Friday, 26 July 2013

Marcia talks about music and writing

This morning after breakfast, listening to Delius’s ‘Walk to the Paradise Gardens’ on Radio 3, I was immediately reminded of the north coast of Cornwall, St Meriadoc, and the valley that I called The Golden Cup.

Port Quinn was the little harbour that inspired St Meriadoc
It’s odd how each book has a particular type of music attached to it. Often this is to do with one of the characters, even if it is never mentioned on the page; sometimes it is central to the book as Elgar’s ‘Starlight Express’ is to Echoes of the Dance. I listened to that music every day through the long summer before I began to write the book: characters appeared, the story evolved, the familiar process inseparable from Elgar’s music. I listened to the original play, recorded years before for the BBC’s Third Programme, whilst the Organ Grinder, the Laugher, and the children became inextricably entwined with Roly – the great unwumbler – Mim and Daisy.

The ford at Bowithick alongside which the converted barn was set.
Other books have a more general theme. The Chadwick Trilogy was shot through with the piano studies of Chopin and Boccherini’s string quintets, whilst The Courtyard was accompanied by Vaughan William’s Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Marcia on the station at Staverton where the Trilogy really began.
In those days this station was part of the rail network.
Kate’s music in Those Who Serve is Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto; Felicity’s in Thea’s Parrot is Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony. 

The village of Meavy on Dartmoor features in both books.
The Old Station House at Brent Tor was one of the models for the one in Thea's Parrot..
As I was writing The Sea Garden I realised that Jess listens to Jamie Cullum when she’s driving in her car. 
The salt marshes beside the Tamar in the evening sun.
The Way We Were is clearly Barbra Streisand’s song of the same name and, in The Christmas Angel, Dossie is haunted by Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”:

I’ve looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose and still, somehow,
It’s life’s illusions I recall,
I really don’t know life at all.’

The view from the Trescairne's house in TWWW.
The cliffs near the fictional village of Peneglos.
The Bach Goldberg Variations played by the brilliant Angela Hewitt kept me company through The Birdcage, Brahms was there for A Week in Winter and Nina Simone was around whilst I wrote Forgotten Laughter.
The Yarn Market in Dunster.
Clearly thinking of A Week in Winter
Combestone Tor on the opposite side of the valley to Foxhole.
When I began to plan the book to be published this autumn – Postcards from the Past – I realised that Ed St Enedoc was a jazz lover. I checked through my CD’s – Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Bessie Smith, Dinah Washington – and began to get into his skin.
The stream near the old tin mine that became the location for Postcards
I don’t listen to the music while I am actually writing; the rhythm of the words is enough. I might listen to it as I prepare the day’s work, during a coffee break, or driving: I always have the current CD in my car. But during the months of research and planning then it is an integral part of the creative process; as necessary as finding where my characters are living, where they shop and what they wear.

As to what they read . . . now that’s another story.

Jamie: a regal gentleman if ever there was one.
Postscript: Amazon in the UK have just started listing the US edition of "The Christmas Angel" under the title "Christmas in Cornwall" as well as the original published here in the UK. It is always annoying when the titles are changed but please do not be fooled. Luckily the cover is the same so that is unlikely.

Friday, 19 July 2013

A ruin

The other day we found a ruin that we did not know existed. We found it by accident. I have a job to do this evening at a place I have not visited for well over twenty-five years and I wanted to carry out a recce to make sure that I had the topography pretty firmly in my head.

This happened to be not that far from where Marcia feels the next book to be written will be set so it seemed reasonable that we should toddle off to have a chat with her people when I had done what I needed to do. So we did. And we got lost.

We often get lost. This is because I see a lane that I can’t remember and find myself wondering what is down there and where it goes and the temptation becomes too great for sanity and off we go. We’re not really lost, of course, because we know where we are more or less. I remember writing an article for Yachts and Yachting (I was then one of their columnists) entitled “You’re never really lost at sea”. This title was, of course, provocative and intentionally so but there is much truth in it. I won’t bore you with the details but it works by drawing a circle around that last place you were when you were last sure of your position – a circle whose radius represents the absolute furthest you could have gone since then. You will be somewhere in that circle and the odds are, if you are a cruising man, that a large amount of that will be land and you know you’re not ashore so that eliminates part of the circle. Then, by various processes of elimination you reduce the “possible” area to a minimum.

Since I knew that to the east and to the south was water (the English Channel), to the west was more water (the Kingsbridge Estuary) and to the north was a road (as opposed to a lane and one with a real number: the A379) I could hardly say that we were lost but we still didn’t know where we were.

Anyway, I’m driving up this very narrow and deep Devon lane when suddenly, and very unexpectedly, on the left there are some steps and the grass at the foot of them has been carefully tended. We stopped – if for no other reason than that I felt the steps were worth photographing. Marcia went up first and exclaimed in delight. There – we were in the middle of nowhere – was this ruined chapel surrounded by a graveyard.

After we returned home, I tried to retrace our steps on the map in the hope of finding out what this ruin was all about. It took ages but eventually I found it but all it says on the map is “Burial Ground”. If you want to see where we were the map reference is SX 796 408. The chapel is on the boundary between two parishes (which may or may not be important). It didn’t take that long to sort out that this had nothing to do with the Church of England. Anyway, after a good deal of fumbling about on Google I managed to find a photograph of it titled “Congregational Burial Ground”.

There are no Congregational Chapels in the area now. There was one in Dartmouth where my paternal grandparents and their family worshiped many years ago but that is now the Flavel Arts Centre which, among other things, now houses the town’s library where my mother worked many years ago.

The hall was named after the Rev. John Flavel, a Presbyterian, who arrived in Dartmouth in 1658 where things did not go that well for him. This from the Wikipedia entry: On the passing of the Act of Uniformity (1662) he was ejected, but continued to preach in private until the Five Mile Act drove him from Dartmouth. He kept as near it, however, as possible, removing to Slapton, five miles off, and there preached twice each Sunday to all who came, among whom were many of his old parishioners. On the granting of the indulgence of 1671 he returned to Dartmouth, and continued to officiate there even after the liberty to do so was withdrawn. In the end he found himself obliged to remove to London, travelling by sea and narrowly escaping shipwreck in a storm, which is said to have ceased in answer to his prayers. Finding that he would be safer at Dartmouth he returned there, and met with his people nightly in his own house, until in 1687, on the relaxation of the penal laws, they built a meeting-house for him. Just before his death he acted as moderator at a meeting of dissenting ministers held at Topsham. He died suddenly of paralysis at Exeter on 26 June 1691, and was buried in Dartmouth churchyard.

So who is it keeping the grass at the bottom of the steps and the graveyard itself in such food order? No idea but I intend to find out and will report back if it turns out to be interesting.

Meanwhile this week we have a diet of dogs – four of them to be precise. We had stopped in the entrance to a field in order to indulge in some coffee when this lot came driving past. All, two- and four-legged were in great spirits but I’m afraid there was too much going on to get their names.

Friday, 12 July 2013

In which we have a busy week

When I suggested, as I did last week, that the time was approaching when Marcia could give her undivided attention to the book now to be written, I was wrong. I had no idea that two things would happen within an hour or so of uploading the blog: the arrival of the page proofs of Postcards from the Past (which will be published in October in hard back) and a request from Elizabeth Masters of Transworld's publicity department to write a five hundred word piece describing Autumn in Devon. More to point, it is wanted NOW. This is for the magazine 'Landscape' and Marcia's deadline was last Wednesday.

Elizabeth Masters, Senior Press Officer at Transworld who looks after Marcia's publicity.
So, what with one thing and another, brooding about the new book –the formal name is research but we won't go there –has been sitting on the back burner although on Tuesday (the five hundred words had been written and sent off) we sat in the sun drinking coffee outside the Brioche in Totnes and Marcia started to talk about her new characters. The quest has begun.

Did I hear you asking about the page proofs? You don't have to worry for they are my problem, it being one of the things I really can lift from her shoulders. The timing, from my point of view, is not good but is there ever a good time to be reading proofs? Now, however, this job has arrived just as I was beginning to revise my web site.

"Postcards" will be published in October.

I have a new version of the programme on which I design our web sites and this one supports photo galleries which makes it much quicker to put up photographs but there is a problem. You need a good flash player on your computer to be able to see these galleries. Most have them and so do quite a few tablets (and, for all I know, the new type of mobile telephones) but my tablet is an example of one that can’.t If I try to view one of these galleries, I receive an instruction, “Please upgrade your Flash plugin”. When I click on that link I get the curt (and not terribly helpful) message, “This content requires Adobe Flash Player, which is not supported by your device.”

I can't decide what is the best thing to do.

If I go for the galleries, there will be a lot more to see far more quickly but some people won't have access to most of it or I can continue to plod along as I have been doing which means the whole project will take for ever but . . . Here is the link to the new gallery format – if you have a moment do take a look at it and let me know what you think. 

Meanwhile, as I work through I find there are huge gaps in the pictures that I have taken – one such gap being to do with spiders. Now, photos of corrugated iron are really quite simple: although they may flap about in a stiff breeze, they don’t run away and they are not really what you would call small. By contrast, most spiders are very nifty small persons but, since I am always up for a challenge, I am determined to take some good spider pictures and, just for the heck of it, a short video which I shall call “Web Masters”.

I decided the time had come to make a start and so Googled, “how many spiders per acre of land”. It seems that (a) the answer is about 80,000 and (b) you are never more than three feet from a spider – ever. Should be easy then but . . .

Having spent about an hour searching for spiders to photograph, I admit to near defeat. I soon saw three or four but then reality kicked in. They are seriously small and that means extension rings on the camera plus a zoom lens which makes focussing very critical and there must be no camera shake. So grab the tripod, attach the camera with the right gear (including a remote release because hitting the shutter always creates some vibration) and approach the place where the spiders live. They are in the corner of the house and no matter how hard I tried I could not get the camera in the right position. Then I glanced up and there was an incredibly long-legged spider with a small body but in a dark corner. I had to use flash to take the picture.

Then I found a spider doing what spiders do – eating things, in this case a poor (and quite small) fly. Even so, the spider was far, far smaller than its dinner.

Not sure that I shall want to revisit spiders for a while.

This week's blog dog is Colin.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Visitors and the editorial notes

One of Marcia’s friends who lives in south west Wales, Vivien, was on holiday in St Mawes with her parents (leaving her husband behind holding the fort) and, on the way home, she called in to see us. I am delighted to say that she follows my blog and so is well aware of my recent obsession with corrugated iron.

It turns out that I am not the only one: she brought with her a mounted copy of a picture taken by the St Mawes photographer Ray Bradshaw which he has titled “Old Rusty”. It is a lovely pressie and I have found a frame for it and soon it will be hanging beside the tapestry of Trubshawe that Vivien worked for Marcia some time ago.

I would be breaking copyright by showing it to you but if you want to see what I am talking about, click here.

After Vivien had left for Wales, we had lunch at the pub – nobly served by Steph (who had been eating blue bubble-gum ice cream) and John.

* * * * *
We are approaching the moment when Marcia can safely wave good-bye to the characters inhabiting the last book to be written. Approaching - we are not there yet.

The dreaded editorial notes arrived recently. I say dreaded with no exaggeration. Any writing is as dear to the writer as babies are to their mothers. How dare this other person say anything negative about my baby?
We have a rule: nothing that I write goes out of the house until Marcia has read it, commented on it, offered a critique and (hopefully) some positive suggestions. The roles are reversed when she is writing. Obviously, over the years, we have learned to be gentle with each other but there is that initial moment when the process hurts. So, instead of starting off by saying, "The second sentence in paragraph three is rubbish," one starts, "This is really good, love it. By the way, you might like to have another look at the second sentence in the third para. I think you could word that a bit better."

Having said that the editorial notes are awaited with dread, I should add that the sooner they arrive the better it is. This is because the characters that will appear in the next book are beginning to take over but must not be allowed to displace the old lot. Marcia will need to revisit them when those editorial notes arrive and so is presently in that parlous state where she is trying to juggle with two very disparate groups: terrified that the old ones will intrude into the new book and that the new ones will, as it were, contaminate the old ones. That is why I say that the sooner these notes arrive and Marcia has dealt with them the better it is.

It had been arranged some time ago that Marcia would be in the Harbour Book Shop in Kingsbridge. As always, there was much jollity and laughter but had Marcia known when the editorial notes would arrive all this would have happened on another day.
Most editors are aware of the impact that their editorial notes will have on the writer and they tend to follow our practice. This time, sure enough, they start by explaining that the novel is really wonderful. I agree with that, but then, I would, wouldn't I? Then come the matters that the editor feels need to be addressed.

Actually, although I doubt Marcia would agree with this, her editorial notes rarely contain anything of great importance. Sometimes editors require what really amounts to a re-write and that has never happened. Mary Wesley also dreaded what she called "the blue pencil" and after one of the early books, having heard from Marcia what her then editor wanted, said, "That is nothing. If that is all she wants you are very lucky."

It was a great benefit that Marcia knew Mary in those early days. In fact there was a wonderful group of writers based around Totnes then: Joan Brady, James Long, Mary and then, of course, Marcia. These thing never last. Mary is, of course, no longer with us. James has moved to the Bristol area and Joan to the Midlands. As you know, Marcia also moved away but is now back but the town is poorer for the absence of the other three.

Now, as I write, Marcia has almost finished dealing with these editorial notes for the novel that will be called - well, whatever it is that Transworld decide to call it (and if I tell you the working title we shall the same problems as we had over The Ginger Jar which was published as The Prodigal Wife.

Anyway, within the next few days, Marcia should be able to wave good-bye to the old characters and be able to turn her searchlight on the new lot.

This is a rather special blog dog. Bennie is Vivien's father's dog and the two are inseparable.