Sunday, 18 December 2011

And Then Forever

I recently had a first novel published – good old Shetland Times shouldered the risk – quite surprising myself in the process. I say ‘surprising myself’, because it was not my intention to write a novel. I’d tried writing short stories, but never felt comfortable in that medium. In fact, I’m useless at remembering stories; always in awe of real story-tellers.

My only stories are ones I’ve written for children, in Shetlandic. But that was ‘needs must’. There are so few resources for children in our native tongue. No, if anything, I’m a poet. And tend to write intuitively. Not for me the daily discipline of ‘writing something’. If it doesn’t ask to be written, it doesn’t get written.

So what happened? In my defence, I can only put it down to suddenly having time on my hands. All those years of working, hurting the brain, squeezing any creative work into an occasional journey or holiday (what bliss!); then suddenly I’m retired. The combination of time almost on my own, an empty head (I had pressed the delete button on all things concerning work) and a bit of travel – and suddenly my life was invaded by characters living out their fascinating lives. Well, they fascinated me. It wasn’t me who was walking down a street in Sydney or making decisions, or almost falling in love, it was other people, no relation to me at all.

My travelling companion was my son, Daniel. Newly turned twenty-one and having just graduated but without a clue what he would like to do (if indeed he could secure a job), he agreed to accompany me. We were the best of travelling companions; content to be at ease with one another, interested in quite different things and, more often than not, inhabiting our separate worlds. We visited the east coast of Australia and New Zealand over a period of four weeks. It was somewhere I had always wanted to go but had never articulated a reason why. Just one of those things, I suppose. I didn’t have my computer with me and wasn’t in the mood for writing. After all, unencumbered time was stretching ahead, I could write later. I might have scribbled a poem, but none came. The story unfolding in my head was not conducive to writing poems. Perhaps it’s the linearity of narrative; the immediacy of dialogue. Poetry flits around the brain; jumps synapses; breaks the rules. This was a different world.

When eventually I got home I thought I might write it as a short story. But the narrative grew and grew and before long I had thirty, forty thousand words and could see where it might expand to twice or three times that length if I was willing to give it my time. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of building the novel, of developing character and especially putting thoughts and attitudes into their conversations. Any regret at laying poetry aside was small. But I hope that perhaps a reader might detect the seeing hand of a poet in some parts of the novel.

That the story was largely set in Winnipeg (indeed you might well wonder why) didn’t put me off, despite the fact I had never been to Winnipeg and had no plans to visit. It’s amazing what can be done by way of research, on a need-to-know basis. I’m sure it’s not the best way to go about writing a novel (and, yes, it also involved recreating Winnipeg around 1900) but when I did get round to visiting the city after I had completed the first draft, I was amazed to find I didn’t change anything. Such is the joy of the internet.

Christine de Luca

And then forever by Christine De Luca, published by The Shetland Times, £7.99, is available from The Shetland Times Bookshop and Blackwells Bookshop, Edinburgh.

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