Blog First Published by Scottish Book Trust
I find myself at my (many) bookshelves when I’m writing. Lonely, I get up from my work and look out my old friends; I reach out to Janice Galloway, Louise Erdrich, Alice Munro, Angela Carter, Zadie Smith, Toni Morrison, Carol Ann Duffy and Maya Angelou. I go to them for a quiet word, or for a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, a poem, a first chapter, or a last line to keep me going. I go for words of encouragement, for words of beauty, for words to soothe me, for words to provoke me, to push and pull me. If I am fool enough to pick up Arundhati Roy’s, The God Of Small Things then I am stuck in those first hundred or so - stunning - pages, in the heat, in the springs, leaps and punches until it’s time to pick up my kids, missing whole precious days, but I find when I can finally leave her, my writing is like a fox running from the hunt.
When I am writing, when I am daydreaming, I can’t read anything new. I can’t make new friends, I can’t take their showing off, can’t risk them leaving me stunned, I need old friends, for I know their surprises, their acrobatics and I know when to look away, know where I stand, at the back. I am like a tolerated child at the adult table; eating politely, trying so hard to be good. I can’t go with someone new and go with them into new worlds. I can’t go falling in love with the unknown; I don’t have the confidence! It’s the familiar I need. It’s the words already chewed over, like a baby weaning; I need it soft, I need it smooth, I need it checked. I am too ready to choke, too ready to be left mute.
My old friends, my cool friends, my friends like wise crones, sit upright on my dusty shelves and speak to me, comfort me, pull me away from my laptop, from my notebook, from my pacing and in their yellowing pages I find solace, inspiration and the push to keep going. I find as my fingers run along their spines, my fingertips bring out their words in whispers of my own voice, their little moments, their treasures, their finds, their answers.
Whilst working on my last wee batch of stories I was to be found with Anne Enright (especially her masterly opening of The Gathering) and my story just finished was written falling from the dizzying heights of Seonaid Morrissey’s poetry, and Dilys Rose’s All the little Loved Ones is my mark in the sand, a measure which I line up each finished story of my own to, and then, inevitably, turn away saying nearly, almost, not quite.
When my words flee from me, I am to be found walking the streets of Baltimore with Anne Tyler and when I am low and think that I should press Delete and get on with the more important things of life, I take down Jackie Kay from my highest shelf, safe from the grubby fingers of my children and with a hot coffee, I curl up by the window and remind myself of how beautiful your song can be. With Jackie I dream of the writer I want to be, of where on the shelves I want to sit.
And when I just need to forget it all, the blank page, myself, the rain, the stuff of life, when I need a treat, an escape, a secret cave to retreat to -- I am under the covers with Ian Rankin, Louise Welsh, Anne Cleaves, Steig Larsson, PD James and there in their thrilling dark I run fast from it all.