Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Lost in Words

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The Co-Writer calls. She is marvellously bracing and calm. She thinks everything is fine.

‘But, but, BUT,’ I shout. I actually start sputtering. It is not an attractive sight. Then there is, I am ashamed to admit, gabbling.

‘I didn’t do an actual chapter about beauty in literature,’ I said. ‘Should I do that? And there could be something more about art. Should I tell the story of Merle Oberon? What about religion? I didn’t really make more than a passing reference to that.’

All over the original manuscript, the very secret first draft, which she did not see, there are questions like:

Something on Carole Lombard and lipstick?


Political implications of beauty in the Middle East?

Do Greek myths?

‘Are you sure it’s not too thin?’ I say. ‘We’ve only got thirty days.’

In the end, she has to tell me, quite sternly, to calm down. I sense that I am becoming wearing. She is trained in the journalistic tradition; she started her working life with the hardened subs of the old school, when Fleet Street really was Fleet Street. She knows deadlines. They do not frighten her. For her, thirty days is a garden of delights, an acre of time, with room to stroll and stare and stretch one’s neck.

‘You see,’ I said, ‘when I think thirty days a bloody great klaxon goes off. BEE-BAH, BEE-BAH, BEE-BAH.’

I actually do a klaxon noise, at full blast down the telephone. The Pigeon looks at me quizzically.

‘All right,’ the Co-Writer says, as if she is talking to a child who has had too much sugar. ‘Now just stop. It will be fine.’

This is the great difference between her and me, and probably why we work well together. It’s a whole Jack and Mrs Sprat deal. She stays unruffled and practical; I go batshit nuts in the head. For her, it is just a book, a job, something professional; for me, it is every damn thing, freighted with significance, heavy with meaning, with a great big ontological bow on top. It is my heart and soul.

It is silly really. It is just a book. Some people will read it; some will not. Some people will love it; some people will hate it. Then, the next week, there will be thirty other books out.

Can you care too much? I wonder, as I put down the telephone, and relieve the poor Co-Writer’s eardrums, whether I am doing myself any favours. I’m not a bloody brain surgeon. I’m not carving tumours out of someone’s head, so they will not die. But I realise that I am like that footballing fellow who said something like: football is not a matter of life and death; it’s more important than that. I’m just not sure whether this lashing myself into a frenzy of minding actually helps anything at all. I’m huge on utility.

Ever since I was a small child, I have believed in, been entranced by, the power of books. I was in the library yesterday, having a lovely chat with the dear librarians, collecting the latest tottering pile of research books.

I told them of my hysterical excitement when the mobile library would come to our village. My mother rather bravely let me get on my bicycle and peddle furiously down the road to the village square. I was about ten or eleven at the time. I remember feeling, every two weeks, as if it were Christmas, because I could go and get more books. I was so proud of my little library card, and that I could tell the librarian that I had really enjoyed the latest biography of the first Duke of Marlborough. (I had an odd obsession with the battles of Oudenard and Malplaquet from a very early age. I still have a vivid sense memory of reading that book about John Churchill; being unable to put it down, as if it were a thriller.)

So, even though I have written some truly rotten books in my time, mostly because I started far too young, without a single clue as to what I was doing, when I sit down now, I strive, like a crazed woman, for excellence. Must do better, must do better, I cry. People, after all, are going to spend their hard, recession-hit cash for these words. I must make them the best words I can find.

It’s not life and death. I know that. I have been in the shadow of death for a while; I know about perspective, a bit. But it is what makes my heart beat. For over a year, it has been the first thing I think of when I wake, the last thing I contemplate before I sleep. For me, the writing of a book is all-consuming. It is easy to get lost in that. Still, I think now, as I take a breath and feel some calm return, there are worse places to be lost than in words.


Bit of a gloomy old day today, and of course I am far too manic to take my camera out anyway, so here is a random selection of photographs from the last few days:

I love it when the roses go hippy:

6 Sept 1.ORF

Sometimes I just lie on my stomach and stare at the grass and the dandelions:

6 Sept 2

6 Sept 3.ORF

6 Sept 4

Sheep and coos:

6 Sept 3

6 Sept 5

What I love about all the various greens where I live is that, depending on the day, the light, the angle of the camera even, they all come out slightly differently.

My favourite view, down the old iron fence:

6 Sept 6

Yellow is not my favourite colour, but this viola is really quite outrageous:

6 Sept 8

And this one too:

6 Sept 11.ORF

I am still rather amazed by the return of the honeysuckle:

6 Sept 9.ORF

And the sheer persistence of the salvia:

6 Sept 10.ORF

And my dear little hydrangea:

6 Sept 10.ORF-1

This is the rather amazing leaf of a dwarf euphorbia:

6 Sept 12.ORF

And the wild and woolly flower heads of the catmint:

6 Sept 13.ORF

And the newest little heather, which I bought because I was going for the vernacular, and there is not much which is more Scottish:

6 Sept 15.ORF

This marjoram has only just come into flower, very late:

6 Sept 16.ORF

And now for your daily dose of Pigeon. Dignity on the monument:

6 Sept 18

Happy stick face:

6 Sept 19

This one looks like something out of a mournful Russian novel. In fact, she is looking at me like that because she thinks I have biscuits in my pocket. Clearly the doggy thinking goes – if I put on my most wistful, tragical, Anna Karenina face, then surely you must give me a treat:

6 Sept 20

And do you know what? She was right. It would take a steelier person than I to resist a face like that.

Today’s hill is a bit of a cheat, since it’s really yesterday’s hill:

6 Sept 22

And now, in the new spirit of rationality, I am going to attempt to read forty-seven books before bedtime. It’s all very well, the Co-Writer being all reasonable and all, but I still think the thing needs more heft. So, I return to my researches. Old dogs, new tricks, la di dah.


  1. I need to panic, to get it out of my system. Then I can focus on what I have to do and not be too anxious to do them effectively. Becoming over-anxious with a whole month to put things completely right is quite remarkably sensible.

  2. Z - how lovely and reassuring you are. Thank you. :)

  3. Tania - firstly, I laughed out loud with the "batshit nuts"! And then nodded at your brilliance with the "ontological bow". Perfect. This is why I read you daily.

    And secondly, precisely because it is your everything, well, that's why I love your work. Because you agonize and persist and so obviously love words and ideas, and bringing it all together through your unique, insightful lens.

    Finally, I love it most that I now know the whole damn thing makes you go "batshit nuts" every now and then. Your posts make me want to scoot over to Scotland, sit in that pretty sitting room and talk, talk, talk over a little too much wine. Go you with the 47 research books.

  4. Well! After all that, it had better be a damn good book.
    Hee, hee.

  5. Michelle - how absolutely lovely you are. :)

    Tea Pot - I KNOW. *hides under table*

  6. I can't wait to read your book. Go you!
    And these photos are just beautiful. They really are. As for Anna Karenina - what a gorgeous drama queen x


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