MIDWINTER UNWRITTEN

This one short story has fought me mounted and standing – a description I once read of a novel that was giving its author a pretty hard time – on and off for the past twenty years, and I still haven’t pinned it to the field of battle with my trusty sword… to push the fantasy/archaic military imagery slightly beyond its usefulness.

It started out as a ballad – you know, one of those long poems with interminable four-line verses – and rather a good one, I thought. However, at some point I decided it had to be turned into a short story and then, various house moves and computer meltdowns later, discovered I had lost the poem and could no longer remember the words. Unfortunately I still have the character Midwinter in my head, and I still have the story behind the poem. If only I hadn’t lost the original poem, I might have been able to let go of the short story obsession. Midwinter still nadges at me for her story to be told.

The original beginning for this phantom short story, went:

The robes of Wizardesses are blue with stars. The robes of Wizards are green with stars. And there are still Others, of whom little is known and less is said, whose robes are beyond description being of all the colours of the rainbow, and none. But all have stars.

I just adored those four sentences, but didn’t get much beyond them.

Harry Potter put a spanner in the works. Pinched some of my (unwritten, unpublished) ideas, so she did.

I have made plot summaries for this short story. I have written various half- and quarter-versions of it – filed them, fished them out, had another go, filed them, fished them out. All those yellowing bunches of file paper held together with rusty staples or rusty paperclips. Recently I even conceived a plan for a quartet of linked short stories based on an ever-expanding (in my mind, only) saga of conflict, cruelty and retribution between an ancient race of wizards and an equally ancient race of men. Each element in the quartet was going to have the name one of the Celtic festivals – Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh – with the grand, overarching title of Midwinter. It was going to be the bee’s knees, this quartet of mine.

I had another go at it this afternoon. Maybe if I just start writing, I thought. Attempt to channel my inner wizardess…

The child had no name. Sometimes it was called It. Sometimes it was called You. Once in a while it was addressed as Wryshanks on account of its twisted legs and crooked back. In its head it was Midwinter, for the time it arrived at Castle Bellbroke, and for the first of its memories.

Of that day, it mostly remembered cold. Thin limbs, a think blanket, cold like a rat a-pinching its ears and gnawing at its face. Its fingers and toes were afire with the pain of cold and it waited for death. Death, so much better than cold.

Above it, a mouth full of iron teeth, like the teeth of an iron giant. Great chains on either side. Above that windows like slits for arrows to come through. What it rested on was wood, slatted, wet. Wet seeped through its blanket…

Gone. Now I know how men must feel.

What to do? I know this could be a good short story, maybe more than one short story – a novel, even. So why can’t I write it? I am writing this to find out why I can’t write it.

Um… I am wondering if it wants to be a poem again? Tell me, Midwinter, are you wanting me to re-materialise you, atom by atom, as an interminable ballad that no one will read? No one reads poems. I love poetry and even I don’t read poems. Not in blogs, anyway.

Is it because I’ve tried and failed so many times before? Is it possible to lose all interest in a character yet still not be able to let them go? Why can’t I just dump you, Midwinter? Hop on the bus, Gus…

Is it perhaps that you are me, Midwinter? What is it about you that both grieves and obsesses me, makes me reluctant to nail your sorry self to the floor and be done with you? Would I be repairing some great rent in my inner landscape in repairing you, my Twisted Child? Are my Archetypes even now engaged in mortal combat? And have they always been so? Sometimes I have this image of dragons entwining, warring dragons becoming one, metamorphosing. Am I ready for that battle, that becoming and that extinguishment? Do I want to be that powerful? Could I bear a happy ending, if I could write it?

Maybe I run on misery.

Would I be destroyed, if I was happy?

[If the thing ever gets written, believe me, you will know. I will trumpet it from the rooftops, I will tell it in Gath, I will proclaim it in the streets of Ashkelon: MIDWINTER WRITTEN – yay!]

Nancy wore green stockings and she slept with everyone

Now there’s a title! Sadly I didn’t write it; it’s from that Leonard Cohen song Seems So Long Ago, Nancy. He has been in the wilderness for so long, and now, towards the end of his life, people are beginning to appreciate his true worth. Just as an aside, a friend of mine went into a record shop in the 90s – they still had record shops then – and asked if they had any Leonard Cohen CDs. The chap in the beard and the Motorhead tee shirt exclaimed, with the sweetest of smiles:

Ah, you must be the other Leonard Cohen fan.

In an interview Cohen said this song was about a woman he had known in Montreal:

I think that the world throws up certain kinds of figures. Sometime in abundance, sometimes very rarely, and that some of these figures act as archetypes or prototypes for another generation which will manifest these characteristics a lot more easily, maybe a lot more gracefully, but not a lot more heroically…Another twenty years later she would have been just like you know, the hippest girl on the block. But twenty years before she was – there was no reference to her, so in a certain way she was doomed.

Poor, promiscuous, beautiful Nancy who ended up alone …looking at the Late Late show through a semi-precious stone… and then even more alone …a forty-five beside her head, an open telephone…

 You may be wondering what started me thinking about Leonard Cohen and Nancy at all, and I’m trying to remember… really I am! Oh yes, semi-precious stones. For some reason, when I asked myself this question: if the world was about to end, what would you do? the answer came to me: find a piece of coloured glass and look through it.

I always liked coloured glass. I have a green glass cat – a real great chunk of pure green glass – looks almost like a dog it’s so chunky. Sometimes I look through that. See my dull surroundings suddenly all wavery and underwatery

Goodness, could this be some sort of hippie flashback/regression thing? Is this the fate of old hippies? Instead of going senile in a straightforward way

 …I put my fluffy slippers on the toaster to warm…

…boy-scouts have stolen the milk again…

…that hole in my garden was dug by greyhounds…

…remind me, what’s my name?

 you start imagining yourself at Woodstock, painting daisies on your forehead and coming out with things like all wavery and underwatery, man…

 Where was I?

End of the world.

I suppose it would depend on a lot of things. Where you were. How long before it ended. How it was going to end.

If, for example, a meteorite was due to strike the earth in ten minutes, and I was at home I might attempt to gather all the cats on the sofa with me and cuddle them. But then, the cats not realising it was about to be the end of the world would be unlikely to co-operate. They would want to remain in their various baskets, upside down in the armchair waving their white-and-ginger paws around or crouched on the upstairs windowsill enraging the dog next door. Or they would want feeding – all of them, regardless. Maybe I would just lie on the sofa and close my eyes, whilst trying not to imagine how it might feel to be killed by a meteorite. Would it be likely to atomise us – one minute you’re looking at the Late Late Show through your semi-precious stone, the next minute, oblivion? Or would it kind of suck all the atmosphere away so you’d be panic-stricken, gasping for breath? Or would it take longer still? Would it destroy ecosystems so that everything kind of withered away over the next few months while everyone starved to death or started stabbing, stealing from and eating one another, as in The Road?

I’m a natural worrier. I just think, would one be in a position to make the most of one’s remaining few seconds/ten minutes/six weeks after a lifetime of high anxiety? Or would one spend the whole few seconds/ten minutes/six weeks chewing ones fingernails and piling sofa cushions up around one? They say the people in the twin towers tried to phone home, tell people they loved them. That’s understandable if you’re in the twin towers and your loved ones are not, but what if everyone is in the twin towers together?

Supposing your loved ones are pursuing their own agendas – looking through semi-precious stones of their own, phoning someone else (in which case their phone would be engaged) piling their own cushions up around them on their own sofas, rushing to the airport to go hang-gliding because that was the last thing on their bucket list? Or maybe they haven’t heard the world is about to end, so wouldn’t it be cruel to tell them? And by the time you’d finished explaining and them not believing you, and then having to explain all over again – booom!

 I suppose the only thing to do, apart from cuddling a cat, if co-operative, would be to list all the things you will never, ever have to do again:

  • Answer the door to double-glazing salesmen…
  • Eat half-cold tinned macaroni cheese…
  • Untangle the mower cord…
  • Shovel up cat poo…
  • Open another sachet of Felix…
  • Set off for the tip with eighteen binsacks full of garden waste…
  • Scrape ice off the car windscreen at 10 o’clock at night in an unlit car-park…
  • Watch East Enders
  • Listen to your tinnitus getting louder…
  • Wish you hadn’t bitten your nails…
  • Hear men discussing football…
  • Wonder if you should have stayed married…
  • Queue up in a 99p store behind someone with body odour…
  • Weigh yourself…
  • Open a Christmas present you know you’re not going to like…
  • Throw another baked-bean can in the recycling…
  • Hoover…