Sunday, 22 December 2013

Happy Birthday to Me

It was my birthday last weekend. Anyone who has read my short story collection will understand the significance of the present in the photograph.

It's the best present I've had for ages; half-joke, half-very-useful and thoughtful gift as I'll probably be doing some travelling next year with book related things.

P.S When opened, the case was empty. Phew!

Friday, 20 December 2013


I'm starting to think about the next novel (gulp - fears of never finishing the first novel have been replaced by fears of never repeating the feat). I've got a list of things to research, including bus drivers, museum archivists, stalking, trumpet playing and collectors.

Last weekend I visited a friend of a friend to see a collection of dolls and doll's houses. It was incredible. While there I met several collectors and was fascinated by their stories.

This part of writing is such fun. In the New Year I'm hoping to arrange to speak to a bus driver and a museum archivist, and I plan to have a few trumpet lessons.

But I think I'll leave the stalking to my imagination.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Down the memory hole

Last year J didn't get a home made birthday cake. He never got around to telling me what he wanted and suddenly it was the day of his birthday so we popped to the supermarket and bought a frozen cake. After we'd done the whole happy birthday to you thing and the children had gone to bed, J's dad ate the last piece of cake.

For the past 12 months I've listened to J say, 'I didn't have a cake on my 11th birthday.' When corrected he concedes the point - 'well, there was a cake and dad ate it.' With further prompting he admits that he had a huge piece of cake, but his dad ate the last slice.

This sort of stuff happens to me all the time. Perhaps it happens to every parent, I'm not sure - I've learned that on the whole it's best to keep quiet about such things, there's nothing worse than talking about the craptastic side of parenthood, ending an anecdote with 'you know?' and being met with either a blank stare of incomprehension or a tight smile that indicates both a degree of understanding and a refusal to engage. 

This year I was determined not to get caught out by the cake. I made J examine all the cake books in the house (there are several). He chose dog cupcakes and I said 'no problem' through slightly gritted teeth because I was supposed to be revising the final chapter of my novel this weekend, and preparing my PhD transfer document, and finishing a 15,000 word essay, and tidying up the awful mess of books, papers and post-it notes that has multiplied and replenished across 2 desks and the whole of the dining room table in recent weeks. 

I made the cakes. Apparently they're not as good as the ones in the book - which isn't a complaint, just an observation. I don't care. I made them and there's photographic evidence. I feel like I'm trying to rewrite the past - making the cakes was practically a Ministry of Truth project, designed to send recollections of the shop-bought, dad-scoffed cake down the memory hole. Instead, we'll remember the bit of birthday captured in the photograph - the cake stand, sitting on a tiny, cleared slice of dining room table, the piles of books, papers and post-it notes just out of shot. 


I know people will look for me in the pages of my novel when it is published next year, but I think I'm much more searchable in my short stories, particularly the shortest piece in my collection, a 400 word story that I've been thinking about today.

Dancing in the kitchen

She is sewing pips of reminiscence in his fertile mind, selecting scenes for the reel of his memories. She is the Director, Writer and Makeup Artist. She would like to be the Film Editor too and supervise the relegation of her inadequacies to the cutting room floor. She would like to censor any shameful language: ‘You stupid boy,’ ‘I can’t take you anywhere,’ ‘I should have thought twice about having children.’ She does this in her Director’s Cut. In this version she is always smiling. She makes delicious, nutritious meals, irons his favourite clothes in time for him to wear them, patiently explains homework and never shushes him in the car because she is listening to the radio. 

But she does not have final cut privilege. He is The Editor of this portion of her life. He selects rare, single-take footage of her shouting and crying. He creates miserable montages of her mothering misdemeanours. ‘Remember when I really wanted to go on a donkey and you wouldn’t let me?’ he asks. ‘Remember when you said I would have to sleep in the loft with the wasp’s nest if I kept getting out of bed?’ he enquires. 

She is determined to expunge her failings. She selects a location, prepares the storyboard and applies makeup. 

Take One: Dancing in the Kitchen

The radio is loud. The dance is a comedy combination of moves she used to perform in earnest several years ago. The noise will draw him to her and her exuberance will proclaim: I’m so happy to be your mother that I’m dancing in the kitchen. I love you so much; let’s dance in the kitchen, together. 

Take Two: Dancing in the Kitchen

The radio is louder. This time he will forsake the television in order to investigate. He will burst into the kitchen and join in the dance. They will laugh together in a way that allows her to begin sentences with, ‘Remember when we danced in the kitchen?’

Take Three: Dancing in the Kitchen

The radio is moderately loud so as not to irritate him. He will come into the kitchen eventually, when he wants a drink or to ask what’s for tea. He will chuckle at her dance.

Director’s Cut: In the Kitchen

The radio is on. Eventually he comes in. She sends him such a smile. Perhaps he will remember it.