Category: Writing the Book

The Book: So What Happened to Amy? Major Exclusive Gawk at the PROLOGUE

Goujon.jpg.Sixteen months ago, when I started to write this book (Mother of Christos, was it that long ago?) I did a bold thing. I started with the prologue. Armed with a simple idea, (one’s life taking a trip down the toilet) I decided one little page of writing was to be my guide, my push, the fulcrum to build a rich, funny story around—and funnily enough, despite my incessant editing and the story growing arms and legs I never could have imagined, this one chapter has more or less remained the same.

Over the past year or so I’ve shared book excerpts on Facebook and sometimes chunks of chapters with family or friends, but never a whole chapter! Oh no! Like a primary school child aggressively covering her notebook in case Martha Ryan copies her top notch work on Ancient Egypt, I’ve been holding on to them for dear life. It stops now! It’s time to give away a bit more…

Behold… the Prologue! In Amy’s own words.

PROLOGUE

They say bad things come in threes.

Hanson.

Blind mice.

Unplanned triplets when the cost of creches has gone through the roof and you’re only after getting your figure back after little Isaiah.

Stuff like that.

Well on the day I got fired from my job and then dumped by my boyfriend all I was waiting on was losing an eye or getting a whack off a bus or finding a grey hair.

Fate, Karma, or whoever you are that has it in for me, I cried silently, (Derek? Attracta? Eros?) I’ll be over here, leaning against this wall and panting while you decide how best to finish the job.

I know in films you see dramatic life-altering stuff happening all the time in the space of twenty-four hours. For example you might meet the love of your life on the train (real soulmate-meeting hotbeds, trains, if Hollywood is anything to go by) or you could find out you’re the queen of a small but proud principality off the coast of Aruba renowned for honey-roasted ham, you know, those sort of things:  random and irrevocably life-changing.

That’s in films though. Not real life.

In real life, when you both reach for the last box of chicken goujons on special offer in the supermarket you don’t fall into the kind of mad passionate love where you’re so busy staring into each others eyes you don’t notice your blackened frostbitten fingers have fallen in with the peas. The only frisson of passion you feel is deep despair that there’s a good chance you won’t be having goujons and chips for dinner. In fact the man you brush fingertips with doesn’t even know what a frisson isbut if you were to put him under pressure and ask him he’d take a wild guess at “a poncey way to cook a chop”.

And so, having a fairly serviceable grasp of the distinction between film and reality I could never have imagined that in the space of a day my life could go from normal and perfectly acceptable to one resembling the stuff that comes out when you unblock the drain.

But just like the Irish weather, or goitre, you can’t plan for these things, because that’s exactly what did happen.

And to tell you the truth I hadn’t the foggiest idea what the upshot of it all would be past the initial feelings of failure and eating my weight in crisps and then eating the extra weight I gained from all the initial crisps in even more crisps.

In fact this story may very well have ended prematurely in a Kettle Chip bloated tragedy followed by a straight-to-telly true life movie shown on a Monday night at four o’clock in the morning.

But seriously, all joking aside though (well, sort of joking; let’s not get too hasty and underestimate the power of crisps here) what I was fairly certain about was that I couldn’t trundle along anymore and hope for the best.

Because for some reason after it all happened I realised I was going to have to finally face my fears and do all those horribly terrifying things they tell you to do in those mad books like ‘reassess where I’m going’ and ‘look inside myself’ and ‘figure out who I am’ and maybe, just maybe, as the great Heather Smalls of M People would say in such a predicament ‘search for the hero inside myself’.

Heather, I said at the time, I don’t know if I can.

The Book: The Novel, a Tragic Comedy About the Search for Meaning by a Girl Who Thinks She’s an Eejit

The book (working title “Not a Notion”) was inspired by the (scary) question: ‘If we’re defined our job, what happens when we can’t figure out what we should be doing?’ And anyway, is that even fair? Is it right? Should we be defined by the work we do? What about all the other stuff like being nice to our Nan or pulling off floral headbands with élan?

The novel is a tragic comedy about Amy, a 28 year old who is looking for some meaning in life, for her place in the world. She has spent the five years since she graduated floating, going through the motions, unsure of who she is or where the hell her life is going.  Well, that is until two events force her to take control of her life and find out what she’s made of.  DUN DUN DUN…

She needs all the support she can get but with her Mam living in Turkey with her boyfriend Hassan, her activist best friend Clare too busy designing ‘merch’ for her many causes and her ‘people’s champion’ Nan setting up a Citizen’s Advice Bureau in her sitting room, (there’s even a play area for the kids by the telly—no Lego though, not since little Terry O’ Shea nearly choked to death on a bit) she might just have to, as the great Heather Smalls of M People would say, ‘search for the hero inside herself’.

But will she be able to drag herself away from lying on the sofa and watching Jeremy Kyle and Philip Schofield (he’s very soothing) and repeats of Little House of the Prairie? Will she learn to look at herself in the mirror without thinking ‘you big fecking eejit’?  Will she find… peace? And for all that is good and holy will she ever have a wash and take off that manky dressing gown, the one that doesn’t close over her boobs?

The story is set in post-recession Dublin where Amy lives in a house she can’t afford (although on the bright side she has her own bathroom so the odds of other people’s pubes between her toes in the shower are vastly reduced) with snobby princess Carol, no nonsense Garda Nancy, vicious-tongued Rasheed and silky-haired smug git Oisin (why won’t he tell her what conditioner he uses?)

The Book: The Sexy Bits

I’m struggling with the Sexy Bits—and while writing them is hard enough, it’s the reading back that’s some special class of torture. When I re-read a steamy scene I’ve written my first instinct is to stick my fingers in my eyeballs and sing the theme song from Barney at the top of my lungs until the nice people come for me and put me in the van.

Okay, I’m just going  to start by cutting to the chase and admitting I love the Sexy Bits. No need for me to be ashamed, no need to be coy. And ironically yes, I’m fully aware ‘cutting to the chase’ and ‘coy’ sound like they’ve been taken from an awful nineties erotic novel about a real estate tycoon who’s trying to seduce his Sharon Stone-esque top agent: “My dear we’ve just closed on the semi in Calabasas. You change into that oyster silk sheath I like so much and I’ll get the champagne.”

But look, I think it’s fair to say we all fall on the Sexy Bits with delight—and why wouldn’t we? Are we made of stone?  Are we not but flesh? Who wouldn’t enjoy the glorious,  jelly-kneed escapism of interludes d’erotique that don’t involve the likes of kicking a Tesco plastic bag during fellatio or giving out shite because the new duvet has been put through the ringer?

So what makes a Sexy Bit a really good Sexy Bit? All Sexy Bits are not created equal—think, for example, of those questionable Mills and Boon scenes that are less arousing than a bowl of Weetabix.  I would know, I read loads of them when I was about ten, hiding out in the back of the library like a little freak. Doctors and nurses and equestrian professionals at it like the clappers. Parenting Mam?

A good indicator a Sexy Bit is a really good Sexy Bit is if you’re interrupted you feel rudely catapulted back into reality. It’s a painful separation. The equivalent of a cold shower. There you are, absorbed in a good juicy bit, swooning like a good thing with the romance and passion of it all when your Mam comes in with the hoover and says: “Feet up there! That book looks good love, what is it?”
“Nothing Mam, nothing,” you say, panicked, the stirrings of a strange residual Catholic shame making you feel like a right pervert. “Nothing sexy about it at all. Really, em, not sexy. It’s about… erm… crops.”
“Oh right, I didn’t know you were interested in agriculture love. Here, move that will you I’m trying to get the the back of the sofa.”

Of course what makes the Sexy Bits even better is the tension, the build-up. We’ve been put through the mill as a series of misunderstandings, coincidences and ex-wives not really being dead conspire to keep our will-they-won’t-they heroes apart. Finally, finally when they get together the last thing we want is a chaste kiss and a cuddle. No way, after our patience we want, nay deserve a bit of decent action. I’ve been shortchanged more than once (hello Hunger Games I’m talking to you) and I felt more than dissatisfied, I felt resentful.

So you see, I understand as a writer I need to give the people what they deserve. I need to give them the Sexy Bits. It is my duty.

But if only it wasn’t so damn hard. Every time I try to write something remotely sexy, I cringe in mortification. I feel sick with it.

He leaned forward and caressed her—”NO! NO! EUCH! BLEURGH! I CAN’T! I CAN’T!” I moan pathetically, as feverish with discomfort I cover my face with my hands. I imagine I would feel similar if I tried to talk dirty (the closest I have ever come to talking dirty is saying: “The hob is congealed with muck—pass me the Cif”).

And then I can’t help but think about people I know reading them and I feel a fresh wash of horror.

“My God this has nothing to do with crops!” says my poor Mam. “I remember when you were a babe in arms, an innocent and now look at you and this… this filth!” Except I’m obviously overreacting because my mother is French. She’d probably be proud of me and truthfully it’s hard to know if that’s even worse. But other people—my brother, work colleagues, my old maths teacher (hi Mr. Dobbin). It makes me shudder.

My only way to deal with it (at the risk of sounding like an arty farty twodge) is to let the characters take me where they need go. It’s not about me, it’s about the story. I tell myself that if I don’t put a decent Sexy Bit where it needs to go I am doing a disservice to the reader, the book, the characters.

“Cop on to yourself Cynthia!” I say sternly, “and write in some heavy petting there. You are a writer. You are supposed to take yourself to the places you fear most. Now, will you ever make him pull off her top and stop that silly wincing!”

“Okay mean me,” I reply, knocking back some whiskey to bolster my courage, “I’m doing it, I’m doing it!”

So are there going to be some Sexy Bits in the book? Yes, I can confirm I have the bones (ahem) of a few scenes already written. Do they make me feel queasy? Yes, but only because I wrote them. Am I ever going to use the word ‘panties’? I solemnly swear I shall not.

The Book: Horror! Pain! Joy! The Book Journey so Far…

Writing a book has always been my lifelong goal. The way I saw it, if you consider yourself a ‘real writer’ then surely writing a book is the ultimate ambition? I mean, a book is long. What kind of writer are you if you can’t write a good long book?

But when I tried to start I found couldn’t. I was afraid. Terrified. What if it’s a load of shite? What if I’m just waffling on about nothing of any real importance? What if I just can’t finish it? Then what? Then I won’t be Cynthia the Writer I’ll just be Cynthia the… Nothing.

But I knew I had to cop on. I knew giving up was a far more terrifying prospect than getting to work, so I did. And I was right to be terrified. I had false start after false start. I would re read a chapter and cringe in mortification. I gave up, started again, gave up, started again.

Then suddenly it happened. Whomp! One day I got down to work and I stayed working. I believed in my character and her story by God I wasn’t going to give up. And hallelujah!—it was only a bit shite.  Heartened, I kept going. I composed dialogue in my head as I cycled into work. I wrote characters and plot ideas on notebooks in cafes like I was living in Brooklyn. I sketched what they looked like, where they lived. I edited obsessively.

And it got better, much better and instead of cringing after reading a finished chapter I felt elated—this is it, thought I, there’s something special here. And then (because it’s not the natural order for things to be that easy) I came full circle when I flung 100 pages at the wall and sobbed: “It’s a load of bollocks!”.

Of course it’s not a load of bollocks, but now I understand why people call things they adore ‘my child’ (like cars and really good top of the range laptops) because although I love it dearly there are times I feel like screaming at it and cutting off its pocket money.

Now I’m still scared, except it’s a whole new kind of scared—now I’m not afraid to start it, I’m afraid to finish it—because that’s when the hard work really begins. This is called, as my dear Mam would say,  being a contrary yoke.

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