Lasting impressions

Mirren and Jones frequently post reviews on Goodreads. Sometimes it is weeks after finishing a book that we get round to expressing our views, and it is interesting to reflect on that process. Speaking for myself (Mirren), I often find that I am left with a lasting impression rather than an accurate memory of the content of a novel, and want to express that impression in terms of a feeling or emotional memory. For example, Helen Dunmore’s book ‘Your Blue Eyed Boy’ has an arresting prologue. Its words captured my interest and imagination immediately, and that gut response has remained with me. Here is what she had to say about blackmail.

Blackmail doesn’t work the way I always thought it would, if I ever gave it a thought. It doesn’t smash through the clean pane of life like a stone through a window. It’s always an inside job, the most intimate of crimes. Somebody in the house has left that little window open, just a snick. The person who leaves it open doesn’t know why. Or else doesn’t want to know. From outside a hand reaches into the gap, and the window creaks wide. Cold air comes rushing in. I see that hand now, each time I shut my eyes to sleep.

In our second novel (in-progress), Never Do Harm, we have tried to grab the reader’s interest and create commitment to read further with our introductory chapter. See what you think. Here are the first few lines as a taster.

It’s an everyday situation for her.
A bar.
A man.
A drink.
Again and again until demand, or luck, runs out.

Today it’s the same bar as yesterday. Bar Caravelle on Rue de la Partigon. Nothing fancy. And it’s the same drink as yesterday too – vodka, with just a splash of water. It warms her up, and after a few she begins to feel numb, and that’s good, it helps with whatever follows.

Would that tempt you to read more?

Multi-tasker or monkey mind?

Mirren was delighted but not surprised to hear that a study, published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, had found striking differences between the ways that men’s and women’s brains are wired to work.

The study reported that on average men are more likely to be better at learning and performing a single task, such as navigating.

Women, meanwhile, were more likely to have superior memory and social cognition skills — making them better equipped for multi-tasking and creating solutions which could work for a group.

During a typical morning at her day job while dealing with emails, and using the time management principle of not handling the same metaphorical piece of paper twice, Mirren engages with a bewildering variety of topics. She performs the necessary actions of replying, phoning, following up, filing, checking, summarising, forwarding and best of all – binning – all the while operating an open door policy liberally used by staff requiring answers to a myriad of questions, all likely to begin with one of the following phrases

Where is …?

Do you remember what we were going to do about …?

Can I…? and

Would you mind just ….?

Unfortunately, in the middle of the night, her monkey mind is still roving the territory of medical practice.  Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. We all have monkey minds, Buddha said, with dozens of monkeys all clamouring for attention. Fear is an especially loud monkey, sounding the alarm incessantly, pointing out all the things we should be wary of and everything that could go wrong.

None of this internal chattering, worrying and replaying of the day helps when it comes to switching to her other life as a writer.

So what to do?

Up in The Isle of Lewis, when working on debut novel Eight of Cups, Mirren would go for a 45 minute walk every morning after breakfast.  In a place where you can literally hear no sound other than nature (often the battering of the rain on the road!) she found the interlude helped her empty and still her monkey mind, and allow the germination and rumination of creative ideas.

Now living in Strathmore, and particularly at this time of the year, she stays in the warmth of her writing shed and practises a yoga breathing technique, concentrating solely on that one thing – no multi-tasking. And hopefully banishing the monkey mind!

Words, glorious words!

At a practice meeting recently, I asked fellow primary care team members to sum up their reactions in one word or phrase to our Practice Safety Questionnaire results. As is often the case, their responses took seconds but spoke volumes –

  • reassured
  • not surprised
  • I’m glad we all think the same. 

I was later reminded of the power of a few well-chosen words when reading and laughing at a scene in Karen Campbell’s novel ‘And This is Where I Am’.

and this is where I am

When Somalian refugee Abdi asks a local Glasgow worthy how business is going, the aforementioned ‘Jimmy’ replies ‘Fair tae pish’!

And closer to home, when a friend enquired by text ‘and how are you?’ I found myself searching for that colourful phrase from my Dundonian grandmother’s rich fund of local dialect: glessy-ersed.

One of the discoveries Mirren and Jones made when collaborating on their first novel Eight of Cups was that Mirren enjoyed writing dialogue, while Jones was drawn more to descriptive prose.

So here’s one for Jones, from Mirren’s current bedtime reading – Your Blue Eyed Boy by Helen Dunmore.

The front door looks as if it’s been shut for ever. The windows peer, reflecting the dark sky, giving nothing out of what happens inside.  A wave of senseless panic makes me fumble the car keys as I fit them into the lock. I won’t look back.

your blue eyed boy

See Mirren’s review on Goodreads for more detail.