It all begins with a stroke of a pen.
No, no, no; it starts before that: a something out of the corner of your eye, a whiff, or a tingle. Then it sort of floats around for a bit and coheres with other whiffs and tingles, scraps of old photographs, castaway words or tales that have lodged themselves in your little moleheart.
The pen may not even yet come into play. It can be nourished with ink so that it is within your paw’s grasp. And perhaps it is not a bad thing to have some paper nearby, although it is safer at this stage to have a napkin, the paper bag that your elevenses was wrapped in, or the inside of the box that held your Assam tea. Anything that looks too serious and the whiffs and tingles either take fright un away or they stop their floaty existence and solidify; and once they are solidified into a settled and sensible existence they are no longer prepared to experiment or play and once that happens, well, you might as well be writing the terms and conditions for the General Post Office.
The time to take up the pen is when your mind is so swirled, your rat’s nest of scraps so high, and your paws so itchy that the pull between vision and paw, paw and pen, and pen and paper, becomes irresistible. The energy generated by this fusion is stoked by a conviction that somewhere in this swirling mass of impressions there is a story that will not rest until it has been told. It may be a struggle. There will be times when you feel that any amount of imagination and grit might fail to bring it into being, but even then you know, deep inside, that if only you persevere, the story will emerge.
But what if this is not how it happens? What if neither a whiff, nor a tingle appear? What if your little moleheart is closed and your mind, instead of being a colourful playground, is a concrete wasteland?
A while ago when I was bruised and empty and wanted more than anything to lose myself in the world of a a novel. If my heart was numbed, I thought, at least I could engage my intellect. I selected fertile ground, a time and place that had been barely touched by other pens, and scenarios that were, at the very least, intriguing.
I tried. I trawled through archives for unseen nuggets. Let myself breathe in brittle paper, faded ink and bureaucratic stamps, read of lives partly captured in the typewritten reports and correspondence of the archives. I watched jerky documentaries, fossicked through old photographs of cafés and stations and ruined cities; pored over maps and worked out train timetables. I thought that if I fed my fallow mind with these delectable morsels, absorbed them into my being, sooner or later something would fertilise.
I developed a premise, evolved characters, set them against each other. The words mounted, scenes added up. Oh, it has grown alright, often achingly slowly, one paw in front of the other. From time to time I have tried to breathe life into it by trying another angle, a different point of view, a different tense, a second timeline, an alteration in plot.
For so long I have been trying to drive this work by intellect alone – my heart has been woefully absent, just the occasional flutter in some scene or other.
The more I have worked on it, the longer it has become, the more time and energy I have invested, the less able I have been to acknowledge the possibility that it isn’t working.
And when I do I am reminded that the story has become alive to others, that in the snippets they have seen they see a spark, the potential; they imagine themselves into it and sense a whole that is allusive to me.
It is time to let it go for a little while, to see what happens when it is put to bed; to see what thoughts emerge when I am not facing it every day. Perhaps not thoughts but rather listening to the flutters of my moleheart.
Mole’s life is a bit topsy-turvy at the moment. Murmurs will be taking a break during November. Mole Out Loud will keep going.
Vale Boo 4th November 2016.