Monday, 4 July 2016

By the Old Railway Track

my favourite sinkhole 

my favourite sinkhole in situ

... and again ... even more in situ

if you look closely, you'll see a small bird on the table. A fantail (piwakawaka) 

sun-blasted cabbage tree (ti kouka)

sun-blasted ti kouka in situ

before the frost

after the frost

before ...

after ...

a morning this cold is best viewed from inside  

the promise of sun to turn the white green again ...

Dear Reader,

I have just spent a week on a (self-induced) writing retreat. My brother and his wife own a cottage that because of its proximity to a disused rail tunnel that forms part of a cycle track running through their farm, they call Tunnel Cottage. They rent out the cottage to bike riders riding the old railway track that ran from Lawrence to Roxburgh. Actually, the line ran from Dunedin to Roxburgh, but this cycle track starts at Lawrence. As the house isn't used in winter, they very kindly allow family to stay there. I find it ideal as a space for uninterrupted writing time.

This is the second time I've taken them up on their offer. Last time was two years ago when I was working on the very first stages of the first draft of my novel: 'Craggan Dhu: Part One: 'Time Will Tell' (working title).

This novel has (so far) been more than six years in the making ... I remember making initial notes when the first Christchurch earthquake struck back in 2010. And even before that, it was simmering away at the back of my mind like a pot of Mum's vegetable soup on the back of the coal range.

This time I was working on the completed first draft, hoping to finish up with a second draft. However, despite some really great writing days and the valuable opportunity to spend long blocks of time on it, it was slower going than I'd hoped. But, it was enough time to untangle some major knots in the plot and I am now much closer (in fact very near) to having the second draft ready.

The cottage is situated on a hilltop in the middle of green hills and surrounded by lots of trees. The main highway through to Central Otago runs right past the front door; but far enough away so that the traffic noise doesn't intrude. In fact, I liked the comforting, companionable hum from passing cars and trucks. I needed that human contact - even ones seen briefly (or imagined) behind the wheel of a fast-moving vehicle.

Every lunch-time when the sun hit the front of the house and deck, about eight to ten fantails (piwakawaka) would arrive for their meal of insects gathered from under the eaves of the house. While I sat having my lunch at the outside table they would land very close, but always moved as fast as a blink, so that it was impossible to take a photo. In fact I didn't even really try. I just enjoyed their company and sat watching their delicate, aerial manouevres between the tortured willows and the cottage..

At night there in the middle of the country, the darkness is like black velvet, without any light to be seen (apart from the moon and stars ... but I was inside and they were outside - on the other side of the curtains).
As the wooden walls cooled down from the warmth of the day's sun, and from the heat off the log burner I always kept stoked, the whole house would crack and snap in a very alarming manner. I heard a possum or two running across the tin roof, but that was okay as I could identify that particular noise. But there were other noises I couldn't identify that gave me pause.

The first night I thought I could hear human voices outside. As the nearest neighbour is about three k's away, I was more than a little un-nerved. A covert look through gaps in the curtains, re-assured me that there was no-one 'out there'. The next day when I saw some pigeons on the power lines, the penny dropped. What I was hearing was most likely the low cooing of pigeons.
Another night while on a middle-of-the-night visit to the toilet, I thought I could hear someone outside chopping wood! The slow rhythmic tock-tock-tock couldn't be anything else. I somehow managed to talk myself out of that ridiculous notion and dropped back off to sleep.
The next day in the comfort of daylight (I now know what 'longing for the light of morning' means) I realised that it was actually a dripping noise coming from inside the toilet cistern. At night, the sound had been magnified tenfold. Another night - by this stage I was ready for home! - the noise of my rumbling stomach caused me a second's mild panic.

The last morning I awoke to see that there had been a visit from that *'blond assassin' - Jack Frost. It was so heavy it almost looked like it had been snowing through the night. But the sun soon blasted that sucker, so that by lunch-time all green was restored and the roads clear. *from an Emily Dickinson poem.

I made my way home, second draft primed for actual completion by the end of this coming week.

When I finished the first draft, my family very kindly toasted my achievement. I'm hoping for another toast when the flag comes down on this draft. (And the third and the fourth?) But that may be asking a bit much. After that (which by my calculations, and  realistically-speaking, won't be until *next year) it will be ready for a reader or two to read it and give me their feedback. (Which will be nerve-wracking). *I say next year, because in Sept. - Oct. I'm taking a six-week trip to stay with our son and partner and wee girl, in Berlin; as well as fitting in a five-day stay with my friend in the U.K. The novel is going to have to go into an induced hiatus /stasis /suspended animation ... during that time.

By which time I will be ready for another visit to Tunnel Cottage (when available) along with all its quirks and charms. It'll be good to see it again. (I believe we've bonded).



J.T. Webster said...

It's good to hear progress is being made. What a blessing to have acess to that cottage.
I look forward to reading the completed novel. :)

Avus said...

I enjoyed the "before & after" images, Kay. That cottage sounds an ideal retreat, in spite of your "night alarums"!

Kay Cooke said...

Sue - I have no idea when it will be ready to read! But thanks for the cheering me on from the sidelines.

Avus - It was great - ideal.

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...