At the reading we get to that bit where there are supposed to be questions from the floor. Has anyone anything they’d like to ask, I enquire? Silence. I’ve been in the business for long enough to know that right now the best thing is to ask a question myself. And then answer it. Gets the ball rolling. But before I can someone is on their feet asking how we write. Do you just start?
Well, yes, we do. You open your computer and off you go. I’m on the platform with Dan Anthony, the children’s author and scriptwriter. I get so bored, he says, sitting there, watching the clouds go past the window that in the end I just have to start writing. Shelagh Weeks agrees. You think a bit and then you begin.
Do you plan? You do. Do you wait until inspiration strikes? Yes, no, sometimes. Waiting for the spark to arrive, though, can be like waiting for Godot. Start writing as soon as you can, that’s my advice.
Do you have a writer’s notebook, someone wants to know. I do. I’ve loads of these things and usually I’ve left them home when that idea comes. I can recall any number of occasions, walking the streets (and that’s when ideas usually arrive) to discover that I’ve nothing with me to write them on. I scrawl in the space left on the back of rail tickets, on my business cards, on the back of credit card slips and then, when those are all exhausted, I call home and leave my ideas on the answerphone.
Are these useful? Not really, says Dan. Most of the time the notes get ignored. But now and again they don’t. You can never be sure.
The problem with ideas is that they change. When they arrive you have to bang them down immediately otherwise they’ll simply morph into something else. If you plan to write them out as soon as you get home then forget it. By that time you’ll misremember what they were.
It’s like this with dreams. They are never the same when you wake in the morning. Although at the time they were so real.
I’m not sure the world is as casual as we appear to be with our unscheduled jottings. Robert Frost kept his in a pretty ordered style. They’ve now been brought out by Harvard University Press and offer a real insight into how the great man operated. In 2008 Ted Hughes’ collection of notebooks was acquired by the British Library and found to be full of unpublished gems. Some of these guys take jotting seriously.
In the back of my drawer are at least a dozen of mine. Mangled, mashed and bent. Worth keeping? Who knows.
An earlier version of this posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail. #177