A Year of Writing: Days 71-80

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Day 71 of #ayearofwriting and I am weeks from my first mile stone of treble figures. I am in a tent revival, the gospel has come to where I live (literally, the story is based in a nearby village. It seemed right to bring it close to places I know). There is my narrator from The Tin Grasshopper and the church has come to the village for seven days in 2135. I know it will be his last seven days because the church tent is suddenly revealed for what it is, water-men. Water-men have become religion, as my narrator says as they launch into the right wing song, Our People (shown first in Road Liable to Flooding), now a hymn, he knows what they are, that they may play sinner, reverend and acolyte but the are wolves in sheep’s clothing. I know it is his last week alive because of what he is starting to show me in the story, what he is trying to hide, he is on the brink of being born again and to do that he must become a sacrifice. The reason for his sacrifice is climate change, something awful is coming and it will be taken advantage of by the wolves. I am building a universe through these three stories, I am building towards a novel.


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Day 72 of #ayearofwriting and I have always been drawn to the man on the left of this painting. For me, this my narrator, elderly and sacrificed. I am considering the nature of mud slides and the testimony of those who have died because of them. My story feeds into Eliot’s The Fire Sermon in The Wasteland, I quote from it ‘O Lord Thou pluckest me out. O Lord Thou pluckest.’ because my narrator hasbecome the link between present and past, he is Tiresias nailed to a cross, and the earth opens up for him, and cries. I don’t say that to be blasphemous but survivors of mud slides have spoken of the sins of others, and the punishment of God. I was brought up Church of England, my Grandfather was Catholic, I am steeped in sin.


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Day 73 of #ayearofwriting and this is the village I will bury in a mud slide. Somehow, this is liberating as I will be doing a talk there later this month at the Literature Festival.

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Day 74 of #ayearofwriting and I am mapping my story and the end. I tell my wife of what will happen to the narrator of The Tin Grasshopper, how he is old, expendable, a sacrifice to gods who no longer listen, in a world that is slowly drowning. She is sad that he will die. I talk about how climate change will impact on women more than men. In recent UN figures, those displaced by climate change have been predominantly women, 80%. In the New Orleans flood most families in the poorest areas were one parent families, women being the parent and bread winner. Emergency shelters failed women and their needs, and children taken into state care soared because women were seen to be unfit parents. In the 2004 in the tsunami in Sri Lanka, only 1 out of 3 women survived because society there dictated men should learn to swim and not women, it was seen as immodest. Most climate change think tanks around the world are controlled by men, women have very little influence in this area, only 25%, and the press are reporting this as a positive step forward. It feels like a massive block to actually giving women a voice in one of the most important climate shifts since the little ice age between 1645–1715. This period fascinates me too, it reflects a lot of the society problems we still have today, and I think my next novel after this one will look back to this era.

Day 74 of #ayearofwriting and it’s a senior kind of day where I forget my card PIN number, and the machine eats it, I think I am losing my mind as I used it minutes earlier. Maybe I am channelling my old narrator, the feeling of loss and confusion is awful. My greatest fear is to lose my mind. This feeds into my character, and his final moments of fear, and how fear becomes liberating at the end.

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Day 75 of #ayearofwriting and blizzards return whilst I look at medieval depictions of martyrdom and how there are fine lines between saints and heathens.

Day 76 of #ayearofwriting and what sometimes creeps me out is when fiction becomes fact. I was reading last week about how in certain climate change conditions sea life can be caught out, and in sudden temperature changes can be wiped out. I am sat here in a blizzard and last time I was sat in a blizzard was around two weeks ago when I wrote this outline for something more:

‘I sees millions of dead starfish on the beach the morning after my son leaves, I sleeps under a tarp with a fire burning through the night, in the cold of the morning they are there millions of dead angels in the sand, mussels and lobsters mixed in with them, it’s like the Old Testament, dead gulls among them, I wade through them, ankle deep in the dead.’

My wife sends me this link:

I have never read it, or heard of this happening in the UK, but sure enough I am writing it at the same time it is happening. I am totally freaked out. Before someone comes forward and says, ‘You must have soaked this up through your sub-conscious, I don’t think so, I keep extensive notes of anything that I watch or read on climate change’.


Day 77 of #ayearofwriting and my narrator is being nailed to something. I wonder whether it will be tree? Will there be many trees left in a climate change society of 2135? If so, which trees can survive flooding and drought? I am drawn to willow and swamp cypress. The willow is all about renewal in pagan culture. However, the swamp cypress (or bald) is associated with May poles, and there is something sinister about a crucifixion with people dancing around.
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Day 78 of #ayearofwriting and the idea of paganism, a return to the soil is running through my mind as we approach Beltane. I wonder if we get our ideas of the devil from animals, the sin from them too, the idea that something beastly lurks beneath the surface of us all. Many of our ancient rituals revolve around birth and death, caught between the miracle and the fire.
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Day 79 of #ayearofwriting and there is something deeply satisfying in writing beats, scenes and moments in a story, then linking them together. There is no beginning, middle or end in the process of writing. There is only the act of feeling your way into the story. In my new story, using the narrator from The Tin Grasshopper, I am feeling my way into it, taking the important moments and shocking myself at what happens. Tonight, I murdered the Wrigleys, in the story our narrator miss-hears, thinking that a Wrigley has died but learns that in retribution the entire family have been burnt in their sleep. This alters an earlier image, as a blind man he breathes in the village air that morning, thinking that the tanneries have started earlier. The smell of wood, of urine and fat on the air is satisfying, a homely image distorted by the fact that it isn’t the tannery that has fired up but the ashes of a family burnt to death. That’s why I like vignettes when writing, images flow from one to another, make the story stronger rather than saying from draft one: THIS IS THE BEGINNING, THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS IN THE MIDDLE, AND THIS SHALL BE THE ENDING. SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE, DOUGLAS.
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Day 80 of #ayearofwriting and in the car the other day I begin to consider how damage to the soul can become manifest physically. I consider leprosy or diseases in trees, and how trees compartmentalise, dying limb by limb in a slow process. I wonder if this could become a metaphor in a story, of how people feel lost in society, how the modern world corrupts and devours. It leads me to a little research, echoes of an earlier story, Mausu, clambers into my mind – ideas scraped across in the research for that – the day of the dead meets Japanese culture in a rainforest setting (which is really where Mausu is set). I consider Shinigami (死神, “god of death” or “death spirit”), gods or supernatural spirits inviting us towards death (one limb at a time?), monsters and helpers, creatures of darkness, and fallen angels. I begin to realise that I am building worlds here, that I have several distinct worlds: the world of my Mausu story (which this feeds into), the world of my Tin Grasshopper, Earth from 2040-2135, and there is something disturbing and comforting about this. I create strange worlds whether the underbelly of Paris, and the strange creatures hunted there or a private detective being shot by a monkey.

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