Friday, 9 February 2007

Writer’s block

One can’t chew one’s pen now, of course, and drumming one’s fingers on the keyboard doesn’t help. A writer friend of mine called Hugo Jennings, trying to get himself started on a novel for which he had already had the advance, once turned in desperation to an ancient method of stimulating creativity, which Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary defines as follows:

Taghairm, ta’garm. n. In the Scottish Highlands, divination; esp. inspiration sought by lying in a bullock’s hide behind a waterfall. (Gael.)

He told me later that it was a dismal failure. Exhausted after lugging his hired bullock’s skin halfway up the Scottish mountain to the waterfall, he found that the little ledge above which the water tumbled was crowded with an extraordinary bunch of people: a couple of crazy old shepherds, some palmists (who had come for the divination) and several Americans with waterproof laptops. He managed to find a space to lie down and wrap himself up in the skin, but what with the cold and the wet and the constant background hum of Texan chatter it was quite clear that inspiration was not going to come to him, and after a miserable hour or so he gave up and stumbled back down the rocky path.

Happily, he later managed to finish his book, which was a moderate success, and was able to get a good price for the bullock’s hide after he had dried it out.

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