A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
I spend a lot of time on my backside. All writers do. I write at the desk in my study. And every evening, when I’ve had enough and my bum feels like it’s spread another six inches in a day, and my brain is buzzing with unresolved story issues, I close down my laptop. Time for My Walk. That makes me sound like a dog. And like a dog, if I don’t get My Walk, I yap and chase my tail.
My walk is usually in Castlewellan Forest. It’s ten minutes from my house. I used to have a pony, and rode in the forest every day. Now I use my own feet to carry me round the same paths. I don’t go very far – about an hour most days. Sometimes I walk round the lake. Sometimes up into the scrubby hills. I rarely meet anyone. Every day something has changed a tiny bit. The wild raspberries are nearly over; the blackberries are inking up. Every day things are mostly the same. Trees. Water. Hills. Views.
Walking is good for writers. Not just because of the writer’s bum issue and the general unhealthiness of Stuffing Indoors, but because walking’s meant tohelp you resolve those story issues. Walking clears your head and suddenly things click. And walking makes you commune with nature. Castlewellan Forest is beautiful. I stare down at plants, and I look up at the dark hump of the Mourne mountains just beyond the forest. On clear days I see the Isle Of Man across the Irish Sea. Focus on the close up and the far-off. Vary the distance. Just like writing.
But I have a confession to make. When I’m in the forest I don’t just commune with nature. I hardly ever think about my characters – I’ve just spent all day with the little beasts; hence with them! No. I plug myself into my phone. To BBC I-Player, to be exact. Radio 4. Most often Desert Island Discs.
It’s designed to take my mind off writing. But here’s the funny thing. Often as I’m wandering along, the front of my mind listening to the interviewee, the back of my mind fretting about my story, or about all the other things writers fret about – not getting another contract, not selling enough books, not getting invited to that conference – I’ll hear something that resonates. The academic talking about learning not to equate achievement with self-worth. The 106-year-old sharing insights of a well-lived life. The writer talking about the mid-career slump, about nearly giving up, and then suddenly writing her break-out book. Often I find myself saying, Yes! That’s just what it’s like. I’ve listened to modern writers like Malorie Blackman and David Almond, and older ones like Rumer Godden and Noel Streatfeild. There is always something to inspire and reassure, and often to galvanise, sending me back to the study resolved to keep going.
I’d always feel better for the fresh air, the exercise and the lovely surroundings. But those radio programmes are part of the magic.