To many, writers (and other artists) can come across as erratic, moody, mercurial, unmanaged, unmanageable and unreliable.
We don’t appear to have regular working hours and equally, it’s not always clear what we’re doing or how we do it. Often we are solitary creatures, requiring vast oceans of time to ourselves–when we’re generally uncommunicative, and frequently rather grizzly to even our best beloved.
The past few weeks have been, I know, rather trying for many writers.
Holidays are difficult in and of themselves–there are so many people about, do you see? And unless we’re very organised and have very understanding families, (I’m thinking of P.G. Wodehouse here, who managed to write for five hours a day, Christmas, New Year’s and Easter inclusive), we become, well, resty, with all this company.
Because the solititude is vital. Think of artists–painters perhaps. Generally, historically, they painted in silence–so that nothing could distract their eye from that landscape or seascape or vision they were trying to capture on canvas.
Writers have that eye too. Only the vision, the landscape or peoplescape is inward, inside our heads, in our imaginations. Our canvas is the page.
But then came the disruption of the snow to many parts of Britain. And the incessant warbling of the media about what surely is a natural event. And the inability to manage even the most basic services. Hence schools closing or the need to fetch children at uncertain hours…and working from home…
All of which cut into that time listening to our inner voices, viewing our inner visions, and the work of synthesising those ideas, images and sounds into words that sing without melody.
I have tried in all of this to find some lining of silver, or even gold. So I have spent many mornings walking. Walking in the snow. Listening to the sound my boot makes with each step. Observing the birds that still come out to caw and call despite the intemperence; how the colours of the landscape and houses are all muted. Feeling the cold and the snow falling upon my face. Taking in everything I could about this seasonal phenomenon, so that I could write it, not from memory, but from real.
Because, you see, two hundred years ago, they had lots of the stuff. Heaps of it, quite literally. In January 1811, Edinburgh and London both recorded a foot of snow. January and February 1813 were among the coldest on record. The Thames even froze solid in 1811, 1812, and 1813-14; and the ice was so deep and solid, that they held the famous Frost Fairs on the it…
So, although the house was not empty, as it often is in January, I have found my solitude and a place in which to research and to listen to those inner voices…and while I am not unhappy that the cold and snow and sleet appears now to have wafted off, to me, in a way, this has all been a great gift. Another opportunity to walk in my characters’ shoes, quite literally, through the snow, along the river, to watch the swans–white against the white landscape–and to listen to the extra-ordinary quiet of falling snow.
And now, with that, I will go back to the hours alone, spent writing. Which is, if the truth be told, the way to make a writer happiest (sane, balanced, even-tempered, genial, affable, charming, convivial…)