|Dave Langford took his turn to write this regular feature in the BSFA's Matrix #43, ed. Graham James & Linda Strickler, 1982. Thanks to Kim Huett for transcribing it.|
At last I've managed to move into a new house (or old house, it having been on the crumble since 1878), a seething mass of chaos from the weevil-infested cellar to the upper reaches where thin air makes exertion difficult and they ask me to describe a typical day. I don't have typical days any more. It's all hand-to-mouth, moment by moment, and I have a dark feeling that even in the old and settled days it was much the same. How does this sort of thing go ...?
Up at 5.30am. Three thousand words of the new novel before the cup of black coffee which is the writer's austere breakfast. Short stories, perhaps two, perhaps three, as the sun climbs to its zenith. Pause for slice of dry bread before the routine TV scripting all afternoon, interrupted by urgent phone calls from publishers begging for material, offering lucrative contracts, threatening suicide if denied the joys of an article on how to put off writing articles for Matrix. This is very much the sort of day writers like to describe, pitiful spinners of fantasy that they are; I can do so with an air of partial conviction only by putting together bits of several good days (the TV scripts and suicide threats are artistic licence, meaning lies). However ...
Up at noon. With a tiny hammer I crack the thick crusts from eyes and lips, wincing at the toothbrush's thunderous struggle to scrape things from my furry yellow teeth. The gentleman from Rank has mistaken the back of my head for his gong and smites me mightily whenever I am careless enough to let my heart beat. Inject paracetamol into veins. In the office, a repellent sight straight from the pages of H. P. Lovecraft, there is a typewriter with a blank sheet of paper in it. Staring into space I can feel the blood stagnate, the brain congeal, the piles begin to form. I moan and force myself out for a healthy walk to clear the mind, but somehow my stumbling feet find the bar of the local and aghast I hear my lips say, "Pint of Directors please." After that, the dark.
Which is what you get by assembling bits of several not-so-good days. But the true setback of the really typical day is not covered in either scenario.
Up, trying hard for honesty, between eight and half-past -- with a vague memory of Hazel saying goodbye before leaving to be a Civil Service breadwinner. Someday I'll have to wake up soon enough to learn whether she murmurs sweet nothings or simply "Get up, you lazy bum." Downstairs, weaving slightly, still in pyjamas, for the first of the day's many pots of tea: and there on the mat like a pile of glowing radioactive slag is the setback. Letters in warm friendly red from Access, Barclaycard, the bank, the VATman: all these are hurled aside disdainfully. Review copies are briefly gloated over and put away to be properly forgotten in the fullness of time. Promising-looking envelopes from fans all prove to contain three-word communications and grungy pound notes for Ansible subscription renewals. I settle down in the bog with the remaining wad of fanzines and read them compulsively, even the university ones, even the apazines. (Obvious joke not inserted here since one could do oneself an injury on all those staples.) Once in a blue moon the mail includes a really good fanzine which I have to read twice. Once in a blue moon and a half there comes a complimentary copy of some great book by or featuring D. Langford, and I spend al1 the morning admiring it. "God, what talent I had in those days," I remarked reverently as I fondled the Japanese edition of War In 2080. Thus the setback: all this has soaked up time, and if the postman comes late or not at all it's even worse, since standing at an upper window searching yearningly for the postman with a telescope can absorb still more time.
Just as in the real typical day, I've been putting off that grim moment of confrontation with the typewriter. When the obligatory staring into space -- in the old house at a row of reference books and skiffy paperbacks T to Z, now through a window at genuine trees -- is over, you get down to the actual Act of Creation and almost any writer you care to mention starts becoming cagey. No matter how clearly you know what you want to write, the infinite English-language possibilities for expressing it tend to mean that the selection procedure for the words that actually reach the page isn't under conscious control. Things float up from far below: you can choose between them but are stuck with the selections of your loathsome subconscious, or intuition, or whatever.
Thus, when closely questioned on How They Do It, writers are inclined to wave their hands wildly and plunge off into minutiae. Example: at a recent Reading U 'SF and Fantasy Evening', the moment when Angela Carter, Brian Stableford and Ian Watson seemed most like kindred literary spirits was during the soul-baring, in-depth revelations of how they typed. Score: Watson 1, Stableford 1, Carter all ten fingers. "We use the same finger," cried Brian to Ian in a sudden access of fellow feeling. On a typical day I'd like to fit in some event like this, or just an hour or two of convention, but it doesn't usually work out ...
So: I type first drafts with four fingers on an Adler Electric 21c of vast antiquity, apparently fashioned from old Panzer parts. These drafts are on vile pink paper bought via Andrew Stephenson, at 50p a ream, current stocks looking liable to keep me going well into the 1990s. The desk and all surrounding flat surfaces will be piled high with scribbled notes (if I'm writing fiction), calculators and bits of paper with illegible equations full of big numbers (non-fiction), or beer (fanzine articles). The most that's likely to be bashed out on a typical day plus evening is some 3000 words (meaning nothing will get done while I recuperate through the typical tomorrow). After an indeterminate period of tearing up, scribbling on and generally ruining the early draft(s) there comes the glorious conversion of it all to exquisite typescript on the Sperry-Remington SR-101 which occupies the other desk: this snazzy golfball machine is necessary not to impress publishers (who will scrawl graffiti all over the result in any case) but to keep my own morale up.
Naturally all these attempts to Be A Writer are continually interrupted as I pace the floor, shudder at appalling Extro non-fiction submissions, nip down to make another pot of tea, nip down again as the tea achieves what computer folk call a high throughput, accept yet another telephoned apology from Richard (Arrow) Evans about the cover of The Space Eater, think about the evening's planned pub visit (this usually at about l0am), dash off letters to frequent correspondents like Ian Watson, Avedon (for TAFF) Carol, Joyce Scrivner, Paul Campbell and even the stupefyingly famous Dorothy Davies ...
On days when I plan to be really thrifty with my time I find I can spend longer deciding not to LoC a fanzine than it would have taken to write the letter of comment anyway. On really bad days I stalk about, cursing and reading bits out of books randomly chosen from the shelves: not possible today, all 7000 are still in cardboard boxes and I'm too tired to unpack them after carrying the whole lot up three flights of stairs. The only recourse left is the desperate one of writing a 'Day in the Life' piece for Graham and Linda James ...
There are so many other things to do, such as rewiring the house or writing a second novel. Let's make another cup of Earl Grey tea and think about it.
|Published in the BSFA's Matrix #43, ed. Graham James &
Linda Strickler, August/September 1982. Spontaneously rekeyed by Kim Huett.|
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