Saturday, June 25, 2011


Blue Angels

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I like to sit and just think every now and then (ideally every day) because I find thinking without distraction both productive and fun. I call it working.

Ideally, I’d think while standing on my head – it really does seem to work – but I’ve never had the discipline to take up yoga. Besides, writers tend not to be joiners – except in the interests of research. If writing is involved, we will probably go anywhere and do anything. 

Quite how far one would push such a concept is an interesting thought. How can I write about killing if I have never killed etc. Ponder that next time you read one of my thrillers.

Today, I was trying to think about thinking, but the Blue Angels were screaming across Seattle’s leaden sky so it was rather hard to focus.  They come once a year to do dangerous things on July 4, and they rehearse in advance just so they don’t hit Mount Rainier. You never quite know what might set that thing off, and in case you’ve forgotten, it’s a volcano; and really quite close.

No one can see the Angels of course, given Seattle’s climate, but they sound terrific unless you are trying to think. God invented AAA and guided missiles for very good reasons. Triple A is Anti-Aircraft Artillery as you probably know.

Since I didn’t have a Patriot missile battery to hand, my thoughts bounced around a bit, but I did come up with the thought that writing is rather like sailing. A disciplined writer normally doesn’t suffer much from writers’ block (except when the Blue Angels are around) but there is no doubt at all that sometimes – as when a following wind obligingly makes an appearance – the words flow more easily. My tendency then is to make the most of it because the feeling then is so strong, it is virtually an imperative.

Does that conflict with one’s other duties? Of course it does; but so does life in general. 

I’m not quite sure what to do with my sailing metaphor though I might if I knew more about sailing. In truth my experience with the sea has been mixed. It tried to drown me when I was six by sweeping me out to sea at Brittas Bay in Ireland. I learnt to swim in a hurry, I can tell you. 

It tried to drown me again when I was fifteen when I discovered, after I was well out to sea trying to avoid Dun Laoghaire harbor (that’s in Ireland), that the canoe I had just bought had holes in it. Damnably awkward timing. I was about two miles off shore with the current against me.

I drowned. I exaggerate.

A fishing boat hauled me out a couple of hours later by which time I was so cold I couldn’t move. Thus, I learned all about hyperthermia the way a good writer should – first hand. If an early morning walker  at the end of the mile long pier hadn’t lifted his binoculars and noticed something bobbing in the sea… I’d have had to research sex with the mermaids. It probably would have worked out. You have a lot of sexual energy in your teens.

It tried to do me in a few years later when I was swimming off Tangier, Morocco. I got severe cramp and suddenly couldn’t move. I wasn’t too far out, but I was beyond shouting distance. My waves were interpreted as being social. In the end I floated until the pain passed. It took some time. I got nicely sunburned while bobbing around.

And when I finally went sailing in a real sailing boat with a mast and ropes and windlasses and things – and a crew who knew what they were doing - I seem to recall spending most of my time trying to avoid being decapitated as the boom swung from side to side. What a loss to literature that would have been!

Still, I can recall that feeling of exhilaration I experienced when I had no more lunch to throw up, the wind was doing what the wind ought to do, the crew were doing all the work, and the boom was spending a few minutes in one position. I guess I felt for that brief time as if I could conquer the world. It was a  truly wonderful feeling.

I guess writing is like sailing without a crew, and without being sea-sick.







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