Finding material in the trash can

I think I want to be in a writing yurt at a writer’s retreat as I write the next book.  But the truth is, that would not necessarily work for me. I got married in the Yaddo Gardens – an artists’ retreat in NY and I never really understood what that was or why a writer would need one.  I scribble things on napkins – I have a folder full of them. I learnt this habit from Jilly Cooper. I was polo correspondent to The Independent at the time and we were at a polo match at the Royal Berkshire Polo Club. They had a fun Ozzie commentator who delighted in the presence on the field of a female polo player and announced ‘There goes Annabel with 15 hands between her legs.” Jilly screamed with laughter, then wrote it down, on a napkin. Sure enough that line went in her next book.

Having stalled on writing the ending for Wed, White and Blue, the event became monumental. I thought I would write it in the Elephant Café where JK Rowling initially wrote Harry Potter, but when I got there it was packed with Japanese tourists. I then found the National Library just down the road, but that didn’t feel right. So I went to a bar, the Wash Bar in fact on The Mound in Edinburgh. It was empty and perfect. One large glass of Pinot Grigio later and the final chapter and Epilogue were drafted. That felt really good.

You never know where material will come from – hence the usefulness of napkins, or if I’m organized a notebook I carry around, always assuming I have a pen. I was sitting in a cafe talking to someone yesterday about how sad it was when your dog dies. From there we got to ashes and urns. He was from Edinburgh and told me that when he was working on ‘the bins’ – garbage trucks – he found an intriguing wooden box. It was too nice to have been accidentally thrown out – and then it dawned on him, it wasn’t a box, it was an urn. Although it had been ‘binned’ once, he explained that although he had no idea who the occupant was he didn’t feel it was right to throw it away, so he carried it around for a day, feeling a heavy obligation had fallen on his shoulders.

After finishing his shift he went into the gents to change and placed the box on the back of the toilet. He forgot to take it with him when he left so in spite of good intentions, the box ended up on the top of a cistern, in a men’s toilet, in a bin yard. As of this day he says the final resting place of the box remains unknown. You can’t make stuff like that up and I quickly found a napkin and scribbled it down. It might make a scene in the next book…

Share This: