A week or so ago I started uploading to this new home page my earliest posts to At the Quill, the ones from July 2008. The ones I wrote from before I had a homepage to write for. Of course, I read them too. It was interesting, but also depressing. I had such high hopes, then, such ideas of how short a time it would take me to write Elin’s Story.
Now here I am, two years on and what do I have to show for it? Two sections of the story written in second draft, about 14000 words all told; about half the book in first draft, notes, quotes, chronology – the journey to England and the first year in the country; masses of research (but not enough, never enough). A voice – I think I have her voice – but no clear idea of how to let her speak.
On 21st July 2008 I referred to Minnette Walters talking about the trap some writers fall into of doing so much research they feel they have to showcase it. I wrote “I don’t want to fall into that trap, but I fear it’s a real possibility I might.” And I have.
Partly to try to unblock myself, I started writing a new story, a kind of serial that I’m publishing more or less daily on the Internet in the form of a blog. The Aeyland Blog [link removed] started as a story in a dream, and I’m writing brain to hand, so to speak. There’s almost no research involved, just picking the story up and writing whatever I imagine. Of course I have to bear in mind the place I’ve invented and the characters I’m forming, but there’s a freedom I don’t feel (sadly) with Elin’s Story at the moment.
I’m hoping this will show me a way forward. That I’ll be able to get myself to write for Elin in a similar way (though without publishing her story).
The Aeyland stories are set on an imagined group of small islands in the North Sea. Like the Channel Islands, or Shetland, they’re far away from mainland Britain, but still a part. The narrator is JJ (Jimmy-Jerome) a 19 or 20 year-old, myself at that age perhaps, who has dropped out of his first year at University to return to the islands which are his home. He is circling around a failure – he ran away, after all, he ran home – and is describing his life and his family and his home community in the process.
It’s an isolated society, with strange customs and odd-ball characters, but of course everyone there regards themselves as perfectly normal and bog-standard. (Allowing for the peculiar British desire, which the islanders share, to be just as eccentric as the next man, though each in a slightly different way.) At the same time, as it’s a society built from and around the sea, and as the people regard the sea as a highway rather than a barrier, it is in one sense not isolated at all. Most of the island’s men, and nowadays, many of the women too, spend or have spent time at sea, and have seen the world or a wider portion and from a different perspective than many of their contemporaries on the mainland.
I want to explore this society in short dialogues and descriptions, and I started out with the story about the film crew because that was where the whole thing started in my dream. (I dreamed the scene with Matt in the bus-station [link removed], and two more scenes I’ve not used yet, one with Madison, Jeanette and Bogdan, the other with Charlie, Bogdan and Donald.)
I don’t know if anyone out there is reading it, but I don’t really care. I think the setting has potential and at the moment I’m amused by JJ and his observations.
Linguistically the name Aeyland (or Æyland) takes the Norse word for island and plays with it. The Æy/aey in the various island names is the same vowel (or diphthong) as the -ey in Orkney or Jersey. It means “island” (so Æyland Islands = island-land islands). But the sound it’s supposed to make – the -ay in say, May or bay – is the same as the Swedish ej, which means not: Not land, Nowhere. It’s my little conceit.
I imagine the islands are also a magnet for photographers and painters, especially watercolourists, which gives me the opportunity to illustrate the blog with pieces of photos and “watercolour” paintings as well as paraphernalia like postcards and coats of arms, all created in Photoshop.
Illustrations: The Picture of a Young Lady aged 21, which may or may not be a portrait of Helena Parr-Gorges (née Ulfsdotter also called Bååt-Snakenborg), Marchioness of Northampton – Elin – is displayed in the Tate Gallery. Visit the appropriate page on their website here.
The photo: foreground gull, horizon ferry was actually taken on Rügen in the Baltic, but is a suitably Aeyland scene, I think. See much more in this video.
The above edited for spelling and to allow for the removal of the Aeyland Blog entries 4th Nov 2011.
Revisited to add featured image and delete references to an Aeyland image that I no longer seem to have, 25 Feb 2017.