A decade or so ago, in a completely different lifetime, I had a Very Important Career and line managed a large team of committed people working in remote locations. I journeyed the length and breadth of two counties to supervise and support them; attend meetings and promote the activities of my company.
To while away my solitary travels, I indulged in fantasies concerning the occupants of the villages I drove through, the quirky cottages I passed and the woods and open landscapes that surrounded them. I borrowed unusual names from signposts, shop frontages and the sides of work vans for my locations and characters. A ring of ancient trees standing out against the setting sun; a disused gate in an ivy-clad wall; the hump-backed bridge over a tumbling stream and vandalised scarecrow entries in a parish competition provided inspiration for the first draft of a novel that’s yet to be kicked into shape.
The opening chapters entertained my terminally ill mother, when the prospect of a future that we would not share became too painful for us both. Fully accepting the reality of our situation, we’d retreat into a world where our unwilling hero was challenged by magic woodland creatures to complete a quest that would result in his coming of age. Writing this now, I can clearly see the connection between the enormous, black crow that impeded his progress and the shadow cast over us by her malignant disease.
Which makes what happened next inevitable, though I’ve just realised why. When she was gone I could no longer write. Try as I might (and believe me, I tried), the words simply ceased to flow. My people stopped talking. I stopped writing.
Although not entirely – I hastily scribbled a retrospective journal of the last eight weeks of her life, with an avid compulsion to get it all down before I forgot how it felt. Documenting the highlights – and there were more than a few – to balance out the tough stuff. To make sense of both our lives.
Over the next few years I struggled to compose the simplest piece of prose – although unstructured poetry sometimes popped into my head. I found that not writing anything is impossible for me and I couldn’t help trying to re-enter that ‘zen’ state, where words flow naturally and effortlessly. It’s been so elusive and frustrating and I’ve become disheartened so many times, yet – like a junkie – unable to say ‘no more’.
Then, on Thursday evening, as I was driving to a meeting of my writing group, the characters in my latest short story began to talk to each other. Hallelluliah! I could clearly picture the scene, what had to go into it and where it had to be placed. The paragraphs I had written so far were ‘back-to-front’, which is why the piece – and even the working title I’d chosen for it – hadn’t been making sense. During the meeting I scrambled to jot down the salient points, writing them up later that evening and the following day.
I’m truly grateful that my muse decided to (finally) put in another appearance, enabling me to build on my recently documented minor success. But would it be tempting fate to ask her to visit me at home, when I’m sitting in front of a computer, rather than when I’m negotiating darkened country lanes?