Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bringing in A Ringer

As some might know, Catriona's beloved sister Sheila died unexpectedly last week and she is in Edinburgh with her family.  So, with apologies, we are re-running a Femmes Fatales blogpost that Neil (aka Mr. Catriona) wrote in the spring.

Readers of this blog are used to a literary feast.  This week: hotdish surprise.

Catriona has stepped aside for a one week (not-so-) special and allowed me, Neil, her husband, to give an up close and personal view of what it's like to be hitched to one of these writer types. 


But why  have you got me this week,and not her indoors?  Catriona is working like a demon, editing and drafting a Dandy Gilver novel, which will appear at some point in the future. She mentioned that she was a touch on the busy side what with the manuscript, guest-blogs and group-blogs looming. I, jokingly, offered to write the blog with the most pressing deadline and much to my horror she said "Go on then." 

You'd think the man who once ended up doing an exhibition Cha-Cha-Cha as part of a talent show at a literary festival, because of a mistaken belief that offering to help wouldn't lead anywhere awkward, would have known better.  You'd be mistaken.  I am that dumb. 

So (getting back on track) what's it like being married to one of these writer types? It's brilliant. Of course I had to say that. If for no other reason than because Catriona spends a lot of time imagining how to murder people, we live in a fairly isolated house, and even the distant neighbours we do have are used to the sound of power tools. I might not be the brightest button in the box but I know how to butter-up with the best (Boy, B got a bit of an outing there). 

So, it's brilliant, but it's not what I thought it would be. Back in the grim, dark days of the late 1990s when Catriona was contemplating leaving academia behind to give writing a go, I thought... I thought... Well, the truth is I thought there'd be more wafting, more staring into space, more sentences that trailed off half-finished (no such luck. Joking, hon.)

And I expected that I'd have to make way for a new house guest called The Muse. I thought I might have to push The Muse to one side on the couch (ever so gently, of course) if I wanted to sit beside my wife in the evening.  But it turns out that Catriona's Muse likes a well organized environment, has a work ethic that makes me ashamed any time I complain of the long hours involved in being a professor, and keeps her at her desk eight hours a day when literally outside the door is all that California has to offer. 

What I've come to realize is that this discipline provides the anchor point that allows a writer's imagination to float free and become completely immersed in the world being created. It's quite something to be around while it's happening. 
Which is not to say that all is calm during the creative process. At some point in the birth of every story there comes "the big early wobble", or BEW. Now, I've spoken to the partners of other writers (there are a fair few around the Davis area) and they all knew what "the big early wobble" was without me having to explain. As the name implies it usually happens near the start of a new book.
Catriona is a beginning-to-end kinda writer so the BEW usually sets in around chapter 3 or 4 and it goes something like this: 
C: This is terrible.
N: Oh?  What is? {Uh-oh, looks like the BEW}
C: This story. It's rubbish. Dandy's not Dandy, it has no colour, no life. It's thin.  I don't know where it's going, and it's just awful.
N: Hmmm, that *does* sound bad. Are you sure? {Yup , it's the BEW.}
C: Yes. Certain. It's never been this dreadful before. Never.
N: Not even the last time, when you said exactly the same thing? {I wonder if I can jog her memory?}
C: I've never said this before, because it's never happened before.
N: {Nope} OK. Well we better get our thinking heads on and come up with a solution. How about you read me what you've got so far and I'll tell you whether it's any good? {What a brilliant idea! And without precedent, apparently}
C: OK, but it's really rubbish [starts reading and begins to get a sense of deja vu...] 

And so the BEW comes on, shakes things up a bit, and passes off without breaking anything, leaving no trace of having ever been there. Again.

Eight Dandy Gilver novels have been through the BEW so far.  AS SHE LEFT IT went through one that registered on the Richter scale and caused new legislation in California's central valley.  All writers have to have quake-straps on their laptops now.  She did that.

But the book's the thing and the book survived.

As She Left It

1 comment:

Kristopher said...

So sorry to hear about Catriona's sister. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family during this difficult time.