9 September 2011

Those of you who read last Friday’s blog (2 September) may recall that I mentioned my first attempt at a novel, which I kind of discarded, on the basis that the plot action was
underdeveloped and the pace of the thing was too slow.  Well, that got me thinking… there are bits of it that I rather like, so I’ve decided to foist one of those bits on the world,
or at least, on a few lovely people.  I hope you enjoy the read.

Comments appreciated, as always, and now that I have this new funky wordpress blog page thingy, there’s a comments section at the bottom.

An extract from my sleeping
(and very unpublished) novel ‘The Sum of All Things’

The willow’s song 

Imagine, a girl of four, a small, chubby girl with dark brown wispy hair that slopes out at the shoulders and big green eyes.  Soft, rounded, pudgy.  A girl with no edges.  Imagine her in a soft blue and purple patterned dress, long white socks and white sandals, the sort with a buckle at the top, near the toes, and a buckle near the ankle.  I can see her so clearly, so vividly, so awash with colour.  She loves that dress.  Its softness is perfection and
fills her up so that she doesn’t know where she begins and it ends.

Picture a garden, a long, wide expanse of glorious green.  There’s a patio, crazy-paved, at one end, the house end, and two lots of steps stretching down to a long wide lawn, whose green fingers claw at a ragged fence.  In places, the fencing has come away altogether and has been replaced by a rusting wire panel.  Wavy borders creep down either side of the
garden, overflowing with reds and browns, blues and greens.  At the bottom, three apple trees shimmy to the left and a solitary pear reaches skyward to the right.  Beyond this, the garden shed, and a sleepy hedgehog who seems to have found something to nibble.

But that is not all.  That is not the complete shape of it, for in the centre of the long wide sea of green, stands a willow tree whose drooping branches cast shadows upon the bricks that wall the patio, snakes of grey, twisting and turning with the breeze, slender leaves dancing across the grass.  And to the left, closer to the house, closer to the little girl, a small pussy willow.  The little pudgy girl in the purple patterned dress reaches up her small hand and grasps a soft yellow catkin between fingers and thumb.  It is like a tiny living creature, nestling into the soft flesh, soaking up her gentleness and warmth.

Then she runs towards the middle of the garden, towards the circle of brown earth, towards the big willow, the huge dancing willow that stands at the centre of her world.  As she runs she keeps hold of the soft catkin.  She won’t let it go.  She isn’t the sort of girl to discard such a treasure, to let it drop, wither and die.  It has absorbed her heat; it lives and sleeps in her palm.  She comes to a stop outside the wavering circle then walks between the weeping branches.  She walks slowly and silently so as to feel every second of it, the
tickle of leaves against her forehead, the slight resistance of slender branches across her shoulders.  Only when she is inside the circle does she kneel down slowly at the roots of the tree and lay down the catkin.  You’re safe now, she thinks.

And then she twists around, turning on the dry earth at the tree’s roots.
It is spring.  It is warm, warm enough to be in a soft blue and purple patterned dress and sandals.  She likes to sit upon the earth, to feel its crevices and bumps, to brush her hand against the surface.  She watches for movement.  She looks up, searching the air, and sees how the light changes as the leaves dance.  Then she hears the trees’ sounds.  She soaks them up, listens to their chatter, tries to separate out their different songs.  She hears the song of the willow, its whispering, hissing tinkle.  Or is that the sound of the wind?
The sound of the wind as it meets the willow.  The same air that allows a child to sing,
breathed in and pressed out.  The willow’s leaves breathe in the spring air and expel it in a high sweet hiss. It is like forever.  If forever could be a moment, then this was it.

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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12 Responses to 9 September 2011

  1. Mighty Jock says:

    Lovely piece of descriptive writing – i could really picture the scene. where was the story going after this?? i assume that this was really early in the novel??

    • Thank you James! The novel is actually built up in two layers, the main character, Amy, as an adult who has lost her way a bit, and her as a child, this extract being from one of the childhood parts. Yes, you are right, it does appear fairly near the beginning. By the end of the book the two layers become merged as the adult Amy regains what she has lost. It’s not a very cheery novel to be honest, and has lots of flaws plot-wise, but this is one of the parts that I enjoyed writing most and found myself completely absorbed in.

  2. Emma Pass says:

    Wow, this is a heck of a lot better than the first novel I tried to write! I agree with James – it’s a really vivid piece of descriptive writing; I could picture the scene you were describing exactly. I especially like the last bit about the willow breathing in the spring air.

    • Shucks! Thanks Emma. I’m glad you like it, but really, it isn’t a great novel – maybe first novels just aren’t eh? I think this works better as a snippet actually. One of the problems, I feel, with the novel as a whole, is that there are a lot of moments like this, but these slow the pace down dramatically and the plot is like something I thought I might just stick in afterwards. One day, when time permits, I will take this back to the drawing board and see if I can’t make it fine and dandy!

  3. Denise says:

    It’s beautifully written, Abi and would work as a sort of Prologue. As I said earlier today, it was so moody that I wondered what sort of novel it would turn in to … some magic that happens within the circle of the weeping willow’s branches – or even a horror. What genre of novel will it be? The answer to that question will do much to decide the pace required.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments Denise. Yes, with just this extract it could go all sorts of ways couldn’t it? This is the part I find really fascinating, having that choice and following one direction over another. The novel wasn’t magical as such, but I hoped to convey the magic of childhood through the child Amy, in parallel to the confusing world the adult Amy has to deal with. Feedback from two publishers was that they loved the writing but the pace was too slow, without enough plot to move things along… food for thought eh?

  4. Martin Shone says:

    Hi Abi, a nice scene set with wonderful descriptions. Something that is my weak point but you paint it with aplomb. The willow is such a fantastic tree for the imagination, so much can be hidden, so much can be seen and so much can be lost within their umbrellas of mystery.

    • Thank you Martin. Considering description is your weak point, you have described your feelings about the willow tree beautifully. Very perceptive too, as the story is about things hidden away and forgotten. The willow tree was in our garden in the house I grew up in and I spent nearly all my spare time outside playing in and around it. I think this is why the description is so vivid – it is etched in my memories so clearly. Thanks again!

  5. wendyfreckles says:

    Abi you really do write poetically. It is beautiful. In many novels I often find too much description can detract and become tedious, so what about shorter snippets? I mean it is obviously one of your strong points. But then again, who am I to make suggestions?! Just who does she think she is hey? : 0

    • You feel free to make suggestions – suggestions are always good 🙂 And yes, you’re right, sometimes you are shuffling over the pages to get to the ‘action’ aren’t you? Short snippets definitely have a place within any novel, but I think it all depends on the story and the intention. This novel was intended to be emotive, absorbing and poetic, perceived through the eyes of a young girl who feels content with nature but at odds with the rest of the world; thus, action is unnecessary at this point, but pulling the reader into the little girl’s world is vital.

  6. wendyfreckles says:

    Sorry, Abi, I didn’t express myself very well up above – I meant I have read OTHER descriptions that have bored me; goodness YOURS didn’t – I thought it was absolutely absolutely pertinent. I love your writing, Abi. What you say is exactly true. I just thought you were a bit stuck with it – thought it was too slow!! DOH! I LOVE the idea behind it and can totally relate to this girl. Funnily enough I took Bronte (my 3yo) to a sweet chestnut tree (which branches touch the grass) in our garden a short while ago & we huddled underneath it together – I showed her what a perfect den it was – enclosing us both from the outside world. She loved it. This piece is so enlightening regarding my own shyness and introvertness – isn’t it funny that we are both drawn to trees. Wherever I go I like to have things surrounding me. At work I would always ‘build’ files etc around me to hide myself. It must be my insecurity. Never thought about it before, so thanks for that. You are very talented, Abi. This sort of writing is the writing I like to digest and pour over. I’m not an action girl! But less well-written books I have skimmed over and I wonder how they get published.

  7. Thanks Wendy, so glad you enjoyed it. Yes, I think trees definitely offer this sense of safety and peace – they do for me anyway, and clearly do for you too 🙂

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