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Saturday, 20 July 2013

Think you're smart, blackbirds? Not that smart....

I can announce a horticultural triumph. On Tuesday afternoon we lugged the component parts of our new fruit cage down the road to the vegetable garden, flipped through the instruction manual, and went to work. Five hours later it was up, an enclosure measuring 16 feet by 18, and about 7 feet high. If we needed any persuading that this was a Good Thing it came shortly after we'd hung the side netting. A blackbird came swooping in from the garden next door. It was flying low, skimming the top of the hedge and was clearly on a familiar flight-path, its sights set on the red-currants. Watching  it slam on the brakes, lean back and almost stall before climbing rapidly to clear the new structure was deeply satisfying. To see it sitting in the cherry tree next door looking suitably perplexed was the icing on the cake.

It has been an altogether satisfying few days. This time last week I was wondering how on earth I was going to get started on this sci-fi project. The answer, as with so many other projects, was to sit down every morning, start writing, and not to stop until I'd got 1,000 words down. Having kept that up for seven days I am now taking a weekend off. One way or another, I feel a lot more confident that this thing will get written. Writing fiction is, as I've said before, a rare experience for me. I have had to create a cast of characters, bring them to life, and devise a series of situations for them to negotiate. It's tough. I am far, far happier writing histories, or other non-fiction. However, I have picked up a few pieces of valuable advice over the years. One was from my creative writing tutor in New Mexico, way back in the mid-1980s. The Chicano author Rudy Anaya ( once spelled out for me the way to approach any character's story: 'Who is this guy? What's his problem? What's he gonna do about it?' Invaluable advice. I'm pleased to say that I still stay in touch with Rudy, and visit him whenever I get to Albuquerque. He is a lovely man.

The other piece of advice that has helped me came from my time as a writer on the TV soap Emmerdale. I sat through many a story conference, trying to work out ways of sorting out all the problems our characters faced. Okay, so A stops sleeping with B; C gets a job; D learns to treat people with respect - and E, grow up will you! Then it dawned on  me. My job was not to smooth their passage through life. Solve their problems and there would be no story. No, my job was to put roadblocks in their path, to bring down torments on them, to screw up their lives. And so with the current project, wherein our hero is currently dangling from a busted pine-tree, up a mountain in New Mexico, his hang-glider wrapped around him, his body broken and his mind all but destroyed. All I have to do next week is to contrive a way to get him out of there and into the secret laboratory, where the fiendish scientists will implant a micro-chip in his brain and... well, after that I'm not sure. I'll worry about that on Monday.


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