I spend a lot of time staring across fields. The field above captures my attention daily. I’ve always gone to landscape and need to feel it around me. Sometimes I find myself thinking of a field as I might think of a friend, wondering what kind of mood it is in, wondering how the light falls. When at the end of the day the green folds greet me, I feel uplifted.
Fields refresh and calm. Like many people, a good part of my day is spent sitting at a screen. There always comes a point when I can no longer bear the on-off black blink of the cursor and must take my eyes away and outside for a long cool drink.
Fields have become a part of my working routine, but I don’t take them for granted. When living in London, I longed for green spaces. There was a park opposite my block of flats where I went every day until it became as familiar as my back garden. Craving wilder space, I ventured further to a large park with water. On the way there I usually paid homage to a local authority house with a blue plaque outside announcing it as the former home of the poet Stevie Smith.
When the ache to escape grew intense, I wrote protest poems that reported back to Stevie all the stuff I loathed about the modern world. I thought the mordant poet would have been amused at the way things had turned out. One letter written at Easter described the way that supermarkets piped in the smell of Hot Cross Buns. Another musing told Stevie about hi-viz cycling gear and sportswear. I tried to describe colours that didn’t exist when she lived. I didn’t set out to write these letters; they arose as I walked.
I think on the move. Ideas and images may emerge when I’m sitting at my desk, but I always need to pace them out. Walking a green space, park or field, coaxes my impressions and vague scrappy thoughts out into the open. When I’ve had a good tramping about, I’m able to consolidate. At the end of my walk, I have something to say.
For me, space to write means more than a room of my own. I’ve always found walls of any sort confining. I have a fear of being sent to prison or shut in. Pot-holing is my worst nightmare. I cannot think of diving without the beginnings of a panic attack. I need freedom to roam.
One of my characters was born in a field. Up until half way through the first draft of The Beautiful Truth, the main character was Janek, a young Polish man. It was his story I was following, and yet his story would frequently fade in and out. I began to think of a strong female character to lead the novel and talked through some ideas with a friend. I mentioned the woman I had met in Poland. One afternoon I was walking under the chestnut trees (trees are significant in the story) when I felt her. Krystyna had arrived fully formed. In that moment, I knew everything about her.
It was a thrilling encounter. I knew then I had a novel that would go in an entirely different direction to the one I planned. I went back to my desk and began to recast my first draft – I still had far to go – but from that moment on it felt as if the ideas were dropping into their right place.