The page proofs of Real Port Talbot arrived in the post from my publisher two days ago and I am spending the weekend scouring each page, each word, each end-note number and reference for typos, omissions, clumsy errors, checking for letters and symbols lost in the transfer from Word to Quark, that the photographs are the right ones and in the right place and that each section falls on the right page number.
It sounds like fiddly work but this is the kind of writing work I enjoy - proof-reading, editing, layouts. So much easier than the real writing, the struggle to get the right words in the right order and saying what I want them to say. It's not that I don't like the real writing - well, I like it when I'm lost in the flow of it - but I don't like the thought of it and getting myself to the desk to begin. I don't like the white screen, the blank page, the cranking up of gears, the slow lead in and the chopsy indolence of my internal critics who'd prefer me to play Lexulous or check Facebook.
But what I also loved about writing Real Port Talbot was the research, the walking around, talking to people, climbing through fences, braving a splintering wind, rain-soaked, muddy-booted, photo-snapping, scribbled note-taking kind of research that gave me the framework for the stories that would shape the book. The writing started in my body. I often didn't know how to start talking about a particular place but after walking it, after being alone and open to its physical and emotional influences, I found a way to begin even if that was a confession of failure:
I can’t get a handle on Margam. It feels like a place of parts rather than a cohesive whole: a club and playing fields, a park and a run of shops, a hotel, a college and schools, and the A48, Margam Road, running straight through the middle of it all, an artery hell bent on taking you somewhere else. (p.206)
I want to write more from the body. Writing that has its roots in my physical, intellectual and emotional relationship to the environment and the landscape and the people who populate them. I want to be serious and funny, interrogative and flippant, academic and entertaining. But I don't want to be the centre of my writing either. I want what I discover in the world to be at the heart of it.
Reading the proofs has reminded me what a gift I had in the opportunity to write this book, how the genre of psycho-geography allowed me to draw on every aspect of my writing career so far and contain it between two covers. Imaginative prose, memoir, poetry, journalistic commentary, historical exploration, confession, story telling. Can I do it again with another book, with different subject matter? I hope so.
It's at this point that I should be able to neatly segue into the subject of food. The 'proof of the pudding' would be apt. But this post is about a different kind of nourishment.
Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about what nourishes you.