Happy New Decade! 2020. While I always celebrate a new year, the prospect of a new decade leaves me simply awestruck. A ten-year span? That’s room to breathe, to think, to grow, to imagine; to create and recreate. In ten years’ time, anything could have happened. My son, for example, will be nearly thirty by the end of the new decade, though I imagine to me he will seem perpetually seventeen. However, naturally and inevitably, as a flower turns towards the sun, we all grow, and in the next decade I intend to do just that. Alleluia, I hear you say. In this spanking new chapter of my life, I might finally discover what it is I was born to do.
More than a real life’s mission and/or reaching adulthood, vital and valuable as both are, these Roaring 20s might just be the decade I choose to cut loose, give myself and everyone else a break: permission to play. Frolic even? Yes, to engage, as my hometown dictionary explains, in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. Grave and sensible is hardwired into my zippered-up DNA. Maybe that is the fault of the familial military thing passed from generation to generation—and our Catholic sense of restraint. The word “play,” my Oxford Dictionary tells me, is related to the Middle Dutch pleien: “leap for joy, dance.” Well, to the new decade, I say, “Hey! Let’s go. Let’s get clogging!”
So what to have fun with, play at… writing? Isn’t that what I already do. Yes, but it is a bit like Sudoku or a Rubik’s Cube, a puzzle, a game, where a bit of logic is needed, plus time and space. Things needing to fall naturally into place; a plan yet no plan. Plus a sprinkling of magic. The denouement is always obvious—once a book is all but complete. But to entertain myself, to play, to clog dance, if you will, I need to push back all the distracting everyday demands. “Ring-fence time,” I am advised, separate the “trivial many” from the “vital few.” According to J. M. Juran’s famous quote, based on the Pareto Principle: 20% of the work gets 80% of the results. I wonder where my vital 20% of play might lead me. This month it sends Geraniums back to the editor and Poetry of Life to me for revision. I can hardly wait.
Also, this year at the Oxford Literary Festival, I will interview Anna Hope on April 5th. Fun, fun, fun. Expectation, her brilliant new novel, arrived by post last week. Having finished Jojo Moyes’ latest work The Giver of Stars believing prose couldn’t get any more seductive, Hope’s new book swiftly made me reconsider. Just as easily as Moyes had me knee-deep in Kentucky mud, Hope had me luxuriating in 1980s East London. Hungry for more, I found her previous works Wake and The Ballroom—both as rich and varied as Expectation. I look forward to asking Ms. Hope a long list of questions!
An old friend, award-wining author Jill Robinson, who hosted and led the Wimpole Street Writers’ Workshop in London for some time, lived by a simple code: write three pages a day. I think it was something her father shared with her. If ever I called her in distress—my zippered-up DNA blaring “work, loyalty and obligation”—Jill would simply say, “Marlene, have you written your three pages today?” No, I would think, when was the last time I wrote? Her point, of course, was that I had forgotten to play.
That will not happen in 2020. It’s all systems go. Two books on the way, a screen adaptation waiting for the green light and another synopsis making the rounds. “Alleluia” is all I can say. Play, play, play!
Wishing you too a brilliant 2020 full of eat, sleep, work and play.
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