I’m tired. I’ve been eating, breathing and dreaming Fred. I’ve bored my family, friends and Mr S with her. I feel like I should get one of those tea-towels that say ‘I’d rather be reading Jane Austen’ only with ‘I’d rather be writing Fred’. But right now, I need to pause.
This morning I had a chat with Jocasta my lovely and gorgeous editor, and admitted that I need to stop for a week, even two. I mean, when I say stop, I don’t mean actually stop, just not write for a bit. I have pile of books on my desk from Molly Panter-Downes Wartime Stories, to Adrian Bell’s Men and Fields, Joseph Roth’s Zipper and his Father and Eva Mennasse’s Vienna. I also want to re-visit Jane Eyre, Mansfield Park, Emma, The Country House At War, Death of a Naturalist, Field Work and…
I now need to let some ideas marinate. Reading Jane Austen and Jane Eyre will help me focus on the living portrait of the English country house, while Remains of the Day and James Lees-Milne will provide post-war context. Like making a marinade, I sprinkle layer after layer into the mix of my stories: a piece of folklore here, the detail of a room or the way a character enters it, the blend of tobacco that Kit smokes, precisely how Mr Wrexham shaves the gentlemen…the workings of the farm and manor, the style of a letter to The Times. These things matter and must be woven into the story, so that the details strengthen the feel of period and place, layer upon layer, without clogging the flow of the narrative. The only way to discover what is delicious detail rooting the story, and what is tinsel, is time.
Besides, I love the excitement of the unwritten page. First drafts are magical things. For now, Fred is mine and no one else’s. I can play my giant game of make-believe and for the moment, anything goes. This is one of life’s great pleasures – why hurry to the end?