We are drawing to the end of Module Three of the How to Write a Novel course, on-line with theUnthankSchool.
I will talk more about this illuminating course later – giving away no free-bies. However, I want to show you what emerged from an exercise we were asked to do during a section of the course about settings. Obviously a vital ingredient of a novel. Stories must take place somewhere. Remember, ‘Once upon a time, on the edge of a great dark forest, stood a cottage …’
I already had the two settings for my novel, the protagists’ home and her ‘other world’ more exciting, challenging and frightening than her normal surroundings. We have the choice not to do any of the exercises if we don’t care to, but why would I do that?
The exercise was to take a pencil and notebook outside and write stuff down. On this sunny day, I fancied a walk and, you’ll never believe this, I, the writer, had never written the real world before. Not ever. So I did. And this is what came out of my walk.
Branches draw untidy sketches across a smooth sky. The seats are patterned with raindrops, the wet grass shiny and empty, except for a crow, stalking and pecking. Few people straggle on the tarmac paths, all a darker shade of grey. Across the green, a motorbike roars its way to a house where pizza is on the lunch menu. On the near side, a tube train, released from its dark tunnel, rackets along. Only three more stations before it can rest up. A spreading puddle, turning the path into a bathing pool for pigeons, forces me to walk on ground slithery with mud and London clay.
A light breeze tickles my nose and I want to laugh, until a cyclist whizzes past, crash helmet on, prepared for a mishap even if I am not.
I cross to the other side at Fishers Lane. Fishing? Where? Or perhaps Fishmongers. When?
There’s sun on my face now but the breeze has become sharp wind. Past the once disused church, now a resurrected gospel-singers’ concert hall with a play-group hut in the garden. And here come the children, their tiny faces muffled with scarves, chattering and clinging onto a rope for safety, as innocent as Lewis Carroll’s oysters, being led across the sand by the Carpenter.
It is 1642. I am on the far side of the common, where the northern flank of the Royalist Army is facing up to troops led by Colonel John Humphrey, a parliamentarian. Canons boom, swords flash and smash. Instead of petrol fumes and the horns of irritated drivers, the air is darkened with smoke and tainted by soldiers’ oaths. But the battle is undecided as are so many of life’s conflicts.
On the way home, I walk under a tree with pink buds heralding spring and a blackbird trilling his good news.
I recommend breaking a morning’s writing with walking. And the exercise recommends the course. There’s a new one starting in May.