MOOD MANAGEMENT and WRITING

I made the mistake of looking in some boxes. The idea was to throw things out. Why? I hear you cry. Space, fool. Anyway, I thought I’d start with a box which had OH GOD written on the side. I could have started with ODDS AND SODS or MISC (miscellaneous) but for some reason I dreaded MISC and ODDS AND SODS sounded boring, so it was OH GOD that got my attention.

person in white shirt lying on brown wooden bed

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I opened  the box and filled with good intentions took out the following:

  • the love letters my grandmother wrote to my grandfather during the months they were engaged
  • old passports showing my mother in her early twenties and a photo of her whizzing down snowy slopes in the 1940s
  • receipts from the 1890’s including one for a fancy lorgnette
  • a copy of the Sunday Mirror 1918 splashed across the front cover of which is the announcement that my great great grandmother’s marriage was legitimized by a Scottish court thus legitimizing her 14 children, one of whom was my great grandmother
  • a book into which is pasted from the Eastern Daily Press all the golf triumphs of my grandmother in Norfolk between 1907-1911. A grandmother I never met
  • a diary my mother kept of a trip to Italy with the Byron Society at some point in the 1990s when she comments on the extremely handsome Italian sailors in the hotel she was staying in. Excuse me, Dad, where were you?
  • a poem my great Uncle Norman wrote to his sister (my grandmother) giving moral guidance.
  • the photos that same uncle took when he went up to Oxford round about 1905
  • research my grandfather ( a history teacher who taught my father who became a historian) did into Tudor Cornwall
  • an undated card sent to my mother from a doctor training in south London asking her if she was married yet? Well, were you mother? After all she kept the card
  • a newspaper article about the battle of El Alamein in the Second World War, a battle my grandfather fought in with his tiny, indecipherable handwritten annotations on it

I’m a writer. Am I really going to throw out all these tiny fragments of family stories? Well, I’m not, am I? Although I did manage to throw out a thank you card to my great Uncle Norman from one of my cousins saying, ‘Thank you for the shoe horn.’ So I sat back put my head in my hands and groaned OH GOD!

And then I picked out an article by Anne Enright from the Guardian 5/7/08. Hurrah, I thought, this is why I have opened OH GOD. It is to find this article. And here at last we get to the title of the blog. This is what she has to say:

“Writing is mostly a case of mood management. The emotion you have is not absolute, it is temporary. It may be useful but it is not the truth. It is not you. Get over it…. You have no confidence? No one who is any good has any confidence. So, tell me what makes your particular lack of confidence so special.”

Interesting and here’s rather a good bit on ‘butch Americans’.

“Two years in (to a long project) you think of all the great books written in 6 weeks (why is it always six?) – Falconer’s As I Lay Dying, Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, Hemingway’s The Sun Always Rises – and why is it always these butch Americans? Did they all drink?”

Then I come across some reviews of my old crime books. One of JUMPING THE CRACKS in the TLS 4/1/2008. I’d completely forgotten about it but it ends with this paragraph.

“There is nothing wrong with any of this, and the writing is relaxed and literate, with some nice humour, all of which makes reading Jumping the Cracks perfectly pleasant, but in the twenty-first century shouldn’t crime fiction do more than simply please?”

Now then, you’re supposed to be grateful for any review and gracious about it but I have to say this posed an instant test of my mood management skills and it brought vividly to mind a letter which Judi Dench sent to the theater critic Charles Spencer, when he’d given her a bad review for Madame de Sade in 2009. She wrote:

“I’d always rather admired you but now realise you’re an absolute shit.” Referencing a stage accident which had meant she missed a few performances she continued. “I’m only sorry I didn’t get a chance to kick you when I fell over. Maybe next time …”

Amidst all this I also found at the bottom of the box a note on a bright pink piece of paper which states FREE YOURSELF FROM DEFENSIVE PERFECTIONISM! I wrote it but I’ve no recollection of doing so.

I now know exactly why I wrote Oh God on the side of the box.

Send help. Or advice even. Or Marie Kondo. Doesn’t she say you should only keep things that spark joy? Clearly the review doesn’t but it’s a minor miracle to get a book reviewed these days and it was the TLS. What would the butch Americans have done I wonder? Might it have involved drink?

All this and I’ve still got MISC and ODDS AND SODS to go. I think I’ll need a year of reciting the mantra The emotion I have is not absolute before I dare venture into them. Or perhaps I might try It’s perfectly all right to be perfectly pleasant. It has a rather nice Noel Coward/Cole Porter ring to it, don’t you think? And perhaps I should dance around throwing flowers in the air while reciting.

Have you got an OH GOD box? What did you find the last time you looked in it? And if you’ve got anything to offer on the vexed subject of mood management and writing I’m all ears. A perfectly pleasant response is guaranteed.

MISS MARPLE: COSY KNITTER?

The first novel Miss Marple appeared in was Murder in the Vicarage published in 1930. However the first description of her is in a short story published in 1927 titled the Tuesday Night Club later published in a book called The Thirteen Problems in 1932. She was to appear in 12 novels and 20 short stories (Poirot was 33 novels and 50 short stories). Here is Agatha Christie’s  first ever description of her.

“Miss Marple wore a black brocade dress, very much pinched in about the waist. Mechlin lace (excuse me, what?) was arranged in a cascade down the front of the bodice. She had on black lace mittens, (mittens?)and a black lace cap surmounted the piled-up masses of her snowy hair. She was knitting (knitting with mittens? Now there’s a thing.)- something white and soft and fleecy (her own hair perhaps?).”

In Murder in the Vicarage the vicar’s wife is not at all taken with Miss Marple describing her as ‘the worst cat in the village’ which makes her sound weirdly funky. The vicar himself, as he should be, is somewhat more charitable describing her as,  ‘A white haired old lady with a gentle and appealing manner.’ This last description is the one Christie seems to have settled on for the future books although the cat description is not ditched entirely. Sergeant Hay describes her as ‘an old tabby,’ in A Pocket Full of Rye (1953).

Here’s Miss Marple arriving at Yewtree Lodge in A Pocket Full of Rye.

“So charming, so innocent, such a fluffy and pink and white old lady was Miss Marple that she gained admittance to what was now practically a fortress … far more easily than can have been thought possible.”

And here she is on the same page.

“Crump saw a tall, elderly lady wearing a old fashioned tweed coat, a couple of scarves and a small felt hat with a bird’s wing. The old lady carried a capacious handbag and an aged but good quality suitcase reposed at her feet.”

This is the way she is portrayed in the many TV and film versions. If Christie’s physical descriptions of her vary the knitting remains constant.

Here she is waking up in At Bertram’s Hotel (1965).

“Miss Marple got back into bed, plumped her pillows up, glanced at her clock, half past seven … Then she picked up her knitting and began to knit, slowly at first, since her fingers were stiff and rheumatic when she first awoke, but very soon her pace grew faster, and her fingers lost their painful stiffness.”

And here she is in A Mirror Cracked from Side to Side (1962).

“Miss Marple uttered a sharp exclamation of annoyance. She’d dropped a stitch again. Not only that, she must have dropped it some time ago. Not until now, when she had to decrease for the neck and count the stitches had she realised the fact. She took up a spare pin, held the knitting sideways to the light and peered anxiously.”

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Throughout all the books she appears in she is depicted knitting, dropping her knitting, dropping and counting stitches, pushing her knitting away from her, sending people knitted items:  Thank you so much for the pullover, it’s just what I wanted etc. There is even in 4.50 from Paddington a description of her being ‘particularly woolly and fluffy  – a picture of a sweet old lady.’  It could make you long for Madame Defarge.

I like this exchange between Pat and Miss Marple in A Pocket Full of Rye:

“What are you knitting?”

“Oh, just a little matinée coat, dear. For a baby you know. I always say young mothers can’t have too many matinée coats for their babies. It’s the second size. I always knit the second size. Babies so soon grow out of the first size.”

Pat stretched out long legs towards the fire.

“It’s nice in here today,” she said. ‘With the fire and the lamps and you knitting things for babies. It all seems cosy and homely and like England ought to be.”

“It’s like England is,” said Miss Marple…

Although, as we know, Miss Marple’s England is far from cosy and homely. It is a place riddled with appalling people committing terrible crimes and no amount of stuffing wool in the ears or pulling woolly hats over the eyes can hide that. However by the end of each book Miss Marple has solved the crime and returned us temporarily to that cosy and homely place where we can draw breath and doze by the fire to the comforting clacking of her knitting needles before the next shocking eruption of violence occurs.

In Nemesis (1971) the final novel that Miss Marple appears in, Jason Rafiel writes to her (from beyond the grave) in the following terms inviting her to solve an unspecified crime:

“I envisage you knitting more jackets, head scarves and a good many other things of which I do not know the name. If you prefer to continue knitting, that is your decision. If you prefer to serve the cause of justice, I hope you may at least find it interesting.”

As any knitter will tell you, Jason has got it all wrong. Although he’s dead so we can’t tell him. Miss Marple serves the cause of justice by knitting. It helps her think. It helps her unravel what is going on. It helps her solve the crimes. She follows the patterns of human behaviour just as she follows a pattern for a baby’s jacket. She serves the cause of justice by knitting not by setting it to one side.  I suppose in that respect she could be seen as being similar to Madame Defarge whose death register of a scarf she also sees as serving the cause of justice.

Finally, a very important question. Have you ever tried knitting in mittens and how did it go? Oh dear, I fear that won’t get the comments flowing so how about another one. Who would you prefer to knit you a scarf Miss Marple or Madame Defarge? That should get the little grey cells hopping about.

CRIME NOVELS

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bloodless-Shadow-Blood-Victoria-Blake/dp/0752863967

Samantha Falconer has always been pretty good at taking care of herself. Four times world judo champion, she now runs the Gentle Way detective agency in London. But when her brother Mark asks her to return to Oxford to investigate the disappearance of a young woman, Sam finds herself confronting a past she’d hoped she’d left behind.

‘Blake’s Sam Falconer joins the rank of strong but flawed female characters who have taken crime fiction by the throat and shaken it until its teeth rattle.’ STEPHEN BOOTH

‘Blake’s skill at depicting the dark and light side of her character, the smoothly interwoven plot lines and authentic settings makes this a strong first.’ PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

‘…a taut competent novel.’ SHERLOCK MAGAZINE

This striking debut introduces a rather distinctive investigator … gripping.’ LIBRARY JOURNAL

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cutting-Blades-Victoria-Blake/dp/0752876961

London is frozen in a January blizzard and everywhere she goes Sam has the creeping sensation of being watched. When Harry a talented young rower from Oxford University goes missing she hopes the case will take her mind off her increasing paranoia.

‘A pacy whodunnit… Gutsy female detectives are nothing new, but Blake’s heroine is an attractive addition to what seems a growing series. Some nicely deadpan humour and crisply detailed descriptions of place offset the obligatory punch-ups.’  THE TIMES

skin and blister

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Skin-Blister-Victoria-Blake/dp/0752881817

Oxford, May Morning. While the city rejoices life takes a sinister turn at St Barnabas College. Disturbing gifts have been sent, threatening letters posted and now events have taken a deadly turn. A student has been found dead in his rooms.

‘Move over Morse, PI Sam Falconer’s in town…Gripping…’ DAILY EXPRESS

‘… entertaining and enjoyable …’ LAW SOCIETY GAZETTE

‘Blake’s got something that keeps you turning the pages.’ REVIEWING THE EVIDENCE

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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jumping-Cracks-Victoria-Blake/dp/0752874624

Oxford holds a lot of memories for Sam; few of them happy. When she’s asked to guard a collection of strange museum pieces, ranging from shrunken heads to bottled witches, she quickly realises that being back in Oxford means confronting her own demons, as well as those behind the glass cases.

‘Forgery and murder drive a fast-paced plot.’  FINANCIAL TIMES

‘Sam is an engaging and complex protagonist; her friends and family are convincing and well drawn … the city of Oxford is the really dominant character… this is an entertaining and well written book.’  THE GUARDIAN