Yesterday evening I was going to write a long blog post. I can’t remember what about, but it’s irrelevant because we had two power cuts in short succession at exactly the point at which I was going to come into the office and write it, so I ended up penning the short poem about magpies you read yesterday straight into the blog interface – I must admit that I’d already scribbled down the first line into my notebook during the day when I’d heard the magpies chattering away to each other in the garden. It just goes to show how important it is to listen to the sounds around you when you’re outside.
People always ask me if I listen to podcasts or music when I go for my daily walks, and I always say no, because I think it’s really good and useful to listen to the world around me. The best tool a writer has is misheard conversations, because they can trigger some left-brain process which leads off into plots which can be surreal and gripping. A few months ago I was on one such walk, and, from a distance, saw two women with pushchairs standing on the path I always walk down. One of the women was visibly sobbing, and the other woman looked like she wanted to give her a hug, but was just gently resting her hand on the arm of the sobbing woman. I walked past them, giving them a wide berth, not just because of covid, but because I didn’t want them to think I was intruding. I only caught a few words of what they were saying, and haven’t yet incorporated those words or the women’s actions into any of my writing, but am sure I will, and there is any number of possible plots to be created from that one simple observation.
Being multilingual also has its advantages for a writer. When I was in New York for the start of my Dead Men book tour in 2012, I remember sitting by the Hudson river opposite the Statue of Liberty, and just down the road from Ground Zero, having a smoke on a bench, when two female joggers came to a standstill a few metres away from me. They then started talking in Norwegian, presumably assuming that I was American and didn’t speak a single syllable of any foreign language at all. But I do. It turns out that one of them had sat on my bench with a man and snogged him there for the very first time, and ended u marrying him. But they’d split up a few months ago, though, apparently, and sadly. I sat as still as possible and made sure that I kept my eyes and face trained on the statue across the river so they wouldn’t know I could understand every word they were saying. That, too, has not yet found its way into any fiction or poetry of mine, I think.
There is a problem with all this, of course, which is that even if you as a writer keep notes, it’s not always easy to remember which of your memories you’ve used and which you haven’t used. I did read some time ago about a writer who transcribed her notes and ideas onto filing cards, which she then crossed out as soon as she used the idea/phrase/incident. Maybe I should start that, although I already have so much paper that it might just end up being even more confusing for me.
All this has taken me in a completely different direction to the one I thought it would, but that doesn’t matter. Anything anywhere can act as inspiration and/or material for writing, and even the smallest thing can lead to the most unexpected of things. I suppose that applies to life as well as just writing, and just goes to show we should always keep striving, keep trying new things, because one of these days some small thing will change the rest of our lives.