Ten days ago, my girlfriend and I left Falmouth for the Easter break and drove up to Gilwern in Wales to visit her nan. She lives in a converted barn of slate on the slope of the valley that runs between the Lonely Shepard and Tabletop mountains. For a city boy, the countryside still holds charm and enchantment: vast swards of pasture unbroken bar from small patches of woodland and old, cosy villages nestled at the bottoms of the hills; crumbling stone walls and fields full of bleating sheep and bouncing new-born lambs. Pastoral paradise – the perfect place for a writer… unless that writer’s working on a dystopian sci-fi story set on a floating city in the atmosphere of Venus.
It always surprises me how affected my writing is by the environment I’m in, though when put like that it makes perfect sense. This Easter, spent in the valley of the River Usk and on my girlfriend’s family farm (“The Funny Farm”) in Wiltshire, I’ve returned to the world of my fantasy story – still in the process of world-building after almost four years – when I really should have been writing my blog (well, here I am, at last), preparing for my upcoming essays and, most urgently, working on my aforementioned sci-fi story which is due in in six days.
During the Easter weekend I did no writing at all – I wanted to spend what little time I had in Wales exploring the Welsh landscape. My girlfriend Toria, her dad Nigel and I went for a morning walk up the Lonely Shepherd to rouse our appetites for the Easter Sunday lunch. As we walked through a small patch of woodland, alongside a mountain-spring brook, we came across the remains of an old shepherd’s hut – a small, circular wall of piled rocks only a foot or so high. In the middle of the circle were the clean-picked bones of three sheep.
We speculated on how the remains got there, firing off the rational explanations and getting them out the way so we could focus on the fantastic, the mysterious and exciting. Occult ritual worship or some savage, wild beast. We added to the scene by mounting the three sheep’s skulls on sticks. “To ward off evil spirits,” my girlfriend said.
We continued up out of the woods and on into the fields. In the first were three Shetland ponies, in the second were three full-sized steeds. We half expected the third to be home to three giant horses. Unfortunately it was empty, except a few chickens in huts.
We left Wales that evening, Nigel driving hell-for-leather along the scenic route, me in the front seat enjoying the ride, full of roast dinner and Easter-egg chocolate.
Back at the farm, nearly all the ewes had given birth. In the garden were three little lambs, rejected by their mothers, who had to be hand-reared and bottle-fed. Toria and I have been feeding them three times a day for the past eight days and we’ve grown quite attached. One, the smallest, almost died of hypothermia in its first few days of life. When it’s fed it coughs and splutters and one time it’s nose bled. It seems to be doing better now, stronger and healthier. We leave for Falmouth tomorrow. I’m going to miss those little lambs.
I tried to write my sci-fi story, but to no avail. I don’t believe in writer’s block – writing takes effort, thought and patience – but there are times when the process is so straining and the outcome so unworthy that’s it’s best to admit defeat and get on with something else. I finished reading Armadale by Wilkie Collins, and read The Turn of the Screw in a couple of days. Reading about Allan’s yacht made me miss the sea and as soon as I’m back I’m heading to Swanpool to do a bit of coasteering.
Now that I’ve finished my books I’ve got nothing to hide behind, so I’d better go and get on with writing my sci-fi story. This blog post has helped me get back into writing mode and has served as productive procrastination.
Next post – the Piemaker’s Manifesto.