State of the Beecroft, update

So, I have finished the first draft of Blue Eyed Stranger. Which only convinces me that I was right to think that I can’t write contemporaries. That is, I clearly can write contemporaries because now I’ve written two of them – Shining in the Sun and Blue Eyed Stranger. But in both cases the struggle was epic. I don’t know how long it’s taken me to get these 37K words, but the mental wear and tear was considerable.


However, that might be health related. Last Monday I had the interesting experience of being carried off to hospital in an ambulance with suspected heart failure. (Pain in my chest under my breastbone, which got worse when I walked and stopped me from breathing.) I’d been feeling dodgy for a week before this and it had got to the stage where I was sincerely worried that something serious was going on. So when I phoned NHS Direct and they sent an ambulance, I wasn’t really surprised.

After an evening spent in hospital, however, it turns out that my EEG is very healthy, my blood tests rule out heart failure and gall bladder problems and an embolism on the lung. (“I’ve got swollen ankles,” I say, because they ballooned unexpectedly that very evening. “What’s that about?” “Normally that’s a sign of heart failure, but in your case we can rule that out.”  “Why?” I want to say, “why can we rule it out when I’ve got all the symptoms?” but I don’t ask, because they seem so certain about it. The swollen ankles worry me, but I let it go.)

They confessed themselves baffled. Said it might be ‘a muscular problem’ and told me to go home, rest and take ibuprofen.  Which is pretty much all I’ve been doing since, other than a little light Stargate fannishness.

The ride in the ambulance struck me as good research, though. I’d never been in the back of one of those things before, and I’m sure it will come in handy for a murder mystery or something further down the line.

If I’m late in answering an email, or haven’t been around as much as you might expect, I apologise. I’m still feeling dodgy, just with much less dramatic reason to, and I’ve only just started to pick up writing again. Other things may take a little longer to get back up to normal, and I wish I knew what it was, so that I would know how long it was likely to continue. But a general lack of heart failure is a thing I am not complaining about, though the possibility was quite a scare.

Anyway, to get back to my point, I really don’t think I’m going to write contemporary again. It’s just not me.

Comments (8)

HJMay 29th, 2013 at 3:16 pm

You poor fing! It’s horrid when you’re feeling rubbish and they can’t identify what’s wrong. You end up wanting them to find something – anything! – rather than merely eliminating possible causes.

One of the NZ cricketers is said to be suffering from intercostal muscular strain, and it reminded me of when I had it. (The intercostals are the muscles between your ribs, and they contract to expand your ribcage when you inhale.) I do wonder whether this might be your problem because, depending on the severity of the strain, it can hurt to breathe at all or to breathe deeply.

That might lead to a tendency to breath only as deeply as won’t hurt, which might not be deeply enough for you to feel as well as you normally do. Although the most obvious cause of intercostal muscle strain is twisting the upper body, it can happen as the result of a fall, even a simple fall which you barely notice.

Back to the point (as you say) – in what way was it a struggle to write Blue Eyed Stranger? I was thinking about the difference between writing historical and contemporary, and it occurred to me that it might be to do with the mindset of the characters, their world view and ethical and moral approach, as well as dialogue etc.. What do you think?

Anyway – congratulations on finishing the first draft, and hope you feel better soon.

batchelorboy55May 30th, 2013 at 2:18 am

Yuk about your health, huge empathy facter here.
But about the writing, I go back & re-read your historicals, so why fight it?

Elin GregoryMay 30th, 2013 at 5:27 am

Oh lor’ chest pains! So glad they say it’s not your heart but not giving you anything else to blame it on isn’t very helpful. I hope it doesn’t come back.

Shining in the Sun is a lovely book and I’m sure Blue-Eyed Stranger will be too. Looking forward to reading it. I too have theories about the difficulties of contemporaries as opposed to historicals, at least i know why I have problems and that’s definitely to do with mindset. I find it much easier to express a careful closeted individual cautiously reaching for a little happiness but always prepared to cut and run than an out and proud modern man cheerfully taking what he can get when he can get it with no apologies to anyone.

Alex BeecroftMay 31st, 2013 at 12:56 pm

@HJ Thank you! And yes, the hospital people said that they thought it was probably muscular, and advised ibuprofen for the anti-inflammatory effect & lots of rest. I went to the doctor yesterday, however, and she put me on tablets for digestive problems, as she says the most common cause of pain in the chest is digestive. I have lost my appetite as well as all the rest, so it could be that.

I think that partly it’s to do with the mindset of the characters, because I enjoy exploring strangeness, so I enjoy it if my characters think in a different way from myself. But mostly it’s because I find it hard to think of interesting things which might happen in contemporaries. Usually there’s no chance of your modern characters being blown up by cannonball, or hanged or robbed by a highwayman, or abducted by elves or aliens. So what do you do to make an interesting story? If it’s set in the UK – giving me the benefit of the no research option – there’s no legal and scarcely any cultural barrier to the two guys hooking up, they’re not going to be doing anything particularly exciting as a job. Where’s the story? What could possibly happen that would be at all interesting, without ghosts or gods or aliens?

Alex BeecroftMay 31st, 2013 at 12:58 pm

@batchelorboy55 Thank you! And yes, I think you’re right. Everyone says that contemporaries are more popular – more people enjoy them. But that doesn’t mean I have to do them when they so clearly do not interest me. I’d far rather have the exoticism and romance of the past, so why not?

Alex BeecroftMay 31st, 2013 at 1:06 pm

@ElinGregory – unfortunately it hasn’t even yet completely gone, though I think it’s getting better, slowly. For which I am thankful 🙂

I enjoy the different mindset of historicals, but I think really it’s the ease of plot that does it for me. There are just so many more interesting and life-threatening things you can put your characters through in the past than there are in the present. Also, what’s the point of writing about things you could just go out and live? Go out and live them instead! But if you want to know what it felt like to dance at Stonehenge at the winter solstice (guess who’s been watching Time Team,) then fiction is your only real option. I like strangeness rather than familiarity, which is why I like both history and fantasy, but find contemporary leaves me cold.

Char NewcombJune 13th, 2013 at 12:16 am

Oh my! I’ve been off the grid, or at least away from my blog reading for the last few weeks and missed your update. I hope you’re feeling better.

I had that similar pain in the chest but it extended into my left arm and hand/fingers back in March. Heart attack ruled out, but an MRI showed a cervical disc rupture and a host of other neck problems. Oh joy. Rest, cortisone shots and physical therapy these last 12 weeks have helped, but the symptoms (numbness & tingling) remain in my hand & fingers.

I loved Shining in the Sun & appreciate your efforts to write contemporary! Your historicals – at least the ones I’ve read so far – are wonderful. If those stir your passion for writing, then run with it!

Alex BeecroftJune 14th, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Thanks Char! I think I’ve got to stick with writing what I want to write, because writing what I don’t want to write just makes me not want to write – if you see what I mean 🙂

I’m glad to know that you’re not having a heart attack either, but cervical disc rupture doesn’t sound great either. I’m glad it’s just numbness and not pain.

I am slowly starting to feel more like myself, but I’m still knackered, it still hurts when I walk too much and I’m still having weird issues with my weight, which is going up and down in bizarre and uncontrollable ways. I had blood tests yesterday as they’re still trying to find out what it is, as opposed to what it isn’t, but no news yet 🙂

Anyway, I’m hoping to be back next month. That’s my goal! Thank you!

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