There’s a storm coming our way – in fact, it’s already started – with high winds and sideways rain, the tail end of Hurricane Chris. It’s been twirling away just below the island for most of today, but Lola and I did manage to get a walk in this morning.
I’ve been trying to write something every day now. I’ve been using a self-hypnosis recording at night that seems to be helping me feel confident about my work again. It makes me want to take risks – maybe that’s not the right term…it’s like I’m more willing to see where the work takes me, rather than agonizing over whether it’s any good or not. That’s a big deal for me. I’m a person who doesn’t let go easily. I don’t like to relinquish control, even when logically and intellectually I know there’s no such thing. None of us are in control of anything. Even pursuing the illusion of control is a waste of time and energy. I know this now. I didn’t know it twenty-odd years ago when I published my first novel. I figured if I worked hard enough, pushed myself, really knuckled under and got my nose down to that grindstone… But it’s not a mathematical equation, and you can’t figure it that way. At least, I can’t. I used to think that x amount of effort coupled with y amount of good luck would equal staggering literary success, but it doesn’t. Much of the time, success occurs because of factors beyond my control, serendipity, chance meetings, the friend-of-a-friend.
The truth is, most of the real successes I’ve had occurred when I finally agreed for whatever reason to step away and take my hands off it. It has occurred when I’ve been willing to fling myself into the abyss, not something I do lightly. I’m sure you’ve seen that pretty quote about the person who doesn’t want to leap because she’s afraid she’ll fall; someone says, ‘yes, but what about if you fly?’ My cynicism immediately snarks ‘yes, and what about if you splatter messily on the pavement below in a shower of blood and guts?’ Probably because I’m too old to be a wide-eyed naïf and the idea of shiny happy people holding hands sings to my psyche like fingernails on a chalkboard. Probably because I’ve suffered from clinical depression since I was very young, and that constant, hellish dullness grinding away in my mind has tempered me into a different sort of instrument. Your mileage may vary.
But this book is really starting to take shape now. I have no real outline for it, just a sort of idea of where it will go. I’m letting it unfold organically and find its own way. It’s moved aside a bit from where it started and that’s perfectly fine. That’s how a book shows me it’s real, that it takes on life of its own and charts its own direction. I’ve learned from hard experience: in order for a book to really work, it has to have juice. It has to have an internal integrity that comes from writing only what I know and feel to be true in my heart of hearts – not trying to write what will sell, or what I think people might want. I have to write something that makes me feel, or I can’t expect my putative readers to engage with it. I have to write. I’ve always had to write. I can’t not write. I’ve tried. It’s horrible.
What’s this book about?
A disgraced former policeman, mourning the recent death of his wife, returns to the coastal Newfoundland fishing village of his childhood to sell his late grandfather’s house. But his grandfather isn’t the only set of old bones he has to deal with: when the corpse of a childhood enemy washes up onshore, he finds himself at the center of a murder investigation – one in which he’s the only suspect. Poor Dafydd Furey (that’s his name) is so shell-shocked he doesn’t know if he’s punched, bored, or shot out of a gun. I understand that feeling very well.
It’s the first book I’ve written where the island itself is a character, an actual entity with moods, usually expressed in weather.
We get a lot of weather here, but my God, I love this place. I’m currently reading Tom Morton’s In Shetland: Tales from the Last Bookshop. Of his adopted island he says “This place I’ve found. I’m heart-lost in love for it” and that’s how I feel about my island.
This book – I’m now some 66,000 words in – appeared in my mind late one night in March. I had to get out of bed immediately and jot the idea down before I fell asleep and forgot it. (I’m sure you know how that goes.) I sat writing for two hours and finally crawled back to bed when it was nearly daylight. I was only able to sleep then, when I had it out of me and down in print.
I’m trying to write every day, even if I only write a couple of pages. Most days, I can hardly keep up with it. It’s like taking dictation, like watching a movie in my mind. It’s me showing up to do the work. It’s going somewhere different, the beach or a crowded cafe, or the middle of a field listening to the rustling of yellow summer grasses.
In order to create, I have to be fully in the world, awake to everything. I have to stand knee-deep in the river of life (apologies if that metaphor is a bit twee) and let it soak me. That’s the thing, if you want to be a writer, I think. Or if you already know you are one. You have to take it all in, the good and the bad, the ecstatic and the horrible, the love and the torment in equal measure. You have to.
You have to sit among a field of rustling barley (I think that’s barley) and listen to the sound the wind makes, rushing through it…like being very still so you can hear the sea.