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Tiah Beautement

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

On abandoning the comfort zone

I wish I could do whatever I liked behind the curtain of “madness”. Then: I’d arrange flowers, all day long, I’d paint; pain, love and tenderness, I would laugh as much as I feel like at the stupidity of others, and they would all say: “Poor thing, she’s crazy!” (Above all I would laugh at my own stupidity.) I would build my world which while I lived, would be in agreement with all the worlds. The day, or the hour, or the minute that I lived would be mine and everyone else’s – my madness would not be an escape from “reality”.’

- Frida Kahlo

I don’t know what I’m doing.

This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve gotten in over my head. That novel I wrote way back when…

Okay, there have been a lot of those…let me try this again…

That published novel (no longer available) I wrote way back when was a result of not knowing what the hell I was doing and lots of other very knowledgeable people taking pity on me. But in the last few years I’ve tried to act like a sane human being. That is, act sane aside from the trouble my association with Rachel Zadok has caused. But since my physio declared Rachel the best thing to happen me since falling apart, we’ll forgive her.


Point being, over the last few years I’ve been trying to simplify. Go slower. Write smaller. Embrace the don’t bite off more than you chew (sort of) train of thought. (Remember, we’re ignoring the madness of SSDA in this piece.) And it may have worked. Rumour has it that in 2014 a cover is going to be slapped on something I wrote. I say rumour because I’m a bit of a don’t count your chickens until they’re pecking the snails from your garden person, rather than one of those optimists I read about on FB and twitter. Regardless, I will freely admit the only reason that this thing has (maybe) worked is that I tossed out all the ‘you should write about’ aside, and ever-so-slowly put together a piece just for me.

I concluded that this was a life lesson of note.

But lessons are open for interpretation, yes?

I recently took a chance. A small chance. I wrote a short story that includes a vampire. Not going to judge, but vampires and I have never been on good terms. I went through a huge Anne Rice phase, but her beloved Lestat was…well, not my beloved. However, things happen, somebody told me I ‘must read’ something and I tried it, and read some more during a time when life had gone a bit strange. For once I could sort of (maybe) understand the vampire thing.


Which led to a conversation with my family that went something like this: ‘I’m trying to write a literary vampire story.’

‘How do you write a literary vampire story?’ Husband said.

Ignoring a book called Dracula (haven’t read) and another called The Historian (have read) I said, ‘I’m not really sure.’

Which was a mostly true statement.

Listening in on the conversation were two children. Both of whom that had decided that my attempts at writing a vampire story that they might be allowed to read when they’re twenty was the coolest thing I’ve ever attempted to write. But then Thing 1 said, ‘I really wish you’d write a story with X in it.’

I laughed.

‘Aw, but I really want you to.’

‘Even if I did, you wouldn’t be allowed to read it.’

‘Until I’m twenty.’

‘Until you’re twenty – if you’re lucky – and even then it wouldn’t be anything like you imagined it would be. This is me we’re talking about. I write scenes where the main character does nothing more than scramble eggs.’

‘Now that’s the way to market your work,’ Husband said.

Days went by, I looked at the notes and research I already gathered for my next idea and found myself clicking on websites on X. I started toying with other ways to take my original idea and massage it. How to mould and tweek. Paper started spewing out of my printer, notes were plotted on a calendar, charts found themselves tacked to a pin board and the purple binder got fat with creatures.

Oh dear.

Couple of months later and I have about 8,000 words. Dipping my toe into areas not of my comfort zone has challenges. I don’t know what I’m doing. Nor does the me that colours every piece I touch take a back seat just because I’m trying something new. That me is telling the same stories I’ve always told, but is trying on a wig and went out for the night well past eight. Firstly, there is that typical I have a whole story to tell but I’m scared it will come out wrong stage fright. In addition, like many writers, I have that nobody in their right mind will ever publish such a book voice taunting me at every word. But now I’ve got the don’t let the kid down complex, despite the fact that before I embarked on such an insane idea I’d tossed out pretty much every disclaimer I could, including:

- You won’t be allowed to read it until you’re 20.
- You won’t even think X is cool by the time you’re 20.
- The real topic of the story will never interest you, unless I manage to raise you really, really well and, ahem, let us be honest I’m not exactly in the line up for 1st prize in parenting. And even if I was, how many free-loving hippies raised the next generation of venture capitalists? Precisely.

But for now, I’ve got two kids – almost 9 and 6 – who think it is very, very, cool that I’m trying to write a story with X in it. There is this new respect for the office space and why I spend time on the computer. As if I earned a bit of street cred on the primary school playground.

8,000 words. Multiply it by 10 and we’ll call it a first draft.

I’m in deep shi…


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