Quite often when we have nothing to do, usually if it’s a nice day, we go out without any clear destination and just see where we end up; sometimes it’s a town or village we have noticed a sign for as we whizz to somewhere else, sometimes it’s following a road or lane we’ve noticed, or sometimes it’s somewhere we’ve heard of but never been. Armed with our cameras and sometimes but not always a map, we set off, never knowing what we are going to find. Sometimes it’s a treasure of a place and we return again and again, sometimes it might not in itself be interesting but there is something there, a church, a shop, a river, a bridge, a teashop… And sometimes it is just utterly dull! We wander around, wittering to each other, taking photos of not very interesting things, and find the teashop closed, or closed down… It doesn’t matter, it was still an adventure, we still witter and laugh and go home and have a cup of tea there.
My writing is a bit like that; usually I have a general idea of where I’m going, sometimes I have quite a clear route, but mostly I just bumble along and see what happens and what I discover along the way. Like going to a real place for the first time, I don’t always write the most direct route, sometimes I get lost, sometimes I go round in circles or take unnecessary diversions. Sometimes I get so lost I give up – but maybe return another time. When I have completed my writing journey, then it is like me going back to a place I have been to once; I revisit the journey and refine it and take a more direct, interesting, pleasing or beautiful route. I do confess that sometimes I abandon the writing trip altogether, and my work festers away until I find it and have no idea why I wrote it, and actually get rid of it – but even then, a little idea might remain to be travelled another time.
When I started the National Novel Writing Month this year, seventeen days ago, it was one of those wandering writing journeys and I had no clear idea where I was going. The general direction was an autobiographical/ memoir type piece of work – with a target of 50,000 words. I did it by attaching my memories to rivers I have known and loved, and there have been a lot of them… I was researching the times when the River Cam and the Fens near Cambridge froze, which was a common occurrence in former times; most people had skates and everyone looked forward to going out and skating on the frozen rivers and flooded fields.
I came across a terrible story from 1903, about a party of young people, quite wealthy young people, the son and daughter of a colliery manager, and the son of a wealthy farmer; they had gone out skating in the January and somehow had skated onto thinner ice. The brother, sister and farmer’s son fell through the ice… there is a whole story attached to it and although for the purpose of the writing month I am just exploring the factual side, I know I’m going to come back to it later and write it again, creatively, changing and tweaking the story to fictionalise it… They were skating on thin ice, I seem to be with the writing challenge this year, but I hope my future story will be more secure!