Life, 75-words at a time

January 21, 2015

Something came up at our most recent WordWatchers meeting, a tiny thing really, a passing comment, that has been whispering away at the back of my mind, so I have decided to address it. The gist of the comment is that ‘we’ as individuals, try as we might, are affected by our environment, which in turn effects our mood, which, in turn, affects not only what we write, but how much we write…

Seems obvious, but perhaps, it’s not.

It was Somerset Maughan who wrote: “…no professional writer can afford only to write when he feels like it” and when I look at WW members Charlotte Betts and Abbie Rushton who are now published authors, with book deals, but still have day-to-day-pays-the-bills jobs, I see this with absolute clarity. They have, to a greater or lesser extent, become a production facility for words, stories, novels. They have to write even when they don’t want to, even, when they can’t!

To be honest it makes the idea of actually being a ‘proper’ published author quite scary – even off-putting.

For me, WordWatchers has been many things, a friendship, love even, of my fellow writers, a time, just a few hours a month, to find a safe harbour amongst a group of like minded (but, equally, very different) writers, to chat, discuss, and to confess…

Confessions in WordWatchers used to be just that. Having set a target from the month before (and documented this intent in the minutes) the confession was your chance to explain, usually in a verbose and carefully crafted manner, your excuse for not meeting the target you had set yourself. The confessions have changed over the years often becoming a far more cathartic affair for some of the members. This has become particular true for me.

You see, for me, life seems to be becoming increasingly complicated. My wife, Vee, suffers from something called Fibromyalgia. It’s a complicated illness and not helped by patchy understanding, or acceptance of what it entails on a day-to-day basis from family, friends (or people you thought were friends in some instances) and even, to our surprise, the medical profession. My wife used to have good days and bad days but now, we ‘joke’ that she now has bad days and worse days. Even the good days now aren’t really good and are tainted with the knowledge that whatever efforts are made on a particular day to be ‘normal’ will have (increasingly long) periods of massively ‘bad days’.

As I write this, it’s January 21st, almost a month after my wife’s concerted effort to be ‘normal’ for Christmas Day, almost a month of constant pain, being unable to walk, or, on some days, get out of bed for more than a few hours at a time. A month where she is often in some much pain that even my attempts to wrap my arms around her and comfort her must be shunned because they are too painful. Yes, that’s as awful as it sounds.

Families get Fibromyalgia, but unfortunately only one of the family gets to carry it around. For me, the best, but still poor, analogy I can give in literary terms is that Vee is Frodo, carrying the burden of the One Ring, but I cannot be her Samwise Gamgee and, even briefly, take up her burden when all seems lost. It is heart-breaking.

As Vee’s health has deteriorated, especially in the last year, I have done my best to maintain my writing. My novel is finished but the 2nd draft is all but abandoned, my time too fractured to do the edit the justice I know it deserves. My writing comes in those tiny snippets of prose that some of you may be aware that I have regularly featured on the website Paragraph Planet. I do my writing a precious 75-words at a time. Ideas, stories, characters, dialogue, concepts… all bashed out in 10-15 minutes, tiny insects of literary prose frozen in storytelling amber, ready to be polished into something even more precious at a later date. Well, that’s what I originally thought.

Having written over 400 of these 75-word stories now I have begun to collate them, analyse them, sift and sort them, into collections, themes, discard piles and ‘to be further polished’ piles. What is interesting (to me at least) is that these little stories are, in many ways, the barometer of my life, and my psyche. I can see the stories where I am very down, sad, morose. I can see the stories where I am trying to write myself out of my doldrums. I can see where I succeed and where I fail (and tumble back down into sad and depressed tales of death and misery). The gaps in time are telling too – gaps where I am too sad or pre-occupied to write anything… Those are bad times.

My little stories show me that the concept of family is incredibly important to me and that my own family is an incredible and constant source of inspiration. They show me that I am a Science Fiction and Fantasy writer at my core. They show me that I think about death quite often, but also that, fortunately, I am capable of poking fun at and making a joke of the figure with the scythe.

Lastly, they show me that, come what may, I am a writer, that I must write. I am grateful for this because without this escape, this safety valve I may have gone mad a long time ago. Of course I may still go mad, but I suspect I will be able to document the process 75-words at a time…

***

75-Squared, a collection of 75 stories, each 75-words long, beautifully illustrated by Helen Withington will be released sometime in 2015 and then you’ll have your chance to explore the little facets of my mind.

Thank-you for your time.

John

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