I love being a writer. I get paid for Making Things Up. Making Things Up is the easy bit. Putting them together is harder.
I made up characters on long car journeys and tried them out on my husband. That’s how I came up with The Honourable Mrs Veronica Thumping-Jolly, who always wears pearls at one end and wellies at the other because she might be having tea with a duchess or trudging about in a paddock. My son and I made up the word ‘twide’ as a result of a game of Scrabble, and we knew that twide was a kind of twine made out of reeds. We knew that it has to be mashed up and softened in a shed called a mecessary, because it makes a mess, but it’s a necessary mess.
A village came to mind, a happy, quirky little village round a lake where everybody does lots of jobs and they make wonderful things out of twide. It’s called Twidings-on-Lullwater. I took my mother’s middle name, Elizabeth, and my mother-in-law’s, Andrina, and made Drina, and liked her very much. After Elizabeth Andrina I thought she should have a simple surname like Jones, but she wouldn’t have it, so i went into the garden, looked at what was growing, and called her Elizabeth Andrina Snapdragon. (Good thing it wasn’t the rhubarb.) Oh, and a circus turned up.
Soon I had a whole family of Snapdragons and a retired circus lion with false teeth. Well why not? I wanted a lion with false teeth. My book, my lion. Drina’s cousins the Fiddlesteps turned up… and so did a nasty person who arrived in the village with some sinister plans… I called him Gerbil Cravat. There’s something a bit strange about gerbils. Cravats, too.
So I had a place, a setting for my story. I had characters that I loved. I had a villain. What could go wrong?
I didn’t have a plot. At least, I did, but it didn’t quite work. I tried again. Neither did that. I must have gone back to that book three or four times before I realised I was making it much too complicated. I made it simpler, stronger and funnier. Writing is as much about what you leave out as what you leave in, so I kicked out anything that slowed it down. And finally, with a lot of shaping and rewriting, all these pieces made their jigsaw just right. Sometimes you have to get it wrong before you get it right.
So that, I suppose, is the story behind the story of The Summer Lion and now that it’s September I want it to be summer again so that I can sit on a rock and dabble my feet in Lullwater Lake even though it doesn’t exist. I hope to go back there one day. What is Twidings like in winter? I want to know.