How, Why & What & Telling the Future with Deer

I was tagged in this by the very wonderful Helen Grant. Like a bit of Euro horror? She’s your woman – in fact Silent Saturday is out now and on my to read pile . In the meantime if you want to know how to divine the future using deer, read on.

But the fact that this is posted so late in the day tells you quite a lot about me. Let me first say I am not a person who is late. I am someone who is always first at parties, who is standing around on the station just in case, whose childhood was spent fighting anxiety dreams about my father, walking coolly and slowly down tube platforms as the doors slid shut before he could get on. This never happened in real life.

But I am late. This should have been up earlier. Why the delay? Answer – work. I am currently writing scripts and the last and second draft was delivered on Monday morning. I have spent the last three days waking up at silly o’clock (I can’t stay up late, even when I was young and dancey) to re draft a script, which is sad to say a pale imitation of its robust progenitor.

Frank Cottrell Boyce said one of the most important and best quotes about writing. I can’t remember it word for word but the gist of it is that writers, unlike, say goalkeepers who only ever get one chance at anything, are lucky in that get to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until it’s better.

Somehow my second draft needs more work than the first. Eheu.

OK so that’s my excuse.

I feel like scripts are something I am still very much at the learning stage whereas I’ve written quite a few books, and although I hope I will get better as I go along (my first book! Agh) I feel more comfortable with 60,000 words than with 10,000.

I love books. If someone told me I would be a writer when I grew up I would have been so happy.  I know I am incredibly lucky. I write a lot of historical novels although I like reading pretty much anything, recent reads have included The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt and Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman. It’s an important part of your practice.  I think it’s impossible to be a writer without being a reader. Everything I learnt I picked up in other people’s books, and it’s so much easier to spot mistakes in other people’s work.

And the same goes for TV if you want to write it, watch it, listen to it. There is so much good TV, of course people bang on about American stuff, and we get the cream on box set, but listen think about it, just last year we had Broadchurch, Utopia, Rev, The Fall,  In The Flesh, just to name a few.

Now I have gone off topic. I don’t write any of those. In fact writing, when it’s not going how you want it to is very scary. You lose confidence, you find yourself trapped with the characters you’re working with and instead of enjoying it, it feels like you’re just moving cut-outs around. That can happen with anything, even your own characters, that’s my rule number one. Love them.

My how is this, get up at 5 or 6, 3 hours work, swim (the municipal pool nothing fancy) breakfast. More writing, with feeding gaps. If I’m on a book I will keep going til around six, if I’m on a deadline then I keep going til around eight or nine when my brain has dribbled out of my ears.

Why? Well I don’t think I’m fitted for anything else. I did have lots of jobs a long long time ago. I went to film school, I made pop videos, I worked as an usherette at The Royal Court, I had a knitting stall in the Portobello Road. I also worked in a bookshop in Whitechapel, looked after a horse in Hackney City Farm and worked in literature development in Dalston, taught in University, been writer in residence in Holloway prison.

But since about 2005 I’ve been a writer. Sometimes I wish I had enough cash to sit back and lie in the garden with some knitting and my (imaginary) pony. But I think if I did I would still want to write. I think there is something of a compulsion about it. And then there’s the other compulsion, publication. I want people to read my stories. There really is no better thing than doing a school visit where the students have read your stuff, know your work.

What am I writing at the moment? Well there’s a couple of things I don’t want to jinx. Apart from the sequel to Sawbones, a film project, my Princess Caraboo novel based on a most spectacular true life deception, and I am desperate to write a piece for radio set in 1780 about – well I’m not going to say.

So off I go trying to convince myself I can do it, stepping out and failing sometimes but I hope telling some interesting stories on they way.

I was supposed to tag people. Given my mare of a week everyone I asked was taken. I was thinking of asking my protégé made great Sandra Greaves, whose debut novel The Skull in The Wood in on the Waterstones Prize shortlist. But I ran out of time. So anyone, anybody who wants to tag themselves, you go.

Meanwhile if you’re in Brighton and want to talk to me in person I’m at the festival on May 4th – look it up, I’m doing a writing workshop for young people. And then on the 11th I am at Hoo Kids Book Fest at the beautiful Luton Hoo walled garden.

And I’ll let you know my magic deer based divination secret. Everytime I visit my Mum in North Wales the train passes a sort of earthwork that is home to a herd of deer. If I see them – in the words of Lady Julian of Norwich – All Shall be Well. If I don’t see them there’s trouble ahead. If I see them with antlers – woohoo!

This afternoon they were there. No horns though. Still, fingers crossed for all your writing.