I finished writing my story yesterday, my ‘Time In Utopia’ that I’ve been working on and walking round with since May. Little pieces of it have appeared on here but mostly I’ve been preoccupied. With the writing of it, with the subject of utopia, with the characters I’ve been working with to get the story told and with Port Sunlight, where most of it has ended up getting written.
Along the way I’ve written field notes, it has after all been the writing of my MA Dissertation in Sociology, so research has been done and is all here with me in five hand-written note books. From which these notes about the doing of it all are taken, being in their way a parallel story of how my main story got written, during this time in Port Sunlight.
The writer in residence
After I’d written what turned out to be the first chapter of the story on that long day’s ramble around Liverpool, I’d presented it within the University, to general acceptance of the fictional method and then had another idea. Which was that to carry on the writing of the story I wanted to come to Port Sunlight before I wrote any more. This place being a known and expected part of my PhD, but in ways I wanted to come here and look for.
Quarter to six on my first proper day then, and all tourist buses gone I’d walked through to the New Ferry Aldi to stock up the fridge, then back to the flat to spend a first night in Port Sunlight on the blow-up bed in my borrowed sleeping bag. And wondered if this risk I’d taken would find me a story that added up to a dissertation too? Falling asleep soon enough to the new sounds of the new place outside.
Here at last, for as long as it was going to take.
The rhythm of the days
After my arrival in the village I’d set up my methods of working quickly, as is my habit since reading Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills early in my time back at the University. Up early for reading or writing before breakfast: more work and reading on the way for morning coffee; stopping in the shady avenue of trees behind the church; coffee and field notes in the garden centre café, best coffee in the village. Round to Bridge Cottage, the main community gathering place here, for wifi, story-writing and whatever else I find or need, including company. More afternoon reading in the shade of the churchyard, along the Diamond and up by Lady Lever Gallery. Then back to the flat for tea, sometimes via the Aldi. Then usually more work ’til late, maybe out in the square or down to the river for the sunset. Finishing with music and fiction before sleep. The rhythm of my days, the piecing together of ideas for this story.
Looking already like it’s going to be more about the future more than the past, identifying my four categories of utopia. For the story, for the dissertation.
Of time and the details
Annoyed by the facebook, shopping and food-fad conversations in the garden centre café early this morning I’d moved to the Tudor Rose Tea Rooms by the Port Sunlight train station and close to the factory, for more reading and thinking. I knew from old photos that it used to be the Post Office and sat myself close the the entrance door at a table with a red gingham cloth and my cafetière for one. It was an ordinary morning, if there is such a thing, that could have been any time in the past century except for the details, the station signage, the cars, my cafetière and the music. Sammy Davis, then the Andrews Sisters giving way to mid-period Sinatra’s ‘Autumn in New York’ placing us, I thought, somewhere in the 1940s or 1950s. Or maybe even further back?
Early morning thoughts
I’ve been here for a month now, living in my borrowed flat at the New Ferry end of the village. This morning I was up by six as usual, for my shower and a first write of the day before breakfast. I’m thinking well in the early mornings, as if pieces of story have assembled themselves in my dreams ready to be written down.
Right now in the story I’m up to the chapter that’s also called ‘Early Morning’. After some early experimenting I’ve found it’s best for me if I write the whole thing, including these notes, in the order the story is happening. With time slips going on, everything in the main body of the story needs writing in the order it occurs, less confusing for keeping track of the days and which time period my characters are in. All reminding me of early in Seeing Like A Rover by Janet Vertesi where the earth scientists live in Mars time, slightly longer days than on earth, to keep themselves synchronised with the robots on Mars. I’m living in story time here.
Yesterday, a Wednesday in the middle of a writing week, I felt I’d reached a mid-point in the story, a natural time to pause with all the four categories of utopianism established and all the main characters introduced and working well together, I thought. So I gave them the afternoon off, to read and think. And I took the time off too. To walk about even more than usual, and read some fiction, the Linda Grant novel that’s been with me all the way through this.
So I’m ready now, on a Thursday morning, to walk back to Bridge Cottage and continue the story with my rested characters.
The history of thought
In the end, in the second edit, everything had to go that didn’t move the story on, as I was well over the word count. Even this final field note, where I’d thought to insert a last bit of Foucault, on the history of thought, that space between a problem and a response and how my characters handled it, gets only this hint of a reference now the story’s done. That’s the way it is with stories.
So before the very end and after the bibliography there’ll be these field notes and some other extras, out beyond the word count. Perhaps a photographic walk round Port Sunlight, Vee’s utopian slideshow from early in the story, the working papers for the conference from those final days at Bridge Cottage, and maybe another surprise or two, now I have the time, some more time.
A Letting Go
After I’d finished writing and editing the main story, a couple of days ago, I’d expected to feel freed up and lightened in some way, with plenty of time remaining for organising these appendices and doing some visuals. But I didn’t. Instead and for the first time in all my weeks in Port Sunlight I felt immensely tired, as though all the early mornings and intense concentration had caught up with me, and I’d slipped forward in time to a worn out version of myself. More worn out than any of a year’s worth of academic essays had left me. But then I’ve never written such a long piece of sustained fiction before, so maybe that’s how it is when you need to inhabit a group of main characters as well as yourself?
So I’ve done as good as nothing today and yesterday. Had some visitors over from Liverpool which helped, then read some more of someone else’s fiction.
Oh and, not being able to entirely leave the work alone, yesterday afternoon I had a real conversation with Kath Lynch, head of heritage here at Port Sunlight, about the imaginary situation of ‘What if we really ran this Festival here a couple of years from now?’ We talked venues, logistics and almost got to costs. Which felt more real than imaginary. And gave me the energy to end the day thinking ‘what-if’ thoughts again.
I’ve loved the doing of this.
And my time here is nearly done now, for now. All being well I’ll start my PhD soon and be back here a lot more over these next few years. But this has been great, this time in Port Sunlight. So thank you, thank you all of you, here in the village.
More of my university writing is here at Field Notes for Utopia.