Dash of Random

I did promise the occasional dash of random and I’m not sure I’ve really been delivering. To rectify that, here are two completely unrelated things:

Random Item #1

Surface Tension came out this week. This is excellent and I’m thrilled to see it on shelves. I’m told it received “a cracker of a review” in Bookseller + Publisher, though I’m yet to see it myself. As you do when you have a shiny new book, I’ve taken to picking up a copy, opening it, reading a few lines, sighing, and putting it back down.

Shall we call it Shiny New Book Syndrome? It is an identifiable disorder – I’m sure of it.

But in the course of my illness, I’ve realised something about my first line, which reads thus:

The day that I was born, they drowned my town.

Firstly that I love it.

And secondly that it owes a debt to Sylvia Plath. Because when I read it, something strange happens. I read it like this:

The day that I was born, they drowned my town.
The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry/Took its place among the elements

The following lines aren’t mine, of course. They’re the second and third lines of Plath’s well-known poem “Morning Song”. But for some reason, they got attached to my line and I couldn’t seem to separate them.

I finally worked out why. To begin with, there’s a similarity in subject matter – a birth – and along with that, a similar rhythm, the cadence of the lines. Here’s the first line of “Morning Song”:

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.

It has the same number of beats as mine and to some degree a similar sound quality. The way the last three words fall upon the ear. It’s a thin relationship, but it is one, at least in my head. And realising this answered another question for me. During editing, I considered taking ‘that’ out of my first line. It’s one of those words you can often lose without much impact on the surrounding text.

But in this case, I wanted to keep it. I kept taking it out and putting it back in. I wasn’t sure why. I just felt the line sounded better with it. And every time I repeated it to myself, Plath’s lines followed it, much to my exasperation, and it took me this long to work out why. The slightest of connections – the subject, the rhythm – and our work was connected in a way that affected what I wrote and how I wrote it.

I love this stuff. I love that a poem I read years ago can seep into my own work. I know it’s imperceptible to anyone but me. I know there’s no real relationship between our work. But it just brings home to me how all of our writing is the outcome of a complex web of highly personal, idiosyncratic associations and image repertoires and relational frameworks. And that everything I write emerges from everything I’ve been and done and seen, in tiny, secret ways I can’t possibly be awake to.

I always say this to kids during workshops. No one sees the world the way you do. No one will write the story you’ll write, the way you’ll write it. This is just, for me, a really interesting reminder of how that can work on the most micro of levels.

For the curious, here are the actual first lines of Surface Tension:

The day that I was born, they drowned my town.

The mayor flipped the lever and everybody cheered. There were streamers and balloons and a really lame brass band. The people of Old Lower Grange ate sausages and potato salad while they watched their lives sink beneath a wall of water.

And writing that, I’ve realised how much the second line owes to Plath’s second line. I’m sure the similar structures are no coincidence. Ahh, I find this stuff so interesting.

Random Item #2

I’m working on a duck book, a follow-up to Duck for a Day, a chapter book which featured a duck with attitude. I’m not always making the progress I’d like to, for all the usual reasons. Now, thanks to Leonie at Walker Books, if I feel like slacking off, I just look up at my corkboard, shiver a little, and get back to work:


Here endeth the random, at least for now. I must shiver a little and get back to my duck book.

* Image copyright Gary Larson.

2 thoughts on “Dash of Random

  1. Anne M Leone

    Wow, what a gorgeous first line, and first few paragraphs! I LOVE it!

    I came over here after you stopped at my blog to write about being a pantser. And I find we have more in common. I often hear other lines, quotes, poems, in my text. I listen for the beats, the alliteration. And when someone wants to edit something, it can be so difficult to explain why I need the extra syllable.

    Very cool to find someone else who writes that way.

    Congrats on the good review!



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