To the Lighthouse

I’m taking a much needed fortnight in Pembrokeshire, so the blog will go quiet for a while.Though I’ll be technology free, I will be bringing my birthday Moleskine notebook (as used by Picasso and Hemingway) which I hope will help me make some progress on the central (& most difficult) section of my novel. I have the characters, I know what happens, just not quite sure how to write them. In the meantime I wish you happy holidays.

If you are a new visitor – I hope you enjoy what you find here. Please feel free to comment on anything you read.

Don’t forgot to get your copy of “Strictly Love” by Julia Williams from Sainsbury’s.

See you in August.

Coming soon…
And IntroducingAnne Booth; Art and Crafton Graham Greene; Plug of the Month – Karen Annesen

Rave Review

Every now and then I come across a book that lifts me out of the stratosphere. A book that I instantly love and know I will read again and again. When I get one of those, I’ll be posting a review (and there are a few in my back catalogue that will get a mention too.) So first up is a recent read and a new birthday acquisition…

“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson.

It was Nick Hornby’s wonderful collection of essays on reading, The Complete Polysyllabic Spree that alerted me to this novel. I thought a book that inspired a complete atheist to joke that it made him want to leave his partner and family for the priesthood must be quite something.It went straight onto my to-read list. Since then I’ve discovered several people who highly recommend it, and a couple of weeks ago,I was finally able to lay my hands on a copy.

It’s always a bit nerve-wracking when a novel has been hyped as much as Gilead in case it doesn’t live up to the expectation. I needn’t have worried – this really is a modern classic. It tells the story of the Reverend John Ames, a preacher in Iowa, who is dying. He is writing a letter to his 7 year old son, passing on all the stories and reflections he’ll never get to tell him in life. So we are treated to a long love letter describing family history, personal friendships and life as a small town preacher. That sounds very mundane, except this one manages to incorporate reflections on grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, pacifism, war, slavery, the meaning of life, the meaning of God, love, friendship, living ordinarily, the nature of fathers and sons. We hear about Ames’ father the pacifist preacher, and his grandfather, the war wounded bellicose preacher who delivers sermons whilst packing a pistol. We learn about Ames’ life long friendship with Boughton, a fellow minister, who is also dying, the death of Ames’ first wife, and his late and happy re-marriage.And as the book proceeds, we discover Ames struggling to welcome home Boughton’s wastrel son who may or may not have changed for the better.

Throughout these stories Robinson does something extraordinary, that I am not quite sure I have ever seen in fiction before. She presents us with a character who is truly holy and good, yet at the same time exhibits fallibilities – such as his lack of tolerance of the young Jack Boughton, his jealousy that Jack gets on well with his wife. It is done so subtly that as Ames never comes across as sanctimonious or unbelievable, but as a rounded human being with weaknesses just like the rest of us. When I finished the novel, I felt I had been in the company of a very wise old friend, one who I’d love to visit again and again. That’s quite an achievement.

The other quality Robinson brings to novel-writing is her command of prose. Her writing is luminous. She doesn’t waste a word, and is able to conjure up emotions and physical settings that linger long after the book is finished. The story of the young Ames and his father looking for their grandfather’s grave in the dustbowl of Kansas ends with the pair of them praying in a bedraggled graveyard. The boy opens his eyes and sees the sun and moon hanging at equidistant points in the sky, transforming the landscape to a place of beauty and transforming their experience accordingly. In another section, Ames visits Boughton, and remembers breaking into his bedroom as a boy so they could go and play. The juxtaposition of this youthful memory with two old men near death, is beautifully controlled and incredibly moving.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. A lovely, slow read that purports to be about one tiny little American town, but takes you much further than that. A deserved Pullitzer winner and a great introduction to a wonderful writer. I’m off on my holidays this weekend, with all three of her books (the other two being Housekeeping and Home) in my bag. If you’re looking to discover a new author this summer, I’d suggest you do the same.

First Cut

This is an adapted version of a short story I wrote a long time ago. It’s a bit long for “flash fiction” but is as much as anyone would probably want to read on a blog. It’s still quite rough and ready, so please, feel free to let me know your thoughts!

He sits on the wall opposite the entrance to her building. It is cooler today than it has been all week. The breeze from the river shivers over his skin, ruffling it in waves of goose bumps. He looks into his camera at the picture he took yesterday. It’s definitely her. She’s let her hair grow and she’s dyed it black, but it’s definitely her – the straight nose, pale face, perfect red mouth can’t be disguised. It’s taken patience and skill to find her. Then he needed to get close enough to be sure. He couldn’t take action till he was sure. Now, looking at the image on his camera, comparing it to last year’s snapshot – he’s sure. Today, he will act.

He looks up at the building – fifteen storeys of grey concrete entombing the worker bees in their identikit offices. Advertising agencies, sales companies, paper distributors, all in the same neutrally coloured open-plans. Only the logos are different. He snorts, glad not to be one of the herd.

A cloud passes across the sky, casting shadows over the cars passing on their way to the car park where their passengers will disembark for drinks by the water, trips to the galleries, visits to the sick in the hospital down the road. He closes his eyes for a minute. A picture comes into his mind – a young girl lying on the ground. It is dark, except for the flash of a blade stabbing through the air towards her…

A screech of brakes jerks him out of his reverie. He opens his eyes to see a car coming to a halt in front of a pedestrian who shouts, wanker. The driver of the car beeps his horn and speeds off. The clock chimes five o’clock. It is nearly time.

The door of the office building opens. A couple emerge, arms entwined. They are excited, happy – ready for the weekend. He watches, and waits as others follow them. Tall people, small people, men, women, all colours all ages. This is it. His heart begins to pump faster. Come on. And then there she is, in a crowd of friends. She is carrying a large file, and she is laughing. Her hair flops over her eyes and she brushes it away. As she does so, she looks up across the road straight at him. Shit, she’s seen him. She says something to one of her friends, and they all look. No. it’s all right. The girls are looking behind him. He turns and sees a couple of guys on stilts wearing bill boards advertising a new restaurant. The sun has completely gone, now, the sky filled with black clouds. He looks back. She’s saying good-bye to her friends. This is it. She is walking towards him, to the river, alone.

He slides down from the wall, puts his camera into his bag and steps out in her direction. She reaches his side of the the road. He looks down as if noticing something on the floor. They cannon into each other. They fall to the ground and her file splits open, spilling its contents over the pavement. God, I’m sorry, he says, apologetic, chivalrous. It’s OK. Her voice is soft and soothing. Together, they start to pick up the sheets of paper before the wind blows them further down the street. They knock heads, and fumble with their hands, but they’re a team. You’re very kind, she says, giving him a miraculous smile that cuts right through him. Don’t mention it. He hands her one last piece of paper. She looks at it puzzled, then as he says her name, he watches the clouds passing over her face. Bastard, you bastard. He turns away – nothing left for him here.

He stumbles back to the tube station. He is shaking. He’d been so set on finding her, he hadn’t thought about this – her reaction to being found. To being summonsed to court. After all this time, she must have felt safe. From the darkness of that night – the initiation ceremony instigated by her boyfriend. The sluicing, the slit wrists, the boy who nearly drowned and the girl who died. No wonder, she ran away. And now he has found her. Now she will have testify. Shit. He really is a bastard. He stands on the escalator, trying to calm himself, to think of the next job, the next frightened witness. Today was the first cut, that’s all. Bound to hurt a bit. He’ll be over it tomorrow. Tomorrow, will be another day.

On Being A Twin

I’m not really a poet, but it being another mutual birthday, I couldn’t let it pass…

On being a twin.

What’s it like then?
Being a twin?

It’s like seeing your face,
but in a different place.

Like someone dressing in
the contours of your skin.

Like sharing shape and thought,
and every single fault.

It’s all I’ve ever known.
Ask me another one.

copyright c Virginia Moffatt 2009

Plug of the Month

I know a lot of writers (aren’t I lucky?) So whenever someone I know wins a prize, publishes a poem, has a book out, or has a publicity blitz, I’ll be letting you know.

I couldn’t start this without giving a huge plug for my lovely twin sister, Julia Williams. Julia is a member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association. She writes commercial romantic fiction for the Avon range at Harper Collins. She blogs regularly at Maniac Mum and you can also follow her on Twitter. Her first novel, “Pastures New” was published in December 2007 and did so well it made the Bookseller’s “Heatseekers” list (as a distinctly un-commercial writer I look on her sales figures with twinly envy).

Her second novel, “Strictly Love” was out in September 2008 in time for the launch of Strictly Come Dancing. “Strictly Love” follows the fortunes of Emily, Mark, Kate and Rob who meet during ball-room dancing lessons. As they learn to find their dancing feet, they have to grapple with their feelings for one another, and work out what it is they truly want from life. And for this month (and this month only) you can get it at a reduced price in the Sainsbury’s summer price blitz. So don’t forget to look out for it when you’re doing your weekly shop, and treat yourself to the perfect holiday read!


Coming soon… Joanna Clark’s sonnets in Rialto, Karen Annesen’s new poetry collection, Catherine Chanter up for the Asham Award, Julia Williams’ new novel…

Midwinter

By way of a brief introduction, I’d say, I’m not quite sure what genre this quite fits into. It was written as homework following a poetry class by the great Jenny Lewis when we were exploring soundscapes prompted by the wonderful beginning of Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood” I often find I can’t write or get inspired in class, and it was true on this occasion. And then on my bike on the cold, dark ride home this started bubbling over, and once I’d started I couldn’t stop. Autobiographical free verse perhaps?

Midwinter.

Snow falling, snow on snow – almost forty years ago. On a warm winter night, at a blanketed bus-stop, four year old hands clutch a calendar of lions – a prize for attending mother’s Old Girls. A glimpse into the impossibility of life before us, a chorus of “aahs” and “how sweet”, and this gift of shiny yellow baring teeth, a talisman to wave at older siblings who visited, instead, exotic aunts in their exotic flats in Petty France, and got tea and several kinds of cakes. And the snow falls on other midwinters, when the dining room is dark and cold, inhabited by the ghosts of exotic dead aunts. Dead aunts who spent their remaining days under our curious gazes, in the neat white double bed, presided over by the cold, gold crucifix, and the visiting priest giving last rites, a blessing on the way out of life to – where exactly? Heaven, mother says, and leaving behind the cold, white bed.

Snow falls on snow, on the way to catch a glimpse of father’s life, seated in the front row, while boys dressed in perplexing drag, sing of pirates or fairies and we are all examined by many eyes, specimens of teacher’s children – his life outside school grounds.

And the evenings of Blue Peter and Jackanory and the nights of childish fights and games, and stories round grandmother’s bed in the candlelit, power-cutted dining room. Grandmother, whose eyes and teeth and voice are just the right size (no wolves here), and whose presence banishes dead aunts into the night. Grandmother, who nonetheless, spots hidden grape-stealing fingers, once the light returns and banishes seven year-old naughtiness from her sight.

Snow falls on snow as Christmas comes around, And the lights of the hand-picked, hand-painted Christmas tree colour the dining room; the milk bottles freeze and the bluetits steal the cream;and all through the house there is more than one mouse awake. There are muffled giggles through the night and Father Christmas cannot come till we sleep but sleep is not possible tonight and there are rustles and chuckles and the waiting is impossible, and no sign of coal-dusty appearances, and we are waiting and we are waiting and we are waiting…
… and suddenly we are awake and he has been and left in his wake treasures to share:
between three – a father-made dolls house, complete with working lights
for two – a pink plastic pram, to mimic mother, and push through snow and ice.
for all of us – a collection of slightly singed books, rescued from the flames of a rather unfortunate bonfire (how that happened, no-one knows).

Snow falls on snow, and a houseful of children are thrown out into the back garden and the recreation ground, booted, scarved and gloved, sliding down the slippery slope, again, and again and again, till at last the joy of snowball fights pall and we return to the hot-chocolated kitchen and the iron-boarded mother who steams away the cold. And in the dining room at night time dead grandmothers meet with dead exotic aunts, and the journey from living room to bed, becomes in the darkness, an epic voyage, with brave advances and cowardly withdrawals and stairs taken three at a time to avoid the open, black dining room door where dead aunts and dead exotic grandmothers expose their groping dead fingers to grab us in the dark (no matter what mother says) until we reach the safety of the landing and at last to bed and pillow fights. And only the Christmas tree lights are bright enough to banish such ghosts from sight. Father Christmas comes again and again and again, until he is one day exposed as a big brother wrapped in a counterpane from top to toes.

Snow falls on snow and there are carol singers in the night, and sometimes we join them in the orange sodium light to sing of snow and bright angels. And now we are old enough to tramp to church for Midnight Mass where we listen to long sermons, breathe in the incense, and experience the miraculous birth – shepherds, kings, and angels, peace on earth. And the twelve-year old night when snow freezes traffic so that we abandon the bus on the way home from school (or it abandons us) at frozen traffic lights, with walking the only option, a slipping, and a sliding that very soon palls, so snowfall is cursed, and at last after two hours of icy travelling we arrive home to a tomato-souped kitchen and a threadbare holey-jumpered father who steams away the cold.

Snow falls on snow and life expands beyond the house and the fights and noise of all these girls and boys, and friends extend our experiences beyond the bounds of the local recreation ground. Now boyfriends banish the ghosts of dead aunts and grandmothers from the dining room as we sit in the cuddling armchairs springing apart at the inopportune opening of the door by mothers, fathers, sisters or brothers. Then boyfriends leave and we grieve for a while, and the home-worked dining room becomes haunted by the ghosts of kisses past, till Christmas comes again and we realise we are surrounded by friends who laugh in passing at the tiny hand-picked, hand-painted tree that colours the room. And how fast our childhood has gone and it is time for us to take our leave, but before we do we celebrate the twenty five years that have passed since our parents made their vows in the impossibility of life before us. And so we go to church and sing a chorus of snow falling on snow.

Midwinter:long, ago.

Copyright: Virginia Moffatt 2009

(Author’s Note I was quite pleased with all the connections I made, till I realised later, the carol should have been “It came upon a Midnight Clear”. Let’s put that down to artistic license shall we?)

Welcome to My Room.


‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’ Virginia Woolf

I’ve been a writer for many years, but not a serious one. As Woolf said in her famous speech on woman writers, to be able to write you need personal space, and a large enough income to allow you the free time. I’ve never quite had either. These days I do have a salary in keeping with Woolf’s suggestion of £500/year (when you allow for inflation), but I have to work for it. That takes time and mental energy. When I am not doing that, I’m spending time with my family. That takes even more time and mental energy. I have a lovely home, but there isn’t the space to enable me to have that private writing room I’ve always craved.

Tant pis for me. I had plenty of opportunities when I was young. I had my own bedroom, and though I worked, had weekends and evenings to myself. Then my reasons were: too busy, too tired, no typewriter. While I was making all those excuses, the world kept on turning. Suddenly I found myself, aged 40, mother of three, and not a novel to my name.

Since then, I have taken matters in hand. These days I write most evenings, have produced a number of short pieces of fiction, and am working on a novel. I am passionate about developing my skills as a writer, and have just completed a Diploma in Creative Writing.

I don’t have a real room of my own yet, so I’ve decided to create a virtual one instead. I’ll be posting short pieces of fiction (maybe the odd bit of poetry)and essays looking at the craft of writers I admire. I’d love to know what you think, so if you want to critique, please feel free to post (particularly welcome for pieces in development). Even if you think I suck, it would be good to hear your comments.

I’m also lucky to know a bunch of very talented writers, many of whom are starting out, or may not be that well known yet. I’ll be using this space to advertise their work.

So welcome to my room. Come on in, pull up a chair, turn the lamp on and I hope that you enjoy the read.

Virginia Moffatt

A Room of My Own is the copyright of Virginia Moffatt. All works published on this page by Virginia Moffatt are copyrighted to her. All works published on this page by other writers are copyrighted to to them.