Does every writer have a muse? I like to think so. There are times when inspiration comes – the drawing in of a breath (that’s what inspiration is, after all) – and my writing flows with words that come through rather than from me. He’s called Liam, my muse – of Irish extraction, I believe. I suspect he’s one of my ancestors on the Celtic side of the family, one who has kissed the Blarney Stone.
If you’re imagining a lovely, jovial gent who sits at my shoulder, muttering ideas in a gentle, lilting, Terry Woganish way, though, forget it. He can be harsh, uncompromising and – as I discovered this week – utterly ruthless.
It all started when I decided to begin work on the new book: working title ‘After Life’.
In my sixty-something years, I’ve had perhaps more than my fair share of encounters with people in and around the After Life experience. By that I mean people who were ‘dying’, bereaved and – in one or two cases – already departed. I’d written quite extensively about it in various places and from various angles. All these writings were safely stashed on my computer, in neat little Word files. So surely, I reasoned, if I loaded all these into a master file, did a bit of editing to bring them together and fiddled around with the style, I’d be well on the way to finishing the book.
Liam, however, was not (forgive me) a-mused.
He started with the gentle mumblings in my ear…
This is old stuff. You can do better. Draw on all those experiences, but not the words…
On he nagged, and I wasn’t listening. Believe me, it doesn’t do to ignore your muse.
On Wednesday, I went to open a document. A mysterious dialogue box appeared. I clicked to ignore it and with an insolent ping, Word vanished. I tried again. Same box. This time I tried opening it. Another ping. Another blank screen.
My computer skills extend to, ‘If it isn’t doing what you want, turn off, count to 20 and try again.’ I tried that. Much bigger, scarier dialogue box told me I had a critical error.
I won’t bore you with the range of things that went wrong that afternoon. Suffice it to say, the machine was finally reduced to a gibbering wreck which, when turned on, insisted I was a ‘guest’ on my own computer and did some pathetic little loop of rebooting a few meaningless files continually until I switched off the power.
Phone call to techie son. Deep sighs from the other end of the phone line, followed by very calm instructions about what to hold down when and so forth. Nothing changed. He gave up eventually and told me to get it fixed. Or sling it.
Long consultation with lovely Paul-from-the-computer-shop. He might be able to fix it, he said, but it would mean <lots of long words>. He’d probably be able to extract most of the files. It was up to me whether I gave it a try or bought a new computer.
A tiny but rather wonderful thought was beginning to creep into my mind (inspired, of course…)
I’m a hoarder, you see. Everything I write, I keep. That poor old machine had every lesson I’d planned for classes and private students, going back a decade or more. It had more half-written books than I could remember. It had a mysterious file called ‘thoughts and messages’ and of course, it had all those scattered pieces of writing I’d been trying to cobble together for After Life, lodged with me useless.
I crawled off to bed, exhausted, battered, yet wondering. I was prompted to draw an oracle card – something I barely ever do these days. Clear Your Space it told me.
Next morning, my head was clear. I ordered a new computer, disconnected the old one and stowed it behind the sofa. Yes, I could have taken it down to Paul, to get the files out, but my muse had inspired me. I would try, I decided, to start from scratch.
So here I am, typing on my new machine with something akin to amnesia.
The book, if it happens, will be written as the muse intended. May I be truly inspired.