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Saturday, 13 September 2014

Sleeping Under the Stars above Ullswater


Just now an outing to the countryside is a mixed delight. Our trip to the Lake District last weekend exposed us to some gorgeous late summer weather, some of our country’s most beautiful scenery, and gave us one last chance to sleep under the stars before autumn closes in. On the other hand, it was a disruption to my current writing routine, and the truth is that at this moment a part of me resents anything that tears my mind away from the job in hand. I have reached the stage when this current book is all suspended in my mind like a huge, unwieldy blob of jelly, supported here and there by slender certainties, its ultimate viability still shrouded in doubt.

Did I just write that? Very well, then; I wrote it. Maintaining a grip on all parts of a narrative – and I am now 70,000 words into this one - requires a mental dexterity that does indeed stretch your abilities as a writer and puts unusual demands on your intellect. Within a week or ten days I will have reached the end of the story I’m putting together. The first draft will be done. That gives me four or five weeks in which to liaise with the subject – the guy I’m ghosting for – and make sure that we have recorded everything that belongs in the story, that it all makes sense, that the characters seem real, and that the tone and voice are as they ought to be. Voice is quite an issue in this book: I am dealing with a guy who operated almost as a pirate, certainly a buccaneer – in commercial fishing, in treasure-hunting, in shipping, and in black-market oil trading; and he smuggled dope, did time in jail, made millions and surrendered millions in order to buy his freedom. So, in writing in the first person, I am having to develop a voice which suggests the worldliness, the scepticism, the particular wit that I hear every time I talk to this guy on the phone. I realise – because he tells me it is so – that I am getting there in these later chapters. Hey, he says, you’re writing it the way I see it. My task, when we get to the end and start revising, will be to go back and make sure that that is true right from the beginning.

However, the Lake District….

We drove to Glenridding, at the southern end of Ullswater, and hiked up to Angle Tarn. There we unpacked our steaks, our red wine and potato salad, laid out our beds and made supper as the sun went down.


It was a chilly night, without any wind, the landscape illuminated by a moon that was one day short of being full. In the morning there was ice on our packs. On the lake a mist had formed, a mist which soon caught a faint breeze and swathed the adjoining hill.  


We brewed coffee, shouldered our packs and set off on high walk that would take us back to Glenridding for lunchtime. Along the way we came to the spectacular pass which connects Windermere with Ullswater.


It’s no good: I cannot summon up the right kind of poetic language to describe, adequately, a glorious hike. In twenty minutes from now I’ll be writing words designed to spoken out of the side of the mouth – about cops, and prison cells, and briefcases full of dollar bills, about guns being dismantled and hidden under the door panels of a getaway car. I think I’m resigned to leaving the pictures to do the work for me.


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