Many of you will know that we moved from the South of France this year, and ended up in Gloucestershire. What with moving countries, buying a house, selling a house in France, moving schools for my daughters, starting a new job, catching up with all the friends we’ve missed while we were in France and so on, it’s been really hard to fit much writing in this year.
That’s OK. I’ve a new novel on the go and it will be done when it’s done. For me these fallow writing periods are not wasted. Living is a good preparation for writing. Feeling the stresses and anxieties of change and running the gamut of emotions is all useful stuff when it comes to getting inside the heads of characters. I still take notes, catch fleeting inspirations, keep it all for later.
And the shock of the new is something I think all writers need to experience as often as possible. New environments and experiences open our eyes, shake us out of complacency and bring back our close observation of the day-to-day that brings fiction to life by making it ring true.
We now live very close to a canal, and one of the delights of this year has been my daily walks along the towpath. I have loved seeing how it burst into life as spring approached, and meeting the neighbours:
There are a resident pair of swans who began building their nest, eventually laid eggs and then hatched a brood of cygnets. Watching how their behaviour changed, with each other, with the nearby humans and with their cygnets was a daily surprise.
One day as I had turned and was walking home, a kingfisher flew across the towpath in front of me and turned west, up the canal, pausing on every other tree, taking my breath away completely.
In summer the canal was buzzing with life, both animal, human and plant. It was the place the surrounding communities converged on in the evenings to get together and relax.
We had a gentle autumn, with a proliferation of perfect garden spiders’ webs and plume moths .
And as the sun has got lower in the skies, the light has begun to hit the water differently, and the water itself has regular phases during the day – in the morning the canal is still and glassy, but later in the day it shifts, and the reflections become rippled and distorted.
Today is the first of December. It was a frosty morning, but I am noticing too that there are parts of the landscape where the frost doesn’t melt all day.
And today the big surprise was to find one of the shadier stretches of the canal iced over, the frozen reeds in the water fanned out under the surface.
There was a crow, which I’ve not seen here before, perched in the low, bare branches of tree with a flock of black-headed gulls swooping around it, complaining at its presence. The crow was holding her ground and every now and then shouted ‘bugger off’. At least that’s what I imagined she was saying.
And over in the fields across the river, the cows’ breath condensed in the chilly air.
After 14 years in the same place, all of this is new, all of this is different. Noticing these small delights is the food for thought that will bring my next novel to life. So although I barely made a dent in an ambitious target word count for November, I am writing, just not writing.