#fridayflash The Preacher

She is hell-fire and damnation. She corrupts my thoughts, polluting me to the depths of my soul. Every day I pray to my Master to have the strength to resist the temptation that the Evil One has put in my path. Verily, I understand, that she has been sent as a test to my fidelity.That I must walk though this valley of death with integrity and fortitude. That if I trust only in the Lord, then shall I overcome.

She comes each week to Chapel, gazing at me, with a brazen mockingness, as if she is questioning every statement that I preach. Her brown hair is piled in curls underneath a hat decorated with yellow and purple bird feathers. Though she is wearing a velvet cloak, I know that underneath, the neckline of her blue silk gown plunges to the point of immodesty. Her sister sits besides her, dressed in suitable grey, never daring to catch my eye, drinking in my every word. A more suitable helpmeet for me, perhaps, but I have strayed off the path of righteousness. I want to reach out and untie that velvet cloak, caressing the blue silk dress with my fingers. I want plunge down beneath the cloth, unhooking the corset, hook by hook. As I preach the Word of the Lord, I am possessed by the idea of  doing unspeakable things to her in the darkness, and though I condemn myself for my hypocrisy, I am powerless to stop.

Once, walking home after Chapel, I saw a couple, locked together against the side of an abandoned cottage. She had her skirt hitched up and they were rutting like animals, in utter depravity. The woman glanced up as I passed, and smiled at me like a demon. Sometimes, I believe it was at that moment the Devil crept in to my soul. At night, I am tormented by dreams in which we are that rutting couple, and I give way to the agonising ecstasy, whilst she taunts me, laughing like the fiend she is. I wake in damp disgust, and resolve that today I will rid myself of this affliction. That I will purify my soul and walk again by still waters, that I may lay down with my Lord in green pastures. But I cannot.

She is hellfire. She is damnation. I should have the faith, and the strength to resist this temptation. But I am a weak sinner, lost in the wilderness. There is no way back for me now.

I will have her and be damned.

Halfway up the Hill

This being my hundreth post, I wanted to it to be a little bit special. So I’m delighted to say that I have something to celebrate.

After 7 and a half years, I have finally achieved something I thought might never happen. I have completed the first draft of my novel. As achievements go, it’s not that impressive. I still haven’t finished the book or found an agent, let alone a publisher. And as my daughter kindly pointed out – if it’s taken you this long to write the first draft, how long will the second take you?

Still, it’s worth taking a breather, halfway up the hill, and reflecting where I’ve come from. Way back at the bottom of the slopes, when the idea for Echo Hall first presented itself, I was a stay-at-home mother, with three children of five and under. My writing time was pretty limited, though my thinking time wasn’t. As a result, I was able to work out the core of the plot and a few key characters, but didn’t have any opportunity to write it down. I meandered along the lower slopes for the next three years. Training for the London Marathon in 2005 took up all my spare time for quite a while, though long runs helped clarify plot and character development. Moving to Oxford at the end of that year, and returning to work in 2006 pretty much did for my writing that year, though by then I’d at least worked out the narrative structure.

It wasn’t till the beginning of 2007 that I carved out some time and took my first faltering steps up the path to the summit. At last I set down my first five chapters (embarrassingly over the top from this distance, but quite pleasing at the time). Later that year I started a writing course, which I hoped would help me  progress, but which often had the reverse effect. The relentless treadmill of constant assignments trapped me in many a thorn bush and several  dispiriting dead-ends. When I made the mistake of trying to submit parts of the novel as coursework, the resultant marks and critique sent me spiralling into despair. Still, I perservered with my story, and, thanks to a term sharing chapters with my course friend, Rachel Crowther (who has since published her novel, The Partridge and the Pelican) by the end of the course, I had drafts for 3 out of 5 sections. I was also encouraged by the very lovely Dennis Hamley, whose support for my portfolio (a re-worked beginning) gave me the hope that I was beginning to get somewhere.

When I graduated, I had high hopes that I’d be able to storm off to the summit in no time. After all, I was in a regular rhythm of writing and the discipline of submitting assignments had at least helped me work to deadlines. But, alas, it hasn’t been that easy. I spent the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010 mired in a bog of complex work issues. Dealing with that and looking after my family meant my writing had no chance. I discovered #fridayflash around then, which kept my hand in (& at least helped my writing improve), but novels need space and energy and I had very little to give. Last July, thanks to my lovely husband Chris, I got away for a beautiful weekend of writing and surged forward to complete a draft of part 4. But immediately afterwards, I was thrown off course by the death of my lovely friend Pip. After that happened, I literally froze and couldn’t write a word for a couple of months. When I was able to go back to it, the novel seemed too daunting, so I stuck to my weekly #fridayflash stories instead. By Christmas, I was preparing for the London Marathon again. Once more, I found long runs useful times for working out plot and character, but I was just too exhausted with that, work pressure and family life to actually do any writing.

Since completing the Marathon, I’ve found the going slow. Having had such a big focus for the winter, it has taken a while for me to put my energies into something else. Part 5 has progressed chapter, by painful chapter, up a dusty scree slope, slipping back 3 feet for every 2 feet forward. It’s taken the relaxation of a fortnight’s holiday to give me the impetus to throw down the last 2,000 words and drag myself to this plateau where I am now resting in quiet triumph.

And yes, the path ahead is daunting. Of the 65,000 words written, I’d say only about 15,000 are any good (and even these need re-working). I need more words, and better ones. I will have to write and re-write again, and again and again, before the language is of sufficient quality to do my story justice. I have characters who are half formed, or too stereotypical, who need shaping and developing in complexity. I have to fix period, place and editorial detail. Far too many people change names half way through, and there are huge blank spots where my inspiration ran dry for a moment but I let the story run on anyway. I fear my book is both too elitest and too shallow. Too polemic, yet not stating it’s case clearly enough. I have a lot more work to do.

But, the top doesn’t look an impossible target anymore. It may have taken  years to get here, and possibly a few more before I’m done. Yet I’m eager to continue and I can see what I need to do to reach my goal. For the moment though, I’m taking the opportunity to put my weary feet up and enjoy a piece of Kendal Mint Cake in the sunshine.

Tomorrow, I’m heading for the top.