This week I’ve sent a second draft of my work in progress, Jacob’s Ladder to my agent. She’s kindly (bravely?) agreed to read what I’ve got so far. She’s going on holiday for a week so luckily will not be too quick to respond. I need a break! So now I have a gap, a strange hiatus. As Matt Haig,(@matthaig1) the author of Reasons to stay alive, recently posted: ‘my mind is all dressed up with nowhere to go’. And it’s fixing on all kinds of oddities.
Brain too busy to concentrate on reading, I sat on the tube yesterday watching the view going past, but was distracted by the two empty seats opposite. As the train moved, they moved. And not just with the twists and turns of the carriage but up and down; as the train slowed down for a station, they rose like dough, then subsided as the train came to a standstill. Utterly fascinating. Eventually the passenger opposite, no doubt imagining I was talking to my daughter about him, smacked his copy of the Metro down on one of them and glared at me. So much for the Phenomenon of the Breathing Seats – an idea for the next Sherlock Holmes story perhaps…
I’ve also found I’m distracted by the slightest things – hyper vigilant. Giving a friend a lift to the station he remarked on my acute (obsessive) observation. Shouldn’t I be watching the road? Oh look at that bright pink pair of trousers, odd way of walking, over-dressed for the weather, overweight, undernourished etc. Oh brave new world that has such people in it!
It’s like emerging into the light after watching a film in black and white. Mind you I have spent several months struggling to keep my family safe in a grey, post-war Britain of continuing rationing with the threat of national service hanging over me… Living through the Great Smog and the Big Freeze of the 50s and 60s.
Until I started researching this novel I hadn’t realised that national service went on until the beginning of the 1960s. Richard Vinen’s National Service: Conscription in Britain 1945 – 63, Allen-Lane, which I read last year, is an absorbing and well-researched book which, coupled with RAF stories from my late father, was invaluable. Young men (and some women) spent 18 months to two years in the army building up a reserve in the event of another war. A few lucky ones had the chance to travel and see the world; a few unlucky ones served in Korea and never came back. Most spent their time square-bashing, polishing and cleaning their uniforms, and trying to keep warm. And when they were demobbed most were thrilled to leave the army and get on with real life.
Eighteen months of struggle – so, not dissimilar to my experience of writing this novel! I’m demob happy. Is that what this craziness is about? Eighteen months of hard work. Then back to civvy street.
Only once my agent gets back to me, I’ll no doubt have to start again…