Monday, April 20, 2020

Once More Into the Breach

Early in 2013, while wrestling with the plot of my hopefully-to-be-published second novel, I stepped back from the tangled mess I was making and diverted myself by writing a quick story for my grandsons. It involved them being transported back in time, and to England, where they faced a dragon, evil knights and a band of ruthless outlaws. (Hey, it could happen.)

In this dark-ages tale, they met an old Druid and encountered a magic stone called the Talisman.

Oh, and Arthur, they met King Arthur, too.

I spent some time trying to figure out a method of transporting the boys, and eventually settled on a cloak. This was due to my wife finding some blue, velvet curtains in a charity shop, which she made a large cloak out of, to go along with the book.

The finished product was titled The Magic Cloak.

I had two copies printed up, complete with illustrations. I put them aside to give to the boys as Christmas gifts and went back to my tangled plot.

But the little story wouldn’t let me go, and I found myself thinking more about that book than the one I was trying to write. So, I put my ‘adult’ book aside and wrote another for my grandsons.

In the second installment, they visited Roman Britain.

There, they were served some drinks, carried in by a servant girl. That was her role, to walk in, put a tray of drinks down and disappear. She didn’t even have a name. But, like the story itself, this girl wouldn’t go away. Eventually, I discovered that she wasn’t just a servant girl, she was the central figure in the book, and the lynchpin of the overall series, which continued to take shape in my mind.

The next year saw the G-Boys fighting in the Battle of Hastings, and the year after that, conscripted—along with Shakespeare—into the army that Liz the First gives her famous “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman,” speech to.


From the vantage point I now occupy, I can’t say how the story grew, or when decisions were reached but, as the years passed and I continued to write the books, the epic eventually solidified. Naturally, I thought I’d like to publish it, but knew from the start that I couldn’t think about that until the series came to an end. This was because each book brought new revelations, and often those revelations meant revisiting earlier books and making adjustments to the story arc. But now, the entire series has solidified and I can start thinking about going back to the beginning to rewrite and revise and see if I can make it publishable.

Once I finish the final book.

The books, you see, aren’t written in the way a sane person would write a novel, which involves a detailed plot outline. These are written using a method we in the business call “pantsing” — i.e. Writing by the seat of your pants. With only the slightest idea of where I am going. (For Book V, the entire outline read: “the boys visit The Great Exhibition in 1851 London, and have an adventure.”)

What I do is, I sit down at the beginning of every year and start to type. It’s not how I want to write these books, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it.

While I always have an idea of where the overall story is heading, the path leading to that goal remains dark and mysterious. I can only discover it by walking along it, and occasionally falling off. Each book, therefore, is born from a series of dead ends, long periods of doing nothing, protracted bouts of agonizing over where I went wrong, and a few joyful realizations that I have hit upon an unexpected, but obviously correct, direction in which to move the plot.

The book where I have the boys flying a bi-plane in WWI—Book VI—was, by far, the most torturous of writing experiences…

…until I started the next one.

I have just finished that book—Book VII—which revisits Arthur, completes the narrative circuit and sets the stage for Book VIII.

I am now several chapters into that one, and I am already floundering.

After the sweat, blood and tears of the yearly novel, and once it is neatly confined between the covers of a book, I always tell my wife that the next one will be easier. It never is. It is so gut-wrenchingly NOT easy that my annual assertion has become something of a joke. This year, however, I have a new, and undeniably true, addendum: “The next book,” I told her, “may not be easier, but it will be the last.”

[NOTE: I wrote the above shortly after I began the book, back in August of 2019.

Since then, progress has been typical:

I wrote 1,000 words in one week, then sat for two months brooding about where the book was going. Then I managed 5,000 words in a single week in November before going dormant until February, when I trashed what I had done and started over. Eventually, I got to 12,000 words, then lost momentum due to an unexpected trip to the US.

I kicked the plot around for the next few weeks and now, for some reason I won't mention, suddenly find myself able to devote a lot of time to it.

I am about halfway in, and writing a chapter a day now, so I hope to have it finished by the end of May.

And then the fun begins.]

Friday, April 10, 2020

Going for a Swim

Over the years, I’ve noted how the swimming pool at the local leisure center comes up short when compared to my memories of swimming in the creek, and how what adventurous locals refer to as “Wild Swimming” is what I simply call swimming. I therefore thought it only right that I should chronicle my recent introduction to al fresco swimming.

It started with a notice in Next Door—the local on-line community forum—when a guy named Ady asked if anyone was up for a Cold-Water swim. Due to the aforementioned reasons, I thought I owed it to myself to give it a go.

And so, on a crisp October morning, I drove the short distance to Southwater Park and met Ady at the lake shore. Turns out I was the only one insane enough to take him up on the offer. Ady was undaunted, however, and pleased to have at least one person to share his passion with. Without fanfare, or preparation time (although what I might have done to prepare myself, I cannot say) we walked into the still, silent water where mist was rising in early light.

In the lake, smiling despite the numbness.
It was freezing. But I persevered, submerged myself up to my shoulders and, after a few seconds of hyperventilating, it began to feel normal. Invigorating, even.

We swam back and forth across the lake a few times while Ady extolled the virtues of Cold Water swimming and I luxuriated in the sensation of, once again, swimming in open water. It really was quite pleasant.

Then we got out.

My feet and hands were so numb I couldn’t feel them, and my fingers were so stiff I found it impossible to button my shirt. It was even difficult to insert the key in the ignition and driving home was a little dodgy. Fortunately, there were few cars on the road.

I had promised to contact Ady when I returned from my trip to America so we could do it again, but here it is, nearly ten weeks later, and I haven’t yet made the call. Here’s why:

First and foremost, despite how pleasant it was, it’s another thing, and I don’t have room in my life for another thing. I know it would just be a one-morning-a-week outing, but I’m already getting up extra early to swim at the leisure center on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, there’s Choir, Thursday, it’s Tai Chi, Friday, we shop, and in between is another choir, the AmDram group, a book club and various other social obligations.

And I know me. If I took up outdoor swimming, I’d put 110% into it, and soon I’d be traveling to other sites, taking up even more time. Then there’s the kit. I’d want a set of activewear that would be easier to get on and off, and neoprene booties to make walking on the beach and lake bottom easier, and neoprene gloves to keep my hands warm, and maybe one of those fluffy, terrycloth robes to help stave off frostbite.

In short, it would take over the little bit of my life that I have left.

Secondly, there’s Ady’s intentions. It was significant that he termed it “Cold Water Swimming.” Addy wasn’t interest in open water, he was interested in cold water, the colder, the better. He was, he informed me, a practitioner of the Wim Hof method, and that calls for extreme cold-water challenges.

Mr. Hof is from the Netherlands and is known for his ability to withstand freezing temperature, as well as for holding the record for the barefoot half-marathon through snow and ice. (Did he really have that many other people to compete with?”)

Ady extolled the virtues of the WimHof method, and, while I don’t disagree with him (I have read that cold-water swimming is good for your immune system and yadda, yadda, yadda) I’m in no hurry to travel anywhere that is covered in snow and ice just so I can run half-naked through it.

So, I’m sorry I didn’t call you back, Ady, it’s just that I’m kinda busy and, although I had a great time at the lake, I’m in no hurry to freeze my balls off. I just want to go swimming.

Swimming, for real. Finally.