If you glance over to the sidebar – that’s it; near the top, just after the recent posts section – you’ll notice that something has changed (aside from finally updating the icons for Apple Books).
Yes, it’s finally here: book number four. A novella (only 40,000 words or thereabouts).
I took a writing break after The Quisling Orchid and just focussed on short stories and reviews. Book 3 was an expensive effort in terms of time, brain space and money, so I thought I’d dial it back a bit.
Fortune started out as a collection of short stories about life in Soweto, something I could read to my mum while she was in hospital. Unfortunately, my mum didn’t recover away, so I didn’t want to carry on with the book.
A few people who’d read the unfinished version said they’d like to see how it ended, and hoped that I’d pick it up again, eventually. ‘Time’s a great healer, Dom.’
Well, they say that, but it doesn’t apply to everyone, so the book stayed in the drawer (metaphorically speaking; it actually stayed halfway down the tree in Ulysses) for a couple more years.
I think it was a combination of things that finally got me to dust it off (metaphorically speaking; I actually just opened the folder in Ulysses and started typing):
Last July (2019) there was an incident in which a body fell from the undercarriage of a plane approaching Heathrow, so I sort of thought it was a story that needed to be told.
I’d like to think my mother didn’t raise a son who didn’t finish something he’d started.
Besides, good writing is supposed to hurt, isn’t it?
Somehow, describing this as the ‘long-awaited sequel’ doesn’t quite cover it. I’ve had this on preorder for MONTHS. As I’m sure you know, The Testaments is the follow up to the enormously successful, and worryingly prophetic, Handmaid’s Tale – the story of a dystopic America, where a huge swathe of the country is under the control of a totalitarian government that has removed the rights of woman to exist as individuals. (Seriously, if you’ve never heard of this book then I think you may be on the wrong blog).
The Testaments carries on a few years after the last book left off, delving deeper into the world of Gilead from the point of view of women living within it, and outside. It’s not the same literary horror story we saw in the first instalment (or indeed, the tv series), so I don’t think it carries the same shock value I remember from reading The Handmaid’s Tale, though now I get less of a sense of ‘this could happen!’ and more of a sense of ‘I think it already has.’
The writing is much lighter, with less of the literary flair we saw in June’s account of her life as a handmaid. What does come across is the hypocrisy of the entire Gilead setup, and the sense that many of the original characters (Aunt Lydia in particular) are perhaps just as much victims as the handmaids; they were just better survivors.
Seems like quite a long time since I wrote a novel. The last one was The Quisling Orchid way back when.
Since then I’ve been fiddling with screenplays, writing short stories, winning competitions (ahem) and working with the fine fine people who make up my local writers group.
But I have been working on one book for a while now …
A couple of years back, my mother became very ill. She always enjoyed reading when she had the chance, but during her final year, she preferred having either of her sons read to her. Since she couldn’t really concentrate on a full length novel, I started writing a collection of linked short stories, so I could read her each chapter as I finished it.
Sadly, my mother passed away before I could write the last few stories. I didn’t feel like carrying on with it, or writing anymore, for that matter, so the novella languished inside a laptop for a couple of years, and I sort of turned my back on writing.
I’m not sure why I picked it up again. Would love to say I had some sort of otherworldly epiphany, but it wasn’t that exciting. While sorting out my mother’s effects, we found a stack of handwritten papers: the beginnings of an autobiography. It was deeply moving and beautifully written. I had no idea she could write. I mean, when I talked about my writing, she never mentioned it.
Now I think about it, maybe it was an epiphany. Anyway, I dusted off the novella with a plan to self-publish it (for free if I can figure out how) before the end of the year. Sort of a tribute to my Mum.