Tuesday, May 08, 2007

From city to country, a writer's diary by Hannah Davey, Weeks 4-8

I sometimes battle with my conscience: should I be putting my skills to better use?

I’m a fairly experienced copy-writer and I’m putting the vast majority of my efforts into fiction. When I first got here, and listened to a lecture on Contraction and Convergence1. My first thought (after my scrambled brain had reconfigured itself) was: what the hell am I doing wasting my time on this novel? I ought to be copy-writing to raise awareness of climate change and cutting carbon emissions, or creating a big eco-fable at the very least: ‘Lily’s Army’, was the title that sprang to mind, because my (half-viking) baby niece Lily, will be about 30 by the time it all starts kicking off (should we fail to reduce our carbon emissions in time). In my head, ‘Lily’s Army’ fights off climate refugees from the now heavily fortified island of Britain. They’d have come up from the Southern Hemisphere, seeking dry land and fuel, having been driven out of their now submarine homelands. Lily would have to be ruthless. Sounds like Mad Max, or Waterworld doesn’t it? Well, turns out, that’s about the size of it.

So, after some dramatic days of what is the point? I remembered that my novel does actually have a pretty strong message; and some of it is about the environment. And although there is a hefty dose of speculative fiction buoying it up, it is metaphorical. It’s also one woman’s journey of self-discovery with a spike of horror. And, the ‘plot’ (say I, if you can call its current jumbled strings of story such a thing), is inspired by my own journey; what lead me to this eco-centre.
I have learned and absorbed so much about sustainability and renewable energy and eco-building and other green things here: reduce, reuse, recycle. But it’s sort of like the more I learn, the less I feel like I know. I do find it difficult to imagine as well, how I could maintain this level of eco-responsibility in the city. I mean it’s all well and good being holier than thou in the middle of an eco-centre where your organic food is bought communally from a local co-op2 and everyone is greener than a Welsh valley and even the local town has no real consumerism to speak of (remember, when I say this, that I came from London).

With my writing, I have progressed in a way and also slowed, I am doing it everyday still. Norah Fleex now has a pencilled in end-of-the-road-destination, in terms of her plotted fictional life. Pretty monumental really. The ‘end’ came to me one night, lying in my hay-loft bed having a quick pretend-to-be-Heidi before I fell asleep. And I had to reach to switch on the light, and then scribble it down in my notebook. And then in the morning I sketched it out, then I fleshed it out the next day, etcetera, etcetera. But now, I am stuck with the arduous task of filling in the holes en-route, and that’s not so exciting as making the story! I am a bit stuck to be honest and the birds tweeting and the sun up on the bank that leads to the reservoir, well they are calling me.

This last month, what with the gorgeous weather, Stove has fallen out of the limelight. Just as I got the hang of it too! But the writing is still, simmering away on the back boiler – so what’s got in the way of me and my words? Basically, it’s Spring time.

Spring time has meant new things to see and learn, and free no effort heat, off of the big ball of fire in the sky. My house has become a place to sleep and I have taken to the great outdoors. Spring’s brought lambs and chicks and birds that I never saw before. With the aid of a new book and some binoculars, I have identified nuthatches, treecreepers, chaffinches, robins (these last two I already knew) and a very pretty yellowhammer.

The swallows have come home to roost in the last few days, they are charming; they chatter and squeak like nothing else and swoop erratically like mentalists. The trees and shrubs have positively exploded in every shade of green and it’s sunny all the time – it has rained for only a couple of days in the last six-ish weeks, nice but not so nice if you look at the bigger picture. In amongst the new birth and green shoots and blossom, I saw the darker side too: a dead lamb in a field that made me cry and contemplate life; and a tiny half-sized chick which, could only fall over in the face of food, while its siblings pecked away happily. It ‘disappeared’ on its second day - I suspect fowl play (sorry).

And I’ve gotten all crafty, with a new hobby: willow weaving. Now I was quietly confident about being able to weave willow, which I think stems from having grown up on a farm in Sussex and spending much time making treehouses with planks and bailer twine. I have a farmer dad and a mother who is art personified, I think this is what caused my corn-dolly-gene. I realise I am blowing my own trumpet especially considering how wonky my basket is, but I am oh so proud of it. And it’s made me fall in love with this place all over again. I mean you can’t just weave a wicker basket, or a dream catcher in your garden in the middle of Shoreditch, because you would be lucky to even have a garden for starters, and where would the willow grow?
I have also done some dodgy calligraphy; looked into some environmental activism; attended a debate3; had a ‘repressed’ sauna (freakishly wearing a bikini instead of being naked like everyone else); built a fence; a bench; swam in a reservoir; a lake; done gardening; found a cave; a tunnel; and a whole heap of other extra-curricular activities. And, I am getting up later too, because I have gone and made friends and been all sociable until after 10pm. That of course, has a knock on effect on my get-up time. So Norah Fleex has been tapping her toe impatiently at the end of her road, not knowing how she got there. I don’t want to miss these real-life opportunities, for the sake of my fictional characters (I actually have pangs of guilt for writing this!); but to reiterate, I am still writing each day, just not for so long. But as Confucius said, "It does not matter how slow you go so long as you do not stop."

Remember last month I briefly mentioned our transgender-hen? Well, she was clucking very loudly, acting like a total cock, because that is apparently what they do. When there is no cockerel in a chicken tribe, one of the hens will take on the role themselves.

So, Mrs Henman, has been clucking loudly, in the mornings and henpecking her contemporaries and generally being a bossy boots, telling them where to lay and stuff. She wasn’t fooling any of us with her cock-a-doodle-don’ts. What’s more, because there’s no real man, there’s no chance of chicks. So, we set about getting ourselves a nice, fancy looking cockerel for our little tribe. Over the other side of site there is another tribe of chickens with a plethora of cockerels, and we caught ourselves one and brought him over. Ha! I say this like it was an easy task!!4
Now, a very handsome cockerel heads up a little harem here, he’s ruling a roost of five pretty hot chicks. We don’t know if they’ve done the deed yet. Although, I did see him leap upon an unsuspecting brunette lady hen and peck her on the back of the head whilst flapping (I think this is chicken sex) AND, I saw him coming out of the compost loo with a different hen, a sort of speckled grey lady. They are making some alarming noises. At first the hens didn’t let him sleep in their tree - did you know that chickens go blind at dusk? But now, a week or so later, he’s up there with them every night and strutting about all day like he owns the place. So fingers crossed we’ll have some chicks soon.

Turns out there is a slightly macabre twist though: our chickens are a tad inbred and the ones down this end have extra toes. So, we may have some double-headed mutant inbred chicks or something weird like that. There’s science fiction everywhere here, but it’s ok because apparently they taste the same – all good story fodder eh!

Homestead Hannah x

1 Contraction and Convergence is the global framework for the negotiation and management of climate change. It supports the idea of global equity - carbon credits. i.e. everyone in the world has an equal quota of carbon they are allowed to emit and when, for example, you buy fuel, you pay with cash money as usual and also with your carbon card/chit/voucher. If you use green/renewable energy instead, which is carbon neutral you could sell your credits on the market, or to your carbon guzzling neighbour. Obviously this is only it in a nutshell!

2 Suma, if anyone’s interested – a worker’s co-op www.suma.co.uk

3 The debate was between
www.cheatneutral.com - a parody which hilariously highlights the idiocy of carbon offsetting - here you can offset your infidelity by paying to sponsor a person to remain celebate or faithful thereby not contributing to the overall heartache in the world. The opposition was www.climatecare.org" , a leading carbon offset company. So you can do what you like and offset your guilt. As George Monbiot points out;


Laura said...

I love the story about the hen who thinks she's a cock... sounds a bit like Margaret Thatcher! I also think that being so close to nature must be so good for awakening the senses and this can only be good for your written words. Didn't Wordsworth or one of the Romantic poets refer to the great outdoors as his study?

hannah said...

It awakes the senses, puts things into perspective, reminds you of what life is all about, you name it!

I'm not sure who said that the great outdoors was their study, but it's certainly a great way to look at it. But for me, I find it's the contrast between the rural and the urban that's inspiring. I am fast concluding that I need both, or at least the knowledge of both, to be able to write about either.

Laura said...

Yes, I agree that most of us need both to write about either. It's one of the reasons why I like living where I do. I was such an urbanite until we moved here, having lived in inner London for donkeys years. The centre of Brighton is only a few miles away, London an hour on the train and yet I can walk to the South Downs in ten minutes from my house... I need to improve my knowledge of nature. I've been reading Rebecca -it being one of those classics that had somehow passed me by until now - and all du Maurier's wonderful depcritions of Manderley and its grounds has made me realise how limited my knowledge of flora and fauna is. She names so many plants and flowers and I'm thinking 'so what exactly does an azalia look like!'. Need to check my gardening maual. xxx