Special places

first posted at THE BOOKBAG

Another of those questions you get asked a lot as a writer: where do you like to work? Do you have a special place? Well, yes, I do have a special place – I am one of those lucky ones who has a shed at the bottom of the garden. It’s bright, and my fingers don’t freeze in the winter now I’ve put a woodburner into it, but it’s very small and won’t cost half a million pounds to move it when I’m dead (as we heard a week or so ago about the famous Dahl writing abode!) And I do love writing in there, but the truth of the matter is, when a deadline is pressing, or maybe when it’s even gone by, the best place to write is anywhere that works.

I was running against time writing Midwinterblood, largely because I’d written 10,000 words of something else that I then had to abandon, being unhappy with it. As things fell out, I was living on an island off the coast of Sweden, in a small hut, though a small hut with wifi (well, Sweden’s a modern place) and it was there that I wrote the bulk of the book. I knew a couple of people on the island, my landlord and landlady, and that was about it. I ate very simply, the fastest things I could cook, and I worked all day from early morning to early evening, taking usually one trip a day to go to the island’s single shop, or to go diving off the rocks into the warm (yes, really) waters of the Gothenburg archipelago. 

I suspect I went a little crazy with cabin fever, but the next time I lifted my head to see who I was, I had three-quarters of a new book. It all feels so serendipitous when it’s going well – having the idea at the right time, having the chance to be able to work on it, finding that it’s going okay, and I never take it for granted when it does, because any writer will tell you about the times when it doesn’t go well, as for example, when you have to throw away 10,000 words. Something I’ve now done three times in my life, and which, I suspect, I will have to do again, one day…

And here’s an extract from Part Three of Midwinterblood, The Airman

Hovering between life and death, the airman’s dreams are as twisted and broken as his fighter plane, which still smokes on a hillside a mile away. He sees weird visions of heaven and hell, and has a nightmare of running but being unable to run, as something chases him through fiery pits.
He groans in his sleep, and thrashes wildly, disturbing the hare that has been sitting nearby, watching him, wide eyes blinking in the near moonless night. Finally, as he wakes in early daylight, he dreams he’s being eaten by a dragon.

He sits up and screams, because his ankle is broken.
A beast scumbles away from him and he sees the dragon from his dreams, a large dog, a wolfhound. He collapses onto his back again, and with his thick leather glove he wipes his face, wet with the dog’s slobber.
Turning his neck awkwardly, he sees the lines of his chute stretching across a field of wheat. He’s made quite a mess, and suddenly panic takes hold.
He sits up again, this time avoiding using his right leg, the ankle of which is throbbing in a threatening way.
The dog has run away a few paces, but now sits watching him, panting merrily.
Where the hell am I? he thinks.
The last thing he remembers was that he’d managed to radio Petter before he’d had to bail out, but even then they were way off course, having made a run north to avoid a fighter patrol. What bad luck to hit another one. They’d come from nowhere and taken half the flight down before they even knew what was happening.
They’d been over the coast, God knows where, and he’d seen the lights of a small group of islands, and prayed he’d land on one of them, and not the sea, for to land in the sea would mean death.
He considers the facts, the chances of his survival.
His ankle is broken, he cannot walk. 
If his emergency kit has survived, he can inject himself with some morphine, which, while it lasts, will ease the pain.
The island on which he has fallen must be inhabited; this is a wheatfield, there is someone’s dog.
He knows this is not the mainland, but it could be almost anywhere else; they’d gone a long way north before the dogfight.
He’d radioed Petter, but maybe Petter didn’t make it either.
He decides not to think that.
Petter Åkare is a good pilot, and he knows he’ll have made it. He’ll report their position, and then…
Then what?
They’re not going to mount a rescue operation for one missing airman, even if he is a Flight Lieutenant. The best he can hope for is to make contact with friendly forces, get himself picked up by the Navy.
He’s just thinking all this when he hears a harsh voice, shouting.
‘Skilla! Skilla!’
He fumbles to pull his gloves off.
It’s a man’s voice, and it sounds angry, even if he doesn’t understand what the man is shouting.
He manages to pull his glove off with his teeth, and scrabbles for his pistol, but before he can pop the catch on his holster, the light is blotted out above him by the figure of a man. A large man.
He looks down and whistles.
The dog bounds over to him, begins to lick his hand.
‘Well, Skilla,’ he says, ‘what have you found this time?

© Marcus Sedgwick 2011

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