Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Four Random Views

A baby moorhen chick sat atop the mound of its nest three feet inside a Hampstead Heath pond at the weekend, chirping. Its parent was at the bank, pulling off a leaf. The adult bird brought the leaf back to the nest, added it to the edge as fortification (presumably), then went off on some more foraging. Home building, home maintenance, use of the wild, childrearing - brilliant stuff. I can't see all that intelligence being housed in the bird. It's got to be a more general intelligence that the bird simply tunes int to, surely. A great intelligence.
Writing for me is a bit like that. It's going beyond yourself. Like the moorhen, I keep my critical faculties alive ... trim this, add that, it will be better. What I always want to do is to surprise myself. It often takes patience to do that, letting the more humdrum ideas come and go. Surprising myself means letting my book happen, not squeezing it into my prescribed lines.

On Sunday James and I took a stroll around Brent Reservoir, on the edge of London. I was chatting away to James about my eyesight. I’ve noticed of late how I cannot read from my left eye even with glasses. Lose my right eye and I would be officially blind, I told him. If that happened, I mused, I would learn braille.
I paused the conversation to lead the way along a narrow path through woodland. A willow branch had been cut and hung above the path at a curious angle. I did not see it. It glanced off my right eyebrow, pressed my eyelid closed, and struck its final blow just below the eye socket. It was cut and bruised, but that’s all.
How odd, I’m talking about losing the sight in my right eye, and a moment later a branch comes as close as it can to poking my right eye out.
In fiction, it would look too contrived.


I’m writing this in France, having come down to our Pyrenean home for two weeks of stillness and moving my new novel forward. This year has been consumed by travel. On my new train route between Plymouth and London I pass two white horses carved into hillsides. From the plane yesterday I looked down on the white spiralling fans of a windfarm and they had some of that same emblematic effect of the white horses. They’re waving their arms up at the sky, saying look, at least we’re trying.

I’m writing this new novel by hand, in a slim manuscript book. At least work can’t simply disappear into a screen that way, the computer randomly erasing files. So I thought I was safe. I hadn’t realized a new danger that has come in since I last wrote in this way. Recycling. Looking for my book to bring it down to France with me, it had vanished. It turned up, thankfully, among the Sunday supplements and old magazines in the paper recycling bag.

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