What a privilege it has been to be in the company of so many writers and teachers of writing at the Great Writing conference, London. As last year, I come away having learned more about this writing life that I've chosen, and where I position myself within it. This time my presentation focussed on the practice of writing, my own writing, in particular how to negotiate the use of multiple perspectives in the novel I'm working on. I don't assume that I have the answers to the challenges this faces and I suppose the verdict will come from readers when One Core Belief is released in February 2017; however, the signs are good. I read from my work in progress and was very, very encouraged by the feedback.
I love London and its surrounds and have drawn a lot of inspiration from the evidences of its past and of its present - what a time to be there with such an historical political/social outcome of the referendum! While I pounded the pavements, buses and Underground exploring its many treasures, there are a couple of moments in particular that I'd like to share here:
Bath - When I was writing my previous novel A Single Breath (published last year) the trip was booked to visit the city of Bath, the setting for the climax of the novel. As it happens, life got in the way and it had to be cancelled, so … research was done using information and virtual tours on the Internet. Even though the novel has been published since, I felt that something was not resolved. I needed to 'be' my character Dana and to see and feel where it was that her significant moment occurred. So this was my chance. As I entered the Baths, I could feel myself trembling with anticipation. I walked where Dana walked, and I sat where she sat - very powerful and emotional. I felt then that I could finally let it go.
Cambridge - Already I'm thinking of the next novel! Not so unusual I believe. Despite my engagement with the current work in progress, I allow myself just little glimpses of what might come next; it's an important incubation period between now and then, as long as it doesn't undermine or interfere with the devotion to the task in hand. However, given that I had to imagine the setting for Dana (above) in the writing of that work, and thinking that some of the the next novel would be set in and around Cambridge University, and the Royal Homeopathic Hospital (former name), this would be my opportunity to position myself where my new, unmet, unrealised people who I will come to love, will walk and talk. So … watch this space.
British Library - Oh wow! The Treasures in the library are treasures indeed: Mozart's notebook (and those of many other musicians); Jane Austen's desk, glasses and hand written copy of Persuasion; Thomas More's Utopia … I'm not even touching the sides. I elected to not use a guide, or an audio - perhaps my loss - but what struck me about the handwritten works of such as these were the scribbles and crossings out - the deletions and replacement of words and musical notations, the raw crafting of works in progress that demonstrated uncertainty, perhaps insecurity, as well as genius. These are poignant reminders that what we are privileged to experience in the final products are the works of those who too may have struggled to find the right words or notes, to have experienced moments of low self-confidence, and whose brilliant, creative moments were composed within the joys and trials of 'ordinary' life. In the Museum of Natural History I learned that when the American naturalist John James Audubon's completed The Birds of America, publishers of his time were not interested in his work; a blow to self-esteem, but he believed in himself and self-published (as did Marcel Proust). Today Audubon's work is the most expensive book in the world.
And my own writing? More scribbles and crossings out, deletions and additions and lots and lots of inspiration.