That thought about trains, as mentioned previously, again from my piece on Resonance FM (hear it here, 13:30mins in):
the walk is to thinking as the car is to listening, and talking, and as the train is to reading, or writing
There’s something about the movement of a train that acts as an analogue to the narrative trajectory of a novel, and this surely makes it a perfect environment for reading. No, not a perfect, the perfect environment for reading a book. The steady, straight feel of motion (compared to the twists and turns and sudden accelerations and decelerations of a car journey), the subtle rhythm of the track, the information flowing in from the peripheral vision, and the long glances up out of the window that allow you to pause and assimilate what you are reading. It’s such a cliché to say that a novel offers the reader ‘a journey’ but at some deep level the two activities are harmonic partners.
(An aside on The Future of Publishing. I recently took a commuter train from London out to Essex along the same route that I habitually took 15 or more years ago. Very few people were reading books, they were listening to music [or possibly audiobooks] or, a lot of them, watching films or television programmes on their phones. Back when I used to take that train into London, the only way to listen to music or audiobooks on the move was with a Walkman or Discman, something that your average suited-and-booted adult office worker would have considered beneath them: it is the stylishness of the iPhone and BlackBerry that has sounded the death knell of the physical book, as much as their convenience. The brute fact is, people just want something to distract them on their journey to and from work. Ten years ago the best option was a paperback book. Now, faced with the additional options of a a free newspaper or catching up on a favourite TV programme on their phone, the book loses out, badly.)
With a car journey it’s different. Obviously there’s the problem of motion sickness, but as I said above the stop-start, twisty-turny aspects of car journeys militate against reading, and narrative. Car driving does, of course, go perfectly with listening to music, especially when alone, but, when taken in company, they are the ideal environment for conversation. A long car journey with just two people, driver and passenger, is the place for life stories, confessions and in-depth debates. The two and fro of talk.
Walking, lastly, can also throw up good, long conversations, but, taken on its own, is a marvellous generator of ideas. A walk, even to the shops, can break a writing block, can give a fresh perspective on a page or a scene. I think it’s partly down to the element of monotonous physical activity in walking, that is absent in other forms of transport – the repetetive action of the legs allows you to go over and over the same bit of prose, or dialogue, until you get it right.
Just found the link to a short piece of mine originally broadcast on Resonance FM, as part of a series of shows called ‘In Search of Inspiration’ made by Sharon Gal. Most of the weekly show is her in conversation with various people (not just ‘creatives’ but a tai-chi teacher, charity worker and health visitor in the episode i’m in) but mine was a prerecorded segment.
Listening back to it – never a fun part of performing or reading anything aloud – I’m not sure about ‘the balloon of art’ as a metaphor, but I’ll stand by what I say towards the end, about how sudden, dramatic moments of inspiration occur. Here it is:
The Eureka moment comes when you realise you can dispense with an assumption about your character, or plot, or situation, that you didn’t realise you had been relying upon. Those tiny camels my main character had been trying to create for her lunatic billionaire employer in another story (he wanted them small enough to go through the eye of a needle, naturally), but which obviously didn’t – couldn’t – exist… well, what if they did exist already – to her surprise, and mine? Surprise yourself, and you surprise your reader. The solid wall you had been leaning on suddenly gives way and a secret passage opens up into a part of your work you never knew was there. The shape of the house, the shape of the work, starts to reform inside your head. The possibilities expand to fill its empty corners, its new rooms.
Sharon has archived the show here and I come in at about 13:30 mins.