Let us start right here, with a man and a woman in bed by the sea. The woman is Ursula. She is thirty-one years old. She and the man are gazing into each other’s eyes, astonished by the love they feel, and as they move together, without speaking, everything around them dissolves; the thin yellow curtains of the bed and breakfast, the polyester sheets, the two white teacups and tiny kettle all fly away to nothing. Ursula sees only this man. She is grateful it is him after all this time, and as they crash on to the shore of each other they touch the earth, the moon and the stars.
It is not possible for you to feel this. All this astonished gazing, sea gushing and planetary union is too much, too intimate, too soon! – but I long to communicate love to you. These pages are so dry, the flat of your reading device so cold! If I could I’d jump out, strike you with the full weight of my arm, make your heart pound, tickle you, caress you, do anything in my power to make you feel it. I want to reveal love in all its forms, in a girl skipping, a boy reading; in a time before Ursula, with a laundry worker singing at her tub, or a woman alone on a hill, where a tree rears up, its roots alive, its branches stripped bare like a claw raking the sky, and in a single moment, she is hollowed to nothing by a blast so bright the world will ever after seem dark to her. I want to show you all this, and more, even the great failure of love, so this is a ‘poor do’ as Mary would say, and we must begin again, not with lovers by the sea, but at the root of the thing, in another time, or perhaps the same one, when Ursula is at the very beginning of herself, under the ash tree in the garden of 35 Eslington Road, Newcastle. She is only six moths old, but already she has done much to be here; existing for billions of years in secret codes, imprinting herself on her infinite family, generation to generation, mud-crawler to bushbaby, hominid warrior all the way to Hubert Tate of Tate’s Laundry, Padiham, waiting until her own double helix clicks into place making all her pasts present. Then the inevitable begins, cells slipping, splitting, silently dividing in the warm darkness, heart pulsing within membrane, the sudden bloom of liver, kidneys, lungs, soft sponges of blood, the astonishing hardening of bone, the skin clouding round, the wild free-fall into senses, briny sweetness, murmurs, muted fireworks, and pushing through unyielding skeleton to the shocking air, into the feel of skin, the smell of milk, and Ursula is suddenly material.
Wow. I’m finding this series bittersweet at the moment, since I am having such a hard time nailing the opening of my own novel. I don’t know how Woof has done this. I mean, obviously she worked hard and crafted her words carefully and is talented and amazing. But how did she develop a story that could start like this, how were these the words that found their way to the top of the story. Now, having read these two opening paragraphs, I don’t just want to read this novel but everything Woof has ever written and will ever write, ever. What an achievement.