When I was working full-time as a partner in a law firm, holidays were limited, and even when I was away, it was very difficult to escape the burdens of business. Life is different now I'm a part-time writer, and I'm very glad about that, but the question of when and how to take a break from writing is (in a different way) at least as important. Many years ago I read an essay by Len Deighton, which I've never forgotten, in which he said he wrote every day - even on Christmas Day. (The essay was to be found in an entertaining and informative book put together by Harry Keating called Who-dun-it?) I certainly don't manage to emulate Len, but I do feel that taking a break from writing can really help - somehow - to get one's story ideas into shape.
Considerations like these were in my mind last week, when I celebrated my birthday. You could say that I've reached the age when one should not dwell too much on birthdays, but I believe the opposite: it's time to make the most of them! So in recent years, even when I was office-based, I have taken the day off and gone an interesting trip. The result has been plenty of memorable birthday adventures.
So it was this year, when - having warmed up for the celebrations with a trip to London to see a fabulous concert at the Royal Festival Hall with the ageless Burt Bacharach and Joss Stone - I headed off to North Wales. One of Cheshire's many advantages is that it's an excellent base for exploring lots of fantastic destinations within an hour or so's drive, and one of them is Llangollen, a gorgeous town.
Llangollen boasts a very large second hand bookshop there, and I started my trip by making a few acquisitions, books by Helen McCloy, Edgar Lustgarten, and Julian Symons. Then, as the sun made an appearance, it was on to the steam railway for a trip along the Dee Valley. This journey reminded me of my last steam railway trip, in the Ardeche region of France (below) during a stop off on a short cruise on the river Rhone that I undertook recently.
Next stop was a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pontcysllte Aqueduct, which is the highest navigable aqueduct in the world, It's a pleasantly dizzying experience to walk along the narrow path beside the canal, far above the valley.
Again it put me in mind of the trip to France, and a visit to another amazing aqueduct, Pont du Gard, (below) which was built by the Romans rather than by Thomas Telford. Two wonderful places, both strongly recommended.
My birthday afternoon finished up with tea at Chirk Castle, followed by dinner overlooking another canal, this time in Lymm, and then a chance to get stuck in to Symons' The Colour of Murder, a highly enjoyable book that I hope to discuss on this blog on Friday. And whilst I didn't get any writing done, the pleasure of doing something different certainly seems to me to be helpful in terms of writing. A chance to relax gives your subconscious a chance to untangle one or two of those knotty plot problems that you've been struggling with. And so it proved last week. .