About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Never Swallow Flies

There is just the first hint of autumn in the air. Or if not autumn, precisely, then a sense that summer has peaked and is now on the lazy downward slope. Maybe it was the handful of yellow leaves falling from the lime trees on the Close as I set out on my run; or that certain angle of light that betrays the sun is a little lower in the sky.

Not a bad run, today, although I swallowed a fly in Beacon Park. Flies are a constant hazard for runners. What are your options? Run with your mouth closed? Impossible. Run with clenched teeth? (I do that up steep hills.) Maybe the answer is to keep your eyes peeled for insects and shut your mouth before you plunge into a cloud of midges. But you can’t watch the air and scan for dog crap. Or dogs. Small dogs are a hazard too. You really don’t want to tread on a miniature poodle. It could take several hundred yards to dislodge it from your shoe. You might as well go out running in those amusing animal slippers you see in the shops around Christmas, the ones that look as though you’ve decided to keep your feet warm by burying them in the entrails of a small mammal.

But back to flies. Maybe I should just man up (as the young say) and swallow the fly. After all, it won’t kill me. Unless, like the old woman, I seek to remedy it by eating a spider, and so on, up the food chain, until I foolishly swallow a horse. Which would be fatal. Of course. Instead I ran the next fifty yards hawking and gobbing in a blokish way, so I suppose I sort of did man up.

And from flies it is but a short step to writing novels. Sometimes I feel like a blue bottle at a window. I can see the garden out there that I’m trying to get to. I have a story in my head I want to tell. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again! Maybe I’m doing it wrong? That has to be the way! Look, there, there! I can see it—trees, flowers, fresh air. Maybe if I come at it from a different angle? Maybe my technique is wrong? What if I take a longer run-up? Aim higher? Lower? More gently?

People are always asking writers ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ Ideas are not the problem. Ideas are ten a penny. Open your newspaper. Look around your friends and neighbours. Ransack your experience. Beg, steal or borrow. The problem is how to cast your idea in the right form. The material is there, but how to tell the tale—that’s the question. You’d think you could come up with a cracking story, and just tell it. But no. I can spend years circling round Planet Novel looking for a place to land.

But then, miraculously, one day when you gear up for another grim session of window-bumping—and you’re through. In the garden. Woo hoo! What’s the secret? I have no idea.

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