Friday, 30 March 2012

Library Pledge...oops!

I’ve taken my pledge to borrow a book from the library each month so seriously for March that I’ve borrowed two...but not found joy in either.  Oops!

To be fair, this may be more to do with my smash-and-grab approach to picking them (without any smash, I hasten to add!), than with the actual books – because if I’d taken time to browse, to read a few pages and consider the style of each, I probably wouldn’t have picked them at all.

So the first March Pledge – it was a Saturday, I was off work but in town mooching around, and I didn’t realise the library closed for lunch...until I was walking into it.  The friendly library manager who I know smiled and said I had a few minutes...but I work in a shop and often growl inwardly at customers who come in right on closing time, so I should know better!  Oops.  There I am, reading spines of books faster than a checkout scanner, trying to figure out which one to borrow, pulling one down and skimming the blurb...and there’s a voice over my shoulder, rightfully informing me that they were closing.  I shut the cover of the book I was considering like slamming my hand in a door, rush over to the self-service machine, momentarily forget how to work a computer...and then scuttle out the door with my tome in tow.

It should’ve been a story I’d like, according to the blurb, and while the writing was ok, I just couldn’t vibe the characters...and it was a really, really big hardback.  I’m really not a fan of hardbacks, unless they’re coffee-table stylee photography ones – they’re not ergonomic at all, you know; they give you arm ache just by looking at them.  And while size doesn’t usually put me off (no smutty jokes, now, please!), this time it didn’t coax me back into the pages.

Returning it was a pleasure – but as I was doing so on the second Poetry Liaisons event at my local library* (see my post about the first one here: ), I didn’t have time to browse for another title.  Cut to a week later, I’ve just finished a morning shift and my stomach thinks my throats been cut (which it often feels like – damn the air conditioning; it makes me so thirsty!).  Dreaming of my not-so-gourmet lunch ahead hastens my choice once again, and I pick an unusual and interesting sounding story, ‘Waiting for Columbus’ by Thomas Trofimuk (London: Picador, 2010).

Reading the first few pages intrigued me, reading the few that followed puzzled me, the next couple confused me, and the last ones didn’t connect me to the characters.  So I stopped.  Skipped forward to the end, of course, to find out how it ended (I know, I know, slap my wrist!), and part of me wished I’d hung on in there, for the dénouement was quite poignant...but as the answer to the puzzle seemed only to be fully answered a chapter or so before the end, I know there’s no way I would’ve had the patience.  Oops.

While you shake your head at me (I’m a bad, bad reader, I know!), I’d like to enter Exhibit A and B as my defence: I did fall in love with two quotations, from the beginning and the end (of course, you object, for that’s all you read!), and I’d like to share them with you:

 p2: “This is a desolate, rocky place.  Its rocks seem old, as if they have been written down in an ancient, forgotten language...He looks out and feels the ocean’s coldness – understands the uncaring green and grey, the undulating deep heart of it.”

 p389: “There was no movement.  No healing.  He felt like a ghost, an apparition who imbibed – never quite drunk but never truly sober, never truly there.  [He] felt like he was starting to disappear – soundless, swallowed.  There was no evidence of a life.  There was only scant evidence of consumption.”

So, my defence rests and you, the prosecution, know my bad reading habits...but what will the April Pledge jury decide?!

*No oops here – again, the evening was an enjoyable and roaring success, and though I felt a little shy and only read out one poem, the guest poet from the first event is holding a poetry workshop soon, and I’m enrolling...just as soon as I’m at the library!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Emily Dickinson and a Frog

A couple of posts ago, I shared with you one of my all-time favourite poems by one of my all-time favourite poets – poem 254 (a.k.a. ‘ “Hope” is the thing with feathers’) by 19th Century American poet, Emily Dickinson.

I discovered Emily Dickinson (or ED as I affectionately call her) while studying 19th Century American Literature on my degree and, while I’m no scholar or authority, found I understood and ‘got’ her.  Whenever a Reader reads something that just makes sense, that touches a place in their soul and feels so right, they want to read more of it, to feel more of it – and that’s what I’ve done with ED, and am still doing; to the point where I’ve asked for ED’s biography for Easter and not an egg (or eggs – the parents are rather generous, bless ’em)!

Surprisingly, I’d heard some of ED’s lines all the way back in secondary school but never knew it was her – you might’ve heard them too?:

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

~ from 712*

Even if you hadn’t before, you have now!  It isn’t just ED’s poetry which strikes me, it’s her process of writing and her life – and so much of that is still relevant today.

Born on 10th December 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, ED was writing at a time when America was finding itself, establishing its identity – to be American was to be free, individual, new; to be something Other than English or European or Puritan – yet to be unified in this newness, too.  Unfortunately, this unity didn’t, in practice, encompass all factions of equality – women and different races weren’t given importance in this credo – but ED sought, and fought to an extent, for hers.

Educated at one of the first colleges in the world to grant degrees to women (to think there was a time, globally, that being female could prevent you from studying and gaining qualifications!  Don’t get me on my feminist soap box...), ED went on to write and read...on a vast-er-than-vast scale.  Scholars now estimate that she wrote (are you ready for this?!) 17,000 poems...yet only about 10 were published in her lifetime.  17, 000!  10!  So why weren’t more published?

In part, because she chose not to.  In part, because she was someone who was Other – female, an artist, a writer writing in a way not seen before; a way that was deemed ‘not quite right’. 

You’ll have noticed from my quoting her work that she uses dashes ( – ) and capital letters in unexpected places; that she doesn’t put in the punctuation we’re used to; that she doesn’t title each poem; and that she plays word games within the poems.  I – and many, many others – find this approach to be innovative, artistic and fresh as well as striking, provoking and Authoritative (meaning the Author taking control and ownership over the reach of their work) – but this wasn’t the view back in the 1800s. 

Then, ED’s poetry was a way of writing that needed ‘tidying up’ – as if she didn’t really know what she was doing and made a messy attempt at it.  As if she could be improved.  Well, she was a woman, after all, wasn’t she?!  (Argh!  I get so indignant thinking about this editing-of-the-writer’s-intention, this censorship of her – take and breath and calm down, Deb!)  It wasn’t until the early 1950s and America’s interest in rediscovering lost women poets that ED’s work was reconsidered – and that her artistic genius was respected, resulting in a collection of her work published in 1981 with her punctuation restored (Yay!, cheers feminist Deb!).

So why did ED chose not to publish – especially when she wrote so very much?  I’d argue that the need to write isn’t the same as wanting to publish – some people have to write to live a satisfied, fulfilled life (me!), but don’t want or need anyone else to read this work (not Deb – I love a reader, me!  The more, the merrier...).  From my degree work on one of her poems, 288 (a.k.a. ‘I’m Nobody! Who are you?’) I also think that ED was savvy; in this poem, she explores how being known publically, how being ‘Somebody’, can override the writer’s intention, making the unique and personal ‘Nobody’ into something ordinary, common and impersonal; how heedless publication can lead to skewed consumerism, and how that can devalue the original work or/and writer, even way back in the 19th Century.

While ED didn’t seek publication in the way that most writers (including myself) do, she was an originator of self-publishing: she handstitched a collection of poems into fabric and shared them with a select few. (Disclaimer: my uni notes don’t elaborate on the details, but as I’ve just ordered my Easter present – ! – I shall know soon!).  After her death, her family discovered these ‘fascicles’, as they’re known, unstitched them and arranged for chronological publishing, with ED’s punctuation ‘restored’ to ‘proper’ grammar! (Cue more Deb-indignation!)

Myself, I think a Writer writes because they need to and because they love words, love stories – and so they must too love reading.  It makes sense that one who loves to read and then writes themselves, will want someone else to read their writing – but this doesn’t necessarily equate to published work, which will be criticised and critiqued.

What do you think?  I’ll leave you with the poem in question to stoke the argument:


I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – Too?
Then there’s a pair of us?
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

* I should make it clear (after my editorial-indignation!) that I've centralised ED's poems to make them stand out on the screen, and to separate them from my witterings - ED has them justified to the left of the page as is customary in poetry.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Resolution Review

Back on the 7th January, I blogged about setting myself some realistic (and therefore attainable) writing resolutions, rather than the usual-breakable-nonsense we all set ourselves up for – are we really watching less TV, exercising more and eating better?!  I’ll leave you to be the judge of that in your own lives (!)...but I’m pleased to say that, three months on, I can tick my list, baby!

So, like any good review, let’s begin by recapping –I said I resolved to:

1.      Write for 15 minutes minimum every other day;

2.      Record a Word of the Day daily;

3.      Enter at least 6 competitions in 12 months;

4.      Have a Girl’s Night In to get to know my characters for Novel Number Two;

5.      Finish my poetry sequence by the end of the year.

I can award myself (big, red and sparkly!) ticks for 1, 2, 3, and (almost!) 5, and here’s the evidence: 

I have been writing much more than that estimate, though sometimes it’s been all-day-one-day and then nothing for a couple of days, to be followed by lots more on another (but then I’ve never been any good at sticking to rote and routine!).  I’ve been noting down loadsa words in my Philavery ( = a word-book; the title coined by Christopher Foyle and his Foyle’s Philavery books listing interesting and pleasing words – I bought the set which comes with its very own plain-paged journal for you to record your own collection!), choosing one and posting it daily.

Yesterday, I sent off 2 more competition entries, after working on them last week, which makes 4 in total since I set the Resolutions.  In my Stocktake of a Scribe post (read it here ), I noted how both The Dare and Dakota needed slight additions to their word counts to make them eligible for entry into most competitions – and now they’re both up to speed and entered!  I’ve also found a competition with the theme ‘She’s the One’ celebrating International Women’s Day, ‘about the women who inspire you and how they have changed your world’ – which made me think of my recent poem Dear Jessica I shall be working on the entry this week.  I’m pretty sure Dear Jessica Fletcher will stand out from the rest as, let’s face it, who else would write a homage to a busybody-ish character from a 1980s, slightly twee TV show!  Whether this is just a fair piece of work, good enough to get me short-listed or even (gasp!) win, is down to the is it being bad enough to stink, stink, stink!  Still, it’s worth a go, right?!

Getting back to the Resolutions, any decent review also explores what hasn’t worked so well and what can be done to get back on track.  Number 4 is my sticking-point of a problem – I haven’t had the Girl’s Night In to get to know my characters from Novel Number least not yet.  I still intend to, but I’ve been deep in my poetry and have decided to concentrate on completing the sequence before moving on.  In my original Resolution, I set a time-frame on this knees-up which was rather short (the end of January) – and the solution to make this goal achievable is to extend the time-frame to the end of July, four months away.  This gives space and time to plan and play, and then the beginning of autumn should see the start of narrative work on Novel Number Two...wish me luck!

Point 5 is the one I’m really chuffed about (very nearly almost!) ticking off – the completion of my poetry sequence is.  Only.  Two.  Poems.  Away!  The First Draft of one of these is finished and cooling its heels, waiting to be edited and redrafted later this week; thoughts are percolating through my brain for the second poem (the topic of which is already decided), and captured on paper as I go, ready for me to begin proper work soon.  The idea for a poetry sequence about my early writing influences, and indeed the first poem to be written (The Writer’s Toil), emerged on the 23rd May last year, and so it is an important and telling anniversary to come, because I hadn’t written anything – at all – for about 18 months before that.  To now be in a very real place of having completed the whole cycle, from the first thoughts of 8 poems all the way through to the final drafts, in one calendar year (possibly even inside that year) is a huge achievement – and one I shall celebrate!

Every Review has, of course, to end – so in conclusion, then: 5 points = 4 ticks (go on, let me off – the sequence will be finished in a matter of weeks!) and an extended one...

I think that’s a bloody brilliant start to 2012, don’t you?!  I hope these beginning three months have been a good time of reflection, action and experience for you, too – here’s to the next nine of 2012.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


How is it Wednesday again already?!  Bet I’m not the only one thinking this, eh...!

Welcome once more to my writer’s workdesk – and I’d like to say thank you to all of you who stopped by my Pen Pot last week, especially those who took the time to comment, and to say sorry to those of you whose desks I didn’t get time to visit.  This week I’m going to make an effort to visit those blogs I haven’t yet been introduced to.

So, my WOYWW this week owes thanks to all of you – you inspired me to do something crafty with different papers, a couple of photographs, a teabag and some glue! 

Sometime last autumn, a colleague cleared out her old scrapbook-making stuff, brought it into work and donated it to whoever wanted it – I made sure I was first in line to have a gander, after being inspired by my good friend Zoe’s work (see her blog at ).  Picking a clutch of different papers, I also grabbed a guillotine (essential as I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, much less cut one!) and a book of backing card.  From the excitement that came with my new toys (!), I found a paper design I loved, backed it onto card with ripped edges for a distressed effect, and then backed that onto a deeper-hued card.

But it looked a little empty in the middle...and I started to look out for an image which would fit.

Then came mine and Zoe’s Paris trip last November, and my photos of the reading rooms upstairs in the Shakespeare Company bookshop; one cubbyhole is that of a writer’s den with a typewriter on a desk, Post-Its and a stack of books.  Typewriters are a huge symbol to me of the writing process, encompassing the psychological and physical toil (no pounding of keys on our laptops or touch-screen phones now, is there?!) of writing, as well as influential aspect (just think Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote and Stephen King and all those other authors banging away on their typewriters!).  I loved this little writer’s nook and, looking at my recently developed photos (I know, took me some time, didn’t it?!), I just knew what was going to fill that empty space.

My plan was to place the two photos on an angle, and make borders for them using quotes I’d found about typewriters – but today I discovered that the best-laid plans don’t always work!

Before I found this out, though, I printed out the pages with the quotations I wanted to feature (in a typewriter font, of course – well, it had to be, didn’t it, to express it properly!), brewed a nice cup of tea and used the tea bag to ‘age’ the paper.  Letting them dry, I started to play around with the photos...and found that two was too much, as you can see:

So I chose one image, cut it down to size, and placed it on the paper.  Then I got a little guillotine-happy and sliced my quotations up without using a ruler or thinking about the length vs. width I’d need to make a border...oops!  I’m not at all about numbers, you see.  While I was trying to decide where in the line of text to cut, I realised that making a border out of the quotation would actually be too heavy for the overall effect, and so came the idea of just using one alongside the ‘prompt’ words about the process of writing I’d also been planning to use.  I placed them onto the page first...

...then when I was happy, stuck them down.  The irony that I’ve chosen a Hemingway saying makes me chuckle, seeing as I’ve recently read and disliked his The Old Man and The Sea (see my post entitled ‘Heming-No-Way’ if you want to know what I really thought!), but what he says here – “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed” – resonates with me and my views on writing.  Though I was a bit disappointed with the text being chopped up, it seemed a happy accident that the word ‘bleed’ is separated from the rest, as if it’s a form of punctuation...well, that’s my excuse, anyway!   

At the same time, it dawned on me that I had a duplicate of the original paper-design, and could therefore make another picture – creating a pair – to include the discarded photo!  O-kay, I hear you cry...but it excited me, ’cause this is my first proper papercraft project and there I was, getting a lightning strike of an idea from a bodge!  Anyhoo, I didn’t have quite the same tone in the first backing paper and had to use one slightly lighter, but I think it works to balance out the overall effect, as the second photo is darker (being that it’s a close-up of the typewriter).

Once I’d placed the photograph, all that was left to do was chop up another quote (though I did try to be more calculated with it this time!), and as I was laying it out, I thought it resembled a sheet of paper coming out of the top of the typewriter...  But I couldn’t fit all of the saying at the top of the page (perhaps I shouldn’t have stuck the photo down first, then I could’ve moved it down to the bottom and really worked that ‘typed page’ effect...but, hey, doing is all about learning, right?!), and had to space it out more.

And so there you have it, my first attempt at proper papercraft...and it didn’t take me as long as I’d thought it would, nor was it as tricky!  Plus I ended up with 2 pics when I’d only intended to make 1... now all I’ve got to do is (pat myself on the back first! then) put them up on my scriptorium wall.  That’s after I’ve visited your fabulous desks, of course, courtesy of Julia over at . 

Thanks again for popping by my Pen Pot, and I’ll see you soon.

Monday, 12 March 2012



“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

And sweetest in the gale is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

~ Emily Dickinson


Saturday, 10 March 2012


My recent reading of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain triggered an interest in Ernest Hemingway’s work (being that he was a main character in it!) – and so I dug out the two books of his on my bookshelf. 

I studied Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises at university, and remember being impressed by its pacy, sparky dialogue, though I struggled with its depictions of bullfighting (which is my personal bias to be put aside when thinking about literature, just as Hemingway’s love of bullfighting is his bias).  I’m not sure if I can say I enjoyed it in the sense of getting pleasure from it, but I did like it as a story that says a lot about the Lost Generation of World War One, their disillusion and attempts to deal with it.  I confess I didn’t dig out my notes and essays to gen up on it, and chose instead to begin the Hemingway that I hadn’t yet read.

The Old Man and The Sea.  Oh dear.  Oh dear, dear.  It received the Nobel Prize and is often celebrated as Hemingway’s greatest work,’s just not a Deb-book, I’m afraid – it’s a Heming-No-Way for me.

The plot is easily summed up: old man goes fishing, battles with and catches huge fish, struggles to sail home against the elements and loses the fish to sharks, returns home worse for wear but alive.  Themes that are most discussed are: the strength of humanity against Mother Nature, the sea, fishing, masculinity, emasculation, Christianity, and many others.

But this book left me cold.

Firstly, I couldn’t relate to the characters or the plot (which I admit is my shortcoming – to be fair, if you like fishing, you’ll most likely be interested), and I couldn’t enjoy or empathise; but, then, I’ve never been into boys-own-adventure type books, so that should’ve tipped me off.  For me, if I don’t care about the characters, I just.  Don’t.  Care.   

Now, Hemingway is renowned for his writing style: short sentences, spare descriptions and economy of words.  I understand that this is his attempt to get to the reality of the work, the authenticity of the experience; to tell the story true and not put himself into it.  However, this just isn’t to my personal taste, and while I can appreciate it, I don’t particularly enjoy it.  For me, the beautiful texture of language is missing; instead the narrative is bland, desiccated.  (In Fiesta, the pacy and often punchy dialogue went some way to alleviating this; but in The Old Man and The Sea, there is little dialogue as it is more of an internal struggle and therefore story.) 

Plus, in this book, he repeats ‘the old man’ so many times it drove me nuts!  I do have a (big!) issue with unnecessary repetition (it should have Purpose to drive the narrative or style forward, and if it can be avoided, I prefer to), I admit, but if Hemingway had never named the man, it would’ve made sense to me in terms of showing him as simply a human being (instead of a persona) against the mighty ocean; but he does – the old man is named Santiago.  Added to this frustration, I felt unnecessary words were also repeated – I didn’t record any examples in my Reading Journal, but it’s like saying, ‘The window was open.  He looked out of the open window,’ which to me isn’t being economical with words at all, but clumsy and sloppy instead (the second ‘open’ certainly isn’t needed, but nor is the ‘of the open window’ as we, the reader, can infer this information).

Now, don’t let me stop you – you may well find The Old Man and The Sea to be both a thrilling adventure and an important treatise on humanity.  Give it a go if you fancy, and you can try to convince me – but I doubt I’ll ever change my mind...! 

Clearly, I am in a Heming-No-Way place at the moment, but I will give him one more go – so has anyone got any recommendations?!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

What's on Your Workdesk Wednesday 144

Hello and Happy Wednesday to everyone – I was well chuffed that so many of you had a nose around my desk and writing room last week, and really rather touched that a few of you asked me to share more in future thank you, both for the page views and the comments.  Please head on over to Julia at her blog Stamping Ground    to enjoy snooping at some more crafty spaces!

I really enjoyed having a look at all of your desks and seeing what projects you’ve got on the go, are hiding (!) because they’re not quite ready, or the lil bits (as I like to call ’em in my work!) that you’re experimenting with.  You’re all really talented (yes, you are) and I felt a tad performance-challenged, being a writer and not really a craft-er (yet!), and then I got all inspired...and wrote a lil poem about WOYWW that I’d like to share with you now:

A Blog Sensation

It’s Wednesday, and so I sit at the screen and
desk-hop around the world, sharing creativity,
inspiration and accomplishment.  I click and
arrive at people’s posts, have a nose and notice:

reams of paper, all different sizes, spilling off
shelves or stacked high in baskets and crates,
bright colours championing spontaneity while 
sepia tones celebrate feats and days gone by;

pens and markers dripping ink, stamp sets too;
sentiments kind and wishful but thankfully
not too sentimental (!); also many fabrics, with
stitches like bows pulling it all together;

a printer’s block made anew, compartments
filled with knick-knacks and novelties;
a tawny owl, button eyes warm with wisdom
and textured plumage deep with flight;

then there’s all the blogs I didn’t get to see,
some asking questions, others offering advice,
but always, always sharing – so pull up a chair today
and join us at What’s On Your Workdesk Wednesday.

A couple of you asked to see more of my scriptorium (or writing room, but I do like to be a bit flash every now and then!), so here are the Before snaps when it was just a junk-filled cupboard-under-the-stairs:

Here’s the After pics, when it was all fresh and pristine, and really rather boring!  As you can see, I was still technologically-challenged with an ancient desktop computer...

I couldn’t take a Before shot of this angle, as I couldn’t get into the cupboard for all the junk in the way!

...and then the behemoth exploded!  So I had no choice but to finally get ‘with it’ a la laptop, and here is my scriptorium today, with pulled-back views so you can see the space properly:

 Yes, you can still see a red coat (a different one to in the After shots, though!), and your eyes are not deceiving you - that is a mannequin in a red dress, hiding behind the coat!  Red is obviously my favourite colour, but the mannequin is there to inspire me for Novel Number Two, which is based around a dressmaker...

You can just see a sign on the ceiling, on a cloudy blue paper - it's for those moments when I sign, struggling, and sit back and raise my eyes to the heavens! 
To spur me on, it says:
'Your imagination is your limitation.'

As to what’s actually on my desk this Wednesday...well, it’s the same as last week, I’m afraid!  You know how it feels when Life and its Daily Drudgeries interrupt your creative vibe?  Well, that's exactly what’s happened to me this past week...oops.  Next week, though, I’m on holiday from work and hope to work on the final 2 poems in my sequence, so come back for WOYWW 145 to see if I’ve managed to get on with it!

Hope your week has been a good one – thanks for popping by the Pen Pot, and I’ll see you over at your desks in the next few days:0)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Lost Diamonds

If you were a jeweller who’d just had the best idea for a commission ever, and then found that your diamonds were missing, what would you do?

Worse still, if you were a writer who’d committed the best words ever to the page, and then found those pages lost and un-recoverable, what would you do?

The subject of Lost Words (and words really are diamonds to me – anyone who knows me will tell you how I discover and collect them daily!) resonated for me when I read Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife. 

Though the novel is Hadley’s fictional account of her marriage to and life with the writer Ernest Hemingway, it is based on true events – and Hadley really did lose Hemingway’s early manuscripts.  All of them.  And, to this day, they’ve never been found.  (Just gets all the ‘why, where and how’ questions going, doesn’t it?!)

It happened at a railway station in December 1922, when Hadley was travelling to meet Hemingway, who was on an assignment for a newspaper.  He’d met someone in the business who wanted to see his writing, so Hadley was bringing it to him – and, as McLain tells it, Hadley is so keen to help Ernest that she packs everything he’s written, even the carbon copies (this is back in the day when there was no photocopiers or computer back-up files – haven’t we got it easy, eh?!).  On the train, she stows her suitcase and the valise (what a diamond of a word!  Its usage, the dictionary tells me, is mainly American and means a small overnight case or bag.  Anyhoo...) containing the manuscripts, and goes off to get a bottle of water.  (If you’re reading the same copy of McLain as I have, this section is pp 160 – 167.)

When Hadley comes back, the valise is gone.

Just imagine her shock, panic and despair.  How stricken with guilt and fear she must have felt, knowing her husband’s beloved work was lost.  She searched for it, of course, but it wasn’t found.  On she had to travel, knowing she’d have to confess to Hemingway what had happened – and that all his words were lost.

Now, Hemingway’s missing manuscripts are not the only lost literary works in history – there’s also the later and (supposedly superior) draft of Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence (he left it in a cafe, and so had to use the first draft as a basis for the eventual book); the more recent example of Jilly Cooper’s only copy of Riders, which she lost on a London bus and then spent 14 years recreating; the Lost Library of Alexandria in Ancient Egypt, which was ‘accidentally’ burned down; and, of course, many more. 

But on a more personal level, how would it feel to lose everything you’d ever written, up to that point?  How would it feel to lose all the diamonds you’d ever owned – and that you couldn’t get back?

I know how utterly stricken with grief and overwhelmed with the impossibility of recreation I’d feel if I lost everything – thankfully, I’ve not lost everything I’ve ever written, but I have lost some.

When I was 18, I decided to get ‘serious’ about my writing, and reread all my work so far.  I excised the good bits and wrote them up in a notebook (I can still see its blue marble-effect decoration, and still feel how its hardback covers felt like a safe inside which my words were entrusted) – and then discarded the rest.  I can’t remember if I tore the pages or simply screwed them up, but they’re gone.  And so is that damn blue-marbled notebook.  I’d hoped I’d stored it in the attic, but when we cleared it out last summer, it wasn’t there.  So even the best bits of my early writing (from age 7 or so, to 18) are lost.  Absolutely gutting, now that I would like to look back on (and perhaps even cherish) my evolution as a writer.

My latest experience was back in 2008.  I came up with the idea for Book One while at university, and saved everything (and I mean everything) I wrote to a recently discovered (remember, I was a technophobe then!) and much lauded device, the memory stick.  No one ever told me that they can just, one day, decide to stop working, even though you’ve kept it safely in a pencil case of its own, never tossing it into your huge handbag where it could get scratched against your keys or bashed by your phone.  So, post-graduation and determined to get-on-with-it, I put the pen drive into the USB port nothing.  At all.  Even after 10 tries and lots of huffing and puffing.  One of my friends, sensitive to my trauma, gave it to her work’s IT department, but even they couldn’t work magic.  All my ideas, prep and research for Book One was gone.

Yet it was the most freeing experience I’d had so far in my writing career.  I discovered that, while prep work is important, the very first ideas can get stifled and stagnate; that the early work can be more like a millstone than a godsend; and that to produce a book meant writing one, not fiddling around with files that were a couple of years old.  Of course I was crushed at first, but I quickly resolved not to let it stop me: I was going to write the book that I could write now, not the book I’d been beginning on my degree – and the two became two very different things.

I’ve learned from this experience, though: I back up my files on disc, memory stick and send them to a writing-dedicated email address (so that I could access them from any computer anywhere, just in case!).  I also know not to believe that the first attempts, the early work, is the best; often, the stuff that comes later, after I’ve mulled over and critiqued the first drafts and tried again with rewrites, is better.  Many people say that to write is really to re-write, and though I’d like to look back on my early evolution as a writer, I’m glad that I couldn’t get enmeshed in my first thoughts about Book One, and instead just had to do it.

So, while lost diamonds are problematic, they can also be a way to discover a different jewel – and who wants to have the same bling as everyone else?!