My first swim of the summer was last week on the Jurassic coast in Charmouth. It was baptismal, one of my earliest outdoor swims for many years and I lay on my back in the water looking towards the fossil packed cliffs, wanting the moment to stretch forever.
Perhaps it has and I'll come across it again years later preserved for me like a tiny crystallised ammonite neatly defining a grey pebble.
I am writing about a summer when I was 17 and events, thoughts, situations I'd forgotten are emerging as I write, tampered with of course by the years in between. Many of them may only contain elements of so called reality and many of them did not happen at all but I'm placing them there because I want to try and summon up a small village in Brittany, a time in the 1970s and an incredible summer.
The more I write, the more energy I seem to generate for this story I am still reluctant to call a novel, so I've given it a title, The Cathedral. Perhaps none of it is original or will be worth reading. Perhaps I'm only using it to see me through this summer until Commandments appears, to ease me through that time when poems are so hard to write because the to-be-published collection has exhausted the stock of them.
I have been writing early in the morning. It's one of my best times anyway for writing, but I think it's helping with the connections I want to make, links between people and novels, thoughts and events, places and language, the past and present. The exhaustion it provokes in me may also help find a state of mind that's more open to bizarre links.
Maybe that seems pretentious. The way I've put it down seems abstract but I've been drawing hard on the novelists I read at that age, re-reading Camus, Orwell, Huxley, Greene, Godden (Greengage Summer knocked me out) and on my way back from Dorset, listened to a novel that my mother encouraged me to read, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I still need to find Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier. I think I've lost my original copy. Camus, I'm reading in French and English, depending on what I have in the house.
Re-reading these books serves two purposes. One is to try and recapture a spirit, or at least approximate it, that may have been partly down to a mix of this fiction. Another is to try and understand what made these books so compelling to me at that time.
It is an intriquing process and added to research about the period and place, utterly pleasurable, utterly addictive. So different to the process a poem goes through.