August, 1998 – I’m on a walking adventure in Mid-Wales. The doctorate was awarded towards the end of last year and and I was sending out thesis samples before the award, sending them to academic publishers with a view to publication and beginning a journey that will take me a long time. (I can’t see into the future, so I don’t know that it’s going to take six years, including twelve months of re-writing, before the ideas are finally published in an accessible form.)
In the meantime I’m writing other things, inspired by the research work and the discoveries that came out of it. I’ve written the first, second or third draft of a first novel – I’ve lost count because it’s a cyclical process, because when I get through to the end I start again from the beginning, expanding or contracting, re-wording and re-structuring, and sending samples of this out to publishers too, and also to literary agents. Living in the countryside, where public transport is at best sporadic, and without transport of my own, means that I spend much time walking to get from place to place. But that has its advantages. Walking is a creative time – when walking I think about my fiction, I develop plots and characters, and there’s always something to observe.
I like longer walking trips too, walking adventures and treks. So I’m walking over the Cambrians with a backpack and a tent and a small supply of food and water. I first went on a walking holiday in 1989, this with Laurence Golding’s memorable Head for the Hills, and that gave me the taste for living in the great outdoors, exploring places far away from the well-worn path. I went on several trips with Laurence and then started going on solo trips, staying outdoors for three, four, sometimes five days, away from towns and villages, shops and pubs, walking over Wales without a watch, pacing myself by the sun.
Walking like this is good for the soul. It clears the head, detaches you from time, and releases space for reflection and simply to absorb your surroundings. Watching the sun slide behind a distant peak; watching a beetle’s antics as you lay awake in the last of the daylight; listening to night sounds and the silence that follows, and feeling the stillness without and within – possibly scary to those who fear solitude; probably corny to those who don’t know. As for me, the sense of absorption is only heightened when the winds arrive, and the rains.