I love the word ‘serendipity’. It is a much better word than destiny or coincidence to describe the few weeks between mid-March and the beginning of May 2009 when the Writers’ Block monster was beaten back until it resembled a simpering, wizened old man in the corner who didn’t even have the strength to lift his head. There were so many arcane moments during that time, it seemed as if Fate was handing me the story on a platter full of ideas.
My best writing time is early in the morning. I love getting up at around 4.00 am and sitting in the lounge, with my laptop on my knees. Usually one or two of our dogs will join me for company, raising their heads periodically when I whisper and mutter to myself as I type. I needed a prompt for inspiration to begin writing and so I browsed through my computer files. Coincidentally, one of my writing friends in the Wannabe group, Kevin Machin (alias Captain Black) had recently urged us all to back-up our work, so I decided kill two of the proverbial birds at once and have a bit of a clear-out in my writing folders before downloading the remaining stuff to a memory stick.
Quite by chance, I discovered a very short piece of writing I had started entitled Doubled Lives. At the time I had half-heartedly thought it might be the beginning of a short story or even a novel. I opened up the document and read through it before deciding whether to keep it or not. It was whimsical and (to me) deliciously indulgent, and I felt a tingle of excitement that I had actually written such an evocative piece of writing. If I could do it once, I could do it again.
It was as if Fate had set in motion a huge wheel of fortune on the day I stood in the restaurant queue in the Natural History Museum, stopping periodically to guide me through the assault course of writers’ block to various ideas for the novel. It had stopped again at this piece of writing, consigned to the file on my computer entitled ‘Odds’.
This is an extract (it doesn’t appear in the book) but it gave me the idea for introducing a subtle paranormal element to The White Cuckoo.
“Come the summer months, the sepia photograph of Adeline’s memories metamorphosised into a different beast. In a glorious blaze of green and gold under a deep blue sky, dark, predatory tigers’ eyes lurked behind gnarled trunks of trees, ready to leap out and snatch the wallets of anyone too slow to jump out of the way of their outstretched claws.
Rows of people carriers and 4 x 4s belched their contamination into the serenity of Adeline’s existence, spewing out squealing children to invade the quiet, peaceful meadows of her past.
Each summer for almost a hundred years Adeline had searched for herself, drifting through an undulating sea of faces looking for the woman who destiny had told her would, one day, come to release her. Year after year she watched generations of geese, ducks and swans as they scuttled into the sanctuary of an island in the middle of the lake, where, squawking and squabbling they would venture out periodically to seek out the offerings of tiny fingers clutching plastic bags.
During the summer, Adeline would grimace at the smell of chips and fried onions, which each day overwhelmed the delicate aroma of soft earth, dewy grass and the freshness of the mist that rose from the lake at dawn. When dusk fell, she would wander amongst discarded polystyrene containers and plastic cups as they rolled around in the breeze like tumbleweed over the deserted car park.”
This is, of course, a description of Wicksteed Park on a busy day. On reading this excerpt, I remembered I had originally written it in the park one hot bank holiday Monday in May in 1999 or 2000. I can recall watching my 17 or 18 year old eldest son as he worked on the go-karts while my youngest son and his friend amused themselves and spent lots of my hard-earned money on tickets for the attractions. Despite having painful, sunburned shoulders, I had obviously typed it up when I got home. If you want to see how this piece of writing gave me an idea for The White Cuckoo, you can work it out for yourself when you read the novel.
I printed off the document and slotted it into the pocket of my blue Pukka Pad. I knew it was now time to crack my knuckles, flex my fingers and start writing the novel Armed with my notes, my mind map, decision trees and character profiles, I began to type.
That morning, before I went to work, I finally banished the Writers’ Block monster for good and managed to type almost three thousand words. I didn’t want to stop. It almost seemed as if the novel was writing itself. I thought about ringing into the office and booking a day’s annual leave, so ecstatic was I that I could finally write again. With much reluctance, I stopped typing, packed away my laptop and got ready for work.
Later, as I drove to work, I glanced in my rear view mirror which had somehow gone wonky. Expecting to see the road behind me, instead, I saw a pair of brown eyes. I was startled beyond belief because the eyes reflected in the mirror were unmistakeably my dad’s eyes and he had been dead for six years. Of course, they weren’t really my dad’s eyes, they were mine, but I hadn’t realised our eyes were identical. All day at work, I couldn’t stop thinking about my dad, who had died in 2001.
The next morning, during my writing session, I re-read my previous day’s work and added these words, as the opening to the novel:-
In the rear view mirror, I glance at my mother’s eyes. They are staring straight into mine, boring deep into my soul. I ease my right foot off the accelerator. The eerie moment has unnerved me.
It’s been almost two, long years since I gazed into my mother’s forthright brown eyes, and yet it seems like it was only yesterday. When she was alive, she outwardly hid nothing from me, yet behind the chestnut warmth prowled a dark reticence that kept its secrets well-guarded and veiled in mystery.
My father’s mouth smiles at me. Simultaneously, I smile back. The moment passes with the spine-tingling realisation that I have inherited my mother’s eyes and my father’s smile.
For two years I’ve suffered a persistent obsession to come back to Lyverton and as I approach the village it unnerves me to see my own reflection in my rear view mirror. It’s as if I am two people – the living, breathing woman in the car and the ghost of myself in the mirror. I say ‘come back’ to Lyverton, but that’s not strictly true, for to return means you must have been somewhere before. I have never travelled along this road to Lyverton, and if I’m truthful I have always been a little frightened of what I might find here.
(Extract from the first draft of the White Cuckoo – April 2009)
The above excerpt didn’t end up being the start of the novel. I eventually added another chapter before this piece appears in the book and changed the whole book from the first-person to the third-person, but it illustrates how, as a writer, every moment of every day can turn into an idea.
It was most definitely ‘serendipity’, and as you will see in the coming weeks, it kept happening again and again.
(The next chapter will be published on 13th July because I won’t have internet access while I am on holiday)