“One of the vital things for a writer who’s writing a book, which is a lengthy project and is going to take about a year, is how to keep the momentum going. It is the same with a young person writing an essay. They have got to write four or five or six pages. But when you are writing it for a year, you go away and you have to come back. I never come back to a blank page; I always finish about halfway through. To be confronted with a blank page is not very nice. But Hemingway, a great American writer, taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words, “When you are going good, stop writing.” And that means that if everything’s going well and you know exactly where the end of the chapter’s going to go and you know just what the people are going to do, you don’t go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next? And you get up and you walk away and you don’t want to come back because you don’t know where you want to go. But if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that’s lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, every day all the way through the year. If you stop when you are stuck, then you are in trouble!”—― Roald Dahl
The crooks of my elbows were starting to ache. With the whole weight of his many years in my hands, Baxter suddenly seemed so much larger than he had in life. The sweat was starting to trickle down my face as I threw him up my arms a bit further. It helped for mere seconds before the aches began to set in and the salty sweat reached my mouth. Every step I took wasn’t bringing me any closer to the brown door with the black scorpion knocker. In fact, with ever forced footstep, the scorpion seemed to be mocking me and my lack of going to the gym. My breathe was starting to wheeze and the panic of having another attack was rising.
Finally I grabbed hold of his tail and swung hard, not able for more than one knock. The agonising seconds ticked by, my knees now shaking with Baxter’s weight until she finally opened the door. She being Dr Mabel Lillian Pickering, the most terrifying and yet fascinating woman I had ever seen. Her chestnut hair was tied in a top bun on the top of her head, with a net covering it in case a tiny felt the urge to escape her regimented styling which extended to her clothes. She was wearing a crisp, tailored white shirt with sensible black trousers but no shoes. Her toes were perfectly manicured though. With her curious grey eyes, that looked as if she could see the beginning of every goose bump now raised on my arms, she looked over Baxter nodding and sighing every now and then. My hands were now beginning to turn purple and I wanted to scream at her to hurry up before I dropped the big black lump on her toes.
"I will take him. I’ve never done a dog of this breed before so doubt it will be a challenge but I can’t resist that beautiful coat of his and that snout.”
She then made a noise, almost feline like, that rumbled from her throat. It was so sensual that it made me wonder what about her job was it that she enjoyed exactly and suddenly I wanted to run away with Baxter and just bury him in the back garden but the thought of never seeing him again made my stomach sink to its lowest depths so instead I held him out for her to take.
“Are you special? A woman of my size carrying a dog of that stature? No, No, No. Place him on the trolley and then you can leave.”
“Can’t I stay and watch?”
“Unless you are planning to sit in my workshop on a very cold stool for three weeks and not say a word then no, you cannot stay.”
“Three weeks? But I can’t be without Baxter for three weeks.”
“I don’t see how the alternative would be any better do you?”
A resigned sigh escaped from my lips as I tried not to let Baxter slump onto the trolley. A stream of sunshine danced across his fur as he lay there and brought me back to summers in the garden when he would have one of his afternoon naps right in the middle of the best sunny spot. I held back the tears as I said an awkward goodbye to Dr Pickering and bumbled out past her scorpion.
The house seemed so empty without him. There was lots of cleaning to be done but I couldn’t bear to take out the hoover in case she needed an extra hair or some saliva from his dog bowl so I just made a cup of tea and sat and waited. It would be great to have him back again. Coming home from work and just seeing his tongue wagging and his eyes popping out of his head with excitement. I closed my eyes smiling and drifted into dreams of being together again.
On the 21st day exactly the phone rang. It was her. He was ready. I had been sitting by the telephone with my coat already zipped so I left straight away trying not to walk too quickly so as to force another asthma attack. My feet, however, had other ideas and I was staring the scorpion in the face quicker than a flash. Three short raps and the door opened.
I followed her down an extremely beige corridor to a green back door which led out into her garden. For someone so clean cut and sharp, her garden was a mess. Wild flowers grew in a meandering waterfall of colours. Shrubs nestled together the whole length of the bright green lawn and there were even a few cherry blossoms shedding their petals giving the impression of a spring snowfall. There were no weeds or nettles anywhere though which made me think it was intentional.
“Your garden is beautiful.”
“Thank you. It was my husband’s pride and joy before he passed. I try to keep it how it liked it but I don’t seem to have the flare that he had. I always cut the lawn too short.”
“It looks wonderful to me.”
We had come to another door at the bottom of the garden. This was not protected by a scorpion but a butterfly. Inside the walls were covered with shelves and shelves of stuffed animals; hamsters, frogs, lizards, rabbits and even a regal looking cockatoo. There was a long wooden bench on one side of the room on which tools were lying about in a much organised, size related order. And in the middle of all this was Baxter. His tongue was hanging out and his eyes were bulging with excitement. He was back. He looked a lot cleaner than normal but he was back.
“It was quite difficult to get the eyes and tongue the way you wanted so I had to add some artificial bits to get it just right. Most people don’t mind that but if that makes you uncomfortable I will remove them.”
“No. No. He looks perfect.”
I looked up and she was smiling at me. It changed the entire shape of her face and she didn’t look quite so scary. In fact she looked like quite a nice person.
“Excellent. Do you need me to package him up?”
I refused. I couldn’t bear putting him in paper when he looked so lifelike. I wanted to hold him and let him see the world around him again. I picked him up in my arms and was surprised at how much lighter he felt. It made him feel alive again. The weight of death now left him. Dr Pickering escorted us back to the front door.
“I can’t thank you enough Dr Pickering.”
“You’re welcome. It is the biggest comfort to be able to keep a piece of those who have left us.”
I thought back to the wild garden struggling against the urge to be tamed and gave her a warm smile noting from now on to not judge others by the scorpions on their doors.
I’ve always wanted to write a novel but the problem is I can’t write. I second guess myself all the time, scrap every second sentence or re-write it seven times before scrapping it and eventually get to a plot point that I can’t figure my way out of and then I quit. There are hundreds of stories in several different notebooks all unfinished. But recently I was introduced to a new technique that seems to be freeing me of this meaning I’m making bigger steps with my writing than ever before and getting closer to finishing that all important first novel.
The technique is called Morning Pages and was introduced to me by the compelling Brian Astbury in his series of “Anyone can write” workshops. The idea is that you wake up first thing in the morning and before doing anything else you grab your notebook and pen and start writing non-stop for 45 minutes. No fixing bad spelling, poor grammar, re-reading sentences or adding in more descriptive words. No editing whatsoever.
It’s a wonderful technique and you’ll be surprised by what your imagination puts on the page and how good your grammar actually is when you don’t think about it. The problem is the morning. It’s difficult enough getting up at my normal time without allowing an extra 45 minted for this technique. So I have started doing it whenever I have free time. Twenty minutes here and fifteen minutes there and slowly but surely I have a whole story coming together. My head can’t get all the information on the page quick enough. And once you feel you’ve come to the end of a chapter then you can go back and take a look at it, scrap the sentences, fix the grammar, look at your description but its a lot more focused and just gets rid of all those road blocks I put up for myself.
Below is one of the first morning pages I ever wrote and has now actually developed into being the backstory of another character in another book so who knows where they will take you! Just try it!
Chapter One - The Pledge
Silent whispers danced across the walls as the echo of boots bounced off the tiled floor. His long cloak dragged behind him making him look like a peacock as he slowly came toward her. The Queen was waiting. What news had he for her today? He bowed down on one knee and the court went silent. It was as though their voices had been clipped away to some far off prison. His soft, rolling voice like a cats purr began to relay the story. The boy was doing much better now. His archery was improving and his scholarly knowledge was second to none. He still was not controlling his powers though. Squirrels lay dead and the gardens were full of scorched earth and singed trees. The stench of burning filled the air. The Queen felt a bubble of fear spread through her gut. The boy was almost of age and he had still such a long way to go. If he was put before the first challenge he would surely die.
“SILENCE!” She roared to the voices that had erupted around the room.
“Your Majesty, forgive me but I do think I can help.” A young girl with brown hair tied back in a bun with a plain face had stepped forward.
“Come forward.” The Queen hissed. The girl scurried over and took up her place on one knew. “Four years he has been working with the best Weavers from across the land. What makes you think that you can do any better?”
“Because I was like your son, I couldn’t control it. Not until the night before my first challenge. I know why he burns. Please Your Majesty, let me speak to him and if he doesn’t stop burning you can kill me. “
The voices around the room let out an inward breath. The Queen stared down at this girl, right into her hazel eyes. No lies lingered there but what if it was an elaborate scam? The Elders of the West had been rumbling lately and there had been talk of war. “Very well.“ stated the Queen, “You will have three days with him and if as the sun sets on the third day you have not stopped him, then the axe-man’s blade will be sharp and cold on your neck.”
Arabela was ecstatic. Finally she was out of her muddy cottage; away from her smothering brother and selfish mother. Now she was sitting in the Queens carriage trundling towards the young prince’s secret retreat. It wasn’t scaring her that she hadn’t the faintest idea how to help him. Ever since she was small she had been able to talk herself out of every scrape that she got herself into. This one should be no different.
Vast meadows stretched for miles out of the window of the carriages the road twisted on. The grey mountains in the West looked so small in the distance that it was hard to believe so many men had died trying to reach the summit. The carriage jolted and Arabela was flung forward, her head banging off the seat in front of her and her knees hitting the floor hard. The carriage door swung open and there were all the household staff staring at her.
“My ring fell!” she said with a smile as she pretended to twist it back on. “What a dignified way to meet you all!” she said with such a charming giggle that they all instantly warmed to her. The Duke who had met her in the court introduced her to the rest of the staff whose names she made sure never to forget. “And the prince?”
“He’s in his nursery – too afraid to come down in case he burns you.”
“Well then, let’s go to him!”
The secret cottage was grand for something that sounded so quaint. Mahogany wood panelled all the walls, on which hung beautiful, large paintings depicting the Hiacles wars of long ago and the conquering of the Bacoo. Up a spiral staircase, she was taken to a brown door with black hinges which spread out like fingers. The Duke rapped once on the door before entering. Arabela’s eyes went wide. Lining the walls were thousands of books from the floor to the ceiling, strewn across the room was every toy you could imagine, there were plush cushions of every imaginable colour adorning an opulent couch in the corner and there in the middle of it all was a young boy of eight years of age just sitting and staring at his hands.
“This is Arabela, Sebos. She has come to help you.”
The prince did not make a movement.
“Perhaps I should talk to him Duke?”
The Duke bowed his head to her and left the room. She looked at the boy before walking towards the bookshelves and reading all the spines. She went from shelf to shelf reading what each spine said. She was doing this for about twenty minutes before a small voice spoke and said “I thought you wanted to talk to me alone. “
“Oh I do!” she said, “But only when you want to talk to me too.”
“The maids tell me that you have given up your life to come here and help me. It won’t work.”
“Oh and why is that?”
“Because dozens have tried before and failed.”
“And what makes you think I’m like them?” She was now crouching in front of him. “Tell me, have they ever let a woman help you before? Have they ever let someone who wasn’t a Weaver? Someone without a furry beard and who doesn’t start every sentence with ‘Since Weaver times’?” The boy chuckled. “No? Well then, what makes you think that I can’t help?”
The boy’s face fell and he brought her to the window. He pulled back the curtains and there were the gardens but they were completely scorched. Trees were black as the night sky and smoke was still rising form the fallen branches. The glow of fire recently departed flickered on the ground and the bushes curled up in a brown mass of dryness.
“It’s getting worse.”
The Duke was leading her down the corridor to the right of the boy’s room.
“Your bags have been brought up already and there has been a supper placed in there for you but normally you will eat with us.” She nodded and they stopped outside another large brown door with hinge-like fingers. “Your challenge begins when the sun rises in the morning.” He handed her the key and marched away with his cloak swooshing behind him.
She went inside a much simpler room than the boys but grand compared to anywhere she had slept before. She sat down on the four poster bed and wept. The images of scorched earth and the fear of death in that little boy’s eyes. What had she done? What had she got herself into?