The Ghost Lake
My BIG news, plus book club stuff, courses and five sub stacks to check out
This photo is of a cork board in my office. It is pinned with polaroid photos from the areas that I have been writing about lately. It’s a kind of mood-board; a way to reconnect to the landscape when I am not physically in that landscape so that I can carry the sensory and emotional connections home with me to my little office. It’s stuck on the wall, next to my desk, along with a letter from my publisher, telling me that they believe in me, and a note from my agent, telling me something similar, and today it feels very significant.
In April 2020 I decided to start taking my writing a little more seriously. I knew that in order to squash the writing is not a real job and we aren’t the sort of people who do this sort of work and you’ll never amount to anything voices in my head, in order to take my writing seriously, in order for other people to take my writing seriously, I needed to start thinking of myself as a writer. I thought long and hard about what a ‘writer’ might look like to me, and what I wanted as a writer, and I kept coming back to the same image - a proper home office - a room set aside solely for me to push myself and my writing forward. A room of one’s own. I decided to take a chance on myself and converted the second biggest bedroom in my house to a writing room, an office. Here it is on the day I moved into it.
There’s my battered old second hand chair and my second hand desk and my second hand bookcases which came from a smoker’s house and took two years to lose the slight smoky smell. The wallpaper is peeling off. It is STILL peeling off.
There was a significance to the move; a closure. This room no longer held the hope of a family, of being a child’s bedroom, this was an admittance that that part of my journey was over, there would be no family. Instead it held the hope of something else: my career as a writer. I’ve since added a wallpaper pasting table along one wall. Skilfully disguised beneath a table cloth it looks almost like an actual table. I needed somewhere to stack all my research papers and books and it serves a purpose. Everything in the room is second hand, reused, repurposed. One day I will have a different desk, and a different table. One day I will look back at this set up and know that here was where I started taking myself seriously. And that I didn’t need anything fancy to do that, that the psychological was far more important than the physical.
Yesterday the The Bookseller announced to the writing community that my creative non fiction book, The Ghost Lake, will be published by The Borough Press, a division of Harper Collins, in 2024. What a day! Everyone has been so kind and supportive. You can read about it here:
This isn’t a new project, it’s already several years in the writing and researching, but now I feel like it is official, like it somehow suddenly exists outside the realm of my own head. I can now stop referring to it as ‘The Big Writing Project’ and call it what it is, a book. My book. There were lots of steps to get to this point - being turned down for funding for a PhD (the original kernel of the idea was to be my PhD thesis) being long listed for the Nan Shepherd prize (which opens again this year!) and finding the right agent, after interviewing with two others. I can’t thank Caro Clarke, at Portobello Literary enough. She’s been endlessly patient with me as I navigate this new terrain and it is her skill as an agent that has sold the book. She’s also just a thoroughly decent human being, and genuinely passionate about nature writing.
I feel like, this week, I grew two inches, like my back just became straighter, knowing that I am entering into this arena as an author. There will be tough times ahead, and no book is guaranteed to sell well or do well or be read, but I feel that each step along this journey has been a small win for me, a woman in my forties from a working class background, a woman who never quite felt she fit in anywhere, except with animals and in nature. And that, really, is what the book is about. I don’t want to say too much right now, I’ll save that for when we get nearer the date of publication, but like with Spelt, one of the things I wanted to explore with this project was what writing about nature and landscape and most importantly, belonging, might look like from a less ‘observed’ and more ‘lived in’ experience. The book is about how landscape informs that sense of belonging, how we look to the landscape as an archive of lives lived, lives lost. It is structured around an extinct Palaeolithic lake in North Yorkshire. I’ve spent so much time outside, walking, reflecting, it’s been a real pleasure to research.
There’s a long way to go until this book is on a shelf in a shop, but right now I am sitting in my little ex council house, in my scruffy little office, feeling like I have found a way to exist in the world as myself, without needing to change anything. And it doesn’t matter what happens in the future, no one can ever take this moment away from me.
Book Club News - Send me your questions for Liz Berry!
This Sunday (16th) is the first in-person meeting of the Beyond the Margins book club. We’re looking at, and chatting about, Liz Berry’s brilliant new novel in verse, The Home Child.
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You can book your place at the Sunday morning book chat here:
And don’t forget there is a live author event this month, on 28th April I’ll be chatting to Liz in person and you are welcome to come along.
If you can’t make either of those events, and because this book club is open to all, I would like you to send me any questions you have for Liz about her brilliant book, writing, her practice…whatever you want to know, this is your chance. I’ll be posting Liz’s answers onto Notes from the Margin, so look out for them. If you have a question, comment under this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next month our Book club book is Tanya Shadrick’s The Cure for Sleep. I can’t wait to chat with you about it!
The Dawn Chorus
On May 1st The Dawn Chorus, my early morning writing group, returns for five days of meeting 7-8 am in a facilitated zoom writing space. Come along and start your day with writing. To find out more and book your place, follow this link: Dawn Chorus Link
The Religion of Water
I still have a handful of places left on my May writing challenge. You can find out full details and book a place, by following this link: The Religion of Water
And Finally: Five Substack newsletters I Recommend
Sharing the love this week :
Shriek of the Week - consistently excellent bird based newsletter. I have gotten into the habit of listening to SOTW just before my morning dog walk, and then listening specifically for the bird songs.
Just as You Are - interesting, thought provoking and witty
Letters of Note - a simple idea with so many possibilities. One I look forward to, especially letters from writers.
The Northern Writer’s Studio - courses, workshops and support with Sarah Davy.
Courtney Maum - Before and After the Book Deal - fantastic advice. Check out the book too, it’s ace!
Thanks so much for all your shares and comments, it really means a lot to me. If you know someone who might enjoy Notes from the Margin….
Until next time