Whisper subtle news

June 4, 2010


Waymark – photograph by Liz Mathews

One can shout at the top of one’s voice the information that the 11.15 for Brighton leaves from platform 6, but subtler news has to be whispered, for the reason that to drag the knowledge of reality over the threshold of consciousness is an exhausting task, whether it is performed by art or experience.

This is just one of the throw-away remarks which makes Rebecca West so redoubtable a writer, her intellect applied so unfailingly to her personal experience. When writers talk about ‘working hard’ or being ‘busy’, many people have no idea what they can possibly mean. Some even remark on the ease of a life in which there are no timetables (other than self-imposed ones) when coffee-breaks can presumably be taken at will, early rising isn’t essential, indeed the occupation is so sedentary that it can be taken outside, weather permitting. Sometimes writing looks remarkably like sunbathing…

Against this, must be set the still small voice of writers who – while not as monstrous as Ford Madox Ford, who couldn’t be upset in any way, so that his not-wife had to conceal all news of a financially depressing nature – do find that concentration can be elusive. Magda Szabo, in The Door, writes of the need to be ‘in a state of grace’ in order to write, which is the perfect description. Unfortunately, this state can be dispelled by events less traumatic than those her protagonist experiences – even if we are trying to avoid Ford-like sensitivity.

Wendy Cope wrote a funny poem mocking Ted Hughes’ poet’s angst about every act of creation having to outwit the writer’s internal censors, the secret police who patrol the unconscious. But there are many curious mechanisms which stop even utterly professional writers from just getting on with it; sudden urges to clean the house, write long-neglected letters, do far from essential shopping. Sometimes these delaying-tactics conceal some essential creative mechanism, sometimes they may stem from a sort of guilt at doing it at all.

Thus the only thing to do is sit in the sun, neglecting all other duties, immune to Fordesque worries or other mere sabotages and just write. An exhausting task…

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One Response to “Whisper subtle news”


  1. […] it collapsed shivering beside where we were sunbathing I mean working (see F’s blogue post Whisper subtle news for the distinction: Sometimes writing looks remarkably like sunbathing…). We revived the […]


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