A Writer’s Diary – The First Nine Days

If you haven’t read any of A Writer’s Diary so far, now is the perfect time to catch up. Below are the first nine days.

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Samstag 1 Januar

Entered the year in Leigh’s arms, as it should be. Mum, exhausted, had gone to bed around half past eight. Dad stayed up until midnight. Big Ben on the TV. Brother texted.

‘Who knows what this New Year will bring?’ Dad said, five minutes after the chimes – and then started sobbing. He was sitting on the blue sofa. ‘Happy things, perhaps,’ he added. We gave him another hug. He went to bed soon after. We didn’t stay up much longer.

Late up. Quiet day. Muggy warm. Went for a walk, or tried to. Mum turned back halfway to the War Memorial.

No writing.

Sonntag 2 Januar

Drove home. Unpacked. Sitting at my desk, writing in my diary. When Leigh went to that conference in Munich, on logical languages (Esperanto, Simplified English), she bought this diary, this Tagebuch. She said when she saw it, she was thinking of it as one of my Christmas presents. But then she remembered Mum always buys me a diary, so she better have it for herself (although Leigh doesn’t usually keep a diary – apart from her academic one). On Christmas Day, Mum said she had been intending to get me the usual diary – to order it online – but that she’d forgotten. She was embarrassed but also, I could tell, exhausted. All this keeping up with the usual rituals is becoming difficult for her. I tried to make as little of it as possible, although her forgetting upset me – not because she’d forgotten my present, but because if she were her healthy self, she’d never forget something like that. I realized the chemotherapy was making her iller than she’d let on. Of course, I said it was fine, I could easily get the diary myself; and then Leigh mentioned she had this spare one which she wasn’t going to use. ‘I’ll give it to him when we get home,’ she said, ‘as if it’s from you.’ Mum wanted to give her some money for it, Leigh tried to refuse, but Mum insisted – so this Tagebuch is from both of them. I don’t know if I’ll get used to the days of the week, although I love Mittwoch for Wednesday. Midweek. It’s very practical, like Mandarin days of the week (Oneday, Twoday…) but makes me wonder where they put Woden. Was he too Norse for them? A couple of the summer months are lazily shared – August, September (but November, too) – and for some, English just finesses a letter: Dezember, Oktober. März is heavy-metal-umlaut month. Januar and Februar save energy, just like Mum, by forgetting the y’s. Mai is kin to Czech Maj. But Juni and Juli are like skipping rhymes. Oh, April’s lazy, too. English months came from Northern Europe, didn’t they? We started to export our language and time later. The paper of the Tagebuch is good for writing; the edges of the letters don’t go spidery, and the ink is sucked in without me having to leave the page open for five minutes. As usual, I feel the thickness of pages, between me and the desktop, and wonder what will happen to be written on them. I don’t think Mum will buy me another diary.

Montag 3 Januar

So far, slack-writing. I’m in a lull; when I was younger, I went through periods – of of of writer-crazes, of under-the-influence. I suppose it has to be (disappointingly for all concerned) that I’m more myself and so less swayable. But I still attempt to seek out books that will change me, and occasionally one once again does. (Clarice Lispector, Agùa Viva.)

I go back into the forest and am lost between thickly growing trunks.

What concerns me is that more stable writing lacks something because it lacks periodicity. Blue. Rose. Early. Middle. But sometimes there has to be, and so we have to endure, a season of walking in ice (Schubert, D.960) – Nature must come to seem not like nature at all, just like an element in one of its states; and then it needs to prove (Spring, torrential or not) that it can’t be killed by a sub-zero lull.

But the forest isn’t always available. Too often I stay in the glib city; it’s only when there are free animals around that there’s potential for metamorphosis. Pigeons and rats, green parrots and foxes – they won’t do; they’ve already changed into human-adjuncts, metropolites.

No, that’s wrong. I’m just bored of seeing them in Brockwell Park. A person only feels vivid when they feel hunted. Am I – are you? – capable of feeling prey? Who or what would eat me?

I see death as a perfectly circular lake, dark silver, almost perfectly smooth – because ripples of light sometimes travel back and forth across it (perhaps only to prove to me they are within my eyes, and are merely hopeful, because death is unreflective). Situated high up in the mountains, this lake is expensive to visit but far from exclusive. Entering the waters there is the most stylish thing most people do. They are being escorted into the back of a black Bentley – and driven on soft springs to the semi-circular beach of their oblivion.

Dienstag 4 Januar

Warm, showery day. Walk in the park with Leigh; very aware of pregnant women, of couples with babies in buggies. Held her hand. Green parrots unhappy with the wind.

My image for life is flour on a fork – plain white flour. Although I can’t see the particles, I know they are there. They have more friction than chalk powder, and seem happy to ascend into toppleable towers. Spooning flour into a bowl brings a sequence of unrepeatable icebergs. I’m sorry to lose each one. Bread follows. (But, if it’s bright white, this is processed flour.)

Mouse was fine while we were away, Polly says, round for coffee. She went in to see him twice. Like Christmas. Only one night with our bed all to himself. He’s grown a little, still growing. He lies on the carpet behind me like tabby roadkill. Legs all over – at least seven of them. Not a normal kitten, this one. Hardly a kitten any more.

Looked back at last month in here. What I wrote on December 17th about finishing the last book is wrong – just entirely wrong. I will try again when I can be bothered.

Mittwoch 5 Januar


can be bothered. Ends of years feel like conclusions but beginnings feel like continuations. December devolves to January, and I’m in the same shit, writing the same thing. Project remains Project. Ends of books are staggered: first reader, other readers, agent, publishers or publisher, editor, redraft, final edit, flat proofs, bound proofs, final panicked changes, author’s copies, oh look a typo on page 3. When I finished scribbling the last paragraph of my last book, first time through, I stood up and took a curtain call. I haven’t confessed that to anyone, not even in here. I bowed left, right, front. That’s the only time I’ve ever done something so public, in my room, on my own. But I knew that someone someday would applaud what I’d done – I felt the tickle-touch of future eyes – there were admirers, a thousand, ten thousand – I could almost hear them cheering – but the standing ovation, the love, was interrupted by rumours of a bomb, and then by a bomb – people fled the smoky theatre – Messerschmidts and Spitfires, coming out of the sun, strafed the screaming crowds – I sat down again, and was pleased at the beginnings of shame at my vanity. Such vanity. This took place one day in the middle of March or June, not on 31st December. Yet it was my own personal midnight of the year. I may have told Leigh that evening (about finishing the book), I suspect I didn’t. It was an entirely private Hogmanay. Usually, I’ll write a little in here, and I always try to remember to date final pages. Maybe someone who was in the auditorium will be enthused enough to take an interest, after they recover from their pride-induced burns – although that particular theatre will have to be rebuilt from ashy ruins. These are the foundations.

In Juni or März – privately – at the desk – ashamed – scribbling – I will try to rebuild from ashy ruins. I think it will be harder this time, because I dared to take that curtain call. Because of that, I am a worse person, a worse writer.

Donnerstag 6 Januar

Cocooning. Marbled endpapers enclose me – I am intended to be read on a table of oak, by sunlight falling through ash trees. From a room two rooms away, someone I love plays Schubert – the accompaniment, but no-one is singing. When it is dark, owls will report on one another like agents for the Stasi. Herons find the lake, as their great-grandmothers did. No newts in the rain barrel. (I was in parts of this past – I travelled blithely through 1978, as if it were 1938.) Put your ear closer to the collapse: I can hear the ants in the compost. A spider isn’t even patient as it repairs its web. The house martins in the eaves of the Cheshire Home have something to do with me. (Without shadows, no poetry; without mulch, no trees.) Although the ink is black, it features as torch beam. Human beings are mostly wrong. Crumbs of gathered pollen fall on me from the ivy, and I emerge boyish and cobwebbed. (A spider isn’t even an emblem of concern for death as it restrings its web.) There’s a reek of fox close to the lake wall. If you were patient enough, you’d see something beneath the surface. You wait. No word but susurrus for the reedbed whisperings. He knew something about him – germane to him – was being passed, stem to stem, in the twilight, on the Sunday evening.

Freitag 7 Januar

Wrote some novel.

Also, did some preparation for teaching. Emailing all the students in this term’s workshop. Making sure they know which room we’re in, etc. Already anxious about what they’ll expect.

Then wrote a bit more novel.

Samstag 8 Januar


Sonntag 9 Januar

10:09. Leigh did a pregnancy test, which was positive! (She bought it at the Streatham chemist as soon as they opened.) Clearblue: a small cross in a clear plastic circle.

Neither of us quite able to believe it – although I had thought Leigh might soon be pregnant, again. Her period is days late. So, she was pregnant when we went for that sad walk in the park; also at New Year, at my parents’.

We have been a little subdued in our reaction. I feel very happy but also terrified. Leigh wanted to do another test immediately; I said the cross was very clear. More hugs. We’ve decided not to tell anyone for three months – assuming all goes well.

11:01. I am nervous every time Leigh goes out of the room; she, whenever she goes to the loo. She has immediately started taking aspirin, and will try to make an appointment at St Mary’s for Tuesday.

Read on – tomorrow and the day after.