Friday, January 27, 2012

Spitting out the Cyanide

“That’s not what I mean at all,” she said laying a hand flat on her friend’s blouse near enough her heart that she could feel its beat beneath her fingertips.  “Write what’s in here because you must, because it pleases you, but never because you want someone else to like what you’ve said.”

This quote is from the richly-wrought The Distant Hours, by Kate Morton.  I had never heard of Morton before, but having spent most waking hours embroiled and en-brained in the company of her heroine this week, she is a writer I hope to know more and more.
Kate Morton

I could write about the novel, how it enchanted me by its idiosyncratic characters, diseased by duty and honour, each chomping on her own little cyanide capsule of emotional repression; how the aging castle is as much of a character as the women in the novel; how it is set during WW II, a period of time I seem to find compelling in its romantic barbarism; how again the twisted altruism of twins has engrossed me (see my blog on her Fearful Symmetry and The Thirteenth Tale; how fire utterly consumes as in Jane Eyre, and Rebecca and BigamE; and how Morton’s style has delightfully drowned my thoughts with each uniquely everyday image.  But I won’t.  It is a novel I urge you to read.

There are people far more educated than I to tell you about the imagery and the nuances.  I want to tell you not what Morton said or how she said it, but how she made me feel.  Because lately, as you may have guessed by my unusual uncommunicativeness, I have lost heart with many things, mostly writing and therefore life.
I have learned recently, as never before, that I am judged not by what I do or how I write, but that people are just people and sometimes they enjoy kicking me to the ground.  And I take that very personally.  If people are going to criticize me for things I didn’t say or do or write, what the fuck is the point in working hard and giving my all when their fiction trumps my truth anyway?  Or so I thought.  And so, shell-shocked Self decided to shut down; that it was a far safer thing not to write; that it was far more sensible to scuttle oneself, to swallow the cyanide, to forget that I could be made to feel worthless; and maybe the flack would subside.  It has.  But I haven’t written for a month. 

And I’m not a happy bunny.

Defibrillators.  STAT.  Or rather… Kate Morton’s, The Distant Hours.

Through happenstance, Morton’s heroines aren’t allowed the opportunity to fulfill their hearts' desires; in post-war years it was the far safer thing to become a typist or sit sheltered away in the castle tower, unwritten stories and histories slowly turning each silent soul quite mad.  I suppose I saw myself in these sad octogenarians whose dreams had lain dead for fifty years; in Meredith, who as a pensioner had blocked out the memory of her girlhood ambitions and had sleep-walked through her intervening beige years.  And I realized that I had written blogs and deleted blogs because I had so wanted “someone else to like what you’ve said,” what I said.  And I sabotaged myself.  I deleted myself.

I may not write literary fiction, I may not weave words with silken sibilants, similes and throat-lumping imagery; I may not spend years researching microfiche in Kew Public Records Office; I may not get to interview Obama or Gaga or Bloody Barbara Walters, but I write from the heart.  And I am sorry if that isn’t a school of writing that some recognise.  I am sorry if that alienates people I love.  But if you loved me—fuck it, even if you merely liked me—if you saw my happiness and it made your heart swell, then you would tell me to write; to type until the flesh of my fingertips frayed, and then to carry on clicking keys until my bones were nubs.  I am a writer.  It is what I do.  Whether published or not, it is words that pump through my pulverized pulmonary, they surf the platelets and circulate my soul, they clog my brain and breathe colour to my world. 

So thank you Kate Morton for making writing-from-the-heart okay for me again.  Thank you for making Meredith, Juniper and Saffy characters with dreams so smothered and futures so melancholy, I can’t own them for myself.  So I’m whipping off the shroud of wordlessness, climbing from the wreck of my Anderson shelter and hopefully, one day, I will knit enough words to fill the missing layer:

“The hunger wasn’t really homesickness at all.  He’d used the term lazily, perhaps even hopefully, to describe the feeling, the awareness that something fundamental had been lost.  It wasn’t a place that he was missing, though; the reality was far worse than that.  Tom was missing a layer of himself.

He knew where he’d left it.  He’d felt it happen on that field near the Escault Canal, when he’d turned and met the eyes of the other soldier, the German fellow with his gun pointed straight at Tom’s back.  He’d felt panic, a hot liquid surge, and then his load had lightened.  A layer of himself, the part that felt and feared, had peeled away like a piece of tobacco paper in his father’s tin and fluttered to the ground, been left discarded on the battlefield.  The other part, the remaining kernel called Tom had put his head down and run, thinking nothing, feeling nothing, aware only of the rasping breaths, his own in his ears.”


  1. Word.

    This was my favorite line from The Distant Hours: “She says there are stories everywhere and that people who wait for the right one to come along before setting pen to paper end up with very empty pages.”

    Beautiful post, Eleanor!

  2. Yes, Heather! Another great line, and so, so true. The writer, Jonathan Maberry (Patient Zero, Ghost Road Blues, etc.,) told me once to write everyday and it didn't really matter if it was any good or not, just write and the good bits would rise to the surface.
    So I am filling my pages with words and hope some at least will be creamy.

    1. At Wilkes, we refer to making yourself write everyday as: "Buns on the bench!!"

  3. Haters gonna hate, honey, but they can all go fuck themselves, and when you're an overnight sensation, we'll laugh and clink without them.

  4. Oh Don, I know they say patience is a virtue, but I find that being virtuous is very overrated.
    Clinkety clink and laugh needed STAT!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Loved this. You know why. It is a slow process to come back into oneself, but you my dear have a self that is worth finding again. Much love to you Lady Eleanor.

  7. Thank you, Michaela. Slow? It's tantric right now.
    "Me, where are youuuuuuuuuuu? Ah! A bottle of Bogle!"
    Glug. Glug. Gluggety glug.
    "Ennie? Is that you???"

  8. I'm a novelist too (you once wrote a beautiful review for me) and your blog is wonderful. Do not despair, although we all do; you can only be who you are, as a person and a writer and some will love, some will hate. It is life. Putting anything creative in front of an audience puts your head over the parapet to be shot at. keep going. I am with you, and the suffering is worth it x

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I have watched for snipers before, prone and ready, but I had wrongly assumed I would know which direction they would be coming from. Alas, the bayonet in the back was a smidgen unexpected. But wow, what inspiration! Misery is quite the muse! ;) Thank you for reading.

  9. Never stop writing. You were born for it. The world wants and needs and loves your words, your thoughts, your voice and, indeed, you.

    1. Thank you, Indra. My words might be a bit tangled with regret at the moment, but I'll unravel them eventually.
      The Buddhism book I was given is, as I sure you know, teaching me a lot about being grateful for the present. They called me 'Meerkat' at University, because I was always looking back. Old habits...