April 2015


A writer’s marathon

It’s a numbers game.

How quickly a writer’s emotions can change. There I was, a couple of weeks back, with a novel stuck for months at slightly less than 40,000 words and struggling to find time or inclination to press on.

Today, with a smile on my face, I note the tally has now passed the landmark 50,000 words. In seemingly next to no time a work in progress has leapt from setting the scene to looking towards the grand finale.

OK, so there may be another 30,000 or so words to go, depending on what my characters decide to do, but it’s the sort of progress that draws the line between “I’m writing a book” and “I’ve got a book to finish.” A watershed in a writer’s life.

It is akin to running a marathon – something of which I have had plenty of experience. The first 13km or so are relaxed, easy-going and almost with time to look at the scenery. You’ve done this length of run too many times to count.

Then it gets serious; you’ve got the groundwork done and now, for the next 13km or so, you realise you are in for the long haul. You settle into a rhythm, a pace with real purpose. Forget the scenery; that’s for another day. You are now building a solid base. The halfway mark has come and gone; now you can start to think ahead and visualise the finishing line, now so much closer than the start.

There is more behind you than in front. Time to take a deep breath and push on. No more looking around, no more awareness of the others in the race; it’s you and that push to the finish.

And that’s where I am at: two-thirds of my marathon done and full of confidence about going the distance. A great feeling. And, who knows, I might even find a publisher this time around.

Fourth time lucky?

Beyoncé and Pavarotti: what have you done with my ‘at’?

It seems that the long-standing two-letter preposition at has been dismissed as irrelevant by these two superstars and thousands of lesser lights throughout the English-speaking world. No longer does Beyoncé play at the Rose Bowl; she merely plays the Rose Bowl, a phrase that suggests an uneven contest in the extreme. Similarly Maestro Pavarotti has ceased to perform at the Met in preference to playing the Met, which hints at a battle leading to discord rather than harmony.

These days the Rolling Stones play Hyde Park, Justin Beiber plays the O2 Arena (heaven help it) and the Royal Ballet plays Covent Garden in a hint of a right royal clash of cultures. There is not an “at” in sight.

Only the sporting world has so far refused to obliterate this most essential of words. Chelsea still plays Man United at Stamford Bridge but one wonders how long it will be before we are informed that Chelsea will be playing Old Trafford – an uneven match of eleven millionaires against a baying mob of thousands of working class battlers.

What is gained by obliterating a tiny word that has also served us well, its meaning and purpose never in doubt? Admittedly English is a language that is forever changing;  but change has to have reason and purpose.

To have performers playing venues instead of playing at achieves neither. It is an unsustainable and meaningless nonsense.