The Reader’s Gazetteer: A

When I first started thinking about writing this series, I imagined that I’d be ignoring fantasy altogether. I wouldn’t be able to locate Narnia on a map of the world; at least, I couldn’t point to where it should be, so was it worth my while considering the genre at all?

But I realised pretty quickly that dismissing fantasy would rule out one fictional nation that definitely deserves its place in this gazetteer.

I’m talking about Alpennia, from the series by Heather Rose Jones.

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If I’d written a wishlist of all the tropes and themes that I most enjoy reading, and handed my specifications over to an author, I couldn’t have liked the result better than I like this. The series contains nights at the opera, women in breeches, swashbuckling, politics both national and ecclesiastical, relationships between women, and a sensitive portrayal of religious experience. And a fictional state somewhere in Europe. Which is why we’re here.

The worldbuilding is meticulous. Alpennia is made distinctive by physical geography, by history, by religious practice, and, perhaps most obviously, by language. Where some authors would have let matters carry on in assumed French or German, Jones gives Alpennia a language of its own, and it works remarkably well.

How do you get there? How do I get there? Because that’s my main criterion for including a place in this gazetteer. And if getting there had to involve magic, it wouldn’t make the cut.

In Daughter of Mystery, Alpennia’s location is established in relation to Switzerland:

Chalanz was well out of sight around a curve of the hills behind her but in the other direction, to the south, she could see all the way to where the mountains rose, snowcapped, on the southeastern border of Alpennia, guarding the roads to Switzerland and places beyond.

In The Mystic Marriage we get a fix on it from the other direction. Antuniet travels from Heidelberg to Rotenek, the country’s capital, via Basel.

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As it happens, magic in these books might impede travel, but it doesn’t seem to enable it in any meaningful sense. They’re set in the first half of the nineteenth century, and people travel on foot, or horseback, or coach. I imagine that there’s a railway line these days, and perhaps even an airport.

Leaving the realms of fantasy – or, since I’m now turning to Anne of Green Gables, perhaps not – and crossing the Atlantic brings me to Avonlea.

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I suspect that I’ll be writing a lot over the course of this series about how characters enter and leave fictional places, about outsiders and insiders are identified, and about how the established community is set up.

Anne of Green Gables does all of those things within the first few chapters. A typical opening would see the orphan Anne arriving on a train, to be met by Matthew Cuthbert and escorted into Avonlea.

And in fact that’s what happens. But it doesn’t happen until Avonlea has been introduced to us. The novel opens with Mrs Rachel Lynde seeing Matthew leaving Avonlea, and wondering why. It’s a clever move to get the best of both worlds: Avonlea may never have seen anything like Anne, but we can’t understand the significance of that unless we understand a little bit about Avonlea.

In passing, we get a geographical clue:

Mrs Rachel found abundant time to sit for hours at her kitchen window… keeping a sharp eye on the main road that crossed the hollow and wound up the steep red hill beyond. Since Avonlea occupied a little triangular peninsula jutting out into the Gulf of St Lawrence, with water on two sides of it, anybody who went out of it or into it had to pass over that hill road and so run the unseen gauntlet of Mrs Rachel’s all-seeing eye.

Then we follow Matthew out of Avonlea. There’s a little hint of the lyrical descriptive note that the narrative voice shares with Anne, but it’s nothing to what hits the page when we meet Anne herself and she meets Avonlea:

They were on the crest of a hill. The sun had set some time since, but the landscape was still clear in the mellow afterlight. To the west a dark church spire rose up against a marigold sky. Below was a little valley, and beyond a long, gently-rising slope with snug farmsteads scattered along it. From one to another the child’s eyes darted, eager and wistful. At last they lingered on one away to the left, far back from the road, dimly white with blossoming trees in the twilight of the surrounding woods. Over it, in the stainless south-west sky, a great crystal-white star was shining like a lamp of guidance and promise.

This alternation continues throughout the book. Marilla Cuthbert takes over the more prosaic point of view, while Anne keeps the descriptions. (Matthew continues not to say very much.) It’s effective: in the reader’s mind, Avonlea becomes a very beautiful place, but one that’s the creation of a very human community.

How to get there? I refer you to this thoroughly evidenced page matching the locations in the books with real-world settlements. Find your way to Charlottetown, and off you go. Actually, I’m not sure whether, growing up, it ever occurred to me to doubt that Avonlea was real.

Books referred to in this post

Daughter of Mystery, Heather Rose Jones

The Mystic Marriage, Heather Rose Jones

Mother of Souls, Heather Rose Jones

Anne of Green Gables (and, obliquely, much of the rest of the Anne series), L. M. Montgomery

hear the prayer we offer (and the one we don’t)

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I have a rather tiresome cough at the moment, which has made singing in the church choir… interesting. On Sunday I’d got to the point where the singing was mostly OK, but I was paying for it in the spoken bits. I don’t understand the physiology enough to explain why I could force my way through the Gloria (sung) but was having to miss whole chunks of the Creed (said) in order to cough.

Anyway, I suspect nobody in the congregation actually noticed, particularly over the sound of the rain, but I was aware that it must have sounded rather as if I was having theological objections to some of the least controversial bits of the Creed. I coughed through ‘and was buried’, for example, but managed ‘and the Son’, ‘the holy, catholic and apostolic Church’, and ‘the communion of saints’ with no problems at all.

That reminded me of someone I knew at a previous church who refused to say the line about ‘the resurrection of the body’, because she didn’t believe in it, which then reminded me of a story the rector of that church told about a couple whose thoughts about Firmly I believe and truly used to be very audible, because they just stopped singing when they got to a bit they didn’t believe in.

Personally I can do most of Firmly I believe and truly, though I do mentally cross my fingers when I get to ‘and her teachings as his own’.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike a hymn beside theological or moral objections. Clumsy use of language. A melody line that goes too high or too low (I cannot tell manages to be both, for a lot of people), or is simply banal. (Brother, sister, let me serve you, I’m looking at you.)

There are various different ways to deal with the discovery that a hymn you really dislike is coming up next. You could walk out (though you probably won’t). You could sing the bits you agree with and keep your mouth shut for the bits you don’t. You could spend the whole thing looking for cash for the collection. You could rewrite the words on the fly. I’ve used all those tactics except the first one on the second verse of In Christ Alone.

I try to avoid altogether any kind of service where there’s a danger of I vow to thee, my country. I refuse to offer my country ‘the love that asks no question’: that kind of idolatry is how we end up with the mess we’re in now. And Thaxted is a tune that wasn’t written for the human voice, and it shows.

So far, so uncontroversial. Or, I suppose, so predictably controversial. But my own particular peeve is a hymn that’s sung a lot in ordinary Church of England parish churches, particularly during Lent. Father, hear the prayer we offer.

It’s the first verse that annoys me: Not for ease that prayer shall be/But for strength…

The subtext of this hymn is: I could cope with this, if only you would make me stronger. I don’t know much about the life of Love Maria Willis, the writer: it’s quite possible that it wasn’t easy; that she had to put up with a lot and not complain about it. But this – like I vow to thee, my country, in fact – is mixing up the human values of a bygone century with the values of the kingdom of heaven.

I want to ask: what’s wrong with praying for ease? What’s wrong with praying for things to be easier? That prayer may not be answered, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy prayer.

The assumption that there is something wrong with it drives me up the wall. I think it’s picky and prideful; it’s that old human fault of telling God how to fix things.

What would happen if, rather than assuming that we aren’t strong enough, we entertained the possibility that actually, this situation is intolerable?

I know.

But we worship one whose strength was made perfect in weakness, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. God does not tell us to put up and shut up, but Come unto me, ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Our insistence on our own strength is risible in the face of that almighty understanding.

No, give me the steep and rugged pathways and the green pastures. To be fair, the rest of the hymn does; it’s just the first verse that I object to.

Fortunately, it’s easily fixed:

Father, hear the prayer we offer:
Both for ease that prayer shall be,
And for strength that we may ever
Live our lives rejoicingly.

New blog series: The Reader’s Gazetteer

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Earlier this week I updated my ‘About’ page to add a little about what visitors can expect to find on this site. I wrote that the blog is largely about ‘other people’s books, travel, and the writing process’.

This blog series is going to deal with two of those things. I’m going to do an abedecedarium – an A to, I hope, Z of fictional places in other people’s books, and speculate as to how one might find them if they were real. Ever since my father read me The Prisoner of Zenda I’ve been fascinated by places that sound as if they might exist, but don’t, by books that convince me that I could take a train or just walk over the border into somewhere that’s only real in the author’s head, and now mine.

How am I going to choose these places? It’s going to come down to these two questions:

Do I believe in the place? Do geography and politics seem plausible?

Do I believe that I, a normal human being with no powers more sophisticated than being able to hold a map the right way up and knowing how to use the Deutsche Bahn app, could get to the place?

I am not going to be fussy about genre. This series will range across detective stories, fanfiction, teen books, thrillers, classics, possibly even the occasional school story. Sci-fi and fantasy are less likely to be included, for obvious reasons: if I need a spaceship to get there, it’s not going in. Portal fantasy is out, as well. With (at time of planning) one honourable exception.

I am restricting myself to textual canons, though I’m throwing in Tintin for old times’ sake. Much as I adore The Merry Widow, you will not find Pontevedro here (or even Marsovia, as the first English translation had it). Nor am I including the deliberately silly. Barataria and Pfennig-Halbfennig would be out anyway under the ‘book canons’ rule, but you also won’t find Norman Hunter’s Kumdown Upwardz, Gadzooks, or Urgburg-under-Ug. (Which is a pity, because it’s a bit of a struggle to find fictional places beginning with U.)

Inevitably, I will miss some places, and it will probably be because I haven’t read their books. If it turns out that one of them is your favourite, I apologise. I’ll be inviting people to add their own recommendations in comments every week.

I’ll be sharing pictures of the books, and maps where they have them, and I’ll be talking about what makes me believe in the place. I’ll probably also wander onto byways involving my own travels in real places, and my own travails coming up with fictional ones.

Want to join me? You’d be very welcome. Grab a toothbrush and your passport, and I’ll see you back here next Saturday.

Book meme

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It’s a wet Saturday afternoon, so let’s have a meme! Comment with a number and I’ll answer the question.

1: What book did you last finish? When was that?

2: What are you currently reading?

3: What book are you planning to read next?

4: What was the last book you added to your tbr?

5: Which book did you last re-read?

6: Which book was the last one you really, really loved?

7: What was/were the last book/books you bought?

8: Paperback or hardcover? Why?

9: YA, NA or Adult? Why?

10: Sci-Fi or fantasy? Why?

11: Classic or modern? Why?

12: Political memoirs or comedic memoirs?

13: Name a book with a really bad movie/tv adaption

14: Name a book where the movie/tv adaption actually was better than the original

15: What book changed your life?

16: If you could bring three books to a deserted island which would you bring and why?

17: If you owned a bookshop what would you call it?

18: Which character from a book is the most like you?

19: Which character from a book is the least like you?

20: Best summer read?

21: Best winter read?

22: Pro or anti e-readers? Why?

23: Bookdepository or Amazon?

24: Do you prefer to buy books online or in a bookshop?

25: If you could be a character from a book for just one day who would you be and why? (Bonus: any specific day in the story?)

26: If you could be a character from a book for their entire life who would you be and why?

27: If you could change one thing about mainstream literature what would you change? (i.e. more diversity, better writing, better plot etc.)

28: How many books have you read so far this year?

29: How do you sort your shelves? (i.e. by color, author, title etc.)

30: Who’s your favourite author?

31: Who’s your favourite contemporary author?

32: Who’s your favourite fantasy author?

33: Who’s your favourite Sci-Fi author?

34: List five OTPs

35: Name a book you consider to be terribly underrated

36: Name a book you consider to be terribly overrated

37: How many books are actually in your bookshelf/shelves right now?

38: What language do you (most often) read in?

39: Name one of your favorite childhood books

40: Name one of your favorite books from your teenage years

41: Do you own a library card? How often do you use it?

42: Which was the best book you had to read in school?

43: Are you the kind of person who reads several books at once or the kind of person who can only read one book at a time?

44: Do you like to listen to music when you read?

45: What is your favorite thing to eat when you read?

46: What is your favorite thing to drink when you read?

47: What do you do to get out of a reading slump?

48: Where is your favorite place to read?

49: When is your favorite time to read?

50: Why do you love to read?

Camino Inglés 10: you are not the same people (the journey home)

Previously:

Camino Inglés 1: two ways to prepare for a pilgrimage

Camino Inglés 2: Isle of Wight Coast Path (eastern half)

Camino Inglés 3: Isle of Wight Coast Path (western half)

Camino Inglés 4: fare forward, travellers

Camino Inglés 5: Ferrol to Pontedeume (day 1)

Camino Inglés 6: Pontedeume to Betanzos (day 2)

Camino Inglés 7: Betanzos to Hospital de Bruma (day 3)

Camino Inglés 8: Hospital de Bruma to Sigüeiro (day 4)

Camino Inglés 9: Sigüeiro to Santiago (day 5)

16 May 2017

At the end of Monday I was still not famous. On Tuesday morning we had a train to catch, so didn’t check. We ate breakfast in the café in the station, and then boarded a train headed eastwards. It trundled along at 80km/h for the first couple of hours, then slowed and crept along the sides of steep wooded valleys, following a river. Then it went through Astorga and out onto the meseta, and I sat watching intently out of the window for landmarks I might have seen ten years before, walking the other way. I couldn’t swear to any particular landmark, but I saw some storks’ nests for certain, and was glad.

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We came out into Palencia in the early afternoon, and found intense heat, and pale stone buildings, and a park with a retired steamroller mounted in it, and old men sitting on benches. ‘This is what Spain is meant to be like,’ John said, not entirely joking.

It was siesta hour. I’d been the one to resort to Booking.com this time, and had found us a room in a rather quiet, tired, hotel. We found it and checked in – and found the wi-fi.

Now, it turned out, I was famous. The Society of Authors had put out a press release, and I learned that I was the first ever self-published author to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize. I had emails, Twitter notifications. I sent text messages to my parents, linked the story on Facebook and my blog, and watched the notifications roll in for a bit.

Then we went out to look at the cathedral.

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Palencia immediately went to the top of my ‘favourite Spanish cathedrals’ list, knocking Burgos down into second place. It was cool and quiet, with far more stained glass than any other I’d visited, beautiful ceilings, and an actual sensible system for keeping the frivolous out of the way of the devout (or vice versa) – separate doors, sending the latter to a chapel right in the middle of of the cathedral, rather than shoved in a (tiny) chapel opposite the main doors as an embarrassment, as at St Paul’s in London. We came in as tourists, and didn’t have to pay because it was a Tuesday. For us, too, there was huge, silent space, and brightness through high windows.

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In the evening we ate at a table under a canopy in the square, with too-sweet white Rioja (which I suppose I should have expected, with a name like ‘Diamante’), and liqueurs on the house, and talked about how to spend my winnings. ‘If I win the whole thing,’ I said, ‘I’ll go to Brazil, and if I don’t, I’ll go InterRailing.’

17 May 2017

The next morning was cloudy and considerably cooler. We explored some more of the city, looking at an exhibition about the Spanish air force, walking by the river, going into normal shops (I came away with pyrite beads and owl-shaped ceramic beads; John, with a fidget spinner), drinking coffee and watching storks in their nests on the corners of church belfries.

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Afterwards, we sat in the cafeteria in Palencia station watching the rain and waiting for our train. The incoming train from A Coruña and Santiago got later and later, and we became increasingly thankful that we hadn’t attempted to do the whole journey in one day. Eventually our train to Santander turned up and the Coruña train still hadn’t come, and we felt very thankful indeed.

The Santander train was much quicker, of course; it was a much shorter journey. A documentary about Coco Chanel was being shown on the screens overhead. I was quite interested, but the file had some glitch that kept sending it back to the beginning.

Once more in Santander, we returned to Café Royalty for a quick supper before boarding the Pont Aven and investigating all its questionable delights: the duty-free shop, the bars, and the cinemas. The choice of films was, of course, fairly limited: the choice that evening was between the live-action Beauty and the Beast and some action movie I now forget. John and I, possibly compensating for our television-deprived childhood, went for the Disney, and, at the appointed hour, we duly filed into our seats.

Then somebody said my name. ‘Kathleen?’

It turned out to be Father Paul, who had been the Catholic chaplain at my university, and who was walking the Camino del Norte in stages. I introduced John. We attempted to catch up on ten years worth of life and several hundred miles of walking in three minutes before the film started, which didn’t really work.

He was not interested in Beauty and the Beast, though, so he withdrew to the other cinema to watch the action movie. John and I quite enjoyed Beauty and the Beast, and then went to bed.

18 May 2017

I got up earlier than I needed to in order to see the tip of Brittany as the ship passed close in to the shore; but it was good to have the sea to myself for a couple of hours; well, me and the woman hoovering the carpet in the bar, and the rep from the whale charity, and a few other early risers. It was a big ship. John appeared somewhere between ten and eleven and was still in time to see France pass by.

I couldn’t get onto the internet, which was probably good for my peace of mind. I read Madensky Square (acquired from the duty free shop) instead, just sitting there with the sea outside the window and a book and a cup of coffee and no work that I could practicably do. There would be plenty of it when I got back to dry land.

When I packed Four Quartets, I’d expected ‘Little Gidding’ to be the one that had the most to say to me, to be thinking about roses and yew trees and the end of all our exploring. And yet, from the fog-choked eucalyptus of the FEVE, to here, taking the voyage of ten days ago in reverse, my identity as a writer rewritten, it had been ‘The Dry Salvages’ all the way:

You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.

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Camino Inglés 9: Sigüeiro to Santiago (day 5)

Previously:

Camino Inglés 1: two ways to prepare for a pilgrimage

Camino Inglés 2: Isle of Wight Coast Path (eastern half)

Camino Inglés 3: Isle of Wight Coast Path (western half)

Camino Inglés 4: fare forward, travellers

Camino Inglés 5: Ferrol to Pontedeume (day 1)

Camino Inglés 6: Pontedeume to Betanzos (day 2)

Camino Inglés 7: Betanzos to Hospital de Bruma (day 3)

Camino Inglés 8: Hospital de Bruma to Sigüeiro (day 4)

14 May 2017

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John outside our albergue

The last day of the Camino Inglés: Sigüeiro to Santiago. It was a pleasant enough day’s walk, especially in the early stages: a cuckoo in the woods above Sigüeiro; gentle slopes; gentle sunshine.

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Fellow travellers

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The view from the Camino

Sixteen kilometres according to the book, but the yellow arrows departed from the book at a left turn (book)/right turn (arrows).

We followed the arrows.

The diversion (if such it was) was tedious: it took us through a bus stop and along a very wet and muddy path, though fortunately not so wet that it got through my boots. The worst thing about it was the fact that there were no waymarkings, so I was constantly worrying that we’d got ourselves lost. The sign for Hotel Castro was a real relief, and the coffee was as welcome as the assurance that yes, we were indeed still on the Camino Inglés, but we then spent much time discussing whether it was a change to the route, a reversion to a previous route, or a scam by the Hotel Castro to drum up more trade. (They got €2 out of us for coffee. I suppose it adds up.) Hotel Castro had set up an ‘enchanted forest’: it was a silhouette of a witch on a white umbrella. It was a little bit underwhelming.

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Hotel Castro sending us back on the right path. Possibly.

We worked our way gradually downhill into the suburbs of Santiago, getting hotter all the while. Actually it wasn’t so bad as it could have been: the arrows had rejoined the guidebook, so at least we were no longer worrying about being led astray.

On the Camino Inglés the cathedral creeps into view gradually: you see the tops of the spires peeping out above the rooftops, and only if you know what to look for. We knew.

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Towards the cathedral

And we found the way there with no trouble at all, but there was no obvious way in: the front was covered in scaffolding.

We went to the pilgrim office instead, and found a massive queue. John recommends going in November. I recommend going ten years ago. Still, we got our compostelas and went to find lunch – after which I felt much happier.

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Completed credencial: evidence of a Camino

John booked a hotel via Booking.com, and I felt happier still. We then wandered around most of the old town trying to find it, and eventually had to ask in a tat shop, by which time I was feeling thoroughly sick of Santiago and all the people in it.

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View from the hotel window

A feeling which, I regret to say, persisted on and off all through that Sunday and Monday. There were moments, but really it was such a shock after the quiet of the Camino Inglés, and it has become such a tourist/pilgrim trap even compared to the last time I did it…

Which I knew. This is why we chose the Camino Inglés. It just hadn’t occurred to me that Santiago was bound to be packed, regardless of where we started.

Getting away from the old town helped quite a lot. We found another fairground, and ate chips from a booth and looked at second hand bookstalls.

I dragged John to the pilgrim mass on Sunday evening – in Spanish; if one has to feel that one’s a heretic, it’s less galling in a foreign language – though we had to stand through an interminable sermon (and they take the trouble to remind you in English that heretics can’t receive communion). After that we picked a pleasant bar and had a drink. Tapas appeared, in the form of an empanada. We shared it: I had the tuna, and John the bread.

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Santiago, watching over the bar.

15 May 2017

We went back to the cathedral early on Monday morning and it was quite a lot better. I was brave enough to give Saint James a proper hug this time, as opposed to the gingerly pat on the shoulder I managed in 2007, and I found that there was a sense of holiness around the crypt, never mind the fact that I don’t believe that his earthly remains are there, no matter that I don’t believe his matter matters any more.

On Monday we went around the cathedral museum, and sprung for the tour of the roof as well. And this was worth doing, for the views over the city rooftops and for the nooks and crannies that one never normally sees. We were also charmed to find in the museum an altarpiece given to Santiago in the late fifteenth century by a man named John Goodyear from ‘Chal, Isla de Wight’ – or, as we know it, Chale, a couple of miles down the road from where our parents live.

We also returned to the café next to our hotel several times during the course of the day, so that I could get into wi-fi range and see whether I was famous yet. Because this was the day that the Society of Authors was meant to be announcing the Betty Trask shortlist, and this would mean that I was finally able to tell somebody other than John.

I was not famous yet. We walked down to the station to buy tickets to Palencia (€26 apiece, which wasn’t bad at all), and spent the rest of the day writing postcards, drinking coffee, returning to wi-fi range to check Twitter again, and going rather overboard in the souvenir shops. (A cycle jersey for John, an extravagant selection of sew-on patches for my camp blanket, and a model horreo for our father to put next his model railway. And more postcards.)

Then, on John’s suggestion, we went to a bar that the internet said would have live music, except instead it had stand-up comedy in Galician, possibly being rude about pilgrims. It was difficult to tell, for obvious reasons. Though stand-up comedy in Castilian would have been just as unintelligible to us. There was live music, in the form of a couple of cor anglais solos. Also a musical box, though that was part of a card trick.

When I went to bed I was still not famous.

Next time: we like Palencia a lot, and then go home. And I get my fifteen minutes of fame.

Don’t look down

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It’s been a while since I last began a book. I wrote down the first words of A Spoke In The Wheel in early 2016, just as I’d got Speak Its Name out of the door. It took me two years to get that written, edited, and published.

Then I decided I’d give myself a couple of months off writing novels, while I caught up on my travel write-ups.

Then I decided that actually I did want to get started on the next novels (yes, plural) after all.

Since then I’ve been very carefully not freaking out.

It honestly is like remembering how to ride a bike. (And I know what I’m talking about here.) It’s not so much that you forget how to do it, as that you lose your nerve. You don’t lose the physical ability; you lose the unthinking trust that you can take both feet off the ground and still not fall over.

Except in this case I’m not just riding the bicycle, I’m creating the very ground it’s traversing. I’m setting out into the unknown, knowing very well that the unknown doesn’t exist yet.

And it’s not that I haven’t been writing. I’ve been writing blog posts; I’ve been writing short stories; I’ve been writing up my travels. It’s just that a full-length novel feels so much bigger, and until it’s written there’s so much empty space where I know there should be words.

It would be daunting, if I let myself think about how daunting it is.

I’m not a plotter, never have been. The best I can say is that I know where I’m headed. I know what needs to have happened for the ending to be satisfying. As to what’s between here and there, I don’t know. I haven’t written it yet. It’s a bit scary, really. I find myself wanting to go slower. I want to get off my bicycle and walk.

Don’t look down, I tell myself. Don’t look at the yawning chasm that represents all the research you haven’t yet done, all the words you haven’t yet written.

Just write a little bit.

Put one foot after the other. Get the notebook out. Take the cap off the pen. Open the notebook to the next blank page.

If the world of fiction is refusing to co-operate, write about Venice, or Bratislava, or the red-painted wooden houses of Sweden.

Writing about my own experiences is easy, and, sooner or later, fiction co-operates. I try to remember what I had for dinner in Ljubljana and find myself writing Lydia’s musings on the question of idolatry instead. And slowly, slowly, the novel begins to materialise. The snappy exchange, written down, brings its context in after it. Writing down the context raises questions. Why does she think that? Oh, hang on, does he really know that, or is it just a lucky guess? Answering those questions invokes new scenes. The more I write, the more I know what to write next.

At the moment, the sequel to Speak Its Name is standing at about 6000 words. More to the point, I’m beginning to see how the whole thing is going to fit together. I’m beginning to understand the dynamics between the different characters. Things that I’ve known for as long as I’ve been planning this book suddenly make sense: Oh. She’s upset because they turn up unannounced. And the bedroom thing is awkward because they’re not allowed to live together… Awkward facts that I thought I was going to have to work around turn out to fit in nicely. OK, the timing won’t work for the transfer, but instead we could have the RA quitting, maybe he was really stressed because he was about to get married and thought it would get better when that had happened, but it hasn’t, but he can also be the example of the marriage that does work. And I am beginning to get a better sense of what I still need to find out, and who I need to talk to in order to do that.

What I’m referring to in my head as ‘the Ruritanian thing’ is a way behind, with a scant thousand words on the page and only the haziest idea of what needs to happen in between the beginning and the end. Half of the characters are missing names, and the plot is missing all sorts of vital components like what and how and why. Maybe this one won’t happen. I hope it does. I think it’ll be fun. And I’m aware that a large part of my unease probably comes from the fact that I haven’t got very far into it yet, that, the further I get in, the better I’ll feel about it.

Heigh-ho. All I can do with either of them is keep on writing. The main thing is not to look down.