My new world of work requires me to wear shoes. Shoes! And makeup. I need to wash my face and put on clothes before I start typing every day. Hair? That’s still a bit deranged but there’s only so much preening I can handle.
There are no more early morning strolls along the coast, boiling the kettle for that third cup of coffee, putting on the washing machine, checking emails, Facebook, Twitter, a couple of news websites and WordPress before typing my first sentence. Then stopping mid way to have another quick peek at Twitter. My walking boots, fleeces and down jackets are currently… resting. Read more
My mission this week involved driving 150 miles through some of Scotland’s most glorious scenery to interview salmon farmers on the far west coast. I’ve been deprived of snow all winter in my frost-free, east-coast cottage, removed from mountains and the spectacular raw wildness of the west. I jumped at the chance.
I saw snow alright, on the tortured hills of Glencoe, the mighty Buachaille Etive Mor guarding the entrance to the notorious narrow pass. Late afternoon sun broke through the snow clouds to create lighting effects that accentuated the drama – if that’s possible in such a place. I followed labouring lorries loaded with straw bales bound for livestock farmers on the islands. And I stopped to get close to ducks looking longingly for food.
And the work? A ride on a boat; questions about how salmon farmers handle protected predators like seals (scare them, deter them or shoot them). And finally a sea loch-side hotel and a sleep within hearing distance of the tide.
“I simply must touch it’s curly wool and give it a cuddle,” the woman cooed, pushing past me. “They’re sooooo beautiful.” Her wide-eyed husband appeared equally besotted. “Like teddy bears,” he murmured, as he joined the stampede. “Adorable.”
And that appeared to be the universal reaction to the sheep breed dubbed the “cutest in the world” when I went to record radio interviews at an agricultural show yesterday. Even the dyed-in-the-wood (no pun intended) Scottish farmer who’d imported them from Switzerland admitted that he’d fallen in love with them. And if the attention at the show was an example of the public’s reaction to his new enterprise, he’s on to a real winner. But for sale as pets, not pies.
They’re called Valais Blacknoses, they look like giant cuddly toys, they wear giant tinkling bells round their curly necks and the spectators who hung around desperate for a cuddle (with the lambs, not me) were so carried away they made fabulous interviewees.
Never work with children or animals, they say, but the latter sure works for me. And yeah, I can’t deny it, they are pretty cute.
The cattle corpse was still warm, but skinless, when it whacked the back of my head. I quickly moved before the next swinging carcase emerged from the horror around the corner.
Ten minutes later the door of a chill room clunked shut and I shivered in the company of 120 rapidly cooling animals and a man in a white coat.
They’re not the opening sentences of my new novel; just a recent day in the life of a rural broadcaster.
I’ll spare you pictorial evidence of my outing to the abattoir. It wasn’t my first one, and certainly not the goriest. That was in Brazil where our cameraman got lost in the “slaughter room” and reappeared a few minutes later dripping blood from head to foot. At least it wasn’t his own.
But the last few weeks haven’t all been about meat plants. There have been gentler commissions which saw me strolling through colourful wildflower meadows, interviewing a farmer about harvesting the seeds of 200 different flowers and grasses. I learned that the random wildflowers we see on roadside verges and roundabouts aren’t there by chance after all; they’re grown commercially then packed and sown in specific variety mixes. On another day I crawled around a harvest field getting sounds of a combine, and on Monday I’m meeting the animals dubbed the “cutest sheep in the world”.
We “media people” lead such terribly glamorous lives.
Ask me anything you like about Megahertz and bits, wav files or dynamic mics. I’m an authority on XLR versus the other plug-in-connection-things. And as for audio interfaces and MS-mic widths? Well….it’s all in the manual.
I spent today in the dark commercial lair of dedicated DJs and music men, buying recording gear. I’ve used borrowed equipment for the last few months while I tested the market and now I’ve invested in my own work toys. I’d forgotten how much I love being in radio; the research, interviewees, recording, editing and then listening – in trepidation – to the broadcast.
It’s good to be back in business.
It took two years of deliberation, but finally the van is On The Road.
And the first camper adventure may have been brief but it was shared with my sons.
So on this momentous occasion my view from the back seat of the two co-drivers is the one I’ll treasure.
Near my grandfather’s grave a swirl of moss on stone outlines a neighbour’s life.
Does anyone have experience of burying bodies? Preferably in peat? Was anything dropped in the grave that was incriminating?
I’m addressing writers, you understand, not murderers. And no, these aren’t questions I expected I’d ever have to ask but an unpredicted twist in my almost completed story means I’m having to rewrite a section and I’m struggling to find a likely item that would survive long enough to date the grisly event back in the late 1970s when the body is eventually uncovered in 2014.
I know this isn’t the time for reflecting on dastardly deeds, but perhaps in a spare moment, while you’re choosing presents, watching a nativity or humming a carol you might give some thought to my dilemma which is currently driving me to drink; mulled wine, as it happens – there has to be some seasonal cheer in an otherwise murder-riddled festive period.
The scene is a remote Scottish moor and the baddie, a mature male farmer, disposes of the evidence without considering that the blanked-wrapped body will ever be found, so he’s not too careful. Peat bogs are exceptionally good at preserving items but it doesn’t need to incriminate him, just anchor the event in the period.
Oh, you want to know if there’s a reward for the most useable information? Well, I could name one of my characters after you so that you’d be immortalized in a …ahem… bestseller.
How about it?
I’ve written the last paragraph.
It’s just the beginning and it’s not even a full first draft, but it feels like an achievement and I need to share it. Writing’s a lonely business and most of my pals suspect I’ve been loafing around and reading novels these past eight months. My “book” has become an in-joke! And that’s absolutely fine because I’m not comfortable describing myself as a writer… yet! Journalist? That’s different; I’ve spent 30 years being paid to write and broadcast.
But finishing the last chapter gives me the impetus to start editing, rewriting and checking on facts. I’ll be more confident in contacting all the professionals who’ve helped so far and I’ll speak to others. There’s still so much to do, and many words to write, but at least there’s a structure now. I can finally see the light.
I started my research in March and took chunks of time out to walk and travel but other than that, writing this story has been my “work” this year, and I’ve learned a lot. It was a mistake to start without a plot but then I didn’t know there were going to be so many words! And I hadn’t a clue how it would end – until it did.
I hope I’m not tempting fate by setting a deadline now, but I intend to have a first draft by the end of the year. And when my family come home at Christmas I hope I’ll have the courage to show them what I’ve been doing all these months.
Now there’s a scary prospect.
I’ve traded superfast Wi-Fi and a reliable phone signal for a log fire, candles and a cottage door that opens onto a Highland beach.
On my first night here I fell asleep convinced that through the bed, the floor, the foundations and the sand I could feel the vibration of the waves on the shore just a hundred yards away. On a wild day I will certainly hear them smashing against the pier.
I know the tide times now; I know when to walk so the rock pools and seaweed will be uncovered. My mind and body are becoming attuned to signals that are natural rather than electronic. No bleeps.
It’s getting dark early at night and it’s quiet; I hear nothing through the thick old walls of this fisherman’s cottage so for the first time in months I slept beyond 6.30am today. And 7.30.
At 8.30 I woke slowly to tranquility I haven’t experienced for years. Is this the return of a natural body clock that isn’t disrupted by the reflex rush to check gmail, Facebook or Whatsapp before breakfast? For the next few months there will be no wakening up to read the BBC news or regular bloggers over a cup of tea. No more crumbs of toast in the keyboard.
For two days now I’ve been writing without distractions and I’m sitting tonight down by the hearth with candles burning. No music. No radio. Just the crackle of the logs and the smell of wood.
It’s what I wanted, but going cold turkey and withdrawing to a life without instant access to knowledge, friends, research and trivia is confirming just how many waking hours I’m wasting by clicking and mindlessly browsing. Random notions to price international flights I’ll never catch have to be dismissed. But will that mean I read more or write better? I guess I’ll find out.
It’s still too early for a full hibernation so in the morning I’ll walk to the library to send emails and this update and by the time you read it I’ll have returned to Internet exile. Temporarily.
But if I no longer inhabit a virtual world do friends and readers still exist? If I can’t see you, can you still see me?
I’m just wondering.