When the Guardian published its ‘Ten Rules for Writing Fiction’, Colm Tóibín’s tip no. 9 was ‘No going to London.’ This is my favourite rule for writing, although perhaps you need to read no. 10 as well for it to make sense, which is: ‘No going anywhere else either.’
As I click the Send/Receive tab for the tenth time in a minute, wander over to the kitchen to put the kettle on, current cup of tea still steaming away at my desk, check Seek (still no jobs for a sporadic novelist) and organise the household bills in a pleasing fan shape next to my laptop, a little alert goes off in my head. It says, dependably: ‘No going to London.’
It is possible Tóibín meant, literally, no going to London, and that this was the best advice he could think of specific to an Irish writer with friends an hour’s flight away, with whom he might at any given moment spend a convivial hour or two, suppressing the gnawing anxiety of not writing the book he is at that moment supposed to be writing.
I live in Sydney, and although I would like to go to London and settle down comfortably into the fug of pubs once frequented by Dickens, it is unlikely for London to be a danger to me as far as distractions go.
I read all of the wise words of the many fine novelists that contributed to the Guardian’s very helpful tips (I think I was supposed to be writing my novel at the time). But none were quite so wise, nor seemed to see with quite such sharp insight into a painfully distractable writer’s head. I might add the words of a lecturer I once heard speak on the subject of PhD students trying to finish their thesis. ‘It’s as though there are pointy objects on the chair that make them leap up time and again as though in pain.’
For four years, constantly telling myself off, I sat back down on the prickly chair, and wrote a few more words, before leaping up again, ready to attend to the very important distraction looming over the near horizon. I finished my third novel, Hannah and Emil, and even found some hours and days when London didn’t come into it, when I looked up and found a thousand words or so had just kind of happened.
I see you standing up and putting on your warm coat, the one with the gloves in the pocket. They say the pound is weak against our formerly humble currencies. Experience is what you’re lacking, what will set the spark to your story. You need to get out of this backwater, remember the old devil you once were, wake up cheek pressed against some hideous carpet, double decker bus swooshing by in the rain.
Throw that coat on the floor, where it belongs. Burn your money. Sit back down. Make your own London. It will be better than the real thing: darker, colder, more menacingly grumpy.
And please enjoy my blog, where you are welcome to tell me what you’re reading, writing and finding distracting. I promise to do the same for you, when I’m not too busy. Or bored. Or on a plane to London.