So this happened…
My new book hits the shelves this week – Thursday 23 March – and is available to pre-order right now for your real or virtual shelf here.
Those who read this story in its previous e-book incarnation back in 2013 (when it was entitled The Dream) will find characters and storylines that are familiar, but there is now much more packed into its pages: more Billy and Ella, more of Ella’s life as a mother in York, more of her bookshop, Happily Ever After (I had so much fun with inventing a bookshop!), more of the wonderful Fabia (of course!) and more of Bryony (who has to be one of my all-time favourite characters to write).
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it.
There’s a sense in which even thinking about what notebook to use is procrastinating. If you’re looking for the perfect notebook to begin your new project, you may never start it.
I’m fussy. I have a few criteria.
1. Smooth paper that takes the ink, so that my hand can move easily across the page. I used to think that ‘good’ paper was the thick, textured kind, like the cartridge paper you find in artists’ sketchbooks, but I’ve since discovered that what I really need is the opposite, something more like this.
2. Definitely no lines. Many a good notebook is ruined for me by them.
Plain is always good. And I do like a good dot matrix. This, for example, is sumptuous paper, great for doodling. And faint grid paper makes me very nostalgic for Italy, where I went to school for two years and where these exercise books (which are actually French) were easy to get hold of at the little village shop.
3. Size matters. Different sizes for different tasks. Like almost everyone else I know, I like these. I use a small one as an everyday journal. I also love these with the soft covers, so easy to slip in your pocket. And when out and about, a pen loop is always handy.
4. Just special enough. (And the above is pretty much my criteria for ‘special.’) Too special and I just know I’ll keep that notebook for only my most special thoughts. Meaning that I won’t write anything. But I did indulge in this with a Christmas voucher, which I’m using to plan my next book, with Washi tapes to mark the edges of pages, dividing the book into sections as I go. I find myself gathering ideas in other scrappier notebooks and then transferring them to this book. It’s a kind of editing process.
5. The best notebook is the one you have right now: a paper serviette, the back of an envelope. I hate writing on my phone. I’d far rather grab something ‘real’ to scribble on.
Star pins in pic above here.
‘When my thumb touches my little finger
a door opens that I forgot was there’
– from ‘Rule of Thumb’ by WS Merwin (The Moon Before Morning)
Lately, I’ve been finding things coming full circle.
It’s no coincidence that the circle is (one of) the most ancient symbols of the self.
I started to blog back in 2002. I wrote about all the things that were on my mind – writing, and how to make things with words, and how to make more things with more words and the writers who inspired me and all the people I worked with using writing.
But for some reason, whether it was lack of self-belief (probably) or frustration with the technology (it was actually quite difficult to make a space that I actually liked the look of back then), or perhaps feeling that there were so many different aspects of my creative self that I wanted to express, I would tear things down every few years, remake my online place in some new form and start again.
And here I am now. Starting again. My previous online space didn’t feel quite right. I want to say more than the covers of my books can say. I want a space to think things through, collect things – half-formed ideas as well as things I’ve made, a page where I can scribble and doodle and sometimes colour in.
The way I understand ‘writer’ is as someone who makes things with words. And a person who makes things wants to share some of those things – connect with other people who make things. Creative writing has always had the ‘workshop’ where other forms of art have ‘maker spaces.’ To me, the idea of a ‘maker space’ feels much more exciting, much more inviting. Writers are makers. Words are our objects, our paint and clay.
And if an idea keeps tugging at your sleeve, whispering in your ear, you should probably listen. You should probably just get on and do that thing. You should probably step through that door – and then keep on going.
Have you ever noticed that it’s often so much easier to know what to write when you’re not staring at a blank screen?
My simple tactic is to just get up and make a cup of coffee, have a good old stretch, even (heaven forbid!) put a load of laundry in. The act of getting up, walking away from the screen, moving about kick-starts something.
Ernest Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast:
Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.
One true sentence.
And peeling an orange.
A good place to start?