Landscape, ‘Heneghan’ and me…


It is grey this morning. Rain fizzes irritatingly upon my garden furniture, not enough to saturate but a forewarning of worse to come and excuse sufficient to haul the chairs into the shelter of the shed for the duration.

The interplay between landscape and human beings has always been important to me – and my early diaries are full of embryonic attempts to pin down the beauty of sunset, the atmosphere of our weather systems – and always, woven in with nature, the people I had crushes on. I am, on sober reflection, almost as likely to fall enduringly in love with place as I am with individual human.

Certainly, as I have said before, my love affair with the Aberystwyth area began as the train drove over the marshland surrounding Borth.

Strange, and sad: Out of this vast love and creative growth (for, in many ways, the five years I spent in Wales were amongst the happiest of my life so far) came the novel that eventually became ‘Heneghan’.

Ironically, though the landscape was urging me in a creative direction, it took deep hurt for the novel to be born – but perhaps this is always the way with labour. The character of Heneghan came out of the gashed womb of my first serious betrayal by a man – and, as I read back now, I can see that I understood far more than I was willing to face at the time.

Do I recall when I finished the novel? Yes, vividly. Summer 1988, a halcyon time: I had started having violin lessons with a guy, Tim, who was my age; we got on extremely well and had a bond of sorts. That summer was glorious: Hot and lovely. I had friends. I was young and slim. I wore daring clothes (for me). I delighted in the beauty of Weston Woods (just up the track behind my flat), Steep Holm (visited with the drama group I had got to know) and Uphill sands.

Days after completing ‘Heneghan‘, I was attacked – and wrote no more novels until 2004.

But during those fallow years, I stored landscape-related impressions away in my various diaries. I also collected a series of damaged, cruel men and, in my painstaking diary entries, clung, with sad stubbornness, to the illusion of love I so wanted. The former inspired me and soothed my soul when the latter, human component disappointed or saddened.

Crete was added to the mix, and has become a source of inspiration in its own right. Who knows? Maybe my next novel will be set on that most beautiful and rugged island.

Re-reading the novel, as I get to grips with the changes needed, has been a shock. As well as showing clear understanding of the recent past, it also revealed an uncanny psychic ‘reading’ of much of what was to come – including, rather creepily, the meeting of a new friend a quarter of a century later.

I can see from this that the twenty-six-year-old Alienora was no more firmly fixed in time than is her much older counterpart; that the landscape stood still and calm and gorgeous and, at times, menacing – but that the spirit of the girl who wrote then, and writes still, flitted about from here to there, picking up clues and signs as she went along.

Out of the anguish which started in 1982 – and went on for far too long after that year – came a deeply complex book; a novel which showed a scary knowledge of love’s darker side when you consider that the writer was, at that point, only in her second relationship with a man.

I have thought about this since – and can see that some of the blackness was drawn from dysfunctional friendships with women; that a tendency to fall in love with Heathcliff over and over again did not exactly advance this writer’s romantic cause; but, beyond that, I think the contents of the book (which I hope to have published by the Autumn) shows a true ability to slide forward, to anticipate – if not to stop – grief still to come.

220px-Laurence_Olivier_-_1939

The good news: Finally, after much soul-searching, Heathcliff has lost his appeal – though the moors have not! I look for kindness, empathy and connection in men these days. Harshness, wildness, cruelty can be seen and admired in the landscape, in nature; we can appreciate, and use for creative purposes, the wild aspects, the predatory beaks, of our own souls without needing to slide, in masochistic genuflection, into relationships with ungiving, weather-damaged, rocks!

But, had I not met the man who created this level of havoc, ‘Heneghan’ would never have been born.

It is, like ‘Riding at the Gates of Sixty’, a literary novel. I make no apology for that.

‘Heneghan’ remains the most powerful, and disturbing, book I have written so far.  Would I read it had I not written it? God, yes! Bits of it make the hair stand up on my neck. It is for this reason that I am not going to share it on here. It will pack a punch – and I do not want that weakened by prior sightings.

Ynyslas-Beach-Sunset

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