What do you picture when you think of the writer? A recluse, working in the half-light of winter or in the sun-kissed parklands of summer? Novel thoughts that flow through dainty calligraphy on tanned pages? Web string ideas that will one day sit proud and hardbacked in Waterstones or Foyles. Half an hour to transpose to pixel, twelve weeks to complete, another month or two for luck.
If that’s the vision, let me grace you with the reality, as I find myself propped in a generic coffee shop. The table is scratched as a post, the air sticky and the green chair worn away to the bare threads. There is only one word for it, uninviting. But what does it matter? My leggings are peppered with rips and holes anyway, the stains and the marks, it’ll wash out.
A train goes past, one of those piddly little things that carry children at walking pace, no, slower than that, a snail’s. The driver sounds its electric toot-toot as it crawls by, my right ear left ringing while my left is pumped with coffee grinding and the tinny music of overhead Electric Light Orchestra. The best ambiance £2.25 of tea can buy. I sip the cold fluid with a grimace, bitter and stewed.
It’s gone 18:00, my hair is wet with grease and my young face slightly more etched from another exhaustive day at the office-come-dining table. Eyes swollen, fingers twisted. I worked through lunch, which every psychologist from here to Timbuktu will say is a one-way trip to an early grave, but the extra hour of toil then means an extra hour of freedom now. A fragment of bliss with a half-eye on time. Later, a stranger beckons at my door to collect dusty offcuts from my garage; he won’t negotiate on the timings and I really could do with that £20.
Writers are leather beaters, we take the skin of an idea and scrape, beat and dunk until that piece of flesh returns gold. Sometimes our elbows linger for too long in foul-smelling liquids that the only thing golden is our stained skin, saturated with stench.
Write. Write harder and faster and quicker and smarter and eloquently, until your fingertip pads run smooth and your skin cracks with effort. That’s what writing is. I’d consider myself a very successful woman indeed if I were ever to stumble across my work in a library or charity shop. Maybe that makes me simplistic, or maybe that makes me even more of a dreamer. I scrub my manuscript some more.
I started putting keyboard to laptop in 2014 on little more than a whim and utter boredom, to fill lonely nights in a strange town I barely knew. Eight years later I find myself plagued with a parasitic urge I can barely comprehend. What time is it? When did I last eat? How long before the staff spot my empty cup and kick me to the curb?
I don’t write because I want to, I write because it is an addiction. Leave hollow hope be for there is nothing to be saved.
My colourless eyes glance sideward as the same empty train edges closer once more.
This piece was kindly sponsored by Ben Miller, who spotted my business card on a noticeboard and commissioned me to write a post on “Why I Write”.
Please sponsor me to keep doing what I love by donating here: Alice’s Funding Page