In which I come over all denouement

Tonight as I sit at my writing table, a lopsided moon hangs over the choppy waters of Greenland Dock, the wind pelts at the window and I only have about twenty-odd pages left to wrap up my third, yet-to-be-named science novel. It’s the eighth and final day of a designated writing holiday that started, appropriately enough, within sight of one of the points of interest in the story:


Squalls over Sheerness The Isle of Sheppey, as seen from the beach at Seasalter

Sheppey was originally chosen for narrative convenience: I wanted to set some of the action in Estuary Kent, and the infectious disease plot required an island. But on various research trips to this remote and desolate locale, I became captivated by its brooding atmosphere. The names alone are evocative; for example, the body of water that separates the island from the mainland is called The Swale, and the acres of mudflats between are known as The Oaze. The marshlands on either side of the Swale are full of rippling grasses, semi-wild horses and skylarks tearing overhead like an aerial bombardment.

After rocking up muddy and exhausted at the Marine Hotel in Whitstable with a heavy pack on my back, feeling rather like Harriet Vane in Have His Carcase, I spent a few days swimming in bracing cold high tides and typing busily in my room. After returning to London, I spent long days and nights at this table. It’s been slow going now because I have dozens of threads that need to be tied together; as most authors know, writing is the easy bit and it is the detailed plotting that takes up most of the time. Nevertheless I am very happy with the 21,000 words I’ve managed to get down.

When I wrote my second novel, I was on the dole in Amsterdam. Life then took on a very strange cadence; I would write for twelve hours a day and the rest of the time, wander around in an almost semi-permanent daze, a state of mind that felt more like convalescence than anything else. The biotech company in Leiden where I’d been happily employed had gone bust and none of my interviews for academic positions were going anywhere. Surviving on a generous government handout and sporadic freelance journalism, I had no idea where and when my career would restart, or even what profession that would entail.

And so I wrote, and I walked. I used to pace a houseboat-lined rectangular stretch of the Amstel near my house: across the Stadhouderskade Bridge, down the Weesperzijde, back across the Berlagebrug and home along the Amsteldijke. Sometimes I’d frequent cafés and obsess over plotting: Kapitein Zeppos, de Jaren, Zotte, Café Sarphaat, De Ysbreker. This week, I found myself falling into those same solitary patterns when I needed a break in reality: I strolled along the Rotherhithe Thames or though the meadows and woodlands of Russia Dock, witnessing the precise moment (I believe) that summer morphed into autumn. I can report that the blackberries are withering on the wine, the sloes are ripening, the cow parsley blooms have curled into perfect, violet-tipped green cages and the rose hips have swelled to the size of plums.

Tomorrow I’m back in the lab, but at this moment, it doesn’t quite seem real.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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41 Responses to In which I come over all denouement

  1. Stephen Curry says:

    Beautiful – as ever.
    Glad to hear you are happy with progress. Look forward to the book – there simply isn’t enough Kent-based fiction!

  2. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Thanks, Stephen. In the interests of full disclosure, much of the novel is set in a lab in Mill Hill. But after this most recent visit, I resolved to set the climax in the marshlands outside of Faversham.
    By the way, thanks for lending me Season 2 of the Wire. Believe it or not, I’ve found this programme very educational for how to effectively build up a multi-stranded narrative.

  3. Stephen Curry says:

    The Wire’s great, isn’t it? I managed season 3 over the summer and am trying to find the time to launch into season 4…

  4. Eva Amsen says:

    It’s not autumn yet, don’t say crazy things like that!
    [puts on sunglasses and flipflops]
    See? It’s summer.
    Of those Amsterdam cafés you mentioned I’ve only been in De Jaren. I’ve been in a few other good ones, mostly with friends from the UvA, because there are really no good bars near the VU at all. But I can’t remember the names of the other places, which is probably just a testimony to how good they were…

  5. Jennifer Rohn says:

    I’m sure it’s not autumn everywhere. Back in Ohio they are probably still barbecuing. (Of course there is nothing else to do there!)
    Just heard, banter on Radio 4:
    Weather man: There will be rain and showers all over Britain today.
    James Naughtie: What’s the distinction between showers and rain?
    Weather man: Rain is more water, I think.

  6. Anna Vilborg says:

    Beautiful – makes me want to visit both Amsterdam and Kent and go for walks!

  7. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Thanks, Anna. They are only about an hour apart by plane so that might actually be doable! As it happens, the Kentish landscape around there is very reminiscent of the Netherlands. I suppose that Dutch engineers probably had a hand in building the sea defenses, back in the day.

  8. Richard P. Grant says:

    I’ve never been one to let the weather get in the way of barbecuing.
    The difference between rain and showers is apparently temporal, according to my meteorologically-trained mother. A shower is when it rains for less than twenty minutes.

  9. Jennifer Rohn says:

    How wonderfully arbitrary.

  10. Henry Gee says:

    Here in Cromer we get rain and showers simultaneously.

  11. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Fantastic. Although I guess theoretically possible, if that temporal element means a shower is just rain that moves more quickly than rain. I hope you managed to get your dog dry in the end.

  12. María José Navarrete-Talloni says:

    Wish you the best and lots of inspiration.
    Let the muses be with you!
    Hope to get news from your new book soon… and the title!
    😉
    PS: here in Hannover autumn is coming slowly, and the tress are showing their first yellowish colours…

  13. Alejandro Correa says:

    Is fantastic – Jennifer.

  14. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Thanks, guys. The muses are pretty persistent when you get near the end of writing a novel – there are almost too many ideas to keep straight.

  15. Richard Wintle says:

    That was a lovely and poetic post, especially the bit about the rosehips.
    Well, ok, this part:
    across the Stadhouderskade Bridge, down the Weesperzijde, back across the Berlagebrug and home along the Amsteldijke
    wasn’t quite as poetic. The phrase “easy for you to say” jumps to mind. 😉
    And… last time you posted about it, you had fifty pages left to go… now you’re down to twenty! I am looking forward to this Mill Hill-based novel… 😀

  16. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Yup, I wrote about 40 pages over the past week. But realized I needed another chapter to wrap things up, hence the estimate of 20. Hat tip to Frank Norman for sending me some photos of the NIMR canteen.
    Dutch is easy: you just put your lips together and blow — and then cough up some phlegm.

  17. Eva Amsen says:

    “Dutch is easy: you just put your lips together and blow — and then cough up some phlegm.”
    Any “grr!” or “pffft” I leave here is probably just going to be used as evidence…

  18. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Yes, you’re doomed either way.
    Jammer.

  19. Richard P. Grant says:

    Damn. I need a new monitor now.

  20. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Why, have you been trying to pronounce Scheveningen again?

  21. Eva Amsen says:

    Richard can pronounce “nachtmerrie” quite properly, so he should be able to do “Scheveningen”

  22. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Unless he really is, as we all suspect, a German spy.

  23. Heather Etchevers says:

    I’m late but appreciative. Your description of wrapping up the writing (or, rather, the writer’s retreat) was as lovely as ever.

  24. Richard P. Grant says:

    I’m not a spy. I’m a shepherd.

  25. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Thanks, Heather.
    Who let those sheep in here?

  26. Richard P. Grant says:

    Nonono. Wrong punchline.

  27. Jennifer Rohn says:

    “And then the pig told the barman, ‘Have one on me.’ ”

  28. Henry Gee says:

    Ah! A shepherd Spy!

  29. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Mmmm. Good weather for it. Damn you, Gee, now I’m hungry.

  30. Richard P. Grant says:

    Mmm. Pie.

  31. Richard Wintle says:

    When I visited Amsterdam, we kept seeing signs advertising “broodje”, without having any clue what it meant. “Broodje” rapidly became slang for “thing/item/object/indeterminate whatsamahoosits”. To this day, alien objects in Star Trek episodes are referred to as “giant space broodjes” chez Wintle.
    I didn’t say this story made any sense, did I?

  32. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Which is a shame because the Dutch actually have a word for just that, namely
    dingetje (not sure I’m applying the diminutive spelling correctly there).
    When I first moved there I was freaked out by all the signs saying Vorboden toegang. Not something you want to meet in a dark alley.

  33. Eva Amsen says:

    “giant space broodjes”. [giggles]

  34. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Just sat here for five minutes trying to think of any puns involving the words ‘loaf’ or ‘crust’.

  35. Richard Wintle says:

    So – how long did it take you to stop avoiding the ravening gangs of toes?

  36. Richard P. Grant says:

    I still giggle at the German ‘Ausfahrt’.

  37. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Richard W., I never really got over it, to be honest. Even now I can hear the faint thrum of the approaching choppers…

  38. Richard P. Grant says:

    That’s your fridge, dearie. Try kicking it.

  39. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Another weekend of glorious sunny weather, albeit with a nip to the air. I wonder if I can find any last-minute pockets of blackberries?

  40. Richard P. Grant says:

    I took the girls and got some sloes a day or two ago. We saw a few blackberries; but even the secret spot is almost all gone.
    Oh, and the bastards came and harvested the apples when I wasn’t looking. Even the crab apples! But I did discover hazelnuts just off Timber Pond Road.
    It’s a lovely time of year, now. Nature’s valedictory dance.

  41. Jennifer Rohn says:

    You are welcome.