Monday, 7 February 2011

The Walk Along The Canal

I spent the morning looking round Naklo Nad Notecia and that’s where I got the idea that Leo (I preferred my grandfather’s second name for the purposes of the book) would meet one of his siblings here – a sister, I decided. It would be his last contact with anyone from his family before heading away from the area he had known all his short life. I imagined that it would be a desperate and heart-wrenching farewell.

I wandered to the outskirts of town and down onto the banks of the canal. This is the way I wanted my Leo to go – following the canal, so that he would not get lost, all the way to Bromberg (modern-day Bydgoszcz). There was the line of water, stretching away straight to the horizon.

My head was filled with questions about the plot and I decided to walk along the canal bank to think about them. As far as I knew, the real George Leo had left home to help his family by giving them one less mouth to feed. I wanted my fictional Leo to have grinding poverty as his background but I needed a more dramatic start to his journey.

I walked for about ten miles along the canal before heading back to town and during that twenty mile walk I came up with the outline of the start of the story. Leo and his sister, as the oldest in the family, had been hired out for work – she at an inn in Nakel, and he on a large estate some miles away. Unjustly accused of a crime – I didn’t know what yet – beaten and humiliated, I wanted Leo to fight back against his accuser – the bullying son of the aristocratic landlord perhaps – compounding the offence in everyone’s eyes. Facing the prospect of a flogging and jail, Leo flees and, in order not to implicate his family, he decides to take to the road. The only one of his family he can see in order to explain what’s happened is his sister.

I was pleased that the story was beginning to come together. Then on the walk back, I saw something I had missed on the journey out– at the edge of a field was a telegraph pole with a large round nest on top and, further away, another one – storks’ nests.

Storks, the symbol of fertility and abundance. No wonder poor communities set so much store on trying to attract these birds to their area, in the superstitious hope that they would bring good luck with them. By the time I got back to my car in Naklo nad Notecia, I had the skeleton of a plot and the opening sentence of the book:

Leo was the first to see the storks.

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