This is the view from my desk, aka the kitchen table. In the foreground, the rocky shore between Bullock and Coliemore harbours, then the ever-changing waters of Dublin Bay and, on the horizon, Howth Head. Although not today. Today Howth is shrouded in rain and cloud.
‘How inspiring for your writing!’ people say. I’m afraid I have to disappoint them, just as I had to disappoint those who thought that my life in Venice must be a bubbling wellspring of inspiration. My current sea view and my erstwhile view across the rooftops of Dorsoduro – pleasurably distracting, not inspiring. I can and do spend hours watching the sea and sky but I do it with my brain coasting out of gear. I never really wrote about Venice because so many writers were already at it. Neither did I see it as a particularly romantic city or a mistily sinister setting. That it exists at all is a miracle and that I was lucky enough to live there was another. And that was enough.
But I should address the topic of inspiration because writers are commonly (and mistakenly) believed to be deluged with the stuff. I believe there are three varieties of inspiration. First, there is the idea that incites a person to type the words ‘Chapter 1’. For me it can take several years for a vague notion to amount to anything and I would categorise the mechanism as more a persistent drip, drip than a blinding flash. ‘Write about me,’ whispers the vague notion. ‘Go on, you know you want to.’ Perhaps the flash moment is when I finally hear the voice with which I feel I can tell the story.
Then there is the type of inspiration that keeps you turning up at the desk day after day, when things are going badly, when your mojo has gone AWOL, when the sun is shining and you really just want to go out to play. I suppose a generous endowment of self-belief helps to fuel inspiration in this instance, plus nice, encouraging emails from kind readers and a quick shuffle through bills that have to be paid.
And finally, there’s the inspiration that unsticks you when you’re stuck or heading into a writing cul-de-sac. For those occasions I find there are certain kinds of mindless activity that help. Untangling string, polishing silver, ironing sheets, going for a walk. Gazing at the sea? Possibly. But I don’t think that’s what people have in mind when they suggest that my view must be inspirational, unleashing torrents of beautiful imagery, letting words take flight. For a poet, perhaps. Me, I’m more likely to be thinking, ‘must buy a new swimming cap’ or ‘how many times is that teenage seagull going to challenge that cormorant for a perch on that rock before he understands the term ‘pecking order’?
All in the daily life of a jobbing novelist. Send me your tangled string.