Saturday, June 16

Slow Progress

AN UNPRODUCTIVE COCKTAIL of stomachache, exhaustion and misery has prevented me from working on my writing since Tuesday. It is still going very slowly, though I am still happy with it and, unusually, filled with optimism. Why rush? In my inebriated evenings I’ll hammer out a thousand words and avoid much rereading or editing the enxt night, instead rushing back into it, putting down all the ideas that flood me quite easily throughout the day; ‘This should happen … she should think this … word it like that …’ Then it’s all just passing the time until twilight, when I can get on with it, when I am ready to sit down, put on some music, open a bottle of wine and begin typing.
One thing I have begun to admire is a songwriter’s ability to sum up an entire person or person’s life in a few sentences or a verse. When it’s nailed it is as if the song is forty-years-long, you know? Dylan can do it (see North Country Blues), so can Waits (see Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis) . However, I think the master of this – this summation of an entire life, concentrated with pathos and beauty – is fellow Barking boy, Billy Bragg. One song that stands out – and one that is lodged in my top ten favourite songs ever – is Levi Stubbs Tears. This is lyrically as good as it gets. It’s that skill, that talent that I want to drag into my prose.

‘Robert never noticed her until her friends lied and told her that he had asked after her. “Go talk to him. He was asking me if you were coming tonight,” they said. So she summoned up the courage and walked. The distance seemed a mile. He did all of the talking. Five months later, with his stubbled upper lip heating hers, he pierced her. It hurt and ran into her; little white strands upsetting her bowels. The baby died not long before the wedding. She found it harder to fake a smile in white than any other colour.’

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