Anna and my writing routine

A work-mate’s post on her writing routine encouraged me to remember that there are techniques to the relaxation, brain engagement and atmosphere elements to writing; ways to coax out the best of your imagination and finesse by making it feel special. So, here is a little dedication to my own red carpet treatment…

During the past year or so, until life got so full, I had been taking one whole day a week off with a friend for a tea-fuelled (milk, no sugar, brewed for two minutes only) brainstorming and writing session, a bit Pythonesque.

Here we talked about sleep paralysis, about fairy tales, about maidens sealed in glass coffins where they would sleep and be observed for eternity, about demons and incubi, about the people who wait for others that they are bound to. It was here that we came up with the premises for both of the full length plays we have written together, Wait and Close.

The Nightmare

Wait turned into a Victorian gothic thriller focussing around a young trainee doctor who takes on the role of guardian at a wealthy household,  to watch a young woman, the only child. Locked in her bedroom with her day after day until he can no longer relate to his previous concept of time, the doctor sifts through evidence of a life before her constant, unshakeable sleep, gradually piecing together his own perspective of her being, her habits and story.  The room is plagued with incubi, haunting her body and taunting his mind, controlling everything. The doctor begins to lose his grip, while yet forming an inseparable bond to his situation.

Close , initially my friend’s brainchild, became an unexpected free joy to work on; having never taken on someone else’s original idea and developed it with them before, I found it an incredible experience, at times of course unsteady, but with reassurance and a lot of faith on her part, it really blossomed. At every stage  – the director’s vision in proposal, the first set design chats, the actors coming in – the script grew, changing and settling at once, and the result was something very satisfying, something we will return to again and again.

Anyway, I digress (a large part of my routine). Before a few years ago, I had never understood the concept of writing with someone else, or even writing in company. Then I had a housemate called Anna, who was rather dependent on company, and used to come in and just sit next to me to read in our snug. This was something I had never done before – we would sit quietly, getting on with our own thing, but we were with each other. I grew to find it a real comfort.

Now, I find it difficult to get on with writing or other work without someone here – granted, this is usually a gaming or sleeping boyfriend; perhaps I need someone to ignore, but I am fond of the company nonetheless. I am dependent on having a dependent in the room. A distraction to overcome, a ‘hello’ and a cuddle to work towards.

Other ‘techniques’ I utilise tend to be being known as a writer, and consequently receiving plenty of beautiful notebooks as presents, and getting excited about moving through each one to the next. The cat also helps, of course, by sticking her arse in my face every now and then.

That pretty much sums it up for me really. Despite my OCD in other areas of life, I am surprisingly messy when it comes to writing. I wait for latent inspiration and then just run with it in the moments I feel energised by an idea. I wouldn’t preach my approach, but I am grateful for because it serves me well enough and I produce material that I am proud of.

As far as stimulus goes, I am freshly obsessed with Freshly Pressed, and I do like to whack on a ‘bangin toon’ like this to keep me going sometimes…

Wayside #5: Mum

It is 2000. I am not celebrating the millenium. My mum has picked me up from school (I am in year nine) and has paused on the way home in a little layby on the country lane.

She is telling me something ridiculous. Impossible. Something that makes absolutely no sense, follows no logic. Something that makes me no better than all those kids I don’t respect. All those kids that are stupid; whose stupidity is blamed on their situation. I am a stupid kid now.

She tells me that she and Dad are getting a divorce. I have an inkling that it is her decision, despite the shell-shock suddenness of the fact that they are even parting. This was never an option. I have clever parents. I am infallible.

Yes, they are miserable, but no, they would never break up. Don’t be stupid.

I cry quite a bit, I’m not sure why really, and I think of these things; who my parents will be friends with (who will get the old friends, and who they will find anew), where I will live, the inevitabile Choice, Christmas, school, explanations, associations, prejudice. I feel confusion most of all.

Eleven years down the line, my parents are still bitter and childish when it comes to speaking of each other and their doings, their habits, their traits. I can’t count the scoffs, the rolled eyes, the bitten tongues. If I’m brutally honest, it certainly did change me. I avoid them like the plague, moved so far away for university that I made it difficult, near impossible, to visit them, and when I do actually get to spend time with them I watch my language like a nursery assistant. The smallest trigger and they’re off.

However, two very positive things have come out of it – my family my be didvided, but it is growing, in the shape of my step-mother and her new bump. We’ve never had littles in the family before, and my brother and I can’t wait. Perhaps the prospect of a little practice for my own future endeavours, with one so close to my heart, will shorten the distance of the journey ‘home’.

And that concludes my wayside series. I’m sure, however, you feel there is something I’ve left unsaid… Tell me your stories.

Wayside #4: Jamie

It is 2008. I am on msn chat. Jamie is telling me – typing in his bedroom – that he has gone round to see, and kissed-and-stuff, his ex. In my bedroom three minutes down the road, I see these words pop up on my screen, one sentence, one afterthought, at a time. I have short, dark hair. Chin-length, dyed.

I go to a friend’s house. We pretend to ourselves and to each other that we are working on a project together, instead of killing time and distracting me from what might otherwise be dealt more attention than it was worth. We are aiming for a swift upheaval from a silly game that I almost sat down to play for keeps. She dances around to songs that she ‘loved’, and I hated, at the top of her usual scale of animation and liveliness. I appreciate it, but am my usual subdued self. An observer. I feel like I am waiting for something.

Jamie calls me something like ten times. I ignore it. Eventually she answers, with my permission, and speaks to him patiently, telling him that I don’t want to talk to him. He sends a message that says he is pacing around thinking, and could I call him if I can? I don’t call. I stay the night at my friend’s house, probably the only time I ever do this during my uni life save for drunken laziness. I don’t have the same kind of friendships here that I did in the Forest. Here, it is about drink, or projects. Not mutual personal interests or shared experience.

A week later, I hear there was more than a kiss. I hear there was a lot more to the ex than I realised. Everything the ex had said to me in a horrendous chance encounter was probably, not true, but as good as true. I should have let that dog lie. I find myself laughing. The whole thing is ridiculous. I am above it. Another week later, I go to him. I proffer friendship and forgiveness. I will later know that this was too readily given.

We chat, we laugh, he is awkward, I am less so than before. I come out of my shell. We part ways, having known each other very briefly in this capacity, and I think,

“What good closure.”

He asks when he will see me next. Somehow, we are back on. I decide to let this roll. Go with the flow. It took him two years to persuade me to be with him, I might as well give it more than a paltry two weeks and one mistake.

Two weeks later, I am in the Forest. I am on msn chat. I have been taking photos of the big house and garden to show Jamie. Jamie types to me, hundreds of miles away, that he is stressed; I am stressful, this is too intense, he doesn’t want all this, he doesn’t want a relationship, he needs space. The same words are appearing on my screen again, but this time without the excuse of another girl.

Hours later, I am still on msn.

A friend fills the gaps and tells me about the other girl. This time, I take it to heart.

Like where I’m going with this one? Introduction and other posts in this series at the wayside.

Wayside #3: Martyn-with-a-y

It is 2004. July. Martyn-with-a-y is later than me to get here. Busses in the Forest aren’t great. I sit against a tree trunk and read a book. By the time he arrives, I am anxious, but I hold that in. I don’t blurt or blabber, I am just grateful to see him. I smile and say little. We have not seen each other for a few weeks. Parent taxis in the Forest aren’t great either.

We almost run through everything before I even stand up. By the roadside, the crossroadside… We run through the positives and the negatives, the logistics of why we should or shouldn’t invest more time in this bond.

“I don’t really want it to end, but then I don’t really… mind if it does. I don’t have any strong feelings either way really.” I nod. It has fizzled out. Somewhere, I must have done something wrong. I gave him too much space, maybe.

We wander through the woods for a long while, our last sunny alone time. He remarks on how the bracken smells like semen. I remember how he likened egg-white similarly inappropriately the first time I had dinner at his house, with his mum. I think that I’m going to miss his bent for inappropriate conversation.

I obsess over Martyn-with-a-y for a good few years, perhaps several, perhaps more. I tell people how he was the love of my life, and is still one of my best friends even though we don’t talk more than once in a blue moon, we understand each other, he is patient and supportive with me, he is there when I really need him.

I call him years later when I go for a test at a hospital in the nearest city to my hometown – still an unfamiliar, ugly environment to me, alien. He answers, and listens, and even gives compassionate words of support. I love him still.

I think of him most fondly of all those who have left, imagine that it’s him who rescues me when I am alone and in doubt, and with no prospects on the horizon, when I am sad and unfulfilled, it is him who turns up out of the blue and pronounces his mistake, his regret and his wish to make ammends and catch up.

It is 2011. I am in love again. I love and am in love, and am loved. Martyn-with-a-y is alive, well and happy, somewhere, and I am sure that I still need him, but only in that capacity – I am happy as long as he is happy, as I am with any other of my friends that I truly care about.

Like where I’m going with this one? Introduction and other posts in this series at the wayside.

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Wayside #2: Pete

It is 2008. A boy just older than me stands in my shared house university bedroom doorway, anticipation on his face that is hanging from two ropes; one strung from the intention of a mirthful jab-in-the-ribs, the other proffering encouragingly a quick exit from this god-awful awkwardness that he has created for himself.

“I’ll keep you my dirty little secret…” plays from his iPod, through my speakers, the sentiment behind this having just moments ago been a dirty little secret even more well-kept, in his own mind, alone, without me as his confidante. Oh, transience.

I age an amount in that moment similar to, I imagine, what James MacAvoy attempts to convey in the moment in Atonement when he discovers the bodies of several children. Innumerable thoughts pass through me. My face remains still. Pete leaves. He will not test such a homely joke with anyone else.

A few weeks later, we have not hung out anymore. There have been no fake coffees, no awkward Converse laces, no parting from crowds. We are independent of one another. I go to a rehearsal for a musical I have somehow ended up in. Pete is there, with the girlfriend he recently broke up with and told me was completely in the past, and they are wearing matching T-shirts. They went to a Justin Timberlake concert together, and now they are jumping up at each other again like puppies at fresh toilet roll.

A few more years of street wisdom creep up on me. People lie. People change their minds. I leave the dance I am practising with the other chorus girls, and stand in the toilets for a while. I go back to the rehearsal. Pete attempts a quick, silent reconciliation of loose ends. I deny it. I perform in the musical weeks later.

This is the truth, the whole truth, of this ending. Something very grown-up in a number of ways. Plenty was left unsaid, and everything was perfectly understood – exactly as it should have been. No false graces were imposed in hindsight, in expectation, or in revelry of this short exchange. We got over ourselves and got on with it before we even began. I am grateful of such an honest encounter, for all its flaws and questions.

A memento from my grown-up self

Like where I’m going with this one? Introduction and other posts in this series at the wayside.

Wayside #1: Chris

It’s early 2005. Winter. I am sitting in a blue Corsa with a few dents in it. It is my boyfriend’s car. He has come to pick me up from work. I didn’t expect him to. I didn’t ask him to. The idea was never brought up at all. He has never done this before. Just moments ago, I was getting into my gay boss’s car for a lift home with a built-in friendly ear to my troubles. I don’t even need a lift home really, I live ten minutes’ walk away.

Once, I remember dropping a cheap bottle of rosé and it completely smashing on the floor in the aisle, glass and wine all over me and the walkway. I had been upset, having read one of those ambiguous, wholly unreassuring text messages that left me wondering whether my relationship would be safe for the remainder of my shift; whether I could potter about for however many hours or minutes it was I had to go before being released back into my real life, and it would still have a chance of survival. I can’t remember if that was this night or not.

Chris showed up. Damien and I shared a puzzled but hopeful moment. At least, I think there was hope. Probably in the way of last-minute comfort vibes from him, but I think it was there. I got out of his jeep and walked across the Lidl car park to the Corsa. And now I am sitting in it. Chris is next to me in the driver’s seat, being very oddly quiet. He doesn’t do quiet; he is a lad, the class clown, a charmer. Gets on with everyone’s grandma. He is looking down a lot.

There’s another thing I remember, but can’t place chronologically. I got a phonecall. My friend Hannah. A fairly new friend – we’d known each other about a year, properly, we spent a lot of time together but I still hadn’t sussed her out. I still haven’t. She warned me. Someone had seen Chris get into his car with Kim, and someone else knew he had taken her home, and stayed with her for a while. Someone else had gone round to her place, and walked in on them kissing. What was later confessed only to be ‘a kiss’. It all seemed very twee.

I am sitting in the Corsa, perhaps knowing, perhaps not already knowing, and he tells me. He is quiet, a bit shaky, but resolved. I am gentle, cautious, immediately forgiving and desperately trying to salvage what has come to be my norm, my comfort, what I know. My regular, my knowns, are being taken away from me, with no warning. I am being stolen from. The quickness of it is the worst part. He isn’t giving me any chance. He is using this story as an excuse for something else that he won’t tell me – there is another reason that he doesn’t love me, doesn’t want to be around me, serve me, protect me anymore, and somehow that is even less acceptable to explain to me than what he is telling me now. The clinical ‘There’s someone else.’ It is just too unreal to believe as the whole truth. We were a couple yesterday, what happened?

I go through several stages of grief in record speed while we sit in the car park. I beg, I cry, I love, I forgive, I accept, I unaccept, I resent, I collapse. Chris voices that he is still here, he loves me too, he’s sorry, he hasn’t gone anywhere, he will still drive me to rehearsals for the musical we are acting in together, we will be friends.

And that’s the worst part. You learn these little white lies off by heart in grown-up life; these things are lovely to think, and to hear, but they will never happen. You will not be friends. The listener knows this, deep down. You both do. This is probably the last mutual thought that you will ever share. The last thing you will connect on. Savour it.

Not the first, and probably not the most painful, but definitely up there.

I slept in my mum’s bed for a week, and then, out of nowhere, felt fine and got on with things. Chris and I are not friends in the same way as we were before we got together, of course, but we do speak occasionally, and with compassion in our hearts. I believe he cares about me and I still care about him, but we are not strung together like we were, not hung up on each other’s hopes or falls or straying. Seven years later, I know that I do not understand him fully, could not catch and keep him now; we are completely separate and disparate people. But I know him well. And I revel in every part of how we turned out apart together.

Like where I’m going with this one? Introduction and other posts in this series at the wayside.

Riverside/Wayside: A new mini-series

As promised, here is a collection of pictures I have taken at the side of the same river that has been standing next to me on so many occasions like this one – which, by the way, has inspired me to try my hand at my first mini-series of blogs…

Wayside – addressing what seems to be a gap in the market for morbid pain-dwelling and nostalgic fascination with old flames. So-named for its personal tie to the river I keep harping on about, and also the association with things gone by, or things discarded. Analyse however you like, we’re not in AS Level poetry. I’ll be posting a story each day for the next five days about different break-ups in my life. I hope you’ll find something here that strikes a chord and draws out your own memories. I urge you; think of them fondly.

Update – You can now read the series here:
Wayside #1
Wayside #2
Wayside #3
Wayside #4
Wayside #5

The Ouse, York, UK