Many years ago, in 1961, I was sitting, age 11, on the floor of the Assembly Hall of Hatfield Girls' Grammar School. My navy blazer was itchy, my navy pleated skirt was too long and my socks kept subsiding. Sitting in the same row was a small blonde girl with a cheeky smile. I asked her whether she'd be my friend. Diana Buck ( as she was then) and I have travelled many different paths over the succeeding years. And now we are here. I have a new book out. Diana has a new book out, and THE PINK SOFA is agog and beside itself with curiosity.
It’s a miracle!
|Diana's new book www.logastonpress.co.uk|
I can take it that you are all readers but I bet you take reading for granted. The process of reading is absolute magic – It’s a miracle! When you think about it – when you read someone’s sentence you are running their thoughts through your brain – through your neurones. Forget Sex – reading what someone else has written is a much more intimate act – You are sharing their very thoughts, memories and ideas (it’s all a bit more sophisticated than bodily fluids).
I’ve come to writing via a circuitous route – Carol will tell you that sitting behind me at school could be a painful and embarrassing experience if ever I was called upon to read aloud. Dyslexia hadn’t been invented (well, it wasn’t recognised) but it didn’t hold me back – just limited my choices a bit.
I was a family doctor for 35 years. I spent a lot of that time trying to work people out and trying to explain things in parables. My first partner, Tom (the best doctor I have ever met) said ‘Never try to explain anything in abstract terms (especially not to men) always find a solid metaphor!’ He wasn’t sexist for his time – this was 40 years ago!
I also studied neuroscience – I think of personality as being the stuff of ideas hung on some sort of genetic matrix, like washing on a line or a clothes horse. The washing is the memory of all those seminal events that have shaped us and the line is our personal wiring (my own wiring is not very quick when it comes to interpreting symbols).
Some people think in a straight line, and hang their thoughts, their memories and their experiences out like that, on a line – and some of us don’t.
When we go to sleep we take the memories down, off the line, smooth them out, fold them up and put them away – to be retrieved as necessary (sometimes a little shrunk and sometimes stained by a stray red sock!) That’s how psycho-analysis works – a process of folding up and putting away so that some great metaphorical purple duvet-cover doesn’t get in the way for the rest of your life.
When you run a writer’s thoughts through your neurones (when you read their book) you can tell how they think and how they process their thoughts, what sort of line they have – some have rotary driers with recurring themes – the yellow cardy of childhood abuse that is difficult to dry and comes round and round. An increasing number of literary prize-winners seem to put their thoughts into a tumble drier -- when they come out they are knotted and inside out, intertwined with other ideas.
Hemingway thought in a straight line without even the diversion of an occasional adjective. D H Lawrence wrote a knotted string, each paragraph a half hitch on a linear narrative giving a distinct rhythm. Others write in great arching hoops like a coiled hose pipe (Virginia Woolf). Me, in my head I have a three dimensional pictorial map of my world, and I hang my experiences on the low branches of trees, on gorse bushes (like a gipsy), on the backs of chairs, I hang them over gates -- sometimes the wind catches them and they soar into the air for a moment swirling and flapping and then splash down into the mud to be trampled by all the animals in my world.
This sort of memory seems to give what I write what people call a strong sense of place. If I visit the town where I practiced medicine for years and I drive through its streets I am almost overwhelmed by the recall of events attached to almost everything I see – every road, almost every house has some burden of memory – a death here, a rape there, the drug addict with the flick knife that was faulty (thankfully) living up those steps.
Ten years ago after a series of seemingly random co-incidences we, that’s Alan (my husband), myself and Pedro (our newly acquired and wayward dog) bought a derelict farm in Mid-Wales with 25 acres. We hadn’t intended to move, we had no connections to Wales and we had never had any desire to practice extreme farming -- something about the place just ensnared us.
‘They’ll do! They’re are the ones I want’, said the old farmhouse, probably in Welsh, and the couple, (the ones the old place wanted) were drawn into the life of the place – inspired by its beauty, its creatures, its moods and its stories.
I was telling a friend about all the delights, the strange differences we noticed in this new environment and the adventures that we were having -- she asked me to write a light-hearted diary column for the magazine she edits (only three issues a year) and that is how it all began. A door that closed decades ago had reopened!
Once she had tried to edit my first submission she must have had second thoughts because she encouraged me to go to Uni and do an MA in creative writing. This I did and it was very therapeutic, as was the Penguin Guide to Punctuation which is considerably cheaper! After more than 20 episodes she suggested I send the collected manuscripts to a publisher she knew who occasionally sent the magazine review copies. This I did too… My book is now out.
I apologise if this makes it sound easy – it wasn’t – it isn’t. I read avidly (still slowly but retentively) and consume audiobooks and I re-read and endlessly correct my own work and… I have been extremely lucky. But, gosh, it’s satisfying!
Iolo’s Revenge, Sheep Farming by Happy Accident in Mid-Wales by Diana Ashworth is published by Logaston Press (