Not a lively start to the week. Woke just before 4am and got up to try and work for an hour or two. Could hardly keep my eyes open and drowsiness drove me back to bed. Woken by the phone ringing and realised I had missed a call from South Africa. Emailed Una and then had a bath.
A cup of instant coffee as I pored over the Guardian news — then let S make a cup of brewed ground coffee for me. But still half-awake. Sat and drafted out fiction in Hypernovella, my holding site for fiction, barred for outside readers. Unable to get very far. Desperate to go to bed and sleep for an hour.
When I am tired and trying to write, the irrational erupts in every sentence. Sidetracking plots and characters, making paragraphs incoherent. Not the tiredness that steamrollers prose flat, rather a sleepiness that encourages the dreaming mind to participate.
Bright despite cloudiness, the weather shifting as the wind changes direction. I keep thinking about Craswell priory and hiking up there yesterday, a four-mile walk across the hills, some steep clambers and one tricky place picking our way through forest along a very slushy track where the rain had fallen hard. The forest thick with alpine conifers, perhaps planted once to provide shafts and timber palisades for the coal mines. Beeches there too and other trees, glimpsing birches and rowan trees in the darkness.
The Craswell priory dates back to the 12th century and I read up on the Grandmontine order that bult the moastery, a simple barrel vaulted nave, sleeping chambers, a chapter house and chapel. A graveyard nearby where the Office of the Dead would be recited each day. The hooded monks spending hours in prayer and flagellation, fetching water from the spring, perhaps damming the stream to make a fishpond. Growing fruit trees, barley or wheat in roughly created and tilled fields. The yew would have stood against a western wall, already there, symbol of an earlier druidic place of worship.
It all seems very joyless and austere to me, the grey walls of the monastery, long fasting on dark winter days, the wind howling over the bare grassy hills, the tracks impassible in mud and snow. The monks speaking French to one another and saying prayers in Latin.
The locals feared and avoided them, or so I imagine. Would village women still have made secret pilgrimages to the spring? And the priory was built near the River Monnow and all rivers would have been sacred. The River Monnow has its junction with the River Wye on the outskirts of the ancient town of Monmouth. Water character is varied with shallow riffles alternating with pools, some very deep and slow. Large chub are very definitely the main quarry here; when they are really on the feed the river seems to be packed with them. At times they are found in remarkably shallow runs. Grayling to a good size are regularly taken on a small single worm or maggot, so are roach, perch and bream. Occasional barbel from the River Wye somehow got over the bottom weir at times of flood and are gradually increasing both in size and number on the rich Monnow feeding, while common carp are easily found in the deeper pools. The bank, though often lined with trees and tall vegetation, has enough open spaces to tuck yourself away. An uncontrived environment like this greatly assists concealment – essential for shy chub and grayling.
So there would be the river, the streams coming down from higher on the hill, the holly bushes around the spring, the gnarled and wind-blasted trees of the slopes giving way to the deep shady beeches or ash of the sheltered valley bottom. Herbs grown all around for healing purposes: mugwort, coltsfoot, nettles, foxgloves.
Now I shall go and sleep for an hour or so, then get back to the fiction. Such dreary agony, not unlike pulling teeth. Who are these characters and why should even the author, their creator, care about them?