It has been a week of not much writing and lots of looking. I haven’t planned it this way, but a batch of similar tasks have all cropped up together over the past week or so.
I have been looking at logos and mock up web pages for a new project (you will hear about this soon, and first, o reader – I promise) and wrestling with the problem of getting the ideas about images out of my head and into an email so that my partner in this project and our designer can see them too.
I’ve also been making lists of locations in Cold Light and discussing the pros and cons of each of them with the digital marketing person at Sceptre. She’s taking my ideas and her own and working them into a brief for a film production company. They’ll use the brief to make a trailer for the book. The idea, I think, is to have me in some of the settings reading bits of the book to bring the locations to life.
When I was writing Cold Light I imagined the river freezing over in icy chunks that were inches thick. It suited me to believe it could happen though in my heart of hearts I doubted it. The cold weather we’ve had over the past couple of weeks has pleased me because the river really did freeze over. Kim took he picture of the Ribble opposite and also recently disproved my theory that fish can live in frozen ponds as long as there’s an air hole in the ice.
So all this thinking about setting, and location reminded me of a conversation I had with a member of the audience during an MLF / Rainy City Stories event about Writing and Place late last year. The three of us (me, Claire Dudman, Nicholas Royle) were talking about using real places in fiction. I said I’d used Preston for Cold Light, but taken some liberties, changed a few things around – for my own convenience and because I didn’t want to depict the place exactly, but write more or less how I felt about it (hence the river freezing over – which at the time I didn’t think was possible.)
I made a hash of explaining it, but I think I meant that the atmosphere and emotions of a place were more true and real and interesting for me than street names, real bus routes, distance between parks and shopping centres, Debenhams’ policy on shoplifters. There are Facts and ‘facts’ about a place. And the audience member said, ‘well why call it Preston at all then?’ which was a good question, and stumped me, until I realised on the way home (spirit of the staircase) that I hadn’t actually mentioned Preston by name at all in the book – just other things that made it obvious, like the name of the motorway and the river and the shape and size of our very special multi storey car-park.
Us Prestonians have got some fantastically grotty places – I’ve been revisting my memories of them to find pictures to show to the people in charge of making a film that will sum up Cold Light in four minutes or less. The only problem is that, especially in the not-grotty park, the locations of 1997 are not the same now. So not only could I never find pictures of the fictional Preston I’ve bludgeoned into existence with my keyboard, but the pictures that will appear on the film trailer will be more than a decade out of date.
I know that’s okay. I know that the trailer, the same as the book, is interested in evoking rather than describing a place. In this case, a pretend one.
But all the same, here I am making lists of locations to film in, finding photographs on flickr and fretting because the old bandstand isn’t there any more and things in the trailer aren’t exactly going to look the way they do in the book. The only place it is real is in my head. The film trailer and the map I am making and the other bits and pieces that make use of real places and pictures to describe what it might look like are just approximations of it.
With A Kind of Intimacy, when people have mental pictures of Annie or her house that don’t quite match up to mine, I can shrug – the book is as much yours as it is mine now. She can be six foot tall for you and around my significantly-below-average height to me – it doesn’t matter too much, and the fact that the reader is the co-creator of the novel – bringing the pictures to life and using the words as their jumping off place – well, that’s what books are for, isn’t it?
Perhaps all this anxiety I’ve found in rooting about for images and trying to find the exact right picture to show the film production company what the park where Emma and Lola do their drinking should really, really look like, is just a way of not letting go, not giving the reader room to make her own pictures. And I think it’s because now it’s 2011 and the book will be published This Year and I’m getting nervous about having to let go of it whether I want to or not, and a little bit because over the past month I’ve seen parts of Cold Light become real before my eyes.
Which is unsettling.