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Indulgently, excitedly, guiltily, I’ve come away for a week of intense work on my forthcoming novel Ghosts of Shanghai. Today felt very much like the kind of writing day I always imagined during years of frustration, lack of confidence and rejection (particularly on this project!) So apart from the indulgence and excitement and guilt, what I’m most feeling is luck.

I spent the day sitting in my old room in the barn amongst Welsh hills, working at my student desk, surrounded by books that I’ve had for years and which are finally coming into their own. A Chinese memoir, ghost stories, my pre-pinyin character dictionary, a fading T’ai Ch’i manual are all giving me valuable extra material, and rest next to more recent research, a tumble of books about old Shanghai, maps, a plot chart, notebooks. At long last the ideas and characters that have been formulating for years are taking shape - and reaching their scary conclusion. Or at least that’s how it feels.
Above you see me spooking myself with ghost stories from the era I’m writing about, the odd chill tickling the spine.

There’s a satisfying sense of weaving together a lot of separate strands of interest and research. Many fragments of many different lives combining to make something new.

In keeping with that theme, last night I drove with my mother to Aberystwyth to look through the collected papers and fragmentary memoirs of an old artist friend of our family who died last year.
We parked outside her old house and went to a nearby neighbour who has joint care of the project. As we excitedly looked through the folders, chunks of M’s extraordinary life leapt back into focus - meetings with Henry Moore and Stanley Spencer, run-ins with the high and glamorous and seedy life of 1950s London and beyond, all accompanied by her wonderful biro drawings. You could imagine her standing at our shoulder and nodding at each passage we read out. We never have the full story, but the parts can show the whole.

Later, driving back through the moon splashed mid Wales hills, on the way to buy fish and chips from one of the best chip shops in Wales, it felt like a day well - and movingly - spent.
© Julian Sedgwick 2019