From Genesis to Tribulation (and Beyond!)

Making Friends with the Crocodile was born early one morning – around 4 a.m. – in a Stream of Consciousness that demanded I get up out of bed and write page after page of notes on scenes and characters and the plot development.

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The whole novel was written in much the same way. Generally, I write as a pantser rather than a plotter – I’m terrible at planning out my writing, preferring instead to dive in and see where it takes me. But Making Friends with the Crocodile was written linearly, and other than the grammar and general tidying up, very little was changed in edit.

The book I’m working on now, though, had a far more troubled genesis. Maybe everyone has this problem with the second novel, unless it’s the second one of a planned series. I knew I wanted to write another novel that ‘said’ something, and that I wanted to set this one in India, too, but after that I went blank. I had decided to write about the English in India, or at least one of them, but had no plot.

We went on holiday, and for much of the week we were away I took a few hours out each day to work on the plot, filling my notebook with ideas and characters and working up a central theme, and once we were home again I started work on the novel.

But as I wrote, I found I was dissatisfied with the central plot. It seemed rather unlikely and, frankly, not that interesting. I didn’t even like my working title (I wonder how important that can be, psychologically?) I changed a few bits around, and turned the sub-plot into the main theme, and carried on. Eventually, I realised that I had lost interest in the whole project, despite the thirty thousand-odd words I’d written, and returned to an earlier, shelved project.

I worked on that for a while, but every now and again had ideas for the one I’d just abandoned, duly noted them down, and carried on. About three months later, I spent an afternoon going through notes and suddenly had an idea for two new sub-plots and a couple of new characters. These I liked Very Much Indeed.

I returned to the Abandoned Novel With the Uninteresting Working Title and got stuck in. I even had a new working title: A Good Place. It now stands at around seventy five thousand words, and the first draft is almost complete. There are a few gaps to fill in, but otherwise it is almost ready to put aside for a few months ready to edit.

So exciting!

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Back Again

Well, I am back.

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I never seriously contemplated abandoning my blog, although I admit there were times I felt tempted. And although I regularly visited my Facebook account, I didn’t post anything to my author page and only really visited to stay in contact with some people.

My sharp-eyed viewer will notice a couple of new pages on this blog. There is now a page with links to all the short stories I have published, to make it easier to locate them should you wish to read or re-read them.

There is also a page of links to all the poems published on here – I had no idea there were so many!

You’re welcome.

There was a lot going on in my life and I needed a lot of space to just try and sort some of it out. Some of it is still on-going, but I think I’m in a position to come back and give a reasonable amount of time to blogging.

But, as well as doing life, I have been busy writing. Probably the main thing I have managed to do is take my stop-start novel set in a fictitious hill station in Northern India from around 35,000 words up to the point where it is an almost completed first draft of just over 70,000 words. And I have a working title for it: A Good Place.

I’ve half-written a few blog posts, although I had intended to prepare lots more. Oh well. For the moment I will go back to posting roughly twice a week and see how that goes.

And I’ve faffed around a bit with a short story. All in all, other than the novel, not a lot. But I am pleased with the novel so far. I sorted out the sub-plots and brought in a number of new characters. And it is finally at the point where I can allow myself to think ‘Yes, almost there!’

And I don’t think until now I’d really understood how absolutely driven it was possible to be when writing; how the Work In Progress can come to utterly dominate your waking life – incessantly thinking about it and tweaking and refining the plots and characters, almost to the exclusion of all else.

Clearly, I need to get it finished.

Writing Update

When I started this blog almost three years ago, it was with the intention of both writing about writing, and building a bit of an audience for my own writing.

It has altered rather a lot in that time, but I try not to completely lose sight of those aims. One of those aims is to every now and again blow my own trumpet a little bit, as well as bring you up to date with what I’m writing at the moment.

And, today’s that day again, as since the last time I posted about my book I seem to have gained a lot of new followers (well, quite a few – see 1000 Up), including a good number from India, where the story takes place.

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About the book…

This is a story concerning both the way that women are seen and how they are treated in traditional Indian society. I am extremely fortunate in that I have received many kind reviews for the book, and would like to quote part of one of these:

This beautifully written story, set in a village in Bihar, draws you in from its first page. We see the household through the eyes of Siddiqa, wife of Maajid, mother of two school-age girls and her son Tariq, who is married to Naira. We are drawn into the rivalry between Siddiqa and Naira, in a society where the men are the only wage earners and the women’s lives must, by tradition, revolve around their wishes. Small incidents pile up, one after another, as the underlying harmony of the household is fractured by the resentment and self-loathing of Naira. The family is Moslem, the village is a mix of Moslem and Hindu, and one incident threatens the uneasy cohabitation of the two communities. The police, seen as a hostile force in the village, get involved with an unpredictable outcome to the novel.

And it can be bought by clicking on this link: Making Friends With The Crocodile

And what am I up to at the moment?

Goodness me, much too much, as usual.

Some of you may remember I have been working on a novel with the working title of The Assassin’s Garden for quite a while, in an on and off sort of way. It had grown into what threatened to become a trilogy, but I recently decided that much of the plot line no longer worked for me.

With that in mind, I began reworking the first part into what I thought would simply become a novella or novelette (I can never remember which is which), but with a new thread and suddenly a new set of ideas linking them, it looks as though the trilogy is still very much on.

So the new first book is some 30,000 words in length at the moment, and looking good!

I am also working on a short story in response to one written by a friend, a rather tongue-in-cheek Sherlock Holmes mystery. I may post it later this year on the blog.

I’ve several other short stories put aside for the present, as is the other novel I’m working on sporadically.

Speaking of short stories, though, I decided against publishing the collection of short stories I had planned for last winter. I felt they didn’t really work as a collection – I felt I’d rather have a more coherent theme (such as ghost stories, or Indian stories or what have you). One of them has now been published in a collection by my writing group (Stories From Anywhere), and I have submitted another for the follow-up book which will be out later this year, hopefully. I’m sure the others will see the light of day in some form or another at some point!

Every now and again I churn out another poem, although I see these largely as a bit of an educational exercise. I’d love to write good poetry, but…

With luck, I’ll get some of them finished this year!

Annapurna Circuit, Nepal – 5: A Life Less Lived?

It could have happened.

Everybody needs a challenge.

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Sunset on Everest and Nuptse from Tengboche, Nepal.

Well, most do. I guess there are a few people who are so content with their lot they have no wish to stray out of the round of their day to day life, but I think they must make up a tiny minority.

And while it is a great achievement to be satisfied with your life, and not to constantly want a more expensive car, or clothes or jewellery, we all need something to strive for, otherwise we tend to stagnate.

Even the most altruistic, who might strive to eradicate poverty, or bring justice where there is none, need a more personal challenge sometimes.

For some it might be speed – the need to have a go on a fast motor cycle or racing car somewhere. Maybe to try a bungee jump. To feel the adrenaline surge that comes with the mixture of excitement and fear.

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On Lake Dal, Srinagar, Kashmir, India.

For others it might be the very opposite. Many of us need the opportunity to spend time away from the 21st century. Those of us who do not like the noise and speed and intensity of our modern life, need to find respite in places like the mountains, or deserts, or somewhere else remote from modern life. Woodlands at night, perhaps, or a windswept beach on an island. The challenge is frequently to find these places or to access them. Perhaps even to make the time to do so.

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Monks on their way to morning Puja, Bodhgaya, India.

Those are the sort of places I need, and where I often feel I can do my best creative work. The only places I feel I can really relax.

And the reason I had to walk the Annapurna Circuit.

Just while putting together this set of posts, at times I have looked around the room at the photographs of the Annapurnas, the maps, then at my rucksack in the corner, and felt an almost irresistible urge to just…go.

This sense of adventure is frequently in conflict with the other strands of my life, though, because (like most people) my lack of money and the demands of work and family, and other commitments, prevent me just scooting off for a week or month away whenever I feel like it.

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A track through fields and woods a mile or so from where I live.

But I have always tried to take the opportunity to go off to these places when I could, as I reasoned that I couldn’t know how long I would still be able to.

What made me determined to do this was a missed opportunity when I was working temporarily in Peru. I knew that when I finished my six week stint and returned to UK, I might no longer have a job. So when I was offered the chance to stay on for a week to visit Cuzco and Machu Pichu with friends I declined, even though it would only have cost about a hundred dollars for the whole trip. And I regretted it ever afterwards.

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Little Adam’s Peak, Ella, Sri Lanka.

I have no intention of looking back on my life later and wishing I had done these things when I had the opportunity.

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In 1988 – thirty years ago! – I walked the Annapurna Circuit. This has long been regarded as one of the top ten walks in the world, and is certainly the walk I have enjoyed most. I put up a post about the circuit a year and a half ago (here) should you wish to read it, but as a celebration of that anniversary, I thought I would put up some more photographs over several posts.

Today, they are all from our second day’s walk.

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We camped the whole way, since there was virtually no accommodation on the route then. It was sometimes possible to sleep on the floor of a tea-house, but that usually meant an uncomfortable night in a very smoky atmosphere, and probably not a great deal warmer than a tent. It meant we were travelling with four guides, a couple of cooks, a couple of ‘kitchen boys’, and an average of fifteen to twenty porters (every so often one or two would leave, and others get hired from a village we were passing through).

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We began our walk from Gorkha, walking through the Terai – the sub-tropical forest region that stretches across most of Southern Nepal and much of the Himalayan Foothills of Northern India. This was a land of small rural villages, terraced fields carved painstakingly out of the hillsides, and, naturally, wooded hillsides.

Much of the woodland had already gone, cut both as clearance for fields and for fuel and fodder. It was already leading to much soil erosion and the degradation of the remaining soils. With the passage of thirty years, this can only have got worse.

On day 2 we walked from our campsite beside the Dharandi Khola to the settlement of Chepe Ghat.

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Transport in these areas was entirely by foot, usually in the form of porters who carried massive loads upon their backs. Occasionally by pony, or by bullock, but never by yak – they do not survive at these comparatively low altitudes. In 1988, walking the Annapurna Circuit was entirely on tracks and paths, since there were no roads of any description on our route. Today, there are motorable roads along part of it, but back then we did not see or hear a motorised vehicle for the duration of the trek.

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Building materials in these areas were, and predominantly still are, wood, thatch, and mud. Stone was used only in larger settlements.

The boy pictured above, incidentally, will now be in his late thirties.

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Wooded hillsides, with the terraced fields belonging to a nearby village encroaching.

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Rice paddy – terraced fields flooded for the planting of rice, the staple crop of the Nepal Lowlands.

Prayer Flags

Prayer flags are found wherever Tibetan Buddhism is found. As they flutter in the breeze, they use this wind to send blessings out into the world. Through many parts of the Himalaya they adorn monasteries and humble homes, chortens and bamboo flagpoles. They are tied in their hundreds and thousands to bridges, above mountain peaks, and in the courtyards of every conceivable building.

Elsewhere, they are to be found wherever exiled Tibetans live, and wherever their school of Buddhism flourishes.

The makers of the flags intend the prayers and blessings that adorn them not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of all beings.

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Prayer flags in the Yumtang Valley, Sikkim, India.

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Prayer flags, Observatory Hill, Darjeeling, India.

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Prayer flags outside a monastery in Sikkim, India.

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Prayer flags adorn a pair of chortens and walls of prayer wheels in Khumjung, Nepal.

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Prayer flags at Tengboche, Nepal.

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And adorning a bridge of the Dudh Khosi, again in Nepal.

Just Look at Ghat!

Ouch! Probably my worst title yet!

I can’t help it…I’ve not been well…

…well, only a cold, but you know what we men are like.

In another attempt to feel instantly better, I’ve nipped across to North India (only in my imagination, unfortunately), to picture Kedar Ghat, on the banks of the Ganges, in Varanasi.

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Ghats, a Hindi word, are sets of steps leading down to a river (and also mountain ranges or passes – The eastern and Western Ghats in Central India). It has also come to mean a level place at the edge of a river where Hindus cremate their dead.

In Varanasi, there are between 84 and 87 ghats, depending upon who you get this information from,. The Manikarnika Ghat, or Ghats (possibly this is the origin of the confusion over the number) is the ‘burning ghat’, where cremations are carried out 24 hours a day, all through the year. The source fire there has supposedly been burning for thousands of years, but photography is actively discouraged, hence my only shot is one taken from a distance.

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Of course, the ghats are also used for bathing. Hindus bathe en masse there, as a dip in the Ganges is meant to wash away sins. Important pujas (ceremonies) take place at sunrise and sunset. Boat trips to view the ghats are very popular, and finally much of the city’s laundry gets done at the dhobi ghats (dhobi meaning laundry).

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Namaste!

Writing Update

Monthly update, I called my post a couple of months ago. Monthly, indeed. Ho ho. I should know myself better than that.

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So I’ll call this ‘Writing Update’ so as not to create any false expectations., especially as I have rather less time on my hands at the moment than I’ve been used to.

I aim to publish a book of short stories in the next few months – possibly around Christmas, although that’s more by accident than design. At present, I intend to call it A Dozen Destinies. My wife is currently beta reading each story, and I am editing based on her observations. Once that is done, I will look for one or two other beta readers to cast their eyes over them

I have made steady progress on my still untitled novel, set in a fictitious hill station in the Indian Himalaya, which is currently somewhere around 50,000 and 55,000 words long (I haven’t counted recently).

The Assassins Garden…sitting in a metaphorical drawer at the moment. I’ll come back to that in due course.

And the picture above? Well, most people who tinker around with photo manipulation programs aim to produce the perfect picture – colour and composition and this and that and the other. I’ve become interested in taking them down to a rather more stark, basic place.

Not to everyone’s taste, I guess.

Go On A Journey!

Everyone should go on a journey; a journey of discovery.

Even if they only do it once.

The journey will be different for everyone. No two journeys will be the same. But what they will have in common is that they will all be journeys where the traveller discovers something about themselves, as well as the environment where they have chosen to journey. The essence of the journey is that it gives the traveller both time and space to think; that on the journey they allow themselves to be open to new sights and thoughts and people.

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For some, it will be a carefully curated tour to a country with a different culture to their own. Perhaps a Westerner travelling to Nepal or Cambodia, or an Indian visiting Spain or Iceland, with a carefully prepared itinerary designed to help them get the most out of their journey.

For some, it could be much the same, but as an independent traveller. They would have the flexibility to either keep to a strict itinerary, or to go off somewhere new as the whim takes them. Because everyone’s sense of adventure is different.

For some, it will be a long, long trek through difficult terrain, pushing themselves physically and mentally every step of the way.

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For some, it might also be a long journey, but under easier conditions, where the aim is more one of contemplation, perhaps a pilgrimage of sorts.

For others, the difficult terrain might be that of their prejudices and fears – the terrain of the mind.

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What starts as a pilgrimage might end up in your discovering that you do not believe in God; well, that is fine. Remember, it is perfectly possible to be a spiritual person without believing in any god.

Although what ‘spiritual’ actually means is not so easy to nail down. I think of it as pertaining to the spirit, rather than to material things. In that sense, I would associate altruism with the spiritual, and greed with the material. A sense of calm and peace with the spiritual, a rowdy hedonism with the material.

For some, the journey might be from their house to a town or village a few miles away, and the journey might take no longer than a day.

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It is essential, though, that the journey is undertaken for the sake of the journey. The destination is, in some ways, unimportant. It is what happens on that journey that matters.

Many, perhaps, will journey without realising that they have done so, or arrive at their destination not realising that is what it is. They might only realise later.

Some will arrive at a totally unexpected destination, and perhaps that is the best destination of all.

Go on, then, off you go!