I thought I’d share something new with you. Below is an extract from “work in progress novel #2” which will one day have a better title, but which is now about 35,000 words along. It’s proving a joy to write, when I can make the time, as the characters seem to wait for me to show up and then just act out scenes for me to transcribe. Our narrator, below, is a 12 year old girl, and our setting is rural Finland (they say “write what you know”, I say “stuff that, write what you can imagine”. They’re probably right, but I’m having fun!).
So here we go. Tweet me @lizzieboylesays if you like it, or if you don’t. This is first draft (aka, the great blurt) so the words are in the order that my fingers produced them, unedited…:
When I was little, Grandpa Heikkila would gather me up in his arms, like a bundle of birch wood, sit himself down on the broad wooden bench looking out across the water, and tell me stories.
“Your name,” he would always start, “your name is Taru. And Taru means a story.”
I came to think that every story began with someone telling you your name and telling you what it meant.
The others laughed at me one night, when I was older, sitting beside a fire in the long summer light. Markko said we should tell stories and that I should go first.
I started: “Your name is Markko, and Markko means a bruise. Your name is Hanna and Hanna means a flower. Your name is…”
I got no further. They laughed and said it was a stupid story. I punched Markko in the arm. He had known exactly what I would do.
I learned two things: stories don’t always begin that way, and brothers are like that.
When I was little, grandpa Heikkila would begin: “Your name is Taru. And Taru means story.”
And then he would tell stories that he said no-one else would hear.
We had never seen a house being built. That summer, we lay back on the jetty or hid low among the pines at the water’s edge and watched as a wooden skeleton emerged from the ground. I said that it was like a dinosaur, suddenly dead, its flesh fallen away. Markko said that was stupid, that flesh didn’t fall away when you died, it just froze to you until the birds could patiently peck it away when the thaw came. I punched Markko in the arm and he pinched me. When I squealed, he grabbed me, put his hand over my mouth, and pointed my face towards the growing house.
The house creaked like a naked forest, stripped of bark, glowing gold in the late summer sunlight. When the men stopped working to rest or to eat, we would crawl in under the frame of the house, feeling the smooth timbers, pulling at the joints to see if we could break it apart. It was a strong house, even when it was just a shell. It grew stronger as they clad it in logs, and stronger again as the roof started to close it in, like the winter darkness descending over us. By the time they were finishing the roof, it was September. Markko and Simo were big enough to be able to help; hauling timbers across the ground, tying ropes around them, watching as they jerked and drifted into the air. Markko said that he used his knife to etch his name into one of the timbers, that he watched it being lifted and pulled into place, and that now he knew which part of the house he had helped to make. We all wanted a timber then, so we asked and begged and pleaded for him to write our names in the timbers too. That way, every time we looked at the house, we knew that part of it belonged to each of us.
For a long time, the house looked finished but Matias and Anna Timonen did not move in. Katti thought it was because Anna was too fat and round with her baby to move into somewhere new, but Markko said it was because the house needed time to settle into itself. Those were the words he used: to settle into itself, like an animal turning in circles before it sets itself down to sleep. We asked Papa Hakkinen and he said why was everyone was always rushing to be here or to be there when there was no need to rush, and if anyone should be rushing it should be him, at his age, with so little time left in the world. We laughed at Papa Hakkinen and threw little handfuls of mud at the side of his house until someone’s mother shouted at us to stop.