Saturday, 27 December 2008


I once ran an evening class in Creative Writing. I didn’t particularly enjoy it because some of the students were very strange indeed. There was one man, for example, who reminded me of an autistic Sherlock Holmes. He was in his thirties, tall and thin with very straight brown hair, a high forehead, prominent cheekbones and an aquiline nose. He hardly said a word but every week he came to the class with a slightly different version of the same story, each time apparently convinced that he had written something quite new.

The story generally started something like this: ‘I hear a key turn in the lock. The door creaks open and they enter the house.’ He would then go on to describe a group of people of varying number, but always at least two, walking slowly and carefully up the stairs of a suburban terraced house which he often protrayed in immense detail, right down to the pattern of the wallpaper. They never spoke; all were too intent on their purpose. In their hands they clutched knives and forks.

The narrator who was clearly in a state of great agitation, grew more and more terrified as he chronicled the progress of these mysterious individuals, through each of the bedrooms in turn. Only when they finally stood outside the door of the uppermost bedroom, did it become clear that he was telling the story while strapped to a bed inside and that the silent individuals who stood ready to enter the room were members of his own family whose purpose was to eat him alive. See what I mean when I say, strange?

I asked him once what inspired this story. Christmas, he told me.

Well I hope your Christmas wasn’t too much like his. Mine was very, very relaxed. Nice food, music, dvds and pleasant company. I didn’t turn the computer on for two days. But I could hear it calling to me all the time, whispering my name in the dead of night.

There would have been no point, of course. Writing is all about concentration and I find it impossible to concentrate for at least a week before or after Christmas. It’s a writer’s wasteland: a great swathe of the imagination blanketed in snow.

But a thaw is coming. I can hear the sound of trickling water. And so I have turned my computer back on and I am looking forward to returning to work. No one has eaten me alive, I’m pleased to say. And I very much hope the same is true for you. 

1 comment:

Paul Lamb said...

Having not (yet) been eaten by my own house guests, I respond to your post. I once frequented a library on my lunch hour at the office where I had worked some years ago. It happened that I often shared a table there with a man who was clearly mentally ill though apparently not dangerous. He sat in the chair, looking about furtively and mumbling to himself. He also made notes on slips of paper the library provided for writing down call numbers. When he was finished with whatever tormented his mind at the time, he would rise abruptly and leave the library, leaving behind those slips of paper. Whenever I could, I collected those to see what he had written. It was always disjointed stuff, full of paranoia and strange references. (I have those notes in a file somewhere still.) Much is said about the fine line between art and madness, and when I read his writings, I wonder just how close I am to falling in to his abyss.