The Great Writing Journey began on January 2nd 2012 at 5,217 feet above sea level, under a cerulean sky on the sparkling snow of the French Alps. Some might say it has been all downhill from there.
I was skiing on the slopes above Méribel, when I misjudged a turn. As I tumbled, I felt a sickening pop. My left ski boot failed to disengage, the ligaments in my knee ruptured instead.
The rescue ambulance consisted of a tent strapped to a sledge with a sleeping bag inside, pulled by a paramedic on skis, the second handsomest man I have ever seen. Through a fog of morphine, I provided the absent siren noises (Wheee! Wheee!) as we zig zagged down the mountain to the hospital. A doctor examined my leg, strapped me up and told me I’d need surgery when I got home.
Despite spikes on the end of my crutches, my mobility on ice was limited. Every day, for the rest of the holiday, I sat in a bar with a panoramic view of the mountains. My companions were Russian men who started drinking at breakfast. A combination of school Russian, French painkillers and an overactive imagination allowed me to tune in to the gruff conversations and interpret the comings and goings of the surgically altered female companions and tearaway children.
Out came the laptop. I started writing it all down, weaving in stories from my day job. Tap, tap, tap. The story grew more complex and exciting every day.
Back in Teesside, I wrote in the early morning and late at night. When my surgeon recommended 6 weeks off work after the operation, I gleefully complied. Tap, tap, tap.
Six months after starting, I had completed my first novel. My immediate family had, bizarrely, not shown the enthusiasm I anticipated. My husband found other things to do when asked to read beyond a page or two (dental appointments to make, library books to return, re-bristling a toilet brush), so I sent it to my best friend. She suggested I stop scribbling and study the craft of writing: plot, character, language.
That’s the good things about best friends, they tell it like it is. But, hey, what do best friends know about writing a romantic-comedy-espionage-process safety text book-literary-thriller? I searched a bit, found an on-line writing group, The Writer’s Workshop, and stumped up for the critique of synopsis and sample chapter to prove just how wrong she was.
I received a kindly damning, gently coruscating report. What genre is this? Pick one. What is the central story? Too many subplots. Who are the main characters? Too many characters. Is this a screenplay? Do you need to report every line that is spoken? Too much dialogue. Have these elements come together because you wanted to write about chemical plants in India, and you just happened to be in a ski resort full of Russian crooks at the time? To read was to be flayed alive with beautiful iridescent peacock feathers. Scratchy ones. With bitey things.
Did I sulk? Yes.
Did I stop? I tried to. For a while.
Could I stop? No.
Time to learn how to tell a story.
Photo by Böhringer Friedrich.