In my mind I know there are far too many books written and published, that many of them are pretty poor, and bound for oblivion. It also seems a pretty strange activity – to live with a set of fictitious characters in mind, and to spend hours inhabiting, and attempting to describe their world. But my heart tells me otherwise – the best days are those when something is accomplished towards my novel, be it as short as a paragraph. My life is the richer for both writing and reading.
I began writing The Green Table over ten years ago on an Arvon course – Writing for Young Adults, led by Celia Rees, and the wonderful Jan Mark, who died only three months later. But in many ways it began much earlier than that. I was twenty one when I lived as a student and au pair in Amsterdam. On summer weekends I walked the length and breadth of the city, soaking up its unique atmosphere. It felt so much closer to the events of the Second World War than England – and I could sense the shadow of Nazi Occupation. ‘You’re all going to start a novel this week,’ Jan Mark told us, and I wrote the first page of The Green Table – a German dance teacher living in Amsterdam, and ranting against Hitler and Nazi Occupation as she teaches her young students. And so it went on.
‘The Green Table’ as a novel for teens never quite made it to publication. Twice it was accepted by editors of well known publishing houses, but refused by the marketing panel. So, to counter despair, I went off to do an MA.
One of my fellow students on that long ago Arvon course was Jan Fortune, who created and runs Cinnamon Press, and encourages many writers of fiction and poetry to reach potential. After completing my MA I had an idea I’d like to redraft The Green Table as a novel for adults – enabling me to explore adult perspectives on the theme of oppression, as well as my young protagonist of the original work. So, with Jan as mentor, and her unfailing support and love for my original idea, I began a task that was far more difficult than I ever imagined. So difficult that it sometimes felt like the mental equivalent of clinging to a precipice, unable to go up or down for fear of falling.
I’ve just completed a first draft, and after reading it aloud, I know at last that I can make it work. Jan has agreed to publish it in the autumn 2015, the tenth anniversary of Cinnamon Press.
Last week I had my first conversation about the book cover with Adam Craig and I now wait to see his initial ideas. And tomorrow I’m flying off to Amsterdam for two days to walk the city again before writing the final draft. There’s a sense of relief, even delight, to have got this far, and to have found such encouraging companions along the way.
Last Friday I went on a drawing day in Manchester - The Palace Theatre and New London Ballet. Whilst I enjoy drawing, what I was really looking forward to was the opportunity to watch the dancers, both in class, and later in rehearsal for Swan Lake. It's one thing going along to class every week, and teaching ballet barre to my small dedicated group of women, but quite another to see such highly trained, exquisitely lovely dancers doing what they do every day of their professional life.
The exercises were not overlong, but were set at such speed by the ferocious-looking ballet mistress that it was incredible that the dancers and the accompanist had a clue what she demanded, never mind tempo and timing
On Saturday I went for an audition for The Body by choreographer, Joe Moran. The Body, a sound and performance installation that draws upon the work of writer Paul Auster, will be performed in the Nottingham Gallery in November. ‘Amidst ten chairs and in counterpoint to a spoken word sound score, nine performers listen, sit and stand in forming and reforming configurations.’
I’m certain it’s more compelling to watch than it sounds.
I’ve never seen Joe’s choreography, but I like what I’ve read about him. Here he is talking about a recent production, and like many dancers/movers, unable really to articulate what he means. Dance, after all, is another language and the meaning is always lost in translation.
'His work has gained recognition for its intelligence, complexity and disregard for convention. He creates bold, physical and distinctive new works for theatres, galleries and public spaces.’
Arriving with dripping umbrellas, we were welcomed by Heather Forknell of Dance4, and led up flights of stairs to a long narrow studio, with a door that opened to a fire escape and views high over Nottingham.
There were fifteen of us, ranging from late teens to mid-fifties. Whilst we waited for Joe to arrive, we lay on the floor, rolling around, stretching, warming up, hugging the radiator, and chatting – and I was back in that familiar world I miss so much, where the common language is movement, and the connections with complete strangers are made so much more easily than through words. The atmosphere was friendly, curious, open, with nothing of the paranoia and insecurity I remember from auditions in the past.
Joe arrived, and taught an improvisation class. His manner was quiet, unassuming, and generous, and his class was a delight. We moved every part of the body, slowly, with control, swiftly, on the floor, and running and jumping. Above all, we listened, through the muscles, through the skin – the kind of listening I’ve only ever experience through dance. Afterwards, for the rest of the day, I felt renewed, more alive than I have for a long time, despite the fact I exercise every day. To work with other people makes the difference.
Early this week I heard that I’ve been accepted to take part in the group of nine dancers. I’m delighted, and look forward to working with Joe and the group very much.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.