For a number of years now I have disappearing on a writing retreat for a week or so to the Dolomites at this time of year. So tonight, escaping from election mania for a week, I’m in a hotel in Bergamo gearing up for another solitary week with my laptop.
It’s a strange business this, not speaking more than a word or two of English for 8 or 9 days. The language goes underground, rumbles around unvoiced, and finds its only expression via the keyboard. I always bring with me a year or so’s worth of podcasts – Radio 4’s various book programmes and Melvyn Bragg – and also reading matter. In this way, I live literary language non-stop all my waking hours.
This year for reading matter, fresh from finishing Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Woodlanders’ last night, I have 3 books – ‘Euphoria’ by Lily King (a fictionalised take on Margaret Mead’s South Seas anthropological researches); ‘The Counterlife’ by Phillip Roth (the final part of his Nathan Zuckerman trilogy, among other things a playful and experimental take on authorship) and, Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’ (a big book in a number of ways and one with which my acquaintance is long overdue).
Of course, it becomes a half-mad and asocial way of being but it does feel as though that damned-up spoken language (and I do miss being able to natter) squeezes out like water seeking fractures through limestone, comes out under its own pressure onto the page.
My task this week is to re-develop the plot for my ‘family secrets’ novel. Following my good fortune last year in receiving interest and a detailed critical appraisal from Carol Blake of Blake Friedman, I have removed 30,000 words from ‘Whereof One Cannot Speak’ and fashioned them into ‘The Naples of England’ (now ready for publication). I now need to restructure the plot of ‘W.O.C.S’ somewhat and begin writing new chapters to bring it back up to around 100K.
So, I’m looking forward to knuckling under, being starved of the spoken, gorging on the written, hungry and crazy for communication.