I’ve been on holiday for the past week, and apart from the obvious security implications of taking a laptop to a tent, I decided just to take my most recent paper notebook with me. I also decided that, for the first time in eight months, I wasn’t going to work on Far From the Tree, but on a short prequel story about my main male character and his former wife. Those of you who have read my recent blog posts will know that the idea of writing about the night Matthew Carter met Tara Fielding occurred most strongly to me when I first listened to the title song on Stevie Nicks’ album Trouble in Shangri-La, and it’s been worrying at my brain ever since. The holiday was the perfect opportunity to give in and write it.
I’ve been banning myself from writing anything other than Far From the Tree all year, and, actually, it was very liberating to take a step out of the contemporary story and go back to the early 1990s, which was the time that Matthew and Tara met. But, of course, this wasn’t going to be a ‘sit at the keyboard and splurge it all out’ kind of deal; I had a pen (well, a few, but then they have a tendency to get appropriated by my children, so I always carry a lot of them!) and a notebook, and so it was back to the old school.
And it was fun! Being a southpaw, my handwriting is pretty awful, so much so that even I can’t read it at times, and my students regularly have to get me to read out the comments I’ve made on their work, but, somehow, I managed to write a fair few pages of Falling for the American, as it’s tentatively called. Typing it up will allow me to edit, and hopefully finish it. I wouldn’t say I’d like to write longhand all the time, but there was something very seductive about it, for a few days. The scratch of the biro on the page, in a pretty notebook, and the ability to cross out and write in the spaces, and add bits using symbols was quite physical, and I think it might have allowed me to write in a slightly different ‘voice’ this week. What I produced was certainly different in tone, if not in actual style.
In terms of content, it was fun to write the beginning of a relationship that is totally different to the relationship Matthew has with Anna in Far From the Tree. This was a self-conscious decision; the feel of it had to be rougher, passionate but in a destructive, out of control kind of way, trying to capture that absolute surge of an early twenties encounter when neither party has much baggage and has less to lose. I think the act of handwriting really helped to contribute to that. And, of course, once the actual novel is out there, if anyone wants to read a piece that fills in some historical gaps, they’ll be able to! But for now, it’s back to the laptop, and on with the novel :).