Saturday, 4 February 2012
OFF DUTY - LINDA MITCHELMORE PONDERS IF SHE EVER IS
Are writers ever off duty? I ask. You know - the way doctors always respond to that cry 'is there a doctor in the house' and stop on their journey to wherever they might be going to tend to some poor soul who has fallen in the street? Is there some sort of unwritten/unspoken oath a writer takes to absorb copy wherever they go?
Take the experience of my writer friend - let's call her X. She rang and said could I go over. Now. Right this minute. She had something she had to get off her chest and I was the only one of her (local) writer friends who would understand. So, rather anxious and taking a bottle of wine to drown sorrows if sorrows needed to be drowned, I went. X had not long been widowed after nursing her much loved and loving husband for the better part of a year. What might she be about to tell me?
"I feel terrible," she said, the second she opened the door to let me in. "Promise you won't hate me."
"Promise," I said.
Now, I never, ever, break promises unless there's some outside influence that means I have to - like bad weather closing roads and railways so I can't get to wherever it is I've promised to be.
But I nearly broke that promise because I have to say I was shocked at what she had to say. X, her voice barely a whisper, told me that as she held her dying husband's hand she knew there was a part of her brain that was recording everything in case it might be useful to her writing later.
Well, dear reader, it was.
I've just said I was shocked - but should I have been? X has written millions more words and is much more widely published than I am. But as my word count mounts up I find myself remembering things I thought I'd forgotten. Or consiously putting a very personal memory from long, long ago - long before ever I thought to get my words in print - into a short story. One of those personal memories was my father telling me that when he was in Italy during the war he was surprised to find orange trees growing on some of the railway stations. Oh yes? I thought at the time.
But...I wrote - and had published some 40 years later - a short story in which I wrote about orange trees greeting my heroine on a railway station. I hadn't even been to Italy at that time! But, when I did get there I saw for myself that yes, there were indeed orange trees on some railway stations, albeit the very bitter variety.
I'm fortunate in that I've only ever known real fear once - the night my daughter (then a teenager with all the angst that some teenaged girls get) went missing. It was October. Wet and wild and cold. I remember thinking at the time that I would never forget that dreadful fear - and I haven't. However, I can conjure up that feeling if ever I need to when writing fiction - and I get that shoulder shudder, that icy ripple up my spine, that jagged breathing, when I do.
These days I find myself conciously, in many situations, stepping back a little - mentally, that is. I log the mood, the scent, the colour, the temperature and at some time hence I will find all those things falling into a story.
I often wonder if others notice I do this If they notice I'm not 'with them' as it were? The truth is I'm probably more 'in the moment' than they are.
This morning my husband said he fancied a long walk across the beach and over the cliffs. Did I want to go? (I was doing some editing at the time). Well, I couldn't get my hat and coat and boots and gloves and scarf quickly enough, because as he spoke there was a flurry of snow outside. I rarely set stories in cold weather. Perhaps it was time I did?
Well, the walk was good. Very good. Hardly a soul about. The rough seas of the previous day had littered the beach with razor clam shells and starfish and crabs of varying sizes. And mountains of seaweed piled haphazardly.
"Glad I dragged you out?" my husband said.
"Very," I replied.
Excuse me.....I feel a short story coming on..............
P.S. My daughter was found safe and well!