A question for writers and scholars

Drafts. What do you do with them? Do you throw them all away? I throw away all my endless printed copies in all their permutations. But I have a lot of notebooks left over from my novel and my PhD. I use A4 spiral bound notebooks. And I’m not at all selective about what I use them for. So, notebooks from 2005 and 2006, for example, have PhD proposals and hesitant beginnings interleaved with the final scenes I wrote for my novel, as well as random musings and poems and journal entries. I have notebooks dating from July 2003, when I first moved to the UK. I was flicking through some of them on the weekend, and they reveal painfully intimate details of my spiritual, emotional and intellectual development, alongside early drafts of things that sometimes made it into the finished product. But they are heavy and they take up space and I don’t think I want to lug them around forever. And really, they are not the sort of thing I want anyone else to read.

What I’ve done is separate the mainly PhD notebooks from the mainly novel notebooks. For some reason I can’t bear to part with the novel ones. There’s sort of a thrill seeing the first handwritten version of scenes that made it into the final version of the story. (Well, I say final. I really should get back to seeing if it’s publishable or not.) I think I can throw away the PhD notebooks. But it’s sort of hard. In between records of my intellectual floundering and chasing the wrong leads in those early years, are snapshots of my life in York, and the first house I shared with Michael. But my memory should be enough to go on. And I really don’t need a record of all that work, because everything good ended up in the PhD anyway… And we really need to cut down on excess stuff.

So. What should I do? Do I throw them away?


Such an old-fashioned term. But at the moment it’s just about right. It was a lovely day today, really. Plus 3 degrees, which feels so, so warm. It had rained over night, and the trees were rinsed of their frost. The sun shone through hazy blue patches of sky and the bare tree-tops reminded me of England. But as soon as Michael got to work, he sent me an email entitled ‘ice’, which read: ‘Don’t go out under any circumstances. It’s too slippery even for crampons.’ Which was fair enough, as these three-day forays into the positives only succeed in turning our sloping driveway into an ice-rink. And all the footpaths, too.

So I washed the floors, and baked rosinboller. (My recipe wasn’t as fancy as that one. I got it straight off the sultana pack. But check out that blog! She lives in a much prettier part of Norway than I do. And has a cute baby boy. And I think I might be clicking back over there to try out some of her other recipes…) Over the weekend I had a serious craving for hot-cross-buns, so I bought some yeast and sultanas on Saturday morning. When I got home, though, I discovered it would take several hours to make them, so I made scones instead. (Which were amazing, by the way.) Anyway, today, having the whole day to myself, I thought I would have a go at the boller. It’s the first time I’ve tried cooking with yeast on my own. (When I was a kid, Mum and I would do it all the time.) And it worked! They rose! The living room smelled all warm and yeasty as they sat in the windowsill. They were very nice, though next time I’ll have to add more spices. I ate four of them straight out of the oven. Michael liked them but said the scones were better. But now I’m thinking of all the other things you can do with yeast…

I’m pleased with the photo I took today. I’m getting quite fond of this bump of mine. It is nice to feel round and full of life. (Also if you’re planning on getting pregnant I recommend being extremely tall. You get much less squashed.) 38 weeks tomorrow. When I see photos of myself not pregnant it feels like that’s not really me. Right now, this is me, and I am grateful for these few last weeks. I like that I am looking out of the window, and that the windows are full of light but that you can’t see through them. I like the crib stacked in the corner behind me, with my maternity bag inside it and a box of baby things. And for me, the photo is strange, because the room is reflected in the mirror, and it is all the wrong way round. Everything is stilled in the strange light. It captures perfectly this deep breath, this pause, this readiness. This quiet, hopeful time of looking straight in the face of a future I cannot yet clearly discern, and saying, despite this, yes. Yes.


Well, I’ve just about finished The Amber Spyglass, and I need something new to read as I wait for this baby to show up. I’m not feeling particularly inspired about the rather virtuous dregs-of-our-bookshelf list I posted a while back. (Although, looking back at that, perhaps I should get started on Carpentaria. In the end I didn’t read any of them because I discovered a dusty old copy of David Copperfield and read that instead. And then Mum sent me The Slap for Christmas and I read that. And then, also on Mum’s advice, I bought a copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society from the local bookshop, and it was perfectly lovely. And then I re-read Pullman’s Northern Lights.) But we’ve discovered that you don’t have to pay import tax on books, and Amazon will ship for free if you buy a couple at a time, so I’ve decided to buy a couple. Could anyone recommend novels they love?

Innocence and experience

I’m re-reading Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights trilogy. I first read it nearly seven years ago.

He is a fantastic writer. He really, really knows what he’s doing. He deftly introduces scenes, and propels and twists the plot, and pretty much holds you in the palm of his hand. The characters are compelling, the dialogue is effortless, the landscapes you pass through make you gasp with awe. One of the things he does best is describe animals, and this is where a great deal of the charm of these books lie. The characters live in a world where your soul exists outside your body, in the form of a ‘daemon’: a sort of familiar in the shape of an animal. This really is quite lovely because you are never alone – your daemon is your constant companion and you love each other fiercely. The type of creature your daemon is reveals a lot about your personality. Children’s daemon’s differ from adults’ daemons in that they are not fixed: they can change effortlessly from a mouse to a hawk to a panther and back again.

The books muse constantly on the difference between innocence and experience, childhood and adulthood. The central mystery of the books is the idea of ‘dust’ – a special substance invisible to the eye but which is discovered to be attracted to adults but not to children. It turns out that ‘dust’ has a lot to do with consciousness. The Church, in the books, is very suspicious of ‘dust’, and even sets out to try to eradicate it. They equate ‘dust’ with sin.

Anyway it’s got me thinking about the difference between children and adults, and it’s making my brain hurt. Because there’s not a line that you cross when you turn thirteen when suddenly you think differently and you’re not a child any more. But the difference between thinking as a child and thinking as an adult is more than an accumulation of experiences. Aren’t even teenagers’ brains still developing, so that although in many ways they are like inexperienced adults there are actually some types of thinking they can’t do yet? (I’m not sure about this but I do remember hearing it somewhere.)

There are so very many things to think about here. But it is interesting to try to remember what it felt like to be a child. I remember very clearly what it felt like to be seven, and what it felt like to be ten. There was a very very big difference between the two. Ten was a whole lot more complicated. Twelve and thirteen were more complicated again, but they had more in common with ten than ten did with seven.

The day I turned seven, my great grandmother died. This made me sad, in a sort of undefined way. For my birthday, I got a musical kaleidoscope. It played a tune, and turned all on its own. I loved the jeweled patterns it made with light. I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world.

For my tenth birthday, I got my ears pierced. I was ambivalent about it. In the weeks before, I would finger my soft smooth earlobes and think – they will never be the same again. I liked my earrings once I got them, although my ears were inflamed for weeks. I also had a really great birthday party, but I was terribly stressed about it. I could invite ten friends. We went iceskating. And we came back to my place. Mum had organized hair ribbons, with special fabric puff-paints so that everyone could paint their own ribbon. I was so embarrassed and nervous that my friends would think it too childish. They didn’t. They loved it.

In other news…

This is me a whole week ago when I was nearly 36 weeks. Now I’m nearly 37 weeks. And feeling pretty good really. I think bubs tried to engage about two weeks ago which was quite uncomfortable, but he jumped out again cos he likes wriggling around so much. At my GP appointment last week she said he was still really high up, and she would have liked to see him lower by now. Anyway. I feel him rumbling around and sticking little bits of fist and foot out at me and I can tell just by stroking him whether he’s lying on my left side or my right (he likes to swap around). At least he’s head down. My only real complaint is heartburn which seems to be exacerbated by his wriggling…

But it’s getting a bit boring just waiting and waiting. Today I did a couple of loads of washing, and the clothes horse is now full of little white suits and hats and socks all ready to go. Also my grandma knitted me the most gorgeous hat and jumper and booty set. The hat has a pompom! It is the sweetest thing in the world. I can’t wait to put it on him.

And yep the snow does make getting around a little difficult. Not too difficult, because Norway is used to such conditions, but reversing out of our driveway is a challenge. Actually last night it started to rain and we kept waking to the sound of great thuds of snow crashing down from the roof. Today our driveway resembled an ice-rink. We tried to go for a walk this afternoon but after teetering down the first little hill with our crampons on we gave up and tiptoed back. Can’t really afford to stack it on the ice at this point. The snow’s going to keep melting for a day or two and then it will all come back again.


It snowed all week. The neighbourhood started looking like one of those christmas cakes with too much icing.

The paths we cleared would disappear within hours.

And then it snowed some more.

New Years Day

Michael is surpassing himself with photos at the moment. And how much mileage are we getting out of our Christmas tree lights? This might evoke a slightly more festive atmosphere than was actually felt around here as we watched re-runs of The Lord of the Rings in order to stay awake.

We fell into bed before midnight but luckily all the crashes and bangs ensured we got up again to watch a 360 degree fireworks display from our windows. Very handy to have windows facing all directions. And there is something so satisfying about bursts of noise and colourful explosions.

New years day was a perfect day for the beginning of a year. I watched the crescent moon dissolve in a clear sky and the sun rise (at a very respectable hour, I might add) from my desk. In the afternoon we went for a long walk in the forest. The temperature had crept above zero, the sun shone and shone, and honestly it felt like spring.