Facing the Devil

Posted on March 1, 2008

(It never ceases to amaze me how much time is gobbled up when you write. It becomes alarming. Even though the ideas are vividly at the forefront of your mind, you can only translate them onto paper by investing quite absurd amounts of time. It’s true what they say: 1 per cent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration. I know what Brian Lecomber meant when he said to an interviewer: "I hope I don’t get any more ideas for books, because then I’ll have to go and write the bloody thing."
Time and time again, a whole day’s work would reveal only 3 or 4 pages. Occasionally I got 6. That was a REALLY good day. Some days would end up with a zero. When you’re writing a 500 page novel, months start skidding past awfully quickly.
Scary.
That’s when the Devil raises his head. You can hear him sneer, slyly:
"Ah, sure, why do you even bother?"
(This Devil is slightly Irish)
"Sure nobody’s going to read it anyway… you’re better off giving up. Only one book in two hundred gets anywhere at all, y’know…")

FACING THE DEVIL

He made himself a cup of coffee, and tried hard to shake off the mood of maudlin depression. He talked to himself, not unkindly, as an older brother might to a confused youngster.
Cheer up, lad! It’s not ALL bad, you know…"

It was probably true. Not ALL his work had to be rubbish.
On that slightly more positive note, he treated himself to a chocolate biscuit. He liked chocolate biscuits.
The humor of the situation struck him. There he was, examining his Inner Soul, Life, Death, and the Universe, and coming to the conclusion that the Answer lay in…
a chokkie bikkie.
Oh, well. It was a variant on the old saying…
"Life is but a cup of tea
it’s how you make it."

The mischievous side of his brain, the bit facing East, decided he could add to that.

"Make it hot and make it strong,
that’s the way to get along;
add a dash of Irish Mist,
then face the Devil completely pisht."

He giggled. It was hardly very poetic. But it served to brighten the moment a bit. Vaguely, it reminded him of some poetry he had penned years before. It was lying in the same plastic bag that he had rescued from oblivion from the damp garage of one of his ex- ladies. She had tossed all his poetry and writing there, in disgust presumably, and it was only by chance he had found it.

"Wot!? Me?
I makes no claim to fame!
The only reason that I write
is just to TRY and strike a light;
I seek… the Meaning to this strife,
a PURPOSE to a crazy life,
the Father(?) to my tiny flame.
The One they claim… hides behind
the whirring of my restless mind."

It was true. He wanted to write. The way a painter wanted to paint. A composer wanted to compose. A sculptor wanted to enthusiastically chip bits of marble or clay off a shapeless lump called Life, that only he or she recognized as wonderful and precious.
I’m an artist. No getting away from it, I’m an artist.

He smiled ruefully. Doubtless many would disagree.
It was a strange desire, this obsession to write, to try and express one self in words. If only he could paint, like Harry Berry. Write, and back it up with painting. Superb. He couldn’t paint to save his life. What was it the teacher had said at school, quite seriously, when he had proudly displayed his ‘still life study of a cat’?

Nice effort, Francis! Look children! Look at the nice rabbit little Francis has drawn!

He had refused to talk to her for a week…
Oh, well. You just had to try and express yourself.
If nobody liked it… sad.
However, that still didn’t make it a bad cat. It was a good cat. A brilliant cat. Because little Francis poured his heart and soul into it. It was my cat.
The fact that she thought it was a rabbit, and that somebody else thought it was a mean looking rat…
Life is tough. Anyway, most of them didn’t even try…

Memories… there was that funny old bloke who turned up at University one day.
(I think somebody said he was a council laborer).
He set up a little stand, and tried to sell his poetry.
He was convinced he was a Poet, and that people should read him. I never saw him, but my then amour, Dympna did.
She felt sorry for him. (Dympna felt sorry for everybody,
I have to admit, although what that says for our relationship I don’t know…)
Anyway, because absolutely nobody was buying, and the poor Poet was sitting there, all alone and ignored, she… yes, you guessed it, she went over and bought a little book. The Poet nearly cried. He was so happy somebody was interested in his Life’s Work.
And did she read it?
That’s what I asked. No, she said. She tried, but it was really simple stuff. Meter was all to cock. Not very interesting at all.
He gave up at the end of the day, having sold probably only one book of his collected poems, and enjoyed probably only one human contact, and went home, never to be seen again.
A failed Poet?
In the eyes of the world, yes. A simpleton, daring to raise his uncultured mind. People poked fun at him.
Laughed about him.
But to himself?
The very fact that he thought sufficiently about his life to write about it, express it on paper…
Terrific…

* * *

He gazed at the computer screen, and tried to focus on his first novel. ‘Jeremy’s War’. He was struggling with it.
Oh, well, piffle then… Let’s try a short story.
But it was no good. The nagging thought kept recurring.
I’ve spent months and months on this novel! What if nobody likes it? How do you justify the time, effort, and energy you’ve poured in?
I’ve got so many other ideas, and notes, and bits of chapters, and scenes from plays… If I try and do justice to all those ideas to the same degree of effort as I am trying to invest in "Jeremy’s War", I am going to spend YEARS just building on my present ideas.
YEARS, G…. Gordon Bennet!

How do you justify that?

He scratched his head. Worried. He was forty one. Critical time of Life to make decisions like that. What if you felt you’d dropped a clanger at age forty six?
No going back… the years would have been spent.
A horrendous thought.

He sighed again. Mama Mia! What a decision.
Write? Results uncertain, future uncertain…
Or: Pursue career in commerce, aviation, whatever.
You can’t do both. Not really. Not to the intensity required.
Oh, boy…

He made himself a cup of tea. Strong. Hot. Giggled. Pulled the box of ammunition out.

The room was quiet.
A marauding cloud had temporarily blocked out the Sun over Scotland, and the tiny island cosmos of Flotta was shadowy and uncertain.
On the southern shore, the Flotta Church – baptismal entrance and funereal finish for countless generations of quiet spoken Orcadians – seemed to loom rather large and dark.
Foreboding almost, with the heads of tombstones peeping out curiously over the stone dyke. The Dead have to be walled in securely of course, lest they escape.
Just like a bunch of roguish school children, at their studies, but nonetheless curious at the goings on in the outside world.

However, in the distance…
Beyond the Flotta Church and cemetery, far beyond where the Shadows reached, the island of Switha lay soaked in light, and beyond that again the Swona gulls soared, squawking playfully.
The sea was tirelessly sending up millions of tiny searchlights, pyrotechnic beacons to guide any traveler willing to lift up his gaze.

The computer hummed quietly, waiting patiently.
There was one more sound. An irreverent one. Down-to-earth. Homely.

The scrunching… of another chokkie bikkie.

It was his way...

He was getting ready to face the Devil…

F.M.


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3 responses to Facing the Devil

  1. Okay…I loved this. I laughed out loud several times…which makes it an automatic winner, in my book. More than that, though, this exhibits the talents of a multifaceted, versatile writer. The combination of beautiful, intriguing imagery; anecdotal events; jokes; and deeper, soul-grappling issues is quite like a well-crafted painting. I admire your talent, your sense of humor, and your love of chocolate biscuits. You tell that Irish Devil I said so…

  2. Deal! I’ll tell him. I’ll catch him when he’s had a drink.

  3. Writhing is a vocation.You have that vocation..use your talent.I can not critique or give advise,but I have done my fair share of reading and …the first that comes to mind is Zven Hassel.Similar humor.

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