Writing to a Plan

Some time ago I carried out, over a number of years, the research for a book that I had had in mind for some time. By the time that I had finished that research I discovered that I had far too much material and that the story would have to be told over two books, the one forming a natural sequel to the other.

I have tried to write, at least, the first book and did succeed but I was not happy with the result and did not feel at all comfortable with it, as it was not what I wanted to achieve. So I dumped all of my work up to that point in time and decided that I would begin again.

This was almost impossible up to quite recently as so many things were going wrong in my life with operations for Osteonecrosis (a disease brought on by diving) and including both my son and daughter losing their jobs at the end of 2010. Things have settled down now, both my children have well-paid jobs with good companies and I have come to terms with the restrictions on me (such as they are – I have been very lucky) and I can now begin again.

It is a hard task that I have set myself, especially for an irresponsible nincompoop such as me. It requires a degree of discipline that I am still not sure that I have. The urge to look out of the window at the great outdoors and say ‘to hell with it’ is overpowering at times.

I do intend to keep trying, but it is a bit like trying to give up cigarettes (I gave up many years ago) you have to keep at it despite many failures.

This time I intend to work to a plan for the book. I did ask one of the other writers, who blog in WordPress, if they write to a plan (to my shame I cannot remember who it was) and, as I remember it, she told that she does, but not slavishly. This approach will do well for me, I think, working to an outline but being free to leave it when I feel like and maybe let the story take me off in a different direction from time to time.

(For me, writing to a plan means, having an outline of the story to work too and an actual plan for the work. This wil be things that I intend to achieve such as a minimum number of words per day, a time in the day set aside for writing etc. They, of course, have to be achievable as there is little sense in setting goals that I will constantly have to battle to achieve – probably failing in the process – small victories each day will do far more for my moral and keep me writing. AT LEAST, THAT IS THE PLAN!)

The problem that I have with the darn thing is that it keeps growing and I am in danger of spending more time writing the plan than I am going to spend writing the book. I know that I am doing my usual thing and putting far more into it than is actually required, again lack of discipline, and over-writing is a problem that I must work hard to overcome!

As an aside, I will put the first chapter of a book that I wrote some time ago – 14 years, how time does fly – on another page just to see how people react to it – that is if anyone is kind enough to read it. It is a book that my agent at the time tried so hard to have published.

I will try to keep up with this blog as well as the book as it is all a part of bringing a measure of discipline into my writing. I should, of course, be grateful to any writer who takes the time to share with me their own experiences.


A Ring of Bright Water – and a writer returning to haunt.


Any visitor who happens to pass my way and spend a little time reading may find my musings a little strange, perhaps nonsensical at times but then I find my thoughts wandering off in strange directions at the moment. In truth, I really don’t know why I am writing the blog; except perhaps that it is an attempt to express something so very will-o-the-wisp and intangible that it intrigues me to the point where I cannot put it aside – but then, nor can I properly explain it. How do you express the desire to write?

Although, in general, things have not been going so well of late; one or two of the things that I deem important to me have been progressing and in my confusion I find myself returning to an old subject, one that has formed the basis for a couple of those doodlings of mine that were not just a pathetic attempt at humour.

The subject is the writer Gavin Maxwell, author of, Ring of Bright Water, the story of his stay in the west of Scotland where he lived with his otter Mijbil – Maxwell died in 1969.

He was also a favourite of my ex-wife and once, when the world was younger, we did make an attempt to find Camusfearna, Maxwell’s home and the place where he wrote, Ring of Bright Water. But, my wife was unwilling to trek to the coast from the road, a walk that would have taken about an hour. That spat between us, I now know, was the very early signs of the weaknesses in our relationship that led to our break up years later.

We both admired Maxwell not only as a writer but also as a human being who had the courage to follow a dream, someone with the single-minded dedication to truly pursue a goal. Perhaps we both saw and regretted the fact that we were unable to find any sign of that sort of dedication in each other.

Maxwell was homosexual but his sexuality is only relevant in the context of his relationship with the poet Kathleen Raine who died in 2003. The title of his book ‘Ring of Bright Water’ came from a line of her poetry. He was the great love of her life, a love that was completely unrequited, and in the follow up book to, ROBW, he describes how, when they broke up, she threw her arms around a rowan tree at Camusfearna and cursed him.

She wished, on the rowan, that Gavin would come to be as unhappy at Camusfearna as he had made her.

(I take it as read that you are aware of the importance of the rowan tree in Scottish myth and legend.)

The subject of Maxwell tends to surface in my life from time to time, usually when something in happening or about to happen. The last time was at the beginning of this decade when Kathleen Raine was ailing – and because of that became the subject of a newspaper article that outlined her relationship with Maxwell.


My then agent, a lovely, and very professional, lady called Judith Murdoch was trying to get my first book published (sadly, unsuccessfully) and she, Judith, told me that Maxwell had been the subject of her exams in English Literature at college in South Africa.

I remember that we were sitting in her home near Regents Park in London. It was all very comfortable and the conversation was a long one – I nearly missed my train as a result.

That conversation with Judith came to mind quite recently as I was sitting with laptop in lap, doing some research and at the same time half-heartedly watching a recording of a TV programme that a friend had loaned me. After a load of commercial preamble, the programme proper came on and it was about the Marshes of Southern Iraq and the attempt to regenerate them as a wild life habitat.

Those marshes were one of Maxwell’s passions in life and it was while researching his book about the Marsh Arabs that he acquired Mijbil, the otter that was to play such an important part in his life at Camusfearna.

(In 1956 Maxwell toured the reed marshes of Southern Iraq with explorer Wilfred Thesiger. Maxwell’s account of their trip appears in A Reed Shaken By The Wind, later published under the title People of the Reeds. It was hailed by the New York Times as “near perfect”.)

Above extract from an article in Wikipedia

Sometime during his reign of terror, in an attempt to disperse and displace the quarter of a million Marsh Arabs whom he saw as a threat, Saddam Hussein authorised a multi-million dollar plan to drain the Southern Marshes of Iraq. To do this he built a complex of huge rivers and canals doing enormous damage to a very large and environmentally sensitive area in the process. The Marsh Arabs did indeed disperse but a New York based Iraqi is leading an attempt (financed by the Iraqi government) to restore the Marshes – and the native tribes are drifting back.

If there is one thing that the US-led invasion did achieve, if nothing else, it is the restoration and regeneration of those marshes. Had he been alive, I know Maxwell would have been devastated by their devastation and delighted by their regeneration.

So, at a time when I am trying to make up my mind about something the ghost of Gavin Maxwell once more appears – or am I just being a little foolish? ? ? ? ? ?

P.S below is a link to Kathleen Raine’s obituary printed in the Guardian newspaper – it attempts to explain her relationship with Maxwell – sorry to bore you!