Friday, 20 December 2013

Remembering Barreiro...

I can't account for a fortnight passing since airport chaos gave me a bonus night in Barreiro. I'd promised Will Amado a short story about my experience there. But I haven't written, at all, since getting back to London.

It was a re-entry of shocks coming back to housemates and windy nights and silence in the dark street. I live in a loft and have always loved my windows to the sky, but they seemed weak after my sun-fixed windows tracking sunrise to sunset in Portugal.

There I'd stand on my balcony and watch as children walked home from school with grandparents, men stopped for coffee, or cerveja, women left my blue-fronted bakery with bags of pastries and fresh loaves. From my London back porch I see into the backs of other houses, and in summer I'm woken very early on Sunday mornings by little children screaming and parents laughing, letting them. Since coming back from Barreiro I've stood and looked and it's vacant. Even the foxes seem to have moved on.

Other things have interfered with writing as well - washing and "administration", stocking up on food and cooking it and serving portions to freeze. Donna Tartt commandeered a fair chunk, (and dare I say a wedge more than she needed?) and now here I am, Thursday 11pm, only just getting a writing itch back.

I blame Annie Dillard. Since starting 'The Maytrees' I've had word thoughts again. Phrase ideas. I thank Annie Dillard.

Tonight a friend who recently returned to Melbourne after 13 years in London sent me this photo and said she thought of me: a 50m outdoor pool with lap signs that have approx. lap times so everyone can go at their own pace. "You don't get that kind of pool etiquette in England!"

Yesterday I found out I've won a Mslexia Diary for my submission to the Spread The Word competition - "Tell us your favourite time of year to write, and why." My response (to be posted on their website soon) starts, "Is underwater a season? For me, that's where writing strikes."

I've got my swimming bag packed for the first time in weeks. Friday lunchtime I'll be in a 25m indoor pool where people swim in any lane they like. There's the occasional fit swimmer powering down lap after lap, overtaking when it's clear, but mostly it's a mix of cruisers, bursters who stop to rest a lot, kickers, headabovewaters, even walkers. A bit like us writers really. I'll be doing bits of all of those, and lines may come and go, an idea might strike. Or not. But I'll be back.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Barreiro - BONUS DAY!

Thanks to the problems with the flight control system in UK airports and the kindness of Will Amado, I have another day in Barreiro. There was nothing in my diary until Tuesday, so I'm more than happy to "have" to stay for one more day of sunshine, and a home that has become very special.

I've been so lucky to have two fun and interesting writers staying here this week, and farewelling Pete over coffee and custard tart yesterday, well it was sad. Susanna and I went back to our apartments to work, which for me included researching. That said, I'm not sure how David Vann's "Legend Of A Suicide" relates directly to what I'm working on, but I'm sure I could find a link.

After hitting the new shopping centre and buying some random stocking-fillers and souvenirs - I now have a lovely tray (made in China) that doesn't actually fit in my suitcase that came off the plane last Saturday minus a handle - we rested up at the local tapas bar for a couple of Super Bocks, more good food, and rounded things out with a hearty glass of port.

I hadn't expected another day here so I spent a lot of time out in the sunshine today. But now I've unpacked my slippers, replenished supplies, and am so grateful for more time to take advantage of this space to think and write.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Day Five - Barreiro: Symbiosis

Today was never going to help the word tally. For me, working on new story ideas means research, wordlists, pages and pages of unrelated phrases looking for patterns, walking from the desk to the kitchen to the desk to the bathroom to the desk.

Thankfully, here I can stand on the balcony and watch a world so different to what I'm used to, and try to draw on it.

This morning I was working on the story I mentioned on Tuesday, the one that was lacking story, action, and enough to warrant being 3,000 words long. I've been thinking of the thread to bring it to life, so went to my Scrivener cork board for words, character descriptions etc, and came across Symbiotic.

If you believe Wikipedia, the definition of symbiosis is controversial amongst scientists, but essentially it's about different species living together over a long period of time. The various types of this include parasitism and mutualism. It was once used to describe people living together in a community, so I've been reading these controversial definitions looking for ways to apply concepts to my story, which is fundamentally a series of observations on a commuter train.

Still a ways to go, but I always enjoy these tangents. And by natural extension am handy at the corner of a dining table.

To counter the creativity challenge of that and another early idea for a story, I've been writing synopses of my short stories to use in a submission letter. How strange, trying to write about what I've written, seeing how many narrators I am, and recurring themes. I'm definitely lost and like exploring guilt in relationships, particularly families.

Just to be clear, I only write fiction.

Tunes of the day have been inspired by a tweet this morning from radicaledward

The video helped with my story concept, and I'd forgotten how much I love Rhye. Enjoy.

And if you make it this far, the weather today was sunny and warm. Thanks Barreiro

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Day Four - Lisbon

Today I was a tourist. I enjoyed a couple of copas of local wine last night, and woke up aware of that.

Writing achievement was to record-edit a 5k word story. Yup, that's it.

Great day (sorry to rub it in but blue sky, all day, again) of wandering the cobbled hills at an easy speed. Stopped for a noon cerveja near the castle and walked across to Bairro Alto for lunch.
Not much to report as we just ambled the day away through different parts of the city and returned to Barriero to be welcomed by the barman downstairs for a cold one before retiring to rest and rendezvous for dinner later.

It was a day off, which I enjoyed, but I'm looking forward to getting back to the desk tomorrow.

Shame it wasn't open...

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Day Three - Barreiro = Breakthrough

Yesterday I woke with an idea to change a POV in a story I've been working on for years. I finished that re-write today and have sent the updated version to my workshop partners for review. We'll see what they think but I'm sure it's come a long way.

This morning there was another breakthrough. On the weekend I had feedback from one of my workshoppers that went something like this:

"I don't think it would be helpful at this point to give too specific feedback... I feel that for the length of the piece there is not enough 'story' here... if I am reading a 3k story I want more action, more development of a story…"

That's a small extract, but you get the gist. 
I replied 'ouch.' 
Of course I knew it was true, just thought I'd managed to drop a series of scenes together with just enough stitching. The term friends and I have used for a famous Melbourne course steward, Des Gleeson, seemed apt: Harsh But Fair

And the magic of Barreiro struck again. 

In the shower (where most writing solutions happen for me), I came up with the thread. 

So watch out you-know-who, that piece will be coming your way again soon.

Here's how the tally looks today:
FINISHED = 13,500
FOR RE-DRAFT = 5,400
TOTAL = 18,900

TARGET = 25,000 words

If you've ever used directions on google maps you'll understand when I say, I'm on purple.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Day Two - Barreiro

Though I might already be used to waking up in sunshine here, I'll keep celebrating it.

This morning as I lay in bed reading with a coffee and the sounds from the cafes downstairs of unstacking chairs and arranging them squarely around tables, I realised that one of the stories I'm trying to finish needs to change POV. For years I've drafted it in third person, and as soon as I started the switch to first I was typing the reader in. And it felt wonderful.

At lunchtime I read 'Forests of Antarctica' by Courtney Watson, the December story in Long Story, Short. I stood on my balcony listening to an opera playing somewhere beyond the square. I watched people walking, talking, and thought I really must get out to explore this place. But I came here for my words and they too are busy, and they feel right, so the streets around me will have to wait. Perhaps later in the day. The body time will tell me when.
And it did.
After a glass of local wine I went for a walk. I kept wanting to get back to my desk.

I haven't quite finished the two pieces I'd hoped to "finish" by the end of the day. But I have explored, written other exercises that have surprised me, read stories in magazines online, watched, photographed, eaten, and in an hour I'm meeting the other writers in residence here for a drink on our square.

I'm still aiming for 25k (almost said km but that was a couple of years ago now), and thought this man in the square represented that well.

As Shaun Levin said to me last night, "Failure is not an option."

Monday, 2 December 2013

Day One - Barreiro

A few weeks ago I wrote about a fabulous week that fired me up to prepare a To Do list for the next week.

To be fair a lot of that was achieved, but some items have carried over for my stay in one of the First Impression apartments in Barreiro, Lisbon to focus on writing for a week.

Here I've set myself a fairly aggressive target. Oh hell, let's get it out there:
I want to get to 25k of short stories finished by Friday night. 
I haven't checked my spreadsheet to know how far away from that I am, but given that many of my pieces are 1k - 2.5k, and there's not that many of them I consider finished, it's safe to say that's a pretty challenging goal.

One of my daily breaks will be to post an update on here, writing, reading, random thoughts, the fabulous local wine. Who knows.

I didn't start yesterday but to catch you up the content would have included: travel day, 4.20am start, little brain space for anything other than wow, weather. wow, apartment. wow, a whole week here. wow, I'm very tired.

So here's how today went.
I woke up thinking I was on a beach. The sun through the glass had strength and I read in bed listening to the square below waking up. The sounds of unstacking chairs around tables, welcoming locals for coffee, families with grandchildren meeting up.

For my next Reading To Write class I need to write a scene where one of my characters wants something from another one. I'm surprised at what I wrote for that this morning. Perhaps I was influenced by 'In The Cut' by Susanna Moore that I started reading this morning.
Maybe it was the Sarah Selecky daily exercise I did early: Write five sentences by an author you admire over and over for at least 10 minutes. Mine, from 'In a Strange room' by Damon Galgut, were:

"Why is violence always so easy to imagine but tenderness stays locked in words for me…Maybe horror is felt more easily from home…If your own pain is interesting to you, how much more detached will you be from someone else's pain…He has the air of someone holding his breath…Committed to a situation of which the outcome is unknown, travel and love have this much in common."

After writing them twice I knew them word for word and felt a strange power as I repeated them without thinking of the words but of all the paths these ideas could take in their own story.

At 13:09 I took off my watch. Everything here will happen on body time.

And now, almost time to turn on lights, I can reflect: I've done my "homework", a couple of writing prompt exercises, another draft of a story I've been working on for years, and wrote up my notes about a new one.

Soon I'm meeting the other two guests at the restaurant downstairs, and tomorrow I get to do it all over again.