Monday, 31 December 2007

The Winter People

My novel starts with a prologue. I reproduce it below to complement the estuary photographs.

We live on the Northmarsh: this is the place where we live.

Waves of time break on the foreshore of this echoland. The salt-driven winds, funnelling through the estuary, touch our lives until they are swallowed by the hills and ridges that protect us from our enemies.

We are the spirits of Neanderthal people, overpowered by the force of the equinox tides, broken by the persistent cold. Sometimes we are summer people basking in the crisp white sunlight, but mostly we are winter people: living on the sea rim, foraging for scraps until the daylight becomes bright again.

We were alive in this place thirty thousand years ago, yet we are diminished into silence by the age of the hills. Imagine a world where a hundred years pass in a minute. We get a much better view of the place this way: things take time to develop properly.

In this world, we lived on the Northmarsh five hours ago; the hills that fed and protected us were made ten years earlier. Ten years of silence and the sounds of wind, water and animal song. In this world, we learned to sing.

Early in the morning, when the pink light touches the hills you can believe that time has stood still, but the illusion is soon broken. Stone Age people breathed only eight minutes before the present. We are far older than that: we are Neanderthal.

In this story, echoes of the past resound in the present. Ian Mason, the dreamer they call ‘Ina’, lives in the today. He and his friends are changed by the Northmarsh. They deny this, of course, but they are as touched as we are by the evening sun dipping below the waves.

Like us, they dream of riding the smooth surface of the sea. Unlike us, they dream of sailing boats, whilst we drown in the deep darkness. Like us, they pass like shadows over the landscape; unlike us they dream of a future for their children.

The sea is ever new, but has travelled the tidal currents since before our time. We bide our time and we watch the story unfold. How does Ina win the battle for life, whilst our children perished in the storms? What have they gained and what have we lost? Now we shall tell a story for ourselves.

As above, so below.

We are burned by the dreams that come at nightfall. They hold us, own us, and leave us unable to breathe. We have no words to soothe their pain, no language to share their terror. Our dreams stay in our heads. We feel, but we cannot discuss. We hurt, but we cannot share. In the icy cold on moonless nights, we burn. Are we the only people living in our heads?

Ina dreams his life in a digital age. He is burned by images that come through his computer screen. A moment’s abuse can be captured and shared for the world to see. Private moments become public property as tears of grief are turned into bits of information, and sent round the world forever.

This is his modern life: ideas, thoughts and experiences can be reduced to information objects. Saved objects live forever; unsaved objects are lost forever if their power is withdrawn. But which dreams will survive, and which will be lost? See how they compete with each other for his attention. Observe their struggle for existence: only the fittest survive.

Abracadabra: ‘the blessing and the curse’.

We are careful to conceal ourselves; the living people may glimpse us under falling leaves or out of the corners of their eyes, but never face to face. That alone is Ina's blessed gift and pitiable curse.

In this story, nothing is as it seems. We see the ice from the snowfields turn to melt water in the spring and then boil into steam on our fires. Everything flows and nothing stays. 'You cannot step twice into the same river'. For Ina and his friends this is true, but not for us. We are ghosts.

Will we tell a new story, or an old one with a different twist?

Once upon a time.
Once there was, and once there was not.

In nomine Matris,
Et Sororis,
Et Spiritus Sancti

This is the start of our story.


A lot has happened since my last posting. I have been revising the early chapters of my novel to send to an agent. I tend to hone and hone my writing. There is a real danger in trying to over-explain things, so the reader has his/her mind made up by the author. So, a lot of this editing is losing words here or there that 'scaffold' the plot. I am trying to increase the dramatic tension, and you can't do that if you over explain or (even worse) predict and flag up the tension too far in advance.

My story is set in a place called Northmarsh. It is based on a town in Somerset UK called Clevedon that I know well. It is a Bristol Channel port with the second biggest tidal range in the world. There is something very elemental about living on an estuary, always conscious of the tidal flow. It looks as if humanity evolved close to estuaries and tidal rivers, when our diet was rich in sea food and oily fish. (This adds an interesting evolutionary twist to the Omega 3 and intelligence debate).

Limestone and tidal surges. No wonder our Victorian forebears wanted to stamp their superiority on the place by building a monumental pier!