This is the fourth year I have attempted the challenge of writing 50,000 words in the month of November. I didn’t decide till the last minute, for several reasons – I was three-quarters way through another book I’m writing, I seemed to have hit a bit of a slough with writing anyway, I had an empty head – empty of any ideas.
I was undecided up until the last moment, the actual day the challenge started, November 1st and then I plunged in. The challenge is supposed to be a new novel, but I only had half-started ones, so I went for an idea I’ve been playing about with, of writing a sort of memoir, sort of family history, but using my imagination to make it more interesting and detailed than if I just tried to remember particular things from my childhood.
The connecting thread running through my stories is the River… the River in actual fact is many rivers, the Cam from my early years in Cambridge, the Mersey, the Irwell and the Medlock from living in Manchester, the Axe from living in Somerset, the Bann and the Bush from visiting Ireland so many times. I wrote quite a few stories about the Cam and my experiences, by it, on it, in it, and also its own story, where it comes from, what it’s like, where it goes and which other rivers join it on its way. I returned to the Cam with memories of it freezing over in years gone by, and from there I explored skating on the Cam and other fenland rivers and waterways, and became intrigued and involved with the story of a party of skaters in 1903 who had a tragic accident.
I started to write about the Irwell in the same way, but I got side-tracked by the actual river, and there is not much about me and my time in Manchester… something to go back to… ditto the Medlock and the Mersey.
I felt sure that since I am now living by the River Axe, a few hundred yards from it in fact, that I would write a lot of my own story; in fact I got involved in someone else’s life story, a man who died nearly sixty years ago, drowned in the Axe while trying to save someone else. While researching him, I came across a distant cousin of his, who also drowned at a similar age but in a river round he other side of the world, the Campaspe in Victoria state, an inland intermittent river… however in my writing the river played a very small part, I was more interested in the life of the man before he sadly died. In turn I became interested in the pub his father owned for a few years, and then the man who built and started the pub thirty years previously – a long way from rivers, and from my own life story!
Of all the rivers I have loved the one which has featured most and in most of my novels has been the River Bush; I wrote about it, but again it was more the factual side of it… and so to with the bann, and then somehow St Brenadn was brought into my mind, St Brendan who is supposed to have gone on an amazing voyage of adventure… and suddenly I was writing about him and his companions and their experiences on the sea in boats, retelling his story. This in turn made me think of Nicholas of Lynn, a priest and monk who also went on great voyages – or so he wrote! Lynn is King’s Lynn, not far from where the skating accident happened…
Somehow I moved away from English rivers to the Mighty Amazon,and my grandfather who went up it to Manaós in the early part of the twentieth century…
What a muddle it all seems looking back… a muddle but if I unpick it and reknit it in a more ordered pattern, maybe I might make something out of it all!
- the Cam, in it, on it, by it
- the Cam its composition and history and geography
- skating on the frozen Cam
- tragic skating accident in the Fens in 1903
- the story of the young people before and after the accident
- the Mersey, the Irwell and the Medlock
- the Axe
- Edwin Clogg of Looe, Cornwall
- Edwin Clogg of the Camberwell Hotel, Victoria
- the Camberwell Hotel and George Eastaway
- George Eastaway of Bristol
- Edwin John Clogg
- Arthur Parker the billiard marker
- Arthur Barker the farmer
- David Hoy the ship builder
- The Bush and the Bann
- St Brendan and his voyage
- Nicholas of Lynn and his voyage
- Reginald Matthews and his journey to Manaós
- The Bush and my novels
- coracles and curaghs
- my writng