There are two ways to drive from the South-East of England to the South-West. One is the M5 motorway; six lanes, wide visibility, smooth going. The other is the narrow, secretive A303.
The A303 is the old road. The storytellers’ road.
For most of its length it is a slender dual carriageway. It rolls on for hours through valleys and over hills, further than you would think possible for a road so narrow. It brushes past the oldest parts of England. Signs point to Roman remains. Stonehenge forces the traffic into respectful single file. When you take the A303 you travel not just in miles, you sail a metalled sine wave back through time. When you trickle out at its source you might find an older kind of England; half-day closing, foggy TV and radio reception, high streets where old family businesses still rule the roost.
In winter, it is the treacherous road. I remember a terrifying drive last December where freezing fog closed in like a curtain. The fields around the car disappeared and we seemed to be gliding on an endless bridge across white space.
All roads claim souls from time to time. I read an unbelievably harrowing account by a man whose car went head on into a driver who was outfoxed by 303’s duplicitous swap to single file. He described waking up with his wife and son beside him, peaceful and still, and him the only one of them still alive. When you travel the twists of the storyteller’s road, you are lucky to land.
When the character in my novel, My Memories of a Future Life, leaves London, she takes the storyteller’s road. It brings her to a small town called Vellonoweth. Its ancient hills seal off radio signals, so the only programmes on airwaves are from a tiny local station in a fragile wartime fort. The town is sleepy and humdrum, but beating at its door is the merciless sea. Ships go down in the bay. Waves throw rocks through windows. The hills hold the remains of an early nuclear power station, sealed in fathoms of concrete but still ticking away nuclear time.
In such a place, what else is my character to do but confront the older, hidden parts of herself?
Roz Morris’ website is www.rozmorris.wordpress.com and she blogs at www.nailyournovel.com. Her book site is www.mymemoriesofafuturelife.com You can follow her on Twitter at @dirtywhitecandy and @byrozmorris. Her novel, My Memories of a Future Life, will be available from August 30th, 2011.
The English highway known as A303 captures the imagination of many. For more about it, see this review of BBC Four’s Documentary on A303: Highway to the Sun from May 2011.