The car was a Ford Cortina Estate, second-hand, the sort of brown no teenager wants to be associated with. Dad would drive, mum in the passenger seat, me and my sister in the back with our dog Prince in the boot, and this would be a family outing to ‘some hill’ for ‘some walk’ in ‘some nowhere’ on a Sunday.
We’d park up in some nowhere just as the drizzle started and Dad would start to talk about the overhead lines. How he’d switched or patrolled that line over there, got the power back on in the high winds of ’89 at that little place down there – ‘Do you see it? That speck of white in the distance? You’d never know it was even there. But it is. Tinny little generator going. Blazing fire.’ And then there’d be some story about ‘owd wotsit’ being visited by the council who didn’t think where he’d lived for 80 years was suitable for human occupation. But through those narrow teenage eyes of mine I saw nothing, heard nothing, didn’t want to know. I just wanted to go home and listen to the charts.
Last Friday, I sat in the car with my parents and my daughter. We were on a daytrip to Mitchell’s Fold so we could head across to the Bog over the Stiperstones and down into the Vessons before heading home the back way via Pontesford Hill. This time my eyes strained to see the faint specks of white in the distance. As my ears were wide open to the stories of switching, owd wotsit, of patrolling storylines.
I’ve taught every day this week. My novel writing course, as part of the residency programme, started on Monday with a full house. Then it was off to the University Centre Shrewsbury to challenge them on their ideas of form; to Staffordshire University to offer editing techniques. Everyone I encountered had a story. Often a story about the story they were trying to write. Some even had stories about that: the writing process. But what preoccupied me most were those of my Dad’s, the idea that he would, in the bleakest and fiercest of storms, head for those specks in the far distance hidden by snow where stories lived and had lived for years, without power.
It was a word I kept using in my workshops – to power a story you need a plot – to create a powerful piece of short fiction you need to get there a different way – to really cement in those story roots think about how you got here then how you’re going to get over there?
How did I get here I asked the first novel writers?
I think I now know. Time to put pen to paper.
And my first word…. ?
As we all are in backs of cars as teenagers.