Ten Things Every Writer Should Think About

I am suspicious of lists. I can only feel suspicious about definitive lists of essential knowledge. I would not, for instance, post Ten Things Every Writer Should Think About here. I would put it, say, elsewhere.

In truth, I would rather stay close to this end of the professional spectrum. The still-getting-the-hang end. It’s kind of warmer and more sociable here than out there where the stars hang in a winter sky and the plank you’re standing on is kind of fragile and public. So I am not going to take on the responsibility of declaring what (today) I think is essential. I have no idea. Tomorrow it will be different. There will be so much I haven’t thought of.

I am considering a pen name. Is that short-sighted? Cowardly? Missing the point? It’s like coming up with the name of a band. Fun but who cares?

Literary-wise, it’s all been a bit of a ride lately but the most exciting thing that has happened by far has been my son’s new obsession with reading. Under covers when he should be asleep. Legs crossed, reclining on the sofa. Splashing milk over his open book at breakfast. Getting dressed in a hurry so he can go back to his book. Always with a slight frown.

I ask him: “Do you understand all the words?”
“What do you do when you don’t understand a word?”
“I make it up.” (He is slightly irritated – well? What else would you do?)
When bits are boring he skips chapters.
When he’s really enjoying it he goes straight back to the first page when he reaches the last.
When he doesn’t quite get what’s going on he reads on until he does.  He thinks this is all obvious.

I do not think any of this is obvious. I carry an (electronic) dictionary with me at all times. I compulsively make lists of the books I have read and choose them by their relevance to – well – me. Obscurity makes me feel inadequate. On some level I am still trying to get it all right.

The same son also speaks French. (No, I don’t.) He has a few words and has watched some French language dvds. He knows what it sounds like (his voice becomes slightly quavery as though he is on the edge of a song.) How hard can it be? Of course he can speak French. Looks fun. Listen to this.

One Thing Every Writer Should Think About: Not thinking too much.


Leaving (1)

Very recently I was on the tube remembering another journey on the tube. On this other journey we had stopped at Baker St station and the carriage had all but emptied when I noticed a briefcase sitting near the door. No-one was near the briefcase and I was not the only one who had noticed it. There were shy, querying glances. Being a good ex-Londoner I started to sweat a little, weighed up the options, jumped up, leaned out the carriage door and yelled down the swarming platform (and I have a voice, let me tell you) :

“…has anyone left a briefcase on the train?”

A wag walked by muttering “…it’s a bomb…” without breaking stride.

I didn’t say:”…or someone’s briefcase.”

Nor did I say: “…pillock.”

No-one stopped, no-one even turned around, so I retreated back to my seat with a meek: “Well, I tried,” to the few passengers around, none of whom even broke a smile. Let’s be honest, none of whom now even dared eye contact.

With every visit back to London I thank my stars, just a little more vehemently, that we have left.

I was thinking this scenario through and collecting adjectives to describe that moment when the train pulls away – your bag on it. The cold, leaden-sick feeling, the dummy-chucking frustration, the isolation of the “…actually… hang on… where is my bag” instant. I wondered what had happened to the bag after the nonchalant TfL guy had carried it off at the next station. (“Excuse me? – hi – someone’s left their bag.”) How someone, somewhere was pulling at their hair thinking: “It’s got to be somewhere.” How they might be listing item by disposable item, the things in it.

Losing stuff – it’s finally so infantilising.

I lost my hat once, I was thinking, my favourite, my best, most happy hat – and the joy of getting it back months later, was almost worth the loss. There is a lesson in that, I was thinking. Surely it is good to let it all go? Letting go is good. Where does letting go merge with dumb, empty loss? I was wondering.

And at that moment – I missed my hat.

In my mind I saw it on the shelf on the train I had been sitting on less than half an hour ago. In my mind I rewound the insruction I had given myself to put it in my bag NOW. And how I had ignored it.

We pulled up at Warren St. I had twenty minutes to get to Euston to meet my friend. Plenty of time to get to Euston. Not enough time to go back to Victoria, chase a hat, then get back to Euston. I stepped onto the platform, did a quick sum, stepped back on the train, trailed a foot back on the platform. Make my friend wait? Make the most of my best chance to retrieve the Hat? Miss the hat, be late for friend. Hat. Friend. Hat. Friend. Then those dee-dee-dee noises as the doors shut. I stayed on the train. I jammed my hands in my pockets and regretted the breeze on my ears. I was early for my friend. Who was late.