Notebooks and tea

Right ideas, wrong time?

Every year at this time, I’m surprised by how much I love September. I love the quiet after the Edinburgh festivals, the sense of reclaiming the city. I love the earlier nights, evening walks through the gloaming, windows lit up and unshuttered. I have no expectations of the weather, so fine autumnal days are an unlooked-for gift, particularly after a shifty summer like the one we’ve just had. And the chill beneath the sun, the freshness in the air, takes me straight back to the autumn I first arrived in Edinburgh as a student; I’m reconnected to the thrill I felt, aged 18, moving to this amazing city – and to the start of all those academic years in Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle.

So September is all about beginnings, and that’s probably why ideas for a new novel – or a new something, at least – are nudging me so insistently at the moment. Ideas can be such inconvenient things: they’re elusive when you court them, and when you’re positively not looking for them they’ve a tendency to bounce about your head like moths round a lightbulb. It’s not a good time for these new characters, settings, events to arrive. This autumn is for rewriting my next novel, for writing short stories and working on critical chapters for my PhD thesis, and for starting a new year of creative writing teaching. But at the same time, it feels unwise to ignore this new thing – what if it takes off in a sulk, never to return?

Besides, new is always appealing. Poet Stanley Kunitz said, ‘The poem is always perfect in the head,’ and novels are the same – they’re inevitably imperfect versions of the vision you had before you first put pen to paper. The unwritten novel, by contrast, is full of potential; it holds the promise that this time you might not fail. This time, you might achieve what you set out to do.

I can’t write this something now; I can’t ignore it, either. So I’ve bought a new notebook for my new project, a big, blue, beautiful Moleskin. The self-imposed rule is that I can add to this book with notes and images, but I’m not allowed to look back over what I’ve collected. Not yet; not until I’ve finally finished the novel I’ve been working on for the last three years. That might not be too long, now – tomorrow I’m off for a week’s retreat, just me and the rewrites.

In the meantime, I hope the new thing will wait for me – whatever it turns out to be.

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