Oh the places you’ll go

So it turns out I’m going to answer the question I posed previously.

Since I last posted, I found myself relocating – albeit temporarily – to south-west England. The last time I was in Bristol was twenty years ago, when I graduated from university, but it didn’t feel that long when I walked through the familiar steep streets of Hotwells towards Clifton on a cool autumn evening. I could smell the usual dampness of wet leaves and pavements and I had to wrap my coat around me tightly in a bid to steer myself from the relentless wind. The Coronation Tap was still serving small serves of very powerful cider. The Georgian houses were still grand and desirable. The suspension bridge was still a feat of mind-boggling engineering.

Over the next few days, I reacquainted myself with the place I had lived for three years: I moved within the rooms of a run-down Totterdown terrace, observed kids skateboard at a bleak inner city park and drove north for a swim at the delightful Henleaze swimming club. I even managed to get out of the city and spent a day walking along frigid beaches in north Devon, watching surfers give little regard to the weather as they bobbed around on the grey sea, waiting for the perfect wave to bring them into land. I took off my shoes and socks, felt the cold, damp sand between my toes and dipped a toe into the Atlantic just so I could say I had.

One of the loveliest things about writing is being able to transport yourself anywhere you feel like going. Years ago, during an ill advised attempt at chick lit, I went to Mustique, where my imagination holidayed at an exclusive beach-front villa with a fading rock star and a spoilt actress. More recently I managed to time travel back to 1948, spending time at my grandparent’s low ceilinged Sussex cottage, while a young woman – not related – struggled with early motherhood and an indifferent husband. Then I went south and found the same woman, now in her eighties, living in a sandstone Federation house in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, and listened as she told me her reasons for running away from her former life.

This time, my characters packed their suitcases, changed their accents and swapped nationalities for practical reasons. Honestly, it seems like it might be easier to garner interest from UK-based agents or publishers so it makes sense for the novel to be set there, too. (If that makes it sound like I imagine the process to be easy, then believe me, I know it’s not and have the rejection slips to prove it.) So, what followed was a massive rewrite, helped by old student memories, artistic license and a lot of time spent on Google maps and image search.

But – hurrah! – something else happened that I hadn’t expected: as I changed the street names, reworked the plot to fit geography and reshaped the story for what felt like draft number 73, it got better. I don’t know what it was. Maybe changing the story’s setting just reawakened my enthusiasm at a time when just a brief glance at my laptop made me want to stick pins in my eyes. Maybe the novel’s slightly gothic tone better suits the grey skies of England. Or maybe it was just that draft number 73’s the charm. Either way, I couldn’t be more delighted.

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