A Different Path – First Draft

Stocks Reservoir, in the Forest of Bowland AONB.

If you follow my Facebook page, you’ll already know I’m working on a novel, which I’m calling A Different Path. I’ve been making excellent progress, and am on track to finish the first draft in three weeks, a little ahead of the target date I set for myself.

Since I started writing the novel at the end of May, I’ve envisaged it as a semi-autobiographical, nostalgic, coming-of-age story set in Lancashire, England.

Does that original vision still hold water?

Semi-autobiographical

I’ve been saying the work is semi-autobiographical, and that’s true for some of the scenes and events I’ve written about. However, my life hasn’t been quite as interesting as the protagonist’s. In some ways I wish it had been, but in other ways, I’m very glad it wasn’t!

In truth there’s now so much stuff in there that’s made up, I’m thinking of dropping the ‘semi-autobiographical’ label altogether.

Nostalgic

Maybe wallowing in nostalgia is a symptom of getting older, but I love it. Some of my favourite fiction works are deeply nostalgic, including Stephen King’s The Body, which was made into a film, Stand by Me, and has to be top of my list. Another is Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, which comes a close second.

Writing about the area in which I spent my most formative years has brought memories flooding back to me with such clarity, they could have happened yesterday. On that basis, I’d say the novel is very nostalgic.

Coming-of-age

The phrase coming-of-age means different things to different people. It’s classic definition refers to the point at which a person transitions from childhood to adulthood.

I agree with that, but I don’t believe it’s a legal milestone like the age of consent or the legal drinking age. For me, coming-of-age is more about an emotional maturing process that happens over a period of time. Mine happened when I was around twenty, and some of the scenes in the novel are real recollections from those days of youth.

Set in Lancashire

The beginning of the book is set in Lancashire, around some of the towns and villages of the Ribble Valley and Forest of Bowland AONB. I revisit them throughout, right up to the final scene at the end of the story.

Even though I moved away a long time ago, writing about these places reminded me how much love I still hold for the area. At times, I became so emotional I could barely see my computer screen through the tears.

Next steps

After the first draft I’ll be working on the edits, which will take me some time, but a good novel is made during the editing process, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to take a step back and look at the work with different eyes, identifying areas in which it can be improved.

I’ll post further updates here, and on my Facebook page.

Computer Industry Book Reviews

Back in the 1990s, I wrote regular book reviews for computer industry magazines. It was a great little gig and I enjoyed reading the books and seeing my writing in print. I also got to keep the books after reviewing them, and ended up with a large collection. I’m sure I still have some of them.

One of my many book reviews from Computer Weekly, c. 1995.

My review of The Skin of Culture above mentions “the growth of new media such as E-mail and videoconferencing”. We are now living and working in a world where both technologies are so ubiquitous they are taken for granted.

Another of my book reviews from Computer Weekly, c. 1995.

In the review of Rewired above, I mention approaching the next millenium. It feels quite strange to realise we are now two decades into that millenium, and that I wrote those words over twenty years ago.

There were lots of different industry magazines like this, including Computer Weekly, Computing, Microscope, and several others. Some, like Computer Weekly, have now gone digital only.

Many of them no longer exist at all.

Feelings of Nostalgia During Lockdown

Searching this phrase turns up some interesting results on Google. I’m not the only one feeling nostalgic at the moment. Lockdown is having a big effect on people, creating mental space for reflection, and for many, nostalgia is proving to be an effective coping mechanism as we try to process the daily death tolls.

Hay-on-Wye, 2019.

I’ve always enjoyed the experience of nostalgia. That bittersweet feeling of happy memories mixed with a sense of time lost forever. When the UK went into lockdown at the end of March, it didn’t take me long to start losing myself in daydreams about the past.

It all started when I had to write a few simple Java programs to help me understand a technical issue I was having at work. I haven’t been a programmer for many years, and writing code again felt very therapeutic. It reminded me of my younger self, my first computer, my first job, the old Apricot Xen I used at the office back then, and of course the freedom I enjoyed from earning my own money.

Lots of memories from that time started coming back to me, probably because my mind had room to wander instead of worrying whether the Central Line was running, or whether my train would leave Euston on time come Thursday afternoon.

Lockdown has been easing for a few weeks now in the UK, but my feelings of nostalgia haven’t.

Some of my memories have been so powerful I wanted to record them, so I started writing a semi-autobiographical story. A scene I wrote recently was a simple recollection of my weekly trips out to a local branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken, and the friends I went with. I was surprised at how much detail I could recall when I thought about it. I could remember snippets of conversation, songs on the car stereo, my friends singing along to evocative tunes from my youth.

A day after writing the scene I was driving to my first riding lesson in nearly ten weeks when my iPhone decided to shuffle play The Boy With The Thorn in His Side by The Smiths. So many emotions hit me at once. I burst into tears.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It can make us happy, but at the same time make us sad. That’s what makes it so special. It’s not just the act of reminiscing, it’s a feeling, an experience in itself. Definitely something worth bottling.