From the window of my study I can see the top of a chestnut tree. (Actually that’s a lie because to my shame I don’t know what type of tree it is, but I know that in writing it is always better to be specific.) I spend all together too much time looking at this tree and yet I never spot the moment when the last leaf falls, or the day when spring arrives and it is finally, gloriously verdant green again.
I mention the tree for two reasons: it marks the passage of time, and it is a great metaphor for writing.
First things first. As a kid I remember watching the film of the ‘Time Machine’ in which time was indicated by the changing fashions in the window of a shop, hems rising and lowering, styles evolving until eventually there is no shop at all. The tree for me is like that shop. I look out and it is green and then one day I look up and it is red and then on a day like today I look up and it is starkly naked. And all the time I am at my desk, in my own private time machine putting words on a page. I live in this insulated world, outside of time, in the eternal present of story. It is always a shock to realise that I can be several seasons adrift, that my time and real time don’t always run together.
And then I get to the metaphor part. Just as I never notice the moment of transition from Spring to Summer, Autumn to Winter, I never notice the exact moment a fleeting thought becomes a plot idea, a name on a page becomes a real person, a bare branch of a story buds and thickens into full leaf and suddenly there it is fully formed on the page. I work on it every day, just as I look at the tree every day and yet the moment of transformation from one stage to another always passes me by.