As most of you will know, I recently abandoned the outline for The Yesterday Tree/We Are Watching. I simply wasn’t happy with the progress — or, rather, I was unhappy with my lack of excitement for it.
Never exactly comfortable without having something to work on, however, I quickly decided on what I was going to do next. Another semiautobiographical novel entitled Through the Stormy Shades.
I decided from the outset to approach this from a slightly different angle. I want the novel to be experimental in form (experimental for me, at least!) and I don’t want to nail it down too tightly at outline stage. At the same time, though, I want to know what material I have and how it can be used. I am therefore outlining in what is for me a very barebones way. I may go into more detail with it before writing, at this stage I just can’t be sure, but I already like the feeling I’m getting. I think the sparsity, the space between the lines is helping.
I’ve left room for surprises. I think I need that.
So you can see exactly what I mean about not nailing it down too tightly, here’s a short excerpt from the outline itself. I’ll be interested in hearing any thoughts you might have on it.
(PLEASE NOTE: the following outline includes references to adult subjects… well, adolescent subjects — my narrator is fourteen and surrounded by pretty student nurses so… work it out for yourself… that’s what he had to do )
Through the Stormy Shades — Outline Sample.
- Admission Questions.
- Weighing, Bath and Fellow Patients.
- Bed. Locker. Limited Personal Space.
- First Meal. Lunch. Ghastly.
- Conversations with Fellow Patients.
- Tests. ECG. EEG. Breathing. Height Measurement — True Height Measured Fingertip to Fingertip, Compared the Actual Height.
- Visiting time. A reminder of two very different worlds even at this very early stage.
- Next day. Measurements for and trial of the Stryker bed. Frightening, uncomfortable. Everything suddenly quite real.
- Preparation. Back shaved, testicles etc shaved. Back washed with iodine (?) and wrapped. Nil by mouth. Sleeping medication the night before. Doesn’t work.
- Morning of the operation. Early.
- A surreal sense of not being a part of what was going on.
- Fear. And an unwillingness to show it.
- Heading down to theatre.
- People standing over him wearing masks and a hat like the one he was wearing.
- Smiles behind the masks. Seen in the eyes.
- Reassuring words that don’t work.
- “Count slowly back from one hundred.” Ninety-nine…
- “Is it over?”
- Space blankets in the cavernous, too bright recovery room.
- Pain — pain that isn’t remembered but is intensely real. So real it doesn’t feel a part of him, even whilst it so clearly is.
- Someone else’s body. Not his.
- Fading in and out of consciousness.
- People coming too close, falling away. Movement, echoing noise.
- A whisper somewhere. Wants to hear but can’t. It hurts too much.
- “Something for the pain?” Soon, but never soon enough.
- Blessed unconsciousness. A temporary but still disconcerting respite.
- Back on the ward.
- Pain, confusion, medication — always begging for more.
- Nurse always there in the side ward.
- Blood-pressure, temperature etc constantly monitored.
- Parents visit, in spite of being strongly advised against not to.
- Surgeon drops by after his day in the theatre: “Ah yes, I thought Mum and Dad wouldn’t be able to keep away.”
- A sense of being in another world… another body, alien, wholly unfamiliar.
- Never to be the same again.
- Steady improvement. Not being sick quite so often.
- The room is now familiar.
- Not so much pain.
- Drinking the first time laid on his stomach. Sucks up the juice through the straw and it comes out of his nose. Straight back into the glass.
- Soon masters this.
- Visitors — parents, family, neighbours. Welcoming them but still uncomfortable, feeling too different.
- Waiting to be turned. Parents annoyed at the delay (the ward sister has to be present.)
- Staff rivalries. He becomes aware of them… one staff nurse in particular confides in him that she is practically running the ward herself, without any financial recompense, the sister being so incompetent.
- A growing crush, founded in lust, for a number of the younger nurses — but also the staff nurse, who kisses him on occasion.
- Moved from the side ward to the six-bedder. The room is needed for someone else.
- Initially, he’s on his own.
- First night alone.
- Loneliness as the ward grows quiet — quiet but never exactly silent.
- One of the younger children cries out. Haunting. Disturbing.
- Imagination works overtime.
- Thinks of the staff nurse and student nurses.
- Aroused but doesn’t dare do anything about it.
- Torment. Touches himself experimentally. Stops.
- A nurse in an unusual uniform enters. He’s never met her before. She introduces herself as the matron. Doesn’t come on the ward all that often but tonight she’s doing her rounds.
- Talks to him about his operation whilst he hopes she hasn’t guessed what he was considering doing.
- She is friendly and nice. Asks him how he’s finding life on the ward. Any complaints?
- The food. She nods. A common complaint.
- When she leaves: alone again.
- Can’t sleep. Difficult to read flat on his back. Nothing on television.
- Considers masturbating. Chooses not to.
- Falls asleep and dreams of horses. He rides them, even though he’s never been on a horse in his life. Over jumps. Surreal. A disturbing sense of dislocation. Out-of-control. Falling.
- Two new admissions.
- Brian [Martin] and Frank (real name in the novel Francis) [that other kid who had the alcoholic mother from hell].
- Frank is full of shit. Cocky. Pretending not to be in the least bit perturbed at the thought of having an operation. His mother, as yet, relatively well-behaved.
- Brian is a better class of person and Carl takes to him immediately. His mother, Janice, is quick to laugh, nervously — her voice cigarette-raspy.
- Talks to Brian and Janice about what the operation was like. Brian is also having a spinal fusion.
- Tries to make it sound better and less painful than it was.
- Brian is anxious but tries not to show it. Not cocky like Frank.
- Before he is to have their operations, both Brian and Frank are to be subjected to halo-femoral traction.
- Carl was thankfully spared this and is completely unfamiliar with it.
- Has his stitches (metal clips) removed. A young girl in a body plaster from down the ward sees him and hangs about outside the treatment room.
- The nurses rib him. The girl likes him. Her name is Chrissie.
- Brian and Frank are now on traction.
- Carl considers himself lucky to have avoided it.
- The school holidays haven’t yet quite arrived and the teacher is still coming in.
- Everything has settled down into a steady, predictable pattern.
- Almost pleasant.
- “A curious bird is a pelican…”
- The school holidays approach.
- Mornings watching Sesame Street and larking about.
- Chrissie starts sending letters down to him from the girl’s room. Silly letters — “what are you doing?”, that kind of thing.
- He likes her but isn’t really all that interested. Or only interested in what she’s got in her knickers.
- Thinks about this a lot.