About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Monday, 29 November 2010

In the Bleak Mid Winter

One of the things I promised myself when we moved to Cathedral Close was that I would never take it for granted. I would also never whinge about any little inconveniences that might come my way, in connection with living in a listed building.

But it’s flipping cold. I cling-filmed my study windows last week. Haven’t done that since Mr Chancellor was a theological college student in Cambridge and we lived in a house with no central heating. And had to cycle a mile and half every morning to Ridley Hall, into a head wind. That is a curious meteorological quirk of Cambridge. No matter which direction you are cycling, it’s always into a head wind. The room in Ridley had a gas fire. This meant you could warm up. Actually, it meant that you could fry your front while your back remained frozen. I used to go and sit in the Rare Books Room in the University Library just to avoid hypothermia. Wait. I used to consult rare books too. I was writing a doctoral dissertation, after all. Then after half an hour I started to think in terms of a cheese scone. If I had the money, I’d go to the coffee shop and buy one. If I was skint I’d go to the locker room and hunt for 10p pieces people had forgotten to collect from their locker refund. Ee, we were that poor.

So in comparison with our Cambridge days, we are really rather warm here. When we put the central heating on. This tends to be when we have guests. I am currently sitting in my study wearing a glamour puss ensemble of silk long johns, trackie bottoms, two pairs of thermal socks, fake Uggs, long sleeved T-shirt, cashmere hoodie, big cardigan and a nice fleecy blanket. I believe the canon precentor wears his coat in his study. I can’t verify that at present, as he keeps his shutters closed to retain any last hint of heat. This is perhaps as well. I gave him a cheery wave in passing back in the summer and he stuck two fingers up at me. Lovely man, the precentor. I may have been carrying a wine glass at the time, for reasons we needn’t go into. (I don’t normally walk round the Close wine glass in hand.) The precentor was on the wagon, so it’s possible he thought I was taunting him. The deanery exists in its own permafrost. The dean’s wife routinely dresses for Arctic weather and then emerges to find it’s actually warm outside. Because it’s August.

But we are not by any means complaining. We are jolly lucky to live here. And if we get too cold, we can always toss another prebendary on the fire.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Misery and Failure: The Writing Life

Well, I feel as though I’m a proper blogger now, having adhered to what I observe to be the correct etiquette, i.e. a flamboyant start, followed by abandoning the blog for months at a time. My excuse—for all bloggers must have one, even if it is only ‘I couldn’t be arsed’—is the evil Netgear. Netgear was blocking google on my computer, and although it was probably possible to navigate round Netgear on google France or some such, I couldn’t be arsed. Anyway, the Netgear problem is now solved.

If only everything in life were as simple as getting a new router. The real reason for my long silence is old fashioned misery. I promised at the outset that this blog would detail the agonies and ecstasies of the writing life. But when it comes down to is, misery is far too valuable a resource to squander on a mere blog. I need to cherish it, brood upon it, steep it in the stockpot of my writerly imagination, until it comes out TA DAH! as fiction. This can take some years.

Briefly, I completed a novel and sent it to my agent, who thought that while the manuscript had merits, these merits did not include ‘actually being a novel’. This appears to be my current working pattern. I identify a cracking good story, then circle round it until I finally hit upon a way of telling that story which is inherently impossible to pull off from a structural point of view. My agent informs me it has failed, I go off and sulk for a month, then I re-write the whole thing as a novel. I am currently on Chapter 2 of the re-write. Perhaps the first draft is a necessary tuning-up exercise? It sounds in tune now, but it’s early days. How would I know? I’m only a writer.

I have also been applying for creative writing lecturer posts at various universities. The pattern is this: I apply, then after months of silence I get a letter from the HR department saying I haven’t been successful this time (which I’d begun to suspect, deep down, as the interview date had come and gone weeks before), but that they hope this does not deter me from applying for other posts in the future. You know what, it kind of does. Not hard to email the unsuccessful candidates when you shortlist, I wouldn’t have thought. But maybe Netgear was blocking them.

I did get as far as an interview at one university. Part of the process was The Presentation Task. This involved a group of people pretending to be an MA class, and me pretending to be a lecturer. The Task was undertaken in a blacked-out drama studio, draped with funereal curtains and menacingly down-lit (in a 'we have ways of making you burst into tears' kind of way). One of my ‘MA’ students was slumped apparently suicidal across his desk. This prompted me to ask if the group was role playing, and whether someone was designated to be ‘the difficult one’. The class stared in surprise. No, they were all just being themselves, they assured me. Then you are plainly just weird, I thought, eyeing the suicidal one. It later emerged was a philosophy lecturer, a Wittgenstein specialist. Perhaps he’d strayed in by accident and was illustrating, via his body language, the importance of showing not telling. In this case, showing he would rather be on holiday than interviewing fluffy women creative writing candidates.

Still, as you can see from the photo, Lichfield is a nice place to be a miserable failure in. This is the view from my front door. My novel, incidentally, is set in a fictional cathedral Close. It is a bold escapist piece of writing.