Whoever thought writing was a sedentary activity should have been with me these past few weeks. Since my week in the Falkland Islands in March, my researches into the saga of HMS Erebus have taken me to Pembroke Dockyard in Wales, where the ship was built 190 years ago, to the Orkney Islands, the last sight of home for the ill-fated crew of Franklin’s Arctic expedition, and just last week to Hobart, Tasmania which was the base for Erebus’s most successful voyages, into the heart of the Antarctic.
A lot of the places where my story is set are remote corners of the world, so it takes a while to get there, but one thing they have in common is an almost unpolluted atmosphere. It’s quite a shock to look up into the heavens above Port Stanley or Western Australia (where I went to a Writers Festival on my way to Hobart) and see the sheer mass of flickering, sparkling light that fills the skies. Its a sight that takes the breath away, and one we big city dwellers never get to see.
The only trouble is that I know that soon I’m going to have to stop travelling and sit down and write my book. Instead of seeing stars I’ll be seeing spellcheck. Ah, well, I’ve always enjoyed the writing process. Not that it’s always as smooth as it seems. I recently had to sort through my writings that date back more than 50 years, to try and decide which to send to the British Library archive. In the end I gave up and sent everything.
So many of the best Python ideas sprang from squiggles and doodles and crossings out, that what I was giving the British Library was bound to be a bit of a mess, but a kind of productive mess, which they would sort out. And they seemed very happy to do that. The fact that all my Python material was hand-written, and then re-written, and then chopped up and inserted into someone else’s sketch didn’t seem to worry them. And it doesn’t really worry me any more. I’m an obsessively tidy person, and yet it’s the untidiness of the Python sketches that reveals the thought processes behind them.
“Don’t tidy up histery’ I wrote in my notebook, and then crossed it out and wrote it again, spelling “history” right.
Hope you all have a really great summer – and for those in the southern hemisphere, a really great winter.