It’s been several years since I had one of those experiences but I had one this evening and as I write this I am still in a state of mild shock as a consequence.
I don’t know how other people get ideas for novels but I get them in one of two ways. Either I start with something small, an idea, a character, a place, a situation and then slowly build the story around it.
Alternatively, very occasionally, I am just sitting there, generally talking to someone, and I suddenly realise that the shape of a story is forming in my mind, a huge lump of it coalescing out of nowhere, starting off all shadowy and dim but getting more and more sharply defined with each second.
By now I’m no longer listening to whatever it was that the person I was speaking to was saying because my mind is turned completely inwards. My heartbeat is going like a train, I’m starting to hyper-ventilate and my whole body is tingling. I’m aware that there’s a very strong chance I might pass out if I allow it to go on much longer but I don’t want it to stop because the longer I can keep it going the more of the story I will see.
When I was younger I could keep concentrating for very much longer. I was braver then. But I’m fifty-six now and frankly I’m a little worried that I will have an aneurism or something. So eventually I decide to cash in my winnings and go home with what I’ve got. I make a list of the important points, along with a few of the choicest details, the ones I really enjoyed, and then I let my attention waver, telling myself that I’ll remember, yes of course I will.
But I’m lying, and I know I’m lying. The truth is that what I’ll have to do for the next six months is try to recreate the vision as best I can from the few pathetic fragments that are all I actually came away with. It’s always the same. I thought I had enough in my basket but when I look it’s just a handful of leaves and straw and bits of broken plaster, the head of a china doll, some bits of an old clay pipe, a torn fragment of a photograph, bus-tickets, sweet wrappers, and a piece of old carpet that got left out in the rain. And then I find it, under all this old junk there’s a single golden coin with my own head upon it.
The question is: will I be able to buy anything with it tomorrow?