The Things You Think When Someone Dies.

Wally Varley Self Portrait
A self-portrait drawn shortly before he died, scribbled on the back of a bill.

My Dad died on Wednesday the 8th, a week before his 88th birthday. It was sudden, but not a surprise, he was 88 after all.  In thirteen days I have lost my first parent, seen my first corpse, attended my first funeral and given my first eulogy. It has been a very long fortnight. Each day passes a little easier than the one before, and I have already faced the guilty realisation that this week does not hurt as much as last week, and that next week will probably hurt even less.

At his funeral, I spoke about the difficulties I had putting him into words. I hope I live a long life, and die with as varied a circle of friends as he had. His achievements were almost unbelievable. In his time he was the first of his family to enter Grammar School, wrote a novel, programmed one of the earliest Golf games for home computer, spoke pretty good French despite never leaving the UK and was a decent artist. When he died, he filled one side of a little Chapel within walking distance of the house he spent most of his life in. We gave those in attendance a booklet containing some of his poetry and a grumpy looking self portrait on the front, so people could see a side of him that not many people knew about.

Now the funeral is over, there’s a real sense of getting back to the way things were. For better or worse, life without Dad begins today, but there’s a tangible sense of separation between before and after. I didn’t live with my Dad any more, he wasn’t involved in the day to day decisions of my life, but the world still feels like a different place without him. I still feel my mind reaching for him when someone tells me a story he would have liked or some family news reaches me, maybe that will never go away.

I’m not that nostalgic, most of my memories of Dad are pretty mundane and of value only to those who knew him well. I like to remember the little details, the way he greeted me, the way he asked me about his day, the way he sounded on the phone. But I wrote about one of my favourite memories of Dad here before. I told that story again in my eulogy. It has been a long fortnight. I haven’t really written about Dad, I might never write about him again. But it’s time to get back to work, and I couldn’t pick up where I left off without marking his passing. I can think of no better way to do it than to leave you with his own words.

TIME PEACE by Wally Varley
The clock will diligently
dock the seconds off the
lives of all that come
within its span and can
move fast or slow, according
haste or leisure in its hand.
The man who, waiting for the
train to take him to his
wife, sees minute things go
crawling by, when flying is
the way that he would take
the time to make the meeting.
The woman, standing in the
shade, who should have
made the better of her day,
finds time impatient in its
haste to waste the secret
moments she had planned.
And children on their way
from school, who fool
around with crayons on
the wall, are all too innocent
to see how quick their
childhood is depleting.
And through the weeks, the months
and all the years ahead
the clock will tick, and cross
off days and nights, till
rights and wrongs are long
forgotten by the dead

NaNoWriMo 2013: The Second Draft

Editor Red PenOne of my strengths as a writer is knocking out a good first draft. When you’re working for yourself, it’s good to know where you work best, and I’m at my best with the blank page. I write quickly, the writing isn’t terrible, and the plots have a lot of potential. If that were all there was to writing, I’d be home free. But my big weakness comes in the rewriting stage. Perhaps this is because everything I love about writing, exploring a narrative, discovering who characters are, resolving the little puzzles that come from taking a story to its conclusion, are muted in the rewriting process. Here my job is little more than finding better ways to say everything I said already.

It is no surprise then that my previous NaNoWriMo attempts have gone untouched after the November deadline has expired. This year, I resolve to do better. A few years ago NaNoWriMo showed me the benefits of finishing that first draft of a novel, in 2014 I am determined to solve the mystery of turning that first draft into something worth sharing. It will be tougher than the short fiction previously published, but it is a hurdle I have to overcome.

It helps that I have a lot of faith in the story. I went into NaNoWriMo last year a little unprepared. The idea came half recycled from a plot that had been kicking around my head for some time. I simplified it, got a few details straight in my head and leapt in on the first of November without really plotting it out. I had a loose idea of the arc from start to finish, but over the month I added subplots and supporting characters that I found fascinating. By the end of the month I was forced to wrap up several plots much more quickly than I anticipated, and I’ve been itching to get back to the story and really expand the ideas.

I’m not setting myself a deadline this time. Tackling the first draft in 30 days was strenuous enough, this time the story needs space to breath and stretch out its limbs a bit. There are other projects too that can’t be abandoned. I intend to write a follow up to The Octopus of Suspense this year, hopefully before the end of March. My work was sporadic in 2013, this year I’d like to fill my time with more writing. More than anything, I want to avoid long stretches without working. I don’t know if the novel will be ready to see the light of day by the end of the year, but I’m certainly aiming for it.

If you did NaNoWriMo this year, or in the past, I’d love to hear if you’ve revisited your work since then and how you found the process?