The pornographic stapler, and a wee nomination.

First of all, an apology. This was supposed to be with you days ago. (Incidentally, this is how most of my correspondence begins.) Two things account for the lateness:

(a) we’ve only just begun… (if you could imagine this sung by Karen Carpenter, it would help) the teaching term, and I’m knee deep in exciting things called Schemes of Work;

(b) I’ve been working a lot in our lovely library (the busiest in the country, I’m told) and although the library is lovely it won’t let me access my blog (as I mentioned here) for reasons of PORNOGRAPHIC CONTENT. At some point I need to get off my ass and walk to the desk a few paces away and ask them how I might reinstate access to my blog, owing to the fact that IT ISN’T PORNOGRAPHIC, but that would involve taking action (albeit of a very limited sort) and I’m not great at taking action (although I am getting better at it). And the business of getting the best table to work at (the one with the view of Norwich’s spiry skyline) always, immediately, becomes the most important thing when I enter the room. (Although I rarely do get it, just FYI, and yesterday I surrendered it because I was making too much noise with my stapler and I could see the woman next to me would have told me to go away if she hadn’t been English.) (Being English I decided to preempt a possible ‘scene’ and scurry away to a distant table.) One day in the near future I will give up on my dream of A Room Table With a View, and go straight to the desk and sort it all out.

Most days (not all) the library does great things for my writing. Yesterday, having finished my stapling, I sat down to treat myself to a bit of the novel. I put my headphones in (for these are essential for working in public), reminded myself not to talk – or even mutter – whilst working, and opened the latest scene. And then

 

Yes.

A moment’s respectful silence.

The scene was dead.

It was stiff, bereft of life. It definitely wasn’t pining for the fjords, and it wasn’t exhausted after a long squawk.  

It was all, to be frank, a load of bullshit.

I’d already scoffed my blueberry muffin, and ordinarily, being at home on the sofa, I’d have taken emergency action by boiling the kettle (which really ought to be a service provided by an AA-type organisation, do we not think? A network of Emergency Kettle Putter Onners for when you’re feeling a bit limp and defeated). Anyway, what was I saying? Ah yes. When one’s working at the library, one cannot simply Put the Kettle On. So I was forced to sit there, at my distant desk, with nothing but my stapler for company – but here’s where the library environment comes in useful. A woman wandered in, using the end of my enormous desk as a resting place for her bags, and I looked at her face (thinking: get your bags off my bloody table) and something, IDK what, about her general demeanour or the navy windcheater she was wearing or perhaps just the smell of her, gave me a bit of a pulse again, and I was able to dive in with my CPR and my paddles and bring the scene back to life.

As I was telling a class last night, you need to put yourself in the way of experiences. This, above, what I’ve just gone on about, is perfectly adequate as an experience, small as it was. If you feel that 2015 is the time in your life to experiment with attending a rubber wear dungeon party or navigating Niagara Falls in a barrel then knock yourself out (in the case of the latter, you probably will). But the sort of experiences a writer needs needn’t even be new. They need only remind you of something you’ve already done. All the neurons (?) will fire excitedly in your brain and you’ll find you have something to write about. Ah. The Holy Grail. What we’re all searching for. Having something to write about. 

A writer in the field, searching for Something to Write About.

A writer in the field, searching for Something to Write About. She saw something an hour ago, but it was a teenage vampire. Best left alone.

In other news, I’ve been nominated for a blogging award! For which I would like to thank Inger at The Viridescent Consumerwho very kindly named me, and also blogs honestly and movingly about her writing life, and some recent sadnesses, at So You Think you’re a Writer? The latest posts have been genuinely awe-inspiring.

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So the rules for this award are:

  1. Show the award on your blog
  2. Thank the person who nominated you.
  3. Share 7 facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 blogs.
  5. Link your nominee’s blogs and let them know

SEVEN FACTS ABOUT ME

  1. I’m trypophobic. Which means I have a fear of clustered holes. So trypophobic that you’ll have to google this one yourself because I can’t go near any links in case there are images.
  2. I speak to my rabbit in German and my cats in French. When I ‘do’ their voices replying (which I do do: bonus embarrassing fact for you there, a kind of 2(a) if you will) they have Mexican accents.
  3. My idea of humour: the bit in A Clockwork Orange where Alex is naked, being admitted to prison, and there, of course, is the handily-placed box to cover his meat-n-two – and then suddenly, ha, it’s whisked away. And there you have his willy. This makes me laugh.

    Not a job I'd care to do. Although I could make an exception for a young Malcolm McDowell.

    Not a job I’d care to do. Although I could make an exception for a young Malcolm McDowell.

  4. For the first 15 years of my life I was a Mormon.
  5. I’ve danced onstage with Wayne Sleep.
  6. When I was seven my favourite song was the Beatles’ Revolution, because of its chorus: You know it’s gonna be all right… and I’d sing it to myself when I was scared at night. (The actual meaning of the song passed me completely by at that tender age.)
  7. Aged twelve, I did an ad-lib in a school play rehearsal (I was Miss Silicon – laugh it up – the deputy headmistress) that used reincorporation of a symbolic object (and was also, though I say it myself, very funny) and, although the director called me back onstage for a bollocking, the geography teacher (Mr Kent) who had written the play reinstated my change. Stories are in my blood, I think. Writing the novel has helped me remember that, yes, I love fannying about with words, but I love telling stories the most.

My 15 nominees for this awards are…

Actually I’ve only done 7. Seven seemed more appropriate, since I’ve shared seven facts. Also I have to go to work.

This is work-work, of the stapler-requiring variety, but tomorrow, oh hallowed day, I’ll be back in the library. Back to rewriting Part One of the novel. If you have an interesting face that you think might assist me in this matter (or a blue windcheater, or you smell particularly interesting… er, on second thoughts…) please arrange to pass my desk whenever I’m looking droopy*.

*Which is pretty much all the time, since turning forty.
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The Moving Image.

Hemingway wrote naked (allegedly); Agatha Christie wrote anywhere – even in the bath. Kerouac lit a candle before he began (and blew it out again once finished). Simone de Beauvoir drank tea first, writing from ten until one. Murakami (Haruki this is – not sure what Ryu gets up to) puts her laziness to shame: he gets up at 4 a.m. to start writing (and spends his afternoons running). So too does Barbara Kingsolver (wake up at 4, that is). Kurt Vonnegut interspersed words with push-ups. Truman Capote wrote lying down. Stephen King even writes on his birthday. James Joyce was fond of blue pencil. Finnegan’s Wake was written with crayons on cardboard…

And so it goes on. How do you write? Naked, with crayons, immersed in water? Perhaps you have to be facing east, or wearing your favourite knickers? Perhaps, like Agatha, you can write anywhere (washing dishes, she said, was a great time to think about plot). What inspires you? What gets you started? When I teach beginners’ classes, I always give prompts for my students to write from, and I make those prompts as concrete as possible: the smell of wet washing; the itch of head lice; the tap of a footstep. The thing is, no matter how ‘pro’ you are, as a writer, you’re always responding to prompts, though it might be that you don’t even notice the prompt anymore, that you don’t even realise you heard it, or saw it: with practice, it gets to be natural. Writers go out in the world, like Frances in Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests, and recharge themselves ‘like a battery’.

A couple of weeks ago I gave a reading at the Sound and Vision festival. If you’re going to read Gothic fiction, it might as well be in a candlelit mediaeval church (named for a saint who was roasted alive on a gridiron, no less) and it might as well be followed by a showing of Nosferatu (you can watch it here), a masterpiece of German expressionist cinema from 1922 (and memorably remade by Werner Herzog 57 years later), with a live, original soundtrack courtesy of Minima (a taster of that available here.)

They don't make 'em like this anymore.

They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

For me, the first ten minutes didn’t work. The music jarred, the story was duller than I’d remembered it, the church was very cold, my wine was almost finished. And then, just as suddenly as my brain had begun to complain it was bored, I was sucked in – hook, line, and sinker – by both film, and music. A searing cello solo worked like a charm. The sepia faces were beautiful. There were shots unafraid to be long, to be lingering – unashamedly arty (if the concept of unashamed artiness in cinema existed then; I’m not sure) – and, above all, too, we were watching a film that is 92 years old as I write (although maths has never been my strong point; do correct me if I’m wrong). We were watching a 92 year old sunset, captured forever (thank god for the last surviving print) on celluloid. We were watching young children, and adults, and animals. We were watching the dead.

Greta Schroder in Nosferatu.

Greta Schroder in Nosferatu.

I’d been vaguely unsatisfied with the reading I’d given (I’m getting to realise that ‘vaguely unsatisfied’ is a common complaint among writers), and thoughts of the ‘shall I give up?’ variety had been crossing my mind… and then this. This extraordinary film. This extraordinary testament to the point of continuing to make art. And it wasn’t a flawless film, of course: but, fleetingly, it was brilliant. It reached in and spoke to my soul. (And I say this as an atheist.) On this occasion, the moving image was truly moving. It said things to me about the human condition – and that, ultimately, is what I’m always looking for. It is very strange indeed to be alive. It is stranger than strange. And, of course, I like blockbuster rubbish that makes me forget that I’m going to die, one day, but I also like art that reminds me. Nosferatu recharged my artistic batteries, as if Murnau had risen, somehow, from the grave to say: ‘Lynsey, don’t give up. What you’ve written today may be Scheisse, but what you may write tomorrow – well, that might be wonderful.’

As I write, I have owls on my desk: not real owls, naturally (although that would be great), but one made of stone, and one made of clay. And those owls (barring accidents) will outlast me. (Their eyes have an especially penetrating quality as I contemplate this.) Being mortal – bio-degradable, you might say, like an eco-friendly shopping bag – every particle of myself will be gone from this earth at some point in the future. I’ll see my last sunset, I’ll write my last sentence, I’ll watch my last film. It would be nice, I think, to leave something behind, like those flickering, yellow-tinged images that we watched, sipping wine, through the candlelight. The literary equivalent of a 92 year-old-sunset. Or, at the very least, a stone owl.