Pangolin Issue 45

I have become a serial killer. There, I’ve said it. I’ll start my story with last weekend’s discovery at the Cundallhouse – that it probably wasn’t the magpies what done it, after all. My avid Twitter followers, all 213 of them, may remember that I accused magpies of chopping up the wire leading to the sound system on our swift boxes and building their practice nests between the eaves and the boxes. Well, (hushed David Attenborough voice) very early last Sunday morning, I witnessed a grey squirrel taking what was left of our witch-hazel up the wall to weave into that very space.

Tree rats, as some foresters like to call them, are a bit of a pest around here. Later the same day I went up the ladders to remove the hazel twigs and, as it turned out, the squirrel – who skittered away across the vertical pebbledash, cursing me for my impertinence. My mindful soulmate and I were not amused to find that one of best lilies had been neatly decapitated by the same squirrel and used to line its would-be drey, to add a touch of class, we suppose. Reader, I didn’t murder the squirrel.

It’s all to do with territory, this feeling that squirrels can be tolerated in the yard, but once they start setting up home under the eaves, then they have to be stopped. It’s the same with mice. We enjoy watching them nibbling at the bird-feeder. However, once they get into the house, as they have done recently, that’s when I become a serial killer, albeit a reluctant one.

‘Murder your darlings’ is a much-overused imperative in the editing realm but I can see why people like it. Tamsin Hopkins, working with me on Novel 2 as part of the Cinnamon Pencil mentoring scheme, has helped me to banish one or two characters and I am now trundling through v3.2 cutting the crap, strangling any sentence that doesn’t work, culling the hads, the justs and any hint of author intrusion.

I have work to do to distinguish the voices of my three main female characters, all of whom are of a certain age, and I am finding the exercises in The Art of Character by David Corbett very helpful. With chapter headings like Summoning Ghosts, The Power of Wounds, and The Tempest Within, Corbett understands what makes for believable, engaging characters. Desire is at the heart of so many good stories, including my second novel.

Readers of my last Pangolin may be interested to know what happened when scores of people visited us as part of Chapel Allerton Open Gardens. Nobody died. The frogs and news in our tiny pond interested the children, only one small person got their feet wet. There’s nothing like having garden-savvy strangers looking around our plot to encourage us to up our game. Our house guest and I mended and cleaned the greenhouse, for the first time in living memory. We power-washed the yard. Auto-correct has just tried to change that to poet-washed, twice. What does it feel like to be poet-washed? My mindful soulmate did hours upon hours of weeding and tidying-up. It was all very much like editing.

By the time Pangolin 46 emerges, I should have been to Uganda and back for a family wedding and produced a whole basketful of delicious writing. In the meantime, don’t forget the plight of the real pangolins.

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