Diary Entries: Spring 2018





24th March, 2018

Sometimes you have to move away from a place to truly realise that it’s Home. After a winter of researching and writing dark fictional tales in The Peak District, I’ve been back in Devon for a couple of weeks and, despite what for the South West Peninsula is a cold and sluggish spring, I’m feeling elated by the climate, by the sea, by my proximity to Dartmoor, where my great-grandma grew up. Today I scattered shade-happy wildflower seeds in the small copse behind my back door then set off with my OS map to find my local trig point, which I think is a good way to ground yourself in the topography of a new place. I wonder if one day, after apocalypse, a new race of humans will arrive and wonder if trig points were the monuments of some ancient religion – which they kind of are, if you’re like me, and love maps.  On the way to the trig point, I saw two herons, stalking the river in a manner so quiet as to seem beyond silence. Herons always seem to have a touch of the ghost about them, like they’ve slipped through a veil between worlds and we’re not really supposed to see them. On days like this, I think magic does still exist: an old magic that people who worked outdoors once put their trust in, which science and progress have done their best to cancel out.

25th March, 2018 

Waiting anxiously for a new catflap to be fitted today, in the hope of achieving some peace in my life. Nobody ever asked “Who let the cats out?” in a song, since the answer’s obvious: the same person who let them back in again two minutes later, then back out again thirty seconds after that.

26th March, 2018 
I have made a bold move of late: put a large amount of the books in storage; books I have already read, leaving the shelves in my house filled largely with reference books and all the literature I hope to whizz through when I’m an unrealistically improved human being, with an equally unrealistic amount of time on my hands. This – and organising and unpacking in a small house – has made it all the more clear to me that I probably should stop buying books for a while. With every book I buy I’m building a wall of judgement: all those uncracked spines, looking down disapprovingly at me and making me more aware of what I haven’t read than what I have. I have moved house a lot and something that process will make you very aware of is the burdensome trap that possessions can become. I dragged myself reluctantly but necessarily to Ikea the other day and I find it hard to look at the marketplace area there without seeing it as future landfill, but when it comes to books, and records, I’m an uncompromising materialist. I want them around me. I know I buy far too many books but I like to think that lining my house with them wards off evil in some deeply important way. One day I’ll probably trap myself behind a book wall but at least I’ll be reading as I starve to death.

29th March, 2018

Message from my dad: “WHEN DID YOU MOVE TO NORFOLK?”
Me: “October, 2001.”
Him: “THANKS. I’M TRYING TO PUT A DATE ON ALL MY CLOTHES.”

31st March, 2018

One of the good things about writing a book of ghost stories, as I am – or even sort of ghost stories, which is more what they technically are – is that everyone you tell about it has at least one story of their own, even if they consider themselves a sceptic. Tonight my neighbour Katie’s dad told me about the time he stayed in The Smugglers Haunt hotel in Brixham and woke up in the night to watch his luggage being thrown about by two small girls. Later, not knowing about the incident, his wife found out that the hotel’s famous ghost, Aggie, is a small girl who fell to her death from one of the windows in the 1920s, and now likes to disturb the bedclothes and luggage of the hotel’s guests. As we heard all this, Katie’s pet husky – basically a wolf with a really good stylist – stretched out in front of the wood burner and eyed us balefully, with an apparent abundance of recondite knowledge.

1st April, 2018

Yesterday, for the second time since I first moved to Devon in early 2014, I swerved into one of the many high banks at the side of one of the county’s narrow lanes to avoid an oncoming vehicle and hit a sharp piece of granite, causing my tyre to immediately explode. I managed to drive another mile and a half on my wheel and the scraps of rubber still left attached to it until I found a safe place to abandon the car. It is still very recently that I moved house – in a very big and dramatic way, for the second time in precisely three months – and I am still in a state of relocation aftermath subjectivity. Everything I do has a post-moving context. Normally the idea of abandoning your car and walking, caked in mud, almost two miles home in the dark along dangerous roads with ice rods of rain hitting your head might seem like an unpleasant experience, but I felt kind of ok about it, as it’s better than moving house. This has happened a lot recently. Flood in my kitchen? Well, it’s better than moving house. Broken amplifier? Well, it’s better than moving house. Busted achilles tendon? Well, it’s better than moving house. I was also kind of proud to find out from my local tyre fitting place the following morning that the damage was the worst they’d seen on any tyre, and this is a part of the country whose rural lanes eat tyres for breakfast. I am reminded here of my granddad Ted, who used to love driving his 1950s Wolseley to Devon on holiday. The Wolseley didn’t have a reverse gear so when he encountered an oncoming vehicle on a narrow lane, he would have to get out and jog up to the window of the opposing car to tell the driver about about the Wolseley’s deficiency. This would normally end with him befriending the families in the other cars, quizzing them for tips on good walks and sometimes – if there were no other cars waiting to get past – even sharing bits of picnic with them. 

4th April, 2018

I deactivated three of my social media accounts the other day and locked another. This probably won’t be permanent but I think it heralds a quieter way of using the Internet for me. I have fantasised ardently about doing something like, or more extreme than, this for a long time, but delayed it, due to a gratitude towards social media – particularly towards lovely and supportive individuals I’ve encountered through it – for the way it helps me make a living from writing, which is not an easy thing to do, especially when, like me, you choose not to write for mainstream publications. But I feel beaten down by the noise of social media, the conflict, the thin assumptions, the way it reprograms attention spans, the timesuck of replying to messages and the guilt of not replying to others. I am not a socially anxious person; I’m a gregarious type and I enjoy real life, on the whole, so I am not on social media for any reasons of feeling more comfortable in a virtual world; I am on there because I use it as a portal to my work. It is never The Actual Thing for me, only a link to The Actual Thing. When it is mistaken for The Actual Thing, when people try to piece my life together through it and tell me who I am, I tend to despair.  I also don’t like self promotion. I don’t think many writers do. Most of us retweet a good review of our work not because we feel comfortable about doing so but because it often makes a genuine difference to how many books we sell and keeps us muddling along. We feel that by not doing this we’d be missing out. But I look at the potential remainder of my time on earth and I feel more and more that I want to live as much as possible away from screens, to write and read what I feel I need to write and read, and I have started to feel that the less I am near social media, the more chance I stand of doing the work I want to do. “I’m going to do a shitload of writing and it might get lost or ignored and if that is the case, then so be it” has finally become a more reassuring thought to me than “I’m doing my best to make sure people know about it, but some stuff I really need to do isn’t getting done.”

5th April, 2018

An aspect of my late granddad Ted’s character that I share with him, besides his passion for country walks, firewood and Devon, is that he was very dozy. On his head Ted had a large wound which he sustained in the Second World War, not from fighting but by absentmindedly walking under the moving propeller of a plane he was about to repair. Today I experienced my most “Ted” moment for many weeks when a horseshoe I’d hung above my front door for luck fell and hit me on the head. I do not believe this provides any concrete proof about whether horseshoes are lucky or unlucky; it just provides concrete proof that I am the kind of idiot who will hang a horseshoe in a precarious place without thinking about the laws of physics. As I wandered up the lane away from my house, feeling blood slowly trickle down my forehead, I thought about the eclectic nature of head injuries: the really dangerous ones, the comical ones, the transiently agonising ones that leave you wanting to beat the shit out of the inanimate object that’s caused them but that seem like ancient history an hour later. There’s one thing you can be sure of in life, if you’re of an absentminded nature: there are always more head injuries coming. This is one of the more benign and comic ones that have happened to me: the impact was loud and the damage a little gory but the rusty metal hit the hardest, most robust bit of my head. I feel pretty good, four hours on. The horseshoe is also unharmed and has reverted to its previous place on my garden bench, where, like before, it will probably be used from time to time as an emergency bottle opener by my tree surgeon landlord, Richard. 

I do not live on Dartmoor, but I live close enough to be under its spell and its shadow. Today my blood-smeared head and I timed our walk to the moor – the bit where you can properly feel you’re on it, where the grass gets wirier  and the wild ponies appear in their renegade bands – from my front door. It’s 36 minutes, but I have long legs, and people are always telling me I walk too quickly. All this implies I have a back door, and that the walk from there would be different. I don’t, so it isn’t. I tramped along holloways, amazingly quiet due to their habit of leading nowhere in particular, watched a kestrel hover above me, then I climbed my local beacon: a fearsome bad mood summit in rain, 1200 feet above sea level with a long dome peppered with cosmic rocks, but benign today in cold pre-dusk sunlight. I looked back to where I’d come from, thinking about all the new unimaginative developments barging across the lower hills beyond: the streets and houses named after the things they’ve destroyed by people too driven by greed to cotton onto the dark irony of what they’ve done. There would be more, soon. You could bet on it. One day, not all that many years from now, people might look at a photo of a largely green view like this, in this pocket of time, with an even greater sense of loss than we now look at photos of the English countryside as it was in the early 20th Century. I hope that is not the case.


8th April
Two visits from neighbouring animals this morning: firstly Falcon, the hen I co-own with my neighbours, to eat the wildflower seeds I’ve scattered, then my landlord’s three-legged terrier, Cookie,  for what has become her daily tummy rub. I do not think I have ever met a friendlier or more optimistic dog than Cookie, who, rather than wallowing in her disability, has turned it into a strength, powering herself around the woodland between my house and my landlord’s, in the process beefing up her one front leg and giving it a comical muscularity of such that I suspect she could deck the husky nextdoor with one casual swipe. Apparently my landlord originally wanted to call her Eileen (I lean) before the suggestion was vetoed by his partner and children. 

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19 thoughts on “Diary Entries: Spring 2018

  1. I've followed you on social media and understand why you needed to 'unplug.' However, I luckily stumbled on your diary updates today. How special. No need to reply. Just want you to know that you have fans in small corners of the world who see your writing as a portal to a world we all would love to be living in. And I thank you for that.

  2. I wondered where you'd gone on Instagram. I understand though and I've been thinking of doing the same. Social media is not good for mental health. I know that, but it's hard to quit. I will catch up with your updates here and look forward to your ghost stories.

  3. Wonderful piece, Tom! Really enjoyed it! Ted sounds like he was a great character. Looking forward to reading more from you as it really does cheer me up on the crappy days.
    Best,
    Janet.

  4. You’re not the only one unplugging from social media, Tom, to opt for real life, but it’s reassuring you’ve returned to Devon – even if rusty horseshoes fall on your head.
    Do re–site offending shoe with pointy ends upwards; ends down allows luck to run out.
    (I trust your tetanus is up to date?)
    Here in Scotland, rowan trees and iron horseshoes keep witches from the doors. I’m not sure how efficient modern steel shoes are.

    Moving home’s said to be more stressful than divorce, but at least relocation permits disposal of unused or unnecessary possessions. While currently investigating properties around the Peak District (in the light of your recent experiences, might be a mistake?) I have similar difficulties regarding books. Startled by a wish for adequate space, agents seem to view a thousand+ books as an abnormal quantity. They don’t know the half of it!
    I’ve tried various solutions, but you can bet the one urgently needed volume will be in store. Besides, take a book out of the house and another soon arrives to take its place. Like cats, they know there’s a vacancy. …

  5. I hope you're already experiencing some relief with you partial social media purge. I would feel sad if you went entirely away as I love what you write and love hearing about you and those around you. So glad you're here and doing what you do.

    Peg

  6. Great to read another piece of writing on the blog, Tom. I really liked the bit about Ted's Wolseley and the non reversing car. It made me laugh and picture the scene, especially the shared picnic. And as I was reading about you wanting to beat the shit out of the inanimate object that's caused head injuries I thought of the many times I have seen this happen. The latest one involved my husband, his mum's collie dog, a ball and the corner of an oak table.
    If social media is becoming a drain on you creatively then that's a sound reason to pull the plug. Readers of your books can keep in touch via the blog entries and the comments section, and any that desert you because you are not tweeting or posting on Facebook- well, I feel sorry for them.
    Keep walking (fast, if you like); keep writing. And keep taking those wonderful photographs, even if they are not shared beyond your family and (real) friends.

  7. So enjoyed this, Tom, as usual. I busted out laughing at your“pre-“ and “post-“ moving descriptions. Anything is better than relocating! We did so 2 years (!)) ago and still have stuff, including lots of books, in storage. It sounds as though you are enjoying yourself, and that’s good. I’m not overwhelmed by social media because I don’t have 93K followers, but I can see why you’d be! Hope this time off of it will help you clear your head, get in some good walking and writing, and settle into your new house. The account I miss the most is your Instagram account, so I do hope you’ll deactivate that eventually, but regardless I’ll look forward to more pieces like this diary as well, of course, to Help the Witch in the autumn. Try not to get into anymore (literal) scapes and enjoy yourself. Thanks for posting this wonderful piece.
    Best, Jeannie

    PS. Thanks so much for sending the copy of your book to me for my sister. I know she’s going to love it.

  8. A funny and sad read! You're very good at "prodding" emotions through your writing (this is a compliment, by the way!).
    I can understand why you've cut down on your social media stuff, but I admit to being sad at losing the Ralph and #LovelyShipley twitter accounts. Fucking pissflaps!
    *virtual hug*

  9. Really enjoyed reading your Spring 2018 diary entries especially the bit about cats and their exiting & entering habits. Made me laugh as that’s exactly what happens here.

    Love your writing and have just finished the very enjoyable 21st CenturyYokel. Can’t wait to read the next one.

  10. I recently returned – with immeasurable delight – to the South West of Ireland from Dublin. The Irish and English South Wests seem to have a good deal in common, even beyond the parallels in landscape and culture. I, too, have been subject to the whims of an inauspiciously placed horseshoe, said once to have been worn by my grandfather's horse. The jury remains out, however, on the provenance of the shoe, with some remaining convinced that its poor quality suggests a plant. Conspiracists insist that the planting of the shit shoe – likely to have occurred during the civil war – was politically motivated.

  11. FFS. I give up. Re-activate is apparently not a word for blasted auto correct. How about “I hope you start up your IG account again sometime because I really enjoy your photos. They are quite good.” Does that work? Cheers, Tom. Have a good day. Hope the sun is out even though I know you don’t mind rain. H

  12. Lovely, evocative piece as ever Tom. The book addiction thing is so hard isn’t it? We are in the process of moving house and my husband gently suggested I may have to sort my book collection to see if there were any I didn’t need. I must have looked stricken as he then shrugged and said ‘or we could just buy another bookcase.’ (He’s a keeper!). I can’t imagine the stress of moving across counties into a winter from hell in a haunted house – no wonder you have taken yourself away from social media. Take care of yourself and I do hope you thrive back home again – creatively, physically and mentally!

  13. We regularly consider the pros and cons of putting some of our books into storage, though so far we've managed to avoid it by dint of regular pruning. So far, we've not regretted getting rid of anything, and the house remains full of books, so I think we're probably getting it right. It feels wrong to begin with but after a while it becomes easier, and the local charity shop seems grateful for the books we deliver to them two bags at a time (to avoid swamping them).

  14. Pleased you're back, Tom, and I do understand your (mainly) dislike of social media. I am not on any. There's lots of posturing, isn't there, and apparently no-one on it voted for Trump, Brexit or May!

    You have thousands of admirers and very, very few detractors, but that's life anywhere. I love your writing and photos and hope you can make a living by writing the way you wish to do.

    Ruth x

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