This brilliant painting by my mindful soulmate heralds the theme of Pangolin 40. We have made three trips to Meanwood Beck, within earshot of Leeds ring-road, since my last Pangolin was published. On each occasion we have seen a kingfisher, on the second we saw it take a fish. We then watched this amazing bird bashing the fish’s head against a branch, before eventually tweaking its prey into a position where it could be swallowed. Whole.
The kingfisher was an arresting sight, a flash of turquoise and burnt sienna brightening up the wintry greys and browns of its surroundings. It has a favourite fishing pool to which it returns as soon as possible after it has been disturbed. Perhaps this could be a metaphor for all those sparkling writers who tap into reliable sources. I am thinking of genres like historical, crime or romantic fiction. Readers have certain expectations which writers can fulfil or subvert, in all sorts of enjoyable ways. These are genres that keep on giving, like deep pools, while their authors pause on a favourite branch before diving in for more inspiration.
On our last visit to the beck, I saw a dipper disappearing upstream. Brown with a white bib, the dipper is a much less flamboyant bird, given to almost constant movement as it bobs up and down, flits from rock to rock, hunts underwater as well as at the surface. It is a regular in Pennine streams, but unusual so close to the city centre. I think I am more of a dipper than a kingfisher in my writing habits, trying out this and that, though perhaps not ranging as far as I might.
Another January surprise, indeed you could have knocked me over with the feather of any bird, was winning the Leeds Writers Circle short story competition judged by Martyn Bedford. My story After Farsley was conceived during a writing exercise on SJ Bradley‘s Comma Press Short Story Course. SJ asked us to imagine looking through a narrow opening into another space. She distributed a variety of newspaper articles and invited us to combine our initial viewpoint with an idea sparked by one of those stories. I think it helped that I already knew the two characters in After Farsley. Don, the narrator, is the father of Freya, the main protagonist of my second novel but he has died before the novel starts. Beryl, a self-appointed neighbourhood watch, has a minor role in the novel but is centre-stage in After Farsley.
The ending of After Farsley was not quite right, in my view, and SJ is helping with further edits. All being well, it will be included in the course anthology, destined to become an e-book from Comma Press. Until my experience with After Farsley, I haven’t felt the need for writing prompts as my imagination has always been a fertile substrate for ideas to grow. However, I realise that throwing together unlikely notions can take my creative stream beyond its usual banks.
In other news, I can reveal that Tamsin Hopkins will be my writing mentor for the Cinnamon Pencil scheme 2019. Once she has had the opportunity to plough through my submitted work, we will strive together to turn my second novel into the beautiful thing it is destined to become… She has written about her own differing approaches to the craft in terms of disciplined and undisciplined methods. After deciding to headline this blog with a kingfisher, I was intrigued to find that her short story collection, long-listed for the Edge Hill Prize in 2017, has a riverine theme.
I’ve decided that I will finish the first draft of Novel 2 this month so Tamsin can see the whole thing. So far I am averaging more than 1000 words a day, so I’m alright for quantity… Don’t forget it is World Pangolin Day on February 16. My next offering will, all being well, be sent to you on March 6th from Madeira, where we are escaping from all things Brexit for a few days.