Summer; the witchy book; singing vs writing


Wedding-present roses in our garden. They smell strong and sweet and boozy-syrupy.

It’s summer now, and the weather is (finally) reflecting that: last week I was still sporting my winter coat (which I can just about still zip up with Baby C-B in tow, stubbornly facing the wrong way so that we STILL don’t know its sex, and kicking happily at every opportunity), but it was genuinely hot today, nearly shorts weather [gasp], if I were the sort of person who owned or wore shorts. Caveat: it was only hot by my standards, a neat 24 degrees Celsius while I was at work in London today. We’re getting to the point where, in the UK, the days are so long that it feels surreal: the sun is well and truly up by 5am, and as I sit here and write this on the couch at 9.46, it’s raining, and there’s lightning and thunder outside, but the sky is still reasonably aglow; the sun has only recently set.

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything. I was a little (very) overwhelmed by the heart-rending and generous response from everyone who read the miscarriage piece I wrote in January, and for some reason that meant that I stopped writing here for a few months. Back in early May (or possibly late April), I wrote a very grumpy post while sitting in a hotel room in Bangkok, mostly about how hot it was and how I couldn’t deal with the heat at all, and how I was very dispirited about my singing work and couldn’t figure out what my job was. Because the wifi in the hotel was so bad, the blog post didn’t load, though I thought it had and checked back a week later to see if it had got any views, only to discover it was still in drafts. By that point I’d cheered up and decided to stop complaining, and was grateful for the glitch.

At that point, just over a month ago, I’d stopped feeling sick all day, but I still wasn’t quite having a fun time with my pregnancy. I wasn’t really looking pregnant, as far as I could tell, just moderately fatter than before; and in more existential arenas, I couldn’t figure out who I was. I was waiting for feedback on the first draft of the witchy novel, and I was on a trip to Thailand and China with B, who was working and had brought me along as a plus-one. I knew almost everyone in his orchestra; being around them, though they were all incredibly welcoming, made me feel like a weird non-working hanger-on. It was amazing to be back in Asia, particularly with someone I love, but I was worried about the one reported case of Zika in Thailand, and I was too hot, and the food was making me sick.

Worst, I hadn’t worked properly for a while, and I was beginning to lose sight of my identity. Was I less of a singer if I wasn’t bringing in enough money to even pay my half of the rent? Was I more of a singer because I’d made the decision that it wasn’t morally tenable to keep working for the group I’d just left? Was I a writer? I was certainly spending all my free time writing, or thinking about writing, or making notes for a new book, which (fortuitously, given the trip) was set in China. But being in writer-limbo as I waited for feedback on my book made me uncomfortable, and (well-meaning, lovely) people kept asking about it, and I had nothing to tell them beyond the following stock responses.

“Yes, I think I did everything I could to it. I was pretty happy with the manuscript when I sent it in. But I was also sitting on my couch for three months writing it and trying not to puke the whole time. So…”

“No, I haven’t heard back yet. I don’t know why I haven’t heard back. But the London Book Fair sets agents’ schedules back by many weeks.”

“No, I’m not editing it right now, because I want to wait for feedback… Yes, I’m working on something new. No, it’s not a sequel.”

And, most irritably:

“No, I don’t know when I’ll be published. I don’t even know if I’ll be published. No, I don’t have a book deal. An agent is reading the first draft. That’s it. She’s just a nice woman who’s agreed to look over it for me and give me feedback, and she’s very busy, and no, I haven’t heard back, or I’d have told you by now. Who’s been telling you I have a book deal?”

Things are better now. I’m starting to call myself a writer more regularly, which, if you’ve ever dithered and agonised over whether you can do the same, you know is a strangely hard thing to do. After all, there’s no money coming in… but isn’t that the point? How many people get paid to write while they’re also working on a novel? Actually, please don’t answer that if you know someone who does – it’ll just make me feel worse.

I’m still a singer – but that’s winding down, not least because I cancelled a year’s touring when I resigned from That Choir in January, and although the last few weeks have been frantic, the other work that was planned around the year of touring will come to an end around the middle of June. Soon it’ll be baby o’clock. I have maybe two or three projects scheduled for between mid-June and my due date, which is is 23 September, in case you’d like to pester me on Twitter around then with “ANY BABY YET?” and other such questions. (I jest – I’m sure I’ll still want to talk about it, even then.) After that, nothing until April 1st next year. But it’s ok; I’m not panicking. Here’s why.

I had the sort of beautiful, fulfilling day today that I haven’t had in months. I rehearsed with a group I never thought I’d be cool/famous enough to work with, the Early Opera Company, for a concert tomorrow of Monteverdi and Rossi. I spent time with colleagues whose work I love and admire, and who are wonderfully good company, and I sang well, which was a relief after having lost my voice last week due to a new and exciting symptom: pregnancy-related, voice-destroying acid reflux. I’ve made my peace with crunching antacid tablets in large quantities, because hey, they make them in mint flavour in this country! So that’s good.

On the way home, I read a lot of opinion pieces about NBC and the AP pre-emptively calling the nomination for Clinton, and got annoyed, but quite enjoyed it. I’m actively looking forward to the primary race being over, but I’m also deeply (perhaps foolishly) optimistic about Bernie’s chances of getting the nomination in the case of a California win and a contested convention. It’s weird to feel so good about something that’s been shouted about so loudly and nastily over the last few months, and which I’m genuinely tired of hearing about, but I was in a very calm mood about it today. I’m just looking forward to seeing what happens.

There’s something that ties all this together, my feelings about the election and about singing: as I’m about to give up on both things, I’m becoming much more serene about them. Today I proved to myself that I’m still a good singer, that pregnancy can’t stop me from being well prepared or expressive, that I’m still a good colleague – and what my teacher once called me, in a slightly backhanded compliment, a “conductor’s singer”, someone who’s highly attentive to conductor and orchestra, and whose first priority is making collaborative, intelligent music, not Acting And Being A Large/Loud Personality (nobody there today was that sort of singer, but they exist in large numbers, and we are of Different Schools Of Thought). I’m happy about these reminders of who I am as a musician, and they’ve give me the strength to leave music for a while and become a person who primarily writes in the lead-up to the birth. Because I’ve been reminded of who I am, I know I can come back to singing with my identity intact – which means I can leave for a while without freaking out.

Similarly, just as the Sanders campaign is (almost certainly) coming to an end, I’m feeling better about it than ever. It’s been good to have a real progressive in the race, and for him to have lasted so long in spite of all projections to the contrary. He’s changed the party for the better – that’s undeniable. I’m proud of him. I’m proud to have supported him. I look forward to the direction the party takes once this is all over, because I know so many new people, and not just young people, have been energised by the message of social change and social justice. I can feel it happening: people just want the world to be more fair.

Things end; that doesn’t mean they didn’t have value while they lasted.

My favourite thing today was morally suspect, in that it was enjoyment derived from someone else’s inconvenience. I spoke to B on the phone after work (he’s in Glasgow) and he was grumbling about his concert this afternoon having been messy because they hadn’t been able to rehearse properly. Why not? I asked. Because, he said, they had to share their rehearsal space with a coffin, complete with occupant, because there was a funeral planned for the break between the rehearsal and the concert. The coffin was gone by the time the concert started, of course, but it was too late (SO SORRY FOR THE PUN): in the rehearsal, they hadn’t been see each other properly, and the correct set-up was impossible, so the concert didn’t go terribly well. The real kicker is that they have another concert tomorrow, in the same church, and there’s another funeral scheduled at the same time, so the same thing is going to happen. Tee-hee.

In writing news: I came home this evening to a message from a long-lost acquaintance, asking me to be one of the teachers on a creative writing course for high school students to be held in Oxford this summer. I’ve never been more flattered in my life, or felt more simultaneously excited and imposter-syndrome-ridden. But I’ll pour everything I have into creating afternoon workshops for these kids that will make them love telling stories. It was only a tentative enquiry – I still have to send in a workshop plan and talk to the organisers officially – but it’s exciting to think that this is a small step to building up a portfolio.

Oh, and I’ve just realised I never gave you the promised update: I did get feedback on the witchy book. It was good. We had a really productive discussion about the direction for the second draft, and I’m working on it now in the moments between rehearsing and travelling and losing my voice and devouring antacid tablets. Progress is being made. From mid-June, when my singing hiatus begins, it’ll be full steam ahead. I have to credit my dear friend, the wonderful novelist Harriet Smart, who listened patiently to my panic when I’d had an email back from the agent detailing the issues she had with the book, and gave me (over the course of a two-hour phone conversation) some of the best and most generous advice I’ve ever received. She kick-started my imagination, which had sunk into stasis because I’d stared at that book for too long. She is a genius (and also writes some of the yummiest Victorian detective fiction ever).

I’m going to get back into reviewing books again soon, too, as a guest blogger over at Elle Thinks, the internet-home of the divine Eleanor Franzen. She’s one of the best and most intelligent writers (and poets) I know; go and check out her blog for a real treat.

That’s all for now. It’s good to be back in the land of electronic over-share. I’m sorry this isn’t more focussed and topic-specific, but I’m getting back into the swing of things (and it’ll be better once work calms down). Onwards.

2 thoughts on “Summer; the witchy book; singing vs writing

  1. It’s lovely to ready where you’re at 🙂 It was nice “meeting” you mid take-off but also mid panic attack (sorry again about that!) You really cheered me up that day, so thank you again. Your post took me on a bit of a journey so I’m completely looking forward to your book.
    Simone xo

    Liked by 1 person

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