Back in the late sixties, I lived on a hillside on the Worcestershire border in a cottage without electricity or running water. It was what we now call ‘off the grid’. For two months I never saw a car and the only transportation that passed by was a hot air balloon which one morning flew over the roof.
I was there to write. I was very young, and hungry to be published. Seated at a packing-case desk overlooking a damson orchard, I worked on a story involving hot air balloons and sky gypsies. Decorated hot air balloons - not like the one which had flown over me, but ones painted like gypsy caravans or narrow boats. I came up with a sky gypsy called Ben the Balloon Man but, before I could bring him to life, winter was suddenly upon me and I ran out of money and was forced to move and get a job.
Fifteen long, non-writing years later, not long after the birth of my fifth child, I read a book called ‘The Flight of Condor I’. It told the story of a balloon flight in Nazca, Peru, by balloonists, Julian Nott [reckoned to be the father of modern ballooning] and Jim Woodman who, using only locally-sourced materials and technology, were attempting to prove that human flight could have taken place thousands of years ago.
The description of their launch - a dramatic process involving fire pits, smoke pits and underground channels - took me straight back to my balloon story. One of the problems I’d had was that its elements of fantasy sat awkwardly with all the paraphernalia of modern balloon flight. But fire and smoke - I could work with that! Suddenly, at probably the worst time in my life for getting inspired, I had a story that wanted to be written. And write it I did. ‘Midnight Blue’ was born.
Having said that, though, I never made my own balloon flight until four years ago. At the time of ‘Midnight Blue’, I wasn’t brave enough. Some people think that courage is the province of the young, but my experience is that it comes with age. Certainly, with the subject of ballooning returning for a cameo appearance in the novel I was writing at the time, I decided to give it a go.
And thank God I did. To fly over the hills of home and see them as the birds do was extraordinary. I’d always known the Shropshire hills were beautiful, but they were astonishing from the air, and the sky above them was astonishing too. Our balloonist took us up until the land below was blurry and I found myself in another world of strange misty vapours and castles in clouds. Then he took us down and I saw swimming pools I’d never known were there, and hidden quarries, and ribbons of rivers and birds in trees sitting in their nests.
This is how the schoolgirl, Charis, describes her experience in ‘Flying for Frankie’, the book which prompted the flight: ‘Going up there changed me. It changed the way I look at life and the way I think. Once I let go and dared to fly. And I did it for myself, not anybody else. I didn’t fly for Frankie. She flew for herself. And I lost my fear and, out there on the far horizon of everything she’d known, she lost hers. We made a few discoveries about ourselves.Everything was different from what we’d thought. We’d peeled back the edges of our world and found out there was more.’
It’s this more that has always interested me, especially as a writer. Scrolling back through my writing life, I’ve always had an interest in children of vision. There’s Jack, in ‘The Beast of Whixall Moss’, who awoke one day to find his garden full of fabulous beasts, and Vee in ‘The Candle House’, who discovered her motor-biker boyfriend could fly, and there’s Bonnie in‘Midnight Blue’, who travelled in a smoke-filled hot air balloon just like the one that was launched at Nazca, and found a land beyond the sky and lived to tell the tale.
The twenty-first anniversary launch of my first book - soon to be my first e-book, and I’m hoping the others won’t be far behind - can’t help but send me trawling back through the years to where it all began. My writing life’s like a landscape which I’m viewing with new eyes. And soon ‘Midnight Blue’ will be flying too, peeling back the edges of the publishing world and finding out that there’s more.
Watch my website for announcements of its launch. Or become a Pauline Fisk Facebook friend or look me up on Twitter @paulinefisk. Also, if the subject of flight interests you, click this link to read about the fascinating email conversation I had yesterday with the founder of modern ballooning, Julian Nott: www.paulinefisk.co.uk/blog