Trying to avoid the Sunday night feeling, I’ve come upstairs early with a pile of books and The Observer. My last day at work seems a very long time ago. We were in Yorkshire for the Easter week, staying in an old, converted hayloft, waking to the sounds of birds and a very persistent chicken pecking the door for porridge oats. I could imagine it how it had been – the cramped cattle below and their warmth, sleeping in the dry hay above them at night. There were two old donkeys in the field that took so long to come for carrots it was easier to climb over the fence to meet them. An old Victorian railway line – the track ripped up – ran along on a steep ash bank. We climbed up and saw roe deer, thousands of rabbits, birds, fox and badger sets, plus old rusting farm machinery. The poachers were out some of the day and every evening. The ghosts of the tracks were covered in shotgun cartridges and it ruined the atmosphere and any chance of seeing animals once they started firing. There was a deep pond with a little jetty and no sounds of traffic in any direction. Sometimes you don’t realise you’ve relaxed until after the anxiety returns.
We went to Fountains Abbey, which sounded quite aristocratic and stately but was actually much more interesting. I was shocked by the size of it and the long, dark cloisters with a priest hole, or hermit hole and the river running through it. There were no deer visible in the deer park, even though we walked for miles to see them. Every reddish coloured sighting was yet another pheasant.
I thought I might write more away from home, but it takes so long to just unwind and be who you are (thanks to Em Strang for her inspiring email on this subject) that sometimes that is more important and the words can come later. I’ve written lots of notes. I’ve decided to stop showing people my first drafts, hoping to avoid having moments of shame (where I have to shut my eyes or shake my head to get rid of the thought of people seeing something so unpolished and raw).
There were some good charity shop books to be found while away and I enjoyed The Promise by Ann Weisgarber and am almost finished Lila by Marilynne Robinson. I finished Shirley Jackson’s biography and I did feel she had a premonition about her own death in the last few months. I found her a likable woman and would have loved to have a few cocktails with her in her colourful Bennington house. I’m amazed at how writing could really make you a very good living back them in a way that we can only dream of now.
I’ve been chosen to write a book review for Mslexia, which I’m looking forward to. I’ve been reading Sunshine by Melissa Lee-Houghton, which I’ve enjoyed but which sounds weary of life in many ways. I’ve also been reading some Emily Berry poetry. I’m doubting a lot of what I’ve written at the moment and am very reluctant to send anything out for publication. I did enjoy seeing my poems in The Fenland Reed this week and I thought the whole magazine was well worth reading.
I won’t say anything about politics (apart from this sentence) as my heart’s in my boots. We spent a night in Chester at the end of the holiday in an old coaching inn called The Pied Bull. I couldn’t sleep for anxieties about work and returning home and lay awake until it was light thinking of all the people who had passed through its doors on their journeys, all the ghosts and footsteps in the hallways and the sound of history creaking on its timbers. It put the world into perspective a bit. Then it was morning and time for a long M6 and A66 drive home and all that comes with being home: the good – the rabbits, your own bed, books and cooking, comfort –
and the challenging – work, access to the news, and a return to the world with all its unopened envelopes, doctors’ appointments to be made and the challenge of how to fit writing (not a quick or easy thing and a slippery fish) into it.