It was going to be a duvet day. Paper read while breakfast consumed – tick. Emails checked and necessary responses made – tick. Facebook and weather apps opened and scrolled – tick. How about the toilet and oven up next to be cleaned?
Oh no you don’t. No further prevarication allowed.
The moment could not be put off any longer: it was time to apply the bum to the seat and get some writing done.
But with backside firmly applied to the swivel chair and the laptop opened to the page where I’d left off a few days earlier, no words arrived to magically append themselves to the page. Staring out the window didn’t help. Nor did picking up the nail file, nor turning on the music. The moment I found my fingers hovering over the email button I knew there was nothing for it but to retreat under the duvet to conjure up another few pages of my next novel.
It can be winter, summer, spring or fall; it doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold – under the duvet it’s always temperate. Under the duvet is the perfect place to cultivate procrastination. It’s also the perfect place for inspiration, if you focus hard enough on the task at hand – the plot twist you need or the elusive X-factor that’s going to somehow spirit it up the bestseller list.
But the focus evaporated the moment the doorbell rang.
How could I have forgotten? I was on babysitting duties with my grandson Ollie.
The moment of inspiration interruptus however became inspiration itself for the opening chapter of my next book, Gone Tomorrow. In this fictional world, beloved granddaughter Rosie suddenly disappears while in the over-committed, harried and harassed grandmother’s care. This is how my real world became translated into fiction:
“Under the duvet was when ideas popped out of nowhere; it was when I discovered where the wild things were, in places I’d never been before; it was when the impossible dream seemed possible.
It was when the doorbell rang.
Tigger barked and leapt off the bed, charging along the hallway to the front door. The ringing continued; the barking intensified. When the doorbell rings, why does a dog always seem to think it’s for them?
I decided to ignore it. Let Tigger bark. Let the doorbell ring. I was perfectly happy in my cocoon.
It could be Rick hounding me for a date.
It could be my agent here already.
Let it ring.
It could be a client.
It could be any one of my family.
Let it ring.
It could be a vacuum cleaner salesman.
It could be the Mormons.
Let it ring until the Second Coming.
But whoever was there started hammering on the glass. Tigger was getting into a frenzy.
Flinging back the duvet, I stomped down the hall in my bare feet, rehearsing a frosty reception for the pesky Mormons, and flung open the door with such force I nearly knocked myself over.”
The fictional Penny Rushmore’s son Adam had arrived unexpectedly with four-year-old Rosie, setting off several days of child-minding that meant an end to writing, an end to the day job, and a whole trajectory of events that roiled out of control with Rosie’s disappearance.
Blurring fact with fiction is something we novelists do all the time. As long as no family or friends are harmed or disrespected along the way – a fine line sometimes when you’re writing in a small world like New Zealand and there are often just a few degrees of separation between people.
Writing about having children and grandchildren must be incredibly hard to do when you don’t have any. The feeling of their complete vulnerability as you watch them sleep, the warrior woman that suddenly arises within you when you suspect their happiness or safety is threatened. The sheer joy when a gummy baby beams at you as if you’re the only person that matters in the world. And the despair when their grief seems inconsolable – no matter what their age.
The old tricks we learned with our own children still apply with the grandies – diversionary tactics when their mind is set on the impossible; letting them think they’re getting exactly what they want by dint of some roundabout negotiations; treats their parents wouldn’t give them, whether by mouth or with old-fashioned toys that have been hidden away for some 30 years but have certainly not lost their appeal. I knew those Spot books and Baby’s First Blocks would come in handy one day – and they’ll provide another few paragraphs of entertainment when I get back into the fictional world of Gone Tomorrow.