Whenever I plan a walking trip I fondly imagine that I will get some serious thinking done as I go.
This time I was completing the four-day final section of the Pennine Way, up from Hadrian’s Wall via the Kielder Forest and the Border ridge to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. It’s about sixty miles of fabulous but remote countryside and I was quite sure I could tease out some plot convolutions in the book I’m just starting, and come home tired and happy and ready to start writing.
I really should know better by now.
Nowadays any walk more challenging than nipping out to the shops occupies my whole mind. There’s a constant ribbon of monologue.
“Is this the right route? The path forked a mile back, didn’t it? Maybe I’m trudging in the wrong direction. I should check the map again. Is that a bank of storm clouds ahead? Which pocket did I put my fleece hat in, and should I stop now and burrow for it before the rain starts? Is the twinge in my left knee getting worse? Have I got enough water? Will it get dark before I reach the remote village? Careful over these tussocks. Sprained ankle would be a problem up here. Hey, look at that view. Where did I stow the camera? No, that’s the mobile, uh-oh, still no signal, can’t warn anyone I’m slower than anticipated. Is that a curlew? Phew, this is quite a climb. Annoying wrinkle in my sock but I’m not taking my boot off in this mud. Another four miles? Three, maybe? Do I need an energy-giving piece of chocolate?”
And so on.
Plot convolutions? Chapter sequence even, maybe some snatches of lively dialogue? As if.
Consequently I am back at my desk without having made an inch of creative progress, but on the other hand there are sixty satisfying miles behind me, and some great memories. Maybe it will feed into something else. Maybe I was thinking subliminally. (Always a good get-out, that one).
Anyway, I’m just embarking on the sequel to The Company of Strangers. I’d like to get a chunk of it written before I head off to central Asia at the end of the month, but the copy-edited manuscript of the first one will be in next week and it will take me the best part of a week to read through and sign off on that.
Maybe I’ll be able to get things really worked out in my mind while I’m away travelling. Or maybe not. (“Where’s the station? Will the bus get me to the airport on time? Might this stew have …er… dog in it? When can I wash my clothes? What was the exchange rate? Have I just asked for a room for the night, or a man for the night?” Et blooming cetera.)
Travel narrows the mind in quite a lot of respects. But then ….once back, the ideas bloom like the desert after rain.