Thursday 5th November - Day 1
Woke at 4.00 am. Or rather the lights in my head flickered through the fog of my thinking. Last night: one too many final, one-for-the-road beers before lockdown: not the ideal preparation for starting a novella. In fact, no ordered preparation at all; but then that’s the idea. No point in lying there, watching my thoughts navigate the dark – how do bats do that? – so I stole out of bed and downstairs: damp chill and very, very dark and quiet; made tea and got the log-burner going while I waited for my laptop and screen to wake, too.
So, first to choose a subject. Stories and characters came, went and returned. A couple or three insisted on hanging about, so I thought I’d run with them and see where they went.
How best to tell the story? Do I write the story chronologically and then mix and match the plot at the end, or do I write the story as it comes to me – as it unfolds to me, as I hope to unfold it to my reader. If I’m honest, I had decided to get the story down in some form of timeline: that’s normally how it works when I have time on my side. This time, I don’t; so, I have decided to write it as if I’m the reader. I can always change the order at the end, if I have time.
The challenge, if that’s what it is, is daunting. I am nervous, though maybe that’s no bad thing, and I try to recall similar situations when and where I have thrown myself in at the deep end.
That first day on the feluca, the Antonio Padre, in Ganzirri by the shore of the Strait of Messina, provoked a similar void of confidence. I knew none of the crew, neither Nino the funcitta, nor Michele the capo barca, yet there I was strolling through the lanes in the early hours to work for a few days on a fishing boat. I’d never worked on a fishing boat. What the hell was I doing? Why on earth did I think I was up to the task? Sure, I’d sailed a 50ft ketch across the Atlantic, but that was in the company of a friend; a man who understood the sea, a seasoned sailor who imbued me with a sense of purpose and whom I trusted. That time in Ganzirri, I knew nothing and had no idea of what was, if anything, expected of me. Well, after three days hadn’t Ninolino, Karl, Giovanni and Antonio become friends, trusted friends? On my last day on board the feluca, the boys had offered me a share of the roe from that day’s catch and invited me to join them whenever I wanted to. I was to learn later, from Francesco, that this was a considerable honour; this was their way of telling me I was, from that moment on, their brother.
The recollection proved my anchor point and quickly provided me with the confidence to start writing.
The day has passed smoothly – surprisingly so, except for my forgetting to feed the log burner with wood – and already I have most of the first chapter: 1,800 words.
Is it good enough? Good enough for me to carry on with? I think so. No, I believe so; I have to, which is fundamental; for there is little more debilitating that persevering with a trail that grows cold the further you pursue it.
Have I cheated? Well, I have to admit I have stolen a character from The Wind Between Two Worlds: Simon, the journalist. I like him: he has motivation with dignity, and now and then he is unsure of his path, so why not bring him on board. As for the other two central characters, they are forming slowly, organically, which again is no bad route: I get to know them at the same pace as my reader, they reveal themselves to me as the story gradually becomes clearer. Characters are the tools with which we build the story, for without them imagination cannot move forward.
As usual, I have left myself short of completing the chapter: I do this so that I don’t have to start tomorrow’s narrative from cold. It is a trick I have learned; it aids flow and reduces the chance of a WTF do I do next moment.
Ciao. Until tomorrow.