Tomorrow I’m back in court for the sentencing of Ronnie Dunbar. He was found guilty of the manslaughter of Melissa Mahon, a 14-year-old from Sligo. It’s going to be a big sentence but I’ll write more about it once it’s been given.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on other projects. I’m getting to grips with writing fiction again which is quite an adjustment and I’m discovering, or rather remembering that I work differently when what I’m writing isn’t real.
With non fiction and journalism, at least the kind I write, you’re still telling a story but you’re also recording real events and people. You’ve seen the characters with your own eyes, sat near them, watched them over weeks. You know every little tick and nugget of information almost by heart. You have notes to work from and pages of facts to work with.
I find when I’m working like this I can work almost any where. It’s the kind of writing you can do in a newsroom environment with televisions and radios blaring and people shouting around the room. Any where you get a spare five minutes becomes somewhere you can add something towards your quota of words. It’s possible to work with half an ear on what’s going on around you because you don’t have to reach for the words in quite the same way you have to do with fiction.
When my characters have their arena inside my head on the other hand quietness becomes more important. Over the years I’ve tried to write in the odd spare minute but it never quite works out that way. It’s one thing when you’re purely editing, when the words are pretty much set and just need a bit of a polish, but when you have to produce a scene out of thin air then a bit of peace and quiet to get your head in the right place becomes a necessity.
The problem is that peace and quiet are illusive things. My desk, where I’m writing now, is in the main room of the house, under the stairs. It’s where I feel comfortable writing and where I’ve written ever since we moved into this house almost a decade ago but it’s not the quietest place.
When I started the novel it was something I was doing for the love of it. Publishers and agents were a distant dream and there were no deadlines apart from the odd one I imposed myself. Back then I had a modest goal of around 500 words a day and could usually find an odd hour or so in which to write them in perfect peace and quiet.
Things have changed since those early days. As I work on the book this summer I’m aware that I’ve made my promise of a finish date to someone other than myself. My agent is waiting for my new and improved manuscript by the end of the summer and that gives the whole thing an urgency it’s never had before.
I spent last summer writing a book as well and managed to fulfil that promised deadline but Devil was a work of non-fiction so closely linked to the day job that the pressure of a deadline seemed the most natural thing in the world.
Even though this summer I’m working on the book that has been an obsession for years and I know my characters as well, probably better, than those I’ve watched in court, I’m finding myself yearning for a room of my own. Virginia Woolf’s essay of that approximate title has long been a favourite.
And I can’t fault her thesis even now. For a woman to write in perfect peace, without the demands on her time that come from living in the real world with husbands and friends and work and a house and all the rest of adult life, then a room to herself and extremely understanding family are vital.
I know that at the moment I’m just at that stage where the enormity of the task ahead is looming ahead and it seems like an impossible mountain to climb. I’ll have my story finished by the deadline and the work will get done but there may well be tears and foot stamping along the way when the demands of real life seem too much and never ending.
I’m noticing how territorial I get when that elusive space is threatened in a way I would never do when there’s an article to write or a blog to post, when I’m in journalism mode. Maybe this is simply the writer bit of me coming out. Maybe one day I’ll manage to marry the two. But for now I’m longing for a room of my own and an oasis of calm. Perhaps it’s time I moved my desk!