About this time last year, during the second lock down here in the UK, I was writing The Lady in the Veil. I was early on in the job and, as always, finding it tricky to discern the right direction for the narrative, to tease out the themes and to give my characters the space to do something spontaneous. As respite, I took walks through a piece of land that lies at the back of our house. You might call it a marsh, but locally it’s known as the moss. It is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) because of the habitat its peat soil produces for flora and fauna. It is largely unmanaged, a landscape of bracken, grasses, gorse, heathers, willow and silver birch.
As the year turned, I was fascinated by how the landscape gradually changed. I watched the leaves fall from the trees, the bracken die back, the grasses reduced to feathery seed heads. As the foliage died away I was amazed to see a whole network of animal tracks revealed in the undergrowth.
Of course these intriguing byways invited exploration, and as the autumn and early winter passed it became easier to penetrate them. Our two dogs became almost delirious as they raced along the different pathways, leapt over the bracken and followed the scents of creatures who undoubtedly frequented these regions. I was toying with the idea of a story set right here, on the marsh, spanning the winter months just as I was experiencing them.
Then, in a thicket of willow and silver birch saplings, I found this tree. It blew my mind! I immediately named it the Trysting Tree because, if you were ever going to have a secret assignation with your lover, wouldn’t THIS be the perfect place to have it? I could almost see two figures perched on that horizontal branch, wrapped in each other’s arms, hidden from view by the surrounding copse of trees.
So that decided me, and it looked like my story was going to be a romance. Now, I’m a soppy old soul and most of my books have a love interest, but this felt different. Also, because the book was emerging, like mist, from the landscape itself, I knew that the moss - its moods, its colours, its circle of life - would play an important part in it. It would be a character and a catalyst. I would be taking something REAL and spinning it into fiction. This is different from my usual methodology, which is to take something that doesn’t exist at all, and conjuring it into life. The act of writing seemed to me to be an important ingredient in this scheme, and so I decided that my protagonist would be a writer. Not me, I hasten to add, but a writer LIKE me.
And so I have made a start. I am about 45,000 words in to the story now, but only five days of my six month time frame has passed, so either I’m going to have to do some brutal editing, or change my scope. I don’t have a title, and I am not sure where the story is going, but that is normal for me.
The moss keeps on giving. Tim and I go out on it every day, and lately we have been taking cameras, to capture the moods, textures and colours. I need photographs to guide my cover artist, Sarah Reid, who I know will come up with something spectacular, atmospheric and eye-catching.
www.redrawstudios.co.uk Click to look at some of Sarah’s work.
We took this one at about four o’clock one cold afternoon, as mist began to rise from the marsh.
Watch this space!