Home Thoughts of a ‘Pantser’ Stuck in an Office Chair…

I  admit I thought long and hard before committing myself to writing another ‘as you go’ novel on this blog.  I have serialized novels previously and I think they have been well received – I even believe the current serial, ‘Satan’s Rock’ has an heroic following who I hope will not be disappointed with the ending, which is at last in sight.

Yes, at last!

The thing is, I write entirely for my own pleasure.  It is a ruthless self-indulgence.  Oh, I had a go at selling a few books when the wondrous fields of Kindle opened up to me, back in two-thousand-and-frozen-to-death, but my heart was never really in the publishing side.   I never considered authorship as a commercial venture.

Turning three thousand words a week wasn’t in the least onerous to me, back then.  I enjoyed the challenges that represented, the research, the editing, the constant plot revisions that writing on the hoof present.   

Now, I find it harder.

The Covid interlude and the old ‘advancing years’ thing have conspired together to urge me to move on, to sketch together short pieces like this and publish them, rather than commit a whole week’s writing to one piece of fiction.  I have to recognize physical limitations both on my readers’ part (it takes time to read 3000 words) and my own, which might serve as a warning to anyone considering continuing a writing career into old age.   Look into the history of any writer on record as still writing in their dotage and you will discover tales of loneliness, physical pain and the mortification of watching as horizons grow ever closer.

Not that I regard myself in such a tragic light; heavens no!   At 75 I am a warm, pulsating male dynamo with the heart of a lion and the strength of an ox – although I do get a bit short of breath now and then.   No, you see, the truth is, I was never fast – never a quick writer – and now I’m getting slower.  There are so many things I see that need to be written about and I don’t have the time to write them.   I have a different view of the world to many, and I need to get it out there.

Who knows, maybe someday someone will listen?

I’m planning a new page for this blog,   ‘Fred Anderson;  The Complan Years’.  Watch out for it!

Catalogue of Shattered Dreams

When I was young I was designed to become a writer.   Of course in those days we knew nothing about DNA but in the sunshine of my bright ideal I saw myself:

Hunched over a typewriter,

in a dim room with a high window of nicotine-stained glass,

Chain-smoking myself into a coughing stupor,

Careless – utterly careless, of the greater world around me.  

Let the scripts pile up on the desk, on the floor, in the passageways and arbors; I would be oblivious to the chaos.  I would write.  Day, and night, write.

Why didn’t it work out like that?  Why didn’t it?   Well, to begin with, but also with annoying persistence, I could not perfect the art of typewriting.  Canute-like, I could not restrain the Tippex tide, nor the quasi-D’Artagnan-duelling clash of rival keys, the log flumes of paper jams, smudges, crumples, and mechanical accidents.   Who has not cried out in pain as they see their paper-carriage skip the return stop and fly across the room?  Why was the Japanese vase, the recuperating cat, the hapless hamster positioned there – just exactly there?

The day the Word Processor came into my life was like Richard III’s best bit:  ‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by these salesmen from Sharp’.  Differences between RIchard  and I are many – I for example, am unlikely to be exhumed from a car park, but I have to take his point:  I was liberated.

Life and Art, eh?

Unfortunately, there were storms in other seas.   Spouses unappreciative of piles of manuscripts in passageways or scattered upon disorderly desks, for whom creative chaos held no romance   The word ‘dust’ has been mentioned pretty frequently throughout my life, closely followed by the more nebulous  “Urgh – what’s that?!”   

Spouses are also prone to materialism.   ‘Putting bread on the table’ has dominated many a meaningful conversation, and rebuffs by taking the phrase literally treated with scorn.   I was compelled to accept that there had to be bacon, or beef, or vegetables lumped in.  As my self-addressed manuscripts to ‘1, The Garret’ cascaded back through my door and a wallpaper of rejection letters accumulated, I grudgingly accepted the need to do ‘work’.  

I had to find something that paid.  Writing was not the crock of gold it promised to be.  It was just a crock.

I won’t deny that I take pleasure in money; I am darkly suspicious of anyone who doesn’t, but to the bug of creativity it is pure insecticide.  Wherever you spray it, the Inspiration Aphids are consumed.   Why, after all, spend hours preparing a piece that will reward me with a pittance when I could be doing something more productive, more creative, more lucrative?  Except the ‘creative’ in this sentence refers only to creating money, and the productive in this sentence has to do with making more money, and the ‘lucrative’ in this sentence refers to the worship of MONEY.  Somehow, money always offers very good reasons to ignore the pleading noises Noble Poverty makes inside my head, where  Elizabeth Barrett argues strongly for distinguished starvation, and we even share a bad back, but no time for starving selflessly when there is always another conference to attend, a buying trip to make, a new range to review.  And when all those mundanities are finally overcome, home life has a catalogue of new ones, as in “When are you going to fix that drain?”

“I’m an artist, for God’s sake, my darling:  I DON’T DO DRAINS!”   

“Yes you do.”

You’re right.  This is the real world, and the real world has drainage.

To souls as torn and tortured as has been my own in my advancing years, retirement shone like a beacon.   In retirement I would find solace.   There would be nothing to fill my day!   I could sit in my corner, I could create magical images upon the page.  I WOULD HAVE NOTHING TO DO BUT WRITE!

Wrong!

It is an unwritten law, but it is ineluctably true:  if in life you were busy, in retirement you will be busier!  Once you make your diary aware the pressure is off it will fill itself with small, inconsequential things.   Your family will aid this process by demands for home improvements, shopping trips, ‘visits’ to nice country houses (the kind where your host will make you pay an entrance fee, then rebuke you for touching their furnishings or walking on their grass) and finally – the big one – Sitting.

In extreme cases Sitting may tie you up for several days:  

“Dad, can you take care of Bruce the Hellhound or Tibby the curtain-ripping cat while we go on a weekend break to Moscow?  Or a week in Bulgaria?  Or a round-the-world trip?”

More normally, it will be no more noxious a duty than care of The Precious for an evening, and no more exhausting than that ritual chase around the sofa you instituted last year and have been regretting ever since, with a bit of story-reading to initiate sleep.

If any diary spaces remain, there is always the National Health Service, and I’d like to conclude this blog with a personal message to them.

Dear NHS,

Yes, my body mass index figure is almost as far adrift as most of your overworked nursing staff,   You understand, as do I, that my body will inevitably deteriorate with the years, and I should be thrilled that you want to catalogue my demise and itemise each failing function so avidly…

But I’m not.    Okay?

Your obsession with type 2 diabetes drags me out to repeated Doctors’ Surgery and hospital visits to have my eye pupils stretched with painful chemicals, my blood sampled and my (forgive the word) piss taken with unnerving regularity.

Why unnerving?  Well, because the cleanliness of your premises is self-admittedly not always of the best, so each time I subject myself to them, with the health conditions you are so insistent I have, not to mention those that I ACTUALLY have and haven’t told you about, I run the very real risk that the infection I catch could be fatal.   Capiche?

Thank you, good readers, for tolerating my excess of bile this week: perhaps it’s because, to find a space to write this piece, I had to cancel an NHS appointment to ‘test my feet’.  Don’t worry girls, I have two; I tested them myself this morning by going for a walk.

A more normal posting, the latest episode of ‘Devil’s Rock’, follows shortly.

Image Credits for today:

Featured Image: Keyboard, by Alisonmiller1969 on Pixabay

Typerwriter Image: Devonath on Pixabay

Blackbird

Of all the seasons. Spring in England is the most capricious.  Not that I don’t love a bit of caprice – I do – but she can get a bit wearing sometimes.  She never tires of invention and sometimes, well, you just yearn for a little permanence, you know?

Anyway, to put you in the right mood (you may have to turn your volume up a bit) I’ve popped in an anthem from a feathered tenant.  He requested it.  He has dreams of Spotify.   I’d like to say he is a trouble-free occupant of Stalagbaybush 23, but don’t let the dulcet tones fool you.   When he’s got his kids on the ground he’s murder!  He hides them under a leaf, or the shed, or anything else he imagines will provide cover because they can’t fly, and he doesn’t seem to know how to give lessons.   Then he flies around the place screaming his head off at anything or anyone he imagines might come near:

“I’ve got my kid on the ground!   He’s scrawny and he’s got no feathers so leave him alone!”

And of course the cat at number forty-two pricks up her ears, and promises herself she’ll take a look over there after lunch,

After twenty-four hours or so of non-stop hysteria my over-diligent parent’s screeching subsides.  Of the scrawny youth there is no sign – it has left us, though whether in the glory of flight or in the throat of the cat from number forty-two I have no way of knowing.   Just occasionally I will see a semi-feathered lump perched on my fence, beak opened demandingly while his father, who now looks smaller than he, pumps him with ‘special treats’, so I guess the family has known success.

I cannot claim, any more than my Blackbird friend can, that April has been a mellow month:  seventeen frosts to start our days, where ‘usually’ (I like that word when describing English weather) we might expect seven.  Rainy days?  Few, or none.  By afternoon the garden, like my Blackbird friend, is in full song; rich in the verdant greens of emerging youth, bright with colour, loud with bees, hoverflies and an elderly wasp who doesn’t seem to have learned his place.   The sun is not fierce, but it is warm enough.  There’s a chair, and a whisky waiting because I am that lucky man whose wife is a fanatical gardener.   She can take pleasure in creating life and I can spare the odd moment to watch.  

For the Blackbird, for every creature in Spring the emergent garden, the burgeoning heath is a place of business.  For me, it is a chance to listen, a season to enjoy however exhausting are those occasional rain-pursued retreats.  The life of the early season is a testament to youth that brings back to me the garden of my childhood home, the garden I described in ‘Hallbury Summer’, a book I serialized here a year or two ago.  There is no stream to burble by, where I am living now, no ‘pop’ of water-voles, few dragonflies; but the sounds, they are the same, the scents never change, and my sheer joy in the annual miracle is as fresh now, as it ever was.