Sunday, 5 June 2011
Day-Glo and the Seven Firemen – Michelle Lovric
The fire-engine screams down the street at midnight, lights flashing. It disgorges a squad of London’s finest. Suddenly, we can smell something burning. Our two-hundred-year-old wharf is a timber-framed – so my husband gets up, dresses and rushes down to the street to investigate.
Ten minutes pass. Suddenly I hear manly voices and heavy footsteps on the fire escape. Then seven firemen thunder into our bedroom. I am still in bed with the cat, wearing the most abbreviated form of sleep attire and immersed in the excellent Beswitched, whose day-glo holographic cover (WHY, for a book set mostly in 1935?) glitters chavishly in the lamplight.
‘Evenin’, ma’am,’ chorus the firemen. The cat pokes her head out from under the sheets to give them a withering look and a long, sour miaow. I try to turn Beswitched over, but the back cover is just as bright.
The guys examine every crevice for fire. There’s nothing smouldering, except me.
‘Nighty-night. Sweet dreams! Fine cat you’ve got there!’ They thunder back down the stairs.
Actually, the real story is that my husband loyally prevented the firemen from entering our bedroom. As he said, ‘I still don’t feel I know you well enough to guess how you’d take it if I let seven men into the bedroom with you wearing that.’ (Mr and Mrs Morrison have been married ten years, though only my mother-in-law refers to me as ‘Mrs Morrison’.)
‘But you SHOULD have let them in,’ I cried, ‘because then I could have written about it!’
‘What’s stopping you?’ my husband grinned.
And indeed this is the difference between life and writing, or, to put it another way, between blogs and books. Life – and blogs – are feral, rarely pondered deeply. Most blogs are no more calculated than a sneeze, no more rehearsed than a scream. Because real life generally offers roads timidly not taken, and glimpses – from the sidelines – of major excitement and visceral danger.
Writing, on the other hand, offers an opportunity to regain lost opportunities, pursue every what-if, make hay even if the sun doesn’t shine all day. Writing is the better version of life – the one you’ve had time to refine, think about, rewrite, run past others, get copy-edited. Writing goes out into the world with its tie straightened, a clean handkerchief, and an apple for the teacher. Writing is also a form of displacement activity – but not in the usual sense. Writing allows you to take a real feeling or an incident and place it in an entirely different context, one in which it can work for you and your story.
I won’t forget the agony of my nearly-naked embarrassment when I thought seven firemen were truly about to storm into the bedroom and find me, the cat and the day-glo cover. Should I jump out of bed and make a dash for the bathroom … or should I cower under the covers? And that huge squirm, physical and mental, will eventually make its way into a book, maybe set a hundred years ago, maybe five hundred, maybe in London, maybe in Venice, maybe in Tasmania. It may be felt by a twelve-year-old girl, or a mythical creature.
The experience will be valid, in all those contexts, but only if it’s written well enough to convey its dreadfulness. The secret of the success of Bridget Jones’ Diary is that it is entirely made of such squirms. I see a lot of firemen and a lot of day-glo in Helen Fielding’s past, oh-so-cleverly recontextualized and harnessed into a best-seller.
For the moment, ‘Day-Glo and the Seven Firemen’ is just a kind of demi-monde blog, not quite the truth and not quite real writing, suspended between truth and fiction. Undigested material, like the little bones in an owl-pellet. Something to poke at with a stick, before proceeding on your way. But the book version – should it happen – will, one hopes, eventually end up on a shelf in a home, where it might earn its keep. At least until the next car boot sale, anyway.
Blogs have their hour, or their day. Books earn their years, or even generations.
PS. Sorry to post in advance. Tomorrow morning early I have to go to the lunatic asylum on the island of San Servolo. Really. Life-really, not blog-really. Though I’m not ruling out a blog either …
Michelle Lovric’s website is at www.michellelovric.com
See the new video trailer for The Undrowned Child and The Mourning Emporium on YouTube