I had expected that at some point during the first draft a light would go on, and I would understand, finally, how to write a book. This never happened. The process was akin to blindly walking in the dark, feeling my way only by touch, and only recognising dead ends when I smacked into them.
People speak of the fear of the blank canvas as though it is a temporary hesitation, a trembling moment of self-doubt. For me it was more like being abducted from my bed by a clown, thrust into a circus arena with a wicker chair, and told to tame a pissed-off lion in front of an expectant crowd.
I applied for funding to embark on an overseas field trip in Iceland, and spent six weeks there happily holed up in the national archives, museums and libraries, sifting through ministerial and parish records, censuses, maps, microfilm, logs, and local histories.