It’s not a secret that the past year has not been kind to my writing. Yes, successive lockdowns have kept us at home and you would have thought that writers would be having their most productive year so far. But things do not work like that. Not at all.
As a writer, I need a clear, uncluttered mind deprived of external worries and anxieties. I am an indie writer and publisher, which means that I do not get advances and I pay for everything (websites, printing of books, promotion, market stalls, etc.)
It comes as no surprise that the past year has brought many obstacles and upheavals into our lives, and this has brutally disrupted my creative process. Back in January, I had made an important decision about my professional life and just as lockdown came into effect, I had just found the perfect balance and was looking forward to an exciting and productive spring and summer season full of events, explorations and projects. Everything came crashing down.
Still, with a lot of will power, I managed to make some kind of progress on The Right Place here and there over the summer months. But oh, how excruciatingly slow it all was!
Being stuck in the house and restricted to our local area on Portland hasn’t been ideal either: I moved to Dorset four years ago in order to write books inspired by the landscape, atmosphere and history of the county. Not being able to actually explore the hills and paths of deepest Dorset and soak up the atmosphere of the county’s countryside has really made writing difficult. Many times, I have felt defeated and unable to carry on with the book. Was it something worth pursuing anyway? After all, did it really matter?
I am still fighting every day to convince myself that completing the book and getting it publish is worth it. I have plans for at least two other novels, hopefully more, and writing novels is indeed my favourite job in the whole world. But, if I am being honest, spending hours writing books doesn’t pay the bills…
So I have plans for later in the year, including starting a “proper” online shop for my published books and also for the pre-loved, vintage and rare books I have to sell, but the development of this project will depend on what’s happening with the day job. So everything is up in the air.
Still, shops deemed “non-essential” are reopening next week – and that includes our unit at The Customs House in West Bay, and there is a glimpse of hope for a few events to go ahead over the summer… More on that nearer the time!
The good news though is that we now can start exploring the Dorset countryside again, and it feels marvellous!
Yesterday, we headed to a place which I’ve been meaning to explore for a while, the area beyond Eggardon Hill around West Milton and Powerstock.
Now, if you read this blog regularly (?), you'd know that I love a good holloway (here's an excellent blog by The Dorset Rambler about holloways) as much as the writers Geoffrey Household (author of Rogue Male) and Robert Mcfarlane. The holloway which will feature in my fourth novel is Hell Lane in Symondsbury near Bridport.
Yesterday, we walked along another sunken path, the hollow lane which travels north from West Milton. According to Louise Hodgson's Secret Places of West Dorset, this particular holloway is haunted by a funeral cortege "said to wind its ghastly way along this age-old track, lighting the track with sepulchral glow, seen only by night creatures."
We didn't encounter any ghostly funeral cortege but did have to stand aside in the narrow lane to let a noisy group of scrambler bikes pass (completely spoiling the utter peacefulness of the area).
This really is the deep Dorset countryside: an ancient, atmospheric, unique place with lush greenery and unspoilt villages. The landscape does possess the edge of a pre-Christian world and the otherworldly beauty of some kind of fantastical kingdom. I was looking for an escape from the pandemic and this walk definitely did the trick.
Today, the Arcane/ArtPix team was back at The Customs House in West Bay, Dorset, to prepare our unit for the Grand Reopening on Monday 12th April!
Read all about it HERE!
We are making the most of this Bank Holiday (and in general of the two-week half-term) to take stock and think about the future for us at ArtPix/Arcane Towers...
Personally, I have been preparing a few books to put into our unit at The Customs House in West Bay (it reopens on 12th April, and we are going there on Wednesday to sort things out and restock) and I am also about to get started again on The Right Place (each time I think I'm going to have a good writing spell, something happens and I cannot sit down to write).
If you head to the Arcane Publishing website, you will see that we have a spring sale on on both our novels HERE.
I am still waiting to see what is going to happen with Covid and the day job to decide whether I can start building my online bookshop. I probably won't know until August/September. I'm learning to be even more patient than I was!
In the meantime, over the next two weeks, I will try and get out into the Dorset countryside more, now that we are allowed to go beyond our immediate local area!
Yesterday, we stayed local to avoid the crowds around Dorset and headed to the ridgeway above Weymouth. It was very peaceful...
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!
After six weeks away from the manuscript of my third novel, The Right Place, I am slowly getting back to my first draft. I am still not sure how long I have before I have to stop again but I will try to make the most of the next few weeks. I have given up changing my schedules for the book as other things such as earning money need to take priority over the books in those days of global pandemic. So I am not putting any pressure on myself anymore to complete the book and it will be published whenever it is possible.
The Arcane/ArtPix HQ is always quiet over the Xmas holidays, as we never celebrate Xmas or The New Year.
We always keep this time to rest, sleep, walk, reflect and make plans for the months ahead - this year, obviously, things have been slightly different as we cannot plan anything...
On Thursday, we were lucky enough to enjoy my favourite kind of weather: cold and crisp but sunny and a gloriously blue sky.
So we jumped in our red car and headed to the Isle of Purbeck and more precisely to the Studland and Godlingston Heath Nature Reserve for some peace and quiet away from the horrid news. It was just fabulous.
The Agglestone Rock is perched slap bang in the middle of the nature reserve - our very own Dorset Hanging Rock, complete with mythological/folk story: also nicknamed The Devil's Anvil, the rock is supposed to have been hurled by the Devil from the Needles on the Isle of Wight - its target not very clear: Corfe Castle, Salisbury or Binton Abbey in Wool?
From the rock, you get a stunning view over Poole, Bournemouth, Brownsea Island and the ocean... You can also catch a glimpse of the white cliffs and The Needles on the Isle of Wight.
The village of Studland is simply beautiful and is really worth a gander...
It has a special atmosphere - it is a secluded place at ease with its wealth and surrounding beauty.
We even found a (closed) second-hand bookshop: what wouldn't we give to take over the building and turn it into our Arcane/ArtPix shop/venue! It would be the perfect location! I am a bit jealous...
We will go back to Godlingston Heath in the Spring, as there are many walks to do in this superb corner of Dorset.
Since March, I have read a few books but probably not as many as I could have.
I always try and read the books both for pleasure, but I cannot help to keep my author/writer's hat on - I keep noticing things here and there, and, most importantly, I LEARN from what I read to improve my own writing.
This is not a review blog, just a quick recap of the books which have kept me going during these challenging months.
Back in March, I started with a challenge: Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, which I chose because of its period (19th century) and its location (New Zealand, a place I'd like to know more about). If this novel is a massive writing achievement (the prose could have been written by a Victorian author, the sprawling scope of the story was quite mind-blowing and the amount of research necessary to write this book is astounding), I am sorry to say that I found it confusing and overblown at times. The astrological elements left me cold, the complicated structure and length (at over 900 pages) spoilt the experience for me somehow and, in the end, I am ashamed to say that I didn't find it enjoyable at all - and I struggled to finish it.
I followed up with yet another Victorian-era Gothic novel, Sarah Perry's much more digestible The Essex Serpent.
I have added some 1920s humour with two of E.F.Benson's Mapp and Lucia series (they are light and delicious!).
I have a whole pile of them waiting for me to pick them up!
I love the Cormoran Strike series and loved the latest in the series, Troubled Blood, in which Strike and Robin deal with a cold case from the 70s. Utterly addictive!
Also by J.K Rowling (but published under her real name), The Casual Vacancy, her only standalone novel. It is excellent, cruel and perfectly executed. It really digs deep into the horrible mediocrity and grotesque quality of most people's lives, and every single character is horrible, adults and teenagers alike. I really, really enjoyed it.
A little bit of folk-horror is always welcome, and I really found inspiration in the fascinating stories gathered by Candia and Tony McKormack (founders of the band Inkubus Sukkubus) in their book/CD Tales of Witchcraft and Wonder.
I also admired Andrew Michael Hurley's succinct prose in his very dark tale Starve Acre, a novel at the same time rather short yet full of layers and meaning.
I have been re-reading Geoffrey Household's iconic West-Dorset based Rogue Male for a little project I'd like to complete in 2021... Hopefully, more on that later in the year.
I have been reading Agatha Christie's books since the age of ten. During Lockdown, I have been diving in and out of my Agatha Christie complete collected works published in the 70s by Heron Books.
I always discover something new each time I re-read a story!
Finally, I have just started Roger Deakin's Waterlog, and I already adore it, as I did his other two books: Notes from Walnut Tree Farm and Wildwood.
I am still waiting to hear whether I will be working in the next few weeks.
I haven't worked on The Right Place for weeks now, but will pick up my first draft as soon as possible, as I am determined not to give up on it. It will depend on the work situation... Watch this space!
Arcane Publishing is still in hibernation until mid-February at the earliest. As I cannot plan anything, I believe that it is the best way to deal with the current uncertainty. More news as I get it.
Things are growing more and more difficult in those challenging times...
I haven't made any progress on The Right Place lately because of all the anxiety caused by the current situation (virus/Brexit). Unfortunately, in 2021, I have to change direction and will not be able to prioritise my writing. This makes me sad and feel a bit inadequate, but that's the way it is. I won't give up, though, and I hope to publish The Right Place at some point in the next two/three years.
I went to the indie bookshop in Bridport and bought three of the books on my "to buy" list (which is very, very long). It includes the only non-fiction writers I like, the wonderful Robert Mcfarlane and Roger Deakin.
I have already read Andrew Michael Hurley's Starve Acre, a fantastically dark novel which astonished me by its minimal, sparse yet incredibly effective prose.
Sometimes, when we need a blast of fresh air but don't want to drive too far from the house, we just head to Portland Bill for a quick walk.
Yesterday, we noticed some new (and most welcome!) occupants in one of the fields just before you get to the Bill: a lively herd of woolly alpacas! They were very curious and incredibly comical...
We'll go back to see them over the holidays as we do need a lot of cheering up in these gloomy times!
Over the next three weeks, I will be trying to complete an important section of The Right Place, before having to put the book on ice for a while whilst I earn some much needed money.
I hope to pick up my pen - or rather keyboard - in late February for a bit, but because of the pandemic I have now accepted that I will not publish in early 2022 as planned... Such is life...
I think therefore I write.
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