As a general rule I think writers block isn’t a bad thing. It does dam up a steady trickle of tripe and when the tripe is from others, well, hallelujah, there’s absolutely no downside. When I’m the one blocked, the world isn’t missing much. Those readers chewing their nails for the next EJ Lamprey, well, my last two novels sold a bit but enthusiasm was unexpressed. I’m as grateful because reviews would have been, at the least, puzzled.
(I wrapped up the ten book Lawns series at long and complicated length in 19 20, and Do-Over . . . well, Do-Over was written in one spectacular joyous evening when the dam, for once, broke. It then took TEN MONTHS to tease into a book and sank like a stone on publication which is a shame because it hung on to that lunatic rollercoaster feeling and I like it very much)
Do-Over was the exception that proved the rule in a long block and I do blame my new life. Three years ago on a week’s holiday in Spain, practically to the day, (tomorrow is the day) I saw this uniquely odd house. BAM. It had stood empty for a couple of years, was so run down the few viewers before me had stopped dead in the doorway – the sort of house agents start with, you know the pitch, the next one is a little above your budget but remember you do get what you pay for.
Not me. I saw four more houses but beetled back to see this one again, walking around dazed with delight. I patched plaster-crumbling walls without even seeing them, completely overlooked sagging ceilings, furnished one particular room with my desk and bookshelves (a STUDY of my OWN for the first time EVER) and peopled it with ink-stained scribbling guests having a wonderful time. I flew back to Scotland still dazed and thanking Providence that I had just been made redundant and was free to sell up and dash out to start this new and dazzling life in my new and wonderful guesthouse.
Six months later I’d given up: nothing had gone smoothly, my house simply wouldn’t sell, I was living on capital when every penny of it would have been needed in Spain, the dream wasn’t going to happen. Time to give up, take my house in Scotland off the market, look for another job where I was, behave like a normal not-far-off-retirement rational human being.
As a sign of acceptance, a last nod to the dream and what might have been, I wrote a story about what I was calling the Elefante Blanco, a book for children with a 9 year old protagonist. I knew my fading memories of the house weren’t entirely accurate, so I wrote it as it should be. Why not? I’d never live there. I peopled it with the writer guests I wanted, and gave it an owner who could have lived such a life since it wouldn’t, sniff, be me. There were a few all-nationalities neighbours and very little about the Spanish town and the lifestyle because I knew very little about the Spanish town and the lifestyle. The Kidnap Caper got as far as a few beta readers (finding 9 year old readers isn’t as easy as you’d think, by the way) and then suddenly everything started happening and my house was sold and it was all go go GO and the Elefante Blanco story belonged to an alternative world.
It was to be the last story in a long long time to flow effortlessly. For years writing had come as naturally as breathing, something that fizzed and jiggled and bubbled endlessly, and I told myself it was because the refurbishment was so very much bigger than anticipated (it always is) and my new teaching job was draining my creativity and I was soaking up impressions and life was so very different.
I’m one of those writers who has to write, if not from life, from the life I know, and I knew very little. Not that I ever knew everything, all those whodunits, I’ve never really seen a murdered body, certainly never tripped over a fresh one. I’d more than once phoned Police Scotland direct on some procedural stuff and they’d been endlessly patient and helpful. My Spanish was and is exceedingly pidgin. Phoning any branch of the policia here was never going to be an option. Writers block may be a boon to the writing world generally but it is a personal anguish, a mental constipation which becomes very painful. A year ticked by, and another, and 2020 dawned and I’d started and discarded at least nine book ideas, every one of them stilted and laboured and going nowhere.
When a story did finally start scrabbling for a foothold it was an Elefante Blanco one, picking up all the adult characters from the Kidnap Caper. Harriet Gant, who owns and runs the Elefante Blanco, which is not quite this house, has a life which is not my life, friends who do not exist in real life but are taken from life, and a murder or two to solve in a country where she is still finding her feet. Total fiction drawing on actual fact, familiar stuff, and writing is once again and at last, FUN. Whoop whoop!
Brace yourself, dear reader, because if this one gets past beta readers it may eventually be published, but right now I’m happy for me and oh wow it feels GREAT to have that dratted block gone.
THREE YEARS since you first saw it Elizabeth? Wow! Good luck with the bubbling ideas for Elefante Blanco – and have bubbles of the other kind tomorrow! (While we’ll bear listening to the SONA address by the pres of this poor beleaguered country …)