Category — Writing

Notes From a Writing Trip 3

November 22, 2017

Recently I got the chance to go away, as I have before, to write. Just write. (Well, maybe there was a wee bit of socializing. But not much.) I have a tight revision deadline for my latest novel, so any time I can grab to work on it, I take. And this time I had a whole weekend. 49 hours, actually. How amazing is that? Really–it’s not a rhetorical question. I’ll tell you how amazing it is:

It’s a silence-filled writing space amazing. It’s hours, back to back, to ponder the words on the page amazing. No interruptions accept for bathroom breaks that didn’t involve toilet training amazing. Just–it was sanctuary.

I took a few diary-esque notes while away, so here’s how it went.

 

 

12:41pm: Finally the ferry is leaving, late, from the berth. De-berthing? Am exhausted. Both kids were up early and I was up with them in the night for all the many reasons kids get parents up at 2am. Was going to start writing as soon as I sat down in the ferry, but am going to take a nap first.

2:14pm: Slept the entire ferry ride. No writing, but feeling more human. Now to catch buses.

 

 

3:45pm: Arrived at writing sanctuary, unpacked most important items (laptop, notes and reading material), brewed some tea and sat down. To write and write and write. This is JOY.

 

(Reading material…a bit optimistic, aren’t I?)

 

5:30pm: Meet a friend for dinner and writing talk. Love love love writing talk. And Thai curry.

7:00pm: Will now sit down to write until eyelids can no longer stay open. What started this afternoon as a shifting of a relationship between three characters is now more of a re-write of several major scenes throughout the story. Must remember not to get so excited about ‘developing’ relationships next time.

11:35pm: Eyelids heavy. Save changes. Brush teeth. Read a paragraph of Maya Angelou and pass out.

7:20am: Wake up refreshed, having slept through the night, feeling sure it must be at least 9am (with accompanying guilt at lost writing time). Nope. Have apparently lost the ability to sleep in.

8:00am: Finish breakfast of toast, tea and chocolate and reread last few pages of revisions from last night. Ugh. Fix things. Force myself not to go back to the beginning. Plough forward, into the mess. Make it better.

1:00pm: Shut laptop, get out of pyjamas (sigh) and ready to meet friend for tea and writing talk. Love love love writing talk. Afterward, walk around the streets a little and think about the lives of the people who live here. It’s not my neighbourhood, but it’s my hometown, so the familiarity is bittersweet. And bittersweet is the best kind of sweet.

 

 

4:00pm Arrive back at laptop and make a a deal: if I write for two hours, I can have ice cream for dinner.

6:00pm: Get a double scoop (cookies and cream and sticky toffee pudding) and know, to my bones, that this is the right dinner for me.

6:20pm: Change back into pyjamas, brew more tea. Sit down. Write until eyelids droop.

10:45pm: Can’t do any more. Brain overloaded. Must stop looking at words. Scroll through Instagram, fall asleep.

7:03am: Dammit! Even earlier than yesterday?!

7:35am: Tea for breakfast–not feeling the toast. Ice cream hangover? Look through only the last two pages of last night’s work. Any further back and I’ll fall into the rabbit hole of editing edits. Scribble thoughts on paper, stare into space, find the offending chapter, and GO.

 

 

11:46am: Starving. Must get lunch. Buy a wrap, scarf it down at the kitchen counter while cleaning old tea mugs and utensils. Pack bag with everything that isn’t my laptop and manuscript. Get everything ready to go, then sit down to write until my alarm says run for the bus!

3:50pm: The ferry is late leaving. Again. A wild Pacific storm is thrashing around us and the crossing will be slow. Find a carrel and set up the laptop for the last hour and a half of writing I can squeeze in. It’s not enough. I’ve made progress, but the vast majority of the book is still in need of work. I know now I’ll need way more time to revise than I will have. There’s so much work to do. It feels so good to do it, but there’s so much more. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.

Who knows where the time will come from–I might have to make it out of nothing. But this book is important, the story is valuable, and making it better is a sacred service to it. I have to find the time. Somehow.

XO

Ria

In: Books & Reading, From Ria, Travel, Writing

Not Sporty. 6

November 8, 2017

This is true: Running makes me feel horribly inconvenienced, pukey and annoyed; I prefer being inside with cake, tea and a book. I don’t want to swim in the ocean and I really don’t want to ski, thanks. Once, when put on a treadmill for one of those gym assessment thingies, I was told outright “You are not a natural runner”. I was the least active person in my family with a running, rugby-playing Dad and a local tennis champ and P.E. teacher Mum. If I was any of the Spice Girls I would not be Sporty.

 

 

And yet… this is also true: I played waterpolo from age 11 – 17 and my high school team won the National championships (several years in a row). When I can be bothered, I am a competent and natural swimmer. When I go out, I love to dance. In the last few years I joined up to Run Auckland and did several 10km races with my sister. Sometimes, when I’m running, I feel free and vibrant and happy. And in two weeks time I am undertaking my first half marathon.

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In: From Hannah, Writing

Dear Inspiration 4

October 10, 2017

Dear Inspiration,

 

I have been waiting. I have been waiting for some time. You will come, I thought…

 

 

Previously, I put down one thing, finished one project and there you were. I thought to myself – “See? This is how it works, this is how it is.” I show up and you show up and we toil. It’s easy! That’s what the books say, that’s what the others say. Do your job. Don’t be lazy. Don’t wait. Show up. Don’t be lazy. It’s so very simple.

I guess our marriage was young then.

 

When I laid down the last project I looked for you to arrive. Waited for your handsome head, around the corner, for you to be waving at me from the other side of the café, wearing your rough clothes, wearing your work overalls, wearing your best grin – “Hello! You’re done with that? Finally. Come on then!” But you weren’t there.

There was no sign of you.

 

I called your place. I looked for you in the usual spots. I made us tea and cake. I ate my cake.

I ate your cake too.

 

And then I thought, I’ll pretend to work. That’ll do it. That’ll teach you. Sitting about, tippy-tapping on my keyboard. Look! I’m working! I’d start out full of optimism, full of bluster, thinking I could simply work without you. It looked good from the outside.

But on the page everything went to gsufiagwuigrblhjbvjsfkbv;j.

 

Let me just confirm, I haven’t just been waiting waiting (or just fake-working)…I keep myself busy. I read books. I read self-help books. I read writing books. I grow poppies in the garden. I tidy my wardrobe. I get **** done! Sometimes I even go to the gym. I’m active. But I hate going to the gym without you, without a writing project running through my head. Everyone at the gym looks like they’ve had their insides squeezed out of them, their souls that is, and the music is bad and it smells of taken-off-shoes and damp crotches. I don’t love working out and I hate being unproductive. I’m so attached now to making, to producing, to being busy and purposeful. Damn it. Damn you.

 

I thought, perhaps, that you might be in disguise. Maybe you had a haircut. Maybe I just didn’t recognize you. With that possibility / hope in mind I have been going to different places, paying close attention and making notes. I’ve become a Private Investigator, looking for you. But study them as I might, you are not in the notes and not in the photographs. I’m starting to wonder if this is a Missing Persons case or a Homicide. Either way, I’m no good at Nordic Noir, so we are both in trouble.

 

I miss you. Like I said, I thought we had a thing. I am ready now you aren’t here and it doesn’t feel great. It feels dark and hollow and a bit scary, if I am being completely honest. I thought I was okay, I thought I was fine, but now I’m wondering who I am without you. Will I be without you forever? What kind of me will I be without you? Will your absence itch and burn and continue to ache like a phantom limb? I’m just not sure I can be without you now I’ve gotten so used to you.

Now that I have grown to love you.

 

What I am saying is – please come back. I’m not stupid, I know something has changed, something has shifted. Our marriage is no longer so young. Any misunderstanding I will fix. I will listen. I can mend my ways. I won’t take you for granted. But I cannot change while you give me the silent treatment, while you play your vanishing act. Please come back. We will talk it through.

 

With love, Hannah

In: From Hannah, Writing

Come with me to Brittany… 2

July 1, 2017

 

I recently received this lovely note from a reader, Sandi, regarding A French Wedding: ‘Wonderful book. My husband was from Brittany and we enjoyed Douarnenez every summer. His Aunt’s seafood platter and Kouign-Amann was amazing. Thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories.’

 

It’s such a joy (and relief) to hear from readers who give the thumbs-up on your depiction of a setting. Because places are so dear to us it’s impossible to completely capture them in a way that will satisfy everyone. This was always going to be a challenge for the location of Douarnenez, where A French Wedding is set – trying to get it right for those who know and love Brittany as much as I do, painting the right kind of picture for those who haven’t yet been. Too much fondness applied and it becomes too saccharine, a pinch too much cynicism and fictional Brittany is suddenly bleaker than its weather.

 

 

As I mentioned in my last post about it’s famous pastry, the more I learned about Douarnenez – its tiny size, its rugged geography, its fishing industry, its history and folklore – the more I knew it was where A French Wedding needed to be set. Douarnenez is exactly where Juliette would come from and where she would go back to after living in Paris, bereft and in search of, well, herself. And, of course, Max – British, wealthy, famous and similarly lost – would buy a cottage on the coast and transform it into the kind of holiday house worth showing off to friends – full of glass and brass and large wooden tables ready for entertaining.

 

 

I took these photos of Douarnenez on a research trip back in 2015, with my family in tow. We had just come from Korcula in Croatia, where the Adriatic sea glittered and the sun shone white and hot, so Douarnenez was a stark contrast. Always a fan of the underdog, I loved the town. I loved the stone houses in the village clustered around the oily marina, the gulls riding the thermals, even the brooding grey of the sky. We stayed in an incredible, ancient home – Manoir de Kerdanet – run by Sid and Monique, eating Far Breton for breakfast and sipping local cider in the evenings while Monique told us the local myths and history. We went to the local markets and ate all the local produce we could find including cheeses, salt-marsh lamb and the incomparable kouign-amann. One night we went out to a restaurant perched on a cliff’s edge and devoured fresh lobster baked in glossy copper pots, as the mist rolled in towards us.

 

The trip was validation that I had chosen the right place for Max to celebrate his fortieth birthday and set the story for A French Wedding. I had been seeking somewhere small, coastal, historical, unpolished and real, wild even – and Douarnenez ticked all the boxes.

 

Have you been to Brittany? Did you love it?

Love,
Hannah

In: Food, From Hannah, Travel, Writing

The Window They Give Us 5

June 22, 2017

It wasn’t hard to think of a subject to explore from A French Wedding because, while there are many I could chase down a rabbit hole (Pastries! Seaside villages! Lost loves!), there was one that whispered to me the whole read through: old friends. The people who knew you when, and know how you’ve changed. They hold a key to your development just by having witnessed its progression in a way you’ve never had access to. There’s something so disarming and vital about that.

 

 

Two thoughts came to mind as I read. One comes from Glennon Doyle, who signs many of her social media posts with We belong to each other. The other is from my grandmother: If only we could see ourselves as others see us.

The characters in A French Wedding are at that bittersweet moment when you’re staring at half your life behind you, wondering how you could have been that young person your friends remember. Rosie questions her choices in marriage, Max wonders why he’s waited so long to tell Helen how he feels, Juliette is bewildered by how she got to where she is, haunted by her past. In the course of the story, they all get parts of themselves refracted and bounced back to them by those closest to them—the people who have loved them for ages, listened and helped and infuriated. I kept thinking about this—the idea that we can’t be complete unless we are connected to others. And that if we could only see what others see in us, we might give ourselves a break, we might be able to still the demons of self-destruction or torment. All this sat with me after I finished the last page.

So I asked a few dear friends, women who’ve know me since I was just fledged, to reflect back to me their memories of how—and who—I’d been in my early twenties. And their responses were like a window into a forgotten part of me. A window with a completely familiar, but somehow shocking, view. Oh right. I was like that. Huh.

They said I was feisty, self-assured, driven. Spontaneous. Full of energy. Hardworking, in it 100%. Slightly obsessed with my hair.

 

 

I realized how long it’s been since anyone offered me adjectives about myself.

I am tired now. My spontaneity has been worn paper-thin by my little ones. My confidence comes and goes in tides. Sometimes there is no feistiness in my life except for Feist. So hearing this feedback is bittersweet—where has that young woman gone and how quietly did she disappear? But I’m so grateful to hold these descriptors up against my skin and see how they look, now that I’m here. They still work on me, I think, maybe with a little maneuvering.

Those dear friends and I, we belonged to each other then, and even though we are now separated by distance and busyness and the mind-traps of life, we still hold each other up. I’m so grateful to them for answering and sharing and pushing me forward.

And this is what A French Wedding stirs in me the most. Remembering who we were, helping others do the same, and stumbling along as pieces of ourselves grow and expand and slough off.  I’m so glad this story is out in the world; it’s reminded me to be grateful for the friends who make up my world. Thank you, Christina, Kirsti, and thank you, Hannah, for writing the words that inspired these thoughts.

 

XO

Ria

 

A French Wedding, published by Doubleday, launched June 6th in the U.S. and Canada. For the month of June we are  celebrating the themes of the book with posts about France, feasting, friendships and family.

 

To win two copies of the book – one for you and one for your favourite reading partner – go to the Fork & Fiction Instagram or Facebook page and don’t forget to tag a friend. Winners drawn and announced Sunday 25th June.

In: Books & Reading, From Ria, Writing