Writing

The thing I decided at the time I started writing – maybe 5 years ago – was that I wanted to take a long time to do it, maybe a decade or so, and try and do something which fitted with my life rather than shoe-horning it in and not enjoying the process of writing.

I’ve already written about 10,000 words, but on re-reading I’ve realised how much I want to change both in terms of writing style but also in plot.

This year has given me a few things that I think will help push this long, slow project along a bit. Firstly, writing is a bloody marvellous thing to do when there’s no TV and you can’t be arsed with the internet. Second, I’ve come to realise that writing about real(ish) places helps hugely. Thirdly, I want to write – fictionally – about being here. Palmer – my main protagonist – is a man living in the middle of nowhere in a tin shack miles from anywhere. This is obviously me reflecting myself. But Palmer is also a man running from a dark, frightening previous life. This isn’t me, at all…

So…this is all about improvising around the edges. Fiddling with the truth is inevitable, and hugely fun, and having a real world vision of the place or feeling or person that you’re writing about provides a really strong foundation – and seems to help with the odd moment of writers block too..

Anyway. Here’s a small segment from near the beginning – about Chapter 3 or so. It’s..a work in progress…

Entropy and erosion. A slow, ceaseless caress. A drop of water here, a tiny blast of wind pressure there. An endless, slow, inexorable slide towards nothingness.

You don’t understand either until you live outside The City.

When I first arrived at the hut ten long years ago, I’d spent so long surrounded by plastic and metal, so long in the bright halogen glow that I assumed anything made by man was infallible, untouchable. The first moment I unbolted the window storm covers – and saw the thin shaft of light piercing the gloom and picking out motes of decades-old dust – only then did I start to understand what years of slow, dripping, molecular level decay can do. Every wood surface in the house had a thick white sheen of mould. A dripping tap had burned a hole into a plastic washing up bowl. Outside the house, window sills were cracked and bent, the ceaseless seasons pushing backwards and forwards like a dentist trying to extract a stubborn tooth.

It took me three long, hard summers working on the house to slowly pull it back from the brink, but still – as I walk up the path with Lang behind me – I see endless things that need work. The whole thing is a battle – a battle I once resented but slowly over the years have come to love. This is my sink, my way of forgetting.

The hut is small and simple. The outside is corrugated iron painted dark green, punctuated by sash windows which look out onto the large garden and beyond that, the sea. Inside are four rooms of weathered, dark wood. The largest – where I spend much of my time – takes up half of the space of the whole house. It lies along the front of the house, a long space with my workshop at one end, a battered grand piano in the far corner and the old range dominating the back wall. At the sea end I have installed a large glass door which takes up the whole wall.

Lang pauses as he enters the low doorway and looks around him at the main living room, his face unreadable. I gesture to one of the sofas, a low antique with a broken spring, and go to the range to make coffee. Instead, Lang walks slowly around the room, looking at my possessions, and then stops by the sea window. He pauses for a long moment, looking down the valley and beyond, outwards to the grey mass of sea. On the left is Gull Rock, a long, low alligator-shaped headland which stretches out into the mist. The tide is in now, and only when it is low can humans reach the head of the Rock, a pericline of folded rock with a sea-cave weathered out at the centre.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” he asks, without turning from the window. I do mind, but outside the rain has started again and we need to talk.

“Go ahead” I say, pouring steaming coffee into two mugs and carrying them over to a low table which sits in front of the sofa. I sit in the lounge chair opposite. Lang inhales, and a thin wisp of smoke curls upwards in the bright valley light. He stands for a further moment and then turns, walking back and settling heavily into the sofa. I push a saucer which will serve as an ashtray over to him, and he leans forwards to tap the cigarette against the edge. The bright light from the window accents his sharp features against the darkness of the room. His hand is shaking and suddenly he looks much older than before.

“Palmer. Christ. Look, I’m risking a lot by being here” he starts, his voice shaking now, too. Even though it has been a decade since I last saw him, Lang and I go back a long way and I see for the first time that he is genuinely scared of something.

“The City is bad now. Really bad. Monitoring is extreme. Curfews. Checkpoints. People disappearing. When you were there it was only just beginning but now…” he tails off, and I cast my mind back ten long years – back to the night I ran, leaving it all behind. I remember looking back out of the car at the road and seeing the streetlights receding behind me. In front there was nothing, just blackness and an unknown, solitary future stretching out. I’d felt sad then, lonely. The City was all I’d really known, and it had been the central focus for everything: building the corporation, my marriage, and the night when it all came crashing down. Leaving it behind felt like what it was – running away – but I didn’t feel jubilation or excitement at the future, just a low, cold dread.

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