It’s so nice to hear from you. It feels as if we haven’t talked for ages. You write, “All along the Thames, boats are on their way to being islands, islands on their way to being boats.” Then something you overheard on the bank near Kew, a woman calling to her little girl: “’Don’t run!’ Then: ‘Daphne! No more running! You’re going to hurt yourself.’” And you add, “There’ll be no more running in Daphne’s life, in case she hurts herself. She’s three.” When I re-read that paragraph of your mail, I experience a weird deja vu, as if you told me this–or at least something similar to this–described some encounter of the same sort–a long time ago. Of course, you couldn’t have, but it’s strange, and the whole content of the scene is strange too, I don’t know why. It would easily fit into the kind of story I am writing now.
You have to reinvent for the book. Your life doesn’t appear to have changed, but the book is telling you it has. The book is a way of acknowledging more than one thing you already knew. Now you come to think of it, life’s been weird since you finished the last one. You couldn’t settle. You felt belittled, especially in your nightmares. That’s always a conversation with the writer down inside. He knows more about everything than you. He catches on faster. He’s come to some understanding, he’s made some decision. Look around, there’s plenty you don’t intend to lose. But bridges are going to be burned. It won’t be one of those scary 100% conflagrations of the past, but something’s got to go. Indeed, something’s already gone. Now you’re going to find out what. That’s what a book is for, sunshine, finding out who you are now.
“Every generation has its intellectual obsession: a new kind of politics, a new kind of science, a new kind of war. My generation was obsessed with Autotelia, a new kind of country. We watched with a tense amazement the grainy video of its capital city, the greyish streets so similar to our own. When the first Autotelians began to arrive on our side of things…etc.” His mother’s tea party for the Autotelians is a farce. After it, when he goes to their house, he sees the men in overcoats smashing the flower pot in the hearth, then a “yawning white face” in the hall. He leaves hurriedly. Work up to the tea party through his mother’s descriptions of the Autotelians; some events of little significance in the square; and his interest in the girl. Later, in Autotelia itself, he is taken to a place where a man who might have been his vanished friend Ashman once “stayed for some time”. The room sordid. Some accident–a small fire perhaps–on the carpet near the tallboy; a faint smell of excrement. “‘There was a lot of crying out,’ the landlord said: ‘Always a lot of crying out.’ And he managed to convey with shrugs, nods and grins that we both knew what that might mean. ‘In the morning he was gone.’ While we talked, I could hear someone pacing about in the room above.”
The notes on which I based Climbers were taken in situ in a series of cheap notebooks with puppies and flowers on the front, often given to me as presents by family members. I began gathering material in 1979. By 1983, this collection had become a rat’s nest, so I took to transferring each worked-up note–by then often a finished, polished scene–into a sort of journal, which also contained some commentary, structural ideas, lists of names and so on, along with polaroids, postcards, news clippings and other material. These notes, the earliest of which is dated 1st January 1983 and the latest 2nd November 1988, were transcribed in obsessively neat handwriting using a strict rota of coloured pens. Though I lost the original notebooks, I still have the journal. It stood in a complex relationship with, and served as a feeder for, the actual writing of Climbers, which went on concurrently elsewhere; also as a record of one of happiest and most productive times of my life. The pages were carefully numbered. The photographs, especially polaroids, have become faint and dark-looking at the same time, tinged with purples and greens not present in the lived scene.p101, 5.2.84, the earliest working synopsis.p116/7, 4.4.84, Tissington Spiresp191/2, 10.3.85, mentions a 35mm photo, long gone, of a child’s shoes “dumped at the edge of the road under Craig y Forwin.”197/8, 17.9.85: the photo is of the author, on “Toy”, Curbar Edge, a month later.
The new edition of Climbers, introduced by Robert Macfarlane, can be pre-ordered now from Amazon UK, in ebook and paper; or bought at a bookshop from May 10th.
The world we see is an illusion, albeit a highly persistent one. We have gradually got used to the idea that nature’s true reality is one of uncertain quantum fields; that what we see is not necessarily what is.
Very blue sky. Light rebroadcast into the room by the weird yellow facades of the buildings across the road. Shouts from the all-day drinkers in the bars down the hill. We could be anywhere in Tenerife, except for the temperature and the English newspapers scattered over the carpet. In fact it’s the Midlands. There’s tractor porn on the newsagent’s top shelves, shooting accessories in the ironmongers, and the gentle remains of Georgian town houses compete with the main street pet enterprises to see who’ll subside first. I quite like it. It’s nice.