Over the Moors and Far Away…

I’ve just survived a holiday. Survival might sound like a low bar for a holiday, but not this one. Four days traversing the area known ominously as the Dark Peak: more than fifty miles of walking, across rocky moorland and peat bogs, up to the highest points in Derbyshire. Our packing included emergency rations and a bivvy bag, ‘just in case’. Now, I usually try to avoid situations in which there is the slightest possibility of having to spend the night huddled in a bag with nothing to eat but a handful of raisins and cashew nuts, but on this occasion I let my husband talk me into our trek along the Pennine Way. My condition – I think a fair one given my recent back problems – was that he carry all our stuff.
We set out early on Saturday morning, mildly hung over, to catch the train to Hebden Bridge. Thence we would walk the 18 miles to Marsden, via Stoodley Pike, Blackstone Edge, and a whole load of peat hags. I wasn’t entirely convinced we would make it. The first half of the day wasn’t too bad, but once we crossed the M62 and the weather closed in… there did come a point at which, as I trudged along, aching, bone-tired, and wet through, I thought to myself, ‘Nobody is paying me for this. I’m doing it For Fun. Why the hell didn’t I insist that we go somewhere with less moorland and more cake?’

The start of our walk

The start of our walk

Thankfully, we did make it, and once I’d changed into some dry clothes and tucked into a large rib-eye steak smothered in peppercorn sauce, I felt a lot better. The next day we carried on, walking along the Wessenden Valley to rejoin the Pennine Way, up to Black Hill, then down to the Torside Reservoir. A mere 12 miles (easy!). The weather improved and I got a bit more into the whole concept of long-distance walking, eating up the miles, the landscape gradually changing beneath our feet.
Most people tackle the next stage, the tramp over Bleaklow (when a place has the word ‘bleak’ in its name, you know it’s gotta be good) and Kinder Scout, in a single day. We chickened out of this and opted instead to split it with a detour along the Snake Pass to the eponymous Inn, where we stayed the night. This meant a toadstool-spotting stroll through some piney woodland, which made a very welcome change from the endless boulder-strewn bog.
Finally, we came down past Kinder Downfall into Edale, and had a well-deserved beer at the Rambler Inn. Phew. I’d survived – and enjoyed myself, at least some of the time. It felt good to get away from it all for a while, up on the isolated hills and moors, often without any sign of other humans.

The road goes ever on...

The road goes ever on…

Then you come to a deep valley and realise it’s got the M62 running along the bottom. The Dark Peak, for all its feeling of rugged wilderness, is very much not remote. On the Pennine Way, you walk the spine of England, across countryside marked by the industrial revolution, past mills and quarries, over rivers and through valleys long since dammed for reservoirs to provide the drinking water for Manchester and Sheffield. Signs of humanity surround you constantly, whether you choose to notice them or not.
And, of course, simple access to the uplands is not an eternal truth, but a right which has had to be fought and won, like any other. Kinder Scout was the site for the Mass Trespass in 1932, a protest for the rights of ordinary folks to go rambling over the Duke of Devonshire’s grouse-shooting moors. The landscape is, and has always been, shaped by people and overlaid with human history. However hard we try, we can never truly get away from it all. And perhaps we shouldn’t be trying to get away from anything, but to get a different perspective – from the top of the Peak, standing by a gritstone edge to look out over the country, or perhaps just stare into the mists.

The view from Blackstone Edge

The view from Blackstone Edge


Inspiration and Perspiration

I’ve just returned from the Fantasy Convention in York, and, thankfully, I’m suffering with neither sleep deprivation nor crippling back pain. It was an excellent weekend in all respects: I got to wander round one of England’s most beautiful cities, I caught up with old friends and made some new ones. Highlights of the conference itself included Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse series, who was warm and funny and down-to-earth, coping with grace when her talk had to compete with Adrian Tchaikovsky sword-fighting in the corridor. The panel on the economics of fantasy worlds and the workshop on world-building were both well worth the pain of a 10am start – which is very early when you’re a writer, especially when you’ve been indulging in the book-launch free wine the night before.

Yesterday, I came home on the train with a brain as bursting with ideas and inspiration as my suitcase was bursting with books. And the best thing of it all is, now I’m a full-time writer, there is no post-con downer: no Monday-morning back in the office, no need to re-adjust my mind to the mundane. I can stay plunged in the magic pool, dream of dragons all day, build castles in the air as much as I like. But I remember Charlaine’s words when asked what advice she would offer young writers (you’ll have to imagine this delivered in a Southern drawl): ‘You just have to close the door, sit your ass down, and get on with it.’ So I’m resisting the temptation to spend my time sketching maps of imaginary lands, and instead I’m getting started on the story, building the world as I go.

You need inspiration before you can start writing a novel, but, however inspired you’re feeling, that book ain’t gonna write itself. Last night I made the decision which project to go for next, created a new Scrivener document with a few chapter headings, and scrawled some ideas in the electronic margin before going to bed. Then this morning, I sat my ass down like Charlaine told me to and bashed out fifteen hundred words before lunch. Not sure yet how good those words are, but hey, I can make them better if I need to. And you know what they say – a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. And then you have to do all the other steps. Or, in writer’s terms, you just have to keep sitting your ass down every day, and bash at the keyboard until you’re done.

The project I’ve decided to work on is The Silvergreen Sea, a fantasy novel about a heavily-forested land facing ecological disaster. I’m not going to say too much more about it, because it will probably mutate as it grows, and could end up as something completely different to what I now have in mind. That’s all part of the fun of being a writer – once you start creating, anything can happen.