A few months ago, the lovely Literate Kitten started the Friday ‘Fess-Up, in which anyone who was writing and reading about writing confessed how their writing week had gone. It was a great way for me to record my progress with my novel, but then the summer holidays arrived and things fell apart. I have been neither writing nor recording. Now, the equally lovely Courtney has issued a challenge that I can’t resist. It goes like this:
So, the challenge is to post one paragraph from your current work in progress you feel particularly happy with, and one you aren’t pleased with, and then to discuss the writing process, to the best of your recollection, behind each.
I am very grateful to Courtney, because this process has sent me back to my novel. I’ve read all the chapters, and can feel the characters calling me. Poor Sanet is sitting at her dinner-party, poised for the fall-out that is going to change her life, and I really need to finish that process so that she can move on. I’ve had a lovely time setting up the crises that characters face, but I’m lacking the courage to take them through to the end. Emotional honesty, even when it’s made-up, is difficult.
I don’t know if I’m a huge egotist, but I’ve struggled to find a paragraph that I really don’t like. Instead I’ve found three in a row that I believe start well and then get weaker. Take a look, and I’ll discuss afterwards:
This afternoon, however, Seb has a meeting he cannot miss, and she has come to the hospital alone. Seb had wanted to hail her a taxi, but Sanet decided to walk. Accustomed to being outdoors and to walking long distances daily with her dogs, she is unfazed by the five-kilometre walk from Richmond, through St Margaret’s to the hospital in Isleworth. As she crosses Richmond Bridge in a steady patter of English rain, she turns back to look at the suburb that her son has begun to call home. Solid and stately, it covers Richmond Hill with the confident brickwork of generations. The Thames washes beneath her, a carpet of longing.
Sanet walks briskly in the rain along a suburban street that arches in the direction of Isleworth. She has driven this way with Seb a few times already and knows its landmarks well. Having spent her adult life on a farm, this is a habit: noting, marking and attending to her surroundings. If she were walking up the koppie at home now, she would be doing the same, noting trees, birds and animal droppings. On the way home, she thinks she will try the tow-path along the river. She passes the cluster of small shops and pubs around St Margaret’s station, hears a train thunder below the bridge. The words are strange to her ears: “greengrocer’s”, “off-license”, even “pub”. Of course she’s heard of English pubs before, but now that she’s seeing them, they are like dreams of pubs, hallucinations of extreme Englishness. They swagger their allegiances, to brands of beer, to football clubs, to chalked-up quiz nites and fish and chips.
She takes a pedestrian path over a busy roadway that roars out of London. Seb has told her that it goes past the rugby stadium. Sanet’s family at home, Lourens, Christabel and her new husband Jan, are all obsessed with rugby. Christabel sits comfortably with the men on the sofa, matching them beer for beer and commenting knowledgeably on the state of play. Rugby has been the background to Sanet’s life. Her teenage years were spent flicking her hair and giggling around rugby pitches, where later she compared babies and cake recipes. It had been a dagger blow for Lourens when South Africa was banned from international sport. The only reason he accepts the immiment change of government is his hopes for the country’s rugby side. Lourens has three filters: the sport, his farm and God. Everything else, even his family, is less alive for him. So it is clever, Sanet concedes, of Christabel to take an interest in rugby and to have married a farmer. She has insured her role as Pa’s girl for life. The rest of them are second tier to Lourens – Claudine has disappeared to Durban to pursue her impractical artist dreams, Sanet is the ghost in the garden and as for Balthasar, he gave up on him years ago.
The last paragraph makes Sanet sound much more confident than she is. When I redraft I will remove the giggling and the hair-flicking because she would never have done that. She would have been too shy as a teenager. I need to show just how alienated she is from rugby and that superbly confident daughter who has taken her place on the sofa with the men. I also think the last sentence is glib, and I need to show more clearly, rather than tell, how Claudine, Sanet and Balthasar are of less importance to Lourens because they don’t share his interests. I need to show that although Sanet longs for Africa and feels alien in London, when she is home, she is just as alienated. What is becoming clear to me is that if you are alienated from yourself, you are alienated from everything, and that will become the core of Sanet’s crisis: she will be offered the opportunity to be true to herself. The question is, will she take it up?
Enough of context. Courtney asked for process. All I really remember, is that the first paragraphs came easily and that I wrote about ten versions of the third one. Writing about alienation, about being exiled, about the strangeness of another land, came easily to me. The part I found difficult was getting to the core of what is wrong with this family. Perhaps I don’t need to achieve that in one paragraph. Light-bulb! Perhaps all I need to do is put Sanet on that sofa for a couple of sentences and show that, even when she is trying to fit in, she doesn’t, that even while sitting on the sofa with her husband, daughter and son-in-law, she is in another country.
I really need to finish this draft so that I can get on with the redraft. I can’t wait to polish and shine and neaten, and get everything in its place.
Thanks, Courtney. I owe you.