Rock You Like a Hurricane

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.

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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 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.

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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.

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En Plein Air

Writing at beautiful Topsail Beach En Plein Air this morning.

 

Watching the BBC program Escape to the Continent last night with Hubby. The featured couple were looking for a house in the Algarve region of Portugal. I’ve never been to Portugal, although a genetic testing kit Hubby gave me for my 50th birthday confirms that part of me hails from the Iberian Peninsula.

At any rate I wanted to smell the sea air and look over an expanse of blue while I worked. Not precisely Portugal but close enough that I could imagine it. Strange to want to be in Portugal while writing a book set here, on the island, but that’s the way my imagination works. Writing in my journal this morning:

The air outside today is what I imagine the Mediterranean must be like, dry and hot with a persistent breeze. You could almost expect to see fig and olive trees growing outside the window. When I was younger than I am now, certain books used to affect me in a strange way. Reading them, I felt like I’d ingested the story physically, like you would consume a food. It lived in me. Before too long it put out tendrils that wrapped around my insides, and I was part of that story. It became my lived experience. The actual physical world was like a shadow behind it. I lived in the story. The reality of the story, of that universe, overwrote actual reality – if reality was even real, and that’s debatable. I can remember being down Long Shore (n.b: a woods path near Hant’s Harbour, where I grew up) by myself when I was young, maybe 11 or 12. There was something there. Not dangerous, but curious about me…I felt like I might meet it around the next corner. 

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I’ve often felt this presence when I’m alone somewhere. The location doesn’t seem to matter; my engagement with it does. It seems to accompany me throughout my life, for whatever reason. I felt it with me when I was walking in Whitechapel late one October afternoon. The shadows were growing long and I was making my way back to my hotel , down narrow streets little changed since the Victorian era. I’m almost never afraid when I’m alone in an unfamiliar place, unless I have cause to be. On this particular day I’d somehow gotten turned around, and the GPS/satellite maps thingy on my tablet decided to quit. I was alone in a huge city, hungry (low blood sugar always makes me irrational) and scared. I had no idea where I was, or how to get where I needed to go. I noticed a group of people crossing the street and something urged me to go with them, so I did. And there was my hotel, right where I’d left it.

I felt it in Nan’s house, one day when we were going to New Melbourne Sands for a picnic in the camper. I forgot something and had to go back in and get it. Alone in the house, I felt this same benevolent presence in the empty kitchen with its billowing gingham curtains and the humming refrigerator. 

I feel like I want to go to the sea today. Topsail Beach, maybe, with my writing. Something in me wants to feel like I’m somewhere else – the South of France, maybe, or the Algarve. Places I’ve never been except in fictive journeys between the pages of a book. It would be ideal to go among people I don’t know and sit at a cafe table on a beach somewhere. I need a change of scene, and the dust on the fireplace hearth will still be there when I get home…