Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Writing Archive

The cold has finally felled me and it’s laryngitis lane, snot city chez nous. Fortunately, I wrote this yesterday. More on a lovely time at Sandwich Boookshop anon.

Before doing a speaking/reading gig in Sandwich last night, I asked Louise Vance, the owner of the lovely Sandwich Bookshop who were my hosts, if she thought there was anything I should bring along.
‘Notebooks you used when you were writing the book, or that sort of thing’, she said. Crikey, I thought, I wonder where all the original notes for Testament (then called Toby) are. Not to mention the horribly scruffy but indispensible map of Salster which I drew and kept adding to and adding to as I wrote.

So I ventured into one of the deep, dark, dusty, built-in cupboards in our bedroom where we put things we’re not going to need on a daily basis and I went through my writing archive to find what I needed.

Writing archive. Ahem. Do not think nice, neatly-labelled filing system. Think piles of dusty envelope files with cryptic runes on the front like ‘nts fr MH’ ‘vsn2 HW’ ‘corresp. Toby’.

Right, to understand what I’m about to tell you, you have to understand that I have been writing, more or less constantly (with the odd hiatus of a couple of months here and there whilst having children, a couple of years around breakdown of marriage where I had to negotiate a re-entry to world of full time work) for twenty years. That means I started when I was twenty five – before I had children. Everybody knows your brain goes to mush when you have kids. Whether or not it ever quite recovers is, of course a moot point. Anyway… the point is, I discovered things that I had no memory of having written. Short stories (not bad, not brilliant) radio plays (slightly better) and notes for a radio play which I apparently never got around to writing – or if I did I’ve archived it somewhere else. It’s all in my handwriting and in the unmistakeable type of the dot-matrix printer which we had in those days (ie just around the time we moved from having to load our ‘word processing programme’ on to our BBCB computer (RAM 32k – yes, that is kilobytes, not megabytes or – God forbid that we’d even contemplated such memory in those days - gigabytes. I used to have to chop short stories up into chunks of about 500 words and save them on to disc (6.5 inch floppy disc, when they really were floppy) before writing the next bit!) from cassette tape. Yes, cassette tape. You’d start it loading from your tape player (ie the one you played music on pre-CDs) which you plugged in to your computer via some prehistoric-looking cable, go off and make the tea and come back to see if the programme had loaded. And all it did was turn your computer into a typewriter – you even had to hit Return at line ends!!)

Oh my goodness, altogether too many brackets in that paragraph. Not to mention exclamation marks. Actually, the whole computer technology thing is something I will be forever grateful to my ex-husband, John, for. Without him, I suspect I might have been quite a Luddite and never tapped in to the amazing possibilities of computers. As it is, I’m a total techno-freak nethead and covet nothing so much as an iPhone. Sad, but true…

Anyhoo. It all made me realise what an immensely long time I’ve been writing and being rejected and sending my stuff off to critical services and agents and publishers and being rejected and writing some more and being rejected and writing another thing and being rejected. And did I mention being rejected…?
Throughout these many years I could see my friends and family thinking ‘when’s she going to get the hint? It’s not going to happen!’ They never said so in as many words but I knew that’s what some of them were thinking. That or ‘Oh, nice for her to have something to occupy her time while she’s at home with the kids.’ This was not, you have to understand, the attitude of my nearest and dearest who have, always, demonstrated a touching faith in my ability to – eventually – write something which was not ony tolerably well put together but which people actually wanted to pay money for.

Did I find what I was looking for? Yes, the original notes for Testament (I think I should call it The Book Formerly Known as Toby) did finally emerge, though I failed to find the box of index-cards with my research on them with the dividers made out of cut-up cornflakes packets. (Shut up! We were poor!)
And I found the precious map of Salster. I always remember it as having more on, but a lot of it is just blanks with ‘housing’ written on or ‘park’.
And I found my very first working folder. The thing which started this whole writing malarkey off in the first place was a competition for ‘young people between 18 and 30’ to write a radio play. I’ve still got the photocopy which somebody kindly made me of all the rules and sumission guidelines.
I didn’t win. I’m not even sure I got more than the standard ‘Thank you for entering, the standard was very high, on this occasion you were not successful’ kind of line. But it was the start of the rest of my life.

3 comments:

KAREN CLARKE said...

It's amazing how long the journey can be isn't it? Shows it was meant to be, if you were finding things from twenty years ago.

I posted something similar on my blog a while back, about finding some letters from a local radio station about a play a friend and I had written and sent in, when we were about 11 or 12.

And I'm still not published!!!

Still writing though. Must be in the blood!

David Isaak said...

I think most of us have been through the rejection grinder more than a few times.

But not all of us. And there is nothing sorrier to witness than someone who sells the first manuscript they ever submit, and then has their second manuscript rejected.

I can't imagine ever developing a liking for rejection, but I'm grudgingly grateful to have had some. It makes other rejections less of a Life Crisis, and more of "Oh, damn, this again..."

On the other hand, though I'm grateful I was exposed to some early rejection, I have to confess I don't think I needed quite such a large helping of it.

Alis said...

I think the first rejection is the worst - you build your submission up so much in your mind you're winning prizes and plaudits in your mind for weeks before the standard 'thanks but no thanks' thumps on to the doormat and you feel like a humiliated fool. nothing's ever quite that bad again because, thereafter, you're prepared...