Sunday, April 26, 2015

How to get down to grips with writing a book?

How to get down to grips with writing a book? Take a walk on the wild side

Researching her latest novel, Melissa Harrison found herself walking alone up the A5. She spent four days not fitting in – exposed but exhilarated
Private no access to farm land Derbyshire Peak District Monsal Dale England UK
Road to nowhere … Melissa Harrison attempted to follow in the footsteps of her protagonist, an itinerant farmer, but found many of the fields were fenced off. Photograph: Alamy
I don’t remember deciding to walk the old Roman road north, but strange things can happen when you’re wrestling with a novel. All I can recall is that it suddenly seemed imperative, as things often do in dreams. What I really needed was to step into the half-born book and let it close over my head for a few days – perhaps it was this kind of inchoate instinct rather than the more rational reason I gave myself, which was that I should walk at least a little way in my character Jack’s shoes in order to get a feel for the journey he makes.
Melissa Harrison. Photograph: Jason Alden/eyevine.

Melissa Harrison. Photograph: Jason Alden/eyevine.
Jack is a one-time protester, itinerant farm-worker, vagrant, poet and seer who has spent 30 years on the road, and of At Hawthorn Time’s four main characters he’s the one with the least conventional life. When the book opens he has just served half of a prison sentence, the latest in a long line of convictions for trespass; he skips bail to walk up Watling Street, now the A5, in search of work. Jack’s journey north out of London was, for me, uncharted territory.

Not that the busy, workaday suburb of Harpenden felt particularly like the unknown as I disembarked from a train with my backpack one April morning. I was well prepared for the next four days, or so I thought: better than Jack would have been, anyway. I had hiking boots on, and a walking jacket, an Ordnance Survey map and a mobile phone; and I’d booked overnight stays at two pubs and a B&B, wild camping being illegal in England. I had water and cash, and my notebook, and the weather was nice. How hard could walking up Watling Street be?

No comments: