Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sit back and watch me burn

View of Ocean Beach (St Kilda and St Clair) from Lawyers Head, Dunedin, today.


That’s the sound of this blog taking its first gasp of air after a jolt from a pair of defibrillator paddles.

To what do we owe this resurrection? The Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago, that’s what.

I’m sitting in a room in the house I’ve rented for twelve months in the Dunedin suburb of Shiel Hill, just around the corner from Every Street where the Bain’s tumbledown house stood before it was razed 17 days after the murders.

This room has a desk and a double bed, and will accommodate visitors when the guest room next door is already occupied. 

The set up at my new home
 (note the completely blank Word document on the screen on the right)

I will have an office in the university’s Arts Building from tomorrow (the residency starts officially on 1 Feb), and I plan to go there every weekday to bash at a keyboard with reckless abandon. But I also plan to sit here, in my 2nd guest room in my temporary Southern home, in the early hours of the morning, while my wife, daughter and son sleep. I want to return to my 5am starts, even though I am suddenly time rich, because I know how time can slip away once the kids wake and a thousand little chores and cellphone alerts shunt me further from the calmness that is the spine of why we’ve come here: to write.

What will I write? (This is the bit you bookmark and come back in 12 months to fling in my face or, for the modern Democrituses, just have a good laugh).

I want to finish my novel about a location scout and a levitating saint. The working title is, unimaginatively, THE LOCATION SCOUT. When I say 'finish', it implies I’ve started it, which is one kind of true. I’ve researched stuff like the life of St Joseph of Cupertino, location scouting, screenwriting, the life and work of Martin Scorcese (on whom I’m loosely basing the benevolent director in the book). And I have a few chapters, composed in 2015, before my infant son began to wake at 5am and crowded out the last of my writing time (and energy). Re-reading these chapters last month, I suspect they are all bound for the recycle bin, and I'll need to reacquaint myself with my Pastrovicchi and the latest trends in VFX.

I won’t worry too much about moving the wordcount forward on the novel until March, though.

February I plan to exercise my dormant writing muscles by working on two short stories. One of which is, like THE LOCATION SCOUT: something I’ve broken ground on but stalled. Let’s call this ‘the Bio story’. The second story exists only as a series of to do list items:
  • Go through notebooks, spreadsheets, draft emails and Evernote to catalogue short story ideas
  • Choose 2nd story to write in Feb
  • Write 2nd story
These stories will be added to the pile of my published and unpublished stories since I put together A MAN MELTING (*takes a moment to compose himself after realising it’ll be nine years in September since AMM was accepted for publication*), from which I will, eventually, produce another story collection.

The view from my home office, looking towards St Clair
(taken 1 hour before the stormy photo at the start of this post)
By the end of the year, if my writing muscles come back lithe and limber, I may have two finished manuscripts: a novel and a story collection. Or not. Two finished manuscripts is only one version of a successful year.

The novel may take longer. It may need longer, deserve longer. So long as it has 12 (okay, 11) months worth of good progress, then that’s success too.

I may become possessed by another idea and produce part or all of a different manuscript. This scenario would involve much angst and self-flagellation, but it’s conceivable I’d come out the other end and be happy with my year’s work. But it’s certainly not Plan A.

I’ll also try to post here more often. After only one post last year, that won’t be hard. In the order of one or two posts a month about life in Dunedin and how I’m getting on. Maybe the books I read on those afternoons I’m done writing for the day. Certainly the music I’m listening to while I work.

Blogging is part of the recipe for a successful year. Not the quality of the blogging (!), just the exercise. It’s no coincidence that it's also nine years since I tried to write a million words in a year (and failed with distinction). What I learnt from that process was that writing of any kind begets writing. Having ideas begets more ideas. Being chained to a keyboard and forcing yourself to write when bored leads to production. And some of that production is good. Some of it is dross, mind.

This post is me clearing my throat and flexing my metacarpals to ready me for work on the Bio story.

So forgive this. All this. It’s what I’ve always done online: exhale myself so I can inhale more exciting thoughts and words for my stories. That, and create discoverable, binding-but-not-that-binding deals with the universe about how productive I will be.