A cottage on a small island surrounded by sea; no interruptions or tedious chores; just writing and pottering about with the dog and skimming stones and cooking and eating and no phone signal and … bliss. My partner and I were both pretty tired and needed a break. Going anywhere abroad just seemed too much effort (and expense): all we really wanted to do was have time to write. So we did and it was wonderful.
My goal for this unofficial writing retreat was to rework the first part of the book. I know there’s a school of thought that you should power on till the end and then go over the entire first draft, but I felt like a lot has changed since I began, both in terms of how I’m telling the story and also due to what research has thrown up. There were a lot of fiddly problems that were putting me off the whole book because I knew they were sticking out.
I feel like I had a breakthrough, or rather a series of small breakthroughs. I solved a structural problem that has dogged me since the very beginning and found a way to do so that is a small private joke with myself about it (though no one else should notice). I took an unsatisfactory minor character who has seemed, in her one scene, like a silly caricature and – I think – made her more like a real person. I joined up bits that have been hanging with “WRITE MORE HERE” stuck between them like a temporary hoarding. And so on. I’m really happy with what I got done and it’s re-energised me to carry on.
Here is a picture of where I sat to write. Spot the small dog trying to lure me outside.
And when I wanted a break, I’d go and look at this. Are you jealous?
In other news, I spent the week before the holiday reviewing shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. This is something I used to do every year, for the full stretch, until it sent me insane. After a break of a few years, I thought I could handle doing just a week … the thing is, at the Fringe, as with everything else, 90 per cent of what’s on is rubbish. Which is why proper reviews by someone with a bit of experience are actually important. But for some reason while I can easily read a bad book or watch a bad TV show or film, and still get something out of it, when I’m stuck watching an hour of bad theatre, I just want to bite my own fist off. Sometimes if you give something a negative review, someone who knows the people involved, or who just enjoyed it themselves, will leave angry comments. I wish I could convince them – and I’m sure this applies to most professional critics – that I HATE not enjoying something to the extent that it deserves a poor review. I would so, so, much rather write positive ones (although writing a scathing review is certainly more fun than writing about something which was okay, nothing special, watchable/readable but not memorable. Those reviews are absolute killers to write). Of course, I am sure I will change my tune if my book gets loads of horrible reviews. I will then declare all the critics to be idiots who didn’t even read it and can’t read properly anyway.
Some positive reviews:
Jimmy McGovern’s The Accused, with Sean Bean http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/tv-and-radio/tv-preview-accused-person-of-interest-1-2464089
New play, The Death Of Chatterton http://www.scotsman.com/the-scotsman/scotland/festival-review-the-death-of-chatterton-pleasance-courtyard-venue-33-1-2465073
New production of More Light (I loved this play, hadn’t seen it before and now want to know more about Bryony Lavery) http://www.scotsman.com/the-scotsman/scotland/review-more-light-c-eca-venue-50-1-2469210