|Portrait of Jean Miélot by Jean Le Tavernier |
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Just a small thought for the day, today. I have recently discovered the genius of Jane Gardam (oh, where on earth have I been?) and over Christmas I read her marvellous novel set during the Second World War, A Long Way from Verona. Its protagonist is thirteen-year-old Jessica Vye, a would-be writer, who lives with her parents and younger brother in a small house that affords precious little privacy to anyone (lying in bed, for example, she can hear every word being said about her in the kitchen below). It's a fantastic novel in so many ways, but what I would like to pick out now is a passage in which Jessica tells us how her father - a clergyman, who writes articles for The New Statesman in his spare time - works himself up, in his study, to write:
You should see him preparing to write his articles. He tidies his desk, brushes the fireside, winds the clock, shakes the clock, opens the back of the clock and takes all its insides out. Then he throws all the bits away. Then he gathers them all up again and stands looking at them for half an hour. Then he arranges them in rows, scratches his head, picks his teeth, sits down and takes his shoes off and smells them. Then he puts his head in his hands for an hour or two and then he shouts, 'Oh shut up all of you out there,' and starts typing. When we tell him about it he is surly. 'It's nervous,' he says, 'I'm only thinking.'
(A Long Way from Verona, by Jane Gardam, pp.186-7)
This is simply the most wonderful description I have ever read of the very particular, very peculiar state one can get into when working oneself up to write. To others it may look like procrastination - in fact it is anything but. (For a delightful strip cartoon by Stephen Collins about what is procrastination, on the other hand, click here.) There is something about the intense concentration, and yet at the same time the distractedness (was Jessica's father even aware that he was smelling his shoes?), that Gardam has captured exactly. And with her characteristic humour and warmth, too.
It may be inevitable that we are not quite conscious of what we do in such a state, pre-writing, and I'm still wondering, as I type this, what it is that I do (though I can guarantee it's nothing that looks as graceful as this: click here). But I know many of you reading this will be far more self-aware, so I would like to ask: have you noticed what you do when getting yourself mentally prepared - for writing, for performing, or for anything else you undertake?
H.M. Castor's novel VIII - a new take on the life of Henry VIII, for teenagers and adults - is published by Templar in the UK, by Penguin in Australia, and will be published in the US by Simon & Schuster later this year.
H.M. Castor's website is here.