Today we’re taking part in a blog tour for Glenda Millard’s A Small Free Kiss in the Dark. Here we share with you her guest post and launch a book giveaway…
I once enrolled in a public speaking course at a business school. We learnt about different types of presentations including motivational talks, instructional ones and others. I understood the theory but somehow when it came to oral presentations, mine always seemed to become a story or have elements of story in them. Although this method didn’t strictly meet the criteria, it seemed to me that most people relate to story and therefore it was a good way to get a message across.
I loved story, long before I was literate. My father used to proudly relate to anyone who’d listen, how he taught me to recite Lewis Carroll’s nonsense tale, Jabberwocky, when I was only three or four years old. But one of my favourite memories of childhood is Christmas at Nana’s when our family would gather from near and far for dinner. Apart from finding silver sixpences in the plum pudding, the greatest pleasures of that day would be to hear my uncles and aunts regale us with anecdotes from their childhood. It didn’t matter to me that I’d heard them all many times before.
When my own children were young, I did the same – told them hand-me-down stories. Hand-me-down is a good descriptor in more ways than one. I always enjoyed getting hand-me-down clothes from my city cousins. They gave me a sense of connection, of belonging, of family. Even now, one of my favourite ‘writing’ outfits is a big woollen jumper my middle son, Callum, wore when he was a teenager.
There’s one story in particular that I used to tell my children. It was passed on to me by my mother. It happened during my first year at school. I had only just turned 5. It was winter, in the days when parents allowed their children to walk to and from school alone. But one afternoon I was very late. The way home involved crossing a bridge over a swollen creek. My doting, bachelor uncle came looking for me. I was dressed in a red, hooded, waterproof cape. Uncle Ray could see me standing on the post office side of the bridge, the side furthest from home. I was crying.
‘What kept you? What’s wrong? We were worried,’ Uncle Ray said when he reached me.
‘I couldn’t come home,’ I sobbed. ‘I couldn’t come over the bridge.’
‘Because of the three billy goats gruff,’ I said.
Uncle Ray looked down over the railing of the bridge then took my hand in his and together we walked, trippety trap, trippety trap, all the way across to the other side. And the three harmless old sheep grazing underneath didn’t even raise their heads. It was clear that the influence of story was already having a powerful influence on my life.
Sometimes, still, when I’m in that small country town, I’ll take a detour and try to imagine myself there, small and afraid in my Red-Riding-Hood cape.
We didn’t own many books, in those days, but story was everywhere.
It came out of the bakelite radio in the wash-house where Mum ironed in the afternoons. My sister and I were fans of a serial called, The Muddle-headed Wombat. Other times we’d lie on the floor in the tiny sitting room beside my father’s mahogany radiogram watching seven inch vinyl discs rotate hypnotically and listening to stories against a backdrop of famous music. The stories of Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker Suite or Ustinov’s wonderful narration of Peter and the Wolf and The Carnival of the Animals. We even played a recording of Winston Churchill’s funeral that came with the National Geographic magazine!
At night, while my father worked in town at the foundry, my sister and I would lie in bed with Mum who read proper, written-down stories from a small, green, hard-covered book with gold lettering on the front and spine and tiny black writing inside. There were no illustrations. We made up the pictures inside our heads. The stories were from a far-away land called the Isle of Man where fairies were known as wee folk. And just like humans, it seemed, there were good fairies and evil ones who had to be appeased with saucers of cream left on the hearth overnight. These stories made me too frightened to run across the passageway to my own bedroom, but I adored them. They weren’t so much different to the Bible stories we listened to on Sundays – some of them scared me too. I liked the parables of the gospels best. They seemed a little like the fables of Aesop, with cryptic clues to deeper hidden meanings.
Then I became aware of another kind of story. Those yet to be told. Several years ago I watched a documentary on television about people of a certain faith who believe that all unborn children exist somewhere in the universe waiting for their existence to be made manifest by the mother’s acceptance of them into her womb. Those not chosen eventually wither and die. To a certain extent this illustrates my experience of the genesis of a story. We accept something invisible to the eye and believe it has the potential to grow. Stories dance tantalisingly out of reach of our consciousness. We become aware of their existence by simple or serendipitous means such as overheard conversations, drifts of perfume, snatches of song, newspaper headlines, handwritten envelopes, luggage labels on old brown suitcases, a face in a crowd, a stranger’s smile, a fleeting dream or a voice at the end of a telephone line.
Like the faithful and their chosen babies, we acknowledge embryos of story and nurture them in an environment where they will survive and thrive. But as well as the intuitive side of things there are very practical elements to writing. To create space inside myself, amongst the clutter of daily living, I put pen to paper and write down any negative issues that might be preventing me from focusing on things I want to think about. The physical act of putting the words on paper is a release. It empties me and prepares an environment in which to grow my story.
At various times I’ve imagined what I thought would be the perfect working environment. A north-facing room (because I live in the southern hemisphere) flooded with winter sunlight, Vanilla Cream walls lined with timber bookcases, french doors, floating voile curtains, views of trees and sky, silence and solitude.
The reality is quite different. When I wrote A Small Free Kiss in the Dark I worked at a small collapsible camp-table jammed between the end of my bed and the en-suite bathroom door. At the time I shared my home with five other adults. Two were shift-workers, one was recuperating after surgery and the other two, like me, were self-employed. There was rarely a time when I was alone. And if the occasion did arise, it was difficult to stop thinking about matters relating to day to day living.
Now and then though, I stole a fix of solitude. Sometimes when everyone else was still asleep. When no one needed me or wanted me, when there was no traffic, no phone calls, no distractions, just me and my words.
Even the most organised of us need time to be alone with our thoughts. In some respects it’s probably the most organised of us that need it most. There’s a danger in micro-management never to let your thoughts have freedom of flight. Instead we are always reeling them in to the task at hand.
Since my first book was published in 1999, I’ve learnt that story is directly linked to the activities of daily life not in isolation from it. So these days, when I’m feeling frustrated about not having ‘ideal’ working conditions, I try to remind myself of that frosty morning when I was struggling to make headway with A Small Free Kiss in the Dark.
It was Saturday. I was heading grumpily for the shower after walking the dog, hanging the washing on the clothes-line, feeding the hens and cleaning out the ferret’s cage. The hem of my nighty was soggy and grass stained. My sons were playing football later that day and I’d be going to watch them. Another day of getting nowhere, I was silently but bitterly complaining to myself. I walked past the vegetable patch, the worm farm, then the compost heap and that’s when I had the thought. I raced inside, scrawled it on the back of a shopping list. I grinned with pure delight at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I didn’t care that I looked like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, with smudges of yesterday’s mascara under my eyes that I’d been too tired to bother taking off when I’d finished writing the previous, gloriously silent night at 2 o’clock. Nothing else mattered but my one beautiful thought;
Story is a pure, green shoot springing up from a dung heap.
It might not seem much to you. It seems a bit silly even to me now, but at the time it meant everything. I knew I had to dig deep in the potato peelings and manure, because what I was looking for – that fresh green shoot of story – was there, somewhere.
Writing isn’t always easy. Most times it’s not, but when that fresh new life emerges, it’s worth the struggle.
Thanks, Glenda – fabulous! The final stop on the blog tour will be an interview with Glenda tomorrow over at the Book Bug. And, as promised, we have a copy of A Small Free Kiss in the Dark to giveaway now, too. To be entered into the draw, comment on this post, ‘like’ it on Facebook or retweet it. We’ll pick a winner at 7pm on Sunday (UK only) – good luck all!