Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Getting ready to start my second draft

Some folk hang around in the background and are very easily overlooked. They are not as exciting as the people in the foreground, at the centre of all the action. But then you look a little closer and realise that the nobody in the shadows actually has an interesting story of his own, and an important contribution to make to the events unfolding at centre stage.

That's how it is with David Whitaker. I have just come to the end of the first and major stage of my current novel which completes the basic compass of the story (and the story within). So now I am about to go back to the beginning and fill in the various holes which I left for for some hazily visualised episodes which I hoped would become clearer once that they had a more distinct place to fill. And there are a couple of supporting characters who can now show their mettle.

It wasn't clear to me how important David would become until late in the first draft when he seemed to emerge from the wings to take on a vacancy which I needed to fill. So I've had to spend a while thinking about him and what he has been getting up to while Judy has been, well, Judying all along. If I have appeared to be sitting around idling away the time, then the appearance has been misleading. I've been hard at work and the result is that I discover David had plans all along for taking over the family business. And Grandad wasn't just sitting in his empty bar and refusing to move while the pub became more and more shabby around him. He was making sure that the rest of the family wouldn't get their hands on the place until David was ready to step in.

Two characters who had been little more than shadows in the background are now clamouring for their stories to be told along with the saga that Judy has been disentangling for goodness knows how long. Looks like I've got work to do.

Saturday, 7 November 2015


I'm re-posting this from last year:

As come to Remembrance Sunday I am reminded of the first Remembrance service which I conducted after being ordained. I was a recent arrival in a small town in the northeast of England, the new minister of the largest of the “free” churches, and soon after the various welcomes were done and boxes unpacked, I had a letter from the Town Mayor inviting me to attend a meeting of all church leaders at the Town Hall. The mayor's idea was that the town should have a civic remembrance service with all churches represented. What he wanted was for a short opening service in the Town Hall after which everyone would walk to the War Memorial to conclude with an act of remembrance. It seemed like a thoroughly good idea to me – though I would now want to bring in non-religious groups as well, but that's another story.

The only ministers who turned up for the meeting were myself (Methodist), the Baptist minister and the Salvation Army Captain. Both the Anglican clergy sent apologies, one to say that because the War Memorial was outside his parish he would not be able to take part. They had their own War Memorial inside the church and so, as always, they would do their own thing. The other Anglican wrote to say that as the Town Hall was outside his parish, he would not be able to be involved – but the War Memorial was inside his parish so he would lead an act of remembrance there along with other members of his church. And anyone else who wished to do so was welcome to join them.

I objected. Surely what we were proposing was unified thing, a single Civic Service beginning in the Town Hall and concluding at the War Memorial. The vicar shouldn't just say he's not going to be involved and then walk in and take over at the end. “Quite right,” said the mayor. “I will write and tell him so.” And so it fell to me, the new guy in town, to organise and lead the whole thing and conduct the Act of Remembrance. And the vicar didn't show up at all.

When we got home that morning, we heard something to put church territorial sensitivities into perspective. A newsflash on the radio said that a bomb had gone off at the War Memorial in Enniskillen...

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Meres and mosses restored

During our recent visit to Cheshire, we went to explore the meres in the Hunger Hill area of Delamere Forest, just to the north of Blakemere. Leaving the lane from Barnes Bridge gates, we went down to the small secluded mere tucked between the switchback road and the western end of Blakemere. Previously we had only seen this from the lane but we wanted to get down there for a closer look.


Carefully, we negotiated our way across the top end of this boggy area.


Having climbed above the mere at the far side, we then descended into another hollow where a very different scene presented itself:

It is may not be the most picturesque part of the Forest right now. Just a devastated hollow with all the trees felled and looking pretty bleak but I found it really exciting. Right down there in the centre you can see what is happening. This is the main drainage ditch which was dug a couple of centuries ago to reclaim the ancient peatbog in an ill-starred attempt to gain land for much-needed timber for rebuilding the naval fleet after the Napoleonic War. A major act of eco-vandalism, really, which is now being put right.


Using cut down scrub and barriers like the one in the distance here, the ditches are dammed and nature is left to re-assert itself. Already this ditch is filling up and it will not be long until this water draining into the moss and being retained recreates a renewed mere where the old wetland created by the retreating age used to be.

It felt quite strange to think that we had come upon this part of the restoration project almost by chance and were able to walk through the hollow from one side to the other. That was the last chance we would ever have. When we come back in the spring, the place from where I took these photos will be underwater and another mere will have been handed back to the wildfowl and the dragonflies.

This is a place which I shall have to keep coming back to, from now until forever, to build up a photographic record of an ancient mere coming back to life. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Blain's Moss

Each time we visit Delamere Forest I make a point of taking some photographs of one or two of the ancient meres and mosses which are currently coming back to life as part of the exciting restoration project which has been going on for a few years now. This is one of the smallest of them all:

Blain's Moss is in a tiny hollow tucked away in the Forest near Hatchmere corner. I never knew about it until this restoration project began and the name caught my eye when I was looking at one of the information boards. It is named after one of the best loved characters of the Forest, Mam Blain who lived in this fascinating little cottage close to the moss and was a friend and foster mam of lots of children of my mother's generation.
Photo: (Tom Wright)

Mam Blain's story, though I know precious little of it, inspired the creation of Mam Tunstall in my novel, Leaving Gilead. So this Moss, named in her honour, is quite special for me.  

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Hard at work this week...

Writing always involves essential research. So, earlier this week Margaret and I took ourselves off for a couple of days for a trip along the Kennet and Avon Canal. This is Freddie, the boathorse, towing the barge at a leisurely pace along the waterway:

And here he is taking a break while we go through locks:
He's a lovely, good-natured animal who happily wanders quite freely around browsing on the grass and vegetation until he has to get back to work pulling the barge.

And now, back at my desk, I can see much more clearly how to write a short section of my novel in which Solomon Whitaker takes his empty barge back up the Weaver Navigation after unloading at Frodsham. I need more of these essential research sessions.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Always have your camera to hand...

...even when just sitting at your desk working. I looked up this afternoon and this character landed on my neighbour's chimney stack. A quick grab and shoot with no time to properly compose the shot or steady my hand, yielded this with a bit of help from Gimp:

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A photo to mark 2 centuries since Waterloo

It's 2 centuries now since the Battle of Waterloo which brought the Napoleonic wars to an end and I thought I should do an appropriate blog post to mark the occasion. So here's a photograph of Linmere in Delamere Forest – can you spot the link?

Something I didn't know as a child exploring and playing in the forest, was that originally Delamere Forest was pepper-potted with meres and mosses and peat-bogs. Didn't see much evidence of them as a kid. That's because they were hidden, almost destroyed. Because after the end of the Napoleonic wars, Britain's fleet was seriously depleted. Ships were desperately needed to replaced those which had been lost – and that meant there was a need for timber.

The meres and mosses were drained to provide land upon which to grow oaks for ship-building and local legend in Delamere has it that French prisoners of war were put to the huge task of ditch-digging. The land thus provided in this massive act of eco-vandalism was entirely unsuitable for its intended purpose, and now two centuries later in a truly exciting restoration project those ancient peat-bogs, like Linmere in the photo, are being re-wetted and are coming back to life.

This is the background of my current novel which traces the story of young Judy Whitaker as she tries to decipher Grandfather Solomon's tale of a shadowy foreigner lurking in the forest near his mother's home.