I am writer…and a mother. Typically, the contents of my handbag include: keys, coins, lollipops, hair bands, plasters, umpteen pens (so that’s where they all end up), a small plastic person with his head missing, a sort of scurf of biscuit crumbs, a pebble and…a receipt with some precious words scribbled on the back. “Thunder like rock fall. Chapter 6- John must tell his family!” Sweet relief. At least this time my gnomic message makes sense; my crucial plot point and my fabulous simile may even make the page.
Fictional writers sit calmly in cafés, tapping their ideas into their top-of-the-range computers, or transcribing them into their moleskine notebooks. Perhaps wearing a kaftan. I juggle my writing with a young family, a dog and a part-time job. Receipts are sometimes the best I can manage.
When I was deep into the first draft of my recently published novel, Open My Eyes, I tried to stratify my brain function; I imagined it like those jars of coloured liquid, oil, water, alcohol, all with different specific gravities. While on one level I was buttering toast, or tending to a verruca, on another level I was having a passionate fictional discussion with an Ethiopian doctor about the fate of an abandoned baby. Did my technique work? Have you ever boiled and egg pan dry so that the egg exploded, coating the kitchen walls? I have. Twice. The baby was more interesting than the eggs.
Real life, especially life with kids is messy, raw, imperfect, chaotic, but stories can help contain the chaos of life, to channel it, and give it meaning. Sometimes, time constraints can work as incentives, intense windows of creative expression. Anyway, the way we get ideas itself is unpredictable. What matters is catching them when they come. Top tip: receipts.
(Also published in Nudge books.)