Monday, March 15, 2010

Calamity and disaster

I've been thinking a bit this week about calamity and disaster. My life is full of it at the moment, as you get when you're running a household full of kids and pets.

This week has gone a bit like this:

Saturday night, halfway through having friends over for dinner, I came down with a particularly violent bout of gastro. Within an hour, I was collapsed in bed, unable to do anything except clutch my bucket and moan.

By 2:30am, my one-year-old joined the party. We heard her crying on the baby monitor, and when we went to check we discovered she'd managed to return all of her dinner, milk, hell, probably her breakfast and lunch too, to the proverbial light of day, and had neatly rolled herself aaaall over in a mixture of partly-digested blueberries and lasagne to boot.

Last night, she was disgustingly perky and happy, but still passed out with unusual rapidness at 6pm and slept through to 7am this morning. But I didn't sleep a wink, because I was still busy rolling around groaning- nope, no quick recovery for me.

Today, she couldn't go to daycare, because 48 hours has to have passed before they're happy to have her back after gastro. And we're off on a holiday on Wednesday, so my husband absolutely can't have time off work- he still has eight million things to do before we go anyway. Which left me looking after a completely recovered, but still pretty clingy and cranky, child while I still feel like death un-warmed.

First up this morning- the dog decided she needed to relieve herself. On the carpet in my bedroom, naturally. And I'm telling you, she had to have been holding that one in for about three days, because man. It took a lot of mopping.

Next, I find the toddler wandering around with a pair of scissors, because I'm an awesomely attentive parent. I snatched them off her, thinking disaster was averted, but no- although she didn't nip off any of her rosy little fingers, she'd managed to cut a huge hole in her lovely embroidered shirt.


The last straw of the day was when the cat, who had been observing all this with her usual smug amusement, sat up from her perch on the back of the couch, stretched- and then proceeded to barf in a neat arc calculated to cover as much of the furniture as possible.

Which I needed. Like. A. Hole. In. The. Head.

I'm not sure the dog, the cat, or the kid had ever heard so many four-letter words strung together at the same time.

There have been other little piddling disasters, but I don't care anymore. If I wasn't sick as a dog, I'd be halfway through a bottle of red right now.

Now, what the hell relevance does this have to writing, you might ask?

Firstly, it's about all I can manage right now. But secondly, before the dreaded gastro hit, I'd already been thinking about calamity and disaster. I'd been thinking about it because I've been working through the first section of BETWEEN THE LINES, and when I sat down and noted down the major plot points as part of the February Exercise over at CompuServe, I discovered that pretty much all I had was exactly that- disaster after heart-breaking disaster, downhill all the way.

Now, technically this fits the fictional ideal of "upping the tension", but at the same time it's just... depressing. Worrying a little about that, I Googled "bleak books", and discovered this list of the ten most depressing books ever written. And though I *should* have read several of those, I actually haven't read any- probably in part because I avoid utterly bleak books like the plague. I can't stand reading something that has no inkling of hope.

I don't think I'm heading in that direction, because it's just the first of four sections, and the point of the story is that the last two sections reverse the trend of hopelessness- Bill goes from losing everything, to gaining everything. Fabulous!

But the point of this post is, if the particular time you're living through is consistently bleak, then it's exhausting. That's why the best books temper scenes of disaster with... quietness, at least, if not complete positivity. The reader needs a lull in the storm to catch their breath, or else they'll do what the character would love to be able to do- they'll put down the book and go find something better to read.

So, I consider the last few days a good reminder of that- sure, you need to up the tension with worst case scenario on worst case scenario, but you also need to give the reader a glimmer of hope that there's a point to it all.

Here's looking forward to discovering the meaning of my life in the next day or two!


  1. I hope you all recover soon Claire and have a blissfully bad event free vacation :-)
    What a timely post - I'm so busy moving Rose's story along and constantly thinking of Things That Must Happen so that I don't end up with a bunch of pontificating heads, that now I'm not sure I have any quiet scenes at all. Some events are more harrowing than others, but still, I've got lots of Event - Event - Walking Toward Next Event - Event - Revelation - Event. Where's the fun stuff?
    (As for the books... I've read The Fountainhead but not Atlas Shrugged. I loved Nineteen Eighty-Four, even though, yes, it's very very bleak. I couldn't stand On the Beach, but then I was 13 when I read it. Though I was 13 when I read Nineteen Eighty-Four too, so I don't what that says. I've read other Steinbeck, but I *still* haven't read The Grapes of Wrath. And I *still* have never read The Lord of the Flies.)

  2. You poor thing!!!! Gastro is bad enough without cat vomit and all the rest. I hope you feel better now and that you have a lovely, trouble-free holiday!

    As for the depressing books - I've read 1984 (which was depressing) but none of the others. And I have no plans to read them, either.

  3. Claire, I hope you're feeling better!

    I think you're right on that bleakness point, mate (bg) but, in regards to your scenes -the ones that I've read, anyway- while there is a bleakness in some of them, there always seems to be an underlying glimmer of hope. It runs like a silver thread throughout all of your work. Now, is it something you've consciously put into these scenes, or is it something about your basic outlook on life that bleeds into everything you write? Something to think about for all of us...