A while ago, I wrote a blog about the Seasons of Writing. It was an idea that my good friend Jen Alexander shared with me, and I’ve loved it and referred to it on countless occasions ever since. The idea is that the process of writing a book is very much like the calendar of seasons in a year.
Well, if that’s the case, it is definitely spring right now.
I’m at the very start of working on a new book. It’s an idea that has been patiently waiting underground for quite a few years, and its time has now come. Just as I’m beginning to see snowdrops appearing in the countryside, and tiny shoots starting to come through the ground in my own garden, my new story is beginning to show its head. Little tiny shoots coming up, one by one, all pretty and fresh and exciting.
For over a decade, writing has been my job, and there are times when I’m very aware of that. I make myself sit at my desk for a certain length of time; I set targets that involve writing a set number of words; I organize events, I attend book festivals, I do publicity, I write emails, blogs, articles; I reply to lovely letters from readers. All of these things are wonderful, and all make me feel glad that this is how I make my living. But a lot of the time, my job doesn’t feel especially creative.
But it does now.
A couple of months ago, I attended a writers’ retreat that I run with my author buddy Elen Caldecott. Four days where eighteen children’s authors come together to share thoughts, ideas, inspiration and workshops all about writing and creativity, set in beautiful countryside.
(I made a kind of slideshow of my photos while I was there. You can watch it here if you want to see why it’s such a lovely place.)
This was the fourth time we’ve run this retreat, and I have to say I think it was the best yet – especially in terms of creativity. But the point of this blog is to share what was, for me, the best thing to come out of this year’s retreat. And that was that my new book started to open up – yes, like a beautiful new crocus slowly unfurling its petals.
Part of the way that this happened was to do with my surroundings. Each morning of the retreat, I got up early and went out for a walk with my camera. The mornings were so quiet and the light was so soft, as a mist gradually lifted from the fields and trees. Something about the mornings felt right for my book, and started leading me towards the background mood and setting.
Then one evening, another writer buddy, Kelly McKain, and I had a wonderful couple of hours sharing music and downloading each other’s favourite songs. So on the final morning when I went out for my walk, I took my headphones and listened to these new songs at the same time – and the most amazing thing happened. As I walked, and watched the mist and the dew, and listened to the songs, I started almost seeing my book begin to take shape in front of me. I almost heard my characters singing lines from the songs as I listened to them. Almost felt their moods and their emotions, as I felt the mist rising on a storyline that was starting to take shape after five years of waiting in the shadows.
And it’s carried on like that for the months following the retreat. I’ve added more tunes and now have a playlist of about thirty songs. I play them when I walk the dog, trudging along a muddy coast path and hearing the characters singing the words. I play them in my study, writing away in my lovely new notebook, as I try to capture the feelings, the moods, the words and the moments in the same way as I saw them out on the cliff path.
I have written about fifteen books, and I can honestly say that I have never experienced anything quite like the process that is taking place with this book. It feels so creative, and such a journey of exploration. It’s intense, emotional, exciting and kind of magical. It reminds me that, after all, this isn’t just my job. It is my passion; it is one of the things that is at the heart of who I am, how I see the world and how I live my life.
The book is due to be delivered in September this year. I have two books coming out before then and a busy year ahead – but for now, I’m enjoying taking the time to nurture these seedlings of ideas that are popping up every day.
So yes, this is work, and yes, sometimes it’s hard. But right here, right now, it feels like a privilege that I get to do such a magical, wonderful, creative thing and call it my day job. I hope that over the coming months, I can do my characters justice. I look forward to the rest of the spring, and am hoping for a summer filled with bright colours, delightful scents and a beautiful, blossoming story.