Wednesday, 27 January 2016

SS#4: A Room Alone

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
-- Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

Recently I've been very interested in the Woolfian ideal of the room, both as a physical space and a metaphor: a private space, for reflection, introspection and creativity. Confession: I've not actually read A Room of One's Own, but I will, very soon.

Starting Sparks is a monthly link-up for writers, hosted by me and Ashley.
Do you remember Teresa Ruskin?

I conceived the Ruskins -- a large, literary family living in an old dilapidated house in Surrey -- at Easter last year, and have subsequently written four pieces about them. They bounce around in my head, demanding that they get their own book.

I posted about them in Starting Sparks in October, a story called In Rain.

For this month's Starting Sparks, the prompt is:

Writing Prompt:

I was really excited about this prompt, but in the end it didn't work for me. I tried to write a story based on an idea I've had floating for a while, about a girl who meets a character from a book she's reading -- he's fallen through the fabric of the universe, or something like that, into her world -- and she has to help him solve a murder or something; except she is actually a character from a book he's reading, so they are like parallel book universes? However this is a very complicated idea with a lot of logistics to work out, and in the end, I didn't find myself up to the task, at least not for a short story that you guys would actually enjoy reading.

The idea needs more time to simmer in my head. 

So, it's Teresa again.

A bit of context: she's nineteen and she's in her second year of an English Lit degree at Durham. This story is set in January.

This is The Bridge.
I wrote this story a few months ago. It's not inspired by a song, but you could listen to a song here or here or here or maybe here to find something relevant. (All favourite songs, anyway, so I'm almost following the prompt ... ish.)

My initial working title was Write About Love, which is basically a command to myself because I, er, never do. As resident hopeless romantic I love reading about love, but I guess I'm always a bit scared of writing about it, because I'm terrified that I'll end up with vapid contemporary teen girl fiction, which I really don't want. TCATT (my WIP novel) is a romance-free zone. Yes, obviously, there's Corem (FMC and MMC), and I ship them forever to eternity, but they don't know that yet. Nothing “happens" between them, not in Book 1.

However, after thinking, as I have been recently, about rooms, my current title -- which is also the working title for the book -- is A Room Alone. I'm interested in the concept of being alone, which can be both negative -- loneliness -- and positive -- solace, especially for an introvert like Teresa, and a time to reflect and create. Exploring the dual nature of “alone-ness" will be a central theme of the novel, I think.

And if you want to link up with Starting Sparks, there's still time!


A Room Alone

For Teresa, the room was her refuge and her prison.

Like a stage it was the scene of so many reflections and visions. It looked like any room in halls – a low bed with a steel frame; a desk; a swivel chair – but it was also hers, indubitably, with her posters on the walls and her paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. She had affection for its buckled floor and narrow bed; it was a slightly musty haven, and she imagined it as the cabin of a ship, or a sleeper train’s compartment, rocking her to sleep as the horizon shot closer. She enjoyed the rain on the double-glazed window when she nestled in bed with tea and paperback; her view of the narrow cobbled street was one of wistful beauty, and she had come to love it. Yet the room was also a symbol, in her mind, of cut off hopes and shattered dreams, because it represented loneliness, and things she wanted but couldn’t have. It was in her room that lucid sorrow washed over her, stretching out in the grey nights she spent alone.

Alone: a solace, always, for her, to be by herself, away from the exhausting rush of the world. Teresa – reader, thinker, dreamer of dreams – cherished solitude, and the room was a paradise, therefore, a place to step from the physical world to the planes of the mind. She read Coleridge, “and what if in your sleep you dreamed”, and that wandering dream state was her habitat and her home. Yet now to be alone was sullied; for alone had a double meaning, a connotation not of solace, but of heartbreak. To be alone, now, in those long rain-washed evenings, was to be vulnerable, for those were the nights when he came to her, flooding her mind and her stomach, stealing the oxygen from her blood.

He came suddenly, obtrusively, always with the same sickening swoop beneath her diaphragm.

She didn’t remember exactly the first time she saw him – there was no blinding flash, no sudden total devotion – but she had tumbled into heartsickness as late summer fled into autumn, those first weeks of first year, right on the threshold of her new university life: there he was, dominating her horizon, so that she had virtually no memories of her time in the city that were not tinged by him. The room, from the first, had fluttered with the idea of him, then the firm-rooted thought, making it jagged and erratic to Teresa, a place of glittering shards of dreams, through which he strolled, always, reflecting light back to her. He spread through her mind unstoppably, and she was a bystander, watching as something unprecedented overcame her, frightening and glorious in its intensity. Teresa read Fitzgerald, “all great happiness is a little sad”, and knew that she had stumbled into the soul-deep point where joy and grief overlap; she had found something that knifed through her with physical pain, and yet was purer than any desire she’d ever imagined.

She thought about him constantly, a never-ending cycle of colour and words; the conversations she reeled off went on for hours, winding back and forth. Perhaps they joked at first – light-hearted, a chance meeting, somehow alone together – but then the tone would change like a gathering of clouds. His altered voice, looking down, I’ve never told anyone this, but … His realisation, then, that she was the single person to whom he could bare his soul; she understood as no one ever had, was right on a molecular level. They were meant to spend long days talking, heartbeats in time at the convergence of sound and silence. He would have this epiphany, and then Teresa’s night would end and he would be there, him, glowing in the dawn.

It was ridiculous to imagine, and she knew it. What was the truth, after all? That they had lots of mutual friends, existed in the same wide group, might find themselves walking to the train station together or beside one another in the cinema; but they were not close, did not share secrets, were barely alone together. That though she imagined their hearts side by side, the whole world falling into place, to him she was another face in a crowd – a nice girl, no doubt, clever and generally decent – but neither close friend nor confidant. These were the facts. Yet reason was useless, longing inescapable; she was a tearstained fugitive, always desperately turning the page, fraying her mind with the constant question: when would the denouement finally come?

Once, on a clean-skied day in late October, a month into second year and a year after she had started, terrifyingly, to live for him alone, it had happened as Teresa had envisaged so many times. She was walking from her lecture, one strand of her mind on Wordsworth but the other as usual full of him, and suddenly there he was, a saint stepped from a dream into bright life. He was standing on the bridge, wearing a black raincoat which was endearing in its practical ugliness, and when he saw he raised his arm in latent hello.

With painful pulse Teresa had fallen in beside him, and it had been perfect: the greeting, his smile, the way her name sounded when he said it.

“I was stopping for the view,” he’d said, and gestured across the river, which was grey and glorious in its reflections of the trees; and in that moment its beauty was his beauty, so that Teresa could hardly speak. Now the bridge was marked for her: the Place, the Time, the Autumn Day. It had a radiance to it, a secret stamp that changed it in her eyes. It became the scene of some of her fantasies.

They had started walking, talking – he liked the Romantics too, her heart more or less burst – and somehow, as they agreed it was cold, that they had nowhere to be, there was the coffee shop ahead; and there they were, across from each other in the window, and Teresa span among the constellations.

Only it didn’t follow her pattern.

He talked excitedly about his course and his family, they discussed what they were reading and watching and listening to, and outside the light was fading and Teresa felt that the world was leaning forward and lowering its voice. But there was no change in the atmosphere; no veer of subject into deep, unchartered waters. He stayed as friendly and kind as he’d always been. When they parted, it was with a smile, an assertion that we should do this again, and a wave.

That was all.

Afterwards she felt dazed, wandering in an elated mist of colour and the sound of his voice, because it had been far better than all her reveries, he high above any holograph she conjured; but it didn’t take long for the sorrow to set in again. That was the trouble, that the eternal fly in the ointment; however much of him she had, she wanted more. Once upon a time he’d been a face in a crowd, a little flutter of attraction; then they’d been introduced, but for a while, still, he’d been a faraway figure, so that even the exchange of a word set her dizzy with joy. But as they moved into the same circles, as they become, indisputably, friends, she craved more and higher. For the Teresa of a year ago, the thought of an hour over coffee would have been an inenarrable wonder. Now it made worse the dull ache that never left her. In one way she cherished it – and she never would never go backwards, never – but she knew, also, that passion and suffering have the same root in Latin. She holed up in her tiny room, replaying every moment and wishing for the if and the maybe.



  1. Oh my gosh, your writing is so lovely and I just awfhuisdghi. I adore this.

  2. THE SILKWORM!!! I'm in love with that series! Doesn't it just get better and better? Strike is such a great character!

    Ahem. As for the post, great prompt! It's good to take risks!

    1. IT'S SO GOOD! I'M SO EXCITED FOR CAREER OF EVIL!!! I know, I love him <3 <3

  3. Great post, Emily. Very lyrical. I could imagine listening to some soft piano music to this. :)

    1. Thank you! I think Teresa probably listens to quite a lot of piano music, bless her soul <3

  4. This was . . . alarmingly relatable, but at the same time, a little over-the-top. In other words, totally excellent!! :D I feel almost like this could develop into a yandere situation. o.0 XD
    ("Yandere (ヤンデレ) is a Japanese term for a person who is initially very loving and gentle to someone (or at least innocent) before their devotion becomes destructive in nature, often through violence and/or brutality.") LOL but that's just my twisted mind conjuring horrors. XD XD

    1. Not sure how to reconcile OTT and excellent, but THANK YOU RACHEL! XD
      Ha! I think that is just your twisted mind conjuring horrors. In my head, Teresa stays in pure love for the whole book, at the end or near the end she actually tells him (I think) and he is super lovely about it and at the end she's getting over him and she's just glad to have had the experience of true love, which sounds disgustingly soppy but is something I'm quite interested in exploring. I'd like to get Teresa to the point of looking back and saying "I don't love him any more but I'm glad to have known such a wonderful person" bc that is a point I've been at, though in my case I never told him which I kind of regret? I don't know. Oversharing here! Sorry!

    2. Haha! Ok, I phrased that wrong. I meant; I've felt feelings that are similar, but at the same time, her feelings are more intense than mine were? Hence, relatable, yet MORE, thus excellence. XD

      Well, I am quite twisted. ;D That sounds really interesting!! And haha, I've been there, too.... XD

    3. Ha, OK, got it! For me, this the first time I've written about love in years. I mean, the FMC of my WIP is, unbeknownst to her, in love with her best friend, but we do not think about that until book 2! As for unrequited love, I've not touched it (in prose form) in forever, because until a while ago it was too close to the bone! So this is the first time -- a while later -- that I've sat back to verbalise feelings that I never wrote out at the time. I guess this is the first time I've felt I had enough distance to write convincingly.

  5. AJFKJHASOFHA! (Yeah, I can't type that properly. . . but does that even matter?)

    Gosh, I don't know if I can express how much I like this. It's very relatable. So I might have maybe needed to see which Ruskin Teresa was again. I find her very relatable, even when you first wrote about her. It's a little scary sometimes. Especially about the room and what it represents.

    I almost wrote about unrequited love too for this prompt. Sort of. But after edits, it turned out as 11 pages, and yeah. Couldn't post that.

    I do hope you get to write that idea about the girl reading about the boy who's reading about her and they meet. My stifled-yet-still-kicking inner romantic is now convinced it needs this for its continued existence.

    The lyrics to that Starling song. Yes. I like it! But the music. . . I'm sorry, but I can't do that music. What even is it? The words are quite nice though.


      I'm so glad to hear that. And I forgive you ;)
      The story is scary, or it's scary how relatable it is?

      11 pages? You had a lot to say!

      IT ISN'T LIKE THAT, OK! They're not *reading about each other*, it's not like a piece of fic about meeting your book crush! (Though goodness knows I'd love that, JAIME JAIME JAIME.) So here's what I've got:
      FMC Annika White, fangirl supreme and book blogger. Fighting with BF Marie. Crushing on friend Cam. (Apparently I can't have romantic leads without monosyllabic names? Cam. Jem. Seb. Nick. Jep. Kit. All males I've written. Oops.) Reading about as yet unnamed fantasy trio who live in a steampunky world. In that world, girl has just died/gone missing. One of the boys is missing on a quest. The other boy (who's in love with the girl, so we are NOT shipping him with Annika) falls into our world and meets Annika and they solve the mystery/find the missing person together.

      But even thinking about six characters was too complicated. And when I wrote about Cam, it turned into fullblown unrequited love, which was not my intention.

      I don't think that Boy (MMC) is reading about Annika. I think it's maybe Girl who read about her?

      Does any of this make sense?

      My worry about Annika and Boy is that I don't want them to just be Corrie and Freddie mark 2. A girl/girl awesome female friendship might be better.

      Sorry, that was quite a ramble!

      YOU DON'T LIKE STARLINGS?? I wash my hands of you!

      (I do not, of course, but gosh!)

    2. (I know! It's like the fangirl's version of the messy bun. You feel like you've got to make it look perfect, but the whole point is that. . . it's not supposed to be perfect.)

      It's scary how relatable it is.

      Well, more like the characters had a lot to say. *glares at characters*

      Ooooooh. I'm sort of understanding. I understand that perceived what you were saying wrong. . . I understand that there are two worlds. Three people in each? One goes missing in the second world. One from the second world pops up in the first world with the FMC, and the two worlds collide as these two find the missing person? Am I closer?

      I happen to like your monosyllabic names. Especially Seb. It's better than Eelistle or however the heck I plan to actually spell it.

      I do know what you mean about not wanting to make character skeletons. But female friendships are awesome! And kind of. . . infrequent? You don't see a lot of strong female friendships outside of MG. I think it'd be good.

      I tried. The lyrics really got me. But the music, just. . . It just existed.

      Whatever will you do with me?

    3. (I LOVE THIS ANALOGY! Hahahaha I also can't do a messy bun!)

      OK! Well I'm happy about that I guess! ;)

      Those darn characters. What'll we do with them?

      Yeah I think so. I'm not sure how person from second world gets into our world, I guess through a rip in the fabric of time and space (obviously). Through a mirror would be v cool, buuuut that's just Lewis Carroll, isn't it. So I'm not sure about that. Maybe a door, Narnia-style?

      The really interesting thing is how do our two respective authors (writing the books that the characters from the two worlds are reading about each other) KNOW about the other world? Have they been there themselves? And are they goodies or baddies? I'm kinda imagining an evil author planning to kill one of the characters and the characters have to get into that author's world and stop him/her before he/she does the terrible deed ...

      I like them too. Seb is gorgeous. But you know I have a soft spot for Eelistle ;)

      It would be good indeed. I guess I'm just concerned that all my FMCs are the same girl: bookish, quiet, fangirly. AKA Corrie, Annika, Teresa ... Emily ... oops!

      BUT THAT'S THE POOOOINT. His life is all doo-doo-doo-doo and then DUUUUGHHGHHHHHH THERE SHE IS and then he goes back to just existing until “THE VIOLINS EXPLODE INSIDE ME WHEN I MEET YOUR EYES, THEN I'M SPINNING AND I'M DIVING LIKE A CLOUD OF STARLINGS!" That's the POINT. Gee.

  6. Your writing is just... perfection. So pretty and lyrical and I'm in love. (and slightly jealous, but eh. :P) <3

    1. That's such a nice thing to say! Thank you so much, Katie, you've brightened my Thursday immensely! <3

  7. This is perfect. The line "heartbeats in time at the convergence of sound and silence" that is just beautiful. Your writing seems so effortless, I have nothing to say other than wow. I said this on another post but I am so glad I found your blog!

    Noire Beau

    1. That's so kind, thank you! I'm really really glad you like it <3


Thanks for commenting! :)