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Ten Thousand Light Years from Home

Ten Thousand Light Years from Home

… The title of this blog post adapts the title of a track on the Rolling Stones’ 1967 album, Their Satanic Majesties Request. The track title is 2,000 light years from home, and its chorus has a repeated pair of lines, each pair with the distance increasing: It’s so very lonely / you’re 300 light years from home … then 600, then 1,000 and then finally 2,000. I always liked that track because it sounded suitably out of this world! I count myself lucky that my dad had all the Rolling Stones albums from the sixties on vinyl which I recorded onto cassette tapes when I was a teenager.

And of course, it is often said that writing can be a very lonely profession. In my younger days I’d write poetry as I travelled to and from work on the train, but I was in a world of my own, only aware of the guard announcing the next station the train would be stopping at. On my lunchbreaks when I worked in London, I’d sit on a bench by The Thames, outside Tate Britain, but it was a very quiet location so I was still in a very self-contained environment.

Maybe it is no surprise then that, when I needed to urgently think of the introductory 6,000 words for the final assignment of the Long Fiction module of my creative writing MA over the Christmas break of 2018, I chose to set it in this area of Westminster. Okay, so it had been sixteen years since I’d last sat on that bench beside The Thames, but the memories were still rich in my mind.

As my novel opens, a civil servant is leaving work for the day, and it is pouring with rain. He is carrying a large golfing umbrella, and walking the same route to St James Park Tube station that I used to walk — past the Westminster Coroner’s Court, up Strutton Ground, across Victoria Street, past the New Scotland Yard building, past the shop where I’d pick up two slices of toast each morning (one with Marmite, one just buttered) and into St James Park station. However, on this wet night, a homeless girl is busking on a tin whistle, and she is playing Danny Boy.

The civil servant stops and gives her some money, urging her to get something to eat. And that is the point the story begins. It has been four years since I wrote those first 6,000 words. Since then it has expanded to almost 10,000 words, partly through a 10-week City University of London online course on writing novels, two 10-week Crime Writing online courses with Cardiff University, and recently through having joined The Literary Consultancy’s Write Club Plus 2023 group, a 12-month program that includes writing prompts, early-morning writing sessions, mid-day writing sessions, Masterclasses and other events.

There are a lot of sub-plots in my outline, some of which may either get dropped entirely, or fade into merely brief mentions. I have done a lot of research, and my next stage is more research — involving at least a couple of trips to London once the weather is more predictable! I found one of The Literary Consultancy’s first prompts particularly challenging. It had two strands: first, what did we want to achieve at the end of the year; second, what did we want to achieve by tomorrow. The end-of-year goal was comparatively easy — maybe a completed first draft, or a certain number of words. The second was much trickier. Of course, a target of writing one or two thousand words would work, but that seemed a bit vague; I wanted something more concrete. I decided that I would like to set a more concrete goal concerning my research. I wanted to plan my first London trip. So I drafted an email to an organisation called Unseen Tours, that employs formerly homeless people to give tours of the areas of London in which they used to be homeless. I know their usual tours last up to two hours, and I know I won’t be able to walk that long, not to mention that it wouldn’t be much use to me since I can’t see the areas I would be walking through. But two of the areas that they have guides for do feature in my novel, so just being able to sit down in an office or a cafe to discuss the sorts of things that featured in a homeless person’s life in those areas, will be a huge help. I think, as the weather begins to improve, next week might be the week to hit send on that email, and see if I can get my motor running 🙂

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