An idea for a novel is like a glance at something in the distance: an outline of a city. A city that calls me to come closer.
Or, it may not even be an outline, just a glimpse of a promise beyond some high walls: a tower, patches of colour, or a forested piece of land that may be part of its inner landscape.
The city-as-novel calls me, and the only way to discover it is by walking through its paved streets, slowly – by paying attention to details, seeping into its scents and lone tunes.
And this walking through it may take a long time.
Some days I may need to walk in the rain, or in the frost, or I may need to walk exhausted – until I come across an unexpected part of the city to spur me on.
There will be bad weather no matter whether I stay put or walk on.
But the more I linger, the more I forget what the city is like, the less I remember how drawn I was to it.
It is only by walking – serendipitous walking – that I discover how different areas of the city connect. And it is these unforeseen connections that get me excited all over again, that make me understand its beauty. Coming into a street from one direction and then accidentally entering it from a different one I suddenly see a building in a stunning new way.
Some streets look magical when entered from an alley, though they looked dull when I came to them from a bigger street. This is part of the charm of the city I discover only by walking slowly through it.
Some streets are longer, straighter, and wider, and I can see plenty once I step into them. Other streets twist and turn, and here I see only a few steps ahead at a time. It may feel tedious to continue on one of these streets, but I keep walking, brushing past the aged walls.
Once I am done, I want to show the city to someone else, to share the charming places I found, and the atmosphere of the neighbourhoods I loved most. I won’t walk them the same route I first took, because now I know which parts would be best to show first, to which areas to bring them into through surprising alleys. Some streets are best seen at night, while others are best seen at sunrise.
On my journey through the city touring others, I am surprised that I didn’t remember beautiful details, whole buildings, or the familiar music the inhabitants play at certain times of the day.
This is the best part – when the city and the story surprises me each time anew.