A friend wrote to me this week to let me know that a novel I had read for her a couple of years ago is starting to make waves. She has the interest of both a good Scottish publisher and a London literary agency, and there is a TV series in the offing with a producer and production company already on board.
The story of a young widow in the West Highlands struggling to keep her ancestral home afloat, it’s beautifully observed, fast and funny, and full of twists and turns. Above all it’s an affectionate and tender portrait of a family and their deep connection with an ancient place under threat.
I wrote to her at the time that it was a book with a lot of heart. It had other qualities too, good plotting, characterisation and dialogue, for example. But it’s the heart that speaks, and I’m certain that is what is catching people’s attention now.
I know from the experience of writing this blog that the posts I’m most satisfied with are those where I’ve felt a strong emotional connection with what I’m writing about. More often than not they’re the ones that get the best response. And when I was writing fiction I found that whenever I got stuck, reconnecting with the characters’ emotions was invariably what got things moving again.
One can tell a good story or make a convincing case for something without being wholly invested in the subject; that’s a writer’s job. But to serve as that conduit to the universal themes that people respond best to requires a certain willingness to be naked. That can only happen, I believe, when one is fully connected to oneself.
Yesterday evening, I walked along the river in search of just such connection. The sky was cloudless. The footpath, the former carriageway of a local big house, is lined with the remnants of what were once twin columns of magnificent beech trees. Straw bales in the field behind me cast long shadows. The river ran steady and deep, and the steep wooded hillside on the opposite bank was bathed in sunlight.
I badly needed to slow down, catch my breath and empty my mind of all the busyness of my own life and the craziness of the world around. I sat for a while with the sun warming my back, hoping to see our local beaver. He (or she) didn’t appear, but a dipper flitted onto a log in the water in front of me and bobbed there, white bib winking.
The world stilled. My mind drifted to the previous week and the house in North Cornwall where the whole family had gathered in advance of my 70th birthday – my four children, their three partners, my four grandchildren, and Sarah.
There on the riverbank, I relived moments of wordless communion with an unblinking seven-month-old; the warmth and giggles of a wriggling toddler in my arms; delight in the intelligence and imagination of the soon-to-be-ten-year-old; admiration for the thoughtful, hard-working, loving adults and friends my children have become; and appreciation of their partners both as the individuals they are and for what they bring to my children’s lives.
This is what I’m living for now, I thought: to do in my remaining years of activity whatever I can to leave the world an easier place for those closest to my heart. I may not end up making any difference, but the attempt itself is an expression of the love that I believe will be the one thing to endure after I’m gone.