Friday, 4 March 2016

Greenwich Mean Time

When I moved to Greenwich at the start of 2000, having bought my first ever home, I was incredibly happy - for about five minutes.

I immediately set to work to write a warm, light, optimistic novel about a bunch of thirthy-somethings looking for love, meaning and fulfilment and finding it.

It was to be a counterpoise to my first novel, a desperately dark comedy of manners, about a bunch of twenty-somethings led astray by a malevolent close friend who ends up destroying their lives. 

Two years later the first draft of Point Hill was a less than jolly affair: war, ghosts, train crashes, broken families and dark secrets. It really wasn't my fault: the three protagonists came to life and seized control of the plot, stubbornly refusing to drive it towards the desired happy ending.

Many rewrites later I hit upon the realisation that although the three started off miserable, the point of this novel was not to guide them towards some universally recognisable state of happiness but to let each of them come to terms with who they were and let them go where they were headed, finding their own version of what a good or even a tolerable life might be. 

I embraced the train crash they were headed towards instead of stopping it, deus-ex-machina-like, at the last minute. I embraced it so much it became a literal plot twist. Of course I didn't know it then, as I was only young and needed to believe life would eventually pan out as it was meant to, that this is kind of what life is like. Messy, sometimes dark (way darker for my protagonists but hey, it's called fiction people!) and full of guilt, longing, rage and all sorts of other emotions without resolution, full of failings without redemption, full of sudden, undeserved, unexplainable connections and joys.

My novel is now available on Amazon, and its original setting feels somewhat historical now. This is a world before 9/11 , the war on terror and smart phones. A world where it was just about possible for a teacher (or indeed a freelance journalist) to buy a house in Greenwich, something that feels so ludicrous now that I had to resist the temptation to change that element of the plot. 

The past, in other words, is another country. But so is our individual past, come to think of it. I look of photos of me from that time, re-read diary entries and I do remember what it felt like to be so young and so frightened and so strong, brimming with creativity and anger. I remember but I can never go back. The present where I live now is my version of what a good life can be for me. I've had to let go of all other possible lives.

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