I’m currently re-reading The Sea, The Sea, the 1978 Booker winner, Iris Murdoch’s 19th novel. I read it over 40 years ago! Since my recently completed creative writing course I now recognise that it is written entirely in the first person. I’ve written a short piece in this style, below, to see how it goes. It occurred to me as I wrote it that as an exercise and the freedom my chosen story line gives me I could use it as a vehicle to write about all sorts of things however rambling. It could make a valuable complement to the other exercise I’m doing, a growing document with 15 to 30 minutes random writing in it every day, whenever practicable. This is now 82 pages and 63,000 words long. I’ve been doing this for nearly 4 months and have accumulated over 100 short pieces of random writings some of which have already proven to be a useful resource.
My name is Michael Borrowdale and I am a recovering sociologist. There is more I could, and will, tell about myself but I’m not sure how much and in any case how interesting anyone would find it. This is the first paragraph of a journal, maybe a diary, perhaps a memoir, I really don’t know at the moment. I will be writing this as a record of some sort and no doubt time will tell if it eventually fits any particular confessional or revelatory genre. For the moment it is enough that I write if not regularly at least frequently.
Perhaps a good start would be if I described my surroundings. I’ve been in this house for about two weeks now. It has taken this long to settle in and get some sort of organisation. I have always been a city dweller and the rural location I have chosen to retire to is very different to what I’m used to. The house is detached and quite old, built in the mid-1800s, once a terrace of three cramped farm workers’ cottages but long ago knocked into one to make it a family home. The front of the house, on the northern side of a shallow valley, looks across a landscape of fields and the wooded slopes of distant hills. The remnants of the ancient drystone walls that divide the landscape into irregular oblongs are largely in disrepair, of varying heights where the top courses have collapsed and spread the stones to either side. At a couple of intersections can be seen stone barns, long disused and roofless. In the distance a few other inhabited houses are dotted about, none with close neighbours and none nearer than two miles or so. Behind the house, again wooded slopes but now bearing down more closely, keeping the back of the house in shade for most of the winter. It is mid-summer now and when the sun is up and visible some sunlight penetrates the gloom behind the house in the longer evenings. For this reason, and the view, I intend to live mainly in the front rooms overlooking the broad valley.
I’ll save describing the internal layout of the house for another time. As I said, I have no immediate neighbours. Most of the land I overlook is either over grown and fallow or, further away, used for grazing cows. The nearest village is three miles away and I have visited it three times so far, once on foot, once on my bike whilst exploring the area, and once passing through in my car on the way to the nearest supermarket, ten miles away in what just about qualifies as a small town. There is very little in the village – a small general grocery of irregular hours run by an elderly dame from a back room, a pub that doesn’t serve food and a church that was clearly built to serve a much larger community than it does now. The total population is probably no more than a hundred souls or so and the monthly services are no doubt sufficient. I won’t be joining the congregation. There is no school or post office so a trip to the town is required for either of these facilities. There is however a small post box built into the church perimeter wall next to the lychgate, two collections a week.
It’s a lovely evening, warm with a gentle south-westerly breeze, a clear pale blue sky shading to a deepening purple in the east, a few strung out clouds, cirrus perhaps but some are like a row of small balls of cotton wool, above the distant hills. In front of the house there is a good sized rather overgrown terraced garden, unfenced to the view, with a paved patio area partly shaded by a vine and clematis covered pergola. I’m not a gardener so I may need to get some help with this. The patio has a rusting barbecue in one corner and a few equally neglected iron round seated chairs and a small matching table. These will go and be replaced by something more comfortable. The first small terrace below the patio, there are three levels, has a broken-down picnic table of the sort found in beer gardens. This will be broken up for firewood and replaced with a canopied swing seat of some sort. I will finish writing for the moment and go and sit out with a glass of wine, I think a large sauvignon blanc on this occasion, and watch the shadows lengthen into dusk. Why I’m here and what my intentions are will be a topic for another day