Back to Work…. by Kate Furnivall
A blank page is staring at me, white, virginal, unblemished. And accusing. It is pointing its finger. Tapping its foot. Impatient for words. The clock is chiming. The calendar flicks past relentlessly and I am done for. The summer is over.
Do you remember as a child the end of the school summer holidays? Those sunny lazy days of idleness, which for me meant hours of reading in bed till lunchtime or getting my knees shredded by rocks on the beach. Bringing home pockets full of seashells for a mermaid’s grotto that never did get built. It all came to an abrupt and ugly end with the arrival of September. Oh, it was brutal.
I shudder at the memory. Where the hell was my tie? Had the dog chewed it like the last one? School books? Pens? Bag? Gym kit? Secret love letters? Scattered to the four corners of the house. Panic! On one never-to-be-lived-down occasion I even had to return to my schoolmates weighed down by the guilt of my black-furred and even-blacker-hearted cat, Nicky, having made a tasty snack of the class hamster.
Worse still. My birthday falls in the first week of September. I weep to think of the number of times the workings of the universe deliberately ruined my birthday by making it coincide with the first day of term. And now, here I am again! Birthday and work clashing. The thing is, for the first time in the last ten years of writing books, of sweating blood all year (except at Christmas, when I am too high on festive frivolity and boozy mince pies to even remember where my desk is), I took a break this summer. Three deliciously long months off work. My desk gathered dust. Did I care?
Nope! I was way too busy floating off to Venice in a bubble of deadline-free euphoria. I watched the sunset spill over the lagoon as I sipped my Bellini and grinned at Lord David Putnam getting sozzled at the next table. I tramped round art galleries in Berlin and actually managed not to jump on the wrong tram for once. I landed on family and friends who fell about in a state of shock because they thought I must have popped my clogs, so long was it since they’d heard from me. There were London theatre excursions, cocktail glasses to raise, books to read, cats to de-flea, bald patches of lawn to battle. And always pebbles crying out to be tossed into the sea with a satisfying plop.
But – this was the problem that niggled, worm-like, at my blithe insouciance – what next? Or more to the point, where next? Where to set my next book? It was as I breezed up Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm and took my life in my hands crossing the lethal bicycle lanes that I realised I had been edging ever nearer to Germany being a central player in one of my books. The country has hung like a shadow over my last two books set in Naples 1945 (The Liberation) and in Paris 1938 (The Betrayal) and maybe it was time now to walk right into that shadow. I felt my pulse quicken at the thought.
Yes, officially I was still on hols. Yes, I still lazed in the shade of my magnolia with a book propped up in front of me. But my eyes were seeing things in another world. In another time. Stepping away from writing for a few months had sharpened my taste for it. Refreshed those unfathomable places where ideas are brewed and dished up. I wanted that thrill again. Like nothing else on earth.
Before I knew it, there was a stack of research books lurking on my desk and I was scribbling into notebooks. How did that happen? I am on a summer break! But now the swallows have packed their bags and the summer has deserted us. Step One : I get the go-ahead from my brilliant publisher, Jo. Step Two : I track down my lucky orange writing pen, I rummage for my special pads. Line them up on my desk, neat as a barrack room. The oncoming tumult has not yet disturbed their pristine perfection. Mouth dry with anticipation. Fingers itching to start. Step Three : the hunt begins. The hunt for characters, for plot lines, for twists and turns, for heartache, betrayal and laughter. I stand in front of the virginal white page that looks like a sheet of thin ice and I step on to it ….