Plain as Day

The envelope landed heavily into Hannah’s life like a choice already made. His face was branded into its white perfection, the nameless man who had likely stolen her fate. She picked it off the matt and held it ceremoniously in front of her as she took it to the kitchen, its weight a burden she struggled to carry. She flopped it onto the kitchen surface and turned her back, hoping to forget its unwelcome presence but it wasn’t long until she had no choice but to face it once more.

‘It’ll be fine.’ Her mother had assured her every day for the last three months.

‘What if it’s not?’

 To this her mother had little to say because in truth, neither of them could be sure. The envelope could contain everything and nothing. It could free her or lock her in chains. This day had been so long awaited that its arrival should have heralded celebration but instead, she wished she could go back to waiting. When she was waiting, she was working towards a goal without having to face its reality.

She picked up the envelope and twisted it in her fingers, wondering how it could look so innocent when it was anything but. She couldn’t shift the blame for this. She couldn’t even blame the nameless man with the enchanting smile, although she had tried many times. She was God of her own mistakes. She had thought little about the event itself, so wrapped up was she in its consequences. She had thought little of the joyous laughter and rolling pleasure. Instead she focused on the bitter taste it had left on her skin and the way she may never be able to wash it off. She studied the envelope hard and held it to the light to try and gage its contents. She saw nothing but a blank space and chose to take this as a bad omen.

 She hovered the letter over the bin, wondering how it would feel to never know. Innocence would be bliss but she already knew so much, how could she forget either way? How could she continue naively, doing to others what he had done to her? She couldn’t inflict that kind of horror. She needed to know, and then she would be able to move forward, to cleanse herself. The corner of the envelope had come unstuck and she pulled at it hesitantly, fear convulsing through her body. The contents were revealed bit by bit, the white paper looking as innocent as the envelope had before them. She unfolded the letter slowly, knowing it could all change in just a few simple moments. The health centre logo glared at her as she began unravelling the letter’s secrets and she took a deep breath. The letter was brief and of this she was glad. She skipped through the small paragraph to the bottom of the page, where the important information lay in wait. ‘HIV-Negative’ it stated, plain as day. 

Oops

So, I accidentally forgot to blog for nearly a year. In fact, my blog has been null and void for longer than it was active. I started with such good intentions, hopes of posting out miraculous messages to the blogosphere. Instead, I fizzled and died when I realised I didn’t have anything much left to say. Hopefully, over the year, I have collected some information worth sharing. I think the main problem with my blog was its lack of focus. The blog of a struggling author seems overdone. I need more of a slant. As I am unsure what  that slant could be, I’m just going to write and hope that the slant appears. These things often do.

Not a lot has happened in the past year. In fact, 2012 was a pretty negative year, mainly because it was so bland. Nothing changed. A year without change is the most depressing type of year. Change, after all, allows us to see that we are progressing. That said, I consider 2012 the year I became serious about my writing, which is a pretty big achievement truth be told.

I am still unpublished and depressed about it. My writing for 2013 seems very different from my writing for 2012 though and I don’t feel so focused on publication. This development is largely a result of Anne Lamott’s wise words in ‘Bird by Bird’. I think she’s right when she says that publication is, if anything, a disappointment. I suppose it’s another one of those things that we are convinced will make us happy, but once we have it, we realise that it doesn’t change a thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still my ultimate hope but I don’t want to compromise my writing for that goal anymore. I realised that the stories I wrote last year were well and truly appealable to mass market but I wasn’t proud of them. They certainly weren’t the stories I would want to read, or that I would want my friends to read. SO, with Anne Lamott’s advice in mind, I am writing what I would want to read and not giving a damn whether it’s publishable or not. I was also touched by her point that everything she had ever written was a letter to somebody she loved. I have tried doing the same and it is amazing how much more alive the writing becomes when it’s written for someone you love, rather than just for an unknown audience.

The only other thing of consequence that’s been happening in my life is the end of my reclusive phase. Well, I say the end. It hasn’t ended yet, but I intend for it to. Small steps, like logging into Facebook chat, have resulted in a good few conversation and in one case, being reunited with somebody whom I once loved a great deal and am coming to love again. My year of reclusivity was a glorious relief, and was definitely necessary for getting my head and my life in order. This said, now that I am re-emerging myself into the world of socialisation, I can see that people are necessary. There is nothing better than talking to somebody who has something amazing to say. People can teach you things you would never have known alone. Even so, it’s pretty tough to get people to talk to you when you’ve spent the last year in your own mind. This I understand, why should they bother when I haven’t? I suppose I have a long way to go in getting people to care about me again. I suppose I deserve that. I just hope that one day, they will understand why I needed to be alone for a while.

So that’s about it. Told you there hadn’t been much going on. Even so, it’s been nice to breathe some life back into this thing. I only hope I can keep the flow going.

Olivia x

A Twist in the Plot

Recently, it has come to my attention that plot twists are not my strong point. This got me thinking about whether a twist is absolutely necessary for a good story. Don’t get me wrong, a twist in the plot can make a good story better but I don’t think it’s strictly necessary. The thriller genre is an exception to this rule, a thriller with no twists would be quite dull, but I am no thriller writer! I almost feel that short stories are too short for a substantial twist as there is not a big enough word count to build up to them. There is of course the surprise ending but that’s a whole different story! Maybe, as I work on my novel I will find that twists naturally emerge when I have more words to play with. Talking of which, I feel as though it’s about time to make a start on my novel. I could always do more planning but planning is a dangerous thing, it would be easy to plan for a year and get no writing at all done. I’ve never been a fan of the plan and have been relieved to read recently that many writers like to start writing with barely any plan at all. I feel that the best plan is one that comes from the writing itself. The characters tend to tell the story themselves if you let them. It is for this reason that I am going to do brief character sketches and then make a start! Very excited about that journey!

Olivia x

A Low Moment

The arrival of my monthly magazine has brought with it the confirmation that I have not been successful with my competition entry. This has left me swamped with bad feelings about EVERYTHING. I know these rejections are just a fact of the writing life but that doesn’t stop me dwelling in the bog of dissatisfaction. Tonight, I feel as though everything I have ever written is of poor and boring quality. Where is my character development? Where is my gripping plot? Nowhere, that’s where. I am unable to judge whether this feeling of failure comes simply from my disappointment or whether there is truth to my worries. I intend to spend the evening reading the winning entries and sulking. On a brighter note, here is a piece I have begun about the end of the world (obviously an overwritten subject but one I felt I should play about with anyway).

When the planets align, the world will end. That is what was predicted and now we know it will happen. I have been sat in the darkness for at least a day now, just waiting for this to be over. My hands are shaking from the hunger and the cold but I dare not move from the mattress that has become my home. I gain comfort in knowing that the whole world is underground with me, even though I can’t see them. I cannot believe this day has come. I remember when we used to talk about this in school, joking about what we would be doing right at our last moments. We never knew then that the gospels were true. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have been laughing. The warning came only yesterday evening. Slipped among the news of petrol shortages and celebrities was the statement that the world was soon to end. I laughed with shock when I heard, staring into the face of the newsreader as she continued as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The world has always been full of half-truths and cover-ups but this is one story they couldn’t gloss over.

Olivia x

A Long Time

I feel like my blog has come to a complete standstill and for this I apologise. My writing, like my blog, has also been somewhat neglected in past weeks and I long for my writing classes to start again so I can get back into the swing of things. Life seems to me filled with things i have to do, I am so torn as to which task to get through that I end up doing none at all because it seems easier than choosing. Take at the moment for example; I am in the middle of reading a book, trying to keep up with my blog, trying to keep my writing going, trying to learn guitar, trying to start drawing more often, trying to knit a blanket etc. etc. etc. Not to forget the ever tempting idea of watching television and doing absolutely nothing. Oh and then there’s work. If only there were more hours in the day. Reading, I am ashamed to say, is my most time consuming hobby. I have been feeling for a long while that my love for reading borders on addiction. The idea of a day without reading sends me into a whirlwind of panic. As there are worse things to be addicted to, I have decided to let that one slide. In ‘The Artist’s Way’, there is a challenge to give up reading for a week to see how much creative time is freed up. Quite a lot I imagine but I didn’t even attempt to achieve that goal, it was just too hard for me. I cringe to think of the amount of potential writing time that has been spent curled up in someone else’s imagination.

I feel especially in the last few weeks, that my writing self has taken a back seat to get immersed in my bookcase. I have however begun small steps towards my first novel. I am in the very early planning stages but am already enjoying the idea of being a novelist. Short stories are all well and good but the length and depth of a novel seems very appealing to me at the moment. I am excited to meet my characters and have them show me the way things are going to be. I have a feeling it will be a great relationship! In my quest for deeper characters, I have stumbled upon a gem of a book which I would recommend to anyone, writer or not. ‘Writer’s guide to Character Traits’ by Linda N Edelstein is by far the best book i have come across for writers. The pages are filled with Edelstein’s findings as a psychologist and covers character sketches for just about anybody you can imagine. From toddlers to murderers, it has everything. I warn you, it is very easy to get carried away. I had a quick flick through when it arrived yesterday and was still engrossed four hours later. Not only is the book a very helpful guide for writers, it is also fascinating!

In other news, i have still not heard back from a single competition. This is heartbreaking and I have resorted to checking my e-mails about three times a day just to double check. My new development is to check the junk mail section just in case. This obsessive behaviour is disheartening but I long so badly for that e-mail telling of my success. I will not be put off by this lack of news however; having only entered four competitions, I feel that I have a lot more failure to come before success. Failure, after all, is the best way to improvement. I also feel it’s difficult with competitions, because no matter how good a story may be, there’s no guaranteeing that the other’s entries aren’t a whole lot better. Not to worry, perseverance is key after all.

Olivia x

My Stationary Obsessions

I have adored stationary since a young age. The look of a stationary shop has filled me with glee ever since I can remember. As with all obsessions, this comes with it’s difficulties. I cannot walk past without purchasing something. Imagine my glee then when I found a valid reason to buy endless notebooks. My excuse soon became, I need it for my writing, and people would leave it at that. This worked for a while but then the problem grew as my notebook collection soared to uncontrollable levels. I couldn’t be satisfied with just the one notebook, I needed them all and I needed to be using them all. Once a new notepad was purchased, I didn’t feel like writing in the old one any more, the new crisp whiteness was so much more appealing. This resulted in a variety of half filled pads lying around the place which created a feeling of unease in me because I hate to leave things incomplete! This is not a problem I have stumbled across for a while because, although my list of empty pads now stands at 6, I have found I am not using them as much. To be honest this saddens me greatly because there is nothing more fulfilling than flicking through their pages and seeing the words flash past your eyes. Now I find that all my work is stored in a file, on the computer. The main reason for this is that, to write a short story long handed would take over double the time. On top of the fact that I don’t like rough pieces in my pads. They hold the creme de la creme of my writing! I cringe at the idea of somebody picking one up to have a read and seeing scribbles and rubbish all over the place. Needless to say, the pads are for my eyes only but you never know! If I were to die, I wouldn’t want my name soiled when people came across my notepads and wondered what on earth they were all about. It’s also for my well being, if my pads are in a state of disarray, then so is my mind. It is for these reasons that the computer has become a favourable choice but I have vowed to myself from today to begin using my old friends again. The gems in my pads (ranging back from the grand age of thirteen,) have gotten me through many a hard time and it’s a tradition I intend to stick with. My dad recently told me to install and app. on my phone that would allow me to take notes wherever I am. I was dismayed! They really do have apps. for everything nowadays. A sticky on the screen of my phone could not compare to the joys my beautiful scribblings can afford me! Anyway, having now resolved to reinstate my notepads, I have come to a cross roads. To continue with my barely dented notepad, or start fresh on a shiny new one. Old habits die hard…

Olivia x

Limbo

My writing course ended two weeks ago and doesn’t begin again for a month. I have found that this makes inspiration very hard to come by. With my weekly writing class came a weekly activity to be read out loud in the following class. I found the definite deadline a real plus when I was working. Every week, I knew what I was writing and why I was writing it. Since classes have stopped, I have felt that I am writing into oblivion. It’s not that inspiration has come to a complete standstill as I do have a number of ideas on the go but I’m finding it so much harder to kickstart myself. When I do manage to get started, I am still haunted by the lingering feeling that all my hard work is pointless. I can’t see where I’m going anymore. I suppose that is to be expected when one is starting out but I do miss feeling as though there was a reason for what I was doing. For example, I finish work early on Wednesdays and would normally write a first draft of my piece on Wednesday afternoon/evening in preparation for the next class. I still attempt to nominate Wednesday’s as my main writing day but it is so much harder to avoid distraction without that sense of urgency. All I can say is bring on May and the promise a new term of classes brings for my productivity!

Olivia x

Unbelievable

I am having difficulty with making situations seem realistic. To a certain extent, artistic licence is to be considered, but it gets to a point where things can be a little too contrived. This is leaving me at a dead end because good ideas are being put by the wayside for being too unrealistic. Things have to match up and I’m not understanding how to achieve that. Take the piece I’m writing now for example. The idea is that it’s a short story on the subject of heart transplant. My original plan was to write from the perspective of the mother of the deceased (a twenty-four year old male) and the perspective of the transplant recipient (a woman, also in her twenties, who feels indebted to live her life to the full from then on). My first issue arose when I did a brief research period on the subject of heart transplant which proved pretty fruitless. It seemed to me, despite what television programs would have us believe, that the majority of transplants are performed on people who are either extremely young or extremely old. Typical, I thought. I also preferably wanted the heart disease to  somehow be self-inflicted so I could incorporate a feeling of guilt into the scenario. I wanted to explore that she felt unworthy of the heart. Other than genetic factors however, I could find no realistic cases of self inflicted heart disease in a twenty- something year old. I decided, after much frustration, that I would leave this section of the story to artistic licence and made a short and undecided reference to the woman smoking cigarettes in her teen years. 

 The second issue arose with the mother. This was a different issue altogether and one I couldn’t find such an easy answer to. My hope was that the mother, outraged at having lost her son so young, would track down the recipient of his heart and vent her anger. This was to tie in with the previous idea of self-inflicted heart disease that had  gone so pear shaped. When the time came however, I could not think of a believable reason for the mother gaining access to the recipient. Realistically, the mother of a donor would never be given the name of the recipient for privacy reasons of both parties. The only way I could find around this issue was for the mother to be conveniently left alone in the corridor after the doctor had gone home and left his office door unlocked. He had also conveniently left his filing cabinets unlocked. To top off all of that, the recipient of the heart happened to be in a hospital just down the road. I feel that all these things together are just far too contrived. It saddens me, because I love the idea of the story, it’s just so difficult to find a realistic way to convey events. I would love to hear how other people cope with this problem? Until then however, I may just carry on writing and hope that artistic licence can get me to the end of the story. 

Olivia x

The Importance of Having Fun

I feel as though I have been neglecting my blogging duties as of late. It’s difficult to know how much one should blog really. This post is being brought to you from my brand new macbook, it arrived today and cost me a hefty chunk of my savings. It seemed a wasteful idea, buying a new laptop when I had a perfectly good one, but if I can’t treat myself then who will? 

Today’s post is predominantly about the importance of having fun. I have begun reading ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin. A beautiful self help book about what creates happiness. It was with this in mind that I spent the day with my one year old cousin at a horse rescue center. It struck me that kids get to do all the best things while adults are supposed to sit about missing out. An example of this is when the time came for rabbit holding. I rushed in, more excited than my cousin, only to find that there was no place for adults. I wanted to hold the rabbit as well and why shouldn’t I! Being older does not mean that it’s no longer important to enjoy myself. The same situation arose when it came to the play park. After an hour of watching my cousin meander about and timidly play on things, I took it upon myself to get well and truly stuck in. I zoomed down the death slide! Children looked at me in disgust. There are various times in life when it has saddened me that adults seem to forget how to have fun somewhere along the line. I recall reading the book ‘Naive. Super.’ by Erlend Loe, a sweetly gentle book that outlined how important it is to play. I could not agree more. If we forget how to play, then how can we happy? Many times, I have been called childish as an insult. To me, it is crucial to remain childish, otherwise we may as well give up all hope.

Olivia x