Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Writing and life.

I suddenly remember about editing. It is thinking.

One of the odder things about writing for a living is that so much of the good work goes on away from the desk. I like to be sitting and typing and staring at my screen. This makes me feel as if I am doing something real and proper.

But so much of writing is dreaming. I had forgotten, oddly, about that.

Yesterday, I was hunched forward over the computer, trying to dig the bones out of this messy book. I went back and forth and could not see what needed to be done. I even tried reading the hard copy, which brings a slightly different perspective, but there was nothing doing. I spun my wheels and felt useless.

This morning, I had to run errands. Halfway to Banchory, I suddenly got it. It was the mother.

Then I got on the mare and took her out for one of our old lady ambles. I’ve worked out that I think she has a pollen allergy, which is where her resistance and the sometime head-shake comes from. If I take her out in a slow walk she is fine. It’s the faster paces which bother her. So our summer schooling programme is gone, and we are just going to mooch around, as if we are home on the range. It’s rather lovely, actually. I sit happily in the saddle and listen to her soft hoofbeats and let her stretch out her aristocratic neck and watch the blue hills go by.

Because I don’t have to think about riding her in this slow state, I can let my mind go free. More serious editing decisions came tumbling into my mind. It will not be easy, but I can at last see a way through. The dawning Eureka moments both came when I was nowhere near my desk. This feels like some kind of good life lesson.

Then I went back to HorseBack, after two weeks away. Two of my favourite veterans were there, their smiles as dazzling as the Scottish sunshine. A brilliant cowgirl from Colorado was there. Two Royal Marines were there. All the good horses were in, getting ready for a course, dozing sweetly in the bright light. I thought then only of the stories of that place which I must tell, and went home and spent far too many hours writing them. It’s a different kind of writing, and a different kind of thinking. The hours are worth it, because the veterans and servicemen and women I see there are so remarkable that I must do them justice.

One of the things that struck me, as I drove home, is how easy it is to forget what they have been through. When I first went to HorseBack, I was afraid of physical injury. I was horribly British and embarrassed. I did not know where to look, when I met someone with bits missing. I kept hearing the old Fawlty Towers line in my head: don’t mention the war. I am now so used to being around people with lost legs or disappeared fingers or a nose that has gone that I don’t even notice it. I see the person, not the injury. The person is transfigured by war; the scars are there. But at the same time, that person is still whole and capable and funny and brilliant and goofy and complex. Yet, I think, I must not tumble into an error on the other side. Just because I no longer see the wounds, it does not mean they did not happen. These veterans make it all look easy, because they are so stoical and sunny and they keep up a constant stream of jokes. It is not easy. They still have hard battles to fight. They fight them with astonishing grace.

I silently take off my hat.


Today’s pictures:

After the sweet ride.

Goofy face:

20 May 1

Now I’m going to eat the shed face:

20 May 2

Pretty face:

20 May 3

Even prettier face:

20 May 4

The cowgirl from Colorado:

20 May 7

The nobility that is Stanley the Dog:

20 May 9

This new camera is interesting. The colours come out completely differently. Both Stanley and the mare are much redder in life than in these pictures. I quite like the muted effect, although I’m not certain why it should be so.


  1. I was thinking of you and your editing today - I always like how you describe the 'writing for a living' process; I remain slightly in awe. It is heartening to find that the best ideas can come when out and about. I sit in front of the screen and not a word comes out and I wonder if it ever will. My husband asked me what my next big achievement would be and the question took me by surprise! Afterwards I decided that I would love to write properly. But somehow it alludes me. So I am pleased to read that you don't have such a writer's block! Lou x

  2. Gorgeous post, gorgeous photos, goofy Red is adorable. Rachel

  3. I have always thought that 'thinking' as an activity is a terrible mistake. It is so dispiriting sitting there hoping for a thought to waft one's way. So much more satisfying to say, be striding up a hill and be hit by a bolt from the blue. And such a nice surprise. Of course, then the issue becomes remembering it by the time you've got down the hill


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