A storm of writing


The storms that blew out the old year abate as the year turns and the new year creeps in through a veil of gloom.  The day is sunk in a quagmire of mizzle.  Cormorants line the breakwater like mourning sentinels and the lighthouse beacon struggles to breach the murk.  On the beaches at the mouth of the river, a broken forest has rooted.  Whole trees, enormous logs, pieces of furniture and other oddments swept down-river in the storms have come to rest here.  It isn’t long before the beach-combers arrive, picking through the piles for treasures.


I’ve been on a journey.  In the dreaming tide of the year, as the world descended into darkness, I dreamed a new world into being.  Sequestered from the golden drift of the leaves and the filigree of stripped branches, the real world receded.  Everywhere I went, I carried a notebook and a pen with turquoise ink, like talismans.  Words spilled out, without thought, without preparation: a storm of words.


I was visited by an apparition: a teenage me at my aunt’s house in the country, scribbling stories in a blue exercise book about a woman who saw lights in the fields at night.  Back then, I loved writing.  There was no agenda.  I didn’t have a computer.  I wrote everything longhand and didn’t imagine I would ever have something published.  Over time, that naïve joy dissipated as I strove to achieve something with my writing.  As I fulfilled some of my goals, it became less like joy and more like work.  Last year creativity was a battle and my novel in progress was one of its casualties.


But during my Arvon week at Lumb Bank, something was re-kindled amid hills swathed in mist.  Afterwards, things seemed to shift.    I kept asking myself the questions my tutors Emylia Hall and Patrick Neate asked me: Which part of this book am I enjoying writing the most? Why do I write? How do I want my writing to be viewed?  I was energised by Ray Bradbury’s book Zen in the art of writing, in which his delight in writing is infectious and who told me to write, not think.   I thought of Tash Aw, guest author at Arvon, who said he writes every one of his huge books longhand.  And suddenly, I took up notebook and pen and soared.


When things got tough, my mantra was this: ‘It’s okay, at this point I’m just telling myself the story.  It doesn’t have to be great, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work, I’m just telling it to me.’  And there was that teenage girl scribbling in her blue notebook, reminding me how writing used to be.  Two months on, I’d finished my first draft of 80,000 words.


I’ve been on a journey, a journey back to writing, back to the writer I once was.  I found peace in the scratch of ink on paper and joy in the conjuring of a world.  This is the magic of writing.  And as the honing tide sweeps in, it’s time for a little word-combing, sifting through the leavings of the storm until I find the treasures.


My short story, Lightning Flowers, the tale of a woman whose life changes when she’s struck by lightning, was published in Issue 5 of Firewords Quarterly in October.  You can buy a copy at http://www.firewords.co.uk/shop/issue5/

Through the fog


We need a voice to call across the water, to warn ships…a voice like all of time and all of the fog that ever was:…a voice  that is like an empty bed beside you all night long, and like an empty house when you open the door, and like trees in autumn with no leaves.   A sound like the birds flying south, crying, and a sound like November wind and the sea on the hard, cold shore.  I’ll make a sound that’s so alone that no one can miss it, that whoever hears it will weep in their souls…’ The Fog Horn – Ray Bradbury


At the end of the north pier, where the river transforms into the sea, the fog horn dwells.  Housed in a squat, brown lighthouse on the pier that took more than fifty years to build because the waves kept breaking it down, beyond the Black Midden rocks where so many ships saw their end; there the fog horn dwells.  At night, I can hear its moan, seeping in the windows. That deep, melancholy howl is one of my favourite sounds in the world.  Sometimes, I hear it in daylight, if the air is quiet, often accompanied by the honk of ships’ horns.  But it’s a sound that really belongs to the night, when it speaks to the loneliness within us all.


The world is a softer, more mysterious place when it is wreathed in fog.  Fog blurs the landscape round the edges.  It makes the air feel hushed.  The world around us is altered or no longer there.  In the park, as others sleep, we walk mist-blurred paths, lit by fog shrouded lamps.  The river is gone, everything south of it lost in a foggy haze.  Before work, I’m alone in another park.  To the pond, where the trees are damp and laden with dewy spiders webs.  Canada Geese and mallards float lazily, as though the fog makes them slower.  Beyond, the distant trees blend into the horizon, the buildings behind them invisible.  Fog is not unusual here, where it rolls straight off the north sea.  A drenching, gossamer fret that leaves droplets on the skin and a freshness in the air.  The week before last, the fog barely lifted.


Fog is perfect for tales of mystery and suspense.  It distorts and bewilders.  It cloaks dastardly deeds or monstrous creatures.  Its mystery lies in what it might conceal.  Until recently, my favourite fog fiction was the 1980 movie The Fog, in which a town’s history comes back to haunt it.  I love the movie probably more for its atmosphere than its story.  But then I discovered Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Fog Horn, with its conjuring of the ancient mysteries of the deep and the aching loneliness of the horn that calls to it.


Fog is really nothing more than droplets of water suspended in the air.  Yet the science does no justice to the wonder of experiencing it and the emotions it evokes in us.  Where I feel delight, others feel fear.  The word ‘fog’ is synonymous with confusion and gloom and murky evocations of Victorian London would not be the same without descriptions of the smog caused by a lethal mixture of soot and fog.  But usually, fog is transient.  Just like that, the fog is gone and the world is no longer enchanted.  We’ve come through the fog and everything is clear once more.