First, the news item about a fin whale being sighted off North Berwick. A pretty amazing event. This is the second-largest animal that has ever lived on the planet, and I suppose my image of it before now was of something that swims the vast trackless Pacific. But North Berwick? Come off it! Pull the other one! But the news report also mentions a humpback off Belhaven Beach this summer, and a minke tangled and drowned in lobster ropes off Dunbar itself just a week earlier. There are whales here this year, as well as butterflies. I like butterflies, but I want to write about a whale – Moby Dick is one of my favourite novels.
First drafts are always in longhand, usually with a fountain pen. The physical act of writing, the flow of ink onto the page, helps me to keep it going. I don’t revise much at the time of writing, in case the momentum is lost.
The poem finishes with the word ‘drave’, which is an Eyemouth expression meaning the summer herring fishing season. I like the word, but only locals will know it, and I don’t fancy putting a gloss in just for the one word, so I change it.
At this point I type it up on computer, giving it a title and editing as I type – it’s what I usually do.
Somewhere around there my computer seriously crashes – big time – and I can’t fix it. That’s a serious crash. So I take it to the local computer shop. The hard disk is wiped, operating system and programs are reinstalled, and I restore documents and files from my backup disk (hefty external drive).
An editor asks me for a poem for a magazine. I think of this one, search for it, can’t find it. Somehow, between crash, backup and restore, I’ve lost the electronic version. I realise I’ll have to reconstruct it from the hand-written MS, which is fortunately still on my desk – they usually end up in the WPB pretty quickly. So I do the reconstruction (still not sure about the last line), and email it to the editor, who accepts it immediately for an issue to be published in 2007.