What's in a Name?

Well, quite a lot really. In about a week's time, I'll be heading north to Kiltarlity, by way of Inverness, and thence to beautiful Moniack Mhor, the Arvon Foundation's Scottish centre, where with David Armstrong I'll be tutoring a course on fiction writing. Browsing the Arvon website tonight (why didn't I do it sooner, I ask myself?) I realised that they have spelled my name wrong. For some unaccountable reason, I have become Czerkawask. Now I answer to most variations on Czerkawska.... I mean I've lived with the name all these years, and even when I got married, I elected to keep my own name. So I have encountered all possible spellings and pronunciations, and believe me, some of them have been very odd indeed. The trouble started when I first went to school. Everyone else was learning to spell names like Brown and Smith and Jones. There I was, struggling with Czerkawska and wondering why it seemed to fill the whole line....
But I've never been called Czerkawask before.
It didn't used to matter very much. But now, when people type some variant of my name into their PCs looking for - how can I put this? - my books or plays which they may possibly want to buy... what will they get? Not much, that's what.
Catherine Czerkawska Czerkawska Czerkawska. That's what Amazon know me as. It's what Google knows me as, as well. There. That might help.

My Wuthering Heights Cupboard

I have just bought an old oak court cupboard, or 'press'. Very old really. It has 1626 carved on the front, along with some initials, a G.A. and an A. above that. There is also a tiny little G.A. down on one of the legs. (George Armitage? George Arden? Why am I convinced he was a George?) My professional woodcarver husband, who knows about how such things are constructed, reckons it is pretty much original (with some renovations, obviously - changed locks, etc and I suspect that the back is later than the rest of it) and not a Victorian amalgam. The carving is simple, and very beautiful, and the whole huge piece looks 'country made'. The colour is wonderful - some parts are darker than others, the wood is silky smooth to the touch, with the marks of the adze still on it in places. I got out some good wax polish but found that I needed to use very little - once I started rubbing at it, it was as though the wood sprang to life, with hundreds of years of waxing and polishing - and it smells wonderful too, sweetly of old beeswax. There is a candle shelf, and above it, all along it, are faint, irregular marks, which I realised were the scorch marks of ancient candles. One is particularly noticeable, as though the wood may actually have caught fire and smouldered there for a while.
So why am I writing about this in a blog about creative writing? Well, even while I was bidding on it in my local saleroom, I had lines from Wuthering Heights running through my mind. Remember the scene where Cathy is delirious, down at Thrushcross Grange, and tells Nelly that she sees the 'black press, shining like jet'? And Nellie tells her that there is no press, and she realises that she was wandering in her mind, and imagining herself back at Wuthering Heights? It's a magical scene, and - like so much of that powerful novel - one that has remained in my mind for years. My cupboard inexorably reminds me of Wuthering Heights. Although it was bought in Scotland, it is almost certainly of North Ccountry provenance - Yorkshire, Lancashire or Cheshire. I don't know who G.A. was, if he was some cabinet making countryman, who made this for his new wife, A, (Anne? Alice?) and decided to put his own initials down on one of the legs, as well as on the front, to indicate as much - or some wealthy young farmer who had the cupboard made to mark his marriage - but there is something rich, and warm and beautiful and elemental and a bit scary about it, and I know that the feelings it inspires in me are very similar to my feelings when I read, and reread the descriptions of Wuthering Heights itself, in that much loved novel. It's an inspirational piece, and I find myself sitting and gazing at it, as though I can't quite believe it.
PS The whole kitchen is now going to have to be redesigned around my beautiful bargain. We had intended to do this anyway, but the situation is becoming urgent. Meanwhile, I can feel an idea for a novel coming on.....

Are You Still Writing?

Anyone who has had any success at all within the precarious profession of writing will soon discover that there are certain questions or comments which you will hear over and over again. It will happen at public readings, or parties, at workshops or in the privacy of your own home. Quite often they are perpetrated by celebrities, on radio and television. Most of them are, when you consider them closely, and however innocently uttered, fairly outrageous. Or could it be that writers are touchier than most and hear insults where none are intended? Anyway, here are a few of them. If you are in company with a writer, and want to annoy the hell out of them, just drop a few of these into the conversation. Or feel free to add some examples of your own below.

1 I'd write a book if I had the time. A subtly insulting one this, implying that (a) it isn't very difficult and (b) the speaker is far too busy to be bothered with such trivia. Or alternatively....

2 I'd love to retire to the country one day, and write a novel. Much favoured by celebrities. 'When I'm fed up with acting/presenting/newsreading, I'll just toss off the odd novel. ' Sad thing is, when they do, it will certainly be published with maximum publicity, and copies will sell by the million. Do we ever hear about actors and presenters of a certain age deciding to take up brain surgery or rocket science or even plumbing? We do not.

3 My life would make a book. I have done all kinds of interesting things. Well, I think they are interesting, anyway. If I tell them to you, will you write them down in novel form, so that I can bask in the reflected glory? (Or sue you.....)

4 I've got a really good idea for a book/play/film. Just another version of 3, above really. I'll give you my idea, you can work on it, and I'll take a cut of the cash.

5 When I was writing my novel.... Another favourite of celebrity writers and, when you think about it, another variant of 3 and 4. When the ghost writer was interviewing me and going off to do the hard slog, this is what I told her.....Just as the queen thinks that everywhere smells of new paint, celebrity 'authors' think that getting books published is as easy as lifting the phone.

6 When you are writing a play, do you have to put all the speeches in? Or do you, as so many people seem to think, simply write a plotline on the back of an envelope, while the actors make up the dialogue? This has been said to me by a relative, of whom I am very fond. What on earth did he think I was doing all these years? Even a moment's consideration will explain this one - all kinds of media, and not just tabloids either, behave as though the actors DO make up the lines. To be fair, most decent actors try to counter this by constant references to the writing, but the media don't care to be reminded that somebody, usually a writer, made this stuff up.

7 Where do you get your ideas from? Simply puzzling, this one. The answer, of course, is from everywhere, and everyone and all the time. In my experience, writers are never, ever short of ideas. We always have more ideas than we have time to explore them. A lifetime is not long enough. This is, incidentally, a favourite of people attending creative writing workshops. It always fills me with gloom. Workshops and classes can help you find your own voice, and help you to polish your writing. They can help you present it for publication. They can inspire you to keep going. What they can't do is help you to get ideas. You have to have those in the first place. It is a prerequisite of writing. Most writers are quietly interested in life, the universe and everything.

8 Are you still writing? This is perhaps the worst. You meet somebody you haven't seen for a while - sometimes years, but more often only months, and they say 'Are you still writing?' It always seems to me to imply that the writing was a temporary aberration, and you have at last seen sense. Or am I being unduly touchy? Yes, I would like to say. I'm still slogging away. I write because I must. Because it hurts me not to do it. Because I love it. Because even when I hate it, I can't stop. Because when it's going badly, it's still worthwhile, but when it's going well, there's nothing like it. Nothing. But I don't say any of that. I just smile and say yes, I'm still writing. How about you?

News and apologies!

Apologies first for my long silence on this blog. I have been working hard, so hard that blogging has come a poor second. but I seem to be back again. God's Islanders took up most of the summer, as well as a radio version of my stage play The Price of A Fish Supper, which was recorded during the Edinburgh festival, and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 some time next year. God's Islanders will be published next month (as soon as I have an accurate date, you will be the first to know), Fish Supper is completed and 'in the bag' and I have already started work on a new novel - provisionally titled The Fifth Mary. This is a contemporary novel, set in present day Scotland, with a background that involves Mary Queen of Scots and a mysterious embroidery. It is about a quest to discover an inflammatory truth, it is a kind of a love story, it is a story about secrets, and the ways in which they are kept.... and I am desperate for the time to really get down to it. Which is, of course, much easier said than done, since so many other things (like earning a living) seem to intervene.
There are distinct advantages to working from home but time management is not one of them. I can't blame anyone but myself, and I always get the work done sooner or later, but I also feel that it takes me infinitely longer than it should, because I am always willing to allow myself to be distracted by the little things. I think men, on the whole, are much better at being single minded than women. Men simply shut things out. Women feel guilty when they try to do the same. I make a million resolutions, but my time management is still rubbish. I am either overworking through the night or not doing enough. I sometimes think I need the likes of Duncan Bannatyne (Yes, I've just been watching The Dragons' Den) to organise my working week. Or maybe just rent me an office. How about it Duncan? I don't need thousands of pounds, (well I do, but I'm not asking you to provide them!) and you can have fifty percent of my business any time, if you'll only give me time and space to work, the benefit of your marketing experience and above all, an injection of your obvious ruthlessness.