Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Toddling On

Between 2003 and 2004 I kept a diary on the progress of my elder son's toddler years. In particular the times that are known for a good reason as The Terrible Twos. This went on to form the basis of the book How to Survive the Terrible Twos: diary of a mother under siege which was published in September 2005.

Of course no child is terrible, but all mothers discover that this particular stage of growing mobility and independence is a time when small people test boundaries to see if anything, including their parents, will break. It is also a delightful time. On the whole toddlers are great companions, endlessly amusingly, mostly deliriously happy (when not in tantrum mode) and full of the joys of life. Mortgages, school, job worries, finances etc play no part in their little worlds. The journey of a toy train around the living room is the funniest, best and most exciting thing ever and will produce endless gales of laughter. When you are able to engage in this positive tiny worldview it is extremely refreshing. The problem has always been that parents worry if they are doing the right thing and there are countless professionals on hand to tell them how to manage their child - very few of whom agree or who set unachievablely high standards.

I wrote The Terrible Twos as a mother not an expert. I wrote of all my mistakes as well as my achievements. It's funny and it's sad, but above all I hope it's hopeful and reassuring.

This morning, despite the book being five years old, I saw that another review had been added to the amazon site by a mother who had come across the book by chance and found it helpful. I know it's a very popular book in libraries and is recommended by a number of councils in their parental help section.

The child in the book is now eight and thriving. His little brother is just coming up for two. I may need to reread my own book.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Real life and fiction

Fiction may be inspired by life, but it's far from playing by the same rules. Life is to fiction as a riding a penny farthing is to driving a lamborghini. It's bigger, brighter, more thrilling and you get there very much sooner.

It is most easy to see this on t.v. How many times have you seen a character sit down for a coffee or a meal only to rise again in moments as if this was perfectly normal? When in reality you know everyone in the place would be looking at them as if they were mad and their lack of nourishment would mean they would expire within a few weeks?

Characters in fiction eat fast, rarely sleep and certainly never sh- go to the toilet. A few shower, because that's apparently a very good place for them to have unique thoughts and it allows a little flesh to be shown/imaged.

And characters never travel from A to B. They depart and they arrive. The journey is only described if something happens along the way.

Coincidence is seen as lazy writing. Critics will mutter about plot threads not being woven tightly enough and the gods defend any new writer who sends material to the slush pile that can be seen as in any way baggy. And yet it's very real. If you think back over the past twenty four hours I bet you'll be able to come up with one minor coincidence and over the past month as least one major one. (Try it!)

Ironically, anti-coincidence - like my recently swapping my 4x4 for one of the most ecologically friendly cars on the planet and investing in my first decent pair of high heels for years just before the snow-storm came - would be fine to be used in a story. It would be seen as humorous and creating more obstacles for my character (which it has.)

This is what fiction is all about - characters vaulting or crashing into obstacles (literally or figuratively). In the west where life moves at an ever increasing pace, so our fiction has got faster and faster. Paragraphs are shorter on the page and scenes fleeting on the telly. I'm told people watch tv, text and surf the net at the same time. (It makes me wonder if the next stage of evolution will involve more hands.) As has been noted for some time our attention span is continually shrinking.

The golden rule in modern writing is stuff has to happen and it has to happen now! It also has to play by the rules of fictional life. These, as you will be gathering, are many, varied and illogical.

And yet all rules can be broken if you can do it in a way that shocks the reader. Shock being one of the most tantalizing enticements to bored readers. Fear and horror are very acceptable too. Although the whisper from the States is the next new vogue in publishing will be Angels as the general reader base is looking for a bit of cheering stuff. (Thank heavens)

If I try to make sense of this all the best I can offer is that when we tell someone of our day's events, we don't put in all the details. We highlight stuff and if we want to keep their attention we do our best to surprise, intrigue and perhaps even shock. We want to seem interesting and we want our fiction in the same flavor.