One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things

The title quote from Henry Miller is right on the money this week for me.

I started to pull together all the considerable research I’ve been doing for my book on the lost villages of Holderness. For once I’ve managed the research notes pretty well, even if I have to say it myself. One folder for each village or village cluster working from north to south down the coastline. Each folder contains my “visit” notes where I tried to locate the lost site without disappearing myself under a freezing North Sea –although I cut it fine once when I got the tides wrong and went home with a soggy bottom (soggy not saggy…and yet the mirror never lies). In addition there are notes from historical documents, copies of maps and photographs. By and large a goodly haul of data and now all I have to do is to turn it into something magical, readable and sellable.

Trouble is, once I started on the first of what is usually a zillion drafts, my ever sharp, incisive brain cell that has just returned from its holiday in La-la Land – noticed a theme emerging. I mean how many different ways can you say “Fell into the sea, 1413” “Went back to the sea 1172” and so on? Even old Roget the Thesaurus would be hard pressed to find sufficient verbs to describe falling, slipping, sliding, tumbling, going arse over tip etc all whilst keeping a reader’s interest. Ay, and there’s the rub – the whole saga (as I had conceived it) is mind-numbingly, eye-wateringly, jaw-breakingly bloody boring- just ‘words, words, mere words’. How could I have been so stupid? That’s a rhetorical question folks. One day a week for I don’t know how long, I’ve ventured forth bristling with cameras, notebooks, pens, thermos and water wings to search for evidence; all that time and effort for what?

But soft, what light through yonder tunnel breaks? (Those of you still with me will notice something of a Shakespearean touch this morning.) OK, so the plopping into the sea of thirty or so villages is a trifle tedious not to say repetitive, but what I also have hidden within my notes is a far more interesting story; it’s the story of the people and communities along the coast who, down the centuries, have lived with their hungry, briny neighbour lapping at their doorsteps. These communities have learned to adapt or perish and as far as this book is concerned, I think I have to do the same. Sorry Lost Villages – you’re only part of a much larger story – you’ll just have to exit stage left minus the bear.

(Altogether too much Shakespeare in the Park – Ed)

Close to the Edge

As it is the weekend, I thought I’d give you another story gleaned for my book about the Holderness Coast. I’m still trying to find a title for the book; to date its working title has been the Uncertain Coast – in reference to the fragile nature of the coastline. However, it’s a naff title so I’ve moved on to Living at the Edge. If any of you have any ideas pleeeeeese tell me.

Anyhow, to commemorate the start of the 2013 Ashes series – that’s the traditional cricket series v Australia for those not in the know – I thought I’d tell you a tale about the disappearing village of Skipsea. True Followers of this blog may remember Drogo and Skipsea castle but this story rolls us forward several centuries from the 1100s to the 1950s. At that time Skipsea was a peaceful, sleepy backwater, beloved by post-war caravan and chalet tourists. Its regular inhabitants numbered around 350. The only thing disturbing the peace was the constant nibbling away at the land by the hungry sea on Skipsea’s doorstep.

However, in deepest Aldermaston, the boffins at the Atomic Research Establishment were hatching a plot to convert sleepy Skipsea into the UKs first above-ground nuclear test site. It was this tranquil character plus proximity to local RAF bases that won the casting vote from the Aldermaston boffins.

Once the initial shock/horror passed, common sense and a helping of recalcitrant Yorkshire character prevailed when Skipsea’s great and good pointed out the proximity of the proposed test site to bungalows and beach huts with a public right of way running through for good measure.

The Aldermaston folk eventually came to their senses and switched their focus back to Australia where the first test had been carried out. 12 further tests were carried out in the mid 1950s, giving a whole new meaning to the terms “Test Series” and “Ashes” and a shameful legacy from nuclear testing lives on today.

Have a great weekend.

Seductive Synopses

Something from the motivational conference I attended earlier this week must have snuck into one of the spare rooms in my brain because I have shifted some work this week. For the first time ever I chose to put writing above the day job so I got a real feel for what life might be like if I ever give up the day job.

In line with my policy of trying to get a couple of articles accepted every month I have a queue of pieces all waiting in their allotted folders to be fully developed. The basic idea is there together with notes and research material. To get them all placed I sent out a half-dozen pitches and whilst I was at the conference two came back as acceptances…well one had a laconic “let me have a look” but ever the optimist I take that as a yes. Writing those two articles kept me full at it until the witching hour on Tuesday.

But the big thing this week was a nibble from a publisher and very pleasant it was too. In a rush of enthusiasm, on spec I had submitted a 150 word general summary of the book The Uncertain Coast via the publishers’ website. Just in case you’ve forgotten the Uncertain Coast is an illustrated light-touch history of the towns and villages lost to the sea on the unstable Holderness coast and of some of the people who lived in them. On Wednesday the publishers came back and asked for a full synopsis.

Yikes – this presents something of a problem. They want details of word count, how many photos/piccys, chapters and chapter summaries, markets and market sizes, hat and shoe sizes – no I made those up just to check you’re still awake. The problem is I simply don’t know. I’m about a third of the way through the research and have just the first chapter written plus two others.

I’m not great at planning out a structure, chapters and content before I’ve completed the research. When I judge I’ve got all the material I can access together, then I start to fit the pieces and the book evolves. So collecting up some emergency rations – fruit, energy bars and sport water – what? Who wrote that? My emergency rations come in the form of choccy, cashew nuts and a fruity red wine. I went into conclave with my co-author i/c photography and we knocked something into shape. I was elected to turn that something into a persuasive, seductive come-and-buy-me to the publishers.

I’m currently on version 5, weary, wordless (well almost) and most telling of all, I’ve realised that seduction is not my forte.

Y’all have a good weekend now.

Finding Drogo

After last weekend’s looting and pillaging I’ve spent much of this week quietly, in a darkened room, applying a dot of lavender water to my throbbing temples – such was the impact of a tribe of Britons at play in the sunshine. But I don’t mean to whinge. You can read last Tuesday’s post for the whinge. All I will say is that I’m thankful that I’m the shy, retiring type who doesn’t get out much.

However, it was a profitable weekend. I was able to track down numerous sites of places that have been lost to the sea. How the hell can she do that if they’ve disappeared into the sea? I hear you ask. I will try to express myself more clearly. I found their traces in street, field and house names; in remains on beaches or hanging off a cliff edge; in the memories of natives who wistfully recalled (prompted by a pint or two)the days when they could walk cliffside, from village to village instead of trekking two miles inland; who remembered blissful childhood holidays staying in a cliff top chalet that each summer shifted nearer the tipping point until…Get the picture?

I found the last vestiges of WWII defences against invasion – concrete pillboxes, one of which I’ve earmarked as a bijou home should I default on my vertiginous mortgage payments. Others I found sprawled across the beaches where they’d fallen.
Bijou home
Talking of bijou residences I also found local landmark Drogo’s Castle or the earthworks thereof. Smart cookie Drogo, he marries William the Conqueror’s favourite niece, builds a snug little hideaway in the middle of nowhere, rushes his new bride up there to live but not happily ever after. Presumably the guy got bored with her or, as they say, found another interest. He did her in – poisoned her, then rode like the clappers to uncle William to borrow vast sums of dosh from him before disappearing overseas never to be heard of again…all this before ever his crime was discovered. What a guy!

Walking back across the fields from the castle I ran into a band of hooligans. At first they were curious and just a little wary, shadowing me across the field. Then, egged on by the ring leader who had glossy golden hair and bold blue eyes, they grew confident, crowding me, tugging at the back of my jacket. I started to walk faster, they broke into a trot. I threw dignity to the winds and legged it over the nearest fence. The wild bunch,snorting derisively skidded to a stop on the other side.
“Ya, shoo you buggers” I wheezed. With a jeering “Moo-oooo” they turned away to graze.

I did enjoy my steak in the restaurant that evening.

Hell on Earth

I have seen hell on earth. It is:

the five mile tail back as minor road meets major at a T-junction.
The family pet left panting and distressed in the car with just a sliver of window open.
The cry of a toddler as his ice-cream slithers down his T-shirt to the sand and his mother gives him the rough side of her tongue.
The double parking down the beach road blocking the emergency ambulance’s access.
The group of bored teenagers throwing stones at a seagull with an injured wing.
The cliff top caravan park where the caravans are packed in so close you can shake hands with your neighbour without ever leaving the comfort of your sitting room.
Men’s white thighs and chests turning red-raw as they refuse to be anointed with Ambre Solaire.
The queues for loos denuded of toilet paper, soap or means of drying hands.
Irritation turning to anger; the sound of hard hand on soft flesh; the crescendo of a child’s wail punctuated by “I warned you.”

I have seen hell on earth – it’s a sun and heat starved nation enjoying Bank Holiday Monday and the first hot day of the year.
Why do we do it to ourselves and each other?

In Search of a bit of Looting and Pillaging

It’s Friday and the start of a holiday long weekend. I have a friend, June coming to stay. June is an accomplished photographer unlike me. My technique usually involves decapitating or otherwise maiming my innocent subjects. When I try to put some clever composition trick to work I usually end up with something farty rather than arty.

June and I are going to be driving up the coast where I live taking shots of various sites of historical interest – providing they stay still long enough. What is she on about I hear you ask. Erosion that’s what. This part of the UK’s coastline is disappearing fast into the sea and taking with it anyone or anything that happens to be on the spot at the time. It’s nothing new. In Roman times the coastline was about 2.5 miles further out to sea than it is now. Clever people at Universities suggest that the coastline will, eventually, get back to its original, post-ice age position. It’s got about another 13 miles or so to go yet.

The problem is the soft clay that makes up the cliffs and surrounding land. Under attack from both the sea and heavy rain which washes the clay into a soft chocolaty goo, the cliffs sigh, sag and slip quietly into the sea.

The history of this area is littered with stories of disappearing villages, church bells tolling out at sea, corpses falling out of cliffside graveyards to find new resting places on the beach below and even some good old fashioned murder, looting and pillaging.

So this weekend June and I go in search of all this history – especially the looting and pillaging bit – haven’t done any of that for a while. We aim to capture and record what we can and who knows there may even be a book in it.

Have a good weekend and don’t go driving on these roads!
Aldeborough Road End 2.jpg

Aldeborough Road End.jpg

It’s too cold for ice cream

I’m going to be typically British this morning and talk about the weather. So it you’re expecting the usual pearls of wit and wisdom look away now – you’ll be disappointed.

Being a skylark, I’m normally awake by 5am and up and about around 6.00am. This morning I let the clock get to 7.00am before I dragged myself from under the duvet. All I wanted to do was hibernate. I could hear the wind whistling and rattling the old windows; my nose was cold (no not a sign of good health – that’s for dogs)and, when gingerly putting toes to floor they shrank back in horror at the caress of the clammy cold.

Where is spring? This time last year we were basking in gentle warm spring sunshine. Today half the country is under snow and ice. Here on the east coast it’s been triple X gales for five days – cruel biting winds that have shrivelled up my newly-planted hedge; lazy winds that go through you rather than around you. When I peer out of my seaward windows it seems foggy outside but in reality each window is coated in a thin film of wind-whipped sand.

Down on the beach huge rollers break like a ragged chorus line in grubby petticoats. They throw up driftwood, crab traps, pink and yellow mooring buoys and the inevitable disgusting assortment of plastic bottles and bags.

Want a skin peel or laser treatment? No need to spend a fortune. Stand facing east for 60 seconds and have your face sand-blasted for free.

For me, one of the perks of living in the UK is the changing seasons; the clear distinction between them and the delicious anticipation of change as winter yields to spring. Over the past few years that pattern seems to have gone awry and there is less definition between them.

I’m undecided about global warming and climate change – I don’t really understand the “evidence” put forward and there are so many contradictory versions. However it is times such as these that I’m inclined to let heart rule head and believe that mankind has certainly done something to put the planet out of kilter and the Gods in a pet.

Please can we have some warmth and sunshine. I don’t want to have to move again to warmer climes.

Bonus Day

Today is a bonus day. I was supposed to be running a personal effectiveness workshop for a client but they have postponed it. So what shall I do with my bonus day… decisions, decisions? If I were to follow the advice in my book I’d ask the question: what’s the best use of my time today?

I could demolish the ironing pile; put up some shelves that have been waiting for weeks; prepare for the next round of the builders? Nah, it feels like a kick over the traces day.

There’s just the merest whisper of a waft of spring in the air. Last night two lovesick owls sat in the trees outside my bedroom window twitting and twooing to each other. Just a few minutes ago one of them flew past the office window on it’s way to bed…dirty little stop-out. So I think nature and a walk on the beach beckon; then a catch-up with e-mails; possibly a cholesterol-busting fry-up for breakfast and then, just for fun, back to a short story I started last evening. It’s a new departure for me – not quite horror more spooky. I have the beginning and the end but how the heck I get from one to t’other I’ve not the faintest idea. That’s where the beach walk helps – it blows away the rubbish in my head and allows new ideas to germinate. That’ll probably take care of things ’til mid afternoon when my brain starts hurting at which point…well I don’t know, that’s the luxury of a bonus day, I get to choose to do what I want rather than what I must.

We do seem to be leading more and more complicated lives these days, taking on multiple roles and becoming increasingly stressed. That’s why stepping off the merry-go-round of our lives is important, no essential. So today, my bonus day, I’ll be out and about taking time to smell the roses. Actually it won’t be roses I’m smelling because the pig farmer in the village has clearly decided it’s time to clean out his sheds.

Clothes peg anyone?

Moonlight Sonata

Last night was a full moon – hanging fat and white between a V in the cliffs and spreading an icy white sheen over the sea. Across the beach pinpricks of light from the head torches of the fishermen bobbed and dipped as the wearers settled down for a night catch.

Living so close to the beach and the sea creates an almost irresistable distraction for me and, as last night, just when I have a deadline to meet. Getting distracted is one of the sneakiest time thieves there is, setting up as it often does, a chain reaction. For example, last night went like this.

Gawp at the moon from office window; thinks I’ll take a photo; walks down to cliff top; takes photos; stargazes; meets one of the fishermen who gives me half a dozen good-sized dabs; walks home; makes coffee; cleans fish; freezes fish; makes more coffee; goes back to office; oops it’s now 1 o’clock and I’ve an early start tomorrow or do I mean today?

The net result, still more pressure to meet the deadline which has a knock on effect to all my other pieces of work.

Distractions and their oppo, interruptions are my bugbears. I know full well that when I need to concentrate I should avoid them like the plague – our brains don’t like it. For example, if you’re writing a story and then stop to answer the telephone or get distracted by a tweet, the brain “rules” for creative story writing, telephone answering and tweeting are all different. Every time you shift attention to deal with the interruption/distraction your brain shifts into a different mode to enable you to handle it. It takes nano seconds to do it but can lose you hours. It is the reason why we lose track, lose the character’s “voice” or have to start over each time we switch activity. Studies have shown that someone who is interrupted in a task takes 50% longer to complete it and makes up to 50% more mistakes on the way. Check out “Brain Rules” by John Medina for more info.

Still it was beautiful moonlight and come the apocalypse, I’ve a good stash of fish in the freezer to see me through. Now, where was I…?

Pitch Perfect?

Perhaps I should move my office – it’s far too tempting to stare out to sea and watch the early morning dog walkers on their way to the beach. I used to be one of them but sadly, my little hairy mutt Holly died in the New Year so my walks now are solitary ones. It feels odd and I still look back to see where she’s got to.

The sea today looks calm and placid in contrast to its hissy fit of the past few days with the waves smashing onto the beach and pebbles clacking noisily in the undertow. Now the gales have passed and the beach is strewn with debris – ideal for a bit of beach combing.

However, first I have a couple of pitch letters to write to magazine editors and whilst the features almost write themselves I find the pitch letters incredibly difficult, bringing on a bout of verbal constipation. I could cold-call I suppose but that gives me the willies even more than the pitch letter.

I’ve read a lot of advice about how to write the perfect pitch letter but it still doesn’t come naturally. I confess most of my published short work has been “speculative” – that is I’ve studied carefully the magazine I want to write for; checked length, structure etc; scrutinised the ads and read the blurb for advertisers (which gives a very good sense of the market the magazine is aiming at). Once I’ve done my homework and written the article or feature, I’ve sent it off on spec. However, these days, it is more and more the case that editors want pitch letters so I’d be interested to know if any of you writers out there have developed a perfect pitch?