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BOOK LOVE: Beloved by Toni Morrison

An incredible book. Set in 1873, an African-American mother, Sethe, has killed her daughter rather than allow her to be returned to slavery. Now, the house – 124 Bluestone Road, Cincinnati – is haunted, ‘full of a baby’s venom’. Paul D, one of the former slaves who worked with Sethe, comes and tries to help the family move forward, but in doing so he forces out the ghost of Beloved, who returns to the house as a young woman with baby-like features. Beloved ousts Paul D from the house, and Sethe becomes a slave again, this time trying to do the impossible – to achieve forgiveness from the girl she sacrificed, because, in her own words, she was ‘trying to put my babies somewhere they would be safe.’

On reading this book I felt sickened and strange – but moreover that I was reading something extremely important. Toni Morrison put it like this:

There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence or better still on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn’t exist . . . the book had to.

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Finding the time to write

Book pages 1An older version of this blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 8th April 2010

For me, for a long time my writing was my hobby, and as such I would get through everything else first, promising myself writing time later, as some kind of reward. However, it’s far too easy for that time to never arrive. It was only when I dedicated myself to finishing Come Back to Me at the end of 2007 that I really made the strides forward that I needed to then pursue publication. Now I do try to schedule time to write, but it’s not always easy. I have an active one-year-old little girl, all the general aspects of life to keep going, and my husband would quite like some attention sometimes too, I think. I have just finished my second book, and managed it by making the most of the time my little girl was asleep or my husband was here to care for her, as well as having the help of a wonderful childminder for a few hours a week. (Also invaluable was a well-timed visit by my mother!) Although I used to write at all hours of the day, for now I have to make the most of this dedicated, limited time. I usually have lots of scribbled notes to work through by the time each session comes around, as when I’m busy on other things I still make sure to make notes on ideas so that I can refer back to them later.

As with many other writers, it may well be necessary for me to continue my day job of editing to make a living. Then I will not only have to remind myself to make time for my writing, but to work hard to make sure that time actually happens. When the task at hand seems enormous, I also remind myself to just make a start, and that if I keep doing that every day, one day I’ll reach the finish line! And, if I don’t find the time I need, I may have to look hard at the things I am making time for. I once heard a popular fiction writer in England talking about how if you just turned off EastEnders, a prime-time soap opera that runs for half an hour four nights a week, and used the time to write, in six months you would have a book.  It’s worth thinking about.