Fell – The Making Of

By Jenn Ashworth

 

Fell arrived out of the blue. Just one scene. It happens like that sometimes. The scene was this: Jack, Netty and their daughter Annette are sitting on the concrete terraces over Grange-over-Sands old lido on a hot afternoon in August. I saw it all before I wrote it: the murky dark blue of salt water pool, the glare of the sun giving Jack the worst headache he’s ever had, and Netty watching a good looking young man swim lengths of the pool like a sleek white dolphin.

As soon as I started to write these details down (they demanded to be written – it’s a cliché, I know, but it was also true for me) the character spoke and moved and acted: Netty was sick and Jack was worried about her overdoing it. Annette went down to the lido to swim and Netty was worried about her, in the pool with the big boys who were messing about. Netty sent Jack to ask the boys to calm down an the strangest thing of all happened: this beautiful strange boy who introduced himself as Timothy Richardson (where did the names come from? I don’t know) laid a hand on Jack’s face and not only wiped away his headache – as if by magic – but cured in one fell stroke his life-long short sightedness.

What happened next? I typed in order to find out. Jack was nearly struck dumb with the shock of the strange healing – but not dumb enough to fail to seize the opportunity and to ask Timothy to come home with him and take a look at Netty. The doctors can’t help her, he says, but perhaps there’s something you can do for her…? The scene ended there.

I didn’t write anything else for six months. But these characters waited at the lido and I was tormented with questions about them. What was wrong with Netty? Did Annette know her mother was sick? How seriously was she sick? Who was Timothy Richardson and had he really cure Jack, or was it just a trick? Would he be able to help Netty, and if he could, what would he ask in return? Would the price, whatever it was (and there is always a price – I knew enough about angels-in-disguise to know that) be worth paying?

I spent days and days at Grange-over-Sands, looking at the boarded up and now derelict lido and inhaling the salt-and-mud smell of the unbiddable, dangerous Morecambe Bay. I travelled to London and spent a day on Savile Row speaking to cutters and tailors and watching them chalk outlines of suit jackets and trousers on rolls of grey cloth. I visited a retired nurse who told me what caring for someone dying at home was like in the early 1960s, before chemotherapy, before palliative care, before the hospice movement.

A few months later I went back to the scene, and started to write. I didn’t have much of a plan, which meant tonnes and tonnes of drafts, following my nose, and letting characters and the landscape they lived in shape the structure and tone and plot of the novel. In an early draft, Timothy Richardson, the butchers boy and aspiring tailor from Edinburgh, had an entire backstory: much of that was cut because in the end I wanted him to be as mysterious to the reader as he had been to me. After a few drafts, the ‘frame’ of the novel developed – a present day strand where grown-up Annette returns to her parents’ empty house in Grange and attempts to come to terms with her past, with the stories her parents never told her, with the magic she was never allowed to see. She isn’t quite haunted, but the house certainly is, as I would be, until three years had passed and I was able to close the computer and say goodbye to the novel.

 

Jenn Ashworth’s first novel, A Kind of Intimacy, was published in 2009 and won a Betty Trask Award. On the publication of her second, Cold Light(Sceptre, 20011) she was featured on the BBC’s The Culture Show as one of the UK’s twelve best new writers. Her third novel The Friday Gospels (2013) is also published by Sceptre, as is her fourth and new release, Fell. She lives in Lancashire and teaches Creative Writing at Lancaster University.

You can find her at jennashworth.co.uk, or on Twitter @jennashworth

 

 

 

 

The Chocolate Book Challenge

Thank you to the wonderful @janeisaacauthor for inviting me to this blog challenge. You can find her post at http://www.janeisaac.co.uk/blog.

This post is a little late due to network problems (do not get me started ) so I apologise for that in advance.

The idea of the challenge is very simple, to liken some of your favourite books to chocolate bars. At least it seemed simple at first glance but it took me quite some time to whittle down my reading list to the following contenders, even though I limited my choice to books read in 2014 to give myself a smaller task. Here goes,

Dark Chocolate – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

A beautifully written story which explores the nature of reality. It is a surprisingly gentle read for a book covering very dark and difficult themes. Thought provoking with touches of bitterness the content moves from the banal to the shocking and back with the same unnerving ease that Murakami moves across the boundaries of reality. Expect the occasional talking cat.

 

Milk Chocolate – The Analects of Confucius

This is not an easy read but well worth the perseverance. It is a collection of snapshots from the life of one of humanity’s great thinkers.  The passages jump from event to event and conversation to conversation but, if you relax and let them wash over you, you begin to appreciate the warmth and the humour of the man. These works provided the foundation for one of the world’s greatest civilisations. You were not considered educated unless you could quote the teachings of Confucius and as such they are the wonderful Milk Chocolate of all that is China.

White Chocolate – Bridget Jones – Mad about the boy  by Helen Fielding

As white chocolate isn’t really chocolate so this isn’t really literature but I did enjoy it. Admittedly I listened to the audiobook rather than reading it but I appreciated the silliness and the glimpses of a rushed home life were all too familiar. The eponymous heroine seems to have aged without maturing at all, which made me feel slightly sad for the character, but this is not a book to engage deep thought, it’s frothy and silly with an occasional effort to touch on darker themes. Great company while cleaning the kitchen.

 

 

The follow up post will be courtesy of the lovely Rebecca Mascull. You can find her at
http://www.rebeccamascull.tumblr.com
@rebeccamascull

Coffee Break – With a Writer

Hello, come in and take a seat. I’m just taking a short break from work, it’s a great time to chat. What have I been working on today? Well, I’m writing a short story in which my protagonist has quite a distorted world view. He may or may not have killed a man and I’m not sure that I’m going to find out in 6000 words or so but he certainly believes that any action he took was inevitable. It’s quite nice to write in first person as a different character. It gives you a bit of a break from the self and lets you explore other people’s motivations and thought processes. I suppose it could be viewed as quite a dark story but the tone is deceptively light because the narrator isn’t particularly concerned by his actions. It works well because it’s a nice juxtaposition.
I’m enjoying writing in short story form at the moment. Every day is very different. It allows a lot of time for play. I like to play about with words and ideas and the whole format works supremely well for that.
Yes, I probably should get back to it too. Good luck with your current piece. Drop in soon.

Like Me!

It seems recently that never a day goes by without an email or a direct message from an Artist or a Writer begging me to like them.

Apparently it’s irrelevant whether or not I even know them, or their work. And the question of whether I actually like what they do is, well, that was never on the table was it. You see, no one is asking for my personal opinion ( It’s a shame, I have good opinions. ) What people are actually asking is for me to give them more visibility in the market place so that they can sell what they do.

 I have no objection to people selling what they do. In fact I’m all for it. I sell what I do for heaven’s sake. But I’m not sure anyone’s career can be greatly assisted by a lie, however well intentioned. 

Before anyone gets hugely upset let me just say that I don’t ever ask anyone to validate anything of mine. You don’t have to like it unless you like it. And I don’t assume that I will dislike what people do, I am charmingly non-committal until I have read a thing. If Facebook swaps is how you work then it is how you work but please remember that this is false data. It is a manufactured marketing tool and  not opinion. The numbers will go up and down based on the hours spent rather than quality of your work. There will be times when you write something wonderful and you don’t get the “likes” you are looking for. Don’t be disheartened. The numbers are a fiction. We are writers. We understand fiction.

The other despairing communication I get is that “Nobody is following me.”

That is an easy one.

What are you doing for them?

People are busy. People have complicated, wonderful, disorganised lives. But people will follow you if you give them something they want. What are you giving them? Some people write a weekly book review. Some people provide pictures of beautiful Art. Some pictures of funny cats. Some provide intelligent comment. Some provide silly comment. It doesn’t matter what it is, you will find a niche market, but it has to be consistent and people need to know what you do.

If they truly LIKE you, they will follow.

So decide what you provide.

 

Who Am I?

I’m a writer currently living in Middle England. I am taking time this year to write a collection of twelve short stories.
I have a great and very patient Editor. I hold an Honours Degree in Applied Human Psychology and I tend not to talk about myself very much mostly because I put all the interesting things on the page, and when you have done that what is there left to say?
I read a great deal and widely. I’m currently listening to a lecture series on Plato’s Republic because, well, I haven’t before. I think it’s important to always be learning and growing.
I enjoy writing and I try to make each piece better than the last.

Every Day?

Recently I’ve been pondering the different ways that we all get to a finished manuscript. There are those who throw themselves in at a tremendous pace and edit for meaning at the end. There are the precision writers who craft every line with an intensity bordering on the maniacal, and then there are writers with a plan who jump the stepping stones of plot until they reach the bank, quite literally. Writers are individuals and as such they write. We write. Each one of us finds our own way, and if we don’t then our manuscript never reaches the reader. There are no rules about how you reach completion, the point is just to get there mostly sane.

One area where most writers agree is that it is better to write on more days than you don’t. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, it is easier to keep the momentum going on a long project if you develop a writing habit. Secondly, the more words you write the more you learn, the more you learn the better you get, you can’t help it. Writers aren’t any fonder of unnecessary work than anyone else. Thirdly, it is the best way to help you develop your love affair with words.

So should we write every day? Well, some people do. Others write most days. Some people write Thursday and Sunday after gym class. Some write in the morning and others write in the night. In the world of the writer there is only ONE should,

When you begin a project you SHOULD finish it.

Try writing more days than you don’t, if that is possible, but there are no rules, no generalisations, no master plan. The way I work probably won’t work for you. You need to discover the way that you work, and remember that there is only the one SHOULD in the world of the writer, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Only you can speak for you. Only you can write for you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What would you think?

What would you think if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?  

(Beatles – A little Help from my Friends)

There are days when we write and everything seems to come together clearly and concisely. We answer our own questions, we meet our job specs, and then we meet our deadlines. It’s all very simple. Then of course we have the days when every passage of prose is discordant and jangling. We know that it’s wrong and yet we can’t see where it’s wrong. Our hands are typing a song that our brain isn’t singing. One of those days.

Any Creative can tell you stories of those days. Some people get them on a weekly basis, others go for long periods of creativity and then hit a drought. The point is that having a period of drought doesn’t make you a bad writer or a poor artist. It just makes you a writer or an artist. A creative drought will always end, unless you stop creating. So you write bad stuff, who hasn’t? So your portrait looks like a horse? Maybe rework it before showing the client but hey (hay), now you can paint a horse.

What would we do if you sang out of tune?

 We would all join in.

I’ve been there so often I can do the harmonies.