I met Anne Goodwin on 7th September 2009 at Ted Hughes former home. We were participating in an Arvon course. It was an excellent five days and, beyond the learning and time to write, the joy was in mingling with fellow writers, a disparate group starting out on the journey to a novel. I made short note in my journal of all the participants. Of Anne I wrote:
psychologist, teacher, giggler extraordinaire – really lovely person – story about…
but that would be a spoiler. Lumb Bank is perfect for writers, but also for walkers and during the afternoons Anne and I and one or two others took ourselves off into the woods for a ramble.
And here we are, nearly six years on and Anne is not just a writer but an author. We are still friends, still sharing this journey. I am delighted to give over this blog to Anne to tell us
How walking helps my writing and my main character’s fear of cows
A bee buzzes past my ear as a meadow pipit springs from among the purpling heather. A tortoiseshell and small heath butterfly weave in and out of each other’s flight paths. Across the shoulder-high bracken, the knock-knock of a stonechat. A patchwork of field and forest spread across rolling hills. My conscious mind on nothing else, I’m surprised when it comes to me: the resolution to a plot problem; a delicious image; a perfect phrase. A story that unfolds a little farther each time my boot hits the peat.
Of course, some gets lost in the drive home, but nothing beats a walk across my beloved moors to progress my writing. Treading familiar paths, I recognise, not just the landmarks, but the ideas I’ve formulated there over the years. The steady rhythm puts me in that state of reverie that nourishes creativity. A long walk not only carries me over the hurdles I’ve met in my fiction, but ameliorates the physical ills generated by long days at a computer.
Walking has been integral to my debut novel, Sugar and Snails, since its inception. I began the first draft on returning home from a long-distance walk across the breadth of England, and dedicated it to the coast-to-coasters who joined me along the way. I also made Leonard, my main character’s father, a walker, avoiding church and the demands of family life by heading to the hills. While I relished my research trips plotting his routes, Leonard didn’t have such an easy time of it. The space to think brought disturbing memories of his early adulthood as a prisoner of war, which strongly influenced his behaviour as a father.
When I cut the parents’ points of view from the novel, I also had to let go of most of Leonard’s walks. But one remained, told this time in the form of Diana’s memories of childhood; a rare day out that started well and ended badly, Leonard being decidedly intolerant of the ten-year-old’s terror of the cattle encountered en route. As my own fear of the beasts is the main impediment to my solitary walking, it made sense to gift that bit of my autobiography to Diana and create a scene illustrating the problematic attachment patterns originating in her childhood.
Knowing that Geoff is also a keen walker – and I’ve even taken him on one of my favourite Peak District routes – it seems appropriate for my debut on TanGental to focus on the hike that features in chapter 10 of Sugar and Snails. Earlier this week, I took time out of my hectic blog tour schedule, to tramp the route that Diana recalls, albeit at a different time of the year. What follows is a mixture of fact and fiction, my own walk interlaced with lines from the novel (in italics).
They arrived by bus:
Look out for a pub on your right. The Robin Hood.
That’s our stop.
Although I made my way there this week by car and then on foot from the other side of Chatsworth:
We got down from the bus and crossed the road, my dad jiggling his canvas haversack to sit more comfortably on his shoulders. He reached out to steady me as I clambered over the stile.
The path cut through the dried-out bracken like a parting through hair.
He pointed out the ash and the spindly silver birch, its bark like alligator skin.
All goes well until they meet the Highland cattle at the exact point where I once encountered them, making a huge detour through some very boggy ground. Fortunately there were none around this week:
The cattle had assembled on the path, waiting. “I’m not going past them cows.”
My dad grabbed me by the arm and dragged me forward. “Don’t be such a softy.”
With a deep lowing, reminiscent of the sound my grandad made when constipated, the orderly gathering broke apart. Cows galloped into the fields; others trooped back into the woods; the rest trotted up the path towards us. I escaped my father’s grip and stumbled away to park myself behind a rock.
“Stop this nonsense! I said they wouldn’t hurt you.” He beckoned to me to join him.
Whimpering, I rose to my feet, caught between the wild beasts and my father’s wrath.
The cattle had settled back into a steady walk, although one over-eager or sexually confused youngster was mounting one of her siblings. Ahead of the cattle, a woman in a green anorak ambled towards us.
The Ranger proves to be more sympathetic towards a frightened child than Leonard:
“Why don’t we walk past together?” said the ranger. “When you’ve done it once, you’ll feel more confident for next time.” She offered me her arm as if to lead me onto the dance-floor. “Shall we?”
When both ranger and cows had departed, I did feel rather foolish and wondered how I’d recover my dad’s good mood. If we heard another woodpecker or spotted a squirrel or stumbled across the shiny red dome of a fly agaric the day would not be completely ruined. I tried to remember what else he’d said we might see. “How far is it to the plague graves?”
My dad turned away as if I hadn’t spoken. Checking the shoulder straps of his haversack, he strode off, and I had no choice but to follow.
I trod the same route yesterday, but lots of points of interest along the way which, unfortunately, my characters would have failed to notice:
At the quarry:
we parted company, Leonard stomping away onto higher moorland, his poor child limping behind on blistered feet:
while I took the path downhill to the plague graves which Diana never got to see:
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I found these horned beasts straddling the path:
But I swallowed my fears and inched closer for the sake of this post:
She does look quite cuddly, but I think I prefer the calf:
Thanks for following my fact-meets-fiction walk. If you’d like to know more about walking in the Peak District, consider joining a ranger guided walk; I’ll be leading one on Jane Eyre again next year. You can also follow these links to find out more about my debut novel or to check up what I’m up to on my blog.