Thursday, 24 March 2016

Spring Tonic

I drove home today from the eye surgery in Palencia with Patrick in the seat next to mine. Patrick's eyes were closed, he couldn't see the greening landscape or the Canaletto clouds. He'd just had cortisone shot into his right eye. He's had several kinds of chemicals shot into his eyes in the last few months. None of them is helping to restore his vision.

The cortisone shots hurt more than the others, I could tell. Paddy is philosophical about his aging body. He doesn't complain very much, but  it is sad, seeing the parts fall slowly off Paddy's fine old machine. He is 75 years old.
Paddy kept his eyes closed, and reached across the gear-shift, and took my hand. He kissed my knuckles.

At home the telephone rang -- Juan Carlos from Astorga, talking about the memorial tree project. The city council says Yes.  Faith in Santiago, with some more good news on the same project. We will plant trees right after Easter, in a park just outside Astorga, to memorialize pilgrims who die on the Way.

The book is finished, it's being shopped around London and the Cotswolds among Paddy's literary friends; it's being read by various and sundry. I sent queries out to a couple of literary agents, but got only immediate, automated rejections. I am letting this process trickle and bubble quietly, just to see if this book is as good as I think it is, if it is good enough to catch the attention of any of the few real human publishing contacts that remain within my purview.

I am translating documents from the FICS conference that happened last weekend in Sarria. I am reflecting on the green spring days I spent walking from Sarria onward to Santiago de Compostela in the company of George Greenia, an august professor of Spain and Spanish things, and a dear old friend. He too is aging. He's retiring this year, he's getting his head around that idea.

We spoke a lot about death and dying, people who'd done it, people who were doing it, what we wanted to happen before and after we die. It was not gruesome or morbid. It was real.

Most of the people I love are a good ten years older than I am, or more. I will probably spend a lot of my life alone, after they all shuffle off this life. If asthma and allergies don't give me the drop on them.

It's fearful stuff. But I am still fit enough to walk 110 kilometers in a few days, and enjoy it. I am sharp enough to translate between two languages, at least in writing. I write very good books, even if agents don't find them worthy of their time, even if I am past the age of rich and famous. I am still well enough to take care of business.

I am important, in small ways, to the running of several enterprises, as well as several hearts. Even with so many flavors of failure and death around me, my life is full of meaning. I am wealthy beyond imagining, at least for now.

I drove into town at sundown to buy eye-drops for Paddy, and some new lettuces. Sahagun is full of people home for the holiday, parking their cars up on the sidewalks, embracing one another in the middle of the street, flinging open the pharmacy door to shout out at a passerby, "Hombre!"  

On the way home the moon rose up in the northeast, a huge orange coin on the horizon. I thought of Kim and Melissa who are making the new San Anton history booklet into a work of art. I thought about Filipe in Belgium and Kathy in California, and the friends in Santiago who took me to lunch, the ones who let me stay at their house, and said they'd send my book manuscript around to their literary friends... I thought of Paddy, whose hands I hold. I thought of my dog Harry, and his dark wet eyes and fat black nose, how much he loves me.  

Like a big fat moon, it all is so temporary. We'll all be gone soon. But it all was so beautiful I just laughed out loud, right there in the car, alone.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Sowing in winter, gleaning in Spring

Peaceable time is not like regular time.
Time stands still around here, especially in winter. That’s why I try to keep at least one long-term project going all through the slow months -- I need something to keep me alive!
I work long hours, but it doesn’t feel like I am achieving much. It’s a lot like walking across the Meseta –  you’re walking forever and you never arrive anywhere. Like a treadmill. The scenery doesn’t change, but you sure can tire yourself out.
We can go for weeks around here without seeing a single visitor, and suddenly WHAM! The house is packed, the phone’s ringing, the joint is jumpin.’  
Writing works the same way. It’s just a lot more solitary, and less fun to read about in a blog.

In November “Holy Year,” the memoir about Peaceable life, a book I’ve been writing for years, really shifted into gear. I finished the draft at the end of that month. 
In December I researched and co-wrote (with Scottish-American author and San Anton hospitalero Robert Mullen) “San Anton: A History of the Mystery,” a fundraiser booklet for the albergue in Castrojeriz.
In January I re-wrote both of them. (Any book worth its salt needs to be rewritten and severely edited at least once.) I had a couple of trusted people read the manuscripts and tell me if and how and if they worked. I also sent “The Moorish Whore,” my first novel, to be professionally translated into Spanish, to give that book a new lease on life.  
And now, as February winds up, all the birds are flying home to roost.
“Holy Year” is finished.
“San Anton” is gone on to the graphics department. Kim is making it beautiful. Melissa West, printmaker extraordinaire, might do the artwork. It will be the first English-language document of its kind, and any money it makes will buy food for the pilgrims who stay at Albergue Convento San Anton this summer. (You can help offset the up-front costs by donating via the PayPal button above.)   

“The Moorish Whore” is now also “El Capricho del Rey.” Ella esta en las manos de la redactora de traducciones en Paris… ella va a afinar (y afilar, tambien!) el texto y (ojala) muy pronto voy a tener una novela de éxito aquí en Espana, y en las países Hispanohablante de todo el mundo.

Paddy and I are going over “Holy Year” together, word by word. I am reading it aloud to him, because his eyesight has gone back to bad again, and because reading aloud is a superb way to hear the rhythm, or lack of it, in a piece of writing.  

I am happy with several parts of “Holy Year.” A couple of more parts still need some hashing-out. And once a real editor gets hold of it, I may have to rewrite the whole thing at least once more!

It is not a Camino book. It is much broader than that. It’s along the lines of “Driving Over Lemons” or “A Year in Provence,” but it’s set along the Camino. Yes, there are tons of pilgrims in there -- It’s a story of what happened here in 2010, the last year we still cared for all the pilgrims who passed through Moratinos. I describe pilgrims and the pilgrimage, and dogs, but I also delve deep into village life, too – how we came to be here, how things changed. It’s funny and thought-provoking and very sad, too. And it has a lovely ending, very redemptive.  

I just need to find a publisher for it. I may be a professional writer with a successful novel and decades of experience behind me, but I might as well be a raw amateur where that part of the process is concerned. I feel I am staring down a long, black tunnel.

Maybe that will be the next long, silent project, after all this rush and noise dies down?  (If you are a book agent, or a publisher, or you know one of those, do get in touch. I want to make you very happy!)        
I didn’t mind publishing “The Moorish Whore” myself, it was a first novel. But “Holy Year” is in another class. It deserves the full professional treatment.

I feel a lot more hopeful about finding a home for “El Capricho del Rey,” even though I’ll be dealing in a second language, in a publishing environment I know nothing about. Spain is a smaller country, it loves historical fiction, and the book’s already sold thousands of copies in English. The translation work’s already been done for them.  And I know a couple of people…

I know this is all pretty dull reading, and I apologize.  I want you faithful Blog readers to know where all my energy’s been going, and where it will be going in the future.
Books, and San Anton, and another big FICS camino project that’s still very hush-hush.

And my dogs, of course. And the Asociacion Cultural – we are planting flowers all over town, starting with Holy Week. 

Come and see us. We are lonesome!