Everything You Never Needed to Know About Inspiration and Where to Find it.

The real secret to finding inspiration, I am told, is to simply look more closely at what surrounds you every day…

Well, I am currently sitting where I always sit, at some stage, almost every day of my life.  Directly behind the laptop screen that I spend a fair chunk of my life staring blankly at, is a cork notice board.  It has photographs of my wife, my kids, my grandkids, my mum and my dad all pinned haphazardly to it in a manner that reminds me uncomfortably of the incident boards in TV detective dramas.  If I had some red string, I could be Vera.  There are no photos of me though.  Nobody is going to be able to think through that.  There is a wooden ruler, a memory stick on a piece of string (I have no idea what is on it – when I plug it in, the lights go out), a gizmo for getting the sim card out of an iphone, and what appears to be a small gobbet of pizza.  I don’t think that it actually is pizza but, if I am honest, I am not inclined to investigate too closely as I’m pretty sure that I didn’t put it there and I have the uneasy suspicion that it is growing a beard.

Along the wall above the cork board are shelves.  This is the only room in the house in which I am allowed to keep ‘my stuff’ and it is consequently choc-full of crap: shells and fossils from trips to the beach, a selection of mugs, a hand-forged nail I found on the floor at my daughter’s wedding, a ukulele, a hand-painted pint glass from my fortieth birthday, my felt fedora, my snakeskin boots, many many books, even more and manyer CD’s, DVD’s, a Melodica, a brass sundial, a selection of Victorian bottles dug from a golf course at the dead of night, a Marmite jar, a porcelain duck whose back lifts off to store God-knows-what, an anxious looking stress ball, a Meccano radio-controlled car, a mini-drone (still boxed, because I know my limitations), a microscope with a plastic penguin where the eyepiece should be, a knitted monkey and dust.  Lots and lots of dust.  Perhaps that is what is clogging my brain.

The books tell a bit of a story, I think*: Alan Coren, Spike Milligan and Tom Sharpe, all of whom, at one time or another, I have aspired to be.  Sherlock Holmes books – which I love for the slyly hidden comedy that runs through them – although, on occasions, I fear only seen by me – Inspector Morse books – which are brilliantly written, but far too complicated for my poor brain to hold together (I read them all many times without ever remembering whodunit, to whom they dunit or why they dunit) – Woody Allen – whose prose leaves me breathless, although I don’t read it so much since the ‘doubts’ set in – and a boxed set of The Lord of the Rings, upon which the dust is very thick indeed.  I have a ‘history’ of over fifty years with that particular trilogy.  It was the ‘must read’ of my sixth form days that I never quite managed to get through.  It left me cold – which wasn’t cool – and although well-meaning friends continue to try and draw me into this Elvin world, I remain defiantly detached from it.  It is part of a literary litany of books that I am not quite bright enough to enjoy (nor, in truth, to ever finish): Ulysses, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, Catch 22, The Catcher in the Rye, Pride and Prejudice, anything by Salman Rushdie (even the stuff that hasn’t quite managed to upset half the world) – I do not get lost in these books, I get lost on the way to them.  It is some form of selective dyslexia in which I understand the words, but I have absolutely no comprehension of (nor indeed interest in) what the sentences mean.  Give me Orwell, Bradbury, Stella Gibbons even, and I will read all day; give me Tolkien or Joyce (that’s James Joyce, not my Aunty Joyce, who to the best of my knowledge has never written anything more lurid than a note to the milkman) and I will stare at the pages as the words swim in front of my eyes like Busby Berkeley on acid, whilst my brain drowns behind them.  Inspiration lies in Coren, Milligan, Sharpe, all of whom I strive to emulate, all of whom I am desperate not to copy.  I cannot read Milligan when I am writing as everything emerges in substandard Milliganese.  I cannot read Coren because I am left limp by the knowledge that I cannot come close.  I cannot read Sharpe because I laugh like a drain and my mind becomes full of ever more elaborate plots from which I cannot begin to draw a coherent thread.

Atop the Milligan Shelf is a box of ‘Chinese Puzzles’ – little interlinked bits of fiendishly-shaped wire that you are meant to twist and manipulate in order to separate them.  I can only ‘solve’ them with pliers.  The box has a thick layer of dust on its unopened edges.  I don’t remember who bought it, but if ever I do, I will give it back.  I am also surrounded by musical instruments: the Melodica, the ukulele, a harmonica, two guitars and a box of kazoos.  I cannot play any of them, but I can make a noise.  It helps.

Most of the time, inspiration actually lies for me in three large tubs filled with pens and pencils of all types and hues.  I choose my pen before I write.  My pen decides what I will write and how I will write it.  Today it is green biro, the letters sloping gently forward.  Yesterday (checking back through my feint lined ‘School Essay’ book) it was red roller-ball and it sloped backwards**.  I haven’t yet tried cutting letters out of the newspapers, but it will come.  Meanwhile, I pluck away tunelessly on the red ukulele (which may or may not be in tune – who can tell?) and ponder my inability to get to grips with Hobbits, Irish drunkards and irony.  Most of all, I am left wondering why my green pen has just run out mid-word and pondering whether the time has come to look for a new colour of inspiration.  Anything as long as it is not indelible black…

*Oh come on.  It was there to hit, I couldn’t ignore it.

**Yes, I too have looked this up on Google and I am sure that it is wrong.  I am not mad!  Wibble.

The Writer’s Circle #17 – New Beginnings

It was towards the end of Elizabeth Walton’s first session at The Circle, having reached the decision that she was going to return, that she realised she would also actually have to start to write… 

…Having downsized from the large detached home she had shared with her husband, to the two-bed apartment in which she had rattled around since his death, she reviewed her options.  They were minimal.  The second bedroom – a little larger than a box room, but only if you used a smaller box – was the obvious choice for her ‘writing room’.  She bought a desk, actually a junk shop kitchen table, and a swivel chair from Argos, which she returned as soon as she realised that she was expected to put it together herself.  In any case, she had by then discovered that she was perfectly comfortable on the slightly more stable of the two dining chairs that had unexpectedly turned up with the table.  She bought cushions, she bought pads of lined paper, reams of printing paper, pens of many hues and a pencil sharpener shaped like a hedgehog (although, strangely, no pencils) which she carefully arranged around her laptop in what she imagined was a writerly manner, and she stared at the screen.  Many days later she was still staring at the screen.

It would seem that her claim to write Family Saga may have been particularly ill-judged.  It had popped into her mind in a moment of Deidre-induced stress and she had not anticipated the hurricane that was to blow in behind those two little words.  She had not, for instance, foreseen the possibility that she would be expected to provide some evidence of her toils at the wordy rock-face – especially not out aloud – nor that she would find the Family Saga novels which she had subsequently picked up as ‘research’ material from the charity shop so overwhelmingly boring.  And long.  No book should be so long.  Before she got half way through, she found that not only was she struggling to remember who, but also how, what, when and why.  Mostly why.  She had toyed with giving up and simply not returning to The Circle, but it represented a new page for her; an empty new page that she was determined to fill.  She considered confessing all to the other members and the idea was very attractive – until she thought of Deidre’s pinched face and she realised that, like a dog, she could never allow Deidre to sense weakness.

She began at first to jot down snatches of conversation both overheard and imagined.  She outlined half a dozen semi-plausible plots before, as she became increasingly familiar with her adopted genre, she found a way of crocheting them all together into the multi-hued bedspread she needed.  She began to see a path from beginning to end and characters began to draw themselves around her.  She filled pages with character descriptions; sat up into the early hours drawing up family trees that overlapped and bound themselves together like Velcro; wrote down a thousand forenames and prowled a dozen graveyards in the search for surnames.  She began to feel that she might be ready to write something that she could read to The Circle.  It did not need to be a beginning, it did not need to have a beginning; just a couple of thousand words that would demonstrate an ability to write at anything above chimpanzee/Olivetti level.  She felt perfectly confident that she could do that.  Well…

What she actually discovered was that a brain buzzing with ideas was simply not what was required for writing.  She had too many ideas: they bounced off the walls, they tripped over one another, wandered off into cul-de-sacs, seduced the vicar.  Each evening she sat down with a neatly assembled cast and watched on helplessly as it collapsed into anarchy before her like an amateur soufflé – full of all of the right ingredients, short of all the required air.  Panic, never deeply buried since the loss of her husband, rose up like porridge in a microwave, threatening to overwhelm the air of calm that she had so intently cultivated.  She returned to the circle, her seventh visit, determined to confess all before riding away, Shane-like, into the sunset.  Oh, if only she’d said that she wrote westerns…

…It was the evening of Phil’s big idea.  They had all drawn genres: Phil had drawn ‘Play’, Billy had drawn ‘Detective’, Penny had drawn ‘Family Saga’ and Elizabeth had drawn ‘Humour’.  Beyond that she could not recall.  In her brain, a number of little cogs had ceased to whirr.  Comedy!  What on earth did she know about comedy?  Well, if she was honest, probably pretty much as much as she knew about Family Saga.  She also knew that it had a much shorter word count.  But she was a widow, for goodness sake!  A relatively recent widow.  What did she have to laugh about?

It was later, much later that evening, in the sleepless darkness that preceded the dawn, that she found herself staring at the wall of her bedroom, taut and confused as the Cinemascopic clarity of her past few months played out on the screen at the back of her mind.  She expected gloom, probably she wanted gloom, but what she got was world-class ineptitude: a woman so ill-equipped for the solitary life that she had fabricated a life as an author in order to find company.  She felt tears begin to well in her eyes, but when, eventually they fell, they did so not in pain but in joy: the joy of seeing herself for what she was – as she was sure others must see her – and not hating herself for it.  The joy of seeing each faltering step she had taken, of witnessing each calamitous event and realising that, in the very midst of it all she had remained standing: like a floral patterned lighthouse in a broiling storm of inconsequential travails, shining the very same light that would illuminate her way – like the Lady of the Lamp, only with a smartphone – and she couldn’t help but smile at the fool she had allowed herself to become.  She saw the world – the world of now – in a new light: like the blinding moment of stepping out into the real world from a cinema matinee, and she realised that she did have something to tell the group about.  It might not be ‘Family Saga’ and it almost certainly would not be ‘Comedy’, but she thought that it might just make them smile and, for now, that was all that she wanted…

‘The Writer’s Circle’ began here with ‘Penny’s Poem’.
The most recent tale from the Circle, ‘The Lure of Summer’ is here.
Episode 18 ‘As It Is’ is here.