Books I might have written

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
The Edinburgh Book Festival. It's one of my favourite places to be. I can't really begin to explain why it is so fascinating to hear a writer read his or her own words, in the voice he or she wanted them heard.

I love books and words and ideas and the lateral thinking that creates a plot, and characters and settings and dialogues. I love the feel of a book, the smooth paper, the magical ability to look at a page of black marks and decipher a meaning. Learning to read is a miracle, and teaching children to read a skill that is repaid a billion times.

I saw the Canadian writer Joan Barfoot this year. Her book, Gaining Ground, kept me going when things were bad. It was about a woman who walked away from house, kids and responsibility, and lived in a cabin with no mirror and no watch. Conveniently, she did have a deep freeze and warmth and enough cash to live on (Barfoot is no fool).

A friend who worked at Women's Aid gave it to battered women to help them believe that, yes, they could live without a man - especially ones who knocked them stupid. It wasn't that I would ever do that - leave my kids - but oh to have that story, so I knew it was a possibility.

And Ali Smith, who is just so down to earth, just so practical, with none of the airs and graces such a successful young writer might acquire. I just marvelled at her intellect, at her wit, her style.

It helped that the sun shone. It was good to sit, languidly reading the paper, drinking beer and dreaming dreams. Work seemed a long way away. So did the holidays (both the one just passed and the next one), and I wondered just when (if ever) I would have the energy and time to sit and write. When I was in Skye a month or so back, I met an Australian primary teacher. He was taking a gap year, a paid sabbatical given to every teacher every 10 years.

Hey, listen up folks. I'm due two now. Actually, let's be honest. I took a few years out to have babies and that probably explains why I still enjoy teaching now. But I'd be due one this year and think, if they gave it to me, I could write the novel that's waiting. Or I could do the plumbing course I've been keen on. Or I could watch daytime television and pick my nose.

Both authors mentioned a three or four-year gestation for each novel. So if I had a year, I'd at least be on the way to the idyllic writing life enjoyed by writers.

And as I sat, dreaming of being Joan Barfoot, and writing the kind of books that changed people's lives, and how much fun it must be up on that stage, she drifted past me and said, with feeling: "Now I can go and drink that glass of wine, and not worry about making a fool of myself."

Does reality always have to be so chilling?

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