What defines our elusive sense of coming home? My novel, Dear Mr Darwin, features a marathon journey in which the protagonist is seeking refuge far from her native terrain. She is, in essence, an exile, forcibly estranged from the familiar.
Often it is only in retrospect that a writer realises her characters have emerged not only from imagination, or hours of research, or the initial inspiration for the story, but rather from something more profound and personal. And it is only now, having spent much of my own life looking for ‘home’ (and having found it, most unexpectedly, at the far, far edge of Cornwall) that I can acknowledge the source of much of my story’s restlessness.
It is hard to describe the overwhelming relief I experienced when I finally encountered a sense of belonging – not so much to a society or a culture, but to a place, to its very rocks, to its ancient and unknowable history. It moved me so deeply and shockingly that I often wavered between heart-jumping joy and free-flowing tears simply by taking a walk along a clifftop or a lonely stroll along the beach, wrapped up against the winter wind. Forged in the heat of Hong Kong and the West Indies, I have never cared much for the cold, but somehow the vitality of the Cornish sea air blew through me like a ghost re-inhabiting its long lost form.
Humans have always been nomadic. We have walked around every part of the planet, and now we fill its skies with jet-fuel and its oceans with cargo, both organic and synthetic. Adventure and discovery are hardwired into our hopes, although very few earth-bound frontiers remain to be found. Many of us can stay put very happily, however, unpack our baggage, settle. Too many of us aggressively associate our identity with a small patch of flag, or strip of territory. But that sense of rooting into the earth, drawing nourishment from it for body and soul alike, that is a gift so many of us have lost, either through ‘rented’ lifestyles, or from a more insidious sort of alienation.
Various studies have shown how divorced we are becoming from nature, how disconnected, and how dangerous this is. But this is not a meditation on the bigger picture, not right now. It is a tighter focus on what it means, for me, to have arrived. To be able to stop looking for wherever the rainbow has landed, somewhere over there, somewhere in the distance.
That reference may be a little cheesy, but nature doesn’t care for our notions of cool, and I am taking no poetic licence when I tell you that as I drove up to collect the keys to the place where they will bury my heart, there was a rainbow right over it. Yes, really. I have the picture to prove it.
Perhaps it was this finding of somewhere so perfect to hang my wandering spirit for a while that unlocked the energy, the courage, to return to my passions? To open up to a new relationship. To upload my manuscript to Unbound. To draw a deep breath, exhale and click enter.
It is this kind of sanctuary I wish for my characters, whether they belong to the prehistoric or contemporary narrative. To find, or to recognise a hearth for their hopes and desires, or whatever new dreams they choose, as they relinquish or realise the old. Somewhere either physical or spiritual to lay down their burdens.
Right now the sun is setting over the wide blue Atlantic, dusting the waves with luminous gold before the Longships lighthouse takes over its watch. And there is a light on somewhere else, deep within, welcoming me back to a place where I have not lived before.
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