Friday, 26 August 2011

Four hundred hours

Posted by Tania Kindersley

I am now officially in a work storm. I am filled with wild regret that I have not gone harder, faster, sterner, over the last year. I know this always happens; it is part of the usual psychology of smashing up against deadline. All the same, the irrational part of my mind quite believes it. It does not matter that there are 93,000 words where there were none. There should have been more words, better words, sharper thoughts, cleverer arguments, more vivid vocabulary, more original ideas. Bugger, bugger, bugger, yell the voices in my head; what were you doing?

Even though I like to think that I resist magical thinking and irrational notions, this one sticks like glue and Velcro and burrs on the sleeve and all other most sticky things. The problem is that there is a grain of truth in it. It’s like those conspiracy theories which contain one tiny fact, and so therefore are considered verified.

There have been weeks when I could have worked harder. I went to visit the Beloved Cousin; I took four days off to watch Cheltenham; I gazed out of the window and thought unimportant thoughts. What was I doing, watching box sets of Downton Abbey when I could have been reading improving literature?

This book has suffered, from the beginning, from difficult second album syndrome. It is not my second book, but it is the second non-fiction, the second with this publisher and this agent, the second since I had a tiny sniff of success. There are expectations. So I allowed myself some latitude. I thought there should be space. I did not focus like a laser on my researches, but read widely, and sometimes, uselessly. I started at least three chapters that went nowhere, and had to be cancelled. If only, I think now, in my orgy of recrimination, I had sharpened my wits and concentrated.

So now, with 35 days to go, I am on a mad regime of nothing but work, to make up for the laxity. There will be no weekends, no television, no social life, no drinking. The claret will be locked away for the duration. There will be a strict diet of fish for the brain and watercress soup for the muscles. I have written out a schedule. I have worked out that I have four hundred hours.

I need, mostly, more reading. The thing lacks depth. I want hinterland. These are troubled times, and I cannot just skim the surface. I am writing about a subject which is considered superficial, ephemeral, although I do not think it so. But I am going to give it ballast, if it kills me. The librarians will be run off their feet.

Since I am now in stern, puritan mode, I started the day as I mean to go on. I went to the flower shop. You can see the New Plan is working exceptionally well. I was supposed to have done at least two hours of work by 9.30am, and instead, I found myself discussing hydrangeas with the kind flower lady. Still, the dear Stepfather is back from Canada, where he has been, and I decided that he must be bunched. Then the Younger Niece got an A STAR in her exams, and she must too be rewarded. And there were some pretty ivies and heathers which were crying out to go in the wild part of the garden. So that was a little bit off-piste, although I did have the most lovely time, and I wonder if it were not the universe telling me I cannot live on bread alone.


No time to go out and photograph garden, but I did take some snaps of the flowers, so overcome was I by the delight of my chosen arrangements. I always take quite a lot in moments like this, because I am never sure how they will come out, and must allow for the weeding out of the duds. What amazes me about these pictures is that they are all quite different. I know I took them from various angles and in contrasting lights, but even so, it feels rather miraculous to me. The hydrangeas were for the Stepfather, the roses for the Younger Niece. And usually I do not love orange, as a colour, but these little beauties, in burnt umber, seemed exactly what one should give to a Young Person, especially one who has just got an A STAR:

26 Aug 2.ORF

26 Aug 3-2

26 Aug 4-2

26 Aug 5.ORF

26 Aug 7.ORF

26 Aug 9.ORF

26 Aug 10-2

26 Aug 11-2

26 Aug 12-2

26 Aug 13-2

26 Aug 14.ORF

26 Aug 15-2

26 Aug 16.ORF

26 Aug 17-2

So sorry, this may really be a surfeit. But considering how alarming all the News is at the moment, I thought perhaps one could not have too much beauty.

Talking of which:

26 Aug 18-2

26 Aug 19-2

I mean, really. There are no words for a face like that.

And the dear old hill:

26 Aug 20.ORF

Thank you so much for wonderful practical suggestions from yesterday. I think perhaps we should do that every week. We can do a brilliant, bloggy, Dear Reader version of Enquire Within of our very own.


  1. Dear Tania

    That second picture of Pigeon is, quite possibly, the most beautiful I have seen posted yet - and that is saying something....

    Backwards is a thing of beauty and a joy forever as will the next book be - your public awaits! But please dont forget us here on the blog...... xx

  2. NO DRINKING??????? Have you gone quite mad? Don't forget the spinach for the iron and perhaps coffee-infused darkest chocolate for the endorphin-and-therefore-brain-cell-rush.

  3. OH! upon reflection my previous comment seems quite selfish - you gotta do what you gotta do - it is just that your daily comments and pictures of the hill and pigeon seem to be a beacon of sanity and beauty in a world gone increasingly bonkers.... I promise to buy multiple copies of the new book to give to cherished friends - much as i did with Backwards. I agree with Jo's wise comments on the drinking and spinach - YOU NEED SUSTENANCE! x

  4. Anon - your comment is perfectly lovely. And anyone who admires my Pigeon is top in my book.

    Jo - do not fret. Almost certainly, I shall start chipping away at this absurd regime by next week. And I do hold a very serious theory that some good red wine is excellent for the blood. (So far no medical proof for this.)

  5. I find that beauty is all the more important during alarming times, as is staring out of the window thinking for short periods when you are under pressure. You talked a few days ago about your blog becoming more personal but I think that these are all universal experiences and your descriptions draw in the rest of us who can relate and empathize. Tell that self-recriminating voice that it's had its say and it's time for the voice that acknowledges achievement and can see the way through to speak up. Good luck!

  6. I would liberate the liquor now and then.....and keep on smelling the roses!
    Good luck and much inspiration.

  7. Tania - I think the Pigeon is testament to the adage true beauty never fades. My children always ask to see her if they suspect I'm reading 'that dog blog'. They loved the rolling about of a day or two ago, but today my eldest daughter requested a print-out of the second Pigeon frame. It is on her pin-board. I should note our own Lucy dog is not displayed there.

    Good luck with the work frenzy. It will all come together and we will never know all the elements you considered that might have been. It will be complete for us. X

  8. Jane - lovely comment; thank you.

    Karen - excellent advice, which I shall follow.

    Michelle - that is possibly the sweetest thing I've ever heard. The thought of the daughter with the pin-up all the way across the world. Am beside myself with delight.

  9. I am so glad to see Pigeon looking so so well. Today's photos of her are beautiful. Her tussly, tuffty velvety ears and distinguished old lady muzzle get me every time.

    My Dear Reader question would be is it possible to clean the interior of a le creuset casserole after one too many hard bakings and burnings?

    Best of luck for the next 35 days. I'm sure a little procrastination is allowed for the flowers and garden. Even with a puritanical work plan you need to feed your soul.

  10. Now who was it who wrote about the Perspective Police? Hmm? Smack yourself upside the head for not seeing that rest, reflection, following thoughts down dead-ends and things of beauty are all necessary. And that those things inform the end result. There's a Dilbert cartoon I particularly love, where the Pointy-Haired Boss asks Alice why she always tries the solution LAST...

    Having said that, I am also prey to a last minute flurry, so quite understand the need for a slightly more disciplined approach. Like every other Dear Reader, I am looking forward to the new book - good luck, and do what you must.

    Lou - I see no reason why the vinegar/bicarb idea shouldn't work on the casserole dish if it's enamel or steel. If it's clay, it's still worth a try. I googled on the terms "le creuset casserole pot clean" and there were quite a few results.

  11. When the voices in your head yell bugger, just yell bugger right back at them. Wonderful things can come of digression, connections that might never have been made, otherwise. And your comment about the universe reminds of the Chinese saying: If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a lily!

    Is there any way we can help you out with the reading?

  12. Oh, you see I had absolutely no practical advice. None at all. Then I see the gorgeous flowers and the photo of your darling girl and I just have to tell you that I think she looks quite, quite beautiful. Dare I say, she looks youthful. (I mean that in the best possible way!)
    So, nothing of any help but I do look forward to your next book xxx

  13. That face would melt the coldest of hearts!

    Tell that critic in your head to "take a hike". You have had one hell of a year and still managed to stay connected to family, friends (and readers!), research and write, teach AND take time to "smell the roses".
    This is simply the home stretch.

  14. Beautiful, beautiful flowers. I laughed out loud at the Downton Abbey comment. Sounds like me around dissertation time - I borrowed the box set of the old Upstairs Downstairs...

    Really interested in subject of new book, especially if it includes lots of reading.

    The news IS alarming at present, so it is nice to have pictures of stunning flowers and a beautiful dog. Did you see Rana Jawad's Life in Hiding on the BBC website? I like the thought of her baking cakes to get rid of stress. And reading trashy romance novels, and taking up knitting only to realise that she couldn't knit...

    Best wishes for getting through the next 35 days.

    And I love the idea of an Enquire Within!

  15. Lovely comments; thank you. You are all so wise and good and right. Most comforting, if I may say so. :)


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