Notes from…


It took a while to get through On Chesil Beach, a few weeks ago. I enjoyed parts of it, but I must admit I was left feeling a bit in the lurch. Not really a novel and not really a short story. I know, I know, a novella. But honestly, I wanted more. Maybe it’ll make a great film one day – I found the last part a bit tedious and a bit of an ‘information dump’ (a Graham Joyce phrase which I think describes perfectly that thing writers do when they just drop a whole load of facts on the reader instead of weaving them into the story piece by piece).

I set to on my own writing for a while, but then the computer went on the blink and I had to send it off to be fixed. Then my aged laptop decided to follow suit. So, I grabbed a cheap book at the supermarket – Patrick Gale’s Notes from an exhibition. What a great book. It is about a bi-polar painter and her Quaker husband (and their four children) and the truth about her life, which is revealed after her death – set for the most part in Penzance – it sounds dreadful, but it isn’t. He switches the narrative from view point to view point effortlessly, skipping from the present into the past and back again, allowing the reader to learn about every family member. No point me explaining any more, but if you fancy a good read, then read it.

The computer is back with a brand new hard drive (thanks to the extended warranty I didn’t even know I had) and I am inspired by Patrick Gale to attack my own stuff again. I have two viewpoints in my book (mother and daughter) and the narrative flips between the past and the present in turn, so reading Notes from was really helpful. I think so hard about how I am writing and which view or what time I am in, sometimes it seems quite laboured – having read Gale’s notes at the back of his book I realise that he planned and plotted to achieve a seamless result, so there is hope for mine yet.


7 comments so far

  1. Ruth on

    After your email suggesting I buy this book and although I was in the middle of DROWNING RUTH by Christina Schwarz which was halted whilst I read a book I had been sent for review, I still decided to pick up NOTES FROM AN EXHIBITION when I popped out to do the weekly shop with MLD.

  2. Ruth on

    Stupid comment here! I recognise the terracotta Florentine tablecloth under the book but what is that other FLORAL surface. I’m dying to know. Is it someone’s shirt/skirt? Is it wrapping paper? Do tell.

  3. anneholloway on

    it’s my 50p from Primark purse which is in urgent need of stitching at the top – but I am loathe to get rid of it because it works and finding a new purse which works is almost as traumatic as choosing a new pair of glasses or replacing a handbag (not a frivolous handbag obviously, but the kind of hand bag you use every day and fits everything you need in it.)

  4. Margaret Powling on

    Notes from an Exhibition is on my wish list, but in case the subject matter is of interest to you, another novel on bi-polar is Linda Gillard’s Emotional Geology (and excellent it is, too.)

  5. Margaret Powling on

    I would add that if you don’t belong to one already, join a writers’ group if there is one in your area. This will help you keep focused on your writing and experienced writers in such a group would perhaps be able to assist you, make constructive comments, etc.

  6. Harriet on

    Well, there you are — I loved On Chesil Beach and did not like Patrick Gale. Just as well we don’t all have the same tastes!

  7. Anne on

    That’s so true – some books just hit a note and others don’t.

    Bi-polarity does fascinate me – so I will give Emotional Geology a go. I finished an MA in Creative Writing last year and have kept in touch with a handful of the writers I met on the course, we meet every few weeks.As my aim is publication I find their input invaluable, for me writing in isolation is not an option.

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