Friday, 20 June 2014

Devon? Cornwall?

At this time of the year – well, usually a bit earlier than this but we are running a bit late after the move and everything else – Marcia starts to think about where the next book will be set. I feel reasonably confident in predicting that it will be somewhere in Devon or Cornwall but beyond that it would be dangerous to go.

The way it works is something like this. Somewhere in the back of her mind Marcia has one or two characters beginning (her words) to reveal themselves. She is on record as saying that the characters bring their landscapes with them and this is because of what we call a “Clare’s wedding moment”. Like all family catchphrases that is a code that cannot be broken – you have to know what it means. Clare is one of Marcia’s nieces and she, obviously, was getting married and we, as you would expect, had been invited. Getting there was a bit complicated as we had to fetch our son from school in the way. Somehow and for some reason neither of us could quite see ourselves at the church. There was no rational explanation for these feelings – which we both had – but they were quite strong.

The garden is full of young birds pestering their parents to feed them - and parents doing their best to move them on. Here is a young blackbird who, when he grows up will be like the smart guy below.

To cut a long story short, we had problems with the car and so we just made the reception. Ever since, a situation that looks perfectly reasonable but in which one or the other of us simply does not believe is a “Clare’s wedding moment”.

Looking for the landscapes brought by Marcia’s characters usually results in many miles of travel and many such moments until, usually unexpectedly, it all feels right to her and we have found what she has been looking for. Sometimes this is definitely not where she would like the book to be set but you can’t have everything you want, can you?

Probably the most uncanny example was finding where Maudie Todhunter was living. This was before Marcia started writing A Week in Winter – before simple because she could not get going until she could see Maudie in the right environment. You may already know the story: if you do, skip to the last two paragraphs.

Here a baby blue tit is learning to feed himself. Most young tits have a yellow tinge to their feathers unlike the adults.

It started because I trod on my spectacles and broke one of the lenses. At that time we were living in Avonwick an optician (Vision Express) in Newton Abbot (Totnes is about half way between the two). I rang up and explained the situation. They had a laboratory on site and said that I could have an eye test (one was due anyway) at noon and the specs would be ready a couple of hours later (which, when you think about it, was incredible service). So off we went with Marcia driving. The obvious thing to do was to have lunch in Newton, which we did, and then a bit of shopping that we needed and then, having collected the new glasses, back home (with me driving this time).

Great Spotted Woodpeckers - dad on the left and son on the right. As soon as the boy loses his red cap his father will attack him and drive him away to find a territory of his own.

It did not go according to plan. As we drove out of the car park, I was indicating right that being the way home, Marcia suddenly spoke.

Quick, turn left. I’ve just seen Maudie. We must follow her.”
Causing some little confusion to other motorists, I did just that and, following Marcia’s instructions, drove through the town and out on the road towards Bovey Tracey. Even then it was not straightforward. Having said that she was sure Maudie lived in Bovey, as we approached the roundabout where I was expecting to turn right, she changed her mind and so on we went. About a mile further on she directed us left, down a narrow lane, left at another junction and then, having crossed the bridge over the River Bovey she told me to stop. There, on the left, was a gate behind which was scrub (small trees, lots of brambles and so on).

There, that’s it. Good, we can go home now.”

And we did and Marcia started writing later that afternoon and wrote one of her most poignant stories.

Not everyone, of course, can believe this is what happens. At one of the festivals at which she was asked a question about this business of finding the landscape. She finished her answer with the words, “So, you see it really is nothing to do with me. The characters tell me where they live.”

How lucky that none of them want to live in central Birmingham,” came a dry comment from one of the men in the audience. Clearly he was not a believer.

And so here we are again, setting out on a journey of discovery. It was easier in the days when we did so in our old camper van, taking with us all we needed in the way of refreshment and providing a base from which to wander about and “listen to the characters chatting amongst themselves”. For both Indian Summer and the book which still awaits and agreed title, this base has been provided by cafés and other such places. It was in The Dandelion (a café which is part of the Moorland Hotel below Haytor on Dartmoor) that Marcia sat and brooded – and which features in the book itself. The Brioche in Totnes was also important – and again was to feature in the book. For Untitled it was the shop/café associated with Stokeley Barton Farm Shop on the road from Torcross to Kingsbridge and The Boat House in Torcross itself. Again both feature in the book. If you want to know more about these places, follow the links.

Meanwhile here is Marcia with Anton, one of the people who look after us when we pop into the Cott Inn in Dartington for lunch.

This time? Well, as I have said, I have no real idea but as I write this Marcia is in Totnes and she has just sent me a text. She is having coffee in The Green Café just down the road from The Brioche. I wonder – just wonder. If it proves to be important then we can rule out Cornwall this time around but I doubt it will be that easy. I’ll keep you informed.

This week's blog dog is, very appropriately, called Canuke. He really is a splendid fellow and I just hope that he does not feel homesick.