Wednesday, 13 January 2010

When Chemistry Becomes Biology - Elen Caldecott

Don’t worry, though the title of this post might sound like the denouement of a Mills and Boon, there will be no ripping of bodices here. And no besuited gentlemen writhing in ponds. No. The chemistry I’m thinking about are the little atoms of ideas that strike me regularly. Each of which gets scribbled in my notebook. I’m sure most writers carry one or, failing a proper notebook, a handbag full of bus tickets written all over with a blunt eyeliner (or the male equivalent!).
My notebook (that's it on the right) says things like:

Punkin Chuckers is an annual US pumpkin flinging contest.’

A word is a semi-autonomous virtual machine.’

I like marmalade and clean sheets.’

The owl and the pussycat eyed each other warily.’
The notebook records thoughts, overheard gems and random nonsense. Each of these is a separate, discrete element, set apart from each other like atoms on the Periodic Table. Alone, they do nothing very much; they're no more than a bit of hydrogen, a drop of carbon, a dash of oxygen.

However, given time, something miraculous might happen. I like to think that my notebook is a kind of ancient swamp – the primordial soup – and that the ideas in it might just come together to create a living, breathing story. A narrative abiogenesis. I just have to fill the book up with enough interesting chemistry and, with luck, the biology will follow.

So, since submitting my last novel before Christmas, I have been spending a lot of my time filling the notebook. I spent a couple of hours looking at religious paintings; I saw the finalists in the wildlife photographer of the year competition and visited an abandoned shop which now hosts local artists’ shows. I’ve been reading fiction and non-fiction. I’ve been stealing ideas and dropping them into the swamp.

On the 1st February, I will sit down to begin something new. I’m not sure what it will be yet. I’m hoping that the notebook has been getting jostled and shaken and heated and when I open it on that day, something exciting will spring out. Or, of course, grey sludge might dribble onto my keyboard. There’s no way to know when just the right ideas will meet, so until then, I’m out in the world, scribbling in my notebook. Or on the back of a receipt if I’ve brought the wrong handbag.
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madwippitt said...

It's another form of hoarding isn't it? I also have lots of clippings from papers and magazines which intrigue me ... my favourite is one about the sword makers secret recipe for Damascus steel ... it's been in my folder for nearly 25 years now but I just know I'm going to find a use for it one day!

steeleweed said...

In my young & single days I spent a lot of hours in coffeehouses and restaurants, mostly writing poetry and drinking cognac. I filled more than one notebook with overheard conversions. My favorite was "I like balconies more than the French." I'm still trying to figure out what she meant by that.

Rosalind Adam said...

I'm always gathering snippets for my notebook. Sometimes it's a snatched line from a dream. They're the weirdest when it comes to rereading weeks later. Good luck on February 1st and if you really think it'll be a grey sludge writing day then start the day before and catch your creative juices by surprise.

Elen Caldecott said...

Hah! You may well have something there, Rosalind!
I hope the steel recipe finds its place one day, madwippet.
Steeleweed, I like to think it was a list of top five favourite things that went:
1. Balconies
2. Chocolate
3. The French
4. Haystacks
5. Koalas

madwippitt said...

Steeleweed - intriguing - but perhaps you misheard and the comment was "I prefer the Balkanese (ie people from the Balkans) to the Fench" ...?

madwippitt said...

Too much of a hurry ... what I meant to say was ... "I like Balkanese more than the French"

Nick Green said...

Or perhaps they preferred balconies to French windows? I've had both, and balconies are definitely better.

Jan Markley said...

Let's hear it for the notebook! I'm a fan of yellow sticky notes!