Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to give you eye-ache reading an enormous list of everything I’ve ever penned – that would be too much of a migraine-inducing task for me, let alone you! I’ve always jotted down bits here and bobs there; recorded conversations, both real and made up; and listed interesting-sounding names for characters or places – all constituting an oil-well worth of ink spilled across many pages, and certainly too much to stocktake (especially as some could argue that it’s of little value unless it’s actually used; but that’s the life of a writer!).
After finishing Novel Number One in January 2010 (ouch, that’s a long time ago – have I really been bumbling along since then?!), I lost all confidence in my writing. Having spent 4 years thinking about and then 1 year writing Novel Number One, and being so consumed by that one project that I didn’t write anything else alongside it, I couldn’t get going again. Worried that I couldn’t tell a different story in a different voice ever again, I. Just. Stopped. Told anyone who asked, of course, that I was working on writing exercises, trying new things out, and all was well. But I was. Miserable. Really miserable. And so very lost, too, without writing.
But one day I woke up and realised that I was, am, and have always been a Writer. Though I wasn’t writing right then, I had been writing before Novel Number One...and so I dug out the work and had a good look. Prose from before my English Literature with Creative Writing degree (from Bath Spa University – they rock!) was rather dodgy (rambling, in places, actually; and almost all had trailed off, losing their way while I lost my enthusiasm), though a few poems had promise. The idea of Novel Number One and the early work upon it was conceived during my second year at university, and since graduating I hadn’t written anything fresh, just concentrated on the novel. But I had written other things in different modules on my degree, and it was this that formed the basis of my stocktake – which then became my portfolio.
I decided to collect together the good pieces and keep them in a portfolio of my best work, so that I could reread and bolster my confidence; and also to have an efficient repository of work to send out to competitions (oops – I only did this twice!). Divided into Prose and Poetry, only work that I deem ‘finished’ goes in (and the writers – or perfectionists! – among you will know it takes a great many drafts to get to this stage...and even then, tweaks may still need to be made to suit various publications). Novel Number One doesn’t make it in – not because sections of it aren’t good enough, but because it would be too cumbersome to extract, and too complicated to contextualise, for it to be included.
So, in the spirit of (a fairly succinct!) stocktake, I share my portfolio with you:
1. Accidents – this is a 750 word Flash Fiction piece, in which an accident may not be a natural one... Bustling around cleaning, Heather accidentally breaks one of Mrs Winslow’s porcelain dolls – which, to withered old Mrs Winslow, are like daughters. Heather’s apology seems to be grudgingly accepted, but later an accident befalls Heather, leaving her with the same injuries as Mrs Winslow’s shattered doll... (Submitted to a competition and rejected).
2. Sunday Shoes – a 1500 word short, this is narrated by seven year-old Chloe, who spends her Sunday afternoons looking through her mum’s shoe collection. Saving the best till last, Chloe and her mum pull out the favourite box – and savour the photographs of her dad, who has passed away. The afternoon tribute ends with Chloe wearing her favourite lemon yellow shoes, the gift her dad gave her just before he passed away, for when she is older. (Submitted to a children's writing competition and rejected - though I see now that it may not have enough of a arc to make it work as a story).
3. Dakota – just shy of 1000 words (and so not – yet! – long enough to enter into most competitions), this is a story in the film noir style of the movie ‘Sin City’. An efficient hit man feels little humanity and no remorse...until he has to kill his daughter...
4. The Dare – Again just over 900 words, the second person ‘you’ is used to narrate the tale of a brother and sister; the dare they make, running over and over a frozen river; and what happens when the ice cracks and a child falls in...
1. Healthy – more a prose-poem, this is a rant against our image-obsessed culture and the unhealthy places it takes our personalities too. For me, this poem is a great success: of a personal and ethical ‘message’; of performance (I read it in front of an audience of 70+ in Chicago while on my university exchange – and 2 different people at 2 different times congratulated me on it!); and of publication, as it is published in the Bath Spa University ‘Open to Interpretation’ anthology (though this unfortunately means that it’s ineligible for competition entry).
3. Resuscitation – an ironic poem, showing how dysfunctional love and its metaphorical CPR destroys and not saves a relationship (I may enter this into a medical-themed competition, but I need to look at it again with fresh eyes before committing!).
4. The Writer’s Toil – my cathartic and long-awaited return to writing after Novel Number One, this poem uses a blacksmith’s imagery to show the physical and psychological toil of writing (this was recently submitted to a magazine and rejected, but I still believe in it as a poem).
5. When You Go to Bed at Night – this is a poem for children and an attempt at a kind of nursery rhyme (though, typically for me, without the rhyme!). Different dreams and the freedom they bring is listed with the refrain 'When you go to bed at night...’ between stanzas.
6. Memories of My Mother – as the title suggests, this is an entirely personal poem detailing some of my memories of my late mother (I hasten to add that it isn’t too bleak or upsetting, and is mainly included in the portfolio because I achieved and small amount of success with it, as it was published in a - very- small-press poetry anthology, as was the next poem...)
7. Searching for Affirmation – this is more widely about grief and the affirmation that comes when you’ve accepted the loss of someone you love.
I should probably explain that poetry comes to me mainly when I am in the ‘heat’ of an emotion, and this is why it tends to be angst-y! The Prose here is outweighed by the Poetry; before university taught me to write short pieces each week, I would spiral off into the exciting reaches of an idea first, then write a bit down here and a bit there...but by the time I came to start on an actual narrative, I’d lost the inclination, enthusiasm or imagination to do the original idea justice. Therefore, as ambivalent as I’ve felt (and still feel, to be honest) towards Novel Number One, it truly is a success of its own right, for I conceived, edited, drafted and wrote 150, 000 words (and, yes, I know that’s too long for publication!) – and, as you can now see, I’d never written a fraction of that many before (except about 4000 words for a uni essay).
Every now and then, I take the portfolio down off the shelf and remind myself.
I remind myself that I am a Writer; that I have Written good things; and that as I have done that before...then I Will again.