I Wrote a Book Now What?

papers spilling from a typewriter

I have wanted to be a writer all my life. I am always writing in some way or another. Mainly it’s in my head, narrating my each and every action, elaborating on my feelings, but I’m writing. My life is the story and I tell it to myself as I live it.

Eventually the story in my head wasn’t enough. I knew deep down I was a writer but to be a writer I needed to put words on a page; one after the other until they formed an entire thing. Last year I started doing just that. I started out with a rough idea that wouldn’t go away. It was just a flicker of a thing. It would keep me awake or occupy me on my commute to work. I started writing. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t shape the thing, I just kept putting one word after another until it was finished.

I had the first draft of a book.

On the 24th of November when I typed ‘The End’ because I didn’t know what else to do to give me closure, I expected to feel euphoric but I didn’t. I felt agitated. I couldn’t relax. For months now I’d been occupied with this thing, this book, and now I didn’t have it any more. When it was in my head it was wrapped in possibilities. It could be perfect. It could be anything. On the page, I could see it was not perfect and it was this one particular thing instead of the many possibilities I had once wondered about.

A first draft is messy. It’s not meant to be perfect. You put the words into the first draft in order to have something to shape, to edit, to polish. Still, I expected to feel accomplished when I wrote the last word, or when I saved the document (backed up in triplicate), or when I told people, “hey, that book I was writing? I finished it.”

But it didn’t feel like that. As I put the draft away so that I can forget about it, let it grow blurry in my mind over Christmas and then return to it with a red pen, I only felt an overwhelming sense of what was left to do. This book needs tearing apart and putting back together again. It needs rounding and sharpening and tightening and tuning. The prospect of all this work is both alarming and exciting. I can’t wait to work this novel into something worth reading and at the same time I worry I am not worthy of the task.

Then there’s all the other ideas. Notebooks full of them. How I went 26 years nearly free of ideas for any creative projects is unfathomable, because now they crop up all the time. Most of them are faint glimmers that I transcribe into the ‘notes’ section of my phone and vow to go back to later. There are so many things I want to make – books, scripts, poems, blog posts, that often I am frozen by the overwhelming massiveness of it all. When will I have the time? Will I be good enough?

The answer is: you make the time, you make yourself good enough.

7 Empowering Female Characters

Do you ever read or watch something and think: oh my god, I need to be this woman?

Maybe she’s got her shit together, perhaps she’s super smart, or she might be so funny you had to spit a mouthful of tea back in your mug because you were laughing so much at her one liner.

Well, here are my 7 most empowering female characters,  from book, film and TV.

NUMBER 1 – Tess McGill from Working Girl. I love this film. Tess, a working class girl, from Staten Island works hard to follow her dream of working in the City despite her family and friends’ derision. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen it but she proves just how smart she is and never really wavers from her goal.

NUMBER 2 – Lorelai Gilmore. I thought about putting Rory on this list because she’s so smart and hardworking but then I thought Rory is all those things because of her mother. Lorelai is hardworking, determined and positive. She tries to do as much as she can independently and doesn’t take herself too seriously. She raised a daughter alone, put herself through school as a mature student and built her own inn. She just gets things done.

NUMBER 3 – Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale. Okay, so she’s routinely raped by the man who now ‘owns’ her under the patriarchal regime which took away her rights to a family, to read and to handle money but bear with me. Offred refuses to give up on her humanity. Throughout the book, and the TV series, she never gives up hope that one day she will be reunited with her daughter. She dares to love Nick, to form bonds, because she refuses to become suspicious and insular like the Gilead regime wants her to be. I think Offred in the TV series may actually be even more empowering to watch than she is in the book. Perhaps because we have more time to get to know the character, or perhaps because she says ‘fuck’ so liberally.

NUMBER 4 – Dana Scully. Whenever I’m feeling a lack of motivation, I like to channel Dana Scully. This woman. She’s a doctor, an FBI agent, an owner of a fabulous assortment of pant suits AND she manages to get Agent Mulder out of a multitude of scrapes and disasters. Every time a man mansplains to me on Twitter, I am Dana Scully rolling her eyes at her partner’s insistence that Werewolves killed the victim, even though the autopsy she just performed using real medical science proves otherwise.

NUMBER 5 – Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm. Few women are as single minded and determined as Flora Poste. She sets out to move in with distant relatives and completely change their way of life and that’s exactly what she does.

NUMBER 6 – Hermione Granger. She’s smart, she’s sure of herself, she’s not afraid to make herself heard. She also knows that you get from life what you put into it – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to imitate Hermione when I’ve had a test or an essay deadline looming.

NUMBER 7 – Julie Guille from The Blackbirder. I love Dorothy B. Hughes’ books. And Julie Guille makes this one so special. She is in trouble but she doesn’t just wait around for it to find her, she goes on the run. She knows how to handle herself. She takes risks and uses her intelligence and just plain bravado to get herself across the country for the chance of a better, safer life.

Which characters do you turn to when you need to feel empowered? Let me know in the comments.

Cringe Culture: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Cringe Culture is a weekly post in which I’ll look at books, film and TV and discuss the particular elements that make the audience, or characters, cringe.

Eleanor Oliphant

Recently, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine which is the astonishingly brilliant debut from author Gail Honeyman. I’d heard and read all sorts of wonderful things about it and was so glad to finally get around to reading it that I inhaled it in two days flat. It did not disappoint.

Without revealing any spoilers, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is about the titular Eleanor, who is a bit of an oddball to say the least. As we are introduced to her life at the start of the book we learn it is one of routine and pragmatism. For instance, Eleanor eats the same meal deal every day and wears the same clothes. She reads voraciously but often chooses the first book she sees in the shop because she doesn’t see the point in hunting for something just right. Her weekends are similarly regimented and she spends them catatonic on cheap vodka and notes that she often doesn’t talk to a single person for the duration.

We come to understand that Eleanor is lonely and perhaps because of her significant lack of social contact she’s developed a few quirks. These quirks lead to the novel’s cringiest and most uncomfortable moments.

Eleanor Oliphant is not a character who particularly feels embarrassment and it is perhaps her lack of shame, or social graces, that causes the reader to cringe on her behalf. She often misreads social cues or is completely oblivious to standard social etiquette. On one occasion she gifts the host of a party with a half drunk bottle of vodka and a packet of cheese slices, reasoning that all men like cheese. It is her steadfast belief that this gift is entirely adequate that makes the reader grit their teeth with embarrassment for the poor soul.

Through the novel, Eleanor has many awkward encounters, though she is rarely aware that they are uncomfortable. When she first orders a pizza she wonders if the delivery man will bring a comically large black pepper grinder and passes him his money in an addressed envelope. When a helpful shop assistant tells her to go and get a make over at the Bobbi Brown counter in a department store, Eleanor asks where Bobbi is, expecting to see her. Perhaps the most painful encounter of this sort is when Eleanor, having had her nails manicured allows the nail technician to delve into her ‘shopper’ and grab her purse,

I remembered the unfinished remains of the egg sandwich which lay within – she gagged ostentatiously as she removed my purse. A slight overreaction, I felt – yes, the odour which escaped was somewhat sulphurous, but still, no need for pantomime.

This is the closest Eleanor comes to being embarrassed (deep shame is another matter though) but she soon recovers enough to inform the technician that she won’t be returning as she could do a better manicure at home, for free.

The way others treat and react to Eleanor is on the most part heartbreaking but there are moments that make you cringe too. Eleanor refuses to let it bother her though, at least outwardly.

Early in the novel she overhears her workmates talking about her, an episode that is repeated later in the novel, neither occasion phases her but when her colleagues realise she’s in earshot the reader does cringe for them – is there anything worse than talking about someone and then realising they’re close by? Did they hear anything? How should you proceed now, do you act like nothing’s happened or apologise? Well, no one apologises to Eleanor.

Eleanor’s formal way of interacting with her peers, perhaps a way of keeping them at arms length, or a result of not enough practise, makes the reader squirm. There are countless examples of her rather superior, naive way of talking to other people.

There’s the time she goes for a bikini wax and dismayed with the results berates the technician, though the entire interaction is cringeworthy, not just Eleanor’s eruption. There’s also the way Eleanor, herself judged on her looks by others, snobbishly judges others, especially poor Raymond. The first time she meets him she remarks, “A lot of unattractive men seem to walk in such a manner, I’ve noticed.” Later, there’s the time she appears to buy Raymond a drink only to corner him as he sets off home to request her £4 back. What makes you cringe isn’t that she requests the money, but the way the whole exchange comes about and Eleanor’s obliviousness to the idea of buying rounds because she’s never been in a position to witness what most people consider normal, social behaviour.

Even Eleanor’s references are strange, betraying her lack of social interaction and showing how she lives in her own little world in her head. She chooses a nail polish colour that reminds her of a deadly, poisonous frog. When she has her make up done she remarks that she looks like “a small Madagascan primate” and is thrilled.

The unfortunate Eleanor also has a facial disfigurement and through her eyes you see what it’s like to be stared at and shied away from for reasons beyond your control. It’s the normalcy Eleanor treats the negative reactions of others with that really make you sad. When she first enters the nail bar she notes that the technician

and her companion were both staring, their expressions a combination of alarm and…well, alarm, mainly. I smiled in what I hoped was a reassuring manner.

and later at a party,

She didn’t smile at me, which is the normal state of affairs in most encounters I have with other people.

On these occasions I don’t cringe on Eleanor’s behalf, but for the way other people, so concerned with outward appearances, treat her as though she is completely devoid of feelings and intelligence.

I could talk about so much more in relation to this book – it’s one that makes you snort with laughter on one page and punches you in the gut with sadness on the next.

Have you read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine? What did you think? Let me know which parts made you cringe in the comments.