As a novelist, says Anna Burns, her job is “to show up and be present and attend. It’s a waiting process.” She “just had to wait for my characters to tell me their stories.”
(Interview by Alison Flood in The Guardian, 16 Oct ’18)
This obviously worked for Anna Burns as she has just bagged the Booker Prize with her novel Milkman.
I, however, have spent a lifetime waiting for characters to turn up and write themselves into a book but they haven’t done so yet and I’m rather starting to fear they never will. I go to bed having put out my finest stationery but masterpieces come there none. Not so much as a shopping list; not so much as a tweet. Perhaps the characters have used up all their best ideas writing other people’s books. They have no more twists.
Firelight flickered on their faces: yellow, amber, a hellish red. All eyes were fixed on the young Jane Marple – could this slip of a girl really have worked out the answer to the crime which had mystified the greatest minds of the Met? She put down the loom bands with which she had been making friendship bracelets to sell on EBay, and took a deep breath. As her right hand started to shake, she remembered that she’d forgotten her lunchtime Sinemet…
Dull, dull, dull.
The first day of the school year has a quality all of its own. As foretold, the miserable, rainy days of late August had vanished, packed away with the suitcases, buckets and spades. The sun now played on the distant fields of wheat: yellow, amber and a hellish red.
At half past eight – best to make an early start – Miss Read reluctantly left the school-house and made her way through the romantically named late summer flowers in her garden (note to self… check names of appropriate plants), across the playground and into the solid Victorian building which had been her domain for so long.
Entering her classroom, she was met by Mrs Pringle, brandishing her mop as her forebears had brandished their spears.
“That skylight’s been playing up again,” she growled. “And all them iPads of yours bin sitting in a pool of water.”
Sighing as she re-planned the morning in her head, Miss Read turned on her computer, only to find that it too had been washed clean by the summer rain. So, no interactive whiteboard either. If only she still had her faithful old blackboard! But the school managers had disposed of that some time ago – apparently a blackboard had no place in a modern classroom…
My New Year’s Resolution was to write a book but – and you’ll be amazed to hear this – it’s not as easy as one might think. “Write about what you know” say the How-to books. “Write the sort of book you like to read.”
So I end up with pale imitations of majestic writers; boring to write, ghastly to read. Back to the drawing board.
One thing though. When working on the (now abandoned, you’ll be pleased to hear) “Death and the Interactive Whiteboard”, I asked our site-manager how he’d commit murder on the school premises. He lead me straight to the boiler room and showed me which outlet pipe to block with a simple piece of paper, thereby filling the room with carbon monoxide. “Dead in minutes,” he told me. “Then you just remove the paper and Bob’s your uncle.”
Is it more worrying that he didn’t hesitate to answer the question or that he didn’t ask me why I wanted to know? Just to be on the safe side, if you happen to be in Thrush Woods, keep on the right side of the site-manager and stay clear of the boiler room.
New vegetable steamer for ActorLaddie, 75p from Amazon to Cure Parkinson’s, courtesy of GiveAsYouLive What’s not to like?