In times of trouble

In times of trouble, what do I do? I retrench, engage in lots of quick-fire displacement activity – my favourites include clearing out the kitchen cupboards and throwing out ‘stuff’ – and like a magpie I shop for small things and think about judicious hoarding of essentials – brown rice, favourite wholemeal pasta, a carton or two of long-life milk for emergencies.

And speaking personally, when I’m stressed, I read as though my life depends on it: novels, non-fiction and just about anything I can get my hands on. Some others might use that sense of urgency and gentle panic to write; and I might, too, were it not for the dozens of excuses that crowd my brain: it’s the holidays, my family are around, I don’t feel like it, I can’t settle… As the author Winifred Watson – in the preface to the new ‘Persphone’ edition to her novel “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” – told her interviewer, “You can’t write when you’re never alone”.  

Original ‘Persphone’ Edition of ‘Miss Pettigrew’

What is the trouble? Not merely an accustomed, lived-with malaise at the way life has settled into seemingly unbreakable rhythms of lock-down and doing less, while doing endless things for others. A shift in emphasis from the foreign to the more domestic seems, in my case, to translate into a strong disinclination to go back to working on my own novels and short stories – not the ones I’m reading, but those I am writing and that date from before lockdown.

 So much of what I might, or should, or may otherwise have to deal with, feels as if it’s currently stalled in a gigantic ‘pending’ folder, while still intruding into my thoughts to demand attention. And when I do get a sunny space, and some time in which I might work – and I do feel immensely fortunate in life – I would far rather read other stories than attempt to listen to my characters and fashion outcomes with them… They might starve for want of attention, but when I try to give them some sustenance, I find myself empty, and unable to assist even though I want to.

I can only apologise. I do hope that when I feel ready to start writing again, my characters are still speaking to me.

Thanks for listening.


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