I don’t know where the boat scene came from. Like most things, when I am writing, it came from nowhere. Not middle-of-the-night nowhere, awoken with a scene fully-formed in my mind, the kind of inspiration reserved for proper writers, but a glum Tuesday-night nowhere: at my desk, when I’d already been there, trying to write, in silence, for hours.
I had become afraid of writing the chapter; the scene everything in the book had been leading up to. A kind of performance anxiety. I knew it should take place in the swirling, oppressive mists of Oban, where my hero and heroine were temporarily resident, and I knew it should be somewhere isolated, but… where?
And that’s when I wrote the boat scene. There was no romance to it. No Pinterest boards or long walks or lattes in ambient cafes. Not even a herbal tea and a cat for company. My writing is functional. A quiet room. The words. Me, feeling the weight of it, sometimes, on my shoulders, alone. I have a crap chair, and non-ambient lighting. The scenes that work the best arrive on my computer just as torturously as the ones I scrap. I end up with writing I am proud of because I write so very much: it is nonsensical. They arrive out of my fingers, it seems to me, and not my mind, and sometimes they’re good enough and sometimes they’re not. There is no reason to it. There is no process except sitting and typing.
I went downstairs after I had written the boat scene, my boyfriend (and cat) already in bed. I looked out across the dark street as I re-adjusted to normality; a two-up two-down in Birmingham, not a rickety boat in Oban that smelled of old, rotting wood and the salt-blast of the ocean. I drew my cardigan down over my hands, like a child, and boiled the kettle even though it was too late. I had been writing too much, had a couple of mouth ulcers from lack of sleep. I always get them when I’m halfway through a second draft; the furthest across the writing ocean, the furthest away from the shore.
It’s funny how these things come to life so slowly, like a garden bearing fruit in spring, the summer; roses late in the autumn. First the deal; the life-changing contract with my name on it. And then the slow, satisfying drip of the rest. Edits which stitch the book into a tighter shape. Copy edits, and seeing a little of how it will be typeset. Loose page proofs sent romantically in the post that look like a book in the way that you can imagine a pile of autumn leaves once made up a tree.
It was a year after its writing that I first saw the cover. I opened it (as previously written) on a table in rainy Rome. And – oh! – there it was. My boat scene. My characters. My Oban, my setting, right there on the screen in front of me.
It was only weeks later that I remembered the circumstances in which I had written the scene. How desperate I had been to write a good-enough book. How much I wanted it; badly enough to give myself mouth ulcers. I dreamt about it, selling my book. I daydreamed about looking into Waterstones on a dark autumn night and seeing it, catching its eye, on the shelf.
The creation of my boat scene in which my hero and heroine confront my hero’s shady behaviour, his huge and horrible secret, was not how I imagined creativity to be. I did not jot a scene down on a back of a tea-stained envelope. I did not begin with a boat, knowing I had to tell the story involving, eventually, a scene that plays out on a little Scottish rowing boat. No. My creativity is different. It is slow, tedious, hall-walking during which I am only thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, what ifs, will this work if… until. A year later. When I open the cover, bearing the scene I wrote on that dreary Tuesday, a year ago, and there it is: made tangible, a scene I made up entirely.
That is creativity, to me. Worth every mundane minute.