Sunday, 28 December 2014

Not Another New Year's Eve?!

Courtesy of The Telegraph

I love Christmas, but don’t like New Year’s Eve. Why not, you ask? Well, thereby hangs a tale. We never made a fuss of it in my family, so I don’t have fond memories to gild it with nostalgia, or any traditions to cling to. The event began for me in my teens, when the whole kissing at midnight thing could hold sweet promise if someone I wanted to kiss was in the room, or when just snogging lots of people could make me feel popular and successful.

So why do I wish every year that this particular festival would just go away? Sophie Heawood in this Saturday’s Guardian Weekend is spot on about one of its drawbacks:

‘It’s amazing how much pressure you can feel to have a good time on New Year’s Eve, as if the biggest midnight of the year has the power to change you... if only you cheer it in hard enough, with enough love in the room.’

As with holidays and Christmas, absurd expectations can put a strain on our only-human ability to enjoy ourselves at anything close to fever pitch. The extra challenge with New Year’s Eve parties is that, because of the midnight denoument, they can feel very long.  In recent years I have been to really pleasant get-togethers, with plenty of friends and fun, but have looked at my watch at ten o’clock and thought, ‘Really? Two whole hours to go?’ At one, some of us had sobered up and got rather cold as the big countdown neared, and we found ourselves huddling in the kitchen making cups of tea, feeling we had rather failed as revellers.

When my children were little, my husband used to stay up and see the New Year in with a lonely whisky and some rubbish on the TV, because at that time, all I really wanted from life was sleep. The idea of voluntarily being conscious if no one needed a feed or a nappy change was absurd.

In case you’re thinking I have never been any fun, I did have a partying era when I lived in Hong Kong. Life after work often consisted of a pit-stop in a 7-11 to have a stomach-lining hotdog, then off to a bar, or several, to party the night away. As time wore on, San Miguels would fade into trays of shots or ridiculous cocktails, some of which you set fire to before drinking them. Sometimes, I danced on the bar. I don’t think I ever got home before midnight, and at least once I crawled home from a night out and went straight in to work.

New Year at that time was just another party. At one memorable event, we gathered on a friend’s skyscraper rooftop and cheered in 1993, wondering why sirens were mixing with our drunken shouts. It turned out that in nearby Lan Kwai Fong, an area of narrow bar-lined streets, a crowd of 15,000 had turned into a stampede. Police had watched helplessly as people slipped on the beer-slickened street and were trampled in the crush. Dozens were injured and twenty-one died.

You might be wondering if that’s why I don’t like New Year’s Eve. I have to admit that the truth is less dramatic. There was once a teenage party that all my friends were going to, and so were all the boys we fancied. We prepared over days and hours in a fevered dazzle of expectation. When the snogging hour was upon us, the boy I had hoped to get off with got off with one of my friends. I’m afraid it might be the face-slapping disappointment of that moment that soured New Year’s Eve for me forever.

This year I am going to an ourdoor event in riotous Tunbridge Wells with my husband and parents in law. I am keeping my expectations within reasonable bounds, hoping only that there are warm marquees and that no one gets too sleepy. Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Making the Magic Happen

courtesy of

And so as festive busyness gathers pace, I continue my rewrite. Latest reports from my writing mentor insist that I must clear more clutter from my text, working even further to remove the sighs, thumping hearts and glances that are slowing it down.

I think I understand now about backstory: you don’t put it down on the page, but it is a living thing that takes root in your mind. As I remove whatever might not be needed (the musings, the explanations, the characters harking back); my protagonists retain their wholeness for me. Once in a while I am moved by what appears on the screen about them, because their backstories live in my heart. The magic* lies in conveying this to the reader.

I hope that something better is emerging as I prune back to the parts of the story that matter. I have pinned my hopes on this way of working leading to **success, which for me means my writing being good enough to be published.

With that heartwarming thought, I wish everyone reading this a ***peaceful and happy Christmas and all good things in the New Year.

* This ‘magic’ is not available in fairy dust form, and may in fact involve months or years of painstaking work, including wrong turnings, periods of crippling self-doubt and repeated devastating rejection.

** Success is by no means guaranteed.

*** Results may vary according to the temperament of family members, the onset of hyperactivity in children and the incidence of turkey cooking time dilemmas.