I walked around the house yesterday morning and had sudden flash back of the SAS agents on the TV news the night before.
Picture this: a six foot tall lithe male body, back towards me, pulling longish looking tools out of a silver utility, all the while touting the seasons colour. Black. Clad in black in fact, from head to reinforced toe lace-up work books. Around his waist he sported a handyman’s belt holding an assortment of gadgets. Tear gas and a Taser perhaps?
Then he turned around and smiled behind his grubby dust mask.
The mask and his stained hands were a bit of a giveaway. Yet I still half expected him to grab an AK47 (or whatever weapons the NZ SAS use) and strap it to his back. Instead he slung a black PVC pipe, holding a round headed brush similar to a toilet scrubber (also black), over his shoulder. Next he lifted out a supersized looking stainless steel suction contraption and walked inside.
My husband had booked this young modern day chimney sweep after the fire in our bedroom nearly asphyxiated us one night. We were having a read-in at the time. Well read-aloud actually. This was my antidote to my husband objecting to me reading in bed after (his) lights out. ‘What if I read to you?’ I asked. All started well, the pine cones crackled in the grate; the flames licked upwards, red crystals on a black throat. All hypnotizing for the ‘listener’.
However, chaos was with a capital S was about to unfold. Once two small willow logs were added, the flames damped down and the room began to fill with acrid wood smoke. Strangely enough the read-aloud ambience was smothered. The book was put aside, the windows and doors were flung open and we huddled under extra duvets cursing nesting birds and soot build up. Both waking the following morning, after a restless night, with hair that stunk like a barbecue and sooty head colds.
This reading-aloud-in-bed malarkey came to mind when I read online this week (via openculture.com), Earnest Hemingway’s advice for fiction writers. Hemingway suggests at the end of the day the writer must read. Not worry and think about his work in progress, because this will make it stale, leave it to marinate in the subconscious he said and read. He also suggested exercise to make the writer, ‘tired in the body, and it was very good to make love with whom you loved’. As opposed to a total stranger I presumed? Apparently, ‘that was better than anything’.
Oh to be a writer in 1930s Paris. Hemingway, Henry Miller or Gertrude Stein had it all. And they did not have to cope with the distractions of the modern age. COMPUTERS.
I don’t think I ever get writer’s block as such, I just get screen block. It’s too easy to flit here and there under the guise of ‘research’. And my facebook family is like the close nit critique group I don’t belong to. Just now I posted a status about a name dilemma I was having with a boy character. Over the next half hour I had replies from lovely author friends: Melinda, Kyle, Maria, Elizabeth, Maureen, all offering helpful and timely feedback. Hemingway may have had the rooftops of Paris to gaze over while ruminating plot points or character traits, but he didn’t have cyber-writers at his fingertips.
However, another suggestion of Hemingways (from A Moveable Feast) to overcome writers block I will use. ‘Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
I’ll be writing that sentence staring into the fire with some mandarins peels very soon. The kids are going through bucket loads, of mandarins that is. Or possibly I’ll be reading, The Old Man and the Sea, aloud, especially now that the chimneys are clean.