I used to live the life of Proserpina, writing in the winter and doing everything else in the summer. Writing is such an eater of time and makes me believe I can’t possibly do anything else, such as meet a friend or make jam. The annual routine worked beautifully. I didn’t exactly stop writing in the summer, just changed the activity into reading and research and pondering; sometimes on August afternoons in the summerhouse (renamed the Plutonium – an initiatory chamber for deep dwelling) I napped and dreamed. It did work very well. Apart from anything else, it gave me deadlines to aim for, which always kicks the work up a gear.
This year however, the final edit on my novel about Fra Filippo Lippi was not finished by the spring equinox, and publication was planned to be in time for Christmas, so I worked on. I did take some time out to discover – in that boss-eyed, half-blind kind of way – the plot of my next book; that led me to reading up on Roman Britain, but there were no sultry naps in the Plutonium. It wasn’t really that kind of summer. After a very hot spring, it all settled down to cool and cloudy.
It was the final edit and, once it was finished, all I had to do was to read it out loud to David to make sure there were no plot holes, untied ends, glaring errors or howlers. Small hope. Almost at once he found a grievous error which required pulling out the viscera, doing a gastric bypass and putting it all back with no scars. It should have resulted in a leaner, sleeker book but didn’t. Lippi is still overweight, but I believe the problem is solved and the book much improved. I’m still working on the scars, though, and thoughts of it all being over by Christmas are abandoned.
As if I were programmed to follow my usual annual pattern and not write, I pulled a muscle in July, or so I thought, which prevented me sitting at the computer any longer than 15 minutes a time. I’ve found out since that it was sciatica but two months were knocked out, in which I practised extreme knitting in a comfy chair.
Unable to drive and developing trench fever, I invested in a rail card and became quite adventurous, especially as there are some pretty good deals around if you don’t go via London. On my first trip out, I met Helen Hollick for the first time at a great lunch put on by the Harrisons, a trio of historians and re-enactors (to limit them to only two activities), and we spent a heady afternoon discussing things historical and musical. Inspiring…
Now, today, it is the Autumn Equinox. The meadow is under a duvet of mist and the dawn sky is opalescent. Moving with more ease thanks to a physiotherapist friend and her exercises, I’ve been working hard this past week to put the allotment to bed. Still much to do, but Equinox is never neat, more the apex of a time of transition. But my Proserpina self has changed allegiance. I woke in the dark today, determined to write, determined to start with a blog posting before the lovely autumn weather draws us back to the plot for more digging and manuring.
All the images of Proserpina show her being raped by Pluto, snatched from Ceres, or flying out of hell in the spring to return to her mother. I love winter and summer equally. Writing can be painful and frustrating, but so is growing vegetables, so I look on the darkening evenings with enthusiasm, the enthusiasm of a fresh start, even if I have been cheating all summer. I return to Pluto, his deep thinking and powerful insights feeling neither snatched nor raped, just grateful for the wonderful variety of life.
The freezer is stuffed. I wish it was stuffed with some ‘ready’ meals all cooked up with our own veg so that there would be no need to think about food over the winter, but I never achieve that ambition. Apart from some soup and a couple of veg curries, it’s all cooked beans and raw raspberries. But, as Marie Antoinette might have said, Let them eat jam!
I entered some of our jams in the village show last week but to no avail. I discovered that that class is dominated by men who take their jams as seriously as their home brews, even adding (adulterating them with) port. I had to content myself with Firsts for knitting, small onions and strawberries.
Sun, oh Sun, enjoy your time in the south but don’t bake them too hard. Visit us often, peeping over the horizon to melt our frosts and snows.
I end with a seasonal one-liner:
A skein of geese skims the meadow squawking.