Where I Write by author Sara Baume
My window, the one I write beside, faces a bay. When the tide is out, there’s nothing but mud. When it’s up, the water is only a matter of metres away. If I slump down in my seat, I can pretend there is no footpath, no road, no wall, no concrete, just sea. I can imagine that my window is a porthole, my house a cabin, my village a boat.
I grew up in rural Ireland; my formative landscape was hills and fields as opposed to cliffs and ocean, but in summer, my mother would drive my sister and I to the beach every fine day, and for hours we’d clamber rocks and root through pools, catching crabs with limpets, poking sea anemones. I left home when I was nineteen, and for several years while studying and then working, I lived in different rented rooms and bedsits around Dublin city.
But early life returned to tempt me as the years passed, as the version of myself I’d constructed so carefully in my late teens and early twenties started to fissure, to fester. As a child, I liked writing stories, drawing pictures, building stuff, and in time, my life boiled back down to these essentials, except that, as an adult, I found myself attempting to structure them into some sort of a career-shaped thing. In a similar sense, by my mid-twenties I’d grown weary of the city and its spangles; I longed again for the green and blue and vast.
In spring 2011, I moved, along with my boyfriend, to a village on the edge of Cork harbour, on the south coast. We adopted a one-eyed dog from the local rescue society and set about exploring the shoreline, gathering junk-treasures thrown up by the waves as we went: buoys and painted planks, plastic action figures, lead weights, glass pebbles.
Our circumstances changed in time, as circumstances must. High seas and storms caused the ground floor of our little house to flood, my boyfriend got a job in a maritime museum and suddenly my days were habitually lonesome and arduous. I was trying to write, but couldn’t find a subject to settle on. For almost two years, I had only our dog to devote my days to. We drove around the coast, sat in the front seats staring out at the horizon beyond the windscreen, walked and walked. Eventually I realised I had to make all of those days and places, all that needles despair, count somehow, and so, I started to write about them.
The first draft of Spill Simmer Falter Wither came to life in a tiny notebook. I’d balance it on my knees, lean it against a rock or the steering wheel. None of the places it describes are wholly real; as I wrote, the landscape surrounding me jumbled into fiction. For me, the details are the most important part. As the pace of my existence dramatically decelerated, I saw how I’d forgotten so many of the wildflowers, trees and birds which had transfixed me as a child, and it was because of our dog’s untainted perspective and easy happiness, his unfathomable sense of wonder, that I started to pay attention again.
I never expected Spill Simmer Falter Wither would be published, and even when I knew it would be, I never expected that my boyfriend and I, our dog and now, a second dog, would still be living in the ‘boat village’. But the sea has a way of holding on to you, and so here we are still, frozen in this strange museum of my novel.
Spill Simmer Falter Wither is published by Windmill Books and currently available in paperback.