Monday, 29 October 2012

Cutting and chopping

Southerscales - Credit J Richards
In my other life I work for a conservation charity. Quite how a Classics graduate, who didn't own a coat one entire year of university let alone waterproof trousers , whose only steel toecaps were patent purple DMs and who, until last week, couldn't tell a sycamore from an ash tree manages in an office where people get really excited by moss is a bit of a mystery. But I like to think I bring my own unique skillset to the workplace. But when I was offered the opportunity to spend two days doing manual work in the Dales I jumped at it.
We started out at Southerscales, an unearthly landscape of limestone high up in the western Dales, pulling sycamore saplings out from between the grikes. The limestone itself was very slippy and some of the cracks very deep but, armed with just a pair of loppers, I searched out and cut down as many saplings as I could find - once I'd managed to differentiate the sycamore from the ash. The next day (after a night in a bunk house so well equipped it was luxurious) we went to Grass Wood, a beautiful woodland full of autumnal hues. Here I got my inexperienced hands on a hackshaw and leaned how to cut down a tree. An actual tree. Me, a saw, a tree and one yell of 'Timber' (well, me plus my brilliant, patient colleague). It was pretty primal and maybe, just maybe I might survive an apocalypse after all.
A few days anyway. Foraging for food is still beyond me.
Grass Wood Credit J Richards
It feels pretty counter intuitive to be killing trees. After all, Classics graduate I may be but even I know that Trees are Good. How can it be good conservation to chop them even if turning lumberjack is more fun than I could have anticipated - in a back breaking, seriously achy way.Turns out there are many good reasons; chiefly sycamores are non native species, ash need space between them so woodland flowers - and the species associated with them - can flourish. The chopped trees were cut and left in piles to make habitats for invertebrates.
There was lots of time to think, especially on Southerscales, when I wasn't concentrating on not slipping and breaking my leg and imagining how mortifying it would be too be rescued by the Air Ambulance and I came up with a new black moment and resolution for Minty. I also realised how similar chopping trees and rewriting are. They are both brutal, irrevocable and essential. When I sit down to rewrite I keep the full text of the old draft in front of me because I figure I can reuse bits of it, especially my favourite bits. Surely in the end they can be worked into a new scenario?
*shakes head sadly*
Never happens  As I work it all gets chopped, cut. Deleted. No matter how much I love it, how witty it seems, how integral to the character. The characters have moved on,evolved and the book needs to move on to. The cut bits are left as habitat piles to feed the characters' growth. They served their purpose and now it's time to walk away, hacksaw in hand, and cut some more.

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