On the way to work one sodden morning last week, I saw a woman with a clear dome umbrella; how she could see where she was going is beyond me, it had steamed up enough to obscure her face. Through the exhilirating 20-minute walk in the early morning gloom, as the rain only got heavier and the skies darker, I kept myself distracted from the way my skirt was clinging to my knees as I walked, by contemplating the stories behind that umbrella.
I might not always manage to convey them successfully, but the images in my head and the desire to lift them out and show them to people are always there, and I think always have been. By the time I reached my desk, my hand was so cold and wet it was hard to hold a pen properly (if it had been autumn, I would have worn gloves on a morning like this, but why would I have gloves to hand in summer? Unless of course I’d learned anything from past experience), but I needed to scribble down the ideas chasing round my head, even if most of them would amount to nothing. I almost always have a notebook and pen with me, and at work I have an out-of-date desk diary, mostly blank, that I keep for lunchtime scrawls or early-morning ideas.
Ideas, and snippets of dialogue, are not a problem – like Alan Bennett (one of my inspirations) I keep my ears peeled on the bus, and sometimes I strike gold. My main stumbling block is following an idea through to fruition, or fitting smart dialogue into a reasonable context. I start twenty different stories, some at the beginning and some in the middle, and finish one or two by the end of a year, if I’m lucky. Sometimes I forget where I was going, or my style and taste change so much in the meantime that I abandon a piece, but I might plunder it for one or two particularly good lines or images.
I keep telling myself that if I got down to this properly, if I sat at my keyboard for eight hours every weekend, an hour every evening before bed, I could finish most things I started, get more stories out there, and (statistically, anyway) have a better chance of getting published. As it is, I could faff for Britain, and if I really wanted to concentrate on one story, I’d have to try and ignore all the other ideas that came to me while I was writing it. What if one of them was the queen of them all?