Since the New Year is the time for plans and resolutions, we asked some writers what their plans were. This is the second of a two-part post.
It has been three years since I wrote Queen of Ice and it is definitely time for me to write again. So 2018 will see me procrastinating no longer but typing away diligently to produce another historical novel for young adults.
I normally do not reveal much about my work until it is done so all I will say, at this point, is that it will be about a woman from the past whose story is as exciting as Didda’s and who has similarly been forgotten in historical narratives.
Now that I have made this extravagant promise, it is time for me to chew my nails and chocolates, in equal measure, and figure out how to set about my task. Wish me luck!
Tanu Shree Singh
Resolutions and I do not go well together. We have tried very hard to make it work. However, it mostly ends up as a one-night stand followed by self-loathing, denial and indifference in varying doses. I lean towards dreams though. They remain elusive yet enticing enough to make me believe that I can reach out and grab them. So 2018 has its share of dreams.
I dream of a writing desk in front of glass wall where the first ray of sun hits. You could sit there and write or look up and watch dreams sway in the mountainside breeze. I dream of writing there. I probably won’t use the desk and would be writing bundled up in the easy chair next to it, but I want the desk there as a reminder of all the stories that need to be written and rewritten. I want to be more organised, more focussed. I want there to be a writing hour rather than the last minute scramble to meet deadlines.
I dream of picture books, adventures for middle graders. Most importantly, I dream of words, constantly churning in my head, weaving together a story that someone somewhere would read. I want to sit there and furiously type away.
And so, I dream a dream and do not see eye to eye with a resolution. Perhaps the dream will work this year. In a few days, as the New year knocks at the writing desk, I see myself writing endlessly while the pine trees whisper, the breeze sings and the mountains smile.
After fifteen long and exciting years of working with a wildlife research organisation, I recently hung up the gloves, poured myself a tall glass of, er, apple juice, and called it a day. The plan is to continue to watch animals and birds and trees, and to begin writing about them. For children of course, and for adults who are still interested in the natural world. And in 2018, I’d also like to teach myself to draw. It would be useful not have my crocodile be mistaken for a platypus while playing Pictionary with my (very exasperated) nieces.
One Saturday of every month for the last three years, I’ve met with a bunch of writers to talk about writing. Theirs and mine. We sit in a cafe, the smell of coffee thick around us and talk over the murmur of the other patrons about what we wrote in the past month. What we tried and succeeded. What we tried and failed to write. It’s a reckoning, something to keep us on the straight and narrow. An affirmation that even when we get waylaid by our jobs, child-rearing, social life, all of life’s tugging morass, we are at our core, writers. The last time we met, my friends (because after three years of sharing my writing, they are my friends) workshopped a piece I had submitted that was about a ghost-dog walker who loses the ghost-dog he is responsible for. I certainly have dogs on the brain—because I am also revising a children’s picture book that features my dog, Momo and his evil nemesis THE MOP! I hope that someone will publish it in 2018.
I am in Houston for the holidays and I’m working on a short story that I started a while ago, about the relationship between a housewife and one of Allah’s angels. My task list also includes completing two essays that are close to being finished—one is about a wishing tree and an aunt who died, and another about leaving my father to come to America. Then there’s the novel—which I think of variously as my Sisyphean boulder that I roll up the hill of my perfection-complex, or the love I cannot take leave off, depending on my mood. I remember talking about all this at my last writer meeting and the advice I got—which was in the general vicinity of “you have too many things on your plate,” and “maybe you should finish one thing at a time.” Which is exactly what I am going to do—going into 2018.
I resolved to write on a New Year’s Eve when I was about nine. But little me did not know the various challenges that were coming up. Friends, parents, hangovers, heartbreaks, missed flights, obscure countries, the internet, self-loathing, long emails blaming others for my failures. All of this magic and torture that life held, all of this and more, was going to happen. So while nine-year-old me scribbled purposefully on surfaces, early-twenties me was replete with regrets.
“You absolute buffoon!” I told myself, in long trains somewhere. “You don’t deserve to live!”
“Writer, she says!” I scoffed at myself while refilling a drink at a party. “You’re no writer, you’re a pretender, no wonder he broke up with you!”
So this year, one of the best I have ever had, I have decided not to blame myself. Not to give myself a hard time because I spent two hours riding a metro in a far-away city. Not hate myself because I took a long walk instead of finishing what I was supposed to write. Not write notes on my computer saying “Pick yourself up!” because I decided to write a funny poem about my new flatmate. Because if all of this – endless chatter, moments of mutual heresy with new friends, fights with the very old, the best plate of fried olives that you ever ate were not going to be literature, then what was!?
So this year, 2018, a year I am not fashioning myself to be an adult, but have tragically turned into one, I am going to accept myself — know that my craft may come out of wastefulness and misadventure, but that said, stop with the T.S. Eliot parade and actually write.
So as a two-part resolution (making structures is an importing part of growing up, you see)— while I philander, I am, come what may! going to write those godforsaken five hundred words a day. I am going to realize that my brain must be sharp if I have to say anything worthwhile (goodbye cheap rum, hello herbal teas) and actually dance the troubling waltz between a woman and her pen.
There’s a soppy novel I’ve been writing since yore, a historical children’s novel that’s been nesting in my heart and head for what seems like decades, and there’s all that food writing I have promised the world I will do.
To do all this, I may move somewhere near the sea, but if not, I will close myself in, wear a funny hat on my head, and do the thing that needs to be done.
I love reading children’s books. I browse unashamedly in the children’s sections of libraries and bookshops. I buy children’s books online, even though mine are grown up. In the not-too-distant past, I wrote a few children’s stories, and was published in online US-based children’s magazines and in the Puffin Book of Magic Tales for eight-year-olds. But I still hesitated to plunge in. Right in and deep down. And then, something unexpected and wonderful happened in 2017. A story I wrote became one of the Children’s First Contest winners!
Now, I feel as if a stout wooden door on rusty hinges has fallen down with a great big crash, and I am tumbling down a veritable rabbit’s hole into my secret land of stories. If this is a dream I don’t want to wake up. I want to be immersed in it throughout 2018 and more.
I know this is going to have an uncomfortable effect on the family. Suddenly I will not be there at all. I mean, I won’t disappear completely. It’ll be more like stashing myself away at my writing desk for long and odd hours. The kitchen will remain sparkly and unused. And if they don’t have a key, well then, no entry, for I won’t be there to answer the door. Piled-up clothes. Half-cooked or burnt meals. Mismatched socks. Crazy alarm clocks…
Sigh, who am I kidding? I won’t be able to live in a messy house even if I was paid to. Does that mean I’ll always have a crazy women running amok in my attic? Drumming up a noisy parade of characters and situations, making me giggle or cry or skip or jump in the middle of humdrum home chores? No. I won’t let that happen. Not anymore.
There is always a midway point between order and disorder, impulse and reserve. Between letting go completely and holding it all in. It can be a bit tricky at the beginning, but with a little practice anyone is good to go – walkabout with imaginary friends and their adventures.
Stay focused, I tell myself. What’s in my head when I am in the kitchen should be in a Word document by afternoon or evening. I just have to keep at it. Every day. Small steps. Slow steps, at first. A train chugging out of a little hill station, before it turns the bend …
Write more! For fun. For projects (either real, suggested by other people, or imaginary, made up by my brain). For other people. For myself. Just write more! Experiment with diverse and creative writing styles. Narratives in forms I haven’t tried before: picture books, non-fiction, graphic novels, nonsense verse and others I haven’t thought of yet. Narratives in formats both old and new –blogs, tweets, video, audio, using lots of images or none at all, video games and board games, using physical objects like letters and postcards and journals and fliers. Basically, try out ALL the things I’ve thought of already and haven’t considered yet.
Collaborate with the people whose brains I love.
Use the aforementioned resolutions to write more about other people’s books. I fall in love with so many books ever so often and there are only so many people I can physically grab onto and insist they read them too. Use the internet to be an enthusiast and promote the books (and other works of art) I lose my heart to. Fangirl hard.
Let out some of the stories which have been crowding my brain over the last year and a half but have been tragically ignored for academia.
The first eighteen months were really hard because I was starting from scratch professionally, writing books totally unlike anything I’d written before, approaching a completely different set of publishers in a market with very different standards and expectations. My wife, who was shuttling back and forth between India the US (she works freelance in India designing curriculum for pre-schools and has a successful career of her own, although we depend on my income to support the family), was very supportive but I could see her growing anxious. Hell, I was anxious too!