Friday, 23 February 2007

Friday again!

Friday seems to be coming around an awful lot faster these days! I'm shattered, having taught solidly for the last two days, field trips with my writing students, and still suffering from the unshiftable lurgy! I've been writing bits by hand, and have finished (I think) one of the later chapters which is in the form of a short story. A day late for Coffee Morning with the Novel Racers, and up to my eyes in marking (again), I'm trying to decide how best to use the weekend. I'm hoping hubby will take the kids out somewhere and leave me to make a dent in my work!

On the plus side, I swam 20 lengths this week, had a great riding lesson, and submitted the first 10,000 words of my novel to my PhD supervisor. I await her comments with trepidation, but at least I've finally given her something!

Liz Fenwick set us all a challenge - to post the first page of our novel in progress, so here goes nothing. Do your worst!

The First Page

My mother stood in the bedroom doorway, but I didn’t turn to look at her. I could hear her breathing, laboured and uneven, feel her eyes on the back of my neck. I knew one of us had to break the silence, but no words would come. Language was pointless and she knew it too.
        I folded the piece of paper up carefully, and placed it back in its manila envelope, but I couldn’t bring myself to put it down. I kept staring at the dressing table, the off-white affair from my nan. I traced the brocade around with my eye until I reached the part where the gold leafy pattern was chipped off in one corner. I had no idea how long I’d been sitting there, no idea how much longer I could go without moving. I knew that if she dared to speak, dared to say just one thing, it would all come flooding out, and I didn’t want it to. I just wasn’t ready.
        Then my mother broke the silence. “I—.” She heaved a sigh.
        I felt my skin crawl, as though a cold, wet thing, had just smothered itself over me. “Why didn’t you tell me?” My voice sounded suddenly harsh, like someone else’s.
        She said nothing, drew another long, uneven breath.
        “Who else knows?”
        Again she said nothing, but when I turned to look at her, I could see it in her eyes that I was the last to find out.
        Eventually she came and sat on the edge of the bed, her face turned away. She took a cigarette from the bedside table and I watched her light it with a shaking hand. Those hands that raised me so carefully, those wrinkled up dish-washed hands. How many times had they taken that letter from its envelope, and carefully folded it up again? Did she sit in the middle of the night reading it, or did it beckon to her from its hiding place in the shoe-box on the top of the wardrobe? And why even keep it? Was the hell was she thinking?


liz fenwick said...

Wow! Very evocative and what the hell is in that letter??? I want to know.

hesitant scribe said...

You have to read on to find out!

Laura Vivanco said...

Is the protagonist's father not who she thought he was (either literally or metaphorically)? Maybe it's just the use of the word 'affair' and I'm on completely the wrong track. I know it refers to the dressing table, but it makes my mind go in that direction. And then there's the sense that things are somehow broken/faded/off-colour, not 'white' which add to the sense that something's not quite right (manila, off-white, chipped off in one corner).

Also, when the narrator says that 'My voice sounded suddenly harsh, like someone else’s', it perhaps hints that maybe she is someone else, not the person she thought she was.

I also get the feeling that what's in the letter somehow doesn't fit the image the narrator has of her mother. Whatever the secret is, for some reason the narrator doesn't associate it with 'dish-washed hands', which are perhaps hard-working and prosaic. The letter suggests another side to her mother that the narrator hadn't suspected.

And the dish-water, things that will 'come flooding out', and 'a cold, wet thing' make me think of the process of giving birth, but cold rather than hot. Again, that could just be me doing random free-association, this time with waters breaking and mothers.

hesitant scribe said...

Laura - It's interesting to see how much you have read into each word, each phrase, especially as this an untampered with, un-fixed first draft. For me, your comments also raise further questions concerning the nature of composition; how much of a text is accidental, and how much is chosen? This is something I've been thinking about for many years (and not just in writing, but in musical and artistic compositions also). For example, the sense that things are broken/faded/off colour is exactly right, although - this being the first draft - I had not yet considered how to portray these ideas yet. Looks like my subconscious did it for me already! As for the chipped piece - I saw that in my mind as I visualised the scene, and was considering taking it out because I didn't know where it came from. It would seem it has earned its place in the text.

Thank you for taking the time to read, and post.

Laura Vivanco said...

I'm not a writer (of fiction) but I've been reading some of the posts Jenny Crusie's been making about writing here and she says much the same as you, which is that even in the first, very rough draft, there are word choices which you put in subconsciously but which reflect the theme of the story, or the personality of the character. Then, in subsequent drafts the writer can go back and strengthen the themes she want to keep in and which serve the story, and take out word choices which don't really fit.

hesitant scribe said...

Thanks for the link - I shall procrastinate a little longer reading through the forum!

As for the writing, it's good to know I'm on the right track!

liz fenwick said...

Laura's view I find so insightful! She blew me away on both the first pages I posted in the firsdt challenge. I just hadn't seen the imagery that I had put in.......the subconcious is a wonderful thing!

JJ said...

I was writing a comment somewhere recently where I said I owed so much to my sub conscious (particularly I feel when I'm not actually writing). But damn it, why can't it write the whole thing?


hesitant scribe said...

JJ - I know the feeling. Am taking a new approach after 13,000 words! Not deleting them - just not keeping them as is. Much more planning to do!