These two things are not connected at all, except for inhabiting the same space of time.
This is Thing One.
I have always wondered – and asked several people – about the process of hair going grey. I’ve been curious to know, does each hair have its own colour, so that if a hair is grey it will be grey all along its length, so the process of going grey happens through the gradual replacement of black/brown/blonde/red hair with grey/white?
Or does a hair that is coloured at the tip change to grey at the root, so that it’s grey near the head and coloured at the end of its length? I didn’t know, and nobody I’ve asked has ever been able to tell me – not even people with grey hair.
But now I know.
This year, my hair has advanced significantly in greyness. It started a while ago, but gave the impression of merely being more blonde than brown. That’s because there is a lot of red in my hair, and red keeps its colour longest.
But now it is going seriously grey, and it is also long, so it’s possible to see that the truth is a hair can be grey at the root and its original colour at the other end.
So, mystery solved. How satisfying!
Now, Thing Two.
Today is such a peaceful, happy day.
When I write novels, I don’t start at the beginning and work through to the end. I make them like a patchwork quilt. I have a plan, a pattern, that will give shape and cohesion to the whole thing, but then I work on different sections as they present themselves to my imagination. When one is complete I turn to God in prayer, asking for the next chunk to be downloaded, please. Not that I claim my writing to come unsullied from the throne of grace, but it is indeed soaked in prayer before it unfolds on the page, not only by me but by the dear friends whose praying helps the story come to birth.
The novel I am writing at present explores themes of home and family, with a special focus of the way we communicate with one another. It is about two-thirds written, but a big section was missing from Chapter One.
The reason it was missing is that it had to be a most humungous domestic row. And I hate rows – or even arguments, or even a sense of tension and disharmony.
Much fiction – whether novels, film or television serials – depends on aggression and conflict for dynamic interest and strength. ‘Dark’ is a very popular word in the world of fiction, and so is ‘adult’. As though we were immature in some way of we wanted to write/read about the light, about purity and innocence. In much fiction, innocence is there to be deflowered, love to go sour, friendships to be betrayed and marriages to be spiced up by an adultery.
But this is not what I personally am looking for in a story. I like stories that will edify me and fill me with hope and faith, that will help me believe in life and in people – and in God. I like stories that I can transplant into my imagination to make me a better wife and mother, a truer friend, a kinder neighbour. I like stories that are about goodness and gentleness, about people who try hard – and succeed as a result.
And I don’t want to read graphic descriptions giving explicit detail of the physical events of sexual intercourse, or torture, or other physical close-up material. In fact, in my own writing I have continually to resist the hankering of the wistful editor to have me tell the reader that a character has body odour or an overbite, greasy hair or a paunch or muscular arms or yellow teeth. These physical details serve to attract or disgust, to allow the reader to measure the character against the yardstick of what the world calls success; and that isn’t why I’m writing. In my stories, all the characters are good; that’s what I write about, human goodness – because I have an unshakeable belief that goodness is interesting, and reading about it has a positive effect on the human spirit.
Occasionally I put in physical detail, and that is often with the intention of countering mainstream prejudice: so, for example, in my books all the fat people are either clever or pretty, and the hero is often unpopular, or disabled, or growing old. I like to take the characters that are usually given stereotyped bit-parts, and put them centre-stage, and make them loveable and alive.
My stories are sometimes described as ‘slow-moving’. If there is a Die Hard V, or an Apocalypse III, it won’t be written by me. I write close observation of human character, relationship, behaviour and experience in the light of the transformative power of divine grace.
And I write about the effect on people when, in adversity, they meet the healing touch of gentleness, goodness and understanding.
So, you can imagine, I do not like writing a humungous row.
It took me ages to gear up to writing the one I just have – hatching it in my spirit felt almost like an illness. It felt heavy and hard and grievous to bring forth.
Last night at last I wrote it. I finished the chapter in which it is set – which deals with the misunderstanding, miscommunication and unintentional conflict that bedevil so many families and marriages. The chapter is about 11,000 words long. This is how I tested if it had come up good. I read it to the Badger when he came to bed at eleven o’clock, after watching a really interesting drama on TV. This is a good test – to read a long piece to someone when they are sleepy and ready to doze off. I finished reading to him at a quarter past midnight, and he was still wide-eyed and gripping the edge of the blanket, invaded by the dilemmas and adversities of my characters. To be fair, midnight took us into Valentine’s Day, so he possibly thought it might be worth staying awake. But even hopeful people can’t stay awake on purpose when it’s midnight and they’re bored. So it came through good. I got it right.
Thank you to all dear friends who pray for me in my writing. I cannot tell you what a difference it makes. The task of writing the things of God in a way that will appeal to the imagination is ministry that sets up opposition, and I am constantly aware of the turbulence it creates. But I think it is worthwhile.
There are still about 25,000 words to write of that book, but the really gritty, tough bits for me to write are mainly in place. The rest is easier for me.
Today feels like a real chillout day – and the sun is shining, too. In fact it’s like a foretaste of summer just now. No doubt the harsher weather will be back before spring is fully here – but this day is beautiful.
And I thank God.