Monday Motivation: A luta continua

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog, Tips for Writers

War talk is much in the air these days. We talk of “the war” in the way that our parents and grandparents must have referred, in their day, to “the war”. We’ve learned or relearned the vocabulary of war. We’ve come to understand the difference between offensive and defensive tactics.

I’ve been engaged in a war of my own for three years now. It’s a war not against a neighbouring territory – but there’s no question at all that we’ve been invaded, and that in order to maintain our hold on what’s ours, I’ve had to resort to both cunning and violence.

Three years ago Trish and I applied for an allotment. We were told that it would take at least two years for our name to rise to the top of the list. In the event, however, just a few months later a man from the council phoned and told us we were in luck. We arranged to meet at the allotment to inspect our new domain.

It was lovely. That is to say, it was covered in ash where the council had thoughtfully burnt the remnants of the previous occupant’s shed, and hundred of walnut shells, relics of a once enormous walnut tree that had stood on the allotment, disrespectfully casting the adjoining plots into deep shade. That, too, the council had disposed of.

There was also a fox hole. “You’ll see it prowling around,” our guide from a council, a little man with a small moustache and an air of great insouciance, said.

“And then, of course,” he added ominously, “there’s the bramble. Bugger to get rid of. Not sure I’d recommend you take this plot. Best wait for something easier.”

But we were delighted with our allotment, bramble, fox hole and all, and signed on the dotted line. Annual rent: £35.

The bramble, though, was a bugger. It emerged from the ground in a great tangle of thorned vines. Some of these dived back into the ground,  to emerge at a little distance as new and even more vigorous secondary growths.

Initially I decided to tackle the Bramble Problem in our second year – but the sheer effrontery of the plant in invading our turf and blocking access to at least a third of the ground available to us finally decided me: “I’m going after the bramble,” I told Trish grimly one day. “It’s war.”

I didn’t bother with diplomatic protocol, just took a garden saw and a pair of powerful secateurs to it and over the course of several weekends reduced it to a heap of dismembered vines.

We celebrated my victory with a modest glass or two. The invasion had been repelled. Our territory was our own again.


Our first serious writing efforts are not unlike our allotment when we first clapped eyes on it. It is distinguished most by the ugly excrescences that mar it. Holes in our plots. Inelegancies in our writing.  But because we are serious about mastering our craft, we correct what we can, perhaps take a writing class to master the essential skills, and take an editing pencil, or its digital equivalent, to the most egregious faults in our text.

By the end of this process, we are more or less happy with what we’ve written. We’re ready for the next project to which we will apply all our newly learned skills. This one will be, if not perfect, then at least a damn sight better than the first.


In our second year on the allotment the enemy launched a retaliatory strike. It infiltrated terrain on which we’d already established spring crops of leeks and potatoes, strawberries and tomatoes, working its way underground and emerging at a number of different spots simultaneously, like those First World War spelunkers who drove tunnels under no man’s land in order to attack enemy trenches from below.

No problem. I didn’t need the saw this time, since all the emergent growth was fresh and comparatively thin. I counter attacked with secateurs and after an afternoon of skirmishes, retired triumphant, albeit with arms scored and bleeding from the engagement.

I forget why, but for a couple of weeks we had to leave Bedford. On our return, I discovered that the enemy had taken advantage of our absence. Bramble stems arched high over the rhubarb. Some of the vines were thicker than my thumb. “In two weeks,” I muttered. “Bloody hell.”

All through that summer and autumn I waged relentless battle against the regiments of bramble that marched across the allotment, but by the end of autumn I again believed that I had vanquished the foe.


You return, refreshed to your computer, or your writing pad. You rattle off a page or two. That was easy, you think. I’m really getting the hang of it now.

You complete the story – or the first chapter of what you know is going to be a great novel. It’s time for that celebratory drink. But before you crack the bottle of Dom, you have a second look at the immortal prose you’ve written.

You can’t believe your eyes. Somehow you’ve managed to write scenes that lack a dramatic imperative, the dialogue doesn’t crackle, and as for the cliffhangers – well, the question is, what cliffhangers? There’s no suspense! Ohmigod. These are lessons drummed into you during the course you enrolled on. They were in your head – but somehow they didn’t make it onto the page.

Clearly, mastering this writing business is not as simple as it seems.


We were ready for them in year three, but even so we were surprised by the speed of their initial attack. Again, tendrils of bramble poked their heads up above ground across half the allotment.

But I was ready, and guillotined them with enthusiasm.

We’re in mid-summer now, but I know that, although they’ll keep coming, they lack the energy – and the weaponry – that they exhibited on their earlier incursions.


Incorporating new skills into your arsenal is not an overnight affair. It takes time. And even after you’ve mastered all the skills, you’ll still find the odd weed poking its head up in your prose. But over time, fewer of these appear – and it becomes easier and easier to lop off their heads.

So although the war is never over, with time, you’ll find it easier and easier to send the rascals, when they do have the audacity to return, packing.

Happy writing,


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