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thoughts & musings :: CCC

Saturday, 3 March 2007

New Beginnings...

I had written little bits before this moment. But every child does. Every child tries to write a book at some point. Only a few are still doing it as adults. I had started a satirical novel about near nuclear war with all my friends in it. I'd also started a very boyish story about an illegal car race.

I don't look back at either of these as being significant at all. They weren't. They were silly attempts and I gave up on them.

This particular morning I was bored. I think it was about 1988, so I was 14. It was the middle of the school holidays and I had nothing to do. I wandered into the dining room and stopped in my tracks. I felt like an archaeologist that had stumbled into a tomb. The mysterious artefact that had caught my attention was a typewriter.

My mum had been typing out the church magazine and had left the typewriter sat out on the table. It was a very old clunky typewriter. It wasn't rusty or corroded, but the metal was tarnished and looked sort of bronze-like. The metal was all slightly warped and nothing looked straight on it. It was as if the whole thing was organic and had grown rather than been manufactured.

The arms that actually punched the letter shapes were very noisy and swung like sledgehammers. You could always hear mum typing from anywhere in the house and it was a big house. Because the metal was so warped the arms would often clash and get jammed together, so to save time mum had removed the casing completely. This meant that all the twisted-tree-root inner workings were exposed - little wires and cogs, pulleys and levers, smoothed over by caked-on layers of dust.

With the array of arms all laid flat across the front, it looked like the carcass of a dead animal, but there was something very much alive about it, or at least something dormant seemed to lay within --waiting to be awakened.

No one else is in the house.

I pull out a fresh white page and slip it into the rollers. The typewriter grunts and protests as I feed it through its jaws. The edge of the page spools round and emerges at the front, cutting through the dark brown visage. I roll the page up so more is on display. The page is clean and white, it is square and smooth. It sits in absolute contrast to the curvy dusty fussy detail of the machine around it.

It looks like an inviting snowdrift and though it is beautiful in its unspoilt purity, I am longing to make my own footprints across it.

I stare at the page and get lost into it... the whiteness burns and blurs my eyes until I can see nothing but a white fog. There's a much quoted saying from the writer Gene Fowler that sums this up perfectly: "Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."

I come to the conclusion that I have nothing worth saying. There is nothing remotely sensible or meaningful that I can think of with which to mark this newborn page.

I stare at the page all the same, still captivated by it.

There is still nothing that comes to mind and I say to myself, "Anything I try and write now will be totally useless and utterly pointless."

I sit back and sigh.

All around me, away from the hypnotic white glow of the paper is the boredom of summer holidays when you're at a loss how to amuse yourself, but the page is still blank and I have nothing to write.

I had no idea until years later, only very recently, how significant a moment this was. Logic says walk away. I have nothing useful to write so write nothing. But the page is still so inviting and the desire to write something is burning within. I wonder what would have become of me if I'd walked away, phoned a friend or gone for a bike ride.

Still, sitting there, the only thought I have is that same true fact... "Anything I try and write now will be totally useless and utterly pointless."

It seems like a dead end. A closed door. But as that was the only thing I had in my mind, that would have to the foundation. It was not necessarily a dead end, it was a perfect beginning.

I thud the Caps Lock key into place and I type without even thinking...


What logic deemed to be a non starter is now my title and the typing doesn't stop. I have no plan or idea where I'm going with it, but I just keep typing.

Was it silly? Extremely! Was it the best writing in the world? No, far from it. It covered topics such as 'Where do turnips go after death?' and other such non-life-altering discussions. Some of it is probably very embarrassing, but I am certainly not ashamed of it.

In fact, a long while later I photocopied a dozen copies and started selling it at school.

And it was that moment, staring at the white page, realising I had remotely sensible useful to say, but then coming to the conclusion that this was a potential start rather than a dead end, that was the first step that triggered off everything that followed.