I had the best of intentions when heading out to Warwick, of descending upon old people’s homes and cold-calling people with the same surnames as the pioneers of the area I’ve been researching, but when I got to The White Swan and it’s hand-hewn sandstone walls, its magic took hold of me and all I wanted to do was sit on the verandah near the roses, breathing in their perfume and writing.
Just what I needed. When tackling a project as enormous as Dear Madman, I’m having to learn new ways of doing things. Not only the researching aspect, but the necessity of breaks – to contemplate, to let my mind find connections between all the disparate facts I’ve collected. To let the voices of my characters find me.
I took some drives and long walks in the countryside and absorbed the sounds and sights and smells. I tore off a willow branch and stripped it, felt the sting of it on my palm, to know what it had felt like for my dear madman, punished as a boy. I sat on bales of hay and imagined what it would have been like to sleep in a shed full of it. Inhaled the saltiness of cows.
Then I came back to The White Swan and watered the roses, and began to imagine a life spent primarily outdoors. Where the fields were more home than the barn you slept in. Where beasts of burden were comrades, not picturesque additions to a pastoral scene. I put my hand on the sandstone and felt the years between us fall away. Had these very pick marks been made by my madman?
This is a very different world I’m entering. How does a pampered twenty-first century woman, imagine life as a barely literate laborer over one hundred years ago.
I’m attempting to write my way into the past and make it, somehow, ring true and feel real.