Sunday, 25 September 2011
I’m receiving blogs from exotic places, most recently from the Scottish PEN conference in Belgrade. Of course a place is only exotic before it has attained the contempt that comes with familiarity. And then familiar places, once unvisited for a certain period of time, offer us the comfort of the same familiarity when we return to them, and perhaps if we’re lucky a renewed spark of exoticism.
This comes to you from Glenuig in Moidart. Moidart seems exotic to me again, perhaps because of the mist, and comforting because I am visiting an old friend for her BIG BIRTHDAY (mentioning no numbers) in a place I haven’t visited for some time. So for a short period I can enjoy both feelings at once. My eyes are instantly rested, no longer gazing at the horizontals and verticals of Glasgow City but at the rocks and mountains and all the trees, greenery and early autumn singhed-ness of open, late-September northern countryside. The only straight line is the horizon and, due to the weather, even that’s a bit fuzzy.
Directly in front of me the sea is silver, pewter to my left and on the right a vibrant blue. The wind is blowing and the rain clouds moving fast, pursued by openings onto the great blue yonder. Patches of yellow sunlight appear momentarily on the tops of islands, or glow in the curve of sandy bays. Unfortunately I’ve parked my little van/office in the lea of a rocky outcrop and it’s cold and those sunny highlights are yet to hit me. A lone seagull appeared from nowhere when I threw my crust onto the beach and there are only a couple of gannets circling and plunging off in the distance, their white backs luminous in the intrepid sun.
Today, in contrast to all this, I’d like to write about Lenny, the girl from Mavis’s Shoe, because I want to write a sequel for her and have no less than three possible plots and can’t decide which one to go for. I’m here, in addition to celebrating my friend’s spectacular age, specifically to make that decision which for some reason can’t be made in the hubbub of normal life. I’m also here precisely because what I need to think about is so completely different from my surroundings. Sometimes such contrasts can help, but often have unforeseen consequences.
Once upon a time, while baking on a balcony in the French sun, I wrote a chapter about tattie-howking in a heavy Scottish mist. When I read it later, back in Blighty, I couldn’t gauge its authenticity because despite everything being drippy and cold on the page, I still re-experienced the heat of the Mediterranean. Lucky me. I’ll dig it out once winter sets in and the heating’s on the blink again.
But I digress. Or prevaricate. Or maybe I’m just cold.
Sometimes the ingredients of novels are a little strange. Occasionally people ask how I went about writing Mavis’s Shoe and I usually talk about the research, who I interviewed, how I tracked down records and so on, but never mention the long drives to exotic/familiar places in poisonously fumy vans, the healthy diet I often impose on myself while sitting there trying to find focus, or the arguments I have in my head to give up and find the nearest sweetshop or heater.
And still I digress because really I want someone else to make this decision about the sequel, or at least to help. I can’t tell you what the three plots are, of course, because that would break the spell. That’s another ingredient in the cake mix of novel-writing, arguably, and one which I also usually fail to mention because I don’t want anyone to think I’m whacky when actually, as anyone who’s read Mavis’s Shoe will know, I’m keen of portraying the realities of any situation.
So, any ideas on what Lenny does next? Or later?