the solid working core of the University (cough cough, not true). I went to an event at York’s Festival of Ideas about getting published and setting up writer’s group. While there I also met a lady who lived not far from me; we agreed to set up a group, and in my head I decided to overhaul my approach towards my writing.

So I carried on with the 9 to 5, and as soon as I would get in from work, I would have a quick nap, then have a bit of tea and then write, write, write until about midnight. This was when MFB really started to take hold, and so I ploughed on ahead with that. Weekends saw me sat at my desk typing so fast I’m sure smoke rose from my fingers, no joke. It didn’t matter – I just had to write. I remember at University reading about a writer, and I think it was Kazuo Ishiguro though I could be massively misquoting, who said that it doesn’t matter if midway through you’re losing momentum and it’s complete rubbish, or you’re losing sight of what you’re writing or who your characters are, as long as you get the words down. Then you draft and redraft and edit and that’s when the surgery can take place. I got to the end of MFB’s first true draft earlier on and so threw myself on the second draft. I started attending a Writer’s Group in Malton, which was the first time I was giving out examples to be genuinely read and critiqued by similarly-minded people. I got about halfway through my second draft, and then I met Scott, and never was a word written again.

That’s maybe not quite true. I submitted my chapters to my group, and even though I wasn’t writing, it didn’t mean that the story wasn’t present in my head and playing through on its usual stage. But suddenly gone were the midnight bedtimes and writing weekends, and in came the domestic goddess and weekends spent on a farm, and my little life was turned upside down. I tried to fit in writing where I could, but the excitement of a new relationship, and also all of Scott’s commitments on the farm, demanded more of my time, until days would go by without my computer even being switched on. Scott moved into my house, and I decided to work to the end of my contract at the University and then stay at home. The plan was to eventually move to Rillington, into my Grandad’s house, and I could focus on my writing, maybe get a little part-time job along the way. I offered to help on the farm, feeding up on a morning and an afternoon, but that soon put paid to any dreams of writing. Working on a farm meant a much dirtier house; I seemed to spend more time sweeping and cleaning my floors than anything else. On an evening, by the time I had cooked tea and had a bath, and sometimes not even that, I was so tired I was falling asleep on the settee. Scott was working as a wagon driver and many nights would get in at gone eight o clock, so it wasn’t exactly early. And on the nights he might finish early, we would have to go up to the farm to do the water, so it was still eight o clock gone by the time we got home.

The New Year approaches. Every year I try not to make resolutions, but quietly I say to myself that I will do something: a few years ago it was buy a house, another year it was get a certain job, and last year I said I would find a nice man, which I’m very happy to have achieved. But I think 2017 will be the Year of the Book for me. Over the past couple of weeks I have been rewriting the storyline for MFB, cutting it down from its mammoth 350,000 word count and 72 chapters to something more appropriate. Once I finish this, I will start on Draft Three, having got stuck halfway through Draft Two, floundering in the bog of my own creation.

So watch this space, and lots of love!

How is your writing going?

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