I started working on what will one day become my third published novel back in 2012.
The themes of the book were a mixture of ideas that had been floating around my head for a while and lines from the PJ Harvey song The Wind. Reading the lyrics and listening to the music, I slowly started to build up a narrative around one of my main characters, the enigmatic Catherine Thorne. Some of the decisions I made about the character's past life were based on the following lines:
She dreamt of children's voices
And torture on the wheel
Patron-Saint of nothing
A woman of the hills
She once was a lady
Of pleasure, and high-born
A lady of the city
Even though we get glimpses of that very different existence as Cathy attempts to keep her past life under wraps, we do not know until very late in the book what exactly it is that she has been doing all this time in New York. Although if I told you that since the inception of the novel the actions of a certain Ghislaine Maxwell have come to light and that their respective occupations involved the same kind of activities, you can now guess why it is that Cathy has elected to work in a rural area under a false name... Nevertheless, Cathy is presented as someone somewhat more flamboyant who has emerged fully-formed from the underworld of a more alternative culture.
This week, I have just finished working on an important scene in which one of the main characters, 14 year-old Kat, discovers that a very special ex-classmate of hers is now on the cover of fashion magazines...
Then a few days ago, I spotted something about British Vogue's April covers which look very, very close to what I had in mind (although I was thinking about something a bit more fierce, more Grace Jones...)
Then also in the media this week is a PHOTO-ESSAY about single dads... This is just perfect timing, as I am trying to define the relationship between Kat and her widowed father Simon. Kat is 14 and lost her mother, whom she just cannot remember, when she was six month old. Even after all this time, Simon just cannot shake off the sense of guilt he feels about the death of his young wife and he still misses her. He also suffers from the side-effects of the anti-depressants he has been taking and these impact his on-off relationship with Oona, the woman who loves him and can't give him up. Simon did struggle a lot to bring up his daughter and actually temporarily gave up for a while - his young daughter spent several years living with her glamorous grandmother. It is only when Kat reached the age of seven that she finally went back to live with her father.
But then Kat was the victim of some horrendous bullying at her school, and this is when Simon rose to the occasion and showed his daughter how much she count really count on him...
We meet them after this very intense moment in their relationship when they are more than ever a tight unit, uprooted from their North London life...
In early January, when I had just started Waterlog by the wonderful Roger Deakin, I had to stop reading in the evening because a teaching assignment took over my life.
Now that I am in the position to start writing and reading again, I have found myself struggling to get on with my own work, and opening the pages of Waterlog once again every evening has come as a relief, especially on days when I cannot find any motivation or enthusiasm for anything (and yes, in my case, the consecutive lockdowns haven't really fuelled a frenzy of creativity, but have rather stifled it).
As I have said before on here, I usually don't read non-fiction, but have found myself being fascinated by Robert Mcfarlane's work and, thanks to him, I am now a big fan of Roger Deakin. I read Waterlog with a pile of little stickers next to me and mark the pages where I find quotable passages, or when I encounter an intriguing place or fascinating character I want to know more about. It is the truly thrilling journey of a man who basically wild-swims his way around the British Isles - and I don't even like swimming... (Read a brilliant review of the book HERE)
Reading Roger Deakin's books is akin to a journey of discovery of nature, literature, lost skills and ways of life. It is also very often humorous - wry observations and deliciously funny little vignettes...
Most of all (and in these days of lockdowns, political and social conservatism and anguish about our liberties and our future), his work pays tribute to the freedom of thinking, moving, creating, getting lost in one's own world and in the natural world on our doorstep (or, such as in Wildwood, another one of his books, in countries far, far away...)
I often wonder what he would have made of our social media-dominated world, with its "curated" spaces and asceptic lifestyles...
It might be that the real rebels are not the urban, trendy crowds, all sucked up in their city consumerism and desperate wish to fit in with their chosen tribe, but the ones who dare to step outside.
The extract below was written in 1999... Imagine now!
Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things. A swimming journey would give me access to that part of our world which, like darkness, mist, woods, high mountains, still retain most mystery. It would allow me a different perspective on the rest of landlocked humanity.
I urge you to read Roger Deakin's books: Waterlog, Wildwood and Notes from Walnut Tree Farm are all superb reads, especially during this lockdown.
You'll feel better for it.
I can't wait to go back to it later tonight...
A biography of Roger Deakin will be published in 2022, penned by writer Patrick Barkham.
I look forward to reading this as soon as I can get my hands on a copy!
I think therefore I write.
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