Monday, 14 February 2011

"Aha!" and "Phew!"

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.

Like this. 

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. 


Anonymous said...

Oh Ember...I read stories because of writers like you. Writers that are able to go against the main stream of what passes for fiction now a days.

I am so glad that you were able to finish your chapter last night. Our Lord was already forming the words in your head...and all you did was write them.

I am looking forward to this book. Exciting to read it because of the story behind it :)

In regards to grey hair...I am in the same boat as you. My hair is black/brown...and it has been slowly turning grey for over three years now. It has not turned completely grey yet - it is still in that stage where there is still a great deal of black/brown with lots of splashes of grey.

Salt & pepper is really what comes to mind... :-)

I am looking forward to the day when it is all grey - and in curls.

Grace & Peace to you today dear friend,


Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Maria! Waving from England! :0)

Vicki said...

I have noticed quite a lot of silver (ok grey hair!) recently, but all of mine is grey from root to tip and some of the grey hairs are shorter than the dark hairs. It's not something I've given a great deal of thought to, but I presumed that people whose hair was grey at the root and other coloured at tip was because they had dyed their hair at some point!

I am really enjoying the 'Hawk and Dove' - thank you! I love the fact there is so much goodness in
your books, it's made me cry at several points. It is so rare to find novels that point to the good in people and not the bad. Can't wait to read this one, I've pre-ordered 'the Hardest Thing to Do' on Amazon UK.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ooh - how interesting Vicki! Perhaps people's hair can go grey in different ways!
Glad you're liking The Hawk & the Dove :0)

Pen Wilcock said...

I've received a comment from Jennifer Webb. Jen, when a comment comes to me, I can't publish part of it, the system won't let me. So I can't publish what thee wanted me to post without also publishing the note that came with it in the email. Therefore I have copied the part thee wanted to post, and will post it here:

Thank you for this post. As a future librarian, avid reader, and someone whose personality sounds very much like your own, I have struggled with reading much adult fiction for the very reasons you speak of. I seek out "gentle reads" as I hear them called here. However, they can be hard to find, take more searching and I typically find myself reading nonfiction instead since it is so readily available and allows me to avoid the very things you discussed in your post. I am so thrilled that you are able to maintain your motives and standards you hold yourself to in the publishing world; it is a rarity, and I value and encourage you from the bottom of my heart to continue.

My hope is that there will come a day when I might be able to follow in your footsteps. (After the degree is completed, Lord willing.) I would love to have you as a mentor when the time comes, if you are willing.

Ember, you are such an inspiration to me! I am grateful to be thy friend. To see that it can be done, one can publish and manage to remain positive and encouraging without only being limited to juvenile fiction... what wonderful news to me, thank you.

Many blessings on the new book and its success for you! I plan on seeking out thy titles as soon as we get moved and settled.

Currently I am so overwhelmed with simply keeping my head above water with this cross country move and keeping up with my coursework that I find I have no extra time for leisure reading, although this too, shall pass, and once again I will return home from the library with bags of books at once.. ;-) Yes, I'm one of THOSE.

So many books, so little time is always my dilemma! There is so much to learn available to us for free, and so much entertainment to be had in a good novel. How grateful I am that I live in a place and in a day where free access to all is available for the taking if one so chooses.

Blessings to thee, my friend, and may God bless you and your work! "

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks for that, Jen. Blessings on thy move!
I deleted my earlier comment when I deleted the post thee didn't want adding in, and can't remember what I wrote now to say it again!
Bless thee anyway!

Ganeida said...

Re grey hair: mine too has a fair bit of red in it & is grey at the roots & multi~coloured at the tips.

Re the writing: you are fulfilling Philipians 4:8 ~ & that is a good thing. God agrees with you that is it better to think on the good. ♥ Prayers for you than you may continue to write the good.

Trish said...

Hello Ember,
I have natural red hair which is now going grey and white.
I would like it to be evenly spread out but that will take time.
The sides are quite snowy and look like I've had them 'streaked' at the hairdresser's, while the grey is sprinkled throughout the rest which is still quite dark.
Like yours, when mine is in a plait the ends are much darker than the roots :-)
I think I would enjoy your books!
I usually avoid fiction and read christian biographies or contemplative writings. But the setting of your novel appeals to me (I'm connected to a Benedictine Abbey), as does reading something that is filled with positive characters and kindness.
Sounds like a refreshing change!
God's grace ..Trish

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Trish :0)

The monks and nuns who have read my Hawk & Dove books usually like them, because they are crafted with respect and love for the monastic way and the principles of the Rule of St Benedict. So you might like them. Or, if you didn't, the folks at the abbey might :0)

Linda said...

I have two books at the moment that I can't get into. One is about a cult, even though I trust the author I am a bit scared to keep going. I know it will be about God, but I don't want to read about the cult. The second is about a child of a drug addict, also a christian book, but I am at a stage where I may have to read about her childhood and not sure I want to go their either.

I love the two Polyanna novels, even better than Anne of Green Gables, it is brilliant. Also have read the Little House novels many times, even ones about Caroline and Rose, from other authors. The Caroline series is beautiful in particular Little House in Brookfield. Based on letters between Laura and her aunt.

I find that kids so much are exposed to stereotypes much more than I thought I was at their age, my children that is.

Lynda said...

"To be fair, midnight took us into Valentine’s Day, so he possibly thought it might be worth staying awake."

And was it!!!...:o)

Pen Wilcock said...

Er... very much so... ;0)

Pen Wilcock said...

Linda - thanks for that nudge. I read Anne of Green Gables when I was a child, but I can't remember it *at all* and I see it referred to so often by people who prefer their fiction gentle and positive.
I must get a copy and read it again - also the other books you mentioned. Thank you :0)

Linda said...

You are welcome.

I was recounting to my husband what you had said in this post about the chapter you had to write and about what the publisher wanted. Then I remembered my pet peeve with American novels usually. I will always find in the novel somewhere, usually at the start, the word steaming. Usually a steaming cup of something like coffee. There is another word too, when I remember I will come back.

Pen Wilcock said...

LOL! Could it be the 'crackling' fire? I know what you mean. I have occasionally wondered if there is a standard writing course in the States, compulsory for all writers and editors!

Linda said...

There was one mentioned in a novel once.

Linda said...

I wrote about it on my blog it was driving me crazy at the time. I wrote sometimes someone spears something with a fork. And somewhere before page 200, there is the word utop.

Pen Wilcock said...

"Utop"? Are you sure? Whatever have you been reading, Linda?

Linda said...

At the time it was historical Christian fiction. The word annoyed me. It seems it is not an English word, but a word Americans use. I think it was used to describe food, not sure, anything really it was like a favourite word. One other word that I wasn't sure about was the use of the word wrapper in place of dressing gown in a historical set in Scotland novel.

Linda said...

It was September 2008 that I wrote that, and these are the books I was reading. You can see I took back anything that disturbed me.

Linda said...

It was on the 6th so not sure these books cover it or not.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks Linda - what an interesting list! :0)

Julie B. said...

I am American and have never known the word utop. ?? :)