Pangolin 51 featured a picture of a very home-made baby pangolin, its predecessor (50) showed off my laundry, so this lunar month we are going for something classier. Here’s a view of the lake close to the Cundallhouse. Those who don’t know Leeds, one of the greenest cities in the country, may find it hard to believe that this gem is only a short distance from the city centre. The signboard is a relatively new addition and features a JMW Turner painting of the scene as it was in his day.
Thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Gledhow Woods this little valley has never looked better, in my view. The first snowdrops are in bloom and the buds are beginning to bulge, anticipating Spring. I’ve claimed a few days off after my Nigeria visit, our Christmas festivities and the aftermath of both, so my thoughts are turning back to writing. Novel 2 is set for its next (and probably final) major revision. It started with two first person narrators, one moved to third person a while ago and it feels like the other might have to follow him. Is it perverse to think that I can give the reader more empathy with her as an ‘intimate third’ character than I could when she was in first person?
While I grapple with that dilemma, I’m intrigued by the idea of novella in a flash, as championed by Michael Loveday, who I’ve kept in touch with since we met on an Arvon course. I can see my way to stringing together some new flash fiction, possibly all set in our urban valley, in time for Bath 2021. Readers of Pangolin 51 will know that my ideas for novel 3 orbit around the Leeds Preventorium, which I continue to research. There’s also a fresh short story emerging, like a bright fungus on a drying cowpat, and an older not-gorilla piece to be resurrected to be competition-ready.
Wuhan tops the headlines as I type. This Chinese city, a conurbation of Wuchang, Hankou and Hanyang has a place of honour in my family history because this was where Grandpa Cundall worked as a medical missionary a century ago. When my big brother Ned visited Wuhan a few years ago, he met an elderly professor who remembered being taught by grandpa at the Union Hospital. She was overjoyed to meet another Edward Cundall, named for Grandpa.
Are we heading for a new pandemic? The Wuhan coronavirus, so beautiful under an electron microscope, has already jumped species and may mutate again, exposing the fragility of our public order and collective psyche. After SARS, the international network of centres for disease control are better prepared for something like this, but there is only so much they can do in a world where air travel is so easy. Teams of virologists will be sequencing the RNA as I write, veterinarians will have descended on the illicit market where it all began. Could trafficked pangolins be implicated?
So, as I search for patterns of words in English that evoke the universal from the particular, I am more than usually aware of our connectivity. While the signboard at Gledhow Lake reflects on the characters of the local past, and my DNA contains echoes of the lives of my ancestors, it seems like fire, flood and pestilence can spread across the earth faster than ever before. I am lucky to be able to get away for the next three days to write and walk, letting disparate ideas consort with each other in the Wuhan market of my subconscious. Let’s hope that any writing that emerges will transcend boundaries in a good way.