Phew! It’s August. How did that happen? Soon it will be time for my annual wistful re-reading of Louis MacNiece’s Autumn Journal (September has come, etc). The past few weeks have been very busy – I went to Berlin to visit a writing friend, the inestimable Kerry Hudson, and we drank beer, ate sausages, stayed up too late, swam in a lake, got caught in the rain, and talked about writing (and boys). We also got snapped by Greenpeace activists in a full-on Berlin stereotype moment.
I then went the Theakston’s crime festival, in Harrogate – where I also drank, talked about writing, ate a lot, got caught in the rain, and sat on some giant astroturf chairs. It was as usual amazing to see all my writing pals and consume too much dessert wine.
After a trip to Brighton with my writer friend Sarah (waltzers, ice cream, third degree sunburb, gin from a can), next it was off to Yorkshire again to teach an Arvon course. These are week-long residential writing courses with a long pedigree, and it’s a great honour to be asked to do one. I had 15 fantastic students and (during rain showers) we spent our days workshopping plot, tension, premise, character, and much more. I also had time to speak to all of them individually, and on the final day of the course we had readings from everyone. I was amazed by how much work everyone had done, and the massive improvements over just a few days. They were all very patient with my coffee-fuelled and insomnia-driven monologues on writing. It made me think about this motto on the wall outside: we have no idea what we can do until we do it. Writing is an kinetic art. Get that pen and move it. (or, you know, tap on your Mac, but to my mind it’s not the same).
Being a massive Sylvia Plath fangirl, I was very excited to be staying in Ted Hughes’ old house, and able to visit her grave in the churchyard in Heptonstall. It was hard to find, almost hidden in the undergrowth, adorned with sad notes from despairing literary women from round the world (often I am one of these). What I feel most about her now is the tragic waste – such talent before the age of 31, and she could easily still be alive now had she not been taken by the severe depression of a harsh, lonely London winter. She’s buried in a very peaceful spot now, and I hope that, in whatever sense you believe in such things, she’s at peace too.
The next stop on my summer is Edinburgh for ten days, to soak up the free-floating creative molecules that circulate (I totally believe this is true – go if you don’t believe me). I have a short story to write for radio and a book to edit, so you may see me perched somewhere squinting into the new netbook I paid £80 for – what could possibly go wrong?