It's a strange thing ... I'm not at my best in winter. The cold, the dark, the incessant wind which I always find so unsettling, and yet there is something about this time of year which makes me need to write. Something in the bleak, grey melancholia of listening to the rain pattering down on to the roof of my attic bedroom, of watching the dark clouds and the mist roll in across the moors, of the sound of the wind whistling in through the crack in the window frame, which makes me want to huddle down with my imagination and retreat into story. A form of meditation made easy thanks to winter's soundtrack.
I once wrote a novel in the dark. I could, in fact, only write in the dark. Winter is the best time for this, of course, as the nights are long. And at night, while the world sleeps, I know I won't be interrupted. You can feel the quiet, if you're still enough, and out here between the sea and the moor, my village is lit only by the stars, so the dark presses in and wraps me up like a blanket.
The first thing I remember wanting to be 'when I grew up' was a writer. I penned my first story, complete with illustrations, when I was about 7 or 8. I wish I still had it. In my memory it was an adventure story, Enid Blyton style, with all the kids on my street as the characters in the story. I was always writing after that. It was a way to express my dreams, my fears, my ideas about life and the world around me. It was the way I made sense of things, brought calm to the confusion of growing up. As a teenager, I was known as the one who stared out of windows, 'fighting dragons' in my head. Trigonometry was never for me. I was too busy telling stories to myself. I started illustrating almost as an afterthought, but as it turned out, I was quite a good artist so I carried on, and gradually the art took over. But I never gave up the writing, and I could never really create images without thinking of the narrative behind them. Always had to fight the urge to put lines of text into every piece of artwork I created. For me, the two things just seem to go together.
These days, I like to think of myself as a 'storyteller'. Labels of 'artist', ''illustrator', 'writer' etc have never really sat very comfortably with me. To tell a story has always been my intention and I will use any media which feels appropriate at the time. But still, I love to write. Particularly during the dark days of winter. Particularly now, in deepest Cornwall, in the night.
So, I write. And right now, I am writing a collection of (long) short stories. Ideas which began 2-3 years ago mostly, around the time I went back to university and picked up my imagination again. Ideas based on fairy tales and memory and the experience of being human, ideas which are all these things mixed together.
One of these stories, 'Salt in The Blood' is a widening of the narrative I worked on during my MA, the Sailor and the Siren, who, for now at least, seem fated to continue their battle. Another is my version of 'The Red Shoes', difficult to write as it is based on my memories of being in hospital and recovering from illness. A third, 'Red & Black' (working title) seems to be about identity and the multiple faces we present to the world. I'm not sure that I'm up to the task of articulating these ideas, and there have been times these last few months when every sentence feels like trying to swim up through cold treacle, but the words are taking shape, slowly but steadily.
Of course, all writing will undoubtedly come to a halt as soon as the clocks go forward, shelved until the dark days come again, but until then, I shall sit here in the dark, listening to the rain outside and the wind in the chimney, fighting dragons, swimming through treacle ...