I seem to have had some problems getting Sunday’s posting to link to Left Coast Crime. If your link didn’t work, you can paste in www.leftcoastcrime2006.com. This is your chance to meet all those English writers you’ve admired from a distance for so many years.
Cornwall seems a very long way from here. We’re in Nottingham at the moment, visiting family–a step granddaughter who is about to have her second baby, making me a step-great-grandmother three times over. I feel old…
On the drive up here from Bristol, I was thinking about a conference held by Barbara Peters of the Poisoned Pen, back in the mid-nineties. The topic was AZ Crime Goes Classic, and focused on classic crime writers such as Dorothy Sayers, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others. There I met three writers who have become friends: HRF Keating, Val McDermid, and Michael Connolly. Amazing to think, that I might have missed knowing them, but for Barbara’s conference.
The past week in England was taken up with family stuff, if one counts close friends as family. That, and a bout of illness–I either picked up a 24 hour bug, or I was poisoned by a hotel.
In Manchester, where Val McDermid’s house was in a state of chaos thanks to decorators, we more or less made our way through the listings in the phone book for a nearby hotel, and ended up in a Victorian place out of some Stephen King novel. The bedside reading lamp was broken, the point in the wall where it should have been plugged in had been smashed to pieces (wires sticking out, 220 volt wires!), the bathroom had not been cleaned, the air was thick with the stink of cigarettes and alcohol, the kettle for making a cup of tea had a cord that didn’t reach from table to outlet, so one had to kneel on the floor to boil water, and as its high point, there was a permanently mounted sign in the bathroom over the sink declaring THIS WATER UNPOTABLE. I have stayed in some dreary and unclean places over the years–the cockroaches in Madras, a pillowcase with a boot print on it in a Travelodge in Terra Haute–but I have never before come across a hotel in a developed country openly admitting to undrinkable water. The next day we fled, head aching and stomach roiling, to a basic and blessedly clean chain hotel down the road that was five pounds cheaper to boot. I don’t know if the 24 hour bug I had the next day was a flu or a reaction to the Acton Court, but may I make a suggestion? Given an anonymous list of hotels, don’t start at the top.
After coming back south from Manchester, we spent two days in London doing end-of-trip business, more my daughter’s than my own, as her year here had left her with banks, phone accounts, and the like to be settled. I put her on the plane Friday morning, spent the rest of the day packing my own bags and shopping for last-minute presents, and got onto my British Airways flight on Saturday with a clear mind and a lot of research material for TOUCHSTONE.
Oh, and the book for 2006? THE ART OF DETECTION was waiting for me when I got home, with its ten thousand Post Its and those dangerously brief little remarks in the margins from the editor’s pencil. My brain isn’t quite ready to dig into it yet, but I made my first foray this morning, removing the doubled rubber bands and glancing inside. Inevitably, the first thing I see is that the copy editor has carefully gone through and removed all the periods after Mr and Dr. Which would have been fine if it was a Russell novel, written in English English, but it isn’t. So I shall have to go through and place my STET on every one of her corrections.
I closed the manuscript and walked away from it.
I then spent an hour or so hacking weeds, yet another of those jobs that just don’t get done when a book is active. Basically, I don’t like gardening, so it’s one of the tasks that I allow myself not to do until my desk is clear. The place is now a jungle of overgrown salvia and sprays of Bermuda grass, and I eye the container of herbicide thoughtfully.
So, what did I learn on my (non-) holiday?
I smelled the air and walked the ground of Cornwall, particularly Land’s End, where my character in TOUCHSTONE has gone to retreat from the world. I have made the first forays into research, with a score of titles to follow up through my home library. I have a stack of books and pamphlets a foot high on Cornish arcanities (and a lesser pile of British novels whose authors are much loved but hard to get here, but that doesn’t count as work.) I don’t yet know what the book is about, or how it gets to where it is going, but I have a vague sense of direction, and the entire fall to feel my way forward before I begin writing it the first of the year.
For the labor of two weeks, that’s not bad going.