I heard something very, very ugly on the wireless today. I was going to write about it. I started writing about it. And then something in me died a little, and I turned away.
I did my work. At the moment, I’m beginning a new project which has actually been requested by my agent. For the last two years I’ve been doing everything on spec, which means I write and write and write and the agent says, well, yes, very nice, but we need more changes and a bit of this and a bit of that and I wrangle away with version after version and then nothing gets published and I want to go and live in a barrel.
This one is an idea which we cooked up together and is aimed at an actual gap in the market. It is a heart project and a commercial project. You may imagine my delight.
Part of the new project involves going back and looking at old writing. I’m going to use some of the old writing for the new book, which also delights me as I hate waste. As I was rummaging around in the archives this morning, I found a conversation I had written down with my smallest and most adored cousin. It took place two years ago, and I have absolutely no memory of it.
Thank goodness for the blog, I think, smiling as I read the words. Thank goodness that I listen to those lunatic voices in the head which yell at me: write it down, write it down. Thank goodness this little piece of loveliness has been preserved.
I heard something very ugly and it shocks me still. I’m putting up something beautiful and sweet and funny and true against it. Everyone fights ugliness in their own small ways. This is mine.
Here it is, from November 2014:
As always, I slightly forget the absolute enchantment of the family life with the Beloved Cousin. For enchantment it is. There has been a lot of cooking, picking the last vegetables from the garden, walking, admiring the apples still on the apple trees, watching the glorious polo herd have their happy winter off, and playing with the ravishing black dogs.
The Youngest Cousin has turned into a mine of wisdom and information. She looks at me very seriously and says things like: ‘You know, being pretty is not important. Being kind is. And being happy.’
I say, with interest: ‘How do you know that? Did someone tell you?’
Slightly reproachful look.
‘I do a lot of thinking, you know.’
She is six years old.
Then, gathering momentum – ‘Boasting is no good. Nobody likes a boaster.’
‘No,’ I say, chastened. I hope she is not referring to me. I think of all those blog posts about the wonders of the red mare and all the clever things she does. Has the Youngest Cousin been secretly reading the internet? And disapproving?
Then she moves swiftly on to information. ‘Do you know how many dinosaur names I know?’
‘No, I don’t.’
She kindly lists them.
‘Do you know that whales can hear from really far away? A thousand miles sometimes?’
‘I did not know that.’
She puts her head on one side. ‘They talk to each other,’ she says, slightly wistful.
‘What do they say?’ I ask.
‘Oh, I don’t know. Hello I’m lost, I expect.’
‘I see,’ I say, trying to keep up.
‘Do you know how the Germans started the Second World War?’
I’m on slightly surer ground now.
‘They invaded Poland?’ I hazard, trying to remember what would count as the definitive starting gun. ‘Or the Sudetenland?’
Dismissive frown. ‘I don’t know that country, but they were very, very cross with the English.’
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I expect that’s what it was.’
Then I get a little break while she watches an episode of Scooby Doo.
Soon, she is back for more. She fixes me with her basilisk stare. ‘Do you know?’ she starts. I have begun to see there is a pattern here. ‘Do you know?’ is her newest and most regular conversational gambit. I sit up straight and concentrate.
‘Do you know,’ she says, ‘that King Henry put gunpowder in the holes so that when the Spain came they blew up?’
I retire from the field, defeated. I have no memory of the Spain being blown up.
Can she mean the Device Forts?
I know better than to ask.