On holiday in Fort Victoria, Isle of Wight.
Walking along the beach here, kicking over stones. There was a group of very elderly people out looking, too, one of them having to be held by the arm whilst she prodded around with her stick. I liked that. Anyway, no doubt the ammonites were the same, swimming up and down, rolling their eyes about the gloom for as long as they possibly could before the light went out and they settled into the ooze. (This is probably why I could never work as a Tour Bus Guide).
One of my holiday books has been By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. It’s a brilliantly passionate account by Elizabeth Smart of her love affair with the poet George Barker. I found it strange to think that a writer of such creative intensity could ever actually die. Maybe she hasn’t, quite. Maybe she’s a ghost somewhere, forever waiting for George to turn up, five minutes, five years too late.
Plenty of arty shots to be had along the beach. Derelict piers, rusted iron fixings, doors in ruined walls, ancient timbers eroded along the grain. This part of the island was heavily militarised, guarding access along the Solent to Portsmouth. Apparently there were forts here from the sixteenth century, but most of the ruins and remnants are from the mid-nineteenth. It’s a great place to kick around. The swimming’s good, too – although the waters here are out of bounds, a big red sign saying Danger – No Bathing. Standing on the shore you can see what they mean – a distinct line of white surf mid-way out, tearing round the point.
The other book I’m reading is a non-fiction account of the transportations to Australia. The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes (excellent, btw). I got quite excited to think that those transport ships would’ve sailed out from Portsmouth along the waters we can see from the cottage window – but then I looked on Google maps and saw that they must have sailed straight down from Portsmouth along the east coast of the island en route to Rio de Janeiro. I’m reading The Fatal Shore because I’m researching a book with a foot in two time zones, the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. It feels like I’m taking on a lot. Wouldn’t it be easier to write about something closer to home, maybe a domestic drama about a community health care worker and his struggle to come to terms with death? Something as bright and upbeat as that? But I have to admit I like the research. It’s a kind of insurance. If the book doesn’t work, at least I’ve learned something (other than how to write a book that doesn’t work).