Monday, September 18, 2006

How do you keep the writing bubble around yourself when there's e mail, work, the phone? How do you keep the world away when you have to do the shopping, the washing, make sure the fridge has something in?

I want a year just to write. Without having to worry about earning a living. Just writing. What could happen with all that time? Wake up, write. Get up, write. Go for a walk or a swim. Write. Have time to not write, just let ideas compost. Take ideas off into strange little corners. Experiment.

There's no such thing as a sabbatical when you're freelance. By 51, if I was in teaching or academia, I'd probably qualify for a sabbatical or an exchange or something as a kind of reward for sticking with it for so long. Not that I'm so unique, I'm not arguing for special treatment, but when you're freelance there's no off days, no coasting or treading water. When you're ill you don't earn. When you're on holiday you don't earn. When your kids are sick or someone dies, there's no compassionate leave. No company medical room, company counselling service or gym membership/gift vouchers for this, that and the other sports centre.

When the writing bubble's around my head, like those old fashioned cartoons of space men, a glass bowl, I don't care about all this because I'm not thinking about it. I'm thinking about how I can make the words go together so that someone feels a sense of recognition, surprise or goes off in a dream themselves.

But when it goes and the more rational, critical me emerges from it, all sorts of things set me off. Like literary festivals where you search poetry on the website and it comes up: no matches found. Yes. I did that the other day. Like literary supplements where there's not a single reference to poetry or poets from anywhere in the world. Anywhere in the world. How many countries is that? How many languages? How many poets are there in the world? How many people writing lines that could stay with you for life. That could alter how you see everything, or even just alter how you see something for moments. And who's being reviewed in our literary supplements?

A random selection: Inside the Mind of the Grand Prix Driver: The Psychology of the Fastest Men on Earth - Sex, Danger and Everything Else.....

I was in WH Smith in Brighton once. I went to look for a poetry section. There it was, squashed in with drama and most of the drama was those understand Shakespeare readers for GCSE. I asked an assistant for a ruler. I measured the shelf space and asked him, so this is how many centimetres WH Smith feels is right for centuries of world poetry and drama is it? I know what you mean, he said. I'm an actor. My daughter started dragging me away.

Then there was a branch of Waterstones once, in Croydon, I think. The poetry stopped at S. I searched everywhere for poets with surnames from T to Z. There was nothing. I stood in line for the till. When I got there I asked where all the poets after S were. Oh, we didn't have space. There aren't that many so we stopped it at S, she said. The bloke behind me starts reciting a few. I join in. Before we know it there's a shopful of people chanting for the post-S poets.

Well, not exactly. It was just me and the bloke behind. Who volunteered Yeats as maybe a pretty important one to include. And I thought Wordsworth. And there are many others. I, of course, was looking for Wills. Well, I might as well have been searching for £20 notes.

But how is it, just how is it, that all these nonentities with nothing to say can carry on saying it in columns, biographies, radio chat shows, TV (I don't have one but there must be loads) when actually, they could be using that space to quote poetry, to interview poets, or if they don't do that, at least to interview kids in care, kids leaving care, women bringing up four children on benefits, the old bloke who's ranting at his dog, anyone in this country trying to make ends meet, anyone in this country trying to find somewhere affordable to live.

So, when the lyrical bubble bursts, this is what comes out. If you don't like it, scroll down to the bit about Wales. This is why I need to stay in that writing bubble for a good year. Otherwise I become really bad tempered.