It’s very early dawn, barely the first sign of light, when the noises start – Cock-A-Doodle-Doos from a few roosters anxious to get on with the business of their day. But they are easy to ignore and I am quickly back to sleep. Then it’s the first goat bells ringing – a less intrusive sound and one that manages to blend in with a lazy wish to resist waking. But the cicadas are less easy to ignore – if only for the reason that they are proof of a later hour and certainly a reminder that it is definitely time to get up.
Waking up in North West Crete in summer time – in the village of Gavalochori at our family house – is a very different experience from waking up in urban Winchester. For a start, if I do manage to resist the lure to more sleep and get out of bed soon after seven (rare, but it has been done a couple of times)I am well rewarded. The White Mountains that we see from the house are still pink, the rising sun reflecting against the limestone, and sitting watching them turn grey over the course of half an hour or so is possibly the most peaceful way to start any day. In the other direction the sea is pale, merged in with the early morning sky until gradually both become distinct from each other, shades of deep, extraordinary blue as if painted in vibrant oils or water colours.
The air at this time of the day is still cool on the skin – the heat taking a couple of hours to build – and it’s a perfect time to walk even in the height of summer.
But then the cicadas start. It is as if they set some internal alarm clock to urge them into noisy action, remind them that they are a backdrop sound until dusk and sunset. For me, the cicadas are always the sounds of high summer in Crete. They are not here for Autumn and Spring visits, seem to know exactly when to tune in and provide the sound system for summer visitors.
So it is not a silent place to write – Gavalochori – no haven of entire absence of sound. But the noises are harmonious – those cheerful goats’ bells from neighbouring fields, even the early rising roosters and certainly the cicadas, evidence of the wonderful heat of this southern European haven.
I thought MILLER STREET SW22, my next novel, was finished. Several re-drafts, a substantial edit and proof read on, I considered it ready for submission.
Bringing away with me the typed out manuscript, I am finding numerous re-writes of sentences that are too clumsy, too ‘wordy,’ too portentous for context.
There are whole page re-writes to do, still more cuts to make or phrases to alter.
It seems that a novel is never entirely finished and even the version that gets sent off for typesetting is still only the one that seemed most right and least wrong on the day it is dispatched.
So I am working through the 300 plus pages again – stubbornly and painstakingly revisiting my characters and scenes, trying to ensure that they leap off the page sufficiently to convince readers of their reality.
My writing project of the summer was to have been making big inroads into novel 4 – THE ODYSSEY OF LILY PAGE. Already, some 22,000 words are sitting on the laptop and memory stick and I am anxious to get back to Lily living in Islington in 1983.
But for the time being, it is Catherine Wells and Sam and Lydia Gough and Frances Chater living in Miller Street in South London in 2006 who are claiming my attention.
We have been together for nearly three years now so I feel a duty of care towards them and an obligation to serve them faithfully and well.
And at least, while I am working out here in Crete I am not alone. Nor unduly interrupted.
The cicadas and the goats’ bells and even those rather raucous roosters make excellent companions – and proof that, in spite of everything in this very turbulent and troubling year, nature keeps on doing what it knows so well what to do in summertime Crete.