Sometimes I ponder for days about what I am going to write. A stray word seen or spoken, the odd observation, or maybe two or three jostling together, and one thing will lead to another until I discover what it is that I want to say. But there are other times when I am distracted and forget to lay myself open to the seeds of inspiration. I become paralysed by the terror of a deadline and forget to lose myself in the delicious riches of my cellar.
I sit here, pen in paw, hoping that the first word is inching its way through the endless circuitry of my body. I am barely unconscious of its origins; have no sense that it is aware that I have a timetable. It dawdles, hovers somewhere in my gullet, loses itself in bye-ways, is lured into conversations with other words who are arguing about which is to go first. None wants to lead. I am waiting this end for it to arrive – have been waiting for some time. Will I recognise it when it arrives? Will we embrace? Will it be a complete stranger? Will it thrill or fall flat on its face?
How does a word reach a paw? How can I jolt it along? Papa paced up and down. Like a tiger, Mama would say. The threadbare track on the turkey rug bore witness. His words when they came flowed, exquisite, poetic, but rare. Mama’s came to the fore through sheer force of will, but were prosaic when they arrived, having been marshalled on command and not been allowed the time to build distinctive characters.
Great Uncle Mole always typed. The machine was essential, a big and heavy thing that clacked and pinged, a mechanical intervention between his body and the paper. Watching him, one might almost believe that the letters on the hammers conveyed themselves to him before his paws had even hit the keys. something mechanical and external to himself.
Uncle Ratty was a verbal chap – could spin a yarn that lasted for weeks. A tale might be serialised night after night for the whole stretch of a holiday and on the last evening all the threads were drawn together for an astonishing denouement. But ask him to write so much as a shopping list and he froze. He needed to talk himself around a thing to bring it to life, not pin it down.
His sister, Celestine, who had a higgledy-piggledy education at the barge school had no such qualms. The barge creatures were given so much roaming time, so much license to paint and mull and shout and sing bawdy songs, that Celestine knew no limits when it came to writing – nor anything else. Her pen, filled with green ink, excelled at all she touched and, oiled and fluid, made its way through three doctorates as she lived and loved her way through Paris, Barcelona, New York and Berlin.
I sit here trying channel her, or if not her any one of the others. I feel the words getting stuck en route. My words are neither marshalled, nor fluid, they are not to be coaxed by mechanical intervention or green ink, or lulled with whisky or wine or chocolate. I try to send them messages of encouragement but they are timid creatures, too frightened to emerge. The word-in-the-making I am waiting for – and its pals, – are more comfortable in that amorphous place where anything is possible; before letters have coalesced into words and words have coalesced into sentences.
If they come out they might be pounced upon before the quill has even scratched the paper.