There is a peace and calmness here, I am settling into my second week of no writing, of absorbing the fact that I have written a book, of getting used to free time.
Last week I lived in the forest, in a small cottage surrounded by pine trees. There was wetness everywhere, in the water running over the ground, in the moss that clumped and straggled from tree branches, in the misty rain itself that appeared as a silver grey shimmer against the close crowding trees. The hens were free here, I took their eggs from a cluster in a rotting tree stump, wiping them clean on a clinging patch of moss.
I was alone in the forest, just me and the birds and a small black cat with a bad eye. He snuggled against me in the evenings, tight up under my chin, a paw on my shoulder and my arms around him to keep him from drooping down my body as he slept.
It was my first week after handing the book over for editing and I slumped in the lack of intensity, didn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t writing The Book. I moped a little, felt melancholic and alone. The fairyland forest was a perfect place to do that. I lolled on my bed and watched the ceiling. I made strange, almost meals of boiled vegetables. Potatoes and green beans, red cabbage and carrots, just piling them in a heap, burying a lump of butter and sifting down salt and pepper. I read books, wrote letters, all things I have not had time for when all literary and creative brain power had been consumed by my single project – the story of the walk.
For the final month of writing I lived in a medieval longhouse at the end of a track in a valley where the steep, rocky sides reared tall around the flat fields. The track led across the green where sheep grazed to a barn-sheltered enclosure where a house squatted, growing out of the hill, timbered walls and huge ancient flagstones underfoot. It was a glamorous house and I became glamorous just by living in it. I wafted around barefoot and made delicious food, serving it to myself in beautiful pottery with drizzles of olive oil. Two brown spaniels pattered around my feet, competing for the place to sit at my side and stare at me lovingly, their replacement mistress.
The luxurious house is where I finished my book, took as much time off work as I could, ten days to sit at a computer and finish the accumulation of months of work. It was a writing retreat that came to me at just the right time, far enough along for me to have the confidence to fully focus.
Here I am, two years after finishing the walk and I’ve done it! I’ve got far enough along in my writing to have a draft with an editor. I have a publication date, a publicist, a listing in a book catalogue, a front cover. It still needs a lot of work and later this week I will receive back the first set of amendments. I will be in another house by then, looking after another cat. I will have two weeks to absorb the suggested changes, assimilate ideas and reflect them in new wordings. I do not feel ready, I do not know how I could make myself ready for this.
Tomorrow I will bake bread. This is what I do for money. I am a yeast farmer. I mix together fermented flour with more flour and water, then add varying portions of oil, salt and seeds. I keep time and temperature controlled until the yeast has eaten enough to make the perfectly risen consistency and then I slam trays of loaves into a hot oven to kill everything and capture it there; a loaf of bread, browned to the point of burning, crisply mottled crust and spongy moist inside. Flour and water transformed by yeast, under my shepherding.
Sourdough, yeasted loaves. Rye, spelt, white, wholemeal, buckwheat. Ciabatta, tin loaves, burger buns. Croissants, pain aux raisin, baguettes.
This is how I have lived my life to make a book possible. I work part time as a baker and I live in a van. I make myself available for housesitting and animal care to avoid the discomfort and accumulating dirt of what is essentially a home in a tin box. It is not a luxurious lifestyle but it is how I have afforded time to create. It has worked. I have done it. I have written a book. This is where I am now.