It’s been a very strange, and very painful month, as I have started to come to terms with both losing Eva and embracing the legacy she left me in the form of Ingrid Skyberg. I have spent much of the past few weeks closely sifting through Eva’s journals and notebooks and uncovered a cache of work that has left me humbled.
Many of you will have bought and read books about how to write, structure and edit fiction, and I suspect that almost as many will have thought ‘Sod doing all those exercises, I’m just going to start writing’. Well, Eva – tenacious, dedicated, methodical as well as creative – didn’t skip over those tedious lessons, and in one notebook I have found reviews she wrote of other people’s novels (one of the classic tools that helps you become a writer); in another I found exercises she had clearly done with newspapers, colliding random events from the headlines together and corralling them into unguessable plots. Then there are the character sketches, the free form writing exercises and the lists of overheard conversations. There is almost a decade’s worth of these of notebooks, full of intention, full of experimentation, full of joy and hope for the career that she hoped lay ahead.
In addition to the journals, I have also boxed up more than a hundred crime thrillers that she read as part of her preparation for becoming a successful novelist. Stieg Larsson, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Kate Atkinson (maybe not so thriller-ish, but she adored Atkinson’s prose), Cath Staincliffe, Sara Paretsky, Mo Hayder, Tom Rob Smith, Dennis Lehane, Peter James…. No one can accuse Eva of getting lucky: boy did she do her homework, the hard graft, and my god it paid off.
I have moved into her office, for practical and emotional reasons, and have been making a few changes. Yesterday, I took a picture off the wall and found this:
It’s a mind map she drew in chalk of the connections between characters in her second (unpublished, to remain in the bottom drawer) novel. I remember that Beth Lawless (named, I feel sure, in honour of Lucy Lawless) was a reclusive singer (hence the musical notes) and the plot drew on Eva’s previous career in the music industry, but I cannot remember now what the connection was with JFK (surely not that JFK, but I can’t ask her, can I?) and the other characters.
I can only imagine the burst of inspiration, the burning need to express herself, to get the ideas down so quickly, that she reached for the chalk and started drawing on the wall. I’m pretty sure that what she was feeling when she did this was the pure, raw thrill of creativity, of ideas coming so quickly that you need to capture them before they evanesce. I can be almost certain that when she did this, she was happy.
So I find myself with this unexpected cryptic message, this hidden graffiti, unsure what to do with it. A bit like a property owner who wakes to find a Bansky on the side of her house, I now have something precious and unique that I’m not sure I want to live with, but equally I don’t feel I can destroy.
Maybe, by the time I finish the fourth Skyberg book I’ll have worked out what to do with it. It’s coming along nicely, by the way, but at a slower pace than Eva would have managed. The characters are now talking to each other in my head – defnitely a good sign – and I’m feeling more and more confident that I can do Eva’s memory justice. I do hope your patience will be rewarded.
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