A Sterkarm Twenty Minutes

Ice on the inside of the windows
          About three decades ago, when I was already a published writer but still lived with my parents, I wrote on my typewriter wherever I could set it up and get a bit of peace.  That usually meant on the big table in the rarely used front room.
          We didn’t have central heating and, in winter, only ever heated the living-room (and there were no fireplaces upstairs.)  Most of the house was, in winter, literally freezing.  There would be ice on the inside of the windows.
         One cold Sunday, I wanted to write.  I forget what I was working on, but I was deeply into it.  I put on my coat, thick socks, and a woolly hat.  I would have added mittens, but it’s hard to type in them. The rest of my family were gathered in the living room, about to watch a Hammer Horror film on video (I forget which one.  Witchfinder GeneralCountess Dracula?)  I said to them, “I may be some time,” and plunged into the arctic conditions of the rest of the house.
      As I wrote, my ears were nipped, my nose dripped, my toes went numb and my fingers stiff.  I kept thinking, ‘It’s too cold, I can’t stand this.  Just another paragraph and I’ll give up.’ After about twenty minutes, I reached what seemed a natural break, and I was so cold, I couldn’t stand it any more.  I charged back into the warmth of the next room, stripping off my cold weather gear as I went.  The film was just ending.
          But wait!  A different film was ending, not the one they’d been watching when I’d departed for the North Pole.
          “Did you switch the other one off?” I asked.
          They looked at me strangely.  “We watched it right through,” they said.
          “But this is another film.”
          “Yes,” they said, as if to an idiot.  “We watched this one too.”
          “But – “ I said.  But I’d only been writing for about twenty minutes.  It had been too cold to do more.
          “We’ve watched two films while you’ve been writing,” they said. “And paused them while we made tea and fetched snacks.”
          They’d fast-forwarded through the slow bits, surely?
          Not at all.  They’d watched two films from beginning to end, with breaks for tea and snacks.  My twenty minutes had been two hours.
      For the past three years I’ve been working on Sterkarm 3 (and that, folks, is why a writers’ work shouldn’t be available free-to-all on the internet, as some argue).  I’ve been working hard on it, constantly climbing a metaphorical tower (perhaps an ivory one) and scanning far horizons with my imagination’s spy-glass, trying to see where the plot-lines might converge to an ending.
      Last Friday, I thought I might be drawing it all to an end – the first time in three years it’s had what felt like a conclusive ‘right’ ending.  About 9pm I looked at what I had sketched out and thought: If I keep going, I could finish this in the next few hours.
I made a decision: I’m not going to bed until I finish this, however long it takes.
      Some head-down time after, about twenty minutes, I was wandering around a sheiling with the cattle, somewhere in the drizzly hills of the borderlands, when I glanced at my watch and saw that it was midnight.  Okay, on we go.
      I wrote and wrote.  It was concentrated work, but didn’t take very long.  About twenty minutes.  That’s what it felt like.  I reached The End.  Collapsed on sofa.  Cheered.  Looked at watch.  It was 3-50 a.m.
      I think ‘twenty minutes’ may be the writers’ equivalent of ‘a country mile’ which is defined as, ‘any distance that has to be walked.’
Deerhound striking noble pose against mountains
     Of course, Sterkarm 3 still isn’t finished.  That ending is knocked into a rough shape, but it has to be polished.  There are characters who haven’t had their say yet – and who won't rest until they do.
          And there are two large dogs running around loose, I’m not quite sure where.  I’ve got to track them down and drag them to where they’re supposed to be.  (I’m sure Madwippet would never forget her canine characters and leave them roaming loose to worry cattle.)
A collie about to round up a synopsis
          But I’m starting to feel confident that, towards the end of August, I shall have a version of Sterkarm 3 that I can send to my agent without feeling ashamed of it.  (I may even decide definitely on a title.)
          I have another synopsis to send her too, again involving dogs, though these are border collies rather than large deer-hounds.
          But I’d love to hear other’s experience of ‘the writers’ twenty minutes.’

     Edinburgh E-Book Festival
          Just a reminder that the on-line Edinburgh E-Book Festival really starts today.  There's all sorts going on over there - reviews, interviews, poetry...

             And over at the Facebook page, the cool e-readers are gathering, in their sunglasses.  Yours is invited to join.
          Right: my Kool Kindle, in James Dean style red leather jacket and sunnies, kicks back with a glass of white...
          Over to Blott...