Of Precision and Depth Associations

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.

Gustave Flaubert

In love, as in gluttony, pleasure is a matter of the utmost precision.

Italo Calvino
 
 
What is it that this is? That is, of words, these constructions that we like to contrive: what is it that this here is? I have been looking, this day; I am looking for depth association. Each word we lay down should have clarity, could be significant, must be crisp. It is this; or rather, this is what it is at this moment.

This isn’t just about a quality of content in the writing. We may read others’ words and find them stimulating, though sometimes — admittedly — we can also find them repulsive and all degrees between. There’s more within. In some ways, that which is sought is ineffable, or untouchable: it can’t reach the sense world. I’ve written about the feel of words before (this is the closest I can describe it); there are other layers though. This depth association is how I render it this day.

Try to write with clarity, so here it is: the smallest elemental seeds of lines are built into the shortest of stories, which in turn are part of a greater whole, which link into other stories in other segments of the wider collection, and all is connected across time, characters, places, memories, literary references or themes. It is this depth association I am, currently, trying to see in words I read and write. How does what you write connect with your other offerings? How can what I write connect across the sphere of my output? There must be honest attempts at precision.

There must be motifs and geographies, objects and actions, and other nuances, that link across time and page or screen. There must be the slightest repetition or just the insinuation of reference: it must be like light; or, there must be flavours steeped in; or, it is — as I’ve long suspected — the gap between the church bells that resonates with the most clarity. Words can be sharp and delicate, both, but such that after-tastes linger; after-images can press against the redness of the closed eyes; all of these: metaphors can marinate in the whole.

Be clear and precise: what is it that this is? This is a need for precision in the writing and in the reading; rhythm and grace; that which could melt. These are the ideals that gather, though these are the ideals that frustrate. The writer of pulp will earn his sluice of gravy money, sink it and think nothing more, no doubt; the writer who strives for the violinist’s chords may just be sunk by his own endeavours. In the end, perhaps the art of precision is an act of love: there may be depth associations and crispnesses but only those of similar malady might see.
 
 

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The Pressing of the Social Fabric on the Written Word

Despite ourselves and any great imagination we might purport to have, can we only ever really write within the parameters of our own time? That is, we may write outside of own century (backwards or forwards), or even our own decade, or closer still, yet are we always bound by the present of our own realities seeping into what we’ve written? Is there no escape?

I’ve recently been reading some 12th century romances, as you do: the type that comes ready installed on e-readers. I’ve waded through Erec et Enide (‘waded’ being the operative term) by Chrétien de Troyes, and am stealing myself for single sitting attempts at Cligès, Yvain and Lancelot, by the same author. I prepared myself, as it were, with the reading of Tristan and Iseult, albeit an early 20th century interpretation written by Joseph Bédier.

The story of the story, the legend, the tale written on top of the tale, all interests me and has done for some time. That we’re comprised of stories is something I come back to time and again. I’ve written my own modern-day take on Tristan and Iseult (Isolde) and so felt compelled to go back again to see how my version builds out from others’ takes. After due settling periods of written pieces, these comparisons are interesting exercises in themselves.

What struck me in the reading of both of the above authors’ works was how much a product of their (assumed) time they were. That is, Chrétien de Troyes attempts to deliver an idealised 12th century society, grafting on his Arthurian ideal; Bédier’s 1900 Tristan and Iseult resupposes the romance for his period. If Arthur even existed at all he may well have been some 6th century Romano-British chieftain; his ‘Round Table’ is actually a late 13th century or early 14th century artefact, created on the instigation of Edward I, later appropriated by Henry VIII who depicted himself on it as Arthur. In short, the Arthurian ideal was just that.

From such stirring stuff of legend comes tales that keep getting re-told. However, in both eras read of recently, the ideal is less than so when seen in our modern terms: women, for example, largely come across as merely objects with little or no desire other than to serve the ‘noble’ lords, knights and fathers or father figures. The idealised French chivalry depicted by Chrétien de Troyes leads this reader to actively want his Enide to show a spark, any spark, of life. This only happens when, forced to marry the Count of Limors after thinking Erec dead, she verbally attacks him. That she gets slapped for her efforts is fitting for how I feel about her, but doesn’t do the perspective on womankind any good at all. I very much needed Enide to punch the Count back (and wage some retributory action on many of the male characters too); sadly though, these are just not in keeping with the social mores of the time.

Herein lies the rub: despite Enide’s role in the middle section of the story as someone who warns Erec of dangers he hasn’t yet seen, albeit meekly, and against Erec’s explicit demands, and despite the author’s apparent message that women should, in fact, speak up, Chrétien de Troyes can only really write whilst pressed upon by the social layers of his own time. Women are loyal trophies; all noble men’s deeds are most excellent (even when slaying and butchering); defeated opponents become subservient unquestioning ‘servant friends’: the servitude of women should be matched by their pleasing physical attributes; the butchery of men should be seen as noble; the righteous defeat of opponents should result in effectively enslaving them under the guise of ‘friendship’.

It is an idealism based, perhaps, as a reaction to the immediate times. Scroll forwards to the 20th and 21st centuries. As an example of such rootedness, I think back to the first of the Star Trek franchise: Kirk et al regularly tackled matters pertaining to the social issues of the 1960s, yet those storylines were projected onto a 23rd century future.

Is it possible to write, be it for television or film scripts or for books and the like, outside of our own time? That is, the social mores of our own place in time press on us and, no matter how subtly, influence us: we may be blessed with great imaginations, but can we use those to leap out of everything that surrounds us in the now?
 
 

On How to Write Poetry and Prose

At the risk of confusing the search bots out here on the wondrous wide web, there follows a duplication of two short articles I originally wrote for a beta blog site some months ago. Of course, I go against what I’ve been taught in reproducing them here (for the aforementioned reason of confusing the poor nano-trawlers), but I found that the words still spoke to me. So, here they are:
 
How to Write Poetry . . .?

Rhythm, meter, assonance, etc., might well form concrete components of a poem, but these portions won’t form the essence of the whole. Poetry is, of course, impossible to define. How do we write something that cannot be defined? How can we analyse such an abstract construct? We can only be objective about our subjectivity. In phenomenological terms, we seek the essence of the experience: others’ objectivity of their own subjectivity chimes here with mine . . .

Poetry is what gets lost in translation (Robert Frost). Or maybe language is surrounded by languages we don’t know how to speak. Too many words here may well pop the bubble. Language is surrounded by the space: ohne Wort. Write delicately, even when with harsh pen strokes.

In a poem the words should be as pleasing to the ear as the meaning is to the mind (Marianne Moore). In the cold harsh delicacy, clarity of sound will manifest. We should strip away all the mud and straw that muffles this. Write as you hear it, but do not be afraid to scratch out and re-write, re-write: it is the search of cold crystal quivering on your skin.

Poetry is the impish attempt to paint the colour of the wind (Maxwell Bodenheim). All the senses hasten: we’re human and bedevilled by these. We can’t escape this, so we should write embracing their constant pleading at us.

Literature is a state of culture; poetry is a state of grace (Juan Ramón Jiménez). We should serve our senses with words; we should not gripe or bemoan our ineffectiveness at finding perfection. Write with love or lament, but quietly so, knowing that words are greater than you.

I am overwhelmed by the beautiful disorder of poetry, the eternal virginity of words (Theodore Roethke). There is little as distasteful as spoiled words: write carefully, though from the well where ordered thoughts don’t often reach.

Writing poetry can only come from unseen places. They are places of quiet grace, despite the chattering and the pleading of our senses: make us cold by perfect words. They are places of potential and of utter clarity, where what is written is a shiver on the whole of you. What is ‘written’ may not be what is contained in actual letters: it may be in between the words, or it may be — in essence — elsewhere.
 
How to Write Prose . . .?

How do you write prose? How do you write prose? Listen to the way words susurrate. Listen. Why use simple stones of words — lumps — when there are so many better ones out there? Stop here. Pause for a moment with me. Others have listed their rules and techniques, commandments and reflections for writing: they write about writing in general, the life of the writer, and ways of thinking; here we’ll find a small selection, interpretations, on how to write prose.

Neil Gaiman’s first rule of writing is ‘write’. It is a simple instruction, but simplicity often needs spelling out. Words won’t write themselves. Beautiful prose (it is this that this article is concerned with) is not stitched by elves and pixies under candlelight. Write. Out of your gruel and grey slurry, you can pick the small shining jewels.

Treat ‘language as a found object’ (Susan Sontag). Wipe clean the jewels you find; let them settle on the windowsill, on the desk, or in the drawer. Once, when you return to them, look on them with wonder if they shine. Know that you have created these: they may not be worth a penny to another, but you have created these jewels. Look around for more.

Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied (Zadie Smith). If you treat your life as in ‘treat, sweet’ and as in ‘treatment, application’, regarding your looking, you still may never find the most beautiful of jewels. You should not let this stop you from looking. Writing is looking: feel it.

Something that you ‘feel’ will find its own form (Jack Kerouac). In the looking, sometimes we just cannot see. Sometimes we will find the things we have lost, or the things we didn’t know were there, right at our feet. When something is ready to be found, or formed, it will manifest itself. Be ready to let it flow from you.

Flow and rhythm can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material (John Steinbeck). Words are part of you: even the gruel and grey slurry.

So, how could you write prose? Embrace all that flows in you, because this is a part of you. Feel the flow of words in you, and they will find their own shape. Some shapes, however beautiful, will not be the shapes of absolute wonder. Be fine with this and keep searching: your already-found objects of language, in the meantime, will continue to settle as you continue your search. This search must be written out, in all its gruel and greyness, and your jewels may shine when wiped clean. Words can susurrate here. So, how do you write prose?
 
 

An Atomic View

Be mindful of the moments: like atoms, they make up everything.

If we cannot capture moments, we cannot write. We can write an epic vista over the massive wastelands, but if we don’t catch the moment of the wind blowing a strand of hair across the eyes, we’re not writing.

How many times have I dug up old Jack Kerouac here? He’s just a ghost who’s squinting in the sunlight, already on his slippery slide, sat in the chair just next to me. Years before, he wrote a moment I can’t ever shake from my head:
 
Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the colour of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the colour of love and Spanish mysteries. I stuck my head out the window and took deep breaths of the fragrant air. It was the most beautiful of all moments.

(Jack Kerouac, On the Road, 1957)
 
Of course we can always also sentimentalise, caramelise our feelings, because when we feel struck stuck, what else can we do? I refer to what we often term as ‘love’, or words we use that might approximate this. There are love stories to be told in atomic ways:
 
You keep our love hidden
like the nightdress you keep under your pillow
and never wear when I’m there

(from Love Story, Adrian Henri, Collected Poems 1967-85)
 
Of course we can always write from the iron tasting otherness, where it’s devoid of sugar and where we’re driven differently. We’re honeyed and we’re rusted, both, and all textures in between:
 
We made love in Sissel’s copious, effortless periods, got good and sticky and brown with the blood and I thought we were the creatures now in the slime . . .

(Ian McEwan, First Love, Last Rites, 1975)
 
How many moments have we truly really felt? Of course there’s no way to tell; yet, what we know is often more about the scene we’re in than the realisation that this, here, is significant. Do we know and feel the slime we occupy, the significance of the absence of an object or another, the fragrant air?

A strand of hair falls across the eyes as they scan the epic wasteland vista . . someone is mindful of the moments, knowing that atoms make up everything.
 
 

Unexpectedness and Multiplicity

Writers, if they are worthy of that jealous designation, do not write for other writers. They write to give reality to experience.

Archibald MacLeish
 
It is always the unexpected words that please the most. I have my plans, though they don’t always come to fruition. This is the small story of the story that has come, of its own accord. Other plans can wait.

Is it the idea that has taken root first, or the first line, or the outline sketch of a character? I don’t know where this emerging story has come from. What I know is I would like to find out where it is, in the now, the now I write it as. I write here in a pause from writing there. I write here because I have to write whatever I have to write whenever it needs to be written. Now is all we have. I write here, in a pause from writing there, because I’m just waiting, waiting. You know? It’s not a block or an impasse: it’s a point of just sitting back to ‘watch’. I don’t know if this makes sense.

When you’re also a writer, do you go through lines like these . . .? Waking, dull, thinking I need to write but it isn’t strong enough, this writing I have done; sitting, reading, thinking I will write because it is the possibility of something here; writing, immersing, thinking here is something, here this is; pausing, hungry, in a liminal space between this world and the other. You know?

This is why I get this down now. If I move, it falls away.
 
There are many reasons why novelists write, but they all have one thing in common: a need to create an alternative world.

John Fowles
 
There are many worlds. Here ‘amongst’ me there is the world of my assumed reality; there is the world of my creations, taken away by them as I am — albeit slightly removed just here and right now; there is the world of the very here and the very now, in which I wallow or I swim when I concoct on this page (this here is a world, and some version of you meets some version of me in it). We switch between worlds like choosing between books.

It is always the unexpected to please the most: I did not expect these words here to delve into this world, but as I’m here I may as well take a look around. I’m pleased to ‘meet’ you. Which you do I address? A writer may really only address an audience of one (so some of them can be quoted as saying), and here this is you; though which you do I address? Don’t tell me that you don’t see: you’re split down the middle, lengthways, many ways. Which is the ‘real’ you. Some version of me meets some version of you.

I am not a novelist, though I may one day be. I am not a poet, outwardly, though I am truly. I do have a need to write some alternative world, though really I’m not sure why. I do have a need to place the fragments of those worlds down, when they come to me, because if I don’t I lose them, and if I move it all falls away.
 
A wondrous dream, a fantasy incarnate, fiction completes us, mutilated beings burdened with the awful dichotomy of having only one life and the ability to desire a thousand.

Mario Vargas Llosa
 
 

Scatterlings and Short Thoughts: Abundance Seen to Unseen

You can survive as a writer on hustle: you get paid very little for each piece, but you write a lot of pieces. Christ, I did book reviews — I did anything. It was $85 here, $110 there — I was like Molly Bloom: ‘Yes I will, yes I will, yes.’ Whatever anybody wanted done, I did it.

(Kurt Vonnegut)
 
I’m thinking about writers of the past: those with talent and initiative — what would they have made of today’s publishing opportunities? Here’s Vonnegut, secretly offering up praise because he thinks he doesn’t have to poke around any more. Unfortunately for him there are also all the other writers piling in like ghosts. A lot have plenty to say. Some should never have been published at all and are found out. Would they then run away and hide?

~

Medicine is my lawful wife. Literature is my mistress.

(Anton Chekhov)
 
I will run away with you, printed on my skin, because you’re rare. I have looked for you for so long. Perhaps you’re not perfect, this you, this time, this incarnation; perhaps you’re perfect enough for now. Does everyone have such mistresses? If I abandoned you, and if all of us who have you and your kind here with us do likewise, where would that leave the state of the nation, without consideration and wonder in words?

~

A writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and they can change their meanings right in front of you. They pick up flavours and odours like butter in a refrigerator.

(John Steinbeck)
 
How will the stories you’ve written transform when translated into a different language? Languages are curious. There are some languages that have words that can’t be translated into English, some whose certain words sparkle in their combinations in a way that English words might not; there are some languages that just strip a beautiful English phrase to its bare bones and bleach it with a simple inelegant wash; there are languages that look quite identical on the page but, when examined closely, show up scratch marks to the reading eye of the writer of the original piece. I read, somewhere, how an American reader disliked the way an English or British writer might write ‘whilst’ instead of ‘while’, or ‘learnt’ instead of ‘learned’; this English writer is often similarly set off-kilter by the American ‘oftentimes’ and by the use of ‘likely’ instead of ‘probably’ or ‘probable’.

I write English, by the way, because I’m not British, as such, in much the same way as my Scottish and Welsh friends may well view themselves as such before British.

I wonder how my words might transform when written in different languages. If I consider a line to be beautiful, will it stay that way? If I consider a line inadequate, just lacking in some degree, can it be improved in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese? It is all dark to me.

~

I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.

(Henry David Thoreau)
 
Writers always write in the dark.
 
 

Further to the Art of Writing Micro-Fiction

Yesterday’s post, on reflection, didn’t have the clarity and brevity that it needed (despite a reblogging — thank you for that Yas). The words weren’t left to settle long enough. So, in the spirit of trying to aim better, I now aim to make amends in the edit.

Brevity and succinctness are often misunderstood. A very short story may well receive the feedback that ‘it feels like it could be developed into something longer.’ This entirely misses the point.

Holly Howitt-Dring’s essay uses the heading ‘micro-fiction’ as an umbrella term which includes ‘flash fiction’ as well as the ‘short short’. However, I would suggest that flash fiction is more inclined towards quick, timed writing rather than the studied brevity of ‘micro’, as I read it.

‘Micro-fiction’ in this article, therefore, is a form of writing that the author has given plenty of consideration to. There is historical precedent for micro-fiction. This reader considers some works as micro-fiction, even if the author didn’t originally label them as such.

I offer up three examples of historical micro-fiction. These examples are chosen because (i) they appear to have been considered, despite being short, in the writing; (ii) they appear either as parts of a greater whole — a ‘novel’ — or as part of a collection of stories, or as linked pieces; (iii) they can be read as individual pieces in their own right.

Brautigan’s The God of the Martians (1955/56) — six hundred words, divided into twenty ‘chapters’ — is an example that might seem to contradict my earlier statement: that developing a short piece into a longer one misses the point. I use Brautigan’s novel as an example of turning that thought around though: a ‘longer’ piece (albeit only six hundred words) can be viewed by way of its short separate entities — in this case, a series of averaged thirty-word, stand alone stories in themselves.

Kafka’s Meditations (1906-1912) and A Country Doctor: Little Tales (1914-1917) are individual pieces/stories that have been collected into a greater whole. They each stand alone.

Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1974, 1979) are linked, yet they’re stand alone pieces.

Micro-fiction is misunderstood. It is something to aspire to (and there is a body of work to act as precedent). Writing with brevity and succinctness takes some great skill. It need not be the start of something longer (although it can, of course, be a part of something wider): micro-fiction is a beauty in its own right.
 
 

The Art of Writing Micro-Fiction

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.

(Friedrich Nietzsche)
 
Brevity and succinctness are often misunderstood. Put a piece, a very short story, up for peer review and — though it may receive favourable feedback — there’s often a comment tacked on: ‘It feels like it could be developed into something longer.’ This entirely misses the point.

If it’s good in its brevity, there may be a lingering after the reading. The reader may not remember every word, or every detail, every placement of every subtlety, but they may be left with the possibility of the piece playing around in their mind. Sometimes, that playing is the embodiment of the tale itself; sometimes the piece read may turn itself towards the reader, asking ‘so, how do you feel?’; sometimes, a reader’s other memories may rise to the surface as a result.

Writing micro-fiction is a challenge in itself. Let’s not confuse the terms ‘micro’ and ‘flash’ fiction here: the former, as I see it when I write it, is a craft, an art-form in the developing; the latter, though it may result in something good, is a quick race through of words, a sprint — something splashed down quickly.

Holly Howitt-Dring’s essay on micro-fiction, Making micro meanings: reading and writing micro-fiction in Short Fiction in Theory and Practice (Published by Intellect, 2011) provides an excellent research background to the form. Although she does include flash fiction along with ‘short shorts, postcard fiction, sudden fiction and even prose poetry’ under the general heading of micro-fiction, I’m inclined to disagree because of the reasons already given. As a brief overview of the form, in an essay version for Planet Extra she writes:

‘There’s much to condense [in a micro-fiction piece], much left unspoken to the point that the writer makes a pact with the reader: you will not be told everything, you will guess and then, in return, be allowed to interpret the stories as you wish.’

As notable examples of micro-fiction, even if they weren’t termed as such at the time of their writing, I think of work by Richard Brautigan, Franz Kafka, and Italo Calvino.

In 1955/56, Brautigan wrote a subsequently unpublished ‘novel’ called The God of the Martians. He experimented with twenty ‘chapters’, the total word count of the work coming in at just six hundred words. It was rejected by the editor of the literary magazine he sent it to. Brautigan was, it would appear, ahead of his time.

Kafka was also, perhaps, writing short pieces before they could be accepted. However, in this case it was the author himself who didn’t consider them worthy. In the editor’s notes to the 1992 version of Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Malcolm Pasley quotes the author, regarding his series of short meditation pieces (1906-1912): ‘The few unsold copies of Meditation need not be destroyed, I don’t want to give anyone the trouble of pulping them, but none of these pieces should be reprinted.’ The editor goes on to write that the book met with favourable review when it was published. Metamorphosis also includes a series of short fictions under the collected title of A Country Doctor: Little Tales.

Calvino’s Invisible Cities (English translation 1974, 1979) is just an exceptional series of short fictions, all of which relate a fictionalised account of a different Venice. It may never have ever been termed as a series of micro-fictions anywhere else, but to my reading eye that is exactly what it is.

Micro-fiction is misunderstood: it is something to aspire to (and there is a body of work to act as precedent). Writing with brevity and succinctness takes some great skill and, although the examples I offer up contribute to greater wholes, each piece is also something in itself. Each micro-fiction need not be the start of something longer because each micro-fiction is a beauty in its own right.
 
 

Thunder in the Air

We made love in Sissel’s copious, effortless periods, got good and sticky and brown with the blood and I thought we were the creatures now in the slime . . .

Ian McEwan, First Love, Last Rites (1975)
 
I lived in the dead centre of Europe — pretty much — for a short while, a long while ago. I was away from home and missing English. A small sanctuary developed within the pages of a notebook I bought with old-time Deutschmarks — when I really should have been spending the money on food or paying the rent. In the notebook I collected written gems. They comforted me.

Ian McEwan’s small comfort, above, has always hit me from several angles all at once: it has a rhythm, to my ears; it has a somewhat disquieting feel; it strikes me as what a writer who just wants to write would write; it has its own awkward beauty.

Some writers write for shock value. Maybe McEwan was angling this way as well. Time passes. Other words are written. It must be a fine line though, this balancing act between shock and awe: too ‘full on’ and the reader isn’t impressed, sees through the ruse; if ‘hitting from several angles’ then the reader is left with a flavour that still lingers, even after twenty years.

It’s been twenty years or so since I first read McEwan. He peaked early, but better to peak than to never hope to peak at all, perhaps. As a writer now, I take from McEwan — and from Sissel — not so much shock value, but awe: that small possibility that some line or paragraph of weight, or depth, or significance, or just of lingering potential, could be written. The potential of such lines just keeps hanging there in the air, like waiting for the thunder . . .

What gems, what awe in lines of writing, leave you waiting, waiting on?
 
 

The Manifestation of Characters

Writing every day also involves trying to squeeze as much pity out of others as is humanly possible! These days of austerity, and waiting for cash flows to resolve themselves neatly, sometimes result in pride suffering small demises: I accepted the hand-out of beer money (it had been my birthday recently!) and excused myself to the pub. I often take my notebook on such excursions. You never know what might transpire. As it happens I’ve been feeling itchy about writing again: fiction, that is. I’d been walking, thinking, trying to catch the name of a character I wanted to write. Until I knew her name I couldn’t place her anywhere. It would all unfold after a name. Other fictions, placed in reality, took hold though.

I sat with the paid for beer, writing the unfolding as it came. There is a pause for thought here:

There is only one trait that marks the writer. He is always watching. It’s a kind of trick of the mind and he is born with it. (Morley Callaghan)

The man at the bar had clearly been drinking most of the day. He skewed his face up at me. It wasn’t an aggressive stance: some people are affected in benign ways by alcohol. He wandered over, paused a few feet from me, opened his mouth, and then closed it again. Eventually he asked, ‘What are you writing?’

I wondered what I was writing. ‘I’m trying to find a word,’ I told him. It wasn’t a belligerent answer. He told me he could see that by the way my biro was held there, aloft in mid-air. We discussed some appropriate words. We sat and talked over more beer, albeit with a little slurring on his part: about Blues pianists; about mixing medicine and alcohol after failed root canal dentistry; about things men talk about in pubs and forget soon after. His eye began to wander around the place. Soon enough he’d made his excuses, getting up unsteadily. He wanted to go talk with the women who’d just come in.

‘Come on,’ he said, smiling at me. ‘Come on. Be my wing-man.’

I’m no wing-man, especially for others I’ve just met. I declined. He bounced his way around the bar. I watched out for him, mainly because a writer is always watching. Soon, in a flurry, he came bundling over with his finger pointed at me. It wasn’t aggressive. ‘Come on, my man. Let’s go. I need your help.’ I declined again. He’d lost count of how much beer he’d had, and which dentist-endorsed drugs he’d taken. He agreed that I was probably double figures in pints behind him, and so he bounced off again. I saw him peeking round the end of the bar, hoping out — perhaps — for me to come help.

The next time I saw him, through the fire place, he had sat himself down at the end of a table where two women were sitting and talking. He just waited until they’d acknowledged he was there. Now, I felt uneasy. The bar staff whispered to one another. The man waited, as was polite. Earlier, in a slightly less inebriated manner, he’d concentrated hard in telling me what he did for work: I registered the words ‘topology of computer . . .’ and then it all fell away into a mess of him trying to discombobulate me, and him trying to keep it all together for himself. So, the man was clearly intelligent, in ordinary circumstances. I wondered how he might see himself in the cold glare of day. He probably wouldn’t even remember. A little while later I watched him bounce out of the front door without a goodbye.

I expected to see him lying in the gutter, or wrapped around a tree some way down the road, later when I left the pub myself. He was nowhere to be seen though. I wonder if he got home the fifteen miles or so to the village where he said he lived.

We can start with fictions borne of complete imagination, such as characters who won’t divulge their own names easily; on the other hand, we can just take a notebook with us and sit and wait for characters to show themselves to us in other ways.