the characters in your novel appear more real than the people around you and you eat solitary meals deep in thought on what will happen when character A meets character B unexpectedly and what character X would do in situation Y to be consistent; what is the perfect word to describe the sound of gravel crunching under your feet crossing that plateau or the colour of the water in that river at dawn or – then it is time to take a deep breath, surface and exhale and look around. Put down the pin board and scene sequence cards, close the computer or the writing pad and let it all wash away for a few days and be truly at one with those around you. Oh and write that three weeks overdue blog! Tomorrow is a weekend writing workshop, so it has been a blessed relief to have ‘done nothing on the novel’ [those dreaded words] since Tuesday. Deep breath…
In May/June I plan to walk the Camino section between Pamplona and Leon, thereby completing my journey from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago over the last two years. Echoing in my mind is the editor’s question of what motivates people to undertake these long solitary walks along the old pilgrimage trails, especially when I told her that my [probably crazy] next idea is to walk from Canterbury to Rome, the old Via Francigena. I could only reply that my motives mirror those of my hero in my novel-in-progress: redemption, forgiveness, reflection alone in silence and, of course, writing and the sheer challenge of putting one foot after the other for days and weeks on end. Plus meeting intriguing characters who come and go and who all have their own stories which we writers plunder for future use. It is difficult to put into words, but perhaps a key motive is that it forces me to see and to experience everything at a slower pace. Nothing happens fast and my senses operate in ways they never do in city daily life.
An older woman is sitting in an old armchair alone and remembering her life, especially the secret drawer in her grandfather’s desk. her voice is reflective of a life of feeling that there was always something just out of her reach, like the secret drawer itself.
The piece was originally performed as a monologue in local theatre.
Grandfather’s desk, dark wood glistening. Pen scratching, paper rustling on a desk in a room forbidden to enter; shallow breathing at the closed door, alert to slip away. Creaking chair, click of a turning key, a sigh behind the door, always closed.
One day open enough for little hands, little face to make a space, a crack to gaze at lamp glow -such green!-curtains dark shadows, books looming above, cigar smoke catching my throat.
Coming back. Small heart beating down the passageway, easing the door, creeping over carpet one foot carefully placed in front of the other. Touching wood, paper, pens, ink bottle, hardly daring to breathe, curtains trembling behind me. Whispers.
Tingling, shivering, running away.
Drawn back that summer day, flies buzzing, dying at the window. Opening drawers trance-like, fingers hesitating, stopping, one drawer different, not exactly flush, not perfect in that perfect desk. Fingers softly press a wooden panel to show a tiny key in a tiny lock in a tiny secret drawer. Breathing harsher, heart pounding, too scared to open the drawer, to be found.
Piano music in the drawing room, chair hard and square against my legs, fire crackling and popping, embers into ash, children dozing from heavy Sunday lunch. Slipping away, quiet down the passageway, remembering. Grandfather’s study abandoned now, desk gathering dust, motes in shadowed light. Books hazy in autumn’s fade, cigar smoke a faint memory. Warm wood, cool metal keys, lamplight splashing emerald bright on my rings; fingers bigger, stronger on the tiny key in the tiny drawer. Leather chair creaking, fingers heavy on the key. Car horn sudden, loud. Children’s voices calling, steps running, quickly the key, hands shaking, sweating, fumbling almost open the drawer and a glimpse of – what? Reaching. Steps, voices closer, sweep shut the tiny drawer. Must see, but not now.
Winter light washing through me, bone chill damp in the house. Walking stick echoes on the tiled floors, dust and damp strong in my throat. Mildew walls, study door open, curtains limply falling, books cracked and musty. Alone. No music, no voices, no hurrying steps. A smell of silence. Crooked hands tracing dust, rotting papers, small spider watching on the lamp, broken now. Stiff, clumsy fingers on the key, turn the tiny rusty key, open the tiny secret drawer.
The last two years I have walked from Leon to Santiago and from Le Puy en Velay to Pamplona, sections of the Camino, Compostella, Chemin de Saint Jacques, whichever name you prefer, keeping a daily journal and then turning the observations into a story. This is the spine of my current novel in progress to which I have referred in previous posts. It is a story of love and death, of mysteries and secrets, set on the Camino in contemporary times. Why the Camino? Not for religious reasons, ‘spiritual’ would be a better term, but because it is a path for people undertaking arduous physical journeys and seeking something [an epiphany?] beyond ourselves. A meaning, a purpose, an explanation or simply a clearer understanding of ourselves and of what is important for us. A metaphor for life’s journey I guess. What a perfect setting, on a path 1000 years old where every stone and step holds a story and where millions of pilgrims have trod before you. Did I have an epiphany? Yes, two in fact: understanding that my children and my grandchildren are the most important things in my life [okay, I ‘knew’ this already, now I ‘live’ it] and seeing that I had to clear the rest of my life to make space for writing fiction.
I took my first baby step last Friday with a tiny blog about my writing aspirations and lo, only a few hours later, I received the report on my novel manuscript which I had sent to Writers Victoria for a professional assessment by an independent author/editor. The assessment is very positive and encouraging and so I begin the task of pondering and revising with a light heart. Yes, this sounds all very conceited I know and there is a long way to go, I know; for now I will accept the pat on the back.
Interestingly, I could respond to most of the report with a ‘yes, I felt that but did not know how to improve and now I do’ or ‘okay, I thought it was not working in that scene and you agree and suggest a nice alternative’ or ‘hmm, I wondered re the sequencing there and so do you’. There was one major surprise, which I shall return to here when I have worked it through.
No, not what you may be thinking. Rather, this is my first foray into the world of blogging. Having spent much of my life working with words and ideas, it is time to enter this new [for me] form of sharing and commenting, especially as the ‘hero’ in my work-in-progress novel is an aspiring blogger and novelist so we have art imitating life or, more accurately, life imitating art in my case. Speaking of ‘walking’, this is another great passion and in May I intend to walk the Via Gebennensis from Geneva to Le Puy; last year I walked the Via Podiensis from Le Puy to Pamplona and the year before part of the Camino from Leon to Santiago, setting my novel in the wonderful history and romance of these great traditional pilgrimage paths. Writing and walking as two different quests for meaning and an authentic voice: sounds pretentious I know, so let’s stress the fun of it all. This is why I took early retirement from universities 7 years ago and now have cleared the decks to write and to wander.
No more excuses!
Let us see what happens!